HP apologises for cartridge DRM ‘security update’

HP has apologised for locking printer owners out of using third-party printer cartridges.

The company last week came under universal condemnation for using a "security update” to prevent its printers from operating with a number of recycled and third-party ink cartridges. This was not a new software update that required users to update their devices, but rather a dormant feature from an update that was issued in March.

As a result of the public outcry, HP Inc. chief operating officer Jon Flaxman has penned a blog post to respond and offer something of an olive branch. 

As is standard in the printing business, we have a process for authenticating supplies. The most recent firmware update included a dynamic security feature that prevented some untested third-party cartridges that use cloned security chips from working, even if they had previously functioned.

We should have done a better job of communicating about the authentication procedure to customers, and we apologize. Although only a small number of customers have been affected, one customer who has a poor experience is one too many.

As a remedy for the small number of affected customers, we will issue an optional firmware update that will remove the dynamic security feature. We expect the update to be ready within two weeks and will provide details here. In the meantime, customers with immediate care issues can reach us at a dedicated support center – print-hpi@hp.com.

On Monday, the EFF wrote an open letter to HP, publicly shaming the company for its ‘bait-and-switch’ tactics:

HP customers should be able to use the ink of their choosing in their printers for the same reason that Cuisinart customers should be able to choose whose bread goes in their toasters. The practice of “tying” is rightly decried by economists and competition regulators as an invitation to monopoly pricing and reduced competition and innovation. HP customers should choose HP ink because it is the best, not because their printer won’t work with a competitor’s brand.

The software update that prevented the use of third-party ink was reportedly distributed in March, but this anti-feature itself wasn’t activated until September. That means that HP knew, for at least six months, that some of its customers were buying your products because they believed they were compatible with any manufacturer’s ink, while you had already planted a countdown timer in their property that would take this feature away. Your customers will have replaced their existing printers, or made purchasing recommendations to friends who trusted them on this basis. They are now left with a less useful printer—and possibly a stockpile of useless third-party ink cartridges.

Thankfully, HP has listened to these demands and has promised to give users the ability to use their third party cartridges again. While this episode is a win for consumers and third parties, it is a sign of the times that hardware manufacturers are getting increasingly tougher on regulating what is compatible with their devices.

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