Consumers have no legal recourse - yet
There are ways around the problems of bricking (using a new hub is the simplest solution), but it demonstrates a wider challenge that the IoT, and by extension the cloud, both face: you just can't count on the services always being available.
The IoT has the potential to be a game-changer, saving power and generally increasing convenience; but without the safety of ownership, consumers will be unwilling to part with their cash. Killock said, "Ownership is diminishing in many areas; this is certainly a trend that will only increase. However, the problem with Logitech's situation is a blurring between ownership and service contracts, which pretends to be one thing while being another in practice."
If a manufacturer can turn off a device or discontinue a service at any time, customers must at a minimum have the confidence that it won't cost them hundreds of pounds to replace.
Consumer backlash forced Logitech to switch from offering a discount on a brand new product to sending one to every affected customer for free, but Nest did no such thing. Customers today have no legal way to protect themselves from companies shutting down their IoT services; "Consumer law…[needs] to catch up with this problem," Killock said.
Both Spiezle and Killock said that customers should be sure to make an informed decision when investing in any IoT device. Spiezle told us, "Personally, I would reach out to the company and send an email to get some written confirmation of their service commitment period. Keep that and your receipt."
Killock concurred, adding, "Check whether the device your are buying is dependent on a service, data source or software support, and see if the manufacturer is clear about how long their support will last. You should assume that the device may be hard or impossible to use without the bundled support and updates."
It is IoT products' reliance on an internet connection to operate makes them vulnerable to exactly the problem described above. The obvious solution is to enable them at least basic functionality, like TV control, without an internet connection, over local WiFi or Bluetooth.
The OTA is encouraging manufacturers to be more transparent with their end-of-life dates, and has worked with firms like Microsoft and Symantec on its IoT Trust Framework. The organisation has the following recommendation (#19 in the Framework) for IoT manufacturers:
"Disclose the duration and end-of-life security and patch support (beyond product warranty). Support may end on a sunset date, such as January 1, 2025, or for a specific duration from time of purchase, not unlike a traditional warranty. Ideally such disclosures should be aligned to the expected lifespan of the device and communicated to the consumer prior to purchase. (It is recognised that IoT devices cannot be indefinitely secure and patchable. Consider communicating the risks of using a device beyond its usability date, and impact and risk to others if warnings are ignored or the device is not retired). If users must pay any fees or subscribe to an annual support agreement this should be disclosed prior to purchase."
Spiezle said that manufacturers "absolutely" have a responsibility to inform customers that their products may eventually stop working - both prior to purchase and if a change is made that will lead to functionality being limited or stopped. He acknowledged that getting in touch with everyone is a challenge, though.
Killock said, "If a product is tied to a contract that may end, the minimum end date should be specified. People should know how long something will last. If they have a policy of ‘bricking' a device at the end of a service contract, this should also be made clear."
The tech industry has long been accused of planned obsolescence, but the IoT is the first case where a vendor has the ability to directly force upgrades. Until that changes, the IoT - at least for consumers - will remain essentially untrustworthy.
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