HP Responds to the Locked Down Cartridge Debacle

In my last post, I railed about the HP decision to lock down their printer firmware to prevent third party print cartridges from working. Interestingly enough, there has been enough of a backlash that HP decided to respond.

This article from ars TECHNICA describes how HP reacted to the consumer backlash by providing a special firmware upgrade that will bypass the new 3rd party cartridge restriction.

It appears HP has backed off from this crazy nonsense (temporarily) because of pressure from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) summarized in a letter from Cory Doctorow.

Here is the response from Jon Flaxmen, CEO of HP, Inc. Read it carefully and note the nuance.

As this battle continues to produce smoke in the public square, this quote in Flaxmen’s blog entry is very interesting to me:

“We updated a cartridge authentication procedure in select models of HP office inkjet printers to ensure the best consumer experience and protect them from counterfeit and third-party ink cartridges that do not contain an original HP security chip and that infringe on our IP.”

Notice the wording in this statement. He claims three things:

  1. We want to “ensure the best customer experience.”
  2. We want to protect customers from ‘counterfeit and third-party ink cartridges.’
  3. We want to ensure that customers are not using cartridges that contain an original HP security chip that does not infringe on our IP (Intellectual property).

Whoah. This is a handful of technical psychobabble. A scripted CEO response written by the army of HP lawyers and marketing staff to appease the masses.

Sopwith had to reach for the pink antacid tablets after reading this. Here is how I look at this.

  1. ‘Ensure the best customer experience?’ How about if I determine the customer experience of your product based on MY experience of using it, NOT your view of what my experience should be based on your P&L.
  2. ‘Protect customers from counterfeit and third-party ink cartridges. ‘ Now hold on a minute here. What if I buy a third-party cartridge that costs 1/2 as much as yours, lasts twice as long, and has the same print quality? It is MY printer, can’t I do with it what I want? What are you protecting me from? My choice – my money. If the third-party cartridge sucks, I go back to paying the ransom for an HP cartridge.
  3. ‘…ensure customers are not using cartridges that contain an original HP security chip that does not infringe on our IP (Intellectual property).’ Now this one is an interesting and loaded statement. Security chip? Are you saying the ink cartridge chip contains code that could be exploited and affect the security of the printer? Or are you saying the ‘security’ chip strictly protects the IP of HP?

If there are examples of exploits embedded in an HP ink cartridge that could compromise the security of the printer on a wired or wireless network that is a serious problem. If this is true, than HP is obligated  to disclose it. If third-party cartridges are a security risk – then HP – show me the evidence.

If HP is describing security in this sense as protecting their IP, and I suspect this is the case, then you DO NOT address this issue at the consumer level. Do you really think the buyers of your printers give a rip about your IP? Not a chance. They want a printer that is affordable, works every time, and does not require them to balance their family budget when they need new printer cartridges. How dare you put the protection of your IP at the consumer level. This is simply corporate suicide.

HP’s response to this backlash if appalling. They will do a one-time firmware release but reserve the right to lock down the cartridges forever in the future. This is described ‘As a remedy for the small number of affected customers.’ Mr. Flaxmen, what is a small number of customers?’ It can hardly be small enough that you did not have to rally the lawyers and marketers to defend it.

So maybe I am being naive here. But in my 30 years of experience in dealing with product development and customer service, if I was faced with this situation I would talk to everyone affected by this debacle and get all the telemetry I could about the backlash. I would next do whatever is necessary to take care of the customer – not my self-centered, corporate interest. You are in business because the customer desires your products and trusts you as a vendor to support their investment. If neither is the case – then the customer disappears. I suspect this will happen here.

I predict the outcome of this will be that HP will shrink their printer business to serve a niche market and they will disappear from the consumer space. This will happen soon.

The arrogance and corporate greed of previously ‘stellar’ companies like HP is not healthy. In the long run this is probably a moot point as HP self-destructs as we watch.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *