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Ognjen Regoje
But you can call me Oggy

I make things that run on the web (mostly).
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Increasing frequency of bricked 'smart' items

#ethics #opinion #product

Manufacturers abandoning their ‘smart’ devices is becoming more common.

I’m not talking ending support for old devices. Sonos got a lot of backlash because they stopped shipping software updates for devices which were ten years old. It’s unreasonable to expect companies to support them indefinitely.

This is about making devices unusable. Sonos wanted to stop software updates, but the devices would have kept working fine.

Nest got sued because they decided to stop support for one of their devices. More recently, Charter abandoned its security system and Underarmour abandoned all of its gadgets. These devices became useless.

The Ars Charter article notes lack of interoperability between alarm systems. The lack of interoperability is between systems, alarm and otherwise.

I don’t find it acceptable that purchasing a device requires me to use a backend that is at the mercy of the provider. And that provider can decide to turn that backend off with no obligation whatsoever rendering my device useless.

At the same time, there’s no way for me to fix it myself. I can’t switch to another backend, or roll my own.

I think some kind of standardization (or regulation) is in order. Or at least a community driven effort.

Openness initiative

The “Openness initiative” could be a community effort. Since most devices are reviewed extensively, the reviewers would fill out a checklist that sorts the devices into one of three tiers.

Tier one: hostile

Tier one would be products like the ones above - you’re totally at the mercy of the manufacturer and there’s nothing you can do.

Tier two: acceptable

Tier two could be devices that can function without a backend or can integrate with existing protocols regardless of the backend. Primary functionality would be preserved but some bells and whistles might be lost.

Tier three: open

Tier three could be manufacturers that not only comply with tier two and not lose any functionality but also provide documentation and access to device APIs.


I think this approach would be beneficial for everyone. Consumers would be more informed about their devices, and would be able to make smarter purchasing decisions, obviously.

But it would be useful for the manufacturers as well. I’m completely unwilling to buy any smart devices at the moment. But if I knew that they were in compliance of tier two for example, I’d be more open to it.

Taking this a step further, this initiative could include other factors that make ‘smart’ devices quite hostile at the moment. For example it could evaluate data collection, advertisements and vendor lock-in as well.

A standard or an organization could see manufacturers willingly comply in order to be able to market themselves as belonging to a specific tier.

e: Phillips deprecating Hue Bridge v1.. This might be considered tier 2 because it could still be controlled locally.