Never buy IoT kit
Which requires a connection to someone else's computer to work.
Oh look, here's another cautionary tale about buying cloud-based IoT kit. On 29 May, global peripheral giant Belkin will flick the "off" switch on its Wemo NetCam IP cameras, turning the popular security devices into paperweights. It's not unusual for a manufacturer to call time on physical hardware. Like software, it has a …
I only remeber them from the box that came with an ESCOM tower PC to store floppy disks inside - even had a floor to clip in to store them new-fangled 3.5" disks.
Didn't really remember they were also actually producing computer hardware (I might have seen a mouse by them - or maybe it was only the mouse pad?)
too much of that since then --->
I completely agree, but aside from the popular manta of avoiding all IOT kit, how is the average consumer supposed to tell if a piece of kit requires an external network to operate? Remembering of course that the average consumer is still smarter than 50% of all the other consumers.
This was my thought too. Smart devices are, by and large, consumer commodities. Consumers buy it for what it does. Not how it does it. They don't know the first thing about how a fridge makes stuff cold or a microwave makes it hot. This is not stupidity, this is not needing to know ( or not knowing they need to know). So, Have a smart device, plug in smart device, type in some letters, numbers and an annoying password, expect smart device to keep working until said smart device bites the dust or gets replaced with a newer shiny.
They do not expect the makers to be able to roll up and put a bullet into its head when it suits them.
And there in lies the problem.
I've see no end of people defending WD for secretly slipping in sub par products (badly made SMR drives) into an existing product range because "consumers don't need to know what it is" or "consumers were not promised it would perform a certain way."
I'd love to be the one serving their coffee, and just state "I never specifically promised not to use sewage water" or "I never specifically promised their's not a little bit of spit in it", and see how they like it (or swapping their coffee for something cheaper like gravy, because "I'm saving them money and helping the customer cut costs").
"or not knowing they need to know"
That's the core of a lot of our problems. They don't know they need to know a whole lot of stuff. They don't know they need to know how their toys work. They don't know they need to know viruses have nothing to do with telecom base stations. They don't know they need to know who's manipulating them through social networks or to what ends.
how is the average consumer supposed to tell if a piece of kit requires an external network to operate?
Any packaging for the device should contain a notice of some sort, usually listed amongst the requirements, e.g.:
If you see a device has that "Internet access" requirement, either don't buy it or do more research into the device.
Also, ask the retailer it is being purchased from, this is one of the only good reasons to buy from bricks and mortar these days, so you can ask in-store any such questions, and if the answers turn out to be wrong, you can return it to the retailer for a refund.
You expect the retailer not to lie through their teeth?
Doesn't matter if they lie or not. If a retailer says a device has X capability, and it doesn't, even if written on the box it doesn't, then the retailer's statement supercedes whatever is written on the box. By saying it has X (or does not have X), a retailer has entered a legally binding contract with the purchaser to supply a product that meets those claims.
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I have been struggling for years to convince customers that gadgets like this which require third party services to function are a waste of money... mostly unsuccessfully.
Then again, I've just been bitten by something similar myself this week - I've just had to replace my ten year old Blackberry phone as Vodafone are unable to get BIS to work since my contract changed. I was aware of and unhappy about the necessity for BIS for email to function, but it was the only smartphone available at the time which fulfilled my requirements and I suppose a decade isn't bad going for a smartphone...
(The saddest thing is that the phones now available are even less suitable than the ones around ten years ago!)
All IoT kit has a single point of failure. Until the manufacturers start making the devices able to connect to other servers, and publish their entire software stack, every single thing you buy today has a single point of failure. Be it a Windows PC that needs Microsoft to activate, an iPhone that needs Apple to register, a Ring doorbell that needs their servers to operate or a Tuya Smart wifi smart bulb. There's precious little electronic kit that doesn't in some way rely on someone else to work. Buying from a larger company is no protection either.
Should governments mandate that all IoT stuff should have a totally transparent server infrastructure so that should the manufacturer go bust or just withdraw its service, the device will be able to work? Well, not quite. If we make it too transparent, it'll make it too hackable.
As we are discovering in life these days, everything is so interconnected, that there are single point of failures everywhere. We rely on so much. Maybe too much.
You know I would say learn to do it yourself on a raspberry pi, they can pretty much imitate most IoT stuff. However over the last year I've seen a strange uptick in projects linked to clouds. these clouds are free of course until you connect 5 devices or use 5 different services. My advice to people is keep searching there will be free code telling you how to do it yourself and the electronics side of things isn't that difficult to pick up though if you are working with 240/110v power and relays make sure you're careful.
I agree on making things transparent however my view is that when you buy it they guarantee how long it will last, full refund if it doesn't or they don't release a way of doing it yourself after the time runs out, sure not everyone will be able to set it up but at least it's there and it means if someone else wants to offer that service they can.
"Until the manufacturers start making the devices able to connect to other servers, and publish their entire software stack, every single thing you buy today has a single point of failure."
By having a flexible server option, maker of IoT landfill would also have a way out. They could sell the service to another company that can continue support. They could also just release the software stack so people like us can do something with the hardware without spending loads of time trying to reverse-engineer the firmware since it's often not worth the time. The hardware would then have some resale value and people can flog off the kit on eBay for some dosh rather than the stuff being put on a tip.
Most IoT functionality has been around in one form or another for years. What distinguishes IoT from that kit is a combination of "the cloud" and web programming paradigms. Neither of these are needed for sensors to operate although they might be useful if you're connecting to a public service but even so this connection should be reuqired just to get a basic level of functionality.
Everyone's into clouds because they require little capital investment to utilize -- you pay the bill and you have a magic computer that scales and never goes wrong. Its a very attractive proposition but it has the drawback that if the expected revenue stream from whoatever you're peddling doesn't match what the cloud costs then you lose money (so you drop the sub and the entire application ecosystem goes dark).
"Adding insult to injury, the ubiquitous consumer network gear maker only plans to refund customers with active warranties"
At least in jurisdictions with decent consumer protection legislation, it doesn't matter what Belkin thinks about warranties, the issue would ultimately be decided on whether a court depends compensation is due. No amount of EULA or disclaimer can override statutory rights.
The customer's sale agreement is with the retailer and the customer should look to the retailer to sort it out.
According to this rule which covers everything bought in the uk. (I am not legally trained or own one of these)
Within six months of purchase, it’s up to the retailer to prove that you caused the problem with the goods: if they can’t, they’ll have to repair or replace the goods or give you a refund if that’s not possible.
After this initial six-month period, you will have to prove that any faults are not down to misuse of the product or general wear and tear. This might require you to obtain an expert report, opinion or evidence of similar problems across the product range. Factors such as the price, the specification/model of the goods, the length of time you’ve had the goods and the length of time which they should last will all be considerations.
If all else fails, you have six years from when you bought the faulty goods to take a claim to the small claims court and reclaim the cost of repair of the product.
Now if the manufacturer bricks the appliance...... then they have created faulty goods.
More amusingly, if you do take this approach, assuming my memories of how the law works in these cases is correct, you are actually suing the retailer, not Belkin.
Want to stop these dead in the channel? Make the consequences of selling them too annoying for PC World.
"Now if the manufacturer bricks the appliance...... then they have created faulty goods."
Unfortunately this is not the case. They've discontinued a service, not made the goods faulty. The goods still work, they're just not "supported" any more. This is no different from terminating supply of proprietary consumables. Not being able to replace an empty printer cartridge because it's "obsolete" is not a fault in the printer within the terms of the Act.
It's a great pity, but that's how the law works.
The proprietary consumables are an income stream for the manufacturer. The reason to stop supplying them would be that demand has fallen as the product supported has dropped out of use which probably means that it was withdrawn from the market a long time ago. The few remaining consumers have had a fair crack of the whip by then.
If, however, the product is sold requiring a service provided by the someone with no ongoing charge then it wouldn't be an unreasonable expectation on the part of the consumer that they have paid for that service as part of the initial cost, nor would it be unreasonable to expect that they should receive what they paid for. If the product has become faulty for whatever reason in an unduly short space of time and hasn't been damaged by accident or misuse then naturally they should have recourse to whoever sold it.
not so, the product sold included the means to manage that product, which they are discontinuing.
Though the device still functions, you now have no means to control that function or benefit from it.
Which now means the product is not fit for the purpose for which it was sold.
Hence covered by the Law
Could be worse, I heard of a Chinese based ip camera company that either switched off servers or the contract with the cloud service provider expired and they continued selling the camera affected, and whilst it was possible for them to be updated with ONVIF you had to have registered the device with the now defunct cloud service first...
There's plenty of idiocy to go around, and the blame game can get complicated.
Partial blame falls on consumers for happily buying these turds without bothering to understand the implications.
Majority of the blame falls on manufacturers for being greedy and treating stuff that should last for ages as a commodity, and trying milk their customers for all they're worth.
At the same time, some blame bounces back to consumers for wanting the cheapest stuff possible then being surprised when shit like this happens.
A counterpoint is that even manufacturers of expensive items pull this shit too. Looking at you Apple, Sonos...
In the end... caveat emptor. Try to understand the risks of what you buy, and expect IOT manufacturers to leave you with a brick after a few years.
Part of the problem is over eager MBA's with no technical experience and too young to alway be thinking about the long game. Of course there becomes a point where you are supporting more and more installations and selling less and less hardware as the competition comes up with something that tops your one. If the model is to fund the server with hardware sales, you have a classic pyramid scheme. It's going to fail at some point. There has to be a an ongoing service contract that keeps the server funded. With some forethought, the server would be very generic and able to support new product being introduced. The biggest issue with IP cams is that most people have dynamic IP addresses and need a central static address server to allow people to find their camera automagically. If the software on the consumer's device that connects with the cam stops being updated at some point, at least the last version will continue working until a OS update finally breaks it. I have old devices around for just that problem. I buy some old computers and fondleslabs to use with obsolete gear that does useful stuff but not for wide enough of a market to still be produced.
Companies too often live by planned obsolescence. If they were really smart, they'd built stuff that lasts for ages and rely on their engineers to come up with new stuff that people will want to upgrade to. If it's time for something new and my old has worked great for years, I'm more likely to go with that brand again. The converse is even more true.
> There has to be a an ongoing service contract that keeps the server funded.
If users have a choice of two products, one of which has an ongoing charge and the other doesn’t, they will choose the one that doesn’t.
The exception could be if there is no initial cost, just a subscription. But that would be hard for a product like this.
> you have a classic pyramid scheme
You can avoid the pyramid if the cost to the manufacturer of providing the service declines exponentially over time (the integral of an exponential decay is finite); see e.g. the falling cost of cloud storage and processing, What doesn’t decline, though, is the staff costs of keeping it running smoothly.
Yeah I know - they won't make any money out of that,
also why I'd never buy a cam that I did not have control of the storage server.
But I remember a bit of kit that did exactly that a few yrs ago - the O2 Joggler - O2 gave the OS to the users willingly so us tinkerers could tinker
I had a Joggler! I got mine when O2 was ditching their inventory. I think I paid about £50 for it, or something in that vicinity.
It was a bit ahead of its time — in terms of form-factor, it’s basically an Echo Show without the voice control element. Still, it was great fun to slap proper Linux on it and use it as a mini computer, albeit one that was slower than cold treacle on a flat surface.
I think I ended up donating mine to a charity shop. Which is a shame, because it was a lovely bit of kit, and you’re right, O2 did right by those who bought one.
These are the same people who have sold thousands of routers which punters have configured to be managed through a server (so that said users can manage their router from the beach in Brazil). Linksys (a subsidiary of Belkin) inflicted this on users by making it VERY difficult to configure the router without setting up a Linksys "cloud account". (Models EA6900 and EA7500, and maybe others). See this agonising set of instructions about HOW NOT TO HAVE A CLOUD ACCOUNT. Unbelievable:
I reset my EA7500 to factory settings and gave it to the local charity shop.
To paraphrase Nike: "Belkin/Linksys -- Just Don't Do I!"
Doesn't matter if its an IOT device or some other service. The vendor will withdraw it...
I would much rather be able to run my own PRIVATE host as an option even if not default. Otherwise you are basically renting not buying product.
Makes my teeth grind...
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