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October 3, 2016

Sued Over Disabling Competing Ink Cartridges, HP Apologizes to Users

Filed under: Electronics,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:54 am

Last week, we told you about a nasty ploy by Hewlett Packard to disable non-HP ink cartridges in certain inkjet printers. They did this by placing a time bomb of sorts in a routine firmware update last March, set to do its dirty work six months later.

Reaction to HP’s clever scheme was quick. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sent an open letter to HP’s CEO calling on the company to:

  • Apologize to your customers, and restore the original functionality of their printers with a firmware update that rolls back the self-destruct sequence;

  • Publicly commit that you will never again use your software update process to distribute anti-features that work against your customers’ interests;

  • Publicly commit that the effects of any software updates will be fully disclosed;

  • Prominently disclose any capability or plan to remove features from devices in your sales literature, so customers know what they’re getting before they buy;

  • Promise to never invoke Section 1201 of the DMCA against security researchers or competitors who make legitimate aftermarket products.

  • A day later, an Alabama consumer with one of the affected OfficeJet printers that suddenly stopped printing filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against HP claiming this was an anti-competitive move by the printing giant.

    Then, a day after that, HP’s CEO apologized (sort of) to affected users:

    We should have done a better job of communicating about the authentication procedure to customers, and we apologize.

    You’ll note he didn’t apologize for disabling competing ink cartridges, but rather just for doing it secretly.

    In any event, HP promises a new firmware update in a couple of weeks to reverse the problem they created and allow third party cartridges to once again work in the affected printers.




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    September 26, 2016

    Non-HP Ink Cartridges Suddenly Stop Working in Some HP Printers

    Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:10 am

    Hewlett Packard inkjet printer users often buy generic printer cartridges to save money compared to the HP branded ones. Earlier this month however, those no-name cartridges mysteriously stopped working in some HP printers giving users error messages like this:

    HP error

    What’s going on? Users have said that they had made no changes to their computer or to the printer at the time the problem started.

    *MOUSE PRINT:

    HP update

    According to published reports, a firmware update from March 2016 had a hidden time bomb set to disable non-HP cartridges being used starting on September 13!

    When asked by a Dutch broadcaster why HP did this, the company said in a statement:

    “This is to protect innovation and intellectual property, but also to improve the safety of products for customers.”

    The changes are made according to HP, “to protect the printers and to protect the communication between the cartridge and the printer.”

    “Affected printers will continue to work with refilled cartridges if they contain the original HP security chip. Other cartridges possibly don’t work”, HP added.

    We all know the real answer is “money.”

    The affected printers seem to be OfficeJet Pro models 8610, 8615, 8620, 8625, 8630, 8640, 8660 and others.

    If you are facing this problem, experts say you can try to rollback the firmware to an earlier version (not easy) or wait for no-name cartridges to update their chips to work again. To prevent the problem from spreading to other HP printers, experts suggest that you turn off firmware updates.

    UPDATE: A few days ago, an Alabama consumer filed a class action lawsuit against HP for planting a “ticking time bomb” and trying to monopolize the printer ink market. And a day later, HP relented. Come back on Monday for a full follow-up story of these late-breaking events.




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    August 8, 2016

    Comcast’s Inside Wiring Plan Excludes Most Inside Wiring!

    Filed under: Electronics,Telephone,Thanks for Nothing — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:55 am

    One of the ways that telephone and cable companies try to make extra money is to pitch inside wiring plans to their customers. For about $5 a month, these plans typically promise to fix the cable or telephone wire in your home or apartment should it cause a problem with your service. Normally this would be the owner’s responsibility. Most consumer advocates say not to fall for the scare tactics and save your money because inside wiring rarely goes bad on its own.

    Last week, the Washington state attorney general went one step further. He sued Comcast, a large purveyor of these inside wiring plans because of alleged deceptive tactics they used to sell these policies. The lawsuit accuses Comcast of misleading 500,000 Washington consumers and deceiving them into paying at least $73 million in subscription fees over the last five years for a near-worthless “protection plan” without clearly disclosing its significant limitations.

    *MOUSE PRINT:

    Here is how Comcast promoted its plan before the Washington AG began investigating. (Here is how the plan it is currently presented.)

    It says in part:

    “Comcast offers a comprehensive Service Protection Plan (SPP), eliminating any concerns about being charged additional fees for service calls related to inside wiring. … Hassle-free replacement and repair of defective customer inside wiring.”

    When one checked the fine print terms and conditions of the Service Protection Plan as originally promoted, the introductory paragraph even reiterates the promise:

    “Inside wiring covered under this plan is owned by the customer or a third party and is defined as wiring that begins at the “Demarcation Point,” which begins 12 inches outside the customer’s residence and extends to the individual phone jacks, cable and Internet outlets and extensions in the home.”

    Digging deeper into the terms however, reveals the truth (emphasis added below).

    *MOUSE PRINT:

    Comcast fine print

    Maybe 90% of the wiring inside a home is behind walls, and it is excluded! Thanks for nothing, Comcast.

    Things get worse, according to the WA-AG’s complaint.

    [While] Comcast claimed the SPP covers all service calls related to customer-owned equipment, it does not cover any actual repairs relating to customer equipment. It simply covers the technician visiting the customer’s house and declaring that the customer’s equipment is broken.

    Comcast also marketed the SPP as covering service calls relating to Comcast equipment and wiring outside a customer’s house. However, these issues are already covered for free by Comcast’s Customer Guarantee promises.

    The Washington AG is seeking $100+ million in his lawsuit.

    For its part, Comcast issued the following statement:

    “The Service Protection Plan has given those Washington consumers who chose to purchase it great value by completely covering over 99 percent of their repair calls. We worked with the Attorney General’s office to address every issue they raised, and we made several improvements based on their input.”

    Incidentally, it is believed that Comcast marketed its service protection plan the very same way nationally… so you probably have not heard the end of this yet.




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    February 15, 2016

    If You Don’t Check Your Cable Bill…

    Filed under: Electronics,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:24 am

    How good are you at scrutinizing your monthly bills for your cellphone, cable, Internet, telephone, credit card, and other services? Many people simply don’t have the time or inclination to do so, or are so turned off by the complexity of these bills that they have given up even trying to decipher them.

    If you fail to do so, however, you are putting your wallet in financial jeopardy, as this story illustrates.

    We received a complaint from Paula G. who noticed a charge on her Comcast bill for $4.20 for something called “The Cable Guide.” She believed this was the onscreen programming listing, or maybe even an enhanced version that appeared on her TV set.

    *MOUSE PRINT:

    Comcast bill

    When she called Comcast to find out, the representative couldn’t explain what it exactly referred to, but volunteered to remove it from her bill going forward. Not satisfied, the consumer contacted us.

    We asked her if this was something she had ordered, and how long she was being billed for it. The consumer indicated that she has been a Comcast customer for about 20 years at her location, that she generally just pays her bills without reviewing them carefully, and that a review of the oldest Comcast bill she had — from January 2007 — showed the same $4.20 a month charge on it too.

    Yikes! She’s been paying over $50 a year for nine years for this program guide.

    TV GuideWe contacted the PR folks at Comcast, who were extremely responsive. Within a few days, they offered an explanation. Our consumer was being billed for a TV Guide subscription that they say she ordered. “The Cable Guide” was a separate magazine that Comcast offered years ago. TV Guide purchased it, and subsequently sent subscribers TV Guide instead.

    When told of this, Paula G. contended that she never ordered TV Guide or The Cable Guide– and that it might have been crammed onto her bill. After all, she contends, why would she have directed the magazine to be sent to her work address where there is no television.

    Comcast strongly denied that it would add something like this onto a customer’s bill without them actually ordering it. Nonetheless, as a goodwill gesture, the company agreed to refund one year’s worth of TV Guide — about $50.

    Incidentally, it should be noted that Comcast is charging up to three times the going subscription rate for TV Guide — it sells for only $16.50 a year on the magazine’s own website. And unlike virtually any other magazine seller, Comcast does not send you an annual renewal notice that you affirmatively have to return in order to continue the subscription.

    We suggested to Comcast that at the very least the line on monthly bills for “The Cable Guide” really should say “TV Guide magazine subscription” so customers would know exactly what the $4.20 charge was for. As of last Thursday, Comcast reports that they have changed the wording on customers’ bills.




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    • • •

    November 30, 2015

    Thanks for Nothing #1

    Filed under: Electronics,Humor,Retail,Thanks for Nothing — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:32 am

    We are starting a new recurring feature today called “Thanks for Nothing.” It is designed to highlight offers that seem great on their face, but when you get down to the details, you’ll probably say forget it.

    Example 1:

    For Black Friday, Lowe’s advertised 60-watt LED bulbs for an amazing 99 cents each — the lowest price ever.

    99 cent LEDs

    *MOUSE PRINT:

    2000 hours

    These bulbs only have an expected life of 2000 hours. That is about one-tenth the time the average LED bulb is expected to last. (See our prior story about LED bulb longevity.)

    Thanks for nothing, Lowe’s.


    Example 2:

    Also during Black Friday weekend, online stores had some amazing deals. One that crossed our screen was this leather chukka boot for only $30 — quite a bargain at that price:

    Vegan Leather

    *MOUSE PRINT:

    Upon closer examination, it says “vegan leather.” Huh? Is that like gluten-free leather? Who knows… so we asked the company whether this was man-made, and if so why they didn’t say so. They responded:

    “It is man-made however, that is vegan friendly which is why they put vegan leather/suede.” — Street Moda, customer service

    So if your dog is on a vegan diet and decides to chew on your chukka boots, he won’t be going off his diet, I guess.

    And to the extent that this company is trying to mislead consumers into thinking that this is a form of real leather, thanks for nothing, Street Moda.


    Example 3:

    Also just ahead of Black Friday, Big Lots sent out an email with a seemingly very valuable coupon — “$10 off everything” it proclaimed in the subject. Since both Kohl’s and J.C. Penney offered similar $10 off coupons on anything, this seemed very plausible.

    10 off everything

    *MOUSE PRINT:

    $10 off $50 purchase

    Oh, did you forget to list the minimum purchase requirement in the subject, Big Lots?

    Thanks for (almost) nothing.


    We welcome your submissions of other great “thanks for nothing” examples. Just email them to edgar(at symbol)mouseprint.org .




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