A few weeks ago HP activated a firmware update for many of its recent printers. The company said the update was meant to “ensure the best consumer experience,” but what the update did was stop HP’s printers from working with third-party ink cartridges.

Even customers who had already purchased those cartridges, put them in their printers, and used them for months found that after the update they could no longer print.

This left many users frustrated, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation called on HP to roll back the update and promise never to describe this sort of thing as a “security” update again.

Now HP has announced that an optional update is on the way, and that it will allow users to once again use third-party ink cartridges with HP printers. But as for the EFF’s other demands? Not so much.

hp-8610

HP does acknowledge that the company “should have done a better job of communicating about the authentication procedure to customers.” But HP continues to describe the update as a security feature… and that’s not completely untrue.

Here’s the thing: modern printers are internet-connected devices which can be affected by security vulnerabilities much the same way as laptops, phones, or other devices. Those vulnerabilities can be exploited so that a printer can download malware from the internet, pass it along to a computer, and compromise your data. But the same thing could theoretically happen if you insert ink from an untrusted source: because there’s a chip on ink cartridges, it could be used to inject malware.

Of course, if HP hadn’t included a security chip in its ink cartridges in the first place, maybe this would be a non-issue.

It’s also telling that HP describes its “security chip” and the firmware update as designed to “protect HP’s innovation and intellectual property,” rather than as a feature designed to protect users in any way.

Meanwhile, it’s pretty easy to imagine another reason HP would want to block users from installing third-party ink cartridges. Printers are a sort of razor-handle-and-blades product. You buy the printer once and use it for many years. But you will probably buy many, many ink cartridges over the life of the printer, and that’s where the real money is.

If you decide to buy cheaper ink from a third-party, then HP doesn’t get as much value. One solution would be to raise the initial cost of the printer itself (which would be difficult to justify in a competitive marketplace). Another would be to discourage customers from buying anything but HP-branded ink.

Anyway, the good news is that users will soon have the option of installing an update that will allow ink cartridges that are currently unsupported to work again.

The bad news for HP is that the recent move has probably done the company’s reputation.

via Myce, The Register, Slashdot



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10 replies on “After HP blocks third-party ink from working with printers, company promises optional update to remove the ban”

  1. Put it in a box and mail it to HP corporate. Sales will be coming for the holidays on units from other manufacturers. Or better yet just install print-to-pdf software. Or use the print-to-pdf software which came with your operating system.

    1. Not sure how much value there is to print-to-pdf when people who have HP printers buy them to actually print to paper. If all they needed was to print-to-pdf then why would they have bought a printer?

      1. Most people I know with printers make most of their prints and put them in a filing cabinet and then some years later shred them. Between printing and shredding most prints are never looked at. Most of these people have no idea they can print to a file and still have their own access to that item and not waste all that ink and paper and money.
        I used to be just like that myself until I had a printer die and I stopped and thought for five minutes about just wtf I was doing with a printer. I ended up getting a cheap laser for the few times I really needed a hard copy of something. Laser is nice for that because it doesn’t care if it goes for weeks/months without printing.
        Now of course some people need hard copies of stuff often. But for personal use that’s a pretty small niche in my experience.
        tl,dr: Inertia or lack of awareness they can easily print to a file.

        1. true and btw one might spare a lot of money for filing cabinets, paper and expensive ink. and besides pdf’s are searchable making looking for staff a flick with a finger.

  2. It was inevitable. I’ve had customers coming because their third party cartridges had problems working with their HP printers.

  3. hp did all sorts of dirty tricks to customers since they introduced the chip in their cartridges. this one had to be expected in a market where everybody tries to introduce closed, factory controlled environments ….. the consumer did let it happen with apple, then google, then microsoft and now the tail of the rat is growing further …
    therefore do not blame the companies, blame the bunch of foolish costumers accepting, even defending this sort “closed business models” …

  4. They are in business to make a profit, but chasing excessive profit is what created the after market ink business in the first place. As the printer market shrinks they want to make the same amount of profit (or more) every year. Instead of innovating (3D printers?) or moving into additional markets, they just want to squeeze their current customers. This does not bode well for their long term survival.

    1. Except for the fact that most of the major printer manufacturers have already been doing it for many years…

  5. The PC printer business is next only to the mobile phone, music, airline, & healthcare/pharma industries when it comes to rotten scum, and HP is at the head of the pack.

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