Widgets Magazine

Bradford’s Brain Balloons Column #0017 – Privacy changes Ownership

During the week of August 24, 2017 a discussion about how privacy impacts ownership garnered new attention after a Sonos update. The Boston Globe reported about a lawsuit that was based on a ZDnet article. There are many facets to this specific situation that can be debated, however the basic concept of a company changing policies or firmware impacting the ownership experience is the key issue.
From solely a marketing perspective, changes to Sonos’ Privacy Policy were handled poorly. It showed the importance of clear and concise information. One can look at all of the discussion about the changes and the various understandings to see how poorly it was communicated. Looking at this twitter thread (screen capture for easier viewing) between the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Sonos  shows a lack of facts being communicated effectively. When the EFF could not understand the changes and at the same time Sonos could not clearly communicate the impact it quickly became apparent that this issue is complex. Sonos indicated by not updating to the latest firmware, one would not be able to update a device as service addresses changed. That seems to be a bad design approach, but that is another discussion.
The larger issue is does the new Internet of Things basically give manufacturers the ability to obsolete products at will. For many years consumers have gotten used to the idea that new hardware unlocks new processing power and features. At the same time, the market understands how not every piece of hardware is capable of running all software. The changes can be between 32 bit and 64 bit operating systems or the requirement of having a touch screen for some applications. As this incident shows, it is possible that by changes to information policies hardware can be made obsolete.
The interaction between hardware, firmware, and the Internet of Things means a manufacturer changing firmware, software, privacy policies, end user license agreements … etc. the customer owned piece of hardware can be made inactive. This approach has already been used by Samsung as part of the Galaxy Note 7 recall. This Reuters story provides the details. The marketplace accepted this idea as a way to address the recall due to the risks.
It is completely plausible, and has probably already happened, that a manufacturer will cause a device to stop functioning in order to force people to purchase new products. Think about television resolutions, HDCP licenses, digital rights management tools, Chromebooks … etc. This issue is larger than many of us readily realize.  It is one of the reasons VGA inputs still exist and I continue to purchase hard media of content. Changing the EULA or policies after a consumer purchases a product is a very unfair business practice, especially it leads to reduced functionality or shorter life cycle.
Thinking about this possibility is something that we as professional and consumers need to think about as we purchase or recommend products. I am not against a subscription or recurring revenue approach, as long as all the parties clearly understand the situation. Remember that Personal Information is the new currency of the Internet.
Excuse me while I go protect my currency. Thanks for reading.

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