HP accused of fleecing printer customers

  • Customers forced to buy costly original cartridges
  • Company apologises but no promises for the future
HP accused of fleecing printer customers
 

THIS is not a new story. Yet, much to the dismay of printer buyers everywhere, it keeps repeating itself.
 
Recently, thousands of HP printer owners were notified by their printers that their ink cartridges were "damaged" and needed to be replaced. According to HP, this was because of a firmware update intended to "protect HP's innovations and intellectual property."
 
But the issue does not end there. According to some users, even HP's own cartridges fail and that they cannot get the printer to respond.
 
"I turn it on, it complains about a damaged cartridge, so I open the front door to replace." one frustrated user complained. "When I open the door, the carriage does NOT move, and the error message now says to close the door to print. I close the door, and the original damaged cartridge error message returns."
 
The new HP firmware is designed for just one purpose - prevent HP's customers from using cheaper third party ink cartridges in HP printers. It has absolutely nothing to do with protecting HP's 'innovations'.
 
This is hardly a new tactic from HP. Almost ten years ago, HP was the target of a class action lawsuit that claimed that the company paid US retailer Staples, not to stock ink from cheaper third party suppliers.
 
Typically, printer manufacturers make very little money on the hardware. Most of the profits come from replacement ink and this is why HP is willing to flout anti-competition laws in many countries.
 
The company now says it will restore the ability of 'some' OfficeJet printers to use third-party ink cartridges. But HP still defends its practice and is making no promises about future software updates that may deny customers cheaper alternatives.
 
HP made this very clear in its blog post.
 
"We updated a cartridge authentication procedure in select models of HP office inkjet printers to ensure the best consumer experience and protect them from counterfeit and third-party ink cartridges that do not contain an original HP security chip and that infringe on our IP," the company said.
 
The company says the recent firmware update "included a dynamic security feature that prevented some untested third-party cartridges that use cloned security chips from working, even if they had previously functioned."
 
For those really poor customers who cannot afford the company's expensive inks, HP said it "will issue an optional firmware update that will remove the dynamic security feature. We expect the update to be ready within two weeks."
 
But HP customers should not start celebrating yet - it might be just a token gesture. HP said it will continue to use security features that "protect our IP including authentication methods that may prevent some third-party supplies from working."
 
Therefore, although HP did apologise for its poor communication and promised to be more "transparent" in the future, it does sound hollow as there is no firm commitment to stop such behaviour in the future.
 
This is not the first time that a printer company had been found to be fleecing their customers. Last year, Epson was also found to be forcing customers to replace their ink cartridges well before they were fully depleted.
 
It is still a bit perplexing why the competition watchdogs in many countries continue to turn a blind eye to these practices. Perhaps, more direct complaints from customers are required.
 
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