Thought You Owned That Device You Paid For?
April 4, 2016 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Guess again. In a move that is sure to provoke a little discussion about licensing/ownership, privacy, and Internet of Things, Nest plans to brick customers' older devices on May 15. (via the always entertaining Pinboard twitter feed.)
posted by entropicamericana (216 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Since it's not obvious from the headline: This is about something called a Revolv Hub, not the Nest Thermostat.
posted by odinsdream at 10:42 AM on April 4, 2016 [13 favorites]


...which is apparently something they stopped selling in October of 2014.

But, ya know, outrage or whatever. I mean, yeah. Release the firmware or something, but, come on.
posted by odinsdream at 10:45 AM on April 4, 2016


One thing I didn't understand from the article, are they sending a shutdown command to all the Revolv Hub devices or do the devices depend on a server that Nest owns and Nest is shutting down the server? (Could someone create a new server to keep these things up, or are they actually being bricked?)
posted by Hactar at 10:45 AM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


How surprising. /s
posted by bracems at 10:45 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


i thought all Nest products were bricked straight from the factory
posted by indubitable at 10:47 AM on April 4, 2016 [36 favorites]


...which is apparently something they stopped selling in October of 2014.

They stopped selling my model of car a couple years ago, too, but if the manufacturer suddenly bricked it, I'd be a little pissed.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:50 AM on April 4, 2016 [175 favorites]


One thing I didn't understand from the article, are they sending a shutdown command to all the Revolv Hub devices or do the devices depend on a server that Nest owns and Nest is shutting down the server?

From what I understood in the article was that they are shutting down their server making the device unusable. The service also relies on a mobile app that they are shutting down as well.

People are upset because it came out in August 2013 for $300 and now it's useless after just a few years.
posted by Deflagro at 10:51 AM on April 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


...which is apparently something they stopped selling in October of 2014.


So that should be considered a good long run for something people paid $300 for? 18 months and you're done?

Nothing will kill the internet of things faster than if people suddenly have to start wondering if their devices are going to still work a week from now or if the maker will have deliberately shut them off in hopes people will buy something else instead.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:52 AM on April 4, 2016 [88 favorites]


I have always though Nest was creepy and hey look they are just making me feel better about that thought.

Old fashioned thermostats have the advantage of lasting forever because they are very simple. Gonna go home tonight and give mine a little pat.
posted by emjaybee at 10:54 AM on April 4, 2016 [63 favorites]


We bought a condo. Included in said purchase was an ancient "programmable" thermostat. I couldn't get it to work as it was one of those early 90s devices with "easy" programming which included 3 buttons. Plus, the cover was broken off.

Bought a Nest 2 1/2 years ago. It works, except for in the summer, every Sunday night around 9:30 it decides we want the AC to go to 50 degrees F, which is likely an impossibility. Also, from time to time in winter, I will wake up in the middle of the night with the heat cranked to 75 or so. Add to this the lack of a remote thermometer, and I can emphatically NOT recommend this device.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:55 AM on April 4, 2016 [14 favorites]


This is pretty shitty.

Nothing will kill the internet of things faster...

Oh, I hadn't thought of it like that. I guess there's a silver lining.
posted by ODiV at 10:56 AM on April 4, 2016 [108 favorites]


Nothing will kill the internet of things faster than if people suddenly have to start wondering if their devices are going to still work a week from now or if the maker will have deliberately shut them off in hopes people will buy something else instead.

And, honestly, that's a good thing for people to wonder about. People should be worrying about this and should be pushing manufacturers to answer the question "What about my data - what about my device? What happens if you go out of business?"

The cloud isn't magic - it's just someone else's hard drive.

I want to see stories like this end up getting people pissed off and pushing manufacturers to think beyond "hey, I have an old linux embedded board, we can sell this shit"
posted by rmd1023 at 10:57 AM on April 4, 2016 [46 favorites]


I'm not sure how ownership is in question here. Customers never owned the web service, which is what's being shut down. The now-useless hardware still belongs to the customer.
posted by rocket88 at 10:57 AM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


I get the outrage, but really. It isn't a zero cost to keep the servers running. There are parallels here to other technologies. Company A buys an online game from Company B - then shuts down the servers. Or Company A just shuts down its own servers, after the system stops making money.

I understand that customers are pissed, but we can't expect any tech company to be beholden to the customers of a service it acquired. We can't expect them to keep it alive forever no matter the cost. Nest Labs did a simple analysis here and realized that the cost of keeping Revolv alive wasn't worth it. End of story.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:57 AM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


caution live frogs: that's an indictment of their business model, not a defence of their actions.
posted by Dark Messiah at 11:00 AM on April 4, 2016 [65 favorites]


I guess people are outraged because they don't want the things they buy to be destroyed by the company they bought them from. But I guess we're doing blame the victim on this issue too. Gotta blame that victim.
posted by bleep at 11:00 AM on April 4, 2016 [59 favorites]


I've bought a few "smart home" devices. The first thing I make sure to research is if they work/can be made to work acceptably without an internet connection. I learned to do that after Zeo went bankrupt and shutdown their API, bricking their expensive devices just as I was thinking of buying one.

When it comes to appliances, "the cloud" is an anti-feature.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 11:02 AM on April 4, 2016 [38 favorites]


"You should have known better than to buy it" is how we get markets where it's considered business as usual to sell a product that only uninformed customers will buy, because anyone educated on the subject would realize they're getting screwed. Which is how we got, for instance, subprime mortgages. So fuck that.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:05 AM on April 4, 2016 [129 favorites]


It isn't a zero cost to keep the servers running.

It isn't zero cost to not keep them running either. I guarantee it cost them at least one future sale.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:07 AM on April 4, 2016 [10 favorites]


Yeah, that's the other thing. If the Nest doesn't get "used" regularly, as in turning on/off the heat/AC, or being manually adjusted.... the internal battery will lose enough of a charge that it no longer connects wirelessly, only works manually. Living in a condo building with insulated windows/drapes/internal hallway means there's several months a year when you cannot even access it online, simply because it hasn't been used in a while. So around spring and fall, when you rarely use heat/AC it only works like a regular old manual thermostat.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:08 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Nothing will kill the internet of things faster than if people suddenly have to start wondering if their devices are going to still work a week from now

The term "internet of things" raises the same kind of "kill it with fire!" instinct in me that "information superhighway" did twenty years ago. After reflecting on it for a few minutes, I'm still not sure if I'm angrier at the "x of things" pattern or the "internet of x" pattern. They're both infuriating and completely worthless descriptors, but for such different reasons that it's hard to choose.
posted by Mayor West at 11:09 AM on April 4, 2016 [10 favorites]


Skipping the general issues raised and sticking to the specific point of buying heating controls from Google, this is why after much research I went with the Honeywell eve-home system.

Much more likely to have long term joy from a company that knows the heating control world and is adapting to the connected world than a company that comes from the connected world but is learning the heating controls world. Different priorities.
posted by C.A.S. at 11:13 AM on April 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


But, ya know, outrage or whatever. I mean, yeah. Release the firmware or something, but, come on.

This isn't a standalone device, it's a device hub; as in, the single point of failure for a connected home. Shutting that down means that all your previously-connected devices stop working.

Have fun shopping for a replacement hub that will interoperate with 100% of your existing installed devices. I'm sure it will be both a pleasant and very affordable process.
posted by mhoye at 11:13 AM on April 4, 2016 [14 favorites]


This is what happens when the world is being planned and run by nerds who think it's utterly logical to buy new smartphones every months.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:14 AM on April 4, 2016 [43 favorites]


caution live frogs, I'd say that the company selling X product has a certain obligation to keep it going for a while even if that means they're spending a bit of money. I'm not sure what the cutoff date should be, but one year from the date of last purchase seems too soon.

Alternatively, they could be obligated by law to open source all materials, release a firmware update ending all DRM, and thus allow users to keep it going as an open source project.

Or, alternatively, they could be obligated by law to figure out the actual cost of keeping the service going (it can't be very high, a virtual server somewhere, a net connection), and then they're permitted to charge the users who wish to continue using the device a monthly fee equal to total cost of operation / number of users left. With something like this if that came out to even a dollar per user per month I'd be surprised.

But the idea that it should be permissible to sell something then a year later disable the device is deeply wrong. This is why governments and regulations get invented: to protect people from that sort of scam.
posted by sotonohito at 11:15 AM on April 4, 2016 [24 favorites]


odinsdream: "This is about something called a Revolv Hub, "

Hmmm. Based on the amazon page for this product, I'd be interested in knowing what services that central service provides. I bet it's some authentication and routing based on the description of the product. I wonder what the support load on the Nest staff was.
posted by boo_radley at 11:16 AM on April 4, 2016


jeff-o-matic: That's incorrect if it's installed properly, e.g., by hooking it up to power (yes, they tried to PR their way out of this requirement. It was dumb.). And, this isn't about the Nest Thermostat. And even if it were, it doesn't require cloud connectivity to function as a thermostat, so in 3 years when/if they turn off those servers, it only makes it a "sorry escalator is temporarily stairs, sorry for the convenience" situation.

And if you think Honeywell is likely to be better at supporting a cloud operation 5 years from now over Google, I... I don't even know what to say.
posted by odinsdream at 11:16 AM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


it's almost like offshoring the operations of your home to an external server could have unintended consequences!
posted by Ferreous at 11:18 AM on April 4, 2016 [10 favorites]


And if you think Honeywell is likely to be better at supporting a cloud operation 5 years from now over Google, I... I don't even know what to say.

heh.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:19 AM on April 4, 2016 [17 favorites]


It just seems like a terrible idea to trust any element of "home automation" – particularly the central hub of a system – to a device that by its nature reports back to someone else's server and relies on them to function properly.
posted by koeselitz at 11:19 AM on April 4, 2016 [11 favorites]


Gonna go home tonight and give mine a little pat.

Put some googly eyes on there and you’ll never get rid of it.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:19 AM on April 4, 2016 [35 favorites]


I do hope this leads to greater protections for consumers. More explicit terms on what is sold versus what is an EULA, and not buried in the goddamn 60 page click-through 'agreement' or whatever. Like, written in plain English on the box. I also hope this severely bites Google/Nest/Alphabet in the ass in the court of public opinion and the perhaps even civil court. If Nest gets away with this once, they will do it again, and others will see it as a viable option.
posted by Existential Dread at 11:21 AM on April 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


caution live frogs: "I get the outrage, but really. It isn't a zero cost to keep the servers running."

That's greedy bullshit thinking. To take an example from my industry: Mines are required to put funds in escrow to handle ongoing maintenance that will be required after shutdown. Develop a dam to hold a tailings pond as part of your exploitation? You need to set aside enough funds to maintain that dam in perpetuity. Part of the cost of selling these devices is that services are required to service them. The company shouldn't just get to shut these things down once they've harvested the base of their pyramid scheme.

I'm not advocating in perpetuity but 10 years seems at least a good negotiating starting point. And companies should be required to state prominently upfront their minimum service life cycle.

And part of buying another company is assuming those obligations.
posted by Mitheral at 11:21 AM on April 4, 2016 [128 favorites]


now if only we can get this same outrage worked up over smart phones; I have a Galaxy S4 that is essentially no longer supported, carrier-specific and impossible to root, 30 months and $600 later.
posted by indubitable at 11:24 AM on April 4, 2016 [12 favorites]


This is shitty; IoT is shitty because it exhibits all the shittiness of the internet, all the shittiness of typical embedded firmware, and then every combination of their individual shittinesses on top of that; and Nest is obviously capitalizing on the information asymmetry between them and people who (quite reasonably) think that these devices will operate similarly to the non-networked devices they're used to, at least when they're not selling to the credulous asses who willingly impose an annual update cycle on themselves anyway.

I mostly can't get with the hardline anti-proprietary software crowd as regards desktop computers, but I really can't see home automation stuff like this offering any value in the long run unless the devices are open and the system that backs them is federated in a way that allows you to migrate to your own backing server if you so desire. That sort of sucks in its own way, though, because it presupposes a level of technical ability that shouldn't be a requirement just to use this stuff for more than a single fucking calendar year.
posted by invitapriore at 11:27 AM on April 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


I understand that customers are pissed, but we can't expect any tech company to be beholden to the customers of a service it acquired. We can't expect them to keep it alive forever no matter the cost. Nest Labs did a simple analysis here and realized that the cost of keeping Revolv alive wasn't worth it. End of story.

I find it intensely bizarre how people spin things around like this to reflect badly on customers and their entitled expectations.

Everybody knows that corporations are about profit above all else, however one of the ways we get better products, better customer service, and end-of-life support is by demanding it. When companies sell hardware attached to proprietary service - they are selling future service for that hardware. If Google doesn't want to provide that service because it's too costly, people have a right to complain that they weren't told that 16 months ago when they were still taking their money for it.

A big stink and withheld future profits about not bricking technology unnecessarily might make this relatively prominent technology company decide it is not worth doing this in the future. This is how consumers get a say - by telling companies they are not living up to their expectations.
posted by scrittore at 11:28 AM on April 4, 2016 [41 favorites]


My Nest smoke alarm sometimes goes off when the house is completely empty. It's always good to get a message on your iPhone at work from the Nest app saying that your house is on fire.
posted by w0mbat at 11:30 AM on April 4, 2016 [25 favorites]


Nest has done a great job. A great job of convincing me never to buy a Nest product and also convincing me a "smart home" is something to avoid at all costs.
posted by tommasz at 11:30 AM on April 4, 2016 [42 favorites]


I understand that customers are pissed, but we can't expect any tech company to be beholden to the customers of a service it acquired. We can't expect them to keep it alive forever no matter the cost.

I have this problem with my Roku. Perfectly sound device, but they've stopped supporting pretty much all the services that made the Roku useful to me. The apps on it simply do not work any longer. Not only can I not access new channels, but services keep dropping off as they update the existing channels.

They want me to buy a new one, and keep emailing me with "deals" to buy a new one. No. Sorry, but no. At this point, we're accessing things through the Xbox, because the Roku basically doesn't work, for reasons that don't make much sense. There was basically zero cost to simply maintaining the status quo, having the channels on my device work they way they always had. Ending my useful service and then begging me to buy a new one seems like a naked cash grab, pure and simple.

I loved my Roku. But not enough to buy another one, ever.
posted by anastasiav at 11:30 AM on April 4, 2016 [22 favorites]


This is what happens when the world is being planned and run by nerds who think it's utterly logical to buy new smartphones every months.

I think you mean "pivoting Silicon Valley entrepreneurs." Nerds like their stuff to keep working just like everyone else. Hell, real nerds will exert herculean efforts to keep obsolete technology junk working.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 11:31 AM on April 4, 2016 [24 favorites]


And if you think Honeywell is likely to be better at supporting a cloud operation 5 years from now over Google, I... I don't even know what to say.

This might not be the right forum for a discussion like this; let's take it to Lively Jaiku Dodgeball Talk Flock Currents Reader Buzz Notebook Orkut GTalk Helpouts Wave Google Plus.

Or not.
posted by mhoye at 11:33 AM on April 4, 2016 [46 favorites]


But I guess we're doing blame the victim on this issue too. Gotta blame that victim.

Well how else am I gonna reassure myself that I am good enough at consuming the right products that this sort of thing will never happen to me?
posted by almostmanda at 11:34 AM on April 4, 2016 [34 favorites]


odinsdream: "And if you think Honeywell is likely to be better at supporting a cloud operation 5 years from now over Google, I... I don't even know what to say."


Honeywell is a huge corporation with one of their long term core businesses being building automation. Commercially and industrially you don't succeed at that business if you EOL/no support/brick products 16 months after purchase. So while that experience may not automatically translate over to the residential sphere it's at least possible they will behave better than Nest at this point.
posted by Mitheral at 11:35 AM on April 4, 2016 [24 favorites]


I wish I could say I'm surprised.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:35 AM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


I loved my Roku

My first gen Roku 2 still fine, although it tends to need a reboot as often as a XP box circa 2004. However, 5 years out of a $79 device that might be getting wonky because newer tech is stretching it seems perfectly reasonable to me. It's a very different scenario than a $300 device that is bricked in 18 months.
posted by COD at 11:36 AM on April 4, 2016 [16 favorites]


My smart house became self-aware about six months ago. We got in a terrible argument one night, and it left me. It was a mobile home.
posted by valkane at 11:36 AM on April 4, 2016 [50 favorites]


How is this any different than buying an HD-DVD player and seeing the format get beat by Blu-ray?

You bought a product that depends on a service.

You still own the product. There's just no service anymore.
posted by mpbx at 11:36 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Mrs. McClellan, which poem would you like this evening?"
The house was silent.
The voice said at last, "Since you express no preference, I shall select a poem at random."
Quiet music rose to back the voice. "Sara Teasdale. As I recall, your favourite..."
"ERROR: No connection available.
Please alert a Homeware customer support representative.
We apologize for the inconvenience."

posted by theodolite at 11:38 AM on April 4, 2016 [53 favorites]


The HD-DVD player can still play HD-DVD discs, they're just not making new ones. The smart-home hubs at issue here are going to completely stop working.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:38 AM on April 4, 2016 [23 favorites]


This is exactly the kind of thing that strong regulation can prevent. In my industry, the FAA has protections built in to take over the source code of companies that close up shop so that aircraft operators aren't left with vulnerable equipment. Then, they can either phase out the device/service in an orderly fashion or keep it maintained for the existing userbase. There's also a healthy set of aircraft owners who form ad hoc owners groups to source spares and get limited run parts for planes that aren't in production anymore.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:39 AM on April 4, 2016 [23 favorites]


I used to work for a consulting company, where customers were charged an awful lot per hour for me to write computer programs. I used to think it was a bit funny, but eventually I figured out that my writing programs wasn't what they were paying so much for; it was for the fact that the company would still be around ten years later.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:42 AM on April 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


How is this any different than buying an HD-DVD player and seeing the format get beat by Blu-ray?

Tersely: Because Google didn't acquire the Blu-Ray format, and in doing so acquire the set of contracts that stipulated that they continue to provide the service that gave any value whatsoever to the hardware it backed. Google did, however, acquire Nest, along with their engineering team, assets, and liabilities.
posted by Mayor West at 11:42 AM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Internet of things failure apologists are the worst.
posted by Ferreous at 11:44 AM on April 4, 2016 [21 favorites]


If the Nest doesn't get "used" regularly, as in turning on/off the heat/AC, or being manually adjusted.... the internal battery will lose enough of a charge that it no longer connects wirelessly, only works manually.

As I recall from reading something on their site, this is the nest going into "sleep" mode which is not supported by some wireless routers. That might be a solvable problem for you!
posted by flaterik at 11:45 AM on April 4, 2016


The hardware you probably own. The software, the right to install, uninstall, change, etc.... that's a different story.
posted by prepmonkey at 11:47 AM on April 4, 2016


caution live frogs, I'd say that the company selling X product has a certain obligation to keep it going for a while even if that means they're spending a bit of money. I'm not sure what the cutoff date should be, but one year from the date of last purchase seems too soon.

Honestly, the real solution is the "company selling X product" has an obligation to design that product so that it fails gracefully when the servers shut down. Meaning that every feature that does not absolutely require connectivity should work identically with or without it. There's no technical reason why a company can't do that when the kind of integrated computing power required literally costs a couple of dollars.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 11:48 AM on April 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


How is this any different than buying an HD-DVD player and seeing the format get beat by Blu-ray?

Because the makers of Blu-Ray didn't come into your house at night and steal all your existing HD-DVDs.

The equivalent of your analogy would be if Google had said, 'We're no longer selling Revolv, and we won't be updating the firmware to support any new devices in the future. You can go out and acquire existing home automation devices that work with the Revolv as of today, but there won't be any new types of devices being added in the future."
posted by jacquilynne at 11:48 AM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


How is this any different than buying an HD-DVD player and seeing the format get beat by Blu-ray?


I can still buy DVDs
posted by Max Power at 11:49 AM on April 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


I used to work for a consulting company, where customers were charged an awful lot per hour for me to write computer programs. I used to think it was a bit funny, but eventually I figured out that my writing programs wasn't what they were paying so much for; it was for the fact that the company would still be around ten years later.

Huh. I used to work for a factory that had insane spreadsheet gymnastics to avoid having to ask the vendor for new features. Factory is gone. Not sure about the vendor.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:50 AM on April 4, 2016


"Mrs. McClellan, which poem would you like this evening?"
The house was silent.
The voice said at last, "Since you express no preference, I shall select a poem at random."
Quiet music rose to back the voice. "Sara Teasdale. As I recall, your favourite..."
"ERROR: No connection available.
Please alert a Homeware customer support representative.
We apologize for the inconvenience."

posted by theodolite at 11:38 AM on April 4

After a few seconds, the voice came back... "Our records indicate you have one month remaining on your subscription. Please click Approve to authorize a temporary license to "There will come soft rains."
posted by prepmonkey at 11:51 AM on April 4, 2016 [10 favorites]


*Nelson laugh*
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 11:55 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Here's my shot at an obsolescence continuum, from least bad to most awful:

Offline devices (no new parts available, but it still works as always)
Offline media players (no new parts or new media, but you can still the stuff made for it)
Online-enabled media players (no new parts, no new media, only the existing offline stuff still works)
General-purpose computing devices no longer receiving OS updates (no new parts, no security updates, some new software but loses functionality as compatible software dies off)
General-purpose computing devices where the OS also dies (no new parts, no security updates, no new software, existing software dies in a hurry)
Online-enabled computers/appliances whose Internet connection gets shut off (instant loss of significant features)
Online-only computers/appliances whose Internet connection gets shut off (totally bricked, either throw it away or sell it to a collector)
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:55 AM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Honeywell is a huge corporation with one of their long term core businesses being building automation. Commercially and industrially you don't succeed at that business if you EOL/no support/brick products 16 months after purchase.

I think a company like staid company Honeywell is much more likely to get long-term support right vs. a "move fast and break things" SV company. However, what I'd worry about with them is stuff like computer security. That's a hard thing to get right as it is, and they don't have the same level of experience with it as a company like Google has.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 11:56 AM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't like closed systems, and I don't like automated systems without manual override and graceful fail, and I don't like systems that prioritise their needs over mine while pretending the opposite. This goes for technology, government and religion.

I find that when I stick to this mantra, I have a better time of it overall than when I'm persuaded to compromise. It most certainly applies to household automation, which is why I have virtually none and will probably continue to have virtually none.

That, and I can think of virtually no use cases that aren't flippant.
posted by Devonian at 11:56 AM on April 4, 2016 [19 favorites]


When the stars threw down their CTOs
And stock'd their cubicles with bros
posted by thelonius at 12:00 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Fadell is a huuuuuuge ass, so this does not surprise me in the last. Nest is just terribly run, IMHO.
posted by aramaic at 12:00 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Google's Alphabet's stock valuation isn't a function of it's profitability but a result of it functioning like a old style "trust" ie. investors in Google alphabet are buying into the prospect that whatever technology market appears in the future, Alphabet is sufficiently capitalized to either take advantage of it or make sure it doesn't threaten alphabet businesses eg. Microsoft in the 90s. It's what anti-trust and monopoly law was designed to prevent because it very obviously leads to business behavior which stifles innovation, competitiveness, etc. ie. buy up a company making a competing product or a product in a market you want to control (such as Revolv).

and the second (or is it third) tech bubble is based on investors betting on who will be able to monopolize new sectors of the economy. the IoT may be a bad idea, but what's happening is a result of a generation of politics that has led to the gutting antitrust law in order to have a more "free" market.

suckers.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:03 PM on April 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


Brilliant: "The cloud isn't magic - it's just someone else's hard drive." - rmd1023
posted by twsf at 12:05 PM on April 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


ie. the whole practice of 'aqui-hire' is just raw anti-competitive behavior by giant financial interests in "silicon valley."
posted by ennui.bz at 12:06 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


And if you think Honeywell is likely to be better at supporting a cloud operation 5 years from now over Google, I... I don't even know what to say.

That's the point.

There is no need for a "cloud operation" when working with a connected central heating system. You just need some internet interface to the system.

More likely that your internet connection to a stable heating control system is working 5 years from now than your "cloud operation" has any meaningful impact on your house temperature 5 years from now.
posted by C.A.S. at 12:06 PM on April 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


Regardless of the user agreement, this seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen...
posted by twsf at 12:06 PM on April 4, 2016


You really can't win as a tech company, these days. If you religiously maintain backwards compatibility and continue to support everything you've ever released, you're accused of having "bloated" and "inefficient" software that's too large, lacks key features, and updates too infrequently. If you cut the cord and walk away from old stuff, you're accused of being a fraudster with nothing but contempt for your customers. (This is technology, so you can count on whatever description being at the maximum level of drama possible -- I'm waiting to hear how this cost someone their job/house/marriage/reputation/etc.) I think a lot of this comes from the fact that even the moderately technically inclined among us have no clue how much software actually costs to develop, operate, and maintain. While it's true that the marginal cost of a retail unit of software approaches zero, the ongoing costs of operating a service like this are substantial. It's not simply enough to "keep the lights on," you have to constantly be monitoring and patching the system and keeping it up to date so that it runs on your infrastructure. Periodically significant features will depend on infrastructure you're sunsetting, so you have to decide how to invest your resources to either maintain a slice of old infrastructure or rewrite to use the new stuff. This stuff adds up really quickly. I've been on the wrong side of these transactions before and they really suck, but it's also the nature of the industry. If you want stuff you can depend on for the long term, you probably shouldn't be looking to startups at all.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:07 PM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


For everyone who is thinking "Surely this...", please keep in mind that there are people walking around with medical devices implanted in them who have lost support, but are still breaking the law if they try to access them.

There's a recent Cory Doctorow talk where he points out that there are already car loan companies that disable your car if you don't make payments. Imagine that it's not your car, but your legs. Or your kidneys. That's not a distant future. That's around the corner.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:09 PM on April 4, 2016 [35 favorites]


IoT is shitty because it exhibits all the shittiness of the internet

Indeed; I can deal with the interminable buffering message while using my shoe polisher, but it makes me nervous when the space heater displays "DIAF" when I'm trying to change it to Celcious.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:11 PM on April 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


I've dreamed about having a fully automated home since I was in elementary school (early 1980's). My parents let me go so far as to let me control the lights in my room and my little work area in the garage with my Apple ][ and parts from radio shack. I've taken various stabs at home automation in the time since then and never gotten to the final end goal of an all-singing-all-dancing fully controllable house largely because unless I was building and supporting all of the hardware/software myself I was always reliant on expensive and obsolesce prone software/hardware from companies that were not really invested in the kind of long term reliability I thought was nessisary.

Fast Forward to last year when I bought a new house and decided that I'd take another stab at home automation and Do It Right The First Time. After buying ~$600 worth of various IOT based hubs/controls to test I decided that all of the cloud dependence that the new wave of stuff required was just another wave of the same old crap in new, shiny packaging and that I'd have to do what I always had concluded in the past that I'd have to do and make most of the hardware/software myself. Fortunately there's now a huge amount of controls made for commercial/industrial building automation that rely on open or semi-open standards that look like they, or something like them will be available for the foreseeable future.
posted by Dr. Twist at 12:14 PM on April 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


This is what happens when the world is being planned and run by nerds who think it's utterly logical to buy new smartphones every months.

If you think it's the nerds planning this, you've got it backwards. Nerds, just like many of the rest of us, work for bosses who make strategical decisions. This is the kind of strategical decision you see made by managers/directors who have been raised and educated (*cough*like the white men bathed in patriarchy they are*cough*) to believe that so long as they Make Big Decisions and Profit From Them then who the fuck cares about peons who already spent their money? That's just an opinion maaaan, they already got their fast car and second house.

It ain't the nerds. Nerds give us MeFi.
posted by fraula at 12:15 PM on April 4, 2016 [24 favorites]


Kind of like: Repo: The Genetic Opera
posted by DesbaratsDays at 12:15 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


There is no need for a "cloud operation" when working with a connected central heating system. You just need some internet interface to the system.

Maybe I'm missing something but why would I want my heating system accessible via the Internet? What advantage would it give me over a programmable or simple thermostat or even just adjusting my clothing choices to suit the environment?
posted by Ashwagandha at 12:16 PM on April 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


My anecdata for this situation: when Dropbox shut down the excellent email app Mailbox, they could have said "you can still use this app, but the server-based features won't work, and there won't be any further updates".

But they gave a countdown to the EOL date, and after that date the app showed a splash screen with a link to the news post. You couldn't read your existing email, or send email from the accounts you had connected, just like a regular dumb mail client.

Two fingers in the air to anyone who forces a customer to either discontinue use of a product or reverse-engineer it to continue working, even at a reduced capacity.
posted by a halcyon day at 12:18 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


Just a sec, lemme mark my "Late Stage Capitalism" bingo square...

Ah, good. Done. And I see "Internet of Things" has already been name-checked. Have they called out "effectively monetize our synergies" yet?
posted by mosk at 12:20 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


If you think it's the nerds planning this, you've got it backwards.

Totally correct. There is a huge community around building this kind of stuff based on Arduino and Raspberry Pi and it gives you a glimpse of what it'd look like if the suits weren't making decisions. Easy interop, runs on all kinds of hacked together hardware stacks in just about any crazy environment, and has a terrible/non-existent UX and even that requires a ton of fiddling. It'll more or less work as long as the hardware remains viable, tho.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:20 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Brilliant: "The cloud isn't magic - it's just someone else's hard drive." - rmd1023

If anyone wants one of these great stickers, MeMail me.*

*Supplies limited to the pile cluttering up my desk - act now!
posted by ryanshepard at 12:21 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Maybe I'm missing something but why would I want my heating system accessible via the Internet?

Because anything not impossible is required
posted by thelonius at 12:21 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


Maybe I'm missing something but why would I want my heating system accessible via the Internet?

Did I leave the oven on?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:27 PM on April 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


If you religiously maintain backwards compatibility and continue to support everything you've ever released, you're accused of having "bloated" and "inefficient" software that's too large, lacks key features, and updates too infrequently.

I'm not sure that's relevant here. "Backwards compatibility" in this case is just a matter of maintaining a bulkhead in your fleet that still exposes the API these clients expect. I agree that the opex associated with maintaining that service across infrastructure changes is non-trivial, but really, if it's overwhelming then you've done something horribly wrong.
posted by invitapriore at 12:29 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


Kind of like: Repo: The Genetic Opera

Hopefully the brickable-nightmare future will have better music, at least. #sorrynotsorry
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:32 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


w0mbat: "My Nest smoke alarm sometimes goes off when the house is completely empty."

My Nest smoke alarm sometimes goes off when the house is completely empty.
posted by boo_radley at 12:33 PM on April 4, 2016


If it has Anthony Head, that's a trade I'm willing to make.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:34 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


This sounds like a class action suit waiting to happen.
posted by tommyD at 12:36 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Did I leave the oven on?

I hope that is the actual reason people want home automation.
posted by Ashwagandha at 12:37 PM on April 4, 2016


Maybe I'm missing something but why would I want my heating system accessible via the Internet?

So that you can tell it when you're on your way home and arrive to a nice warm house.
posted by steveminutillo at 12:37 PM on April 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


The least Nest can do is release code/unlock the devices to allow the possibility for an open-source or other company to provide alternatives, like a personal home server.
posted by linux at 12:39 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


I had have an iPod Touch in a drawer somewhere that was essentially bricked by Apple when they decided one of the iOS updates wouldn't support it. Most of the apps stopped working soon after, being updated for the new OS. I guess it still plays music (I never tried) but that's not really why I bought it. One day the same will happen to my iPad.

The solution, I guess, is to only buy standards-based devices designed for interoperability, that can't be rendered useless by a single corporate decision.
posted by rocket88 at 12:46 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is terrible, but it's arguably better than abandoning support for them, as vulnerabilities grow and fester and they become a menace to their owners and the rest of the world.

I mean, either way sucks, but when they brick them at least it's *obvious* that you have been shafted and need to go buy new shit. If they just abandoned them you might think that everything was OK.
posted by edheil at 12:49 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


So that you can tell it when you're on your way home and arrive to a nice warm house.

How long does it take your house to warm up? Mine takes a couple minutes after I've adjusted it when I come home. Strangely I can wait those few minutes. If not I put a sweater on.

I'm honestly interested if someone has an actual reason. Minor convenience seems a low bar to strive for with home automation.
posted by Ashwagandha at 12:52 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm honestly interested if someone has an actual reason

Since a justification has been provided, I suspect you really mean to say that you're interested if someone has a reason you can agree with.
posted by aramaic at 12:57 PM on April 4, 2016 [37 favorites]


I'm honestly interested if someone has an actual reason.

I assure you that that is an actual reason for me, I use this feature throughout the winter. The house is at some low money-saving temperature when we are out, and when we are on our way back it's just one tap in the app and it's nice and warm by the time we get there. Yes it is a minor convenience, but it is a convenience none the less.
posted by steveminutillo at 12:59 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think a lot of this comes from the fact that even the moderately technically inclined among us have no clue how much software actually costs to develop, operate, and maintain.

Serious question - whose fault do you think this is?

Tech companies (particularly Alphabet) are strangely silent about this when they're taking your money and when acquiring services that they intend on shutting down. Alphabet did the math when they bought this product, yet kept selling it anyway.

You really can't win as a tech company, these days.

Nest cleared $3.2b in cash when bought by Alphabet. Alphabet netted $16b in income last year. But yes - woe are the tech companies and their inability to win.
posted by scrittore at 12:59 PM on April 4, 2016 [21 favorites]


Surely this will Honeywell.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 1:00 PM on April 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


...or even just adjusting my clothing choices to suit the environment?

It's almost like you're trying to ruin the future man!
posted by Max Power at 1:03 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Backwards compatibility" in this case is just a matter of maintaining a bulkhead in your fleet that still exposes the API these clients expect.

I have no special insider info on this case, but this is only true for a while, and since we're talking about something that was an acquisition of an acquisition of Google's, it may never have been that easy. Even with stuff like Google Reader which was built with their infrastructure in mind, it eventually got to the point where simply maintaining its place within that infrastructure was financially unjustifiable to them. Maintaining the status quo is a lot more than just keeping the servers powered up and making sure the network is available, it also includes the need to keep software up to date with shifting standards in terms of security and technique. I disagree that a tight coupling to infrastructure is doing something "horribly wrong," as well. That's why it's there, it's a key competitive advantage for those companies capable of creating it. For companies where software is the product, rewriting core components to take advantage of new innovations in infrastructure makes a lot of sense even though sometimes these new innovations come at the expense of older services which are rendered obsolete.

It's tempting to think of deploying an app in an environment such as this along the lines of a standard deployment, where you have an app represented by a binary plus some data plus some creative assets, etc., which gets copied to some servers exposing endpoints which are then made public via load balancers and so on. With companies who have made the investment, deploying an app is more akin to installing a plugin to an existing, larger system which has its own notion of how to deploy units of execution into an abstracted runtime which has little direct relationship to the underlying physical servers. Google open sourced a piece of such a system, called Kubernetes, which is something we're adopting at my own company. We're facing a similar problem because we have some older apps whose revenue doesn't justify the expense of updating them so that they can be neatly deployed alongside everything else, even though in comparison to the sunk costs, it's not much work. This matters because we've run the numbers and expect substantial savings from containerization.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:05 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


w0mbat: "My Nest smoke alarm sometimes goes off when the house is completely empty."

Call Nest customer service and return it. They'll ship you a new one overnight express (the v2s supposedly are less prone to false alarms), and take the old one back, all free of charge. I've returned two this way.

The false alarms suck, but I prefer the Nest alarms to my old ones. Both have had false alarms at about the same rate, but at least with the Nests I can tell WHICH alarm is malfunctioning.
posted by xthlc at 1:08 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Since this wasn't actually Nest but Revolv you'd think (yeah right) they'd have the native wit to send all those existing customers something like a big discount on shifting to Nest. If not they are both stupid as well as inconsiderate. Guessing all the Revolv stuff is totally incompatible with Nest so they decided it wasn't worth their while. Still dumb. Sticking to my simple programmable thermostat thanks.
posted by leslies at 1:13 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've been wondering if there isn't going to be a hipster-led revival of totally mechanical user-serviceable technology in the next few years.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:17 PM on April 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


> Nothing will kill the internet of things faster than if people suddenly have to start wondering if their devices are going to still work a week from now or if the maker will have deliberately shut them off in hopes people will buy something else instead.

"Start" wondering? We're well past that point. My wife and I have already had several devices that we had to get rid of/upgrade over the years not because they stopped working but because they no longer worked with the newer technology these companies want us to buy.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:19 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've been wondering if there isn't going to be a hipster-led revival of totally mechanical user-serviceable technology in the next few years.

Couldn't it just be a "practicality" led revival?
posted by Max Power at 1:21 PM on April 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


Ashwagandha: Maybe I'm missing something but why would I want my heating system accessible via the Internet? What advantage would it give me over a programmable or simple thermostat or even just adjusting my clothing choices to suit the environment?

Some people have steam or hot water heat, which takes 2+ hours to bring the house to temperature. We try to keep the house just warm enough so the pipes don't freeze while we're away, and then can use our phones to turn it on so it hits the right temperature once we get home.

Also, being able to set your thermostat schedule in a browser or smartphone is much less painful than squinting at the thing on the wall and stabbing buttons. It's also accessible, which lets blind people set their own thermostat.
posted by xthlc at 1:23 PM on April 4, 2016 [12 favorites]


mpbx: "How is this any different than buying an HD-DVD player and seeing the format get beat by Blu-ray?"

I can still play my already purchased disks.
posted by Mitheral at 1:24 PM on April 4, 2016




What a crazy short-sighted thing for Nest to do. They have a series of problems with their flagship products; smoke detectors that don't work, thermostats that stop charging their batteries. Removing support for a three year old product, even one the unwanted stepchild of an acquisition, is breathtakingly stupid.

I have a Nest Thermostat. It's not a very good product. Save $200 and buy a cheap wifi-enabled thermostat instead.
posted by Nelson at 1:30 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


Since a justification has been provided, I suspect you really mean to say that you're interested if someone has a reason you can agree with.

Not at all. If someone is willing to expend the research, the time, the energy, the money, the potential of security compromises, the potential damage to your existing home systems and the efforts needed for the implementation of all this technology for what is a minor change to one's home (adjusting the temperature of one's home by a few degrees at a specific time) that is solvable by low cost solutions unaffected by obsolescence and corporate whimsy - well that doesn't seem like a convincing argument to me. But hey different strokes for different folks I guess.

Some people have steam or hot water heat, which takes 2+ hours to bring the house to temperature.... It's also accessible, which lets blind people set their own thermostat.

These are actual good reasons thanks for offering them. I hadn't thought of accessibility in regards to thermostats, it raises a good point.
posted by Ashwagandha at 1:37 PM on April 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


I have no special insider info on this case, but this is only true for a while, and since we're talking about something that was an acquisition of an acquisition of Google's, it may never have been that easy. Even with stuff like Google Reader which was built with their infrastructure in mind, it eventually got to the point where simply maintaining its place within that infrastructure was financially unjustifiable to them.

So, Reader is potentially a great example of why it doesn't have to be an overwhelming burden. It probably ran on Borg, and Borg's tenure in scheduling containerized workloads is probably longer at this point than median-time-in-industry across all the engineering staff at Google [incidentally, I work on cluster management with Mesos]. I suspect that the financial argument for killing it was expressed more in terms of fleet utilization than engineer-hours. The acquisition-of-someone-else's-shit argument is valid, but at some point this argument bottoms out in an opinion as to whether companies should be obligated to certain standards of support for these products. I think they should.
posted by invitapriore at 1:44 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


cosmic.osmo: "I think a company like staid company Honeywell is much more likely to get long-term support right vs. a "move fast and break things" SV company. However, what I'd worry about with them is stuff like computer security. That's a hard thing to get right as it is, and they don't have the same level of experience with it as a company like Google has."

Sure. Honeywell product may end up being crap but it'll be crap with a long service life.

Ashwagandha: " If not I put a sweater on. "

Are you unaware of Afterpants?

feloniousmonk: "I have no special insider info on this case, but this is only true for a while, and since we're talking about something that was an acquisition of an acquisition of Google's, it may never have been that easy. Even with stuff like Google Reader which was built with their infrastructure in mind, it eventually got to the point where simply maintaining its place within that infrastructure was financially unjustifiable to them."

If Alphabet experienced a prorated 10,000 dollar a day penalty for each day less than five years from the final sale of the product the financial justification window would slide way over.

But that sort of thing is unlikely to happen any time soon so I'll just have to be content with avoiding NEST automation products like I avoid Apple products.
posted by Mitheral at 1:45 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


The reason a lot of these devices require a centralized server is that is it means the only requirement on your network is the device and your phone both need to be able to talk to the internet. Otherwise you have to deal with a huge mess of firewall rules, and who even has a static IP address, and how does your device send notifications, and even local connectivity's not trivial if your LAN has multiple segments.

So, IMO requiring some remote server is not total bullshit. OTOH it is bullshit that this server is up for such a short time. What I want to see (but probably will not) is devices like this coming with at least some guarantee of how long their servers will run.

The Revolv hub is kind of a worse case than most smart appliance; its hardware doesn't really do anything but talk to other devices. So if they kept the server running but didn't make any extra changes, the hub's functionality would still degrade as the various smart devices it can control changed their protocols.

The least Nest can do is release code/unlock the devices

AFAICT the hardware is basically nothing. All it does is get on the wifi and talk to other things via wifi. A raspberry pi could do that. The only significant value is in the software. So, yes, it does seem like they should release the code. Or keep their servers up for longer. Or something.
posted by aubilenon at 1:47 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


What SHOULD have happened: "Sorry this service is discontinuing as of May 15th. We will be sending you our equivalent Nest product free of charge, we hope that you will love it as much as we do" or something like that. Didn't they admit that it was a pretty small number of people that actually used this? So it should not cost them very much to support their early adopters.
posted by Hazelsmrf at 1:56 PM on April 4, 2016 [12 favorites]


Maybe I'm missing something but why would I want my heating system accessible via the Internet? What advantage would it give me over a programmable or simple thermostat or even just adjusting my clothing choices to suit the environment?

So, we bought four Nests pretty soon after they came out---soon enough that they were still willing to send out a guy to help us install them when we were flummoxed by the whackadoodle wiring in our house. (Seriously, one of the old thermostats had been wired using telephone wire. Actually, we had to have our boiler guy come out to help, because our house has several zones and it turned out that the zone controllers we had weren't compatible. But still.)

I don't know if there are cheap wifi-enabled thermostats that could do what the Nests do, now, but I'm pretty sure there weren't when we installed these, and the internet accessibility is helpful. Certainly, some of the positives come from simply having installed modern thermostats.

(1) We live in Fairbanks, Alaska. If your pipes freeze, that's bad news. It's awesome to be able to check on the temperature in the house when you're away.

(2) We've got seriously underpowered baseboard hot-water heaters, and it takes a really long time to increase the temperature (as in, 2+ hours to increase a couple of degrees), especially in the winter. We were excited to have thermostats that (if they worked as advertised, at least) would figure out when they needed to turn on so that the various areas of the house would be 68F when we got home, but still lower to closer to 60F during the day when the house was empty. The "learning" aspect of these thermostats was super-attractive.

(3) We have a detached apartment behind the garage, which is on the same heating system as the house. One set of renters kept it warm enough that they were comfortable in shorts and shortsleeves in the winter, which seemed a little egregious to me. Now we have the ability to lock in a temperature range remotely, while still letting the renters have some control over their heat (I think we cap it at 72, which seems reasonable to me), while helping us deal with fuel costs (which we pay for, not the renter).

(4) We have three different zones. The thermostats can talk to each other and have the zones adjust independently but together to make the various parts of the house the desired temperature.

(5) Having magic thermostats counted positively in our energy assessment (where if we did a bunch of energy improvements, the state would help us pay for them if we got enough of a boost.)

(6) Hopefully, the newer, modern thermostats would help our house be more energy efficient, which is critical when fuel oil was upwards of $5/gallon, and we use...a lot...of fuel oil to heat the house. Seriously, energy prices are pretty astronomical in the Interior. Did I mention it gets cold in Fairbanks? (Well, apparently not this year, which didn't get down to even -30F (seriously!!) which is whack, but in general it gets down to at least -40 several times, and there was one January where the high didn't break -20 for like 3 weeks...that was hard.)

(7) If we turn down the heat because we've gone on an extended trip, it's nice to be able to turn the heat back up remotely before we come home. It really sucks to be in a house that's 50 degrees for two days because it takes a long time to heat back up, but you don't want to be heating the house to 68 degrees for a week when it;s 40 below outside if you're not home. Did I mention it takes a really long time to change the temperature in the house?

I was pissed when Google bought Nest, because we'd invested a pretty significant amount of money in thermostats and I was worried that google was doing something creepy. Now I get to worry about google just deciding to stop supporting them (or stop supporting my old version). Yay.
posted by leahwrenn at 2:06 PM on April 4, 2016 [13 favorites]


A few months ago I had to buy a new TV. It's not that I watch much, but [long story omitted].

So I attach that nice display to the wall and turn it on. After a short wait it shows the first screen of an install procedure. As part of the procedure it INSISTS on an internet connection to call home.

So, yeah, I get it, it's a "smart" TV. I didn't buy it for any of the "smart" features and I don't need or want them, but these days it's impossible to get one without.

I would have had no problem if it was an optional step, but it wasn't.

Well... fuck no. So, I turn on "hot spot" on my phone, tell the TV "look, there's a wifi!" and it proceeds with the installation. I then turn off the hot spot. Good luck calling home now you piece of shit.

Strangely enough the TV still works fine, and does all I want it to do - be a display for some devices. And, I suspect, it doesn't do any of the things I do NOT want it to do.

But it is indeed getting more and more difficult to stay in control of stuff you buy.
posted by DreamerFi at 2:23 PM on April 4, 2016 [22 favorites]


.I think a lot of this comes from the fact that even the moderately technically inclined among us have no clue how much software actually costs to develop, operate, and maintain.

This seems to be implying that everybody who is annoyed by this just doesn't know what they are talking about, which I'm sure you didn't mean since there are plenty of examples just in this thread of people who know exactly what it takes to run a web service and still think this is bad.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:27 PM on April 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


IMHO, the most interesting cat-fight in the IoT space is who owns the hub that runs in the home.

It's simply not enough to base everything in the cloud - the devices need to run locally first, and secondarily sync up with remote apps, etc.

So there has to be a some brains running in the house - the thing that says "Oh, on Thursdays eveyone arrives home late so ensure the outside lights are on an hour earlier than normal" or some such logic. There needs to be one of these somewhere in the home and I think these are possible plays:

- Apple does it with Apple TV - it's already all there with iOS and HomeKit (has been for 2 years) - this is strange that they haven't staked a bigger claim here, as I see it.

- Google does it with either Nest thermostat or something new - they already have an ecosystem started (and clearly Revolv didn't fit).

- Amazon does it with Echo and compatible devices

- Microsoft makes an IoT aware XBox?

It's a pretty sad state of affairs - I went out to buy a HomeKit enabled switch and it was like $60 or something.

The IoT dream of light switches and outlets will only be realized when you can walk into Home Depot and there are receptacle-ready components following some standard which are reasonably priced.

For instance, you can buy a GE Wink (tm) enabled LED bulb at Home Depot for $14.97 which is slated to last 22.8 years.

Do we think GE's Wink protocol will be supported in the year 2039?

Interestingly, that's just beyond the year 2038 so here's hoping these devices aren't exposed to that problem ;-)

A reasonable hub will have an upgrade ability so you can patch the software and fix issues or alter brhaviour - I guess this was not an option with the Revolv.
posted by parki at 2:47 PM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


The reason a lot of these devices require a centralized server is that is it means the only requirement on your network is the device and your phone both need to be able to talk to the internet.

Why can't these servers be as simple as dyndns + some kind of slightly robust authentication? If all you need to do is punch a hole through a firewall, there are (presumably?) completely open-source ways to do it. Just let users specify a custom domain name to point the hub at. Seriously, there's a whole mess of dynamic dns providers out there, paid and free. You can even self-host if you really want to.
posted by BungaDunga at 2:53 PM on April 4, 2016


My feeling is that if a services company has an infrastructure that is going to be too costly for you to maintain after a year of or so of purchasing it, perhaps this should have come up during the due diligence period before you actually bought the company? Otherwise you kind of suck at your job, no?
posted by some loser at 2:56 PM on April 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


The least Nest can do is release code/unlock the devices to allow the possibility for an open-source or other company to provide alternatives, like a personal home server.

I like this in theory because someone with the technical knowledge could port whatever API and backend capability to a Raspberry Pi, for example, and that device could sit on your home network and keep the device functional on your own private cloud.

But nobody gets to serve you ads and collect usage metrics on hardware that doesn't phone home, so it won't be a viable commercial product. Only some devices have user bases geeky and vehement enough to solve this particular obsolescence problem, and most end users (myself included) don't have the technical skill to build their own sandbox even if the company unlocked the device.
posted by a halcyon day at 2:59 PM on April 4, 2016


nobody gets to serve you ads and collect usage metrics on hardware that doesn't phone home, so it won't be a viable commercial product

This is one of the reasons "well, you get what you pay for" was an unsatisfying way to approach the recent Gmail nonsense -- as we're seeing here, just because you pay doesn't mean you aren't still the product.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:04 PM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


At the very least the manufacturer needs to make the server's API public and let you point your device at another server of your own choosing. Let open source advocates build, support and host alternative servers. Manufacturer looks good because "open standards" but doesn't have to spend any time or money actually supporting the devices once it decides to shut down the official servers.

The result could even be market of people selling access to servers for abandoned devices.
posted by BungaDunga at 3:09 PM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I've got a smart display device/TV thingy that I actually want to be on my LAN but not the Internet, generally speaking. Means I can cast things to it and do other stuff on its (Android-based) user surface that are quite fun and useful, but I don't have to worry about it either calling home with my viewing habits or hooking up with bad kids out there in lala-land. It's two major revs behind Marshmallow already, and I don't trust consumer electronics companies to understand security and patching. (After decades experience with CE companies, that is a very incomplete list of things I don't trust them to do...)

So, I have - or will have, I'm about to do a major rebuild of my home tech - a guest SSID on the router that will not in general have WAN access enabled, to which I'll attach whatever devices I don't trust enough to play out on the street. It's not perfect - a compromised unblocked device on the LAN could still mount an attack - but it does make me a lot happier.

It will mean I can't use the device's built-in browser or YouTube/etc apps unless I explicitly enable the WAN route, but those are uniformly harder to use, less functional and more annoying than casting stuff from my grown-up devices.

Thing is, this is both fairly easy technically and very difficult for non-techies. It's the sort of basic-level defensive functionality I'd like to see the industry building into its frameworks, infrastructures and best practices, in a way that is either easy or - preferably - invisible to end users. I'll start taking IoT hype seriously when the IoT industry starts talking and acting that way.

(The next step would be a packet monitor for the rest of us, which is both hard and intriguing)
posted by Devonian at 3:11 PM on April 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


Why can't these servers be as simple as dyndns + some kind of slightly robust authentication? If all you need to do is punch a hole through a firewall, there are (presumably?) completely open-source ways to do it. Just let users specify a custom domain name to point the hub at. Seriously, there's a whole mess of dynamic dns providers out there, paid and free. You can even self-host if you really want to.

yes but no VC-funded silicon valley dickbag is getting a cut here, that's a big big problem
posted by indubitable at 3:15 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


You would be amazed at the number of things that there are presumably completely open-source ways to do.
posted by Going To Maine at 3:29 PM on April 4, 2016


If you want stuff you can depend on for the long term, you probably shouldn't be looking to startups at all.

This exactly. The very business model of the startup is incompatible with a long-term sustainable service with its users in mind. A startup runs at a loss (its “burn rate”) to attract users and build up something worth selling out, users and all. In fact, even once it has accepted venture capital, it is locked into being fattened up for the slaughter in this fashion. Then the founders sell it to Google/Microsoft/Amazon/whoever, and the fate of the existing service now depends on how well it aligns with its new owners' vision. If they're lucky, they'll just need to make a Google/Yahoo/whatever ID*, and perhaps lose the ability to use their service with rivals' products. If they're not so lucky, the new owners decide that the service which, until now, did X is not actually an X service but was meant to be about Y all along, and the users who expected X have to find some other way to do it.

What I would like to see is more services which reject the whole idea of being a startup and remain as a sustainable independent service; they don't aim to grow explosively, they don't intend to pivot into something sexier in 6 months, and the owners are uninterested in selling the company for megabucks (or, even better, unable to do so by the way the company is structured). There are a few examples: Pinboard is the canonical one, and Ind.ie makes a lot of noise about the issue (though its products lag behind its advocacy).

* This ignores, of course, the possibility that the new owners are doing things with the users' data (selling it, training ad-targeting AIs on it, &c.) that is not in the users' interests, but that's another (though connected) issue.
posted by acb at 3:41 PM on April 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Maybe I'm missing something but why would I want my heating system accessible via the Internet?

So that you can turn the heat down remotely and play kidsputonasweater.mp3? So you can take your ecto-/endo-morph thermostat war to the next level?
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:58 PM on April 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


Apparently one of the big things at CES this year was Internet enabled refrigerators, so in light of all this, that sounds like a cool idea.
posted by ODiV at 3:59 PM on April 4, 2016


Nest is apparently an anagram of "Cylon."
posted by grumpybear69 at 4:12 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


They stopped selling my model of car a couple years ago, too, but if the manufacturer suddenly bricked it, I'd be a little pissed.
Your car is a free standing machine with the engine located firmly within the vehicle itself. You pay for this engine when you buy the car. Buying a "smart" device, you're only buying the frame – the engine lives on a server farm in California. It would be nice if the developer released an SDK or something so you could bolt your own database onto the thing, but let's not pretend like car == thermostat.
posted by deathpanels at 4:27 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Recently Home Depot discontinued their Chinese off-brand IoT controlled switched outlets. They originally sold in a pack of 2 for $44, but went on deep discount for $8. When one of my tech buddies online alerted me that they were based on the ESP8266 wifi chip, which I have all the dev tools for, I bought the last four packs from the only local Home Depot that had any left.

After cracking open the first one, before trying to flash the firmware, I decided to evesdrop on it a bit. Turns out these little buggers spend a LOT of bytes talking to their mothership, which is in China. They have no battery or real time clock so they keep poor time when offline and the ONLY way for them to recover the time after a power cycle is to phone home. They call home every couple of minutes even when they are completely idle. It also appears that they store all the settings on the server and not the local flash file system. And every time you turn the lamp on or off, it lets the mothership know. Obviously when the server is turned off they will become bricks.

So anyway I then chased out the pinout of the wifi module, installed the jumper, and re-flashed the firmware. Now it no longer phones home and I can program it in Lua. I have just completed repurposing the first one, which will serve as a cutoff timer for a lapidary saw. This doesn't really require IoT functionality at all; it's mainly just a countdown cutoff timer controlled by the existing on/off button, but since it has the wifi I did arrange to monitor and control it via Telnet which might help with the whole forgetting about the rock saw thing which made the timer a worthwhile project to start with.

Two more are going to soon be controlling my larger saw which needs separate shutoff for the automatic feeder and saw motor. At that point I'll consider my money recovered and I'll have five left to play with.

It is true, as noted above, that the internet connectivity is the easiest way to arrange control from the public internet without a lot of fancy setup and a fixed IP address for the home network. But I don't see why the server in China needs to know all my timer settings and every single event where I press the on/off button. Fortunately, these things are simple enough to repurpose for local use, and at the firesale price were a good deal.
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:35 PM on April 4, 2016 [29 favorites]


"Maybe I'm missing something but why would I want my heating system accessible via the Internet?"

If you're bed bound, it gives you autonomy and some control over your environment. In general, most of the time when a device seems silly and unnecessary it's of more use to the disabled community than to other people. Saving that extra work isn't a big deal when you can easily put on a sweater or walk over to the thermostat. Having more people interested who don't need and depend on it for autonomy brings down the price and often means a better maintained infrastructure. Not always though...
posted by stoneweaver at 4:40 PM on April 4, 2016 [18 favorites]


I have no way of verifying whether this is true, but over on Reddit an anonymous person saying he's a Nest engineer says the whole company (unit of Google/Alphabet) is in trouble because of how much it is underperforming.
posted by Nelson at 4:42 PM on April 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


 … But it is indeed getting more and more difficult to stay in control of stuff you buy.

In this case, the system going dark in just a couple of years is pretty bad. But there are some domestic systems that, IMO, the user shouldn't always be in complete control of. I'm thinking of large loads like tumble dryers. These are a horrid load on a local grid (but not quite as bad as electric kettles) and really, you get the best utility from them by having dry clothes by a certain time, which doesn't have to correlate with the time that you hit the on button. If, in return for drying your clothes more cheaply but guaranteed for a certain time, a variety of system-based decisions were made when to run your dryer, system operators might be able to turn off the most polluting forms of generation.

(the above is written with my utility/conservation hat on, and may not be the most humane approach. There are utility planners and appliance designers thinking along these lines, however, so if you want the bugs knocked out of these ideas, please agitate/lobby now.)
posted by scruss at 4:49 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have a Nest Thermostat. It's not a very good product. Save $200 and buy a cheap wifi-enabled thermostat instead.

The fact that you say it's not a very good product leads me to believe that you've never actually used one of those cheap wifi-enabled thermostats. Or even the more expensive competitors like Ecobee. The Nest thermostat has its flaws, but it's light years ahead of the competition (all of which I have evaluated recently as I've been going through an HVAC project; I've been using Nests for several years)...
posted by primethyme at 4:52 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


But there are some domestic systems that, IMO, the user shouldn't always be in complete control of.

I mean, it'd be nice to have the option to save a few bucks on the electrical bill by telling the dryer to work with your smart meter scheduler to run when rates are cheapest, but forcing it on people would really suck. Sometimes I need those clothes dry right. now.
posted by indubitable at 5:02 PM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Reconfirmed: Tony Fadell is a total asshole.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 5:18 PM on April 4, 2016


So I attach that nice display to the wall and turn it on. After a short wait it shows the first screen of an install procedure. As part of the procedure it INSISTS on an internet connection to call home.
...
But it is indeed getting more and more difficult to stay in control of stuff you buy.


Heh. I recently passed on buying a keyboard (a keyboard!) that required an internet connection* to activate its features on first use.
Granted the features were the completely unnecessary but really cool programmable Blinkenlichten and fancy media keys, but c'mon!
(The fine print did specify that it would work in "optional offline mode" after registration, but I trust that about as far as I can throw a keyboard.

*And a Windows machine, but I probably could have fudged that..
posted by madajb at 5:20 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Jay & Farhad just did a podcast on the shit show at Nest. I don't get the Nest business model. You could perhaps get away with charging premium prices on the first usable programmable thermostat on the market but unless you're Apple or you're really good at writing pretty software you're not going to be able to maintain that price advantage for more than a couple of years. Once you've got compatibility with houses' HVAC systems, programmability, and data connection issues solved then there's nothing complex enough about thermostats to keep someone else from doing it cheaper and better. If you're Nest and your next step is going to be pushing a bunch of automation stuff using proprietary tech to users, then it's really dumb to kill the old proprietary stuff off. Why would anyone trust you?
posted by rdr at 5:26 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


What I would like to see is more services which reject the whole idea of being a startup and remain as a sustainable independent service; they don't aim to grow explosively, they don't intend to pivot into something sexier in 6 months, and the owners are uninterested in selling the company for megabucks (or, even better, unable to do so by the way the company is structured). There are a few examples: Pinboard is the canonical one

When this model works, it's great. But being small and self-funded is no guarantee that a company won't go broke, get bored, get sued to death, or get bought. And it's for sure extra-difficult for stuff that involves physical manufacturing.
posted by aubilenon at 5:32 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


These are a horrid load on a local grid (but not quite as bad as electric kettles) and really, you get the best utility from them by having dry clothes by a certain time, which doesn't have to correlate with the time that you hit the on button.

The time I want my clothes dry by is ASAP, so I can put the next load in. New dryers do tend to come with cycle delays so you can dry clothing in the middle of the night if that works for you, but I can't remember the last time I washed a single load of laundry in a day.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:44 PM on April 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


I'm with Bringer Tom, above - this just means that a whole lot of very small, very efficient computers (complete with processor, ram, a bit of disk and even a wifi antenna!) are about to be rock-bottom cheap.

Do with them what you will.
posted by eclectist at 6:01 PM on April 4, 2016


Fortunately, these things are simple enough to repurpose for local use, and at the firesale price were a good deal.
posted by Bringer Tom

You're like a god to me! Oh, how I wish I could do things like what you described.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 6:33 PM on April 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


Do with them what you will

To be clear, I only bought the outlets when it was verified that they were based on an architecture I could probably reverse engineer. Could you do that with a NEST thermostat? I have no idea. The thing is, there isn't a lot of software necessary to decide when to open and close a relay. It gets a bit more interesting when you have comm protocols and sensors that may or may not be documented.

Some time back I bought a Sony DASH from eBay which came pre-bricked, because the original Sony servers were long offline and while there were new servers, the firmware update to tell it to go to the new servers could only be applied from the original servers that didn't exist any more. I actually spent four or five hours with Sony's help desk before they realized it was hopeless because there was no way to flash the firmware through a cable or local wifi connection. I ended up returning it to the seller who refunded me without protest when I explained the problem.

I generally find this trend toward requiring internet mothership servers for devices to function to be a really bad stupid idea that we should not put up with. The sad thing is the little relay outlets I bought are pretty nicely made. They come apart with normal screws to reveal a half with the self-contained relay, transistor driver, and unregulated power supply, all of which alone would be worth more than four bucks. And in the other half the ESP8266 module (with FCC cert) is perfectly useful and worth about four bucks on its own as a generic embedded wifi computer. Winner winner wifi dinner. But all the people who bought them who are not like me, who are just using the cell phone app to control them for the cool factor, are going to own plastic bricks in a few years when the Chinese manufacturer gets tired of paying for their own bandwidth.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:34 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm missing something but why would I want my heating system accessible via the Internet?

When I go on vacation, I have my thermostat set to 85 (I live in Florida and run my a/c pretty much year round). It takes about 3 hours for my house to cool down from 85 to 75, so when I'm about 3 hours from home, I adjust the thermostat on my phone and when I get home from a 12 hour drive, my house is comfortable. I don't want to unpack, go through a pile of mail and messages while I'm sweltering in a muggy hot house. YMMV.
posted by hollygoheavy at 7:26 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


But there are some domestic systems that, IMO, the user shouldn't always be in complete control of. I'm thinking of large loads like tumble dryers.

If it's a matter of voluntarily joining a system that spreads these loads, I'm fine with it.

But sometimes I need the fucking dryer to dry my clothes right now, and if it won't I am the kind of guy who will fix the dryer so it does what the hell I want. And I will sell my solution to the problem to all my neighbors to offset the time I waste making it do what I want.
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:33 PM on April 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'm honestly interested if someone has an actual reason.

My electric utility (ComEd, Chicago) allows me to choose to pay for my electricity supply with real-time pricing, meaning that instead of a fixed price per KWh my rate floats depending on what ComEd pays on the grid. The price changes every 5 minutes and I'm billed based on the hourly average.

When rates start to spike, I want the ability to start shedding load. Right now I get text messages warning me of spikes, but I still have to call home and let someone know to shut the A/C compressor off. Eventually my thermostat will know the price itself and handle things accordingly. If it can see the current weather forecast, even better. I can already talk to my meter with Zigbee and see what my current load is. Having it all work together is good for me, and good for the utility in the long view. Even doing it clumsily by hand, I save 15-20% monthly.

ComEd was recently offering $100 rebates on Nests. I wonder if that will stick around much longer.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:44 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Moral of the story: Don't buy products that require servers to be accessible across the internet to work.

(looks with great worry at my PS4, Xbox One)
posted by habeebtc at 9:22 PM on April 4, 2016


Yeah, I'm a big fan of the cloud. When it's MY cloud, in my fucking house.

Was considering buying a ring.com device the other day... They look awesome, except... I don't want to store video of my front door with some server somewhere, and I don't want my awesome device suddenly turned off some day because the company goes the fuck away.

It sends shivers down my spine when people install 'security' cameras *in their house* that transmit their video to some random server in China. Nope, nope, nope. It's not even that I don't trust random company in China (which I don't), but I sure as hell don't trust them to secure their server/protocols/infrastructure.

A smart fridge? Muahahaha, you gotta be kidding me.

I'll consider these cloud home devices once the companies do some simple things like... Put their codebase in escrow to be given to the world when the company dies; allows users to reflash their hardware... Submits to some basic security audits by reputable pentest companies.

What I'd like these folks to do is to offer to use their service... But then also release server packages so you can run this shit in your own home if you want. Look, if their business model is selling hardware, then it shouldn't be a problem. And yeah, I'll pay extra to know some hardware will stay working.
posted by el io at 10:06 PM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


What I'd like these folks to do is to offer to use their service... But then also release server packages so you can run this shit in your own home if you want. Look, if their business model is selling hardware, then it shouldn't be a problem. And yeah, I'll pay extra to know some hardware will stay working.
posted by el io

Preach it, brother (or sister)!!!
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:16 PM on April 4, 2016


Just went through a nightmare with wife and Apple "cloud" or whatever. Endless unexplainable duplication of photos (not by her), leading to huge data sizes, meaning Apple could sell her more storage for cloud backups or whatever. I don't know from clouds since I would never trust my data to Apple or M$oft or whoever. She is ensnared and I would like to categorically state that Apple is an evil malevolent force on the planet, spreading ignorance and confusion and I thank Goddess once again that I vowed to never touch their products ever again about 15 years ago.
posted by telstar at 10:34 PM on April 4, 2016


I've also found that Nest devices will request an IP from your DHCP server, but will just keep using that IP after the lease expires. Eventually another device ends up being allocated the expired IP, e.g. the TiVo, and problems happen.

I had to make my DHCP server (i.e. Airport Extreme box) reserve a set IP for each Nest thing to make everything work.
posted by w0mbat at 10:39 PM on April 4, 2016


We need to effectively outlaw closed source software. Our law should say : Copyright should apply only to human writings, meaning the source code. You may derive a copyright on the compiled, installed, etc. product, but only if you distribute the source code in a usable way.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:52 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Copyright should apply only to human writings

I understand the intent, but this particular phrasing would make one hell of a lot of PDFs and laser-printed documents out of copyright.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:10 PM on April 4, 2016


I'm completely against open source people coming to the rescue here. If they do, it's just a license for shitty corporations to release a product and then drop it after a year or so if it doesn't work out, with the rationale that "the open source community can support it". Well, why should they?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 12:25 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Between server hardware, electricity, rack space, Internet, sysadmin time, programmer time, costs for running a service are not inconsequential, though it's relatively cheap these days. Forcing companies which offer any Internet-based service to commit money in escrow, for their service to continue running for two years after some point sounds simultaneously reasonable and ridiculous to me.

Ignoring any impracticality though, lets say such a regulation existed. What happens after those two years are up? Without any open-source requirements, all we've done is punt two years down the road, and we still end up with a $600 paperweight.

The "source" in open source isn't about the community, it's a modern version of the look-inside-the-box mentality that existed in the early days of radios and TVs when schematics were included in the manual. Opening the source allows any programmer who has the skills to open up the software box and make that paperweight useful again.

Open source does sometimes saves money for a corporation, but it is more about having the freedom to look inside a box you bought and paid for, so you can fix it yourself, or to take it to the modern day digital equivalent of the local neighborhood radio repair shop.
posted by fragmede at 2:02 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm missing something but why would I want my heating system accessible via the Internet?

- If I go on holiday and forget to turn off the heating before I leave, I can do that remotely.
- I come home from holiday and can turn on the heating a couple of hours in advance of arrival so the house can heat up in time.

How long does it take your house to warm up? Mine takes a couple minutes after I've adjusted it when I come home.

I am genuinely and non-sarcastically impressed and jealous that your house takes a couple of minutes to warm up. If I get home and my house is ~10C, it will take more than two hours to warm up to ~20C after I put the heating on. I am working on improving the insulation but it will never be "a couple of minutes" unless I install a second boiler and another 10 radiators.

As far as I can tell, the Nest thermostat will function fine without an internet connection - occasionally ours fails to connect to wifi and it just goes on working as normal just without the remote control functionality.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:19 AM on April 5, 2016


All this talk of open sourcing the software presumes the software is owned by Nest/Google. For the majority of embedded systems, that is not true. Very often IP will have been licensed from third parties and cannot be open sourced. You see this even with the Raspberry Pi, which was created from the very beginning to be open, but still has closed source pieces.

On the server side, it's more likely Nest owns all the source. So it might be more practical to release, but only because it's a pre-Google project. If they've adopted Google's development practices, anything server-side is drowning in 100+ layers of Google dependencies and can never be practically open sourced (other Googlers will know what I mean).
posted by ryanrs at 3:34 AM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


Re this and other comments about alarms. The false alarms suck, but I prefer the Nest alarms to my old ones. Both have had false alarms at about the same rate, but at least with the Nests I can tell WHICH alarm is malfunctioning.

Had no idea that smoke alarm false alarms had become a thing that people were just used to. My condo building came around and installed smoke alarms in all the units six or seven years ago. No idea what brand they are or how they work. They have only ever gone off during the once a year inspection/test. How does anyone put up with that many false alarms?
posted by Gotanda at 3:42 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Gotanda, agreed. When I talk about false fire alarms, it's when I'm searing a steak or doing other smoky cooking. You know, when there is smoke but the house is not actually on fire. Or at school when some kid purposely pulls the fire alarm switch.

Completely random fire alarms are just weird bullshit I've never experienced in my life. I'm somewhat surprised there isn't mandatory testing and certification to ensure false alarms never happen, because that's the sort of thing that causes people to disable their fire alarms.
posted by ryanrs at 3:53 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


The good thing about the Nest alarms is a) they announce "SMOKE DETECTED IN [location]" to give you a few seconds to smack the Cancel button, instead of launching straight into the deafening siren, and b) the Cancel button is ~7cm wide instead of being a tiny 1cm wide button like on the regular alarms. So instead of desperately poking at the alarm with a stick you can easily hit the button first time.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:30 AM on April 5, 2016


I loved my Roku. But not enough to buy another one, ever.

Meanwhile, I finally bought a Roku recently in a fit of pique after realizing that Amazon deliberately reduced some of the video playback functionality of its Kindle Fire in order to try to force people to upgrade to Fire TV instead. But basically all Amazon has accomplished here is my resolution to never, ever buy Fire TV. Or even another kindle. I'd become one of those "I haven't owned a TV in YEARS" hipsters first.
posted by TwoStride at 5:58 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Funny enough, the one guys I'd sort of trust to do this IoT thing is Apple. Why?

1) They already have a decade long track record with Apple TV.

2) They *don't need to make money off your info.* That's huge. Apple encrypts your data in ways they can't read because their business model has no need for your data. They make the money on the hardware end.

3) Apple, unlike everybody else in the damn world, stood up to the FBI and said "No, that's bullshit, we are not going to weaken our OS just so you can crack things at will."

4) Apple has a long-haul attitude that nobody else does.

On the other hand, the weakest part of Apple's offerings are the cloud offerings. They get devices, they're still learning cloud infrastructure and services. I am impressed that they've decided to build thier own server platform from scratch because *they don't trust anything they buy to not be rooted by the NSA already.*

That's my kind of company, there. But, yeah, Apple cloud services aren't the best. Google's good at it because that's all they do (because they want all your data so they can sell it.)

Just went through a nightmare with wife and Apple "cloud" or whatever. Endless unexplainable duplication of photos (not by her), leading to huge data sizes, meaning Apple could sell her more storage for cloud backups or whatever

Apple's policy is *do not delete data without user consent.* So, if there's a problem with the sync, it will duplicate data rather than toss it.

THIS IS THE CORRECT ANSWER TO THAT ISSUE.

Now, yes, not duplicating at all would be nice. But bugs happen. Bugs that duplicate data are annoying. Bugs that destroy data? Disastrous.

You don't have to buy more space. There are ways to dedupe. But if the option is double or nothing? I pick double --- every single time.

I also sync my photos and such locally, because while I just said I'd sort of trust Apple, I don't trust *anybody* but myself with my data. I do let iCloud sync my calendar and contacts because to an ADHD riddled guy like me, this makes me functional -- I put an appointment in my phone, the computer reminds me.

I don't like it, but the functionality is worth the risk to me.
posted by eriko at 6:20 AM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


Reading this thread again, it's full of comments about "this should be open source so you can fix it yourself" or "hurf durf cloud services; run your own server!"

We are the 1%. Yes, I'm very impressed you know how to compile C++ code and manage your own server. I can do that too. My uncle could fix the spark plug timing in his car, too. My great-grandmother churned her own butter.

Ordinary people don't want to do those things, or know how to do those things. Something like a thermostat or an alarm system should Just Work. Cloud services are a necessary part of network devices Just Working with today's Internet. The problem isn't that a service is required, it's Google's lack of commitment to maintaining that service.

I could imagine some technology and policy that would allow for a cloud-serviced device like a Nest to work even if the service goes away. Switch to a new cloud server, an autonomous run mode, or maybe a decentralized architecture that doesn't require a central server. But it's pretty complicated to build a modern product that way and there's not much business case for it. I can't imagine regulators requiring it either.
posted by Nelson at 8:02 AM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


The good thing about the Nest alarms is a) they announce "SMOKE DETECTED IN [location]" to give you a few seconds to smack the Cancel button, instead of launching straight into the deafening siren, and b) the Cancel button is ~7cm wide instead of being a tiny 1cm wide button like on the regular alarms. So instead of desperately poking at the alarm with a stick you can easily hit the button first time.

That's not a feature. That's a bug. If you're designing a smoke detector and you discover that it gives off an inordinate number of false alarms and you then decide to integrate an easier way to tell the detector to shut up into the design then you've failed. The button should be big and read and labeled; "we can't figure out how to design a working smoke detector".
posted by rdr at 8:06 AM on April 5, 2016 [8 favorites]


Reading this thread again, it's full of comments about "this should be open source so you can fix it yourself" or "hurf durf cloud services; run your own server!"

We are the 1%. Yes, I'm very impressed you know how to compile C++ code and manage your own server.


It's like you've never heard of pre-compiled binaries. I can't compile C++ code, but I can install Firefox and my Wordpress installation does a fair-to-middling job of managing itself.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:10 AM on April 5, 2016


It's like you've never heard of pre-compiled binaries.

Poe's Law proves right again.
posted by Etrigan at 8:11 AM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


There is nothing except open source that could come to the rescue here. Are you going to require that companies that operate a server people depend upon take out insurance to keep the server operating in the event that they go bankrupt? Yes maybe, but that's far more invasive.

An open source project is not like churning your own butter. It's like someone else already churned all the butter. Yeah, maybe nobody made opening the can user friendly, but folks manage somehow. It's only active legal threats by Google that make installing CyanogenMod kinda tricky, for example.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:54 AM on April 5, 2016


If you're getting truly random alarms, inspect your detector. There may be a spider living in there.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:27 AM on April 5, 2016


The good thing about the Nest alarms is a) they announce "SMOKE DETECTED IN [location]" to give you a few seconds to smack the Cancel button, instead of launching straight into the deafening siren, and b) the Cancel button is ~7cm wide instead of being a tiny 1cm wide button like on the regular alarms. So instead of desperately poking at the alarm with a stick you can easily hit the button first time.

Nest: Our Terrible Smoke Alarms Are Easy to Disable!
posted by indubitable at 9:31 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


seriously, in about 10 years i've had exactly 1 false smoke alarm; i was doing something dumb with the oven that gave off a ton of smoke. i have no idea off the top of my head how i would reset the alarm because it's just not something i do. this is a solved problem.
posted by indubitable at 9:36 AM on April 5, 2016


That's not a feature. That's a bug. If you're designing a smoke detector and you discover that it gives off an inordinate number of false alarms

It's not a false alarm, I'm talking about if I create loads of smoke in the kitchen when cooking. It's real smoke, but not a fire. I don't count that as a "malfunction".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:53 AM on April 5, 2016


in about 10 years i've had exactly 1 false smoke alarm; i was doing something dumb with the oven that gave off a ton of smoke.

This is what I'm talking about. I probably do that 1-2 times a year. Sometimes if the oven is at max cooking something fatty, sometimes when I'm frying something on the stove, and a couple of times when BBQ smoke blew into the house through the back door. If I did all that and the alarm didn't go off I'd be concerned.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:59 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]



I guess people are outraged because they don't want the things they buy to be destroyed by the company they bought them from. But I guess we're doing blame the victim on this issue too. Gotta blame that victim.


Between this and the gmail thread, i'm beginning to think people here have a genuine mean streak. Company does something stupid and completely antisocial/anti customer? It's the stupid users fault for using their products. That company was so obviously creepy and evil(to suspicious supernerds on the internet).

Will some people maybe "learn a lesson" from this or what google did? Maybe. Is it totally their dummy dum fault for using that companies products? No, and if you think it is you might be kind of an asshole.

There's questions people should maybe be asking, but no one is stupid for buying a thermostat or whatever and assuming it would work as advertised for more than two years. I hope these guys get their pants class actioned off.
posted by emptythought at 10:12 AM on April 5, 2016 [14 favorites]


Between this and the gmail thread, i'm beginning to think people here have a genuine mean streak. Company does something stupid and completely antisocial/anti customer? It's the stupid users fault for using their products.

That's a fundamentally American attitude: Something bad happened to you? You deserve it. (See: the poor, the jobless, the sick, the innocent gunned down by police...)
posted by entropicamericana at 10:24 AM on April 5, 2016 [8 favorites]


sotonohito: "caution live frogs, I'd say that the company selling X product has a certain obligation to keep it going for a while even if that means they're spending a bit of money. I'm not sure what the cutoff date should be, but one year from the date of last purchase seems too soon."

My point was not that they shouldn't have treated their customers badly - because they didn't. Revolv's customers were not Google/Nest Labs customers. It's hard to be angry at the company for not paying the money to support the customers of the company they acquired. If Google shut down Nest, yeah - I'd be pissed. I have one myself. But they are selling the Nest: They never sold Revolv, they bought the parent company. I am having a hard time being angry at them for shutting down the servers of an acquired company that supported a product that directly competed with their flagship home automation system. There are any number of startups that make a great product, get bought, and disappear. I agree that asking a company to support products for a reasonable length of time is a good idea, while they still own the company that made the product. But we cannot expect a new owner to have any responsibility toward the past clients: Startups generally get purchased for the IP, or to prevent competition.

Hazelsmrf: "Didn't they admit that it was a pretty small number of people that actually used this? So it should not cost them very much to support their early adopters."

Calculated risk. The small number of Revolv users who bothered to use the app were probably never going to switch to a Nest in the first place.

As a Nest owner, I am not really worried that Google is going to pull the rug out from under me here. As pointed out many times upthread, the Nest works fine even without a connection. If Google shut down the service, I would not need to buy a new thermostat. I'd lose functionality, but it would still work to heat and cool my house. If you buy a product that literally cannot function without an outside connection to an external server, you're taking a risk - if the company gets purchased or goes under, you lose. The people who bought a Revolv gambled and lost. This happens with early adopters of new things. If you bought a Betamax or HD-DVD player, you took a similar risk and lost. Waiting until there is a standardized platform or ecosystem is less risky.

I like cloud services. I pay for them. I use cloud-based email, backup solutions, storage, etc. - but wherever possible, it's on my own hardware. Flickr holds my photos - but not the ONLY copy. Crashplan handles my backups - but to a hard drive in a computer I own. Google holds my email - but I keep the important messages on a local mirror. I understand the risks of internet-enabled stuff, I understand the speed at which companies buy and sell each other, and I've been burned before when a product I liked got eaten by a larger beast. I still can't blame Google on this one.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:31 AM on April 5, 2016


But we cannot expect a new owner to have any responsibility toward the past clients

Uh... why not?
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:38 AM on April 5, 2016 [10 favorites]


Between this and the gmail thread, i'm beginning to think people here have a genuine mean streak. Company does something stupid and completely antisocial/anti customer? It's the stupid users fault for using their products.

Is this directed at me? Because I think I've been pretty clear that Nest is in the wrong here.
posted by indubitable at 11:39 AM on April 5, 2016


Like when Wells Fargo purchased Wachovia I didn't lose my bank account - I became a customer of Wells Fargo and received equivalent products and services from them as I had received from Wachovia. They didn't just tell me to go fuck myself.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:39 AM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's hard to be angry at the company for not paying the money to support the customers of the company they acquired.

No. That's pretty easy. Customer support is one of the things they acquired.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:41 AM on April 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


Is this directed at me? Because I think I've been pretty clear that Nest is in the wrong here

No, and it wasn't directed at any one specific person. It's a general attitude ive seen in multiple comments from a variety of people.

In fact i am 100% in agreement with you on smartphones. There's many models that have gotten less than two years of support, or even basically one year of any patches or anything at all. This is the kind of thing e-waste laws should be bench pressing.

I know we're never going to get the sort of warranty laws the EU or even just the UK have, but if we could get any kind of action on something along the lines of "an electronic device should be up to date and have all of its features functional for X amount of time".

My freaking samsung tv, two years in, has something like half its original features disabled. They kill another 1-2 every month. It used to have skype, not anymore. Then it was the 3d movie store, then... Total baldfaced bullshit. These are features advertised on the front of the box i paid for. I guess i should feel lucky that it even turns on at all and doesn't just power up to "Sorry, video services are unavailable" and do nothing?

I mean, as with everything this happens to me with, i'm not buying another one from that brand. But they(and i mean the nebulous "they" here) already got my money, and yours, and everyone elses.
posted by emptythought at 11:50 AM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


Or as another example, when a landlord buys a house from another landlord, they can't say "well they're not my tenants, I didn't sign a lease with them" and immediately evict them or stop maintaining the property. Because there are laws preventing them from doing that, because it's a scummy thing to do.

Just because the law has not yet legally established that bricking these devices is a scummy thing to do, doesn't mean it isn't a scummy thing to do. Just because there are no consumer protections on them doesn't mean there shouldn't be, and it doesn't mean there won't be.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:25 PM on April 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


The landlord example involved a contract though, a lease. Or in the absence of a formal lease usually an understanding based on local law of how long new tenants are entitled to stay.

Part of the problem with the modern Internet industry is there are few consumer-friendly laws or contracts. The terms of service of most of this stuff gives the users basically no rights, and often has us clicking away our right to sue (binding arbitration) and often giving away rights to any data or intellectual property generated by our use of the device we paid for. It's terrible.

So maybe Internet-of-Things devices should come with a binding contract that requires some level of support and service. Either for X years from date of purchase or else for Y years after you stop paying the subscription service fee. Maybe if Google and friends keep screwing users, regulators will be encouraged to require such consumer protections.
posted by Nelson at 12:44 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


When Bank A buys Bank B, they are not buying them for IP - you and your money are the product being sold. Same goes for housing. They are buying the property to increase revenue through the money you are obligated to pay them. (Not that the bank couldn't close your account and return your cash, or that the new property owner can't decide not to renew the lease, and then demo the property, but that's beside the point - usually, this doesn't happen.) These companies are usually profitable because of the customers. They are acquired to acquire the customers.

Tech companies don't work that way. They're acquired to bring onboard talent or IP, not just for the product. Many, many times, the product is incidental and goes away. Many, many times, the product itself is not profitable or is running at a major loss, kept afloat by VC money. The customers don't provide a revenue stream. There is nothing that requires the new owner to keep the product alive.

I'm not saying it's a good thing. I'm saying I understand the decision, and that from a purely business angle I see why they did it. I will also remind people that Google isn't bricking anything - they are shutting down the service. They are not the ones who made the device depend on the service for functionality.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:00 PM on April 5, 2016


Some time back I bought a Sony DASH from eBay which came pre-bricked

Aside, for any other Sony Dash owners out there who've been unable to use theirs for the past while; Sony released a patch the other week, to be applied via USB drive. The procedure wiped out my locally stored settings (alarms, radio stations), but otherwise it's working again.

posted by Shmuel510 at 1:15 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


(Actually, now that I think of it, it's possible that I lost the local settings simply by virtue of it having been unplugged most of the time for the past month and change, since it stopped working.)
posted by Shmuel510 at 1:18 PM on April 5, 2016


caution live frogs I would argue that when you buy a company, regardless of what you bought it for, you acquire the obligations of that company. It doesn't matter that Google never sold this product, or why they bought the company that did, once they bought it then the owners of those products became their obligation. That may not be the case legally, but I argue that it should be.

Otherwise we're in a situation where business can just scam customers by selling a product, and once they've made the quick and easy money arranging to be bought by a shell company so they can brick the devices and repeat.

Many, many times, the product is incidental and goes away. Many, many times, the product itself is not profitable or is running at a major loss, kept afloat by VC money. The customers don't provide a revenue stream. There is nothing that requires the new owner to keep the product alive.

Well, again, I'd disagree. To the people who bought it, who spent their hard earned money on it, the product is not even slightly incidental. And, again, I would argue that the new owner should be legally obligated to maintain whatever services are required to keep those products going, or to open the source of the product and remove the DRM so that the customers can do it themselves.

I will also remind people that Google isn't bricking anything - they are shutting down the service.

Now you're just playing word games. The product will cease to work, therefore it is being bricked. The specifics of how that takes place are irrelevant. When you buy something it is with the unspoken assumption that it will work until mechanical failure. Just because someone can weasel and say that they aren't *really* killing the device, they're just taking some totally separate action that by a complete coincidence will kill the device, doesn't mean they aren'tkilling the device.

The Catholic BS about double effect is BS when it comes to abortion and BS here too. Google is deliberately destroying a device that people bought, with real money, and expected to work. That's not right.
posted by sotonohito at 1:34 PM on April 5, 2016 [10 favorites]


I'll also note that companies do acquire the debt, and other obligations of companies they buy as a normal and long standing part of buying companies. There is nothing new or unusual in the idea that when you buy a company you also acquire the obligations that company had to its customers.
posted by sotonohito at 1:35 PM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


It'd be worth looking at Revolv's terms of service, whether they had any legal obligation to provide service. I'm guessing not. (I'd argue they and Google/Nest do have an ethical obligation, not to mention a practical interest. But that's a different thing.)
posted by Nelson at 1:40 PM on April 5, 2016


Now you're just playing word games. The product will cease to work, therefore it is being bricked. The specifics of how that takes place are irrelevant.

I don't agree with what they're doing here, but I also think it's a good idea to keep in mind what they are actually doing and the difference between that and bricking a device. I think that while the specifics don't absolve them of responsibility, they are still hugely relevant because they should be taken into account while we move increasingly into this cloud-riddled future and how we think about responsibilities and obligations going forward.
posted by ODiV at 2:04 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


How is shutting down the Web server required for a device to work meaningfully different from bricking that device?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:06 PM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


Unless you're using bricked in a different way than I understand it, the server could come back on next week and your device would work again, for one.
posted by ODiV at 2:18 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Okay, how is permanently shutting down the Web server required for a device to work, as Google has promised to do here, meaningfully different from bricking that device?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:22 PM on April 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


If sufficient consumer protections are in place as a result of us knowing the difference between shutting down a web server and bricking a device then the company could potentially be held to their obligation of supporting the device. Whereas if the device is bricked then we're probably out of luck and all we can hope for is maybe a credit from a class action lawsuit settlement.
posted by ODiV at 2:27 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Though if they intentionally brick a device with an update, maybe they could be hit with a criminal charge?
posted by ODiV at 2:33 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


(he asks hopefully, knowing the answer is probably lol)
posted by ODiV at 2:42 PM on April 5, 2016


My husband refuses to buy video games that have DLC or download codes for this reason. He collects games and he's scared that the companies that sell them will just stop hosting the files and then the game is gone. So while he's very much looking forward to Dark Souls 3, he'll wait until the Game of the Year edition with all the content on the disk. I think he's being paranoid but maybe he's got a point.
posted by Hazelsmrf at 3:23 PM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


Theoretically, one could muck with the device via a firmware update to point it at another server. The device itself works, the owners still own it, it could be revived. No one is making the hardware itself non-functional. (Hypothetical example: Suppose Microsoft required a live connection for Windows to work - if the company goes under tomorrow, Windows ceases working. Your PC is dead, but it isn't bricked: You can install Linux and keep using the hardware to do the same sorts of tasks you used to do with it.) Is it likely that someone will reverse engineer the Revolv hardware and set up a new server? No, but then again, it wasn't likely that anyone would revive dead technology to talk to a satellite, but it happened. Some people enjoy challenges.

I agree that it sucks for the Revolv users to find out their product is not going to work any more. I don't agree that the action should result in outrage and distrust of Nest, which seems to be the main reaction here - intentionally so, given the framing of the article, which made it sound as if Google were bricking older Nest models. Should consumers demand longer support periods? Sure. But we have to be careful when deciding that companies have an "ethical obligation" to support something. What's the cutoff? Who decides that? It's an interesting question, and one that will become more important as IoT takes off. Right now, the answers are "right now" and "our lawyers said we could do this with impunity", respectively.

I think mandating some sort of reasonable support lifetime might be a good idea. (Again, not arguing it is "ethical" for Google to kill Revolv's servers, just agreeing that it isn't unreasonable for them to do so, given the case). But I can also see this getting out of hand. What happens to a company that goes under? Are they going to be hit with a class action for not supporting products? And really, I tend to think that ANY IoT device purchase is a risk in the first place. There's no ubiquitous agreed-upon tech involved. No set protocols, no universal anything - until the market settles on a given system, anything you buy now (including the Nest I have at home) is quite likely to be abandonware in a few years. Will it still work? Ask right now, before you buy it, "what happens if I unplug the home network?" If the sales guy says "the device ceases to function" then think twice before dropping the cash, and be prepared to be out of luck if the company gets swallowed or goes under.

Jesus, maybe I'm getting cynical here. I just don't trust any of the bastards to keep anything alive longer than it's profitable, which is a very short time frame indeed. I'm honestly surprised that so many folks here were so outraged that Google shut down support for an obsolete device they inherited from a competitor.

(and Hazelsmrf, it's a legitimate concern. That's why I buy the movie "combo packs" that have a physical disk plus the download code... and prefer a downloadable file I can save locally over a redemption code at a streaming service. The disk or local file still works even if the digital host disappears!)
posted by caution live frogs at 3:30 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


It'd be worth looking at Revolv's terms of service, whether they had any legal obligation to provide service.

And, separate from whatever they assert in a 10 kiloword clickthrough license, what services and behavior they're legally compelled to do.

Just because a sign or contract says "management is responsible for nothing and you're signing away rights you can't actually sign away" doesn't mean you've actually signed away those rights.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:35 PM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


It'd be worth looking at Revolv's terms of service, whether they had any legal obligation to provide service.

And, separate from whatever they assert in a 10 kiloword clickthrough license, what services and behavior they're legally compelled to do.

I can’t find the cites right now, so you’ll have to take this on faith, but there are at least some legal precedents for clickthrough legal agreements as binding.
posted by Going To Maine at 3:53 PM on April 5, 2016


Interesting and pertinent reading for the discussion - Slashdot pointed me at this archived copy of their site from mid-2014. At the bottom of the page, there's a lovely red "Get It Now" button, and immediately above that...

What’s In The Box
- Revolv Smart Home Solution (Hub & iOS App)
- Power Cable & 60 Second ‘Getting Started Guide’
- Free lifetime service subscription
- Free monthly updates for additional device support
- Free future firmware updates to automatically activate new radios


I'm not sure exactly what legal standing that would have (and it's likely EULA'd away the moment you think about opening the box), but it's certainly interesting. I've been involved in the "people should have seen this coming and done better research" argument with a few folks offline - if you've done your research and they've openly lied/abdicated their responsibility, it gets increasingly difficult to blame the victims here.

In the spirit of research, I also can't find anything on the site that mentions it requires a functional connection to their servers for any and all operation. As an embedded engineer myself, I'd certainly hope/expect that if it's infrastructure went away, it might at least be usable via local Wifi or similar. Controlling lights or thermostat from my sofa doesn't seem unreasonable, or programming set patterns of lights/temperature when I go away for a week or two should be possible at a push. Total loss of functionality absolutely would not be what I expected unless that was explicitly pointed out to me.

I went for a poke around the Nest site, and couldn't find statements one way or the other for their devices either. I don't own one, but I certainly wouldn't be counting on it for anything mission critical at this point.

Also interesting is the Dec 2014 version of their page, where the acquisition is clearly going through and they state:

What happens to my Revolv service?
For existing customers, the service will continue to be available and we will continue to offer customer support.

Good job, folks.

As an aside, much like emptythought, I've got a recent Samsung TV, probably a year old. Every other week there's another banner telling me they're deprecating features at a startling rate, and the Skype one was a notable loss. These things are premium headline features that they used to sell the set, and they apparently now can't be bothered holding up their end of the purchase deal. It's pretty crappy. On that basis...

As a Nest owner, I am not really worried that Google is going to pull the rug out from under me here. As pointed out many times upthread, the Nest works fine even without a connection. If Google shut down the service, I would not need to buy a new thermostat.

Sure, fair enough. For now. Until auto update version x.y.z is pushed at some point in the future which quietly breaks or removes that ability. And 12 months after that when Google/Alphabet/Nest decide they simply can't be arsed any more, and the whole lot goes over. 3 days ago, I'd have laughed at anyone that suggested that scenario - I genuinely wouldn't have seen this one coming - but apparently this is the deal now. I'm not loving it.
posted by PeteTheHair at 3:55 PM on April 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


PeteTheHair: "- Free lifetime service subscription
[Snip]
I'm not sure exactly what legal standing that would have (and it's likely EULA'd away the moment you think about opening the box), but it's certainly interesting.
"

All this means is that while the service exists the service will be free. IE: device and service lifetime not your lifetime.
posted by Mitheral at 4:11 PM on April 5, 2016


Are you going to require that companies that operate a server people depend upon take out insurance to keep the server operating in the event that they go bankrupt? Yes maybe, but that's far more invasive.

Invasive to who?
posted by PMdixon at 5:21 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Anyone involved. It's complex to enforce that sort of financial regulation, which sucks for both the company and the government. It's almost assured such regulation gets abused either as corporate welfare or to suppress competition, probably both. It's worrying for consumers if the government takes over operating their fridge, both because the data changes hands, and because the new operators may suck, not care, or be incompetent.

There are no convincing economic benefits to closed source software, so one should first understand how bad the problem would be after close source software were removed form the picture.

I've no legal position under which I'm currently be prepared to compel all server code to be open sourced, but.. It's imho clear that very large financial institutions should be compelled to open source their code, perhaps say by virtue of operating a credit card system or by how much they interact with exchanges, so this applies sometimes.

It might be reasonable if consumers could sue the company to release server code, documentation, etc. when they drop support for a product. And bankruptcy courts could open source anything relevant as standard operating procedure. If it were the case that consumers eventually won the code anyways, then companies might tend towards releasing more polished code earlier as a public relations move.

We'd never actually know if any financial style regulations were relevant until after first trying all those less invasive community oriented approaches.

In any case, our goal should be that devices can be completely reprogrammed to not depend upon servers, or lessen their dependence. And that independent entities could develop expertise at running essential servers early in the lifetime of the devices.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:01 PM on April 5, 2016


Theoretically, one could muck with the device via a firmware update to point it at another server. The device itself works, the owners still own it, it could be revived.

This is not only probably illegal in a DMCA sort of sense and since the software is likely full of ~trade secrets~, but also often impossible. A lot of stuff has locked down bootloaders and encrypted bootroms and bla bla bla now. No one is going to softmod say, a playstation 3 very likely ever again.

We're moving in to a world where all hardware is running super duper locked down, partially or fully encrypted software that is verified by the hardware before it can even run. Even on devices where there's no point to this other than planned obsolescence. I possibly understand a "trusted environment" on something like a blu-ray playing game system thats going to handle a lot of licensed/copyrighted content... but it's spread to EVERYTHING.

"You can maybe mod it" isn't a reasonable solution when companies with billions of dollars are mounting an arms race against the modders. Only the biggest, most badass-to-claim(or potentially profit from) targets like iOS are even getting crowbarred anymore. Everything else is almost as much work for very little reward.

Look at how many devices were popularly modified in the early-mid 2000s vs now. It was like, basically anything remotely popular with software on it. Now iOS has gone like 4 versions without a crack, ditto for most popular android phones, ditto for every current game system, ditto for most tv boxes/etc. Even the big juicy targets are sitting there locked down.

I look at this the same way i look at how a lot of hardware has become a glued shut box that even if you open it, and even if you can find replacement components, you can't even put back together correctly.

We can't really demand "insecure" operating systems/firmware, and we can't really demand thicker devices put together with screws instead of glue and modular components either. What we can maybe demand is shit that is operable for more than 24 months.

Sure, fair enough. For now. Until auto update version x.y.z is pushed at some point in the future which quietly breaks or removes that ability.

And don't ever let anyone tell you you're paranoid for thinking this. You really don't have to look long or hard to find "updates" for devices that removed or greatly altered features, or removed the ability to do $blah function offline("but it now supports X Y and Z functions online!")

It's also worth noting that basically every device i can think of has removed the ability to downgrade firmware. This used to be borderline sacrosanct, and basically anything with manually updatable firmware supported it. Now you're limited to some commercial grade equipment, and certain android phones. Anything "embedded"? Get the fuck out. If you update to 2.0 the only software you're flashing after that is 2.0.1.
posted by emptythought at 6:26 PM on April 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


  But sometimes I need the fucking dryer to dry my clothes right now, and if it won't I am the kind of guy who will fix the dryer so it does what the hell I want

Good luck getting around your utility's surge pricing, then. They've got the magic switch that makes all your toys go dark.
posted by scruss at 5:17 AM on April 6, 2016


emptythought, and that sort of justified paranoia is why I did two things yesterday. First off, I bought The Force Awakens in one of those Blu-ray/dvd/streaming combo packs. And then I put it on the shelf, left it completely wrapped in its heat shrink plastic, and torrented a copy of The Force Awakens from a pirate site.

Not only is that a lot more convenient from a consumer standpoint (I timed one of the Blu-ray discs I own, and it was a full five minutes of apparently unskippable anti-piracy ads, movie trailers, and commercials before I was permitted to even get to the menu to start the movie), but I don't have to worry that maybe one day they'll decide that Blu-ray is now supplanted, brick every Blu-ray device in existence, and make the movies unplayable. Or decide that they want me to buy the super duper remastered mega awesome edition and revoke the play keys for that particular movie so that it will no longer play. Or whatever.

It has now reached the point where it is actually reasonable to assume that at some point the product you imagine you have "purchased", but due to clever legalisms you have only actually licensed, will be maliciously shut down in order to extort more money from you. Remember when Amazon reached into people's Kindles to delete content it decided was no longer approved?

So, being the sort of conscientious person who would like the creators of things I like to get some money, I buy the product. But, being the sort of reasonably cautious person who is aware of how completely amoral and greedy corporations are and how much technology is being bent to serve their agenda, I also pirate everything I buy, especially ebooks and movies.

Which is totally illegal and no court on Earth would accept "but I also bought it" as a defense for piracy. But it is the only way I can feel even the slightest security that I'll be able to access the stuff I purchase, because at this point we've been trained by the corporations to know that a "purchase" might just vanish one day when they decide they'd like you to buy it again.

jeffburdges wrote It might be reasonable if consumers could sue the company to release server code, documentation, etc. when they drop support for a product. And bankruptcy courts could open source anything relevant as standard operating procedure. If it were the case that consumers eventually won the code anyways, then companies might tend towards releasing more polished code earlier as a public relations move.

That sounds so terrible I can't concieve of why you'd think it was a better alternative to just regulating the problem.

Let people sue (which costs money, and which if it fails means they have to pay the hyperinflated legal bills of the corporation), so that eventually (years and years after the device has been broken because corporations have the magic ability to make lawsuits stretch out over literally decades), if they're lucky, maybe the corporation will be forced to open source some (but never all and never enough to make it work right) of the code? All that in hopes that if, fifty years down the line, enough companies have lost (yeah right) lawsuits of that nature that others just out of the goodness of their hearts (yeah right) decide to open source the stuff from hardware they break?

WTF?

How about no?

How about we just end the problem by passing a law that forces companies to either keep the service going for a reasonable period (10 years at minimum), including buying insurance to keep it going if they go bankrupt or out of business, or failing that at least a law that forces companies, the very instant their product is no longer going to be officially supported, to strip out all DRM, strips them of any and all trade secret protection for the device, and forces them to open 100% of all code related to the device so that third parties can maintain the service.

Heck, let 'em chose. Which is more important Google, keeping the trade secrets, or keeping the few paltry million that it'd take to keep the servers going for a decade?

But leaving it up to lawsuits and then eventually the non-existent goodness of their hearts sounds like the absolutely worst idea ever, and the one flat out guaranteed not to work in the slightest.
posted by sotonohito at 5:51 AM on April 6, 2016 [7 favorites]


Nest says it may offer 'compensation' to Revolv users for disabling smart home hub
We’ve been working with the small number of Revolv customers on a case-by-case basis since we sent out the first customer notification in February to determine the best resolution, including compensation
Awfully clumsily handled.
posted by Nelson at 8:34 AM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Another product that's been brought under the Nest umbrella, Dropcam, has continued to get good reviews but the original owner regrets selling the company.

I'm not sure what Alphabet is trying to get with these acquisitions -- if it's engineering expertise and creativity, they're blowing it by insulting their new employees and driving them away by putting unreasonable expectations on them and stifling their work. If it's to pick up a user base for subscriber dollars, they're burning all that good will by killing working products. I imagine there would be an uproar if they'd thrown a subscription model on top of Revolv, but if they'd phased in a paid premium tier, or virtually any other business decision, they might not have completely blown it.

I have a Nest thermostat and one smoke detector, both of which work perfectly well (well, except for the original I had that got bricked by my old furnace, which has been replaced). I doubt I'd buy any more of their products now, and if either of them stops working, I'm going to a different product.
posted by mikeh at 9:08 AM on April 6, 2016


but I don't have to worry that maybe one day they'll decide that Blu-ray is now supplanted, brick every Blu-ray device in existence, and make the movies unplayable

It is worth noting that this is absolutely a non-theoretical non-feature of the Blu-Ray standard, which implements a byte code engine for the express purpose of introducing new encryption algorithms in the future and provides for the revocation of existing keys. Many folks found that the Blu-Ray release of Avatar wouldn't play on their older or non-Internet-updated players.

Fortunately I have old eyes and a modest sized TV so I can barely tell the difference between DVD and HD resolution video, so I can camp out on my high horse and refuse to buy a Blu-Ray player without missing much.
posted by Bringer Tom at 10:00 AM on April 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


Nelson, well I suppose if they're willing to buy back every single Revolv product at full retail that's also a reasonable way to approach the problem. If, OTOH, this is just gimickery and they're going to be offering well below retail (which I strongly suspect) then I'd say that's still not a solution.
posted by sotonohito at 11:07 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure a full buy-back is a sufficient remedy. People design their houses around these products. Depending on how integrated the products are, it may be a significant hassle to replace them.

I mean shit happens, sure, but longevity and serviceability is a key asset for consumer appliances. I bought an expensive SubZero fridge in part because I have faith that 20 years from now I'll be able to replace the compressor if it fails. People are going to stop buying fancy Internet of Things stuff to integrate into their houses if the product category gets the reputation for "may stop working any day we feel like it". That's why this move feels so short-sighted to me.
posted by Nelson at 11:47 AM on April 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


The Internet of Things has a dirty little secret: thoughtful commentary on the problematic implications of software services behind Internet appliances.
posted by Nelson at 9:38 AM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]




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