Personal rights and the Internet of Things

Last week I received an email from the manufacturer stating that my high tech bathroom scale would no longer support pulse wave velocity. Pulse wave velocity is a measure of the time it takes for blood from your heart to reach your feet and is an indicator of arterial health. If your arteries are hard, the blood will get there quickly and if they are soft, the initial pulse will be delayed by the expansion of the vein.

This is a measurement that used to cost people money and was only performed in special facilities. The note from the manufacturer said:

“With our Body Cardio product, we brought Pulse Wave Velocity to a home scale for the first time. After routine review, we now believe that this feature may require a different level of regulatory approval. In light of this, we have decided to deactivate the Pulse Wave Velocity feature on January 24. As a result, Pulse Wave Velocity readings will no longer appear on the scale screen nor will they be viewable in the Health Mate app. Your data will be retained and is downloadable. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience and we invite you to read our FAQ page where you’ll find out more, including how to retrieve your Pulse Wave Velocity history if you wish.”

There are many different ways to interpret this statement but it seems that some external group forced the change. No further details are provided in any of the FAQ’s.

So the manufacturer did not ask for my permission, they virtually entered my home and removed functionality from a product that I already paid for. I wrote an email telling them that I did not want them to do this, but they did it anyway. I can’t pinpoint why I feel that I have been wronged, but it’s a strong feeling and I’m sure I will be able to articulate it eventually.

So I guess the concept of purchasing a product is changing and ownership has been blurred. I have so many questions…

Does this mean that IoT products will never truly be ours? Is it ok to allow external product producers to enter our home networks to modify their products? Should producers ask for permission or do they have the right to just change things? Was this an action to avoid a copyright infringement? If it is, is it right for me to suffer for someone elses mistake? Should this be tested in court?

What do you guys think?




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2 Responses to Personal rights and the Internet of Things

  1. Peter Meyer says:

    Corporations have been doing this for years. For example Apple has done this by arbitrarily removing or adding songs to end user’s music collection, or declaring that “your” music collection can only be own by you and that you forfeit the right to inherit or pass this on to another person.

    The example that sticks out in my mind has to do with photography and digital “RAW” images. Each manufacture has their own way of encoding the pictures you take on your camera. Most people choose to output in the industry standard JPG format, while professionals often wish their images kept in the RAW standard. You can think of RAW being like a traditional film negative. This gives photographers many more degrees of freedom to process the image before rendering the final image in the chose output format (.jpg .png, tiff..etc)

    Who owns the “RAW” image? If you dependent on CompanyX to provide you with the processing tools, it is at their discretion as to when they wish to stop support, or when you’ll be forced to upgrade. A number of people have “lost” access to their negatives because companyY has gone out of business and their RAW version is no longer supported.

    Over 10 years ago, I started following this issue and a consortium of users who were trying to pressure camera makers to publish their RAW encoding standards to ensure that both RAW formats and corresponding software was made open. This would ensure that negatives could outlast the company or the product version they were associated with.

    You should own your scale, and if you bought it with a specific feature, it should be yours to use and to modify. Perhaps its time to get hacking…..

  2. David Brown says:

    Hey Fred,
    Was there a license agreement? I know I quit reading them for small purchases a long time ago. Most license agreements these days permit this kind of thing. Doesn’t make it right though.

    Any kind of product that connects to the Internet needs periodic software updates just to stay (almost) secure, even if the application software has no bugs. This opens the door for product changes. It also begins to make everything look like a service rather than a product. The suppliers like the idea of service because they might get away with billing you monthly.

    The public discussion so far has centered on our privacy more than our property rights with regard to Internet-connected devices and services. If I sell you a service rather than a product the discussion changes significantly I think. So, Fred did you buy a product or a service? Does it come back to the fine print?

    Interesting Blog, it made me think – thanks!

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