Published on January 4th, 2023 | by Mahbub Hasan0
Locking down hardware features with software paywalls is unethical
We have all seen the news about BMW and Mercedes implementing paywalls in their cars. And we are distressed. Many of the readers probably don’t have any of the models we are talking about, but we know how trends in the auto industry spreads like. Now, when it comes to software, subscriptions, and paywalls are to provide something for both kinds of users, free users and paid. A paid tier provided more features or better support.
This is not the case in hardware because paywalling hardware means the payment will not extend anything, but it locks away access to hardware that you already bought and already have. All the things are already there, but limited virtually. If it was that expensive to make, does it make any sense to build that part, and not allow users to use it anyway? This kind of paywall only takes away your existing freedom of ownership and is harmful.
I guess this practice is not new, but it is a problematic practice promoted by many greedy companies who always go for that extra buck for the customers. By introducing these paywalls, we are only evolving our strategy backward. Giving less and less freedom to users as each decade passes by. In the old days, I’m talking about the 1930s and 1940s, technology that we are taking for granted was just starting to show up. Like photocopying.
Xerox, in 1938 came up with the first-ever photocopy machine, back then it was called the xerography machine. The name Xerox is still used as a verb when it comes to photocopying. And it was not for sale. You could not buy it at that time. Xerox supplied the machine to companies for a subscription and also charged for each copy made by the machine. The company happily paid up because there was no competitor! There was no easy-to-use copy machine at that time, so Xerox could charge as much as it wanted.
After time passed, we could own a portable version better than the old one at home. No need to pay a subscription for a photocopy machine. Now, if a company starts to charge an outrageous amount of money for a simple photocopy machine, that would be laughed at by the consumer market and will be left dead. Now, you can’t just gang up on some companies and start doing it, because that is prevented by the consumer laws in your respective countries. But it seems, companies are finding loopholes, and lobbying lawmakers to make their way to bring back these bad practices.
One horrible example of such atrocity would be John Deere. Probably the world’s go-to brand for farming equipment and machinery. But they have a nasty reputation for locking down their farming vehicles and tractors with software. Most farmers are skilled technicians who can simply fix their own equipment. They have been doing it for centuries. From the horse-powered time to the engine days. So John Deere hired a bunch of lobbyists and poured money into make it illegal for farmers to repair their own stuff and save thousands of dollars.
Farmers are now stuck with no options, other than to pay John Deere thousands of dollars even when a small, self-reparable component needs a fix. Which is not only a big middle finger toward the right-to-repair movement, but also a big loss for the farmers. Some of you may ask if there is any alternative. But, this machinery has already cost a lot of money for the farmers who own them. It’s not an issue for the big industrial farmers, but a big blow for small and medium-scale farmers. And also for us, everyone.
Every ruling that gets signed against the consumers is an insult to regular consumers and users. Recently, many movements have seen an uprise and people were voicing their opinions regarding the anti-consumer behavior of big companies. Companies like Apple and Samsung are notorious for locking down hardware, despite them rolling out expensive devices each year. Apple, of all the companies, has the worst reputation.
Unrepairable products, bad self-repair or third-party repair options, greenwashing people, and providing bad customer service at their infamous genius bars, are just some complaints. Yet these companies are pouring a lot of money, into lobbyists. The objective is to modify policy in their favor. They also pour so much money into PR, that you will rarely find criticism on the internet unless you deeply follow the tech ecosystem and updates.
So, what’s the solution? Entities like the European Union are trying to solve these problems by passing laws and new policies, cornering even notorious companies. But personally, I think it is not a long-term solution. Companies are hardly afraid of people, and policies. They are backed by funds and assets that are beyond our comprehension. The real solution is easier said than done. May be impossible if you are a pessimist.
The solution is to be less loyal to brands. We need to know our rights and influence the companies with our purchase power. To not be the product and sell ourselves. We need to practice our rights, to own and be vocal about any missteps that take our freedom of ownership. Making rational decisions in terms of life is not enough. We need to take rational decisions when we purchase something. Companies only need us to consume, and nothing else. Tell them we are in control by not being loyal, and understanding products by their work rather than the brand.
After all, nearly all the top brands are big, just because they are big. There is nothing unique about your shiny new iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. When the time comes to practice your ownership, you will get slapped by the very brand that you are loyal to. If we stop companies from acting like cults, they will be forced to hand us control of our own things. Take the ownership back.
To conclude, the century-old method of paywalling is not a new edition. It is only taking us back to the dark time when technology was not accessible. Currently, everyone is just wanting more money from you and that’s it. The excuse of locking down your owned hardware with paywalls is kind of bullshit. And it needs to be stopped.