If You Don’t Own It, It’s Not Yours

If you don’t own it, it’s not yours. A lot of people are learning that lesson today after Google announced that it would be disabling customers’ Revolv smart-home hub in spite of the promised lifetime subscription:

As we reported on Tuesday, shutting down the Revolv smart-home hubs does not mean Nest is ceasing to support its products, leaving them vulnerable to bugs and other unpatched issues. It means that the $300 (£211) devices and accompanying apps will stop working completely.


And the decision to deliberately disable the smart-home hubs comes despite the fact they were previously advertised as having a “lifetime subscription.”

Do you own the devices you purchase? If you read most license agreements, which you usually can’t read until you’ve purchased and opened the product, you’re not buying the product but a license to use the product. This is especially true with products that include software, which are regulated under easily abused copyright laws. John Deere, for example, claims you don’t own your tractor, you’re merely licensing it. Because of that John Deere argues that you’re not allowed to fix the tractor as that is a violation of the license you agreed to.

The problem with licenses is that they can be revoked. In this case Google is not only ceasing online services for the Revolv but is entirely bricking the devices themselves, which is likely allowed under the device’s license agreement (those agreements basically read, “We can do whatever we want and you agree to like it.”) regardless of any marketing promises of a “lifetime subscription.”

Had the Revolv been a device that ran open source software with a permissive license its fate wouldn’t be so bleak. At least the option would exist for developers to continue updating the software and creating an alternate online service. That’s the type of freedom ownership allows but licensing usually doesn’t.

As more devices are needlessly tied to “the cloud” we’re going to see more bullshit like this. In my eyes it’s the “in-app purchases” economy brought into the physical world. Many applications used to sell for a one-time fee only for the developers to change their mind and start relying on in-app purchases. An example of this is Cyclemeter. When I first purchased the app it included everything. Now you need to pay a yearly subscription fee via the in-app purchase feature to unlock most of the features. The same bait and switch is coming to our physical world via the Internet of Things. Manufacturers will brick older devices to persuade customers to buy the latest model. Since these devices are almost exclusively licensed instead of owned there will be little recourse for customers. It’s going to be a large scale demonstration of if you don’t own it, it’s not yours.