EletiofeHP Wants to Rent You a Printer That It...

HP Wants to Rent You a Printer That It Monitors at All Times

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HP launched a subscription service Thursday that rents people a printer, allots them a specific amount of printed pages, and sends them ink for a monthly fee. HP is framing its service as a way to simplify printing for families and small businesses, but the deal also comes with monitoring and a years-long commitment.

Prices range from $6.99 per month for a plan that includes an HP Envy printer (the current model is the 6020e) and 20 printed pages. The priciest plan includes an HP OfficeJet Pro rental and 700 printed pages for $35.99 per month.

HP says it will provide subscribers with ink deliveries when they’re running low and 24/7 support via phone or chat (although it’s dubious how much you want to rely on HP support). Support doesn’t include on- or offsite repairs or part replacements. The subscription’s terms of service (TOS) note that the service doesn’t cover damage or failure caused by, unsurprisingly, “use of non-HP media supplies and other products” or if you use your printer more than what your plan calls for.

HP Is Watching

HP calls this an All-In-Plan; if you subscribe, the tech company will be all in on your printing activities.

One of the most perturbing aspects of the subscription plan is that it requires subscribers to keep their printers connected to the internet. In general, some users avoid connecting their printer to the internet because it’s the type of device that functions fine without web access.

A web connection can also concern users about security or HP-issued firmware updates that make printers stop functioning with non-HP ink.

But HP enforces an internet connection by having its TOS also state that HP may disrupt the service—and continue to charge you for it—if your printer is not online.

HP says it enforces a constant connection so that the company can monitor things that make sense for the subscription, like ink cartridge statuses, page count, and “to prevent unauthorized use of Your account.” However, HP will also remotely monitor the type of documents (for example, a PDF or JPEG) printed, the devices and software used to initiate the print job, “peripheral devices,” and any other “metrics” that HP thinks are related to the subscription and decides to add to its remote monitoring.

The All-In Plan privacy policy also says that HP may “transfer information about you to advertising partners” so that they can “recognize your devices,” perform targeted advertising, and, potentially, “combine information about you with information from other companies in data sharing cooperatives” that HP participates in. The policy says that users can opt out of sharing personal data.

The All-In-Plan TOS reads:

Subject to the terms of this Agreement, You hereby grant to HP a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free right to use, copy, store, transmit, modify, create derivative works of and display Your non-personal data for its business purposes.

Two-Year Commitment

In January, HP CEO Enrique Lores declared that HP’s “long-term objective is to make printing a subscription.” The All-In-Plan is HP’s latest attempt at that goal, hoping people believe that the subscription service will simplify things for themselves. And by including high cancellation fees, HP is looking to lock subscribers in for two years.

HP will charge subscribers who cancel their subscription before its end date up to $270 plus taxes (the amount decreases to as little as $60, depending on the printer rented and the length of the subscription). After two years, users won’t see a cancellation fee if they return the rental printer and ink cartridges within 10 days after canceling their subscription. With these tactics, HP is creating the same type of subscription reliance that has made companies like phone carriers rich while limiting customer options.

Adding to the complexity is that subscribers will have to monitor their monthly printing in a way that would be unnecessary if they owned their own printer and ink.

Per an example from HP’s TOS:

… if Your Service Plan entitles You to print fifty (50) pages for a Service Plan Fee of $8.99 and thereafter to pay $1.00 for each multiple of ten (10) pages, and if You print a total of sixty-six (66) pages in a Month Period where you had no Rollover Pages available, then Your Payment Method would be charged the Monthly Fee of $8.99 plus $2.00 for additional page blocks, for a total of $10.99, plus Taxes and the remaining 4 pages would go to Rollover Pages.

Subscribers will be able to roll over a limited number of unused pages to the next month.

Since HP owns the printer and ink, it also limits how subscribers can use the equipment. For example, the TOS prevents users from using supplied ink cartridges with printers outside of the subscription service, even if it’s an HP printer.

The subscription also requires users to provide HP with an email and have an HP Service account—two things printer owners don’t have to do.

And just like with any system where you pay monthly for a product you don’t own, after enough time, subscribers can end up paying more to rent the printer than they would have paid to own it.

HP’s strategy also poses a risk of encouraging needless upgrades that can create more waste from unused printers and manufacturing and shipping-related emissions. The program entitles subscribers to upgrade their rental every two years—regardless of the printer’s functionality—and will encourage upgrades through emails and/or HP Service Account dashboard alerts.

The Real Problem(s) With Printers

In the blog post announcing the subscription, Diana Sroka, head of product for consumer services at HP, boasted about how people could “never own a printer again,” “say goodbye to your tech troubles,” and enjoy “hassle-free printing.” The problem is that tech troubles and hassle-filled printing aren’t the products of merely owning a printer; they’re connected to disruptive and anti-consumer practices from printer vendors.

If HP wanted to address users’ “never-ending struggle,” as Sroka put it, an obvious point to address would be Dynamic Security. Customers have complained about the printer capability, which uses firmware updates to prevent already-purchased printers from using third-party ink cartridges since HP introduced it in 2016. Evidence that Dynamic Security is something HP users struggle with can be found throughout HP’s support forum, on Reddit, and through the several class-action lawsuits targeted at HP.

That’s not to say that there aren’t people or businesses (see: Printing-as-a-Service) that could benefit from access to a printer and ink for a low monthly rate. With a rental program, any changes to how HP makes its printers work could be deemed more morally acceptable since HP owns the printer and ink.

But when it comes to the problems that make using printers a chore, making a single payment to own a printer doesn’t top the majority of people’s lists. In addition to some HP printers suddenly not printing with third-party ink, other nuisances that more quickly come to mind include some HP printers not scanning when carrying third-party ink, HP region-locking printers, disputable environmental certifications, and HP inconveniencing customers under the guise of security.

HP is hoping to convince people that the answer to torturous printer experiences is to “never own a printer again.” But considering the above frustrations, some might just never own an HP printer again.

This story originally appeared on Ars Technica.

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