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Why Would Hewlett Packard Want to Hack Itself?

Why would a major computer company hack anything? Moreover, why would they hack their own company? It turns out they had a reason. Read more to find out.

The title of this article may make it seem completely nonsensical. Why would HP hack itself? It’s like breaking into your own home or stealing from your bank account. The reason was that customers were using ink cartridges that weren’t made by HP. Lately, consumers have preferred the products of a competitor, so HP had a trick up their sleeve to swing the market back in their favor.

They hacked their own system. In short, they obtained access to the settings of their customers’ printers. HP installed a warning sign that would warn users each time they attempted to use ink that wasn’t sold by HP. The printer would work again once it was equipped with HP branded ink.

The warning message read, “The following ink cartridges appear to be missing or damaged. Replace the ink cartridges to resume printing.” That is a little vague and misleading, to say the least. As one could imagine, the unveiling of this information caused quite the backlash in the technological community. Not only was it inefficient for consumers, but it also gave HP an unfair monopoly over their relatively concentrated industry.

As a result of this hacking fiasco, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) decided to give HP a piece of their mind. The EFF is a nonprofit that supports digital rights for internet and computer users. They wrote to the company requesting that they un-hack themselves. The letter started as follows:

“HP customers should be able to use the ink of their choosing in their printers for the same reason that Cuisinart customers should be able to choose whose bread goes in their toasters.”

This is an excellent metaphor. In fact, it was so good it made HP apologize. They responded:

“We should have done a better job of communicating about the authentication procedure to customers, and we apologize.” Not only that, but they probably shouldn’t have hacked themselves to reap profits at the expense of other companies.

This apology prompted HP to remedy the experiences of the customers they affected. They are offering the users an upgrade that will remove the software requiring HP ink. However, HP is planning to maintain their Digital Rights Management (DRM) on their printers, which requires users to use HP ink.

Much to the dismay of the EFF, this DRM is not uncommon on digital commodities. The coffee company Keurig utilized the same strategy when their coffee machines would only brew Keurig branded coffee. This is an easy way to ward off the competition and maintain profit. But is it ethical? That is certainly up to debate.