Light Bulb DRM: Philips Locks Purchasers Out Of Third-Party Bulbs With Firmware Update

from the Patch-notes:-Adds-'buyer's-remorse' dept

The world of connected devices is upon us and things have never been better. Criminals can access your email account by breaking into your fridge. Your child’s toys and your television record your conversations and send them to manufacturers’ servers, where criminals are (again) able to access them. Your home thermostat goes HAL 9000 and attempts to set your house on fire. And, now, your light bulbs won’t do the one thing you expect them to do: produce light.

Purchasers of the Philips Hue “smart” ambient lighting system are finding out that the new firmware pushed out by the manufacturer has cut off access to previously-supported light bulbs. (h/t William Neilson Jr.)

Philips just released firmware for the Philips Hue bridge that may permanently sever access to any “non-approved” ZigBee bulbs.

[…]

The recent change seems to suggest any non-Philips bulbs from manufacturers such as Cree, GE, and Osram will not be supported in many situations, whereas “Friends of Hue” branded product are. At the time of publication, it’s unclear whether 3rd party bulbs will stop working immediately after the firmware update or if they may only become inaccessible after the bridge is reset. We’re also not sure if being “reset” means rebooted or factory reset. This appears to apply to both the round v1 bridge and square v2 HomeKit-compatible bridge after the latest firmware update is applied.

ZigBee is the underlying standard that controls these smart lighting systems.

ZigBee is the open, global standard of choice for connected lighting applications providing ease-of-use and low-cost installation and maintenance for both consumers and business.

Philips uses ZigBee, which should mean any bulbs compatible with this standard will work with its Hue fixtures. Not anymore. The firmware update removes this support, limiting this “open, global” standard to Philips’ own bulbs and those it has designated as “Friends of Hue.”

Needless to say, purchasers aren’t happy.

Literally. Philips has just slapped fans like us in the face and kicked interoperability out the door. Without any communication they delivered a new firmware to the system that disables adding products that they don’t approve of. Basically they are banning other Zigbee Light Link products despite the fact that they are a Connected Lighting Alliance member whose mission is to promote interoperability.

As it seems (and unless this is just a huge mistake on Philips’ side), they have without a warning turned their open product into a walled garden. They have also destroyed the value of the solutions that the customers have set up based on Philips’ promises.

And the worst thing is that Philips has done this to their most enthusiastic fans. To the early adopters. To those who enthusiastically recommended the system to their friends.

Philips only began delivering nonsensical statements about its removal of previously-existent functionality after the complaints began to roll in. And like so many other companies that have wielded this DRM-esque tactic against their own customers, the excuses offered may as well just read “because this makes us more money.” Seriously, are any of Philips’ pissed off purchasers really going to believe this excuse?

While the Philips Hue system is based on open technologies we are not able to ensure all products from other brands are tested and fully interoperable with all of our software updates. For guaranteed compatibility you need to use Philips Hue or certified Friends of Hue products.

TL;DR: While technically an open system, we’ve closed it because $$$. These early adopters have already performed the heavy lifting on the compatibility end. They’re the ones who have road-tested ZigBee-compliant bulbs and reported their findings to others. So, when a company removes support (by pushing a firmware update without prior warning) for compatible bulbs and claims the issue is “compatibility,” it’s so blatantly false as to be laughable. Unless you can’t laugh, because you already bought one.

And Philips is apparently incredibly socially awkward. Trying to find which other bulbs are supported as “Friends of Hue” via Philips’ websites is pointless. One just leads you to a page informing you that you can use Siri to control your lights. Searching for “Friends of Hue” brings you to another Philips website… which only lists products sold by Philips. In fact, while the “program” appears to allow third parties to sell products for its Hue line, it appears that every new development is sold under the Philips brand, which means that the competitiveness the phrase “Friends of Hue” implies is, in reality, no competition at all.

A walled garden is still a walled garden, no matter how beautifully lit it is. Philips has chosen to screw paying customers by locking them out of their choice of bulbs in pursuit of maximum profitability. There’s nothing smart about that decision.

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Comments on “Light Bulb DRM: Philips Locks Purchasers Out Of Third-Party Bulbs With Firmware Update”

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132 Comments
tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

They invented Microchannel architecture in an attempt to grab the market back from their many competitors. Very few fell for that ridiculous idea (licensing priced it beyond its worth) and it died in obscurity. They’ve pretty much since abandoned the market concentrating instead on mainframes, services, and Imaginary Property among other things.

Klaus says:

Re: Re: Re:

My phone’s default data connection is OFF. When I need internet, I temporarily set it to ON. I got sick and tired of how much each App “leaked” to it’s mothership, and how that ate into data quotas.

I find the lack of visibility and control we have over smart phone network traffic (that we’re paying for) irritating. Especially seeing how it’s all scooped up by bad actors such as the NSA, GCHQ…

BernardoVerda says:

Re: Re: Re:

People like to sneer and dismiss Stallman as some sort of long-haired, hippy radical. But unfortunately, he keeps turning out to have been dead-on, absolutely right.

He’s sort of like Marshall McLuhan, that way. Because Stallman wasn’t (as McLuhan once explained his own success at “predicting the future”) really attempting to predict the future, but rather was simply describing what he could see happening right in full plain view of everybody, but nobody was paying attention, nor generally cared to.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

People like to sneer and dismiss Stallman as some sort of long-haired, hippy radical.

… Which he is. However, I tend to sneer at people who say that. Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin could’ve been called the long haired hippie radicals of their time. Even Barry Goldwater defended extremism in defence of liberty, and he was certainly no hippie.

I can respect the stereotypical Marine Corp or Airborne grunt, and even cops, for their ability and devotion to duty, but it’s tough to give them more than that when they blindly follow orders they damned well shouldn’t.

Michael Becker (profile) says:

I just bought a setup with Philips Hue as the Hub, and some GE Link bulbs for lights that weren’t in main areas. Now if I decide to move them, I can no longer use them. I just started setting this all up 2 weeks ago.

Needless to say, I am very, very pissed off. Now to continue using the things I have I need to purchase a Wink or Smartthings Hub and deal with twice the connection setup.

Screw Philips, they’re not getting a dime more.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re:

Needless to say, I am very, very pissed off. Now to continue using the things I have I need to purchase a Wink or Smartthings Hub and deal with twice the connection setup.

Someone should invent a lighting system where you can just use any bulb you want and which only requires a simple, low-cost switch to turn them on and off. I wonder why nobody has invented anything like this yet…

Anonymous Coward says:

(Posting this here since the linked blog does not support Javascript-free comments. Thanks Discus!)

Without any communication they delivered a new firmware

This is a bit unclear. Is the new firmware installed magically via Over The Air updates, making it impossible for users to avoid even if they know what is coming, or is the new firmware manually installed, but classified as “without communication” because it does not warn the user about this huge anti-feature? If the latter, spreading the word quickly and wide could protect users from installing this disaster. If the former, it’s tin-foil hat (tin-foil house?) time.

Deniable Sources says:

Chilling effect

Add this kind of nonsense to the multiple reasons that “smart light bulbs” aren’t on my Christmas list any time soon. The architecture’s not great, the costs are significant (particularly if you have a house as opposed to a small apartment), and the standards – such as they are – are half-baked and incompatible. Add corporate Newspeak (“Friends of Hue”???) and garden lock-in and pretty much the whole thing is going to flush itself without my help.

TechDescartes (profile) says:

Minor Adjustments

While the Philips Hue system is based on open technologies we are not able to ensure all products from other brands are tested and fully interoperable with all of our software updates, so we have disabled those products to ensure that they do not work for guaranteed incompatibility. You need to use Philips Hue or certified Friends of Hue products.

There, fixed it for you.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re:

A very valuable company messes up their half-baked plan to lock in their customers and ends up…still a very valuable company.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure they learned the lesson just about as well as the two pigs that now know they can relax and build crappy houses because their brother will take care of them when something bad happens.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yeah, I’m pretty sure they learned the lesson just about as well as the two pigs that now know they can relax and build crappy houses because their brother will take care of them when something bad happens.

Just make crap quality knockoffs for a tenth of the price that sell for half what the “Market Leader” sells theirs for and the suckers at Walmart will wind up buying five of them as they burn out via planned obsolescence and manufacturing defects. They’re very popular in the “don’t want it” Xmas present recycling market and thrift stores, not to mention landfills.

rahlquist (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Keurig is one of the few failures. Look at inkjet printers for an example of success. Yes in both cases there are 3rd party work arounds but in reality the manufacturers make money hand over fist. I dont know why anyone is surprised by this its sh*tty business 101. If you cant make a product that can compete on its own merit, lure the customer in , then lock the door behind them. Make claims of FUD for other products and profit.

I know we all want to live in a society where businesses dont try to ream you for every penny but we arent there yet and wont be for decades, if ever. This is why standards groups should be created by non interested third parties and when someone even as big as Phillips turns evil their products should be ejected from the group. It would almost behoove standards bodies to require participants to put in a back door so they could revoke the functionality altogether. I hate to say it but I foresee a class action coming.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Osram invented "planned obsolescence"

When lightbulbs were first invented they used to last for years – which was too long. (there are lightbulbs that are still working after 100 years).
So Osram got together with the other manufacturers and they wrote up an agreement that bulbs shouldn’t last more than 1000 hours.

Around here planned obsolescence is DRM, so -ergo- lightbulbs not only already had DRM, they invented it.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Osram invented "planned obsolescence"

Because I Googled, and you shouldn’t have to.

From that page, which mentions that started in 1924:

In 1921 a precursor organisation was founded by Osram, the “Internationale Glühlampen Preisvereinigung”. When Philips and other manufacturers were entering the American market, General Electric reacted by setting up the “International General Electric Company” in Paris.

Because I read what you Googled, and you should have too. 🙂 I’d have to say the person you replied to was correct. I’d also have to say there were a lot of dirty players in the market and it goes back a long time. This latest dirtbag move on the part of Philips is just in keeping with that tradition. You’d think if “market forces” were anything worth relying on, all these jerks would’ve crashed and burned decades ago. Ergo, free market? Chyaa, right!

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Osram invented "planned obsolescence"

What tqk says.

Thanks. 🙂 It is an interesting, educational vignette. I’d never heard of Osram, and though I’d read some mumbling about lightbulb planned obsolescence, I’d no idea it was this institutionalized and multi-national, and that it went back as far as the 1920s. Meanwhile, GE & Philips have just kept on rolling along, la de daa, de daa.

Depressing, but enlightening. No pun intended, honest.

TasMot (profile) says:

Cue the lawsuit

I know that the actual purpose of class action lawsuits is to make lawyers rich, but in this case they will probably get a lot of money from Phillips on the “bait and switch” argument.

Hey people who have money that we want to have, here is this great system that will control all of the lightbulbs in your house so you don’t have to use those pesky wall switches anymore. OOOOPPPS, now that you gave us all that money, now you can only buy our “Special” lightbulbs because those other lightbulbs from the competitors will no longer work with our system. Thanks for all the money

TKnarr (profile) says:

Their controllers say Zigbee Light link protocol 1.0 certified. If the firmware update renders the controllers incompatible with Zigbee Light link protocol 1.0 (ie. will not interoperate with bulbs using that protocol), that’s a manufacturing defect. I’d simply return the defective controllers to where you bought them and request a refund (a replacement isn’t acceptable since Philips has made it clear all of their controllers are or will be rendered defective). Sorting out the defective merchandise with the manufacturer is the store’s problem.

The store will probably balk at refunding your money. Your state Attorney General’s office would probably appreciate reports of stores refusing to accept returns of defective merchandise, seeing as various warranty and consumer-protection laws require them to.

You won’t be any worse off than you were, and you’ve caused financial and legal pain for people Philips has a harder time ignoring.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Their controllers say Zigbee Light link protocol 1.0 certified. If the firmware update renders the controllers incompatible with Zigbee Light link protocol 1.0 (ie. will not interoperate with bulbs using that protocol), that’s a manufacturing defect.”

and this is the relevant question. Does the update still fall within the Zigbee protocol specs. If so then, unless there is a problem with the protocol, the problem is with the bulbs. If not then the problem is with the fixtures.

Anonymous Coward says:

update-surprises

There have been many similarly nasty update-surprises in the past. Several years ago, the media-player message boards exploded with complaints from people who ‘updated’ the firmware to their DVD players to discover that the only difference –indeed, the only listed change– was the addition of Macrovision DRM. And no easy way to undo the changes after discovering that their backup DVDs no longer played.

This is why people should always disable automatic updates and always do at least a minimal amount of research before updating anything — or brace themselves for the possiblility of a nasty surprise.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That was my first thought reading this. If your firmware is automatically updating to stop lights from working, then surely there’s going to be a non-zero number of people put at risk by the lights suddenly going out. Most standard bulbs go out when you turn them on and they blow, not when you’re doing things in a lit room (in my experience anyway).

That’s going to lead to injury at some point. I’m not sure how these things are set up, but even if firmware is set to update during the day to avoid this risk, there’s still going to be people walking through a basement or attic.

Sadly, that’s going to be where the real comeback against this DRM is going to be in these cases. It won’t be due to the anti-competitive nature, the anti-consumer nature or the uselessness and ridiculousness of the whole thing. It’ll be when people actually get killed or injured by their attempts to keep their prices elevated.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: First World Problems

Considering that the $200 lightbulb may not be usable at all afterward (even though it’s mechanically in good order), and Phillip’s marketing implied, if not outright stated, that you could use any standard-compatible bulb, and the $200 lightbulb becomes unusable without any warning, I think the people complaining about this have very good reason to complain. Besides, are you sure that it is always the case that they bought third-party bulbs for cost reasons? Even the blog mentions that one of the now-useless bulbs was purchased because the customer wanted a particular socket type and could not get a Phillips-branded bulb with that socket.

WDS (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: First World Problems

Yes the most expensive pack of 3 white+color bulbs and a controller is $200, which at $60 a bulb makes the controller about $30. The entire pack is less that the $500 figure I objected about. You can get a white light only bulb for $15 which is not that out of line with non-intelligent LED bulbs.

I’m ticked at Phillips for introducing the non-campatability, but want to roast them for that, not some exaggerated cost figure.

Gracey (profile) says:

…and so the “old fashioned” way of turning lights on and off works just fine for me.

Thanks but no thanks to all this automation. I’ll stick with $1.99 light bulbs and switches I have to get off my butt to use.

…somehow I knew that one day, being the dinosaur I am would come in handy.

The only thing my computer runs is … my computer. As it should be.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Terrible business practices are terrible business practices whether or not you are a user within the specific range of business. Sure you don’t use controllable lights, fine. Your TV will be next (‘we can only guarantee correct use with Approved Cable Companies, and within that only Approved Channels’), or your car (‘only fuel from approved gas stations’), or whatever.

David says:

Re: Next update: Hue will accept only "green" energy

It’s more like once you’ve switched a bulb on more then six times with a particular power company, it will refuse working with any other. This will prevent terrorists from taking over power networks without the customers noticing.

And I’m sure that it will help against child pornography in some manner as well.

Anonymous Coward says:

And God said, Let there be light:

But there was no light.

And God saw the lack of light, and it was bad;

sudo apt-get install Philips-certificates

And there was light.

And God saw the light, that it was good:
and God divided the light from the darkness.

And God called the light Huey,
and the darkness he called Phooey.

And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Anonymous Coward says:

There was a similar issue here

https://soylentnews.org/article.pl?sid=15/12/05/0622206

I didn’t dig into the details but basically old heat sinks weren’t compatible with new processors but they worked fine on old ones. Some in the comments said that it’s because the old processors met standards stricter than the those specified by Intel and so some heat sink manufacturers built heat sinks based on behavior and not specifications and the new processors behaved differently but were still within the standards put forth by Intel. Others claimed that the standards changed but some heat sink manufacturers never read and applied the new specs. Either way it’s not Intel’s fault unless Intel put forth heat sinks that don’t meet their stated standards.

So here is what needs to be asked. If the fixtures meet open standards and the bulbs don’t meet open standards but are tested to work with the fixtures before the update and the fixtures receive a firmware update that still meet open standards but no longer work with these bulbs that don’t meet open standards then the problem is with the bulbs and not the fixtures. If the fixtures break open standard protocols after the update then it’s the fixture’s fault. In theory if both the bulbs and the fixtures meet open standard specifications then they should both work together unless there is something wrong with the standards. So the question here is who is violating the open standards protocol or is there anything wrong with the protocol itself.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You may be onto something here.

The real question is simple: Is the appliance still Zigbee compliant? Locking out Zigbee compliant components would make them non standard and no longer compliant (one would think, anyway).

Is there any clear example of a Zigbee compliant and certified bulb that will not work? Maybe I missed this in the story, but potentially there is an issue.

Whoever says:

The timeline shows the lies.

So they launched the “Friends of Hue” program at the same time as they locked out non-Friends? That doesn’t look like a sincere attempt to make sure that the Philips products only work with well-behaved devices, because those well-behaved devices had zero opportunity to become a “friend”. It looks like a old-fashioned and simple attempt to lock-out competing products.

Anonymous Coward says:

It is news items like this that convince me to buy or not buy products. One of the things today on my agenda of buying, is nothing that connects to the internet other than the computer. While I have it, wifi is not done here. Nothing connects that is not hard wired through the computer.

Phillips could tomorrow think that all this bad press has changed it’s mind about this DRM. But the bad publicity has already turned me against their products. I may not read they changed their minds, if they do, the damage is already done. Phillips will not be the product I take home.

walknorth (profile) says:

free light bulbs

When I was young, Detroit Edison used to exchange worn out light bulbs for new ones for FREE. They also used to fix small electric appliances for the cost of parts. I imagine the theory was that they wanted to make it easy to use electricity. I’m old now and continually appalled about how corporate greed is just accepted.

I remember being confused when I had to pay for light bulbs.
(PG&E)

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t have a Philips box in front of me, but it seems to me that if Philips is a member of the Zigbee home automation alliance and claims on the box that their product is Zigbee home automation compatible, then it sounds like they’re open to either a class-action lawsuit or a lawsuit by the Zigbee home automation alliance by no longer being compatible.

But I don’t have a Philips box to check what they claim.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t have a Philips box in front of me, but it seems to me that if Philips is a member of the Zigbee home automation alliance and claims on the box that their product is Zigbee home automation compatible, then it sounds like they’re open to either a class-action lawsuit or a lawsuit by the Zigbee home automation alliance by no longer being compatible.

Maybe it was when they sold it, but it just didn’t stay that way.

Paolo Ricci says:

COMMERCIAL SUICIDE

I am innovation manager for a small but influental IoT consultancy firm, our customers are Italy’s largest telco, utilities and such…I am in the middle if a services design project for energy@home and related offering that will go out to millions of custoners…..guess who I will recommend NOT to include in this project…

Peter says:

Buying Philips was the first mistake

I’m currently owner of an philips amilight tv that has an unuseable program guide (that takes around 3 minutes to fully load) with ads, smarttv “apps” (with ads) that behave like they run on an intel 368 from 1990, sudden reboots, incompatible recording formats, etc.

An it’s getting worse with every firmware update.

I am sure as hell not buying any philips product again.

James says:

Make a chargeback

If you have bought the Philips Hue with a creditcard/debitcard, then you have a chance to affect Philips and it’s resellers with an economical loss, just go to your local bank and explain what you thought you bought and tell what you got do not work and Philips not prepared to do what is needed to make it to work so you want to make a chargeback on the whole sum you paid.
You should get your money back, Philips on the other hand looses the money and do not get an used product back.

Anonymous Coward says:

Never again

I bought a Philips Norelco razor for a $85 and I was supposed to get a $30 mail in rebate (yeah, I know, red flag!), which would have been a killer deal if those jagoffs hadn’t lied that I neglected to include the barcode and denied my rebate. I wrote a scathing letter back and never heard from them again.

I will NEVER buy one of your products again, Philips!

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

There is a happy ending to this story, of course.

Either

a) Phillips realizes quickly they boobed and fixes things with proper degrees of contrition or…

b) Hackers (read: competitors) come to the rescue, provide working unofficial fixes and teach everyone that when you’re a professional pirate, you’re always in the best of com-pan-eeeeeeeeeeee!

Note the whole Keurig-cup DRM affair (of which Phillips was on the opposite side of the debacle).

Tom Swirly (profile) says:

I have a bunch of those bulbs. Their software is terribly, horribly, appallingly bad. Their developer program is ineptly run and basically unsupported (and I’m a well-known developer, but at a certain point I decided I had better things to do with my life than screw with bad software written by morons).

Overall, it makes me never want to buy any Philips products again. These bulbs were not cheap. I feel completely ripped off them as a company, and I deeply resent it.

Sage (user link) says:

hue lighting

The latest update from Philips:

Hi Hue developers,

Please read the following statement on the Friends of Hue program / blocking 3rd party bulbs.

We recently upgraded the software for Philips Hue to ensure the best seamless connected lighting experience for our customers. This change was made in good faith. However, we under estimated the impact this would have on a small number of customers who use lights from other brands which could not be controlled by the Philips Hue software. In view of the sentiment expressed by our customers, we have decided to reverse the software upgrade so that lights from other brands continue to work as they did before with the Philips Hue system.

We are working on the reversal of the upgrade and will shortly confirm when this will be available.

Philips remains committed to providing our customers with the best possible connected lighting experience. That is why we launched the Friends of Hue partnership program to test and certify that products and platforms from other brands work seamlessly with Philips Hue. Customers using uncertified lights may continue to have the same incompatibility issues as before, such as lights not dimming to off, creating the right colors or scene experience.

Philips welcomes other brands to join as Friends of Hue so that we can work together to ensure seamless and great lighting experiences.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: hue lighting

Philips welcomes other brands to join as Friends of Hue …

“… for a small subscription and handling fee.”

In other words, “Crap, they’re not falling for it and we’re going to lose sales for our monopolistic behavior. Crap, okay, sell “Friends of Hue” status to other manufacturers (bastards!) at egregious prices and we’ll try to find less obvious ways to enforce our monopolistic tendencies to eventually cut them out of our market. Fscking standards!”

I wonder why it took Philips this long to twig to Microsoft’s “Embrace and extend” strategy. Kinda slow on their part. Perhaps the two markets are so different there were few ideas crossing between them.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: hue lighting

It’s embrace, extend, extinguish.

I always interpreted it as “embrace, lock, and extend” anyway. If you fall for it, you’re in. Don’t fall for them, and you can still get away/defend yourself. 🙂 There’s two more steps threatening to come up which you’ve managed to avoid.

It’s the weekend. Enjoy. Don’t look too far into anything.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: hue lighting

Yeah, I love it. Plan A: kill competitors with DRM. Plan B: charge competitors and blame them if something goes wrong. They make money on a monopoly basis either way, they just tried the one with lower overhead costs first.

But, point any of this out, and you’ll just get some inane marketing drivel about how it’s all to “protect their customers”.

“I wonder why it took Philips this long to twig to Microsoft’s “Embrace and extend” strategy.”

Like most recent examples, they try to emulate the printer manufacturers’ “force people to pay more for ink than any other substance on Earth” strategy first. Then, they try different levels of screwing the market and their customers until they find a happy medium. Sanity is a backup plan to be implemented when that fails.

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