You Don't Actually Own What You Buy Volume 2,203: Google Bricking Revolv Smart Home Hardware

from the permanent-software-downgrade dept

Google (Alphabet) isn’t making any friends on the news that Alphabet’s Nest is effectively bricking working smart home hardware for a large number of users. About seventeen months ago the company acquired Revolv, rolling the smart-home vendor’s products in with its also-acquired Nest product line. Revolv hardware effectively lets users control any number of smart-home technologies around the home, ranging from home thermostats and garage door openers, to outdoor lights and security and motion detection systems. But according to an updated Revolv FAQ, all of these systems will no longer work as of May 15, 2016.

In other words, the FAQ notes, users who thought they bought smart home hardware will soon own very pricey bricks:

Needless to say, there’s a growing number of people annoyed with the fact that a $300 smart home hub will soon be totally useless:

“On May 15th, my house will stop working. My landscape lighting will stop turning on and off, my security lights will stop reacting to motion, and my home made vacation burglar deterrent will stop working. This is a conscious intentional decision by Google/Nest. To be clear, they are not simply ceasing to support the product, rather they are advising customers that on May 15th a container of hummus will actually be infinitely more useful than the Revolv hub.”

What’s more users claim this wasn’t really communicated, but was only something a user realizes if they happen to wander over to the Revolv website:

“That?s a pretty blatant ?fuck you? to every person who trusted in them and bought their hardware. They didn?t post this notice until long after Google had made the acquisition, so these are Google?s words under Tony Fadell?s direction. It is also worth pointing out that even though they have my email address, the only way a customer discovers this home IoT mutiny is to visit the Revolv web site.”

Obviously this isn’t new, it’s the new normal. Consumers are pretty constantly buying hardware they think they own, either to have that hardware made less useful (as we’ve seen with some game consoles), or in this instance stop working entirely thanks to later software updates. There’s any number of things Google could have done to avoid customer ill will, from a slight discount off of Nest or other products, or even, hey, an e-mail reminding users that the smart home hubs they paid $300 for would soon be little more than a lovely paperweight.

Google obviously wants these users to spend money on new Nest hardware, but lately that doesn’t seem like such a solid bet. Initially the darling of unskeptical media reviewers (thanks to the company using some very Apple-esque marketing tactics), Nest has been plagued in more recent months by a series of software updates that have caused the IOT devices to occasionally stop working (as in, a thermostat that won’t heat your house). Company leadership has also recently been criticized as tyrannically bureaucratic, and the company has taken heat as an under performer while losing executives at a notable rate.

So sure, go ahead and buy all new pricey Nest hardware for your smart home. Surely it will still actually work in a year, right?

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Companies: google, nest, revolv

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Comments on “You Don't Actually Own What You Buy Volume 2,203: Google Bricking Revolv Smart Home Hardware”

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kallethen says:

While I agree with being upset, I think the original story is being disingenuous in saying Google is bricking the device. He makes it sound like Google/Nest is doing something to the device itself to brick it. What’s actually happening is that they are turning off the servers the device talks to.

As I said, being upset at this is still fine, but the article’s depiction makes this sound much more nefarious.

Mike C. (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

No, the device hardware still functions. It will just abort operations because the server it’s trying to connect to doesn’t exist anymore. Bricking has a specific meaning and the article is being misleading.

That being said, this is further proof that consumers need to be very wary of anything that must “phone home” first in order to work.

kallethen says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be upset. You are absolutely right that the product’s usability that will suffer.

I’m know I’m being nitpicky, but the original article makes it sound like Google/Nest is doing something to the actual devices. It’s a very different connotation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

They ARE doing something to the devices. They are rendering them inoperable. Part of the devices’ operating system is on the server which was deleted; ergo they can no longer operate and are bricked. Stop applying 20th Century architectural assumptions to a 21st Century ‘always online’ system; they are, simply put, inapplicable.

BTW this is essentially how Google gets away with stuff like this. Half our nerds are still living in 1980.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Doesn’t really matter if it is being done to the device or not if suddenly the device does not work. If I paid $300 for a device and suddenly it does not do what it is supposed to do I really don’t care HOW you turned it into a paper weight, all that really matters is that now it is a paper weight.

Also, You can say they have done something to the device. They have locked it down so it uses their servers that they are now turning off. I’m not seeing anything saying they are offering people the source code to work around this. So it is likely the act of making a workaround so you still can use your device is illegal due to laws like DMCA.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If you can explain how to use the Revolv device, sans servers, for anything other than propping open a door, then and only then will I accept your disingenuous claim that shutting down the device’s servers isn’t the same as ‘bricking’ it.

Your next post should either be a complete tutorial on how to revive the device and make it independently operable, or else an admission that you are wrong and have no further argument.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yes, “bricking” is overly harsh. They’re no longer supporting a device which was previously sold by a company they acquired.

It’s like when a video game discontinues multi-player support, surely the single player mode should still work, but the features that require servers are gone. Well what if, as in this case, the game is online only?

Sure, it sucks but when you live on the bleeding edge you’ve got to have the possibility of failure in the back of your mind.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

It’s like when a video game discontinues multi-player support, surely the single player mode should still work, but the features that require servers are gone. Well what if, as in this case, the game is online only?

And when game companies turn off the servers for games people are still playing, there’s a backlash.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Absolutely, I’m not saying the Revolv owners shouldn’t be pissed. I’m saying you should know when something you buy is completely dependent on outside resources; especially when it’s run by a small start up that may not be around in another year.

I’m a Panono backer, still waiting on my hardware 27 months later. Yes it sucks that it’s taken that long, but I’m most concerned that photo processing is cloud-only. That’s a major fail-point in the system. But I knew I was buying into an unknown, that’s on me. All these people saying not to buy things that connect to the Internet are missing the real lesson here, which is to know what features of your purchases are services and which are independent functions. This isn’t new.

There’s FAQs on the Nest site about what happens when you lose connection. Spoiler: the thermostat is still a thermostat, and the Protect is still a mesh networked smoke and carbon monoxide alarm, but the drop-cam is dead. My Amazon Echo will be dead in the water one day, but my chrome-casts will still work. The traffic updates in my car will fold with Sirius but my maps and routing will still work. I could go on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Assuming you can obtain gas and fill your own car, the car is still perfectly usable.

In this case, the car is setup to stream gas via a long tube from a single company, the gas is a special mixture that the car requires to run on, and when the stream is turned off, the car ceases to be useful.

Modifying the car to run on another type of gas might be possible, but the company selling the car and the gas isn’t helping you figure that out.

Anonymous Coward says:

How are people surprised by this? When you rent a product that only works as long as a company allows it to work, at some point, you are going to be left with nothing. I will never buy a nest or any other product like that, so long as it will only function as long as someone else aside from myself decides I am allowed to use it. I decide when a product no longer meets my needs, not some company that only sees me as an income source.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

How are people surprised by this?

I am not a Revolv user, so I cannot say for certain that they were willfully ignorant. Further, the Revolv website is now so barren that I cannot check their terms to determine what their users reasonably should have known. Their Terms-of-Service page redirects to their Privacy page, which does not answer any useful questions.

However, one explanation that I can easily see for this is that the user thought that the system was self-contained and would work (at least in a degraded mode) even without an Internet connection, as long as the in-home networking and power were available and no components died of old age. Clearly, that is not how Revolv designed the system to work, although I think they should have designed it that way. If they had, disabling the central servers would not render existing systems completely unusable.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I agree, the writing was on the wall. I’ve found multiple articles from the 2014 acquisition that said Nest was interested in the developers not in the hub product. They immediately stopped selling it and froze account creation. That sucks if you just plunked down for one, but not unheard of.

And yes, it sounds like these customers had no idea how the product worked. Seems like they would have had an Internet outage or read some troubleshooting docs to see that the brains are entirely cloud based.

Anonymous Coward says:

This comes just before google announces it’s new VR device.

Was going to buy some samples to test at work (large call centre) to see if it helps with productivity, but after this can’t take the risk that google will take payment then simply shut off voice recognition or other remote servers that are required to install/use software.

So just before finance dept. signed off on buying 4 headsets we had to bin the entire idea.

We have Rifts (DK2) and CV1 ordered, OpenVR and Vive ordered etc to test, but now cannot trust google not to pull the same shady tactics in 12months.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Google will get away with it as long as news media do not remind people or search engines do not link to such media posts. As soon as a non-evil search engine starts returning links to posts describing all these failures, they will be in trouble. They might need a corporate “Right to be Forgotten” to delist all those embarassing links. Or they could just send an inter-departmental e-mail about it, since most users are probably trusting Google Search to find such things. 😉

Ringo says:

I love this!

See, this is what happens when consumers tolerate b.s. practices. When you buy this garbage, you have to accept that the inner workings of your *ahem* “smart home” is now a service. HAHHAHAH.

You light bulbs are a service separate from electricity. Your garage door opening is now a service! God, I am just rolling in the schadenfreude!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: I love this!

As one of the AC’s above notes, a lot of that depends on what the users of the devices knew or could be reasonably expected to know.

It’s one thing to be told or know ‘Your smart device will need to be able to connect to the servers to be able to download and install any updates to the software’, another entirely to find out that if those servers go down not only is the device not getting any future updates, but it effectively turns into a very expensive chunk of metal and plastic.

People are probably starting to catch on that if the server for a game or piece of software goes down that requires server access then the game/software isn’t going to be working anymore, but the idea that that would also apply to physical products is something that’s rather new, even if it should be expected to those paying attention.

Software that requires connection to a particular server stops working if the server goes offline.

‘Smart’ devices often contain similar software.

Therefore if the servers for ‘smart’ device software goes down, so does the device itself.

Ringo says:

Re: Re: I love this!

Sure, you’re correct. And therefore this incident should be the last of it. But, it won’t.

Consumers won’t learn a damned thing and instead will just go buy the newest piece of hardware that is subject to the whim of some executive shutting the server down. And they won’t complain as they have grown accustomed to it.

If the consumers lost their collective shits (in a constructive way) this might change. But, no, they will just roll over and take it like champs when the next round of useless hardware needs replacing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I love this!

Even the best informed consumer can’t eliminate risk. In this case, it’s just a toy that stopped working. If a user got a few years of play out of it, that might have been worth it to them especially since there are a lot more toys on the market with more advanced features that they might find more entertaining.

Ringo says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I love this!

I would argue this is not an acceptable risk. Not everyone is in the position, financially or philosophically, to just buy all new hardware all the time.

If you got your perceived “money’s worth,” ok. That’s fine. Keep in mind a lot of people feel screwed over by this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 I love this!

“Some people have, in effect, built their homes around this product”

something, something castles of sand…

As long as you enter into an agreement where the company has no obligation to provide you with a service and expressly reserves the right to refuse you service at will, it’s hard for me to be sympathetic. Either petition your lawmakers to craft new legislation or stop agreeing to consumer unfriendly terms.

Anonymous Coward says:

you can thank US justices for this total screw up! they were the ones that told us all that what we buy isn’t ours and isn’t bought, it’s just on long term lease! fucking dick brains! how the hell do these plums get to be able to tell other people what is right and what is wrong, what is yours and what is not??

Anonymous Coward says:

Can you say Class-Action lawsuit?

I suspect there will be a class-action lawsuit filed before the end of the month, and possibly a court order prohibiting Google from disabling the servers until this matter is resolved.

The hardware is working, but they just expect everyone to throw away $300 worth of hardware because the company no longer wants to support it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Can you say Class-Action lawsuit?

A class-action suit would be appropriate in this instance. But, I can hear the cries from Google right now about how such a suit is “bad for consumers” as it would “stifle innovation.”

The strange phenomenon to me is that people seem to want to cede their personal authority to a “higher power”; they want to cede control over their lives and devices.

geRockefelterfish says:

Re: Re: Can you say Class-Action lawsuit?

Ignorance is absolutely not a defense. And yes, people should learn to value these products less.

But, I do believe the government has a role to play in protecting the consumer. Upton Sinclair made a nice case as to why regulation is needed in certain industries. How much? Well, that’s what’s debatable.

Julio says:

Re: Re:

That’s cool you can do that. Homegrown solutions, or even solutions the user is in control of is the real answer to all of this.

The problem is that my wife for example, wouldn’t know what the hell an Arduino module is. She might recognise the Raspberry Pi, as I made a big deal about the Pi Zero. The vast consumer base isn’t like you or me, they don’t care about tinkering or having something that they actually control. They want the shiny new device that “just works.”


Re: Re: Build it yourself or buyer beware.

This is just like my MythTV system. I build the server and the appliances but that’s the end of it. The server runs itself and the appliances look like any other AV kit.

In fact, my appliances are more reliable than my Sony BluRay player which uses many of the same bits of Free Software. More reliable than my Rokus too.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: boilerplate

It’s a pretty big point, actually. Karl has said that boilerplate is all good, so here is a perfect example where the terms and conditions including ones that limit company liability if their choose to stop offering a service plays out.

Since it was in the terms and the terms are always right, there should be no problem – unless of course companies use boilerplate text to give themselves plenty of outs.

You decide which one… I’ll wait for your less than pithy reply.

Anonymous Monkey (profile) says:

Re: Here's an idea

This is EXACTLY what I was gonna say. Open Source it!

let people choose a central node address

Or, even better, the devices can find each other on the same subnet with mDNS (as can the app that controls them) so that they are completely serverless.
In fact, it should have been this was from the beginning, just using the server for updates.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: Here's an idea

Doing that may be an easy solution, but Nest bought these guys for their cloud based service integration chops; i.e. the code that makes revolv go. Giving that code away might not be feasible, but allowing customers to flash new firmware would be a nice send off before the servers go dark. That said, it seems like they’re trying to stop bleeding money so it may not be any more feasible.

Gracey (profile) says:

I’m not particularly surprised by it.

But I am thankful that me and my home still live in the “lost world”. I admit it, I’m a dinosaur.

What’s wrong with walking over to the thermostat and changing it yourself? Or turning on your lights using your hands instead of some “device”?

Tales like this one make me wonder how society would survive without all their little electronic gadgets and doodads.

Things like having internet, or phones or TV are fine, but they shouldn’t be the things that run our lives and it seems that the more forward thinking the devices become, the less people enjoy life and worry more about the devices working.

Spent the last few months away from home without all of that stuff and we found ourselves a lot happier.

… just sayin’ don’t buy “things” to run your life for you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“… just sayin’ don’t buy “things” to run your life for you.”

I agree, but society is moving towards a world where cars get over the air software updates and it’s illegal to tamper with those computers. Don’t want your car to have an IP? The answer can’t be “ride a horse”.

Cynyr (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I can think of some possible useful updates to have for a car:
-Updated VFD/inverter settings to increase the power output and range of the electric drive.
-Updated emission controls that allow for a wider range of higher power and more fuel efficient modes.
-Updates to the autonomous drive mode controls. You know because it’s going to get better over the 10-20 year life of the car.
-ESC control algorithms based on analysis of real world data and crash studies from other similar cars.
-Driving mode updates (again for power/response and economy)

That said, I’d be happy to put a file on a USB stick and stuff it into the car and have the car ask if I want to update instead of simply downloading and installing them when I’m at home. the manufacturer could just e-mail me a notice that an update is available.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I just drive a lower cost, lower end car. It plays music, uses little gas, but most importantly, it gets me where I’m going. I don’t “ride a horse”.

My thermostat is a manual, it keeps me warm in winter and cool in summer. I can’t control it across the net nor on my “smart” phone, but it self adjusts according to day of the week and time of day. It cost 20 bucks.

“Society” isn’t me, nor do current trends and marketing dictate what I use if I see no benefit beyond the cool factor. Most of this flap is about broken toys. That’s all.

HegemonicDistortion says:


You have to love (read:abhor) the chutzpah it takes to suggest that the warranty term was all anyone could have hoped and predicted their product would useful for, as if people who plunked down good money for the devices understood and anticipated that they would only be good for a mere year or two and bought them on that basis. People assume the risk that a product might break after its warranty, but not that the maker will intentionally cause it to malfunction.

I hope the FTC lowers the boom on Google in a huge way here.

Also, we desperately need a law to negate all the BS terms of “service” that prohibit taking this sort of thing (and anything else, really) to the courts for redress.


Re: Re: warranty

Homes should be far more durable than that. It’s an easy argument to make that such lack of durability in a home is very much against the public interest. The level of disposability for other consumer products really doesn’t make sense once you start talking about any element of the construction industry.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t see the problem. For in the neighborhood of $29.95 you can replace that $200+ Nest device with a good Honeywell, fully programmable, thermostat that does nothing but control the home environment. Home automation had been well established long before Google got hold of it, with hardware YOU own, so go back to it and quit whining. It’s a lot cheaper, too.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Can someone else take over the servers?

Is it possible to host your own servers?

If Google wanted to be nice, they could assure all the data was open source so that some enthusiasts could barnraise it.

This happens to dying games all the time, and since this affects real life stuff, it seems there’s more motivation to get it done.

But if Google doesn’t facilitate a home-grown solution that’s pretty super shitty, and affirms my skepticism of the commitment of companies to continuing their services.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Can someone else take over the servers?

I worked at Google a long time ago. If the culture is the same now as it was then, there are a bunch of engineers screaming at management telling them to fix this.

In a few days, someone will step up and get a plan approved to migrate this to some sort of user group. This is of course assuming that enough of these boxes were sold and some of the people they were sold to are techies that can form a community to keep a server running.

Of course, the culture could have changed and Google could now just whip the engineers if they don’t follow the company line.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Correction

The proprietary IOT industry is a failure before it gets off the starting line.

Once we make the appliances independent from the online service which is independent from the computer and phone apps, it’ll all be good.

Which is fine, because I’m not interested until it’s open source, and subject to white-hat penetration tests and security fixes.

Anonymous Coward says:

What's new?

So as Karl said, what’s new about this? It’s been happening to smartphones and tablets for years. It happened to PCs before that. Software updates come around and perfectly functional technology is made redundant because money. People not buying new phones / computers / home control systems / whatever are people not giving money to the company.

Planned obsolescence. It’s been going on long before now and is little more than a cash grab by an economy-centric world. Software / smart devices is only the new frontier of it.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Ludditism at its best?

I dunno, I’d rather work towards a society where no-one has to work and no-one does any shit work because we have robots to do it all.

That way, people’s lives and livelihoods don’t depend on their jobs.

In fact, I suspect that because we associate money with survival is exactly why corporation officials are willing to stoop so low as protectionism or premature product extinction in the first place.

Oh That Brian! says:

There are options

I own a beastie called a TurtleBeach Audiotron. It also had a function that relied on a server that the vendor maintained.

When they announced the demise of their server, the company actually supplied an updated firmware package that would let end users redirect the queries to their own PCs. They also wrote instructions on how to make the units function exactly like they did, even without the manufacturer’s server.

That made the conversion easy to swallow.

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