How The DMCA And The CFAA Are Preventing People From Saving Their Soon-To-Be-Broken Pebble Watches
from the bad-laws dept
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think smartwatches are really wonderful, even as lots of people scoff at the concept (and sales have been disappointing across the board). The first device that clued me in to the possible power of the smartwatch was the original Pebble smartwatch, which I (and many, many others) backed on Kickstarter. I ended up backing their second Kickstarter campaign as well — but was disappointed in the end product and ended up moving on to another smartwatch instead (the Moto 360, though now it looks like Motorola is dumping that business as well). I didn’t end up backing Pebble’s latest Kickstarter campaign, which turned out to be a good thing, because as you may have heard, the company announced last week that it had sold its assets to Fitbit, and no more work would be done on Pebble watches (and people who backed the latest project would eventually get refunds, but no watches).
But, things are even worse for those who already do have (and still use) Pebble watches. In the announcement, the company admits that since Pebble watches rely on Pebble servers for certain features, the functionality of the watches may be reduced in the future:
Active Pebble watches will work normally for now. Functionality or service quality may be reduced down the road. We don?t expect to release regular software updates or new Pebble features. Our new mission will focus on bringing Pebble?s unique wearables expertise to future Fitbit products. We?re also working to reduce Pebble’s reliance on cloud services, letting all Pebble models stay active long into the future.
Of course, as Cory Doctorow rightly notes, the real problem here is that thanks to stupid laws like the DMCA Section 1201 (barring circumvention of technological protection measures) and the CFAA (barring certain forms of “hacking”), users will have trouble fixing or saving their own watches. It’s yet another case of not really owning what you thought you bought… thanks to DRM and bad laws.
The watches are among the many cloud-based Internet-of-Things products that are reliant on the ongoing maintenance of server infrastructure for normal functionality. This problem is exacerbated by the widespread IoT deployment of DRM to lock devices into manufacturer-controlled infrastructure — thanks to laws like section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, developers who create software to replace cloud functions with alternative/self-hosted servers, or with local computing, face potential jail sentences and millions in fines. Add to that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which has been used to threaten and even jail researchers who improved services but violated their terms of service to do so, and the IoT space is the land of the contingent, soon-to-be-bricked devices
As Cory notes, Pebble should allow their own users to hack their stuff, by releasing source code, schematics and more. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen. But it’s yet another case of the law getting in the way of something you thought you owned.