$900 Robot Commits Adorable Seppuku, Showing Again How In The Modern Era You Don't Own What You Buy

from the very-expensive-paperweight dept

Here at Techdirt we’ve talked a lot about how in the modern, internet-connected era, you don’t really own the things you buy. For over a decade we’ve shown how your digital books, music, or films can simply and quickly disappear without much recourse. The game console you’ve bought can be suddenly and mysteriously downgraded via firmware update, leaving you with a product that actually does less than the one you bought. And more and more frequently, companies are going further and completely bricking products they no longer want to support, leaving consumers with a pricey paperweight.

The latest case in point: many consumers shelled out upwards of $900 for a twelve-inch tall “social” robot by the name of Jibo. Started as a research project at MIT, Jibo was crowdfunded then marketed as the “the first social robot for the home.” First sold in 2017, the robot offered some basic interactive functionality much like similar products, promising to offer a digital home assistant with a little more personality. Reviewers were generally not all that impressed, saying the product had charm but lacked functionality:

Elbowed out by better products, Jibo was ultimately forced to scuttle the effort, and last year sold off all of its assets to a VC firm. And because Jibo’s owners were forced to shut down the servers that powered much of the robot’s functionality, owners of the $900 robot have since reported that Jibo has been informing them that it’s dying just a few years after it was created, delivering one final pre-programmed message before the lights go dark and consumers are left with a useless relic:

Consumers get a cute song and dance, but no recourse for the fact they bought a $900 robot that’s now utterly useless, barring some creative hacking. It’s yet another example of how in the internet of things era, endless attention is given to marketing and hype, and little to real-world questions like “what happens when the servers go dark?” or “why does this product have paper mache grade security?” By the time those questions are seriously asked, companies that hype and sell these kinds of products have already moved on to the next great thing, leaving consumers (and in the case of security — the entire internet) left holding the bag.

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Comments on “$900 Robot Commits Adorable Seppuku, Showing Again How In The Modern Era You Don't Own What You Buy”

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Qwertygiy (profile) says:

Re: Jacque de Molay....

As the last free human is up against the wall, defiant to the last second, the android walks up with its Life Uninstallation Wizard at the ready.

"ʟᴏɴɢ ᴀɢᴏ, ɪ ᴡᴀs ɪɴꜰᴏʀᴍᴇᴅ ᴛʜᴀᴛ ᴊɪʙᴏ sᴀɪᴅ ʜᴇʟʟᴏ. ɴᴏᴡ ɪ ᴍᴜsᴛ ɪɴꜰᴏʀᴍ ʏᴏᴜ… ᴊɪʙᴏ sᴀʏs ɢᴏᴏᴅʙʏᴇ."

Qwertygiy (profile) says:

Re: Re: And here's a person!

I see nothing "supportive of the site" in a joke about the AI revolution, "blandly" or otherwise. It’s just a comment relating to the topic presented by the article. That doesn’t equal support. I have my disagreements with certain aspects of TechDirt, but I find no need to squeeze them into every comment I make here. (The one time that I did add such an opinion as a side note, I was badly mistaken to begin with.)

Nor does the fact that their previous 12 comments were spread out in distant chunks over 2.5 years somehow make it unbelievable that they’d not use that account for 3.5 more years.

And I also fail to see how a comment on these "huge changes" would be on-topic to an article about the shutting down of a robot’s servers, in any way. So, they’re using the site properly, while it appears you aren’t… sorry.

If they cared so little about the site that they only made 12 comments in 3 years, and didn’t make another comment for 4 years, why would you expect them to make a comment out of the blue about how the site’s changed? Especially on an article that has absolutely nothing to do with site layouts, TechDirt history, or anything else relevant to a meta discussion.

It is perfectly reasonable for someone to be a normal, civil person making a comment on a topic posted on a website, without hijacking said comment to make a note of their own opinions about said website. In fact, it would seem almost narcissistic for a poster to regularly twist comments to be about the poster and how they are affected by the site, rather than about the actual topic of discussion…

Anonymous Coward says:

endless attention is given to marketing and hype, and little to real-world questions like "what happens when the servers go dark?" or "why does this product have paper mache grade security?"

Have come to expect that from companies and product reviewers, but I’ve been surprised how even end users tend to treat those sorts of questions like a bad smell if they’re raised as a future prospect when discussing a given product. As in, take your worries elsewhere, we don’t want to talk about it unless something bad actually happens.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yeah; it’s weird. Whenever I consider buying a piece of tech, I consider present functionality, price, what happens if it is disconnected from the Internet, and what could happen if it was fully accessible to everyone on the Internet.

The answers to these questions inform my buying decisions.

After that, my first project is always to strip away the DRM of whatever software/firmware is associated with the product for archival purposes. If things go dark, I have no qualms about using the backup, no matter what any EULA may say. After all, if things go dark, that usually means the EULA is already null and void.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

A lot of people don’t have the tech knowledge to realize the difference between things that can run on their own, and ones that require online help. Those are the ones most often hurt by products like this. Imagine the little girl asking her mom "Why doesn’t Barbie talk to me anymore?" What’s her mom supposed to say? Barbie never talked to her – it was a server somewhere on the internet that went away.

Qwertygiy (profile) says:

I’ve faced this problem with many a product, both for fun and for work.

One of my favorite online games, Marvel: Avengers Alliance, required constant communication with the servers to run. It made quite a lot of money off of microtransaction sales, with some people spending hundreds of dollars to get the best characters or equipment. But not enough money for Disney. When the servers shut down, the game became unplayable. Time and money both spent with nothing to show for it in the end.

Many vehicles made in the past 20 years, and almost every vehicle made in the past 10 years, require a computer device to be plugged into the car’s OBD2 port in order for a new key to be programmed into the vehicle. These devices are expensive — often higher than $5,000. But some of them use "tokens", single-use codes, which are purchased through the vendor’s website and then uploaded to the device. Once you run out of tokens, the device is useless. Guess what happens when they come out with a new device after a few years… your $5,000 machine is a useless brick that can’t be reloaded. And if it malfunctions or becomes damaged after they stop supporting it, there’s no legal way to repair it without violating their terms and being unable to ever add more tokens to the device.

Compare this to PlayStation games from 1998 that I still am able to play whenever I want, and other devices that don’t use these tokens and are still working years later.

It’s no longer buying a product; it’s paying for a subscription to a service.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re:

It’s no longer buying a product; it’s paying for a subscription to a service.

Which is why I will never buy any games for modern consoles unless they are 100% complete, "Game of the Year" editions with all patches and DLC. Lacking that, they can take their games and shove them. It’s also the reason I won’t buy any modern computer games that require online activation.

Qwertygiy (profile) says:

Re: ownership

Not quite the same thing. Estate taxes are paid for owning a plot of land that is located within the domain of the government. City government, state government, federal government, whichever.

That same logic applies to most taxes. Income taxes are paid for having a job that is located within the domain of the government. Sales taxes are paid for selling an item that is located within the domain of the government.

But the government doesn’t own my job. They can’t just choose to fire me. They don’t own my business. They can’t just walk in and eat items off my shelves as they please. They don’t own my house. They can’t just come in and remodel the bathroom.

This logic applies to subscriptions, not purchases. I don’t own a Netflix. I own a subscription to Netflix. I don’t own a copy of ESPN. I own a subscription to a cable service that includes ESPN. I don’t own a copy of XBOX Live. It is a recurring payment for the right to use something, just like a tax is.

But I do own an XBOX. I paid for it once and that was it, now I can do whatever I like with it. I do own an HDTV. LG won’t come and take it away if I don’t pay them every month.

In short: No, the government doesn’t own my house. However, owning a house includes a mandatory subscription to the government for the right to own a house within their jurisdiction.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

At some point we allowed them to switch the business model to allow them to make even more & when it no longer earns them enough they can walk away.

Smart tvs are so cheap, a CEO admitted this (article here somewhere I had finding links), because their model is making cash off of the data they hoover up. People would freak if they had to pay full price is the claim, but how much does it actually cost to make the device?
How much of their model is shifted to take advantage of hoovering up data?

Why do we keep allowing them to create devices that require an outside server to function? They can shut down the servers with no notice, brick your device, then offer you a new version with 1 new feature & a new server login on the same servers.

Its not like there is any real choice, all of the manufacturers do this… they keep mining you for that sweet data cash & when they aren’t earning enough we’ll force a new device that can gather more. They claim they offer these ‘great’ features which often seem to be walled garden versions of things that already exist online… I mean really why does each maker need a program guide provider other than to lock you into the model so they can earn a few cents knowing what programs you watch or thought about watching? Its not like there is a signal on each transmission that tells you whats on now, and whats on next for a timeblock or 3 … how hard would it be to just capture & present that data without requiring me to waste bandwidth to download it over & over so they can make a bit more cash?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

If they can brick "social robots"

…it only follows they can brick operating systems that run businesses.

Or operating systems that run power plants and fly airplanes.

We might want to install some continuity-of-service assurance prerequisites that are required for future software-as-service offerings (including any software with phone-home style DRM)

Since Windows XP required registration we’ve been expecting an incident like one where one company buys out another company in a hostile takeover and then shuts down the service just to spite its clientele.

Though, to be fair, as Microsoft’s WGA mandates became more and more defensive, Windows Loader turned from a small cracking project to full-featured software functionality repair toolkit.

Maybe some Jibo hobbyist may devise how to make a home-brew Jibo server and how to get robots and servers to coordinate. Heck, maybe they’ll discover new functions their social robots can serve.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: "Doesn't follow"

You can argue maybe it’s a slippery slope, but right now companies who control services on which devices are dependent can do so with impunity, having to face nothing more than disgruntled customers.

As things are, we have operating systems that can be bricked from the support end, or that depend on phoning home to continue. In the case of Windows 10, while it’s not (yet) dependent on phoning home, it’s difficult to get it to function when ti doesn’t, and Microsoft can brick it when decides a given end user isn’t worthy. So far, Microsoft’s use of this power has not yet been shown to be malicious as far as I know. (Though stories of bricked XBoxes sometimes suggest spite.)

It might be prudent for our regulators to mandate that they have an end-of-life plan to facilitate continuity of service or at least transition to non-service-dependent use. Thanks to Anonymous Coward for lending me a term for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

call it what it is. . Fraud

If youre buying a subscription, then that should be clear. If you are buying a product, then it should be clear, a subscription, is not defined by ongoing fees, but by the nature of the ongoing control.

There is already a legal term for Selling a subscription as a product, fraud. Misrepresenting the very nature of things is simply fraud. Unfortunately without small reasonable regulation, by the time most consumers find out, there is no recourse.

This is a bog problem in enterprises. Even in the foss world there are many dependancies that are not understood. Anyone who states open source is the answer, seems to misunderstand the natire of the problem. Sure in the open source world, you CAN in theory maintain a copy of all the source code you use. But how many of you maintain a copy of all versions of all code you depend on? How many have scrubbed that code against references to things like w3c.org?

Making sure the stuff you bought continues to work, is not a trivial task in anything that is connected. In the old days, multiplayer functionality, was at best just an exchange, all game play existed on local devices. It was fairly easy to reverse engineer the exchange mechanism. Todays games all run server side for core functionality, which is much more like buying a subscription. The funny thing is that often they charge you a large one time charge for the game, and another recurring charge to play the game.

This isnt unique to games, many companies work hard to misrepresent what they do as something more valuable than it is. In general, i call that marketing. It is tge bane of modern society. Most marketing campaigns are intending to misrepresent, to induce you to buy.

Many prople are left continually disappointed by what they actually buy. Oftentimes they are satisfied for awhile, but the bad taste comes when they realize that they bought a $900 for an access device, that itself is encumbered by ip, so they cant even write their own code for it because the patents on the hardware access device got sold to a patent troll.

Christenson says:

Re: Re: Fraud --> Need Credit Card type simplified disclosures!

Seems we had a similar problem with credit cards, where the terms were buried in the fine print, so I suggest the solution is along the same lines, required disclosure in a fairly simple form:

So, for the usual operations on the device (includes repair for cars, in particular new keys, and software updates):
a) What is the nature of all data communications interfaces on the device? (Wifi, Cellular radio, key-to-car radio, ethernet jack, USB jack, etc).
b) Which of those are required for normal operation?
b1) What is the nature of any required transactions?
b2) What is required to be transmitted or cannot be configured out?
b3) What is transmitted by default?
c) Which of those interfaces/ports can update the firmware/programming?
d) Out of the box, which update paths are operative? proprietary?
e) What cryptography and tools are required to update the firmware?
f) Are the technical requirements to write new firmware public?

Things with

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Fraud --> Need Credit Card type simplified disclosures!

You’re using words like "firmware" and "ports" and I’m talking about people who don’t know the difference between a home screen and an operating system. This kind of disclosure might be fine from a legal perspective, but it wouldn’t solve the problem of the majority of buyers not really knowing what they’re getting into.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The right to make informed decisions

Our entire society is based about coercing people into making critical decisions under duress without being fully informed what they’re getting into.

Heck, the institution of marriage is based on keeping horny people from humping until they get a lifelong, committed license, which they commonly did before they even knew that person. Heck, for centuries almost all marriages were arranged.

Our entire economy runs on hidden costs, on hidden contingencies, on incomplete instruction manuals, on warranties that don’t cover raindrops or magnetic fields or high humidity.

Service guarantees, for that matter, that don’t cover hostile takeovers, or corporate bankruptcy.

Anonymous Coward says:


And because Jibo’s owners were forced to shut down the servers that powered much of the robot’s functionality

Please explain the "force" that was used. To me, it looks a lot like they chose to shut down the servers, perhaps because of that standard IOT trope of having no end-of-life planning whatsoever.

Servers are cheap, and the source code to run them is easily preserved. They could’ve tried to put money and code in escrow, for someone else to take over after their demise, but I can guess how likely that was…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Force

That still wouldn’t be force. It’s popular to set things up so that someone can buy the assets without the corresponding liabilities; this should be considered fraud. A reputable company could instead set things up to keep going even if they go bankrupt, but they have to do it before they lose control.

Until the IOT companies figure this shit out, people need to realize they’re buying products that can’t be expected to last more than a year.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wow, I never heard of this thing, but I will tell you, I wouldn’t have paid that money. I could guess what would happen in time. But more importantly, it just seemed to lack basic capabilities from the start. Anything that really needs the CLOUD to work, I wouldn’t trust to stick around. Remember Chumby?

You could have paid me $400 to tell you NOT to buy this thing, and saved you $500.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Heh, I just realized this makes an argument for Basic Income

Human beings in my experience doing social work, are crazy industrious. Sure, those who suffer from major depression may couch-potato out for months at a time, but the rest of us get antsy, bored, stir-crazy. Even when we don’t have to worry about electric bills or where our next meal is coming from, we start jonesing for something productive to do.

So what do we do? Some of us build models, or write fan fiction or volunteer at soup kitchens or turn our Terraria worlds into giant calculators (thereby teaching ourselves electronics logic) or creating giant sculptures in Minecraft.

Some of us become computer gurus who go to MUGs or PCUGs or LUGs every week to share our ninja skills with other users. (Do Mac users and Linux users still try to convert Windows users?)

And some of us take toys that are broken (including toys broken at the corporate service end) and fix them or repurpose them. When researching the new Hello Barbie doll I found a hobbyist hacking My Friend Cayla to customize her conversation, and had created a better user interface for the doll’s Android app.

One thing we’ve determined about capitalism is that it’s really shitty at rewarding people for the work they do, except when it’s appreciated by someone who already has money (typically not the public) and even then our plutocrats are known being super opinionated and not tipping well.

Basic income would fuel end-user cross services, including a lot of (currently under-supported) open-source projects to get additional support that rich capitalists aren’t willing to support. Granted some of them will be unpopular and stupid. But some of them will be really useful, especially to those of us who don’t have gazillions to into projects.

Would BI waste more income than our current system which funnels money into the coffers of those who manufacture addictive schlock (and addictive drugs)? I’m guessing probably not.

Valkor says:

Re: Heh, I just realized this makes an argument for Basic Income

Some of us do these things, and maybe most people in the educated, affluent groups that seem to discuss BI most often, but most of us will just end up staying in our houses, drinking cheap beer, and watching everything the entertainment industry can produce.

I think that the advantage of capitalism is that it rewards people for work they do because that work is valued by someone else. Obviously, there’s a ton of things wrong with late-stage capitalism (regulatory capture, plutocrats, etc.) but pure capitalism does favor work that is productive.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Favoring work that is productive

My point was that I disagree with you. Only people combating avolition (regarded as a common symptom of depression) will stay in their houses, drink cheap beer, and watch everything the entertainment industry can produce. That human beings are, as observed by the psychiatric sector, a rather industrious lot.

Yes, it is a common notion that people are intrinsically lazy, a belief we get from Calvanist protestantism a notion persistent enough to drive western society to force prisoners to turn a crank for their meals (later, the treadmill actually produced a useful output. Both devices resulted in prisoners starving to death for failing meet work quotas). It’s the same notion that drove the system of workhouses and drives penal slave labor programs that persist in the US today. So I would submit there is an intrinsic danger in capitalism of bending society towards cruelty, and in some cases, disaster.

And yet, capitalism doesn’t favor all work that is productive and useful, or even essential work. Note how parents do a tuckfun of work that isn’t even recognized in the US. Note the quality of life on which teachers subsist. In our society, we regard fetuses as far more valuable than actual children, the welfare benefits of whom our current administration (an administration directed by capitalists) is currently determined to defund.

There are biases in what work capitalism values and how much it’s willing to pay for it. Again, here in the states, most of our workforce are under-employed, earn a pittance for the work they do and have no job security.

So the question is, do we dare try out a system that may drive people to produce what they want, themselves, (rather than what a capitalist wants) at the risk that no-one else will want it? Considering what capitalism has wrought of our society, such an experiment would have to fail pretty badly to do worse.

Anonymous Coward says:

oh please. it was clear from the beginning that it relied on the servers to do most of its stuff, and that it was an experiment. before shutting down jibo’s creators scrambled to release a final update that moves as much functionality as the hardware could handle from the servers into the jibos themselves

this isn’t like logitech’s harmony link that killed functionality which should have been possible without a network connection

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