NordicTrack Patches Out 'God Mode' In Treadmills That Allowed Users To Watch Anything On Its Display
from the mine-mine-mine! dept
If you are a console gamer of a certain age, you will remember the bullshit Sony pulled when it patched its PS3 systems to remove useful features it had used as selling points for the console to begin with. Essentially, the PS3 had a feature that allowed you to install another operating system on it. This was used by hobbyists, companies, and the US Military alike to creatively use PS3s for purposes other than that for which they were built, such as research supercomputers and creating homebrew PS3 games. Sony later decided that those features could also be used for piracy or other nefarious actions and so patched it out. Sell the console with a feature, remove it later after the purchase… and then get sued in a class action, as it turned out.
The story of NordicTrack’s treadmill isn’t exactly like that, but it’s pretty damned close. The company’s treadmill has a large display mounted on it. That display was designed to be used with a subscription to iFit, which is the parent company of NordicTrack. There are all sorts of useful features when you view subscribed content on the display while exercising, such as difficulty and incline changes that follow along with the subscribed workout content. But the console also has a way to bypass the user-facing portion of the console and get into the underlying OS, which means users like JD Howard could then setup their own internet browser, through which they could put any web content on the display while they worked out.
To get into his X32i, all Howard needed to do was tap the touchscreen 10 times, wait seven seconds, then tap 10 more times. Doing so unlocked the machine—letting Howard into the underlying Android operating system. This privilege mode, a sort of God mode, gave Howard complete control over the treadmill: he could sideload apps and, using a built-in browser, access anything and everything online. “It wasn’t complicated,” Howard says. After accessing privilege mode he installed a third-party browser that allowed him to save passwords and fire up his beloved cloud security videos.
While NordicTrack doesn’t advertise privilege mode as a customer feature, its existence isn’t exactly a secret. Multiple unofficial guides tell people how to get into their machines, and even iFit’s support pages explain how to access it. The whole reason Howard bought the X32i, he says, was because he could access God mode. But the good times didn’t last long.
No they didn’t, because NordicTrack subsequently removed the God mode feature through a software update. And not just on the treadmill, but also on its other associated exercise equipment. And a not insignificant number of customers are absolutely pissed about it. The comments coming in largely are combinations of anger and confusion, with many owners wondering why in the world they suddenly can’t watch sports or Netflix while they workout. The other theme appears to be confusion as to how the company can even do this because, “Hey, don’t we own this thing we bought?”
The answer, of course, is no.
“The block on privilege mode was automatically installed because we believe it enhances security and safety while using fitness equipment that has multiple moving parts,” says a spokesperson for NordicTrack and iFit. The company has never marketed its products as being able to access other apps, the spokesperson adds. “As there is no way of knowing what kind of changes or errors a consumer could introduce into the software, there is no way of knowing what specific issues accessing privilege mode might cause,” the spokesperson says. “Therefore, to maintain security, safety, and machine functionality, we have restricted access to privilege mode.” The spokesperson also emphasizes that privilege mode was “never designed as a consumer-facing functionality.” Rather, it was designed to allow the company’s customer service team to remotely access the products to “troubleshoot, update, reset, or repair our software.”
The move puts the company at the center of the right-to-repair debate, with consumers increasingly demanding that companies let them alter the products they purchase.
Kinda, yeah. And it’s important to note that “owners” like Howard already had regular old treadmills and bought their NordicTrack treadmill because of the ability to put what they wants on the display. Again, sell the thing with a useful feature, then remove the useful feature afterwards via a software update. As I said, it’s not exactly like the PS3 case, but it’s pretty damned close.
The only real question now is whether iFit and NordicTrack too will have to pay out millions in attorney’s fees and barely anything to the actual consumer in some massive class action like Sony did.