from the everything-costs-money dept
We’ve written so many stories about how you don’t own what you’ve bought any more due to software controls, DRM, and ridiculous contracts, and it keeps getting worse. The latest such example involves Peloton, which is most known for its extremely expensive stationary bikes with video screens, so that you can take classes (usually on a monthly subscription). I will admit that I don’t quite understand the attraction to them, but so many people swear by them. The company also has branched out into extremely expensive treadmills with the same basic concept, but that product has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately, after a six year old child died in an accident with the device (for what it’s worth, that article links to a page on the Peloton site where the article says Peloton posted an open letter to its customers about the accident, but the letter is no longer at that link).
The death kicked off an investigation by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, which then told Peloton it should recall the treadmills and that people should not use them if there are children or pets nearby and apparently you should lock yourself in a room with them:
If people want to keep using the Tread+, they should only do so in a locked room and they should keep other objects away, the agency said. It advised people to unplug the treadmill while not using it and to keep the key to turn it on elsewhere and away from the reach of kids.
In a move that seemed guaranteed to generate bad PR, Peloton fought back against the recommendation calling it “inaccurate and misleading.” It wasn’t a very good look, and a few weeks later the company did, in fact, issue a recall — though reports note that very few people will take the company up on the recall.
Not surprisingly, the company is also now facing some class action lawsuits. In that article, it notes that even for people who do not return their recalled Peloton treadmills, the company will issue a software update to try to maintain better safety and avoid children (and pets) from trying to use the device:
Peloton announced that they will refund the machine, which costs $4,295, and are working on a mandatory software update that will automatically lock the Tread+ after each use and require a unique password to be used to unlock the machine.
That automatic lock and password idea sounds sensible enough, given the situation, but in order to get it to work, but apparently Peloton hasn’t figured out how to make that work for customers who bought the treadmill and aren’t using its subscription service for classes. The Tread+ does have a “Just Run” mode, in which it acts like a regular treadmill (with the video screen off). But, as Brianna Wu discovered, the company is now saying that the “Just Run” mode now requires a subscription to work with the lock. The company is waiving the cost of such a subscription for three months, and it’s unclear from the email if that means that after the three months they’re hoping to have the “Tread Lock” working even for non-subscription users:
Wow. The Peloton Tread will no longer allow you to use your $3000 treadmill without a $39.99 a month subscription.
The pretext is their design issues that led to a child?s death.
Hope reporters will cover this. pic.twitter.com/XHKS6DaOeD
— Brianna Wu (@BriannaWu) June 21, 2021
If you can’t see it, the image is an email from Peloton customer support saying:
We care deeply about the safety and well-being of our Members and we created Tread Lock to secure your Tread+ against unauthorized access.
Unfortunately at this time, ‘Just Run’ is no longer accessible without a Peloton Membership.
For this inconvenience, we have waived three months of All-Access Membership for all Tread+ owners. If you don’t see the waivers on your subscription or if you need help reactivating your subscription, please contact our Support team….
Now, it’s possible that the subscription part is necessary to update the software to enable the lock mode, but that seems… weird. After all, there must have been some sort of software upgrade that locked out the “Just Run” mode in the first place.
And, obviously, you can understand why (given what happened), Peloton wants to make sure that everyone has upgraded with these new safety features. But the email is woefully unclear on whether or not after the three months of free membership, you’ll have to start paying the $40/month to keep using the treadmill, or if it just becomes a quite expensive piece of weird furniture.
I get the need to deal with the risk of harm… but you’d think that the company would have done a better job of making sure it did so in a manner that didn’t mean forcing people into a subscription they might not want. Indeed, as basically anyone could have predicted, once this started getting attention, Peloton promised that it was working hard to figure out a way to re-enable “Just Run” without a subscription. Of course, if that was always the plan, you’d think that the email would have said something, because otherwise, this concern was wholly predictable.
Either way, it’s yet another reminder of how we don’t truly own what we’ve bought any more thanks to such software locks and the ability to update things after they’ve been purchased, including taking away features. And that should concern everyone.