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:
The servers for Jibo the social robot are apparently shutting down. Multiple owners report that Jibo himself has been delivering the news: "Maybe someday when robots are way more advanced than today, and everyone has them in their homes, you can tell yours that I said hello." pic.twitter.com/Sns3xAV33h
— Dylan Martin (@DylanLJMartin) March 2, 2019
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.