HP outrages printer users with firmware update suddenly bricking third-party ink – Ars Technica

The Hewlett-Packard logo is seen on printer printer ink boxes on display

HP customers are showing frustration online as the vendor continues to use firmware updates to discourage or, as users report, outright block the use of non-HP-brand ink cartridges in HP printers. HP has already faced class-action lawsuits and bad publicity from “dynamic security,” but that hasn’t stopped the company from expanding the practice.

Dynamic security is a feature used by HP printers to authenticate ink cartridges and prevent use of cartridges that aren’t HP-approved. As the company explains:

“Dynamic security relies on the printer’s ability to communicate with the security chips or electronic circuitry on the cartridges. HP uses dynamic security measures to protect the quality of our customer experience, maintain the integrity of our printing systems, and protect our intellectual property.

“Dynamic security equipped printers are intended to work only with cartridges that have new or reused HP chips or electronic circuitry. The printers use the dynamic security measures to block cartridges using non-HP chips or modified or non-HP electronic circuitry. Reused, remanufactured, and refilled cartridges that reuse the HP chip or electronic circuitry are unaffected by dynamic security.”

HP introduced dynamic security to some printers in 2016, and since 2018, it has paid millions in class-action lawsuits, including to customers in the US, Australia, and Italy.

Dynamic security strikes again

After paying up, it seems HP is set on continuing to use DRM to discourage its printer customers from spending ink and toner money outside of the HP family.

“HP have updated their printers to outright ban ‘non-HP’ ink! They no longer shows the ‘can’t guarantee quality’ message, but instead cancels your print completely until you inset a HP ink cartridge,” Reddit user grhhull posted Tuesday. “After contacting HP, they advised ‘this is due to the recent ‘update’ of all printers.'”

A Reddit user says they were abruptly met with this message on their HP printer.
Enlarge / A Reddit user says they were abruptly met with this message on their HP printer.

It’s unclear when HP issued updates for which model printers, but there are alleged customer complaints online stemming from late last year, showing plenty of customers surprised their printer no longer worked with non-HP ink cartridges after an update. Some pointed to third-party brands they had relied on for years.

HP warned us

HP community support threads include complaints about the OfficeJet 7740 and OfficeJet Pro 6970. HP lists both printers, as well as others, as able to circumnavigate dynamic security under specific conditions. However, HP’s support page states this only applies to models manufactured before December 1, 2016.

For more examples, there are comments on HP’s support community suggesting that HP’s OfficeJet 6978 and 6968 were recently affected. Both printers are discontinued, but HP’s product pages make it clear that the fickle nature of dynamic security means that third-party ink could stop working at any time.

“Only intended to be used with cartridges using an HP original chip. Cartridges using a non-HP chip may not work, and those that work today may not work in the future,” the page for the 6968 says.

The 6978’s product page similarly states that the printer is meant for cartridges with “a new or reused HP chip, and it uses dynamic security measures to block cartridges using a non-HP chip. Periodic firmware updates will maintain the effectiveness of these measures and block cartridges that previously worked.”

And HP’s dynamic security page also leaves the door open for the sudden bricking of functioning ink:

“Firmware updates delivered periodically over the internet will maintain the effectiveness of the dynamic security measures,” the page reads.

“Updates can improve, enhance, or extend the printer’s functionality and features, protect against security threats, and serve other purposes, but these updates can also block cartridges using a non-HP chip or modified or non-HP circuitry from working in the printer, including cartridges that work today.”

Minimal explanations

Although HP has somewhat covered its behind by basically saying that a dynamic security-labeled HP printer can start blocking non-HP ink at any moment and without notice, that doesn’t make for a favorable customer experience, as numerous HP support threads and social media posts illustrate.

I reached out to HP, including sharing the 962-comment aforementioned Reddit post, but the company’s response to questions about its printers was vague. An HP spokesperson responded by sending me the first paragraph from its dynamic security support page, (which is the first quoted statement in this article), plus the following:

“Dynamic Security equipped printers are intended to work only with new or reused cartridges that have new or reused HP chips or electronic circuitry. Information about Dynamic Security is made available in multiple places to customers who are purchasing a Dynamic Security-enabled printer, including on the printer box and in various online advertising pages and technical materials. The printers use the Dynamic Security measures to block cartridges using non-HP chips or modified circuitry. Reused, remanufactured, and refilled cartridges that reuse the HP chip or electronic circuitry are unaffected by Dynamic Security.”

Unfortunately, HP doesn’t see anything wrong with its historically clumsy rollout of dynamic security. In fact, even when agreeing to pay users in class-action lawsuits, it has been careful not to admit wrongdoing. Instead, HP focused on making it more clear which printers, new and old, have the feature, leaving the door open for future printer updates. However, not every customer frequents HP support pages or reads the product pages of discontinued products.

HP’s dynamic security may help it sell some cartridges. I saw a few desperate users online say they’d have to buy HP ink if they couldn’t find another solution. However, I saw countless more declaring outrage and encouraging others to avoid HP products going forward. I saw some users claiming urgent printer needs saying they didn’t have time to go find and buy HP ink.

HP would argue, as it did in 2016, that dynamic security is about bringing “the best consumer experience” and protecting customers “from counterfeit and third-party ink cartridges that do not contain an original HP security chip and that infringe on our IP.” But for most shoppers, the latter doesn’t affect the former. For many, the “best consumer experience” is a functioning ink cartridge at the most affordable price for frequent use.

It’s also hard to ignore the timing of HP dynamic security. In 2016, printing represented around 41 percent of HP Inc.’s business, and that printing business was in decline.

Further, HP’s approach to the printer updates is clearly bringing frustration and confusion. I’ve seen online support reps tell users that non-HP ink actually will work, despite users reporting their printer not working until they fit it with HP ink.

I’ve also seen HP suggesting printer firmware downgrades are a possibility, depending on the printer’s age, confusing customers seeking to do exactly that to avoid dynamic security.

Many of the comments on HP’s community support thread on this matter remain unanswered, and any communication from HP employees doesn’t explain why dynamic security would be more necessary today than it was before.

HP can (and likely will) insist on dynamic security, but its abrupt approach with minimal explanation runs the risk of disrupting customers mid-print, resulting in some scathing public commentary.

2023-03-09 20:29:33