Inkjet printer manufacturers continue to pioneer imaginative ways to create real-world, desktop dystopias that make Black Mirror look optimistic by comparison: one such nightmare is HP’s “subscription” printers where a small amount of money buys you ink cartridges that continuously communicate with HP’s servers to validate that you’re still paying for your subscription, and if you cancel, the ink stops working.
HP’s argument is that it’s subsidizing the ink and you’re agreeing to this treatment in the bargain, but of course, HP isn’t “subsidizing” the ink, it’s merely charging a couple hundred percent markup, as opposed to its usual practice of charging several million percent markups (and using deceptive and illegal tactics to force you to buy ink from them, and not from their competition).
HP has been running the service since at least 2016; you choose a plan that puts a cap on the number of pages you can print in a month. You pay for that many pages no matter how many you print — and if you run out of available pages, your printer refuses to print anymore, even if you have plenty of ink to print with.
HP also requires subscribers to return their empty cartridges (they call it “recycling” but the fact that this keeps empty carts out of the hands of refillers is surely no accident).
It’s just another way that printer companies are leading the charge to erode property rights for humans by expanding property rights for corporations.
Here’s the kicker: if you cancel, your ink stops working. You read that right; as soon as your billing cycle ends the printer will not accept the ink anymore, and you’re required to send it back to HP. At least they provide the postage and packaging for that purpose.
HP doesn’t spell out any consequences in their terms of service for failure to send the ink back, so we checked with a support agent. They helpfully explained that nothing happens if you fail to send them back, but the cartridges would stop working. You’ll have to buy more ink on your own if you want to keep printing. HP ships specially marked ink as part of this process, and your printer recognizes that it is intended for Instant Ink subscribers only. It’s essentially DRM, but instead of locking down a digital movie or book, this locks down a physical product: the ink in your printer.
Instant Ink requires an internet connection for your printer. HP explains that they monitor your ink levels, so they know when to send you more, but as described in their Terms of Service the other reason for this is to remotely disable your ink cartridges if you cancel, or if there are any issues with your payment.