People have reacted with outrage to the news that Nest, a smart-home company owned by Google’s holding company Alphabet, is disabling a line of old products.
As we reported on Tuesday, shutting down the Revolv smart-home hubs does not mean Nest is ceasing to support its products, leaving them vulnerable to bugs and other unpatched issues. It means that the $300 (£211) devices and accompanying apps will stop working completely.
The case has angered customers, and raised questions about the rights of customers and the nature of ownership in the ever-more connected future.
And the decision to deliberately disable the smart-home hubs comes despite the fact they were previously advertised as having a “lifetime subscription.”
Back in October 2014, Nest acquired Revolv, a smart-home device maker, nine months after it was itself bought by Google. The deal was an acqui-hire, with the company bought for its talent. The Revolv developers were put to work on “Work with Nest,” and Nest immediately stopped selling Revolv products.
After the acquisition, existing customers’ Revolv devices still worked as advertised. They had been sold with a “lifetime subscription,” which Revolv’s website prior to the acquisition defined as providing updates and other features “for the lifetime of the product.”
But about a month ago, Revolv’s website was updated to announce it is closing down, and is pulling the plug on its existing products in May 2016.
“We’re pouring all our energy into Works with Nest and are incredibly excited about what we’re making,” wrote Revolv founders Tim Enwall and Mike Soucie. “Unfortunately, that means we can’t allocate resources to Revolv anymore and we have to shut down the service.”
Revolv’s website now makes no mention of the “lifetime subscription,” instead telling users that their products are no longer under warranty because its “one-year warranty against defects in materials or workmanship has expired for all Revolv products.”
Arlo Gilbert, a Revolv customer whose Medium post kicked off the current furor, wrote that “Google is intentionally bricking hardware that I own.”
Gilbert questioned what this means for ownership when companies are able to remotely — and permanently — switch them off. “When software and hardware are intertwined, does a warranty mean you stop supporting the hardware or does it mean that the manufacturer can intentionally disable it without consequence? [Nest CEO] Tony Fadell seems to believe the latter. Tony believes he has the right to reach into your home and pull the plug on your Nest products.”
It’s also not clear when or how Nest attempted to warn customers about the impending shutdown. A Nest spokesperson told SlashGear’s Chris Davies that customers were told in February 2016. But, Davies writes, “despite having a registered Revolv [from a previous review], however, [SlashGear] did not receive such a notification.”
And Arlo Gilbert said on Twitter that the company did not email him, and that he only found out when he visited Revolv’s website recently to check something else.
Commentators on Twitter have been highly critical on Nest’s decision to render Revolv customers’ devices useless.
You could have bought a new device 18 months ago, now it’s bricked.
I didn’t realise that Revolv promised free lifetime service. That makes the shutdown a deceptive trade practice as well as an unfair one.
— James Grimmelmann (@grimmelm) April 4, 2016
A Nest spokesperson did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s questions about the “lifetime subscription,” how customers were notified of the shutdown, or whether affected customers will be offered a refund.
The closure of Revolv comes as parent company Nest faces its own problems. CEO Tony Fadell’s leadership has come under criticism in recent months, with the company “plagued by a string of product problems, employee departures, and disorganization,” former employees told Business Insider’s Jillian D’Onfro.
Just days ago, news broke that two “key Nest veterans” are leaving, Re/code reported, the latest in a line of departures.