Last week, HP printer users around the world were inconvenienced when their devices stopped printing and threw up an error message, seemingly out of nowhere. Fast forward to today, and HP has admitted that the error was programmed into their firmware, to stop customers from using third party ink cartridges.
On September 13th a large number of HP customers that had been using third party ink cartridges were greeted by an error message. It said “one or more cartridges appear to be damaged. Remove them and replace them with new cartridges”. The sudden appearance of the error messages around the world pointed to a scheduled event rather than a massive coincidence, so users contacted HP and ink retailers for answers. Of those, an online Dutch retailer, 123inkt, reportedly received more than 1000 e-mails and complaints, and together with the ink manufacturer confirmed HP's hidden error message.
Originally, HP said the error was due to a recent firmware update, but the argument didn’t hold water. For one thing the most recent firmware update for the specific model of printer was from a year earlier. Secondly, even printers that were not connected to the internet started displaying the message.
Fast forward to today, and HP admitted that the error had been pre-programmed in their printers’ firmware. The company says this was done to “to protect the printers and to protect the communication between the cartridge and the printer.” It then went on to say that “affected printers will continue to work with refilled cartridges if they contain the original HP security chip. Other cartridges possibly don’t work”.
Given that printer ink is one of the most expensive substances that everyone buys, it’s no surprise that users will often go for third party alternatives, which can be cheaper than official cartridges. And right now the only workaround seems to be to downgrade printers to older firmware. But that’s both difficult and time consuming to do. Unfortunately, it looks like HP has no intention of changing how it does business, even as its printer segment continues to grow.