Warzel said that he discovered an error message on his computer indicating that myhis HP OfficeJet Pro had been remotely disabled by the company. The outfit's website told him that the credit card used to sign up for HP's Instant Ink cartridge-refill programme had expired, and the company had effectively bricked his device.
Instant Ink is a monthly subscription programme that purports to monitor one's printer usage and ink levels and automatically send new cartridges when they run low. However, Warzel discovered that the fee was not for the ink itself but for the number of pages printed.
"Like others, I signed up in haste during the printer-setup process, only slightly aware of what I was purchasing. Getting ink delivered when I need it sounded convenient enough to me," he admitted.
HP is onto something here. It charges a monthly fee without ink having to be used. So if the person prints only 20 pages a month, HP still gets paid for the full wack. If it doesn't then it just switches off the printer.
Warzel was miffed that he paid $200 for a machine stocked with full ink cartridges which was hardly used but rendered useless by Hewlett-Packard, a tech corporation with a $28 billion market cap at the time of writing, because I had failed to make a monthly payment for a service intended to deliver new printer cartridges that I did not need.
Reddit and Twitter are full of complaints about the "service" and there is a pending class-action lawsuit in California alleges that the Instant Ink program has "significant catches" and does not deliver new cartridges on time or allow those enrolled to use cartridges purchased outside the subscription service, rendering the consumer frequently unable to print.
Parker Truax, a spokesperson for HP, told me, "Instant Ink cartridges will continue working until the end of the current billing cycle in which [a customer cancels]. To continue printing after they discontinue their Instant Ink subscription and their billing cycle ends, they can purchase and use HP original Standard or XL cartridges."
"Nobody told me that if I canceled, then all those cartridges would stop working," complains another owner of an HP printer cited in the article. "I guess this is our future, where your printer ink spies on you."
While this is a lesson in reading the Terms and Conditions, it is also a warning that hardware as a service is pointless for consumers who would be daft to sign up for it.