CHOICE Is Investigating HP Printers For Potentially Breaching Australian Consumer Laws

Earlier this week, we reported that some HP printers had started rejecting replacement ink cartridges that aren’t manufactured by the vendor. Consumer rights advocacy group CHOICE is now investigating HP for potentially breaching Australian Consumer Laws. Read on to find out more.

HP’s support forum had been flooded with complaints from customers that were getting error messages on their HP printers that were using third-party ink cartridges. HP has said it has been implementing features in its HP Officejet, Officejet Pro and Officejet Pro X printers to “secure communication between the cartridge and printer and protect its innovation product offering and intellectual property” since late 2015. It now appears that a firmware update for Officejet printers, released earlier this year, effectively blocks unofficial replacement cartridges.

Here’s what HP Australia told Lifehacker Australia:

“[HP] printers work with refilled or re-manufactured cartridges with an Original HP security chip; other cartridges may not function. In many cases this functionality was installed in the HP printer and in some cases it has been implemented as part of an update to the printer’s firmware. This is not linked to any recent firmware update, in most cases the printer came with this firmware. HP printers are designed to be compatible with refilled and remanufactured cartridges that use Original HP chips, and HP printers do not employ technology preventing their use.
“This impacts only cartridges compatible with OfficeJet, OfficeJet Pro and OfficeJet Pro X print cartridges with an non-HP security chip with HP product numbers 934/935, 950/951 and 970/971. Affected customers are encouraged to contact the supplier of the ink cartridge to determine if their cartridges use a non-HP security chip. HP Original ink cartridges (product numbers 934/935, 950/951, and 970/971) always include an Original HP security chip.”

CHOICE is now investigating the matter and said it was concerned that HP has breached Australian Consumer Laws by forcing customers to buy more expensive ink cartridges. Indeed HP support staff have been responding to customer complaints by recommending that they return their unofficial cartridges and buy through the vendor directly from now on.

According to CHOICE head of media Tom Godfrey:
“We’re concerned that HP is throwing its weight around in order to lock consumers into buying its expensive ink, taking away consumer choice and treating its customers terribly. Even worse, it’s doing this after consumers have already bought the product, meaning they haven’t given their customers the opportunity to vote with their wallets and buy a different printer.
“If consumers bought an HP printer relying on the fact that it could use non-HP ink, and HP has unilaterally taken that functionality away, then there is a risk that the company is breaching consumer law.”

CHOICE is assessing whether HP may have misled or deceived their customers under section 18 of the consumer law. Godfrey noted that it’s reasonable for consumers to expect that they can continue to use non-HP ink cartridges after years of being able to do so.

“HP ink, at $5128 per litre, already costs substantially more than luxury goods like Chanel No 5 perfume, which is a comparative steal at $3514 per litre,” he said. “Consumers are already being asked to pay exorbitant prices for HP ink, and now the company is reportedly cutting off consumer access to cheaper competitors.
“In short, consumers were sold a product on one basis, and now HP has substantially changed the way its product operates through a behind-the-scenes firmware update.”

HP Australia has yet to respond to CHOICE’s investigation.

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