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Who owns a device?
One kettle please. Very good, Sir. Would you be interested in our new smart kettles? No, thank you, a standard kettle is fine. Not a problem. Our dumb kettles are over there with the VHS players, top loading washing machines and our mangles. Ah, thank you. Good to know there are still people like you who don’t care for being modern and have no regard for the fact that society sees them as antiques. Hmm, well maybe I’m being too rash. What does a smart kettle offer over a traditional one? So glad you asked, Sir. Well, our top of the line boil-o-matic artisanal hydrothermaliser can boil water 70 percent faster than a dumb kettle.
It uses predictive algorithms to have water boiled moments before you want a cup of tea, and it is tied into a worldwide network of other kettles. Oh, that sounds amazing, but rather expensive. No, not at all. In fact, it is cheaper than a standard kettle. Well that does sound amazing, I’ll take it. Erm, username, password, end user license agreement, date of birth, gender, sexual preference, shoe size, almost there, eye colour, favourite Muppet, oh, done. Boiling! Oh, not yet. How do I turn it off? Please do not adjust settings while the hydrothermaliser is boiling. Your tea requirements have been calculated and you are in need of refreshment. Well, I suppose I do want a cup of tea.
This is fine, this was a good purchase. Before you can pour, please watch this advert for other exciting boil-o-matic products.
Yes, I’d like to return it. Well yes I did boil water in it. It boiled itself! I understand the return policy states it must remain unused, but it didn’t give me much choice. Fine, then how do I disable the adverts? No, not tailor them to my tastes. I don’t want to have to watch an advert before I can drink my tea. Oh fine, okay. What are the options? That’s a very long list. Put me down for adverts relating to karate, cigars, and Beach Boys compilation albums. No that’s not all. My electricity bill has gone up significantly, and I was told this was an efficient kettle.
So the kettle is efficient, but my electricity company raises its prices just before I boil water and lowers them afterwards. That sounds very unlikely, how would they even know? What? I don’t remember agreeing to my usage data being shared with my electricity supplier. How can I turn that off? Oh really, well we’ll see about that. And then, if I change the default DNS server to the Raspberry Pi, I can disable the adverts and the data reporting. And if I disable the cron job that checks the user requirements prediction algorithm, I can even stop it making tea without me deciding to put it on. Done.
Boss! We’ve detected someone altering their hydrothermaliser platform. Launch a drone strike. We can’t. They’re not in one of the jurisdictions we have those kind of assets in. Fine. Report them as infringing our IP. Possibly also say they are likely to be terrorists. They’re not in the USA either, they’re in the United Kingdom. Well, I suppose we can just remove that node from the global Kettle Net. Okay boss, done. One day these people will get justice. Until then, we will just do our best to stop them stealing the food from our mouths. Very good. Kettle Net services not available. That sounds more like it, now let’s make tea.
Hmmm, what’s wrong now? This hydrothermaliser has had its privileges to use Kettle Net revoked. Kettle Net is a global network of kettle services that performs key actions such as receive requests for kettles to be activated and then sends that message to the appropriate kettle so that it can initialise heating. Press any key for a simplified explanation. No Kettle Net. No boiling water. However, all other functions are available. What other functions? Alarm clock, mp3 player and weather apps are all operational. Would you like to hear songs about tea? Would you like to know when it is time for tea? Would you like to know when it is good tea drinking weather?

Who owns a device – the person who bought it? Who owns the software on a device? And who owns the data a device captures or generates?

The video highlights some of the more extreme potential issues around ownership and it is unlikely that a consumer will face all of those issues at the same time and with so little subtlety. However, there have been cases where these issues have cropped up.

One example is that of the Revolv smart home devices that were remotely disabled when the company that owned the digital services stopped supporting them (Hern 2019). Another case is that of the thermostats that stopped working properly because the owning company had more success than anticipated and their cloud services couldn’t cope with demand, leaving people unable to use their smart thermostats as they expected in the middle of winter (McCarthy 2016).

Your task

Can you find any other cases where consumers have found themselves with non-functioning products due to accidental or intentional actions by the supplier? Post any interesting examples in the comments.


Hern, A. (2019) ‘Revolv Devices Bricked as Google’s Nest Shuts Down Smart Home Company’. The Guardian [online] 4 February. available from [3 October 2019]

McCarthy, K. (2016) ‘Amid Polar Vortex… Honeywell Gets Frosty Reception after Remote Smart Thermostat Tech Freezes up for a Week’. The Register [online] 5 April. available from [3 October 2019]

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The Internet of Things: The Rise of Connected Devices

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