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Examples:

  1. A phone company selling a phone with a headphone port for years, then redesigning your latest model phone so it doesn't have a headphone port and selling an adapter so people can connect their headphones to the one remaining port;
  2. A game developer selling a game with gameplay they deliberately made worse, then selling microtransactions for that game that make the gameplay feel better;
  3. A door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman who throws a handful of dirt into your hall when you open the door for him, then offers to sell you a vacuum cleaner to clean it up;
  4. An electric car manufacturer who limits the range of their cheaper cars through software, then offers to sell owners a feature to increase that limited range.

All of the above problems are creating a problem that is allowed according to the law, then selling a solution to that problem. It's a morally dubious yet financially sound decision, but is it legal? I assume it is since all of the above are taken from real life and none of them have been raked over the coals yet for it, but I might be surprised.

I'm open to answers for any jurisdiction, but preferably EU and United States, since those are where most of these companies are located.

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    You might want to look into the invention of body odour and deodorant to solve it.
    – Dale M
    Mar 25 at 20:06

2 Answers 2

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Items 1, 2 and 4 are legal in the U.S. and in the E.U. (assuming that there is no specific legislation on those particular practices in an E.U. country or U.S. state). These practices fall under the general categories of "planned obsolescence" and "price discrimination" both of which are not illegal.

Item 3 is not legal. You aren't allow to throw dirt in people's hallways without their permission. The other items concern product features and updates that are solely in the control of the maker of the product. Item 3 involves the property of a private individual which the maker of the product does not have a right to interfere with.

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    Perhaps worth mentioning is that in each case except #3, individuals have an option to avoid the "problem" completely... Mar 25 at 22:34
  • @MichaelHall Good observation.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 25 at 22:35
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Items 1, 2 and 4

In the context, so long as you get what you paid for, you have no grounds for a legal complaint. If a product has an advertised specification at a price, you pay the price and you receive what was specified, there's nothing legally wrong with that. You might feel entitled because you think, given the feature was already present or should have been present, it should belong you although you didn't hand over your money in exchange for that feature, but that's not adequate grounds for complaint.

Re item 1 specifically: it may be of interest that, after some campaigning, the European Union requires phone manufacturers to adopt a common charging connection (USB-C) for wired charging by December 2024 (according to Directive (EU) 2022/2380 amending the Radio Equipment Directive 2014/53/EU). I don't know if there are proposals for a mandatory common audio connection. Of course, there remain numerous models of phones with the standard 3.5mm jack - there is one specific manufacturer that people complain about that they aren't obliged to buy from.

There is an economic solution that many consumers seem unwilling or unable to exercise: taking their money elsewhere.

Item 3

This kind of behaviour is likely unlawful (or criminal, depending) anywhere. You may not interfere with property belonging to someone else in order to then sell them a solution to the interference.

In May 2023, civil proceedings began against Tesla for allegedly reducing battery performance (including some cases of no performance at all) and significantly reducing the driving range of some Tesla models via a software update. If Tesla knowingly did this, it seems broadly equivalent to item 3, the vacuum cleaner salesman throwing dirt into someone else's home, not items 1, 2 or 4.

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