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I have purchased several "Internet of Things" devices that, by default, come with an app that lets you turn it on and off. They use normal WiFi to communicate and are screwed into the walls so are now awkward to replace.

The default app communicates with the server that is provided by the British seller, S. The disadvantage of relying on someone else's server, include,

  • it could suddenly disappear.
  • the provider may decide to charge for the service.
  • if your Internet connection goes down, so do your devices.
  • you are limited by the functionality that they deign to provide you with.

As such, I want to mitigate this risk.

Though it is sold by S, the device is a rebadged product from a Chinese manufacturer, M. As such, this device is physically capable of being controlled by any server. I have seen many other owners discussing on community forums how they were able to achieve this by using the app provided by M.

The S app is heavily based on the M app but has less functionality. For example, the M app allows one to unlock the device so that one can use any server. That switch has been removed in the S app.

Recently, however, S has "updated" its firmware to prevent owners from using the M app, thereby preventing owners from using their own servers. This was not the case when I purchased the devices. This firmware was automatically rolled out to devices without notification and without advisement on what it changed. I have spoken to the Customer Service team at S and they have refused to provide a version of the firmware that allows owners to use their own servers.

Having purchased this device outright, I own it. As I understand it, neither S nor M retains any ownership. Therefore, I do not want a company to tell me how I can and cannot use my physical property.

Is there any legal basis to force S to allow me to use my physical property as I see fit?


  • S is in England.
  • M is in China.
  • OP is in England.

2 Answers 2

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You can replace the software on the device

The supplier does not have to help you to do so

You are correct that because you own the device, you can do what you like with it. That means you can install whatever firmware or other software on it that you like.

However, the supplier does not have to provide this to you or assist you in any other way.

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  • I can do what I like with it as long as I can work out how to reflash the firmware, which I expect they will have made nigh impossible. Yay. Feb 16, 2023 at 10:57
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    Would it change anything if the seller had blatantly obfuscated the reflashing process? Feb 16, 2023 at 10:59
  • @JamesGeddes Not without right-to-repair laws. Mar 16, 2023 at 16:25
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You have some consumer rights, but it is not obvious whether S has done anything impermissible. They haven't shut down the server yet. Locking down the app might be in breach of your contract with them, but it depends on the context of what the devices are and exactly what they communicated to you when you bought them.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 was enacted in order to clarify consumer rights in this sort of situation. You have bought a Thing, and the Thing depends on ongoing communication with some Internet service, but previous consumer rights law focused mainly on the physical Thing - making it difficult to apply when the Thing itself is not broken.

Part 1, Chapter 3 covers contracts for "digital content", including the situation of Section 39 where continued operation of your Thing depends on a "processing facility" that sends and receives your data. The law provides that the facility must remain available for "a reasonable time" (unless you have a contract that sets out a specific time). If that does not happen then you have various possible remedies. But on the facts outlined, the server is still operational. Even if it went down, you'd still face the hurdle of saying that you didn't get to use it for "a reasonable time".

The locking-down of the app is potentially something that you could challenge. The argument would be that the change in firmware (which is also "digital content") means that it is not as originally described to you when you entered into the contract, or that the new version is no longer fit for purpose. For the "as described" limb, see Section 36. Any information that S provided about

  1. "the main characteristics of the goods or services, to the extent appropriate to the medium of communication and to the goods or services",
  2. "the functionality, including applicable technical protection measures, of digital content", or
  3. "any relevant compatibility of digital content with hardware and software that the trader is aware of or can reasonably be expected to have been aware of"

forms part of the contract. If S changes it after the fact then your consumer rights kick in and (in addition to any normal procedure for breach of contract) you can start demanding repair, a price reduction, etc.

However, if they didn't tell you "oh yeah, you can point this at your own server if you want", then your situation is harder, because they didn't actually promise you that you could. You might be able to lean on the "main characteristics" if people ordinarily buy these Things on the assumption that they aren't linked to a specific server. That overlaps with the "fitness for purpose" test for the firmware, since if people ordinarily use these Things for a certain purpose, even one which S does not endorse, then you can assert that the firmware ought to be reasonably fit for that purpose.

(What is outlined above is basically in line with contracts generally, where it's very common to have situations where A has relied on B's promise and B is no longer performing. The consumer-rights regime gives some specific rules for these disputes, for the contracts described.)

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