Cricut pulls out plan to add subscription fees to millions of devices [Updated] | GeekComparison

Star Wars characters Darth Vader and Boba Fett.
enlarge / Cricut is neither the first nor the last internet-connected device to change the deal afterwards and say you pray it doesn’t change it further.

Update, 5:24 PM EDT: After several days of public backlash, Cricut CEO Ashish Arora announced that the company would retroactively reverse the need for existing customers to subscribe to the platform.

“We will continue to upload an unlimited number of personalized images and patterns for members with a Cricut account registered and activated with a cutting machine before December 31, 2021,” Arora wrote in an open letter to consumers. “If a machine is resold or transferred to a new user, the new user must set up their own Cricut account.”

Arora added that the company is exploring “affordable ways for our future users” that will also register to upload an unlimited number of patterns after the end of this year.

Original story, 4:36 PM EDT: Yet another company that makes internet-connected devices is drawing the ire of customers by demanding a monthly subscription fee long after users have already sunk hundreds of dollars into its products. This time around it’s Cricut, which has just told customers they’ll lose the ability to upload more than a few patterns per month unless they start paying.

What is Cricut?

Cricut makes crafting machines that enable precise detail work for millions of users. It’s the reverse of a printer: instead of putting your design on paper, it cuts your design into paper, cardstock, vinyl, fabric or other materials. The devices and accessory kits are sold far and wide in specialty craft and fabric stores such as Michaels or Jo-Ann, as well as mainstream retailers such as Walmart, Target, and Amazon. The devices are sold at base prices of $179 and up, excluding the cost of necessary tools, accessories, and refills.

You control the machines using a program called Design Space on your phone or computer. The principle has not changed since the introduction of desktop publishing software for home use in the 1990s. You place a pattern in Design Space and the Cricut cuts the pattern into the material you loaded into it. Users can access a huge library of patterns and templates through Design Space; some are free, while others cost anywhere from a few cents to several dollars apiece.

Owners can also design their own patterns if they’re feeling particularly creative or ambitious, or they can buy what they’re looking for from other members of the crafting community on platforms like Etsy. You just upload the custom design to Design Space – which again is software you have installed on your own computer, tablet or phone – and you’re good to go.

Until now anyway.

What is going on?

Cricut made a major change to a feature update announcement last Friday: Any Cricut device owner who does not Subscribing to the Cricut Access cloud platform is limited to no more than 20 uploads/imports per month to Design Space. (Designs created with elements Cricut sells through Design Space do not count towards the limit.) The change applies not only to new users, but also to existing owners.

The company can do this because, as it turns out, you don’t actually import a JPEG pattern you’ve created or downloaded into the software on your PC, but instead into the cloud. However, the product descriptions on Cricut devices do not make the cloud connection requirement explicit. From Michaels, for example:

The cutter comes with a trial subscription, but the list doesn't say anywhere that you lose functionality without it.
enlarge / The cutter comes with a trial subscription, but the list doesn’t say anywhere that you lose functionality without it.

Many customers, as you might expect, are outraged that they are now being told that they must pay a subscription fee of at least $7.99 per month to use a device they already own, especially since the company also said it intends to submit an initial public application. supply of stock. A quick look at Facebook comments and tweets to the company shows an endless litany of users expressing their anger and threatening to switch to competing products.

This sounds depressingly familiar…

As the 21st century has given us a plethora of internet-connected devices, it has also given us plenty of opportunities to see companies change terms for customers who have already purchased a product, leaving users with piles of junk that they paid dearly for. .

For example, last year, smart home hub Wink warned customers for just a week that they would have to pay a subscription fee or completely lose access to the hardware they had been using for several years.

In any case, Wink remained in business. More often, companies shut down the servers that power products from light bulbs to scales or pet food bowls, turning expensive electronics into useless bricks.

Unfortunately, the user license agreements for all Cricut’s products contain an all-too-common provision that allows the company (the parent company, Provo Crafts) to update the EULA to “reflect changes in business practices” whenever they want. The profession of the consumer? Stop using the thing.

Is this kind of thing even legal? Why?

The answer is unsatisfactory for now: things are only illegal if there are laws that address them, and this space doesn’t really have any specific ones so far. However, that could change.

There are definitely state and federal laws against unfair and deceptive consumer practices — what most people consider “false advertising,” although the actual statutes are both broader and more specific. At the national level, the Federal Trade Commission enforces those regulations. At the state level, it generally falls under the consumer protection departments in the offices of the state’s attorneys general. Justin Brookman of Consumer Reports, who previously worked for the Federal Trade Commission, speculated on Twitter that a retrospective change, such as that made by Cricut, may violate laws against unfair and deceptive acts and practices.

That said, connected devices are still fairly new regulatory territory. When the FTC has handled complaints against a smart device company for allegedly unfair or deceptive practices, the complaints usually concern issues related to consumer data privacy, focusing on times when users’ personal information is poorly protected or was secretly shared. In general, as long as a company discloses in its license agreement, privacy policy, and/or terms of service what it is doing, it can legally do so, even if it is hostile to the consumer. (There are some specific and important exceptions.)

The FTC is beginning to look at dark patterns on websites and apps that deceptively encourage consumers to make certain adverse decisions. Perhaps some sort of ‘dark subscription’ analysis could follow. In the meantime, the consumer remains where the consumer usually ends up: seeking redress from the civil court.

Three smart hub users filed a lawsuit against Wink last year, seeking class-action status. In the complaint (PDF), they argue that Wink’s addition of the monthly fee is a “fraudulent bait-and-switch pricing system” that violates both federal and state laws against misleading or deceptive business practices. However, Wink’s terms of service contain a mandatory binding arbitration clause that excludes customers’ right to sue. Some courts have questioned the validity of similar clauses from other companies in recent months, but how a judge could rule in a particular case is a mystery.

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