A report from consumer advocates Which? highlights the shockingly short lifespan of “smart” appliances, with some losing software support after just a few years, despite costing vastly more than “dumb” alternatives.
That lifespan varies between manufacturers: Most vendors were vague, with Beko offering “up to 10 years” and LG saying patches would be issued as required. Samsung said it would offer software support for a maximum of two years, according to the report.
Only one manufacturer, Miele, promised to issue software updates for a full decade after the release of a device, but then Miele tends to make premium priced products.
For consumers, that ambiguous (if not outright short) lifespan raises the possibility they could be forced to replace their expensive white goods before they otherwise would. According to the consumer watchdog, fridge-freezers typically last 11 years.
If a manufacturer decides to withdraw software support, or switch off central servers, users could find themselves with a big, frosty brick in their kitchen. In the wider IoT world, there’s precedent for this.
In 2016, owners of the Revolv smart home hub were infuriated after the Google-owned Nest deactivated the servers required for it to work. More recently, Belkin flicked the kill switch on its WeMo NetCam IP cameras, offering refunds only to those users whose devices were still in warranty and had the foresight to keep their receipts.
There’s another cause for concern. Given that smart appliances are essentially computers with a persistent connection to the internet, there’s a risk hackers could co-opt unpatched fridges and dishwashers, turning them into drones in vast botnets.
Again, there’s precedent. The Mirai botnet, for example, was effectively composed of hacked routers and IP cameras.