HP printers have received a lot of flak historically and recently for invasive firmware updates that end up preventing customers from using ink with their printers. HP also encourages printer customers to sign up for HP+, a program that includes a free ink-subscription trial and irremovable firmware that allows HP to brick the ink when it sees fit.
Despite this, HP markets dozens of its printers with Dynamic Security and the optional HP+ feature as being in the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) registry, suggesting that these printers are built with the environment in mind and, more specifically, do not block third-party ink cartridges. Considering Dynamic Security and HP+ printers do exactly that, the International Imaging Technology Council (IITC) wants the General Electronics Council (GEC), which is in charge of the EPEAT registry, to revoke at least 101 HP printer models from the EPEAT registry, which HP has “made a mockery of.”
Before we get into the IITC complaint sent May 22 to GEC Senior Manager Katherine Larocque, we should note the IITC’s obvious stakes in this. The nonprofit trade association was founded in 2000 and says it represents “toner and inkjet cartridge remanufacturers, component suppliers, and cartridge collectors in North America.” So its members stand to lose a lot of money from tactics like Dynamic Security. The IITC already filed a complaint to the GEC about HP in 2019 for firmware blocking non-HP ink, but there didn’t seem to be any noticeable results.
The group is biased regarding this topic, but its complaint still mirrors many problems and concerns that consumers and class-action lawsuits have detailed regarding HP printers’ exclusive stance on ink. You can find the full complaint here.
“Killer firmware updates”
For a printer to make the EPEAT registry, it’s supposed to comply with the EPEAT Imaging Equipment Category Criteria, which is based on the 1680.2-2012 IEEE Standard for Environmental Assessment of Imaging Equipment (PDF). The IITC is hung up on section 184.108.40.206, which requires that registered products do not “prevent the use of nonmanufacturer cartridges and non-manufacturer containers” and that vendors provide documentation showing that the device isn’t “designed to prevent the use of a non-manufacturer cartridge or non-manufacturer container.”
Well, as the IITC and consumers who found their inked bricked mid-print will tell you, that sounds an awful lot like what HP does with its Dynamic Security printers.
Diving deeper, the IITC’s complaint claims that “in the last 8 weeks alone, HP has released 4 killer firmware updates targeting dozens of EPEAT-registered inkjet printers.”
“At least one of these recent updates specifically targeted a single producer of remanufactured cartridges while not having any impact on non-remanufactured third-party cartridges using functionally identical non-HP chips,” the complaint reads.
The trade group also claimed at least 26 “killer firmware updates” occurred on EPEAT-registered HP laser printers since October 2020.
The complaint argues that the error message that users see—”The indicated cartridges have been blocked by the printer firmware because they contain non-HP chips. This printer is intended to work only with new or reused cartridges that have a new or reused HP chip. Replace the indicated cartridges to continue printing”—go against EPEAT requirements, yet HP markets dozens of Dynamic Security printers with EPEAT ecolabels.
The IITC’s complaint highlights numerous places where HP claims EPEAT registration while seemingly contradicting the registry’s terms.
For example, it shared a EPEAT documentation (PDF) stating, “HP printers are not designed to prevent the use of non-manufacturer cartridges and non-manufacturer containers.” Meanwhile, HP’s Dynamic Security website says, “Dynamic Security equipped printers are intended to work only with cartridges that have new or reused HP chips or electronic circuitry. The printers use the dynamic security measures to block cartridges using non-HP chips or modified or non-HP electronic circuitry.”
“Perhaps it is HP’s position that 220.127.116.11 allows it to block any non-manufacturer cartridge that does not use an HP chip. Regardless of whether HP cites ‘security concerns’ or some other excuse, 18.104.22.168 affords no such leeway. The language of 22.214.171.124 is unequivocal and unqualified,” the IITC’s complaint says.
Dynamic Security printers get periodic firmware updates that HP claims “can improve, enhance, or extend the printer’s functionality and features, protect against security threats, and serve other purposes” but also “block cartridges using a non-HP chip or modified or non-HP circuitry from working in the printer, including cartridges that work today.” Sometimes those cartridges are over 90 percent full, according to the IITC, which fails to see where the “security” in “Dynamic Security” comes in:
The truth is, Dynamic Security has nothing at all to do with security, and everything to do with frustrating consumers who choose non-HP cartridges in an effort to improve sales of genuine HP cartridges.
The complaint also takes aim at the HP+ program, which HP describes as an “integrated HP system that requires an internet connection and only works with original HP ink or toner cartridges” and provides customers with benefits like an HP Instant Ink six-month trial and a “connected cloud that automatically detects and fixes connectivity issues.”
But it’s that “only works with original HP ink or toner cartridges” that’s got people in a frenzy.
“[HP+] locks consumers into the exclusive use of HP cartridges for the life of the printer, and thereby prevents the use of non-manufacturer cartridges, the IITC complaint says.
The complaint also claims to have confirmed with HP technical support that HP+ can’t be deactivated; The Verge also confirmed this. We asked HP about this and the rest of the IITC’s complaint but didn’t get a response in time for publication.
“HP’s position seems to be that 126.96.36.199 includes a loophole that allows HP to forever block all non-manufacturer cartridges if an end-user activates HP+, however 188.8.131.52 affords no such leeway,” the complaint says.
Cleaning up the registry
Finally, the IITC accused HP of falsely marketing some printer models as being in the EPEAT registry:
“For example, HP’s product documentation for HP OfficeJet 9015e claims ‘EPEAT Silver’; however, the corresponding EPEAT Registry describes the registered device as ‘HP OfficeJet Pro 9010/9012/9015/9018 All-in-One Printer.’ This pattern is repeated across numerous HP devices, many of which are HP+ models that include the letter “e” at the end of their model number. While none of these ‘e’ models specifically appear in the EPEAT registry, as shown in the table below HP claims EPEAT registration for about half of them.
The trade group added that the Envy Inspire 7255e and OfficeJet 8034e claim EPEAT registration, but there are no such models registered, even if you get rid of the “e” suffix.
“This blatant greenwashing must be corrected,” the complaint says.
We reached out to the GEC about the IITC’s complaint but didn’t get a response back in time for publication.
It’s unclear whether or not HP printers will be removed from the EPEAT registry or if the GEC and/or HP will at least clear up which specific models are in the registry rather than labeling the whole series as having an EPEAT label.
As pointed out by The Verge, the GEC at least doesn’t seem concerned about HP+. A document on its EPEAT registry shows it’s aware of the feature and says, “The optional HP+ configuration does not meet required criterion 184.108.40.206” while labeling the printers in the Silver EPEAT tier.
But EPEAT and similar tools play a critical part in helping consumers vote with their dollar and select products that align with their values, so it’s important they be clear and consistent to have any value. Greenwashing is a common practice in the printer industry, whose survival is dependent on people using endless paper and cartridges of ink. However, HP has continuously pushed customers’ limits with practices like disruptive firmware updates and region-locked cartridges, turning many customers off for good.
Meanwhile, the brand continues to face scrutiny for its questionable practices against printing consumers, including a law firm investigation of the firmware update that broke HP printers earlier this month.