Big brands behind expensive smart appliances, including washing machines, dishwashers, TVs and security cameras are keeping customers in the dark about how long it will be before they abandon products by stopping vital tech updates.
That’s despite new upcoming laws that will soon make transparency a legal requirement, Which? research has found.
The consumer watchdog’s survey of more than 220 brands found the majority either update smart devices with vital tech updates for a short time or have no published policy, leaving consumers unclear about how long their product is guaranteed to be supported with updates.
This is despite new laws, coming into force from 29 April, which will make it illegal to sell products in the UK that do not have published product update policies stating a minimum time for support. Manufacturers that fail to comply with the law face potential fines of up to £10 million or four per cent of worldwide revenue.
Unsupported devices can become a security risk as flaws emerge that hackers can exploit. Support is a commitment from the manufacturer that the smart element of a product will continue to work. That is important because unsupported products could lose functionality or even become useless before their time.
Appliances, which are otherwise in working condition, could also be thrown out, which is bad for the owner and the environment.
Which? asked 224 brands in 37 categories if they had a clear updates policy. Just three in 10 (31%) clearly said how many years their products would be supported, while one in 10 (11%) offered a vague policy. Six in 10 (58%) did not answer, refused to comment or did not have a policy.
Having a bad policy is poor, but saying nothing is arguably worse – and some brands have done so repeatedly in the three years . For example, Hoover and Candy (both owned by Haier), along with Beko and AEG have never given Which? clear policies.
TP-Link and Huawei, Canon (printers) and V-Tech (baby monitors), consistently say nothing, too while some brands, such as Sony, Hisense and Arlo have previously reported a policy but said nothing in 2023. And although Apple offers good support (the iPhone 8 still gets security updates more than six years on from its launch in 2017), the brand refuses to put clear policies into the public domain.
Which? found that update policies are dismal across smart TVs. No brand meets the length of time Which? expects a TV to last on average (6.8 years). Samsung likely leads the way with five years of support from launch. LG, however, offers just two years guaranteed from launch for many of its sets, so, for example, the OLED65G26LA TV could lose support after April 2024 despite still being on sale at the time of writing. The company offers a woeful two years of guaranteed support from launch across many of its appliances, though did say that 2024 TVs will have a five-year update policy.
Sky, Panasonic, TCL and Toshiba gave no details of their policies. This was also true this time for Sony and Hisense, which offered two years from launch and eight years from discontinuation respectively in 2022. Some Sony smart TVs cost almost £3,000 yet are sold with no indication of how long they will get vital updates and the brand is far from alone in doing this.
Which? has played a key role in pushing for better support and transparency from smart device brands for years. While the forthcoming laws are positive, Which? believes it is disconcerting to see so many brands waiting until the eleventh hour to provide customers with clear information on support, leaving them in the dark yet again when purchasing smart products that often command premium prices.
The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) will be in charge of enforcing the Product Security and Telecommunications Act 2022 when it comes into force in the Spring. Which? is calling for it to offer clear guidance and ensure the smart product market is adequately prepared ahead of the new laws coming into force.
Says Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy:
“With new laws to force transparency from manufacturers on the horizon, our investigation has found that a lot of big brands are dragging their heels on confirming vital update support periods for their products.
“Smart product manufacturers must get their houses in order ahead of new laws coming into force later this year. If they don’t then the regulator must be prepared to take strong enforcement action, including issuing fines against companies which are not complying.”