I cannot believe this.

2003-11-08 12:51

It’s times like this when I wonder whether anyone with a soul is left in corporate America.

Belkin introduced a router “feature”, which is that the router will periodically hijack connections and redirect them to Belkin’s web site.

That is to say, if you get this router, and you and your family are browsing the web, about every eight hours, one of you will randomly be connected to an ad for other Belkin products, not to the page you requested.

If the connection that gets redirected is, say, a paid download of some sort, well, too bad for you. If it’s the confirmation screen for a credit-card order, and the only way to get the page would be to resubmit the order, hey, it’s not Belkin’s money on the line.

There’s a reasonable story about this over at The Register. There’s some coverage on Slashdot, with the predictable slew of teenagers making grandiose proclamations.

But the fact is, this means I will never buy a Belkin product again. The fact is, this decision was pure evil. It’s more destructive than it seems at first blush – imagine what happens if this product is used with automated systems which grab data over HTTP. In a hospital, for instance. The company’s requirement that you “opt out” becomes scarier when you look at the method; go to a web page, click on a button, and their server will send a magic packet to your router which changes the configuration setting. What else can you reconfigure about this router from the OUTSIDE? They aren’t saying. The elaborate procedure they describe for turning this “feature” off manually is merely annoying, not impossible, but… It should never have been needed in the first place.

Every part of the chain has to have failed for this to happen. Engineers must have implemented it, and they should have known that it was technically unacceptable. Marketers must have proposed it, and they should have known that it made their product undesirable. Everyone involved has to have put the company’s short-term good above any possible consideration from the user. In a post to Usenet (which was removed from the Google Groups archive somewhere between about 8:30 and 8:50 Central time on November 7th, shortly before a new post on the topic showed up from the same Belkin representative), they claimed it was for “ease-of-use”, since they wanted people to be “easily” able to find out about the router’s feature.

The problem here is that either everyone involved was incompetent or unethical, or someone very high up was incompetent or unethical, and forced this decision through. Either way, Belkin has shown that they cannot be trusted to make even an easy moral decision correctly. How can we trust them on anything else? What’s to keep their next KVM switch from displaying ads whenever the display is idle, or possibly just every eight hours? What’s to keep a USB keyboard adapter from, noticing that the user is typing a URL, putting in a Belkin one? All of these things are stupid, but so was the one they actually did.

At this point, I think Belkin is dead. Trust cannot be easily rebuilt. The only path to rebuilding this trust involves making public EVERY SINGLE DOCUMENT which has to do with this decision, so people can see how it happened; unless we know what went wrong, no proposed “solution” will address our concerns. Merely fixing this router does not fix the problem.

The decision to remove the original post from the Google Groups archive was one of the worst things they could have done. It makes it seem like they have something to hide. Decide for yourself. Is that a post you’d be ashamed of? (Special thanks to Steve Sobol who arranged for a safe backup copy.)

Peter Seebach

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