Nintendo Updates Take Wii U Hostage Until You "Agree" to New Legal Terms
When you buy a device, you expect to own it. You expect to be able to open it up, mess with it, and improve it. At the very least, you expect it to continue to work for its intended purpose.
What you don't expect is that the manufacturer will remotely cause the device to stop functioning unless you agree to be bound by new legal terms governing your relationship with them.
Yet this is how Nintendo's update to its end-user license agreement (EULA) for the Wii U works, as described by Youtube user "AMurder0fCrows" in this video. He didn't like the terms of Nintendo's updated EULA and refused to agree. He may have expected that, like users of the original Wii and other gaming consoles, he would have the option to refuse software or EULA updates and continue to use his device as he always had before. He might have to give up online access, or some new functionality, but that would be his choice. That’s a natural consumer expectation in the gaming context – but it didn’t apply this time.
Instead, according to his video, the Wii U provides no option to decline the update, and blocks any attempt to access games or saved information by redirecting the user to the new EULA. The only way to regain the use of the device is to click "Agree."
Console users have good reason to want the power to refuse updates. A few years back, Sony released an update that removed the PS3's ability to run Linux and custom software. This downgrade eliminated important functionality, but at least users could refuse the update (though the DRM imposed onerous restrictions even then). The Wii U provides no such option: once the EULA update is in your system, it holds the device hostage until you agree to Nintendo's demands.
This is part of a dangerous trend. Last month, the New York Times reported that some auto loans are accompanied by "starter interrupter" devices that can shut down your car if you're a few days late with a payment or drive out of a designated area. People were suddenly prevented from driving their children to the doctor, stranded when they tried to escape domestic abuse, and in some cases had their cars deactivated while they were on the road. These extreme consequences came without judicial process, and often without notice.
This trend bodes ill for consumers. As long as your devices came burdened with DRM and onerous licenses, a device you own may stop working merely because the manufacturer wants to rewrite its contract with you. Agree, or lose access to your device and stored data. That’s what happens when owners become renters.
These kinds of abusive business practices are among the reasons we at EFF fight for your right to hack, root, and pwn your hardware. To read more about those efforts, visit our issue pages for DRM, the Right to Repair, and our Coders' Rights Project.