Peloton Forces Subscription Plan on Customers, Faces Backlash

Paying $4,000 for a treadmill doesn't mean you own the software running it. But could it?
Derya Ozdemir

It's shaping up to be a tough few months for the fitness company Peloton Interactive, which sells internet-connected exercise bikes and treadmills. The company had to recall over 125,000 treadmills and halt sales of the equipment after the machines were linked to the death of a child and dozens of injuries in May, and now, it's facing immense backlash on social media after and could face legal action from angry customers after the free "Just Run" setting on its $4,000 Tread+ treadmill vanished after an update and the company announced that all users needed to pay a $39 monthly subscription fee to keep using the machine.

Previously, customers were able to use the "Just Run" and "Just Ride" modes on Peloton's treadmills and fitness bikes without paying a dime for subscriptions or special classes. But that is no longer the case, Gizmodo reports.

Peloton's Tread Lock software update, which introduced a 4-digit passcode to prevent unauthorized access, was cited as the cause for the move. This update is part of Peloton's voluntary recall for the Tread+, which was prompted by the aforementioned injury concerns.

The reaction that followed on Twitter has been harsh, with some people calling the act "extortion" under the disguise of enhancing consumer protection. But the company looks like it's trying to make things better. Peloton told The Verge that "due to current technical limitations, Tread Lock is not yet available without a Peloton Membership." However, the company also stated that it is "working on updates to Tread Lock that will allow us to make Tread Lock and Just Run available without a Peloton Membership."

It is unknown when this update will be available, but  Tread Plus owners will receive three months of free membership, which will activate the Tread Lock function. Furthermore, owners may return their Tread or Tread Plus treadmill for a full refund if they choose to.

Still, this specific case raises questions and serves as a reminder that, while you might think you have "ownership" of a connected device because you paid for it, you do not own the software that runs on it.

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This can be partly connected to Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which states it’s illegal to “circumvent” digital locks, as reported by Gizmodo. Manufacturers such as Apple claiming that the customer doesn't own the software that makes their device work, with another example being General Motors telling the Copyright Office that right to repair activists "incorrectly conflate ownership of a vehicle with ownership of the underlying computer software in a vehicle," in 2015.

There've been some changes though, with the New York State Senate voting to pass the Digital Fair Repair Act, an electronics right-to-repair legislation, which made the senate the first legislative body in the U.S. to approve such a law. While it still has to pass the Assembly vote, it is a step toward changing the relationship between tech companies and customers.

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