On 9 December 2020 the Italian Antitrust Authority (Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato, also known by the acronym “AGCM”), among other things inflicted a fine of 10 million euros on HP Inc and HP Italy S.r.l. (hereinafter “HP”) for two different commercial practices relating to HP-branded printers which were considered to be unfair. For the full text of the measure, see the following link: https://www.agcm.it/dotcmsdoc/allegati-news/PS11144_chiusura.

Firstly, the Authority sanctioned the companies in question for not having correctly informed customers of the installation in their printers of a software that allowed printing only with HP toners and cartridges, while preventing the use of non-original refills.

The second conduct that the AGCM considered punishable consisted in the recording – via firmware present on HP printers and without the knowledge of consumers – of data relating to the specific cartridges being used (both original and non-original): this data was used both to create a database useful for formulating commercial strategies and denying assistance to printers that had used non-original cartridges, thus hindering the exploitation of the legal guarantee of conformity.

With reference to the latter conduct, it is interesting to note how this is a case of distorted use of the so-called “Internet of Things”. In fact, this expression means “network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.” (https://www.gartner.com/en/information-technology/glossary/internet-of-things).

Although in this case the technology used by HP was limited to the collection of information relating to the use of printers, it is clear that the significant presence of objects capable of recording and transmitting data on our daily behaviour could have disturbing implications. The concern comes not just from the possibility that data collections may occur without our knowledge, but also and especially from the uses and purposes that motivate companies to use such data.

Of course, the positive implications that a constant flow of information from objects could provide cannot be ignored, for example, when considering the efficiency and improvement of production chains, and of safety systems for citizens (think of “intelligent traffic lights”). However, cases like the one examined by the AGCM lead us to think about the possibility that these technologies may excessively limit consumers’ rights.

From the present case, it is therefore possible to learn a lesson, namely that, first of all, before proceeding with the purchase of a “smart” object it is certainly advisable to acquire as much information as possible on the type of sensors and detectors that may be incorporated in such devices and especially to ascertain what will be the use of data acquired by these devices.

Furthermore, it is certainly appropriate to ask within what limits the use of these “smart” devices may support innovation and the improvement of society, as opposed to when – on the other hand – such use can compromise the rights of consumers, understood both as the right to be informed and the basic rights which arise following the purchase of a product (let us think about the limitations on the exercise of the above mentioned legal guarantee).