Peloton bricks its treadmills

Your kids are dead because you didn’t buy the subscription.

Cory Doctorow


A still from the opening credits of The Jetsons in which George Jetson is about to be maimed by a high-tech treadmill; superimposed over the image is a quote from the Peloton email announcing that its treadmills now require subscriptions (‘Unfortunately at this time, ‘Just Run’ is no longer accessible without a Peloton Membership’). Image: The Jetsons/Hanna-Barbera

“Tread,” a $3000 “smart” treadmill from Peloton, is a deathtrap. 125,000 Treads have been recalled after the devices injured 72 people and killed a child.

Say what you will about Peloton’s safety engineering, but never fault the evil genius of its strategists. The company responded to the news by bricking the Treads in the field and demanding $40/month “subscriptions” from owners to continue using them.

The pretense here is that the subscription comes with safety software that means that you treadmill will not maim you or murder your children.

This raises an obvious question: why not just put that software into all the existing Tread devices for free?

But the answer is obvious. Because a free software update will cost the company money, and charging $40/month will make the company money — $480/year/customer, free net revenue for software that they’ve already written.

You might as well ask, “Why don’t ransomware gangs just tell pipeline owners about the defects in their software for free, rather than demanding millions of dollars?”

I mean, ransomware gangs have bills to pay, and so does Peloton. No one will write ransomware for free.

This is the predictable failure-mode of designing devices that can be updated without their owners’ permission or consent.

It’s not even the first time Peloton has done this — in 2020, they bought their competitor Flywheel and bricked all its bikes.

The whole scam is only possible because Peloton — like most other “smart device” companies — gets to abuse copyright, patent, and cybersecurity law to ban third parties from making alternative software for its devices.

Without laws like Section 1201 of the DMCA and the CFAA, a small group of coders could hack…