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From "Happy Hacking" to "Screw You"

CmdrTaco posted about 6 years ago | from the now-we're-sad dept.

Hardware Hacking 243

tquid writes "Trying to bridge the digital divide in Canada's poorest postal code, a principled group of hackers adopt "open source"-based technology spun off from an MIT project. Then the terms on the hardware are changed, and changed again, and then firmware to lock out the frustrated group's software is installed, screwing them out of their investment and many hours of development work."

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Anyone know the details of the MIT agreement? (5, Interesting)

elrous0 (869638) | about 6 years ago | (#22844410)

Wasn't this was originally developed as an open source project at MIT? I imagine their original agreement with MIT probably precluded this very thing (locking it down). If not, I would be very disappointed with MIT.

Re:Anyone know the details of the MIT agreement? (5, Funny)

mrvan (973822) | about 6 years ago | (#22844494)

If they used the MIT license they're pretty much screwed...

It is a permissive license, meaning that it permits reuse within proprietary software ... [wikipedia.org]

Re:Anyone know the details of the MIT agreement? (1)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | about 6 years ago | (#22844512)

No, they aren't screwed.

They still have all the original RoofNet [mit.edu] code. And they should, if they aren't complete idiots, have the modifications that they themselves made in source control.

The software is still as free as ever.

Re:Anyone know the details of the MIT agreement? (1)

Applekid (993327) | about 6 years ago | (#22844644)

The problem is the firmware. They purchased equipment from Meraki that had the EULA changed but would have been ok had the company not silently upgraded all the units to the newer, locked down firmware. The original RoofNet code is good, but what about the existing hardware that now can't run anything but Meraki's official code?

Re:Anyone know the details of the MIT agreement? (5, Insightful)

JustinOpinion (1246824) | about 6 years ago | (#22844668)

Part of the problem is that the company (Meraki) pushed firmware upgrades to all the units, including older boxes purchased before their revised licensing model. The new firmware locks down the units, making it impossible to hack them and impossible to load custom firmware and bypass the new locks.

That's the really sleezy part--changing your licensing terms for new sales is annoying for loyal customers, but obviously can't apply retroactively to goods you've already sold. But this company is doing just that--trying to retroactively impose their new licensing and payment model onto units that were already sold under an open, permissive terms.

So even though they still have the free code, they are now blocked from loading the code onto their own purchased hardware. It's probably not impossible--a talented hacker can maybe bypass the firmware and load custom code again... but of course they shouldn't have to. It seems to me that Meraki has more or less broken into customer devices without permission and made unrequested changes--rather illegal as far as I know.

Re:Anyone know the details of the MIT agreement? (3, Interesting)

Wodin (33658) | about 6 years ago | (#22844808)

Can they not use jtag to fix them?

Re:Anyone know the details of the MIT agreement? (4, Interesting)

Muad'Dave (255648) | about 6 years ago | (#22845486)

Isn't that illegal? Updating firmware to enforce a new EULA that otherwise would not have applied? Sounds Microsoftian to me.

OT: Corollary to Tiller's Rule (0, Redundant)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | about 6 years ago | (#22845894)

Corollary to Tiller's Rule:

Never use a word that you've heard in speech but have never seen in print, because you'll look like a fool when you spell it wrong.

Examples I've seen in real life: "Here, Here!", "gold dablooms", "prejudice" (meaning 'prejudiced', I see this a lot), "per say", "mideval" (meaning 'medieval'), "pnumonic" (meaning 'mnemonic')

OK, I've gotten it out of my blood for now... carry on.

Re:OT: Corollary to Tiller's Rule (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | about 6 years ago | (#22846046)

Indeed. I've seen most of those atrocious examples of stupidity as well. Describing modern car construction techniques as 'monocot' made me laugh. 'Per say' really gets under my skin for some reason. I need to start a wiki where people can add abuses they've seen. Humm.....

Re:OT: Corollary to Tiller's Rule (1)

tabrnaker (741668) | about 6 years ago | (#22846132)

Only a fool is more interested in a person's spelling than in their communication. If you understand, you understand. All of us knew more words than we could spell at some point of our lives.

It's always interesting to see people criticize other's for hurdles that they've already surpassed in life. If you're already past the hurdle, why not help the person over?

Re:Anyone know the details of the MIT agreement? (4, Interesting)

tonyreadsnews (1134939) | about 6 years ago | (#22844688)

That is exactly what I'm thinking. Meraki's stuff is all based on the MIT open source stuff. So why can't this group just go back to the original source and build the part that someone else made proprietary.

Goatse (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22844524)

Goatse. [twofo.co.uk]

You nerds love it.

In other news, Zeus still sucks cock.

So talk to them? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Conrad (600139) | about 6 years ago | (#22844422)

So why not talk to Meraki and see if you can work something out rather than whining about it on your blog?

Re:So talk to them? (5, Funny)

Opportunist (166417) | about 6 years ago | (#22844870)

Have you ever tried talking technology with a lawyer? Talking nuclear physics with a pig is more rewarding.

Re:So talk to them? (4, Insightful)

ivan256 (17499) | about 6 years ago | (#22845480)

There are three types of IP lawyers:

  • Good, Honest IP Lawyers - These are usually unemployed, or stuck in low paying academic jobs
  • IP lawyers which profit off the fear of their clients. These guys lie about the requirements and risks of various IP issues, charge dozens of billable hours to write copyright header comments for the company's source code, tell companies that if they run their product on Linux they'll be forced to open all the code, etc. They usually also dabble in helping companies file bogus patents.
  • IP lawyers which help their clients come up with a fake cover for their real licensing motives. That's what we have here. They generate endless legalese to try and dissuade a company's customers from behaving in a way that is inconvenient for the company.

If you want to have a "rewarding" conversation with an IP lawyer, you need to figure out which bucket they are in so you can understand the motivation behind their selected language. If you assume "logic", or "reason" are involved you may as well just bang your head against the wall.

Re:So talk to them? (4, Informative)

eokyere (685783) | about 6 years ago | (#22844914)

because biswas and his ilk are a bunch of cunts. if you lack background on this, well here goes:

Meraki initially offered robustly featured indoor and outdoor nodes (which act as routers or repeaters) for $50 and $100. The plan was to allow people to become "micro" service providers in regions where cost is an issue or where broadband connections are scarce. The gear appealed to everyone from low-income housing to ISPs looking to add Wi-Fi as an added value service. Meraki quickly became a tech media and blog darling. Then last October the company suddenly unveiled a new three-tier pricing system that jacked up the price of hardware as much as three times for some users. The move bumped some of the functionality users were getting on the cheap (user authentication, billing) into higher tiers. The move annoyed users with deployed networks in the Meraki forums -- who say they were blindsided by the changes.
http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Open-Mesh-Picks-Up-Where-Meraki-Left-Off-92532/ [dslreports.com] i bought 12 of those 50 buck units to setup a small test project in Ghana, only to have meraki turn around and say "fuck you" to me ... so meraki, fuck you too

Re:So talk to them? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22844980)

Sounds like the happy hacking project WAS the reason they did all that.
So I'm pretty sure there won't be much use in talking to them

Re:So talk to them? (3, Insightful)

LihTox (754597) | about 6 years ago | (#22845166)

So why not talk to Meraki and see if you can work something out rather than whining about it on your blog?

Because (a) now we all know* to watch out for Meraki, and (2) Meraki might be more willing to fix a public stink than a private complaint.

*(and knowing is half the battle. GI J... oh wait. sorry.)

Just talk to them.. Right. That'll work. NOT! (1)

Chas (5144) | about 6 years ago | (#22845292)

Meraki holds all the cards. They control the firmware, and they've acted in a fairly predatory manner here.

They'll ask "why should we let you?" And they'll be (from their POV) right. Why SHOULD they let them. They're not making money off it. They don't give a shit.

If you want to use their hardware at all, you have to give (and keep giving) them money. Either directly in payments, or indirectly by serving adds on their free tier.

Fuck that noise.

oh thats funny (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22844454)

thats sort of like trying to put firefox on windows, then getting an update saying that you can't use it

Illegal? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22844470)


This is expecially bad form (and probably illegal) given that their stuff was all orginally developed under an open source licence.
How can this possibly be illegal? AFAICS it's MIT-licenced code plus some GPL v2 and there's no Tivoization clause in v2.

Re:Illegal? (5, Informative)

TheLinuxSRC (683475) | about 6 years ago | (#22845116)

Software licensing isn't the issue; updating his legacy hardware which he purchased under a specific license with specific rights without his knowledge or consent is the issue. Especially when this new firmware update (which he did not authorize but was automatically applied by Meraki despite having been sold with a different EULA) effectively bricks his hardware. This raises the question - Whose hardware is it?

Re:Illegal? (2, Interesting)

pavera (320634) | about 6 years ago | (#22845296)

It depends on the original EULA that they obtained the hardware/software under. Under the original license under which they obtained the hardware there was no "you cannot hack this" clause, now if the original EULA has a clause about "we can update this EULA at any time and the changes will be applied retroactively", and a court buys that that is a legally binding term (I can't believe it would, because what is to stop any proprietary company from getting a huge installed base by giving something away, and then changing the EULA and saying "oh, to continue using this software, you now owe us $1000"). If those 2 things are true (the original EULA has that clause, and a court allows them to retroactively apply additional restrictions), then it is not illegal. If either of those is false, then it is. They purchased the hardware under the original EULA which permitted changing firmware. The company cannot retroactively apply a new EULA with more restrictive terms to hardware that has already been purchased I don't think, unless a court can be convinced that you can change a contract mid stream. Again if they can, it would allow all sorts of shenanigans by proprietary vendors, heck even open source developers could apply this to GPL'd software and retroactively "revoke" the license.

It's just same old evil corporate bastards (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22844480)

that seem to run many big companies these days .... personally, what I don't understand is why people can't see that's it's not only just bad engineering, but, in essence, inhumane mismanagement.

Vendor lockin is a myth (1, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | about 6 years ago | (#22844488)

What did they expect? Seriously. The company is taking a loss on each box at $50. They were probably hoping to make some profit off of the software service side, but these hackers come along and provide the service for free on the same hardware. So Meraki goes and raises HW prices to overcome their losses and the hackers get whiny about the high cost of the new HW. So Meraki then does all it can do at that point, force the HW to only run the special software and try to get back into the market.

The hackers (especially those who put some kind of trust in "openness") are the ones who ruined the municipal network for everyone. They showed a clear lack of political savvy and it ended up turning what could have been a boon for both the city and Meraki into a political morass which ends up with no one at all happy.

Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (1, Troll)

Steauengeglase (512315) | about 6 years ago | (#22844572)

Speaking of not being politically savvy. A non-technocrat positision on Slashdot? Come on, really?

Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22844858)

What the hell are you on about? If that was an attempt at a joke, it was appalling.

Yes, how dare anyone deviate from the usual Slashdot line? How dare anyone think about things in a pragmatic fashion?

If you're uncomfortable with your viewpoint being challenged, either sit and think for a while and come up with a reasoned counter-argument, or just shut up.

Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (4, Informative)

lordofthechia (598872) | about 6 years ago | (#22844636)

So Meraki then does all it can do at that point, force the HW to only run the special software and try to get back into the market.
Well besides tripling the prices of units (which the company is free to do all day), the pushed firmware upgrades that crippled existing units preventing them from being hacked (which is one of the main gripes in the blog).

Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (4, Insightful)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | about 6 years ago | (#22844670)

They sold the first taste of Heroin at less than cost in the hopes of locking people into an ongoing profit stream, and their hopes didn't materialize. That's terrible. Those poor business people.

The hackers did show a lack of savvy. They were trying to help people who have no means to pay, and they put themselves in a position where they were relying on a for-profit corporation to achieve their goals. That's just stupid. Make deals with the devil, end up on fire. They should have known better than to leave themselves vulnerable to external leverage like that.

Openess lockin is a myth (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22844676)

Hmmm, interesting. Does "everything must be open" have limits? Idealism vs realism.

Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (3, Insightful)

Intron (870560) | about 6 years ago | (#22844726)

Why are they taking a loss? Fon [fon.com] sells a router for $50 and looks like an interesting alternative. They make money selling access to the customer network to non-members.

Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22844904)

Fon is backed by some very big investors, including eBay, Google and two big venture capital companies, so they have money to burn. The FON hype has dried up almost completely since they stopped giving away the routers (necessary action because the free hardware became too popular with the hackers.) It is not apparent whether FON is currently making a profit, what their business plan is and if it can work.

Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (3, Interesting)

wertarbyte (811674) | about 6 years ago | (#22845792)

Fon has also tried to lock out hackers from their hardware - although the moment they sell it, it's not their hardware anymore. There are still some hacks that work and give you SSH access, check my website [datenbruch.de] about it. Although my latest hack ("kolofonium") does not work with the latest firmware, there are still many systems using it: http://stefans.datenbruch.de/lafonera/kolofonium-chart.png [datenbruch.de] So you can guess how many of the sold FON spots may still be active; FON managed to alienate many advanced users that wished to participate but were locked out of their routers.

Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (5, Insightful)

JustinOpinion (1246824) | about 6 years ago | (#22844774)

What did they expect?
They probably expected to pay the list price for the quoted product.

The company is taking a loss on each box at $50.
That's the company's problem, of course. They are of course free to charge more or less for the devices whenever they want.

So Meraki then does all it can do at that point, force the HW to only run the special software and try to get back into the market.
Ah... so I see you missed the part where Meraki pushed firmware upgrades to existing units? They basically forced new software onto older units which lock them out. So, in effect, they sold a device with certain promises (namely, "open!") at a certain price, and then afterwards log into the devices and load new software to prevent the owners of the hardware from exercising the rights that were granted to them under the original contract terms. As far as I know, logging-into someone else's hardware (and then changing the software so that the hardware is now under your control) without their permission is illegal.

The hackers (especially those who put some kind of trust in "openness") are the ones who ruined the municipal network for everyone. They showed a clear lack of political savvy and it ended up turning what could have been a boon for both the city and Meraki into a political morass which ends up with no one at all happy.
I disagree. If the company was indeed selling the units at a loss, then that is their own stupidity. Customers taking advantage of what you offer ("open, hackable, access point for $50!") is their legal right and frankly is sensible. I disagree that giving into corporate demands at every turn is "political savvy". The company screwed them (and possibly broke the law), so they are warning others not to deal with that company, and it seems like they are going to try to find other hardware suppliers in the future.

Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (3, Insightful)

RomulusNR (29439) | about 6 years ago | (#22845408)

You forget that in the free market the customer is at the mercy of the company. The company can do whatever it wants in order to save money; the customer is the enemy and must be prevented from doing the same, lest it lead to the company losing money.

Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (5, Insightful)

mgblst (80109) | about 6 years ago | (#22844830)

How the hell would they now whether or not the company was taking a loss on each box? Is this something I need to research on everything I buy? You seem to consider this ok? Maybe I should check out the details on my monitor, to make sure that I am not supposed to make up some of the income for the company by visiting certain websites.

If some company screws up and sells my "faulty" goods, then how is this any of my responsibility. And how does this allow them to go in and change the goods they already sold me?

I am having great difficulty understanding your logic on this one.

Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (4, Insightful)

Gailin (138488) | about 6 years ago | (#22844872)

Is it the hackers fault that Meraki instituted a poor business model? Is it the hackers fault that Meraki is incapable of finding a profit model that suits their needs? Is it the hackers fault that Meraki is retroactively applying their license by updating boxes without notice or consent?

What a company hopes for and the reality of what they get is not my problem or concern. They are from fricking MIT. If they can't do a simple business analysis to come up with a workable pricing and support model, then what the hell are they doing staying in business. This is elementary level thinking, so no, the eggheads from MIT get no sympathy from me.


Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (5, Insightful)

Broofa (541944) | about 6 years ago | (#22844954)

You're blaming the "hackers" for this? This was a project for a poor community with a limited, fixed budget. The hackers got involved because volunteer efforts were likely the only way this project was going to happen. The only thing that changed was that Meraki switched from one unaffordable model to a different, still-unaffordable one, and in the process alienated a group of hackers with a vested interest in helping them improve their product. Perhaps Meraki should have instead open-sourced their Dashboard code and tried to leverage the efforts of people who are able and willing to help them make it better. And at the same time take a long, hard look at their business model. Because it's threatened by a bunch of hobbyists with some spare time on their hands, they're going to be in real trouble. Rather than trying to extort (too strong a word?) subscription fees for their software, perhaps they would be better served by slightly raising the price on the hardware (which they did) and offering support/services contracts to those customers who can afford them. It's a pretty safe bet that these other customers are going to be evaluating vendors not just on the hardware and software, but also on how open their code is, how robust the user and developer communities are, and whether or not they can count on the vendor (Meraki in this case) to act in their best interests in the future.

Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (4, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | about 6 years ago | (#22844982)

A company selling hardware at a loss trying to recover that loss with software sales is their problem. Not mine. Printer manufacturers do that, too, selling their ink printers at a loss to cash in with cartridges. Of course, third party vendors quickly tried to push their own cardridges onto the market, along with refill kits, both of which are being battled fiercly by the vendors of the printers who want to protect their business model. You now have chips in cartridges, protected by law against being duplicated... and so on.

It is a vendor lock in attempt. Try to sell the original part cheaply to win a customer, then milk the customer when he got the item and needs "fuel" to keep it running. Whenever something like this happens, you see a company get all defensive and try their utmost to keep their business model working.

This of course raises the question, why don't they just raise the price to match the cost? You offered that question yourself, why didn't they just raise the price by 70 bucks to make a profit with the original piece of hardware? The answer is simple: There's more money in milking locked in customers.

Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (1)

MrEd (60684) | about 6 years ago | (#22845286)

Hmm, I recognize Meraki's defence from one of my favorite movies...

"His girlfriend gave up her toe! She though we'd be getting million dollars! Iss not fair!"

Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22845760)

So Meraki then does all it can do at that point, force the HW to only run the special software and try to get back into the market.

In other news, clock makers have decided that you should pay for the service of having an alarm wake you up every morning, and so to enforce their new business model, they go into the homes of everyone they already sold a "free" alarm clock to and "upgrade" them to disable the alarm.

Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (1)

orpheum (1064692) | about 6 years ago | (#22845852)

It's not just the hardware.

but what prevented us from going any further with it was the pricing model that they decided to adopt - $5/node/month for access to the "dashboard" - the real-time monitoring software that they were developing for managing the networks.

$5 a month to be able to use the dashboard? Come on, really? And then Meraki changes the EULA and FORCIBLY updates the software on your piece of hardware which you actually are no longer using their software on. That's not fair, plain and simple.

Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (4, Insightful)

pla (258480) | about 6 years ago | (#22846022)

The company is taking a loss on each box at $50.

And? Your point?

If they unwisely chose to sell them at a loss - TFB. They have every right to change the terms and price on new units, but IMO they have committed an outright crime (computer trespass, at the very least) by forcing new firmware on already-purchased units.

but these hackers come along and provide the service for free on the same hardware.

Any company that hasn't learned that lesson yet, deserves their fate. If your business model critically depends on something that a third party can provide cheaper (or free), your customers will use the cheaper version.

They showed a clear lack of political savvy

Riiiight - Because we engineers normally have legendary people-skills and political-prowess?

Meraki presented a problem to people who live for solving them. Politics? Gimme a break. If you add non-game rules to the puzzle, someone will find a way to take them out to achieve a better solution.

Re:Vendor lockin is a myth (2, Insightful)

hairyfeet (841228) | about 6 years ago | (#22846158)

I don't think anyone has a problem with their raising prices.Companies do that all the time,bug deal.The problem is pulling the asshat "we'll just send out a stealth update and brick the old machines" bit.

Look at it this way-say Gateway is losing money competing with Dell.They realize they sold their machines in the past too cheap trying to play Dell's ball game.Nobody would have a problem with them raising the price of new models,or even trying to offer incentives to trade in your old Gateway on a newer more expensive model.But if they pushed out an update that bricked all the old models to where you could only run an ad supported version of Vista Basic on them,yes people would have a shit fit,and rightly so.

In this case it has an extra waft of shit stink because they pushed this as a solution for the poor,whom are typically those who can least afford this kind of asshatery,and then bent them over when the vulture capitalists got involved.So I'm sorry,but this is a big "fu" and I wouldn't trust this company as far as I can throw them.But that is my 02c,YMMV

Article text (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22844498)

(Article loaded very slowly for me, so it will likely be slashdotted soon.)

I've been following the development of mesh wifi technology for several years now. From the moment I first grokked what was going on with it, it struck me as a great disruptive technology. One of the most successful early projects, and one that I followed with a great deal of interest was MIT's Roofnet project [mit.edu] - an implementation of commodity hardware and open source software, built on Linux, which provides wifi coverage for MIT's campus.

In 2006 a spin-off company named Meraki [wikipedia.org] was formed to develop and commercialize the MIT Roofnet technology. At the time I was on the board of the Vancouver Community Network [vcn.bc.ca] and had been championing more development of wireless technology. We immediately ordered 9 of the first beta units to try out. The technology was cheap ($50/unit) and it worked but what prevented us from going any further with it was the pricing model that they decided to adopt - $5/node/month for access to the "dashboard" - the real-time monitoring software that they were developing for managing the networks. We decided that this cost was prohibitive for our purposes and the Merakis were shelved.

In September of 2007 I heard about a group of Vancouver community wifi enthusiasts who were getting together with the goal of setting up community wifi in Canada's poorest neighbourhood. I came out to a meeting and invited along some people whom I know are interested in any project that is about bridging the digital divide. The technology that was trumpeted at that meeting was Meraki. Since my previous brush with them they had changed their pricing structure and now they would let you run a free network (with free access to their dashboard) or a subscription (paid) network for 10% of your charges. We (the group, which came to call itself " FreeTheNet [freethenet.ca]") were unanimous that the free option was what we wanted to do and we quickly began building out a public network.

In October Meraki announced that they were changing their pricing model (yet again) and that they would be vastly raising the costs of their hardware (tripling, in fact). I remember going to their website to learn more about what they were doing and their new marketing slogan was something like "Build your business using exciting new technology where the rules of the game keep changing " How ironic; I wish I'd kept a screenshot of that! Under their new system there was no way that we could build out the network we envisioned. At roughly that point, one of our most experienced hackers said "forget Meraki", we're going to write our own firmware and dashboard and promptly started researching that. By late Novermber he was able to demostrate an open routing firmware called B.A.T.M.A.N. [wikipedia.org] running with a mesh helper inside called Robin [blogin.it], that provided the same functionality as the Meraki firmware. This could be installed in the commodity Meraki hardware which greeted you with a friendly and encouraging "happy hacking" when you logged into it via the console.

Over December and January he worked on adding features that we wanted to our network to have (and that we had previously been encouraging Meraki to build to improve their system - things like per node custom splash screen, enhancements to the dashboard to improve scalability, etc.) All of this was being tested on Meraki hardware because this is what we had spent our money on back when they supported and encouraged the kind of work we were doing.

Then in February Meraki announced a change to their EULA (End User Licence Agreement) which precluded anyone from changing any of the software that they install on their units. This meant that from that point forward we would be breaking their rules, and maybe the law, by installing our own work on their hardware. Of course this could not be applied retroactively so we were free to continue to work with the hardware that we'd already bought but we intensified our search for alternatives to the Meraki hardware.

Last week I tried installing our firmware on one of the nodes that I manage and failed 5 times in a row before I gave up. Today I learn that my failure is due to the fact that Meraki has automatically updated the software on all of the units [forumup.it] (including legacy, such as ours) so that you cannot install a different forware on it, at all.

So... in the course of six months Meraki has gone from " happy hacking - buy our equipment and use it to help poor people access the net " to " pay three times as much for our hardware and we'll install whatever we want on it, whenever we want, and you can't look under the hood to see what it's doing or install your own software on it ."

Thanks Meraki.

This is expecially bad form (and probably illegal) given that their stuff was all orginally developed under an open source licence.

Needless to say I now think Meraki are total scum and they certainly won't ever, EVER see any of my money again.

Re:I don't think they are viable (5, Insightful)

masonc (125950) | about 6 years ago | (#22844602)

I talked to Meraki about using their mesh network fro a resort I wanted to equip, but when I asked what would happen to our investment if they went belly up, they told me it the network hardware would be unusable if that happened. I said thanks but that's not acceptable.
Who would walk a client into that sort of scenario? How many bright hopeful startups have we seen disappear without a mention? It's not like they would ever be honest and tell you they are running low on cash.
I wouldn't mind if their service was value added, billing or accounting or something, but the network could still be used in the event they vanished. If the hardware was open and I could install a Open Source version later, I might have done it.
Maybe Meraki needs to revisit their model and look at it from a customer's viewpoint.

Community WiFi markets bad everywhere. (1, Insightful)

clintp (5169) | about 6 years ago | (#22844544)

Community and city-wide wifi projects everywhere are failing. In general they turned out to be more expensive, more cumbersome, and difficult to manage than originally promised. The county-wide wifi program where I lived stopped development last year because the vendor's pricing model proved unworkable (give away low-speed, sell high speed). Other communities are having similar problems.

To think that's *not* going to affect the cost of the remaining projects is just silly. Without the volume, the costs are going to go up for the projects that are still out there left undone.

The rules of the game are *ALWAYS* changing. That's life. We can tell you're upset, but quit your whining.

Re:Community WiFi markets bad everywhere. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22844882)

The rules of the game are *ALWAYS* changing. That's life. We can tell you're upset, but quit your whining.
The only "whiner" here is you - in evidence of this I offer the fact that the O.P.is discussing something that personally impacted him/her while you are just a random uninterested party looking for a moan i.e. a whine.

Re:Community WiFi markets bad everywhere. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22844930)

Why don't you STFU? The prices were promised. It's a contract. You can't change the negotiated terms because you feel like it.

Scam artists.

Re:Community WiFi markets bad everywhere. (3, Informative)

CompMD (522020) | about 6 years ago | (#22845356)

"Community and city-wide wifi projects everywhere are failing." I'm sorry, but those of us who have succeeded [lawrencefreenet.org] don't like being lumped in with the rest.

Re:Community WiFi markets bad everywhere. (1)

clintp (5169) | about 6 years ago | (#22845516)

There are isolated successes, true.

However many more have failed in places like Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Rhode Island, Orlando, Tempe, Portland, and closer to home (for me) Grand Rapids and Oakland County. This list isn't complete, of course. You could ask Earthlink for a better one...

You didn't disable the auto-update? (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22844552)

I learn that my failure is due to the fact that Meraki has automatically updated the software on all of the units (including legacy, such as ours)
Didn't you say you wrote your own firmware? Why didn't you disable the auto-update? Did your original agreement allow them to change the software without your confirmation, or worse, did it force you to give them access to your hardware for this purpose? Why don't you use a bunch of WRT54gs with OpenWRT or the Freifunk firmware [freifunk.net]?

Re:You didn't disable the auto-update? (1)

Anonymous Conrad (600139) | about 6 years ago | (#22844584)

Didn't you say you wrote your own firmware?
The article doesn't quite say that - it says they were developing one but not that they'd already rolled it out.

Re:You didn't disable the auto-update? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22844974)

Probably because, at the time, the Meraki hardware was cheaper than WRT54gs and already came with the relevant software installed.

Let everyone know (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22844578)

Their wiki article has no Controversy section. It needs one. I strongly suggest that someone who was abused by them edit the wiki article setting out the case. Given their hippie like idealistic looking web site, I would have to accuse them of hypocrisy at least.

Why is this modded Troll? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22844750)

I have trouble seeing why the parent is a Troll unless the article to which it is posted is also a Troll.

Re:Let everyone know (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22845462)

Why is this modded interesting? "Controversy" is in almost all cases a very bad section title, because it doesn't give the reader a clue what the section is about. The only thing that such a title says is that someone disagrees with someone or something. Usually it's better to work the content into the general article or to rename the section to something descriptive. Also, sections titled "Controversy" tend to become POV cesspits.

Sounds like lawyer time (4, Insightful)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | about 6 years ago | (#22844684)

IANAL, but it sounds like time for them to find a nice CDN lawyer who would do some pro-bono work to see if they have grounds for legal action. It would seem to me tha a "Tortuous interference" claim might be valid; given the actions appear to interfere with the owners of the hardware's ability to provide services as a result of the update.

EULA doesn't apply (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22844746)

How does a EULA apply to hardware? Unless they're leasing the hardware there's no license involved.

I used to work a couple blocks from there (4, Informative)

MichaelCrawford (610140) | about 6 years ago | (#22844776)

Canada's poorest neighborhood is known as the Downtown Eastside. I used to work in nearby Gastown.

I found the contrast between most of Vancouver, which is otherwise one of Canada's most prosperous cities, and the Downtown Eastside so stark as to be completely overwhelming. There was a time when I had been one of the urban unfortunates myself, as I have a mental illness that was at one time quite severe.

I became determined to help those that I could, often buying meals for those who asked me for spare change. But it got to be more than I could bear; the stress of it put me back in the mental hospital - I was brought to St. Paul's hospital on Burrard by an ambulance, where I stayed for three weeks in their Two-South Mental Health ward.

I discuss Vancouver, and many of those who I met there, in my weblog The Vancouver Diaries [vancouverdiaries.com]. That is, the entries before June 30th, 2007, when I moved back to the US. I kept blogging at the site, as I intend to go back someday, but for now I live in Silicon Valley.

I have to say, that the company that remotely installed this firmware, breaking their project, why they have to be worse than The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I don't think I have in my entire life met so many people who are so unfortunate as the residents of the Downtown Eastside. I hope they have a change of heart.

Re:I used to work a couple blocks from there (2, Interesting)

elrous0 (869638) | about 6 years ago | (#22844984)

Dan Rather did a recent profile of this neighborhood on his "Dan Rather Reports" show on HDNET. I never know such places existed in Canada, but there are bad neighborhoods everywhere I guess. Still, I've seen a lot worse in the U.S. I used to live near East St. Louis, and that place was more like a shelled-out DMZ than a town.

Re:I used to work a couple blocks from there (1)

Otter (3800) | about 6 years ago | (#22845522)

I had a journal entry [slashdot.org] about Vancouver's nastiness after a business trip there a few years ago. I can't say I'm that regretful that the junkie who threw a syringe (with needle!) at me isn't going to be getting free WiFi.

Eight Thousand Used Syringes Littered The Ground (1)

MichaelCrawford (610140) | about 6 years ago | (#22845682)

That was what they found when a pilot project picked up all the trash in the Downtown Eastside. The article I read about it, I think it was in The Vancouver Sun, said the trash collectors had to be escorted by the police.

I was considering Meraki... (4, Interesting)

Thelasko (1196535) | about 6 years ago | (#22844786)

until I read this article. My building is going condo and I am considering bringing up the concept of a building wide wireless network at our first board meeting. I am even toying with the idea of sharing with the neighboring buildings. The only commercial product I have been able to find is Meraki. Does anybody have any other suggestions?
Please forgive my English, it's Monday.

Re:I was considering Meraki... (1)

SirWhoopass (108232) | about 6 years ago | (#22845354)

I can't help on the wireless end, but you may want to consider a wired system if you can't do it. It would probably still be beneficial. I was on the board of an 18-story cooperative apartment building while in college. We ran ethernet to every bedroom and living room. Large initial capital expense, but we amortized it over several years so it came out to about a $20 person/month rent increase. This was when people were paying more than that for AOL dial-up.

So, I guess I'm not doing much more than offering a word of encouragement. Good luck with your project.

Re:I was considering Meraki... (5, Informative)

qw0ntum (831414) | about 6 years ago | (#22845496)

Check Open Mesh [open-mesh.com]. Just like Meraki, but open.

Re:I was considering Meraki... (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | about 6 years ago | (#22845636)

Open Mesh appears to be just what I am looking for. The only thing that concerns me is the Open Mesh hardware appears to be Meraki hardware with OSS. Are they buying Meraki routers, hacking them, and reselling them? Will Open Mesh suffer the same fate as the author of this article, or do they have a separate supply chain?

Re:I was considering Meraki... (2, Interesting)

qw0ntum (831414) | about 6 years ago | (#22845926)

Nope! Their nodes are from Accton, independently produced. And unbranded, too. They actually run on the same Atheros chipset that the Meraki nodes and the Fonera nodes use, so performance is very similar. Also, ROBIN will run on several other hardware platforms. Take a look at the ROBIN forums [forumup.it] to see what other platforms people have gotten it to run on.

I don't really get it. (0, Offtopic)

Vexorian (959249) | about 6 years ago | (#22844812)

So, what's the problem exactly? I think they are complaining that sponsored ads appear even when you used site: and the ad points to another site. If I remember correctly this is not new. IT is not aggressive either since google makes it very clear about what is an sponsored result and what isn't

It is just an easier interface to site:, I guess, perhaps they thought it was a new, aggressive feature because they previously didn't know about site:'s behavior with sponsored sites and this new feature made them notice about that?

Re:I don't really get it. (1)

jtev (133871) | about 6 years ago | (#22844890)

No, you don't get it. They purchased a piece of equpipment, and the manufacturer has made the equipment no longer function the way it originaly did. They did this without permission, and in a way that makes it impossible for them to exersize their rights under the original licence of the firmware on the hardware. This has nothing to do with a website, it has to do with the routers.

Re:I don't really get it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22845086)

Parent post is referring to another Slashdot story, not the Meraki one.

Re:I don't really get it. (1)

Bigbutt (65939) | about 6 years ago | (#22845660)

You're replying to the wrong news article. You'll need to go back one or two to find the one about Google ads within ads :)


What a bunch of bunk (-1, Flamebait)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about 6 years ago | (#22844878)

I notice that this entire subject is couched in terms of "think of the poor people!" (cue Mrs. Lovejoy's voice). I think what we have here is a group of people doing something that they want to do, rather than something that the poor would actually benefit from. Working alongside the soup kitchen Christians? Oh hell no! We're going for some pie-in-the-sky computer network for the poor, and we're going to ruthlessly take advantage of some company's loss leader to do it. Then, when the company changes its policy (due to our screwing everything up) we get to complain loudly on the front page of slashdot.

I think maybe they could have done something for the poor that the poor needed, instead of a high-tech solution in search of a problem.

Re:What a bunch of bunk (1)

Beale (676138) | about 6 years ago | (#22845122)

If you want to use a loss leader, you really have to make sure you have a good follow-through that almost everyone who buys your loss-leader will want.

Re:What a bunch of bunk (2, Insightful)

farbles (672915) | about 6 years ago | (#22845126)

Actually it's not pie in the sky. Go back to your dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged.

Who's child is going to do better in school, the one with home internet or the one who had to wait for terminal time at a public site away from home?

Bringing connectivity to an area increases economic activity in that area. By giving people a tool to communicate like internet access, they can start up everything from community-based discussion forums to small businesses online. They will think up uses for the connectivity no one else thought of first.

There is a big and growing Digital Divide in this country coming from unequal access to high speed networking. The price point for high speed is too high for low income people, low income people tend to live in under-serviced areas, and the whole "Screw-you-I-got-mine" attitude should have died with Reagan but it is still with us today like a carcinoma.

I've worked on a neighborhood wireless project to bring low price high speed connectivity to the poor and it is not easy to do. Hardware issues, stability issues, open source wifi drivers suck ass, NDISwrapper with wifi drivers is less stable than mercury fulminate at high heat but with all that, there are dedicated people working to try and improve the lot of others, something your precious Ayn Rand and her uber-klassen seem to blank on. Isn't there a McCain convention for you to be at?

Re:What a bunch of bunk (1)

mini me (132455) | about 6 years ago | (#22845534)

In this case, this country would be Canada. I don't recall a Prime Minister Reagan. And I'm not sure our Digital Divide is that bad. Unless you live in a shack in the far north, most people have similar access for similar prices as someone who lives in downtown Toronto. If you do live in that shack, you'll still have the access, but you'll be looking at about twice the cost. Still, not bad, really, when you consider how large the country is and how few people we have.

Re:What a bunch of bunk (1)

profplump (309017) | about 6 years ago | (#22845152)

Are you seriously suggesting that improved communications technology *wouldn't* improve the local economy? Did you miss the last 100 years of human existence?

If these people were starving in the street you're right, soup kitchens would be more useful. But that's not the case here -- the intent is to improve the local economy to be on-par with the rest of the nation. The people this project is intended to help aren't homeless, and many aren't even unemployed, they're just poor.

Having things like, the ability to use their Internet connection to be a work-at-home call-center rep, cheaper residential telephone service, the ability to easily search for jobs outside their immediate geographic area, or even just general access to the web and email, could all make practical improvements in the lives people who did not previously have access to cheap, moderate-speed Internet services.

Re:What a bunch of bunk (1)

bob.appleyard (1030756) | about 6 years ago | (#22845548)

Last 100 years? Hell, pretty much the entirety of human history supports that statement. As an example, why did countries like Spain, England, France, the Netherlands and so on develop world empires when they did? Shipbuilding improvements and good access to the Atlantic. That is, better communications. Oh yes, guns and finance and stuff helped, but if that were the case, why didn't any big central European powers get any world empires at the time?

Communications, trade and prosperity are all very closely linked.

Re:What a bunch of bunk (4, Insightful)

Pogie (107471) | about 6 years ago | (#22845158)

I'll grant you that the goal of the do-gooders was a little ephemeral compared to giving the poor food, but if your goal is sustainable improvement of the lives of the economically downtrodden, you need to do more than simply give them something to eat. Also, it's pretty damn insulting to a poor person to imply that their biggest problem is putting food on the table. Maybe their biggest problem, now that they've solved the food and housing issue, is helping their kids to a better life. You know what might help with that? Access to a computer and the internet at home.

One of the most difficult barriers to entry for folks from low-income backgrounds trying to gain some upward mobility is the lack of access to technological services/devices that those of us raised in a middle-class environment consider basic tools of life. How can you move from slinging burgers or picking strawberries (definitive low class jobs) to secretarial or temp office work (entry level middle class jobs) if you don't have a computer, or access to the internet, or excel, or MS word, etc? These guys were setting out to help bridge the "digital divide" -- explicitly trying to provide access to the online resources the middle and upper classes have to people who don't normally have access to them.

The poor have a variety of needs, don't patronize them by assuming the only need you see is the only need they have.

Re:What a bunch of bunk (2, Insightful)

Culture20 (968837) | about 6 years ago | (#22845488)

This was step 1.

Step 2 is getting people to donate old wireless devices and/or buy eepcs or XOs.

Step 3 is always profit, but this time, it's profit for the folks in the neighborhood.

I understand your confusion since step 2 is often listed as "???"

Re:What a bunch of bunk (3, Insightful)

mikael (484) | about 6 years ago | (#22845858)

Anyone who went to school back 20 years ago would remember that the kids who had a complete home encyclopedia, dictionary, thesaurus, biographies on famous historical people, or had parents who were members of book clubs, found it much easier to write essays or coursework assignments and get good grades than any kid who did not. If you were in luck, you might have a friend or neighbour who had relevant literature. You could try going with an adult to the library (which was probably on the other side of town and only opened late one evening), but you were still taking the chance that someone else had already been there and already taken out the related books. Another chance was a second hand bookstore or the magazine racks of the local shop. Otherwise, you had exhausted all your options. Even the local bookstore would take two weeks to have an order come through.

Even if it weren't a school project or coursework, if you were a kid curious about some piece of technology, you would be lucky if one of the documentary series had an article on that item, or if you found a science magazine in the local shop.

These days, anyone can do a Google search, look for online published research papers, visit online magazine articles, look at online secondhand bookstores or Amazon. All before even having to leave home. That is, if you do have a home computer, internet connection and are familiar with the various applications (desktop, login process, web browser, search engines, touch typing).

That is, if your family can afford a computer and internet access. Many employers complain that their applicants don't have basic computer literacy skills: knowing how connect a system together, keyboard skills, word processing, spreadsheets, E-mail, database packages (Maybe because anyone who does have those skills can find a better job, but it's sad that people don't already have those skills in the first place).

Just by having a computer with internet access is going to allow you to learn many more basic skills in your own time, as well as keep in touch with the rest of the community (forums, job search pages, community college courses).

Open-Mesh: The Open Source Meraki Alternative (5, Informative)

qw0ntum (831414) | about 6 years ago | (#22844932)

This decline was something people have foreseen for a while. There is a rapidly maturing collection of open source projects to create a real open source Meraki replacement (disclaimer: I am helping develop one of these).

ROBIN [blogin.it] is an open source mesh firmware that can run on reflashed Meraki nodes (well, I don't think it's "allowed" by Meraki anymore, since they've changed their license agreement to forbid 3rd party firmware and have made it really difficult to access the bootloader).

Open-Mesh [open-mesh.com] is the dashboard management service that ROBIN nodes are configured to use. The guy who develops this actually started working on this dashboard when Meraki was still Roofnet - compare the Open-Mesh dashboard to the Meraki dashboard, the similarity is obvious. Also, you can buy pre-flashed, fully featured ROBIN nodes from Open-Mesh.com for $50 each, the same price that Meraki sells their crippled "standard version" of their nodes.

OrangeMesh, is an open-source version of the dashboard being developed that will allow you to host your own dashboard server, completely freeing you from reliance on any third party. You can check out it's progress here. [googlecode.com]

poorest "postal code"? (1)

yanyan (302849) | about 6 years ago | (#22845072)

What's so hard about typing "poorest neighborhood" instead? That phrase seriously threw me when i read it.

This might be the worst... (2, Insightful)

FlyingGuy (989135) | about 6 years ago | (#22845386)

summary I have seen on /. to date!"

"Trying to bridge the digital divide in Canada's poorest postal code, a principled group of hackers adopt "open source"-based technology spun off from an MIT project. Then the terms on the hardware are changed, and changed again, and then firmware to lock out the frustrated group's software is installed, screwing them out of their investment and many hours of development work."

I guess our beloved Cmd Taco has bever heard of the basic Who, What, Where, When of writing an article.

I call shenanigans! (4, Informative)

radagenais (1261374) | about 6 years ago | (#22845552)

Did anyone read TFA?

Meraki patched a not-for-profit group's hardware from remote without permission so that it would no longer run the firmware same not-for-profit developed in-house. They did this to hardware that was BSD licensed when purchased. They either employed a backdoor or abused known customer access credentials (likely the former) to do it.

This is probably illegal and certainly wrong.

(TFA doesn't say if a contract was in play between Meraki and the client that would have authorized them to apply the patches, but its clear that the customer had put an end to the agreement so a complaint against Meraki would be legit.)

At the very least, this is a malicious hack against a customer. But I think its more than that.

If the peeps in Vancouver were left to continue their work, they certainly would have had a "competitive" solution which they would likely have offered up online for all to use. This would effectively make them a competitor, and a dangerous one because unhappy Meraki customers would be the most likely to check it out. I would go so far to say that this was a pre-emptive sabotage (with poor Vancouverites in the crossfire).

I have no problem with Meraki adapting their business model to find something that works. But their actions way overstepped the boundaries of the law. They would have been wiser to handle the whole affair in a more benevolent fashion in the first place. They could have, for example, cut a partnership deal with the non-profit to allow them to participate in feature development under NDA and enjoy a subsidized service. Both parties would have come out winners.

Whenever financiers get involved, they always want to lock up the tech because it is the only tangible asset they can claim ownership of. Meanwhile, they miss the essence of business value, which is in the people and the partnerships and the innovation.

I think that the only way community wifi is going to work is if it is community-run, not-for-profit, and vendor independent. There is no question that we will have this soon enough and it will be running on top of WRTs and other similar APs which are abundant and cheap and have loads of after-market conversion options for outdoor use. I'm disappointed to read all these comments bashing the Vancouver hackers, who deserve kudos for their inventiveness, determination, and good will.

Screw U? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22845572)

Hey that's my alma mater!

Sadly missing the boat (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22845918)

Technological problems are solved by technological solutions. Societal problems sadly are not. The age old problems of poverty and unequal income distribution can hardly be addressed by the computer gadget of the moment.
Throwing in arguments about serving the poor into software license squabbles is plain silly and a sign of desperation.

Reflashing Merakis (5, Informative)

sbrsb (233569) | about 6 years ago | (#22846154)

The article suggests that a Meraki software upgrade has made it impossible to reflash them.

Actually, you can still easily make them revert to an earlier version which can be reflashed.

As described here:
http://robin.forumup.it/about99-15-robin.html [forumup.it]

"you can ssh into the Meraki and create edit the /storage/config.local file with whatever you want; in my case:
echo "firmware.mips.version 6-9163" > /storage/config.local"

And they'll update themselves to an earlier version.

The founders of Meraki have made huge contributions to open source software and it is good to see that others are taking advantage of their great work and making further improvements.
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