“Disgraceful”: Messy ToS update allegedly locks Roku devices until users give in


A promotional image for a Roku TV.
Enlarge / A promotional image for a Roku TV.

Roku customers are threatening to stop using, or to even dispose of, their low-priced TVs and streaming gadgets after the company appears to be locking devices for people who don’t conform to the recently updated terms of service (ToS).

This month, users on Roku’s support forums reported suddenly seeing a message when turning on their Roku TV or streaming device reading: “We’ve made an important update: We’ve updated our Dispute Resolution Terms. Select ‘Agree’ to agree to these updated Terms and to continue enjoying our products and services. Press * to view these updated Terms.” A large button reading “Agree” follows. The pop-up doesn’t offer a way to disagree, and users are unable to use their device unless they hit agree.

Customers have left pages of complaints on Roku’s forum. One user going by “rickstanford” said they were “FURIOUS!!!!” and expressed interest in sending their reported six Roku devices back to the company since “apparently I don’t own them despite spending hundreds of dollars on them.”

Another user going by Formercustomer, who, I suspect, is aptly named, wrote:

So, you buy a product, and you use it. And they want to change the terms limiting your rights, and they basically brick the device … if you don’t accept their new terms. … I hope they get their comeuppance here, as this is disgraceful.

Roku has further aggravated customers who have found that disagreeing to its updated terms is harder than necessary. Roku is willing to accept agreement to its terms with a single button press, but to opt out, users must jump through hoops that include finding that old book of stamps.

To opt out of Roku’s ToS update, which primarily changes the “Dispute Resolution Terms,” users must send a letter to Roku’s general counsel in California mentioning: “the name of each person opting out and contact information for each such person, the specific product models, software, or services used that are at issue, the email address that you used to set up your Roku account (if you have one), and, if applicable, a copy of your purchase receipt.” Roku required all this to opt out of its terms previously, as well.

But the new update means that while users read this information and have their letter delivered, they’re unable to use products they already paid for and used, in some cases for years, under different “dispute resolution terms.”

“I can’t watch my TV because I don’t agree to the Dispute Resolution Terms. Please help,” a user going by Campbell220 wrote on Roku’s support forum.

Based on the ToS’s wording, users could technically choose to agree to the ToS on their device and then write a letter saying they’d like to opt out. But opting into an agreement only to use a device under terms you don’t agree with is counterintuitive.

Even more pressing, Roku’s ToS states that users only have “within 30 days of you first becoming subject to” Roku’s updated terms, which was February 20, to opt out. Otherwise, you’re opted in automatically.

Archived records of Roku’s ToS website seem to show the new ToS being online since at least August. But it was only this month that users reported that their TVs were useless unless they accepted the terms via an on-screen message. Roku declined to answer Ars Technica’s questions about the changes, including why it didn’t alert users about them earlier. But a spokesperson shared a statement saying:

Like many companies, Roku updates its terms of service from time to time. When we do, we take steps to make sure customers are informed of the change.

What Roku changed

Customers are criticizing Roku for aggressively pushing them to accept ToS changes. The updates focus on Roku’s terms for dispute resolution, which prevent users from suing Roku. The terms have long forced a described arbitration process for dispute resolution. The new ToS is more detailed, including specifics for “mass arbitrations.” The biggest change is the introduction of a section called “Required Informal Dispute Resolution.” It states that except for a small number of described exceptions (which include claims around intellectual property), users must make “a good-faith effort” to negotiate with Roku, or vice versa, for at least 45 days before entering arbitration.

Roku is also taking heat for using forced arbitration at all, which some argue can have one-sided benefits. In a similar move in December, for example, 23andMe said users had 30 days to opt out of its new dispute resolution terms, which included mass arbitration rules (the genetics firm let customers opt out via email, though). The changes came after 23andMe user data was stolen in a cyberattack. Forced arbitration clauses are frequently used by large companies to avoid being sued by fed-up customers.

Roku’s forced arbitration rules aren’t new but are still making customers question their streaming hardware, especially considering that there are rivals, like Amazon, Apple, and Google, that don’t force arbitration on users.

Based on comments in Roku’s forums, some users were unaware they were already subject to arbitration rules and only learned this as a result of Roku’s abrupt pop-up.

But with the functionality of already-owned devices blocked until users give in, Roku’s methods are questionable, and Roku may lose customers over it. Per an anonymous user on Roku’s forum:

I’m unplugging right now.


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