DRM; Or How To Make 30,000-Hour LED Bulbs ‘Last’ Only One Month

Want to artificially decrease the lifespan of your product in order to keep your revenue stream intact? DRM’s got your back, yo. It never asks, “Why?” It only asks, “Why not?”

Run out of refills on Proprietary Cat Waste Cleaning Product™ and a $200 luxury litter box becomes indiscernible from its $10 counterpart. Like generating a tremendous amount of waste along with your single cup of coffee? Hey, great, but your k-cup refill better be on brand or your expensive coffee maker will be about as active as the one you picked up from a garage sale for $2. Or less so, considering the second-hand one at least generated a funky burning smell before shorting out the kitchen wiring.

But this one tops both of those in what the installed DRM does to artificially shorten the lifespan of the product. (h/t Techdirt reader Kaden)

The IlluMask is a $30 “light therapy” mask that utilizes LED lights to zap away bacteria, stimulate skin cells and otherwise fight acne/aging (depending on what model you purchase.) Sounds great (if you buy IlluMask’s claims). A lifetime of skin revitalization, and all for just $30. Oh, wait.

The trouble is, it is limited to 30 daily uses of 15 minutes each, totaling just 7 1/2 hours, effectively lasting you a month. At the end of which, you just discard the device and get a new one. That seems like a ridiculous waste of a perfectly fine, functional device whose LED’s can last at least 30,000 to 40,000 hours.

Even if we ignore the negative environmental impact of discarding plastic masks loaded with perfectly good LEDs, there’s still the incredible audacity of IlluMask’s claim that its mask will only last 30 days, at which point the LEDs doing all of the facial revitalization/bacteria zapping are suddenly useless, even with well over 99.97% of their lifespan still ahead of them (based on 35,000 hours).

IlluMask offers its own rationale for this completely fake 7.5-hour time limit, and it’s about as credible as Keurig’s “because safety” claims.

$1 per day. Simply put, 30-uses per mask is the best way for us to offer you high-performance light-therapy—typically available for a “high-performance” price—at $1 per day. We believe everyone should have access to modern technology—and we believe that technology should work. illuMask’s patented 30-use system makes it happen.

Really? It actually seems like it’s the best way to ensure new purchases every day which, no matter how “affordable” it is, has nothing to do with telling people the LEDs in their masks are basically useless after delivering less than 8 hours of light on a 30-40,000 lifespan. I do, however, wholeheartedly believe this part of IlluMask’s explantion is 100% true — “…the best way for us…” — because that’s the only entity that truly benefits from treating long-lasting bulbs like disposable razor blades.

Those not paying attention to what IlluMask is actually doing — creating a renewable market where one shouldn’t logically exist — will look at the company’s chart comparing its $30/month product to more expensive options like dermatologists’ treatments ($OMG!) and feel they’re still getting a good deal. Others, like “Bebefuzz” of Lollipuff.com will find a way to route around IlluMask’s arbitrary retirement date.

The good news is that circumventing IlluMask’s internal 30-day kill switch is incredibly simple. If you like mucking about with a soldering iron, you can even add your own on/off switch (circumventing the DRM bricks the 15-minute timer). If you’d rather not deploy additional electronics and a soldering iron you likely don’t already own, you can just do this:

1. Change the batteries if lights are getting dimmer.

2. Use a screwdriver and open the case. Then remove batteries and unscrew screws so the plastic battery holder on top of the circuit board can be moved over. Be careful NOT to damage any of the delicate wiring.

3. Now that the circuit board is exposed, put the batteries back in their slots.

4. Using a piece of wire (such as a paper clip) touch one end of your wire and place it where the thin copper wire connects to the circuit board (silver spot marked LED). Touch the other end to the little RESET copper circle–located on the left of the circuit board (use the copper circle above the word RESET, not below).

5. Press the start button while the wire is in place.

6. Move your wire from the RESET button to the TEST button.

7. Press the start button again while the wire is in place, and the count should reset to 30!

A paperclip and a screwdriver. Tools of circumvention that can be found in any home. Doing this likely voids any warranty on the product (and makes IlluMask supersad), but it’s a product made to be disposable. Worst case scenario: another $30 spent and another try at soldering/paperclipping the product into something that lasts nearly as long as its components.

DRM: depriving you of 99.97% of your purchase’s potential lifespan. That’s hardly a tagline that will move more units, but the less consumers know, the better it is for companies like IlluMask.

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