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Google, Amazon rebuked over unsupported Chromebooks still for sale – Ars Technica

Google resisted pleas to extend the lifetime of Chromebooks set to expire as of this June and throughout the summer. Thirteen Chromebook models have met their death date since June 1 and won’t receive security updates or new features from Google anymore. But that hasn’t stopped the Chromebooks from being listed for sale on sites like Amazon for the same prices as before.

Take the Asus Chromebook Flip C302. It came out in 2018, and on June 1—about five years later—it reached its automatic update expiration (AUE) date. But right now, you can buy a “new,” unused Flip C302 for $550 from Amazon or $820 via Walmart’s Marketplace (providing links for illustrative purposes; please don’t buy these unsupported laptops).

That’s just one of eight Chromebooks that expired since June while still being readily available on Amazon. The listings don’t notify shoppers that the devices won’t receive updates from Google. The US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) pointed this out in a press release Wednesday, sharing screenshots of the models:

“Parents and teachers buying back-to-school laptops don’t expect devices to have a ‘death date,’ and sellers don’t advertise the lack of support,” Lucas Rockett Gutterman, the US PIRG’s Designed to Last director, said in a statement accompanying Wednesday’s release.

“It’s absurd that a new laptop, with all the features students need to do basic school work, is already unsupported. Students, and the planet, deserve better.”

The US PIRG’s release highlights eight ChromeOS devices from Asus, Acer, Dell, Lenovo, HP, and Samsung, all easily purchasable on Amazon despite their expirations. We also found some of these models sold by Walmart.

Here’s the US PIRG’s full list of recently expired Chromebooks, which totals 13:

The US PIRG has been imploring Google to extend the lifetime of Chromebooks, and there are 51 Chromebooks scheduled to expire next summer. The advocacy group’s latest release highlights how easy it is to buy expired laptops, which can lead to security threats, e-waste, and wasted money.

Gutterman told Ars Technica:

We have been tracking the specific Chromebook models listed in the June letter that recently expired this summer and were shocked to find them still for sale with no warnings. Retailers need to make changes to protect customers, since Chromebook support expiration dates can be unclear if they’re not included on listing pages.

However, our main focus is Google’s ability to extend support. We just wanted to find one retailer still selling these expired models as an example. … We could avoid this issue if Google were to extend support for the 13 models listed in the June letter.

Gutterman urged retailers to clearly indicate expiration dates to consumers, acknowledging that it’s not just Amazon carrying expired Chromebooks.

“Retailers should include support end of life dates for all tech products that they sell, but Chromebooks are particularly important to indicate because support ends after an expiration date rather than due to hardware requirements,” he added.

It’s troublesome to think of the tech novices, students, and shoppers with budget constraints wasting resources on a device that will soon become obsolete. It’s also concerning to consider how easy it is to buy these products with just a few clicks on some of the most popular and successful online marketplaces.

Online marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart are already infamous for carrying fraudulent and poorly vetted tech products. The PIRG’s latest release emphasizes yet another reason shoppers must be alert when buying tech from such sites. It also underscores the importance for OEMs to vet what’s made available in their name online and raises the question of whether online marketplaces should require EoL dates on product listings. Walmart’s Marketplace even has a special “Restored” section for refurbished tech that Walmart claims is “professionally inspected and tested to work and look like new by top-rated, performance-managed suppliers.” Still, Ars found an expired Chromebook for sale by a Restored seller without a notice of its lack of support.

Expiring Chromebooks are troubling schools, too

Technologists have long criticized the life span of Chromebooks, especially considering the minimal hardware changes Chromebooks can see in under 10 years. A few years ago, Google extended Chromebook AUEs to eight years from release. Besides consumers, many schools are also dealing with the consequences of unsupported Chromebooks. Many districts stocked up on Chromebooks during the COVID-19 pandemic and are now facing the reality of Chromebooks having, on average, four years of updates left, as detailed by the US PIRG’s Chromebook Churn report (PDF) in April.

For example, the Torrance Unified School District is anticipating the expiration of 20,000 Chromebooks by 2030, The Orange County Register reported in June.

California’s Oakland Unified School District expects 40,000 of its Chromebooks will expire over the next five years, as per a July report from The Mercury News cited by US PIRG Wednesday.

The Mercury News quoted Sam Berg, Oakland Unified’s computer science coordinator and tech internship program designer as saying:

They’re [Chromebooks] designed to be disposable. It’s like planned obsolescence.

Besides the cost of replacement devices, schools also must dedicate resources to ensuring that Chromebooks are current. Having up-to-date devices is particularly important for schools, which have unique security needs and may not be able to access things like online state testing with an expired Chromebook.

As per The Colorado Sun in May:

Another consequence of short life cycles and few extra parts: rows and rows of devices strewn in district buildings for technicians to tackle one at a time. [Denver Public School] technicians are currently wading through about 500 of the thousands of Chromebooks surrounding their desks and walling them off from each other.

Chromebook conundrum

Extending Chromebook AUE dates isn’t one-sided, though. Google would need to coordinate with Chromebook manufacturers, which may or may not be willing or able to dedicate resources to continuing support for older Chromebook models (especially with new ones for sale).

Ars Technica asked Google for comment on this story and whether it would consider extending AUE dates for devices used for educational purposes, but we didn’t hear back in time for publication. However, Google’s Chromebook Auto Update policy says updates “depend on many device specific non-Google hardware and software providers.”

And Chromebooks aren’t the only tech devices constrained by limited life spans. The average Mac, for example, receives seven years of macOS updates. It used to be longer.

But Google’s refusal to make ChromeOS hardware requirements easily accessible (something it does with ChromeOS Flex) or have Chromebooks officially support ChromeOS Flex has critics questioning how concerned about this problem Google truly is.

We also asked Google if it thinks its decoupling ChromeOS from Chrome will help extend the life span of Chromebooks. Some have hope that the Lacros (Linux And ChRome OS) project will aid Chromebook longevity since it could enable people to install newer Chrome versions post-AUE date.

Ars also reached out to Amazon, Walmart, and Asus for comment on expired Chromebooks but didn’t get responses in time for publication.

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