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Internet provider warns users torrenting could lead to ‘thermostat issues’

ISP piracy letter

Normally, the worst thing that happens to anyone caught illegally downloading Game of Thrones is a strongly-worded letter in the mail, or a vague threat of some kind of future legal action. But one US internet service provider decided to take things a step further, and outline in specific detail how torrenting movies could lead to problems controlling your thermostat in the middle of winter.

Armstrong Zoom, an ISP with around a million customers in the north-east US, apparently sent out a letter to subscribers who they suspect have been pirating TV or movies. The letter mentions the usual threat of account suspension, but the ISP goes on to spell out in rather unusual detail exactly how that can prevent you from heating your home in the middle of winter.

“In accordance with the Terms and Conditions, Armstrong’s copyright infringement policy, and federal law, please be advised that, if Armstrong receives additional notifications of infringement connected with your Zoom Internet Service, Armstrong will remove you from your current internet service level and place you at the lowest service level,” the letter explains.

“Please be advised that this may affect other services which you may have connected to your internet service, such as the ability to control your thermostat remotely or video monitoring services.”

The warning is perfectly true — putting people on a dial-up internet will prevent smart thermostats or home security systems from working properly — but the fact that Armstrong knows the consequences, and is still willing to shut down people’s internet without proper due process makes it all the worse.

In this case, it seems that Armstrong is relying on copyright infringement complaints from rightsholders to issue these letters. Rightholders are notorious for using a drag-net approach to copyright infringement by grabbing IP addresses off torrent groups and petitioning ISPs to send notice to the addresses associated with those IP addresses. But an IP address is not an identity, and relying on it for proof of infringement is patently unfair. Technical errors, as well as things like neighbors using your Wi-Fi, can lead to false positives.

Basically, Armstrong is relying entirely on the for-profit enforcement arm of media companies — which has zero incentive to be careful — to make decisions about its own customers, fully knowledgeable that it could mess up people’s heating systems in the middle of winter.

The letter was spotted by TorrentFreak, but we don’t have any context as to the number of customers this letter might’ve been sent to, or what kind of copyright infringement is in question.