Chamberlain blocks smart garage door opener from working with smart homes

by Wire Tech
Enlarge / A photo of the myQ app from LiftMaster’s website.Liftmaster

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Chamberlain Group—the owner of most of the garage door opener brands like LiftMaster, Chamberlain, Merlin, and Grifco—would like its customers to stop doing smart home things with its “myQ” smart garage door openers. The company recently issued a statement decrying “unauthorized usage” of its smart garage door openers. That’s “unauthorized usage” by the people who bought the garage door opener, by the way. Basically, Chamberlain’s customers want to trigger the garage door and see its status through third-party smart home apps, and Chamberlain doesn’t want that.

Here's the statement:

Chamberlain Group recently made the decision to prevent unauthorized usage of our myQ ecosystem through third-party apps.

This decision was made so that we can continue to provide the best possible experience for our 10 million+ users, as well as our authorized partners who put their trust in us. We understand that this impacts a small percentage of users, but ultimately this will improve the performance and reliability of myQ, benefiting all of our users.

We encourage those who were impacted to check out our authorized partners here: https://www.myq.com/works-with-myq.

We caught wind of this statement through the Home Assistant blog, a popular open source smart home platform. The myQ integration is being stripped from the project because it doesn't work anymore. Allegedly, Chamberlain has been sabotaging Home Assistant support for a while now, with the integration maintainer, Lash-L, telling the Home Assistant blog, "We are playing a game of cat and mouse with MyQ and right now it looks like the cat is winning."

Our immediate question is why would any garage opener company care about customers using its garage door opener. You sell garage door openers—isn’t usage the goal? A quick perusal through the app store reviews reveals what’s going on. The iOS app is sitting pretty at 4.8 stars, but the Android app has suffered a wave of one-star reviews starting in October.

"Sadly, this app now displays advertisement at the very top and I cannot find a way to disable it," writes one Play Store reviewer (Google doesn't provide links to reviews). "This is very disturbing and on top of it, it moves my garage opening button out of the visible part of the screen. So to use it I now have to first look at the ads, then scroll down and hope to find my button." Another user writes, "I don't want ads in an app that I have already paid for the companion product." Other one-star reviews mention things like, "I clicked door open/close event and it popped up the video storage subscription dialog to ask me to subscribe," and, "Most of the app is dedicated to trying to upsell you on services and devices you don't need."


Ah, now it makes sense. Your garage door opener app isn’t here only to open your garage door; it’s here to display ads and upsell you on services. Using third-party apps would get around Chamberlain’s hardware-app-as-ad-platform strategy, so they are now banned. Another part of this is probably the plug at the end of Chamberlain’s statement to “check out our authorized partners,” which includes companies like Amazon and Alarm.com.

The logo of the Chamberlain Group, which owns over 60 percent of the garage door market.
The logo of the Chamberlain Group, which owns over 60 percent of the garage door market.Chamberlain Group

Presumably, these "authorized partners" are paying a fee to work with garage door openers that have already been sold to customers. Home Assistant's founder, Paulus Schoutsen, writes that while Chamberlain Group has never responded to Home Assistant's requests to work together, the open source project "cannot pay a partnership fee. Not only is this financially not viable, it also goes against our values." The integration is being removed in next month's release, though Schoutsen says, "We would happily welcome this integration back if Chamberlain Group would work with us for the good of their customers."

For users stuck with a Chamberlain garage door opener, Home Assistant recommends a little circuit board called a "ratgdo,” which is specifically meant to hack into Chamberlain/LiftMaster garage door openers. This connects the garage door button wires to your Wi-Fi—something Chamberlain presumably can’t break on purpose—and freely communicates with everything. It can even “report back the actual status of the door (closed, opening, open, closing)” somehow.

We'll leave you with some consumer advocacy from Schoutsen and the Home Assistant team: "Once a company decides to be hostile to its customers, the only way we can win is by not playing their game at all. Do not buy products or services from companies that treat their customers this way. Tell your friends not to deal with companies that treat their customers this way. Buy products that work locally and won’t stop functioning when management wants an additional revenue stream."

Original Article Published at Arstechnica

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