JD Howard only He wanted to watch cloud security lessons. Howard, a construction industry worker, spent $4,000 on the NordicTrack X32i treadmill, seduced by its 32-inch HD screen and the opportunity to exercise body and mind. His plan was to spend his time away from work while watching tech videos from learning platforms like Pluralsight and Udemy. But the treadmill has other ideas.
Despite having a huge screen attached to it, NordicTrack devices push people to sign up for an exercise program run by iFit, the parent company, and don’t let you watch videos from other apps or external sources. iFit content includes exercise classes and running tracks, which automatically change the inclination of the treadmill depending on the terrain on the screen. But Howard and many other NordicTrack owners were not drawn to the devices by iFit videos. They were drawn to how easy it was to hack fitness machines.
To access his X32i, all Howard needed to tap the touchscreen 10 times, wait seven seconds, and tap another 10 times. Doing so unlocks the device — and allows Howard into the underlying Android operating system. This privilege mode, a sort of God mode, gave Howard complete control of the treadmill: he could sideload apps, use a built-in browser, and access anything and everything online. “It wasn’t complicated,” Howard says. After getting into privilege mode, he installed a third-party browser that allowed him to save passwords and play beloved videos for cloud security.
While NordicTrack doesn’t advertise privilege mode as a customer feature, its existence isn’t entirely a secret. Many unofficial guides tell people how to access their devices, and even iFit support pages explain how to access them. He says the whole reason Howard bought the X32i was because he could access God Mode. But the good times did not last long.
Since October, NordicTrack has been automatically updating all of its exercise equipment — all of its bikes, ellipticals, and rowing machines have large screens connected — to prevent privilege mode access. The move infuriated customers who are now resisting and are finding solutions that allow them to bypass the update and see what they want during a workout.
“I got exactly what I paid for,” Howard says, adding that he already owned a “crappy” screenless treadmill before he bought the internet-connected model and is also in the iFit program. “Now they’re trying to take over [features] Which is of extreme importance to me. I don’t agree with that.”
Another NordicTrack owner, who asked not to be named, says the treadmill is one of the most expensive purchases he’s ever made, and he was “furious” when the update prevented him and his partner from watching football highlights on Netflix, YouTube and the English Premier League while they worked . “I actually pushed an update to stop me from doing that, which is really weird,” he says. “It’s so frustrating because this beautiful screen is here.”
They are not alone in their complaints. In recent weeks, multiple threads and posts have surfaced lamenting NordicTrack and iFit’s decision to shut down their online franchise mode. Customers complain that they have spent thousands of dollars on their devices and should be able to do whatever they like with them, and many say that being able to watch their favorite shows means they are more likely to spend time working out. Some say they appreciated the ability to display iFit exercise videos on a larger screen; Others say they want to use their treadmill for Zoom calls. Many complain that, unlike previous software updates, a ban on privilege mode was imposed on them.
“Privilege mode is automatically installed on blocking because we believe it enhances security and safety while using fitness equipment that has multiple moving parts,” says a spokesperson for NordicTrack and iFit. The company spokesperson adds, the company has never marketed its products as being able to access other applications. “Because there is no way to know what kind of changes or errors a consumer can introduce into the software, there is no way to know what specific problems accessing privilege mode might cause,” the spokesperson says. “Therefore, to preserve the security, safety and functionality of the machine, we have restricted access to privilege mode.” The spokesperson also emphasizes that franchise mode “was never designed as a consumer-facing function”. Instead, it’s designed to allow the company’s customer service team to remotely access products to “troubleshoot, repair, update, reset, or repair our software.”