Sonos Users Forced To Choose Between Privacy And Working Hardware

from the obey-or-suffer dept

For years now, we’ve highlighted how these days — you don’t technically own the things you buy. And thanks to a rotating crop of firmware and privacy policy updates delivered over the internet, what you thought you owned can very easily change — or be taken away from you entirely. Time and tine again we’ve discussed how companies love to impose new restrictions on hardware via software update, then act shocked when consumers are annoyed because they’ve had either their rights — or device functionality — stripped away from them.

The latest example of this comes courtesy of Sonos, which informed users this week that “over time,” they won’t be able to use their pricey speaker systems if they refuse a new privacy policy update:

“A spokesperson for the home sound system maker told ZDNet that, “if a customer chooses not to acknowledge the privacy statement, the customer will not be able to update the software on their Sonos system, and over time the functionality of the product will decrease.”

“The customer can choose to acknowledge the policy, or can accept that over time their product may cease to function,” the spokesperson said.

In an e-mail to users, Sonos informed customers that they can “opt out of submitting certain types of personal information to the company; for instance, additional usage data such as performance and activity information.” But users won’t be able to opt out of data collection Sonos deems necessary to the system’s core functionality. The problem with that, as we’ve seen with companies like Microsoft, is that companies aren’t traditionally transparent about just what this “necessary” data entails, and tend to be overly generous when it comes to determining what personal data is “essential” in the first place.

In this case, the “functional data” Sonos won’t let you avoid collection of includes email addresses, IP addresses, Sonos account login information, device data, information about Wi-Fi antennas and other hardware information, room names, system error data, and more. Needless to say, privacy advocacy groups like the EFF and the Center for Democracy and Technology aren’t thrilled about users having to choose between their privacy rights or working hardware. Nor are they impressed by companies’ apparent inability to cordon off essential functionality from data collection and sales:

“Sonos is a perfect illustration of how effective privacy, when it comes to not just services but also physical objects, requires more than just ‘more transparency’ — it also requires choices and effective controls for users,” said Joe Jerome, a policy analyst at the Center for Democracy & Technology.

“We’re going to see this more and more where core services for things that people paid for are going to be conditioned on accepting ever-evolving privacy policies and terms of use,” he said. “That’s not going to be fair unless companies start providing users with meaningful choices and ensure that basic functionality continues if users say no to new terms.”

Occasionally, consumer revolt is enough to change the tide. Media software developer Plex was forced to backtrack this week from an announcement that it would be issuing a new privacy policy that prevented users of its software from opting out of data collection and sales, including users that had paid for lifetime access to the service. Plex’s retreat was forced after the company’s forums lit up with complaints about what one customer called “super-duper bullshit.” A subsequent Plex blog post stated that the company heard its users loud and clear, and would be reversing course on the decision.

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Comments on “Sonos Users Forced To Choose Between Privacy And Working Hardware”

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DogBreath says:

Re: Assumed Contracts

“It is not a contract if one side can arbitrarily change the terms of that contract without agreement and/or compensation to the other party.”

Sure it is, if you’re a Ferengi.

Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #17: “A contract is a contract is a contract… but only between Ferengi.”

In this day and age, everyone should expect the Ferengi Acquisition.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Assumed Contracts

It is not a contract if one side can arbitrarily change the terms of that contract without agreement and/or compensation to the other party.

Technically, even the original contract usually says the company has no obligation to you, that they can discontinue service at any time for any reason (or no reason). So they don’t have to "change" the contract; they can just cancel it, and maybe offer you a worse contract.

I don’t think courts are going to solve this problem by interpreting contract law. It’s more likely to be the FTC via false-advertising regulation, because the companies make all sorts of claims without saying you have to give up rights to use those features.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Assumed Contracts

If you can be bound to a contract you’ve never read by opening a package or installing something, that you cannot ever read until after opening/installing it, then it naturally follows that you can bind a company to a contract by submitting your own contract to them, complete with a shrinkwrap contract that says that by accepting your payment and giving you service, they agree in turn to your contract.

Supposedly, a valid contract requires a meeting of the minds, and if opening a box that has the contract printed on the inside of the flap qualifies, then quite a few other things do too.

For example, when I encounter a contract I dislike online, I draw a line through the contract terms I dislike on the screen with my finger before clicking accept. My mind has met the company’s mind just as much as if I just clicked accept.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Assumed Contracts

If you can be bound to a contract you’ve never read by opening a package or installing something, that you cannot ever read until after opening/installing it

I don’t know of anyone that’s ever claimed that opening a package binds you to anything, and I’ve never seen software that shows you the license only after installation. Normally you’d see the license before installing, with "accept" and "decline" buttons. Not that it’s going to be easy to get your money back after declining… and if the software licence is acceptable but depends on a service with an unacceptable license that’s going to be a problem.

a valid contract requires a meeting of the minds, and if opening a box that has the contract printed on the inside of the flap qualifies

If you ever see that, you should contact the company and insist to get a copy first. When physically inside a bank, I’ve had employees ask me to sign stuff saying "you’ve read and accepted (various contracts they hadn’t even printed yet)", and they acted like I was the first person to actually ask to see them; it took them 15 minutes to find the stuff, and then they waited while I read it.

David says:

Essential private information? For a sound system?

This is bullshit. The only relevant information would be whether I am suffering from particular hearing loss, and even then it’s not their business to reduce data rates or increase volume accordingly since I might be having guests.

Relevant information might be room geometry and listener position. But none of that needs to be online.

I’ve opted out of listening to any new music because of all the bullshit it comes with. Apparently the entertainment industry also wants me to opt out of listening to any old music unless I do so on my preexisting old equipment.

What else don’t they want to sell me?

afn29129 (profile) says:

Timely mention of Microsoft

How timely is it that Microsoft was mentioned as they have decided to remove functionally from on of their products.

Much like if Car Company-X decided to remove power windows from their XLT model, going forward it’s only avalible on their XLS model, and when you took your XLT into the dealership to have minor service done you power windows had been downgraded to manually operated.

OA (profile) says:

Re: Timely mention of Microsoft

I can’t believe that in 2017, after years of information explosion, that we would still have computers that can silently corrupt data. Even dedicated storage devices silently corrupt data! Now Microsoft thinks it is a good idea to move ReFS out of the mainstream! Its bad enough that ReFS is proprietary.

I’ve never been impressed by MS’s tech leadership, and they are worse than ever.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Timely mention of Microsoft

Timely? Nah. They’ve always done it.

20 years ago Windows NT4 Workstation was released with no limit on the number of connections. And then with an update Microsoft added a hard limit of 10 connections within a 10-minute period, crippling its web server.

As with this case they were pushing people to pay more for a higher end version of Windows that they otherwise didn’t need.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Timely mention of Microsoft

They say existing ReFS filesystems will continue to work. So you just need someone to write a tool that will create one; or if Windows will still be able to resize them, someone just needs to post an empty filesystem image online that you can dd to your disk (does Windows ship with a dd-like tool yet?).

MS does make it clear at installation time that you have no rights. That doesn’t make it fair but I’m always annoyed at how many people agree anyway; if they didn’t, companies would have to write fair contracts to stay in business.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sonos has been a PITA from the start

Yeah, a thread I can finally bitch about Sonos.

I own one Sonos product (which I love) but will never buy another. They are second rate technology to the Squeezebox line of network players that came out 14 years ago. I bought Sonos to replace my house-wide Squeezebox enabled system of sync’ed music because Logitech killed the Squeeze line.

Problem 1, Sonos doesn’t provide a local server for music management. Sure it works with a few media servers and can pull from NAS drives or your computer, but that is not the same thing. Squeeze uses Logitech Media Server (LMS) and allows hardware level control of all attached players.

Problem 2, Sonos only allows for a finite number of your own music tracks in your library (it has to do with memory limitations in the hardware so the number of tracks allowed is a variable based on the size of the file descriptors)

Problem 3, They seem more like a marketing company than a speaker company.

Problem 4, for the money they are an expensive speaker.

Problem 5, And this is just a shit move on their part. There is now line out for a sub on their Playbar (not sure about their other speakers). They force you to buy their overpriced wireless sub. A wireless sub is great if you need to have it remote from what you are attaching it too, but in my case I can put the sub directly under the Playbar, but I won’t ever buy another piece of their hardware so no sub for me.

Problem 6, it is not direct wifi, you have to purchase their 100$ (at least when I bought it) proprietary bridge device. Yet another dick move on their part. Come on guys your hardware is already overpriced AND you force customers to buy a bridge because you can’t figure out how to make your equipment work directly with wifi.

The good, They work and place nice with lots of streaming services. The Playbar sounds great, but at 700$ it damn well better.

So for my in house music needs I am still using the 14 year old deprecated Squeeze line of hardware and will continue to for as long as I can find used units on Ebay/Amazon. It is amazing how technically superior the Squeeze solution is to Sonos.


MrTroy (profile) says:

Re: Sonos has been a PITA from the start

Problem 6, it is not direct wifi, you have to purchase their 100$ (at least when I bought it) proprietary bridge device. Yet another dick move on their part. Come on guys your hardware is already overpriced AND you force customers to buy a bridge because you can’t figure out how to make your equipment work directly with wifi.

Sonos does work directly with wifi now. That’s how I have it set up at home.

Problem 4, for the money they are an expensive speaker.

I thought the opposite personally, but I’ll admit I don’t really know the market. From my point of view, a $2k Sonos set produces quality and connectivity for a media room that used to require in excess of $10k in hardware.

I have a love/hate relationship with my own Sonos device, for what that’s worth. The most annoying thing for me is frequency of updates that don’t have any functional impact on how I use the device, but require me to update every other controller (particularly my wife’s phone) after I connect my phone to the speaker after my phone has auto-updated its software. Particularly when I update the other controller, find that it has updated the speaker again and then I need to update the first controller again.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

The Value of Our Data

It appears to me that the value of our data is much too high. If even hardware companies selling expensive equipment need to collect and sell our data in order to post profit, or a growing profit, to satisfy their investors then something is skewed.

To begin with, I don’t think it should be legal to collect and sell such information. Collecting it maybe (for the purpose of improving their product), selling it, absolutely not. I know it has been going on for a long time (and in many industries), and that does not matter to me. It should still be stopped, dead in its tracks.

Secondly, it is worth too much. Those buying the information must have some method of recouping their expenses and I fear it is much greater than sending us targeted ads. What that is I do not know, but I have many unsupported guesses. Some of those things probably are illegal, but good luck getting anyone to do something about it.

Whoever says:

How quickly will it stop working?

The EU requires 2 year warranties on this type of goods. I wonder how many people will demand a refund when their device stops working?

Actually, this could lead to an interesting situation, currently untested in the courts, I think.

Imagine that a customer sends back a “defective” device. Sonus sends a replacement device which requires that the customer accepts the new terms of service. Customer refuses to accept new terms, so still has defective device.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

But our bright MBA figured out we could collect all of this data and sell it, creating a new revenue stream for these old things we sold.
Why wouldn’t we want to make more money, even if it means destroying our brand.
A bunch of people won’t fight it & we’ll still make money so who cares.
By the time they are ready to buy something to replace the old one, they’ll have forgotten we screwed them… and as the terms are hidden deep inside the box they gotta buy it to know how much we’re screwing them so we win again.

MrTroy (profile) says:


Serious question for everyone piling on to Sonos.

What alternatives are there for systems that let me play music from my personal collection or from a variety of online services including radio, lets me move speakers around freely and put them wherever there’s power without needing to run wires, has decent (not audiophile) quality for the price point and has no ongoing subscription costs?

tom (profile) says:

Re: Alternatives?

Bluetooth enabled playback device and bluetooth speakers should do the trick.

But really, powered speakers still require mains rated cords and are tied to being close to mains power. Normal speakers only need low voltage speaker wire which is easily ran to where it is needed. And they don’t require software updates, recharging, extension cords or replacing dead batteries. Still using several bookshelf speakers purchased 30 years ago as my prime PC sound system speakers. Still better then most ‘high grade’ computer speakers.

MrTroy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Alternatives?

Bluetooth doesn’t work, because then I have to duplicate my collection on my phone and my wife’s… And it doesn’t fit on either (FLAC). Plus they are more expensive for worse quality compared to the Sonos range, from my experience. If I want to listen to music on my phone, I have acceptabke headphones that don’t require charging.

Normal speakers are great, but I still need an audio source, and a way to distribute the audio where I want it. Sonos speakers require hard-wiring into a power socket, but that’s exactly where I want the music, so I don’t need to run cables around my house or backyard.

I realise that I didn’t mention my wife needing to use the system in my request post (I did in my earlier post up-thread). You guys have offered alternatives for which I offered thanks, but I still haven’t heard anything that’s a close substitute for even the limited subset of features that we use.

Of course you could roll your own in a number of ways, but that’s not feasible for most households.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Alternatives?

There are options. A easy one would be Apple’s HomePod. Sound was reported as really good. They can do the same things the SONOS does and more.
The only questions is support for 3rd party music services. Not just Apple Music. So there’s a number of unanswered questions still. It doesn’t come out until December. The price tag for this is not bad when you’re comparing it to Sonos. Apple doesn’t sell your Data. The Speaker adjusts for rooms acoustics locally. There is built in Siri, so it would have to go to Apple’s servers for that. They may use that Data for themselves, but wouldn’t sell it. Apple I trust much more then most.
That’s one way.

Rekrul says:

After reading this article I’m left with one nagging question;

Why the hell is anyone stupid enough to still be buying devices that can be remotely neutered by the parent company? Why does everything now have to be hooked up to the net? What’s next, connected toilets? Will the faucets in your home need to be online? Will people need an app to control their toaster?

Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t consider music to be a crucial, life-sustaining element on par with food or water, like many people do, but I really don’t understand why people need specialized tech to pump their playlist through every room of their home.

Anonymous Coward says:

Feels this might be something to do with voice? Since voice commands have to be sent to a central server for processing, that might have provoked the change, and I could read “functionality will decrease” being executive/lawyer-speak for “not get the new features” if marketing told them to keep quiet about new features for now.

Still, if that’s the case, it’s not the best way to go about this.

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