Sonos' Wasteful 'Recycle Mode' Bricks Perfectly Usable Tech

from the who-thought-this-was-a-good-idea dept

Sonos is taking heat this week for a wasteful “feature” in its “smart” speakers that isn’t all that smart.

Last October, Sonos announced a new “Trade up” upgrade discount program that let you trade in older Sonos hardware for a 30% discount on new gear. But buried within the program was a bizarre caveat: to get the discount, users need to put their old hardware into “recycle mode,” which effectively bricks the product preventing it from being used again. According to Sonos, once you apply online you’ll get the discount immediately, but the speaker system you’re trading in goes into a 21 day countdown mode before it’s inevitably made useless:

“Recycle Mode is a state your device enters 21 days after recycling confirmation in the Sonos app. In Recycle Mode, all data is erased and the device is permanently deactivated so you can safely and securely dispose of it. Once a device is in Recycle Mode, it cannot be reactivated.”

One Twitter user, who works at a hardware recycling center, offered a good thread highlighting the stupidity of the program that’s well worth a read:

The fact that repurposing the hardware (or selling it to somebody else) never entered Sonos’ executives brains suggests the program — which is heavily hyped as being “environmentally friendly” — wasn’t particularly well thought out. Sonos, for its part, tries to tell The Verge that the company is worried about performance degradation with these older units:

“The reality is that these older products lack the processing power and memory to support modern Sonos experiences. Over time, technology will progress in ways these products are not able to accommodate. For some owners, these new features aren?t important. Accordingly, they may choose not to participate in the Trade Up program.

But for other owners, having modern Sonos devices capable of delivering these new experiences is important. So the Trade Up program is an affordable path for these owners to upgrade. For those that choose to trade-up to new products, we felt that the most responsible action was not to reintroduce them to new customers that may not have the context of them as 10+ year old products, and that also may not be able to deliver the Sonos experience they expected.”

But that still feels like Sonos attempting to control the uncontrollable. Users who buy discounted older tech should know that this value equation comes at the cost of older, less efficient gear. And the decision to cripple perfectly functional kit (which Sonos quietly admits is reversible on a “customer by customer” basis, in contrast to what the Sonos website claims) only contributes to a culture that celebrates waste but often undermines repair and re-use.

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: sonos

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Sonos' Wasteful 'Recycle Mode' Bricks Perfectly Usable Tech”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

The intended solution is obvious: you set your device to "recycle mode" and send it back to Sonos. Sonos eats the cost of shipping, and discounts your "trade up" product. Sonos then breaks the old products down and repurposes the components — this could be done as simply as by re-flashing the firmware with limited functions and re-selling the devices at a steep discount without all the Sonos integrated features (and possibly without the Sonos branding).

However, it seems like what’s actually happening is users are trading up and sending the old product to an e-waste recycling depot.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
urza9814 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, that’s clear enough, although I’m not sure if that intention ever translated to reality. But what’s equally clear is that "recycle mode" has literally zero impact on creating or maintaining such a program. Therefore we can only conclude that it was designed instead to reduce resale rates for perfectly functional devices.

Of course, just sending the device back would ALSO prevent it from being resold, and provides basically the same assurance on user data — if you trust Sonos to wipe the data from your device with recycle mode, then you ought to trust Sonos to wipe the data when they receive your device for recycling.

They don’t actually want you to send it back though — that would cost them money, unless they charge you for it, and if they charge for it then people won’t do it. They don’t want you to resell it either though, because if someone can use the old device, maybe they won’t buy a new one! So what they ultimately want is for you to throw the thing in the trash so you pay for the disposal and nobody else gets any use out of it. And they’re willing to give a small reward to anyone who can prove that they did it. Which is precisely the one thing which this recycle mode accomplishes.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

they won’t do this because they want people to have to buy the newest latest greatest.
by killing the secondary market, they are hoping to increase profits.
they get to claim the older ones are outdated, not worth enough, etc etc etc… but the deep dark reason is we can’t get enough profit from our used tech & we don’t want to employee people to service them.

from a company willing to disable features so they make sure you don’t opt out of them spying on you (generating another revenue stream) this is putting their bottom line ahead of customers & the environment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Precisely this. It wouldn’t be unusual at all to have this requirement for things like warranty replacements and repairs, where the expectation is that the devices are being returned to their manufacturer. I’ve had to physically destroy devices and send in pictures of the broken components to receive discounted replacements before.

urza9814 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’d say there’s a pretty significant difference though between doing it to prove that a broken device is indeed broken (ie, for a warranty repair) to save on shipping costs compared to breaking a perfectly functional device just to get it out of the market. And I’m betting when they ask you to do it for a warranty they aren’t bragging about how "sustainable" it is and saying that smashing the thing with a hammer is "recycling" it…

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Easy mistake to make

Sonos states on their website that "sustainability is non-negotiable," and that they design products to minimize impact, but I work at an e-waste recycler and have demonstrable proof this is false.

Seems to be a simple case of confusion, where the ‘sustainability’ and ‘minimal impact’ were referring to the company profits, not the environment, as ensuring that every purchase is a new purchase by incentivizing the bricking of old devices is a great way to keep profits coming and the company in business.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

It’s bad enough when the owner does this, not fully understanding how it works, but it gets worse. Now that this is public knowledge, how long until an angry boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/whatever puts their partner’s Sonos into recycle mode as part of saying goodbye?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
urza9814 (profile) says:

Re: "sustainability is non-negotiable"

Oh my god… It’s not just that they can’t compete with their old products; it’s also another forced upgrade scheme. You buy the new one and agree as part of the deal to brick your old one. Then the new one arrives and it sucks. Now what? Return it and stick with the old one? Too late, your old one is already signed up to self-destruct.

crade (profile) says:

"which Sonos quietly admits is reversible on a "customer by customer" basis"

So all it takes to flip the script on this is to set up a key sale service..
fixed version:

Customer1 decides to upgrade
Sonos gives discount for new product, disables existing product
Customer1 gives away old product or sells dirt cheap
Customer2 pays Sonos discount +/- some factor to reenable old product

Rekrul says:

It would be funny (and I realize it would never happen) if customers who used this upgrade option decided en-mass to smash their old devices and then ship them all to Sonos’ headquarters. Let them dispose of them while making sure that they can’t re-use any part of them. Maybe that would show them the scale of the waste they’re creating.

Agammamon says:

Users who buy discounted older tech should know that this value equation . . .

I’d say don’t engage with these arguments. They’re nothing but handwaving, throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks in an attempt to distract people from what they’re really doing.

If you’re refuting this argument, you’ve drawn attention away from what they’re really doing – trying to ensure there is no secondhand market for their products. Same shit Apple and others have been trying to do.

Call it like it is and watch them squirm and then laugh at them as they throw out different excuse after different excuse like they’re already doing. First it was ‘OMG, the ENVIRONMENT!’ then when that didn’t work they went immediately to ‘OMG, the USER EXPERIENCE!’. Next it will be ‘OMG, the CHILDREN!’

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...