Music Business

Sonos’ Wasteful ‘Recycle Mode’ Bricks Completely Usable Tech [Op-Ed]

Sonos is facing some serious backlash after news that a new “trade up” offer the smart speaker company is making renders the older (but perfectly good) hardware useless by putting it into “recycling mode.”


Guest post by Karl Bode of Techdirt

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.

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