Sonos explains why it bricks old devices with ‘Recycle Mode’

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Late last week, Sonos was called out on Twitter by Devin Wilson for its practices around sustainability. The company drew particular attention for a “Recycle Mode” software feature that, once activated, begins a countdown that eventually renders older Sonos devices basically inoperable. Recycle Mode is part of the trade-up program that Sonos announced back in October, which lets customers get a discount on newer Sonos speakers like the One, Beam, or the Port that Nilay just reviewed.

It works like this: you check if one of your Sonos gadgets is eligible for the trade-up promo. Then you confirm in the Sonos app that you’d like to “trade” your current device toward a new one. Sonos instantly grants you a 30 percent discount, and then automatically starts a 21-day countdown before your old device goes into Recycle Mode (emphasis mine):

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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.

Huh?

Why does trading up require customers to permanently brick a functional product? Therein lies the controversy. The 30 percent discount is directly tied to the demise of a piece of hardware. For Sonos, this process seems less about “trading up” and more about ditching your old device and clearing room for a new one.

“We feel it’s the right decision to make recycling a condition of this offer,” Sonos says on the trade-up program’s FAQ page. “Taking your device to a local certified e-recycling facility is the most environmentally friendly means of disposal.” You can also get a label and ship your bricked device back to Sonos if there are no good recycling options nearby.

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But for some reason, selling or giving your aging Sonos gear to someone else isn’t an option under the program. This is a strange pact that doesn’t really exist with any other major electronics manufacturer. Yes, iPhones can be secured with activation lock (and Android has its own equivalent), but there’s always a way back from that state if you know the password.

I reached out to Sonos for comment and an explanation for why Recycle Mode is the equivalent of hitting a kill switch. It makes perfect sense to wipe user data from a device, but a factory reset would accomplish the same end result and preserve the possibility of reuse

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