Sonos' "recycling mode" is turning perfectly good devices into trash

Sonos' attempt to control the aftermarket for its products produces frustration and waste.

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A viral thread by Twitter user Devin Wilson (@atomicthumbs) has called out Sonos for a recycling program that is allegedly forcing users to destroy perfectly reusable pieces of hardware. While Apple uses an activation lock to prevent thieves from profiting off of stolen devices, Sonos implements a setting called "recycling mode" that bricks consumer's devices after 21 days, essentially keeping them from being reused or resold on the secondary market.

"Trade Up" — Sonos' "Trade Up" program is meant to offer its customers an incentive to upgrade, which, naturally, benefits Sonos the most — by reeling customers with older devices back into a new product lifecycle. The incentive, a 30 percent "Trade Up" credit that is issued once Recycle Mode has been confirmed, is actually a decent upgrade offer for consumers and is likely to encourage "recycling." However, there are some significant downsides for both consumers and the environment.

Trade Down — Once you initiate Recycle Mode, the product will effectively brick itself at the end of an ominous 21-day countdown and permanently will no longer be able to connect to Sonos. As Sonos states, "The decision cannot be reversed" and "The 21-day countdown cannot be cancelled." Unfortunately, this means the device can no longer be used and will likely be junked. Sonos does resell some refurbished equipment on its website, but it looks like older units are being completely trashed (hence the original tweets).

The blacklist — Bricked devices aren't damaged at a hardware level, instead they're blacklisted on Sonos' servers which are needed for normal use in the Sonos product family. Meaning that devices which could otherwise be repurposed or resold by consumers or resellers are rendered worthless once a consumer follows the company's proscribed procedure for data security.

Second life — Speakers, unless physically damaged, often age better than many other gadgets simply because high quality audio remains high quality no matter what audio medium or streaming services are currently in vogue. Sonos products in particular offer speakers with incredible software support and compatibility and Sonos is known for the long life and support they provide with their products. That's what makes this particular "feature" so disappointing to long time fans who have taken to Sonos' customer support forum with their confusion and complaints.

Hopefully Sonos can create a more sustainable program for recycling and data security while still finding it worthwhile to incentivize their fans to stick with their products despite the rise of smart speaker competitors from Google, Apple, and Amazon. Nobody likes planned obsolescence.

Input has reached out to Sonos for comment. We will update the story as further information becomes available.