Sonos sets off a firestorm


January 24, 2020

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If you shake the internet’s beehive, sometimes you’ll get stung. The CEO of the speaker company Sonos learned that lesson the hard way yesterday (for more on why his users were so pissed, read on). Today:

  • Tinder’s new feature will call the cops
  • Microsoft’s battle pulls out all the stops
  • The Big Apple bans cashless in shops

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Sonos wanted to phase out some speaker software. Consumers ask: ‘Can they do that?’

The speaker company Sonos stepped in it this week when it announced that it would no longer support its early products with software updates, effectively turning 4 models sold between 2006 and 2015 into useless bricks.

The company offered customers a 30% discount for recycling their old speakers. But former fans argued Sonos “let a loyal customer base down.” On Thursday, the #SonosBoycott reached a boiling point, and the company’s CEO apologized.

Mea culpa notwithstanding, the Sonos Sh*tstorm brought up a question that remains relevant: Can companies really just end software support like that?

Short answer: Yes, they can do whatever the heck they want

It’s all part of the product road map, baybeee.

When companies like Sonos launch products, they usually pick an end of sale date (EOS) and an end of life date (EOL): 

  • EOS = when the company plans to stop selling the product; 
  • EOL = when the company plans to stop supporting it.

In other words, most tech manufacturers plan to stop supporting their products eventually: Apple, for example, has an ever-expanding list of its obsolete products (right now, it’s at 416).

And it’s not just speakers, either: EOL forecasting is common for everything from fast-food toys (a few months) to phones (~3 years) to cars (~10 years).

But just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s not a problem

EOL is nothing new: It’s been around since at least the 1920s, when several shady luminaries of the lightbulb industry had the bright idea of building obsolescence into their bulbs.  

Yet horse-drawn carriage customers didn’t freak out when manufacturers ended support for wooden wheels… because, well, they’d seen that shift coming for about decades (the time it took for Ford’s Model T to really replace the ol’ buggy).

Now, though, updates happen so quickly that many customers feel blindsided when they discover their software is out of date. 

And in addition to customer complaints, critics are also calling out the wastefulness of this cycle of rapid obsolescence.

So, what’s next? 

Europe could offer a clue: Extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws in the EU require carmakers to shoulder the environmental costs of making products with short life cycles.

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cell phone panic button image

Coming soon to Tinder: a panic button

Tinder is adding a slate of new features for that nightmare scenario when a bad date turns downright scary — including a panic button that summons the cops.

Why this is a big deal: Physical safety IRL matters. (Thank you, Captain Obvious.) But really: If it’s so obvious, why have some tech companies not taken it more seriously?

They’re starting to listen — finally

Tinder’s parent company, the Match Group, is teaming up with a company called Noonlight to offer the panic button — it’s coming for American users at the end of January.

Tinder’s not the only app to go on an anti-creep offensive:

  • Bumble launched an AI-powered “private detector” that acts like a private detective to automatically filter out pics of people’s…well, privates. (Sounds like a terrible job, but somebody has to do it.)
  • Grindr offers protections for users who travel to countries where it’s unsafe or illegal to be LGBTQ. 
  • And Tinder’s own “traveler alerts” hide LGBTQ users’ profiles when they visit countries that punish same-sex relationships.

Tinder’s newest move will probably catch on like fire…

…because the Match Group owns so many dating apps that it’s practically Cupid. Those other apps will get the panic button in the coming months.

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Make 2020 your year →
taxes image

In the tax clash of the century, Team Microsoft dealt Team IRS a black eye

Eight years ago, the IRS went to war with Microsoft. The software giant had moved at least $39B in profits to Puerto Rico — by offloading its intellectual property to a small factory it owned there.

The government saw it as a classic case of tax dodging. So the IRS kick-started the biggest audit by dollar amount in its history.

But, as ProPublica reports, Microsoft didn’t take things lying down…

The IRS picked the fight, but Microsoft hit back harder

The IRS wanted to use the Microsoft case to crack down on the common practice of tax dodging, so it pulled out all the stops, such as hiring outside firms.

But Microsoft responded by rallying other tax dodgers (“Guys, this could happen to you”) to its support — and soon some battle lines were drawn…

In one corner sat Team IRS:

  • A high-powered law firm, which was an unusual move for the IRS that signaled the agency’s seriousness

In the other corner sat Team Microsoft:

  • The US Chamber of Commerce, which theoretically didn’t want entrepreneurs to fear doing business
  • Several Big Tech lobbying groups, which feared the tax man would come after them next
  • Bipartisan members of Congress, who feared the IRS’s actions would stifle business

So, what happened in the tax matchup of the century?

Well, Microsoft pretty much just got away with it

Team Microsoft succeeded in changing the law and reducing the IRS’s powers to pursue other corporate tax dodgers.

Microsoft may still pay a penalty, since the case isn’t closed. 

If the fight sounds obscure, here’s why it’s still significant: Corporate tax avoidance has increased sharply in recent years. The percentage of profits that US corporations shifted offshore increased from 4.6% in 1996 to 19% in 2017.

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cash image

New York’s new law takes more air out of the cashless bubble

New Yorkers who dream of a cashless future just got a rude awakening.

The New York City Council voted yesterday to ban stores and restaurants from refusing cold, hard currency if customers want to use it.

The cashless movement had a moment, but cash really does rule everything

Bougie salad-spinners Sweetgreen announced their stores were going cashless in 2016, which made everyone more bitter than a fistful of arugula. The chain went slinking back to cash last spring.

Around the same time, a handful of big cities and states started declaring: Businesses, show us the money — in dollars and cents. 

Philadelphia was the first big city to pass a cashless ban, and San Francisco started requiring stores to take cash last summer.

Why cashless is controversial

Critics of the cashless lifestyle say it boxes out the poorest customers, who might not have bank accounts — let alone an expensive phone or watch for contactless payments.

Just how many people are we talking about? 

  • A 2017 survey by the FDIC estimated that nationally, more than 25% of American households were unbanked or underbanked.
  • That represents about 32m households in total. 

So for a lot of folks, the debate over cashless tech is about much more than just a few bucks.

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2020’s Word of the Year: Automation

Merriam-Webster might disagree, but they can go kick rocks. Yep, the key to better business this year is automation — especially when it comes to documents.

Manually-created docs are poorly managed, totally disconnected, and a pain to track.

Automatically-generated docs, on the other hand, are easily organized, completely integrated, and truly intelligent. Talk about a game-changer.

If you want to know how (and why) you should be automating your biz, check out Conga’s State of Digital Document Transformation Report. You’ll learn how to create a smarter experience and up your efficiency in no time.

Transformation time →
Shower Thoughts

It’s National Peanut Butter Day, which means two things: 1) I’ll be trying (for the 5th year running) to legally change my name to George Washington Carver Durben, and 2) PB ST’s only today. 

  1. Syrup is sticky to the touch but smooth in the mouth. Peanut butter is smooth to the touch but sticky in the mouth.
  2. Jellyfish are probably sad that there are no peanut butter fish.
  3. Getting peanut butter out of the bottom of the jar without getting any on the knife handle is like the adult version of Operation.
  4. Celery is the only food that has both ranch dressing and peanut butter as acceptable toppings.
  5. You can’t spill peanut butter.

via Reddit

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Startup Tip #333
“Be the leverage you wish to see in the world.”
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