Sonos says users must accept new privacy policy or devices may "cease to function"

The sound system maker will not allow existing customers to opt-out of the new privacy policy.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

(Image: CNET/CBS Interactive)

Sonos has confirmed that existing customers will not be given an option to opt out of its new privacy policy, leaving customers with sound systems that may eventually "cease to function".

It comes as the home sound system maker prepares to begin collecting audio settings, error data, and other account data before the launch of its smart speaker integration in the near future.

A spokesperson for the home sound system maker told ZDNet that, "if a customer chooses not to acknowledge the privacy statement, the customer will not be able to update the software on their Sonos system, and over time the functionality of the product will decrease."

"The customer can choose to acknowledge the policy, or can accept that over time their product may cease to function," the spokesperson said.

News of the changes was announced to customers in an email last week.

But the company's move to disallow any existing customer a way to opt-out of the policy has riled many who commented in various tweets and Reddit threads. It comes as the company becomes the latest tech firm to offer a new privacy policy for its users, which governs how the company collects its customers' data and shares it with partners.

Sonos said that users "can opt out of submitting certain types of personal information to the company; for instance, additional usage data such as performance and activity information."

But users will not be able to switch off data that the company considers necessary for each Sonos device to perform its basic functions.

That "functional data" includes email addresses, IP addresses, and account login information -- as well as device data, information about Wi-Fi antennas and other hardware information, room names, and error data.

The move has drawn ire from several privacy and policy experts.

"Sonos is a perfect illustration of how effective privacy, when it comes to not just services but also physical objects, requires more than just 'more transparency' -- it also requires choices and effective controls for users," said Joe Jerome, a policy analyst at the Center for Democracy & Technology.

"We're going to see this more and more where core services for things that people paid for are going to be conditioned on accepting ever-evolving privacy policies and terms of use," he said. "That's not going to be fair unless companies start providing users with meaningful choices and ensure that basic functionality continues if users say no to new terms."

Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said it was a "growing" problem among the consumer electronics space.

"[Device] makers obviously can do a lot about the problem," said Tien. "They can design their systems to separate more data collection side from product feature. Obviously some features don't work without data but even so, you can often choose to store data locally and not transmit it to some mothership somewhere."

"Society as a whole continues down a path where devices in your home, traditionally our most private space, are largely controlled by other people who want to know what you're doing," he said.

Sonos isn't the only company under scrutiny for changes to its privacy policy.

Plex, a software multi-platform media server, also told customers last week that it would begin collecting more data on its users, limited to non-identifiable device data. Like Sonos, the company did not allow users to opt-out of the changes.

After users complained on several Reddit threads and across social media that their only option was to no longer use the services, Plex reversed course.

It now proposes to "make it even more clear that we don't collect data that tells us what is in your library," says an updated page on its website.

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