May 30, 2024 3 min read

Spotify sued over decision to stop supporting Car Thing

Spotify has been sued by subscribers who are still using its Car Thing device to control use of the service in their vehicles. Sales of Car Thing stopped in 2022 and the device will no longer be supported from December, meaning remaining devices won’t work. That, says a lawsuit, is not acceptable

Spotify sued over decision to stop supporting Car Thing
Image credit: Spotify

It’s not only the songwriters of America that Spotify has been angering of late, the car drivers of America are pretty pissed off too. Well, the Car Thing owning car drivers of America are. And while the negative impact of Spotify’s recent decision-making on those drivers is pretty modest when compared to the songwriters, that hasn't stopped them suing. The allegation? Spotify misleadingly sold them all a “hundred dollar paperweight”. 

A lawsuit has been filed with the courts in New York following the news that, later this year, Spotify will stop supporting the Car Thing devices it previously sold to premium subscribers in the US. “As a direct and proximate consequence of Spotify’s conduct”, the lawsuit declares, anyone who owns a Car Thing unknowingly “purchased and owns a useless product” and have therefore suffered damage at the hands of the streaming firm. 

Car Thing, you may remember, was the outcome of Spotify’s short-lived dabblings in the hardware market, it being a thing that you could use to control Spotify in a car. “Car Thing makes it simpler to play exactly what you want”, an official blurb explained in April 2022, “thanks to the intuitive product interface and the ease of using ‘Hey Spotify’ to control what you want to listen to”. 

In July the same year, Spotify announced it was discontinuing the Car Thing and would sell off its remaining stock at a discounted price of $49.99. However, for those subscribers who already had one, it continued to support the device. That support is now ending. 

The lawsuit explains that Car Thing owners have been told that their devices will cease to be supported on 9 Dec. There will be “a forced firmware update which will result in the device becoming obsolete”, leaving affected customers with “a paperweight that cost between $50 and $100”. 

“Many owners of the Car Thing have complained in public forums and to Spotify about the discontinuance of the product”, the lawsuit continues, “and have requested that Spotify address and remedy the problem by providing a refund, equivalent replacement, or allow the Car Thing to be opensourced for use outside of Spotify’s control”. 

Alas, pretty much treating the Car Thing owners as if they were songwriters, Spotify has basically told them to go fuck themselves. “Spotify has stated that it will not refund, or replace, the Car Thing”, the lawsuit explains, “instead recommending that consumers ‘reset your Car Thing to factory settings and safely dispose of your device following local electronic waste guidelines’”. 

Elsewhere the lawsuit claims that “the Car Thing was only functional for a commercially unreasonable period of time”, and that affected customers “did not expect Spotify to discontinue its support for, and disable use of, the Car Thing simply because Spotify did not want to maintain the servers” utilised by the device.  

When asked about its decision to stop supporting Car Thing last week, Spotify told Ars Technica that “the goal of our Car Thing exploration in the US was to learn more about how people listen in the car”. 

That is unlikely to placate angry customers, as it basically means they paid to take part in a big old market research exercise. Though, to be fair, when Spotify began piloting the Car Thing in 2019, it did say that it was releasing the device as part of its research work. 

Presumably when responding to the lawsuit, Spotify will instead argue that Car Things sold for $89.99 (plus taxes and shipping), which isn't that expensive, and - worse case scenario - purchasers got more than two years use out of it. Or maybe it’ll just point to some tedious terms and conditions from when the devices were sold. 

It’s no secret Spotify has been busy cutting its costs over the last year in a bold bid to finally become a profitable company, which is presumably why it doesn’t want to have to continue supporting a device it abandoned in 2022. 

That cost cutting has resulted in significant downsizing in the Spotify workforce. And, most controversially, the streaming service has reclassified its main premium subscription packages in the US as audiobook and music bundles in order to reduce what it has to pay songwriters and music publishers. 

That has also resulted in legal action, the outcome of which will be much more significant than this Car Thing customer spat. Though it will still be interesting to see whether the Car Thing lawsuit does indeed result in any damages for those Americans who, as of December, will be driving around with a hundred dollar paperweight in their vehicles.

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