Chuck Carroll

How the Laundry Room Became a Cyberpunk Dystopia

Published: 2022-05-14

TL;DR: This is a rant about how requiring a smartphone app, and/or an internet connection to wash clothes is fucking stupid and adds unnecessary complexity to daily life.

Anyone who's lived in an apartment has likely had to use community laundry rooms with washers and dryers. Up until a few months ago, the machines at my apartment complex in Austin were operated by swiping a debit or credit card (I'd prefer coin operated, but whatever). However, it is now required to install an application on your smartphone in order to do a load of laundry. This might sound convenient to some, but it's important to take a step back and look into the deeper implications of this kind of business practice. It's taken me a while to finish this post because I get kind of worked up just thinking about how stupid this is.

The company that operates the machines is CSC GO. They implemented a new system that requires you to install an app on your phone from the Google Play Store or Apple Apps Store, provide your payment information, and then scan a QR code in order to do a load of laundry. This is problematic and annoying on many levels.

Let's first look at the app itself. The application permissions required to operate their app is rather invasive. Location access, WiFi connections, connect and disconnect from wifi, full network access, camera, read the contents of USB storage, modify and delete the contents of your USB storage - just to name a few. Granted, network and camera access make sense as it's needed to scan a QR code to be directed to a URL.

Secondly, their privacy policy leaves a lot to be desired. Here's an excerpt from their privacy policy:

We may share Personal Information with vendors and service providers, including providers of hosting services, cloud services, and other information technology services providers, email communication software and email newsletter services, advertising and marketing services, payment processors, customer relationship management and customer support services, and analytics services. Pursuant to our instructions, these parties will access, process, or store Personal Information in the course of performing their duties to us. We take commercially reasonable steps to ensure our service providers adhere to the security standards we apply to your Personal Information.

To do laundry, you must agree to this awful and contradictory privacy policy that states 'we don't sell your personal information' then in the next sections states 'we may share your personal information with with - advertising and marketing services.'

To be clear, there is an option to use their mobile site which is slightly less invasive, but it is very unpleasant to use and I can't help but assume the mobile app is equal to or worse in terms of user experience. I was able to use a card a few times, but I was then over-charged ($2.50 instead of $1.75) or the machine didn't start or didn't even recognize that that a payment has been processed.

I made attempts to contact their support several times regarding how I was incorrectly charged and the machine essentially 'ate my money', but all of my emails never received a response back. There's a form to fill out on their website, but it's impossible to submit because the machine identifiers (which have been removed from all the machines in place of URL QR codes) is a requirement.

To add insult to injury, they also installed a surveillance camera. It's sole purpose is to 'ensure the machines are operating'. How it does this with a camera, I have no idea as it is not possible to get view of all the machines. I also don't know how a security camera would diagnose or identify if a machine isn't work.

My problems with this isn't necessarily only about how people gladly give away very personal information under the guise of convenience in order to do simple everyday tasks. You are required to pay for a cell phone plan because you need internet access to do you laundry. And I understand that many things in modern society require a computer with internet access, but some things in life absolutely do not need such things. Appliances should not require an internet connection in order to use them. Say to yourself 'I am required to have internet access to wash my clothes' and you may begin to see how silly this is that it's adding unnecessary complexity to something that should be a simple task.

To recap, the laundry app requires far too many permissions, the company has a terrible privacy police, the mobile site is terrible, you run the risk of having your money stolen from you, the support appears to be non-existent, there's a security camera starring at you while you do laundry, and there's the requirement of an internet connection.

I'm hoping this is less of a 'Chuck hates having to use a smartphone to do laundry', but rather how a company can take an ordinarily simple task/transaction and slowly force you into a position to gather data they will share with third parties to make an extra buck and make things unnecessary complicated. And I also understand that maybe there's some cost saving measure switching from coin-operated to credit card to app, though just writing that out sounds costly just considering the cost of card processing fees and developing an entire app. In this case technology is creating problems instead of solving them. For the time being, I've resorted to washing my clothes with a scrubba wash bag and occasionally a large plastic bin for heftier loads, along with a bamboo dry rack.

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