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Cyber Security Awareness

McDonald’s Defective Wearable Device

By October 10, 2016No Comments

1610-cyber-4McDonald’s recently suffered an embarrassing recall of a Happy Meal prize, a wearable fitness tracker that children could use to keep tabs on how many steps they’ve taken in a day. The “Step-It Tracker” is a pedometer using a simple LCD wristwatch design, and if you’re wondering how they could produce those cheaply enough to pack into a Happy Meal, the answer is: It looks like maybe they can’t.

Incidentally, the hazardous part of the watch was actually not the device, but the band. The Chinese-made watchband on the Step-It was found to irritate the skin of many users, leading McDonald’s to immediately enact a voluntary product recall.

There’s an important lesson here as it pertains to product recalls and tech in general: Sometimes, quality control and product testing won’t do the trick. We release beta versions of software, for instance, because we know that there’s no way to find every single bug without releasing the software to the public. When it comes to physical products, the launch and the fixes are both more expensive than with an app launch, but the principle is the same. There are some things that you just can’t know until you put your work out in the public’s hands.

In theory, McDonald’s could have tested the toy on hundreds of users before launch, and found none of the test subjects to suffer an allergic reaction. But when you release it on a wide enough scale, you may wind up discovering that the chemicals in the plastic watchband are an irritant for people with certain skin types or allergies. Every time we release a product, we’re rolling the dice and hoping that nothing like that happens, but you just can’t test every possibility in the quality control process.

What McDonald’s did right in this scenario was call for an immediate, voluntary recall. No matter how expensive it may be to toss thousands of toys in the trash and roll out a replacement, you have to be willing to jump on that grenade in any industry, because losing customer trust will cost you a lot more in the long run. McDonald’s has enough issues with public relations, and by taking immediate control of this story, they managed to come across as a company that is genuinely concerned with the wellbeing of their customers. Waiting for the FDA to order a recall, or simply slapping an allergy warning on the package could have done considerable damage to their public relations. Managing the potential PR disaster that is a product recall is a bit like catching a tiger by the tail, but it beats letting the tiger run rampant.