The McDonald’s Ice Cream Machine Hacking Saga Has a New Twist

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six months ago, A tiny startup called Kytch sued Taylor, the billion-dollar maker of McDonald’s infamous broken ice cream machines. For years, Kitch had sold a tiny device that hacked those ice cream machines, allowing McDonald’s restaurant owners to better diagnose their deformities and make them work more reliably—only according to Kitch’s legal complaint, Taylor had conspired to imitate its device and sabotage. Its business.

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Now Kitch’s lawsuit has exposed another side of that story: Taylor’s internal communications. Recently released court documents show that Taylor’s executives viewed Kitch as a commercial hazard and worked to copy its device’s features into a competing product—while in fact McDonald’s ice cream headache. failed to fix.

In the search phase of the lawsuit filed in May, Taylor has been forced to publicly file more than 800 pages of internal emails and submissions that mention Kitch’s approach. They show how, contrary to Taylor’s previous claims to Nerdshala, the company closely scrutinized and tried to imitate specific Kytch features. The email also reveals that at some point McDonald’s, not Taylor’s, led an effort to prevent restaurants from adopting Kitch’s gadgets.

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Kitch cofounder Melissa Nelson says, “It took a concerted effort to not only get our device and copy and follow what we were doing, but still, when it hit a critical mass… , so that really put us out of business.”

The battle still unfolding began with Keech’s attempt, beginning in 2019, to build and sell a device that could intercept data on Taylor C602 ice cream machines used by McDonald’s franchises. McDonald’s ice cream machines at about 10 percent of its restaurants are broken, based on data collected by the ice cream-machine tracking service macbroken, and McDonald’s franchisees tell Nerdshala that better diagnosis can lead to faster improvements. (Some areas often have even higher rates of out-of-order machines: McBroken found that McDonald’s ice cream machines in New York City were down between 20 and 40 percent over the past week, for example.) wall street journal informed of In September, the Federal Trade Commission also recently asked McDonald’s franchisees about frequent malfunctions of ice cream machines.

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McDonald’s responded to Kitch’s growing sales in the fall of 2020 by sending a memo to all franchisees in which they warned against using the device, saying it posed a physical security risk, voiding the warranty on teller machines. does, and has access to its “proprietary data”. The memo recommended upgrading to a newer, Internet-connected device called the Taylor Shake Sunday Connectivity. Even now, that next-generation machine has yet to enter the market beyond a limited trial. Kitch wrote a McDonald’s message as “outrageous”, claiming it destroyed the business and left the franchisees without a fix for their constantly bored ice cream machines.

Kytch sued Taylor in May as well as a Taylor distributor called TFG and a McDonald’s franchise called Tyler Gamble, which allegedly gave Taylor and TFG access to Kytch’s equipment. The lawsuit claimed that by doing so, Gamble had breached Kitch’s contract, and that Taylor had misused his trade secrets. Kytch’s co-founders told Nerdshala last spring that they believed Taylor had gone so far as to hire a private investigative firm to attempt to analyze and copy a Kytch device. Try to buy stealthily.

Now the search documents from Kytch’s lawsuit appear to confirm Taylor’s specific attempts to replicate Kytch’s features, in contrast to a statement sent to Nerdshala in March that claimed “Taylor used Kytch’s equipment.” Has not copied and will have no desire to do so.” They show that in a May 2019 email, Taylor Engineering vice president Jim Minard – after being promoted to chief operating officer – asked another Taylor employee to “please buy one”. [Kytch] Provide Kit and me a written evaluation on the hardware and software.” Minard added in the email, “looks like we’re missing something in our approach to our connected devices.”

Court documents show emails from the spring and summer of 2020 in which Taylor executives specifically reference Kytch features such as text-message alerts and the ability to remotely monitor ingredient mix levels in ice cream machines’ hoppers , then ask for the same features as in your Internet-connected ice cream machine. In an email, Minard asks Taylor’s designers to make its interface more “fun and relevant” and then includes a screenshot of Taylor’s interface followed by a screenshot of Kytch.

In another example, a slide from an internal teller presentation similarly compares the interface of the teller machine to the interface of Kytch and suggests such a change: “Take today’s design (data heavy),” it read. “And make it more ‘user friendly’.’ (Kytch screenshot below)”

Screenshot: DOJ . via taylor
Screenshot: DOJ . via taylor

Separately, an announcement filed in the lawsuit last month by Taylor’s executive Scott Nichols says that Taylor’s technology to connect its ice cream machines to the Internet and remotely monitor their contents at the same time as a Kytch device cannot be attached. In the legal filing, Kytch argues that means Taylor copied Kytch’s method so literally that he used the startup’s “man-in-the-middle” technology to intercept the machine’s data—its Despite having full access to the internals of the machine as a manufacturer. “Who puts the man in the middle over himself?” O’Sullivan asks. “It’s like spying on your own conversations. You’ll just add connectivity to the computer.”

When Nerdshala reached out to Taylor for comment, the company referred to its latest filing in the case from Friday, in which it lays out a comprehensive collection of legal arguments about why it didn’t steal Kytch’s trade secrets. Company lawyers point out that over the years Kytch publicly marketed many of the features, which they now claim were trade secrets that Taylor had “mishandled”.

In Taylor’s most recent filing, Minard details a very different timeline of the company’s efforts to build an Internet-connected ice cream machine. Taylor had been developing his product for years before he actually learned about Kytch, he writes, and had planned to integrate remote-monitoring features for his machines into a digital dashboard called ATLAS. He says that in 2019, Taylor chose to develop Taylor Shake Sunday connectivity in partnership with Powerhouse Dynamics, an associated subsidiary of Taylor parent company Middleby, instead of developing Taylor Shake Sunday connectivity. Minard says joint product development was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and after the new machines began rolling out to trial at 30 McDonald’s nationwide in October 2020—now again fueled by the fast food giant’s concerns. It’s getting delayed. The uncertainties arose from Kich’s lawsuit.

Kytch explains that Taylor’s partnership with Powerhouse Dynamics to build a new Internet-connected ice cream machine was, at least in part, a response to Kytch gaining traction with its customers. “This is the perfect opportunity to work with Taylor through Open Kitchen for a PhD,” Middleby executive James Poole wrote in a February 2020 email, using the acronym Powerhouse Dynamics.

McDonald’s has said its 2020 memo warning franchisees will not use Kitch, so the Taylor Shake Sunday Connectivity ice cream machine will be ready by the first quarter of this year. But McDonald’s franchise and pseudonymous commentator known as McD Truth tells Wired that he has not yet seen one in the wild, or even heard from Taylor or McDonald’s about official plans for their release. . “No such technology has been introduced or presented to us,” writes McD Truth.

In the court filing, Kytch’s founders also point to surprising signs that McDonald’s, not Taylor, may have motivated efforts to analyze the Kytch device and prepare a response. In a February 2020 email, Taylor’s president Jeremy Dobrovolsky wrote that “McDonald’s is all hot and heavy about this,” referring to the increasing use of Kitch at McDonald’s restaurants. A McDonald’s executive later convened a conference call in June of 2020 to talk about the features of the Keech device acquired by a Taylor distributor.

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