McDonald’s sued by ice cream machine hackers for $900 million

A couple that invented a gadget that helped fix McDonald’s chronically broken-down ice cream machines is suing the fast food giant for $900 million.

Jeremy O’Sullivan and his partner, Melissa Nelson, are the creators of Kytch, a device about the size of a mobile phone that is planted inside the machines that make milkshakes, ice cream cones, and the McFlurry that are sold at McDonald’s locations.

The machines, which are manufactured by Taylor, are sold to McDonald’s franchises at a cost of $18,000 apiece. But customers have grown frustrated with the restaurant’s service after frequent technical malfunctions forced it out of service.

O’Sullivan and Nelson tried to fix the problem by attaching a Kytch to the machines. The device intercepts the machine’s internal communications and sends them via WiFi to a smartphone or web interface, where owners can troubleshoot the problem.

Kytch started to become increasingly popular among McDonald’s franchise owners — until the parent company intervened and warned that the hacking device violated the warranties of the ice cream machines while also posing a risk of “serious human injury.”

McDonald's is being sued by the maker of a hacking device that made it easier for restaurant owners to fix the fast food giant's chronically broken ice cream machines.
McDonald’s is being sued by the maker of a hacking device that made it easier for restaurant owners to fix the fast food giant’s chronically broken ice cream machines.
Kytch is a device that let McDonald's franchise owners troubleshoot problems caused by the breakdown of ice cream machines.
Kytch is a device that let McDonald’s franchise owners troubleshoot problems caused by the breakdown of ice cream machines.

In November 2020, McDonald’s told its franchisees not to use Kytch devices — halting the start-up’s fast-growing sales.

Kytch sued Taylor last year after Taylor allegedly obtained one of Kytch’s devices and reverse-engineered it to create its own internet-connected monitoring product.

“This is a case about corporate espionage and the extreme steps one manufacturer has taken to conceal and protect a multimillion-dollar repair racket,” attorneys for Kytch wrote in the complaint in California Superior Court in Alameda County.

But Taylor denied it had a copy of Kytch’s device or that it wanted to steal the startup’s technology.

The founders of Kytch now say they sued Taylor in order to pave the way for legal action against McDonald’s since the information that would come to light during litigation could potentially bolster their case.

Kytch is about the size of a mobile phone. It intercepts the internal communications of McDonald's soft serve machines and beams it back to a web or app interface, allowing the franchise owners to fix it in real time without having to call a repair person.
Kytch is about the size of a mobile phone. It intercepts the internal communications of McDonald’s soft serve machines and beams it back to a web or app interface, allowing the franchise owners to fix it in real time without having to call a repair person.

The Kytch developers said that documents handed over by Taylor revealed that it was McDonald’s that spearheaded the drive to prevent franchise owners from using the device.

“[McDonald’s has] tarnished our name,” Nelson told WIRED. “They scared off our customers and ruined our business. They were anti-competitive.”

He added: “They lied about a product that they said would be released. McDonald’s had every reason to know that Kytch was safe and didn’t have any issues.

“It was not dangerous, like they claimed. And so we’re suing them.”

Kytch alleges that McDonald's told its franchise operators not to use the device because it posed a risk to their safety.
Kytch alleges that McDonald’s told its franchise operators not to use the device because it posed a risk to their safety.

Last fall, the Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation into McDonald’s broken ice cream machines after it became the butt of jokes on late night television and on social media.

The dysfunctional machines make treats that account for about 60 percent of the chain’s dessert sales in the US.

McDonald’s said in a statement: “McDonald’s owes it to our customers, crew and franchisees to maintain our rigorous safety standards and work with fully vetted suppliers in that pursuit. Kytch’s claims are meritless, and we’ll respond to the complaint accordingly.”

The Post has reached out to Taylor seeking comment. 

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