There's a new, dystopian risk to using internet-connected gadgets: If you complain, the company that made it might remotely kill your product.
This is what happened to one customer who bought Garadget—an internet-connected garage door opener. It lets you remotely lock or unlock your garage with an app, or see if it's open. But after they complained about it online and left a negative review, he got an unpleasant surprise—Garadget had bricked their device. (We first heard the news via Ars Technica.)
The customer had left a comment on the support forum complaining about technical issues, "wondering what kind of piece of shit I just purchased here." They then followed it up with a negative Amazon review, saying: "Junk - DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY - iPhone app is a piece of junk, crashes constantly, start-up company that obviously has not performed proper quality assurance tests on their products."
Well, Garadget did not like that one bit.
The company disabled the disgruntled customer's device by denying it access to its servers—and announced it had done as such on its forum (emphasis ours):
The abusive language here and in your negative Amazon review, submitted minutes after experiencing a technical difficulty, only demonstrates your poor impulse control. I'm happy to provide the technical support to the customers on my Saturday night but I'm not going to tolerate any tantrums.
At this time your only option is return Garadget to Amazon for refund. Your unit ID 2f0036... will be denied server connection.
Garadget defended itself in a subsequent post, saying it took action to "distance from the toxic individual":
Ok, calm down everybody. Save your pitchforks and torches for your elected representatives. This only lacks the death threats now.
The firing of the customer was never about the Amazon review, just wanted to distance from the toxic individual ASAP. Admittedly not a slickest PR move on my part. Access restored, note taken.
PS: Anybody has Streisand's phone number?
But the company has come under heavy criticism on the support forum—and elsewhere online—as a result of the action. "I don't own your product, so I can say this without fear of retribution: What a terrible way to do business. I'll leave an Amazon review, too, just because I can," one poster wrote. "P.S. Please don't change my locks while I'm at work."
"Ironically it seems you have much poorer 'impulse control' and are much more prone to 'tantrums'," said another. "Maybe you should stop working in customer support. Doesn't seem like you're much good at it."
Garadget did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment, though Grisek told Ars Technica that "there isn't much more to add."
The whole incident raises a broader issue with the "internet of things": If your devices rely on someone else's servers to run, and they can be remotely disabled at any time, do you really own them?
In 2016, smart-home company Nest decided to discontinue a line of products built by Revolv, a company it acquired—bricking customers' devices. The decision sparked outrage from customers, and raised questions about consumer rights in the internet age.
"When software and hardware are intertwined, does a warranty mean you stop supporting the hardware or does it mean that the manufacturer can intentionally disable it without consequence?" one disgruntled Revolv customer wrote. "[Then-Nest CEO] Tony Fadell seems to believe the latter. Tony believes he has the right to reach into your home and pull the plug on your Nest products."
Nest subsequently offered compensation to affected customers to make amends. But what's happening with Garadget shows the issues around internet-connected devices is only just getting started.