Garage Door Opener Company Bricks Customer Hardware After Negative Review

from the you're-really-not-helping dept

So if there’s one thing we’ve probably repeated more than others around here, it’s the idea that in the IoT and copyright maximalist era, you no longer truly own the things you think you own. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about video game consoles, software, smart home hubs, ebooks, DVDs or routers — in the always-connected, copyright mad, instantly-upgradeable firmware age, companies are often quick to remove some or all functionality at a whim, leaving you with little more than a receipt and a dream of dumb technology days gone by.

But we’ve also noted repeatedly that part of this new paradigm involves companies using this capability to punish customers for poor reviews. This is, it should go without saying, an idiotic policy that almost always invokes the Streisand effect and makes the “problem” of a negative review significantly worse than if the company in question had done nothing at all.

Case in point: internet-connected garage opener Garadget, which is taking heat this week for bricking a customer’s ‘smart’ garage door opener after the customer in question left a negative review on Amazon. Earlier this month, a Garadget user posted to the company’s message board, complaining about problems with the iPhone app that controls the garage door opener:

Just installed and attempting to register a door when the app started doing this. Have uninstalled and reinstalled iphone app, powered phone off/on – wondering what kind of piece of shit I just purchased here…

Not really uncommon in the internet of broken things era. The user then followed that up with a one star review over at Amazon making the same complaints:

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.

At this point the company had several options. They could have ignored the complaints, or perhaps done something crazy like use the input to make a better product. Instead, Garadget boss Denis Grisak apparently thought it would be a good idea to inform the user on the company’s message boards that his product would no longer be allowed to access the Garadget servers:

Martin, 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.

Yes, nothing teaches somebody a lesson about impulse control quite like — exhibiting extremely poor impulse control. Only after the entire fracas went viral via the internet of shit Twitter account and over at Hacker News did Grisak begin to realize the error of his ways, posting a follow up forum statement indicating he was fully aware that the Streisand effect was in full bloom:

Ok, calm down everybody. Save your pitchforks and torches for your elected representatives. This only lack the death treats[sic] 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. Note taken.

A quote from a random guy.

PS: Anybody has Streisand’s phone number?

That’s really a halfhearted apology, especially considering the “toxic” user had what appeared to be entirely legitimate complaints about app functionality. Perhaps the idea that “there’s no such thing as bad press” is actually true, but it’s just as likely that Grisak’s overreaction ensured that countless potential customers — worried that the product they buy would be arbitrarily nuked — may look elsewhere for their next garage door opener.

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Companies: garadget

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Comments on “Garage Door Opener Company Bricks Customer Hardware After Negative Review”

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75 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Internet of Things

I don’t use this company’s gadget, BUT there are good reasons. My Dad lives at my house and will be 70 this weekend. We enter and exit my house through the garage door as it’s easier/quicker then the front door. It’s this way for lots of people.

Now I don’t live in a very good area. There’s Apartments all around me. Anyway my Dad has been known to leave the garage door OPEN. I’d come home from work, see that his truck is gone and my garage Door is wide open. So not only could I be robbed blind of thousands of dollars of stuff in my Garage, it’s a straight shot into my house where I could be robbed blind there also.

I’ve found the door left open a few times. I tried putting a label on his rear view mirror that says to check the garage door. That didn’t work. So I got a Internet Connected MyQ Device.

When the Door opens and closes it sends me a message on my iPhone and Apple Watch. It’s also sending him a message on his iPhone. I also have alerts set for 5 minutes and 10 minutes to let me know if the door has been left open.

He hasn’t left the door open since I’ve gotten it!!! Of course I can open and close the door on my iPhone and Apple Watch. Either near the door, or away. Really anywhere with a Internet connection. Say one of my brothers goes to my house while no one is home to grab something, he can call me, I can open the garage door no matter where I am.

The only weak thing is the Alarm of door being left open. Did he forget to close the door or is he working in the garage or doing whatever. So I got this cheap $40 Wifi Camera that points at the door. So no matter where I’m at, I can take a look. If the door is open, I can see that and see that his truck is there in the driveway or not. It senses motion and will save like 5-6 snapshots of what’s going on. I’m not paying for the cloud service. So I can see him or myself coming or going. It can see in the dark as clear as day also.

So it works for me and does make sense. The other thing is, you don’t have to have a garage door opener left in your car where someone can break into your car and then get into your house as you’re taking your smartphone with you. Say you go to the mall, someone breaks into your car, takes your garage door opener, gets the car registration from the glove box, now knows where you live, and can go right to your house and inside like it’s nothing. Things to think about.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Everyone owes me good reviews or else!!!
This entitled bullshit is getting worse, & when they have the power to brick the software or hardware as revenge… it gets even worse.

Oh he was toxic!!!!
And your response was a gentle cleansing rain???

On the upside its another IoT item that is going to fail, not for shitty security (but the odds are high it is) but because if you make him mad… he’ll nuke your stuff.

So does your face feel spited?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This entitled bullshit is getting worse, & when they have the power to brick the software or hardware as revenge… it gets even worse.

"Brick" is misleading. The manufacturer revoked access to the servers, with no indication they damaged the actual device.

The real problem is that the device is mostly useless without the service, and that people don’t have a right to use the service. The operator can change the user agreement at will, and if you don’t like it you can’t use it. They can discontinue the service whenever they like, or start charging for it, or whatever. Don’t buy products like this without some kind of guarantee against such behavior (even then, if they do it anyway you’ll be left with a useless device and maybe eventually a few bucks from a court case if you saved enough documentation).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

why would anyone in their right mind want a garage door opener connected to the cloud anyway??

how this device differs from a garage door opener:
turn on phone
enter pin
run app
push button to open door

It was so much more of a hassle to:
push garage door opener button once
sometimes twice

isnt technology great??

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And beware of the cop following you who will pull you over and give you a ticket for using your cellphone while driving.

The only advantage that might be there is that there are limited frequencies for garage door openers (old style) and this has been tested by driving around and pressing the button and getting other garage doors to open. There might (a very big might) be some additional (ahem) ‘security’ in such a device. Not something I would value very highly, if at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The only advantage that might be there is that there are limited frequencies for garage door openers (old style) and this has been tested by driving around and pressing the button and getting other garage doors to open.

That’s just cheapness. Nothing prevents secure crypto over an RF link. You could even make it phone-controllable by using Bluetooth. No internet connection required, and even if BT security isn’t great there’s no central server that can open all the doors.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The problem is not limited frequencies. The problem is old style garage door openers don’t send an ‘open’ signal, they send A signal — just a beep on a specific frequency, with a limited broadcast range.

The frequency the remote sends on is set with dip switches in the base unit and remote — if they match settings and the remote is in range, pushing the button actuates the door. If the door is closed, it opens. If it’s open, it closes.

The reason you can open someone else’s garage door is there are only so many possible settings on an analog device like that.

But if you have the remote send a code key instead of just a beep, the problem simply goes away.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I don’t know how this would work exactly, but I could imagine there’s some use for particular circumstances. e.g. you have a lot of parcel deliveries but nowhere safe to leave them, you could open the garage for the delivery guy from work without needing to give him any direct access. You could probably hook it up to some surveillance system to allow other use cases that I’m not thinking of instantly.

Anyway, that’s beside the point. The fact that you can’t personally see any use for a device/service does not excuse the manufacturers for abuse of their customers.

Unanimous Cow Herd says:

Re: Re: Re:

Since the contract was essentially severed by the manufacturer, would this guy still be bound by the ToS? Could he now legally reverse engineer the product or modify it in a way to get it working on his own? It’s a garage door opener, not an Automated Neuromedical Assistant, for Trump’s sake.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Since the contract was essentially severed by the manufacturer, would this guy still be bound by the ToS?

Only the contract for the service was severed, which the ToS likely claims can be done at any time for no reason. Legal rights for the device itself, which contains copyrighted code, don’t change (excepting any ToS terms that added restrictions beyond what First Sale would allow–those might be void now).

But the Amazon page says "Control and monitor your garage doors from anywhere anytime" etc. It doesn’t mention that you have to accept any additional contract or ToS, or that an internet connection is required. ("anytime", even when your network is down or you’ve pissed off the manufacturer? "anywhere", even when you’re out of cell range?)

There’d be a good case for false advertising if a customer couldn’t get a refund.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

A device rendered useless is “bricked” regardless of damage. When Google simply shut down the servers for Revolv home automation devices, those devices were indeed bricked.

When you buy a cloud server dependant device, you do so with the completely reasonable expectation that the cloud server won’t be shut down just months later.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

When you buy a cloud server dependant device, you do so with the completely reasonable expectation that the cloud server won’t be shut down just months later.

Has that expectation been legally tested? And what’s the cutoff? Is a year later okay? Two? If the service is still running, how much can the operator change the terms before a court would push back against them? To what extent does possession of a device give you entitlement to an online service?

Your expectation does indeed look like it would reasonable, if not for all the IoT stuff we’ve seen in recent years. Based on that, ending up with "broken things" in short order is a realistic if not reasonable expectation.

Alexander (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“you do so with the completely reasonable expectation that the cloud server won’t be shut down just months later.”
Umm, maybe you do.
I still recall the great DRM disaster of Half-Life 2 on Steam when the DRM servers failed under the load, not the distribution server, the DRM serer. No game could be played until the game had activated off the DRM server. It took days for some people to be able to play.
You should instead assume that any cloud based product you purchase WILL have the servers turned off, sometime, soon enough to be inconvenient.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s still bricked in the sense it’s now a doorstop.

They say the software is open source, so it might make an okay Linux development board or even be adjustable to use a different service. The manufacturer made essentially this claim on the forum.

While I mostly agree with you, it’s not an entirely pedantic distinction. What are the reasonable customer expectations, given the manufacturer’s advertisements? Did they buy a pure hardware device and just expect they’d always be able to use a related service? Given the claims on the Amazon page I’d say the product and service are sold as a package, and any attempt to impose ToS after sale (or revoke them) would be illegal, i.e., false advertising. Many of the advertised "product" features are in fact service features.

(For something like a Samsung Android phone, or Windows PC, with several semi-unrelated companies involved, things could get murky.)

These are early days and we’ll have to see what the FTC and courts decide. And consumers–will they keep buying IoT devices?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“people don’t have a right to use the service. The operator can change the user agreement at will”
So you can sell them something & then change it as they wish.
So you say something mean about Ford online so they can change the agreement and take back the tires?
They can remove the software that handles the drive by wire controls?
You don’t have a right to use that because someone at Ford got pissy?

Someone who has paid you to use the service has every right to use that service, and pretending that this owner isn’t a childish fuck who just tanked his company is a joke.

I expect to see more people returning the devices because the idea that this idiot can have a bad day and remove the server at a whim leaving you with nothing… well played.

I doubt the terms and conditions say, if you leave a toxic review we’ll cut you off, and even if it did the courts have ruled these sorts of clauses are unenforceable.

The item is a brick, it has been blocked from functioning as it was advertised as working. Not for lack of payment, not because the company went under, but because someone got butthurt.

Of course the company might come crashing down because there are going to be a flurry of returns & some retail channels will say no thanks to carrying the product because its to much of a hassle to deal with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

So you can sell them something & then change it as they wish.

It’s often not entirely clear what these companies are selling. Products, services, or a bundle?

In this case, look at the Amazon page. You need access to the service for any of the advertised features to work.

So you say something mean about Ford online so they can change the agreement and take back the tires?

No–it’s absolutely legally clear that they belong to you after a purchase.

They can remove the software that handles the drive by wire controls?

Almost certainly not, because that was sold with the car, but they could stop giving you software updates (except as required by the warranty or safety regulations). If they see your bad review and refuse to give you new features, it’s likely fine.

I doubt the terms and conditions say, if you leave a toxic review we’ll cut you off, and even if it did the courts have ruled these sorts of clauses are unenforceable.

What kinds, specifically? Has a court ever ruled someone was to be unbanned from an online service?

Most terms of service allow termination for no reason (only by the company writing the terms of course).

The item is a brick, it has been blocked from functioning as it was advertised as working.

Yes, the features advertised on the Amazon page are no longer available to this person. Would he still have standing to sue after being offered a refund?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

suprsingly, he still has the right to sue.

Refunds are for when a product dosen’t violate law but somehow you fail to enjoy it. No company needs to offer refunds, most that do only do it because it looks good.

A product that violates law, in this case, by being disabled(by circumstances entirely under the companies control and responsibility)…it can be sued for.

The refund is not going to prevent them from being sued. It will only dissuade a frustrated user. Even then, the company isn’t offering a refund. The site it was purchased from is. They’re not even putting out any effort, the jerks.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Review link

<blockquote> WHy not link to the actual review? </blockquote>
Perhaps because the actual review (per your link) has gone away. There is a review mentioning the history: company got sore, disabled device; conclusion is that you are the mercy of an unreliable start-up.

I do not have a powered garage door opener. My garage is downtown and has huge, old wooden doors sliding horizontally. Had I such a thing, however, I am sure that I would not deal with a company which has demonstrated that it and its devices operate on whim.

(Who had the brilliant idea for this “markdown” stuff, anyway?)

Anonymous Coward says:

I understand the instinct to lash out and attack those that are bad mouthing a product you worked hard on. I just find it funny how often these guys don’t realize the best response is to defuse the situation and try to help the person.

I have seen many angry reviews on amazon that are 5 star reviews and at the bottom have an edit saying how it was a 1 star review but changed to 5 after the company was awesome and fixed the issue.

I.T. Guy says:

Re: Re:

I had a national auto glass company replace a windshield. After they were done it leaked. After they did it three more times it leaked. They sent it to a Ford dealer for repair and gave us a rental car.

While I was not happy with having 4 windshields replaced, the end result was amazing customer service and the problem was resolved.

I recommend them highly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I always check the 1 and 2 star reviews first!!! It’s either the person is a idiot and giving a 1 star review because he assumed something that was never said. Or some other dumb thing that wasn’t about the product, and still give it 1 star. Then there’s the others with a real complaint.

So I start at the 1 star reviews and then work my way to the higher ones.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Brilliant Job

“Brick” has a particular meaning in computing, one which isn’t met here. The device still works perfectly, but the server that commands it will not allow the user to access it. When the user is blacklisted, it’s a ban, not a brick. Now if they had sent an update to the opener that made it cease to work despite commands set by the user, THEN it would be bricked.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Brilliant Job

Quote” made it cease to work despite commands set by the user, THEN it would be bricked’

Guess what, it’s BRICKED. It doesn’t matter if the device was physically altered, or blocked out on the server, the effect is the SAME. BRICKED!!! The device is worthless either way. It’s not like it works locally only. It doesn’t work at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why in God's Name...

Would you connect a device to the Internet that can crush you?

Normally, door openers protect against such things (infrared beams etc.), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were implemented totally in software and thus vulnerable to internet-based attacks. Are there actual safety regulations on this?

David says:

Re: Can we stop calling these devices "smart"?

The only thing they have consistently demonstrated is that they take power away from users and give them to either the vendors or anyone willing to hack them.

Sounds like what makes a politician "smart".

I don’t see anything wrong with calling out a device or politician that smarts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It Could Be Worse

Garadget: Hello NDPD?
NDPD: Yes, What seems to be the problem?
Garadget: We have beligerent customer that bad mouthed our product.
NDPD: Understood, what would you like and arrest under the CFAA for ignoring the TOS, or would you like to cut straight to our new Weaponized Drone Platform for a quick and easy solution. No messy courts and lawyers involved with the last option.
Garadget: Which option costs the least?
NDPD: We have been itching to trial this new drone, how about our boys have some fun and give you a discount this time around?
Garadget: Sounds great! We would like to go with the last option then please!
NDPD: Understood!

Anonymous Coward says:

I see these types of stories and the coverage they get as something of a good thing. If it teaches people to distrust technology and technology companies, isn’t that positive? As someone who works in the high tech industry, I and many of my coworkers know the dangers of relying on it. With each story of this sort, more people outside of the industry are learning first hand what insiders have known for years.

John85851 (profile) says:

On the other hand

While the business owner’s response wasn’t the best, let’s look at it from another angle:
A customer has a technical issue, but instead of asking for support from the company, which may nor may not have fixed the issue, he lashes out and posts a negative review on Amazon and calls the product a piece of ****. What if the company has heard about this issue before and it was a simple fix? Why didn’t the customer at least try to get help before posting a complaint? Or maybe this was an issue that the company could fix for future customers.

But instead, the customer decides to post a negative review and lash out instead of actually asking for a solution to his problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: On the other hand

Where’s the tipping point with this train of thought – is a passive aggressive review OK but a concise “This is a piece of shit” review isn’t? What if they don’t say “please” and “thank you” for the service they’ve paid for?

Some businesses are an employee of 1 and some aren’t. My money is on this guy pushing garage door sensors who compares himself to Elon Musk not amounting to very much.

Richard Stallman says:

The problem with this product is that it is designed to give the
company power over the users. The product works only in conjunction
with a specific server. Even worse, that server knows who the user
is, which means it snoops on people. These malicious functionalities
made it possible for the company to retaliate against an individual.

If the device had been designed ethically, it would connect directly
to the users’ devices, would not use any server (except optionally the
owner’s own), and would not send any personal information outside the
home. Especially not the person’s name.

In addition, its software would be freedom-respecting, so that users
could make modified versions that they like better, and users (even
non-technical users) could install the versions they prefer. (See
https://gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-even-more-important.html.)

Looking at this incident narrowly, you might think that justice has
triumphed. After all, public opinion has compelled the company to
restore service to that user. Bravo.

But the underlying wrong in the design is unchanged. The device is
still tethered to a specific server which collects data about the
user. See https://gnu.org/proprietary/proprietary-tethering.html.

It ought to be a crime to make such products. Let’s make it so!

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