PetNet 'Smart' Pet Feeders Go Offline For A Week, Customer Service Completely Breaks Down

from the smart-tech-is-often-dumb dept

The “smart” internet of things era was supposed to usher forth a new era of convenience. Instead, it somehow keeps managing to advertise how dumber technology is often the smarter option, and you’re not being particularly innovative if your product actually makes life harder. From “smart” door locks that are easily hackable to hackable “smart” TVs that are so smart they spy on you, there’s near daily examples showing how connecting old tech to the internet and calling it innovation–is itself not particularly innovative.

Smart pet feeders are apparently no exception.

PetNet, whose products promise to intelligently feed your pets the right amount of food at the right time, didn’t have much fun this month. Starting on February 14, the company announced that it was investigating a system outage affecting its second-generation SmartFeeders that made the feeders appear to be offline. In a series of Tweets, the company insisted that the feeders would still dispense food on a schedule, even though users couldn’t change settings or use the app. The company also couldn’t really specify why the system was having problems:

Many consumers found that the feeders weren’t working at all, and the problems continued for almost a week before the company was able to provide any clearer answers. Adding insult to injury, when customers reached out to the company to complain, they hit a complete and total brick wall in terms of functioning customer service. Emails and phone calls weren’t returned, and the company simply refused to answer annoyed customer inquiries on Twitter or Facebook. Even emails to company execs wound up being undeliverable:

“During that time, customers voiced frustration at the company?s lack of responses to their questions on Twitter and Facebook. Messages to the company?s support email and CEO Carlos Herrera were undeliverable.

TechCrunch tried contacting their emails and got delivery failure notices. A message sent to their Twitter account was also not replied to. We have contacted the company again for comment.

Petnet customers were not amused to discover that neither PetNet the company, nor its products, were particularly “smart”:

This is not the future the Jetsons promised. And once again, dumb tech is often the smarter option.

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Companies: petnet

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Comments on “PetNet 'Smart' Pet Feeders Go Offline For A Week, Customer Service Completely Breaks Down”

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Norahc (profile) says:

And once again, dumb tech is often the smarter option.

Great…and soon law enforcement will be bitching about people "going dark" with their IOT appliances, letting terrorists and child molesters feed their pets at will and placing all of us at risk.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

What’s even more worrying (or funny if you avoid ‘smart’ tech like the plague): If the automated feeder was made "smarter" with the ability to integrate with say Alexa, and automatically order more food. Someone could remotely spend tons of your money on pet food for you.

PS: I am more than happy to laugh at the (self inflicted) harm brought on by IoT to the people who should have known better (to do otherwise is a quick road to madness).

For those who are not as educated about technologies (and/or are fooled by marketing lies), well we can only weep that our education system (and legal system) has abandoned them.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"For those who are not as educated about technologies (and/or are fooled by marketing lies), well we can only weep that our education system (and legal system) has abandoned them."

The nation which embraced P.T. Barnum has recognized, since a long while back, that it’s your own responsibility not to be an idiot.

Sadly all too many americans somehow assume otherwise. Blindly parroting "My rights as a consumer" only has meaning if you’ve first managed to task your government with regulating the corporate sector.

If you’ve worked for decades to abolish the arbiter role of government then you’ll just have to own that your "rights" are now "privileges" conditional to the goodwill of whatever company holds the market monopoly of the item you wanted to purchase.

The GOP of 1950 knew this. The GOP of today are still willingly paying good money to view the egress.

DB (profile) says:

Re: Too busy to feed your pet?

There are lots of circumstances where you normally feed your pet personally, but something unexpected happens. I’ve been caught in a 5 hour road closure (3 hours of stopped traffic and turning around, 2 hours for the now-jammed alternate route). That’s exactly where an internet-controlled pet feeder would be useful. It doesn’t make you a bad pet owner.

Many people also go on business and personal travel where it’s impractical to take a pet but not long enough to justify a pet sitter or pet "hotel". There a simpler timer based feeder would work, but an internet connected one would provide peace of mind that it was working.

urza9814 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Lazy

Well yeah…and this is why I don’t have a pet.

Always had a couple dogs and a cat growing up…but we had two parents with fairly consistent hours, two kids, and multiple neighbors who were happy to help out when necessary. I’d like a pet myself one day, but until I have the necessary support to know I can ensure it is properly cared for, I’m not doing that.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I love when trolls make their opinions so obvious and give away their education or lack thereof by starting sentences without capitalization. Try raising an electronic pet and see how well you do before criticizing others. You too will eventually be eating food provided at set schedules by what is essentially a more advanced version of this service. If it broke down for an afternoon much less a week, you would re-evaluate your feelings on the matter.

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aerinai (profile) says:

How bad is this design?

So, why did these machines not just have a local script that told it when to feed (5AM every day, 7PM every day, 12PM on Thursdays) and just keep it that way until the ‘internet’ told it to do something else? Having a server connection just to say ‘feed’ seems like a really crappy architecture.

Not everything needs to live in the cloud, people… The fact that we have to have this discussion makes me really question the ‘developers’ at PetNet and their competency at architecting software.

r_rolo1 (profile) says:

Re: How bad is this design? ..... It's Bad, with a capital B ;)

That is exactly how I made my own timed things in my home network ( not animal feeders … I think I can spare 30s of my life to my pets, thank you ). Stuff follows previous orders until ordered to change. And, from a technical point of view, there is scarcely a reason to make this kinds of timed actions completely dependent of outside signals.

To make things worse, most likely their feeder’s brain is most likely a cheap custom-brew Android phone ( or maybe even a Arduino or Raspberry Pi equivalent ), that could cope with that easily … a company that has a week long server shutdown is not the kind of company that hires competent embebbed systems engineers and uses transient memory devices 😛

urza9814 (profile) says:

Re: How bad is this design?

They do claim that it would do exactly that. But customers report otherwise.

So either they tried to implement that and it just didn’t work right…or they did something stupid like breaking if it couldn’t verify their subscription was valid.

It’s not entirely unreasonable for something like this to require external servers rather than trying to sort out NAT traversal and dynamic IPs and all of that. And it’s not unreasonable for something that requires external servers to require a subscription to maintain them. And it’s not entirely unreasonable for something to stop working if your subscription expires. Reasonable decisions when taken in isolation, with a rather unreasonable result.

Ultimately I think what it comes down to is that people don’t care. People who actually give a damn about their pet wouldn’t use a device like this in the first place (it’s not gonna WALK the dog, is it? So you still gotta hire a sitter unless you’re just keeping it locked up all day.) Instead, you’ve got people buying the cheapest device possible, with the possibility of failure not even entering their mind, or figuring they’ll just go after the company if it does. And that means a device that actually does the job right will have a tough time entering the market since this kind of garbage will be the dominant (and likely cheaper, at least up-front) platform.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: I'm opting out

"But also, as a Boomer, I’m sure these things are too complicated for me to be able simplify my life."

It’s the other way around, I’m afraid. As the tech-ignorant boomer you now don’t have the technical moxie to avoid having every new purchase being "smart" enough to screw you over in a dozen different ways.

A few years down that road you may begin to wonder why your mailbox is suddenly flooded with advertising ranging from bulk deals on your favorite breakfast items to family packs of viagra to deal with those embarrassing shortfalls in the bedroom.

You’ll never suspect your new toaster, fridge, and bed table nightlight.

fairuse (profile) says:

This company had similar problem in 2016. see Newsweek

Company has food delivery problems that … google it … "dry animal food is not dry – oils, water .etc. Portion Control vs gravity problems.

Internet: recommend changes to animal’s diet. push-only updates.

No CS. if phones and email gone then the principals are gone, Twitter is answer any post with canned message.

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