Driver Stranded After 'Smart' Rental Car Can't Phone Home

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

If there's one recurring theme for the internet-connected era, it's that smart technology increasingly isn't all that smart. Your smart locks bleed personal data and can be easily hacked. Your "smart" refrigerator can leak your Gmail credentials. Your "smart" oven can turn on in the middle of the night, potentially putting you at risk. Even your "smart" Barbie doll would be better left in its dumb incarnation given it can be used to spy on toddlers.

Some "smart" rental cars appear keen on continuing the theme.

Last weekend, Guardian journalist Kari Paul took a trip to rural California for a story she was working on. To get there, she rented a car through a local car-sharing service called GIG Car Share, which rents a fleet of electric Chevrolet Bolt EVs and hybrid Toyota Priuses to Bay Area residents. But Paul, who was headed to a rural area roughly three hours north of Oakland didn't have much fun on her trip. In part because the car she rented effectively became useless after the car's computer system lost cell signal. Without a tendril to the mothership, the rental car simply refused to start, leaving Paul stranded:

Ultimately the joy of modern technology didn't prove much of a joy, and the company added insult to injury via terrible customer service, which involved some 20 (!) calls to support staff, and the recommendation that the customer sleep in the car overnight:

As Ars Technica notes, the company does offer users an RFID card to use to lock or unlock the car in areas of poor cell service, though that clashes with the company's marketing for instant convenience and "on the spot" rentals. The company's messy design will now likely result in a massive PR nightmare, and a reminder that in the modern era, dumb technology routinely winds up being the smarter option.

Filed Under: apps, car rentals, internet connected cards, internet of things, kari paul, stranded
Companies: gigcarshare


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  1. icon
    aerinai (profile), 18 Feb 2020 @ 11:33am

    Customer Service?

    Does GIG have customer service staff, or are they just repurposing their internal IT support? I balk at getting told sleeping in my car from a customer service rep. I've learned to expect it when troubleshooting anything with IT.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 18 Feb 2020 @ 11:37am

    Stories like this

    Stories of all these "smart" devices failing on their users prove that "smart" devices are a really, really dumb idea.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 18 Feb 2020 @ 11:59am

    What did they expect?

    Cars go many places. Cell phone signals, not so much. How a car rental company achieved the notion that they could rent cars to people who go many places, some of which might not have a cell signal, and require that cell signal to continue operating is beyond me. Seems like the business analysts who prepared the case studies for the project manager failed big time by not analyzing how rental cars are actually used.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2020 @ 12:28pm

    Re: What did they expect?

    They probably expected the customer would only use it to drive around town, and that in case of a breakdown, there would be people, cabs, and buildings within easy walking distance.

    The ability to get reception on an actual cell phone, with its necessarily limited antenna and battery size, combined with the inability to get reception on the car's cellular modem, which could have access to much more capable antenna and power, is an impressive failure though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2020 @ 12:39pm

    Re: Re: What did they expect?

    car's cellular modem, which could have access to much more capable antenna and power

    To save money, the car may only support old cellular standards or may lack roaming capability.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Bobvious, 18 Feb 2020 @ 12:46pm

    She should have downloaded GIG Car Share's ET app ☎⛺☝

    ... oh wait!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Max, 18 Feb 2020 @ 12:55pm

    Re: What did they expect?

    I'm sure the problem was duly identified back at the design stage and proactively "solved" by including the warning to not take the car out of cell service areas on page 7243265 of the rental agreement, in 3-point font.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    btr1701 (profile), 18 Feb 2020 @ 12:57pm

    ...a reminder that in the modern era, dumb technology routinely winds
    up being the smarter option.

    Amen. Up until last month, I was commuting in a 2019 Impala company car with all the new bells and whistles, everything connected to everything, whoop-de-doo, and I don't miss it at all. I had so many headaches with all that shit when it went haywire that I never have with my 1998 4Runner which still runs like a dream and isn't connected to anything.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2020 @ 12:59pm

    Re: Re: Re: What did they expect?

    So what your saying is that they will soon have 5G power super smart cars. that can only be used in visual range of a major sports stadium. and only if a game isn't currently happening.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Beefcake (profile), 18 Feb 2020 @ 1:13pm

    Meanwhile, somewhere a buggy-whip factory is planning to reopen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 18 Feb 2020 @ 1:19pm

    Re:

    Heir of the Buggy-Whip makers of the 19th century: "Finally! My comeuppance has arrived! Time to strike!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 18 Feb 2020 @ 1:23pm

    Re:

    For once, I totally agree with you! I want my next TV to be dumber than Donald Trump and Patrick Star combined!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Rocky, 18 Feb 2020 @ 1:29pm

    Re: Re:

    The sad truth is that you have to pay extra for a dumb TV.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2020 @ 1:30pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    but it is worth the extra functionality

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2020 @ 1:32pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: What did they expect?

    "We don't understand. It worked fine outside our downtown San Francisco office!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2020 @ 1:33pm

    Re: Re: What did they expect?

    See Karl's last paragraph:

    the company does offer users an RFID card to use to lock or unlock the car in areas of poor cell service, though that clashes with the company's marketing for instant convenience and "on the spot" rentals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 18 Feb 2020 @ 1:38pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    not to mention the privacy!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2020 @ 2:16pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    You really don't. Just don't connect it to your network.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 18 Feb 2020 @ 2:27pm

    Spying on toddlers

    I'm sorry to go off-topic, but the over-hyped panic compels me.

    What conceivable information could a toddler have that would make them a valuable target of espionage?

    Toddlers are lucky if they can talk at all. They seem unlikely to say anything of interest. You may as well "spy" on a pile of dirt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2020 @ 2:53pm

    WHAT ABOUT HURRICANES?!!!

    This is actually a matter which Congress must take up. Hopefully Trump will push for legislation to force car companies to provide a way of (with an audit trail) hotwiring electric vehicles. If you were stuck somewhere, with a hurricane coming, this would be no joke. What if it happened to 20% of cars on the road, that, because of overloaded cell towers along a roadway, the cars ceased to function? Automobiles are vital infrastructure, and most be regulated as such.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    bobob, 18 Feb 2020 @ 3:00pm

    Why are they called "smart devices" when all of them do stupid things?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Miles (profile), 18 Feb 2020 @ 3:07pm

    I heard that the instant you lose the cell phone signal it locks all the doors and then shuts down the car. That'll teach you to get back to nature.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2020 @ 3:17pm

    Re:

    Because they are the smart way for companies to force more sales by bricking the old smart devices that they control.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2020 @ 3:33pm

    Re:

    How did they beat the Borg?
    ... sleep mode ...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    nerdrage (profile), 18 Feb 2020 @ 4:00pm

    this seems familiar...

    I live in SF, some of the stupid tech startup ideas here are just classic. One day I walked through my neighborhood and noticed some jackass had put up signs on garages advertising their service for people to "rent" the street space in front of the garage, I guess without bothering to ask the owner of the building or the person who parks in that garage. I wonder how many suckers paid up before that app was shut down and the perps fled the country.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2020 @ 5:09pm

    Re: Re: Re: What did they expect?

    I don't care if it's locked or not if it won't go.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2020 @ 5:11pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Or just don't buy a maclargehuge tv. (At lest for now.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2020 @ 5:11pm

    Re: Spying on toddlers

    Because pedophiles, is why.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2020 @ 5:13pm

    Re:

    Because marketing dickwads thought it sounded clever.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2020 @ 6:06pm

    Re: Spying on toddlers

    What conceivable information could a toddler have that would make them a valuable target of espionage?

    Wrong question, ask what information do their parents discuss while playing with a toddler.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. icon
    PaulT (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 12:22am

    Re: Customer Service?

    The problem with a lot of startup companies is that they start with core functionality (the tech), then they grow so quickly that they have to put everything into what brings the money in directly (sales, new products) and not into things that show up on a balance sheet as cost centres (support and customer service roles).

    That particular suggestion is obviously idiotic with no excuse, but the fact is that as a lot of these companies grow too quickly to gather a specifically loyal customer base to offer quality support to early on, that aspect is often left forgotten.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. icon
    PaulT (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 12:24am

    Re: Re: What did they expect?

    "They probably expected the customer would only use it to drive around town"

    They should probably stop advertising like this, then:

    https://gigcarshare.com/gigs-day-trippn-guide-for-evs/

    "an impressive failure though."

    It appears to me that what failed is essentially DRM, so failure is expected.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. icon
    PaulT (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 12:26am

    Re: Re: Re: What did they expect?

    "lock or unlock the car"

    How does that help the customer who can get in and out of the car fine, but can't start it until it's towed somewhere to be rebooted?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. icon
    PaulT (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 12:38am

    Re: Spying on toddlers

    "What conceivable information could a toddler have that would make them a valuable target of espionage?"

    What information could toddlers reveal about their play habits that would make them a valuable target to toy makers? That's the question you have?

    Also, are you saying that in the Barbie doll case being referenced, that doll would always be alone with the toddler, and never left near higher value general targets? Not to mention the general creepiness of a toy being used with such capabilities at all (especially if the device is capable of video).

    I appreciate that "for the children" is overused, but when you have a device aimed at children that's specifically capable of gathering private data about them, it is a real concern, especially when there's few real notable benefits for having that functionality otherwise.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    Peter, 19 Feb 2020 @ 4:41am

    Solution

    From my past experience, the Company's solution will be to issue the customers a Legal disclaimer not to use the car where there is no cellphone service. How does the customer know where that is? Not their problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    Peter, 19 Feb 2020 @ 4:45am

    Re: this seems familiar...

    Round here some enterprising scamps put up parking signs on a road, with a number to call to pay for parking with your credit card. Guess what happend to your credit card info?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 6:05am

    Re: Customer Service?

    "I've learned to expect it when troubleshooting anything with IT."

    Most people working tech support tend to look at actual client contact as the opportunity to communicate good technical sense to a neanderthal with a bad grasp of the spoken language and barely enough technical acumen to field-strip a broken branch into a serviceable club.

    Doesn't help much that they are often asked to make the customer satisfied with the equivalent of a frayed string and some chewing gum.

    My guess is that GIG's tech support and customer service both realized early on that the "always on" type of rental was to beg for trouble, advised this, were ignored, and are now taking passive-aggressive revenge over being ignored.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 6:09am

    Re: Re: Re: What did they expect?

    "It appears to me that what failed is essentially DRM, so failure is expected."

    You mean it's a feature, not a bug.

    No doubt marketing advised them that this specific event would mean they'd get the opportunity to try to lease a second vehicle to the same customer...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2020 @ 6:19am

    Re: Customer Service?

    But ... the first question from IT support is always "have you tried turning it off and on again" which would have solved the issue quite easily. So, it's obviously the fault of the driver!

    /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2020 @ 6:35am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: What did they expect?

    That's probably just bad reporting. Why would the company offer an RFID device that doesn't also start the car?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41. icon
    PaulT (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 7:04am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What did they expect?

    "That's probably just bad reporting."

    It's actually what they state on their website where I linked earlier:

    "Your phone needs reception to lock/unlock your Gig. So if you’re going on a far-out adventure, you’ll need a Gig Card to easily lock/unlock your car in areas with spotty reception"

    No mention of starting the car.

    Also no mention of the car only being able to start a certain number of times per trip, yet that is something that's been mentioned in reporting on this story. That seems ridiculous, but it apparently a feature of this service.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42. icon
    PaulT (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 7:11am

    Re: Re: Customer Service?

    I've seen both sides. I've worked support trying desperately to teach people the basics of why their printer won't work without power, I've also gritted my teeth arguing with the muppet on the line who gets confused when me telling him exactly why we don't have to follow the rote script he barely understands.

    "My guess is that GIG's tech support and customer service both realized early on that the "always on" type of rental was to beg for trouble, advised this, were ignored, and are now taking passive-aggressive revenge over being ignored"

    I'd guess that most likely early support was taken on by the original developers, then passed on as soon as possible to a team who got confused when the issue presented to them didn't match the list they usually deal with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43. icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 11:17am

    Re: Re: Spying on toddlers

    ... and how, exactly, is anyone harmed if some pervert faps to a video screen somewhere?

    I mean, I get that it's icky, but really ... I don't see how anyone is harmed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44. icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 11:19am

    Re: Re: Spying on toddlers

    You seriously think somebody is going to monitor video streams of thousands of crying or sleeping babies on the off-chance that one of the parents will say something worth all that effort?

    Really?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45. icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 11:21am

    Re: Re: Spying on toddlers

    Toy makers?

    You fear that toy makers are going to use toddler-cams for market research for the nefarious purpose of designing toys that are extra fun to play with?

    You really think they can't find some better way to spend their marketing and R&D dollars?

    This is paranoia.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46. icon
    PaulT (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 11:34am

    Re: Re: Re: Spying on toddlers

    So... You'd be ok with someone masturbating over a video feed of your toddler so long as they're not physically in the same location? Ok I guess but I doubt most parents would agree.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47. icon
    PaulT (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 11:36am

    Re: Re: Re: Spying on toddlers

    Strange how you've now turned toddlers with dolls into sleeping babies. The target market for Barbie in not a child who will be static all day. Also, passive data gathering exists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48. icon
    PaulT (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 11:37am

    Re: Re: Re: Spying on toddlers

    Mattel designed the product to gather data by all accounts. They are also known to be occasionally intrusive with market research from what I understand. Also you ignored my other points, deliberately I presume.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49. icon
    ECA (profile), 19 Feb 2020 @ 11:46am

    Ok..

    IT vs Idea vs Tech vs design vs Software vs Updates...
    Who remembers the picture of a Fighter aircraft Sitting on deck, doing a Software update on the main screen..
    Fake or not...THIS AINT what I would want..
    Wont mention that all your recent cars after 2000 have some REAL computer power in them.. and its already shown that its NOT to hard to hack, from the other side of the planet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 20 Feb 2020 @ 3:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Customer Service?

    "I'd guess that most likely early support was taken on by the original developers, then passed on as soon as possible to a team who got confused when the issue presented to them didn't match the list they usually deal with."

    Sadly, I recognize that exact scenario from multiple occasions I've had the personal misfortune of having to deal with. Once bubble support has gone away it's anybody's guess what functionality will be preserved of the project...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 20 Feb 2020 @ 3:40am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: What did they expect?

    "that can only be used in visual range of a major sports stadium."

    You grossly overestimate 5G range here. 5G is about the same range as a conventional wifi router, so you'll need repeaters just to cover the entire stadium. Visual range? Heh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  52. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 20 Feb 2020 @ 3:44am

    Re: Re: Re: Spying on toddlers

    "... and how, exactly, is anyone harmed if some pervert faps to a video screen somewhere?"

    Depending on the jurisdiction the fact that some pervert is fapping to the imagery of your toddler will magically turn you, the person who bought the camera, into a CP producer from the legal pov.

    I'd say that has the potential of being quite harmful. Not many people think they risk ending up doing mandatory maximum-security prison time and end up on a "sexual predator" watch list for life just because they bought an insufficiently secured smart toy to keep check on their toddler.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  53. identicon
    Rekrul, 20 Feb 2020 @ 11:34pm

    I don't drive, but if that was me, I think I would have called a taxi, left the car in the wilderness, then gone back to the company and said;

    "I was going to return your car, but your stupid policies physically prevented me from doing so. Here are your keys, my rental contract is now fulfilled. If you want to retrieve your car it's sitting side of the road somewhere off highway xxx out in the woods. Oh, and if you have any ideas about taking legal action against me for abandoning your car out in the middle of nowhere or try to claim that I didn't fulfill my rental contract, my lawyer will be happy to counter-sue for the money I had to spend on a taxi, stress, mental anguish, risk to my personal safety and so on. Have a nice day."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  54. icon
    PaulT (profile), 21 Feb 2020 @ 12:43am

    Re:

    "if that was me, I think I would have called a taxi, left the car in the wilderness"

    "if you have any ideas about taking legal action against me... my lawyer will be happy to counter-sue"

    So, your response to being left potentially stranded in the middle of nowhere by a company whose initial response was simply to tell you to stay put and refuse additional support would be to... get a taxi at your own expense to provide the service they just failed to provide you? Then, you'd take no further action unless they tried suing you for the mild inconvenience you just caused them in return for the massive problems they caused you?

    They would actually love that compared to the alternatives.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  55. identicon
    Rekrul, 24 Feb 2020 @ 4:59pm

    Re: Re:

    It was an off the cuff reaction that I didn't put a ton of thought into. The main point I wanted to make was abandoning their car out in the woods somewhere where they would have to go hunting for it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  56. icon
    PaulT (profile), 25 Feb 2020 @ 12:52am

    Re: Re: Re:

    That wouldn't do much, though. If the car is "phoning home" regularly, they'll know roughly where it is, even if they don't get an accurate signal at the current location. It's also possible they have a live location from another GPS system on the car, it was only the one tied to the ignition that wasn't connected. That seems very likely as this type of rental seems like it might potentially be prone to higher levels of theft.

    Far from causing the company stress and expense, you'd be causing it all for yourself, even if the company just shrugged their shoulders and allowed you to get away with it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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