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Company bricks smart garage-door opener after bad review

Commentary: Garadget's founder admits he was annoyed by a customer's invective, so he remotely disables the app-based opener. Welcome to the internet of things.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Very consumer friendly?

Garadget

"First consumer-friendly garage door controller is now on Kickstarter."

So began the press release for Garadget.

When I tell you this tale, first reported by Ars Technica, you might wonder about the meaning of "consumer-friendly."

A customer bought a Garadget device on Amazon. It's an internet of things device that connects through an iPhone app to open and close your garage door. How could you have ever lived without such a thing?

The customer, handle rdmart7, wasn't happy. So he took to the Garadget Community Board and mused: "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..."

rdmart7 also offered a scathing review on Amazon, in which he said: "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."

Part of being in business is dealing with angry customers. Denis Grisak, the man behind Garadget, offered a sprightly response on the community board.

"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," he said.

After the lack of tolerance came the big surprise.

"At this time your only option is return Garadget to Amazon for refund. Your unit ID 2f0036... will be denied server connection," Grisak revealed. Yes, he'd bricked the customer's ability to open the garage door via the Garadget app.

This wasn't quite a customer-friendly response, one that Grisak now knows was less than helpful.

"That was an unusually emotional and regretful reaction on my part, followed by a lesson that's hard to ignore," he told me.

Yes, it's not wise to accuse a customer of a tantrum and then react by having a tantrum of your own.

Grisak insists that it wasn't the Amazon review that sent him over the edge. He said he'd only mentioned the Amazon review in order to show that "the customer already formed a negative opinion before seeking assistance."

But customers are humans. It's best to accept their nuances, especially as you might have a few of your own.

Sadly, Grisak still wants to offer mitigating circumstances. "The customer was in the early stages of the setup so the device was never in actual use," he told me. "Garadget is an add-on device which doesn't provide or replace the opener's functionality, so the customer was never locked out."

Perhaps. But the whole point about the internet of things is that it's supposed to make old mechanical things like keys and remotes obsolete.

The whole problem with the IoT is that customers of many products will be subject to sudden draconian actions on the part of those who have sold them a product.

It already happens now with familiar products. When people fail to make their car payments on time, their car gets remotely disabled.

Ultimately, Grisak knows that he didn't behave well. He told me that the customer's service has since been restored.

"This never happened before and will not happen again," he said.

Perhaps the oddest thing of all is that Amazon hasn't suddenly been filled with more one-star reviews. Currently, Garadget is a four-star product.

With, some might argue, one-star customer service.

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