April Fool’s is increasingly bleeding into IT as people get more comfortable with the idea that Silicon Valley has a massive amount of control over their lives. Sure, there have been mishaps in the past. Google’s Gmail “mic drop” joke feature got a few people fired last year. We also saw disappointment over fake announcements about fixes to products or platforms. However, our Californian Digital Overlords seem to have gained a better grasp of things for the most part, with the possible exception of the folks in IoT.
IoT: It’s Just a Prank Bro
One of the most interesting stories to come out of April Fools’ Day this year isn’t a joke, and is only funny if you have a very dark sense of humor.
Denis Grisak, CEO and operator of Colorado IoT company SoftComplex, decided that permanently blacklisting a reviewer that negatively reviewed their flagship IoT product, Garadget, would be a fun prank to pull. Garadget is a garage door opener that relies on the internet and cell phone app to open it, and in blacklisting customer Robert Martin’s device over “abusive language,” he has attracted quite a bit of negative attention.
The “abusive” amazon review reads as follows:
“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.“
Decision to Ban Was ‘Purely Emotional’
This of course marks a first for IoT companies and the people comprising them. The potential for abuse in the industry has been widely reported. But a clear cut case of individual abuse of that potential for personal reasons has finally materialized with Denis Grisak. We reached out to Grisak for comment on the issue, and he had this to say in the wake of the negative community reaction:
“The decision to ban customer’s connection was purely emotional and it was a display of bad judgement.”
While he acknowledged the mistake, he seemed to want to pivot the discussion towards his perception that bad actors outside his customer base had attacked his product and company. Many of his comments on the issue had a fundamental disconnection from the breach of trust that this incident represents:
“There are already plenty of articles about this single customer relation error that was blown out of proportions cashing in on the fear and hate of connected devices. . .There was no toxicity until that incident. Now there are dozens of outside users spending hours posting insults and disrupting the technical support experience for my customers.”
During the discussion he also staunchly defended common industry practice in IoT, and continually referred to his shutting down service to the amazon reviewer’s device as a “mundane customers relation screw-up.”
Internet of Truth and Consequences
Regardless of how Grisak or anyone else feels about the incident, it exemplifies all of the worst problems with IoT. There’s little reason to have internet connectivity on critical or security systems. An internet air gap goes a long way towards stopping intrusion in those cases. Plus, putting your doors and home electronics at the mercy of these companies makes very little since. If they want, companies can render your devices inoperable, or use them to snoop on your private life. In this instance, we even saw an executive use this power to carry out a petty vendetta.
The growth of IoT will make incidents like these more common as time goes on. Software obsolescence and tech firm bankruptcy will likely claim victims than egomaniacal garage door switch peddlers, sure. But we need to give thought towards IoT regulation and ToS restrictions if we want to continue pursuing the field.
Was Grisak in the right by banning one of his customers? Let us know down below.