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.

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Companies: gigcarshare

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Comments on “Driver Stranded After 'Smart' Rental Car Can't Phone Home”

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57 Comments
PaulTsays:

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.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

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.

PaulTsays:

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.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

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…

Anonymous Anonymous Cowardsays:

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.

Anonymoussays:

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.

PaulTsays:

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.

btr1701says:

…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.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

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.

PaulTsays:

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.

Anonymoussays:

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.

nerdragesays:

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.

ECAsays:

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.

Rekrulsays:

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."

PaulTsays:

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.

PaulTsays:

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.

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