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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Filed Under: iot, ownership, pet feeders, pets, smart devices
Companies: petnet


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  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 27 Feb 2020 @ 4:15pm

    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.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 27 Feb 2020 @ 4:19pm

      What’s sad is how high the chances are of this actually happening.

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

      • icon
        Norahc (profile), 27 Feb 2020 @ 4:24pm

        Re:

        Any bets on if it will be Barr or Vance to be the first to complain?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Feb 2020 @ 4:00am

        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.

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

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 Mar 2020 @ 3:05am

          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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2020 @ 4:25pm

    If you are too busy to feed your pet, perhaps you are too busy to have a pet.

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

    • icon
      DB (profile), 28 Feb 2020 @ 2:48am

      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.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Feb 2020 @ 4:02am

        Re: Re: Too busy to feed your pet?

        Not that I agree, but I can just hear some people saying "That's what children are for."

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

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 Mar 2020 @ 3:08am

          Re: Re: Re: Too busy to feed your pet?

          "Not that I agree, but I can just hear some people saying "That's what children are for.""

          Child labor?
          So it's those bastards Bill Barr is all up in arms about?

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

    • icon
      Jim P. (profile), 28 Feb 2020 @ 1:25pm

      Re: Lazy

      People do go on vacation or have to work unexpected ungodly hours these days or otherwise have things come up that prevent them being in two places at the same time.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 Feb 2020 @ 6:07am

        Re: Re: Lazy

        Why have a pet when you are never home?
        Not really fair to the pet, no wonder it trashes the place.

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

      • icon
        urza9814 (profile), 3 Mar 2020 @ 7:35am

        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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2020 @ 4:30pm

    Hopefully nobody relied on this to feed their pet while away for a week. I could feed my cat by leaving a pile of 5 days of food, and he'd be fine.... but not all pets are like that.
    Technology fail, guess you best stay analog and use a friend!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2020 @ 7:42pm

      Re:

      Even if this service were 100% reliable, who'd want to bet their pet's life on the reliability of their internet connection?

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

  • icon
    slap (profile), 27 Feb 2020 @ 5:05pm

    Why connect feeders?

    No reason to connect a feeder to the internet other than to alert the owner of a malfunction.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2020 @ 5:20pm

    I can understand a smart pet feeder if you were away from home and couldn't find/trust anyone to look after your pet. But if you need a 'smart' pet feeder because you don't know how (or are just too lazy) to feed your pet... well, maybe you shouldn't have a pet in the first place.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2020 @ 5:27pm

    maybe women should marry and have kids instead of a herd of hormone support animals.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2020 @ 6:37pm

      Re:

      Maybe fuck you.

      No, definitely.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2020 @ 7:42pm

      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.

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Feb 2020 @ 6:11am

      Re:

      Maybe your mother should've kept her legs closed so we'd have one less piece of shit offering their useless comments.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2020 @ 6:33pm

    dumb tech is often superior but unfortunately we're all susceptible to coercion from "smart" appliances anyway.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 27 Feb 2020 @ 6:39pm

    This IOT stuff is really going to the dogs.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Feb 2020 @ 7:52am

    This is not the future the Jetsons promised.

    No, it looks more like the mess that was Doc Brown's automated dog feeder from the beginning of Back to the Future.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Feb 2020 @ 2:13pm

      Re:

      Um... aren't these kind of the same futures? Malfunctioning technology was a common source of humor in The Jetsons.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Feb 2020 @ 9:13am

    I imagine the IOT doggie door also malfunctioned resulting in a Roomba/fecal mishap all over the living room.

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

  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 28 Feb 2020 @ 9:37am

    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.

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

    • icon
      r_rolo1 (profile), 28 Feb 2020 @ 11:12am

      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 :P

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

    • identicon
      Matt, 2 Mar 2020 @ 5:31am

      Re: How bad is this design?

      If it works offline there is no need for the monthly subscription fee

      Generally speaking at least, no idea how PetNet works

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

    • icon
      urza9814 (profile), 3 Mar 2020 @ 10:11am

      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.

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

  • icon
    Miles (profile), 28 Feb 2020 @ 9:47am

    I'm opting out

    Reading article after article about the IoT has made me say "No Way" to any of these things.

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

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 Mar 2020 @ 3:13am

      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.

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

  • icon
    fairuse (profile), 11 Mar 2020 @ 11:55pm

    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.

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


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