We’ve all done it. The crappy service that leaves you fuming so you vent your frustration by writing a crappy review… a 1 star review. That’ll show ‘em! I used to work in the kids online game world and you only ever got 5 stars or 1 star. Kids voted with their hearts with little concern or grasp of empathy. In a more sage, grown-up world, star ratings are more evenly distributed. 5 and 4 stars are the norm. However, a snoop at Yelp’s rating data reveals that the fastest growing star ratings are… you guessed it, 1 and 5 stars. We’re becoming less balanced and a little more polar.

So what? The service was poor and it’s your job to warn others to be aware, right! Damn right! It’s your opinion and except for a few theatrical exaggerations here and there, it’s based on facts. What could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, the answer is “lots” and in the future, the answer is “very much more lots”.

At this point, I should declare that I have some experience of the darker side of this world. I can’t go into too many details for legal reasons. No, really! I was one of a few people who left a 1 star review against a business that, in my opinion gave poor service. Several of us refused to remove our 1 star reviews and the next thing we knew, we had defamation proceedings initiated against us. Cue six months of lawyers, high court dates and stress. It wasn’t particularly fun.

To be fair, many companies suffer from malicious 1 star reviews attacks. It’s easy enough for a local competitor business to set up fake accounts to drive a rival’s ratings down. Many rating sites allow reviewers (for obvious reasons) to remain anonymous, so it must be galling for a company to suspect they are being played with but have no way to prove it.

The traditional route of threatening to sue the reviewers individually (which is expensive for everyone concerned) is madness but a new form of madness is starting to emerge. The OSDOS attack. Ok, I made that up but the “one star denial of service attack” should be a thing. Let me explain…

At the beginning of 2016, a Kickstarter campaign for the Garadget, an internet connected garage door opener you can control with your phone, achieved its funding. It’s a great idea. Production had gone well and you can even buy them on Amazon. That’s what one customer did and it seems things didn’t quite go to plan so he took to the forums on the Garadget site. Not getting much joy, he left (drumroll) a 1 star review on Amazon.

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.

Denis Grisak, the founder of Garadget, replied in a rather unexpected way.

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.

At this time your only option is return Garadget to Amazon for refund. Your unit ID 2f0036… will be denied server connection.”

Just to be clear, the customer’s seemingly useless remote garage door opener has been rendered useless remotely. That’s an example of irony even Alanis Morissette would get.

It scratches the surface of a wider question, what do you actually own when you buy an Internet Of Things device? What guarantees do you have that your thing’s data will still internet connect in a year’s time? And what rights do you have when it comes to forced disconnection for seemingly unrelated events?

In this case, a bad review was enough to deny access to a product that (by any rational definition) was paid for and fully “owned”. But what if (and I’m being purposefully idiotic here to prove the point), a commercial passenger jet had its GPS satellite navigation access revoked because of a spat between CEOs. Or, as some reports have hinted, what if Donald Trump denied us ALL access to GPS? It’s just a digital service after all. I checked, TomTom has a “Force Majeure” clause that covers this in its terms and conditions, and no, you don’t get a refund.

So, in a world moving head long into Internet-connected-everything, it’s worth considering two things. Firstly, what would happen if the connected “service” was lost? Would it be inconvenient or would it actually be dangerous? Lastly, and more importantly, do you really need to leave that 1 star review? It may have more consequences than you think!

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Dino Burbidge

About Dino Burbidge

I know enough about most things to be dangerous. Currently Director of Innovation and Technology at WCRS.

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