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Quirky ‘Terribly Embarrassed’ Over Wink Home Automation Hub Recall (Updated)

The bad news: The Wink home automation hub from Quirky is being recalled because the company failed to update its security software. The good news: The security worked!


Quirky's Wink home automation hubs need to be returned for a security update ... because the built-in security measures worked a little too well.
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Updated 4/20/2015 with progress report from Wink. Skip to the bottom of the article.

On April 18, Wink said it was “doing a bit of work on our end so if you see any devices offline we’ll get you back up and running shortly,” the home automation division of GE-backed Quirky announced on Twitter.

We now know that Wink originally had done its customers a favor by including a security certificate in the hubs, but that certificate expired exactly one year after Wink shipped the hubs. Without a valid security certificate, the hubs were unable to connect to the Internet—not a good thing for a cloud-based smart home system.

“We’re terribly embarrassed by this whole situation,” Wink emailed to users. “This outage was completely preventable and caused by a security measure that was put in place to protect you and your family. Unfortunately we failed to make an update to a security measure that was expiring, and therefore locked down your Hub’s access to the server.”

There is no way to update the security software remotely because the existing security software in the hubs won’t allow them to connect to the Web ... for security reasons. (Update: Wink tells techies they can do it themselves if they’re comfortable enough to change DNS settings.)

“To cut to the chase,” Wink tells users, “We need your Wink Hub back. We’ll update it and get it back to you within a few days. We’ve done all we can to make the process as simple as possible.”

Users simply need to “click here” to order a prepaid box to ship back their hubs. Meanwhile, the company is offering $50 credits to affected customers towards the purchase of certain compatible devices purchased through the Wink store.

In Wink’s call-hold recording, the message guy told me the $50 credits had been abused, so Wink killed them. Legitimate requests will now be processed in 24 hours.

I dutifully submitted the form for the product that I used for about two hours a few months ago. Maybe a new box will encourage me to take a fresh look at the system.

I did have a few questions for the company, though, and I only had to wait about five minutes to get connected to a real person, despite the high call volume.

My helpmate—let’s call him Jim-Bob—told me Wink isn’t touching anything in the hub’s memory, so all devices should still be enrolled, along with any scenes and settings.

According to a Wink FAQ on the recall, “We’re optimistic that we’ll return your Hub in fully working order and that you won’t have to go through the setup and pairing process again. If you do, we’ll let you know, but we’re working hard to make sure this doesn’t happen.”

Wink Liability?

Meanwhile, a few industry friends and I were wondering what kind of exposure Wink faces because of this, um, inconvenience, for which they are “incredibly sorry.”

There’s the really bad press from this event, of course, piled on top of poor product reviews (but improving) in the first place. But Wink has handled the issue like a champ, being quick and candid in their response and offering a fairly painless fix. Still, it’s going to sting sales, at least in the short term.

Home Depot, Wink’s launch partner, can’t be very excited about its temporarily bare shelves. Wink retailers will return their hubs and receive brand new batches of working product.

As for raw costs, there’s postage—shipping times 3 for each return (Wink ships a postage-paid box, customer ships back hub, Wink ships hub back)—plus extra staffing for customer service, shipping & receiving and PR. But we’re certainly not talking about hundreds of thousands of cars that need new brakes or anything like that.

Still, therapy might be required for some of the managers and engineers, which costs money.

The $50 vouchers will smart as well. Let’s figure 100,000 units at the high end? (Who knows? We don’t know how many units Wink has sold sold, nor how many were affected by the outage, nor how many have actually been activated.) Owie, but the right thing to do.

And, on the off-chance that a customer was using the hub with security sensors and alarm alerts—and a fire occurred or a bad guy broke in—the user might feel the urge to punish Wink. But the $50 hub was never meant to be a first line of defense against household dangers. I’m willing to bet Wink says as much in its itty bitty print.

Jim-Bob explained that Wink is taking this inconvenience very seriously, that the company is sincerely embarrassed and apologetic, and that security was never compromised (quite the contrary).

“All things considered,” he says, “it could have been a lot worse. It could have been credit card info. ... At the end of the day, maybe they [users] can’t control their lights with their phones.”

Here’s Wink’s FAQ on the “outage.”

NOTICE OF SERVICE OUTAGE & HUB REPLACEMENT PROGRAM
Identified - Wink Hubs experienced a complete service disruption between the hours of 12:40pm ET and 11:00 ET on April 18th.

Throughout this outage, all Wink homes were completely secure and never vulnerable. In fact, the root cause of our service disruption was caused by a security measure we implemented in the early days of the program.

Since the dawn of Wink we’ve worked hard to provide our customers with the most secure home automation platform available.

Because of a misconfiguration of the aforementioned security measure, Wink Hubs lost their connection to the internet for an extended period of time. During this time, users were not able to control their Hub-dependent devices with the Wink app. Schedules and Robots also did not function.

While we were able to recover and reconnect the majority of hubs, many of our users with Wink Hubs were emailed and asked to return their hub and await a replacement.

Additionally, we are immediately suspending all sales of Wink Hubs across all retail channels. We expect to resume sales within the week.

We are incredibly sorry for the inconvenience caused here. If you would like to talk to a service representative, call us at 844-WINK-APP or find us on Twitter @TheWinkApp.

FAQ

Was my home ever vulnerable during the outage?
Throughout this outage, all Wink homes were completely secure and never vulnerable. In fact, the root cause of our service disruption stemmed from our commitment to security.

What caused the outage?
Due to a security measure that was initially put in place to protect Wink users, Wink Hubs lost connection to the internet for an extended period of time. During this time, users were not able to control their hub-dependent devices with the Wink app. Schedules and Robots also did not function.

Does my Wink Hub still work?
We’ve contacted all Wink Hub users to update them on the status of their Hubs. Many Wink Hubs have been recovered and reconnected. If you were impacted further, we’re asking you please return your Wink Hub to us (we’ll provide a box and return label) and we’ll get it back to you soon. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience. If your Hub appears to not be functioning properly, please give us a call at 844-WINK-APP.

Were other Wink-compatible products impacted by the outage?
No. The outage only impacted the Wink Hub.

How often do you expect this to happen?
This was an incredibly rare and unique circumstance. It was completely avoidable and is extremely embarrassing for us. Moving forward we will work very hard to ensure an outage like this never happens again. Since our launch in July, we’ve had very few outages and take great pride in our uptime.

My Wink Hub doesn’t work anymore, what do I do?
First off, we deeply apologize for the inconvenience. You should by now have received an email from Wink with additional instructions to get your Wink Hub replaced free of charge. We’re asking users whose Hubs no longer connect to Wink Servers to please fill out this form and we’ll make sure a replacement Hub is sent to you soon. If you would like to talk to a service representative, please call us at 844-WINK-APP or contact us on Twitter at @TheWinkApp.

Why can’t you fix my Hub over the air?
We were able to fix a majority of Hubs through a software push, but due to the circumstances of this particular outage, certain Hubs were no longer online - therefore we were unable to update the software on the Hub. We’ve asked these users to send their Hub back for a replacement.

Can I return my Hub to my local retail store?
The fastest way to resolve your issue is to participate in our replacement program. Local stores will not have inventory of the Wink Hub for some time.

If my Hub is replaced by Wink, will I have to re-setup all my devices?
We’re optimistic that we’ll return your Hub in fully working order and that you won’t have to go through the setup and pairing process again. If you do, we’ll let you know, but we’re working hard to make sure this doesn’t happen.

The discount promo code [WESOSORRY] isn’t working for me. What should I do?

Unfortunately the promo code was abused and had to be shut off. We’ll email you a new individual promo code 24-48 hours after completing this form http://bit.ly/1H1fsDv

What are you talking about, I didn’t have any outage?
Fantastic! Don’t worry about it.

4/20 Update from Wink

Yesterday, Sunday, April 19, Wink worked diligently to enable a self-service fix for users comfortable making some quick changes to their home’s router settings. Instructions for users recovering their Wink Hub can be found at recovery.wink.com. For those who wish to send their Hub in for repair, they can continue to do so free of charge by visiting hubrepair.quirky.com. We’ll provide a box and shipping label and be sending replacement Hubs as soon as possible.

Approximately 25% of Wink users were impacted by Saturday’s outage and we were able to recover and reconnect 40% of those users within 10 hours. Thousands have already selected the self-service fix and by the end of Monday, April 20 we expect the outage to be limited to 10% of Wink users.
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JULIE JACOBSON
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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at [email protected]

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