A US ham radio software developer has admitted a support staffer disabled a customer's copy of its application after he posted a negative review online.
The owners of HRD Software today told The Register they have since reinstated the user's license, claiming the revenge move was made by an outside support staffer.
Here's what happened: a bloke called Jim Giercyk in Greenville, South Carolina, US, downloaded and installed an update for his Ham Radio Deluxe application. Next, the program inexplicably stopped working, so Giercyk contacted HRD's support team for help.
Then, according to a log of the conversation between Giercyk and the support agent, the country rock musician was told his copy had been disabled remotely in response to a negative online review he had posted in September.
HRD Software later said Giercyk's license key had been blackballed, causing the software to close while starting up: the updated program would phone headquarters to check the key and discover the license had been revoked, forcing it to terminate.
"I called the support line and asked them to explain what they were doing, and they informed me that I was blacklisted and the file they directed me to download blocked the software on my computer from running," Giercyk, aka N2SUB, told fellow hams in a forum post.
"Two days later, they contacted me and stated they would unlock my software if I removed the review I posted."
Here's an extract of his damning review – which remains online:
I purchased HRD 6.3, only to find out Windows XP was not supported. So, I installed HRD on a brand new Windows 10 machine, and everything appeared to be working fine. Then, I installed Office 365, and it broke the LogBook. Known problem, they say. There is a whole page devoted to telling you how to tweak the registry, download things, repair files, etc, etc.
Alright guys, enough is enough. If you have known problems, like compatibility issues with Microsoft products, you need to release a hotfix. It would take a day to create a script to do all of the things your page says to do, and it would be idiot proof.
Sorry guys, I've tried to love it. It just isn't worth the price.
"I stand by my review," Giercyk said.
Earlier this month, the White House signed off on a law forbidding businesses from penalizing customers for negative online reviews.
El Reg asked HRD Software to explain itself. In response, we got this statement [PDF] from co-owner Dr Michael Carper, who admitted that a support staffer had disabled a customer's software key as revenge for writing a poor review.
"This does not reflect the policies or procedures of our company. But it was said. It was a mistake," he said.
Carper added that while support team members do have the ability to disable software keys, they should only do so with management approval after the customer has been given a refund on the cost of the package. He noted that the biz will not allow support staff to disable any keys as retaliation for poor reviews.
"If we cannot resolve a customer's technical issues to their satisfaction, we can offer them a refund (or they can request it)," he said. "The support staff will need to get approval for this from one of the owners. Upon approval, the original purchase price will be refunded and the license key will be deactivated. At that point, the customer is free to use another product." ®
Thanks to Reg reader Chris Street for drawing our attention to this cockup. Seen similar? Get in touch, please