Complaint Review: SLOOH, LLC
SLOOH, LLC is an online observatory, so it didn't fit any of the categaories available which is why this review is probably labelled oddly. I was a SLOOH member for 10 years and I think the idea is great- I stuck with it for 10 years- but there is so much constant shuck and jive that I thought I would list just the "questionble activities" that you would never dream you're going to be subjected to when you sign up for something like this.
Ultimately I hope that people WILL try SLOOH but know these things in advance. The bulk of public opinion can change them. I'm only going to list the really outrageous stuff here that no one would dispute, and you would never expect. Opinions vary greatly on the rest, so I'll leave that out.
Recently policies were changed, and not for the better. There seems to be a very high level of paranoia at SLOOH about who they are dealing with. You would think it's the SEC trying to not let Michael Milken sneak back in. They also suffer from VERY aggresive marketing, performed by the brother of the CEO. That combination has led to the current state of membership policies, as follows.
1). SLOOH must always have an active credit card on file for your membership to be valid. It does not matter if you are paid up for x amount of time, if at anytime before x expires you cancel the automatic renewal of your subscription. If your CC is valid at the point of expiration, you are automatically billed for another period. To prevent this you must cancel before the renewal. Yes, that means you lose whatever comes between that point and renewal, and they require 48 hours notice. So, rip-off #1, you can never get exactly what you paid for, unless you let them bill you again.
2). Even PayPal wouldn't go along with that, so they said, "Fine; we'll do it ourselves". They are handling all CC data and have discontinued all "Minutes Cards", PayPal- anything that could make the user anonymous. OK- except that they CONSTANTLY are having "sorry- not our fault" data problems. And now they want to keep my CC. They seem to think saying that it's on a secure server answers that objection. They miss the point that their data management has been horrid over 10 years and now they want everyone's info. Enough to make sure they can identify them 100%. The potential is huge for future abuse. And they ALWAYS blame it on suppliers/contractors/acts of God/"glitches"...it's never their fault. This is why I've quit after 10 years. I WILL NOT let those f-ups have my personal data.
3). The only forum for exchanging information with other users and knowing the status of the equipment is the SLOOH Live Universe Facebook group. There are other places, but that's the only reliable one. It is a closed group, and you must supply the admin with the email address you registered for SLOOH with to have membership approved. The day you cancel your membership you are kicked out of the group. This is a classic example of their predatory marketing. They're effectively charging for membership in a Facebook group.
4). Some of the equipment is always out of order, and you don't get refunds. If everything isn't working for 1/2 your membership? Tough. That's why the above point is important. "OK; I'll wait 'til things are working to join". How do you know without joining? That's why they keep the group strictly to current members.
5). Ridiculous and extremely "creative" interpretations of intellectual property law. The list is endless but I'll list the big ones here.
a) You have to put the SLOOH logo on all your images before showing them to anybody.
b) You have to wait 24 hours and ask their permission before posting an image you've taken to social media
c) You may not share your FITS image files with anyone.
d) All submissions to official bodies (like if you discover a supernova and want to report it to the IAU) most be coordinated through SLOOH
6). The user agreement says your only recourse in any dispute is to cancel your membership without refund. People that question their practices are placed on a black list without notice or explanation. Anyone that knows or resembles anyone on the blacklist is in danger of cancellation without notice or explanation.
7). You are only allowed five concurrent telescope reservations. This is not what one expects by "unlimited time" and can be quite problematic considering the flakey nature of the equipment availability. It is nearly impossible to reserve time on an object and still be able to schedule images. As soon as equipment becomes available it is flooded with reservations.
8). Two technical points for astronomers...
a) The telescope pointing model means that objects may not be imaged near transit. The old software used to tell you what that window was, but now you have to guess. Gallingly, they have a pop-up that tells you that near transit is the best time to image an object. Yeah. We know that. You don't let us. And you waste a lot of our time with it.
b) The tracking is not the best. Images of details on Jupiter through Teide 2 (a Celestron 14) are not ever as good as good amateur images taken with a Celestron 14.
c) The CCD camera on Teide 2 is old and grainy. There are possible issues with power cables as certain RA coordinates always result in images with a lot of noise. This is particularly noticable in the polar regions of the coordinate system.
d) When they refer to "filters" they most always mean "image processing". The exception is the H-alpha setting which is an actual filter. Comet/deep sky/faint object "filters" are actually image processing "recipes".
9) It's easy to appreciate the problems involved in running a remote observatory but they make the problems worse by never giving accurate and timely information about outages that would inform your decisions. Recently the main telescope, Teide 1, was down for almost a year. Throughout that time it was advertised that it would be up "any day now". Always the issue is down to suppliers, acts of God, infrastructure out of their control...it's never their fault. In most cases, they're outright lies. The most extreme was when they decided to make sure they only had current members in the Facebook group and killed the page, requiring everyone to re-join. They blamed it on "a server glitch with Facebook". That has never happened. No FB group has ever been erased due to a server glitch and every member have to re-join. They definitely see customers as mushrooms.
10) Think long and hard about how you complain. I used to run a website that collated user information as a kind of clearing house so we could figure out what was going on and complainants suffer passowrd hacking, personnel calling their work, fake FB pages being posted in their name- with very uncomplimentary information, letters from lawyers and all manner of dirty tricks. Most complained publicly. That's significant because they used to have an AOL style moderator group called "Team SLOOH" that has gone totally rogue and attacks anyone they see as a threat and are likely responisble for the more outrageous harassment. They don't work for SLOOH; in fact they've acted SLOOH personnel they see as responsible for their being disbanded. Be careful what identifying information you give out because you never know what looney might think you need to be taught a lesson. Most of the old Team SLOOH are very far right wing, evangelicals, and have low impulse control.
I guess a final word would be that they are often advertised around xmas as a kid's gift. The big caveat would be that while an adult might read the above and think they're forearmed and can deal with it, I don't think I'd want to subject a kid to their version of a .coms newly imagned charter of lack-of consumer rights.
This report was posted on Ripoff Report on 05/01/2014 12:32 PM and is a permanent record located here: http://www.ripoffreport.com/reports/slooh-llc/internet/slooh-llc-beware-of-every-trick-in-the-bookand-then-some-new-ones-washington-connecti-1143292. The posting time indicated is Arizona local time. Arizona does not observe daylight savings so the post time may be Mountain or Pacific depending on the time of year. Ripoff Report has an exclusive license to this report. It may not be copied without the written permission of Ripoff Report. READ: Foreign websites steal our content
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