Have you been holding off on buying that new console for fear of the setup process? Does the thought of wasting a whole ten minutes of you time plugging everything in and turning it on make you physically ill? Well then, Target will totally have you covered later this month. Yes, for a mere $99 Target will come to your house and set up your console.
If you are rich enough to go for this, Target will plug in the console to your TV, configure it, put it on your network, and setup online accounts. Technically, it’s a third party, Zip Installation, that’s doing the work, but Target is putting their name on it.
At a hundred bucks, I imagine it will be a tough sell. Would you, or anyone you know pay for this service?
It’s shameful, really. And it’s a glaringly obvious reason why computer retail is dying. (R.I.P Future Shop, CompUSA, and Circuit City.) And it’s a sure sign that some of the remaining retailers could give a rat’s patootie about their customers. It’s really not a big surprise that Best Buy’s “optimization” isn’t worth the $39.99 they charge for it. Rather it’s Best Buy’s attitude about you, the computer buying public--you’re nothing but a flock of sheep to be fleeced, so let the shearing begin.
Meg Marco at The Consumerist walks us through the whole scam. Best Buy sells optimization for its computers. Optimization, it turns out, is little more than Best Buy opening the box, removing some desktop shortcuts, tweaking bits of the browser interface, and downloading/installing OS updates (which the OS is normally takes care of by itself). All-in-all, nothing your average user can’t do on their own. And, after testing unoptimized and optimized systems--surprise, surprise--optimization doesn’t do a thing to speed the computer up. (In one instance, on a Asus laptop, optimization actually slowed the system down 32 percent.)
Great, fine, it’s like extended warranties--so much money thrown down the drain--just skip it. But, in many cases you can’t. It seems that Best Buy ties attractive sales prices to pre-optimized machines. And, magically, no unoptimized machines are available. You want the sale price, then pony up the optimization fee. (Getting it waived, from buyer experiences related by Marco, is next to impossible.) Not only do you have to pay more than the advertised price if you want the advertised price, some unknown “geek” at Best Buy has opened your box and fiddled around with your computer. (Experience here suggest checking the box’s contents before leaving the store.)
This is not just hard sell. With hard sell you have a choice. But Best Buy has stacked the deck against you. And do they feel bad about promising the moon with optimization (some sales reps claiming up to 200% speed improvements), without delivering anything of tangible value? Nope, instead Best Buy blames you, the consumer. “This is about the choice," a Best Buy spokesman said. "If you don't want it, you don't have to get it." See, it’s you that’s to blame, not Best Buy and its deceptive pushing of a worthless service.
Savvy computer users/buyers don’t fall for this, of course. (Savvy computer users/buyers also don’t shop at Best Buy.) Which means Best Buy is preying upon the novice, the uninitiated. Scare tactics or trumped up, empty promises work best with this crowd. Which makes the practice all the more loathsome. Even worse, it makes no sense for Best Buy to engage in this. Best Buy purportedly wants to make more money off its service business. To make this work you have to not only treat customers right at point-of-sale, but give them a reason to come back again and again. Once people realize they were scammed, you’ve lost them (and then some). Hard to see how you build a repeat-business with this approach.
More and more it seems that e-commerce differs little from a shell game. Both have the expressed purpose of taking away my money without giving me something tangible in return. It’s almost as if my having a dollar or two in my pocket, my bank account, or on my credit limit, is too much for someone to bear--they have to find a way to separate it from me. While a traditional shell game requires my explicit participation, e-commerce doesn’t, making the task all too easy.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has been conducting an investigation into the matter, and has turned its attention to the big credit card companies: American Express, MasterCard, and Visa. Why? Because of all the parties involved they were best positioned to detect the scam and, acting on their customers best interests, put an end to it.
Credit card companies are at the forefront of the complaint process. When something that shouldn’t appears on a bill, it’s the credit card company that gets the complaint. But, the credit card company also gets to ‘wet its beak’ on all of the action--so it charges both the consumer (fees and interest), and the merchant (a percentage) for each transaction processed. The $1.4 billion Webloyalty, Vertrue, and Affinion accumulated through their bogus practice may have been just enough for the big three to turn a blind eye, despite thousands of consumer complaints. This is what the Senate Committee wants to find out.
While this particular little racket may come to an end, its unlikely those involved will get more than a slap on the wrist. And, the big players will still be there, just as unconcerned about your welfare as before. The lesson here: always carefully check your monthly statement.
Apple's App Store sits about 1,000 applications lighter today, which represents about 1 percent of all apps. The reason? Apple discovered that a large iPhone developer was participating in a ratings scam, and so Apple removed the company's catalog of over 1,000 apps.
The company in question is Moliker Inc., who developed more than 1,000 titles, most of which were based on travel (such as Mobile Travel Guide). The company is accused of giving its own apps 5-star ratings to try to raise the average ratings and boost sales.
But the scam came crumbling down when one attentive user noticed a pattern in most of the reviews. Most of the apps had about 50 five-star rankings with poorly written reviews, which served as a tell-tale sign that the developer was probably using his allotment of 50 promocodes to create fake accounts and review his own apps. The user fired off an email to Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing Phil Schiller, or promplty pulled all 1,011 apps from the App Store.
"Yes, this developer's apps have been removed from the App Store and their ratings no longer appear either," Schiller said.
Stuff like this is why we’re told to always be wary. Not just of strangers, it appears, but of friends as well. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing on Tuesday, where it laid out the ‘questionable’ marketing practices of Vertrue, Webloyalty, and Affinion, web merchants that sign up users to “web loyalty programs,” to the tune of $9 to $12 a month, without the user being aware. How? By riding on the coattails of respected e-retailers such as Orbitz, Buy.com, Fandango, and Continental Airlines.
How’s the alleged scam work? At the end of a transaction at a legitimate web site a pop-up appears asking the user to enter an email address if they are interested in receiving cash back or a coupon. Simple enough, except buried in the fine print is enrollment in the web loyalty program, along with permission to charge the user’s credit card a monthly fee. Where’s the credit card information come from? The legitimate web site sells that information to the loyalty program. The user never knows about the transaction until a charge appears on their credit card statement. The user gets double-pwn3d: by the unscrupulous web loyalty program, and by a trusted merchant.
Overall, the Senate Committee estimates the three loyalty programs generated more than $1.4 billion from the scheme, with $792 million kicked back to the web retailers who provided the user’s credit card information. (Classmates.com, for example, raked in $70 million.)
It would be easy to lay the blame at the users feet: you really should read the fine print. (Although the vast majority of us never do.) But the Senate Committee reported that managers at Affinion, Vertrue and Webloyalty knew full well that people were completely unaware of what they were signing up for, and that their programs were specifically designed to mislead people. The ‘legitimate’ retailers who enabled this were also aware of what was going on, but turned a blind-eye because of the revenue it generated.
Webloyalty and Vertrue stated during the hearing they’ve changed their business practice, and now require additional information for enrollment. Others aren’t convinced, arguing that the only way to curb the practice is to make it illegal for retailers to sell customer’s personal information.
Facebook is the king of social networking with more users than any other web 2.0 site. With all those users, it’s also an attractive place for scammers that want access to lots of eyeballs. After a few embarrassments, Facebook is promising to take a stronger stance against deceptive advertising.
Facebook has gotten a bit of a black eye in the press lately after some companies using the platform were accused of scamming users. These scams often come in the form of special offers and surveys within games. Facebook’s Nick Giano wrote in a blog post that the site was aware of the problem and was actively working on it.
Users of the site also encountered a rise in stimulus scam ads earlier in the year; Facebook notes that they were quickly removed from the site. Hopefully this new wave of scams can be dealt with in the same manner. Facebook claims that over 100 developer applications have already been removed or “brought into compliance" so far. Have you noticed any fishy behavior on Facebook?
What a wonderful world that open and closed platforms have created on the World Wide Web. I can have an untold number of features and applications inserted into my Web browser without having to lift much more than a finger to access them. I can take my favorite Web platforms and expand their usefulness by linking them to other Web-based services. I can even download a variant of my Web browser of choice that bridges the best of two worlds under one new roof: new innovations mixed with standard familiarity.
So, what happens when these architectures fight back?
It's a stupid thing to say on its face, because I don't believe that it's up to a particular program or application to breach your defenses and fight its way into your cyber-life. Most, if not all instances of malware, spoofing, and hijacking (to name a few) can be directly traced to user stupidity in some fashion. Either a person leaves the ol' back door unlocked, fails to frisk the guests as they enter the home, or actively invites a heap of trouble to come on over for a party.
Simplified examples, perhaps, but the underlying fact remains a constant: You are the gatekeeper for your PC. Unfortunately, as we begin to adopt an "everyone's allowed" mindset for Web integration, we're only making it easier for the bad guys to do what they do best. Unfriendly, if not downright hostile bits of malware can be pushed back with but a few simple changes in behavior--are you as security-focused as you should be in today's cross-platform world?
Nigeria has long been a hotbed for scams - either that, or we've all made a terrible mistake by not wiring over thousands of dollars to unknown recipients for a multi-million dollar payout down the line. Believe it or not, people still fall for it, so we're pleased as punch that Nigeria's anti-corruption police force has stepped up to the plate with some major busts.
"Over 800 fraudulent email addresses have been identified and shut down,"Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) boss Farida Waziri said in a statement. "There have been 18 arrests of high profile syndicates operating cyber-crime organizations."
This doesn't mean you'll never see another Nigerian scam mail in your spam box, but hey, at least it's a start. And going forward, the EFCC feels pretty confident it can make a dent. Rather than rely on raiding cyber cafes and waiting for complaints to trickle in from the public, the EFCC said it is using smart technology in conjunction with Microsoft to actively track down fraudulent emails.
The EFCC hopes this is the just beginning. Working at full capacity, the crime unit believes it can forewarn about a quarter of a million potential victims within the next six months.
As another reminder that crime doesn't pay, 23-year-old Nicholas Woodhams, also known as the "iPod Mechanic," faces 13 months in prison after pleading guilty to mail fraud and money laundering charges. Woodhams was also ordered to pay $648,568 in restitution to Apple and $8,066.85 to the U.S. Postal Service, Arstechnica reports.
According to the lawsuit, Woodhams ran a scam of exploiting Apple's advance replacement system for the iPod shuffle and reselling them through his own website. He also allegedly exploited Apple's iPod Warranty Service Program to get Apple to repair out-of-warranty iPods.
Woodhams' scam proved rather lucrative, but it's all going back. In addition to the above jail time and fines, Woodhams must forfeit about $750,000 worth of criminally acquired assets, including his house in Michigan, an Audi S4, an Ariel Atom 2, a Honda motocyle, and over $500,000 in cash. Ouch.
How much is a Twitter account or Digg vote worth? uSocial.net thinks they have the answer to that question with a recently announced new service that will sell social media accounts or votes to companies or individuals having trouble doing it the old fashioned way. $87 USD buys you (or your company) 1,000 followers added over 7 days, or as many as 100,000 over a one year period for $3,479. It turns out money really can make you popular both online, and in real life.
I have to admit however, I find it somewhat doubtful that companies would find these “purchased masses” very responsive, and in fact, uSocial itself claims “we'll Tweet our followers three times a day, every day for a month to go and check out links directly to the content that you'd like promoted.” This type of ad spam would have any normal user searching frantically for the unfollow button, but it certainly points out how modern social media is just as vulnerable to abuse as telephones, or the post office.
uSocial.net is also responsible for launching a program last year that allowed companies to buy votes on Digg and StumbleUpon. Both companies have issued cease-and-desist orders to uSocial, which according to a statement from Digg, have been ignored.
Is this the ugly side of social networking? Let us know what you think.