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February 16, 2015

Shussh, Don’t Say That in Front of the Kids Smart TV

Filed under: Electronics,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:21 am

Samsung Smart TV Smart TVs are getting smarter. And maybe too smart for our own good.

Originally, smart televisions had the ability to display Internet websites because you could switch to a crude built-in browser. Now they can make recommendations of what you might like to watch, and can even understand voice commands.

But, there is potentially a dark side to this technology. A look at Samsung’s privacy policy supplement for smart televisions contains some unexpected surprises.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features. Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition. [color emphasis added]

So if you enable voice commands, what you say is captured and is sent to a processing company on the Internet. Be sure not to discuss how you plan to cheat the IRS or commit murder when the TV is on, lest your plans become evidence that could be subpoenaed.

And if you’re watching some steamy pay-per-view movies, Samsung may be tracking your viewing based on what functions you have enabled on the TV.

*MOUSE PRINT:

…if you enable the collection of information about video streams viewed on your SmartTV, we may collect that information and additional information about the network, channels, and programs that you view through the SmartTV.

This data collection is supposedly only used to provide you with a better viewing experience, but who knows what really happens to all that data. And if you opt into “SyncPlus,” advertisers are told what you are watching so they can target ads and offers specifically to you.

So this is the future of television… the big screen that you’re watching is also watching (and listening) to you.

After last week’s brouhaha, Samsung clarified its Smart TV policy, saying:

If you enable Voice Recognition, you can interact with your Smart TV using your voice. To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some interactive voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service provider (currently, Nuance Communications, Inc.) that converts your interactive voice commands to text and to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you. In addition, Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features. Samsung will collect your interactive voice commands only when you make a specific search request to the Smart TV by clicking the activation button either on the remote control or on your screen and speaking into the microphone on the remote control.

Is that an improvement?

And now Samsung Smart TV owners are complaining that the company is inserting advertisements in the consumer’s own content or content they paid for.

• • •

January 30, 2015

Intuit/TurboTax Caves to Consumer Pressure

Filed under: Computers,Electronics,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:11 am

  After three and half weeks of stringing criticism from customers and the media, Intuit, the maker of TurboTax Deluxe, threw in the towel on January 29. The popular tax preparation software had been stripped of key functionality in a ballsy and blatant money-grab to extract an extra $30 to $40 in upgrade fees from regular users. The company is now going to offer free automatic upgrades to TurboTax Premier and Home & Business from within TurboTax Deluxe — the very thing we first called for back on January 6.

The company also vowed to restore all the missing pieces to TurboTax Deluxe next year.

Intuit president Brad Smith posted this apology on his Linked-in page:

Customers who already paid the $30 to $40 upgrade fee or who bought a higher edition of TurboTax will still be able to get a $25 rebate, but in many cases, it may not cover all their extra costs.

Intuit was taught a valuable lesson (again), but its history of practices designed to gouge its customers suggests it probably hasn’t really learned anything.

• • •

January 22, 2015

Intuit Offering Partial TurboTax Upgrade Rebates

Filed under: Electronics,Finance,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 9:24 pm


TurboTax Deluxe(BOSTON – January 22, 2015) – Following a public outcry from regular TurboTax Deluxe users who learned that the popular tax preparation software’s maker had stripped the program of key functionality this year, Intuit today apologized and somewhat reversed course by offering a $25 rebate to purchasers to partially cover the cost of having to upgrade to a more expensive version.

Without clear advance disclosure that its flagship product had changed and could no longer help users easily report all income from investments, self-employment, and rental property (Schedules C, D, and E), the company had sought $30 to $40 in upgrade fees disclosed partway into the program in order to restore its original functionality.

“Intuit offered a full apology but only a partial refund. They should be providing free automatic upgrades this year, and not requiring users to remember to send in for a rebate possibly months from now after they file their taxes,” commented Consumer World founder Edgar Dworsky. “The rebate doesn’t even cover the full cost of the upgrade in many cases.”

As of today, customers have posted over 1500 one-star reviews of TurboTax Deluxe on Amazon. And competitors like H&R Block have already offered disgruntled TurboTax customers their tax software free.

Dworsky launched a media blitz on January 6 to warn the public about the crippled TurboTax software, and to pressure the company to give all affected customers automatic free upgrades to restore the product’s full functionality. Until now, Intuit was only informally offering free or discounted upgrades to buyers who called to complain.

To save the company money, Intuit has narrowly defined who can get the $25 rebate. To qualify, customers have to had filed their 2013 income taxes using TurboTax Deluxe, and filed their 2014 return using either TurboTax Premier or Home & Business. And by using a rebate that can’t be submitted until one’s taxes are filed, the company will benefit from those who forget or can’t be bothered dealing with rebates.

UPDATE: Intuit has clarified whether you have to e-file or not to qualify for the rebate. If you e-file both the 2013 and 2014 return, their website can automatically validate your rebate request. If you paper filed, they will have to process the request manually by having you call their 800 number.

Intuit is not new to controversy or nickel-and-diming tactics. In 2008, it added a $9.95 fee to print or e-file a second return from TurboTax, but quickly rescinded the charge following a storm of criticism. And for years, it has arbitrarily “sunset” (deactivated) the online downloading and electronic bill payment functions of its popular Quicken checkbook software thus requiring consumers to buy a new version of the program every three years.

• • •

December 15, 2014

Click vs. Brick Follow-up

Filed under: Computers,Electronics,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:14 am

 Last week, Consumer World presented the results of its survey of prices on a retailer’s website compared to the prices charged for the same item at its brick-and-mortar store locations. The prices were not always the same, and web prices were not always lower.

To emphasize the point that you always have to check prices in both places, online and in-store, here is an example of the inconsistency week to week of pricing between the two.

In the original story, we showed a huge price difference on a Dell computer at Staples.com versus at Staples stores:

Staples week one prices

Just before Black Friday, the price online was $429.99, but in-store it was $180 higher — $609.99!

Fast forward to last week, December 7. The price differences reversed.

*MOUSE PRINT:

in-store week 2

—–Versus—–

week 2 online

This time, the in-store price was $130 lower than the online price. Go figure.

As we said, there is no rhyme or reason to the price variations. You can’t predict whether the online price will be cheaper or more expensive than the in-store price, so you have to check both each time.

• • •

November 17, 2014

Holy Ship, Toys-R-Us Changed the Delivery Address of my Order

Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:11 am

  As we all begin our holiday shopping online, this word of caution: scrutinize everything on the screen, fine print or not, before finalizing your order. If not, you may be in store for an unexpected surprise.

Last week, MrConsumer decided to send a toy to a friend, Jami, in Colorado for her kids. Toys-R-Us had a crazy low price for an electronic version of Scrabble, so he proceeded to order it at their website. Here’s the shopping cart showing the item:

Cart

Since this order qualified for free two-day shipping through Shoprunner (hint: AMEX cardholders should sign up for a free account good at many retailers), MrConsumer clicked the Shoprunner button and entered the Colorado address that the toy should be shipped to.

shoprunner screen

Not wanting this purchase to go on his American Express card, MrConsumer dismissed that screen and clicked the regular checkout button knowing that free shipping would still apply even entering a different credit card number.

The final checkout screen all seemed to be in order with the gift going to Jami, so he clicked the submit order button.

A few days later, FEDEX sent a notification that the gift had been delivered. Checking with Jami, she said she never received it. Did someone steal it from her doorstep?

Checking back at the FEDEX site, there was a notation that the package was left on a porch in LINCOLN, NEBRASKA! What??? Lincoln is where Jami used to live. Could MrConsumer have been so absent-minded as to erroneously list her old address on the ToysRUs.com order?

Going back to retrace his steps on the Toys-R-Us website, MrConsumer created a test order for the same toy. And just as depicted above, when clicking the Shoprunner button, the Colorado address automatically appeared. However, when clicking the regular checkout button, it appears that Toys-R-Us changed the address to Lincoln, Nebraska because that is the address it had stored from previous orders.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Toys R Us

MrConsumer called Toys-R-Us and walked the agent through all the steps above so she could see the glitch in the system. They generously provided a merchandise credit, and said they would forward this issue to their tech people.

The lesson here is that you have to scrutinize every Internet order, big print and small print alike, before hitting the submit button. Is it the right item? Is the order for only one item and not two by mistake? Did all coupon codes get accepted and deducted? And surprisingly, is it going to the right place?

• • •
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