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May 4, 2015

Keurig 2.0 Coffeemakers Have a Built-in Detective

Filed under: Electronics,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:04 am

  KeurigThe maker of Keurig coffee machines, the ones that use those little (and expensive) K-Cups to brew a single cup of coffee, must have a clever bunch of engineers in their employ. They have created a new machine, the Keurig 2.0, that will only accept their own officially licensed cups that typically cost between 75 and 80 cents each (for about a dime’s worth of coffee). It is also designed to accept different size K-cups to brew either a single cup of coffee or four cups.

Hmmm. Where have we seen this before? Oh yes, inkjet printers. A few years ago, printer manufacturers who got tired of seeing consumers refill their own ink cartridges or buy cheap no-name ones, got the brilliant idea to affix a computer chip to each cartridge refill. That way, the printer could check if an official cartridge was installed or not. If not, the printer would stop working.

Similarly, Keurig presumably didn’t like all the cheaper knockoff little K-Cups on the market, or the reusable and washable cups that one can just add a scoop of grounds to whenever coffee was desired. So, they came up with a machine that would only turn on when a legitimate K-Cup was popped in.

How does Keurig disclose this limitation of their new coffeemakers?

*MOUSE PRINT*: From a footnote in the product description:

Keurig compatibility

What do they mean they can’t guarantee that non-Keurig-2.0 cups will work? They deliberately designed the machine not to work with them.

*MOUSE PRINT*: From their FAQs:

The Keurig® 2.0 brewer will only function with Keurig® brand pods. That means the Keurig® 2.0 brewer will brew both K-Cup® and Vue® pods and the new K-Carafe™ pods. Keurig® brand pods have been specially designed to work with the Keurig 2.0 Brewing Technology® in the Keurig® 2.0 system, which guarantees a perfect brew every time. Look for the Keurig Brewed® seal on your favorite K-Cup® pod and K-Carafe™ pod varieties to ensure a delicious cup every time. Keurig cannot guarantee that pods without the Keurig Brewed logo will work in the Keurig 2.0 brewer.

How exactly does the Keurig 2.0 work? No, they didn’t put a computer chip in every cup. The stories vary, however, of what the actual technology is, depending on whom you ask. Customer service folks at the company say the new coffeemakers have a laser that reads a serial number on the top of the new K-Cups. A company executive says that an infrared light is shined on the foil cover of each K-Cup, and the wavelength of the reflected light is measured to see if it matches a set standard.

What happens if you try to put an unlicensed little cup of grounds in the new machines? You get an error message on a little computer screen, the machine fails to start, and the coffee cops are notified.

*MOUSE PRINT:

oops

Not long after the new system came on the market, hackers went to work to defeat it, and came up with three primary ways to continue using whatever coffee containers you want. The first is removing one wire :

The other ways involved putting a legitimately licensed cap or portion of one over a rogue cup.

It may be obvious, but MrConsumer sees Keurig’s move as anti-competitive and anti-consumer. If the spy inside the machine is really only needed to distinguish between the old one-cup canisters and the new four-cup ones, I’ll forgo the wizardry and happily press a size button.

• • •

March 16, 2015

FTC Sues DirecTV Over Misleading Ads

Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:44 am

 Last week, the FTC sued DirecTV for deceptive advertising practices for their digital satellite television services.

In particular, the FTC said that their advertising didn’t make clear a number of key facts:

1. That the low advertised rate, such as $19.99, only applied to the first year of service, and that rates in the second year were typically $25 to $45 higher per month.;

2. That the consumer had to agree to a two year contract, and if they cancelled, they would be charged a $20 cancellation fee for each month remaining on the contract;

3. That the consumer’s silence after three free months of premium TV channels such as HBO or Showtime would be construed as their acceptance of continuing to receive those channels at an average of $48 extra per month — in essence, a negative option plan.

Here is a sample ad from their website as of the day after the lawsuit was filed:

DirecTV adClick ad to see actual size

Even at full size, you might not be able to read the fine print.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Near the $19.99 price: with 24-mo agreement Select package plus add’l fees.

Under “view all packages”: All DirecTV offers require 24-month agreement. Requires enrollment in auto bill pay. Select package or above. Additional equipment required & advanced receiver fees apply. Minimum 2-room set up required for free Genie upgrade offer. Select through ultimate packages.

The offer details link discloses that up to a $480 early termination fee applies.

As we have explained many times, it is not enough for advertisers to disclose key facts somehow, somewhere. It has to be “clear and conspicuous” disclosure. In the words of the FTC complaint, the agency contends that “disclosures are inadequate in terms of their content, presentation, proximity, prominence or placement such that consumers are unlikely to see or understand such disclosures.”

The FTC’s lawsuit did not emphasize a key point that consumers complain about online — the total cost of the service. Even in the first year of the contract, it is nowhere near $19.99 a month because of a multitude of added required fees and charges not clearly specified in their ads.

• • •

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.

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