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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.

• • •

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.

• • •
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