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April 22, 2013

Is Getting a $7 Discount Worth Giving Up Your Privacy?

Filed under: Internet,Retail,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:29 am

Sears and Kmart run a rewards program called Shop Your Way Rewards, giving you points for purchases. They are now expanding it to other retailers. In a joint marketing promotion with Visa, they are promising to give you $7 in rewards credit, if you register your Visa card. MrConsumer was tempted by the free $7.

Shop Your Way

On the registration page, they ask for your cellphone number. That should always be a warning flag that you may be getting calls or texts on your mobile phone. The little question mark near the mobile phone field, however, doesn’t say that.


Shop Your Way

Whewwww. That’s a relief.

Well, not so fast. Toward the bottom of the enrollment form, there is a bunch of fine print.


I agree that the SYW Link Program may send me SMS messages to my registered mobile phone number confirming each time the program identifies a potentially qualifying SYW Link purchase, as well as additional SMS messages (approximately 8 per month, which may vary) with SYW offers or updates. Msg&Data Rates May Apply.

Your Visa card’s historic (up to past 13 months) and future transaction history (including air travel itinerary information and location of the merchant where you used your card) may be used to deliver you with offers and messages from the SYW Link Program based on your purchase behavior. [color emphasis added]

In plain English, you are authorizing Sears and Visa to send you eight text message ads a month, in addition to texts each time you make a qualifying purchase. Further, you are allowing the companies to review over a year’s worth of your purchases so they can better profile you.

MrConsumer decided that a lousy $7 payment was not a fair trade for getting a bunch of unwanted text message ads about who knows what, and allowing them to see his purchasing habits. While one can later opt-out of the text messages, the invasion of privacy was too high a price to pay.

• • •

November 5, 2012

T-Mobile’s “Unlimited?” 4G Service

Filed under: Internet,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:42 am

Few services advertised as “unlimited” are truly unlimited. And T-Mobile continues to be a case in point.

When T-Mobile began advertising “unlimited” data on its cellphones in April 2011, the fine print indicated that only the first two gigabytes were truly unlimited. Any use beyond that would be slowed down or “throttled.” And of course, that fact was not as prominently disclosed as their unlimited claims.

Fast forward to September 2012. T-Mobile published full page ads with a new unlimited claim:

T-Mobile unlimited

However, at the bottom page in almost unreadable type was this:


T-Mobile unlimited fine print

Not obvious on its face, the new unlimited plan is not considered “Ultra” or “Premium” where customers’ data transmission speeds will be given priority when traffic is heavy. That could put those on the new unlimited plan in coach and thus they may not experience the same fast speeds.

Beyond that, on T-Mobile’s “test drive” website, the company seems to proclaim a list of benefits to those who select the new 4G unlimited service (note: graphic has been compressed to fit this page):


The top-listed benefit is the ability to create a wi-fi hotspot so that data can be shared with other devices nearby such as a tablet. However, when clicking on that benefit, one discovers that this is NOT a benefit of the new unlimited 4G plan.



NOTE: MrConsumer is a member of Verizon’s Consumer Advisory Board, and often criticizes that company for its advertising missteps.

• • •

August 27, 2012

Oh Gee, Cell Carriers Fudge 4G Claims

Filed under: Internet,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:54 am

If you just landed here from Mars and needed data service to phone home, you would be confused because most cell companies each make you think they have the biggest 4G data networks. Actually, earthlings might be experiencing the same confusion.

AT&T claims:


Verizon claims:


T-Mobile claims:


How in the world can AT&T claim that its 4G network has 2000 more cities than Verizon at the same time that Verizon claims to have more 4G LTE coverage than all other networks combined?

The answer is simple (and deceptive): they all define 4G differently.


On AT&T’s website, they disclose that the company calls two different technologies “4G”:


AT&T defines 4G as including its HSPA+ and LTE networks, while Verizon only counts its LTE network. Which one is fudging the numbers? According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s AT&T:


AT&T Pins 4G Label to Existing Network

AT&T Inc. flipped a switch and turned on its 4G wireless network Wednesday. The switch, however, was in the company’s marketing department.

By relabeling its existing 3G network, the country’s second-largest wireless carrier joined the noisy fray over so-called fourth-generation wireless technology, which promises mobile Internet speeds so fast that huge files can be downloaded in minutes and streaming video can be watched without the interruptions of earlier-generation technologies.

As recently as September, AT&T executives had referred to the company’s current network, which runs on a technology it calls HSPA-plus, as 3G. – WSJ, January 5, 2011

So, AT&T is making people think their 4G network is larger by simply rebranding its 3G network as 4G, and adding the 53 markets it offers 4G LTE to it. (LTE is commonly viewed as the truly faster 4G network, and the future of 4G.) Verizon, on the other hand, only counts its 4G LTE cities as part of its 4G network.

Our advice: forget the marketing labels. Find out what actual speeds the various networks in your area provide, and make your cell service choices based on real numbers. (Use at cell stores to check actual speeds.)

Note: MrConsumer is a member of Verizon’s Consumer Advisory Board (and often criticizes them for advertising missteps).

• • •

June 18, 2012

Verizon’s “Share Everything” Plan: You’ll Pay Less or More

Filed under: Internet,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:50 am

Last week, Verizon Wireless announced a new “Share Everything” plan, that radically changes how cell services are sold. Starting June 28, if you upgrade your phone and pay a subsidized/discounted price for it, this plan may affect you. You can also voluntarily switch to this plan.

On the positive side, Share Everything lets a family share one pot of data each month the same way they currently share a bucket of minutes. Currently each family plan member has to buy a $30 data pack for their smartphone. Also on the positive side, it appears that most people on unlimited calling plans will save money under the new scheme.

On the negative side, those folks who are looking to reduce their plan minutes for calling may be forced into unlimited calling plans for which they have no use. And they may pay more. People with multiple devices, even individuals, will be charged a fee for each device that can tap into their one pot of data.


To see how this compares with what customers are currently paying, we looked at two (of many) scenarios.

Example 1: One person with one smartphone currently with an unlimited calling plan, 1000 text messages, and 2-gigs of data.

That person pays a total of $109.99 currently (unlimited calling ($69.99), 1000 texts ($10), and 2-gigs of data ($30). Under the Share Everything plan, he or she would pay $100 (smartphone ($40) + 2-gigs of data ($60) + “free unlimited calls and texts”). That is a $10 savings a month. If that person also had a tablet, currently that would add $30 a month to their bill for an additional 2-gigs. Under the new plan, that tablet would only cost $10 extra, but not come with any additional data. If the customer wanted a total of 4-gigs of data to be shared by the smartphone and the tablet, that adds another $10. So this customer in total would save $20 a month compared to the current system.

Example 2: Three people on a family plan with two smartphones and one basic phone, sharing 700 minutes of calling, unlimited texts, and two of them having 2-gigs of data each.

That family currently pays: $169.97 (700 calling minutes ($69.98) + third phone ($9.99) + unlimited texts ($30) + 2-gigs per smartphone ($60) ). Under the new system, they would pay a total of $180.00 ( 2 smartphones ($80) + 1 basic phone ($30) + 4-gigs data to share ($70).

The bottom line is that everyone on Verizon will have to do the math to see if it is best to stick with their current plan or switch to Share Everything.

Note: MrConsumer is a member of Verizon’s Consumer Advisory Board.

• • •

May 6, 2012

Vonage: Unlimited International Calls?

Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:57 am

Telephone and cell companies have popularized “unlimited” calling plans, and customers love them. There is no watching the clock, and checking the number of minutes used.

One company that advertised unlimited calling is Vonage — the leading voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) company. Part of a commercial they ran in the past said:

The fine print is inconsequential for purposes of this story, but refers in part to the fact the only certain countries were included, and maybe not to cell phones in all countries.

Vonage’s website confirms that calling is unlimited to 60 countries:

Lo and behold, the company sent this letter to one customer claiming that he used too many minutes on his unlimited plan.


We appreciate your business and thank you for using Vonage for your phone service.

In order to provide the best value to all our customers, we track usage of Vonage residential calling plans. At the time of signup, you agreed to the Vonage Terms of Service (TOS), which includes usage guidelines for normal residential use. If you would like to review the usage guidelines, please see sections 5 and 10 of the TOS.

We have observed usage on your account, 1234567890 , which is not consistent with normal residential use. Specifically, your account shows irregular patterns of use and/or international-minute usage that is more than twice that of our heaviest users.

At this time, you can remain on your current plan, but your usage will need to be changed to fall within normal residential use guidelines; this usage would generally not exceed 3,000 international minutes per month. [emphasis added] As another option, you can switch to a different calling plan, or you can disconnect your service without penalty.

For additional information about your options please respond to this email and one of our associates will be glad to assist you.

Vonage Customer Service

When at Vonage’s terms of service, one learns


5.4 Inconsistent with Normal Use.
If you use the service, any feature or the device in a way that is inconsistent with the normal use for your service, feature or plan, you will be required, at Vonage’s sole discretion, to pay the rates for the service, feature or plan that would apply to the way you used the service, feature or device, or terminate the plan. For example, if you subscribe to one of our residential service plans, and your usage is inconsistent with normal residential use, you may thereafter be required to pay our applicable, higher rates for commercial service for all periods in which your use of our service or the device was inconsistent with normal residential use. Unlimited voice services are provided primarily for continuous live dialog between two individuals. Lack of continuous dialog activity, unusual call patterns, excessive conferencing or call forwarding, excessive numbers and/or consistent excessive usage (which may also apply to features such as Directory Assistance) will be considered indicators that use may be inconsistent with normal use, or that impermissible use may be occurring and may trigger an account review or further action by us. We may determine inconsistent use based on material deviations from the usage patterns and levels of most of our customers using the same and/or similar service plans, features or devices

In summary, they say if your use is inconsistent with normal residential use, they can charge you commercial rates, put you in a higher priced plan, or terminate your service. Nowhere do they establish a specific cap of 3000 international minutes.

If you think about it, 3000 minutes a month is only 100 minutes a day — just over an hour and a half of calling. I could easily imagine someone with loved ones overseas talking that amount of time.

This is yet another example of companies that like to advertise “unlimited” services of one kind or another, but in fact they do have limits that are not clearly stated upfront.

• • •
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