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September 28, 2020

That Computer Tablet From China May Not Be Up to Spec

Filed under: Computers,Electronics,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:18 am

This is the story of a guy who bought a couple of computer tablets on eBay from China and got less than he bargained for.

Phil S. wasn’t a stranger to buying on eBay, and had purchased many computer items from sellers in the USA, China, and other countries around the globe. Phil was also a “power user” and adept at resolving just about any problem that he came across since he used to run a computer store.

Last month, he saw a tablet being offered by a highly-rated seller with excellent specifications like Android 9, a ten-core very fast processor, and tons of ram and storage. So, he bought two of them.

Phil ad pic

The tablets arrived from China a few weeks after ordering them. A quick double-check of the specs according to the “about” section of settings revealed he got exactly what he paid for, an even got an Android upgrade to version 10.

Phil tablet fake specs

However, when he started using the tablet, he noticed problems immediately. There was something off. The specs claimed that the unit was running Android 10, but the screen had the exact appearance of Android 4.4. The units seemed slow. After running a few tests, he found that they were old units hacked to appear like new, high capacity fast tablets. In other words, the seller or his henchmen went into the “about” page on the tablet (shown above in the black picture) and actually changed the wording that it displayed.

Using some sophisticated sniffing tools, Phil found some of the real specs of his tablets.

*Mouse Print:

phil actual specs

The fraud pervaded every specification that the seller had listed, speed, resolution, capacity, processor, and software version. For example, the resolution was not the 2560 x 1600 promised, but only 1280 x 720; and the processor only had four cores and not 10.

When Phil complained to eBay, they refunded his money. But he wanted to warn others about this scam. If you see ads online for no name computers with great specs but at ridiculously low prices (Phil’s tablets were only $69), you might want to think twice before hitting the buy button.




• • •

July 27, 2020

The NBC Peacock Buries a Gem in its Terms and Conditions

Filed under: Humor,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:37 am

Lawyers sometimes have a sense of humor. This is evidenced by the fact that every year or so one of them hides a totally irrelevant provision in a company’s terms and conditions statement just to prove that virtually no one ever reads through all the boilerplate.

In the past, we’ve spotlighted the local TV station that buried a provision in their standard release form requiring the interviewee to don a Santa’s cap and sing a song. Then there was the provision that granted users free wifi in public areas in London, but they had to give up their first born child in exchange. And there was the case when Amazon released a new gaming platform for developers but the terms and conditions warned against using the code in any life-critical situations except if a virus was transmitted by zombies and threatened the existence of mankind.

Now comes NBC with its new Peacock streaming service and a nearly 10,000 word terms of use statement.

*MOUSE PRINT:

 

Would you care to try to find the hidden gem?

If you give up, the answer is here.

 




• • •

May 11, 2020

Bored at Home? Reading “Terms of Service” Agreements Will Fill Your Days!

Filed under: Business,Humor,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:53 am

Most of us usually don’t have the time or patience to read a website’s “terms of service” (TOS) agreement. We simply click “agree” if we are even asked in the first place to consent to their various conditions. But now that we are all cooped up at home, we actually have the time to review those contracts. I know, you’d rather clean your kitchen counter one more time and wipe down all your groceries instead.

Some of those policies are ridiculously long. The Microsoft TOS agreement, for example, runs over 15,000 words — just slightly shorter than Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

So, to help you visualize what a daunting task it would actually be to read the TOS agreements from 14 of America’s leading companies and websites, the Visual Capitalist created this infographic. It depicts the comparative length of each company’s policy and how long each would take to read.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Terms of Service

Scroll down the chart OR Click to enlarge.

These companies rely on the laziness of their customers who rarely take time to read the fine print of what they are agreeing to. And most times, the terms benefit the company more than you.




• • •

May 4, 2020

How Unscrupulous Sellers Mislead on Shipping, Country of Origin

Filed under: Health,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:52 am

In his quest to find protective masks after Amazon and eBay removed most of their listings on account of price gouging, MrConsumer turned to AliExpress — the eBay/Amazon of China.

While masks there were likely double or triple their pre-pandemic prices, some third-party sellers on the site offered fast four to seven day delivery from sources in the United States (at a higher price than the same masks if shipped from China).

AliExpress Mask Ad

So MrConsumer ordered these masks on April 11. The package was shipped two days later with a USPS tracking number from New Jersey and should certainly arrive in Massachusetts in just a matter of a day or two, or so I thought.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Shipping confirmation

While the USPS tracking number was issued on April 13, two days after ordering, as of May 4 – three weeks later – the post office still had not received the package from the company.

The tracking information screen showed that the item was being shipped from one United States location to another, however, a hidden tracking number indicated the real origin was China. See that inconspicuous link at the bottom that says “Data Provided by CAINIAO?” That takes you to a Chinese shipping company with the real tracking information.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Chinese tracking

The package was actually shipped from Shenzhen, China on April 21 — 10 days after the order was placed, and three days after it should have already been received.

What is going on here? It appears that this company and others that play this game on AliExpress, eBay, and perhaps Amazon Marketplace, make customers believe their shipment originates domestically when in fact it is coming from overseas. A USPS shipping and tracking number is issued at the outset to further mislead customers about the shipping timing and origin. At some point, either in China or when the package arrives in the US at the transfer point, the USPS label is slapped on the package indicating the final leg of its journey to the customer.

MrConsumer used the AliExpress dispute process because the goods had not been received during the buyer protection period. The company authorized a full refund on May 2.




• • •

March 16, 2020

Is it a News Story or an Advertisement?

Filed under: Business,Finance,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:00 am

More and more online news sites seem to be blurring the line between bona fide news and stories that seem more like advertisements.

Last fall, we demonstrated how some Tribune newspapers published product reviews naming the “best” products in a particular but sometimes obscure category, while the publisher quietly earned a commission on the sale of each one shown. Making money may have been a big motivation behind the columns.

Now Business Insider, a popular online site featuring business news stories, is publishing some articles that seem more like promotions than news features.

For example, last week they published this story:

Ally -10 more accounts

Starting in the second paragraph, the reporter touts Ally Bank and the 11 high-yield savings accounts that she has opened there:

I earn interest on the money that’s sitting in that account, and it feels like I won a prize every time I check it.

My husband and I have 11 high-yield savings accounts with Ally, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ally’s online interface makes it easy to see how much I have saved for each goal, and how much I’ve earned in interest this year — currently $44.31.

Say what? You have 11 accounts at Ally and all you’ve made is a measily $44? (We wrote to the reporter to ask if all that was really true, but she did not respond.)

In the story, not a negative word is said about Ally. The reporter mainly extols the virtues of high-yield savings accounts and the one at Ally Bank, but ignores the fact that more than three dozen other banks tracked by DepositAccounts.com pay higher rates of interest on savings accounts than Ally does.

Toward the end of the story, there is an embedded advertisement. Can you guess what bank is being advertised there?

*MOUSE PRINT:

Ally ad

That fine print says that a company called SmartAsset has placed this ad and earns revenue from it, as one might expect.

Business Insider then posts a disclaimer but only after the end of the story:

*MOUSE PRINT:

disclaimer

So Business Insider gets a cut of the commissions when readers open an Ally Bank account. Or perhaps 11 of them.

What is surprising is that back in October, Business Insider published two other similar pieces about Ally Bank where different reporters each touted their experiences with the same bank (and did not include criticism, nor any comparisons to other banks with high-yield accounts):

“I opened a high-yield savings account with online bank Ally to earn 20 times more on my money, and it’s safe to say I’m obsessed”

and

“I ditched my bank when I got married to earn 200 times more with an Ally high-yield savings account, and now I’d tell anyone to try it”

Exactly how many first person testimonial articles touting Ally Bank is Business Insider planning to publish? Could all these stories really be more about making money for Business Insider, Smart Asset, and Ally Bank rather than serving readers with a useful, objective analysis of high-yield savings accounts and the pros and cons of various providers?

Apparently a marketing theory gaining traction suggests that publishers can increase their their income by filling webpages with more “commerce content” — product-centric stories rather than traditional news stories or sponsored stories or ads. When viewers read these positive stories and if tracking reveals they bought the product or service, the publisher is compensated. According to one company in this business, Skimlinks, the most advanced publishers can derive 25-percent of their revenue this way.

The problem for readers is poor disclosure. Publishers should be upfront and disclose financial ties right at the top of stories, so we can better distinguish articles designed to sell us stuff from conventional editorial content.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has two sets of guidelines that call for clear and conspicuous disclosure — one when commercial content is made to look like conventional editorial content (Native Advertising Guidelines) and the other when there is a financial connection between a presenter of information and the subject of that information (Endorsement and Testimonial Guidelines).

We asked all the parties involved (Business Insider, Ally Bank, and Smart Asset) to explain what’s going on here. Are these bona fide news stories or advertisements? Who provided the story and who is paying whom? And do any of them think that readers are being put on clear notice of the underlying commercial nature of them?

Business Insider did not respond directly, but through SmartAsset provided this statement:

Business Insider’s personal finance reporters covered Ally as a product they would recommend, which is their standard practice. In lieu of affiliate links – which are common when it comes to “commerce content” – SmartAsset was used to sell ads against these stories. Any ad revenue generated by such coverage occurred independently of and only after the reporters’ decision to write about Ally.

For its part, SmartAsset (the company which placed the Ally ad), said it did not write the stories, nor pay Business Insider to write them. It only shares revenue with them.

Lastly, Ally Bank said it was not aware of the three stories above before they were published. It says it neither paid Business Insider nor SmartAsset to run them. It does pay SmartAsset to list its deposit rates on various websites.

So, what’s a savvy reader to do? Look more closely at content (stories, blog posts, etc.) even on respected news websites. Ask yourself why is this being posted? Is it truly conveying objective information, including both pros and cons? Are other competing products or services compared? Is there an ad or link within the content directly related to the subject of the story? Are there any disclosures that might reveal a hidden financial connection?

For our part, we will be bringing the concepts and issues related to “commerce content” to the attention of the FTC as they explore what changes should be made to their testimonial guidelines. You can participate in their process here.




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