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October 12, 2020

Is It a News Story or a Sales Pitch on Major News Sites?

Filed under: Business,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:04 am

Please Help Support Mouse Print*

Edgar Dworsky For 25 years, Consumer World, the creator of Mouse Print*, has served readers with the latest consumer news, money-saving tips, and independent investigations. It is your generosity (and not advertising nor corporate contributions) that keeps Mouse Print* and Consumer World available as free consumer resources. So MrConsumer turns to you and humbly asks for your support again this year. Your gift will be most appreciated.


We turn to news sites like CNBC, USA Today, CNN and many others for news stories written by seasoned reporters independent of the advertising sales side of these businesses. So, we can generally expect the stories we see on those sites not to be advertising in disguise, or somehow tempered by the writer’s knowledge that the subject of the story advertises on that site, right?

More and more, however, big name news sites are blurring the line between conventional news stories written by the site’s journalists, and what is called “commerce content.” The whole purpose of commerce content is to publish what look like news or feature stories but whose purpose is really to sell stuff to readers thereby allowing the site to earn a commission. All this is done under the aura of the well-known and trusted name of the news site on which these articles appear.

Here is an advertisement for CNN Underscored which reviews various products:



If you go to CNN Underscored directly, or from a search result, you will find a long list of stories such as ones about buying the best laptop, or finding the best cash back credit card.

CNN Underscored story

At the top of the site, however, there is a fine print disclaimer:

*MOUSE PRINT:

CNN Underscored is your guide to the everyday products and services that help you live a smarter, simpler and more fulfilling life. The content is created by CNN Underscored. CNN News staff is not involved. When you make a purchase, we receive revenue. [color added for emphasis]

That’s right. CNN (and the other sites mentioned below) typically use other writers and reporters to write these stories to help lead you to make a purchase and thus compensate the website’s publisher.

Interestingly, in its “About Us” section, CNN says that the Underscored staff doesn’t always test the products themselves but rather reads others’ reviews or other organizations’ test results as part of its research process.

Below is a Who’s Who of news media with either whole sections devoted to these sales pitches dressed up to look like regular consumer stories, or who intermingle commerce content or sponsored stories with legitimate news stories. Some do a better job than others in researching the subject matter of the story and thus provide a valuable service. Most of them do a relatively poor job in disclosing that they make money if you make a purchase from the links in their articles.

  • CNBC Select
  • USA Today Reviewed
  • New York Times Wirecutter
  • Forbes shopping
  • Yahoo! Life [certain stories]
  • Huffington Post Shopping Finds
  • Business Insider
  • BuzzFeed Shopping
  • Washington Post Brand Studio [sponsored content]
  • NBC News Brand Studio [sponsored content]
  • NBC News Shop Today
  • Tribune Publishing/BestReviews (Chicago Tribune, NY Daily News, Baltimore Sun, etc.)
  • MSN Travel/Points Guy

    So many news sites are now promoting links from which they can get paid that the Wall Street Journal has put a disclaimer at the end of some of its stories saying that it is NOT receiving any such compensation:

    *MOUSE PRINT:

    WSJ not being paid

    The trouble with these types of stories on many of the news websites is that they often are listed in Google News or Bing News when doing searches of news stories. So you have to look carefully at ANY news story to see if it is a regular news feature or a story designed to get you to buy a product or service.




  • • • •

    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

    Please Help Support Mouse Print*

    Edgar Dworsky For 25 years, Consumer World, the creator of Mouse Print*, has served readers with the latest consumer news, money-saving tips, and independent investigations. It is your generosity (and not advertising nor corporate contributions) that keeps Mouse Print* and Consumer World available as free consumer resources. So MrConsumer turns to you and humbly asks for your support again this year. Your gift will be most appreciated.


    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

    Please Help Support Mouse Print*

    Edgar Dworsky For 25 years, Consumer World, the creator of Mouse Print*, has served readers with the latest consumer news, money-saving tips, and independent investigations. It is your generosity (and not advertising nor corporate contributions) that keeps Mouse Print* and Consumer World available as free consumer resources. So MrConsumer turns to you and humbly asks for your support again this year. Your gift will be most appreciated.


    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

    Please Help Support Mouse Print*

    Edgar Dworsky For 25 years, Consumer World, the creator of Mouse Print*, has served readers with the latest consumer news, money-saving tips, and independent investigations. It is your generosity (and not advertising nor corporate contributions) that keeps Mouse Print* and Consumer World available as free consumer resources. So MrConsumer turns to you and humbly asks for your support again this year. Your gift will be most appreciated.


    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

    Please Help Support Mouse Print*

    Edgar Dworsky For 25 years, Consumer World, the creator of Mouse Print*, has served readers with the latest consumer news, money-saving tips, and independent investigations. It is your generosity (and not advertising nor corporate contributions) that keeps Mouse Print* and Consumer World available as free consumer resources. So MrConsumer turns to you and humbly asks for your support again this year. Your gift will be most appreciated.


    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.




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