Tag Archives | Consumer Issues

Hey, Free iPhone 4

Call me paranoid, but I have this weird feeling there may be some sort of virus going around Facebook that spams people’s walls with an unsavory message about how to get a “free” iPhone 4…


Nook Pricing Conundrum

As of today, Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader costs $199. Yesterday, on Father’s Day, it was still $259, but with a special offer. My old pal Brad Grimes continues, in a comment from our post today on Amazon’s Kindle price cut:

I bought a $259 Nook yesterday (Sunday) as a gift for my father, enticed by an offer for a “free” $50 gift card. When I saw the price today, I called to see if I could get the difference back. I was told I could get only $10 back. It turns out, after looking at my receipt, they didn’t charge me for a $259 Nook and then give me a “free” $50 gift card, as advertised. They gave me a $209 Nook and charged me $50 for the gift card. Was I just shafted by Barnes & Noble? Harry, help an old friend!!!

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AT&T Looks to Repair Image Through Social Networking

AT&T is following Comcast’s lead in turning to social networking in order to repair its tarnished brand and reach out to its customers. The company is making a full court press to counter some of the negative publicity that it has received across Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube by building a support staff devoted to answering customer concerns on popular social networking sites.

That group now numbers 19, and almost half of those reached through social networking respond to the team. AT&T is also planning to actively promote the company’s participation in social networking on its bills and websites in an effort to get even more customers to use the service.

Airing customer concerns in public may seem like counter-productive to repairing the bruised image of a company, but it’s not. In the standard phone-based customer service, nobody really sees the work the company does to fix the issue except the caller and the representative. Here in the open, everyone sees it.

While the only fixes for AT&T’s problems really lie in infrastructure improvements, any effort to quell the angst of its customers will go a long way to improving its image. The media has certainly pummeled the company (and rightly so) for its missteps in recent years, especially with the iPhone. Appearing as if it cares may buy it a little more time with consumers to get things right.

[Hat tip: AdAge]


Fifteen Consumer Electronics Design Mistakes

You saved and you saved until you could finally buy that shiny new $1000 gadget that promised you everything under the stars. When it came time to plug it in, you found your joy being subsumed by abject horror. Your stomach plunged deep into your gut and you (yes, mortal non-designer you) recognized a fundamental flaw in your flashy gizmo so obvious that it made you want to pick up the device and smash it over the designer’s head.

Even the best designers make mistakes…but this article isn’t about them. We’re about to, ahem, celebrate the worst consumer electronics designers through the lens of their faulty creations. Since I’m far from an all-knowing technology god, I’ve limited our survey to fifteen design problems that have not only bugged me through the years, but that are widespread enough to have bugged many of you too. These problems aren’t limited to current technology, but they all fall into the nebulous realm known as “consumer electronics.” You know: TVs, telephones, VCRs, DVD players, MP3 players, and more.

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Oh No, the “Free iPad” Offers Are Here!

What’s the surest sign that the iPad is the world’s hottest tech product right now? It may not be Steve Jobs telling us it’s magical and revolutionary, or the avalanche of coverage on tech blogs. Maybe it’s the arrival of cheesy ads that dangle free iPads in front of people–almost two months before the gizmo even goes on sale.

Earlier today, I was on Facebook, and saw this ad:

Free iPods for 45-year-old males? I’m 45! I’m male! What a happy coincidence! What a rare opportunity!

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The Consumerist Investigates Best Buy

The Consumerist has conducted a superb, important investigation into a Best Buy “optimization” service that involves the Geek Squad pre-tweaking PCs on sale for alleged performance and usability benefits, for a  $40 surcharge. The investigation’s conclusion: The service can make it hard to buy a computer for the advertised price, and the benefits, if there are any, aren’t worth forty bucks.

It’s certainly true that many new Windows PCs aren’t as well configured as they could be–some, in fact, are so laden with demoware and other stuff that it’s downright annoying. Here’s an idea: Why doesn’t Best Buy, a tremendously powerful company in the industry, use the leverage it has to convince PC makers to do a better job in the first place, rather than trying to squeeze an extra $40 out of consumers?


How I Accidentally Agreed to Pay $300 a Year to a Company I’d Never Heard of, for a Service I Didn’t Want

On Tuesday, I mentioned that I’d recently purchased a background check from Intelius and found that I’d unwittingly become a member of something called SavingsAce, a shopping club that costs $24.95 a month. I said that the Intelius customer service rep I’d spoken with had denied that the company had given my credit-card info to SavingsAce.

After I wrote that piece, I contacted a public-relations person at Intelius. She said that the service rep had given me faulty information: Intelius had indeed given my information to SavingsAce. But only after I’d granted permission, she said.

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EFF Outlines “Terms of (Ab)Use”

Yesterday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a consumer watchdog, embarked on a new project called Terms of (Ab)Use. Terms of (Ab)Use is the EFF’s attempt to enable people to understand what their End User License Agreements (EULAs) mean.

The EFF views EULAs as private contracts that enable online service providers to circumvent existing law and dictate their legal relationship with customers. They are frequently written to be one-sided in favor of the service provider, and are “designed to be beyond judicial scrutiny,” it said.

The organization’s objective is to cut through confusing legalese, and state what the contracts say in plain language. That goal is laudable, and could lead to greater transparency, but I wonder whether it is a problem that end users actually care about.

Do the majority of people even read EULAs before they click “Accept”? It’s doubtful. People just want to use the service, whether it be Gmail or an online game, and the provider determines how its service should be used.

The EFF needs to communicate the value of what it is doing to the public in order to be successful. Unfortunately, it is facing an uphill battle.

If a bridge collapsed, people would demand consequences. Yet, software failures are accepted, and the cost of those failures is passed onto consumers. With the exception of businesses that have iron-clad service level agreements, we are accustomed to a one-sided relationship with software vendors. There is no real framework for liability in the software industry.

It takes a group like EFF to stand up for users’ rights.

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