Jack Yan
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The Persuader

My personal blog, started in 2006.



17.02.2018

Of course Facebook knew about stolen accounts, even back in 2014: I told them


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

In Wired today: ‘Russian trolls stole US identities to hide in plain sight’. This included hacking to steal Social Security details, then create social media presences using real identities.
   I could have told you about the fake Facebook presences in 2014. Hang on, I did. There was an entire series of blog posts about it here and on my Tumblr.
   While I couldn’t have known who was behind these accounts, I said Facebook had an ‘epidemic’ of bots back then. Some were really fake. But many used convincing American names and US cities and towns. Some were hacked existing accounts but most, back then, were newly created. I even tended to list them before I got tired of doing so. In one night in 2014, I found 277 fake accounts. Facebook wouldn’t even let me report more than 50 per day. After reporting them, they left many of them up, and they necessitated repeated reports.
   You can go on my Tumblr and find more posts like that, but with fewer than 277. Still, that wasn’t an outlier. I had another night were there were 240 or so.
   Now, if one guy can find 200-plus in one night, just how many were there?
   Wired says:

According to the indictment, the Russians not only created Paypal accounts, bank accounts, and false identity documents with stolen American identities, but also created social media accounts, using victims’ names to more authentically fabricate political sock puppets and avoid detection.

And:

WIRED reached out to both Twitter and Facebook to ask if the companies had any prior knowledge of those impersonation instances, and Twitter declined to respond.
   Facebook didn’t respond to WIRED’s specific questions on those stolen accounts.

   Let me tell you now that Facebook did have prior knowledge of impersonation instances and stolen accounts, and I allege they go back many years. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment alleges that the accused started their social media work (the ‘translator project’) in April 2014, the same year I reported what I saw. (A few years later, a massive bunch of South Korean Facebook accounts were hacked and renamed.) Commercial bot nets (my original suspicion, but then I’m lousy at thinking up crimes and would make an appalling crime novelist), or something more sinister?
   To this day, Holly Jahangiri and I can still find them. I don’t even use my Facebook wall any more, and just have a glance at a few groups and pages I run. Even there the bots are coming thick and fast, and many of the ones Holly finds impersonate US military family members.
   Maybe it’s a stretch to say it’s “the Russians”. I still find it hard to believe I could have stumbled upon anything like that, but reading that indictment, and the years the US Justice Department names, makes me wonder. There’s that list of 277—feel free to investigate them if you can, whether you are American or Russian. It’s open to all, and I’d love to know who was behind them. My only real surprise is that others, surely, must have seen this? So many of us use Facebook. I didn’t hunt for these people, they were just around, joining groups and pages, and sending friend requests to cover how fake they were. It didn’t take a genius to work out they were fake. I spent days reporting them because I didn’t want a site I was using to be full of bots, sucking up resources.


Filed under: internet, politics, USA—Jack Yan @ 11.48

14.02.2018

Why you shouldn’t sign up for Facebook’s two-factor authentication

I know, you’re stick of reading my reporting on my experiences with Facebook et al, let alone what someone else is going through. But here’s a word of warning from Gabriel Lewis, who signed up to Facebook’s two-factor authentication. Note: he never opted in to SMS notifications, and he doesn’t have the Facebook app. He’s not alone.
   Once again, just because Facebook might prompt you to do something doesn’t mean you should. I was suckered in once,* not going to happen again.

* Facebook’s fake malware warnings are now happening to a big number of Mac users, who aren’t infected. This will simply unravel more and more.


Filed under: internet, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 21.52


When Microsoft says your Windows 10 needs a reset or full reinstallation, they might be wrong

As many of you know, between around December 8 and February 2—dates during which I had Microsoft Windows 10’s fall Creators update without the January 31 cumulative patch—my computer suffered roughly three to six BSODs per day. Going on to Bleeping Computer was helpful, but Microsoft’s wisdom tended to be hackneyed and predictable.
   While I was lucky at Microsoft Answers and got a tech who wasn’t rehashing remarks from other threads, eventually he gave up and suggested I download the old spring Creators update, if that was the last version that was OK.
   I never had the time, and on February 2, I got the cumulative patch and everything has been fine since.
   It means, of course, that Microsoft had released a lemon at the end of 2017 and needed a big patch to deal with the problems it had caused. No word to their people on the forum though, who were usually left scratching their heads and concluding that the only option was a clean installation.
   I had bet one of the techs, however, that there was nothing wrong with my set-up, and everything to do with the OS. We know Windows is no longer robust because of the QC processes Microsoft uses, with each team checking its own code. That’s like proofreading your own work. You don’t always spot the errors.
   I said I could walk into any computer store and find that the display models were crashing as well.
   Last weekend, I did just that.
   Here are the Reliability Monitors of two Dell laptops running factory settings picked at random at JB Hi-fi in Lower Hutt.



Above: The Reliability Monitors of two display Dell laptops at JB Hi-fi in Lower Hutt, picked at random.


Above: My Reliability Monitor doesn’t look too bad by comparison—and suggests that it’s Microsoft, not my set-up, that was responsible for the multiple BSODs.

   The Monitors look rather like my own, not scoring above 2 out of 10.
   They are crashing on combase.dll for the most part, whereas mine’s crashing on ntdll.dll. Nevertheless, these are crashes that shouldn’t be happening, and a new machine shouldn’t have a reliability score that low.
   For those of you who suspect you have done nothing wrong, that your computer has always worked till recently, and you practise pretty good computer maintenance, your gut’s probably right. The bugs aren’t your fault, but that of slapdash, unchecked programming. I doubt you need full reinstallations. You may, however, have to put up with the bugs till a patch is released. It is the folly of getting an update too early—a lesson that was very tough to relearn this summer.


Filed under: New Zealand, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 01.57

09.02.2018

Orange may be the new black but the difference is less than you think


Instruct Studio

It’s easy to dismiss comedians as, well, comedians, there to tell a joke and to get a laugh out of us. But what if the comedian—such as Frankie Boyle—is one of those who sees the state of the world we’re in, and “tells it as it is”? His opinion for The Guardian makes for sobering reading.
   Initially, you think this was going to be a laugh-a-minute piece, when he writes, of US president Donald Trump:

You kind of wish he’d get therapy, but at this stage it’s like hiring a window cleaner for a burning building.

   But there are some uncomfortable truths, and it is certainly not slanted against the right, despite the medium:

I don’t really understand commentators who say it’s vital not to normalise any of Trump’s actions. They have been normalised for eight years by Barack Obama while many of the same people looked the other way. Banks and corporations writing their own legislation; war by executive order; mass deportations; kill lists: it’s all now as normal and American as earthquakes caused by fracked gases being ignited by burning abortion clinics. Of course, there is a moral difference in whether such actions are performed by a Harvard-educated constitutional law professor or a gibbering moron, and the distinction goes in Trump’s favour. That’s not to say Trump won’t plumb profound new depths of awfulness, like the disbanding of the environmental protection agency set up by hippy, libtard snowflake Richard Nixon.

   When confronted with that, it becomes much clearer why many people—and I include American friends of mine who are neither racists nor hicks (sorry to go against the mainstream narrative)—voted for Trump. If the country’s making some very un-American moves, then why not have someone who claims he can make a clean sweep? Never mind that he had no intention of doing so—it’s a case of swapping one bunch for another while satiating his own ego—but people cling to hope in their own ways. I am no supporter of the main alternative they had—Hillary Clinton—and only wish that Americans had the confidence to support a third party as we do, rather than be told ‘A vote for [Jill or Gary] is a vote for [Donald or Hillary].’ I heard this from both supporters of the right (Clinton) and further right (Trump) there, and it didn’t matter which third-party candidate’s name they inserted.
   It’s a reminder that we need to continue forging our own path, and do what is right by us—and it appears our new coalition government has received this message on so many policy fronts in its first 100 days, though with the revised TPPA I wonder sometimes. As Britain is finding out, it’s not that good for your own people to be a vassal of the United States in times like this.
   The solution? Focus on your own doorstep and do what you can with your own government. I won’t quote Boyle’s words here since I’d rather you click through and The Guardian can earn some money from ad revenue (at least from those of us who aren’t using ad blockers), but it’s a good a solution as any.


Filed under: culture, media, New Zealand, politics, UK, USA—Jack Yan @ 09.53

06.02.2018

The folly of Windows 10

Now that I’ve gone four days without a BSOD, it does appear Microsoft realized it had rolled out another lemon, and, nearly two months later, patched things. Goodness knows how many hours it has cost people worldwide—the forums have a lot of people reporting BSODs (maybe it’s confirmation bias, but I really don’t remember this many, ever). I posted this in a discussion entitled ‘Windows 10 is a nightmare!’, and the comments there make for sobering reading. A small number have had to purchase new computers; others report that the OS has made their computers unusable or that countless hours were spent trying to fix things. I can believe it. My addition:

I have to concur with the original poster: Windows 10 has been, hands-down, the most shockingly unreliable OS ever made, by anyone, anywhere.
   I have spent more time here for this OS than at any other time with Microsoft products—and Windows 10 has been terrible from day one.
   Most recently, I have had multiple BSODs per day since the fall Creators update was installed, and until Microsoft rolled out a patch at the end of January that finally fixed problems of its own making. If your computer is BSODing multiple times a day, with 800-plus events in the reliability monitor per week, then you can imagine how little work gets done. Things finally calmed down on February 2, when I received the cumulative update. You can see the thread for yourself here: I actually feel sorry for the MS tech who stepped in, because he’s solving problems a crap product with faults not of his own making. They won’t be bugs that are in his handbook. Looking at this part of the forum alone, BSOD comes up a lot in the subject lines, more than I ever remember. So it isn’t us, Microsoft, it’s you.
   Going right back to day one, I can’t believe how many threads I’m involved in. Windows 10 started up differently each day, as it would forget its own settings each day. Some days Cortana worked, other days it didn’t. Sometimes I had the UK keyboard (which I had never once installed), other days the US. In November 2015 I had to post a queryto ask how many hours it would take for a Windows 10 machine to shut down. That’s right, hours. At least that’s better than some of you who commented earlier who can’t get yours to start up.
   Initially, Cortana required fiddling with each day to get it to work. Notifications once went back in time—on a Saturday I began getting notifications from the previous Thursday. None from Friday though, they all vanished. Windows began forgetting my default browser and default PDF application, and no, you couldn’t fix either from the standard settings. The Anniversary update took 11 attempts to install on this PC—and one of them screwed things up so badly my PC was bricked and wound up at the shop, where I had to spend money to get it fixed urgently. (I joked at the time it was called Windows 10 because you needed more than 10 attempts to do anything.) It never installed on my laptop at all: by the time Creators spring came round, the one update that was compatible with my laptop, it had been through 40 unsuccessful update cycles.
   There’s still more that I can share, and you can probably find it via my profile. I would add more but on the original reply I actually hit a limit on these boxes. I guess Microsoft has a limit to how much bad news it can take from one user.
   Microsoft has actually changed its QC procedures for the worse—that is a matter of record—and you’d think after three years of abject failure they would switch back. We see the same hackneyed official responses here day in, day out. They need to spend more time getting things right before they ship their OSs, and spare their community people a lot of wasted hours with solutions that generally do not work. In my latest thread, I fixed it—yes, the tech helped a bit, but ultimately I had to listen to my gut and believe that MS had messed up. I was right, but wow, at a massive cost to my real job with days lost to being Microsoft’s unpaid technician.

   It is good, however, to come out the other side (knock on wood)—and despite the countless hours spent, I was once again right, and conventional wisdom was wrong. I’m not sure if that’s something to be that proud of. A healthy mistrust of big firms stands one in good stead nevertheless, and remember, every industry has thick people making stuff.


Filed under: technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 01.42

04.02.2018

The path of least resistance: we humans aren’t discerning enough sometimes

I came across a thread at Tedium where Christopher Marlow mentions Pandora Mail as an email client that took Eudora as a starting-point, and moved the game forward (e.g. building in Unicode support).
   As some of you know, I’ve been searching for an email client to use instead of Eudora (here’s something I wrote six years ago, almost to the day), but worked with the demands of the 2010s. I had feared that Eudora would be totally obsolete by now, in 2018, but for the most part it’s held up; I remember having to upgrade in 2008 from a 1999 version and wondering if I only had about nine years with the new one. Fortunately, it’s survived longer than that.
   Brana Bujenović’s Pandora Mail easily imported everything from Eudora, including the labels I had for the tables of contents, and the personalities I had, but it’s not 100 per cent perfect, e.g. I can’t resize type in my signature file. However, finally I’ve found an email client that does one thing that no other client does: I can resize the inbox and outbox to my liking, and have them next to each other. In the mid-1990s, this was one of Eudora’s default layouts, and it amazed me that this very efficient way of displaying emails never caught on. I was also heartened to learn from Tedium that Eudora was Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s email client of choice (‘The most important thing I use is Eudora, and that’s discontinued’). I’m in good company.
   However, this got me thinking how most users tolerate things, without regard, in my opinion, to what’s best for them. It’s the path of least resistance, except going down this path makes life harder for them.
   The three-panel layout is de rigueur for email clients today—all the ones I’ve downloaded and even paid good money for have followed this. Thunderbird, Mailbird, the oddly capitalized eM. All have had wonderful reviews and praise, but none allow you to configure the in- and outbox sizes. Hiri’s CEO says that’s something they’re looking at but right now, they’re not there, either. Twenty-plus years since I began using Eudora and no one has thought of doing this, and putting the power of customization with the user.
   But when did this three-panel layout become the standard? I can trace this back to Outlook Express, bundled with Windows in the late 1990s, and, if I’m not mistaken, with Macs as well. I remember working with Macs and Outlook was standard. I found the layout limiting because you could only see a few emails in the table of contents at any given time, and I usually have hundreds of messages come in. I didn’t want to scroll, and in the pre-mouse-wheel environment of the 1990s, neither would you. Yet most people put up with this, and everyone seems to have followed Outlook Express’s layout since. It’s a standard, but only one foisted on people who couldn’t be bothered thinking about their real requirements. It wasn’t efficient, but it was free (or, I should say, the licence fee was included in the purchase of the OS or the computer).
   ‘It was free’ is also the reason Microsoft Word overtook WordPerfect as the standard word processor of the 1990s, and rivals that followed, such as Libre Office and Open Office, had to make sure that they included Word converters. I could never understand Word and again, my (basic) needs were simple. I wanted a word processor where the fonts and margins would stay as they were set till I told it otherwise. Word could never handle that, and, from what I can tell, still can’t. Yet people tolerated Word’s quirks, its random decisions to change font and margins on you. I shudder to think how many hours were wasted on people editing their documents—Word can’t even handle columns very easily (the trick was usually to type things in a single column, then reformat—so much for a WYSIWYG environment then). I remember using WordPerfect as a layout programme, using its Reveal Codes feature—it was that powerful, even in DOS. Footnoting remains a breeze with WordPerfect. But Word overtook WordPerfect, which went from number one to a tiny, niche player, supported by a few diehards like myself who care about ease of use and efficiency. Computers, to me, are tools that should be practical, and of course the UI should look good, because that aids practicality. Neither Outlook nor Word are efficient. On a similar note I always found Quattro Pro superior to Excel.
   With Mac OS X going to 64-bit programs and ending support for 32-bit there isn’t much choice out there; I’ve encountered Mac Eudora users who are running out of options; and WordPerfect hasn’t been updated for Mac users for years. To a large degree this answers why the Windows environment remains my choice for office work, with Mac and Linux supporting OSs. Someone who comes up with a Unicode-supporting word processor that has the ease of use of WordPerfect could be on to something.
   Then you begin thinking what else we put up with. I find people readily forget or forgive the bugs on Facebook, for example. I remember one Twitter conversation where a netizen claimed I encountered more Facebook bugs than anyone else. I highly doubt that, because her statement is down to short or unreliable memories. I seem to recall she claimed she had never experienced an outage—when in fact everyone on the planet did, and it was widely reported in the media at the time. My regular complaints about Facebook are to do with how the website fails to get the basics right after so many years. Few, I’m willing to bet, will remember that no one’s wall updated on January 1, 2012 if you lived east of the US Pacific time zone, because the staff at Facebook hadn’t figured out that different time zones existed. So we already know people put up with websites commonly that fail them; and we also know that privacy invasions don’t concern hundreds of millions, maybe even thousands of millions, of people, and the default settings are “good enough”.
   Keyboards wider than 40 cm are bad for you as you reach unnecessarily far for the mouse, yet most people tolerate 46 cm unless they’re using their laptops. Does this also explain the prevalence of Toyota Camrys, which one friend suggested was the car you bought if you wanted to ‘tell everyone you had given up on life’? It probably does explain the prevalence of automatic-transmission vehicles out there: when I polled my friends, the automatic–manual divide was 50–50, with many in the manual camp saying, ‘But I own an automatic, because I had no choice.’ If I didn’t have the luxury of a “spare car”, then I may well have wound up with something less than satisfactory—but I wasn’t going to part with tens of thousands of dollars and be pissed off each time I got behind the wheel. We don’t demand, or we don’t make our voices heard, so we get what vendors decide we want.
   Equally, you can ask why many media buyers always buy with the same magazines, not because it did their clients any good, but because they were safe bets that wouldn’t get them into trouble with conservative bosses. Maybe the path of least resistance might also explain why in many democracies, we wind up with two main parties that attract the most voters—spurred by convention which even some media buy into. (This also plays into mayoral elections!)
   Often we have ourselves to blame when we put up with inferior products, because we haven’t demanded anything better, or we don’t know anything better exists, or simply told people what we’d be happiest with. Or that the search for that product costs us in time and effort. Pandora has had, as far as I can fathom, no press coverage (partly, Brana tells me, by design, as they don’t want to deal with the traffic just yet; it’s understandable since there are hosting costs involved, and he’d have to pay for it should it get very popular).
   About the only place where we have been discerning seems to be television consumption. So many people subscribe to cable, satellite, Amazon Prime, or Netflix, and in so doing, support some excellent programming. Perhaps that is ultimately our priority as a species. We’re happy to be entertained—and that explains those of us who invest time in social networking, too. Anything for that hit of positivity, or that escapism as we let our minds drift.


Filed under: business, cars, culture, design, internet, politics, publishing, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 11.38

03.02.2018

Windows 10, with the BSOD-prone Creators fall update, is calming down

I wonder if we have finally got there with Windows 10’s many BSOD crashes.
   Since my last post on the subject in late January, I have had a few more BSODs, but (knock on wood) things have been more stable for a few days. Then again, I haven’t pushed the computer quite as much. Here’s how the Reliability Monitor is looking:

Changes since my last post included adding lines to eudora.ini to switch Quicktime off, which seems to have stabilized that program, and brought the number of appcrash crash messages down.
   However, when I did get a BSOD a few days ago, it looked like this (again after using Explorer):

A post shared by Jack Yan 甄爵恩 (@jack.yan) on

   The memory dump revealed nothing new; it was the same as the one I saw when all this began (as far as I can make out).
   The big change seemed to have happened after I installed the Intel chipsets, and the number of crashes reduced from dozens to between seven and ten.
   I don’t think I have got to an absolute cure yet, but we are getting closer.
   The cumulative Windows update (KB4058258) released a couple of days ago may have helped, too—if it did, it showed that Microsoft had released a lemon with the fall Creators update and rushed to fix things. The number of fixes during the month of January alone suggested that they knew that the OS was iffy. That update was installed yesterday.


Filed under: technology—Jack Yan @ 10.59

01.02.2018

Social media: not the evolution you might have expected

I’m getting a buzz seeing how little I update social media now. Around February 2016 I began updating Tumblr far less; I’ve gone from dozens of posts per month to four in December 2017 and seven in January 2018. (Here’s my Tumblr archive.) Facebook, as many of you know, is a thing of the past for me (as far as my personal wall is concerned), though that was helped along by Facebook itself. However, I’m still a pretty heavy Instagram user, and I continue to Tweet—though with Twitter’s analytics telling you how much you’re up or down over the previous month, it might be a challenge to see if I can get that down by 100 per cent next. (It won’t happen any time soon, but if Twitter continues on its current path over its policies, it might come sooner rather than later.)
   I’m wondering if the next badge of honour is how much you can de-socialize yourself, and for those of us with web presences (such as this blog), bringing traffic to your own spaces. Why? It’s all about credibility and authenticity. And I’m not sure if the fleeting nature of social media provides them, at least not for me.
   Now in an age where so many are trying to be an “influencer”, then wouldn’t we expect the tide to turn against the shallow, fleeting posters in favour of something deeper and more considered? After all, marketing seeks authenticity—it has for a long time. What is authentic about a social media influencer who changes clothes multiple times a day out of obligation to sponsors? Even if they reach millions, did it really connect with audiences on a deeper level or did it simply seem forced?
   I can understand how, initially, social media were real connectors, allowing people to connect one on one and have a conversation. It seemed logical that marketing would head that way, going from one-to-many, to something more personalized, then (as Stefan Engeseth has posited for a long time) to one where brand and audience were on the same side, trying to find shared values (let’s call it ‘oneness’). At a time social media looked like it would help things along. But has it really? Influencers are less interested in being on the same side than being on the other side, in an adaptation of the one-to-many model. It’s just that that model itself has become democratized, so a single person has the means of reaching millions without a traditional intermediary (e.g. the media). There’s nothing really wrong with that, as long as we see it for what it is: a communications’ channel. Nothing new there.
   Some are doing it right in pursuing oneness with their audiences by posting just on a single topic, updating honestly about their everyday lives—my good friend Summer Rayne Oakes comes to mind with her Homestead Brooklyn account, and has stayed on-message with what she stands for and her message for over a decade. Within the world of Instagram, this is a “deeper” level, sharing values in an effort to connect and be on the same side as her audience. However, she isn’t solely using Instagram; other media back her up. Hers is a fantastic example of how to market and influence in the context I’m describing, so there is still a point to these social media services. But for every Summer Rayne there are many, many who are gathering attention for no values that I can fathom—it has all been about the numbers of followers and looking attractive.
   I haven’t a problem with their choice—it is their space, after all—but we shouldn’t pretend that these are media that have allowed more authentic conversations to take place. Marketers should know this. These messages aren’t customized or personalized. Algorithms will rank them so audiences get a positive hit that their own preferences are being validated, just like any internet medium that places us in bubbles. The authenticity is relative: because no party has come between the communicator and the audience, then it’s unfiltered, and in that respect it’s first-hand versus second-hand. But how many times was that message rehearsed? How many photos were taken before that one was selected? It’s “unreality”.
   There are so many such social media presences now, and crowded media are not places where people can have a decent connection with audiences. Some with millions of users—I’m thinking of young models—might not even be reaching the target audience that companies expected of them. Is what they wear really going to be relevant to someone of the opposite sex browsing for eye candy? That isn’t a genuine conversation.
   Don’t look to my Instagram for any clues, either—I use it for leisure and not for marketing. I don’t have the ambition of being a social media influencer: I’m happy with what I do have to get my viewpoints across.
   And I don’t know what’s next. I see social media decentralizing and people taking charge of their privacy more, even if most people are happy to have the authorities snoop on their conversations. Mastodon has been pretty good so far, because it hasn’t attracted everyone. The few who are there are having respectful conversations, even if posts aren’t reaching the numbers they might on Twitter, and mutual respect can lead to authenticity. If, as a marketer, that’s not what you seek, that’s fine: there are plenty of accounts operating on audience numbers but not genuine conversations—as long as you know what you’re getting into. But I believe marketing, and in particular branding, should form real relationships and dialogue. Not every life is the fantasy shown in social media—we know that that’s not possible. One politician has coined the term ‘fake news’; and social media have “fake lives”, in amongst all the bots.
   If these media become known for shallow connections “by the numbers”, then even those doing it right, forming those genuine conversations, may be compelled to move on, or at least value the social media services less because of what their brands stand for. Email is a great medium still, and you can still have great conversations on it, but email marketing isn’t as “sexy” as it was in the mid-1990s, because there’s more spam than legit messages. It takes skill to use it well and to build up a proper, consented email list. Social media are getting to a point where some big-number accounts are associated with shallowness, and the companies themselves (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) have policies and conduct that have the potential to taint our own brands.
   In 2018, as at any other time, doing something well takes hard work. There is no magic medium.


Filed under: branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, media, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 21.56

27.01.2018

Disloyalty programme, loyalty conduct

P.P.P.PS.: Lumino’s head office has taken this case very, very seriously, and has been following up on Ezidebit and Goody. I’m actually really impressed—enough to add the two words to the title. They get that I’ve never put my cellphone number on an any app in the past, and they, too, know that the timing of the scam calls is suspicious. I’ve had a promise that they’ll follow up.—JY

I signed up to the Lumino Dental Plan yesterday (Friday). Big mistake. Lesson worth repeating: listen to your gut.
   Some days, the pleasant side of me kicks in and I give people the benefit of the doubt. I read the T&Cs while I was still there but it started getting unreasonable with my standing at the counter while they’re trying to deal with their other patients. ‘Don’t be such a wanker, Jack,’ I thought. ‘So their agreement wasn’t drafted by a professional lawyer. You’ve used Lumino before and the dentist last year was great, and this hygienist was excellent. Let the office manager’s sales’ technique win the day, it’s no big deal.’
   Naturally, she really wanted me to sign and made it quite clear that that was the result she wanted.
   But it was a big deal. I spent an hour last night writing the below to the companies involved. They gave five different emails so I contacted them all.

Ladies and Gentlemen:
After due consideration, I do not wish to enter into this Dental Plan, and exercise my right under the Consumer Guarantees Act to cancel it. I have been advised by Lumino the Dentists the Terrace that the cooling-off period for this sale is the standard five (working) days and I will be refunded in full.
   I was asked by the practice this afternoon to email you with my reasons should I cancel. As all the above addresses have been given to me in one communication alone, I am taking the liberty of writing to you all.
   First, I do not feel I had sufficient time to absorb the Ezidebit agreement today (Friday the 26th), especially on a tiny tablet screen, under what I felt was an expectation that I would sign before I departed.
   If I recall correctly, the tablet app links to Lumino’s terms and conditions and these are different to the ones in the DLE brochure introducing the plan. I was not made aware of the DLE’s terms and conditions initially and was led to believe that the only ones were on the tablet.
   As I advised Lumino while at the practice today, I had serious concerns about the Ezidebit agreement’s poor drafting and its reference to non-existent legislation. I was assured that should I sign, I would not suffer any loss because (a) that the cooling-off period for direct sales applied; and (b) that all Lumino customers who have cancelled to date have been refunded in full.
   Among my concerns: I have never heard of the Contracts Privacy Act (neither has my partner, who has legal training), and there is confusion about whether I will be charged administration and transaction fees (Lumino says I won’t, Ezidebit’s T&Cs say I will). I also see there are SMS fees, although I was told at the practice that my cellphone would not be used and was led to believe that its request in the app was a formality. There is no specificity on any of these fees, other than for a failed payment. Generally, the Ezidebit agreement appears to be a copy-and-paste job, its constituent parts drafted by two lawyers who hated each other, and assembled by a third who hated them both.
   Neither party has come forth with information about the handling of my private information.
   Going to Ezidebit’s parent company, Global Payments, didn’t help, since the US firm’s website says there would be information on its cookie usage on its terms of use page—but there isn’t. I never went further.
   Now that I have had a chance to sit down and review the documentation in your email, I have to conclude that with two businesses telling me different things—and the American one not even sure of what it has on its own website, let alone what laws exist in New Zealand—I have no trust in this arrangement.
   The principle might be sound enough but the execution leaves much to be desired.
   I will be happy to meet the full cost of my hygienist’s session today once I am satisfied that the refund has taken place. I respectfully request that I be refunded in full as soon as practicable, including any fees that may or may not have applied. As no privacy policy was given, I must also request that all personal details held by Ezidebit (in New Zealand and Australia, since both companies are named in the agreement) or its parent Global Payments on me, including my name, email, Visa account information and cellphone number, be deleted immediately after the refund is made. I trust that any intermediaries or contractors who got them during today’s transactions will remove them as well.

Thank you,

Yours sincerely,

Jack Yan

   A company called Goody was involved, and sent me the email asking for programme confirmation. I wrote to them separately. I’m not sure what their relationship is since the only T&Cs ever presented to me were for Lumino and Ezidebit. Goody could be an innocent third-party service provider, who also now has my personal information. I’ve asked them to delete it and take me off any programme of theirs, too. I had a peek through their terms and conditions and privacy policy, and both appeared up to snuff.
   Tonight, Lumino sent me a survey form asking me what I thought of their service. Read on if you want to find out what happened earlier today (I’ll italicize it).

The care was excellent and I do not want that mixed up with the very harsh words I have for the Lumino Dental Plan. You have already been emailed about my choice to end my participation forthwith and to pay full price for my visit once I get confirmation that I have been refunded in full including any unspecified charges. In summary, US-owned Ezidebit whom you have partnered with looks like the dodgiest company around. I do not share my private cellphone number as a matter of practice but felt compelled to do so on your app on the assurance of your staffer that it would actually not be used. I put it into your tablet and within 24 hours I have a scam caller—yours is the only “unknown” company that has this number—not any more, it seems! The American company had no privacy policy and, as I pointed out at the time of signing, cited non-existent legislation in the T&Cs you gave me. You evidently have no idea how seriously I take my privacy and I feel disappointed, distressed and let down by this whole experience. I really should have listened to my gut and walked away at the practice, instead of spending an hour writing last night’s email and even more time to update you on the scam calls I now get. I have heard of loyalty programmes but your Dental Plan is the first time I have come across a disloyalty programme.

   I feel very let down, and it’s been a lesson for me—but also for any business that decides to lend its good reputation to something highly questionable. It pays to do your due diligence, and that includes going through the customer sign-up process yourself to spot what holes there are. It’s become pretty obvious that this didn’t happen.

PS.: The scam caller on my cell came from +64 4 488-7021. Feel free to look it up for yourselves.—JY

P.PS.: The Lumino practice sent me an invoice for the hygienist’s session for another $153. No apology at all. Instead, ‘once this account is settled we will process your dental plan cancellation.’ Really?

Good morning:

I am deeply disappointed you have chosen to do it this way when I asked for the Plan to be cancelled first, as is my right—and which is something you plainly stated I could do. I don’t even get an apology or explanation for all the shortcomings in the Plan or the inconvenience caused, which is indeed surprising, or some assurance that my personal details were not sold. Given the scam calls on both my cell and land lines since providing you with my number on your app, I am sadly forced to conclude that they were.
   Let me clarify our respective positions under New Zealand law.
   Here’s where I stand:

  • I have a right to cancel this Plan. You’ve said so and I know so. I’ve exercised this right as of Friday night.
  • You do not have a right to make the refund of the Plan conditional on my settling the account.
  • I have an obligation to settle your account independent of the Plan’s cancellation.
  •    Here’s where you stand:

  • You’ve done dental work on me which you should rightly be paid for.
  • You’ve had a written offer from me to settle this account already.
  • You’re in an extremely strong position to make sure I settle the account without making settlement conditional on the Plan’s cancellation.
  • Your doing so violates New Zealand consumer law.
  •    Unlike you, I can make this conditional on your cancelling the Plan, in part because I have no way of finding out whether you’ve taken my $299 or not.
       It appears from your email that you already have.
       Logically you could refund the difference between $299 and the invoice amount, which would be taking some responsibility for this mess.
       I cannot see why I need to be out of pocket for $452 at any time. I am sure you can see how this is grossly unfair.
       This seems like a delaying tactic to make sure the five days go by.
       I now respectfully ask you cancel the Plan immediately and refund the difference, which seems the easiest solution.

    Sincerely,

    Jack

    The matter is now before the support team in Auckland. Hopefully they can sort this without my contacting their CEO (which seems like the next logical step).—JY

    P.P.PS.: The practice manager on the Terrace has received the above and responded far more professionally, asking me to leave it with her and she’ll sort it out. She assures me my details have not been sold—not that I doubted Lumino but I still have very massive doubts about Ezidebit and Global Payments. She’s also offered me 5 per cent off on future treatments out of goodwill, which is a very promising solution. Lumino’s support line in Auckland was also very friendly and logged it into their system.—JY

    P.P.P.PS.: Lumino has remained on the case and tracked down Ezidebit’s privacy policy, which I had never seen till today. And I believe we have our smoking gun. Ezidebit’s claims that they have not heard of this happening before suddenly fall flat. In cl. 3.1:

    When we share your information with third parties whom we partner with to provide our services (for example, providers of software or any other electronic applications which have been integrated with Ezidebit to enable us to process payments for users of that software or application), those third parties may use that personal information to provide marketing communications and targeted advertising to you.

    In cl. 3.2:

    We may disclose your personal information to our related companies or to third parties located outside of New Zealand, including:
    • The United States;
    • Australia;
    • Philippines;
    • The United Kingdom; and
    • Hong Kong.

    That latter clause explains the scam call on Monday, January 29 then, which was on my cell and asked for me by name. The caller had a Philippine accent and claimed she was calling from Hong Kong.—JY


    Filed under: business, marketing, New Zealand, USA—Jack Yan @ 10.01


    Windows Unreliability Monitor

    Microsoft should rename Windows’ Reliability Monitor to Unreliability Monitor.
       This isn’t too unusual for Windows 10, is it?

       I’ve put Oracle Virtualbox and Cyberlink Power2Go back on, because it’s becoming more apparent that Windows 10 is incompatible with my hard drives in certain circumstances. It’s always when a drive (including a phone set up as a drive) is accessed that the system BSODs. It may also be a USB incompatibility. To be on the safe side, I have unplugged one of the two external drives I use.
       The Microsoft technician has finally given up and asked I do a clean install. As if I have the time—the last time I did that was on an Imac: it took days to get all the OS X updates and the software up and running again. Bwv848 at Bleeping Computer is, like me, determined. I’ll do a memtest (their latest suggestion) when I get a chance.
       Just another day using Windows 10 then.

    PS.: Since the post: as my settings window would not come up (another fault of Creators fall), I deleted everything out of C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.MicrosoftEdge_8wekyb3d8bbwe. That was solved. I also went to Intel to download SetupChipset.exe. Not saying these are solutions to the original cause, and I was largely away from the computer for Sunday. However, I have a real suspicion that, because the computer often BSODs when Explorer (or something relying up on it) is open, there are hard-drive drivers that are failing despite, according to Device Manager, being up to date. One of the modules regularly affected is ntdll.dll, something the Reliability Monitor revealed.—JY


    Filed under: technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 09.43

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