My window to the world

Isn't it time for our mobile operators to stop doing business with SMS scams?

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 2-Aug-2009 19:04

In a very welcome move, BNZ has decided to stop charging honour fees - those $20 the bank charged every time they approved a payment when your account balance was in the red.

In a letter to customers BNZ says the bank will see a reduction in revenue but there will be no increase in other fees.

Their CEO says they are doing this because many complaints come from these fees. Someone's salary was a day late and the bank would charge $20 per transaction. Or someone's gym membership is charged a day earlier and there they go charging those $20 fee.

The bank decided it was easier to not charge these fees at all - make the customer happier. And a happy customer is a customer that stays longer, right?

What about fees that some pay for "SMS subscribption services" that are mostly useless? You know, those services that you see being advertised in the middle of the night asking you to send a SMS to a shortcode - with the 1/10 second warning blinking on the screen that "this is a subscription service and you will be charge $5 per SMS received, up to three SMS per week". Or being advertised online through all possible means?

Lots have been written about these scams (Juha, Dominion Post, Geekzone). Unfortunately people don't look at the fineprint on TV or website before entering their mobile numbers on enticing web pages. I believe many genuinely don't understand the implications of entering their mobile numbers on an online form.

In defence of our telcos, there's "double opt-in" mechanism requirement. But I don't think this is enough to prevent people being silly. Also, what guarantees do we have those Premium SMS providers actually respect the double opt-in requirement? 

Instructions to STOP the subscription are there in the fineprint. But how many people actually remember the fineprint, let alone the instructions on how to stop the service? Or the phone number for their "local" helpdesk?

There's the case of someone who didn't actually even had to go through the "double opt-in" to get subscribed. That's because a Facebook application was granted access to this person's private information on the social network website. The fineprint for that application said something in the lines of "you hereby grants us right to access your private information on Facebook and subscribe your mobile to our service".

Facebook (as Twitter) only accepts mobile phone numbers after they are authenticated. For those scams it is a goldmine of valid mobile phone numbers. And we all know how silly applications spread on social networks.

Today I received a press release from a new "service" that allows you to watch movies online. FREE MOVIES ONLINE.

If you visit the page (which is actually hosted on a free Blogger account) you will be told that you can download free movies if you complete a survey. If you click YES then your browser will redirect to a "survey" that is in fact a SMS scam. The fineprint says:

"By signing up to this service and by entering your personal PIN Code which will be sent to the mobile phone number supplied by you on this website, you acknowledge that you are subscribing to our service and that you may receive marketing messages. All plans are subject to the Terms and Conditions. You may stop this subscription service at any time by sending a text message with STOP, to short code [removed]. Your phone must be polyphonic compatible, be Internet-enabled and have text messaging capability. You must be the owner of this device and either be at least eighteen years old or have the permission of your parent or guardian. Customers will receive the club at $5.00 three times per week plus one off club joining fee of $5.00. Standard/other text messaging rates may apply."

Now disable javascript and load the blogspot page and you can see it's actually just a collection of links to illegal download sites.

At $5 three times a week we have people being charged an average of $65 a month or $780 a year for those "services".

If you're lucky in some cases if you complain to your mobile operator then you might get a refund. But the operators are right in the sense that it's the user's responsibility for signing up for the "service".

But isn't about time our mobile operators cease any relationship with these scams? Isn't worth to have a happy customer instead of a customer that have been victimised under your watch?

Back to School: Better together

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 31-Jul-2009 17:48

Back to school giveawaysThis is a heads up for our next big competition, running from August through September. This time HP, Microsoft, Timbuk2 and Synclables partnered to create a package prize perfect for students going back to school.

The Back to School: Better Together giveaway is brought to you by twenty five websites - each of these will have a prize bundle to giveaway.

What's in each prize package you ask? An amazing HP dv6 laptop with Microsoft Windows Vista, a very portable HP Mini 110 with Windows XP, one Timbuk2 backpack and Syncables software to make sure your laptops are always in sync.

We put together a website with lots of more details. Just visit Back To School: Better Together giveaways for a lot more information on this back to school giveaways. make sure to bookmark that site so you know exactly when to enter each competition.

Just in case you are curious, here is the roster with all participant sites and dates when you can enter their competitions:

Student Bloggers 12-16 Aug
Geekzone 13-17 Aug
Kill Jill 14-18 Aug
Study Successful 15-19 Aug
Gear Live 16-20 Aug
CampusGrotto 17-21 Aug
Poorer Than You 18-22 Aug
Notebooks 19-23 Aug
ThePrereq. 20-24 Aug
Hack College 21-25 Aug
College Times 22-26 Aug 23-27 Aug
Green Panda Treehouse 24-28 Aug
Building Camelot 25-29 Aug
Mocha Dad 26-30 Aug
College Candy 27-31 Aug
Studenomics 28 Aug - 1 Sep
The 2.0 Life 29 Aug - 2 Sep
Geeks room 30 Aug - 3 Sep
Debt Free Scholar 31 Aug - 4 Sep
One Day One Job 1-5 Sep
Daddy Forever 2-6 Sep
Clinton Fitch 3-7 Sep
Zen College Life 4-8 Sep
Gear Diary 5-9 Sep

Good luck!

Fallback to 2G or no fallback: the Vodafone vs Telecom question

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 21-Jul-2009 08:45

I just read a blog post about how some people are moving back from Telecom XT Network to Vodafone because "Vodafone offers 2G fallback".

If you didn't understand let me explain...

Vodafone New Zealand offers a 2G network (GSM) that cover a very big footprint. It also offers a 3G network that in some places overlaps with the 2G network, and in some other places goes beyond its boundaries. But the 3G network doesn't seem to have exactly 100% of the 2G network coverage.

Most handsets these days are 2G/3G. It means that if you use a 3G handset with the Vodafone service then at some point it will lose sight of 3G signals and automatically fallback to 2G services.

The transition is automatic and transparent. You shouldn't see any impact - except for mobile data being rocketed back to dial-up speeds while on 2G (as well as some services that only work on 3G such as music downloads, video streaming, etc).

Vodafone says they cover 97% of the areas where New Zealanders live, work, and play. This is not geographical coverage, but where most people are actually using it.

So Vodafone 100% of 97% = 2G + 3G.

Now let's see the Telecom XT Network case. Telecom decided at some stage that it wouldn't be worth investing on 2G. It's an old technology now on the way of museums and deploying it means maintaining two completely different networks.

So they decided to launch a pure 3G mobile network. That's why there's no "fallback" to 2G.

Telecom also claim to have 97% coverage of where New Zealanders live and work.

So Telecom 100% of 97% = 3G.

So all things being equal your Telecom 3G service is equivalent to the Vodafone 2G + 3G service - in terms of "coverage".

Obviously geographical coverage is not the same. The cellsites are built in different places. They face different directions. These companies use different bands (Vodafone uses 2100MHz + 900 MHz, Telecom uses 850 MHz) which means they have different reach in terms of distance and building penetration.

So it's clear that at certain point you might get a Telecom signal while nothing on Vodafone. And vice-versa.

If you need mobile coverage in a certain place and don't get signal from one company or another, then it makes sense to change provider. But changing (or not changing) because one service offers "fallback" is simply not the right thing.

NBR introducing paywall - and blaming bloggers

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 16-Jul-2009 16:20

The National Business Review (NBR) has decided to implement a "paywall" according to its publisher Barry Colman.

The story is developing on Computerworld (no I am not going to give NBR link love today):

The National Business Review is planning to lock down around 20% of its web content for the first time from tomorrow.

In a notice to newsletter subscribers, NBR publisher Barry Colman says selected top stories will be available to paid subscribers only.

Colman writes the "madness" of existing media models has seen aggregators profit from the supply of free news copy. 

"Worse still the model has spawned a huge band of amateur, untrained, unqualified bloggers who have swarmed over the internet pouring out columns of unsubstantiated 'facts' and hysterical opinion," he writes.

"Most of these 'citizen journalists' don’t have access to decision makers and are infamous for their biased and inaccurate reporting on almost any subject under the sun (while invariably criticising professional news coverage whose original material they depend on to base their diatribes)."

I agree that a certain number of bloggers will parrot stories out of mainstream media. Also that some will have unsubstantiated "facts" and "opinions".

But no one owns the only true point of view, isn't that true?

The other way around is also true. Many times I've been asked by Geekzone users who had posted in our forums and had been contacted by journalists interested in getting more details so they can write stories for their newspapers . Many times I got a scoop and posted here in the blog, just to see it in the technology-dedicated pages of the MSM a few days later.

For example I think it's a great coincidence to have someone talking about IQ Test scams on Geekzone, and seeing a story about IQ Test scams in one of our two main newspapers about 45 days later...

Or the whole New Zealand DIA Internet censorship story - posted here last weekend and in other blogs and now showing up on NBR where they say:

"Bloggers have been immediately dubious about the Department of Internal Affairs’ new filtering programme, officially announced today." and also "Bloggers have noted that the $150,000 for the software only accounts for part of the extra $611,000 extra allocated to the DIA for online enforcement in the budget."

Obviously the NBR thinks bloggers can be good sources too...

UPDATE: Very good analysis with brilliant suggestion by Bernard Hickey.

UPDATE: It will fail.

My technology kit - full disclosure

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 13-Jul-2009 15:41

This is a (continuously changing) list of things and services I have here on loan.

Full time job: I now work for Intergen and while they are understanding of my involvement with the Geekzone community and website, the company is not involved with Geekzone or my other activities.

On Long Term Loan:

  • HP EliteBook 1020
  • HP Folio 13
  • HTC One M8
  • Huawei P9
  • Meizu M3
  • HTC Re Camera
  • HP Microserver
  • Logitech Performance M950 mouse
  • Logitech MX Master mouse
  • Harman/Kardon headphones
  • Fritz!Box
  • Fitbit Charge 2
  • Fitbit Surge
  • Fitbit Blaze
  • Sony SRS-SB3 Bluetooth speaker
  • Fugoo Bluetooth speaker
Some things I have here and it's worth saying "I paid for it myself":
  • Office 365 Microsoft Exchange Online
  • Norton Family
  • Microsoft keyboard
  • ASUS Android tablet
  • ASUS Windows tablet
  • Amazon Kindle 
  • Amazon Fire TV
  • Withings Activite
  • Bose QC25 headphones

So what's the difference between a "On Loan" and "Long Term Loan"? Basically "On Loan" means it will be returned to the manufacturer or PR agency sometime in the very near future. "Long Term Loan" means the manufacturer or PR have either sent the hardware or software without expecting it to be returned and because of use and tear I can decide myself to either return, give it away, or keep it.

If you follow me around on Geekzone and Twitter you know that I pretty much give almost everything away after a while.

I also attend some conferences and other technical events, as a guest - sometimes I pay my travel/accommodation, sometimes this is covered as part of the invite. It doesn't mean I have to write good things about anyone though.

I don't take cash or equivalent for writing. I am not posting links to these products because it's not a URL drop post. It's a disclosure post. Like it or not.

[Updated 1 November 2016]

Companies fail to deal with technology: telephone numbers and voicemail

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 12-Jul-2009 17:28

I just had a laugh now when I read Ari's tweet about his experience with Post Haste, a New Zealand courier company:

Yes, I just called their local offices on a Sunday evening to listen myself and their voicemail recorded greeting say "You called us outside our office hours. To book an emergency courier call 025 ...".

For those who don't keep pace with this moving world of telecommunications, 025 is the non-geographical prefix used by Telecom New Zealand for their old TDMA network. This means there used to be a mobile network in New Zealand that used the 025 prefix.

Telecom shutdown the 025 network 31 March 2007 6pm. This was more than two years ago.

Like Ari I wonder how many emergency courier jobs Post Haste missed in those two and a half years of voice mail redirecting their customers to a non-existant number. I also wonder if no one in the company ever thought of looking for a reason in dropped jobs at weekends and week nights...

But they are not alone. I see lots of vans driving around town with old 025 numbers still printer on the sides. Those people who need jobs now more than ever are losing for not updating something as simple as a number on the side panel of their van...

This is how low tech people can be.

Government plans to filter New Zealand Internet

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 11-Jul-2009 12:45

I am a member of the InternetNZ and I have just been reading its internal mailing list about the frightening possibility of Internet filtering coming to New Zealand, courtesy of our Department of Internal Affairs.

There's a good FAQ on Internet Filtering in New Zealand out there and I will quote a couple of items:

New Zealand’s censorship laws forbid viewing or owning certain types of material (e.g. depictions of bestiality or sex with children) and this applies to material accessed over the internet too.

At this moment it [New Zealand] does not [have Internet filtering]. However, the Department of Internal Affairs ran a trial internet filtering scheme in conjunction with Ihug, Watchdog, Maxnet and TelstraClear in 2007/2008 and is planning to fully implement it in 2009/2010.

[There is now ["Internet Filtering Law"]. [The filtering] it is being done under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. This gives the responsibility for enforcement to the Department of Internal Affairs.

The scheme is currently voluntary for the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) as there is no law to force them to use it.

The filter is applied at the level of the IP address but it is common for a web server to host multiple websites on a single IP address. All requests to a website on one of the filtered IP addresses will be diverted to the DIA’s server.

ISPs can choose whether to subscribe to it or not. The only way [for a person] to opt-out of the filtering is by switching to an ISP that doesn’t implement it. ISPs that have implemented it so far have not provided a way to opt out of it.

The list of sites is manually compiled by DIA officers. They will update the list monthly and only after the review and agreement of a few officers.

Initially they plan to filter any website carrying child abuse related material.

Here is a series of questions sent to the DIA under the Official Information Act 2002 with respective answers.

I personally don't like the idea of a government body overseeing what I can read. It's my personal believes that prevent me visiting websites that carry this kind of material.

What really worries me is that it looks like there isn't an oversight of this process, there isn't a publicly available list of blacklisted websites, and no guarantees that a secret meeting between government agencies wouldn't in the future add other "categories" to this list.

Internet filtering gives the government - any government - the resources they need or want to prevent people connecting to each other by the means of the Internet, one of the most liberating tools available to its citizens.

If you are a grown up you don't need a nanny state to tell you what you can read or not. You know you shouldn't be reading or trading this kind of material. If you still decide to access, promote and distribute any objectionable material, then feel free to join these other offenders.

If you have kids at home there are software - such as the free Microsoft Windows Live Family Safety - that allows you to help them stay away from objectionable material, while you, responsible parent, educate them on how to use the Internet sensibly.

But I don't think a government should tell me what I can see or read because of some criminals who have no common sense.

Burning books was bad. Breaking the Internet may be worse.

UPDATE: Scroll down in the comments, where I posted a copy of the New Zealand DIA press release issued 16 July 2009.

UPDATE: I also recommend you read foobar's take on this issue.

UPDATE: Telecom has released a document on how to keep kids safe on the Internet.

Browser wars: Internet Explorer 6 is not going away

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 11-Jul-2009 10:41

A few months back I posted that Firefox was the #1 browser here on Geekzone for the first time ever, with Microsoft Internet Explorer coming second.

Of course I expected a bigger number of Firefox (and other browsers) users because of the more tech savvy audience we have - I bet Internet Explorer is way ahead of Firefox in more mainstream New Zealand websites such as Trade Me, Stuff and the NZ Herald for example.

I've looked at the stats again this month and found out that of more than 2.1 million unique visitors in the last three month period, Internet Explorer is again ahead of Firefox. Could it be because of the number of people using Windows 7 RC for testing?

Interesting to see Google Chrome coming up so quickly on Safari.

What really surprised me though is that of those 900,000 unique visitors using Internet Explorer in that same three months, the number of Internet Explorer 6 users is practically the same, with Internet Explorer 8 gaining over Internet Explorer 7 mainly:

This is about 200,000 people visiting Geekzone every three months that still have Internet Explorer 6 as their main browser. I'd again guess this percentage is probably higher on those other mainstream sites.

Does people update their Windows PCs, at all?

Two Degrees Mobile starts TV advertising with Rhys Darby

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 5-Jul-2009 19:00

New Zealand's newest mobile network, Two Degrees Mobile, finally coming into the public view with a prime time ad with Rhys Darby of The Flight of the Conchords fame. As expected there's a discussion on Geekzone, and here is the ad:

Moving from Telecom CDMA to Telecom XT

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 3-Jul-2009 17:54

After using a Telecom XT SIM card that was sent to me for review I finally decided to move my personal account from their CDMA network to the new XT Network.

A couple of reasons why I did the move: first, moving to equivalent plans I'd be paying about 50% less than on my previous plan - and no term contract!

Second, there are no queues in store now. Moving plans took all of five minutes. I inserted the new SIM card in my handset just after I signed the paperwork - and it was working already. It means my change to XT Network happened even before I moved away from the desk.

Good job!

PS. Now I remember a third reason: I don't need to carry my personal handset and a test handset anymore.

freitasm's profile

Mauricio Freitas
New Zealand

I live in New Zealand and my interests include mobile devices, good books, movies and food of course! 

I'm the Geekzone admin. On Geekzone we publish news, reviews and articles on technology topics. The site also has some busy forums. Also worth visiting is TravelTalk NZ, a community for travelers!

Subscribe now to my blog RSS feed or the Geekzone RSS feed.

If you want to contact me, please use this page or email me Note this email is not for technical support. I don't give technical support. You can use our Geekzone Forums for community discussions on technical issues.

Here's is my full disclosure post.

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