Nov 162013
 
sometimes things don't seem to be what they are

The notorious “419 scams” have been around since the early days of the consumer internet.

419 scams are the elaborate internet frauds that try to convince people they unexpectedly come into money. Once a gullible victim takes the bait, they are duped into paying a range of ‘facilitation fees’ and costs that drains their saving.

The term 419 scam comes from the Nigerian criminal code that covers this crime, which was appropriate as most — although not all — of these emails originated from the country.

For a while in the early 2000s, internet users became used to receiving a few 419 scam emails every day but by the middle of the decade they largely dried up as the even the most gullible and greedy idiots became wise to the schemes.

That’s not to say they have completely vanished, this morning quite a distasteful one landed in my inbox.

Greetings,
I wish to seek your assistance to execute a business deal. I am Paul Williams a Contract Agent based in London. I require your consent to present you as next of kin to a client of mine, who died along with his wife and Two kids in the Asian Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines leaving behind a large sum of money without a next of kin. With your co-operation and information available to me you can make a claim on the funds as the next of kin to my deceased client. After release of the funds to you by the financial institution where it is lodged, we can share according to a percentage we agree upon. If you may be of assistance, please reply for further co-operation.
Best Regards,

Paul Williams.

It’s unlikely that Paul Williams exists and even if he did it’s unlikely he’d have anything to do with this unsavory scam that most people would immediate bin when they receive it.

Binning the message was my reaction as well, but as I was about to, it occurred to me that there are enough venal, stupid people in the world who would agree to be involved in such a deal.

No doubt if you asked them they’d say defrauding the deceased family’s estate is a victimless crime as the money would only end up with the government anyway, these people would swear blind they are honest, honourable folk and no doubt they would think they are rather clever.

It’s worth reflecting that dishonest, venal and somewhat dim people do occasionally get their come-uppance in today’s world.

Nov 172012
 
investors run on a Berlin bank at the outbreak of World War I

Despite their self proclaimed belief in thinking different, many of today’s internet entrepreneurs tend to travel in flocks and follow the whichever business model is currently being hyped by Silicon Valley’s insiders.

From the original dot com boom in the late 1990s to today, web entrepreneurs and their investors jump onto the bandwagon of the day – it could be online shopping, photography applications, group buying services and taxi apps which are the flavour of the moment.

The latest taxi app is Click-a-Taxi, a European venture which has raised a stingy $1.5 million in second-round funding, which joins a legion of taxi and hire car apps following in the wake of market leader Uber.

Unfortunately for the investors in these taxi and hire car apps, these services are making some pretty powerful enemies.

Around the world gatekeepers such as taxi companies and booking services do their best to keep drivers in poverty while over charging passengers for a poor service.

The new apps disrupt that business model by offering a better service for customers and a better deal for drivers – most importantly it deprives the gatekeepers of their cut.

Predictably, the backlash is fierce with 15 US and Canadian cities proposing to tighten the rules on the use of GPS and smartphone apps.

These backlashes are going to prove expensive to the investors as Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have a habit of under-estimating the power of regulatory barriers. How the current crop of taxi apps deal with this will determine which lemmings go over the cliff* and which ones survive.

One group of Silicon Valley lemmings lying dazed at the bottom of a cliff face are those who invested in the group buying hype of the last two years.

Market leader Groupon is now reportedly moving away from daily deals to ‘always on’ deals, which kills the whole point of group buying sites. Most of the copycats are already dead.

Former Cudo CEO Billy Tucker predicts that in the Australian market – which was flooded by a wave of Groupon imitators in 2010 and 11 – will only have a dozen survivors out of the top 50 listed earlier this year.

Investors in these look-a-like services had a gamble that a greater fool would buy the operation, usually a big corporation run by executives with a fear of missing out. The ones who missed out quietly swallowed their losses and moved on to the next mania – which appears to be taxi apps.

For the taxi applications, the buyers of the apps will probably be the incumbent gatekeepers, who aren’t really fools at all.

It wouldn’t be surprising to find the smarter look-a-like operators are already talking to the taxi companies about an app which will, miraculously, comply with all the requirements of the local regulators.

As for the rest, they’ll do their dough.

What is going to be interesting though is the battle between Uber and the various taxi regulators around the world, particularly in countries where politicians jump to the whims of their business cronies.

*lemmings don’t really throw themselves off cliffs, that myth was invented by the Walt Disney Corporation. Sadly Australian, particularly NSW, politicians favouring ticket clippers and rent seekers is no myth.

Nov 162012
 
change and tech discussed on radio

As a follow up to last night’s ABC Nightlife computer spot where we looked at who owns our online data, there were a few questions which we’d get back to listeners on.

The entire show can be listened to online through the ABC Nightlife with Tony Delroy website and includes some of the issues we’d get back to listeners on, but first an apology.

Bruce Willis never sued Apple

One of the callers Mark mentioned the story of Bruce Willis suing Apple over ownership of iTunes tracks.

It turns out this never happened as Charles Arthur of the Guardian explains.

While Charles can be a cranky bugger, he’s right in this case that the media didn’t a very poor job in regurgitating an untrue story without ever checking its veracity. Luckily it’s not one that I cited in the program.

Protecting your Twitter Account

One of the topics we discussed was the threat of accounts being hijacked and Twitter is one service that is constantly being compromised because of poor policies. An important part of protecting a Twitter account from being taken over is to make sure an extra level of authentication is used by clicking the “Password Reset” option in the Twitter Account settings.

Recording online

Des asked about recording his own message for an audio Christmas card to his friends and relatives.

On Windows computers, Sound Recorder is the long standing built-in app while on the Mac, Garage Band is the built in application.

There is a free third party application available for both PCs and Macs called Audacity which also allows you to record and edit on your system.

US customer service

One interesting thing about the conversation was how many callers criticised the “US mentality” of providing lousy service. This probably isn’t true as most American businesses provide some of the best customer service in the world.

The lousy service from online companies is more a function of the computer engineering and venture capital background of the entrepreneurs setting up cloud computing and social media services, while the majority of these companies are from the US it wouldn’t be fair to brand this as being an American cultural issue.

Our next Nightlife spot is on December 13 at 10pm and we’ll be looking at Windows 8 and what type of computers should people be considering. Hope you can join us.

Sep 162012
 
radio talkback & discussion on technology, the web and social media

With the usual hooplah, Apple announced their new iPhone last week. Should consumers drop their existing phones and buy the new iPhone?

On ABC 702 Sydney Weekend computers this Sunday, September 16 from 10.15am Paul Wallbank and Simon Marnie will be looking at the choices in the smartphone market.

Some of the topics we’ll discuss include;

We love to hear from listeners so feel free call in with your questions or comments on 1300 222 702 or text on 19922702.

If you’re on Twitter you can tweet 702 Sydney on @702sydney and Paul at @paulwallbank.

Should you not be in the Sydney area, you can stream the broadcast through the 702 Sydney website and call in anyway. Everyone’s views are welcome.

Jan 112012
 
shopping online with credit card through social media, cloud computing and e-commerce

As regular as the Olympic Games are, so too are the ticket scams. Every four years we see a ‘scandal’ of vendors, these days online, offering cheap or difficult to get tickets. This year’s London Olympics are no different.

The bait used by these scammers is the almost impossible to get tickets, the frenzy to get along to the opening ceremony or top days sucks dozens, sometimes hundreds, of enthusiastic punters into losing money.

It’s not just Olympic tickets, with the ease of setting up websites scammers can be online quickly with a credible, professional looking site and new services, like group buying and ‘penny auctions’ also offer great opportunities for the enthusiastic spammer.

While it’s sometimes difficult to spot the scams, there are some signs that can reduce the risk of your being caught out.

Check the site

How long has the domain been registered? You can quickly check the details by running a whois search, a kind of online registration check.

For .com sites, the authoritative Whois site is Network Solutions while for .co.uk sites (a likely candidate for London Olympic ticketing sites) it is Nominet. Each country has its own registration list and in Australia, for .com.au it is AuDA who run the My Web Name site.

A recently registered, or long standing, name doesn’t in itself indicate whether a site is a scam or not, but it is a good start.

What are the contact details?

A reputable site that wants your money should have a phone number and street address. A site that doesn’t have these is a warning sign.

Do a web search

The web is your friend. Use your favourite search engine to search the business’ name, for most people this is Google. This can show if there’s been complaints about the site.

Make sure you do a full name search, for instance if you are searching for Joe’s cutprice tickets put the name inside inverted commas such as “Joe’s cutprice tickets”.

Also do a search on the business address, if a company operates from the same location as dozens of others then it’s almost certainly operating from a service office.

While there’s nothing wrong with a business operating from a serviced office, if a company is claiming to be a large reputable multinational then it’s probably telling porkies.

Use a disposable password

If the site asks you to create an account or a password, use something different to your regular banking or other important passwords.

Some of these scammers are actually harvesting login details for online scams so don’t use the same password as your email or social media account as you may find your account hijacked.

Don’t use social media logins

Account hijacking is becoming prevalent on social media sites. The scammers get access to a victim’s Facebook or Twitter account and then contact all the victim’s friends posing as the victim. This is particularly effective for getting more people trapped in the scam.

Increasingly we’re seeing sites using social media logins, that is offering to use your Facebook account rather than a user name or password as a convenient way of signing up. These almost always give the site permission to post on your behalf and you should not do this unless you are totally confident in the site.

Pay by credit card

Even the best of us can get caught out by scammers, so paying by credit card means you have some protection from dodgy deals as you can dispute and reverse the transaction.

Note the words credit card, if you use a debit card many banks won’t give you the same consumer protections.

Avoid direct wire payments or online services like PayPal as you’ll probably do your cash or, at best, be bogged down in the dispute procedure.

Use common sense

The most important part of avoiding scams is common sense; if something is too good to be true then it almost certainly isn’t true.

An offer for hard to get Olympic tickets, fifty dollar iPads or a million dollars from a long lost cousin in Africa always come with a catch that leaves you out of pocket and possibly with your identity stolen.

Many of these scams aren’t new, they’ve just evolved to take advantage the online world.

During the golden era of the snake oil merchant in the 19th Century, the phrase there’s a sucker born every minute was coined. Don’t be that sucker.

Dec 162011
 
trust is the currency of the web and business

The recent KPMG Convergence Report looking at online trends in the mobile web found that nine out of ten Australian consumers are concerned about the security of their online data.

In light of recent corporate security breaches such as Sony’s and Telstra’s this is understandable which creates a real barrier for the adoption of cloud computing services.

For cloud computing to be taken seriously, customers have to be certain their data and applications will be respected and protected.

The corporate sector’s failure to hold senior management responsible these problems shows how big businesses largely aren’t taking user privacy or security seriously.

This is a great opportunity for new businesses, we’ve already seen Amazon become the biggest host for cloud services over storage and Internet incumbents who five years ago would have dismissed Jeff Bezo’s company as a glorified book stand.

For newer companies offering cloud services it’s a chance to build a culture where customer service, privacy and respect comes before management bonuses and perks. Where delivering what you promise is more than waving a vague Service Level Agreement (SLA) document under customer’s noses.

As customers, big and small businesses have much to gain from cloud computing‘s productivity, collaboration and cost saving aspects but trust that data will be protected and the service will be available is essential.

Before choosing a cloud service have a search of the web and popular forums to check what people are saying about the product.

Don’t rely on fancy marketing, or assume that a big company will be better at protecting your data. The evidence is clear that smaller, newer companies are doing a better job at protecting data and ensuring business continuity than many of their bigger competitors.

Over time, customers are going to get used to trusting cloud service providers and the businesses who’ll succeed in the online applications world are those who’ve been shown to be trustworthy.

This is one way the web is changing the way we do business.

Oct 182011
 
after death, someone has to deal with our digital footprint

Our digital footprint – what appears about us online in websites and social media services – is becoming more important as we’re judged by what people find out about us on the web.

As what we store on the web becomes more important, the need to plan for what happens to that data when we pass away becomes more important. “Generation Cloud”, a survey in the UK by hosting company Rackspace and the University of London looked at how Britons were dealing with these issues.

Information left online can cause problems as social media sites will send suggestions and reminders which can distress others if the suggested contact has passed away.

Equally, a web site or Facebook page could even serve as a memorial. The final blog post of Derek K. Miller is a particularly touching memorial.

To create a “digital tombstone”, for your loved ones to remove inappropriate posts or just to access your digital personal effects like email or photos stored on a cloud service, they will need your passwords.

In the Generation Cloud survey, 11% of the participants planned to leave their online account details and passwords in their wills and half considered some of their ‘treasured possessions’ are stored online.

Once again we’re finding our online data has real value that’s worth passing down. It’s another reason to guard your data safely and not give it away lightly.