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Consumer Issues: Technology

This section follows news relating to consumers and technology.

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FCC moves to stop car warranty scams

2022-Jul-21  (Updated: 2022-Nov-03)By: Barry Shatzman

If you've been receiving fewer robocalls lately telling you that your vehicle warranty is about to expire, it isn't by accident.

Auto Warranty scam calls were the top robocall complaints in 2021. A new Biden administration regulation is trying to stop them.

More than an annoyance

Despite the pretext, the spam calls often aren't attempts to get you to protect your car. The callers want you to give them your personal information for it to be used to defraud you.

FCC going straight to the source

Robocall spammers are slippery targets for law enforcement - often operating from other countries. So rather than going after the spammers themselves, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will go after the phone companies that allow the spammers to make the calls.

Spammers buy large blocks of phone numbers from these phone companies to make their calls appear legitimate. When calling you, they tend to use numbers from the same area code as your phone number in order to appear even more legitimate.

The FCC rule blocks phone companies from accepting traffic from known spammers. If they don't comply, the rule requires the larger companies they lease lines from to refuse to process any of their calls - effectively putting them out of business.

Next target - spam text messages

Even if effective, this does not guarantee your electronic communications life will remain spam free. Spam text messages are becoming more prevalent. Text messages can be more dangerous than phone calls. Many are attempts to electronically steal money from you using a technique known as phishing. Clicking on a link also can secretly load malicious software onto your device.

The FCC is proposing a similar regulation to prevent these robotexts.

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Your Amazon devices now share your WIFI

2021-Jul-02By: Barry Shatzman

If you use devices from Amazon to control and secure your home, you also are sharing part of your home Internet connection with your neighborhood.

In June 2021, Amazon activated a new feature for its devices that allows them to work farther away from your WIFI router by using a sliver of someone else's WIFI (such as a neighbor's). In turn, their devices can use a sliver of yours for the same purpose.

This assumes both of you have the feature, called Sidewalk, enabled. However, it is enabled by default unless you take steps to turn it off. Even in devices you already have had for years.

Amazon says benefits of the feature include allowing your security devices to remain functional even if your Internet connection goes down (assuming your neighbor's is up) and aiding in locating lost items that have a supported tracker device attached.

The company claims Sidewalk is secure, and that neither Amazon nor outsiders can use it to hack into your Internet.

Cybersecurity experts say there is no way to be sure, however. It might sound good in theory, but systems are broken constantly.

"All such services are completely secure until they're not," Zak Doffman wrote in a Forbes analysis of Sidewalk.

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Net Neutrality officially ends

2018-Jun-11  (Updated: 2018-Jun-28)By: Barry Shatzman

The government rule that all internet content be delivered to you equally is gone. Internet Service Providers (ISP) now get to control that - possibly based on who pays them more or how favorable the content is to them.

In December 2017, the Federal Communications Commission voted to end the policy known as Net Neutrality.

A bill was introduced in Congress to overturn the decision. Though it passed in the Senate, it never was brought up for a vote in the House of Representatives. That bill expired on June 10 due to time restrictions of the Congressional Review Act.

Other avenues exist to return to net neutrality. Several states have joined together to file a lawsuit to overturn the FCC's decision. Some states also are trying to enforce their own Net Neutrality laws - though the FCC's ruling prohibits separate state standards.

Also, Congress could enact a law that makes Net Neutrality the national policy. That would almost definitely require a different makeup of at least the House of Representatives - considering the current House refused to consider the most recent bill.

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Senate moves to nullify FCC repeal of Net Neutrality

2018-May-16  (Updated: 2018-Jun-11)By: Barry Shatzman

Update 2018-June-11: The deadline for Congress to pass this bill has expired. Though the Senate passed it, the House of Representatives did not bring it up for a vote. Congress no longer can reverse the FCC ruling. It can - as always - enact legislation to return to Net Neutrality.

The Senate has passed a resolution to overturn the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling in December to revoke Net Neutrality.

The resolution makes use of the Congressional Review Act - which gives Congress approximately 2 months to nullify a new rule from a federal agency.

The rule still is likely to take effect. The Senate passed the resolution with every Democrat and a few Republicans providing a 52-47 majority. But it also must pass the House of Representatives. Most Republicans support the repeal of Net Neutrality, and there is a larger Republican majority in the House.

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FCC allows internet providers to control content

2017-Dec-15By: Barry Shatzman

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to choose what content they deliver faster, costlier, or not at all.

Net Neutrality - the rule that ISPs cannot discriminate for or against any website or service - became the agency's official policy in 2015. This decision by the FCC - now chaired by former Verizon attorney Ajit Pai - overturns that policy.

The new policy likely will take effect in mid-2018.

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You legally can unlock your cell phone again

2014-Aug-01By: Barry Shatzman

President Obama signed a law that makes it legal again for you to "unlock" your cell phone so that it can be used with a different carrier.

Unlocking cell phones had been technically illegal since 1998, when Pres. Bill Clinton signed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It still could be done legally, however, because the Library of Congress granted unlocking temporary exemptions from the law. The last exemption expired in Jan. 2014 and was not renewed, making the practice illegal again.

Several variations of the new law were discussed in Congress, including one that would have made it legal for a business to unlock used phones and resell them - potentially saving consumers money. The House of Representatives refused to consider that bill.

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House passes bill to re-allow cell phone unlocking

2014-Feb-26By: Barry Shatzman

The House of Representatives passed a bill on Feb 26 that would allow you unlock your cell phone to allow it to be used on another carrier's network. More significant, however, is what the bill would prevent you from doing.

Unlocking cell phones has been technically illegal since 1998, when Pres. Bill Clinton signed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It still could be done legally, however, because the Library of Congress granted unlocking temporary exemptions from the law. The last exemption expired on Jan. 26 and was not renewed, making the practice illegal again.

The bill passed by the House would once again extend the exemption, making unlocking legal again until the next review process by the Library of Congress.

But, because of a last-minute change, the bill won't help consumers in the way that would help them the most - by lowering their monthly bill.

The change, put in by the bill's sponsor, Rep. Bob Goodlatte after the bill was already approved by the House Judiciary Committee (which Goodlatte chairs), explicitly prohibits companies from unlocking cell phones for bulk resale.

Allowing the bulk resale of unlocked phones not only would give consumers more choices of phones, but could encourage carriers to reduce their service fees for customers who bring their own phone. A competing bill sponsored by Rep. Zoe Lofgren that does not have such a restriction has yet to be considered by the House.

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White House, Congress seek to legalize cell phone unlocking


The White House, several members of Congress, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have announced that they support making it legal for cell phone owners to "unlock" their phones.

Unlocking a cell phone allows it to work on another carrier's network. It is different from "jailbreaking" or "rooting", which allows a phone to run otherwise blocked software.

The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) made all of those illegal. Unlocking, jailbreaking, and rooting cell phones all were exempted from the law. The exemptions for jailbreaking and rooting are in effect until 2015. The Library of Congress decided to allow the exemption for unlocking to expire on January 26.

Though the stated purpose of the DMCA is to protect creative works, wireless carriers want the protection to prevent people from reselling subsidized phones, according to both the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which represents consumer rights and CTIA - The Wireless Association, which lobbies for the wireless industry. Carriers sell phones at reduced prices (or even give them away) in exchange for the buyer agreeing to stay with the carrier for a length of time - commonly two years. Buyers pay a penalty if they cancel the contract early.

A petition to the Obama administration gathered more than 114,000 signatures, prompting the White House response.

"The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties," wrote R. David Edelman, the administration?s senior adviser for Internet, innovation and privacy. "It?s common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice."

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Smartphone apps for children don't disclose personal data they gather


From games to educational tools, the smartphone apps your children use are transmitting information about them to third parties such as advertising servers and social networks. And it's usually taking place without your knowledge or consent - according to two reports by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The FTC reviewed 400 of the most popular childrens' apps for Iphones and Android phones. The first report, released in February, examined the privacy policies for apps provided by the app seller. The followup report, released in December, re-examined those stated policies, but also the apps themselves to determine whether they followed the stated policy. They found that almost 60 percent of the apps reviewed collected or transmitted information from the mobile device. Yet only 20 percent disclosed any information about the app's privacy practices.

Having that information prior to downloading an app is important for parents when deciding whether they consider it appropriate. "Once an app is downloaded, the parent already may have paid for the app and the app already may be collecting and disclosing the child's information to third parties," the report stated.

Even when apps did disclose what they did, the information often was confusing - either buried in a long, technical privacy policy or simply misleading, according to the report.

The data collected and transmitted included the ID that uniquely identifies the device, phone number, location, and usage information. Clicking on the thumbnail at the top of this story will explain why this can be a large concern for parents. In addition, apps can ask for other personal information through interractions.

The FTC is continuing to pursue this issue, including...

o Recommending the app industry design stronger privacy disclosure and protections

o Issuing consumer information to parents

o Investigating whether some companies have violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

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