ProductReview.com.au and (weak) Australian Consumer Protections

Sent this E-mail Reply this morning to ProductReview.com.au’s Content and Community Head as part of a somewhat long and ongoing E-mail conversation from looking into what I feel were some review anomalies observed on a listing on their website through to inquiring how ProductReview.com.au’s structure is actually set up.

Good Morning Jack,

Hope you had a good weekend.

Can you please tell me more about what actual polices, procedures and processes are in place that ensures what is claimed is actually happening?

At the moment, all I feel I have in front of me are claims on a website from the very entity whose ongoing financial viability appears to depend on businesses and brands subscribing to it services (including advertising)

Personally, I can not fathom how in this world would this ever be considered conducive to transparency and impartiality, let alone (more importantly) permit Product Review to claim they are independent [1]

Does any external independent body actually audit ProductReview.com.au systems and processes? And if so, are you able to please supply me with an audit report or any other evidence there of? (And if not, an explanation would be nice)

If you (or another representative of your employer) could please respond by 5:00 p.m. AEST (7:00 p.m. NZST) today, this would be appreciated.

Thanks and regards,
Fergus

[1] “We were created to be independent…” https://www.productreview.com.au/i/trust-centre

What originally triggered this was noticing a repeating pattern on NRMA’s Roadside Service listing where the volume of reviews were spiking significantly in a clockwork like fashion on Wednesday with the remainder of the days seeing a much lower volume of reviews.

  • A spreadsheet in .HTM format or .XLSX format highlighting all the reviews that have occurred on a Wednesday as opposed to other days of the week.
  • The Raw data in Text format that formed the above.
  • A longwinded, boring and crude video showing the issue. Only watch if you’re got excess time on your hand (Sorry, I don’t have proper video editing software)
  • An image which indicated the period of anomalous spike(s) in review volume coinciding with a lift in their star rating…
    NRMA Motoring and Services – Roadside Assistance, possible gaming of reviews. Ratings lift coinciding with a curious volume spike in reviews in the circled periods.

    For the period from 2014 to around 2016 there were only a handful of reviews hence accounting for the wild gyration in star rating. As more reviews were posted, the rating gradually smoothed out to average around 3.0.
    However, In the first halves of 2018 and 2020, there was a noticeable surge in reviews coinciding with a star rating upsurge (two areas indicated by red circles above)

The ProductReview.com.au’s “Content and Community Head” I feel brushed off the anomaly saying that NRMA Motoring and Services were simply utilizing ProductReview.com.au’s brand marketing tools and therefore at the same time, highlighting to me what I feel is a fairly significant potential conflict of interest right there and then. Yes indeed, I probably should have wondered from the start how ProductReview.com.au actually financially supported themselves.

The conversation eventually and predictably ended up against a wall of confidentially. As in, “we can’t disclose this due to people potentially gaming our system”, privacy issues, and business confidentially (which I do concede many of these reasons will be bona fide). But ultimately, neither NRMA nor ProductReview.com.au cared to disclose why the reviews are spiking every Wednesday and frankly, I’ve never come across a review system which only asks for feedback on one day of the week. I would have though that a company will send out feedback requests soon after and typically within 48 hours of the service being rendered so as to be still fresh in the customer’s mind.

At the moment the key concerns I personally have with productreview.com.au is that…

  • They claim they are independent on their website, however they sell services to the businesses that are being reviewed on their site and in light of this potential conflict of interest, I strongly feel the claim of “built to be independent” is misleading. (I don’t ever recall this point being addressed by ProductReview.com.au in my correspondence with them)
  • Their Content and Community head who apparently also heads ProductReview.com.au’s so-called investigations team I feel was more trying to sell and advertise ProductReview.com.au’s services rather than discussing the issue of potentially fake reviews in a formal, professional and impartial matter. It seems NRMA were paying ProductReview.com.au for their brand and reputation management tools and of course ProductReview.com.au will favour paying customers first (protecting their revenue stream) than lowly reviewers who pay nothing.
  • They are not in any way externally audited by any independent entity, so it is hard to take their claims of batting for the Australian consumer as gospel due to being unable to corroborate these claims and in my mind, anything they say with regard to trust I feel should be taken with a healthy grain of salt.
  • A lot of their outbound links such as on this page lead to Medium.com’s 410 Account Suspended links mentioning “This account is under investigation or was found in violation of the Medium Rules” making me even less sure of their credibility.

While it seems Productreview.com.au has quite some standing within the Australian consumer community (often being referred to in such places like Whirlpool) and I myself used to regard them quite highly, It would be fair to say after some deeper investigation, I don’t hold the same amount of regard nor trust I originally had in them.

I will probably drop a general inquiry to both the ACCC and NSW Fair Trading in due course to perhaps seek their opinion on it, and I completely expect nothing will happen (if my experiences with the likes of binary option scams and ASIC’s complete disinterest were anything to go by where despite my warnings to ASIC, they ignored the issue and several Australians ended up being severely fleeced.)

As an aside (though still a related subject) and while this is more of an unquantified feeling at this stage… I get a strong feeling that the Consumer Protection framework or at least the enforcement of in Australia is rather weak and gobsmackingly lacking, more so than anyone, even Australians actually realise. This extends to their financial sector as well In terms of retail investments and retail banking.

Instead of Watchdogs, Australia to me only appears to have a series of toothless watch puppies at both the Federal and State level who investigate only the minority of reports and complaints, then crow about any successful enforcement action as a means to justify their existence to the Australian public (i.e. “window dressing”).

This lack of supervision and enforcement is perhaps resulting in less than ethical companies trying their hand at pushing the envelope in terms of what they can get away with (including a Victorian rental car company caught posting fake reviews). It also explains why I am perhaps running into more strife with businesses doing the dirty in plain sight in Australia than I ever had at home in New Zealand.

Ultimately, it’s going to be up to Australians to deal with the issue themselves. This all involves their companies on their soil and regulators of their land. As far I’m concern, it looks like if you’re an Australian Consumer who ends up with a transaction heading south, then it would appear you’re largely on your own in Australia.

As a New Zealander looking in, It certainly feels as if though the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) at the Federal level are unable to even carry out the bare minimum of what they were originally established to do and dare I say it, I’d suggest consumer rights in Australia are regressing to the levels of what they were in Mainland China two decades ago when things were less developed there and corruption was perhaps more rampant.

 

ProductReview.com.au and (weak) Australian Consumer Protections

NextCloud Snap Packages updated to version 18

Just saw a notification that the Snap NextCloud installation I had running had been updated to version 18.0.4. For me this is fairly significant in that you can now self host your own office suite with “ONLYOFFICE” community edition and if you are ambitious enough, allowing the option to move away from the likes of Google and Microsoft (Office 365).

The catch is that you have to set it up yourself by installing the needed Apps.  To do this, go into Profile, then Apps and enable “Hub Bundle” (or at the very least “Community Document Server” and “ONLYOFFICE”)

Upon doing that, I ran into headaches with this vague and unhelpful error message…

Diving into the nextcloud.log… (the location of which is going to be different depending on your installation. Helpful I know.)

"message":"Allowed memory size of 134217728 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 315857416 bytes)

I had to fire up an SSH session and send the following commands (applicable to Ubuntu Linux). One to increase the memory limit to 512 Megabytes and the 2nd one to restart the NextCloud service….

sudo snap set nextcloud php.memory-limit=512M 
sudo snap restart nextcloud

Back in NextCloud’s web interface, navigated back to Apps section and tried Enabling the Hub bundle again. Still got a flipping error!

"Cannot declare class OCA\\Talk\\Migration\\Version2000Date20170707093535, because the name is already in use at xxxxxxxxxxx"

At a loss as to now what to do, I then went through for each App under the Hub Bundle, clicking on Enable one by one and it worked for some completely and disconcertingly unknown reason (No errors happened this time around… have no idea why, sorry.)

After that, I went back to my Files and had a play at creating new word documents… (Success I guess)

Seems to work pretty well for a family user set up, even on the lowest tier VPS plan with my provider. (1CPU / 2GB RAM). Included with the ONLYOFFICE suite is a Word Processor, Spread Sheet and Presentation (slides) application. At the moment, the biggest issue I can see is the lack of a working spell checker on the community server plugin as reported here and here which I feel is fairly fundamental to a Word Processor. Little bit concerning is that the web browser based (core or plugin based) spell checkers don’t appear to work inside of it either.

I think at this stage, for word processing, will stick with using the visual Markdown editor “Text” (by Julius Härtl) and continue trailing out the Spread Sheet application by doing my Tax return on it and then reporting back here.

Despite the messing around and troubleshooting to get it working I’m overall pretty otherwise pleased with the “Only Office” implementation (Community Server plugin) as a proof of concept.

 

NextCloud Snap Packages updated to version 18

FaceBorg – Privacy? How about we talk about the concentration of power?

To be honest, privacy issues aside, I am significantly far more concerned around our continued almost exclusive reliance on Facebook’s products to communicate with our friends and family and subsequently helping Facebook, a sole for profit entity, gain a very concerning amount of control over our lives collectively.

Facebook Inc. aren’t some benevolent entity, they are a business and their first and foremost mandate ahead of anything else (including a head of wider social concerns) is to ultimately maximise profits to their owners.

Decades on, I desperately struggle to see why more of us aren’t concerned about this. Please, can someone enlighten me as to the faults in my thinking here? Please?

Also, Custom Audiences. I know I am alone in this thinking, But I consider businesses uploading my personal client information as part of a Custom Audience List to Facebook a breach of my privacy. You are effectively giving my personal information over to a 3rd party and that is not OK.

Facebook use that information to their advantage by matching up information as to where I have been, where I have shopped, etc.

We really don’t need to be rewarding nor supporting Facebook’s on going track record of behaviour, and we really don’t need to help support such a company (particularly a for-profit one) taking so much power and subsequently control over our lives.

FaceBorg – Privacy? How about we talk about the concentration of power?

.NZ Domain Yearly registration prices are to rise.

The .nz Domain prices are to rise after InternetNZ announces wholesale price increases. Claim is that registrations are falling. Monthly Registration statistics can be found here… https://docs.internetnz.nz/reports/

I believe a lot of the more recent new domain registrations were speculative after the release of the direct second level registrations under .nz and feel that may be it’s just a gradual decline back to the mean.

Increasing prices in my view will no doubt accelerate the so-called decline. I plan to have a look into their financials when I get a chance. (I don’t expect to find any irregularities – though worth checking for my own edification)

.NZ Domain Yearly registration prices are to rise.

Matrix Messaging Matters

Earlier on Today, Matrix.org had to be pulled off line for emergency maintenance. It’s back up now and Kudos to Matthew Hodgson and his crew for getting it back up quickly.

On other matters, aside from a flurry of activity in the New Zealand Chat channel #nz.matrix.org, I’m still not seeing as much uptake of the protocol as I would like and today, If I search for any other Matrix chat resources in NZ, my out of date (and sorely need of an update / Fix up) Matrix chat sign up guide seems to come up as the first result.

Will try and pull my finger out and actually fix that page up (including the numbered bullet points and new screenshots) some day, though will state up front, I don’t plan on becoming any sort of Community Lead or Evangelist (Defacto or otherwise) for the Matrix chat / messaging protocol in New Zealand… Well at least not right now with my current commitments.

Matrix Messaging Matters

Valve’s Steam gets their own chat

Steam gets their own chat. Adding to the plethora of non-interoperable, walled off, segregated proprietary instant messaging solutions that seems to be a dime a dozen.

Steam Chat interface, that suddenly popped up upon logging into Windows 10

The above window appeared shortly upon logging into my computer this evening. As I haven’t used Steam for ages, let alone gamed for quite some time, will probably uninstall Steam.

Valve’s Steam gets their own chat

Internet use reduction

More of a “Cool Story Bro” type of post… As per an earlier decree, I have begun reducing my time spent on the internet in general during the evenings and weekends  (during my own time) and confining any use to Administrative functions (such as banking, paying bills, some internet shopping) and the keeping in contact with family and friends (where possible, using inter-operable, federated and self hosted solutions). Continue reading “Internet use reduction”

Internet use reduction

Fibre Broadband ONT Installed

Fibre is finally installed after being convinced by a passing Chorus Man in a Van to get connected. So which provider to go with, I wouldn’t know. Still on my ADSL1 copper connection.

Chorus Fibre Termination point.

After a few false (scheduling) starts, the Chorus Technician managed to eventually come along, lay down the Fibre and install the Optical Network Termination (ONT) box. The job he did looks pretty professional overall.

Probably alone in feeling this way, but would be keen to learn more utilizing Fibre’s potential towards improving people’s lives overall, through initiatives such enabling more to work from home and improving of connectedness between friends and family, etc (and perhaps less about it simply being another means of “Feeding the masses a steady diet of Bread and Circuses” in terms of piping passive Entertainment and Professional Sports into People’s homes).

 

Fibre Broadband ONT Installed

Facebook’s Tentacles – Custom Audience Privacy Issue

Update 17/07/2018: I’d expect I will get a few people rolling their eyes in silence at me, particularly from the AdTech crowd, but I feel strongly enough about the issue that I have decided to start contacting each company appearing in the screenshot to ask them to remove my personal details from any “Custom Audience” Ad campaigns.

I am happy for companies I deal with to add me to their direct mailing list to advise me of any running specials periodically through E-mail, but I am not comfortable with that information subsequently being given to 3rd parties such as Facebook (being a particularly “privacy hostile” entity at that), The less personal information that goes to Facebook the better, I feel they have already become too powerful to our longer term collective detriment, by way of them feasting on our information, particularly given their ongoing business conduct.

Original post: After having logged into my Facebook account for the first time in a fortnight,  Today I learn that businesses have been uploading their customer contact database to Facebook.  A trawl over the internet reveals that this has apparently been in place since 2013.

A question is whether or not organizations giving their contact list to Facebook constitutes, “Sharing your personal details with a 3rd party”?

Advertisers you’ve interacted with – Who have added their contact list to Facebook. (often unbeknown to the people on their contact list)

Facebook states, These advertisers are running ads using a contact list they or their partner uploaded that includes info about you. This info was collected by the advertiser or their partner, typically after you shared your email address with them.”

Reading further, it appears more than just your email they can choose to upload. The information that could be included for matching includes things like your Phone number, Birthday, Gender, etc.

If companies are uploading their customer contact lists to Facebook as per Facebook’s Custom Audiences program, in my view, that pretty much lays at least the base, if they have actually chosen to do so, for Facebook to develop the alleged shadow profiles of Non-Facebook users and personally with me at least, this is NOT okay.

They say they drop all the info if there is no match, but after their ongoing antics, who can trust what Facebook Inc. actually says?

Facebook’s Tentacles – Custom Audience Privacy Issue

Internet 2.0, Proprietary, centralized, and locked-in

Update 27/06/18 – Facebook reaches 200 USD per share, Too bad we collectively keep rewarding bad behaviour, Thanks for the cap gains though.

Ironically, have discovered a lot of my time spent surfing the internet in the evenings is for researching about the Internet itself.

For all intents and purposes, It looks like older days of a largely decentralized Internet with inter-operable communication protocols (E-mail, XMPP, RSS) are pretty much going away, replaced by proprietary walled gardens operated by sole businesses for the primary purpose to maximize profits and designed to be sticky (addictive) and lock as many people in as possible so that it’s hard to escape.

Willful ignorance or otherwise, we collectively voted for this. People a decade ago remarked that I was “Oh So pessimistic” to suggest that Facebook would become as ubiquitous and as powerful as they are today. (By the way, Keep the glass, I don’t need it). Just a second while I write another put option on NASDAQ:FB (with the intention to add to my current holdings)

People keep getting outraged at Facebook’s behaviour, yet continues to reward and encourage it by continuing to use their services. While many have pledged to reduce their usage of Facebook (and other services), such actions seem to be nothing more than short lived and amounts to little more than “virtue signalling”, Furthermore, many of those people who say they are leaving Facebook are going on to suggest WhatsApp and Instagram (both owned by Facebook) as to where they will be moving to.  Hold on, let me increase my short put position.

Frankly, a decade ago, I did state that I would prefer to lose my access to the Internet completely rather than submit to Facebook should Facebook happen to take over the Internet to become the Internet. While in truth, it’s still a long way from that, the situation is that the Internet has now become so commercialized with much of it’s power now consolidated into the hands of a few corporate entities.

Anyway, I’ve decided to gradually reduce my use of the Internet in general and should the consolidation of power continue, will probably end up using the Internet rather comparatively sparingly — Keeping any use personally during my own time to Administrative stuff and the keeping in touch with closer Family and friends (using self hosted services where possible) while completely cutting to the bone any superfluous usage such as casual surfing of forums and especially surfing the Internet to research… well, about the Internet.

 

Internet 2.0, Proprietary, centralized, and locked-in

Motivations for setting up my own personal homepage

As mentioned in my Facebook Notice, I had elected to build my own personal homepage for staying in touch with Friends and Family as opposed to relying on Facebook. In short, I prefer staying with decentralized inter-operable web protocols and standards (particularly those that allow me to self-host) where practical as it offers me more freedom and control over my own personal web presence.

While It is acknowledged utilizing proprietary platforms that are singularly owned and operated by sole for profit business entities have their near term benefits (many such platforms are Free of charge), they aren’t “neutral” mediums and are typically run with the natural focus of maximizing profits, ahead of the best of interest of their users or the wider world at large. (Engineering their products to be as sticky as possible, to keep people on their platforms for longer in order to serve advertising, locking them in so that it’s difficult to leave and consequentially, with an increased tendency to cause addiction in quite a few people).

Proprietary platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat are structured in contrast to say inter-operable protocols like regular E-mail where you have a choice of providers. A user on their choice of provider can E-mail another user on a different provider. No one provider controls the protocol.

It is worth highlighting that the more we use, rely, and pressure others to use these proprietary platforms (by way of the network effect), the more powerful these entities will naturally become. In the case of Facebook, it’s already large and still ever increasing influence and power in our lives (be it through through Facebook Original, Instagram, WhatsApp), I see as potentially detrimental thing to us in the longer term in the sense of…

“Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely”

Personally, I desperately struggle to see how so much power concentrated in the hands of any given single entity, especially a “for-profit” one, could ever be considered as a good thing for us in the longer run. While Facebook certainly isn’t alone in trying to get their mittens on everything we do online, there is a concern within me that should we allow the general trend to continue, (along side the gradual erosion of Civic Responsibility) we could see an erosion in our own individual self determination as we collectively cede ever increasingly control and power over our lives to such (non-democratic) business entities whom are ultimately answerable only to their owners and stockholders.

If you wish to visit the possibility of using alternatives mediums to stay in contact with friends and family, please see “Keeping in contact with loved ones” where I’ve listed out what I’ve done and the recommended stepping stones to reduce reliance on centralized, proprietary and commercially run services.

Disclosure

As of February 2017 (About a year ago as of writing this), I am now a direct shareholder in NASDAQ:FB. The reality is I don’t think we Netizens are going to realize the longer term implications of where we are headed anytime soon. I do recall people seven years ago rebuked me as being “so pessimistic” for even suggesting that Facebook would become as powerful and ubiquitous as they are now. People are saying Facebook is dying and while that may now be true in North America for their original main name sake platform, many of those same people go on to suggest Instagram and WhatsApp (both Owned by Facebook), along with Snapchat (whom personally I consider as equally as obnoxious) as examples as to where everyone is now flocking to.


Fergus Young
www.nui.nz

 

Motivations for setting up my own personal homepage

TradeMe – Not necessarily the cheapest place

First, here is something that I mildly found amusing…

Go on TradeMe, tell everyone how you really feel about Facebook…

As an aside, I don’t know about their business model anymore. I can’t say that buying from (or should it be through) them is necessarily the cheapest. While there are still bargains to be had, I have noticed that private individual sellers simply wishing to moved pre-loved goods on are getting fewer and fewer as years go by as they continue to get displaced on the listings pages by International Sellers or otherwise local drop-shippers, who often flood TradeMe with listings at asking prices higher than NZ RRP (Recommended Retail Pricing)… Continue reading “TradeMe – Not necessarily the cheapest place”

TradeMe – Not necessarily the cheapest place

Branding Effects + Roadblocks to Web Decentralization

(This post is a sort of a lead in from my previous post about Meetup.com)

Anecdotally, it seems the majority of groups which have left the Meetup.com platform have moved their group to Facebook. Branding I’ve come to realize is at play here with Facebook’s seemingly relentless march to take control as much of the web as humanely possible.

While I’ve found many people announce that they “Hate” Facebook saying it’s crap, to them, it’s a familiar sort of ‘Crap’, people subconsciously lean to Familiar because Familiar is “Safe”. Another words… “Better the Devil you know than the Devil you don’t”.

Like ‘McDonalds’ is to fast food, People may criticize their food as ‘plastic’, but yet keep coming back to it because there is some psychological guarantee that it will be the same ‘Plastic’ food they they know of. Take this, if you landed in a new country, would you try some unfamiliar food outlet selling unfamiliar food or head straight towards the Big illuminated ‘M’?  This is something that came to my mind when I was setting up a Test Instance of Oxwall and is something us Decentralization / Open web advocates are going to need to consider.

 

Branding Effects + Roadblocks to Web Decentralization

Riot Matrix: Background + Findings

The following post deals with the background, along with my personal experiences and findings to-date with the RIOT/Matrix instant messaging and group chat system. To connect to the Matrix Synapse instance, please refer to the basic guide to get started.

In Late December 2017, some concerns were raised among friends regarding their discomfort with Relying on WeChat (along with other proprietary commercial instant messaging apps) for communicating among ourselves, and subsequently I was asked whether or not it would be possible to add some sort of chat function to my website.

I’m going to be upfront. I don’t believe at this stage that I am ever going to pull the majority of my Facebook Addicted friend base out from the clutches of the Facebook eco-system (FB Messenger and WhatsApp) and at this present time, only aiming this service at Family and a handful of closer friends who have expressed desire to use an alternative instant messaging platform. Continue reading “Riot Matrix: Background + Findings”

Riot Matrix: Background + Findings

Facebook Causes depression?

They say Facebook causes depression. For me, it’s probably not the “Comparing yourself with others” / F.O.M.O (Fear of Missing out) trigger that I keep seeing exhorted in the media (in the lightest way possible, that aspect of Facebook has probably had the opposite effect),

What has instead perhaps “dampened my mood” is seeing the world’s masses getting deeply hooked and dare I say addicted to the platform owned by a corporate juggernaut (which we are collectively responsible for becoming a juggernaut, by virtue of joining the platform and getting our friends to join courtesy of the “network effect”) intent on eating up the entire Internet and irreversibly integrating itself into many people’s lives.

I really struggle to see this as a good thing for us collectively in the longer run. I question our decision to rely on a sole proprietary platform for keeping in touch with friends and family. I continually freak out about how much power over our lives we are collectively handing over to be concentrated into the hands of a single for-profit entity such as Facebook, especially so given their past and present behavior. Have people forgotten about “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”?

I’ve referred to Facebook as “Face-borg” for this reason. It is really the Web’s version of Startrek’s Borg collective, relentlessly assimilating everything in it’s path.

Facebook Causes depression?