Archive for January, 2011


Monday, January 31st, 2011

‘La-la land’ law:

Call to ban iPods

and phones

while crossing roads

Asher Moses

January 31, 2011 – 12:30PM

Would you stop your iPod to cross the road?

Are people in NSW prepared to put down their iPods, mobile phones and other electronic devices while crossing the road?

NSW Police said it would support laws banning the use of iPods, mobile phones and other electronic devices while crossing the road and while riding bicycles.

It is the latest attempt to improve traffic safety by legislating against technological distraction, but questions have been raised over whether such rules could ever be properly enforced.

In New York, a bill is pending in the transport committee that would ban pedestrians, including joggers, from using gadgets while crossing the street.

Lambs to slaughter ... the image used in the Pedestrian Council of Australia's campaign.Lambs to slaughter … the image used in the Pedestrian Council of Australia’s campaign.

Other states including Oregon, Virginia and California are moving to ban devices such as iPods from being used while riding a bicycle. Culprits would be fined between $US20 and $US100.

Similar legislation has yet to be introduced in Australia but NSW Police said “should legislation such as that described be introduced, it would receive our support and ongoing attention”.

The position is a marked turnaround from the views of NSW Police State Traffic Commander John Hartley, who said in 2007, when the US laws were first talked about, that “you can’t legislate stupidity”.

The reason for the change in position is unclear – national pedestrian road deaths have been falling consistently, from 351 in 1996 to 173 last year. In NSW, there has been a slight rise in pedestrian road deaths from 59 to 64 between 2009 and 2010, the RTA says.

The Pedestrian Council of Australia has been running advertisements showing people with lamb heads using their gadgets while crossing the road at a red light under the banner “Lambs to the slaughter, wait for the green”.

The council’s spokesman, Harold Scruby, said there should be a much stricter legislation and enforcement campaign to complement his awareness campaign. He also said device manufacturers had a “moral and corporate responsibility” to put warnings on their mobiles and music players.

In September last year a 46-year-old Sydney woman from Glebe was knocked down and killed by an ambulance – reportedlywhile wearing headphones – as she crossed Parramatta Road.

“They put you in la-la land, aside from the fact that, if you’re using two buds you’ve lost the stop, look and listen awareness of things around you,” Mr Scruby said.

He also criticised current laws that allowed drivers to operate vehicles and bicycles with an earbud in each ear (“they don’t hear tooting, fire engines, police vehicles, ambulances … “) and said police were generally not enforcing laws governing people crossing roads.

“You step off the footpath against a red light in America and they book you [but] in Australia they don’t touch you – you see cops standing next to people who are walking against the lights,” he said.

Already, Australian motorists face significant fines and three demerit points for driving or riding a vehicle while using a mobile phone, even when stopped at traffic lights. Hands-free kits are allowed but not “if it causes you to lose proper control of your vehicle”, the RTA says.

People with learner or P1 provisional licenses are prohibited from using their phones while driving, with or without a hands-free.

But with drivers now gadget-free, attention is turning to pedestrians and their risk of walking into oncoming traffic while zoning out with their music players or sending texts.

The ability of mobiles to distract people from the outside world was brought home to a global audience this month when a US woman tumbled head first into a shopping centre fountainwhile texting. She later threatened to sue the mall.

The New York senator who has been pushing the new rules for pedestrians, Carl Kruger, said people could not be fully aware of their surroundings while “fiddling with a BlackBerry, dialling a phone number, playing Super Mario Brothers on a Game Boy or listening to music on an iPod”.

He cited a rise in “accidents stemming from pedestrian distraction”, including the death of a 21-year-old man crushed by a Mack truck while listening to music.

In Australia, official figures do not allow one to drill down to see the number of people killed or injured while distracted by their gadgets.

However, according to the Department of Infrastructure, 173 pedestrians were killed on Australian roads last year, down slightly from 195 in 2009.

NSW Police said the community should be mindful that road use – whether as a driver, rider or pedestrian – was a complex task requiring alertness, awareness, compliance with the road rules and good judgment at all times.

“Any distraction from the task of safely using our roads has the potential consequence of reducing road safety and for that reason we encourage all road users to apply their best efforts and full attention to the task at hand when on our roads,” it said.

Spokespeople for the NSW Police and transport ministers directed requests for comment to the office of the Roads Minister, David Borger.

Mr Borger’s office did not immediately respond to questions over whether any legislation similar to that adopted in the US would be introduced in NSW

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Monday, January 31st, 2011

Google’s Android

more vulnerable to

viruses than Apple’s


Security firm states

January 13, 2011

Google’s Android operating system for mobile devices is more vulnerable to hackers and viruses than Apple’s iPhone platform, according to security software maker Trend Micro.

“Android is open-source, which means the hacker can also understand the underlying architecture and source code,” Steve Chang, chairman of Trend Micro, the world’s largest provider of security software for corporate servers, said in an interview. “We have to give credit to Apple, because they are very careful about it. It’s impossible for certain types of viruses” to operate on the iPhone, he said.

Google, owner of the world’s most-popular online search engine, offers Android for free and allows developers access to its code for writing software. Apple, whose iOS software trails Android in smartphone market share, requires every application to be approved before being sold in its online store.

“On all computing devices, users necessarily entrust at least some of their information to the developer of the application they’re using,” Mountain View, California-based Google said in an emailed statement. “Android has taken steps to inform users of this trust relationship and to limit the amount of trust a user must grant to any given application developer.”

‘The next PC’

Chang said he’s betting Android users will start to buy more security software for mobile devices.

“Smartphones are the next PC, and once they’re adopted by enterprises, data loss will be a very key problem,” he said.

On January 7, Tokyo-based Trend Micro released Mobile Security for Android, software that users can install on a mobile phone to block viruses, malicious programs and unwanted calls. Trend Micro aims for the $US3.99 application to help it gain revenue from the more than 250 million phones Gartner expects will run on Android by 2014.

“Apple has a sandbox concept that isolates the platform, which prevents certain viruses that want to replicate themselves or decompose and recompose to avoid virus scanners,” Chang said.

Apple’s iOS isn’t fully immune to security threats and may be hit with so-called social-engineering attacks, which trick users into authorising the download or installation of malicious software, Chang said. Trend Micro offers a security application for Apple’s iOS, he said.

Natalie Harrison, a spokeswoman for Cupertino, California-based Apple, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Market share

Phones using Android accounted for around 26 % of the global smartphone market in the third quarter, behind Symbian, used in Nokia Oyj handsets, and ahead of iOS, which had a 17 % share, researcher Gartner said November 10.

In 2014, 259 million devices, or 29.6 per cent of all smartphones, will use Android, trailing 30.2 per cent share for Symbian and ahead of 15 per cent share for iOS, Gartner predicted in September.

Trend Micro’s 2010 revenue is expected to have dropped 1.3 per cent to 95 billion yen ($1.16 billion) and net income is forecast to be 22 per cent lower, at 13.7 billion yen, according to the average of eight analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Calling all heroines & heroes:

Fire Dept app could help save lives

By Paul Ridden

13:25 January 26, 2011

Around three hundred thousand people in the U.S. are said to suffer sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) each year, so with survival rates standing at less than eight percent and brain death taking a grip just four to six minutes after an attack, every second counts. The San Ramon Valley Fire Department is therefore calling on members of the public who have been trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to help. A new location-aware iPhone app has been developed that notifies registered users within the 155 square-mile (401.5 sq km) San Ramon Valley, California region when their skills are needed to save lives.

If a cardiac emergency happens in a publicly accessible location, the freely available iPhone app developed by the San Ramon Fire Department will use the smartphone’s GPS capabilities to identify registered users trained in CPR in the vicinity and let them know that someone nearby needs help. It will also direct the local heroes to the exact location of the closest public access Automated External Defibrillator.

“The creation and deployment of a smartphone application that notifies trained bystanders of nearby cardiac arrest events completely redefines the traditional meaning of a witnessed arrest by expanding awareness over a much broader area,” said Fire Chief Richard Price. “Providing actionable, real-time information during a sudden cardiac arrest emergency, including mapping the victim and rescuer locations, along with the nearest AED locations, is the quintessential use of GPS technology on a mobile phone today.”

Users are offered the choice of incident notification by type and can also use the app as “a virtual window into San Ramon Valley’s 9-1-1 dispatch center.” They can also use the app to view the current status of incident alerts, including information about when the professionals are due to arrive at the scene. The Fire Department also utilizes the technology to communicate with over 700 members of the Community Emergency Response Team.

A limited version of the app has been in public testing for the past six months with more than 22,000 iPhone users, and has now been released as full version 2.0.3 to the iTunes store. It will run on any iPhone or iPad running iOS 4.2 or later.

The initiative has been applauded by the American Heart Association. “Fast action can save a life when someone collapses during a cardiac arrest,” said Dr. Junaid Khan. “CPR can double or triple a person’s chance of survival.” It’s also received a warm welcome from numerous other organizations, including the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Contra Costa Emergency Medical Services and the National EMS Management Association.

For those who don’t live in the area of coverage, you can let your curiosity get the better of you and download the app to listen in to what’s going on. However, with Chief Price confirming that the technology is to be shared with other public safety agencies around the globe, similar initiatives may soon pop up in your area too.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Pay by swiping

your iPhone 5, iPad 2

January 26, 2011 – 12:54PM
iPhone 4.You’ll soon be able to pay for things just by swiping your iPhone, analysts say.

Apple plans to introduce services that would let customers use its iPhone and iPad computer to make purchases, said Richard Doherty, director of consulting firm Envisioneering Group.

The services are based on “Near-Field Communication”, a technology that can beam and receive information at a distance of up to four inches, due to be embedded in the next iteration of the iPhone and the iPad 2, Doherty said. Both products are likely to be introduced this year, he said, citing engineers who are working on hardware for the Apple project.

Apple’s service may be able to tap into user information already on file, including credit-card numbers, iTunes gift-card balance and bank data, said Richard Crone, who leads financial industry adviser Crone Consulting LLC in San Carlos, California. That could make it an alternative to programs offered by such companies as Visa, MasterCard and eBay’s PayPal, said Taylor Hamilton, an analyst at consultant IBISWorld.

“It would make a lot of sense for Apple to include NFC functionality in its products,” Crone said.

The main goal for Apple would be to get a piece of the $US6.2 trillion Americans spend each year on goods and services, Crone said. Today, the company pays credit-card processing fees on every purchase from iTunes.

By encouraging consumers to use cheaper methods – such as tapping their bank accounts directly, which is how many purchases are made via PayPal – Apple could cut its own costs and those of retailers selling Apple products.

Natalie Harrison, a spokeswoman for Apple, declined to comment.

Boon for PayPal, Visa and MasterCard

“NFC is definitely one of the technologies that’s getting a lot of attention, but ultimately the consumer is going to choose,” said Charlotte Hill, a spokeswoman for PayPal, owned by eBay.

Elvira Swanson, a spokeswoman for Visa, said the company was “excited to see NFC mobile devices coming into the market”.

Ed McLaughlin, chief emerging payments officer at MasterCard, said the company was “running the world’s fastest payment network, and that doesn’t need to be re-created”.

MasterCard sees NFC “as an opportunity to partner with organisations” and has already run NFC payment trials around the world.

The recently passed Durbin Amendment makes the timing right for a push by Apple, Crone said. The regulation, which will go into effect this summer, may limit debit-card fees paid by retailers and lets them encourage consumers to use one payment method over another.

Competing with Android

Under Apple chief operating officer Tim Cook, who is handling day-to-day operations as chief executive officer Steve Jobs takes medical leave, the iPhone is adding features that will help it compete with phones that use Google’s Android software.

Samsung Electronics’s Nexus S phone, which runs Android, can read information from NFC tags.

Nokia, the world’s largest maker of mobile phones, has pushed NFC adoption for years, though the technology has been slow to take off.

“Apple could be the game-changer,” Doherty said.

Apple is considering starting a mobile payment service as early as the middle of this year, Doherty said. It would revamp iTunes, a service that lets consumers buy digital movies and music, so it would hold not only users’ credit-card account information but also loyalty credits and points, Doherty said.

Using the service, customers could walk into a store or restaurant and make payments straight from an iPad or iPhone. They could also receive loyalty rewards and credits for purchases, such as when referring a friend, Doherty said.

Targeted advertising

Apple also could use NFC to improve how it delivers mobile ads to customers’ handsets and charge higher fees for those ads, Crone said. NFC would let Apple’s iAd advertising network personalise ads to the places where a customer is spending money. That could double or triple the ad rates that Apple charges, Crone said.

Apple has created a prototype of a payment terminal that small businesses, such as hairdressers and mum-and-pop stores, could use to scan NFC-enabled iPhones and iPads, Doherty said.

The company is considering heavily subsidising the terminal, or even giving it away to retailers, to encourage fast, nationwide adoption of NFC technology and rev up sales of NFC-enabled iPhones and iPads, he said.

To help get ready for NFC, Apple last year hired Benjamin Vigier, who worked on the technology at mobile-payment provider MFoundry. It also has applied for a patent on a system that uses NFC to share information between applications running on various Apple devices.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Handyscope turns an iPhone

into a digital dermoscope

By Darren Quick

20:08 January 23, 2011

Call me crazy, but I’ve always found some peace of mind knowing that the latest medical gadget scanning some worrisome part of my body isn’t an accessory for a smartphone, but costs in the millions of dollars and is the result of years of expensive research and development. However, as someone who has more than their fair share of moles dotted all over their body, I’m willing to make an exception for the handyscope. Consisting of an optical attachment and an accompanying app, the handyscope turns an iPhone into a digital dermoscope to provide an instantaneous up close look at potential skin cancers.

  • An iPhone slides into the handyscope
  • The handyscope digital dermascope accessory for iPhone
  • The handyscope lens features built-in LEDs
  • The handyscope digital dermascope accessory for iPhone

The handyscope features a case into which an iPhone 3G, 3GS and 4 slides so that the iPhone’s camera aligns with the handyscope’s lens system. The device is then placed flush against the patient’s skin, which is illuminated by polarized light from the built-in LEDs. The device features a standardized zoom and auto-focus with images captured with a single tap using the iPhone app.

The images can be immediately viewed full screen with a magnification of up to 20x and saved with another tap. The shooting date and time is automatically recorded with saved the images, while patient data and other comments can also be added manually. The data is all encrypted and can be password protected so there’s no doctor/patient privilege privacy concerns.

One of the big pluses of the device, aside from its portability, is the ease with which images of suspicious moles can be shared with colleagues or uploaded to a second opinion service where world-renowned specialists can weigh in with their view.

“We developed the handyscope for all doctors who want to have the possibility to take pictures of the skin and work with them later. It is an alternative for those who miss the ?capture-and-save-function’ when using conventional handheld dermatoscopes,” explains Andreas Mayer, chief executive officer of FotoFinder.

The handyscope has its own in-built 2400mAh battery pack, which will keep the LEDs running for up to eight hours and can be recharged with the standard iPhone USB cable.

FotoFinder will launch the handyscope in February at the 69th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in New Orleans. Health professionals can order the handyscope for 1,166.20 euro (approx. US$1,590), while the app costs US$11.99 through the iTunes App Store.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Murdoch link

to phone hacking

fallout deepens

Paola Totaro

January 25, 2011

David Cameron ... friendly dinners.
David Cameron … friendly dinners. Photo: Reuters

LONDON: The political fallout from the News of the World phone-hacking scandal has intensified amid claims of a Scotland Yard cover-up and friendly dinners between Downing Street and the Murdoch family.

Despite the resignation of Andy Coulson as Downing Street’s director of communications, the links between the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Rupert Murdoch’s empire have once again been thrown into the spotlight just days before the media tycoon is due to fly to London.

The Independent revealed that James Murdoch, son of Rupert and chairman of News Corporation in Europe and Asia, was a guest at a private dinner with Mr Cameron just days after the Prime Minister stripped the Liberal Democrat business secretary, Vince Cable, of responsibility for the crucial decision on whether News Corp should be allowed to buy the 61 per cent of BSkyB it does not already own.

Advertisement: Story continues below
Rupert Murdoch ... his son James reportedly had dinner with David Cameron.
Rupert Murdoch … his son James reportedly had dinner with David Cameron. Photo: Reuters

The dinner was held at the home of Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International, in Churchill, Oxfordshire, and both Mr Cameron and his wife, Samantha, were present.

The highly controversial decision on the takeover was handed to the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, after Mr Cable was secretly taped telling undercover reporters that he had ”declared war” on Rupert Murdoch.

Mr Coulson’s resignation at the weekend has also renewed interest in police handling of the original investigation into the hacking affair, with claims of a cover-up and calls that the new investigation, announced a few weeks ago by the Crown Prosecution Service, be handed to a different police force or to the Inspectorate of Constabulary.

The Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, criticised the police, saying they had dismissed his calls for a full inquiry, and the former prime minister Gordon Brown has asked police if his phones had been affected when he was chancellor.

A parliamentary inquiry into the row begins to gather evidence this week, but the deputy Labour leader, Harriet Harman, has demanded a fresh inquiry.

Mr Coulson quit as editor of Mr Murdoch’s News of the World in 2007 after the paper’s royal reporter admitted hacking royal phones.

Although Mr Coulson insisted he had no knowledge of the practice, the scandal has riveted London and been the focus of continuing inquiries by Murdoch media rivals, including The Guardian and The Independent.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Friday, January 21st, 2011

iPhone’s first Killer sex app:

Body Heat wireless vibrator

orchestration (NSFW)

iPhone's first Killer sex app: Body Heat wireless vibrator orchestration (NSFW)

iPhone’s first Killer sex app: Body Heat wireless vibrator orchestration (NSFW)

Let’s talk for a minute about the female orgasm. For a lucky minority of women, these exist in abundance, ready to be plucked ripe off a well-fruited vine at a moment’s notice. If you’re one of these girls, you can stop reading now and get back to washing your hair with that herbal goop that makes you bellow like Meg Ryan. If you’re at the other end of the scale, where orgasm is a fleeting, furtive animal that must be hunted with patience and skill, then this device might be up your alley … so to speak.

Let’s talk female orgasms

The range of female orgasmicicity (to coin a phrase) is probably quite similar to that of males – except that in the ladies’ case, you’re actually lucky if you’re on the premature side of things, whereas for the fellas it leads to a whole lot of apologies, flowers and new kitchens.

But it’s probably even more frustrating being a woman on the other end of the scale than a man who’s a bit “touch and go” – there’s a lot of girls around that need a “perfect storm” situation to ring their bell. Right time of the month, no stress, no contact with Jill in Accounting for at least three days, kids asleep, perfect soundtrack, clean sheets, patchouli in the oil burner and a partridge in a pear tree – or else it’s just not going to happen.

Even then, when the mood is set perfectly, the physical stimulation has to be absolutely spot-on, or some poor lasses will drift back off into thinking about school lunches and the opportunity will be gone for good.

Thank heavens for technology.

Touching on the fascinating history of the vibrator

The first mechanical vibrators were used in the 1870s, as a therapeutic treatment for “female hysteria” – in what must be the greatest plan ever devised to get women to declare themselves hysterical.

These clockwork contraptions replaced and improved upon a sort of water cannon device – the principles of which will be familiar to any lady that has discovered a detachable shower head.

The advent of home electricity brought with it the ability to use these magical tools in the privacy of our own homes – and indeed, if Wikipedia is to be believed, womens’ priorities were fairly clear; home vibrator kits hit the market some 9 years before the vacuum cleaner.

Modern day pleasure machines

These days, of course, it’s perfectly acceptable for the modern woman to have a well-stocked drawer full of complex machinery by the bedside (although some take it too far – I’m looking at you Deb, and your box of diesel-powered horrors!). And if the adult entertainment expo in Vegas taught us anything, it’s that one size does not fit all in this game.

The sheer variety of shapes, sizes and mechanical aptitudes displayed by today’s vibrators are enough to make any man without a prehensile penis feel sorely inadequate.

The lesson here is that girls have very specific needs and tastes in this respect – and the device we’re looking at here adds an unprecedented degree of precise control to the game that might just tip it over into “killer app” territory.

Your average vibrator has either an on/off switch, a power level control knob, or some selection of bizarre pre-programmed patterns that must have got serious results from a focus group back in the day. Boy, would that session have been fun.

OhMiBod and the Body Heat app: total control

The OhMiBod vibrator (which we’ve covered before) can be set up to pulse and vibrate in response to a music track – but when you pair it wirelessly with the Body Heat app running on an iPad or iPhone, you’re suddenly the conductor of your own multi-touch orchestra of pleasure.

Move your finger up the screen to increase the speed of vibration, and move it to the right to increase the intensity, or amplitude of vibration with pinpoint precision. Bottom left of the screen gives you a gentle tickle, top right leaves you an Einstein hairdo and makes your teeth whiter.

Lift your finger off, and it keeps the current levels going – and if you use two finger multitouch, you can create more complex patterns that oscillate between points on the grid.

Shaking the phone vigorously will stop the device completely – I’m not sure that was the wisest choice. If I’ve learned one thing in my years, it’s that when the shaking starts, you KEEP GOING AT ALL COSTS.

Either way, it puts a whole lot of control in the hands of women who really need it, and the interface itself is nice and touchy-feely in its own right, very feminine and girly.

So it seems for once that an iPhone or iPad might actually help cause some sexual activity rather than what usually happens at my place, where the missus and I each lie there playing Angry Birds until we forget why our birds were angry in the first place and go to sleep.

Triple your battery budgets, ladies, Roboc*ck is on his way. The wireless OhMiBod vibrator will set you back US$130, and the Body Heat app a further US$3.99 from the Apple App Store.

See the Body Heat app in use in the video below … no, sorry, it’s not that kind of video.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Friday, January 21st, 2011

Water fall:

texting woman

who stumbled

into mall fountain

threatens to sue

January 21, 2011 – 1:14PM

Texting woman falls in fountain, sues mall

A woman accidentally fell into a fountain while text messaging and is now suing the shopping centre.

A US woman whose fall into a shopping centre fountain has become a viral video sensation is threatening to sue the mall.

Cathy Cruz Marrero, 49, was texting on her mobile phone when she tumbled head first into a shallow fountain in a mall in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, this month.

“I saw the water coming at me, I could see the pennies and nickels at the bottom of the fountain and then I was in it,” Marrero told local newspaper the Reading Eagle.

Advertisement: Story continues below
Oblivious ... Cathy Cruz Marrero texts while she walks towards the fountain.
Oblivious … Cathy Cruz Marrero texts while she walks towards the fountain.

A video of her fall, which was captured on the centre’s CCTV cameras, was posted on YouTube and has since attracted more than 1½ million views. Laughter could be heard on the footage while it was being played.

Marrero, who works at a store in the centre, told US television network ABC’s Good Morning America she had initially laughed at her fall but added that no one had taken her feelings into consideration when they posted the video on the internet.

“It shows in the video. Nobody went to my aid. Not one single person … it could have been anybody’s mother. It could have been a senior citizen falling and would they have gotten the same treatment as I did?” she asked.

Stumble ... Cathy Cruz Marrero walks into the side of the shallow fountain.
Stumble … Cathy Cruz Marrero walks into the side of the shallow fountain.

“I didn’t get an apology, what I got was, ‘At least nobody knows it was you.’ But I knew it was me.”

Marrero’s lawyer, James Polyak, said they suspected someone in the mall’s security office recorded the footage on a mobile phone.

“We intend to hold all responsible parties accountable whether that means requesting or demanding an apology – certainly requesting an explanation for why this happened, how this happened,” he said.

Head first ... Cathy Cruz Marrero falls towards the water.
Head first … Cathy Cruz Marrero falls towards the water.

Marrero, who has convictions for theft from the 1990s, is free on $US7500 ($7600) bail for theft by deception and receiving stolen property charges from 2009, the Eagle reported.

She is due back in court in April and could face six months of house arrest and be forced to wear an electronic tag.

Marrero admitted to Good Morning America‘s host George Stephanopoulos that she did learn a lesson from her fall.

Making a splash ... Cathy Cruz Marrero's leg flails in the air as she goes under the water.
Making a splash … Cathy Cruz Marrero’s leg flails in the air as she goes under the water.

“Do not text and walk,” she said.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Friday, January 21st, 2011


How Vodafone dealers

bend the rules

posing as customers

Asher Moses

January 21, 2011 – 12:41PM

Vodafone customers vent their frustration

Vodafone customers give their verdict on connection problems and the standard of service.

    A Vodafone dealer’s staff have been caught posing as customers to cancel the customers’ original accounts in order to sign them up for new contracts with higher commissions.

    The staff members of Communications Direct Pty Ltd have also breached privacy by forwarding detailed customer call records outside the company.

    Evidence seen by this website, including internal emails, shows managers at the dealer initiated and encouraged some of the behaviour. They are still employed with the company, which remains a Vodafone agent despite Vodafone saying in a statement that it had rectified the issues and took “all allegations of unethical business practices extremely seriously”.

    Advertisement: Story continues below

    The Privacy Commissioner is already investigating Vodafone over the security of its customers’ information and said yesterday that the new information provided by this website would be included in its investigation.

    The privacy investigation comes after just under 20,000 customers signed on to a class action lawsuit targeting Vodafone over network issues that caused poor reception, dropped calls and delayed voicemail and SMS.

    The email documents, sent over the first half of last year, show that staff at Comms Direct, which acts as an agent for Vodafone, had top-tier access to the database containing personal details and call records of all of Vodafone’s customers. These sensitive details, contained in a system provided by software maker Siebel, could be accessed by Comms Direct call centre staff without customers giving their permission.

    Comms Direct’s managers instructed staff to use the system to search for customers who were approaching the end of their contracts with Vodafone and to offer to re-sign them with a better deal.

    “Take a look at the spend and usage. See if we can offer a better deal and then close them,” one wrote in an email.

    This method was used to acquire customers from other Vodafone dealers, who may not have the same level of access to Vodafone’s customer database. It was referred to internally as “Siebel farming” and the email evidence includes complaints to Comms Direct from dealers who lost customers as a result of the practice.

    “Other dealers would say we built up the relationship, they fell into our database, you took advantage of the system and accessed it and stole our customers – internally there’s lots of issues that way,” said a former Comms Direct staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

    The dealer earns more commission from connecting new accounts than upgrading existing ones, so managers encouraged staff to call Vodafone customer care, pretend to be the customer, and ask that the original service be disconnected, sources said.

    The dealer could then sign them up as a new connection, with individual sales staff receiving double the normal commission ($50 instead of $25).

    However, in some cases, Vodafone has failed to disconnect the old accounts and customers were unwittingly left with multiple accounts and multiple charges.

    “Anyone who does a wireless broadband sale to a male customer needs to take ownership of calling customer service to have the old wireless broadband disconnected,” a manager wrote in an email to staff in March last year, adding that by doing so they would earn an additional $25 commission.

    “If it is a woman customer that you are making a sale to, this will be still classed as a new connection as the operations team can disconnect these girls over the phone.”

    Comms Direct’s website says it is “Vodafone’s largest premium partner”.

    This website has also seen evidence that on several occasions last year at least one Comms Direct staff member accessed the unbilled call history of a man and forwarded the details on to a private Hotmail account.

    Other internal Comms Direct emails suggest the dealer engaged in “SIM stacking”, whereby extra mobile numbers are added to a business customer’s account without their knowledge. This helps dealers earn more commissions and hit their monthly connection targets, a source said.

    In one email, a customer emailed a manager to ask why they were given 11 phone numbers when they needed only one. The manager replied that “the rest are spare”.

    Vodafone Hutchison Australia, Comms Direct and the NSW Police have been provided with the documentary evidence containing the above allegations.

    NSW Police said it had assigned an officer to examine the allegations, while Comms Direct said it was drafting a response but this had not arrived at the time of publication.

    Vodafone refused to respond to the individual allegations but said it had “already taken action to address” the issues and some sales staff at Communications Direct who were involved in the activities no longer worked there.

    Vodafone said it had also restricted access to its systems “to prevent this type of unauthorised business practice”.

    “VHA takes all allegations of unethical business practices extremely seriously and as a direct result of issues raised by VHA, a number of staff from Communications Direct had their employment terminated last year,” a spokesman said.

    However, the top managers who were revealed in the email documents to have condoned some of the activities are all still employed at the company.

    “If a blind eye is turned to this kind of chicanery where does it end and who takes responsibility? Does Vodafone just wash its hands and say well it’s the dealer’s responsibility?” said Christopher Zinn, spokesman for consumer group Choice.

    “When consumers go to a shop and it says Vodafone on the outside, they are not necessarily cognisant of the difference between what is a Vodafone store and what is a Vodafone dealer store.”

    This month it was revealed that the personal details of millions of Vodafone customers, including their names, home addresses, driver’s licence numbers and credit card details, had been available on the internet. They could be accessed using generic login details that unscrupulous dealers reportedly gave or sold to people, including criminals.

    Vodafone said it had implemented a number of security measures to prevent similar security breaches in future. It would not detail what these were, but, in an email sent to dealers on Wednesday, Vodafone said it would now require each dealer to provide a static IP address for their internet connection in order to access the customer database.

    This would allow Vodafone to track which stores are accessing particular pieces of information and ensure that they only accessed the database from the store itself.

    However, Elissa Freeman, policy director for the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, said the step came “after the horse has bolted”.

    “ACCAN is concerned that it may in fact not be possible for Vodafone to trace back and uncover which customers have had their privacy breached, by whom, and what information has been passed on to who, for what purpose,” she said.

    “If this is the case then Vodafone needs to be upfront and inform all its customers directly, in writing, without delay.”

    Vodafone claims it has invested over $550 million in its network since June 2009 and will spend a similar amount over the course of this year.

    It says performance has already improved but a significant number of customers have already jumped ship to competing telcos. Many complained that it took in excess of two hours to reach Vodafone’s customer care line and even then they were connected to people in overseas call centres who were not aware of the issues affecting Vodafone’s network.

    Vodafone this week gave dealers a question and answer sheet containing pre-written responses to many customer complaints. It can be found here.

    Adam Brimo, who created the site out of frustration at Vodafone’s network issues, has today sent a report to Australian regulators summarising the issues affecting the tens of thousands of Vodafone customers who used the site to register their complaints about the telco.

    The 27-page report can be found here.

    The telecommunications industry is self-regulated under the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code. However, ACCAN said holes in the code meant that, even with the current Vodafone issues, the regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), would struggle to find a clear breach.

    And even if it did find a breach, the most it could do was order Vodafone to comply with the code.

    ACMA has been conducting an inquiry into customer service in the telco sector and its findings are due to be released in March.

    Do you know more?

    Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


    Friday, January 21st, 2011

    Green group

    accuses Apple of

    not being green

    January 21, 2011 – 9:33AM

    iPhone maker Apple was criticised by Chinese green groups for lax corporate oversight of its suppliers in China, leading to poor environmental and work safety standards that poisoned dozens of factory workers.

    Apple, which announced blockbuster profits and a dazzling outlook for iPhone and iPad sales earlier this week, continues to be dogged by accusations of aggressive pricing and secretive supply chain management in Chinese factories where they now assemble most of their products.

    “We’ve found that Apple isn’t honouring its commitment in ensuring its supply chain’s work safety and environmental responsibility and giving dignity and respect to the workers,” said Ma Jun, of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE) which published a detailed report on Apple supply chain malpractice this week, in conjunction with other green groups.

    Advertisement: Story continues below

    “[Apple] only care about the price and quality [of their products] and not the environmental and social responsibility issues. In some ways they drive the suppliers to cut corners to win their contracts,” Ma said.

    Apple said it had a rigorous auditing regime and all its suppliers were monitored and investigated regularly.

    “Our supplier responsibility reports document the progress of our extensive auditing program since 2006,” an Apple spokeswoman said.

    Foxconn suicides

    Last year, Apple’s main China supplier Foxconn was hit by over a dozen worker suicides that critics blamed on harsh factory conditions and a militaristic culture. Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs has denied the allegations, saying that Foxconn is not a sweatshop.

    Many Western multinationals – including toymaker Mattel which suffered a toxic lead paint scandal in 2007 – have struggled to regulate product quality across scores of suppliers in knotted Chinese supply chains, but the report said Apple’s standards fell far short of its status as a leading global brand.

    “It’s not easy to control [the supply chain] but peer brands are doing a lot more [than Apple] to deal with this,” said Ma.

    The nine-month survey “The other face of Apple” found that at least 49 factory workers in eastern China working in factories assembling products for Apple, had fallen ill.

    Lianjian Technology in the eastern city of Suzhou which the green group claims is one of Apple’s major touchscreen suppliers, was accused of using N-Hexane, a toxic solvent, to clean touch screens, leading to at least 47 factory workers being poisoned.

    Another company named by the green group as a user of N-Hexane was Taiwan-based touchscreen chip maker Wintek. A Wintek spokesman said it had stopped using the chemical and all its employees had recovered.

    “Apple’s lack of responsiveness eventually made us quite shocked. It’s the whole complacency that it doesn’t have to be accountable to the NGOs, to the communities, even to the poisoned workers,” Ma said.


    Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha