Tag Archives: buyer beware

HP Instant Ink: Ink replacement subscription service savings may be overstated

Instant Ink Subscription Problems

There are some significant shortcomings to the Instant Ink program that result in much consumer frustration and consumer complaints. This is unfortunate since HP printers are generally quite good, and those who don’t use the Instant Ink program are generally very satisfied with HP products. Here’s a short list of what’s wrong with the Instant Ink program and below is a description of what HP can do to fix these problems.

  • Fluctuating Print Needs. Those with varying print needs from one month to the next, or those who occasionally get a large print job, will not be satisfied with the Instant Ink program. Here’s why… Let’s say you get a huge print job to do that ends up causing you to run out of ink prior to when your replacement cartridges ship. You’ll be with a non-functional printer. If you go to the store to get more ink, you’ll find that ink doesn’t work. Some stores won’t take back those opened ink cartridges so you may lose over $100. Those who go for a month or more without using their printer, will still pay for that month. So, in other words, those who underuse or overuse their printers will ultimately pay more per page.
    • Note: This system is how mobile phone service contracts were in the past — with customers paying a really high price for their minutes of talk time over their limit, or paying a monthly fee regardless of how much or little they use their phone. The program was so disliked by consumers that the mobile phone industry had to change.
  • Owner Transfer. Let’s say you want to sell the printer at a yard sale or donate it. That printer will be useless unless you go through the process of deactivating the subscription ink program on it.
  • Service Deactivation. You can turn off web services, but you’ll still get billed for the instant ink program. You’ll need to follow the instructions on how to cancel HP Instant Ink service. You’ll be required to return your cartridges to HP. If you don’t know your HPInstantInk.com login information that will present an additional barrier. Perhaps it’s something you setup a year ago on an email account you no longer have access to. Plan to spend some time on the phone with HP.

Some simple steps below describe what HP should do to fix these issues.

What Should HP Do?

The subscription plan in its current form is about as annoying as mobile phone service contracts or lease vehicles where you estimate your usage ahead of time. Inevitably there’s some waste or money lost. HP should really make some tweaks to this program and roll out a new version that offers the following:

  • Automatic. Like the current plan, automatic orders are placed based on when your ink is starting to run low, but HP could just send out regular ink cartridges, not special cartridges.
  • Economical. Let there be a 30% savings on each ink cartridge purchased, not some imaginary potential savings on charges per page printed.
  • Fair & Green. You pay for ink, not pages, so you can be rewarded for responsible printing choices such as less page coverage and using draft mode. This is fair and promotes more sustainable practices.
  • Non-Program Ink. Allow for standard HP cartridges to be used in the printer as well as subscription cartridges. This would provide a HUGE benefit to the customer and would cost HP nothing. It would actually result in a win-win because the customer would be happy and there could still be profit from retail sales of cartridges.

The emphasis would be on the convenience, while delivering sufficient savings to motivate consumers to choose the subscription service. The above suggestions would resolve all the remaining problems and customer complaints found on the rest of this page.

What Consumers Can Do To Save on Ink

If you really want to save on ink, you should get a printer like the HP OfficeJet 8710 and purchase extended life capacity cartridges from the store and always keep extras on hand, ordering more when your backup ink supply runs out. It’s that simple. The reason you’ll want a business-class OfficeJet printer is because the low-end home consumer HP printers typically use just two ink cartridges (one black and one tri-color cartridge). Run low on blue ink? You’ll need to replace the entire color cartridge system. The smaller cartridges seem to be more prone to drying out. However, the cost of printing when using a business-class printer is reduced because they use separate color ink cartridges (not combined in one) so individual ink can be replaced. Also, the XL cartridges offer many pages of printing per cartridge.

For those having trouble with the HP Instant Ink program, the remainder of this document, originally written in 2015, is provided below for reference.


A Monthly Subscription Plan for Ink

Hewlett Packard (HP) recently launched a new subscription service for printer ink that’s based on a cost per page rather than the cost per ink cartridge. Your printer communicates your number of pages printer with HP and you’re billed 3 to 6 cents per page for ink consumed. They claim that the service can save you hundreds of dollars per year as shown in the chart below:

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The program seems like an amazing deal. However, if you take a closer look at the cost estimates, it’s clear that the savings are exaggerated.

Sustainability Efforts Haven’t Gone Far Enough

HP offers extended capacity (XL) ink cartridges for lower printing costs and to reduce waste. Presumably that’s the maximum amount of ink you can fit in a cartridge.

Yet, apparently they’ve been holding out on us.

Take another look at the chart above. Notice the statement: “Our cartridges have more ink than HP XL ink cartridges…”

So, all along, HP could have been putting a few more pennies worth of ink in those cartridges, reducing our carbon footprint, saving a trip to the store, and saving money. Yet, instead, it turns out that their XL cartridges don’t hold the maximum amount of ink. That’s apparently reserved for the customers who pay for the monthly plan.

HP Overstates Potential Savings

For example, the HP Officejet Pro 8630 uses the 950 series of ink cartridges. If, like most people, you print mostly using black ink, you can purchase a black ink cartridge for $38 that will yield 2,300 pages.

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That’s about 1.5 cents per page, or $54 per year for the 3,600 pages that HP says could cost you $792. That’s way below the annual amount claimed by HP in their promotional materials. Even the ink subscription ‘savings’ plan of $120 per year is over 100% more than what you’d pay just buying about one extra capacity cartridge per year.

Let’s say you use black ink and color inks equally. That’s very unlikely, but let’s say that’s what you do. Then you’ll spend about $120 for a set of four which might yield 1,500 to 2,300 pages. That’s still only 8 cents per page at the lowest estimated yield.

HP is claiming you’ll spend $792 a year on ink to print 3,600 pages. That’s 22 cents per page for ink. That’s virtually impossible regardless of what printer you’re using. Even if you’re printing hundreds of 8.5×11″ portrait photos (which most people aren’t).

If you use the black only setting, and the draft option whenever possible, your print yield will be much higher. Combine that with purchasing XL (extended capacity) cartridges, and you actually could save hundreds of dollars on ink.

Promise of 50% Savings Not Accurate

In the marketing materials, HP states that you can save 50% on the cost of ink. At first glance, any reasonable person would assume that you’d be purchasing ink at a savings of 50%. That should be achievable given that subscription services for products are typically more economical, and if HP is ‘cutting out the middle man’ it seems that a 50% savings off of retail prices might be possible. Yet, as was demonstrated above, the subscription plan in this case could cost 100% more rather than 50% less.

What’s strange is that some of the marketing materials promise 50% savings. Yet, elsewhere, like the chart above, the savings are more like 85% ($120 instead of $792). Why would the representation of savings be so different?

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You Pay Even When You Don’t Use Ink

On the subscription plan, you pay every month, even if you’ve printed nothing. HP claims that unused pages on your plan ‘rollover’ just like a mobile phone company. However, there’s a limit and the credits don’t accumulate beyond one month. For example, if you’re on the 50 pages per month plan, you can roll over 50 pages to the next month. Then you loose those credits after a month. You’ll never accumulate more than 100 pages total.

You can cancel any time, but will people really remember to cancel when they go on vacation and then reinstate the program when they return?

What about mis-printing, when you mistakenly have a page with just one word print. With HP,  you’ll pay as if the page was covered with words or pictures.

What about printing on smaller pieces of paper, like 5×7 size pages for photos? Presumably you’ll pay the same as if you’re printing 80% coverage on legal size 8.5 x 14″ pages.

The monthly fees are shown below.

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Who is the Program For?

Like a buffet for big eaters, the people who really save money on the subscription plan are those who regularly fill the page with colored ink. It’s well suited for people who use more than the average amount of colored ink consistently and have significant page coverage. These people might only get 1000 pages yield per XL cartridge. So, they might save money on the $10 per month plan (for example).

HP really needs to create a simple online calculator to help consumers determine if this program is right for them. The statement of saving is really arbitrary. The savings will be different depending on a user’s typical printing needs.

Intentional Misrepresentation to Persuade Consumers?

Unfortunately, it seems that HP is engaged in misleading representations about the annual ink costs in an effort to encourage people to pay for a service they may not really want if they knew the savings weren’t that great.

Why Not Switch to Another Brand?

Whenever we’re dissatisfied with a company, there’s always the option to switch to another, right? Well, that’s not so with printers.

Other printer manufacturers aren’t any better.

At least in HP high-end inkjet printers, the ink cartridges are tightly sealed which extends their life during non use. With other brands of printers, the ink and/or print heads can dry out after a month or two of non-use. Other manufacturers use separate components for printing heads and ink tanks. This means it’s possible to overrun print heads causing them to dry out or otherwise perform poorly. HP all-in-one devices such as the Officejet 8630 have very fast scan times — about 3 seconds per page for 300 dpi high quality color. Other scanners sometimes take 10 seconds just to ‘warm up’ and then another 10 seconds or more to scan a page. HP printers are built solid. For all of these reasons, it’s not possible (or at least not practical) to switch to another brand of printer.

 


Case Updates

Below are updates regarding this case.

  • Tuesday, 26 Sep 2017 @ 5:12 AM CT. We continue to receive numerous consumer complaints to our page about this program. We’ve revised this page so at the top are a brief listing of the main problems with the HP Instant Ink program, and also a short simple list of how all these problems could go away by a few changes to the ink subscription program.
  • Saturday, 26 July 2015 @ 1:14 AM CT. We contacted HP using the Senior Vice President feedback page and provided a synopsis of the above information.
  • Monday, 27 July 2015 @ 9:50 AM CT. We received a call from HP Case Management in response to our communication yesterday. The case manager was very polite and appreciated the feedback about the ink subscription program marketing materials. They said this case would be escalated.
  • Sunday, 22 November 2015 @ 7:25 AM CT. We noticed a sponsored ad on Facebook that continues to promise in at 50% off (see below). So, apparently nothing has been done yet about their advertising campaign.
    201511sssu0725-hp-automatic-order-ink-50-percent-savings

Misleading Product Labeling of Natural Foods

A common practice among food producers is to overemphasise the ‘natural’ wholesomeness of products.

This article offers two examples out of many, and is not intended to be singling out a specific product, but instead identifying an overall trend of misleading advertising.

Vegetable Chips

As you can see from the packaging below, the Baked Vegetable Crisps by Good Natured Selects, are stated to have half a serving of vegetables in a single ounce. The ingredients featured predominantly on the packaging are spinach, carrots, and red pepper.

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Elsewhere on the product packaging, you’ll see selected contents listed (spinach, carrots, and red bell peppers).

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If you go to the product page on the company’s official website, you won’t see a list of ingredients.

The ingredients are only listed on the product packaging itself in the nutrition panel as shown below.

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As you can see from the list of ingredients above, the chips have more sugar in them than carrots, red peppers, spinach. In fact, there’s more maltodextrin than spinach. The exclusive emphasis on the vegetable contents is misleading considering that these are added in such a small quantities.

For this product, the sugar content is surprising, yet not extremely high at 3 grams per bag (about 10% of the product is sugar). So, what we learn is that the veggie ingredients are less than 10%, and judging from the list, spinach is likely in the single digits.

An example of honest advertising would be Terra Chips brand veggie chips. They are vegetable chips that don’t just contain vegetables, they actually are vegetables.

12-Grain Bread

Brownberry 12-Grain Bread is another example of a product that overemphasizes certain desirable ingredients, in this case various grains. A consumer wanting to eat significant amounts of diverse grains, might buy the bread for this reason.

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However, a quick look at the ingredients shows the following:

WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR, UNBLEACHED ENRICHED WHEAT FLOUR [FLOUR, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR, REDUCED IRON, NIACIN, THIAMIN MONONITRATE (VITAMIN B1), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), FOLIC ACID], WATER, SUGAR, SUNFLOWER SEEDS, WHEAT GLUTEN, WHEAT, RYE, CELLULOSE FIBER, OATS, YEAST, SOYBEAN OIL, GROUND CORN, SALT, MOLASSES, BUCKWHEAT, BROWN RICE, CALCIUM PROPIONATE (PRESERVATIVE), MONOGLYCERIDES, TRITICALE, BARLEY, FLAXSEED, MILLET, CALCIUM SULFATE, DATEM, GRAIN VINEGAR, CALCIUM CARBONATE, CITRIC ACID, SOY LECITHIN, NUTS [WALNUTS AND/OR HAZELNUTS (FILBERTS) AND/OR ALMONDS], WHEY, SOY FLOUR, NONFAT MILK

So, in fact, the bread has more iron, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, water, and sugar than the other 10 grains that are advertised on the product.

An example of honest advertising would be the Ezekiel 4:9 multi-grain bread. It’s advertised as a multigrain bread, and these are the ingredients: Organic Sprouted Wheat, Filtered Water, Organic Sprouted Barley, Organic Sprouted Millet, Organic Malted Barley, Organic Sprouted Lentils, Organic Sprouted Soybeans, Organic Sprouted Spelt, Fresh Yeast, Organic Wheat Gluten, Sea Salt.

Google Promotes “The Interview” Movie and Tobacco to Under-Age Viewers While Offending Billions of People — Gets Kicked Out of China

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The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rates movies based on a variety of criteria and determines an acceptable viewing audience. According to FilmRatings.com (the MPAA rating site), The Interview, by featuring Seth Rogen and James Franco, is rated as ‘R’ due to “pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence.” Colombia Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment were in the news due to conflicts with North Korea over the movie.

This article isn’t intended to be a review of the movie, but instead an assessment of how it has been promoted, and what the impact has been.

Since its release, and up to the time of this writing, Google has been promoting The Interview in the Google Play store side-by-side with children’s games as shown below.

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The Interview seems out of place with game titles like Club Penguin, Gummy Drop!, My Emma, and Pop Bugs. It’s like advertising cigarettes to children. In this case, it’s literally true since the film shows people smoking. There’s a legal disclaimer at the end of the film stating that the use of tobacco in the film wasn’t a paid endorsement (just a free one).

A Popular Genre of Cinema

There’s unarguably a popular genre of vulgar and gross teen comedy films like The Interview that have a cult following — even among adults. Just as comedian Sarah Silverman draws crowds of people to be entertained and offended by her shocking and often ‘inappropriate’ style of vulgar humor, films like The Interview are praised for their shock value and intentional offensiveness.

Such content seems to be increasingly in demand. Just as people pay to go on a roller coaster ride at an amusement park, people are equally willing to pay to be shocked by entertainment that is offensive. They want to be offended. This explains the popularity of films like American PieThe Hangover, JackassSuperbad, and others.

Problematic Promotion

However, the promotion of The Interview is problematic. First, the movie received world-wide attention by the news media. Capitalizing on this, Google is promoting the movie in a way intended to reach a wider general audience than these films are generally intended for. Of course, the original news stories weren’t part of the formal promotion of the movie (unless the news media was manipulated by the entertainment industry for promotional reasons).

Unlike a movie theatre where people can be easily ID’d prior to entering, or accompanied by an adult, streamed movies on the Internet are delivered to millions of homes with little or no restriction to who might viewing.

When you watch the movie, there is no clear rating declaration at the beginning. So, many viewers, young and old alike, who might otherwise avoid such content, will be lured into viewing the movie based on the trailer and numerous fluff reviews.

The Ramping Up Effect

The movie ramps up the levels of bloody violence, vulgarity, and nudity toward the middle and end, so that parents watching the beginning of the film to preview it will conclude that it’s typical teen humor.

Similarly, the average viewer will be drawn in as far as they are willing to go, and like the frog in the kettle, will find toward the end they are taking in images and content they might otherwise have avoided.

It may seem a little nit-picky to bring up such points. To those who are immersed in the violent visuals of today’s ‘first person’ video games and fully acclimated to vulgarity on television, in the movies, in music, and in comedy, The Interview probably seems fairly normal. To those who aren’t regularly exposed to that kind of content, the film probably seems inappropriate and culturally insensitive.

Lack of Targeted Promotion is a Disservice

Ultimately, Sony and Google do a disservice to the film and the genre by not limiting its promotion and release to a warm market. When this happens, reviews are skewed. Rather than having a film watched by and rated by the people who might most enjoy it and appreciate it, the film is released to people who aren’t acclimated to that particular brand of humor — and possibly never will embrace it.

The film is now being pushed to a world market, that’s already primed with interest, yet perhaps unaware that the movie contains crude humor and graphic bloody violence.

What’s unfortunate is that the film could have just as easily been produced in a way to meet PG-13 standards and been much more successful, and more widely appreciated.

Cultural Sensitivity and Global Response

At the time of this writing, the film has earned nearly $18M and is Sony’s top online film ever. (Source: NPR). So, American’s have spoken, and they’ve said, “We like this kind of humor, and indeed this kind of movie, more than anything else presently available.”

The film is perceived in the U.S. to be an act of demonstrating free speech, a criticism of North Korea, and in this case, a victory over those who would threaten to censor the film.

To foreigners watching the film, it is perceived as an example of American humor and the content produced by the U.S. film industry. It’s become our ambassador to world community (at least during its 15 minutes of fame).

Because of its content, the film serves to embolden those who advocate censorship of content from “the West.” In this regard, it provides an abundance of examples showing why anti-American jihadists should continue their struggle through war and censorship, concluding “If this is what America has to offer, we don’t want it.” The film is a Christmas gift to those who want to portray Americans as vulgar.

Google Blocked in China Days After Film Launch

While The Interview intends to be about North Korea, the potentially offensive jokes could just as easily be poorly received by people in other countries such as China, for example.

Drawing from bigoted caricatures, the movie pokes fun at portraying how Asians sound when speaking English. This is an outdated trope that is viewed by some as funny, but perceived by others as borderline offensive. At one point in the movie, someone holding a cute puppy proclaims, “Guess who’s going back to America where they don’t eat doggies?” Making fun of people with Asian accents, and making derogatory references to the animals eaten in Asian countries, might make some people laugh, but other people could very well take offense at these jokes.

It’s not surprising that only a few days after the heavy promotion of this film by Google on their search page, in the Play Store, and through a direct email campaigns. China has now blocked Google Gmail and Google’s search page.

The Search Page Campaign

Below is Google’s home search page as of Christmas morning. With the power of reaching approximately 210 million people every month (about 7 million people per day), Google chose to promote The Interview on Christmas day with a direct link to the streaming movie in their Play store. Click the image for a larger view.

Google promoting The Interview on their search page with a direct link to the streaming movie in their Play store.

The Email Campaign

The screen snip below shows an example of the direct email campaign launched by Google to promote the movie on Christmas day.

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Disingenuous Disclaimer

At the end of The Interview, during the final moments of the credits, a legal disclaimer from Sony and the film’s affiliates states:

“The characters, incidents, and locations portrayed and the names herein are fictitious, and any similarity to or identification with the location, name, character or history of any person, product or entity is entirely coincidental and unintentional.”

You’ve got to be kidding me. So, it’s entirely coincidental that there’s a country called North Korea and political leader called Kim Jong-un. Did the producers really say, “Oh, really? Wow, we had no idea when making the film that these places and people actually exist! What a coincidence!”

That’s like someone slapping you in the face, and then saying, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I just slapped you in the face. (slap again) Was that your face? Oh, I’m sorry. (slap again).”

It would have been more sincere to say something like, “We intentionally spent millions of dollars making fun of another country’s leader, and joking about his assassination, and we knew full well we were doing it.” At least that would be honest. So, now we’re offensive and misleading. Great. This should generate lots of support and goodwill.

Movie Review of The Interview

This is likely a film that is destined to win the “Worst Movie Ever” and “Best Movie Ever” awards in the same year. For further reading, you can click here for a thoughtful movie review of The Interview.

Movie Poster

Below is the movie poster for The Interview.

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North Korean Reaction

For those unfamiliar with the controversy surrounding the film, here is a brief excerpt from the Wikipedia page about the movie and North Korea’s response to it — which suggests they didn’t find the humor in the movie.

On June 20, 2014, Kim Myong-chol, an unofficial spokesman for the North Korean government, said The Interview “shows the desperation of the US government and American society … a film about the assassination of a foreign leader mirrors what the US has done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine.”[16]

On June 25, 2014, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the state-run news agency of North Korea, reported that the government promised “stern” and “merciless” retaliation if the film were released, stating that “making and releasing a film that portrays an attack on our top-level leadership is the most blatant act of terrorism and war and will absolutely not be tolerated.”[17][18] The Guardian wrote that the film premise “touched a nerve inside the regime, which takes a dim view of satirical treatment of its leaders and is notoriously paranoid about perceived threats to their safety”[19] and that North Korea had a “long history of sabre-rattling and of issuing harsh threats that it does not act upon.”[20]

On July 11, 2014, North Korea’s United Nations ambassador Ja Song-nam condemned The Interview, saying that “the production and distribution of such a film on the assassination of an incumbent head of a sovereign state should be regarded as the most undisguised sponsoring of terrorism as well as an act of war.”[21] The Guardian remarked that his comments were “all perfect publicity for the movie.”[21] On July 17, 2014, the KCNA wrote to U.S. president Barack Obama, asking to have the film pulled.[22]

In August 2014, shortly after The Interview ’​s release was delayed to December 25, it was reported that Sony had made post-production alterations to the film to reduce its insensitivity to North Korea. These changes included modifying the designs of buttons worn by characters, originally modelled after real North Korean military buttons praising the country’s leaders, and plans to cut a portion of Kim Jong-un’s death scene.[23]

Rogen predicted that the film would make its way to North Korea, stating that “we were told one of the reasons they’re so against the movie is that they’re afraid it’ll actually get into North Korea. They do have bootlegs and stuff. Maybe the tapes will make their way to North Korea and cause a revolution.”[11] Business Insider reported via Free North Korea Radio that there was high demand for bootleg copies of the film in North Korea.[24] The human rights organizations Fighters for a Free North Korea and Human Rights Foundation, which previously air-dropped offline copies of the Korean Wikipedia into North Korea on a bootable USB memory device,[25] plan to distribute DVD copies of The Interview via balloon drops.[26]

Update: 31 December 2014

As of 12:30 AM on 31 December 2014, Google has modified their promotion of The Interview in the Google Play store so that it is no longer listed adjacent to video games for kids. We applaud Google for their prompt corrective action in this matter.

Misleading Advertising for Seagate External Hard Drive

If you search on Amazon for an external hard drive, among those listed will be the Seagate model shown below, a 2TB drive for $80. That would be a great price, except for one missing detail.

Notice in this presentation of the product, it’s shown with a portable computer and no power cord is being used for either device. That’s actually quite common for smaller external portable hard drives. In fact, a power cord is very undesirable since portable use is often in places where there’s not an available power outlet. The product photos provided on Amazon for this drive show every conceivable angle, except the view that would show you the USB and power cord jacks.

In reality, this Seagate hard drive requires a power cord to operate. So, in this regard, the presentation below is misleading or false advertising (by implication). This explains the lower price. The only indication that the drive requires power is a short comment in the features stating, “Power supply and USB 3.0 cable included.” It doesn’t even indicate that it’s a required power supply.

Truly portable external drives that operate on USB power only will be more expensive. For example, Western Digital has a 2TB drive for $114 on sale that is truly portable.

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Network Solutions Hosting Uptime Reliability Guarantee Misleading

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Network Solutions advertises a 99.99% Uptime Guarantee. A consumer reading that guarantee will assume that it is a guarantee about their own personal website uptime. However, that uptime statistic is based on an average for thousands of accounts. The individual customer experience can vary widely.

It’s like giving a nation-wide weather report based on the aggregated weather data for hundreds of cities. “Sunny and 70 degrees” may be the average for many areas, but if you’re in the city that is 45 degrees and raining you don’t really care about everyone else’s weather.

If you are among a few dozen sites on a particular server that is down, and it takes hours for the outage to be resolved, then you won’t really care that thousands of other people are experiencing 99.99% uptime.

Here’s the fine print of the Network Solutions Uptime Guarantee:

99.99% Uptime is only for UNIX® customers. The uptime for Windows users is 99.9%. Each uptime calculation is measured by the uptime for the entire customer base across all hosting systems for Network Solutions. Scheduled maintenance to Network Solutions systems is excluded from the calculation of the uptime for UNIX and Windows users as well as events causing downtime that are outside of the control of Network Solutions® or are caused by third parties.

Premium Hosting for Windows limits concurrent connections to 100, which may result outages for customers with higher website traffic.

Iowa City Online Ticket Payment System is Misleading and Confusing

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Introduction

The Iowa City Parking Ticket Citation Online Payment System has a database lookup feature that can search all parking tickets based on citation number or license plate number.

For most people, when you search on your license plate, the current citation(s) will show up and you can pay them online.

However, someone who is leasing a vehicle will receive the following notification without any further explanation:

The following violation(s) were found for the information you entered as well as any other license plates on your record. Select the citations you would like to pay and click “Next >>”

The report may show many entries for every vehicle with a citation from that same leasing company. An example is found at the bottom of this page.

Poor Online User Experience

Here’s the typical consumer experience when encountering the above message:

  1. The person attempting to pay their parking ticket will at first be confused and surprised by the large number of outstanding parking tickets the system seems to be saying are due.
  2. Upon closer examination, the person will see that the many tickets are for numerous vehicles.
  3. Assuming the system has been hacked, or isn’t working properly, they will probably contact the city for more information (increasing support calls and emails to city workers).
  4. If they email the city, clearly explaining the above problem, they will receive an email reply stating: “I have deleted that email address from our system, so you should be able to create a new account and pay any outstanding tickets online. If you have any other questions or concerns, please call our office at 319-356-5151 option 2.”
  5. Assuming the problem is now fixed, the person will again, enter their plate number, but the same results will come up as before.
  6. The person will need to call the city again for clarification, by calling the number provided in step #4 and then pressing 2.
  7. They will then be told that they must manually search through all the citations (perhaps many pages of them) to find their own (listed by vehicle license plate number).
  8. Then they must manually UNCHECK all the citations that aren’t theirs – because there isn’t an uncheck all option.
  9. Then the can proceeded to pay only their citation.

The above example shows how inefficient and confusing the existing system is.

Misleading

Under the current system, some people, who aren’t paying close attention, may end up paying old citations for other people. For example, when  you query the database and request that it show you what tickets you owe, and it produces a list, you may just go ahead and pay those tickets if just a few are listed. You’ll probably assume you got a ticket sometime and forgot to pay or the ticket blew away before you returned to the vehicle. You will be unwittingly paying someone else’s tickets that are listed among your own. Having all citations checked by default increases the chances of this happening. A syndical person may conclude that the system was intentionally designed to mislead consumers into mistakenly paying old unpaid citations that are on the books for other drivers.

Privacy Issues

In addition to the inconveniences, inefficiencies, and confusion listed above, there is a privacy issue because people unwittingly are having their vehicle parking citation information exposed to anyone in the public who happens to type in that person’s license plate number or a plate from any vehicle from the same leasing company. With the current system, all you need is a person’s license plate number to discover every ticket they have been issued and not paid.

Outdated Citations

The system is retaining and displaying information as far back as 6 years old. At some point, an unpaid parking ticket, perhaps for a student who has long-since moved to another state, should be removed from the books and written off as a loss. In the case of rental car companies, municipalities will assess a fee to the entity that owns the vehicle, and it’s up to that company to track down and fine the responsible party. However, a municipality trying to track down the owner of a leased or rented vehicle from many years ago is just inefficient.

Best Practices

Here are some suggestions for a better online parking ticket / citation payment system:

  1. Display only the tickets for the license plate searched on and not others from the same leasing company.
  2. Provide an option for leasing company representatives where they can view all citations on their vehicles.
  3. If a system displays multiple citations, they should not all be checked by default, and there should be an option to select all or unselect all.
  4. If a listing is showing other vehicles that are part of a leasing company, then it should be clearly stated, “”Vehicles listed may not be your own. They may be part of a fleet or owned by a leasing company, with unpaid citations going back almost 7 years.”
  5. Some privacy and multi-factor authentication measures should be put in place so that only the vehicle owner can view their own parking tickets.

Database Search Results Sample

Below is an actual page from the search results. The citation numbers and plate numbers have been slightly modified from the originals to maintain anonymity of the owners. Search results like this one are easily obtained by entering any vehicle associated with a leasing company.

Citation Number Issue Date Plate Number Violation Balance Can Pay Online?
622221 07/25/2008 403PYJ-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
367153 06/28/2008 796SQL-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
361849 05/10/2008 560TAF-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
755677 03/20/2008 621RNL-IA EXPIRED METER $5.00 Yes
356332 03/10/2008 189PLE-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
620726 06/26/2008 405PYJ-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
620717 06/24/2008 401PYJ-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
300811 11/17/2007 198PLE-IA PROHIBITED ZONE $15.00 Yes
09B000729 10/23/2008 221PIZ-IA EXPIRED METER $10.00 Yes
09G000144 10/30/2008 563TSZ-IA LIB USE ONLY $10.00 Yes
09D006474 12/16/2008 842TTD-IA NO PARKING 8AM-5PM $15.00 Yes
326353 01/06/2009 862TTD-IA PRIVATE PROPERTY $15.00 Yes
11W016502 06/15/2011 645XQC-IA EXPIRED METER 2010 $5.00 Yes
12F005376 04/13/2012 KJBLL1-IA EXPIRED METER 2010 $10.00 Yes
12W017659 06/30/2012 KJBLL1-IA EXPIRED METER 2010 $15.00 Yes
10P047264 08/26/2013 848ZKG-IA ALLEY PARKING. $20.00 Yes
14F002836 09/26/2013 188SFT-IA EXPIRED METER. $12.00 Yes
14W005259 11/20/2013 748LYJ-IA EXPIRED METER. $10.00 Yes
14M006381 11/21/2013 ASL369-IA EXPIRED METER. $12.00 Yes
14M007246 12/12/2013 848ZIG-IA EXPIRED METER. $12.00 Yes
14H003624 12/30/2013 RIBSA1-IA EXPIRED METER. $12.00 Yes
14H003937 01/11/2014 133TMR-IA EXPIRED METER. $7.00 Yes
14M008692 01/15/2014 837VHP-IA EXPIRED METER. $7.00 Yes
14H004519 01/20/2014 V4588-IA EXPIRED METER. $7.00 Yes
14W005197 01/22/2014 747PYJ-IA EXPIRED METER. $25.00 Yes
14W007234 01/22/2014 AZF555-IA EXPIRED METER. $15.00 Yes
14W007647 01/22/2014 747PYJ-IA EXPIRED METER. $25.00 Yes
14M009300 01/25/2014 BKK120-IA ODD/EVEN. $15.00 Yes
14M009528 01/31/2014 AQE657-IA ODD/EVEN. $15.00 Yes
14M009547 02/01/2014 AQE857-IA ODD/EVEN. $15.00 Yes

Network Solutions Website Hosting Company Using Questionable Customer Billing Practices

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Summary

Network Solutions is using preemptive unannounced billing – a practice that most companies have abandoned because it’s perceived to be deceptive and manipulative.

Preemptive Unannounced Billing

Here’s how preemptive unannounced billing works.

  1. A customer purchases one or more website hosting packages, email services, and registers domain names.
  2. As is often the case, people sometimes purchase a service or domain they later decide not to develop.
  3. Given the long-service periods of a year or more, it’s understandable that they’d forget about it by renewal time.
  4. The customer is likely not aware that they had opted into an auto-renewal of all their services at the time of purchase.
  5. Prior to the time of renewal, the customer is billed without any advance notice, and receives a receipt notifying them of the charges. The subject line of the email states, “Your order is confirmed.”

Other Consumer Concerns

  • Automatic Opt-In and Difficult Manual Opt-Out. It’s not possible to disable the auto renewal online. You must call Network Solutions and navigate their voice menu system, then verbally request that it be disabled.
  • Excessive Fees. Network Solutions charges $36.99 per year for domain registration only. That doesn’t include hosting. The hosting is another $36 to $60 or more per year. By comparison, you can register a domain and get hosting for $18 a year from WordPress.com (for example), or from GoDaddy for $12 per year.
  • Poor Online Support. Most tickets created online are responded to a day later with an email that says to call their support number.

Suggestions for Improvement

  • It would be better for Network Solutions to send out a notice prior to charging the customer and give them an opportunity to decline renewal.
  • Network Solutions should stop charging 100% higher fees than the going market rate.

 

Customer Comments

The following are selected customer comments from the Network Solutions Yelp page. These comments reinforce and reflect the above mentioned concerns.

  • “I found a $184 charge to my bank account by Network Solutions. I called and learned it was a 5 year renewal for a domain, at $30+ per year. I said it was too much and they refunded it which was cool. Then the CSR said they could give me a discount if I would stay. Listen to that carefully. They charged me more than the service is worth and hoped I would not notice. When I noticed they offered to charge me the correct price as if they were doing me a favor.” ~ Martin G., San Diego, CA (Yelp, 30 December 2013)
  • “They charged my credit card 3 months ahead of time.” Kim H., Marietta, GA (Yelp, 20 March 2013)
  • “I’ve been using Network Solutions for more than 12 years as the registrar of my domain name.  I had my account set to auto renew.  Today I got a billing notice of my 3-year renewal – $113.97, i.e. $37.99/year.  It was $9.99/year!!!.  What happened.  So I called them.  They said it was stated in my agreement that they could simply charge whatever they wanted.  After stating they were they are the single most expensive domain name registrar on earth, they forwarded me to another person who instantly changed my charges from $37.99 to $9.99/year and promised me a refund of $84.  Not sure if I will ever see this refund though.  I looked at 12 years of billing and found that they: (1) Changed the auto renewal period from one year to three years without my permission. (2) Once they got away with #1, they upped my yearly costs from $9.99 to $27.99 to $34.99 to $37.99. I’m grateful they reduced my payments to a normal amount (so they say), but bottom line is they are sneaky bastards who hope you’ll never check your auto renewal bill.” Robert G., Honolulu, HI (Yelp, 9 October 2013)