Archive for what do you think?

Vital Beauty: scam or not? You decide…

Is Vital Beauty ‘prize’ promotion a scam?

As always, you the great Googling public will decide. I’ll just give you some space to air your views. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Vital Beauty sells cosmetics but misleads people into thinking they’ve won money as a way of drawing them into it’s marketing trap. It’s been in trouble before with OFT before and – like our other scammy friends McIntyre and Dodd Marketing Ltd – were ordered to stop misleading customers.

But, just like the recent judgment against M&D, this High Court ruling seems to have made little or no difference – judging by the phone call I got from a very concerned Mr C from Romsey. According to him, Vital Beauty has carried right on sending out these ‘prize promotions’ and he’s got a big bag of letters to prove it.  A quick Google search shows the company has been doing this for over 3 years now. Penman and Sommerlad at the Mirror have been reporting on this for a while. This TV news item will tell you pretty much all you need to know about Vital Beauty.

This country is awash with scams aimed at vulnerable people and you can bet, in these tough times, it’s going to get worse. Given the total impotence of the law and bodies like OFT to control them, it really is no surprise.

Is Vital Beauty a scam? I know what I think but as always, I’ll leave it to you decide for yourself. When you’ve made up your mind, don’t forget to share your experience to help prevent other people from wasting their

For more information on ‘prize promotions’ scams visit the ‘thinkJessica’ website.

Expo Guide scam: can we help people before they become victims?

It’s great to have helped so many people avoid paying these scammers – but can we help them avoid becoming victims in the first place?

Since I blogged about the big online directory scams (particularly Expo Guide and World Business Directory) a couple of years ago, I’ve had on average 100 visitors a day to these posts.

Every one of several hundreds of comments on these posts comes from someone who has fallen victim to these scams.  Thankfully, after reading other peoples’ comments, the majority of those take a stand and refuse to pay. It’s also clear that a number have already paid at least one ‘installment’ of around €1000 to these scammers.

It’s great that my posts are right at the top of Google for “Expo Guide”.  That makes it easy for people to find this information when the nasty shock arrives in the form of a phone call from Expo Guide’s ‘debt collection’ agency or a written demand. And it’s great to use this blog format to collect reassuring comments from other non-paying victims – all of which boost the visitors confidence to hold out.  This site and your comments must have saved people tens of thousands of pounds and immeasurable heartache and worry.

But here’s the question: given that not one single one of the dozen or so major Government backed fraud-prevention, consumer-protection agency sites has any information whatsoever on these scams, how can we raise awareness of this before people sign the form and get into trouble?

Another problem with these scams is that there are no figures of how many people in the UK have actually lost money to these scams, completed their fraudulent forms or simply received them.

So what do you think we can do to inform the average small business owner in the UK about these scams before they become a victim of one?

Volo TV: in-your-face TV oversteps the mark

First Great Western’s Volo TV oversteps the mark and invades my personal space

Click to enlarge


As a result of our feedback and this post, Paul Soor, MD of Volo TV contacted me today to tell me that the company is abandoning the ‘can’t switch it off’ policy that I complained about in this post. The reprogramming will take 1 – 2 days but Paul assures me that it is definitely going ahead.

He has also invited me to stop by the office to discuss my feedback and to try out the system for free on my trip to Plymouth tomorrow.

Paul’s getting in touch is an example of good social media monitoring and a willingness to hear and act on feedback -to his and the company’s credit.



Introducing ‘Volo TV’, a personal TV built into the back of the seat in front of you on the train. A nice idea? Well, no.

With more and more of us owning portable media players loaded with all the content we want, this screen-in-the-back-of-the-seat idea with it’s £3.50 per trip monetisation model misses the…ah, train.

Everything about it is unwanted and unwelcome. And it’s way too close to my face, leaving me feeling claustrophobic and trapped. Worse yet, it’s also permanently on. ‘Since this TV replaces the Safety Card’ says the touch-screen blurb ‘it is not possible to switch the screen off’. Unbelievable. So it sits there, running through its promotional videos and pumping out heat – and there’s nothing you can do to avoid it. Well, almost nothing.  The woman in front of me had hung her coat over her screen. Good idea. A quick scan up and down the packed carriage showed nobody watching their VoloTV.

Currently, there’s no advertising – but it IS on its way, and judging by the complete lack of paying punters on our journey today, you’ll be seeing it pretty damn soon. So that’s advertising pumping out of a screen you can’t switch off 8 inches from your face? No f*****g way, First Great Western!

Few things create such a universal and instantly negative reaction as Volo TV did today – and that fact alone marks it out as a stunningly bad move. In fact the invasion of my personal space was so unpleasant that I found myself wanting to break the screen.

Instead, my colleagues and I staged a peaceful protest, sticking king sized post-it notes over the screens and leaving First Great Western in no doubt whatsoever as to our feelings.

Safe to fly? Sure.. just not through this, please, Cap’n

Is it safe to fly again? Apparently so.

I took this shot from a train somewhere in the midlands (UK) on Thur pm, long after the ban on flights had been lifted.  You can see the nice white clouds going one way, looking like clouds should look. Then, below them, there’s that other…stuff, going the other way.

I’m sure the setting sun exaggerated the effect, but it doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence…

Social Computing: social media inside a walled community

Is Microsoft’s Sharepoint an example of social media  inside a walled community?

The idea of ‘social media’ within a firewalled community strikes me as both logical and incongruent.

Logical, because I can of course, understand why an organisation only wants social networking to occur within its own walls. Who wants to give away knowledge and insight to a competitor, right?

So where’s the incongruence?

For me, its in the tension between social media’s inherent tendency to break down walls, increase connection and transparency and the need of business to use that effect locally in pursuit of a competitive advantage.

If there’s one message coming through to us in the 21st century – a cold, wet fish-slap-in-the-face – it’s that, as a species, we really may be close to the end of that ‘win-lose’ way of doing things. Are we as a species ready to look at that? Will we – and our ideas about business – be able to evolve into something sustainable for the human species?

And does social media really have a role to play in that process?

What do you think? a great way to make a point about social media demonstrates just how uncritical many social media users really are

Just came across this story on BBC website about a Dutch youngster who built a site that uses Twitter information about peoples’ locations to pintpoint empty homes.

The site’s makers say that they did it to make the point that anyone with half a brain can misuse the kind of personal information that people readily give for free every time they create content or sign up for a new ‘app’ in a social networking site. Continue Reading…

Non-existent Ecademy profile gets #1 Google spot

And what the hell is ‘unwired-ecademy’?

I deleted my Ecademy account about two months ago since I wasn’t using it and didn’t really like the way Ecademy was developing.

First thing I noticed when I came to close it down was… that I couldn’t.  No instructions anywhere.  I emailed a couple of times to Ecademy tech support, but got no answer.

I blogged a couple of times; nobody picked it up.

Finally, I found a link (via an angry ex-Ecademist’s blog) to an option that seemed to offer the possibility of deleting my account.

Amusing, then to see this strange Ecademy listing (above) appear at #1 in Google for a search on my own name just now.  It leads to this page.

Firstly what the hell is ‘unwired-Ecademy’??  Secondly, why is it connected with my name?  And why does my name keep turning up in Ecademy’s foreign databases?  Seems to me that they’re holding on to my information.  What else am I supposed to think? Surely the Spiders From Google would have updated the indexes by now if I had successfully deleted my details from their system?

Worse, I just discovered something else. I’ve created an Ecademy account for a client and have just noticed that I can’t log out from my client’s account.  For some reason, Firefox (or Ecademy) just won’t let me.

What is going on here? And what exactly is ‘unwired-ecademy’?

Alexa toolbar terms and conditions: are they mad or am I?

Would YOU sign up for these terms and conditions?

“Alexa’s toolbar service collects and stores information about the web pages you view, the data you enter in online forms and search fields, and, with versions 5.0 and higher, the products you purchase online while using the toolbar service.”

Actually, I haven’t quoted exactly.  The original is ALL IN UPPER CASE WHICH, WHILE MAKING IT MORE IMPORTANT, MAKES IT HARDER TO READ AND DIGEST (since we don’t usually read capital letters).

The T&Cs also go on to say that the information collected is personally identifiable.

Unless I am completely mistaken, if you click ‘Agree’ you are giving Alexa permission to record and use any information you put in any form online and permission to build a record of your online searching and buying decisions.

On this website we’ve already seen plenty of scams exploiting the willingness of ordinary people to sign forms on which the small print committing them to several years of absurdly expensive scam ‘services’ is plainly visible.   God alone knows what we agree to on a daily basis in the ever-present ‘Terms and Conditions’ boxes we click without reading or so much as a second thought.

Is it that we are so greedy for the ‘pay-off’ that we have lost our critical faculties?  Is it that the way in which the data we give up in these transactions is used so subtly that we never make the connection between the privacy we signed away and the cold calls, the spam and the junk mail coming into our homes?

I suspect that one day a lot of us are going to really, really regret clicking all those ‘I Agree’ checkboxes.

Google and China. Stop and think about it

I have to confess I haven’t really stopped to give this any thought – until now

Clare and I were discussing the relationship between Google, Twitter and Facebook when the conversation turned to China.  It occurred to me I didn’t really know what the situation was with Google and China and decided to dedicate at least half an hour to find out.

I knew that Google had cut some kind of deal in which it colluded with the Chinese government to provide a part-censored search engine and it made me feel uneasy – particularly with Google’s ‘do no evil’ corporate slogan ringing in my ears.

“I guarantee this will be far dirtier and more complex than it looks” I said to Clare and sat down to shed some light on my ignorance.

The first thing I learned was that Google and other US companies have recently been attacked by Chinese hackers. Second, that these attacks were aimed at the accounts of Chinese human rights activists.  Third, that the Google accounts of a number of non-Chinese critics of China’s human rights record have also been hacked.

Ok. Pause. Think.

Over to Google’s blog. According to Google, these attacks have led Google to review the “feasibility of our business operations in China”. In a post, revealingly titled “A new approach to China”, Google justifies its collusion with the Chinese government so far like this:

“We launched in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that “we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”

So – we can only capitalise this market if we collude with the Chinese government to censor what its citizens can access. But that’s ok, because some information for the people is better than none, right?  Now, with the Chinese hacks, the ‘do no evil’ mega Corp is lining up to throw away that whole market in a noble stand in defense of human rights, right?  Well, that’s how Google wants it to appear, certainly.

But hold on.

Closer inspection reveals that Google’s market share of web search is far lower in China than it is in India – with whose government it also colludes to censor the content that its citizens can access.  Whoa-aa.

Let that sink in.  No longer one, but two,  major boom economies where Google colludes to censor in return for access to the market.  ‘Do no evil’ starts to wear thin.

Add to this the astonishing claim in the last week that these hacks were achieved via an architecture specifically designed by Google to enable the US Governments (among others?) a means to monitor its own dissidents… and the story begins to smell of hypocrisy.

So let’s review the story so far.  Google agrees to help the Chinese government censor its citizens’ access to information in return for a share of the market. Google defends this by arguing that some information is better than none and by the deception that this has a role in opening up freedom of information in China.  Meantime, Google does the same in India with more profitable and less controversial results since the Indian government isn’t under the microscope for human rights violations in the same way China is.

Then Google gets embarrassed as Chinese hackers access the accounts of Chinese human rights activists, doing so by means of an architecture created by Google to allow the US to do the same to its own dissidents.

Response?  Make a big show of taking a stand against ‘evil’.  This from and excellent piece in the online Asia Times:

“Google took an important and inflammatory step of escalating its conflict with China by using the e-mail hack against democracy advocates to wrap itself in a human-rights flag. As a result, its threat to stop censoring its search engine in retaliation for the hacks has become a cause celebre for free speech and Internet-rights activists.

This cause has been taken up by the US government”

It’s a win-win for Google: if they ‘win’, the Chinese market is fully open for their exploitation.  If they ‘lose’ and withdraw from China in protest, they lose that market but win a priceless ‘moral’ victory which will may help people overlook the idea that censorship only really matters to Google when it limits the scale of the opportunity open to it.

One thing’s for certain – I know more than I did an hour ago :-)

ADE651 Dowsing Bomb Detector – unbe-f****g-lievable

How can it be possible that Governments spend millions on the ADE651 – an empty plastic toy that doesn’t work?

I’ve just watched the Newsnight report exposing the ADE651 ‘bomb detector’ which has earned a British man £50m  in sales to the Iraqi Government. Experts took apart the device and revealed it as a ludicrous scam; an empty case with nothing in it that could possibly detect anything – let alone explosives.

It is unbelievable that this device has been sold in some 20 countries - making the ‘inventor’ something like £80 million.

Scams are everywhere and they seem to be on the increase.  But it almost beggars belief that the ADE651 could be developed, marketed, sold and exported without someone pointing out the bleedin’ obvious: that it’s nothing more than a toy gun that wouldn’t look out of place on a Scientology table in your local market.