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Sony will let you Play the EU version of a game, but won’t tell you it’s incompatible until it’s too late

Horizon Zero Dawn - Easily one of the greatest games I've ever played.
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I first became interested in this game when I heard of the concept: bows and spears versus big robot dinosaurs. There's clearly much more to it than that, but I never regretted it playing it. Besides beautiful graphics, and exceptional gameplay, it has one of the best stories I've ever seen. Finding out what happened and how gave me tingles. This is a rare treasure to be sure and I highly recommend giving it a try if you have even a little interest in the descriptions or reviews you've read (click the pic to go to Amazon and learn more if you wish).

That said…

I received the game as a gift a few years back. Since then, there has been DLC released that adds game content and it has been long enough that I thought it might be fun to play again. So, during a week's vacation I took this last Christmas-time, that's what I did. I bought the DLC, though it was strangely difficult to do and downloading it was a pain, but off I went and fired up the game. It was just as great as I remembered.

Look for the TEEN rating sticker. If it says PEGI with a colored number instead like this one, it's a European disc
(Image used under: Fair Use doctrine)

I had a good time, but as I neared the end, I wondered why the DLC content hadn't activated yet. I looked around, read some guides and did some testing: hours of time to eventually learn the problem: I had a European version of the game.

Well crap.

So, I understand why companies want to region lock games and it isn't always about greed and making more money. It can be about exclusive content, meeting legal standards and so on. Whatever. The point is that all of that should be invisible to the customer and if they're not going to be compatible with other types of content (DLC, exclusives, extras, etc.), a little warning would be nice.

Whoever bought it for me as a gift clearly didn't know the difference and why would they? I didn't know the difference either until I did deep digging online. The game installed and played fine without any warnings or tips or indications of any kind that it was the wrong region. Even when I tried to install the DLC content, it didn't explain the issue, it just failed with a generic error.

You'll take store credit and be grateful for it! You're lucky we're even giving you that! (basically what Sony told me)

With no indication of a real problem vs a random glitch, I went online to buy it, but still Sony didn't warn me the version of the game and DLC weren't compatible and happily charged me for content I couldn't use. Then, when I called to customer service for a refund, they made it sound like they were doing me a huge favor by giving me – not a refund, but an in-store credit.

What should Sony have done?

Customers aren't experts on game systems, programming, laws, or any of the other factors that drives how the Playstation system, store, and network operate (nor should they be). All they are responsible to do is buy games and play games and it's in Sony's best interest to keep it that simple.

They could have sent up warnings at three points in the process (install, in-game DLC purchase, online DLC purchase). They could have just directed me to the EU store for the DLC. They could have sold me the EU DLC directly. They even could have blocked the install and play of the EU version of the game.

Here's the US version of Overwatch. Notice the "T" rating in the corner instead of the number that the EU uses.
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Any and all of these would have been preferred to making people jump through hoops. Not only did I have to waste my time and money, if I ever want to play the expanded content for one of my favorite games, I'll have to re-buy the whole thing (because the save games are apparently also incompatible which means I'll have to start over too!). And for what? Preventing all of this would have only required a trivial bit of computer code like this:

if (region = EU) then:
    popup_warning_message();
    OR
    redirect_to_EU_store();

That they couldn't be bothered is surprising below the standard I would expect from a company who's been doing this for this long. Regardless, be careful and don't make the same mistake that I did.

You shouldn't have to know or care about this, but until Sony puts in the effort to make this work seamlessly, be careful. If you get a Playstation game, make sure it has a US-looking rating (which uses letters while the EU uses numbers.)
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Why buying USPS insurance on your packages is probably a really bad idea

Do you really know the terms? Can you actually collect?
(Image copyright Jeremy Duffy)

As with most insurance deals, the odds are greatly stacked against you. I know this. You probably knew it. And yet, we've probably both agreed to buy insurance on shipped items at least once or twice… and why not? The insurance prices are fairly cheap are presented as being so straightforward: "Would you like to buy insurance?" they ask. "How much coverage do you want?" they ask. "Here's your receipt" they say.

But after eight months of dogging the USPS through their claim process, after being repeatedly ignored, then finally denied my claim, and appeal, and then dismissed by the Postal Regulatory Commission I came to understand that I had several critical misconceptions about USPS insurance. If you want to avoid a similar hassle, learn from my mistake: never buy USPS insurance again until you fully understand it (and probably not even then).

This thing has some pretty critical info hiding on the back. Don't miss it!

During my first… or maybe second appeal of their refusal to pay for my damaged goods, the USPS Consumer Relations Specialist wrote, "It's the consumer's legal and moral responsibility to read the receipt". Strange seeming advice I thought, but after a trip to the local post office and requesting to look at an insurance slip (I didn't have any on hand), I found out that there are detailed terms and conditions hiding on the back.

Well dang.

All that time… How could I possibly have missed the terms and conditions this long? As you know, every USPS employee diligently offers the insurance details before the purchase so you can review them before making he decision to buy.

Wait? They don't!? That's odd…

Well at least they're sure to tell you when they hand the insurance stub to you, "please read the terms of insurance on the back side". Or maybe they turned it over so that it's the first thing you see and simply say, "here are the terms, probably should read these".

Not that either? Strange…

What I have been told is that the insurance covers loss and damage and that's the basis under which I decided to purchase it. In my limited legal experience, an offer made followed by acceptance and exchange of consideration (money) makes a binding contract. Who knew that I was also "responsible" for examining anything they hand me in case there are modifying conditions printed somewhere?

Sadly, while there are plenty of pictures of the front of USPS insurance slips on their website, there are no pictures of the back to be found. So for your convenience, here's a copy of mine:

The back side of a USPS insurance slip (click to enlarge)

If you ever feel like USPS insurance might be a good idea, you probably out to think hard about what these requirements really mean:

1. Payout hijinks

The USPS only has to pay you whatever the deprecated value of your item is. The first thing you should be asking is, "how do they calculate deprecation"? Of course it's possible that they'd be fair and reasonable about it, but an even more important point to consider is this: Do you still have your original purchase receipt for the item?

You see, they can't calculate deprecation unless they know how much you paid for it. If you purchase items online or are very good about keeping copies of purchase receipts you may be fine, but most people don't keep receipts for most of the items they buy. Or worse, what if it was a gift? What if you bought it used or at a garage sale? Per item 3 of their required documentation for your claim, you are out of luck.

If your lost or damaged items were purchased used or you no longer have the purchase receipt, your claim may be denied.

2. Take pictures

Taking pictures of broken things does seem like common sense, but in this particular case since I was shipping these extremely long distance, I took pictures of the box contents before shipping as well.

Before: Double-boxed and every space filled with wadded-up plastic bags.
After: What the heck did they do that would snap the handle off a my pot?

But pictures aren't enough.

The USPS requires that you return the package to their offices for inspection including: "the damaged item, the mailing container, any wrapping/packaging, and all other contents that were in the package". But if you don't know about this requirement (written in bold on the insurance slip), you might unpack and throw away the box and shipping material like I did.

They say you have 60 days after the date of mailing to file, but unless you're willing to set the items aside and not use them or carefully catalog the contents and reconstruct them when you're ready to go down the post office, you're better off going right away… heck, open every box IN the post office if you can!

Time is your enemy. For best results, open your packages immediately (at the post office if you can) and inspect everything for damage right away.

3. More documentation

If you purchase postage and insurance online, you can print copies at any time for your claim, but if you buy it at the post office: be wary. You must have the original insurance slip to qualify for coverage. That means if you lose it or you think everything's fine and you throw it away before discovering the lost/damaged item, too bad.

Luckily, if the insurance sticker is still present on your package (and you didn't discard the box per point #2 above), then that counts as proof of insurance.

The USPS doesn't keep computer records of post-office-purchased insurance. If you can't prove coverage, you lose it.

4. No coverage for fragile items

Interestingly enough, DMM 609, "Filing Indemnity Claims for Loss or Damage" states that the USPS is exempt from paying insurance claims on anything where the "Fragile nature of article prevented its safe carriage in the mail, regardless of packaging". In other words, fragile items aren't valid for insurance. Period.

5. If you sign, you're out of time

Here's another gem: "Loss after items signed for by the addressee, the addressee’s agent, or delivery employee if authorized under the applicable standards". That means that if you sign for a package before carefully inspecting it for any possible damage, you have waived all rights to file a claim. A signature signs the death certificate for your insurance coverage.

6. And on, and on…

"Mail not bearing the complete names and addresses of the mailer and addressee, or is undeliverable as addressed to either the addressee or the mailer". Uh… does that count if you don't enter the full zip code? Because almost no one I know knows the full 11 digit zip code. What if the to/from information is damaged BY the USPS in transit? Does that invalidate the insurance too? After all, they don't keep to and from information in their computer systems so the only proof is on the package itself.

Here's one for the folks using expensive computer software: among the items excluded from coverage are: "software installed onto computers that have been lost or damaged". In other words, if your computer is lost or damaged, only the hardware itself is eligible for replacement.

Lastly, only superficial damage is covered: "No coverage is provided for… concealed damage". If your item's internal workings are damaged in shipping, but it looks pristine on the outside, it seems they can deny your claim.

In conclusion

If you want to buy insurance, more power to you, but even having dealt with a variety of insurance plans and programs through the years, I've never seen one this hard to use before. And I've certainly never encountered one where that claims they can hold you to terms and conditions that they never clearly provide. Buyer beware.

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Kellogg’s Cereals Ordered to Stop Lying… Again

Liar, liar...

Would it surprise you to know that sugary cereals really aren't healthy? Sure! They have a vitamin or two and probably some kind of grain buried under all the fat and sugar and chemicals, but why pay attention to that?

Instead, Kellogg's corporation has been busy touting the healthy benefits of their kid's breakfast "foods":

Kellogg has agreed to expand a settlement order that was reached last year after the FTC alleged that the company made false claims that its Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal was “clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20%.”

At about the same time that Kellogg agreed to stop making these kinds of false claims in its cereal ads, the company began a new advertising campaign promoting the purported health benefits of Rice Krispies, according to the FTC. On product packaging, Kellogg claimed that Rice Krispies cereal “now helps support your child’s immunity,” with “25 percent Daily Value of Antioxidants and Nutrients – Vitamins A, B, C, and E.” The back of the cereal box stated that “Kellogg’s Rice Krispies has been improved to include antioxidants and nutrients that your family needs to help them stay healthy.”

What did they get for such a misleading and blatantly manipulative campaign? An order from the FTC to stop making claims without proper scientific backing. Ooooh! Burn!

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Despite Promises, Lifelock Knows Public Data is A Risk

Lifelock
(Image used under: Fair Use doctrine)

Todd Davis didn't post his social security number publicly because he thought his company could protect it. He did it as an advertising gimmick that netted him almost 2 million paying customers. At least, I have to assume that's what Todd's motivations were because I'm guessing he's not an idiot and knew his service wouldn't actually prevent ID theft. Even if he were, there have been so particularly telling clues recently such as:

  1. Having his own identity robbed 13 times since the stunt began.
  2. The 12 million dollar settlement with the FTC over false advertising relating to their gross misrepresentation of being able to prevent ID theft.

That's why when an employee's sensitive data showed up online, they worked to have it removed. No one should have their social security number posted publicly because the risk is too great. Unless of course you're the CEO of a company that charges $10/month to almost 2 million people and can afford any amount of ID theft you're hit with.

For those that are bad at math, that's 20 million a month income. Makes that $12 million settlement seem kind of inconsequential doesn't it?

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Finding a Name For Bully Data Practices Leads to Facebook

Facebook
(Image used under: Creative Commons 2.0 [SRC])

I found this pretty amusing:

The world needs a simple word or term that means "the act of creating deliberately confusing jargon and user-interfaces which trick your users into sharing more info about themselves than they really want to." Suggestions?

Although we didn't specifically mention Facebook in our question, … suggestions included "Zuckermining", "Infozuckering", "Zuckerpunch" and plenty of other variations on the name of Facebook's Founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. Others suggested words like "Facebooking", "Facebaiting", and "Facebunk".

In the end, they went with a suggestion of "Evil Interfaces" which refers to any user interface that is designed to trick people out of their data or make them do something they don't want to do. Check out the source article for examples of the kind of "Evil Interfaces" they're talking about.

And one more thing before we go:

OK, perhaps the word "evil" is a little strong. There's no doubt that bad user-interfaces can come from good intentions. Design is difficult, and accidents do happen. But when an accident coincidentally bolsters a company's business model at the expense of its users' rights, it begins to look suspicious. And when similar accidents happen over and over again in the same company, around the same issues, it's more than just coincidence. It's a sign something's seriously wrong.

Beautifully worded.

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Answer a Phone Survey – Get Cheated

Telemarketer
(Image used under: Creative Commons 2.0 [SRC])

I've always debated things like helping jaywalkers, buying magazines at the door, and listening to telemarketers, but I think that I've finally come up with a common solution. Don't pick up anyone on the side of the road. Don't buy anything at your doorstep that doesn't involve cash and girl-scout cookies. And definitely, never, ever, talk to someone selling something or doing a "survey" on the phone.

The Consumerist is running a story about a warehouse worker who took a phone survey and was fired for it. It turns out that the shady company on the other end remixed the phone call recording to make it sound as if he answered "YES" to questions like "are you authorized to make phone plan decisions for your company" and "do you want to switch to Thieving Scumbag Phone Service Inc?"

It may not be fair to the people who are honest, but there's just no way for you to know who is and who isn't safe to deal with so the only logical choice to to stay out of it entirely. Check out this advice from a prior phone survey industry member on how to permanently get out of the call listings.

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Classmates.com Settles Over Deceptive Advertising Lawsuit

I doubt this surprises anyone:

Classmates.com was sued because it allegedly sent out e-mails to anyone registered for its free service, suggesting that their fellow graduates were looking to contact them—they could find out who that person was if they'd simply upgrade to one of the subscription tiers. At least two individuals did so and quickly discovered that the mystery classmate didn't exist—nobody they knew had been looking.

Still, this is good news because companies shouldn't be allowed to lie outright the way Classmates has.

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$12 Million Settlement Against Lifelock for Deceptive Advertising

Lifelock
(Image used under: Fair Use doctrine)

I'm not surprised about the fine, just that it took this long. Of course, they'll just shrug it off and any other lawsuit so long as they make more money than they spend.

Sadly, by the time someone actually shuts Lifelock down (if ever), the people responsible for it will be so rich that it won't make any difference. But until then, we can feel a little happier knowing that there are some organizations that are making them pay for their dishonesty; although 12 million dollars is less than one month of Lifelock's income on their almost 2 million reported customers.

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FreeCreditReport.com Class Action Suit!

This totally made my day:

A Wisconsin college student filed a class-action complaint against Experian this week, claiming that the company's ubiquitous ads for FreeCreditReport.com led her to believe she could use the site to get a no-cost credit report.

Go figure! Someone believed that FreeCreditReport means you can get a free credit report? What are the odds!?

How this has gone on this long I'll never know. Even after 11,000 Better Business Bureau complaints the most that's been done to date was the very cool FTC spoof videos making fun of FreeCreditReport's TV ads where they did everything short of calling them crooks.

It's such an exquisite pleasure to watch this bogus company go down; let's hope this suit sticks.

Update June 2010:

It's probably been a month or two (or three or four) since this happened, but as a result of the lawsuit, the FTC has required them to put a giant banner on the top of their website saying essentially that they're full of it. Granted, the site should just have been shut down, but it's still nice to see.

Hard to sell your supposedly free reports now isn't it?

Looking back from 2019:

The FTC filed their own lawsuit and won, but the measly ~1 million fine was so much less than the $72 Million they could afford just for theirdeceptive ad campaign, it just goes to show that founding a company in fraud is a solid business strategy. But I suppose it's not all bad… there was brand new legislation passed as a result of their scam:

The advertising practices of FreeCreditReport.com were specifically addressed in the Credit CARD Act of 2009. Now any company who advertises a 'free credit report' on TV or radio must include the statement: "This is not the free credit report provided for by Federal law." The law also calls for the Federal Trade Commission to issue new rules that will force free credit report advertisers to inform consumers that the only place for a free credit report is AnnualCreditReport.com.

On a lighter note, the Federal Trade Commission was so fed up with Freecreditreport.com, they made these awesome spoof videos:

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Beware the Inevitable Haiti Earthquake Relief Scams

Beware of spewing garbage

As always happens with current events and especially with relief and aid efforts, scammers come out of their holes to steal money meant for the unfortunate. E-mails and social networking messages will start pouring in and fake relief websites have popped up already. Avoid scams that only make scammers richer and donate only directly to major organizations (such as the Red Cross) or at least do your research first.

The Better Business Bureau has a listing of charities that are in good standing at http://www.bbb.org/us/charity/

For more information about the scams, see the Ars Technica article on the subject.

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