If you catch me at the end of a frustrating day, I can sometimes be overheard swearing quietly under my breath about certain technology platforms, especially inkjet printers. Make no mistake, I was a huge fan when they first appeared on the scene – being able to print your own, high-quality photos was a dream come true for amateur photographers and graphic designers, of which I was both when HP released their famous “Deskjet” printer in 1998. Twenty-five years later, HP has managed to twist this innovative hardware platform into yet another moneymaking scam with their inescapable ink subscription platform. At least one judge has heard our suffering, made evident after denying the dismissal of a class-action lawsuit brought against HP for falsely advertising all-in-one printers that stop functioning if ink is low or missing, even if the function doesn’t require ink (like scanning or faxing).
What this means for you
Let’s be real. The chances of a mega-corporation being brought to heel by a California judge are fairly slim, but the fact that one of them stood up to the world’s largest printer manufacturer means that there are people still willing to stand up for consumers, keeping that small spark of hope still lit in this cynic’s heart. In case you happen to be one of the 7 people on Earth who haven’t fallen into this trap in the past 10 years or so, most of the major printer manufacturers have turned their inkjet product lines into the razor and blades model of the new millennium wherein the printers are sold cheaply (sometimes at a loss) because the ink cartridges they require are the real money maker. Up until maybe 3-4 years ago, third-party ink sellers leveled the playing field somewhat by providing less expensive (and usually lower quality) consumables for those printers, but once the manufacturers realized how much money they were leaving on the table, they closed that loophole by locking down the printers to require “genuine” ink and toner. While an argument can be made that using non-genuine consumables gives the manufacturer reasonable justification for voiding warranties or declining warranty service, it’s not clear what justifies rendering them completely nonfunctional because one of your ink colors is low or depleted. Except of course, the pure-profit motive that seems to drive every consumer technology company these days.
That’s enough ranting for one day. If you need some lightly NSFW humor to lighten the mood (WARNING: Foul language ahead!), have a read of @System32Comics on Instagram (I know, I know, “social media bad,” but “independent web comic artists GOOD!”), including one of my all-time favorites of theirs which perfectly illustrates the dystopian world in which we now live:
Image by pavelkovar from Pixabay
Of all the people I’ve talked to about surprise Windows 10 upgrades, very few were happy with the event even if the upgrade actually ended up in a functional computer (a good percentage don’t). One woman in California was angry enough to sue Microsoft over the unwanted upgrade, and actually prevailed. You’ll notice I didn’t say “won” as Microsoft admitted no wrongdoing on their part and dropped their planned appeal in order to avoid further litigation costs. Truth be told, I’m fairly certain Microsoft could have easily won by throwing their third-string litigation team at this case with microscopic impact on their finances, but perhaps some smart folks got in front of the lawyers to prevent what would surely have been a PR nightmare. Microsoft has been part bully/part implacable juggernaut when it comes to Windows 10 upgrades, and a lot of my clients have been asking why they are pushing so hard.
This is easily answered with one word: Money
But wait, isn’t Microsoft giving away Windows 10 for free? Absolutely, and it’s still available up until the end of July for the same low, low price of zero bucks. But just as your favorite aged relative is fond of saying, “Ain’t no such thing as a free lunch!” What many folks don’t know is that Microsoft is intending for Windows 10 to be their gravy train for the foreseeable future by converting the OS to a subscription model, just like they did with Office, which, by the way, is another big money-maker for them. It’s free for now, but at some point in the near future, the next upgrade won’t be. It will only be available for computers that have paid subscriptions to Windows 10. That’s right, your first “hit” was free, but now that you are hooked, you have to pay to support your “habit”.
That’s not the only hook. Some of you noticed that some of your favorite time-wasters like Freecell are now only available through the Windows Store, another “convenient” feature available in Windows 10. By pushing millions of Windows computers to their new operating system, Microsoft is hoping to create a new source of revenue that is sitting right on your start bar. If it sounds familiar, that’s because Microsoft has taken a page from Apple’s playbook, replicating the incredibly profitable app store model used on iOS devices. The forced Windows 10 upgrades will supply the demand, and the supply is handily built into their new OS.
If you’ve taken to heart any of the security advice or practices that I or many other technology professionals have been dispensing for the past few years, you’ve probably developed a healthy skepticism for any emails that land in your box that are unexpected and contain unfamiliar links. Even more so if your email provider marks the email as spam or a possible phishing attempt.
For example, I recently received an email with the subject “iPhone iPod touch Class Action Settlement” that was immediately marked as spam by Gmail. This email purportedly offered me a part of a class action settlement with Apple. Seeing how many people own iPhones and iPods, it seemed like good phishing bait so I assumed this was yet another scam. It had all the trappings of a well-made con:
- broad target demographic
- based on a recent, actual event
- contained lots of official-sounding text that didn’t read like a 4th grader wrote it
- no overt clues that the sender was an obvious bad agent (non-US domains, inappropriate reply-to addresses, spoofed mail headers, etc.)
It would probably lure people into clicking a link that would either load up their machines with malware, or entice them into giving up some personal information that would later be used in an identity theft attempt. I opened it up with the intent of warning my audience and clients about the potentially well-crafted fraud.
As it turns out, this is a legitimate email that Gmail incorrectly identified as spam, probably because the sender was flagged as a spammer by justifiably suspicious readers like you and me. A little research online reveals this is part of the original case that made headlines back in May of this year. Emboldened by this information, I used Chrome (bolstered by a variety of anti-scripting extensions) to visit the included link, and, lo and behold, it’s a legitimate website. Because of the relative newness of this initiative, there isn’t a lot out on the web about this yet, so unless you are an experienced internet researcher, your searches might have come up with little evidence that this was a legitimate email.
What this means for you:
Most cautious internet citizens might have trusted their email provider’s guidance on this and just deleted this email, potentially missing out on as much as $200 as a settlement award. False positives are an unfortunate side-effect of a proper security protocol, and in this case, even Google didn’t provide enough information to immediately assuage my suspicions, and a few search results actually led to conversations where people immediately labeled it as a scam. Sometimes the internet does not provide instantaneous answers, nor is it always right, and as always, you should always take your search results with a grain of salt, especially if there is money at stake. If your search results turns up a dearth of information, your best course of action is to wait a few days for the internet to catch up (it always does!) and research again, or to contact a tech expert like C2 Technology to get a second opinion.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net