Boing Boing 

Chicago schools lost $100M by letting Wall Street engineer their finances


In 2007, the school raised $1B, and instead of issuing bonds, it let the bankers who'd been courting it talk it into issuing a floating-rate bond that it swapped into a fixed-rate issue.

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PSA: Escaping from Gogo's roach-motel business model

Last month, during my many-city book tour, I signed up for Gogo's in-flight wifi service. Today I discovered that it's much harder to get shut of it.

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PSA: UK small businesses, don't get ripped off by BT's "PC Security" scam


I cancelled my small business BT account last year when they endorsed the Tory Internet censorship plan -- and to my surprise, they kept sending me bills, but that wasn't nearly so surprising as what I discovered next: a seven-year-long overbilling ripoff that took most of a year to untangle.

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If you don't agree to the new Wii U EULA, Nintendo will kill-switch it

When you bought your Wii U, it came with one set of terms-of-service; now they've changed, and if you don't accept the changes, your Wii seizes up and won't work. That's not exactly what we think of when we hear the word "agreement."

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Right to complain: fighting back against Roca Labs

Pissedconsumer, a website that's being sued by a supplements company called Roca Labs whose diet aids come with terms-of-service that prohibit complaining about them, has filed its opposition to Roca's request for an injunction -- it's quite a read.

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Dietary supplement company sues website for providing a forum for dissatisfied customers

Roca Labs sells dubious snake-oil like a "Gastric Bypass Alternative," and their terms of service forbid their customers from ever complaining; they say that Pissedconsumer.com committed "tortious interference" by providing a place where disgruntled buyers could air their grievances.

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Kleargear's parent company issues hilarious press release about company's future


The shady ripoff merchants are doing so well they're going to start selling through Amazon, and their apparently imaginary bricks-and-mortar sister company Gift World is shutting down.

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Counterfeit money up close

Someone sent Brian Krebs an envelope of counterfeit $100 and $50 bills, apparently manufactured by Mrmouse, the counterfeiter whom Krebs outed for selling his notes openly on Reddit.

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Customer fined $250 for complaining, told "You are playing games with the wrong people"

Public Citizen is helping Cindy Cox sue Accessory Outlet for charging her $250 when she complained that an Iphone case hadn't shipped when promised; the company's rep told her that he'd fine her even more for emailing him to protest, adding an ominous "You are playing games with the wrong people and have made a very bad mistake."

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Kleargear's new street address is also home to notorious ripoff site


Kleargear destroyed the credit of customers who complained about getting ripped off, then disappeared when a court ordered them to pay restitution -- now they have a new US address, shared with a scammy auction site, raising questions about what other ripoffs the company's owners are involved with.

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Comcast: the only reason we're not ripping you off is that you recorded us

Tim David called Comcast to report that his self-installation after a move was running into troubles and was promised a no-charge service call.

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Kleargear must pay $306,750 for trashing a complaining customer's credit


The notorious online retailer Kleargear (previously) has been ordered to pay $306,750 in damages (including punitive damages) as well as legal costs to Jennifer and John Palmer. The Palmers wrote an online complaint when they didn't get their Kleargear order, only to have Kleargear send them a bill for $3500 for violating a "nondisparagement clause" in the company's terms of service; when they didn't pay it, Kleargear damaged their credit rating, which ended up sabotaging a house-purchase for the couple. Kleargear claims to be based in France, and refused to participate in the case against them.

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Copyright trolls cut and run at suggestion that they're a front for disgraced firm Guardaley

Now that evidence has surfaced suggesting that Guardaley, a disgraced firm of German copyright trolls, is secretly behind the legal actions of notorious US trolls like Malibu Media, the US plaintiffs are running scared, asking judges to dismiss their cases before they can be dragged into a discovery process that might confirm the link.

Guardaley is seriously toxic in the USA, and any suggestion that they were pulling the strings of US plaintiffs would likely be enough to get any case booted -- and possibly result in sanctions for the lawyers representing the trolls.

The defendants in a case over downloading the B-movie Elf-Man has presented evidence that not only links Guardaley to the suit, but also suggests that Guardaley was one of the seeders of the Elf-Man bittorrent file. In other words, they were sharing the file while acting as representatives for the copyright holders, making the downloads they're suing over authorized, and not infringing.

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FCC Chairman's competition promise means nothing


Cable lobbyist turned FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has tried to "balance" his attempt to nuke Net Neutrality by promising to override state laws that prohibit cities from setting up their own broadband networks. But it's a largely meaningless gesture: practically every big city in America is locked into a decade-long contractual "franchise" arrangement with a big cable company.

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Turn on your data for one minute, AT&T sticks you with a $750 international roaming charge


Jeff writes, "I learned this week that it's possible to run up a $750 international data roaming bill in one minute on AT&T. I managed to convince AT&T to forgive the charges after two days and 40 minutes of phone calls but the best guess at how this happened is kind of alarming. It seems that AT&T's billing system sometimes bundles US traffic with international traffic." Jeff was driving in the Pacific northwest, near the Canadian border.

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Kleargear ruins customers' credit over online criticism, refuses to honor US judgment


The latest update in the saga of Kleargear (previously) is downright bizarre. Having invoiced unhappy customers for complaining online about their crappy service and then ruined those customers' credit rating, the company now refuses to acknowledge a judgment against them from a US court because they insist that they're located in France and weren't served there.

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Twitter restores @N to Naoki Hiroshima

A long-overdue, happy ending to the saga of @N, the $50,000 username that was extorted out of Naoki Hiroshima by a hacker who tricked Paypal and Godaddy into compromising control over Hiroshima's domains, and threatened to trash Hiroshima's sites unless the @N handle was given over.

Twitter has restored @N to Hiroshima. It's not clear what took so long, nor what it was that turned the tide for Twitter and resulted in the hand-back.

Happy ending: @N has been restored to its rightful owner [Josh Ong/Next Web]

Baybrook Remodelers' cack-handed SEO genius wants our unflattering coverage removed from the net


Remember Baybrook Remodelers, Ken Carney's Connecticut-based construction company who bully and sue disgruntled customers who leave negative reviews on Yelp and other sites? Well, now they've hired an SEO creep called Todd Ramos, who is hassling Techdirt to try and get their post about Baybrook taken down.

Ramos's campaign tactics include smearing Baybrook's victim (referring to her over and and over again as a "crazy woman"), and inventing imaginary conversations with Boing Boing in which we are said to be considering removing our own coverage. For the record, we are not. He also claims that we were hired by Baybrook's victim to post uncomplimentary things about Baybrook (we were not). And he claims to have "600 bloggers and 20000 blog as ranging in pr 4 to 7" through which he will smear Techdirt if they don't remove the post.

The most cack-handed part of this whole thing is that its founder, Mike Masnick actually coined the term "The Streisand Effect" to describe the knock-on publicity that arises from censorship attempts, because the attempt at censorship is often more newsworthy than the information that is under dispute.

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GOP set up phishing sites to trick Democrats into donating to the NRCC


At least 16 fraudulent sites attributed to the National Republican Congressional Committee have been discovered. These sites, whose domains are the names of Democratic candidates, use large type and photos that make them appear to be fundraisers for those candidates, though the small-print text makes it clear that these are actually sites set up opposing their apparent candidates. The NRCC claims these are all fair game and blame Democrats for not registered their candidates' names as for campaign sites. But when there's a site at AnnKirkpatrick.com, with the words ANN KIRKPATRICK FOR CONGRESS and a DONATE button beneath it, and when that DONATE button sends money to Ann Kirkpatrick's GOP rival, the intent to deceive is pretty clear.

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North Carolina's Lake Norman Regional Medical Center charges patient $81,000 for $750 worth of snakebite medicine

Eric Ferguson of Mooresville, NC was given a bill for $89,000 by Lake Norman Regional Medical Center, which treated him for a venomous snake-bite last August. Included in the itemized bill from the hospital was a $81,000 charge for four doses of anti-venom -- the same anti-venom that can be had on Ebay for $750. The hospital and Ferguson's insurer settled for $20,227, of which Ferguson paid $5,400.

Ferguson does not fault the standard of care at the hospital ("beyond phenomenal"), but he is understandably curious about the $80,000+ markup on the medicine with which he was treated. The hospital itself is already under investigation for overbilling.

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Network Solutions not sure if it will opt random customers into $1,850 "domain protection" plan

Are you one of those Old Net Hands who has a domain stashed with the always-terrible Network Solutions (now Web.com)? Time to move it somewhere sensible (I use and recommend Hover): Netsol is moving random domains (they say it's high traffic, high Pagerank sites, but who knows what that means) into a $1850 protection racket -- but don't worry, they're only going to auto-bill your card $1,350 per year, per domain, after the first year. Netsol initially insisted that this would be an opt-out program, then changed their tune and said it would be opt-in. But even if you opt in, $1,850 is an awful lot of cash to charge for setting the REGISTRAR-LOCK bit in a database, and it's unclear why they're charging $1,350 a year to leave it that way.

Happy Public Domain Day: works that would enter public domain today, but for copyright extension


Jennifer Jenkins from the Duke Center for the Public Domain writes, "What could have been entering the public domain in the US on January 1, 2014? Under the law that existed until 1978 -- Works from 1957. The books 'On The Road,' 'Atlas Shrugged,' and 'The Cat in the Hat,' the films 'The Bridge on the River Kwai,' '12 Angry Men,' and 'Funny Face,' the musical 'West Side Story' and the songs 'All Shook Up' and 'Great Balls of Fire,' and more -- What is entering the public domain this January 1? Not a single published work."

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Music publishers claim to own "Silent Night" & ripoff indie Youtube singer; ContentID helps them do it

Adam the Alien has a Youtube channel that earns him some money through Youtube's "monetization" service, which inserts ads and gives him a cut of the money. It worked fine until Youtube's notorious "Content ID" system let some of the biggest music publishers in the world lay claim to the copyright in Adam's video, on the basis that his rendition of "Silent Night" belonged to them -- despite having been composed in 1818 and being firmly in the public domain. Once their claims had been laid, all the money his video generated was diverted to them.

The companies that laid claim to Adam's video are the publishing arms of the biggest record labels on the planet -- BMG, Warner/Chappell, and Universal Music Publishing Group -- and they use an automated system to identify videos and claim them. There is no penalty for automatically generated claims over things that the publishers have nothing to do with, and so, unsurprisingly, their copyright bots are fantastically sloppy and operate with little or no human oversight.

It's a perfect storm of stupidity and greed: Google has given the big publishers a platform that rewards fraudulent claims over indie creators' work; the publishers responded by making plenty of such claims, and all the while decrying "piracy" as the great evil of our day.

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TSA confiscates photographer's blower because it could be filled with gunpowder and used as a missile


In a photography forum, Surapon recounts the sad story of how the TSA took away his Giottos AA1900 Rocket Air Blaster, a blower for removing dust from equipment, at an airport in New York.

According to him, he was on his way back to North Carolina from Greece when the TSA flagged his camera-case for manual inspection. The TSA agent reportedly produced the rocket-shaped blower, and then he and a colleague grimly pronounced the dangers of this object, should it be filled with gunpowder and then launched like a rocket through the cockpit.

Since then, Surapon assiduously sliced the decorative fins off his blowers, and has had no further trouble from the TSA.

My New and Improve GIOTTOS Blower-for safety. (Thanks, Visionrouge!)

Porno copyright trolls Prenda Law fined $261K

Things aren't looking good for copyright trolls Prenda Law -- they've been ordered to pay $261K in opponents' fees, and the judge has made all three of Prenda's principles -- Paul Hansmeier, John Steele, and Paul Duffy -- jointly liable for the sum. He also called them liars. They're much worse than that.

G4S rips off UK government for £24M, wants to continue receiving government contracts

G4S, the titanic security contractor, has admitted to overcharging the UK Ministry of Justice £24M for its contract to monitor offenders' tracking tags. This is the latest mass-scale cock-up from the wildly profitable firm, whose recent hall of shame includes forging documents in order to deport asylum seekers, catastrophic failure to deliver London Olympics security, and complete mismanagement of a South African prison.

G4S offered to return the money, but the Ministry of Justice rejected the offer.

The firm is anxious to retain its eligiblility to bid on future government contracts, including the private municipal police forces for which it has aggressively lobbied.

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Anonymous funeral director explains the big con behind the industry, coffins, and embalming


An anonymous commenter who identifies her/himself as a funeral director has posted a magnificent rant to a Reddit thread, explaining all the ways that funeral directors con bereaved families into paying for things they don't need, like $5000 painted plywood boxes and "barbaric," environmentally degrading "mutilation" (embalming), which are often described as legal requirements (they aren't). The post is full of great intel and advice, including mention of the FTC funeral rule, which sets out your rights in clear, simple language. I didn't know that US law requires funeral directors to accept your own coffin, which you can get at your local big-box discount store or have delivered from a variety of sellers through Amazon.

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Behavioral economics of Free to Play games

Ramin Shokrizade's "Top F2P Monetization Tricks" shows how the free-to-play world deploys practical behavioral economics to convince players to spend more than they intend to, adapting to players to hook them and then pry open their wallets wider and wider. I was very interested to learn that some games look for behaviors that mark out "spenders" and convert themselves from "skill games" (win by being good at them) to "money games" (win only by spending):


A game of skill is one where your ability to make sound decisions primarily determines your success. A money game is one where your ability to spend money is the primary determinant of your success. Consumers far prefer skill games to money games, for obvious reasons. A key skill in deploying a coercive monetization model is to disguise your money game as a skill game.

King.com's Candy Crush Saga is designed masterfully in this regard. Early game play maps can be completed by almost anyone without spending money, and they slowly increase in difficulty. This presents a challenge to the skills of the player, making them feel good when they advance due to their abilities. Once the consumer has been marked as a spender (more on this later) the game difficulty ramps up massively, shifting the game from a skill game to a money game as progression becomes more dependent on the use of premium boosts than on player skills.

If the shift from skill game to money game is done in a subtle enough manner, the brain of the consumer has a hard time realizing that the rules of the game have changed. If done artfully, the consumer will increasingly spend under the assumption that they are still playing a skill game and “just need a bit of help”. This ends up also being a form of discriminatory pricing as the costs just keep going up until the consumer realizes they are playing a money game.

The Top F2P Monetization Tricks (via O'Reilly Radar)

(Image: image, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 76969036@N02's photostream)

Croatia's blisteringly expensive telegram service soldiers on

Forget India's semi-shuttered telegram service. Marko Rakar says, "Croatian post (btw. we are part of EU since last night) is still accepting and sending telegrams. They also have price list and they charge by the number of words. So a telegram with up to 50 words is 41 Croatian Kuna (which is about €5), while up to 100 words is 61 Croatian Kuna which is about €8."

Accused identity thief nailed by food-porn Instagram photo


Troy Maye was wanted for a string of identity thefts, but the IRS couldn't positively identify him. But after he passed a thumb-drive of stolen data to an IRS informant, investigators were able to pull his name off the drive's metadata. They used that to find his Instagram profile, and found a food-porn photo he'd taken at the Morton's steakhouse where he'd dined with the informant. Busted.

"IRS Agent Louis Babino then headed to Google and located Maye’s Instagram page, which contained a profile photo of Maye. When shown the profile photo, the CW confirmed that Maye (seen at right) was the man with whom he dined at Morton’s."

Well, sure, Agent Babino, but how can you be really sure this was your guy?

"A further review of Maye’s Instagram page, Babino noted, revealed “a photo of a steak and macaroni and cheese meal containing the caption ‘Morton’s.’” The image--uploaded on January 7 at 11:24 PM--“appears to coincide” with the CW’s meeting at Morton’s, added Babino."

Yup, this guy food-porned his way into being arrested. The Instagram photo is reportedly being entered into evidence in the case, so one hopes the juicy steak and the creamy mac and cheese was really, really worth all the trouble Maye is now in. Once again, if you're a criminal, online narcicism is probably something you'd be best to avoid.

Criminal Nabbed By His Own Food Porn [Timothy Geigner/TechDirt], [Gabrielle Bluestone/Gawker]