Badly Behaving Tech Companies

article by Kevin Hisel
Editor’s note by Kevin Hopkins
From the Status Register of the Champaign-Urbana Computer Users Group, April 2019

Ever since Sony admitted installing root kits on CD buyers' computers in 2005, I've kept a sort of Tech Company Sh*t List. While Sony has finally been removed due to a 14-year hiatus, others live on in glorious ignominy. Here's my list:

AT&T
Way too much to list! This company has an over-hundred-year history of monopolistic practices and screwing over its customers in the pursuit of revenues. Even after being forcibly broken up by the government in 1982 (it was THAT BAD!) their corporate culture is seemingly still in the 1940's, voraciously abusing its customers.

Asus
The Federal Trade Commission put Asus on a 20–year sort of probation in 2016 because their routers had numerous security vulnerabilities and Asus did not demonstrate much interest in addressing the flaws in a timely manner—even after being notified multiple times.

Recently, Kaspersky revealed that Asus' Live Update utility for PCs was used to distribute malware to its customers. There are still questions about whether the malware may have actually originated from inside Asus.

BLU phones
Chinese Android phones were found to ship with malware/adware—right out of the box, according to security researchers.

Belkin
This company thought so little of its customers in 2003 that it installed adware in brand-new, out-of-the box routers. As users surfed the web, Belkin would inject ads into the customers' browsers right from their Belkin router advertising Belkin services. An opt-out mechanism was included but many users felt that when they buy a router, they should not be forced to opt-out of advertising to avoid interruptions when using the Internet.

Comcast
Another AT&T with dozens of examples of squeezing their customers to increase and sustain revenue levels. Their pricing is very opaque and few can figure out what they charge for most services. The truth is, Comcast will charge you as much as they possibly can. There's no such thing as one price for all. In early 2019, media reports surfaced stating that instead of greeting more competition in the TV market with better value, Comcast would simply raise remaining customers' TV prices to make up for the revenues lost to cord-cutting.

While they are raking their customers over the coals, Comcast apparently could not care less about what those same customers think about them. Comcast has been voted by various consumer groups as the worst company in America multiple times. Many feel since they enjoy monopoly-like status in most communities, they don't feel the need to keep satisfaction scores high.

In 2010 many Comcast customers noticed that they were unable to stream Netflix in high definition. The company blamed the problem on payment disputes among carriers but some customers noted that the problem cleared right up when using Netflix/Comcast over a VPN hiding the traffic. This evidence supports many customers' suspicions that Comcast was purposefully throttling the Netflix traffic since it competes with Comcast's TV product. This case comes up often with proponents of net-neutrality as an example of unfair behavior by ISPs.

On the other hand, Comcast's high-speed Internet product in Central Illinois is far superior to what most people can get and many are still forced to give this sh*t-hole company their money. Luckily there are competing services on the horizon in the C-U area.

D-Link
In 2017 the FTC stated that D-Link, "Consistently failed to take reasonable steps to protect its routers and internet-linked security cameras from hackers." As of this writing, FTC lawsuits against D-Link are still ongoing.

Hewlett-Packard Printers
In 2010 HP settled a lawsuit alleging that some HP printers either reported low ink or simply refused to print even when plenty of ink was still available, forcing consumers to spend money on ink replacements they really did not need.

In 2017 many reports surfaced that HP had launched a DRM time bomb—a software update designed specifically to disable competing printer cartridges starting on a set date. As a result, HP Printer owners using third-party cartridges woke up one day to warnings about a "cartridge problem," or errors stating, "one or more cartridges are missing or damaged," or that the user was using an "older generation cartridge." It's not legal to prohibit competing brands' ink cartridges but HP sure does plenty to discourage this.

Lenovo
Many PC companies are criticized for including unwanted bloatware on customer machines. In 2014 Lenovo machines shipped with actual adware. Masquerading as a piece of typical manufacturer bloatware, Superfish Visual Discovery was a browser extension that analyzed images, checked if they were products, and then injected ads into the customers' browsers. To make matters worse, Superfish was uninstallable, terribly insecure, and allowed hackers to monitor encrypted web browsing.

For 20 years, Lenovo will be required to put in place a "comprehensive software security program for most consumer software preloaded on its laptop," subject to external audits, the FTC said.

Linksys
Now owned by Belkin (see above).

Microsoft
Many despise Microsoft's monopoly tactics used during the 1980s and 1990s and those practices are well documented. As a result, some people to this day refuse to use ANY Microsoft products.

If you believe the company's new leadership has turned the corner and is now less evil all you have to do is look at the strong-armed tactics the company used to force its Windows 10 software onto users of Windows 7 and 8.

When Windows 10 was released in 2015, Microsoft was aggressive about getting devices to upgrade. In some instances, it pushed several gigabytes of upgrade files to customers without their knowledge or consent. Consumer backlash caused the company to stop the practice, but two years later, Microsoft is still facing legal repercussions. While the company claims the tactics were in customers' best interests, the company's forced upgrades turned into a PR mess for Microsoft.

Last year, three Florida men filed a lawsuit against Microsoft, stating that the company "coerced" them into the upgrade which resulted in damaged PCs, as well as lost time and money. Some customers even complained that a red X option that appears in the Windows 10 update box actually initiates an upgrade, rather than dismissing it as users would commonly expect.

Microsoft has since backed down from some of its more aggressive tactics, and now offers customers options, including "upgrade now, schedule a time to upgrade, or decline the free offer for the new OS."

Office Depot
Between 2009 and 2016 Office Depot tricked customers into buying unneeded tech support services by offering PC scans that gave fake results, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Consumers paid up to $300 each for unnecessary services.

"Defendants bilked unsuspecting consumers out of tens of millions of dollars from their use of the PC Health Check program to sell costly diagnostic and repair services," the FTC alleged in a complaint that accuses both Office Depot and the company that supplied the software, Support.com, of violating the FTC Act's prohibition against deceptive practices.

Oracle
In 2015 Oracle agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it deceived consumers about the security provided by updates to its Java Platform. According to the FTC's complaint, since acquiring Java in 2010, Oracle was aware of significant security issues affecting older versions of Java SE. The security issues allowed hackers' to craft malware that could allow access to consumers' usernames and passwords for financial accounts, and allow hackers to acquire other sensitive personal information through phishing attacks.

Many have accused Oracle of attempting to profit from its own software's insecurity by pushing customers to install unwanted software such as third-party toolbars during the update process necessitated by the poor security of older versions.

In 2015, Oracle's chief security office Mary Ann Davidson threatened security researchers with vague consequences for examining Oracle code for vulnerabilities.

Turbo Tax/Intuit
The 2003 version of the TurboTax software contained digital rights management that tracked whether it had previously been installed on a computer by writing to sector 33 on the hard drive. This allowed it to track if it was on a computer previously, even through reinstalling the operating system. This also caused it to conflict with some boot loaders that store data there, rendering those computers unbootable.

Vizio
Vizio, a popular smart-TV brand, settled a lawsuit that accused it of using its TVs to track what its owners watched, then selling that information to marketing firms, all without customers' knowledge or consent.

At least one CUCUG member reported that their recent-vintage Vizio Bluray player fell out of favor with the company and software updates were discontinued prematurely. Because disc copy-protection schemes are constantly being updated, this rendered the player unusable for newer movies.


[Editor's Note: My thanks to Kevin Hisel for writing this article for the newsletter.

I'll just add my own personal contempt for Comcast which centers on their despicable corporate torpedoing of the democratic process by packing FCC public hearings with ringers back in 2008 to choke off the public's ability to testify against them.

Comcast acknowledges paying ‘seat-warmers’ at FCC hearing

Also, I give you one guess who owns the orphaned Bluray/DVD player.]