More T-Mobile Feedback

November 16, 2011

Edit (11/23): As an update (hopefully the last update!) T-Mobile has apparently realized that they screwed up on this one, and reversed their position. They issued a press release saying they will disable PPU data for customers who didn’t request it, and reverse the mystery charges accrued during the time PPU data was active: http://www.tmonews.com/2011/11/t-mobile-backpedals-will-offer-credits-for-unauthorized-pay-per-use-data-use/

As an update to the T-Mobile mystery-data charge scam, a growing number of T-Mobile customers seem to be noticing this and complaining about it. Apparently the change happened around mid-September and it has taken /is taking some time to fully kick in (perhaps so that the complaints are staggered rather than all at once?) Here are a few more related threads in the support forums:

support.t-mobile.com/message/55109
support.t-mobile.com/message/55243
support.t-mobile.com/message/40139
support.t-mobile.com/message/39508
support.t-mobile.com/message/55813

And another article with some commentary at the end: http://www.tmonews.com/2011/08/t-mobile-to-add-pay-per-use-data-to-all-smartphone-accounts-on-september-15th/

Edit: And yet another blog entry and comments: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/cell-phones/warning-t-mobile-adding-pay-per-use-data-without-your-permission/6859

On this thread, someone named Adam who apparently represents T-Mobile tries to explain this new “feature” away as a great benefit, which I felt compelled to respond to. I’ve pasted his message and my response below.

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adam_m
125 posts since Oct 24, 2011
1. Nov 3, 2011 2:46 PM (in response to jatt)
Re: Patterns of Extra Charges by T-Mobile coinciding with their $$$ Problems

Hi, jatt-

I’m sorry you are having some concerns with your billing. It is certainly the last thing T-Mobile wants to see happen to it’s valuable customers. I assure you this is not being done to obtain revenue in unethical ways. Rather, T-Mobile is simply tapping opportunities it has not in the past to provide a better data experience for it’s customer base. By adding the data access to lines that did not have it, we open up the Internet to those who may not have been taking advantage of the vast features on their devices. Additionally, the charges are not “bogus” as you say. All data access is accurate based on the functions your device performs. As for the varying responses you are receiving regarding how to stop this or block it, I do apologize. T-Mobile does have a way to block Pay Per Use data and to prevent addition of additional features via the web and the device. If this is something you still need assistance with, I encourage you to contact customer care or our live chat team for additional guidance.

http://support.t-mobile.com/docs/DOC-2593

Thanks,

Adam

And my response below (I can only hope this actually gets read by some kind of T-Mobile related humanoid organism, rather than filed under “mulch” and ignored. I should look up some internal T-mobile contact information and forward some of this to them as well).

Adam, you say there is a way to prevent features from being added via the web and the device, is there a way to prevent features from being added by customer service / T-Mobile employees? When I became a T-mobile customer, I chose a very specific set of features, with known, up-front costs. If I had wanted data access, I would have chosen it. Yes, my phone is capable of vast features and abilities. I don’t  necessarily want to use them all. That’s why I didn’t request those  features. My car also has a lot of features that I don’t use, but I  don’t go in to get my oil changed expecting to have a spoiler and spinning rims added just on the off chance I might want them. I did not become a customer so that your company could arbitrarily add services and costs to my account without my permission, just in case I might want them. Is there an option I can check on my account that will block any and all changes made without my express permission?

Frankly, your statement that “adding data access to lines that did not have it”, just in case we “may not be taking advantage of it” strikes me as irresponsible and unethical. Many of your customers are not taking advantage of this for a reason. How many of your customers are unaware of the implications of this “feature”? How many are senior citizens or others with limited technical skills? How many are children or young adults with no financial awareness? How many are simply general users with common apps designed to make frequent data use? How many people simple do not want, and do not use, data access? Judging by the outcry on these support forums, which is likely a small percentage of your more tech-savvy users, I would say a large number of people are unhappy about this and feel cheated by T-mobile’s actions.

It looks like a lot of these bogus charges are simply common apps “pinging” or phoning home, or serving ads. Most users without data plans will not know or care that apps want data access. I have a Masters degree in Computer Science, and I don’t even know what apps are doing in the background. By turning on internet access for everyone, those kids, seniors, and anyone with any apps installed will suddenly be racking up bills without their knowledge. Did you pay attention when Verizon got sued for this very issue, and was forced to pay refunds?

Additionally, the “other option” of adding a data plan to “erase” the PPU overage charges smacks of extortion. I can add a data plan, or I can be billed for services I didn’t use. I believe the Mafia has a business plan like that, and offers vast features which I may not have been aware of, like not having my shop burned down.

You say that activating PPU internet for everyone is a “feature”, and somehow adds value, but I can’t see it as anything but a scam and an unethical way to generate revenue. Combined with your company’s apparent financial instability, it looks like a last-ditch effort to add cash flow with outdated business models, rather than adapting to modern realities. People don’t want to pay overpriced rates for data. Wifi is everywhere, apps are free, and the savvy consumers know it. You may be able to trick the non-savvy people into paying these mystery data bills, or extort them into switching to data plans, but your younger, more tech-aware users are going to leave you. This feature and action you are defending is a mistake, and only leads me to believe I should switch carriers now before T-mobile goes bankrupt.

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Back to the blog rant. To highlight the cost of this, I got $17 in charges over two days, much of which time my phone was turned off. Whether this is “pinging” from apps, or something else, it was not data I was personally using or requesting. A month of such charges would be $255, with no associated services rendered to me as the user. I won’t know until my next bill whether the call center rep reversed the charges, but I caught it in time to at least minimize the damage. I’m sure there are people out there who won’t notice this until it’s in the hundreds or more range (with a nice easy “out” offered by customer service: “just sign up for a data plan and we’ll make those nasty data overages go away”).  I have to assume that T-mobile was aware of the pinging issue and the potential revenue from charging for those pings. Apparently it was just too much to pass up.

Update: Here is a list of internal T-Mobile contact numbers and emails (from 2009, who knows if they’re still valid now).

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T-Mobile Jumps on the Mystery Charge Bandwagon

November 14, 2011

Update and summary: My latest post on this issue is here. T-Mobile is in the process of adding pay-per-use data to every customer’s account, without permission and in many cases without notification. They are also neglecting to inform their customer service reps of this process, (or possibly instructing them to mislead customers?). The typical complaint seems to involve mystery data charges appearing on a bill, with customer service claiming that the customer themselves added or requested the PPU data plan. Customer service then tries to upsell callers into different data plans as a way to avoid exorbitant PPU charges. Many of these charges accrue while the phones are not being used, due to data pinging, app data requests, and other background processes that the user isn’t aware of (the same thing that got Verizon in trouble last year).

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After Verizon made the news for charging unauthorized “mystery data” fees, T-Mobile seems to have decided this scam was too good to waste. They must be hoping that people have forgotten the refunds that Verizon was supposed to pay out, or maybe they hope their ambiguous “notification” message is enough of an opt-in to make the lawyers happy.

On Friday, I received a text from T-mobile saying “Congratulations! You can now access the web on your phone and pay only for data you use. Go go <url> for more details”. I always ignore these spam texts, but apparently what this one meant is “Congratulations, we’ve automatically signed you up for pay-per-use data without your knowledge”. I never agreed to this, never opted-in, never even replied to their texts offering “great deals” etc. Then today, I got another text saying “You’ve used over $10 worth of data charges this month”. Huh????

After realizing I had a data bill, I checked my account and found that $17 worth of charges had accrued (this weekend alone!) at times that my phone wasn’t even turned on (such as 400k at 8:30am this morning when I specifically noticed that my battery was dead).  I use Wifi frequently but never use mobile web, whenever I lose my Wifi connection I get an error page saying I have no data plan, and offering to sign me up for one. So this “pay-per-use” data plan doesn’t even work for Internet access, just mystery data when my phone is turned off.

I called T-mobile to complain, and I *might* have gotten the charges reversed after a half hour on super-secret-no-music-we-hope-you-hang-up hold with India. They initially wanted to “save me money” by signing me up for a data plan, but I got upset and accused them of trying to entrap me into adding features I hadn’t requested. Between poor English and corporate doublespeak I can’t quite tell what the outcome was. I asked to talk to a supervisor, but apparently one wasn’t available. I kept asking if I’d be billed the $17 or not, and the customer service rep kept saying ambiguous stuff like “I cannot guarantee that it will be billed”, and “The charges may not yet be accrued this billing cycle”. She blocked data on my account and said that if the $17 charge shows up, I should call back to have it “adjusted”.

Here are some T-mobile support threads where people are noticing and complaining about this. Hopefully the discussions don’t get big-brothered away anytime soon:

http://support.t-mobile.com/message/39176

http://support.t-mobile.com/message/50262#50262

http://support.t-mobile.com/message/54187#54187

And some more related discussion:

http://iosjailbreaker.com/apple-news/t-mobile-turns-data-on-for-smartphones-without-plans-users-hit-with-huge-data-charges/

http://www.howardforums.com/showthread.php/1740503

Update 11/16/11: Here’s an update I posted today, with further complaint threads and some more thoughts on the issue: https://saveitforparts.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/more-t-mobile-feedback/


When Oodle grows up, it wants to be Craigslist!

May 27, 2011

This blog seems to be turning into a bit of a rant collection… I’ll try to come up with some real content next time! In the meanwhile, here’s a recent note I sent to Oodle (aka Facebook Marketplace):

Dear Oodle.com,

I wanted to inform you of several errors I encountered while trying to use your site today. Sadly, your error-reporting system is also in error.

Maybe you can pass this to your IT or tech support team, since there’s no functional way for me to do so directly. Hopefully you actually have an IT team, or, in marketing terms, “some guys who do the website”. I suspect it’s either farmed out to Pakistan at 30 cents per day, or you have a group of alcoholic monkeys doing the bulk of your programming while the sales team spends the day at the golf course. I guess this issue also affects you guys in sales, since your website is so broken that it *might* affect people’s willingness to pay for your services, and thus your golf budget. Based on the level of quality demonstrated in your help system and user interface, I can only imagine the high levels of simian-based craftsmanship in your payment processing system. I can’t wait to sign up for a professional account and start entrusting my credit card number to your servers!

As an IT and web design person myself, I can tell there’s been little to no time or effort put into your interface, error-reporting, testing, or quality control. I also happen to be the advertising person at my business, and I’m going to advise my boss that we should avoid Oodle.com and Facebook marketplace until your systems are up to some kind of useful industry standard.  If it takes an hour to add a listing to your site, and brings in 0 customers (the record so far), then it’s just not worth my time.  I’ll be making the same recommendation to my friends and family. Why did I use Oodle in the first place? We get 99% of our business through Craigslist, but we thought we could get another 1% by signing up for 10 or 20 second-string Craigslist wannabes. We’ve actually had an Oodle account for several years, and it used to work before Facebook bought or absorbed or whatever you did to it, but now it’s gone from a 2nd-tier Craigslist ripoff to about a third tier, and thus fallen off our radar as a useful marketing avenue. Maybe you could take some of that advertising money from smearing Craigslist, and put it towards some actual website R&D.

For the tech guys,  here are my original issues, step by step:
1: When I try to visit “My account”. An error occurs, and the error page tells me to contact support@oodle.com
2: support@oodle.com bounces, saying it’s no longer in use, and suggests I use a nonexistent “contact” link on the site.
3: the “help” dropdown menus don’t contain options for this exact error, so I use the closest thing.
4: The help system tells me to delete cookies, etc, which doesn’t work.
5: The “this does not answer my question” link brings up some input boxes, telling me to use the description box, but there is no description box. I’ve tried this several times on several browsers, and each time a random number of input boxes appear, not including the “description” box. The code is completely broken.
6: I realize I don’t have time to deal with all this, and I don’t really care anymore. Maybe “My Account” is working today, but I can’t be bothered to go check, because I spent all day writing this letter.
7: I go back to using Craigslist with side dishes of OLX, Backpage, etc, and drop Oodle to the “check back in 6 months and see if they’re bankrupt yet” list.

My suggestions are firstly; make a user interface that doesn’t break. Failing that, come up with some help and feedback systems that work, or at least give out the correct information to users. If the support email is gone, stop directing people there.  Come up with a working way to contact the support team for errors, or you’ll never hear about those errors and people will just stop using your site (as I and my company are doing).  You’re lucky I’m bored enough to let you know about this, I’m sure most people give up after the 2nd or 3rd misdirection. I’ve heard that legit companies do something called “testing” or “quality control” to make sure all parts of their websites work. If you’re not sure what those concepts are, ask your “website guy” (or cut the monkeys back to fewer drinks per day).

Thanks for your consideration, and good luck in your quest to get more than 2 users.

-Gabe