This Week in Tech 668: How Many Cups in a Stone?

–The FBI wants you to reboot your router right now. FBI agents have gained control of a huge Russian botnet. If your router is affected you just need to reboot it.
–Facebook and Russian ads – how should government react in the age of cyber warfare?
–Amazon sells facial recognition software to law enforcement officials. Is this an invasion of privacy, or a good example of public/private cooperation?
–Alexa records a couple’s conversation and sends it to a friend. Amazon has a convoluted explanation, but it may just come down to odds.
–Google’s AI can order you food, but Microsoft’s can check in on your feelings, at least in China.
–GDPR confusion takes news sites offline and sparks billions of dollars worth of lawsuits.
–Disney’s bid to buy Fox gets some competition from Comcast. Does this mean that Hulu is doomed?
–Senators call for investigation into fake pro-net neutrality comments
–Three charged in swatting death

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This Week in Tech 614: $46 at the Piggly Wiggly

The WannaCry ransomware attack is far from over. Amazon introduces the Echo Show – will the touchscreen voice assistant/videophone flop? Microsoft announces their own voice assistant, the Cortana Speaker. The US plans to ban laptops on flights from Europe. Comcast and Charter agree not to compete on wireless. Russian hackers pwned by French presidential campaign

–Christina Warren needs friends in Seattle.
–Father Robert Ballecer just got back from Malta.
–Roberto Baldwin got hung up on by AT&T customer service.
–Alex Wilhelm’s name will not set off your Amazon Voice Assistant.

Comcast customer satisfaction rating plummets again

Image: Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock

Comcast’s customer satisfaction scores have dropped again in all three triple-play categories, with the nation’s largest cable and broadband company faring particularly poorly in pay-TV service.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index’s (ACSI) latest annual report on telecommunications and information, released today, places Comcast at the bottom or near the bottom of the major company rankings in TV, Internet, and phone service.

“Cable companies are trying to strengthen their positions through consolidation,” the report said. “After its merger with Comcast failed, Time Warner Cable recently agreed to be acquired by Charter Communications. None of these companies score particularly well. Comcast plummets 10 percent to 54 [in TV service], tying its low mark previously set in 2008. Time Warner Cable fares even worse, plunging 9 percent to 51, tying ACSI newcomer Mediacom Communications for the lowest score among more than 300 companies in the index.”

Time Warner Cable did improve its score in Internet service, however, ranking ahead of Comcast. The ACSI interviewed 14,176 customers for this report, which also covers wireless phone service and computer software. Participants were chosen randomly and contacted in January and February of this year. Scores are given on a 100-point scale; Internet service providers have generally fared worse than other industries scored by the ACSI, which also grades restaurants, appliance makers, banks, gas stations, the US Postal Service, airlines, health insurance, and much more.

While Verizon FiOS maintained its lead over AT&T U-verse in the major provider pay-TV rankings, AT&T has leapfrogged FiOS to take the top spot for Internet service. Here are ACSI’s ratings in all three triple-play categories:

Read more: Comcast customer satisfaction rating plummets again | Ars Technica.

New study provides an alarming glimpse into the current state of pay-TV

A recent TiVo-sponsored study conducted by Digitalsmiths provides an alarming glimpse into the current state of pay-TV that should have providers more than a bit worried.

The study found that 23 percent of pay-TV subscribers said they were unsatisfied with the level of value received from their service provider. Of those, 68.1 percent cited increasing fees as one of the reasons they aren’t happy.

But just how much are people shelling out each month for pay-TV, Internet and home phone services offered by typical providers?

A full 24 percent said their bill is higher than $151 per month while 36.9 percent of bills fall in the $101 to $150 range. Only 8.3 percent pay less than $50 for services each month.

What’s particularly telling is the fact that 85.1 percent of those polled said they feel like they watch the same channels over and over again. Interestingly enough, 19.1 percent only watch 10 of the channels currently offered to them and 14.3 percent only watch about five.

Making the case for over-the-top services, Digitalsmiths found that the use of subscription services increased by eight percent compared to a year ago. Convenience (57 percent) and lower pricing (47.3 percent) were among the top reasons why consumers choose OOT services.

All things considered, 14.7 percent of people said they are planning to either switch providers, ditch cable in favor of an online app / rental service or cut services altogether within the next six months. Another 30.9 percent replied with an answer of “maybe.” Nearly half said they would consider keeping existing service if their provider made it easier to find shows to watch.

via New study provides an alarming glimpse into the current state of pay-TV – TechSpot.

Comcast Employees Can’t Stop Cussing out Customers, Woman Billed as ‘B’ Word

Lucky that Comcast has those local monopolies on high speed internet and cable television service, or it might actually suffer

When you’re a business who’s caught harassing customers, swearing at customers, and engaging in acts that might be considered tantamout to fraud, you’re likely sweating bullets as you may soon lose your customers, your revenue, and your business. That might be your reaction that is, unless you happen to be Comcast Corp. (CMCSA). In that case no worries, as your customers can’t escape your local monopolies.

I. Demonizing the Customer

This week we were greeted by another report of a Comcast employee or employee(s) brazenly billing customers using profane language.

The new report follows a similar bizarre billing in January. That incident affected a married couple in Spokane, Wash. Comcast had just slapped them with a fee for their cable television line. Upset, Lisa Brown called the company to cancel the cable part of their service bundle. A customer service rep tried to talk her out of the decision and when she refused to budge he escalated her to a customer retention specialist.

DailyTech - Comcast Employees Can't Stop Cussing out Customers, Woman Billed as 'B' Word

Lisa Brown (right) entered Comcast’s twisted web of customer service when she tried to cancel her cable TV service. [Image Source: CBS/Lisa Brown/Google Images]

Talking to customer retention specialists at Comcast can be somewhat frustrating — just ask Ryan Block whose 8 minute phone call with a customer service retention rep. went viral. Comcast’s playbook for the reps requires them to be rather pushy, it more or less admits. So if anyone has a good excuse to utter curses it would likely be the customer stuck in Comcast’s customer service maze.

But Brown kept her cool and stood her ground, refusing to budge when the retention rep tried to make her an offer to convince her to sign a new 2-year contract. She felt the conversation ended civilly with her making it clear she wasn’t going to be talked out of the cancellation and Comcast informing her that she’d be assessed the fee and that the account would be closed out once it had been paid.

DailyTech - Comcast Employees Can't Stop Cussing out Customers, Woman Billed as 'B' Word

DailyTech - Comcast Employees Can't Stop Cussing out Customers, Woman Billed as 'B' Word

 

The incident would have ended there, but when Brown opened her bill later that month she noticed something bizzare. Her husband’s name had been changed from Ricardo Brown to A%%hole Brown. She was shocked. She eventually took the letter to Elliot.org, an advocate blog who wrote a story on the incident. In the piece she ponders:

I am shocked. I was never rude. It could have been that person was upset because I didn’t take the offer.

To Comcast’s credit, it not only cancelled her account as requested and apologized, it also waived the fee and reimbursed the family what they had paid for their first 2-years of service. Comcast senior director of government affairs, Rhonda Weaver, even took a break from the usual daily duties of showering members of Congress with millions in bribes lobbyist “free speech” to call the blog and Brown, reassuring them that the employee or employees responsible would be determined and would be terminated from the company.

Read more: DailyTech – Comcast Employees Can’t Stop Cussing out Customers, Woman Billed as ‘B’ Word.

Comcast will bring HBO Go to Roku owners at last

After “several months” of negotiations, Roku and Comcast have ended their unexplained standoff over HBO Go streaming.

That means HBO Go will finally be available to Comcast subscribers through Roku’s streaming set-top boxes and stick, though it’s unclear exactly when the companies will flip the switch. Roku’s attorneys confirmed the agreement in an FCC filing, which was first spotted by Re/code.

HBO Go launched its Roku app in 2011, allowing subscribers to stream the network’s original series, movies, and specials. But the app only works for cable or satellite providers who have authorized it, and for the last three years, Comcast has given Roku the cold shoulder without explanation.

Likewise, Comcast continues to block HBO Go on Sony’s PlayStation 4, even after being part of HBO Go’s Xbox One launch last month. “With every new website, device or player we authenticate, we need to work through technical integration and customer service which takes time and resources,” Comcast told The Verge in March. “Moving forward, we will continue to prioritize as we partner with various players.”

The line about prioritization might make sense for a one-year-old game console, but Roku is the most popular TV set-top box on the market. Unfortunately, the new FCC filing doesn’t say what the holdup was, but at least it’s going to be over soon.

The story behind the story: As Re/code points out, Comcast is trying to convince regulators to approve a $45.2 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable, and the continued blocking of HBO Go could be a form of ammunition for the deal’s opponents. It could be just a coincidence, but between allowing HBO Go on Roku and taking steps to improve its notoriously awful customer service, it certainly looks like Comcast is trying to be on its best behavior.

via Comcast will bring HBO Go to Roku owners at last | PCWorld.

Comcast slapped with class-action lawsuit for turning customers’ routers into public hotspots

Comcast’s controversial decision to transform its customers’ wireless routers into public Wi-Fi hotspots has, predictably, landed the company in even more hot water.

A pair of disgruntled customers recently filed a class-action lawsuit against the cable, television and Internet provider in San Francisco. Toyer Grear and Joycelyn Harris claim Comcast is exploiting them (and other Comcast subscribers) for profit by forcing customers’ residential routers to serve double-duty as public hotspots without their consent and at their expense.

On newer routers leased to customers by Comcast, the company has been adding a secondary Internet broadcast channel for hotspot use. This additional channel is said to be separate from customers’ primary connection. Those that provide their own hardware aren’t affected.

According to the suit, a test performed by networking technology company Speedify found that routers activated as public hotspots consume 30 to 40 percent more electricity under heavy load.

Over time, Speedify believes this practice will eventually push tens of millions of dollars per month of the electricity bill needed to run the Comcast’s public Wi-Fi network onto consumers.

The two also believe that subjecting customers’ Internet connections to public use is a detriment to security. What’s more, they claim to be suffering from decreased, inadequate speeds on their home Wi-Fi networks ever since the second channel was activated.

The suit seeks an injunction to stop Comcast from using the routers in this way in addition to unspecified damages.

via Comcast slapped with class-action lawsuit for turning customers’ routers into public hotspots – TechSpot.

Comcast Wi-Fi serving self-promotional ads via JavaScript injection

Comcast has begun serving Comcast ads to devices connected to one of its 3.5 million publicly accessible Wi-Fi hotspots across the US. Comcast’s decision to inject data into websites raises security concerns and arguably cuts to the core of the ongoing net neutrality debate.

A Comcast spokesman told Ars the program began months ago. One facet of it is designed to alert consumers that they are connected to Comcast’s Xfinity service. Other ads remind Web surfers to download Xfinity apps, Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas told Ars in telephone interviews.

The advertisements may appear about every seven minutes or so, he said, and they last for just seconds before trailing away. Douglas said the advertising campaign only applies to Xfinity’s publicly available Wi-Fi hot spots that dot the landscape. Comcast customers connected to their own Xfinity Wi-Fi routers when they’re at home are not affected, he said.

“We think it’s a courtesy, and it helps address some concerns that people might not be absolutely sure they’re on a hotspot from Comcast,” Douglas said.

The Comcast advertising campaign came to Ars’ attention after Ryan Singel, the co-founder of startup Contextly, was reading Mediagazer at a café in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco on Labor Day.

A small red advertisement saying “XFINITY WiFi Peppy” scooted across the bottom of the Mediagazer page and disappeared into the ether. It happened a few times, he said. Singel took screen shots of the advertisement loading and as it appeared on his screen. He captured some code, too.

“When a user requests to view a page, Comcast injects its JavaScript into the packets being returned by the real server,” Singel said during an instant-message chat.

A Comcast served house ad.

 

Singel’s suspicions were correct that Mediagazer didn’t place the ad there, and Mediagazer is none too happy about it. “Indeed, they were not ours,” Gabe Rivera, who runs Mediagazer and Techmeme, said in an e-mail. In another e-mail, he said, “someone else is inserting them in a sneaky way.”

Unwanted injections

Security implications of the use of JavaScript can be debated endlessly, but it is capable of performing all manner of malicious actions, including controlling authentication cookies and redirecting where user data is submitted.

Comcast’s Douglas says Comcast has nothing nefarious up its sleeve. What’s more, Comcast has multiple layers of security “based on industry best practices” to keep out hackers wanting to exploit the Xfinity network, he said.

Seth Schoen, the senior staff technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, reviewed the data pulled by Singel and said that “there ended up being JavaScript in the page that was not intended by the server.”

Even if Comcast doesn’t have any malicious intent, and even if hackers don’t access the JavaScript, the interaction of the JavaScript with websites could “create” security vulnerabilities in websites, Schoen said. “Their code, or the interaction of code with other things, could potentially create new security vulnerabilities in sites that didn’t have them,” Schoen said in a telephone interview.

One way to prevent this from happening, he said, is for websites to encrypt and serve over HTTPS. But many sites do not do that.

Security expert Dan Kaminsky said in an e-mail that JavaScript injection has the potential to break “all sorts of stuff, in that you no longer know as a website developer precisely what code is running in browsers out there. You didn’t send it, but your customers received it.”

Full Story: Comcast Wi-Fi serving self-promotional ads via JavaScript injection | Ars Technica.

Apple is talking with Comcast about streaming TV partnership

Apple is talking with Comcast about streaming TV partnership - TechSpot

Apple is reportedly in talks with Comcast regarding a streaming deal that would allow the Cupertino-based company to stream video to their popular set-top box using a method that would bypass congestion on the Internet.

People familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal that discussions are still in early stages and there are multiple hurdles to overcome. If successful, however, it could usher in a new era of modern television viewing.

Sources say Apple is interested in effectively replacing cable set-top boxes with their own Apple TV hardware which would allow subscribers to stream live television, watch on-demand programming and even watch recorded television stored in the cloud.

Apple wants streamed content to be separated from public Internet traffic over what is called the “last mile” – the portion of an Internet connection that runs from an ISP to customers’ homes. It’s this bit of the network that often becomes overloaded when too many people in a given area access the web at once, effectively sucking up all the bandwidth and resulting in slow load times and laggy video.

Such a deal could be lucrative to both Apple and Comcast and offer an unrivaled service to customers. But first, the two companies will need to come to terms on a number of different issues including who controls the relationship with customers.

Those with knowledge of the situation say Apple wants users to sign in to the service using their Apple ID while Comcast wants to retain control over their customers and associated data.

via Apple is talking with Comcast about streaming TV partnership – TechSpot.