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POSTED: Sunday, March 18, 2012, 12:01 PM

I've been out of the office, and will be for another week, but this merits mention: Mike Daisey's widely quoted account of labor conditions at an Apple contractor's plant in China has been retracted by This American Life, the radio show that broadcast it, for what host Ira Glass calls "significant fabrications."

I cited Daisey's report in a column two weeks ago about Apple's China problems, though I also noted that Apple was quietly questioning some of Daisey's most dramatic assertions, including the presence of underage workers at a Foxconn final-assembly plant.

In a blog post, Glass says the fabrications included some of those assertions:

POSTED: Friday, March 2, 2012, 12:16 PM

Credit unions added more than 1.3 million customers last year, more than twice as many as in 2010, according to this story in the Los Angeles Times.  That brings the number of credit union members to a record 91.8 million, the National Credit Union Administration says.

This chart from MyBankTracker.com may help explain why:

Type of Fee Top 10
Banks
(Avg.)
Top 10
Credit
Unions
(Avg.)

Non-interest checking monthly fee $9.93 $6.50

Minimum balance to avoid monthly fee $1,626.67 $500.00

ATM withdrawal (out-of-network) $2.20 $0.83

Overdraft item $33.70 $23.40

Returned item $33.70 $23.40

Stop payment $31.90 $19.20

Incoming wire transfer - domestic $14.70 $1.30

Incoming wire transfer - foreign $17.50 $1.30

Outgoing wire transfer - domestic $26.40 $17.25

Outgoing wire transfer - foreign $45.50 $26.95

POSTED: Thursday, March 1, 2012, 7:39 PM

AT&T Mobility has now clarified which customers are subject to the wireless-data throttling I described last week, though it still isn't explaining exactly what happens to them, or give a good reason why - other than that they have the temerity to think that "unlimited data" means what it says.

The bottom line: If you use less than 3 gigabytes of data per month on your iPhone or a similar device, or less than 5 gigabytes on an Android that runs on the speedier LTE network, there are no limits on your unlimited data.

But go past those limits, and you'll be throttled until the start of your next billing cycle.

POSTED: Thursday, March 1, 2012, 3:35 PM
Xfinity is the new name and logo for Comcast's TV, Internet and phone services. The company announced today that the new name will be premiered next week.

In today's Tech Life column about broadband data caps, I told the story of Andre Vrignaud, a Seattle gaming consultant who says he was suspended for a year by Comcast because he twice surpassed the company's 250-gigabyte-per-month "excessive use" cap.

Comcast, which imposed the cap in 2009, is hardly alone. Five of the seven largest broadband providers now impose some sort of cap, and a sixth, Time Warner Cable, is experimenting with one. Only Verizon has refrained so far - and, as I reported, it's not making any hard promises.

That's a shame, because Verizon could be singing its technological advantages from the rooftops. "We don’t see the congestion that the cable companies are seeing," John Schommer, Verizon's director of broadband security and cloud services, told me. "We have a network that can handle a substantially higher volume of traffic." And Schommer can rattle off the tech specs to back that up: a network that can deliver 2.4 gigabits downstream shared among 32 customers, versus a good cable system's 320 megabits per second that he says may be shared, in a good case, among 200 customers.

POSTED: Wednesday, February 29, 2012, 3:01 PM

Like it or not - and three dozen state attorneys general, among others, have serious doubts - Google's new, unified privacy policy goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. March 1 - whatever your time zone.  But there is something you can do today that you won't be able to do come midnight: delete the Google and YouTube search histories associated with your personal profile.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation offers handy step-by-step directions for erasing your search history here. And you can click here for instructions on deleting your YouTube search and viewing history.

Google has a page that explains how to clear the history from its various products.

POSTED: Tuesday, February 28, 2012, 2:13 PM

Honda and Toyota are perennial success stories in Consumer Reports' closely watched automaker brand ratings. And for the last four years, Honda has led the field.

No longer. CR announced its 2012 Automaker Report Cards results today, and Subaru now leads the pack. At the same time, Toyota captured top honors in five of the survey's vehicle categories - an impressive result for an automaker beleaguered recently by problems such as sticky gas pedals and loose floor mats that brought "unintended acceleration" into the scare-story lexicon. 

The survey results bore some bad news for Ford, which dropped from 5th place to 10th place in the overall ratings. "Ford’s road-test score improved by two points over last year’s, but subpar reliability of some new vehicles, due largely to the troublesome MyFord Touch infotainment system and Power-Shift automatic transmission, hurt its report-card grade," CR said in its announcement.

POSTED: Monday, February 27, 2012, 5:08 PM

Here's a new twist in the smartphone "data-throttling" issue I wrote about in my column last Thursday: According to the Wall Street Journal, AT&T "is preparing a service that would let content providers and developers of mobile applications pay the wireless carrier for the mobile data its customers use."

The Journal's Anton Troianovski - reporting from Barcelona, where the Mobile World Congress began today - doesn't make the connection to the data-throttling issue, but it's clear enough: Such a plan would sidestep the soft data caps that AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have imposed on users - including on AT&T and Verizon customers who are still paying for "unlimited data" plans that they purchased before the two leading U.S. carriers quit offering them.

AT&T customers have reported as much as 99 percent drop in data-transmission speeds when the throttling take place.  A company spokeswoman didn't respond to my requests for clarification about its practices, except to say that throttling only applies to the top 5 percent of data users - at least one of whom won $850 from the carrier on Friday in small claims court. But that two-orders-of-magnitude reduction is entirely plausible, and it's enough to turn a smartphone into a device good for little more than phone calls and text-based emails.  T-Mobile, which is throttling customers who exceed monthly plan limits of 2GB, 4GB or 10GB, says the reductions drop such customers from 4G down to 2G speeds, according to spokesman Troy Edwards. 

POSTED: Thursday, February 23, 2012, 1:29 PM

More than a year ago, the staff of the Federal Trade Commission proposed a new framework for online privacy - including a controversial "Do Not Track" option for consumers who want the freedom to surf the Web without having to worry that marketers and data miners will be aware of everything they search for, read, or buy

The online marketing industry bristled at the idea that any limits might be imposed on it,  for one obvious reason: In the Internet era, data from online tracking is a high-value currency. Congress, predictably, has balked at taking any big steps.  But today, the Obama administration stepped forward with a new privacy proposal, including a "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights."

The White House says the new bill of consumers' rights is part of "a comprehensive blueprint to improve consumers’ privacy protections and ensure that the Internet remains an engine for innovation and economic growth." It's hard to argue with the rights it aims to protect, which build on so-called Fair Information Practice Principles that date to the 1970s:

About this blog

Jeff Gelles, who writes the Inquirer's weekly Consumer 14.0 and Tech Life columns, takes a broad look at the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.

Reach Jeff at jgelles@phillynews.com.

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