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TMCNet:  The Hartford Courant The Bottom Line column

[January 21, 2013]

The Hartford Courant The Bottom Line column

Jan 21, 2013 (The Hartford Courant - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- What's the difference between these two troubleshooting-request calls to your cable company's technical support line Question No. 1: "The on-screen program guide on my television connected to the cable box says, 'No Data.' Can you fix it " Question No. 2: "My computer connected to your cable Internet service keeps locking up. Can you fix it " The first request won't cost the cable subscriber anything. The second could cost $99.99 for a one-time, over-the-phone service or $249.99 for an in-home visit.

When Shirley Groman of South Windsor recently called her cable provider, Cox Communications, looking for some computer help, she says "a young lady walked me through some steps. When we got to a certain point there was a box and one of the items in it mentioned 'activation.' I asked her if this should be clicked and she said that it did not have to be clicked." Then, Groman says, she was signed up for Cox's $99.99 remote charge, the fee for a single troubleshooting call. (Additional time costs $75 for each 30-minute block.) Groman says the technician also signed her up for Cox's least expensive service program, the 24/7 Help Desk, at $9.99 a month.

"I never gave her any permission to do this and she never even mentioned it to me," she says.

At some point, she says, the technician put her on hold. After 15 minutes, the problem unresolved, Groman gave up. She says she also called Microsoft and McAfee, the virus protection and security company. Neither reported issues that might have affected Groman's computer.

Back to Cox.

"So I went to Tech Support," Groman says, "and a young man took control of my computer. We got to the same box where the 'authentication' was, he clicked it and my problem was resolved. I told him what had happened before with the young lady and he said they would probably reverse the $99.99 charge." Groman says she challenged the $99.99 charge -- and the monthly $9.99 service -- several times, only to be told it was "not [customer service's] responsibility to resolve my problem." Dana Nolfe, a Cox Communications spokeswoman, says a Cox technician spent more than an hour trying to help Groman.

"It was documented and fully noted that she was aware of the charge," she says, "which had been broken down over three billing cycles." Nolfe says Cox will still credit Groman's account for the $99.99 charge.

"While we did not see in the notes where someone promised her a credit," she says, "we still decided to post a credit for that first time one-time fee." That, of course, satisfied Groman, who now knows the difference between cable television and computer/cable Internet troubleshooting -- money.

Apps, Kids And Privacy Most adults apparently don't care what information is handed over to the apps downloaded. When you download an app -- Android users actually have to sign off on the "permissions" agreement before the download can begin -- you could be allowing the app to read your contact information, calendar information, your phone state and identity, check your (GPS) location, access the Internet and even make phone calls.

OK, daredevil, would you allow app makers the same access to your kids' apps In a study released in December called Mobile Apps for Kids -- Disclosures Still Not Making The Grade," The Federal Trade Commission said only 20 percent of apps reviewed disclosed privacy policies. Almost 60 percent of apps from Apple's iTunes App store and Google Play, the study said, send identification information from the kids' mobile device to advertisers, analytic companies or another third party. Of the 235 mobile apps in the study, 14 also transmitted the mobile device's phone number and location.

In a study released Jan. 15 by Carnegie Mellon University, 56 of 100 apps examined accessed location information, device identification or contact lists. A basic Brightest Flashlight app -- which provides nothing but a bright-light blank screen -- tracked users' location.

"There have been increasing concerns about privacy and how our data is collected and otherwise used," says Howard Schwartz of the Connecticut Better Business Bureau. "The FTC study validates those concerns because it is clear that developers and download sites are not taking action to address these concerns and are, in fact, hiding the truth." The BBB recommends parents: --Avoid free apps. In the FTC study, 58 percent of free apps were supported by advertising that, when clicked on, led to a download site.

--Control sharing. Before allowing your child to download an app, find out if it allows suers to post content on social media sites.

--Research the apps. Check feedback from users at Google Play and the iTunes App Store and also check reviews and comments elsewhere on the Internet.

___ (c)2013 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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