Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Waiting on Ponch and Jon

Trying to get caught up on some testing, post-CES. My desk feels like an episode of CHiPs--crashes all over the freakin' place. I've done a ground-up, ISO-image install of Windows 7 build 7000 on VMWare Fusion, running on Leopard (Kalyway), running on my 2 GB MSI Wind netbook--the ultimate in kink. Forget the feather--I'm using the whole chicken. Generally, Win7's running nicely, but I can't get the network stack to come up--neither NAT nor bridged are working, so I can't get to the 'net. For my 1 GB MSI Wind netbook (msiwindosx86.iso), I'm pulling down a torrent of a pre-built Win7 VMWare appliance to do a similar style install to see if that makes a difference; I'm sure that there's just a setting I'm missing somewhere, but this is annoying.

The newest build (4825) in the Boxee private alpha is now wicked fast, but is choking on the 5543 artists, 36192 songs, and 205+ gig of music I'm asking it to grok from iTunes. Having built an XBox Media Center using XBMC on an original Xbox in what was my most involved hack of 2008, I'm a big fan of what Boxee's doing, but this is also annoying me. After a bunch of ~10 second hangs, I'm just gonna let it run overnight to see if it somehow manages to recover. The Boxee team rocks, so I know that they'll have a fix for this soon, but I'm bummed that I picked tonight and this build to try to make some progress.

And, most annoyingly, I'm setting up magicJack on one of my sandbox machines, and it's asking for a raft of personal information. I absolutely understand the need for VOIP providers to map IP telephony services to physical addresses for 911 service resolution. However, with no link to magicJack's privacy policy, I have no way to know how they're going to use this data, which pisses me off thoroughly. Gimme terms of service and disclosure, and I'm happy to give you some information about me. No terms of service and disclosure? I'm John Q. Public, at 123 N. Any Street, New York, NY, 10001. Further, the "I elect to accept free outgoing service (recommended)" checkbox that's pre-checked...what the hell is that? Recommend by whom, exactly?

magicJack, you guys caught me on the wrong night. After filling in Mr. Public's information, I did finally reach a Terms of Service page. I do appreciate the fact that you've put in a TOS page; I don't appreciate the fact that A) when I select all the text in the TOS to copy and paste into a word processor for easier reading, I can't actually copy & paste, and B) the link to the TOS page on your website isn't clickable. Silly.

But wait, there's more.

Have you guys read your own TOS lately? I mean, I know that manufacturers don't expect users to actually read the TOS, just as few people read EULAs. But, whenever I'm suspect about information disclosure, I read 'em. In this case, I'm not sure what I'm most concerned about, but I'm concerned. I'm annoyed that Section 19 talks about "Upgraded Software described in Section 5 above", but that Section 5 doesn't actually talk about upgraded software, or software at all. What Section 5 does talk about is mandatory enrollment in magicJack's voluntary 911 service. Yes, gentle reader, you heard that right. Here's the exact phrase from Section 5 of the TOS: "when you register to use the magicJack device, you will be enrolled in magicJack's voluntary 911 service, if you register a U.S. service address". Uh, seriously? I'm enrolled in a voluntary service, that if I don't enroll, I can't use magicJack? Where's the 'voluntary' part of that equation?

I love the privacy policy, too: "Your registration data and certain other information about you are subject to this Terms of Service. You understand that by using the magicJack device you consent to magicJack's collection and use as set forth in these Terms of Service, including the transfer of this information to and from the United States and/or other countries for storage, processing and use by magicJack, its affiliates and business partners to provide you with information about communications-related service."

Yeah...not knowing which information is heading overseas gives me a real warm fuzzy. Brilliant.

The real catch-22 here is Section 20, which says "You represent and warrant that (a) all of the information provided by you to magicJack to use the magicJack device and Software is correct and current..." Well, no, actually, I don't. You play games, I play games.

Honestly, I want magicJack to work, and to be successful. Prior to picking up magicJack at the blogger party on Friday night, I'd heard very little about the product/service, aside from a few TV ads and random comments on the 'net. On Friday afternoon, I read an article about the founder's response to a number of stories relating to magicJack's business practices, its interaction with the Better Business Bureau, and its customers. I was so impressed by how straightforwardly the company founder seemed to honestly and accurately address each issue that I specifically mentioned it to magicJack's PR representative at the party.

Now, I'm having second thoughts.

magicJack, this is an easy fix. Hire an attorney with some background in online privacy law. Rewrite the nefarious (or potentially nefarious) parts. If there's truly nothing to worry about for the user community, don't leave in TOS loopholes large enough to allow you to introduce spam, Trojans, and other types of malware.

Consumers just want stuff to work. If magicJack works as promised, you'll have a happy and loyal customer base. If it doesn't work as promised, you'll go the way of the Gator, which I doubt is the outcome you're looking for. I hope that in my testing, it works beyond my wildest expectations. Heck, who can beat a year of calling using a USB analog terminal adapter? That's worth money, absolutely, but only if there's nothing hinky involved. Despite public assurances that there isn't, I'm wary, and will be until I've shaken down the product.

The shame here is that in the time it's taken me to write this up, I've gone through the activation process and made my first couple of phone calls, and the quality is great--my non-golden ears would probably assign a MOS right around 4.0, which is fantastic. But, there's one more voice in this conversation--the one in the back of my head that believes I should be running a port scanner in the background to see what's happening on my machine.

I'm in touch with magicJack's PR person, so I hope that they'll be able to provide some clarification as to when they expect to resolve (or at least address) these topics. I'll pass along what I hear as soon as they're back with me--they seem like good people, which is why I'm a little weirded out by the reputability issues.

Like I said, magicJack, you caught me on the wrong night. But, this would've been an issue any day of the week. Seriously.

1 comment:

  1. Dan Borislow Inventor of Magicjack

    I can appreciate this post.Why you ask?Because The Parent company,which I am the majority shareholder of,also has to subscribe to terms of Service with verizon,AT&T and many other companies we interconnect with.So if we have a few pages of TOS,what I subscribe to is thousands of pages of a TOS,but it is never shown to me,but filed as a tariff in most cases.I am sure that most readers did not know,when they buy there home service from Ma Bell,that they also subscribe to thousands of pages of a TOS in the form of a Tariff.So whatever I have made available to show my subscribers,is light years better than what they commit to with tariffs to there home service,wireless,etc. which they do not know about.that is the real sneaky way out of it,not what we show you with magicJack.There is various ways we try and protect you including making it an option to elect getting you a free service mentioned above.That comes with being in the business for over 20 years and knowing what the FCC rules and State rules are all about.There is so much legal mumbo Jumbo in providing 911,because that is the way it is designed to be with all the regulatuions in place and lawsuit happy people.We do not dream this stuff up,regulators or lawyers do it first then we have to respond with what appears or is an unusual TOS.Then to top it off,we have to protect ourselves from the millions of lawyers we have in the US,the great majority ethical,but many who are not.So the best way to protect you and I is to say we are the boogey man-although we are quite the opposite,and spell out the worst it can be,but of course,be mindful that we want as many customers as we can get, treat you right and protect your privacy.Customer care is priority one for us. The service is very straight forward,works great,is very inexpensive,easiest to use,has a hell of a following and there is nothing funky going on.It is unfortunate that we have so many legal issues in the US,adding great costs and agg for all of us and we have to have a TOS that looks like this.The alternative,is Ma Bell,that costs 50 times more and there TOS is thousands of pages long in the form of a Tariff,and little does anybody know,that you have given up everything but your first born to these companies.Again,the other thing we must do,is protect the base and us from these ever hungry, lawsuit happy sharks out there.I wish life were easier,and I try my best to make it that way for all my customers,and am proud of the fact that we have built something nobody is close to copying that provides such great savings and benefits to so many people.