Not recommended: companies to avoid

The following are companies and products that I intend to avoid for the foreseeable future.

The Times [UK newspaper]

Edgar Wright wrote a blog entry about working with Edward Woodward after the actor's death earlier this week [November 2009].

The next day, The Times newspaper printed most of the article, reportedly without asking Edgar Wright for permission to reproduce his work. This is either incompetent journalism, or lazy, knowing theft of copyright-protected content.

Seeing as Rupert Murdoch, managing director of News Corporation which owns The Times, has recently made it known that he intends to take action to stop companies that steal our stories, it's unacceptable that his own journalists are seemingly unfamiliar with copyright law.

The Times claim to have since made a donation to charity, and have added a note to the website addition of their newspaper to clarify that the content originally came from Edgar Wright's blog. But it's far too easy for big companies to simply throw cash at a problem after they've committed the foul. I doubt that they would so quickly forgive a lone blogger if they ever felt their content was taken without permission.

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AOL are all over the news [August 8th 2006] after publishing the recent search histories of more than half-a-million of its users. Even though the search histories are grouped under anonymous user ID numbers, some of the search queries contained information that could be used to identify or guess the identity of individuals.

AOL have apologised for what they have called a mistake. But that doesn't alter the fact that several hundred thousand AOL users have had their search history for March to May revealed to the world. While the user IDs were made anonymous, AOL did not remove personally identifiable information from the search queries themselves, only from the user ID. Which is bad news for any of those AOL users who searched for their own name, address, phone number, social security number, or website domain during that time. Such search queries may help people viewing this data to identify the search queries as belonging to a particular person. Names, addresses and search details could potentially be used to craft identity theft scams.

To release such a vast set of data with no guarantee that personal details are removed first, AOL has committed a serious error. What should happen now is that the company be punished severely for this mistake, and AOL customers should flee the company in huge numbers. But probably neither will happen because government agencies don't like to upset big business, and AOL customers may just shrug it off. My advice to you if you are an AOL customer: find yourself an internet provider who protects your identity.

1&1 web hosting (also known as 1and1 or oneandone)

My site was previously hosted by 1&1. I migrated my site to another host because Google Sitemaps was frequently getting a response of 'Network Unreachable' from the 1&1 servers. 1&1 technical support blamed Google's algorithms, but that didn't seem to add up. I felt it was more likely that 1&1's server either couldn't cope with the load, or were deliberately configured to turn away Google's web robot some of the time. Either way, it didn't suit me.

On top of that, I was [April 2006] annoyed to be told by the billing department that my webspace allowance would not increase to match the package being offered to new customers, even though the title of the package was exactly the same. And the cost per gigabyte of excess traffic usage remained at £5.00 per gigabyte for any customer that had signed up before 5th July 2005, while newer customers would only be charged £0.99 per gigabyte [term 5.12 in the T&C, April 2006]. Plus I'd had a problem cancelling an unwanted domain, with 1&1 charging me money to renew it, despite my following very carefully the cancellation procedure they described (which included having to fax them a signed cancellation form).

In fairness, 1&1's cancellation procedure no longer seems to involve sending a signed fax, and I was able to cancel the hosting contract and transfer my domain quite painlessly.

Relevant links

Sony BMG

I don't agree with the unlicensed sharing of music over the internet — it deprives artists of money, and persuades record labels to abandon original (and therefore commercially risky) music, in favour of unoriginal, easy-to-sell rubbish aimed at the pre-teen audience. In short, I have no fondness for theft of music.

However, what makes me more angry is seeing record labels punish legitimate customers by employing dubious and intrusive methods of protecting their intellectual property.

Sony BMG have been releasing music CDs that contain a rootkit [November 2005] that installs itself onto your Windows PC (Linux and Apple Mac are unaffected). This rootkit attempts to force the user to play the CD through Sony's own media player, and limit the number of digital copies that can be made. Attempting to remove this rootkit by deleting the files that Sony's music CDs install will render the Windows system useless. What's worse is, Sony's rootkit is so badly written that it leaves the system more vulnerable to attack by trojan horse software.

And, because of the size and influence of a company as large as Sony, anti-malware firms are likely to be scared to write software that removes this unwanted intrusion.

Measures like this hurt the legitimate customer, while music pirates can still easily get hold of illegal copies of the music anyway. If anything, behaviour like this is going to persuade more people not to bother with the purchase of Sony CDs, and instead just let an expert rip the track and put it on the internet for them.

The only way to persuade Sony BMG not to attack legitimate customers of its music is for enough people to boycott their products until they promise to recall all discs that are infected with this unwanted nuisance.

Relevant links

More to follow...

There are bound to be more companies added to this page.