How The” Penny Auction” Scam Works

Recently there has been a rise and fall of several penny auction sites boasting about selling genuine high-demand items at massive discounts off recommended retail prices.  But all is not what it seems.

The secret to this scam is that you must pay money every time you make a bid!

And every time a bid is made, the timer for the auction increases a little bit, usually by about 10 seconds. So you have a $1000 camera with a bid for $150 and its got 6 seconds left, but nope, someone else makes a bid and extends the timer by 12 seconds or so, and then another, and another and this can go on for hours.

How much each bid costs varies, but usually they will front-bill your credit card (when you signup) for 200 bids for, say for the sake of argument $100. Many people often complain that the charge to their credit card is under-played and not obvious until its to late. Usually, getting refunds from Penny Auction operators is like trying to get blood out of a stone. (Although this practise itself is not a scam; it is definitely misleading).

Now is where the trouble starts.

The thing that most people don’t understand (and where the scam kicks in) is that penny auction operators are allowed to shill their own auction’s bids. They typically do this because;

  1. The price is too low
  2. If not enough people have big on the item

In other words, if the money paid by either the actual bid, or the charges made to the sum of people bidding is LESS than the cost of the item, the site will simply start bidding on its own behalf to push up the price (and extended the duration).

The other dangerous part of the penny auction is that the site operators are allowed to sell your browsing habits and personal information with third-parties, often with those that helps the operator perform “services”.

So with every bid effectively being charged to a credit card; each individual bid (with the obvious exception of the shill bids) subsidises the price of the equipment for the person who eventually wins the item and whom musty pay not only the price they bid, but also for each bid they made.

Sure, some people do actually win very cheap items. But for every individual auction there are several losers making up the difference in price (and who receive nothing). And since the auctioneer can bid against you, no item need actually be sold until the auction site has made a huge profit on that “cheap” item.

Fun Facts from a “Swipe Auctions” example:

 

By the time the auction ended (5 hours later than the first image at the top), the camera in the Swipe Auctions auction pictured had had another 13,105 BIDS!!

At using an EXTREMELY conservative estimate of 5 cents a bid, people still spent $1,283 on bids alone (probably closer to $2,500), and the guy who won had to buy the camera for $256 on top of whatever he spent on bidding.
Only 1 person won that camera auction, and only after spending several hundreds in bids.

Several people lost this auction and threw their money down the drain and wasted several hours of their lives.

There is no way to know if Swipe Auctions extended the auction superficially on their side in order to make more money (is it a coincidence that it ended so abruptly so early (11:00pm), but right after they cleared over $100 in bids (AT LEAST) over the MSRP of the camera?)

For the record, Swipe Auctions no longer exists (and they had actually launched dozens of ‘sister sites’- I have no idea if any of those are still in operation). But this article is written in the hopes that I can protect people from falling into these dodgy sites who aim to take your money and give you very little if nothing in return.

FeedBurner

I’ve had a FeedBurner account for a long time.  Why hav’nt I used it? I dunno.  So here marks the start of a beautiful relationship (I hope).

Uploading Files to WordPress Larger than the PHP.ini Setting

Add From Server” is a WordPress plug-in which allows you to import media & files into the WordPress upload manager from the Web Server’s file system. Really neat if you need to upload files in excess of the maximum file upload size as specified by the php.ini file. You obviously need to be able to copy the file to the file system via FTP or SCP, but other than that, this is a great way to get the file imported into WordPress without too much fuss.

War on Sharing Infographic

Background

As media digitization and data distribution becomes easier, copyright holders are having to take increasingly aggressive steps to counter the growing number of people partaking in illegal file sharing and copyright theft. This proliferation of illegal file sharing has been responded to by the music, television and movie industries with a of mass of litigation against file sharers, websites and network operators which they view as facilitating or participating in copyright theft. Moya (2011) says that a unnamed researcher has told him that “right now, the total number of ‘J. Doe’ defendants sued in mass P2P suits since the beginning of 2010 is on the cusp of 100,000 (99,924), spanning 80 different cases”. This is in relation to a single decentralized file sharing technology called BitTorrent created by Bram Cohen in 2001. In February 2009 it was estimated that BitTorrent traffic accounted for roughly 27% to 55% of all Internet traffic in some countries (Schulze & Mochalski, 2009). The popularity of file sharing technologies such as the BitTorrent Protocol as a distribution protocol could be attributed to the systematic litigation and subsequent shutdown or failure of centralized peer-to-peer file sharing networks such as Napster, Morpheus and Kazaa.

Each of these networks presented a large single target of litigation and an easy way to enforce filters to prohibit copyrighted material on these networks or to eliminate the distribution channel entirely. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) are two organizations particularly infamous for their continuing and aggressive attacks on file sharing platforms, and their sometimes very public, relentless hunting and intimidation tactics over digital media consumers (Shaw & Mercer, 2005, 182). The modus operandi of of the RIAA and MPAA is to use stand-over and terror tactics on consumers it has identified as copyright infringers using provisions in the DMCA to subpoena the Internet Service Providers (ISP) of the alleged offenders, with the intention to sue them. Shaw & Mercer (2005, 182-183) describe the RIAA as regarding itself as a “key protector of music companies’ legal and business interests” and doesn’t bluff. Because of the tactics it employs, many people simply pay the redress and very few cases actually make it to trial. The RIAA alone, has issues several thousand infringement suites against people it considers to be violators. Gantz & Rochester (2005, 23) says that “by the numbers, most digital pirates are consumers” and that only a relatively few of violators actually profit off illegal downloading. This means that most of the people attacked by the RIAA are regular people simply enjoying media on their own terms.

References

HTC Math Fail

Can you spot the problem? This isn’t exactly an epic fail, nor is it particularly or devastatingly terrible, but I do think that mobile devices do need to work properly, and clearly this is a bug. This is a HTC Desire, but the same bug is replicable on the HTC Desire HD. While this isn’t a reason not to buy an android phone, I choose to use it as an example to make myself feel better about living inside the Apple Reality Distortion field. Sure, the iPhone might be communist, but the streets are clean and the trains run on time.

UPDATE
It turns out that this is a bug with the HTC Basic Calculator, and not a bug with the device itself (as verified by testing the same math on another calculator app on the same phone) but it’s still as funny as hell.

My Thoughts on Dating, Intimacy and Sexuality

Second Life

The Internet can be a powerful tool for everyday people to explore thoughts and emotions without inhibition.  Since the Internet provides us with great anonymity, we can explore and share deep feelings and ideas without fear of judgment and retribution.  This can facilitate very positive outcomes; especially for people with otherwise quite acceptable sexual feelings and desires, but who feel impeded and couldn’t or wouldn’t act them out in real life (such as is often the case with young people exploring sex and homosexuality).

Arguably, cybersex is also perfectly safe.  Cybersex provides people with a physically safe environment, since the nothing physical ever occurs (other than possible self-masturbation, which often accompanies cybersex).  However, sharing and exploring sexual feelings and desires online, is accompanied with strong and intense emotions.  It’s these feelings and emotions that are significant to infidelity and therefore any sexual activity, regardless of whether it is merely flirting, seeking arousal or orgasm, could reasonably be considered betrayal by most romantic partners. Indeed, the Fortino Group reports “one-third of all divorce litigation now involves one partner’s online infidelity”.

We live in a world where the Internet is becoming a pivotal and sometimes pervasive component of our everyday lives.  Our physical bodies are exposed to stimuli that transcend our own thoughts and views of the world and we’re exposed to more than we can imagine.  We can participate, or contribute as much or as little of ourselves as we desire.  Because of this the line between the real world and the virtual-world is becoming increasingly difficult to define.  Since we carry ourselves into the virtual-world, it has become a mere extension of our physical selves.

If we define physical acts of sexuality to be foremost the emotional connection between two people sharing a sexually arousing experience, than Cybersex is just a real as intercourse.  The Internet has also adapted to make Cybersex as real as possible, further blurring the line.   The social game Second Life, grants players great control to ensure that players can highly customize their game avatar; designed to be the player’s representation in the Second Life digital world. Player’s can then control their avatars, much like a puppeteer would control a puppet, and as such can enact any activity the player can imagine.  Second Life is known for player avatars being able to enact and enhance sexual activities, augmented by text chat or voices using a microphone . It’s easy to trivialize Cybersex as harmless fun, but doing so also trivializes illegal sexual activities such as the computer depiction of adults having sex with children .  While people should feel free to explore Cybersex as part of normal and healthy sex life, normal real world social rules and expectations need to still apply.


This post is a slightly modified version of a piece I wrote for a University assignment for the Curtin University Subject Internet Studies 102/502: The Internet and Everyday Life, answering the question: How far would a partner/spouse have to go online before it is considered cheating? Up to what point is flirting online acceptable? How ‘real’ is cybersex?

See more from this unit.

YouTube Gets Backhanded By Viacom

In the ongoing copyright litigation between Google and Viacom, a judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has ordered Google (PDF) to hand over data on every YouTube user, including username, the associated IP address, and a list of all the the videos that user ever watched.

In this lawsuit, Viacom is seeking more than $1 billion in damages because of alleged copyright violations on YouTube.

(Source: ReadWriteWeb, Frederic Lardinois, July 3, 2008 9:53 AM)

This is truly shocking. England’s Statute of Anne (1710) is widely regarded as the first copyright law. The statute’s full title was “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned.” This statute first accorded exclusive rights to authors (i.e., creators) rather than publishers, and it included protections for consumers of printed work ensuring that publishers could not control their use after sale. It also limited the duration of such exclusive rights to 28 years.

You see, the point is that copyright laws have been bastardized and twisted so much, that instead of protecting the creators of works, they exist (almost solely) to protect the investment of publishers. In fact in many developed nations in the world (most notably the UK and US) lobby groups are pressuring the governments to increase the current cap on copyright from 50 – to 100+ years!

I think that while it’s important for companies to protect their Intellectual Property, copyright is becoming more and more difficult to define; and more importantly, in an age where the barrier to produce new and creative works is so low – the original needs of “copyright” to protect creators is almost needless.

Like many things, I turn to the internet.  It gives me great comfort to know that people can protect and define copyright themselves with a simple little license.txt file outlining the wishes of the author., and I think we have the Open Source community to thank for this.  Creative Commons, under which nearly every blog operates, is an example of this.

But, as far as Viacom lawsuit is concerned – when any company violates the privacy and rights of users, it really pisses me off. What will be next? Google for indexing CNN.com? No I don’t think so, and I think we all know why!

WordPress

As you can see, I’ve upgraded the blog to use WordPress instead of blogger.  While I don’t think that Blogger is quite as “throw-up on myself” as others seem to think; but there is no denying that WordPress really is very very good.

I did copy and paste my blogger posts in, and then AFTER I was finished, I discovered this little gem.  So, if you are holding back to blogger because you are worried about how to migrate your posts, don’t be!