Timbl on Net Neutrality

Tim Berners-Lee (whose blog has a curiously inconspicuous URL) has weighed in on the net neutrality debate with an entry entitled “Net Neutrality: This is serious.” Tim Berners-Lee seems to be fairly cautious about taking public positions on political issues, so when he does, it’s worth listening. His opinions carry a fair amount of credibility — he is probably the only person who can legitimately start blog entries with phrases like, “When I invented the web…”

When I invented the Web, I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission. Now, hundreds of millions of people are using it freely. I am worried that that is going end in the USA.

Yes, regulation to keep the Internet open is regulation. And mostly, the Internet thrives on lack of regulation. But some basic values have to be preserved. For example, the market system depends on the rule that you can’t photocopy money. Democracy depends on freedom of speech. Freedom of connection, with any application, to any party, is the fundamental social basis of the Internet, and, now, the society based on it.

Deep Net Neutrality

Via Susan (who is unlinkable), a thoughtful essay on the net neutrality debate: Net Neutrality is a Deep Issue. The writer identifies what is probably the key battleground: video delivery. The question isn’t whether Google is going to take five seconds to return search results; it’s how multimedia content will be handled.

Frogs Review Home Depot and CBS Sportsline

After a long hiatus, the Frog Review is back. I can’t recall how I first came across this site, but a while back they reviewed the Ticketmaster Website. More recently, they did insightful reviews of The Home Depot Website and CBS SportsLine.com.

If I had more free time, maybe I could be that funny.

Webloyalty and Marketworks

As this blog has become one of the top sources of information on the Webloyalty scam, I’m reporting this news about Webloyalty and Marketworks, a third party eCommerce site that supports high volume eBay sellers. Marketworks is apparently throwing the switch to make a Webloyalty subscription the default for the thousands of eBay sellers that use its services:

Over the past two years our users have experienced tremendous success incorporating WebLoyalty in their checkout. For those of you unfamiliar with WebLoyalty, it’s a special rewards program offered by Marketworks that benefits merchants with cash and repeat shopping.

Given the success our participating Sellers have experienced, effective June 21, 2006, WebLoyalty will be enabled as a default setting in all US-based users’ StoreFront/Checkout profiles. We’ve updated our Terms & Conditions to reflect this setting (effective June 21, 2006 for existing users).

If at any time you wish to discontinue your participation, simply indicate your participation preference by clicking the appropriate radio button on the WebLoyalty settings of your StoreFront/Checkout profile.

Note that at this time WebLoyalty is only available to US sellers and buyers.

Learn more about WebLoyalty.

The Marketworks Team

So now not only will there be millions of Webloyalty subscribers who aren’t even aware they are paying for this useless service, there will also be thousands of eBay sellers who aren’t even aware that they are signing their customers up for this useless service. I understand that a number of Marketworks sellers who actually know this is going on are upset, but the majority of users don’t read the forums where this is being discussed. (Full disclosure: I have nothing to do with Marketworks myself.)

To be fair, I should mention that a Webloyalty executive (the “lead Consumer Affairs representative” — Mary O’Reilly) has apparently posted to my blog in defense of the company. The following comment appears about 1,000 comments down on my main Webloyalty entry, and is in response to this entry mentioning inflammatory comments posted by other Webloyalty employees calling Webloyalty customers ‘suckers’:

As lead Consumer Affairs representative for Reservation Rewards, I apologize on behalf of WLI Reservation Rewards for the inappropriate and offensive comments posted by the person identifyingthemselves as “WLI Customer Service Representative”. Our company does not condone or tolerate this type of unprofessional behavior and providing consumers with the highest level of customer service is of utmost importance to us. If we can confirm that the comments were actually posted by one of our customer service representatives, appropriate action will be taken with that employee.

As a company, Reservation Rewards takes consumer comments very seriously. We have hundredsof thousands of satisfied customers and we consistently strive to provide our customers with first class membership programs and customer service. In the past, our approach has been to deal with consumer concerns on an individual basis rather than in a public forum. To fully address a consumer’s concerns we need some specific information (e.g. the consumer’s full name or email address) so that the consumer’s record can be accessed. Once the consumer’s record is accessed, we can identify exactly how, when and where the membership offer was accepted and also cancel the membership if that is what the consumer wants.

However, it troubles us to see the concern that some consumers have expressed on this blog with regard to Reservation Rewards. At this time, wewant to make an open and sincere attempt in this public forum to clear up the misunderstandings that are generating the concerns. We thought the following Question & Answer type format might be the clearest way to share information and address the primary areas of concern expressed on this blog:

1. How Is The Reservation Offer Presented To Consumers? How Did I Get Signed Up For This?

We try to make our offer as clear as possible so that consumers can make an educated decision on the offer. Over the years, we’ve incorporated a number of client and consumer suggestions to clarify the offer even further.

Consumers are presented with the ReservationRewards offer when completing a transaction at one of our client’s websites. It’s not a check box that you have to unclick to reject the offer. Instead, the consumer is presented with a full offer page (separate from the client’s transaction page) and is required to take 3 actions to accept the offer and authorize the data pass of personal information. In addition to entering their email address twice, a consumer must also click on a ‘YES’ button to accept the offer. The offerpage includes all the Offer Details, clear mention of the monthly charges, a description of the membership benefits and instructions on how to redeem the Cash Back award.

2. How Does Reservation Rewards Get Consumer Credit Card Numbers?

Please be assured that our clients aren’t passing credit card information to us without the consumer’s authorization. The security of your credit card information is of utmost importance to each of our clients. They would never provide a consumer’s credit card information without proper authorization. The security of your credit card number is also important to Reservation Rewards and we require consumers to provide us with authorization. In order to accept the Reservation Rewards membership, we requirethe consumer to provide us with their email address twice to make them pause and take the time to read and understand the offer. Immediately next to the boxes where a consumer is required to enter their email address is the statement:

‘By entering my email address as my electronic signature and clicking YES, I have read and agree to the Offer and Billing Details and authorize to securely transfer my name address and credit or debit card information to Reservation Rewards for billing and benefit processing.’

If a consumer just clicks on the ‘YES’ button without entering their email twice, the membership is not accepted. If a consumer does not want to accept the offer, there is a ‘No Thanks’ option right under the ‘YES’ button.

3. Reservation Rewards customer service said they sent me multiple emails about the membership before billing. What emails? I never got any.

Once a consumer accepts the membership we make a significant effort to make the consumer aware of the membership and send multiple communications to the consumer before the first membership billing occurs. We use sophisticated monitoring tools to track the deliverability of these emails and our records show a very high delivery rate. We actuallyhave these records audited by a third party to ensure we are consistent in sending them to consumers.We also work with two outside companies to assist us in maximizing our high delivery rate. If an email bounces back as undeliverable, we send the consumer a letter via U.S. postal mail.

However, we do understand in this day and age of spam, some of our email communications maybe filtered out and not read by some consumers. So, in addition to the email communications, each member is also presented with a membership acknowledgement page immediately upon acceptance of the membership. Our intent with this acknowledgement page is to make the consumer immediately aware theyaccepted the membership and to give them an opportunity to cancel it if that is what they want. We have hundreds of thousands of members that happily use the Reservation Rewards benefits and we don’t want people to be in the membership that they didn’t intend to join.

4. Why didn’t I get my Cash Back Award or access to membership benefits? I don’t believe there really is a Cash Back Award or Membership Benefits.

We apologize if some consumers find it unclear how they can redeem their Cash Back Award or take advantage of the membership benefits. We have many members taking full advantage of the membership benefits and redemption of their Cash Back Awards. We encourage members to redeem their Cash Back Award and use the membership benefits by immediately presenting them with the membership acknowledgement page. In addition to instructions on how to redeem their Cash Back Award, the membership acknowledgement page also includes a password to log into the Reservation Rewards website. We also send each customer an email 13 days after accepting the membership that reminds them to redeem their Cash Back Award. We encourage you to go to www.reservationrewards.com to review the array of membership benefits. We think you’ll find that we partner with many top names in leisure, dining and theme parks to provide our members with significant discounts. At the lower left-hand corner of the home page you can review positive comments from Reservation Rewards members who regularly use the benefits.

When a misunderstanding occurs, we’re more than willing to cancel the membership and provide a refund. Wecan assure you that our customer service representatives are all trained to respond to consumers in afriendly and accommodating manner. When you contact our customer service department to cancel a membership, you won’t be faced with a rep trying to convince you to keep the membership ’ our reps aren’t allowed to do that. The rep will just need some basic information from you such as your email address, full name and/or zip code to access your record and immediately accommodate your request. Once your membership is cancelled, you can be assured that we will not bill your credit card again.

We value consumer comments whether positive or negative. They help us consider ways we can further improve the communication and value of the Reservation Rewards offer to consumers and they also gives us the opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings. If anyone would like us to provide more specific information on the actual offer that was presented specifically to you, just send your full name and email address directly to consumeraffairs@webloyalty.com. We’ll be happy to assist you and address any further concerns you have.

Mary O’Reilly
Consumer Affairs
Reservation Rewards

I don’t know whether or not the above description is currently true, but it is certainly entirely inconsistent with my experience. I did not enter my email address once — or twice — to “confirm” my subscription. My server logs from that time period showed that no confirmation emails were ever sent by Webloyalty (regardless of whether they might be caught by a spam filter), and the customer service representative I spoke with did try to keep me to keep my membership (and moreover was exceedingly rude). Hopefully my experience with the company is no longer true, but based on the comments on my blog that’s not the case.

Webloyalty seems to have found a novel and profitable solution to the opt-in vs. opt-out tradeoff — don’t give the customer any option at all!

An Appropriate Use of Flash

I was recently complaining about how much kids these days depend on Macromedia Flash to create websites. This, on the other hand, is a fully appropriate use of flash.

(Not sure if I’m ahead or behind on the meme propagation curve here.)

Family News

I’ve been blogging a bit about my family lately — this entry about my brother Jonah’s band and this entry about my wife’s blog, so I didn’t want to leave out my youngest brother, Andrew. He has gained some renown as a tennis star at Macalester College. Men’s tennis gets help from a ‘Trainwreck’ perhaps captures it best:

Picture this: nervous first-year, short shorts, longer t-shirt, brown dress shoes, newly broken glasses taped together with white sports tape. He begins his first varsity tennis practice, he is excited. So excited in fact that he tips over the ball hopper while doing warm-ups, spilling tennis balls all over the court.

That’s when they started calling me ‘Trainwreck,’ coach wanted to call me ‘Shoes,’ but the team agreed on Trainwreck,. Andrew ‘Trainwreck’ Kessel ‘07 said.

See also Athlete of the Week (scroll down to “Week 29”) and Cobbers Beat Scots 7-2 in Moorhead . I never even played intramural sports in college, so I can only appreciate Andrew’s success vicariously.

Also, I’m now hosting a website for Jonah’s nascent photography business, Kessel Imaging. (Kids these days, they want to do everything with Flash! In my day, we hand-coded HTML and CSS.)