Freedom From Cell Phone Surprises – Wireless Users To Get Alerts Before Overage Charges

November 2, 2011

It has only taken 15 years, and a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission  for the mobile industry to step up to voluntarily providing consumers with a notice when they are nearing their monthly limits on voice, data or text plans, and are therefore at risk of incurring extra charges.

Over the past 18 months, the F.C.C. has looked into the issue of consumer “bill shock” that nasty feeling one gets when opening your monthly wireless statement and find unexpected overage charges in the tens, hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Wireless carriers will be able to choose from four methods of notifying consumers that they’re reaching their budgeted limits, but within the next twelve months the companies must have these notices started, and within 18 months all of the alerts must be in place. Equally important, the notices must be free of charge and automatic, though consumers can choose to opt out if they prefer.

This change in notification is critical at a time when smartphone and wireless tablet adoption is skyrocketing. As this illustration points out, smartphones use 24 times the data of a conventional cell phone, and tablets take 122 times more data than smart phones.

The enormous increase in data capacity and usage makes the risks of overage charges a significant and growing threat to consumer’s pocketbooks, particularly as the ‘all-you-can-eat’ phone plans are vanishing.

According to an FCC survey conducted in April-May of 2010, 30 million Americans have experienced cell phone bill shock. More than half those consumers saw an increase of $50 or more and 23% had unexpected charges of $100 or more.  In another report published in October 2010, the FCC data showed that 20% of the bill shock complaints it received during the first half of 2010 were for $1,000.

“Consumers have been telling us about ‘bill shock’ for a long time, and we’ve been pushing for reforms to crack down on the problem. Ultimately, this is about helping people protect their pocketbooks, so we applaud the F.C.C. and the industry for this effort to do right by consumers.” said Parul P. Desai, policy counsel for Consumers Union.

With hope on the horizon, it is still critical to keep a close tab on your data use.



Smartphone Users Are Mostly Young, Minorities, or Wealthy; This Needs to be Reflected in How We Teach Net Literacy

July 19, 2011

If you don’t have a smartphone, chances are you are older, white, less affluent, and don’t have a college degree according to new research by the Pew Research Center Internet & American Life Project. No longer primarily a status symbol, smartphones have become the primary internet access point for millions of users, but there are large differences between who uses these phones, and how they use them.

It turns out the phone you use says a lot about you, for example, you are likely to have a smartphone if:

  • You’re younger than 50 – more than half of 18-29-year-olds own smartphones, followed by 45% of 30-to-49-year-olds. For those over 50 there is a steep cliff; only 24% of 50-to-64-year-olds use a smartphone.
  • You earn over $75k – nearly 60% of American’s who earn over 75k own smartphones. The percentage drops to about 37% among those earning between $50 -$74k annually. Note: smartphone penetration is slightly higher (40%) in the next-lowest income bracket, those earning $30 – $49k annually; this may be due to this group using their smartphone more often as their primary internet connection.
  • You’re a college grad – nearly half (48%) of college grads own smartphones, compared to 38% of those with some college education, 27% of high school grads, and 18% of those with less than a high school diploma.
  • You live in an urban or suburban area – geography matters; 38% of both suburban and urban residents own smartphones compared to 21% of rural residents.
  • You aren’t white – 44% of both blacks and Hispanics have smartphones; nearly 50% higher than the 30% smartphone ownership rate found among whites.

How you use your phone also says a lot about you. You are more likely to use your smartphone as your primary means of connecting to the internet if:

  • You’re younger than 30 – 42% of 18-to-29-year-olds say they most often use their smartphone for web access, which is twice as often as 30-to-49-year-olds (21%) and more than four times as often as smartphone owners 50 and older (10%).
  • You are in the lowest income bracket – 40% of smartphone owners with a household income less than $30,000 a year use their phone as their primary internet access, compared to 29% of those earning between $30 – $49k  and 17% of smartphone owners with household income more than $50k
  • You belong to an ethnic minority – 38% of black and Latino smartphone owners primarily use their phones for web access, more than double the 17% of white smartphone owners who do so.
  • You are less educated – 33% of smartphone owners with only a high school diploma primarily use their phones for web access compared to 27% of smartphone owners with some college education, and 13% of smartphone owners with a college degree.

These findings have significant implications for how we teach and implement online safety, security, privacy and digital citizenship.

Beyond simply being interesting stats, the picture painted by the data has significant bearing on how companies need to display their privacy settings and terms of use, how proposed legislation is developed, the importance of mobile security tools, and how online safety, security, privacy, digital literacy and ethics are taught at school and implemented in homes.

For companies:

  • How are you going to ensure that mobile only users can easily read your terms of use and privacy policies, and select their safety settings? The small screen experience needs to be optimized to give users easy control.
  • If the least wealthy are the most likely to use the phone as their primary access, how does the cost of mobile security apps impact their ability to protect their devices, their identities, and their sensitive information? They will need free, or very low cost, mobile security apps. Should these be offered as a bundle in their service? How will you drive awareness of this need?

For Regulators:

  • Writing legislative proposals about internet safety, security, privacy or education that does not fully cover mobile internet experiences and risks is unacceptably shortsighted. Even when using the same technologies and services as computers, mobile devices bring their own set of risks and opportunities into play and these must be addressed simultaneously.

For parents:

For Schools:

  • Blocking technology is not the answer, yet far too many schools still think this is the best course of action. We need to teach students to be capable digital citizens on all internet devices to be prepared for the workforce environment they will step into. You must figure out how to embrace and incorporate technology.
  • Recognizing that the way youth use technologies, the amount of time they spend on technologies, and the economic divide in the use and access of technologies is critical in effectively incorporating technology as a learning tool – particularly for minority youth. To learn more, see my blog Minority Youth Spend 13 Hours A day With Media – 4 ½ More than White Youth – What Does this Mean for Their Future?
  • Kids can readily use technologies, but that does not mean they understand the real risks or consequences that can accompany these tools. It is absurd that teaching internet safety/security/privacy/digital literacy/ethics is not mandatory in every school. To help you address this shortfall, the LOOKBOTHWAYS FOUNDATION has begun creating the K-12 NetSkills4Life curriculum, made freely available to schools, families, organizations and the public. The first two online interactive lessons for 6th graders are in place, and we will be rolling out more lessons for all grades as quickly as we can and funding is available.


Broadband Adoption Jumps to 75 Percent of US Consumers

January 18, 2011

A bright spot in internet news, the Nielsen Company’s new “State of the Media 2010″ report indicates a 10% jump in high speed internet adoption among consumers in 2010, up from 65% reported in an FCC study in 2009 (Learn more in my blog Stats on Broadband Adoption and Use in America from March 2010).

Nielsen’s research also indicates another 5% of consumers anticipate purchasing high speed internet access in the near future, which would bring the total percentage of US consumers using high speed access to 80%.

As a nation, the broad adoption of high speed internet is critical to our competitive standing in global competition.  As individuals, high speed access is critical to participation in our world.

There are still 25% (Hopefully soon to be 20%) of Consumers without high speed access

With 1-in-4 consumers still without high speed access – whether by choice or due to lack of access – we have a long way to go bridge the digital divide.  This requires us to continue to address affordability issues, provide community access points through libraries, schools, and other resources, help show the value of high speed access, and address the clear safety and values concerns among the non-adopters. The FCC’s study found that nearly half of Americans who remain offline do so in part because they fear “all the bad things that can happen on the Internet”.

These concerns are not solely the domain of non-adopters. Among those who are already online, the survey found that 65% strongly agree there is too much pornography and offensive material on the Internet. And 57% strongly agree that it is too easy for their personal information to be stolen online, while 46% strongly agree that the Internet is too dangerous for children.

To drive adoption, focus must be placed on three additional fronts: education, infrastructure and enforcement.

Education: Service providers should be encouraged to provide site specific, easily discoverable about the benefits of internet access and clear safety information. This information should be provided in Spanish as well as English on the ISP’s websites, with material targeted to specific demographic groups – not just kids and parents, but seniors, adults, and those with unique opportunities or risks.

Public service announcements and public awareness campaigns focus on two areas: informing consumers about the tremendous benefits of online access, as well as teaching core self-protective measures such as recognizing a phishing scam or teaching consumers to identify how information leaks, and avoid posting personal information in public access websites.

Infrastructure: Service providers should be motivated to enhance their services’ infrastructure to include robust security and safety functionality – such as built-in antivirus software and personal/family safety settings – for all accounts. Companies should be encouraged to innovate and seek competitive advantage on the safety front — and emphasize that innovation in their marketing.

Enforcement: The FCC needs to coordinate with the appropriate agencies to ensure that law enforcement at the local, state and national levels are provided the manpower, training, and resources needed to adequately respond to online crimes. Consumers need to feel assured that crimes committed against them online will not go unpunished.

Service providers should be encouraged to enforce their terms of service policies – today most sites have lofty terms, but fail to adequately enforce these – and an unenforced policy is worse than no policy at all as it creates a false sense of safety.

Service providers should also be encouraged to improve their site moderation and develop technologies to identify and respond to abuses as they occur, as well as providing parents with filtering tools and providing information enabling them to monitor and set clear rules for children’s use.

Until consumers are convinced of the relevance of broadband access in their lives, and are convinced that they can go online safely we will continue to see too large a gap between the government’s access goals and consumer’s adoption rates.


Use of Mobile Banking Increases – Are You Protected?

November 30, 2010

Consumers have become more confident about using their mobile phones for banking transactions according to new research from The Nielsen Company. This trend is also outlined in a recent white paper from Juniper Research that projects the number of worldwide mobile phone users who perform mobile banking will double from 200 million this year to 400 million in 2013. In the U.S., it is the more affluent consumers who are leading the charge, but in the rest of the world, it’s far more likely to be the norm for all users.

For consumers, the appeal of mobile banking is clear; it’s convenient, and empowers us through real-time balance checks and transfers of funds, and provides a more consistent banking experience. However, with all these benefits come risks that every mobile user of financial services should be aware of, and take precautions against.

The risks are pretty straightforward: crooks want your cash and/or your credit – and they’re willing to go to some work to try collecting the information they need to steal it.

Ask yourself three questions before transacting through your phone:

  • Is your phone secure? As more consumers use smart phones, and a few key market leaders emerge, malware targeting phones will continue to increase. Be sure you have up-to-date security software, which means antivirus and anti-spyware protection installed.
  • Do you have a secure password/PIN? Every phone should have a password lock to prevent others from using it. However, if you have any sensitive information stored on your phone, you need to be particularly diligent in ensuring your phone’s password is strong.  See my blog Safe passwords don’t have to be hard to create; just hard to guess. Then, don’t share your password with anyone or respond to any e-mail requesting that information.
  • Is your connection secure? If you are surfing over your phone carrier’s network, you are quite safe, however, if you are using WiFi to connect, be sure you know and trust the WiFi connection. Do Not use a public WiFi for financial transactions. See my blog Like Lambs to the Slaughter? Firesheep Lets Anyone be a Hacker

If you’ve successfully answered all of the above then you’re off to a good start. The bottom line: Before you conduct your most sensitive financial transactions you need to be absolutely certain both the Internet connection and the mobile device or computer you’re using is secure. If you don’t have 100 percent confidence – don’t take the chance.