This month’s Net Work Internet (and more) magazine column highlights practical problems with online payments, and we investigate some ‘dark patterns’ that try to manipulate our online behaviour and choices. We visit some live auctions, too!
A few weeks ago I found myself helping an elderly lady to shop for a house insurance policy, so I searched online for the best deal. As she lives in an isolated rural farm without Internet access or a mobile phone, I started off by ‘casting’ some insurer’s web pages onto my smart TV home in my own lounge. This is easy to do using the browser’s More… Cast… menu (a Google Chromecast dongle or similar can be used if needed).
< Web browser pages can be cast onto a smart TV on the same network by using the browser’s More… Cast menu.
The first hurdle was that the lady had no email address, so I used my own. Next came the secure payment page which called for debit card details. No problem there either, until the two-factor authentication (2FA) applet popped up demanding to send (SMS) confirmation to the lady’s phone number. At this point my cunning plan crumbled, because a landline number was showing and obviously I couldn’t collect the 2FA call on the farm’s landline.
Back at her farm again, using my smartphone as a Wi-Fi hotspot, I entered the debit card details again and waited for the 2FA call. There was no such luck and inevitably a long phone call to an overseas call centre followed. Ultimately I personally had to jump through some ID hoops of my own to allow my own mobile number to be added to the lady’s bank account details. After one last try the 2FA text finally arrived on my own mobile phone and the transaction was completed.
I mentioned that a smartphone, when paired to the car’s dash, also allows a car’s web browser app to go online when parked up. Other methods include using Android Auto, depending on compatibility. (Image, right). I’ll be looking at this again in the near future.
^ the former strap-line of the John Lewis chain store.
The drive towards going ‘paperless’ then saw an 80-page PDF insurance policy (and more besides) land in my In Box, with an all-important hard copy was promised in the post. To its credit, the insurer (John Lewis/ Munich Re) https://www.johnlewisfinance.com/insurance.html was the only one that made it very simple to assign policy management to a trusted third party such as myself (equipped with web and email), which would let me deal with future issues online on her behalf.
This illustrated some of the technological hurdles and ‘gotchas’ that even the most organised people face when trying to carry out routine business online. The assumption is that everyone has access to a smartphone or PC, email, a PDF reader and 2FA all set up and waiting. Without these things, conducting one’s business becomes much more difficult.
Elsewhere in Britain it’s reported that increasing numbers of town councils are doing away with ‘Pay & Display’ car parking machines (ones that accept coins) altogether, in favour of forcing motorists to use apps instead. Some more enlightened authorities offer app-based parking alongside coin-based machines that print proper tickets, which is probably the best compromise. The website In Your Area has more to say on this at https://tinyurl.com/n8runjdx.
Online sellers and marketers have developed all sorts of hidden and deceptive methods to steer website users down a particular route, highlighting some options while downplaying others or omitting them altogether. The term dark patterns is fast catching on to describe techniques used by web sites, apps or software to influence or manipulate a user’s behaviour into doing something they might not otherwise do (usually, signing up or buying something or giving up information). America’s Federal Trade Commission published an interesting précis of a “dark patterns workshop” event held back in 2021, which you can read at https://tinyurl.com/2p8vm46c.
I identify some of the most-used dark patterns in this month’s column. Smart online consumers are gradually learning how to recognise this manipulative design behaviour. The leading expert on ‘dark pattern’ design is the English independent consultant Harry Brignull who has also campaigned against and exposed many unethical dark patterns. You can learn more at the website https://www.deceptive.design
Springtime usually brings with it the urge for some domestic spring-cleaning, de-cluttering and generally having a good clear-out. This month I suggest a few ways of selling unwanted stuff online. Amazon stopped its Book Trade-In service but start-up booksellers might try registering as a seller on Amazon as a sideline, sourcing used books from eg friends, jumble sales or charity shops, see https://sell.amazon.com/learn/how-to-sell-books.
There’s also a serious warning this month for anyone thinking of selling expensive or sought-after items on eBay.
Rather than selling on eBay, there’s always the option of using traditional auctioneers instead. Local auction houses are buzzing with trade and, thanks to the advent of online access, it’s never been easier to watch or participate in real-time auctions conducted by reputable bricks-and-mortar auctioneers.
^ The Yorkshire Auction House, as seen on TV, is one of many auctioneers offering live auction feeds over the web. Thousands more are listed on via auction aggregator web portals.
Well-known ‘aggregator’ auction services include The Sale Room (https://www.the-saleroom.com/en-gb) and Easy Live Auction (https://www.easyliveauction.com) which offer an online front-end for many thousands of auctions being held around the world. It’s easy to drop in on an auction without registering, and sometimes the excitement of seeing lots going under the hammer can be more interesting than watching TV, if you like that sort of thing.
In case you’re not aware, auction fees are payable by both buyers and sellers, say 20% + VAT or more (see https://www.the-saleroom.com/en-gb/how-to/how-do-auction-charges-work).
The name behind the Yorkshire Auction House TV series mentioned this month is Ryedale Auctioneers based at Kirkbymoorside, North Yorkshire and upcoming auctions can be viewed at www.ryedaleauctioneers.com. I tune in every fortnight!
It’s enormously saddening to report that Virgin Orbit has ceased operations following the aborted attempt to launch satellites into orbit from Cornwall in England earlier this year. Net Work has charted the progress of Virgin Orbit since September 2021 after they used a 747 to put an array of satellites into low earth orbit, using an ordinary runway instead of a vertical launch pad. As readers know, the Cornwall ‘Start Me Up’ mission sadly ended in failure, most likely because of a faulty fuel filter. Virgin Orbit is now seeking Chapter 11 protection while attempts are made to sell the business. It would be a terrible shame to lose this expertise, but the only hope left is that another space programme might buy the know-how and assets and take the concept forward.
Yet another Chinese EV brand might be heading to our shores, with luxury maker HiPhi plotting to launch in Britain. They are aimed at high-technology lovers and cars include highly advanced features such as warnings projected onto the road, and facial recognition of drivers. The Chinese website at https://www.hiphi.com fortunately has English pages (if not videos). An insight into what’s coming is the HiPhi X (scroll down).
I learn that the UK electric vehicle charging network Osprey is ramping up the delivery of EV charging points, having delivered 142 new ones in just 10 weeks this year, the same number as it installed in the whole of 2022, they state. A further 50 are due in April. More information can be found at https://www.ospreycharging.co.uk.
Predictably, it didn’t take criminals long to realise that valuable cables can be stolen from the boots (trunks) of EVs or even while the car is charging up. The high-grade copper they contain can sell for £50 or more, and complete cables can fetch £200 on the black market. Domestic wall chargers themselves are also being stolen. A ‘This Is Money’ article explains more at https://tinyurl.com/2jb8vz22. The online vendor EV Cables offers plenty of technical guidance and can ship all manner of replacement cables across Europe, see https://evcables.com.
For full details, check the Net Work column in this month’s Practical Electronics magazine. See you next month for more Net Work!