Uber gets an F from the Better Business Bureau

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Customers call in a slew of complaints about the ride-sharing service -- ranging from allegedly being overcharged by hundreds of dollars to having troubles with customer service.

arrivingnowsanfrancisco.pngUber users complain of not being notified of surge pricing before getting a ride. Uber

One sure way businesses will get a low grade from the Better Business Bureau is to rack up customer complaints. And this appears to be the case with Uber.

The Better Business Bureau revealed this week that it's given the ride-sharing service an F rating -- on a scale of A+ to F. The main reason for this failing grade is based on nearly 100 complaints the bureau has received about Uber over the past three years.

The Better Business Bureau is a 100-year-old organization that aims to be an unbiased resource for consumers on various businesses. It isn't affiliated with the government and doesn't have any regulatory powers.

Since launching five years ago, Uber has grown at a swift pace. It's gone from having cars drive around a handful of US cities to being in more than 200 cities in 45 countries. The company now claims to cover 55 percent of the US population with its offering. But with this growth has come scrutiny from regulators, drivers and passengers.

"Consumer complaints allege misunderstanding Uber Technologies' pricing, being misinformed about the overall cost of the services rendered, and not being made aware of 'surge pricing,'" the bureau wrote on its website. "Some consumers claim that they were told the final cost of the transportation service the company provided...only to be subsequently charged a substantially larger amount."

The bureau published the complaints on its website. Of the 90 complaints the bureau has dealt with, 80 were within the last year. By far, most grievances were about billing issues, 43, and problems with the product, 38. Customers also complained of having difficulty contacting Uber's customer service and having their cases closed even though the issue wasn't resolved.

In one case from last week, a customer alleged they were charged $710 for a 9-mile ride and weren't notified of surge pricing, which is a temporary increase in fare rates during rush hour and other high-traffic times. Uber says it repeatedly tells users when surge pricing is in place and customers must confirm they know of the higher fares before they can request a trip. However, the customer claiming to be charged $710 alleges the app didn't mention surge pricing.

"I was not notified of any surcharge and once I learned about it, the customer service refused to refund my money," the complaint reads. "The best they have done is to refund $177, which is still not enough when the policy clearly states that I should be notified of the surcharges. $532.50 is still an outrageous price to pay for a 9.7 mile drive."

Besides the high amount of complaints from consumers, the bureau said other factors that lowered Uber's ratings were the length of time it's been operating and its failure to respond to 30 of the complaints filed against it.

When asked to comment on Uber's F rating, an Uber spokeswoman said the company makes sure to review user feedback.

"Uber's direct channel for two-way feedback is regularly reviewed and acted on to ensure a high-quality experience," the Uber spokeswoman said. "The fact is that consumers in 220 cities around the world have made their opinion known by taking millions of rides with Uber."

Uber's competitor Lyft has also received an F rating from the Better Business Bureau. However, the bureau has received only five complaints about Lyft over the past three years. Yellow Cab in San Francisco also got an F from the bureau, but, like Lyft, had only five complaints in the last three years.

Dara Kerr is a staff writer for CNET focused on the sharing economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado where she developed an affinity for collecting fool's gold and spirit animals.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Posted by tnakus raarsk

Lottery opens for first Toyota fuel-cell vehicle

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Environmental organization EMA sponsors a contest to win Toyota's first production fuel-cell vehicle, at $100 per entry.

Toyota FCV ConceptToyota took the wraps off its Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV) Concept at CES 2014. Tim Hornyak/CNET

Toyota showed the world its upcoming FCV fuel-cell vehicle during CES earlier this year, and now the first owner will be decided through a drawing being conducted by the Environmental Media Association (EMA). Restricted to California residents, entries can be registered at the Bidding For Good site for a fee of $100 each.

The car is being used to raise funds for the EMA, an organization that raises environmental awareness through the use of celebrities and media. Only 1,000 entries are available on the site, and the contest closes on October 18.

During a press conference at CES, Toyota showed a prototype of the FCV, and said it will go on sale in 2015. Presumably, at this time the winner of the contest will also receive the car.

The FCV prototype shown at CES was a four-door sedan with exterior lines that appear optimized for aerodynamics. As a fuel-cell vehicle, the car will use an electric motor to drive the wheels, with electricity generated from a fuel cell. The fuel cell harnesses the reaction of combining hydrogen and oxygen to make electricity. That reaction produces water as its waste product.

Toyota's only details about the FCV note it can go 310 miles from its two tanks of hydrogen gas. Filling those tanks takes 3 to 5 minutes.

The contest is restricted to California residents due to the existing hydrogen filling infrastructure in the state.

Development of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles hit a peak last decade, with most automakers exploring the technology. Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in the technology from Toyota and Hyundai.

Honda has been offering leases of its FCX Clarity fuel-cell vehicle in Southern California since 2008, although fewer than 100 are on the road.

Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET. Prior to the Car Tech beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine. He's also the author of "Vaporware," a novel that's available as a Nook e-book.

Monday, October 13, 2014
Posted by tnakus raarsk

Google rivals get help with antitrust campaign -- from Google

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As European regulators ponder Google's fate in a probe into the search giant's business practices, a Yelp-led group of competitors takes to the company's Chrome store to make a point.

screen-shot-2014-10-09-at-12-54-31-pm.pngThe Yelp-led consortium argues that Google gives preferential treatment to Google in search results. Focus on the User/Screenshot by CNET

A consortium of Google's rivals -- including review sites Yelp and TripAdvisor -- is using the company's own platform to help further its cause against the search giant.

Focus on the User, a group united against Google's alleged anti-competitive practices, last week unveiled a software tool that works with Google's Chrome browser. The software uses Google's own algorithms to make sure more third-party sites are included in top search results when you're using Chrome -- Focus on the User claims that Google doesn't promote sites fairly in its search results.

That's not the only way the group is using Google's services: as of earlier this week, the software is available as an app that can be downloaded from Google's Chrome store. In order for the software to be distributed on the store, Google had to approve it.

Google didn't respond to a request for comment.

Focus on the User -- which also includes Switzerland-based travel site HolidayCheck and digital rights groups like Fight for the Future -- was formed last week in response to antitrust issues in the European Union concerning how Google displays search results. A spokesman for the consortium told CNET two new French reviews sites, Bebe et Tournevis and Allogarage.fr, joined the group on Thursday.

Their main complaint is that the company allegedly gives priority to search results based on reviews generated by its Google+ social network -- even when Google's own search algorithms would deem outside links more valuable. The Focus on the User tool forces Google's search engine to rank results generated by the "top local review sites" -- which includes sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor -- by running all of the results through Google's general search algorithm. This avoids what they claim is a bias toward Google+ offerings.

"Given we know it's both possible to power local answers with the organic algorithm and consumers prefer it, why is Google requiring users to install special software to get the answers they want?" a spokesman for Focus on the User told CNET.

screen-shot-2014-10-08-at-3-59-50-pm.pngThe group's Chrome plug-in is now available for download at Google's Chrome Web store. Screenshot by CNET

In February, Google reached a tentative settlement with European regulators after a 4-year-old investigation into whether the search giant favored its own products and services over those of competitors in search results. As part of the proposed settlement, Google agreed to display search results for three of its rivals in a "comparable" way whenever it promoted its own services. Google's services include Google+ and YouTube. However, the search giant didn't have to pay a fine of up to $6 billion, or 10 percent of the company's global sales.

But Google's settlement proposals -- they've made three attempts so far -- have come under fire. Opponents include European politicians, competitors like Microsoft, and French and German publishers who say the response has been too lax. In September, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told Google that if the commission wasn't satisfied with its next settlement proposal, the company could face formal charges -- which includes the possibility of the $6 billion fine.

The investigation in Europe underscores a concern over Google's expansive reach, and its ability to use its position as the world's largest search engine to stifle competition. But its competitors use of Google services -- the group's informational videos are hosted by Google-owned YouTube as well -- highlights a philosophy that has guided Google since its founding: platforms should be open. (Google's Android, the most widely used mobile operating system in the world, is a famously open-source project, though it too may soon be the target of competition regulators in Europe.)

Focus on the User -- the name comes from one of Google's early mantras -- called Google's decision to distribute the software through the Chrome store "ironic." The group cites Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, telling Congress in 2011 that the company tends to use its own data sources to drive search results "because [Google] can't engineer it any other way." But that isn't the case, Focus on the User claims.

"The truth is Google can organically power its local answers using data sources from across the Web," Focus on the User said. While the groups' Chrome plug-in isn't perfect, it does prove that the content in Google's display of search results for local businesses can be culled and ranked from sources other than Google+, the spokesman said.

Users who searched Google with the plug-in installed were more likely to click on other links beyond the ones for Google-owned services, the group notes.

Before the plug-in went live on Monday, the software was still available for the public to download, just not as easily. It was available on the consortium's GitHub site, a service where people can download open-source programming projects.

Meanwhile, the European review of Google's practices continues. The final decision will fall to former Danish economy minister Margrethe Vestager, who takes over from Almunia as the EU's competition chief in November. It's unclear what her stance on Google is, but she has talked about the commission's priorities.

"We have to make sure that there is a high degree of security in relation to personal data," Vestager told The Wall Street Journal. "That there is a high degree of confidence from the people that the competition rules and regulations on market fairness are actually being enforced."

Richard Nieva is a staff writer for CNET. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times and on CJR.org.

Posted by tnakus raarsk

The 404 Show 1,564: Ghostbusters 3, NY Comic Con, the death of Saturday morning cartoons (podcast)

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Today we're talking about the official news that a new Ghostbusters movie is being made. We'll also preview New York Comic Con and discuss why Saturday morning cartoons are going the way of the buffalo.

Tesla event shows off AutoPilot, all-wheel-drive 'D' option (pictures)

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Get ready for Windows 10

Do you have questions about Microsoft's upcoming OS 10? We got a sneak peek and have the answers.

Online trolls are narcissists, sadists and psychopaths, says study

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Recently published research from Canada suggests trolls have something wrong with them. Well, a lot. But don't we all?

troll5.jpgNot for nothing are those who create disturbance on the Web called trolls. TheFearChamber/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Web culture has enjoyed putting new names to things.

It makes Web people feel like their not merely re-inventing the world but actually inventing it.

And so the word "troll" was born. This was the supposedly new phenomenon of people who appeared online -- most often anonymously -- to annoy, terrorize, insult, defame and generally nauseate.

It wasn't long, therefore, before academics needed to label these beings with a scientific-sounding name. I'm grateful, therefore, to Psychology Today for pointing me to a piece of research from the University of Manitoba in Canada.

After two dainty analyses among 1,200 people on the Web, the results were summated under the title "Trolls Just Want To Have Fun."

The researchers sought to discover whether trolls were, in layman's terms, a touch nuts. Specifically, did they evoke aspects of narcissism, sadism, psychopathy and even that greatest of corporate traits, Machiavellianism.

You will be stunned into commenting with words of many syllables when I tell you that those who claimed that Web trolling was their favorite activity (there are, allegedly, people like this) showed the most of the above tendencies.

The trolls evinced aspects of all the so-called Dark Tetrad of personality. But the worst trolls turned out to be the most extreme sadists.

The researchers even ventured to suggest: "Online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists." And you thought it was bosses. But have you ever checked whether your boss is, in fact, an online troll? Ask the nice bearded man in IT. He'll find out for you.

At the heart of trolling is the idea of making you feel terrible about yourself so that they can feel better. Naturally, in order for them to feel fully better, they need to know that you feel terrible about yourself. Therefore, your reactions must play a part in their pleasure.

Yes, trolling is just like sex. Well, somewhat.

You might feel better when I tell you that the research also said that there was no relationship between normal online chatting or debating and sadism.

I, though, want to tell you about my personal philosopher. He's a short, gray-haired man, a martial arts master and an eager student of nuclear physics. I turn to him once a week for guidance. He's cheaper than a shrink and the wine's better.

He has one phrase to sum life up: "You can never fight human nature."

My own research, therefore, offers this sad thought about online trolls: they say and do what quite a few more people think. They enact many of the feelings that fester inside those who fight those feelings on a daily basis -- or at least articulating those thoughts.

This is not to defend them. They manage to emit daily ugliness with all the insecure glee of the bully and the misplaced chest-pumping of the drunk who's just tipped over a garbage can at three in the morning.

They hurt gratuitously and take pleasure in it. In doing so, though, they offer up their own essential emptiness.

The good people are the ones who know that they're not all that good but try to be most of time. Trolls just can't be bothered. Well, most trolls. Some actually do claim they're doing good.

Chris Matyszczyk is an award-winning creative director who advises major corporations on content creation and marketing. He brings an irreverent, sarcastic, and sometimes ironic voice to the tech world.

Tomorrow Daily 066: Smart trucks, added value VR experiences, flying cars, and more

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