Taking down the weasels: Google sues the scam artists

Better late than never. Credit goes to ReadWriteWeb for being the first place where I read about this recent development.

It’s rare I find something a large corporation does that is worthy of praise, but this is one such situation. The official Google blog reveals that, finally, the corporate behemoth has decided it’s time to drag the weasels into court. Yes, weasels. Anyone remember those posts? (It’s a three-part series, in case you weren’t around in April when I first posted them.)

I lament that it took Google at least eight months to catch on to what was obviously dubious appropriation of their trademark. In fact, with the inclusion of “Google” in the dictionary, the company has already come dangerously close to losing its trademark.

At least, we hope, a few scam artists will be bankrupt shortly, and the sunlight from Google’s official blog will probably scare the rest of them into hiding for a while.

The shell game played by ticketing service providers

Two recent posts I’ve read, this one from Jeff Balke and this one from TicketStumbler, got me curious about the fees that Ticketmaster charges.

Very telling indeed are quotes like these from Jeff:

But, $8.60 PER TICKET for “convenience charges???” What the hell is convenient about that?

and this one from the TicketStumbler article:

But, this isn’t all Ticketmaster’s fault. Ticketmaster has tried switching to a pricing model where all or most of the convenience fees are built in to the face value ticket price. The end price would be the exact same, but the ticket buying experience would be significantly more transparent and mostly spared of backloaded fees. Unfortunately, this sort of pricing structure has been met with opposition from the artists and venues who don’t want to raise prices, or rather don’t want the appearance of raising prices. When the face value cost is lower, it’s much easier for the artists and venues to shift blame towards Ticketmaster for “excessive fees” even if the artists and venues are getting a cut.

I’m not sure where the blame really lies here. It seems like a huge finger-pointing game between Ticketmaster (or Live Nation, etc), the artists, and the venues. Ticketmaster tries transparency, and the artists and venues cry foul because it looks like the prices went up, even though it always cost in the neighborhood of $40-42 to buy what is labeled a $30 ticket.

It’s sad to say, but the only answer here may be truth-in-advertising legislation, to level the playing field for everyone. I can understand why people avoid some concerts; this is a shell game that ticketing agencies should not be allowed to play. I would deem one of two solutions to be more acceptable and fair (and I’m using a generic “Provider” to include Ticketmaster, Live Nation, and similar services for neutrality):

  1. Roll the fees everyone pays no matter what into the ticket’s face value, and allow Provider to show a separate line-item convenience fee specifically for their service. Ideally, this would be labeled “Provider’s convenience fee” (or whoever is doing the ticketing) with a full disclosure to include wording similar to “Provider charges a convenience fee for their service, and this is the only amount Provider keeps. The face value of the ticket goes to the artist and venue.” This fee would include what is today charged as part of the convenience fee and order-processing fee (if the graphic in the TicketStumbler post is taken as truth).

  2. Roll all fees into the ticket’s face value, and offer discounts off of this for multiple ticket orders or venue box office transactions. In this case a full disclosure would read along the lines of “The ticket price includes convenience and processing fees charged by Provider. Ticket prices may be lower through the venue’s box office or other services.”

Either way, fees like the TicketFast fee are outrageous and should be barred by law. This actually saves Ticketmaster and others that offer a similar option money by allowing one to print one’s own tickets at one’s own computer.

(I have heard of the convenience fee being charged even to those buying tickets at the venue, but was unable to locate a specific example. If anyone knows of one, please do comment or send me a message via the contact form.)

The exposure of a weasel, part 1

On a recent visit to Facebook, I stumbled across an ad which links to a Web site jasongetsrich.com showing a $5000 check from Google, and the opening line “Get paid $5 to $30 for every website link that you post on Google.”

The most obvious item I found, however, was that the paragraph after the check said “Thank you for visiting my site. This is Jason Hoeffer from .” Exactly as so, without the city name. It made me wonder what was going on.

I browse on Firefox (and another similar browser, Iceweasel) with NoScript. Allowing Javascript temporarily to all the sites using Javascript from this page filled in that blank space with “Houston.” Well, I’m in Houston. I wonder if that’s coincidence? Could Jason Hoeffer really be from my hometown?

Looking in the HTML source code revealed that the city name was inserted with a bit of off-site Javascript. My skepticism that this Jason Hoeffer guy is really from Houston just grew tremendously. Someone legitimate should not need to use Javascript to insert the city where he or she is from.

Retreiving the script (by itself) via Tor a few times confirmed what I thought. I got Vienna, Paris, and Columbus on three separate attempts. Someone from outside Houston has confirmed that indeed, for her Jason is from a city near where she lives.

The ad may well be off Facebook by now, as I reported this to them.

Morals: don’t take everything at face value, and browse with Javascript off by default. Sometimes, it’s best to assume someone is a pathological liar until you have hard evidence otherwise.

But there’s even more. (To be continued in part 2…)