An Experience With an MOT Centre and Yell

I had a bad experience with Auto Repair Medway and posted a critical review on Yell. This is what followed.

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Above is a so-called Reviews policy from the online business directory Yell.com.

Below is an email from Akash Methre which I was not expecting to receive.

 

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On the 29th November 2019 at 15:51 GMT, I called Auto Repair Medway in Strood, Kent to book an MOT for my car. Here’s a transcript:

"Auto Repair."
"Good afternoon, my name's Alex. I'm calling to book an MOT please."
"And which day?"
"Uh, pardon?"
[Aggressive tone] "Which day do you want to book your MOT?"
"Friday the 6th of December please."
"I got Friday, but I can't understand the date you're saying."
[Slowly] "Friday the 6th December."
"Yeah, your phone is shit mate. What car is it?"
"Don't worry, I'll find somewhere else."
"What?"
[I hang up]

In response to the poor customer service, I took my experience online and shared it on Yell, the first result when searching for the business. Here is the review below, now faded due to its censorship. Comically, the so-called policy states that “we do not monitor, censor or moderate reviews” despite doing exactly that – censoring.

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Critical review posted on Yell.

Allegedly, this review “does not appear to comply with Yell’s Reviews Policy.” I thoroughly read the so-called Reviews Policy linked at https://www.yell.com/help/reviews/guidelines/. I gauged that describing them as “Medway’s lowest” is the only connection Akash Methre could make to the review being offensive. Therefore, I will post another review with the phrase removed and see if it is censored again.

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Strapline of Auto Repair Medway’s Yell listing

Then something peculiar caught my attention. The business listing for Auto Repair Medway Ltd encapsulates 46 five-star reviews. The amount of four, three, two, and one star reviews? None whatsoever. One’s logical conclusion to this is that other critical reviews have been censored in the same way. There is no doubt that others have been met with dismay at Auto Repair Medway and would want to share it online. The Yell page for the business is the second result when searching on the Google UK engine. My review’s removal within two weeks of posting implies that either Auto Repair Medway or Yell is efficient at intercepting and censoring online critics.

This begs the question: is Yell paid to remove critical reviews? Has Auto Repair Medway exchanged any money to have their business listed on their directory?

Firstly, I looked at the mutual benefit. Yell benefits from having businesses loyal to their site because more business listings attracts more clicks, thus more advertising revenue. Auto Repair Medway gains a larger online presence from Yell when people search for MOT centres in Medway.

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The footer of https://www.autorepairmedway.co.uk/ (Use of this image is allowed under Sections 29 and 30 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988)

Secondly, I examined all of Auto Repair Medway’s online presence. I found that Auto Repair Medway has paid Yell for some online services. Their website https://www.autorepairmedway.co.uk/ is “powered by Yell Business.” Websites and hosting are not free, therefore Auto Repair Medway is paying Yell in some form for web hosting and SEO.

Lastly, I researched Yell’s paid services. It transpired that Yell charges an extortionate amount of money for its services. The Auto Repair Medway website uses their template design wherein the designer only has to fill in boxes:

“powered by yell business” auto centre

According to Trustpilot reviews on Yell, they charge about a thousand pounds annually for their website building services. Hosting a domain and being listed on Google, Bing, and Yahoo does not cost thousands. My blog’s domain and hosting on WordPress costs less than £30 a year and appears in search engines when you type ‘Warped Hero.” If I paid for premium hosting on here, Wix, or SquareSpace, it would cost more but would still be more affordable than with Yell.

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Over a thousand pounds to use Yell to build a template design website.

Google Ads would be a better investment than having Yell list you on their website mixed with other businesses and build a template website. I tested an ad campaign targeting users within a seven mile radius under the example of an MOT centre and received the following prices:

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Options given by Google Ads to run an advert for an auto centre targeting an audience in and around Strood, Kent.

Running the advert for one month with 390-670 potential customers costs £274. Running it every month annually would cost £3288. Naturally, if you were a startup you would only need to run the advert for a month or two to attract brand loyalty. The advert would not be run every month annually. With this form of advertising, you would also have access to analytics so that you can tell how the adverts are performing with click-through rates, demographics, and other metrics.

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Cheaper options than the ones listed are also available.
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The focus of this image is £2097.70 for a template website.

Through research, Yell suggests using Google Analytics to track user engagement. Why use Yell in the first place if you can just use Google Analytics with your own site that you can build yourself for cheaper?

There is no definitive evidence here that Medway Auto Repair pays Yell to remove critical reviews. However, after examining Yell’s business practice, it would not be out of the question to assume that Yell protects their paid business listings in such a way – to keep brand images for both Yell and their business listings positive. Businesses are paying a premium for a service that can be done cheaper and better elsewhere. It is in Yell’s interest to retain as many paying clients as possible. By being lenient on businesses abusing the report function, their clients are more likely to be happy and thus keep their contract.

Unique Usernames and People Who Want Them

One phenomenon I’ve come across on the internet are unique usernames and the logistics behind people or businesses wanting to steal them, swap them, or purchase them for themselves. Such examples are Moz, Mozilla, Fred, Cosmic Panda, etc.

In 2007, the ‘moz’ username on Twitter.com was taken by Swedish web user Per Mosseby. At some point in either 2012 or 2013, the username was taken over by an SEO business also called Moz.

I had this happen to me on a lesser known web forum for Google Maps. One day I logged in to find a screen forcing me to create a username, but I already had one called ‘Alexander’ which I thought I would cleverly grab while the forum was new. I typed it into the screen, since I assumed I had already ‘owned’ it and it cannot be given to anyone else (turns out it can).

I was greeted with this:

stealers

Therefore, I can only assume that a Google employee or moderator desired the username and took it from me to use it for his/her own account.

People will go great lengths to grab unique usernames online. There have been times when a large business or public figure will somehow quietly steal the username. For example Fred on YouTube was famously given the ‘Fred’ username, which was forcibly taken from its original owner.

However, sometimes businesses will use diplomacy to try and acquire a username. Web user foszor posted online that when Twitter was new, he took the username Mozilla.’ Time passed, and he was contacted by a lawyer for the business. He had tweeted foszor asking him to send an email, then deleted the tweet afterwards. It ended up being a legitimate dialogue for exchanging the username. In return for giving up ‘Mozilla,’ foszor received “2 t-shirts, 3 buttons and some stickers.”

He also mentions that he had the ‘CBS’ username, and that it was stolen from him without any conversation.

The standard procedure businesses go through to acquire usernames is to contact the site and say that they want their trademarked name for themselves. For example, with Instagram you would have to go through a trademark infringement form.

Here is an interesting article about someone who had his rare username stolen through social engineering.

Saudi Arabia is Changing

I’ve had the unusual pleasure of living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for nine years of my life. Of course, the way us Westerners view the country is a lot different to the way Arabs do. We live in compounds surrounded by high walls and electrified wires with watch towers, they tend not to. Instead they live in houses with… high walls. According to my old Arabic teacher; the higher the walls are, the more important the person living there is.

King Salman hasn’t been seen in public for ages now due to poor health. His reign hasn’t lasted very long. After the death of Abdulaziz in 2015, Salman took over. Now, King Salman has fallen ill and it is thought that he could pass any day now, so the reign has been passed onto another Salman; Crown Prince Salman – who now rules the KSA.

What do the other Arab royals think of it? I’d imagine he’s quite polarising for them. He’s kicked most of them out of their palaces and taken away their money, theoretically to invest in more important things.

The new crown prince has seen Saudi Arabia boast changes mostly aimed at modernisation. Stepping foot into the country for the first time after nine years of living away, I couldn’t believe it. The airport now has shops in it, civilians and women working at the immigration, new glass gateways, and restaurants – all previously unimaginable for the country.

They’ve built over and placed a shop floor over what used to be a bridge over the fountains to the gates.
The architectural design of King Khalid International is a unique one. It’s nothing like the boring metal sheeted airports you get elsewhere.

Incredible, I thought. Later during my stay, I found out that popular Western music artists would be performing in the country; the Black Eyed Peas, Enrique Iglesias, Jason Derulo, and David Guetta. I never thought in a million years that I would be able to see any of these famous people perform in Saudi Arabia of all places. I managed to see the Black Eyed Peas and Amir Diab, a famous Egyptian singer.

In addition, I thought something was off when I was at the shopping centres in the city. It took me a while to realise, but I saw women working in the shops. “Hang on,” I thought – “since when could women work here?” Turns out that they’ve been able to work here for three years now. However, some archaic and skewed religious laws remain. At the concert, I noticed a security guard leaning into the crowd from the fence and shouting in Arabic at some men. I had no clue what was being said, but it was clear that he wanted them to leave the crowd. After thirty seconds of that, he noticed me and started pushing me and shouting in Arabic. I wouldn’t budge, so he gave up after a moment. Some nearby onlookers introduced themselves to me and then told me that he was trying to separate the men from the women. Crazily enough, I managed to capture some of it on my phone below. It appears that the culture has yet to catch up.

On the topic of Formula E, it was a showcase event for the country to show the rest of the world that it can be like them. It’s the first of its kind in the country, aimed at the international community as if to say “come in, we’re open.” Below are a few pictures I took at the event.

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The city of Riyadh is expanding rapidly. Only ten years ago, it was a tiny city with only two skyscrapers; Al Faisaliyah Tower and Kingdom Tower. Below are some photos from the top of Kingdom Tower (AKA Kingdom Centre).

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Only 15 years ago, all of this land was desert in the outskirts with the roads being paved by steamrollers.
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In the distance is the financial district, it’s all new and only came into existence within the past few years.

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The bridge on top of Kingdom Tower.
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In the centre is Al Faisaliyah Tower.

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Only about 20 years ago, most of the buildings in the photos above didn’t exist. It was all desert with only steamrollers paving the roads now filled with traffic. The country is rapidly catching up with the rest of the world, but it still isn’t a nice place for women to live. Need to get an Uber? You may need to get in a separate one from a woman. The Mutaw’ah or religious police barely seem to exist anymore – if they still do in the capital. They would be men with robes sporting golden lining, armed with swords. They would usually catch out any women who aren’t wearing an abaya or a headscarf.

Strange Method of trying to Extort Money using Combo Lists Uncovered

[scammer]@pnpytur.com says

I do know [old password I used once when I was 12, anyone can find it on the anti public combo list] one of your password. Lets get directly to purpose. You don’t know me and you are probably thinking why you are getting this email?

actually, I installed a malware on the xxx streaming (porno) site and guess what, you visited this site to experience fun (you know what I mean). When you were watching videos, your web browser started operating as a Remote control Desktop that has a keylogger which provided me with accessibility to your display screen and web camera. Right after that, my software program collected all of your contacts from your Messenger, social networks, and e-mailaccount. And then I created a double-screen video. 1st part displays the video you were viewing (you have a fine taste hehe), and second part shows the view of your cam, yea its you.

You do have a pair of alternatives. Shall we read the possibilities in aspects:

First option is to ignore this e-mail. Then, I most certainly will send your very own video recording to just about all of your contacts and also just imagine about the embarrassment you will definitely get. And consequently if you are in an affair, just how it is going to affect?

Number 2 solution should be to pay me [absurd amount of money which no one will pay]. Lets refer to it as a donation. Then, I most certainly will instantaneously discard your videotape. You could continue on your lif e like this never took place and you will not ever hear back again from me.

You will make the payment through Bitcoin (if you don’t know this, search for “how to buy bitcoin” in Google).

BTC Address: [he put his bitcoin address in here]

If you have been planning on going to the law enforcement, look, this email can not be traced back to me. I have covered my steps. I am just not looking to charge a fee very much, I simply want to be compensated.

You now have one day to pay. I have a special pixel within this e mail, and now I know that you have read through this email message. If I don’t get the BitCoins, I will send your video recording to all of your contacts including members of your family, coworkers, and so on. Having said that, if I receive the payment, I will erase the video right away. If you really want evidence, reply with Yes! & I definitely will send out your video to your 7 contacts. It’s a nonnegotiable offer, so please do not waste mine time and yours by responding to this e-mail.

It’s easy to deal with such a scam, simply ignore the email. The scammer finds your password by looking at combo lists, letting other people do the bulk work for him and then using the password on that list to try (very poorly) to make the threat seem real.

I once believed that this scam was easy to see through, but my computer science buddy Pete told me he was approached by a friend who asked for advice after seeing this scam. The friend was apparently about to pay up before asking my buddy Pete about what she should do.

I was considering sending a response to see what would happen, but if I did that then the scammer would see that me email address is active.

If you’ve received such an email, just ignore it. He can’t do anything except send more emails begging for money.

To protect yourself from these, the only rule you really ever need to follow is don’t re-use passwords and use a password manager.

You can check to see if your password has ever been leaked at https://haveibeenpwned.com/

Bangkok Fury: Reminiscing

In 2016, I went to Bangkok and Pattaya.

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Typically, one would travel to Bangkok for the city life, night life, and all that buzz. Funnily enough, one would travel to Pattaya for the same thing, except there is also a beach there. A thing that has almost always been true about Thailand is that its economy is highly dependent on tourism – a lot of things are targeted at foreigners with lots of disposable income. Over the years, I have noticed the hugely increased likelihood of seeing other foreigners in Thailand whereas there used to only be a few.

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The three displays above are examples of marketing towards the tourist market. The first image is of a food menu I saw in Bangkok; obviously imitating what Westerners would usually go for in a meal, but it also appeals to the local population due to curiosity in what Americans and such usually eat. One easy thing to make fun of is the misspelling of ‘Western Main Cause,’ but I find it interesting just to look at because it reminds you that the person who made the menu probably does not have the same luxuries in technology that we do over here. It is also the determination in the attempt at English shows how important it is that some Thai businesses are able to attract tourists and on some occasions; expatriates.

Soho Town in Pattaya boasts being the first Chinatown there. The interesting thing about this is that it is a recent addition to the city; having only existed there a few years now. There is a massive Chinese presence in Pattaya, especially during the summer where bulk tour groups consisting of hundreds of Chinese tourists visit for cheap. I would think that the existence of a Chinatown is related to this trend, as it must be a popular place for meeting up and doing things.

The lit up London Calling billboard was found in a hot spot called Nana Plaza in Bangkok. Funnily enough, there were actually British people around here. Again, the symbolic link in Western iconography shows the importance of being able to attract tourists for business.

The above photo was something I found humorous. A statue I saw in a hotel lobby in Bangkok and I just had to snap a picture. More than meets the eye – what is the connotation in the statue of a plump woman walking her dog? It’s an impression of the average Western female, of course! The small details matter when you look into them.

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A Holographic Music Visualiser

For my final year, I made a box that can visualise music. But not just any box, it’s a hollow wooden frame with a perspex/acrylic prism. Photos are better at explaining.

It works by loading songs from a SoundCloud playlist and the visuals react to the wavelengths. But there’s more! You can control it using gestures such as swiping left, right, up, and down, and swirling your hand in front of a Flick board connected to a Raspberry Pi. The project was coded in Python and uses Electron for its renderer.

There’s also a 60 second video I made to go along with the final final assignment.

I also kept a blog of documenting the build as part of the project: https://as14acz6.tumblr.com/

Launched a New Blog

April 2018 edit: Took the site down, wasn’t used, but it’s too exploitable. Pyramid schemes suck anyway

Hi-diddly-ho neighbourino!

I’ve launched a Tumblr blog that’s set to give out discount coupons for G Suite. Now that I’ve used the word Tumblr, WordPress has probably blacklisted this blog post from reaching search engines, oh well! Haha.

Anyway, it can be found at https://gsuitediscountcodes-eu.tumblr.com

Only works for users in some countries in Europe and the UAE.

WordPress or Tumblr?

After about a year of using WordPress, very little entices me to stay. You have to pay annually to get your own domain mapped, as I have done. It’s free to do so on Tumblr. You have to pay to remove ads. There are no forced ads on Tumblr blogs. You would even get more control with a Blogger site.

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A free option of Tumblr’s that WP makes you pay for

Here’s a little list I’m about to brainstorm about why Tumblr is better than WordPress:

  • You can edit HTML for free on Tumblr, you have to pay with WordPress
  • There is a greater impression of community with Tumblr, giving you the freedom of choice to ‘reblog’, ‘like’ posts, or follow blogs if you wanted
  • Tumblr is completely free of gimmicks such as paying to remove ads, mapping domains, with the exception of ‘premium themes’
  • Tumblr is easier to use in my opinion, it has just as much flexibility as WordPress, if not more
  • In my opinion, even the ‘personal’ plan WordPress has is overpriced – why should I pay for these things when I can get it for free elsewhere?

So then, why should anyone choose WordPress? If you’re rich or a business; WordPress has more business tools to offer for people willing to pay for them. These are Search Engine Optimisation tools and other ‘plugins’ (like bolt-ons from your mobile phone provider). Oh and there was a Tumblr password leak years ago. Of course, this shouldn’t be a problem if you follow rule #1 of passwords; never re-use them.

Well that begs the question; why did you choose WordPress, Dufus?

Because after having used Blogger, then Tumblr, I felt like a change. Now I’ve experienced all the big three blog sites, I have to say that I feel Tumblr outdid the competition. However; I’ve done too much on this blog now to be able to move, unless I just copy all my posts over. It’d be a long process though.