David Isenberg promotes magicJack

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

David Isenberg, a former AT&T scientist who was excommunicated for his radical ideas about the Internet, appears in this magicJack infomercial.

The company also sponsored Isenberg's F2C conference.

F2C's newest sponsor is MagicJack, a clever little device that lets you use any plain old phone as a VOIP phone with no software . . . one of the conference freebies will be a MagicJack plus one year of service.

The "no software" statement is a little misleading. The magicJack is a USB device and while one doesn't have to install software per se, magicJack connects to a PC and is in fact a software application that is running on your PC. Your PC must be powered up and running the magicJack software to receive or place calls.

magicJack appears to be an incredible deal, perhaps not to replace phone service as the company claims (since you have to leave a PC on all the time to use it), but certainly to save money on outbound long-distance calls (in competition with the Skype unlimited plans, for instance). But recently, Boing Boing and others raised red flags on privacy issues and still others question the viability of the company and wonder what's going to happen once they start delivering advertisements, which is apparently the "catch" with this service.

magicJack EULA up to no good?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Boing Boing first pointed out some concerns with the magicJack end-user license agreement (EULA) which they say requires customers to agree to ads, even with its paid service. This is not uncommon for free phone services, but pretty strange for s service where the customer is paying for the service (and buying the hardware).

In short, it not only has one agree to ads with its paid-for system, but claims that the ads are necessary for it to work. It will also snoop on your calls to target ads more accurately, and has you sign away your legal right to take it to court if it defrauds or otherwise harms you. Delightful.

Neither the EULA itself, nor any other privacy or legal information, can be easily found at its homepage. It's not even provided at the point of sale, where one enters credit card info, email and street addresses as such, so as to gain access to the service and have your MagicJack dongle delivered. I found the EULA's URL through Google.

They also noted something I find really sleazy, a "free trial" counter on the majicJack homepage that is a fake, a javascript applet that increments itself automatically:

// the interval (ms) between new visitors
var interval = Math.round(86400000/perday);

Others have pointed out other potential problems with the "too good to be true" cost of magicJack, such as the savings might be overshadowed by the increase in your electric bill as a result of leaving a heat and power sucking Windows PC on 24 hours a day in order to have phone service.