In yesterday's news, two major victories for the consumers were handed down by the court system. First, Apple was forced to settle with owners of iPods which only had 50% of the battery life in actual run time compared to what was advertised. Second, Gillette was ruled to have falsely advertised the "hair lifting" capability of their M3Power razor. In Gillette's case, they were ordered to stop using the false ads but Gillette had already stopped before the ruling so there doesn't seem to be much punishment. In Apple's case, they will be forced to pay owners of the defective iPods $50 or replace them with a new battery. Unfortunately, this ruling doesn't apply to the iPod mini which promises up to 18 hours of battery life on Apple's website but a good friend of mine who has an iPod mini swears he only gets 4 hours no matter how careful he is.
These cases were settled in court, but what about other industries such as the consumer wireless LAN market? It's routine for many wireless LAN equipment makers to sell bastardized variations of the 802.11g standard that promise "turbo g" or "super g" speeds of 108 megabits per second when in reality they top out at around 30 megabits per second even under the best conditions. Even the new "pre-N" products that utilize Airgo's MIMO technology top out around 40 megabits per second yet they brag about "600%" improved performance over regular 802.11g when in reality it's more like a 60% improvement in maximum sustainable throughput. Tomsnetworking is one of the few hardware review sites that actually provide detailed performance benchmarks but that only benefits the technically savvy users who spend the time to do the research. The typical consumer just goes to the store and relies on the literature on the retail boxes. Unfortunately, the practice of grossly inflating wireless LAN performance numbers is so wide spread that almost every single vendor does it or face total annihilation from their competition. It almost seems that everyone just goes along with the lie until someone lies a little more which causes everyone else to rise to the same level of deception. Why is it that none of these vendors have the courage to stand up and sue their competitors for false advertising? If one were cynical, it's almost as if they all enjoy charging 100% premiums for products that only deliver a 20% improvement in performance.
Aside from these obvious false advertising cases, what about the issue of consumer safety? Hospitals are being forced to comply with HIPAA regulations to help protect patient's personal data, publicly owned corporations are being forced to comply with SOX, and retailers are forced by the credit card companies to comply with PCI standards to protect consumers from fraud. Yet a mega corporation like Sony is releasing the brand new PSP (Play Station Portable) with utterly defective wireless LAN security that will probably force half the broadband enabled homes in the country to open themselves wide open to a wireless LAN attack because of a five year old flaw in WEP encryption. While the dangers may not be obvious, this can expose millions of home computers to data theft and system compromises which can lead to serious financial damage to the owner of the PC. Essentially, this is like a car company selling a 2005 model car without door locks, seatbelts and anti-lock breaks.
I'm not a fan of lawsuits, but I think the companies in question here should do some serious thinking and do the right thing. I have a message for these companies. Don't wait for a Judge to slap you down with a ruling and just do the right thing. Label the products with at least semi-accurate numbers, and don't release products with five year old vulnerabilities in the first place but at least provide a timely free fix if you do. We consumers spend our hard earned dollars to keep you in business. The least we can expect is a fair deal. Am I being naive? Talk back and tell us of your thoughts.