Do you ever feel that the tech giants are ganging up on you?

David and GoliathA few days ago, a client called me to say that Thunderbird (her email program) was reporting an error in sending/receiving emails. The problem appeared to be that the password was incorrect. After a short conversation, we decided that I would have a look at it using remote support. No luck. Teamviewer wasn’t showing her an ID or a password that she could give to me to effect the connection. So, we agreed that a visit would be necessary.

The next day, after “hhmming and aahing” over Thunderbird settings for a few minutes, it dawned on me to wonder if the problem might not, in fact, be with the Gmail account rather than Thunderbird. Luckily, the client stays logged into gmail via her browser. This proved that the account itself was still OK and it also allowed me to check the setting that allows “less secure apps” (as Gmail terms them) to access Gmail. And, blow me, the setting had been turned off. So we turned it back on. By this time (as is often the case) the situation regarding the actual password had become very confused, so we changed the password, entered it into Thunderbird, and all was well again.

Why had Google changed the setting to block Thunderbird? Why hadn’t they told my client? Who knows?

On/Off SwitchAnyway, buoyed up by success, we turned to Teamviewer to find out why it hadn’t worked the previous day. Clearly, my purple patch continued as I thought to ask her if her internet provider is TalkTalk. Yes, it is. Ho hum. I recently blogged about their blocking Teamviewer in their setting called “scam protection”. So, we logged onto the “dashboard” of her TalkTalk account and, yes, they had turned “scam protection” on! I can’t remember when I had last used Teamviewer with this client, but TalkTalk have clearly changed the setting back to blocking it since we had last used it. And, just like Google, they did this without any reference to the client.

And it gets worse…..

When I wrote my recent blog, it was possible to change the setting in the dashboard. Now, however, a popup window tells you you have to phone them.

… much worse…

You can't even turn off TalkTalk's "Scam Protection" yourself nowWhen you try to call them, the phone is answered by a computer. There is no list of options: you just state the problem. The computer doesn’t understand the problem and starts taking wild guesses about your “issue”. You can even quote the wording from their popup (“Scam protection setting”) and it won’t understand. Eventually, we gave up with my client saying she would try again later. This she did and ultimately managed to get through to a human being by just refusing to engage with the computer. She just kept shtum until a human being finally came onto the line. Said human being actually managed to find other humans working for TalkTalk and my client was eventually put through to someone who was able to change the setting. Lo and behold, we were able to connect remotely again using Teamviewer.

There isn’t any kind of recourse that users have when these tech firms do things like this (whether they do it intentionally or as an unwanted side effect of other changes). It is very very dispiriting, disempowering, and unfair.

They don’t talktalk together and they certainly don’t play together like a team

TalkTalk logoTalkTalk rather high-handedly protects their clients from themselves by preventing a perfectly legitimate piece of software from being installed on their computers. The software in question is Teamviewer – that allows the user of one computer to see the screen of another computer and control the keyboard and mouse of that computer.

So what have TalkTalk done?

They have decided that if you (their customer) accept their default settings regarding internet security, then you will not be able to download the Teamviewer software. Now, I don’t know if this also affects any other software that works in the same way as Teamviewer (Logmein, for example) but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Why would they do this if Teamviewer is legitimate software?

As everybody knows, there are an awful lot of criminal scumbags out there who have realised that scamming other internet users can be an easy way to earn a dishonest pound. These scams can take many forms and most of us are familiar with many of them. One example is the email that purports to come from a friend who has been mugged in Spain and needs urgent financial help.

Another is the telephone call that comes out of the blue claiming to be from Microsoft or British Telecom or any other organisation, suggesting that your computer is full of viruses, errors, gremlins, boll weevils, or whatever. One of their tactics is to tell you that they can “prove” this to be true if you’ll let them take control of your computer (using Teamviewer) so that they can point out the problem. What they typically do then is to show you a part of Windows called the “Event Viewer” and pretend that all of the entries in the logs therein are “proof” of what they’ve been saying. As well as charging you to resolve non-existent problems, they might also use the “remote control session” to steal information from your computer, or plant viruses and malware.

Teamviewer logoNow, the point is that it is NOT Teamviewer that caused the problem. It is the gullibility of the user who allows Teamviewer to be misused in this way. TalkTalk’s high-handed stance is a bit like the nice lady at the Sainsbury checkout saying that no, I can’t buy a sandwich because I might decide to have a picnic on the outside lane of the M25. To put it bluntly, it would be none of her business. Neither is it TalkTalk’s business. And, by the way, have they not heard of the principle of “net neutrality” whereby all of the data that passes between an ISP and its clients should be equal as far as the ISP is concerned? According to this principle, they are not supposed to slow the data down or block it based on where it’s come from or is going to – and that includes remote control connections.

Luckily, you can change the (default) setting that causes the problem. I’m not a TalkTalk customer (as you might have guessed), so I can’t verify that the steps outlined below are still strictly accurate, but I hope that they are at least close enough so that you can work out what to do if you are one of their customers and want to be allowed to take your own decisions:

  • Log in to your TalkTalk account
  • Click on “My Services”
  • Click on “HomeSafe Settings”
  • Scroll down to “Scam Protection” and disable it. Despite the warning that TalkTalk might give you, you are not inviting the apocalypse by doing this
  • It may be wise to clear your browser’s data cache by clicking Ctrl Shift and Delete and following the instructions to clear browser data

Nanny

Do you really need a nanny to supervise your internet activity?

I have been using Teamviewer for years as a valuable aid in providing IT Support. It’s perfectly safe as long as you only invite trusted people to connect to your computer using it.

Oh, and just a little PS for TalkTalk: you could at least inform your customers when you are blocking something that they would normally expect to work. How do you expect them to know when an apparent malfunction is caused by your nannying?

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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