Visa just announced a new technology it will be using to reduce credit card fraud when we make purchases. It’s called geolocation, developed by Finsphere of Belleview, Wash.

Visa is the first to offer this service, which allows its banking partners to know where you are when your credit card is used.

How does it work? When you install your credit card company’s app on your phone, it will ask for permission to allow your location to be checked when you make a credit card charge. When your credit card is used, the app compares your phone’s location with the merchant’s location to check if they match.

If there isn’t a match — in the case of the card being used for an Internet or phone charge, or by an unauthorized user — it will revert to conventional methods for verifying whether the charge is legitimate.

This technology also makes it more convenient for us, the cardholder. It eliminates the need to contact our credit card companies when we’re traveling outside the country, and reduces the need to remember passwords or PINs or having to call the credit card company when our card is declined.

According to Mastercard, four out of five international transactions denied are actually false positives.

Many of us have experienced the results of these thefts, the most common being unauthorized charges on our cards. Fortunately, our liability is limited to $50, but not so with the banks, which are estimated to be losing $5.5 billion this year worldwide.

In fact, just this past week, Chase canceled my Southwest Airlines credit card after it detected a $9.95 charge for the music service Spotify made from New York. Chase representatives told me they thought it was a test charge from a professional credit card ring, and they detected the transaction using algorithms that the company developed.

Finsphere’s business is based on using mobile devices to reduce the risk of fraud while making fraud detection transparent to the consumer. Finsphere performs the actual verification for Visa and its other customers, comparing where the credit card transaction took place with the location of the phone in just a fraction of a second.

The 11-year-old company holds many patents on the technology and expects it to be adopted beyond credit card transactions, including applications relating to access security and the cloud.

For example, the technology can be used to verify an ATM transaction or when an employee uses his badge to access a secure area.

Geolocation verification can eliminate the need for using passwords on a computer by comparing the location of the phone with the IP address of your browser.

Unlike unwanted tracking for marketing purposes, this technology provides a real benefit to all and requires you to opt in. As a result, it’s not expected to face objections from privacy advocates.

In a survey taken by the market research company Penn Schoen Berland, 74 percent of the public said the concept of this technology is appealing, 84 percent said they would be likely to use it and 65 percent said their confidence in the transaction’s security would increase.

Of course, it requires us to keep our phone with us for it to work, so it would not be the only form of verification a bank would use.

While other technology is also being developed to prevent credit card fraud at the point of the transaction — such as biometric identification using thumbprint readers, eye and face scanners and voice detection — they are much more complex, take more time to use and require huge costs to upgrade point-of-purchase terminals.

Mastercard is working on its own verification using geolocation with another company, Syniverse, and AT&T says it’s working on its own service.

Eventually, I would expect this technology to be used for all financial and security transactions without requiring us to opt in. Few of us now object to being tracked because, while it can be abused, it makes things much more convenient for us.

When Google or Yelp knows where you are, their searches are more relevant and you don’t need to enter in an address. Maps and navigation apps, of course, must track your location; Uber and its competitor Lyft need to know where you are when you request a ride.

So in spite of many of us once objecting to being tracked, it’s become much more acceptable, in spite of a loss of some confidentiality. And now tracking to reduce the risk of financial fraud is one of the best reasons of all for doing it.

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I’ll wait to review the new Apple Watch once I get one to try, but here are some first impressions based on its introduction last week.

Needs an iPhone: The watch can be thought of as a remote control for your iPhone. It replicates many of the functions on the phone, but its value greatly diminishes if it’s not connected. While you can see who has texted or emailed you without removing the phone from your pocket or purse, reacting to those events will usually require using the phone.

Alerts are both good and bad: Expect to spend lots of time setting your alerts. While at first you might like being notified when messages and mail arrives, the interruptions will become annoying very quickly — both to yourself and others around you. I expect to see new apps that will try to automate this process.

More distracting than your iPhone: If you’ve been distracted by your phone, the watch will be much worse. A phone can be out of sight, and hence out of mind. But the watch will always be visible. It’s always been considered rude to glance at your watch while talking to others, but now that’s going to become much more common. Driving while checking your watch is equally dangerous as using your phone.

Not a health monitor: Apple has backed away from positioning the watch as a health monitor using a large number of built-in sensors. The company was smart not to go there because collecting all that information doesn’t offer much value, and you can do much of it with an app on your phone.

Instead, Apple has turned the tables and talked about how the information collected on your phone could advance health research. Brilliant marketing by making lemonade out of lemons.

Apple implied that the watch could detect a wide variety of exercise types, including biking and exercises. If this is true, they’d be the first to do that.

A fashion product? Apple is positioning the watch as a fashion statement as much as personal technology. While the cases are attractive, the watch is really the ultimate geek gadget; it’s a wrist computer, not jewelry. And every model from $349 to $17,000 is exactly the same, except for the case material.

The 18-karat gold version, which sells for up to $17,000 contains about $1000 worth of gold. Rarely has anyone been asked to pay so much to buy a version 1.0 of a new electronic product that in two years will be replaced with something new.

No killer app: There is no killer app yet available, something that alone could justify a purchase. For me, the best use might be the ability to screen my calls with a tap of the button, without removing the phone from my pocket.

Should Rolex worry? What will be the impact to the mechanical watch brands such as Rolex, Patek-Philippe, Omega, etc? As someone who’s collected watches and developed a great skill in buying high and selling low, conventional watches will continue to flourish. Based on functionality, the Apple Watch does more, but it lacks the emotion, the history, workmanship and complexities of mechanical watches. But the biggest disadvantage over conventional watches is the need to recharge the Apple Watch each night.

Big margins: The version of the watch that is likely to be the most popular, the stainless steel model with a strap, will likely cost Apple less than $125 but retail for $600, a better margin than iPhones.

Apple distortion field: Apple really goes overboard about touting every detail about their products, even the mundane. Two videos shown at the intro, narrated by Jony Ive, their VP of design, went into excruciating detail to describe why the aluminum and steel they use are each superior to ordinary aluminum and steel — so much that it seemed like a “Saturday Night Live” parody of itself. Still, the watches will scratch, particularly the aluminum version.

Ads on your watch? How long can Apple resist displaying ads on your wrist? It’s a fertile location for all sorts of commercial use. I imagine companies right now are plotting what freebies they can give us in exchange for sending an occasional ad.

In your face: In its latest software upgrade for the iPhone, a new app is installed that cannot be removed: a commercial with videos and an empty app store for the Apple Watch. Apple is taking no chances by informing all of its iPhone users about the product, but it’s bad form.

The verdict: My initial impression is that the Apple Watch is neither as great as some expected, nor as useless as its detractors make it out to be. It’s going to do many things we can’t yet imagine as developers create new apps. But, other than its slightly smaller size, its industrial design, and its user interface, it’s not all that different from the exiting Google and Pebble watches at significantly lower prices.

While the Apple Watch is the best looking and most reasonably-sized of all smart watches, ultimately it will succeed or fail based what it actually can do and how useful it is.

What it is: An electronic watch that wirelessly connects to an iPhone using Bluetooth. (Does not work with Android phones.) It’s available in two sizes (38mm and 42mm), three case materials (aluminum, stainless steel and 18k solid gold), and a choice of straps and bracelets costing $49 to $449. All models work exactly the same. Costs from $349 (aluminum) to well over $10,000. The most popular choice (stainless steel with a leather band) will cost about $600. Preorders begin April 10; on sale April 24.

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The vast majority of the public has welcomed the decision by the Federal Communications Commission last month to support net neutrality.

The decision will affect most of us, as well as millions of companies, in a very positive way. Despite some of the opponents’ claims, it is neither a government takeover nor a power-grab by our president.

The opponents — Internet service providers, which include cellular carriers and cable companies — have created many false claims to obscure the facts.

What they wanted was to be able to set up different classes of service, offer faster speeds and more data for an extra fee, and provide slower service to those that don’t or can’t pay for premium service.

The FCC’s 3-2 decision — split along party lines — simply recognizes that access to the Internet is vital to all of us and to the country. Therefore, all of us need to be treated equally.

The decision affects commerce and communication, and is critical to innovation.

Equal access to all must be assured. Its control should not be left in the hands of a few private corporations whose goals are profit and are thus not always aligned with the public good.

The idea of net neutrality is not something new. In fact, Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 describes a regulated “common carrier” such as telephone service that delivers goods to the public with no discrimination, in contrast to a private entity that can choose whom it serves and what rates it charges.

The FCC’s decision is simply classifying the Internet as a “common carrier,” which means the ISPs cannot set their own rules and rates without some oversight.

The Internet has changed the way nearly every business and individual works, and has fostered the creation of companies we never even imagined just a few years ago — from how we get a taxi to how we book a flight, how we shop and how we educate.

It’s used by more than 70 percent of the households in the country.

Today, the United States is well behind other advanced countries for Internet service. Sweden and Korea have speeds 10 times faster and pay much less for the service, partially the result of their governments’ oversight and subsidies.

For a while it looked as though the FCC might choose an approach that would have given more power to the ISPs. These companies claimed that, because of limited capacity, they should be able to charge more to customers that send more data or need higher speeds, much like an individual paying to be allowed to use an HOV lane.

They claimed that without this ability, we would all suffer from a congested Internet, and the financial incentives would not be there to invest in expanding capacity. The answer to that is clearly to build more capacity. If they choose not to do this, there are others willing to jump in, such as Google.

The public wasn’t buying this and saw through the self-interests of the ISPs. In fact, it was the public’s response — 6 million email and phone complaints — that counteracted the ISPs’ lobbying and campaign contributions to members of Congress.

The decision was also affected by the companies that opposed net neutrality: Comcast, Verizon and others in the cable and cellular industry that, for the most part, have treated their customers with disdain.

Their policies have been so shortsighted and adversarial that few people trusted them with the Internet.

For example, Verizon and most cellular carriers have nickeled-and-dimed their customers at every turn. Go over your data allowance one month? Pay a large penalty. Go under? Too bad, you can’t save it for the following month. Travel out of the country? Pay exorbitant fees, providing the carriers with 90 percent margins. Add a new device such as a tablet? Pay a connection fee and a monthly fee to have access to data you are already buying.

Comcast has some of the worst customer ratings for service of any company in America. It’s been well documented how they lie, do everything to prevent a customer from canceling and ridicule their customers.

There’s some poetic justice here in that what these companies wanted so badly was denied, in part because of their own poor treatment of their customers. If they had developed a more trusting relationship over the years, the opposition might have been less vocal and the ruling might have been different.

As one blogger noted, “Companies should have to earn profit by having satisfied customers, hard work and a decent product. Now profit seems to be earned by finding ways to separate customers from their money in the most predatory ways.”

The ISPs reaped what they sowed. And we are all better off for it.

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Each year or two there’s one new camera that stands out as special, particularly in the compact-to-pocket-size category. In 2012 it was the Sony RX100 that created a big sensation for packaging a large sensor into a tiny pocketable camera. At $699, it was considerably more expensive than other pocket cameras, but because its image quality set a new standard for pocket cameras, it became a huge success. Now there’s a new camera that’s even better.

I’ve been trying out the new Leica D-Lux 109, very similar to the Panasonic Lumix LX100. While not as small as the Sony, it’s small enough to fit in a coat pocket or small purse. It uses a much larger 13-megapixel sensor and a terrific Leica f/1.7 25mm to 75mm zoom lens, capable of shooting in the dimmest light.

The result is a camera that takes noticeably sharper images than any camera in its class and works in very low light conditions, even candlelight. That’s not only because of the sensor, but also because of the maximum aperture of f/1.7 – 2.8, the largest ever used on a compact camera.

The camera is a partnership between Panasonic, which designed the camera, and Leica, which developed the lens. The difference between each company’s version is mostly cosmetic.

Leica eliminates the built-in handgrip and textured surface of the Lumix for a smoothly finished flat black aluminum body. The Lumix costs $800 and the Leica costs $1,100. The Leica comes with a three-year warranty, instead of one, and a free copy of Lightroom software, worth about two-hundred dollars.

One of the unusual features for a camera this small is its built-in high-resolution electronic viewfinder, which works particularly well in both low-light and in bright sun, where the 3-inch LCD display becomes washed out.

In fact, I found that I much preferred using the viewfinder all the time, because I could hold the camera against my face for steadier shots. I wear glasses and was able to adjust the viewfinder for my vision and had no problem seeing the full view. The viewfinder turns on automatically and turns off the LCD when you put it up to your eye.

Like many people, I have missed the optical viewfinders on compact cameras, and found this electronic viewfinder to be even better.

While most cameras provide great results under normal lighting conditions, the more costly cameras do better under extreme conditions. This camera goes beyond other compact cameras and minimizes the need for flash. You can actually take decent images up to ISO 25,600.

That’s good because one of the compromises with this camera is that there is no built-in flash. Instead, there is an add-on flash about the size of two sugar cubes that slides onto the hot shoe.

The controls are more like those on DSLR cameras than on typical point-and-shoot models. There’s a dial on the top to select shutter speed or set to A for automatic. Similarly, around the lens is a dial with aperture settings adjustable for f-number and an A for automatic. When both dials are at A, the exposure follows an automatic programmed mode.

A second dial on the top to the right of the shutter speed dial is for adjusting exposure compensation, making it simple to override the automatic setting by up to three stops in each direction. One minor complaint is that the dial rotated inadvertently on occasion when it didn’t lock into place.

The camera includes a wealth of other features, such as multiple focus and metering options, customizable buttons, built-in Wi-Fi and shake reduction.

There is a small sliding switch on the top of the lens to set the image’s aspect ratio to 3:2, 16:9, 4:3 and square. Lumix and D-Lux cameras have had this for several generations and it comes in handy for adjusting the aspect ratio based on the scene.

What I found most impressive was the movie mode that allowed shooting up to 30 frames per second and up to 4K resolution. That’s full high definition. I shot several movies at a luau on a recent Hawaiian vacation with illumination provided only by tiki torches, and the results were excellent — very sharp, well illuminated and very smooth motion. The sharpness was helped by being able to hold the camera against my face, using the viewfinder, and thereby avoiding camera unsteadiness.

On the vacation, my wife used the Sony RX100 and I used the Leica D-Lux 109. The images from the latter were generally sharper in general and better exposed in dim lighting. Of course, some of my wife’s images were better because there’s more to good images than just the equipment.

The camera comes with a battery, plug-in battery charger, neck strap, lens cap and tether. I’d recommend the optional lens cap that automatically opens when the lens extends out and closes when the lens withdraws.

Overall, this may just be the perfect travel camera: light enough to carry everywhere, versatile enough to cover a wide range of scenes and lighting conditions, with results that rival much larger cameras.

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It’s now been 16 months since I leased my Chevy Volt. I’ve driven just less than 10,000 miles. This is the third report since I acquired a 2014 model in October 2013. Previous reviews were written in January 2014 after 60 days and in June 2014 after eight months.

Why so much coverage? Because the Volt has been considered one of the most innovative and risky undertakings from GM, a normally conservative U.S. company, and it had to endure unfounded criticism from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-San Diego, who claimed the car was unsafe and falsely attributed its tax rebates to the Obama administration. He was proven wrong on both counts.

I thought it was a really well-engineered car that reduced dependence on oil and bode well for rebuilding our domestic manufacturing. I said at the time that when it came time to turn in my BMW X3, I’d consider the Volt and I did. Now I love it like so many other owners.

The Volt continues to meet expectations and live up to its high owner ratings, still among the very best. It’s been trouble free and performs just as it did on Day One. No rattles and no mechanical or electrical trouble of any kind. I’ve taken it back to the dealer just once for its first scheduled service, an oil change, tire rotation and topping off the fluids.

I’ve encountered only one minor problem: the display that shows miles driven on electricity and gas for each trip, sometimes erroneously shows 0.2 miles driven on gas, when I start from a fully charged car. The dealer and GM attribute it to a software glitch and have been unable to fix it; I’ve learned to ignore it. No gas is consumed, according to other readings.

On one other occasion, the Bluetooth lost connection with my phone, and the phone function in the car froze, preventing it from entering the pairing process again. I had to reset the function by turning off the engine and opening the driver’s door for five minutes.

The occasional freezing of the console display that I encountered over the first several months has not reoccurred, likely fixed by a software upgrade I had last year at the dealer’s.

In my update eight months ago, I noted I was averaging 144 miles per gallon. In recent months I’ve made about a half-dozen trips to Los Angeles, so the proportion of the number of miles driven on gasoline has risen significantly, resulting in the overall mileage now being 116 mpg. I’ve bought 88 gallons of gas since I’ve owned the car.

The Volt’s first 40 miles for the 200-mile round trip is battery powered, but 160 miles is gasoline powered at 37 mpg. The saving grace is being able to use the carpool lanes most of the way, which typically shaves a half hour off the more than 2½-hour trip during rush hour. If I put more battery miles on it and have fewer long trips, the number will go up

My range per charge continues to hold steady between 37 and 41 miles all year round. San Diego has been a good location for owning a Volt because we don’t have low temperatures that can reduce the battery’s efficiency.

I’ve never used public charging stations away from home, because I’ve just not encountered them at a time or location when I could leave the car for a long enough time. A one-hour charge would provide about 10 miles of range, and 3½ hours a full charge. I have charged the car while visiting various companies during meetings, using their chargers. I find many private businesses have added chargers for their employees.

On one occasion I parked my car at Wally Park at LAX, while traveling to China. They offered to charge the car while I was away. Surprisingly, they charged $10, which provided a full charge of 40 miles. I found this service overpriced, when $10 of gas provides 100 miles.

While I’ve encountered no issues with the car, I did have to replace my 240-volt wall charger due to a damaged cord in which the strain relief pulled out the nozzle. It was a model that GM had developed and sold through Bosch, a major manufacturer of car chargers.

The one-year warranty had expired several months previously, but with a little persuasion, Bosch was accommodating and replaced the entire charger. I paid $75 for re-installation, which was covered by the American Express Card’s extended warranty benefit.

I continue to be pleased with the Volt and love the fact that there’s never an issue of range anxiety, where I need to be concerned with running out of battery without finding a charger. Ultimately I’d prefer an electric car with a range of several hundred miles when they become more affordable and charging becomes more accessible. Tesla is making great strides on range and the availability of fast chargers, but its cost of more than $80,000 is way out of my range.

One of the other advantages of owning an electric or electric/gas car such as the Volt is that SDG&E provides lower rates for all my electricity. In my case, the rates have dropped by about $100 per month, more than offsetting the cost of electricity for charging the car.

In the next year or two, we can expect to see more and improved electric and electric/gasoline cars, including a newly designed Volt that’s more contemporary looking and has about a 50-mile range. Many of the new cars are also adding a built-in cellular wireless connection. The Volt has OnStar that connects to their service for assistance or emergencies. The service has been excellent; I often ask them to enter a destination into my GPS instead of typing it in.

A 2015 Volt fully equipped with forward-collision alert, rear camera, navigation, leather seats, lane-departure warning, cruise control, back-up camera, keyless entry, etc. costs about $39,000. Federal and state rebates of up to $9,000 are available.

Among all of the cars I’ve owned — including BMWs, Lexuses and Acuras — the Volt continues to be at the top of my list.

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I’ve been poring over some of the new products I saw last month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Here’s a selection among those that stand out and add to the use of your cellphone.

Reach79: I’ve been trying out a new phone case from Antenna79 for the iPhone 6 that’s designed to improve cellular performance. The case has a built-in antenna that works with the one in the phone to improve signal strength and transmission speeds. The intent is to reduce dropped calls and improve data speeds. The case in the antenna works passively, meaning there is no electrical connection with the phone.

The case works with the iPhone 6 version for AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, but not Sprint. The case is a matte black, hard-plastic shell that snaps onto the phone. It adds little bulk to the phone and is similar in size to most standard cases.

The gold-colored antenna element is sandwiched in the back of the case with a portion of it visible through a decorative grill on the back.

The name of the product, Reach79, refers to the number for gold in the periodic table. The company, originally called Pong Research, was founded in San Diego and makes cases designed to reduce radiation from the phone. Catterton, a private consumer-focused equity group from Greenwich, Conn., is the company’s major investor.

Reach79 case for iPhone 6. Courtesy photo

The case is designed to work best when the phone is held in your hand or against your head. CEO David Vigil, a 20-year veteran of Qualcomm, says it works best in areas of marginal signal strength.

I tried it using an iPhone 6 with Verizon service in about a half-dozen locations around San Diego. I used the free Ookla app (www.ookla.com) to test download and upload speeds with the case on and off, and with the phone up to my ear and in my hand, positioned to view the screen.

I was unable to draw any conclusive conclusions from this test. That’s likely because there are many other variables, including tower congestion, Internet traffic, environmental conditions and lack of repeatability. In fact, when I measured speeds several times in a row, first with the case on and then with the case off, I’d get differences in upload and download speeds that were often larger than the differences with the case on and off.

Anytime you tamper with the radiation patterns of a phone, it’s important that you don’t create new problems. The company has conducted extensive tests and says the phone meets all of the standards of the iPhone alone for the important measurement of SAR, the Specific Absorption Rate of RF energy in the body. In fact, they say it’s likely one of the most tested cases ever.

The company plans to offer optimized models tailored to particular carriers as well as models for other phones and other colors. The product costs $60 for the iPhone 6 and $70 for the iPhone 6 Plus.

Although my tests were inconclusive, this does not necessarily mean that the case does not work as designed. If you experience frequent dropped calls and slow Internet connections, it’s certainly worth a try to see if this helps.

Other cases and mounts: Over the past few months I’ve received a wide variety of sample cases, for the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Among them all, I prefer those with a front cover that protects the display, especially from scratches and damage to the coatings. Displays have coatings designed to reduce glare and smudges.

• The Tech21 Classic Shell with Cover case for iPhone 6 offers a combination of protection, lightness and minimal bulk. Cases from this British company use a patented material as a liner to absorb impact to the phone when dropped.

This new case is much like the hugely popular Frame case that’s been one of the Apple Stores’ best sellers. The difference is that it adds a thin hinged cover to protect the display, adding minimal bulk; calls can be made with the cover closed. $35 for the iPhone 6 and $45 for the iPhone 6 Plus. (www.tech21.com).

• Another great case is the BookBook for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. It looks like a vintage leather book that can also be used as a stand. The phone snaps into a plastic case within the book and can be removed and used separately. $60, www.twelvesouth.com.

• When I’ve tried using my phone as a GPS, I’ve had trouble finding a way to mount it to the car, particularly when traveling and driving a rental car. I didn’t like the designs with a long arms and suction cup that sticks on the window: They’re too large to carry and not legal unless they’re attached to the corner of the windshield.

The best solution I’ve found is the Airframe, a small U-shaped device that’s tiny enough to fit in your pocket. It pushes onto an air-conditioner vent with a rubber nub that works with varying thickness vents oriented both vertically and horizontally. The frame expands to fit all brands of phones with displays of up to 6-inches (including the iPhone 6 Plus). Some phones even fit while in their case. $25, www.kenu.com and at Apple Stores.

• For a small, discreet mount that’s more permanent, Nite-Ize introduced at CES a mounting system called Steelie. It consists of a small steel ball that mounts to your dashboard using non-marring adhesive. A small magnetic disc sticks onto the back of your phone or case. The two connect with a firm click and allow a wide range of movement of the phone to position it just right. The disc is thin enough so as not to add much bulk to your phone.

There are several elements that can be added, such as a stand for your desk, a ball mount for your vent and a case with the magnetic disk built in. About $30 from www.niteize.com.

Are you torn between your old Blackberry and an iPhone? Typo offers a solution, the Typo keyboard and case. The keyboard looks much like a Blackberry thumb keyboard. (The original version looked so much like one that it was sued and had to recall their product). Typo adds ¾ inch to length and provides a very satisfactory type experience, almost as good as a Blackberry, although it doesn’t have all of the special Blackberry function keys and shortcuts, and the balance in the hand is not quite as good.

The Typo is backlit, runs off of a rechargeable battery, and connects to the phone using Bluetooth. It replaces the home button with a substitute key, but it frees up a lot more of the display. To get around the patent, the company modified the shape of their keys. $99 at typokeyboards.com.

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If there’s one thing that U.S. companies should have learned by now it’s not to tamper with anyone’s ability to go online. The FCC’s proposal of considering a fast lane and slow lane, proposed by Comcast, resulted in 6 million email and phone complaints.

The FCC has learned its lesson and is now expected to propose regulating the Internet much as it does a public utility, treating the Internet like phone service. That will mean the idea of charging for faster speeds goes out the window, and we have real net neutrality.

Rarely has an issue been so universally supported by the public, which would be up in arms against any attempt to tamper with that access. Access is now as important as a phone line, not a luxury, but a necessity.

Now, tampering with how we access the Internet has become an issue.

Marriott, one of the largest hotel chains with more than 4,000 properties around the world, recently created a firestorm when it tried to prevent some of its guests from using their phone to connect via Wi-Fi.

In early 2013, the Gaylord Opryland Marriott in Nashville blocked the Wi-Fi connections of guests attending a conference in an effort to make them buy the hotel’s own Wi-Fi services for a whopping $250 to $1,000 per person. The blocking prevented guests from using the hotspots on their cellular phones to create connections to their computers.

Marriott said it was done to improve their guests’ security, an excuse that made little sense and brought them even more ridicule. But most saw it as the first step on a slippery slope that would eventually lead Marriott to block its customers’ Wi-Fi in their rooms, forcing them to pay Marriott’s daily connection fees.

To its credit, the FCC responded quickly, warning Marriott to never let this happen again and fining them $600,000. Under the FCC consent decree, Marriott is prohibited from blocking Wi-Fi at any of its properties. The company must also file a statement of compliance each quarter for the next three years.

“The Communications Act prohibits anyone from interfering with authorized radio communications, including Wi-Fi,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said. “Marriott’s request seeking the FCC’s blessing to block guests’ use of non-Marriott networks is contrary to this basic principle.”

“Consumers who purchase cellular data plans should be able to use them without fear that their personal Internet connection will be blocked by their hotel or conference center,” said Travis LeBlanc, FCC enforcement bureau chief.

Well, you’d think that Marriott would get the message and drop the idea. Instead, they dug themselves an even deeper hole. Along with their trade organization, the American Hospitality & Lodging Association, they petitioned the FCC to alter the Communications Act itself to let them block wireless access in their conference room areas.

They claimed once more that such a change was needed to prevent their guests from launching attacks against the hotel’s own network and steal other guest’s credit cards. But it’s actually easier to jeopardize security by allowing guests to use the hotel’s Wi-Fi then their own hot spot.

That action created more negative publicity, and Marriott faced protests from business travelers, including their elite members, and many companies in the high-tech industry, such as Motorola and Google.

Companies and individuals threatened to boycott Marriott. Some compared Marriott to Comcast, reputed to be the most hated company in America.

Marriott’s action also brought unwanted attention to a policy most travelers despise: paying from $13 to $15 a day for a Wi-Fi connection at their full-service hotels, while the hotel chains’ lower-cost properties offer it free. Even after paying the hotel’s Wi-Fi charge, the connection is barely faster than dial-up.

If all this seems like Groundhog Day, you probably remember how hotels once charged exorbitant rates to make phone calls from hotel rooms, even to toll-free numbers. The growth of cellphones put an end to those charges. Now cellphones with hotspots will put an end to Wi-Fi charges.

If Marriott failed to get the message, archrival Hyatt sent another one: Wi-Fi will now be free at all Hyatt Hotels. This is the future: free Internet access and access to a neutral Internet.

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If you are considering buying a new iPhone for use on Verizon or AT&T, you might want to select the T-Mobile version instead, or a special new model that Apple has just introduced. I’ll explain why.

When buying a cellphone, we normally select a model designed specifically for our carrier of choice. Should we decide to change carriers, we’ll need to buy a new phone compatible with the new cellular company’s radio frequencies. The carriers have always liked this arrangement because we’ll be less likely to switch, even if we become dissatisfied with their service or rates.

But if your phone could work on another carrier, it normally comes locked, preventing it from being used on compatible carriers you might find in the United States or overseas. You can request the carrier to unlock your phone, but they usually require several months of use and that it be fully paid up.

Now that’s all changed. The new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus for T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon are identical phones and capable of being used on each other’s networks.

Unlike the phones from Verizon and AT&T, only the T-Mobile version comes unlocked if it’s bought from Apple, which allows a SIM card from any of the three carriers to work on their respective networks.

It’s no more expensive to do this. The T-Mobile iPhone 6 costs $649 with 64 GB memory, the same as the other carriers’ locked phones. The iPhone 6 Plus costs $100 more.

Why is this important? If you can use one phone on all the carriers, you now have the ability to switch carriers without needing to buy a new phone. You can buy local SIM cards while traveling, and change carriers if you move to an area where your current carrier has poor reception.

It’s also important because some carriers and reseller offer monthly plans without commitments. With an unlocked iPhone, you can change carriers at will, depending on the best rates; the carriers cannot lock you in. If you travel overseas, you can even get a T-Mobile SIM card to use their unlimited data and 20 cents per minute international rates for just a short time.

The carriers don’t publicize this, and in fact, prefer we don’t know. They still are selling what appear to be unique models, but the uniqueness is simply the software that locks the phone and provides some of the carrier’s apps.

So for those who want to maintain flexibility with plans and be able to use the phone outside the country, buy the T-Mobile version of the iPhone 6 (A1549) or the iPhone 6 Plus (A1522) from Apple’s store or from their website. If you purchase it from T-Mobile it comes locked.

If this isn’t confusing enough, Apple has just begun selling its own SIM-free unlocked iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, models A1586 and A1524.

The A1586 supports a few more LTE bands than the A1549, but is nearly the same. The main difference is it doesn’t come with software from any of the carriers; it’s carrier-agnostic. The phone sells for the same price: $649 and $749 for a 6 or 6 Plus with 64 GB memory. This phone is an equally good choice as the unlocked T-Mobile version.

In short, buy these phones from Apple if you want the ability to switch carriers if a better deal comes along and use any SIM card from anywhere in the world:

Slowly but surely, we are gaining our freedom from the carrier’s restrictive policies meant to limit our flexibility and freedom of choice.

What about Android phones? I checked two of the most popular models, the HTC One (M8) and the Samsung Galaxy S5. They each offer carrier-specific models and no one-model-fits-all version.

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One of the major themes at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was the Internet of Things or IoT. Many of the speakers — including CEOs of major corporations, industry analysts and investors — discussed the topic.

IoT refers to devices and home appliances wirelessly connected to the Internet, the cloud or to each other that provide new capabilities. And from all of the discussions, many think it’s destined to be the next big thing in consumer tech.

With such connectivity, including cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, devices can be smarter and behave differently as a result of external information or events. They can react based on communications from the cloud, the user or other devices, automating things that are now done manually.

For example, the Nest thermostat reacts to outside weather conditions, which it learns from being connected to the Internet, and detects activity levels in the home, lowering the temperature when no one is there.

While IoT offers great promise, it is also something that has the potential to make our lives more complicated if we are not careful. Clearly, there are some things we do that could benefit by this, but many of these will not make a huge difference, and some will be downright annoying.

One idea mentioned at CES was a device that turns off your TV and lights when your fitness tracker detects that you have fallen asleep. While it sounds innocuous and maybe even useful, can you imagine setting it up? You need to connect your fitness tracker, the TV and lights to the cloud or to a hub in the home. Each likely requires an app, and you need to set up your preferences. And it’s probable that each item, made by different companies, won’t work well together.

We already have devices that turn the lights on when we turn into our driveway or enter a room, and turn them off when leaving. But if we’re simply reading on the couch when the lights go out due to a low level of activity, we then must wave our hands to turn them back on. If something like this cannot be done perfectly, how well can more complicated activities be done?

The area of health offers great potential. New sensors that monitor vital signs that can alert us or our doctor could be life-saving. Dr. Brian Alman of Encinitas, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, imagines emotional-mental-behavioral solutions for health sensors detecting high stress where he can deliver a short phone message or video to the user, much like a personal coach.

The challenge is to make these devices easy to set up and maintenance free.

As more devices become connected, imagine trying to troubleshoot a problem. Was the alert message on my phone triggered by the heart sensor on my watch, the sleep sensor in my bed, or the activity sensor on my treadmill?

The CEO of Samsung says that all their products — including humidifiers — will have wireless connectivity. I’m sure he’s motivated by using IoT as an opportunity to sell us something extra and encourage us to buy only Samsung products so they can talk to each other.

We are already interrupted hundreds of times each day, if we allow it. Emails, messaging, phone calls and so on. Do we need more interruptions from our clothes dryer, frying pan or coffeepot? We don’t want to be a slave to inanimate objects. It’s important not to be awed by the technology, and focus instead on specific applications. Is the benefit worth the overhead?

These are some the challenges that need to be overcome:

• Standards: Every company will have its own standards and it will take years to sort this out so products from different companies can talk to each other. Just think of the difficulty now in setting up a universal remote control. While there are some industry standards evolving, we’ll likely buy a complete solution from a single company.

• Setup: It will be difficult setting up so many things with different interfaces and different functionalities. Some of us still have problems getting a Wi-Fi connection in our home.

• Privacy: With all these devices and sensors connected to the cloud, some enterprising startup will figure a way to provide us with free devices and services for sharing all of our home and health data and allowing them to sell it to advertisers.

You’ll hear lots about IoT in 2015. Some of it will offer amazing new opportunities. But remember, just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be!


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I’ve tried and even paid for wine apps that promised to help me select a great bottle or glass of wine, yet have been consistently disappointed. The Wine Spectator app, for example, charges $5 per month to access its wine ratings, but more often than not a search for a particular wine brings up a not-found message. Other apps let you take a picture of the label to access a review, but the results are much the same: wine not found.

But now that’s all changed. I’ve been trying an app called Vivino (www.vivino.com), and have been delighted and amazed at how well it works. The app was created in Copenhagen in 2011 and Vivino now has an office in San Francisco with just five employees. It’s free for both the iPhone and Android phones and works the same way on each.

You start by taking a picture of a wine label that’s sent to Vivino. A few seconds later, a scrollable page opens with information about the wine, including a picture of the label, a 1 to 5 rating from other users who have rated it, average price, detailed reviews, a comparison with other vintages and recommended food pairings. You can also enter your own review and add notes for future reference.

I tried the app on about 20 different bottles; 16 were identified immediately and four required a delay for manual matching. Three of the four came back in a few minutes, and one never did (a Vosne Romanee). My test included a wide variety of wines from around the world and a couple of small family wineries.

What makes Vivino stand apart from other wine apps is the number of users — 8 million who have scanned in and reviewed 100 million bottles of wine. Of these 100 million reviews, there are 5 million unique wines in the database.

I spoke with Steven Favrot, Vivino’s vice president of marketing, who said their users are increasing faster than any other wine app — 15,000 to 20,000 per day. With so many users — he estimates 20 times more than any other app — there’s a high likelihood that many users have reviewed the wine you’re checking. Typically, there were as many as 10 or more ratings, making the results more meaningful.

If you ever perused a wine list in a restaurant trying to decide which wine to order, a second feature in this app can help you choose. Take a picture of a restaurant’s wine list and in a few seconds, that image will come back with ratings superimposed next to each wine on the list. That solves the dilemma of trying to find a wine with a high rating at an affordable price. This feature also worked for me when I took a picture of a wine list off my computer screen.

With that said, it’s likely you can get more nuanced opinions from a fine restaurant’s sommelier who’s much more familiar with the selections on the wine list or, if listed, from a publication such as Wine Spectator, where the tasting is done by professionals.

In fact, Vivino’s newly announced Premium version will add these reviews. For $5 a month or $49.95 per year, you can have them deliver a biweekly Wine Buying Guide. The guide tailors the report to your needs and includes access to up-to-date pricing from more than 50,000 merchants worldwide through Wine Searcher. It also adds expert wine reviews from Robert Parker, Wine Spectator and so on, and helps you keep track of your wine cellar.

Vivino is a perfect example of the value of crowdsourcing, where a large population of users benefits each member, much as Amazon does for product reviews and Waze does for traffic conditions. Based on my use, Vivino improves the odds of choosing a wine of your liking and price point, whether in a restaurant or in a wine store. But don’t ignore recommendations from a store’s employees, restaurant’s sommeliers and other experts.

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