Category Archives: Technology Privacy Surveillance

Hostpapa Review (or Hostpapa’s Scam, and what you should know about all “low-cost” web hosting providers)

 

Many providers of “low-cost” shared web hosting like Hostpapa advertise “unlimited bandwidth” — but it’s a scam, and you could end up with your website shut down and back-up functions blocked unless you pay higher fees. Don’t get burned. Learn from my experience.

In 2018-19, the web hosting provider Hostpapa started slowing down (“throttling”) my website, and then suddenly without notice shut my site down completely until I paid higher fees. This seemed like a scam. I investigated and discovered that’s exactly what it was – and I was far from Hostpapa’s only victim. In this post, I summarize what I learned about this profitable scam aspect of Hostpapa’s regular business operations. I do it in a way that is understandable for non-technical people, and I then suggest key questions to ask before signing up with any “cheap” web hosting provider like Hostpapa.

Hostpapa gets generally good reviews. Learning #1: You cannot trust most reviews of web hosting providers. Search engines return “Reviews of…”, “Top ten…” and “Best…” lists very high in search results, so there are massive profits in posting such lists and reviews. Most reviews of the “best web hosting providers” are put together by a person or company that’s typically getting paid by the web hosting companies every time a visitor clicks through to the companies’ websites, and is paid more if the visitor signs up. So if a top-ten list gives a very bad review, it’s usually just because that particular company has no such “affiliate programs” with scam reviewers. (Reviews done by established, independent tech magazines are a better bet.)

I signed up for Hostpapa’s medium, “unlimited bandwidth,” shared web hosting plan that said they would “never charge higher usage fees” – so what could go wrong?

One day out of the blue I received an automated message from Hostpapa telling me that my website had been using up so much server resources that Hostpapa had shut my website down. I could not even access my website to manage it. The email said that I could regain access to my site if I started paying monthly fees that were ten times more than what I was currently paying.

Most people without technical knowledge probably just pay the higher fees. What choice do you have? But I had a little technical knowledge and a lot of suspicion. My WordPress blog on Hostpapa was small, and the traffic was very light. I contacted Hostpapa and explained this and reminded them I was on an “unlimited bandwidth” plan that said I’d “never be charged higher usage fees”.

Hostpapa staff said my “unlimited” plan wasn’t actually unlimited. They said the “bandwidth” was unlimited but not the “server usage”. Learning #2: The commonly advertised feature of “unlimited bandwidth” for shared web hosting plans is misleading.

For non-technical users, “bandwidth” can be understood as the width of a pipe, while “server usage”, is the amount of liquid your website sends back and forth through the pipe. Hostpapa sent me a link to their policy that described extremely tight, strict limits on “server usage” – the number of monthly drops my website was allowed to send through the pipe to web users. But this policy was never mentioned in Hostpapa’s ads or Terms of Service.

I persuaded Hostpapa to let me back into my website, and I tried to ensure that I had a backup of the content. However, Hostpapa was still throttling my website so heavily that, no matter what back-up tool I used, it would time out.

Hostpapa then sent me a list of technical tips to “correct the problems” that were causing my “excessive server usage.” I had to spend many hours researching to figure out how to implement them. I finally managed to implement them all — and it made absolutely no difference. Hostpapa shut my website down again.

Hostpapa then admitted to me that it was often the case that implementing their technical tips did not actually solve the problems. The real problem, their staff explained, was that WordPress has become so popular that it’s now a frequent target of hackers and malicious web-bots. These hackers and web-bots were overloading my website. And even running WordPress firewalls and plugins like “Stop Bad Bots” doesn’t help a lot — they help secure your site, to be sure, but they do not actually block the bad traffic from ever arriving. Bad traffic can only be blocked at the server level, by the web hosting provider.

So why can’t Hostpapa just block these malicious web-bots? Well, they could. If they wanted to. And that’s exactly what responsible web hosting providers do, I soon discovered. But Hostpapa doesn’t. Instead, Hostpapa lets many web-bots through, and then throttles their clients’ websites and shuts them down and sends out demands for higher fees. And then Hostpapa has set up an entire division of its staff dedicated to moving people with small WordPress sites off low-cost hosting plans onto higher-priced plans – this scam is a major part of their profit model.

Consider a comparison: About 90% of emails circulating on the internet are spam. Imagine if an internet service provider refused to run spam-blockers and instead let all spam emails through to its clients and then charged its clients higher fees for all the extra email server space they were using each day. This is basically Hostpapa’s policy and practice in relation to malicious web-bots – and they can get away with it because most of their individual and small-business clients on low-cost plans don’t have the technical knowledge to understand what’s going on.

I repeatedly asked to be allowed to talk to a supervisor or manager at Hostpapa, but my requests were refused.

I persuaded the Advertising Standards Council to investigate and they eventually concluded that Hostpapa was indeed engaged in false and misleading advertising.

In response to the findings of the Advertising Standards Council and another complaint I made through the Better Business Bureau, Hostpapa finally changed their advertising and Terms of Service to clarify that they will under certain conditions throttle websites, shut them down and charge higher fees (see their new ad below). However, the wording in their ad and Terms of Service “Disruptive Uses” section still make it sound like this will only ever happen if “you” engage in “abusive” activities or if “you” use “unusual” amounts of server space. Hostpapa has refused to clarify that, in fact, your site could be throttled and shut down when you’re simply a victim of common web-bots that Hostpapa itself could be blocking.

I will never do business with Hostpapa again — I’ve found other web hosting providers that are nearly as low-cost and I’ve had no problems. So here are some key questions to ask a provider if you are considering signing up for a shared web hosting plan:

  • Do they block most web-bots that attack WordPress sites, or is that left to the client to do?
  • What are their ACTUAL server usage limits?
  • Do they throttle client websites?
  • Do they shut down client websites without notice?
  • Do they demand higher fees if a site crosses the server usage limits?

I’ve posted this just to be helpful to other people, not to make money. If you’ve found this post helpful, please post a link to it somewhere so that others are more likely to find it when they do searches. (And/or please leave a comment — if you don’t see my “Comments” section below, click on the title of this post and it should appear.)

Upcoming Speaking Events on Children, Youth, Mental Health, Surveillance and Privacy

I’ll be on the last panel of the day at the BC Information Summit in Burnaby, BC on Friday, September 19, 2014. Click here for more information.

I’ll also be speaking alongside Micheal Vonn of the BC Civil Liberties Association at the Vancouver Unitarian Church on Sunday, September 28, 2014. Click here for more info on that.

The Algorithmic Managing of ‘At-risk’ Children

headlines-all6Experts point to mounting evidence that scientifically dubious mental health screening programs are just one part of an international governance shift towards creating all-pervasive surveillance systems for diagnosing ‘pre-crime’ and managing ‘at-risk’ children and youth. And not only is this not helping kids, critics argue, it’s demonstrably harming them.

Part two of a Mad In America investigation into the expansion of psychological screening and electronic surveillance of children and youth. Read it here.

Or read part one.

Dangerous Linkages

The unplugging of a Saanich School District database raises serious concerns about the BC government’s secret plans for students’ personal information—and for everyone’s BC Services Card information.

The BC Ministry of Education warned Saanich School District in March that it would cost the district millions of dollars to make their openStudent database properly integrated with the BC Services Card. Daunted, the school board immediately cancelled development of their in-house database for recording student information, abandoning the two years and $1.5 million they’d invested.

However, there’s a snag in this seemingly straightforward story. Based on the facts the public has been given about the BC Services Card, the government’s assertion to Saanich couldn’t possibly be true. So was the provincial government misleading the school district? If so, why? Or does the government have secret plans for the BC Services Card and our schoolchildren’s personal information that are much more invasive, expansive and expensive than the public realizes?

Clues to the answers lie in understanding what openStudent is, and what it represents to the BC government.

Read more at Focusonline.

BC Police Chief Association Records

It would be great for other people knowledgeable about policing in British Columbia to go through these records that I’ve obtained pertaining to the BC Association of Chiefs of Police and BC Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police. If you do,  please tell me what you learn.

Here’s the back story:

Are BC Police Chiefs Evading the Law?

Is the Law Catching Up to BC’s Police Chiefs?

“Curiouser and Curiouser”

Coup de Police

 

Here are the records finally obtained during mid-2013 which are discussed in “Coup de Police”. These are pdf files that contain hundreds of pages, so they’ll take some time to download. I suggst right-clicking on the filename and choosing “save link as” or “save file as”:

Records pertaining to the BCACP and BCAMCP from the past two years in the custody of the BC Ministry of Justice, which were generated by the BC government.

All records pertaining to the BCAMCP in the custody of the Victoria, Saanich, Central Saanich, and West Vancouver police departments.

All records pertaining to the BCACP in the custody of the Victoria, Saanich, Central Saanich, and West Vancouver police departments.