AMITIAE - Sunday 22 December 2013

Cassandra: Broken Passwords, iTunes Hesitation and Apple Help on Hold for the Weekend

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Using secure passwords is important and companies that deal with online transactions (such as Amazon, Apple and PayPal) are aware that there are those who try to break in to user accounts. They are also aware that users sometime mistype their passwords; but a fine line has to be walked when deciding if a wrong password entered is an error or a potential security risk.

I use Apple's online stores quite often: the iTunes Store, the Mac App Store and the Online Apple Store for Thailand. I use an Apple ID for this. I have another Apple ID for my iCloud use. I am fairly careful when it comes to purchases from Apple's online store from Thailand and consider carefully what I should buy. As the last item was a MacBook Pro, the cost, and the risk to me, Apple and my credit card could be quite high.

Durante Buying from the iTunes Store - usually apps, and sometimes music - is more in the nature of impulse purchasing. I see something I like, a read a review, or something puts an idea into my brain. That happened last week when near the end of a sentimental movie, a song by Jimmy Durante came on.

Not many people will remember him or his gravelly voice, but over the years I have been familiar with some of his more famous tunes, partly from children's radio in the 1950s: some of his hits were that long ago.

I have a number of odd music purchases from a variety of sources, like a 16-year old Yehudi Menuhin playing Mozart's 7th Violin Concerto, Cyril Davies from 1963, and The Sex Pistols (and a lot more). Some of these come from my own disk collection, but more and more are being downloaded. Jimmy Durante would fit in perfectly and the iTunes store had the tune I wanted with several others on the $8.99 album.

I didn't forget, but mistyped the password. Only twice, but that was enough to sound the alarms, raise the barriers and my purchase was put on hold. I was warned by iTunes that there had been a transgression. I apparently had two choices: put in the right Apple ID or reset the password. Those were not the right choices.

I decided on the option that allowed me to reset the password via an email sent to the account I have registered with Apple. There have, however, been some changes. As this is the Thai store, all information now comes in Thai. I have reset a password before and that was in English. I can hold a conversation with a Thai taxi driver and I can buy fresh fruit at the local market as well as chat up the old ladies in the supermarket, but apart from the days of the week and names of my students my reading of Thai is abysmal.

I took a stab at the first link in the email, which turned out to be right. It took me to a page - again all in Thai - on the Apple site. Here were two boxes for entering a password and then confirming. What was above, below and to the side, I have no idea. One changed colour as I typed in a password, so I guess that was connected to password strength.

Sitting there, in a situation I had not been expecting, I had to come up with a suitable password. I looked around for inspiration. Was I running out of time? I grasped at a straw and entered nurofen_gkr, but Apple wasn't having any of that. Whether it was too weak or the two entries failed to match, I do not know. I tried again. Same result. A third try . . . nope. I started the processa again from the email, but the result was the same. I was unable to create a new password and I had no idea why.

Time for some help; but the Support page I linked to took me to the US site and there was no help for me there for problems in SE Asia. Back to the Thai site and I saw on one page that if I wanted help in English, I should try the regional site link.

By the time, I had worked my way through the list of questions to refine my query and was allowed to enter my details to ask a question, I was a little frustrated and made a couple of tart suggestions regarding the international nature of Apple.

I have now been waiting since Thursday evening. The email said "soon" and added that this is usually within 48 hours. That is now 3 days (72 hours). This is now Sunday, so I have no idea when I can go through a process online of explaining my problem - my problem? The message was received. I had an acknowledgement; but customer help seems to be on hold.

Without a password, I cannot buy things. And if Apple looks at the last 12 months, my purchase record for hardware and software, as well as apps and music, is not at all shabby (let's use an Apple word, shall we?). It looked more as if it could turn out to be Apple's problem, both in terms of my inability to make further purchases online, and the point about keeping the customer satisfied.

iTunes In the meantime, other problems appeared in iTunes which seem to have begun just after the update of OS X to 10.9.1. A large list of app updates appeared and I downloaded these. The last one stuck on processing and no matter what I did, the candy-striped line in iTunes kept moving.

I tried to quit,. After I ignored the warning that downloading was taking place, the application did not close. I resorted to Force Quit. When I restarted iTunes later in the day, I was asked for my password. Fingers crossed, I tried the previous password that Apple said I had mistyped. It worked. The last app was still there, still pretending it was busy. I deleted it, then I downloaded it again.

A couple of days later, the problem with a reluctant app happened again. This time, after Force Quit, I repaired permissions using Disk Utility. When I restarted iTunes (the password was requested again and accepted) the same app was shown, but when I clicked on it, expecting it to be deleted, I was informed it was ready for download. Down it came without problem.

There was more. What started the problem was that music download . When I finally made the purchase, one of the 12 Jimmy Durante tracks stuck on processing: just like the apps. When I restarted iTunes (again Quit, followed by Force Quit), it was shown correctly in the music library. Although I was pleased with the result, there is some inconsistency here. I reported the problem on the Apple Feedback page.

It is now almost 72 hours since the help request was submitted. I know it is a weekend, but this is when many home users have the time to use their computers and are more likely to make online purchases (or experience problems).

  • Had my old password not been accessible (although the information from iTunes implied it was not), I would have not been able to update the apps in my collection or make any further purchases. As the same Apple ID is linked to the App Store, that would have been affected; and the Apple Online Store also uses the same information, so I would have been prevented from making any purchases. Mind you with a new MacBook Pro and a new iPhone, my buying power is a limited right now.

  • What concerns me more is that the local online access that Apple provides presumes that, because I am in the country, I can read the characters that are used. I have long moaned about the licensing agreement being in Thai only, which most people agree to without reading (I do read these often, particularly when new products arrive).

  • However, now that all written communications are in Thai, there needs to be an option for those clients who are unable to read the language. This is the one area of working with Apple products that has become harder for me.

A lot of users will have partners who will be able to guide them through the texts, but not all will be able to grasp some of the concepts. Google makes it easy to switch between languages and it might be helpful if Apple were to provide such an option in countries where there is a significant number of users not from the specific nation, particularly with ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) integration in little over a year (2015).

I would of course have suggested that to the Apple representative, if I had been contacted on this Help request within the 48 hours.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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