mercredi 30 avril 2014

Internal Comcast Memo Says Consumerist Is All About “Headlines,” So Here’s One For Them

Earlier this month, Consumerist readers voted to hand Comcast its second Worst Company In America title, the results undoubtedly tied to the cable company’s ill-advised decision to acquire equally cruddy pay-TV provider Time Warner Cable. But rather than own up to — or even ignore — its WCIA tournament victory, the company chose to send out a memo to thousands of employees name-checking Consumerist and accusing us of being all about making headlines.

You can read the entire memo, written by Kevin Casey, President of Comcast’s Northeast Division, at the bottom of this post, but we’ll look specifically at some portions that stood out to us.

Here’s a paragraph in which Casey tells employees to blow off studies by groups that disprove of the merger and to listen to one particular study (but don’t look too closely because you’ll see just how badly the company is still doing):

We cannot make excuses for even one bad experience, but you should know that some of the more recent surveys were conducted by groups like Consumers Union, which have been actively lobbying against the proposed merger from the start. Others, like Consumerist, are designed more for media headlines than accuracy or insight. We have seen steady improvement on other large-scale, credible customer service surveys, including ones from the internationally-recognized J.D. Power & Associates, where since 2010, Comcast has improved more than any other provider in the industry, boosting overall TV satisfaction by 92 points and Internet satisfaction by 77 points.

Let’s break this paragraph down, shall we?

1. “[S]ome of the more recent surveys were conducted by groups like Consumers Union, which have been actively lobbying against the proposed merger from the start.”

We’re not going to speak for our colleagues at Consumers Union — which is the advocacy and public policy division of Consumer Reports — but we’re pretty sure that Casey is referring to CR’s annual telecom survey, which recently ranked Comcast and Time Warner as the worst-performing of the large cable companies (only one, minor, regional provider had a worse showing).

Thing is, while those survey results were made public in March, weeks after the merger, the actual national survey of more than 80,000 Consumer Reports readers was finished long before Comcast announced its intentions to merge with TWC.

Additionally, both Comcast and TWC have historically performed poorly in CR’s annual survey, so the recent results are no anomaly tied to a merger announcement that didn’t happen until after the survey was completed.

2. “Others, like Consumerist, are designed more for media headlines than accuracy or insight.”

This is a common complaint from companies involved in Worst Company voting, but one that is never really backed up with any evidence.

Consumerist is not ad-supported, so this notion that we run the WCIA tournament every year for pageview or visit spikes is a non-starter; there is no financial benefit to the site or to any of the staffers.

Where were all the big “media headlines” surrounding Comcast’s win? There were no TV or radio appearances made regarding this year’s tournament results, and only a handful of mentions in major online news outlets. Unlike Comcast, which blasts out press releases — presumably in the hopes of getting headlines — for every minor development at the company, we didn’t send out a release or make an announcement to the media about this year’s tournament.

We received significantly more media attention for previous WCIA wins by BP and EA; of course neither of those are the nation’s largest cable operator/ISP and operators one of its largest broadcasters and media networks.

We run the tournament because it’s a fun and interesting way to test the waters to see what’s ticking off consumers. If lots of people vote in or read about the WCIA tournament, the only benefit to us is the satisfaction in knowing that more people are discussing the topic. And if your company repeatedly makes the bracket, you’ve only your low customer satisfaction ratings to blame.

And Comcast should not throw stones when it comes time to question anyone’s commitment to truth and accuracy.

• This is a company that took advantage of decades of antiquated regional exclusivity deals to become a massive pay-TV and Internet provider with local monopolies in almost every market in which it operates, but whose CEO (and son of the company’s founder) now points to those same arrangements and complains that his only solution for expanding the company is to acquire another monstrous pay-TV player.

• This is a company that not only managed to shove a merger with NBC Universal down regulators’ throats, but then had the gall to almost immediately hire away one of the FCC commissioners that championed the deal and give her a job as a high-priced lobbyist.

• This is a company that repeatedly boasts that it is the only ISP that is guaranteed to oblige by the recently gutted net neutrality rules, while leaving out the little part about how Comcast is legally obliged to follow those guidelines through 2018 as part of its deal with regulators for approving the NBC merger.

• This is a company that has started testing data caps around the country, but refuses to use that term, instead calling them “data thresholds,” mostly because a cap would imply that you can’t go past that limit, while a threshold can be passed (and the customer can be charged extra).

And speaking of Comcast’s dedication to truthiness, let’s look at the final claim made in the above paragraph:

3. “We have seen steady improvement on other large-scale, credible customer service surveys, including ones from the internationally-recognized J.D. Power & Associates, where since 2010, Comcast has improved more than any other provider in the industry, boosting overall TV satisfaction by 92 points and Internet satisfaction by 77 points.”

Notice how Casey mentions “surveys” but only cites the J.D. Power results? Notice how he doesn’t link to those results or show how Comcast fared in relation to its competition? There’s a reason for that.

As we pointed out in our dissection of the New York Times’ misleading love letter to Comcast and CEO Roberts, Comcast may indeed have improved in the J.D. Power ratings, but it still has average or below-average scores across the board in every region.

Just check them out for yourself here and here.

In all seven categories, across all four regions, Comcast’s pay-TV service failed to score anything better than an “about average” rating from J.D. Power. The only companies to consistently fare as poorly or worse were Time Warner Cable and Charter, coincidentally the two companies that Comcast is currently in a menage a merge with.

Comcast’s Internet service performed slightly better, in that in one single category in one region it scored a high rating. All the other categories in all regions of the J.D. Power survey were “about average” or worse.

So this is like me bragging that I’ve improved by free-throw percentage by 25%, without telling you that my baseline free-throw shooting is so bad I might as well be tossing a medicine ball one-handed while blindfolded.

And Casey, like all his kin at Comcast, completely omits the work done by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, whose surveys put Comcast dead-last among ISPs and second only to TWC as the worst pay-TV provider.

Is Comcast actually the Worst Company In America? Consumerist voters said yes; that’s just as valid as a handful of foreign press reporters picking Golden Globe winners or silver-haired movie industry types selecting the Best Picture Oscar-winner.

If CR or Consumerist had done a survey that found Comcast to be among the best in its industry, you can bet that Casey and his fellow execs would be itching to use that to market their products (Thank god for a good No Commercial Use Policy).

But since we didn’t, the only thing they can do is try to discredit us. Better luck next time.

For those interested, below is the entire letter from Casey to the 24,000 Comcast staffers under his umbrella…

Dear Northeast Division Comcaster,

When we announced our intentions with Time Warner Cable on February 13, I asked you to work to stay focused on the tasks at hand, despite the inevitable distractions. I can’t be more proud of the laser-like focus you’ve demonstrated, and thanks to the teamwork, ownership and accountability of each and every one of you, we closed out a terrific first quarter of 2014 and met or exceeded virtually all our Northeast Division goals.

As you’ve no doubt realized, there’s a great deal of “noise” surrounding the Time Warner Cable deal, and this is only going to increase over the coming weeks and months as the review process continues. I am again asking you to remain focused on the day-to-day operations of running our business and on the areas we can each personally control – but I also want to acknowledge how difficult it can be to read negative stories about our Company in the press, to see things posted to social media, or to just hear friends and family commenting on reports they’ve seen or heard.

Criticism of any deal is normal, and I can assure you our government affairs and public relations teams across the Company are working around the clock to address inaccuracies and educate key audiences and stakeholders. It’s a reality that the bigger and more successful we are, the more we become a target for people and organizations with various special interests, sometimes unfairly, and we just need to have a “tougher skin.”

There is one area in particular, though, I want to address head-on with you, and that’s the recent coverage of our customer service. Every one of us has been working to improve our customers’ experiences and we have made significant progress reducing trouble calls and truck rolls; increasing first call resolution; ensuring on-time appointments; giving our customers more control over how they do business with us through self-service options; and improving overall customer satisfaction. We are continuing to make significant investments to transform the customer experience, and though we all know we are not yet where we want or need to be, we also can’t allow ourselves to get discouraged by surveys or polls that place us toward the bottom of customer rankings.

We cannot make excuses for even one bad experience, but you should know that some of the more recent surveys were conducted by groups like Consumers Union, which have been actively lobbying against the proposed merger from the start. Others, like Consumerist, are designed more for media headlines than accuracy or insight. We have seen steady improvement on other large-scale, credible customer service surveys, including ones from the internationally-recognized J.D. Power & Associates, where since 2010, Comcast has improved more than any other provider in the industry, boosting overall TV satisfaction by 92 points and Internet satisfaction by 77 points.

We are investing billions of dollars to transform the end-to-end customer experience through highly skilled and empowered employees, improved care and tech tools, self-service options like the recently launched My Account app, and innovation in our back office systems. In addition, we continue to invest in our network and in product innovations, the results of which are faster speeds, additional Cloud DVR markets, further X1 enhancements and much more over the coming weeks and months.

We have many things to feel good about this year, and I want to thank you for your passion and dedication. Let’s keep focused on the things we can control and I’m confident we’ll continue to make good progress toward our goals.


Kevin Casey


Northeast Division

Walmart Wants To Cut 25% More Water From Laundry Detergents

060909-003-detergent-capsWhile misleading directionsincorrect or misleading directions really don’t help, studies and real-life experience show that people tend to pour laundry detergent with a heavy hand. That’s why a new eco-friendly initiative from Walmart seems like a good thing, but will be really beneficial to detergent-makers.

Most people overdose on detergent–it’s not a nefarious plot or stupidity on consumers’ part; just how we are. Companies can count on selling us a little bit extra, and sales are actually falling slightly due to the growing popularity of pre-measured detergent pods. They might contain too much soap for a small load, but also remove entirely the ability to over-estimate the amount needed.

In this scenario, everyone wins. Walmart gets to stock its shelves with smaller bottles, giving them more shelf space to cram more merchandise on. They also get a little bit of enviromnental cred: using less plastic to move more detergent is a good thing. Consumers get to carry lighter bottles to their homes and/or cars, but there’s a disadvantage for us, too.

When detergent is more concentrated, that means that when we pour with a heavy hand, we use even more. The Wall Street Journal notes that overall detergent sales went up the last time major brands went through a “round of compaction” in 2008.

How Wal-Mart May Give Detergent Overdosing — And Sales — A Boost

Report: Debt Collectors Now Using Court System To Unfairly Force Consumers To Pay Up

Debt collection is a big business that doesn’t look to be shrinking anytime soon. But along with the rapid expansion of the industry, there has been an increase in abusive and predatory collection practices. One of those practices, obtaining default judgements against consumers, has led the Center for Responsible Lending to call for stricter regulations over the process of selling debt to collectors.

A new report [PDF] from the Center for Responsible Lending highlights how a lack of regulations over the debt buying and collection industries has become a billion dollar business while financially devastated consumers.

Nearly one in seven Americans are currently being pursued by a debt collector, but most of the debts being sought aren’t even owed. How can collectors be hounding consumer for debts that simply don’t exist anymore?

The situation occurs when a collector buys a debt from the original issuer, generally a bank, at rock-bottom prices. The purchaser then receives limited or inaccurate information about the consumer’s debt; often only a name, last known address and purported amount owed. In fact, in 2009 only 6% of debts purchased came with any documentation.


But a lack of information doesn’t stop collectors from making attempts to acquire payments from consumers. And that, according to consumer complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission, is when predatory and abusive practices begin. Complaints filed by consumers include the use of harassing phone calls, threats of arrest, obscene or abusive language, and unlawful threats to sue when attempts to collect are made.

When these, often illegal, tactics don’t work collectors more frequently turn to the justice system to sue consumers for their debts. Collectors then obtain default judgement in their favor when the consumer does not appear in court. CRL reports that consumers generally fail to show because they never received notice of the lawsuit, can’t afford legal representation, or simply don’t understand the need to appear.

Pursuing default judgements is becoming the norm for debt collectors. The report found that in 2011 nearly 80% of all default judgements in New York state were in debt-collection cases. In Minnesota, an estimated 2,400 default judgements were made per month in 2007. That same year, 60,699 cases out of 130,000 cases filed in Cook County, IL, were default judgements.


By receiving a default judgement, the collector can legally freeze a consumer’s bank account, garnish wages, report the judgement to a credit reporting agency, and pressure a consumer into a payment plan. In some states, collectors can even have a consumer arrested for lack of payment or seize personal property to satisfy the judgement.

Not surprisingly, the CRL report found that minorities, senior citizens and low- and middle-income communities experience a higher rate of debt buyer lawsuits and abuses.

Small-claims courts, that are often faced with hearing these cases, have been overwhelmed by the debt collection industry. Generally, these courts are not equipped to deal with the volume of cases and, as a result, are not run inefficiently. CRL found that cases aren’t given the attention they need, judges stubble to adequately handle all the cases and consumers are sometimes pressured into settlements.

CRL proposes that firmer oversight at both the federal and state level would ensure that debt collection happens fairly and responsibly. Recommendations include:

  • Holding banks responsible for the debts they sell – Banks should be required to repurchase accounts that are not collectible due to insufficient documentation, be held accountable for their own practices, and retain liability for the debts they sell.

  • Require banks to conduct more oversight of the debt sales process and of the debt buyers to whom they sell – Banking regulators should establish rules and guidance on the policies and practices that banks must follow if they are going to sell debt.

  • Regulate the flow of information in the debt-collection market – Federal regulators should require increased and accurate documentation and information for each debt sold at the time of sale.

  • Prohibit the initiation of collection efforts on any debt unless the debt buyer has the information necessary to substantiate and verify the debt being sought.

  • Prohibit the sale, collection of, and lawsuits on time-barred debt.

  • Prohibit the sale of certain accounts.

  • Clarify and improve available remedies for harmed consumers.

Tighter regulations could be forthcoming from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In January 2013 , the Bureau’s larger participant rule for debt collection went into effect. Under the rule, the Bureau has supervisory authority over any firm with more than $10 million in annual receipts from consumer debt collection.

In November, the CFPB created the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the first step toward considering consumer protection rules for the debt collection market.

While ANPR is an adequate start, consumer advocates say more can be done to ensure consumer protection.

Our colleagues at Consumers Union continue to urge the Bureau to write rules that achieve: sensible regulations that apply to all persons collecting debt and strong federal standards for information flow and verification procedures.

“The debt collection system has been long overdue for a comprehensive overhaul, to address current market realities and provide meaningful protections to consumers,” officials with Consumers Union posted on its DefendYourDollars blog last month. “By writing strong rules of the road at the federal level, the Bureau can help ensure that consumers across the country have basic important protections against improper collection practices.”

Debt Buyers Found to Routinely Scam Courts to Pursue Debts [Center for Responsible Lending]

Complaint Asks Library To Remove ‘Hop On Pop’ Because It Promotes Violence Against Dads

But don't.

But don’t.

When you’ve got a system that allows the general public to air grievances, it’s pretty much guaranteed that there will be some off-the-wall issues. Or at least, problems that seem to not be all that serious: the Toronto Public Library received a complaint asking for librarians to remove Dr. Seuss’ Hop On Pop, claiming that it promotes violence against well, pops, dear old dad, father dearest. You get it.

That being said, we are very pro-pops here at Consumerist, pro-parent, really, and would never want any dad to be harmed as a result of reading Hop On Pop.

Moving along — yes, this is a real(ish) issue, according to a document the library posted online with seven books that the library was asked to remove over the year (via UPI).

The complaint says the 1963 Seuss favorite “encourages children to use violence against their fathers,” according to the complaint.

Whoever wrote it asked that the library should apologize to Toronto fathers and pay for any damages resulting from the book.

That being said, the Materials Review Committee has made the decision to keep the book in the children’s collection, saying that it’s “humorous,” “well-loved” and that it has “appeared on many ‘Best of’ children’s book lists.”

And besides, anyone who’s actually read Hop On Pop instead of rushing to make a frivolous complaint and waste everyone’s time would know, at the end, the book tells kids not to actually jump on dad. A very important life lesson.

Toronto library asked to shelve Dr. Seuss’ ‘Hop on Pop’ because it promotes violence [UPI]

GE And Midea Recall Fire-Prone Dehumidifiers Sold At Walmart

GE Midea DehumidifierLARGEWere you relieved to learn that your GE-branded dehumidifier wasn’t part of the massive recall of fire-prone units made by Gree Electrics? Yeah, about that. You’re going to have to check that model number again, because 15,000 dehumidifiers from a different manufacturer have been recalled because they might overheat and cause fires, too.

The affected units were an exclusive Walmart model, ADKW30LN, sold under the GE brand name and manufactured by GD Midea Air Conditioning Equipment in China. They were sold from approximately March 2010 to December 2010 for around $170.

If you have one of these models in your home, Midea asks that you unplug it immediately and contact them about returning the entire unit to them for repair. Yes, the entire appliance. You can reach the company at 855-861-2799 from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. Eastern time, or by clicking the “Recall info” link at the bottom of their website.

GE Brand Dehumidifiers by Midea Recalled for Repair Due to Fire Hazard; Sold Exclusively at Walmart [CPSC]

Facebook Updates Its Login System With New Privacy Controls, Anonymous Sign-In

FBloginchanges If you’re like me, you spend plenty of time muttering, “No I do not want to log in using my Facebook profile!” while accessing other sites. Because why does the fundraising site du jour need to know I like a bluegrass band called No Vests On Our Chests? It doesn’t, so Facebook has now updated the privacy controls on those connected logins.

Facebook announced that change and others in a post today from its f8 developers conference.

Basically, it’s not easy to tell what information you’re sharing with which apps you interact with and include Facebook, so these changes will ostensibly clear all that up.

“Last year, people logged into apps and websites with Facebook Login over 10 billion times, giving them a fast and easy way to sign in to apps without having to remember separate usernames and passwords,” Facebook wrote in introducing “line by line control” for logins.

The login system update would allow users to connect with an app through their Facebook credentials, but pick and choose what information that app gets from such a link. So maybe you want to play Ninjas vs. Vampires or whatever and want it to know your name, but not your birthday. You can control that with the update, which is rolling out over the next few months.

Facebook also launched an Anonymous Login option, allowing users to try out games and apps on Facebook without using their own information. The idea being, once you’re okay with how it works, you can choose to use it with your real login. This is still in development, it seems.

The final change is a dashboard to control apps that seems to just be a redesign of the former one. It’s a place “where people can see a list of apps they use, manage specific permissions, or remove apps entirely.” That’s also rolling out in the next few weeks.

And if one more app asks me if I want to connect using my Facebook account, well, I’ll be mad. I already am because I know it’s going to happen.

f8: Introducing Anonymous Login and an Updated Facebook Login [Facebook]

Hackers Stole Doctors’ Tax Refunds By Breaking In To Payroll Software

Last week, we shared the scary news that a ring of tax refund fraudsters appeared to have filed tax returns on behalf of hundreds of doctors and other health care professionals, harvesting their refunds. Early theories were that hackers had used the recent release of federal data about Medicare providers, or obtained a list of doctors. The truth was even scarier.

Many human resources and all payroll functions are now computerized in any workplace that doesn’t pay in wads of cash, and someone has to provide that software. The amazing security reporter Brian Krebs viewed the program that hackers used to slurp up data and file tax returns, and noticed that the people whose data had been stolen worked for a variety of health care facilities, ranging from nursing homes to hospital networks. What did all of these companies have in common? They used a company called UltiPro for their payroll, human resources functions, or both.

Krebs talked to an UltiPro spokesperson, who turned around and blamed customers. Sort of. One way to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data is through multi-factor authentication: requiring a second piece of information to log in to a service, like a code from a text message, e-mail, or outside app like Google Authenticator. When asked, UltiPro says that they offer multi-factor authentication, but that they don’t force customers to use it. That makes all of the sensitive data within the system less secure. The company wouldn’t say much about the alleged breaches for obvious reasons, but one client company did tell Krebs that two-factor authentication wasn’t an option until after a data breach earlier this year.

Tax Fraud Gang Targeted Healthcare Firms [Krebs on Security]

This Is What It Looks Like When Tiny Hamsters Meet Tiny Burritos

Stop whatever you’re doing because it’s probably not nearly as fun as watching small rodents nibble on small food items. Also it’s Wednesday, it’s raining everywhere, burritos are delicious and we all need this.

You will notice, after you’re done exclaiming “SO CUTE!” while watching the video below, that the headline does not mention a tiny hamster eating a tiny burrito. Because anyone who knows hamsters* knows that the little guys pouch their grub first, and save it for a nice snack later.

In any case, the Internet is always going to give us what we want, even if we didn’t know we wanted it, and this case it is a man preparing a wee burrito for his furry friend to snack on.

This video comes with an “Episode 1″ tag as well as a plural amount of hamsters, though there’s only one starring in this particular installment. So we can only hope that means more videos of more hamsters eating other tiny things, or perhaps another kind of burrito. We will wait, with breath that is bated.

*Our resident hamster expert is Laura Northrup. She has encountered pouching before and put it on film before it was cool to do so.

Mercedes Recalls 250,000 Vehicles Because Taillight Issue Could Lead To Small Trunk Fires

It’s never a fun experience when something in your vehicle fails. It’s even worse when that failure could lead to a trunk fire. And that’s precisely the reason Mercedes-Benz is recalling more than 250,000 vehicles.

Following an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the automaker announced the recall of 252,867 C-Class cars because of faulty taillights, the New York Times reports.

More than two years ago, Mercedes detected the issue and made a manufacturing change to replace the parts, but never initiated a recall, a report [PDF] by NHTSA found.

Affected vehicles include all model year 2008-2011 C300, C300 4Matic, C350 and C63 AMG cars.

The automaker reports that oxidation on a ground pin connector could cause the rear taillights to dim or fail completely.

Officials with Mercedes say there have been no reported accidents or injuries related to the issue. However, NHTSA reports it has received reports of five truck fires stemming from the defect.

According to the NHTSA recall notice, Mercedes will have dealers check vehicles for the issue and if necessary replace the tail lamp bulb carriers and connectors.

Vehicle owners will be notified about the recall in June. A second notice will be sent when replacement parts are available, which is expected to be August or September.

The issue was first reported to Mercedes in 2009, but the cause was not determined until late 2011, the company says. The manufacturing change to remedy the issue was made in January 2012.

Following complaints from 21 owners NHTSA began an investigation into the issue.

One of the car owners reported he pulled over when a warning light indicated his taillights weren’t functioning. Another reported Mercedes refused to foot the bill to fix the issue.

“Pulled over and opened trunk. Trunk was filled with smoke and burning plastic smell. Visual flame – small – on ground wire.”

“This is a safety problem and should be covered no matter what. I have found that this is a common problem with these cars and yet there are no recalls.”

In total NHTSA investigation found 402 complaints from vehicle owners, five reports of small trunk fires and nearly 24,000 warranty claims the automaker said could potentially relate to the problem.

Mercedes Recalls 253,000 C-Class Cars for Fire Hazard [New York Times]

Chicago To Join Growing List Of “No Plastic Shopping Bag” Cities

Grocery shoppers of Chicago should start getting used to the notion of bringing their own, reusable bags to the supermarket and other stores; the city’s aldermen passed a resolution earlier today that will ban plastic shopping bags in many stores by Aug. 2015, and almost all stores one year after that.

As in other cities where plastic shopping bags have been banned or heavily regulated, supporters of the Chicago action point to stray bags that fill the city’s gutters and trees, raising both concerns about environmental and aesthetic impact.

“We’re not Neanderthals, we can do better and we should,” explained one alderman to the Chicago Tribune.

The ban would be rolled out in two parts. First, starting in Aug. 2015, retailers with stores larger than 10,000 square feet or chain businesses with at least three outlets operated by the same owner will not be allowed to offer plastic shopping bags to customers. Smaller businesses will have an additional year to ditch the controversial bags.

Since some Chicago neighborhoods are desperately lacking in proper grocery stores, some aldermen raised concerns that a shopping bag ban will harm the city’s efforts to attract supermarkets to these food desserts.

Additionally, stores situated on the city’s edge are worried about losing shoppers to businesses across the city line that will still offer the bags. Some alderman believe that stores could move out of the city rather than face the hassle of only offering paper bags, which are not without their own problems.

A local merchants association had proposed instituting a small per-bag fee as a way of encouraging shoppers to use their own bags, but ultimately the city council went with the ban plan, which has the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.


Is Seattle Plastic Bag Ban Actually Leading To More Shoplifting?

L.A. Bans Plastic Supermarket Shopping Bags

Portland (The One In Oregon) Jumps On The Plastic Bag Ban-Wagon

California Decides Not To Ban Plastic Bags

Walmart Testing Plastic Bag-Less Stores In California

Should Plastic Shopping Bags Be Banned?

Southwest CEO Vows To Work On Getting Planes Where They Should Be On-time

Because no one likes to be told they’ll be arriving somewhere at one time only to find you’re stranded at an airport late at night, staring at the closed Cinnabon and wondering if you’ll ever get home. Late planes are a problem, one that Southwest Airlines says it’s trying hard to fix after lagging behind other carriers in the race to be on-time.

CEO Gary Kelly says the airline is going to add a few minutes between certain flights to try to prevent tardy planes, and will keep an eye on the amount of tight connections it sells, reports the Associated Press.

Despite a No. 1 spot for all-time timeliness since airlines started reporting that information to the government in 1987, Southwest was in 12th place last year behind all its big rivals.

“We’ve got significant schedule changes that are planned for the summer,” Kelly said. “That’s when I want to be monitoring the on-time performance and making sure that we see the improvement that we need. We need to get back to where we were for 2012.”

Part of the problem could be that Southwest jammed more flights into peak hours to get more customers flying, but that’s not working out so well.

“We tried to get a little more aggressive in 2013, and it probably is the cause of our dip in on-time performance,” Kelly said.

But because people want to fly during busy hours due to the plethora of itineraries available, Southwest has to walk a fine line between providing what they want and getting people there on time.

“As long as we’re operating a full airplane,” Kelly said, “I don’t mind spending an extra minute or two turning it.”

Southwest CEO Vows to Fix on-Time Problem [Associated Press]

Colorado Task Force Trying To Figure Out How To Keep People From Eating Too Much Pot

Now that marijuana is legal in Colorado for recreational use, that doesn’t mean necessarily that everyone is sitting around toking on pipes and joints, despite what your imagination has led you to believe. And because a whole lot of people, including pot tourists, like to eat their reefer, state officials are taking on the task of regulating those edible offerings.

As funny as it might be to imagine someone giggling over a batch of brownies, consumers ingesting too much marijuana is a serious problem for health officials and regulators. And of course, those who could come to harm by doing so.

To tackle the issue of how to curb such a problem, a task force is meeting today to start refining Colorado’s rules on edibles, meaning, edible marijuana products, reports the Associated Press.

“Basically, we are trying to figure out how to come up with a reasonable THC concentration or amount in edibles in proportion to product safety size,” said one pediatrician who has treated kids who have eaten marijuana and gotten sick.

Eating too much pot can have serious consequences, and not just in children — one Denver man reportedly jumped to his death from a hotel balcony after eating six times the recommended dosage of a marijuana-infused cookie.

It’s especially important because many people eschew smoking marijuana for the edible forms, including tourists to the state who can’t smoke in public or at a hotel. And because it’s a new industry, many consumers just don’t know how much to eat.

The state already limits how much THC can be in edibles to 10mg per serving, with a max of 10 servings in a package. But it’s hard to nail down that potency because of the wide varieties of marijuana available.

State lawmakers are also working on legislation that would require edibles themselves to be marked as containing pot, and not just the containers and wrappers they come in. Another bill would reduce limits on how much concentrated marijuana you can have, like the oils used to make cakes and cookies.

“All of us want to make sure people are safe,” said Meg Collins, executive director of the Denver-based Cannabis Business Alliance and a member of the task force. “The industry is stepping up and is looking at the best ways to educate and communicate to its customers safe ways to recreate with marijuana.”

Colorado works on new rules for edible marijuana [Associated Press]

Google Will Stop Data-Mining Student E-Mail Accounts

Did you have a high school or college e-mail account administered by your school? Whatever, Grandma: lately, many schools have migrated to using Google Apps for Education, which provides mail and a suite of other Google services to educators and students for free. Free, really? Surely there must be a catch. Say, that Google was indexing students’ messages in order to serve up more relevant ads to them elsewhere on the Internet.

See, one of the selling points of Google Apps for Education is that unlike regular old Gmail, it doesn’t scan the text of your messages and serve up related ads in order to pay for the whole endeavor. For standard Gmail users who don’t use ad-blocking software, these appear right alongside the messages. In theory, Apps for Education users weren’t supposed to see ads like these. Yes, Google would process the content of customers’ e-mails, but only for features like tagging certain messages as “important” or sorting them into the new “social media” and “Promotions” tabs. So they claimed.

The plaintiffs in a current lawsuit against Google claim that the company is using data gleaned from reading Apps for Education users’ mail in order to serve up more relevant ads elsewhere on the Internet, where many sites use Google’s Adsense service for their advertising.

A company spokesman told media outlets this morning that Google will also stop similar ad-scanning practices for businesses and governments that use Gmail for employee e-mail accounts.

Google Stops Scanning Student Gmail Accounts for Ads [Wall Street Journal]

Google Under Fire for Data-Mining Student Email Messages [Education Week]

Hulu To Finally Let Non-Paying Mobile Users Watch Shows (And Ads, Of Course)

Mobile users will finally be able to watch free Hulu shows -- and all the glorious ads they can stomach -- on their phones and tablets.

Mobile users will finally be able to watch free Hulu shows — and all the glorious ads they can stomach — on their phones and tablets.

For years, consumers have been able to watch free TV content on Hulu on their computer screens, but if they wanted to check out most of this freely available content on their phones or tablets, they generally had to ante up for a paid Hulu Plus subscription. Today, in addition to some other new features for Hulu, the service announced it will begin making free content readily available to mobile users.

This is a big step forward for Hulu, which had previously limited non-paying mobile users to clips of shows rather than the library of free content that is available to desktop users.

Hulu is different from competitors like Netflix or Amazon Prime, in that almost all of its content — even much of what’s on Hulu Plus — is broken up by advertising breaks. This allows the company to make a number of shows available for streaming to anyone, but it also means Hulu was missing out on ad revenue from non-paying users who can’t access these shows on their mobile devices.

Android users will be the first to get access to free content when it rolls out this summer, followed by iOS users.


The company said today that it will soon be offering advertisers what it calls an “In-Stream Purchase Unit,” that allows Hulu users to make purchases and place orders directly from within Hulu. The first partner to try this will be Pizza Hut, meaning users can order up a pie while catching up on Hannibal, without having to leave Hulu to do so.

Hulu is also continuing to talk to cable operators about getting the service integrated into set-top boxes. It’s already a fixture on most web-connected streaming devices like Roku, Chromecast and Amazon’s new Fire TV.

[via TheVerge]

Which Cities Spend The Most Money On Pampering Pets?

So you think you love your little fluffy wuffy snorgly borgly honeypie Fido, do you? You tuck him in with his special blanket every night, feed him his fancy food and generally fawn over your pet — but how does your city stack up when it comes to spending cash on pets?

Because apparently may is National Pet Month, celebrated by releasing its list of the 20 most pampered pet cities in the United States. Keep in mind that Amazon is in the business of selling pet goods, so this list is far from the definitive word on spoiled pets.

The list is on 2013 sales of pet-related items — from Mr. Whiskers’ favorite toy to Rover’s beloved brush. Does your fish have a ginormous fish palace? That’s included too.

According to Amazon’s list, the most pampered cities for pets on a per capita basis, and in cities with more than 400,000 residents:

1. Miami

2. Seattle

3. Atlanta

4. San Francisco

5. Portland, Ore.

6. Washington, D.C.

7. Las Vegas

8. Austin, Texas

9. Tucson, Ariz.

10. San Diego

11. Sacramento, Calif.

12. Raleigh, N.C.

13. Dnever

14. Colorado Springs, Colo.

15. Baltimore

16. San Jose, Calif.

17. Albuquerque, N.M.

18. Chicago

10. Omaha, Neb.

20. Virginia Beach, Va.

United Airlines Pilots Call For CEO To Be Bumped From The Company

It’s been a rough few weeks for United Airlines; once again coming in dead last in an annual customer satisfaction survey of major U.S. carriers, and then posting a quarterly loss of nearly half a billion dollars while Delta and American earned huge profits. Now the leadership of the largest chapter of the United pilots union is making no attempt to hide their disapproval of CEO Jeff Smisek.

The Street reports that in an April 25 letter to the 2,300 members of the Air Line Pilots Association chapter representing United’s pilots based in Newark and New York, chapter officers write that “It’s time to find a new CEO who understands how to run an airline, not just make excuses for his failures.”

The three officers explain that they “have absolutely zero confidence in the ability of present management to lead a turnaround.”

The letter takes issue with what are apparently still-lingering growing pains resulting from United’s merger with Continental. That deal was approved in 2010 and the two carriers have been operating as a single entity since 2012.

“[A] merger that should have been completed in three years or less remains incomplete after nearly four years (and) interdepartmental communication and cooperation are nearly nonexistent,” reads the letter, which also cites “terrible employee morale and excessive outsourcing… combined with chronic operational and IT issues” as a reason that United’s highest tier of frequent fliers have left the airline “in droves,” according to union leadership.

“No one else has a greater financial stake in United Airlines than the collective stake of our pilots,” explains the letter. “Our careers should not be jeopardized by the worst senior management in the airline industry.”

This is just the opinion of the leadership of one chapter of the union. The other chapters will have their say when they all meet in Chicago next week.

Energizer Plans To Split Into Two Companies; One For Batteries, Other For Personal Products

The Energizer bunny will soon be part of a broken home. Okay, not really but the little guy’s parent company plans to split in two; separating the bunny from tampons, shaving gel and other personal products a bunny obviously has no need for.

Energizer Holdings announced plans to break its hefty product portfolio into two separate companies by the end of 2015. One company will continue to sell batteries, while the other will focus on personal care products.

Officials with the company say the split is the latest development in a plan to provide a clearer focus for the company in terms of competition and growth.

“Since becoming an independent company in 2000, Energizer has built two successful divisions and each is now well-suited to realize its full potential on a standalone basis,” Ward M. Klein, CEO of the company, says in a news release.

The new Personal Care company won’t be selling some new brand of household products, either.

In fact, the company behind the iconic bunny is the same company behind some of the most well-known personal care products on the market, such as Platex, Schick and Edge shaving gel, Hawaiian Tropic and Banana Boat sun care products and more.

The Household Products company will continue to sell batteries, portable lighting products from the Energizer and Eveready brands.

Before the company can officially split the plan must be approved by regulators.

Energizer Announces Intent To Separate Into Two Publicly Traded Companies [Energizer Holding Company]

Food Poisoning Suspected After More Than 100 People Fall Ill During Food Safety Summit



While some of our nation’s brightest food minds were gathered at a Food Safety Summit in Maryland earlier this month, the very thing they came together to discuss seems to have wreaked havoc on more than 100 people attending. In what can only be a prank from the food gods, it appears food poisoning is one of the suspected culprits, officials say.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said that most of those who fell ill have complained of diarrhea, reports the Associated Press, after hearing back from about 400 of the 1,300 attendees. No one has been hospitalized.

It’s still unclear what happened or how the attendees were exposed to the illness over the course of two days earlier this month, when the Baltimore Convention Center hosted representatives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and food companies like McDonald’s Corp, Tyson Foods Inc and ConAgra Foods Inc.

The illness might’ve spread from person to person, or could’ve been transmitted through the food served during the conference. The food service company was recently inspected in February with no glaring citations, other than a violation notice for condensation dripping from an ice machine.

“We are working on evaluating possible exposures and doing testing at the Maryland state public health laboratory to attempt to identify an agent,” the health department said in the statement.

Food poisoning fells more than 100 at Maryland food safety summit [Associated Press]

7 Items You’ll Find The Best Prices On During May

Our price-tracking colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports keep track of when the best discounts appear on a variety of items. As we get ready to flip over the calendar page to celebrate May, what will you be able to find the best deals on in the coming month?

Athletic clothing and shoes

If you’re in the market for new sneakers, this might be the month to buy them.

Camping and outdoor gear

This makes sense: in much of the country, the weather is finally tolerable to spend time outside, so companies are competing for our tent money.


…there must be a good reason for this price drop, but we’re not sure what it could be.

Cordless phones

If you’re switching to a cordless phone system for your landline, look for one that has a battery backup so the line remains usable when the power is out.

Lawn mowers and tractors


Try mattresses out in person before buying, which means you have to go to a retail store. Keep in mind that the most expensive models are at the front, waiting to draw your attention.

Small electronics

Pocket-sized gadgets and devices that you plug into your TV will most likely be on sale in the coming month.

Looking For New Auto Insurance? Walmart Offers A One-Stop-Shop For That Now, Too

walmart Here’s our idea of what a typically Walmart shopping list looks like: bread, butter, milk, eggs, toothpaste, shampoo, and auto insurance. That is not a typo, Walmart has officially entered every facet of our lives with the launch of their new auto insurance comparison service.

The super-store teamed up with to begin a comparison service that aims to help drivers buy and save on their auto insurance policies, the company announced Wednesday.

Because, you know, you’re already making money transfers and trading in video games for cash at Walmart, why not buy auto insurance there, too?

“Providing our customers with access to a broad assortment – from groceries to tires – at low prices and in one location is what we’re known for. We’re bringing the same one-stop shopping mentality to the insurance industry with,” Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services for Walmart, says in a news release.

The service provides customers with multiple quotes from insurance carriers such as Progressive, Esurance, Safeco, The General and others. So far, the service is available in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas, but the company plans to offer it nationwide in the coming months.

The idea for the auto insurance comparison service was born out of the realization by Walmart officials that customers “too often have to settle for auto insurance policies that aren’t the best fit and cost more than they want to spend.”

Walmart first experimented with the service last year in Pennsylvania. Customers who used the service reported their annual insurance savings to be an average of about $1,168.

As the exclusive retailer and marketing partner of, Walmart customers will be able to access the service directly from its website.

The company detailed just how the service works in its announcement:

  • When customers log on to the website, all they have to do is provide their name, address, date of birth and contact information.

  • They can then opt-in to have the site retrieve their current auto insurance policy. This allows to automatically fill in most of the necessary coverage information and provide a direct apples-to-apples comparison.

  • In just minutes, the customer is provided multiple quotes from leading carriers. They can customize their coverage, including deductibles, and see those choices immediately reflected in the quotes.

  • They can choose to either purchase the policy online immediately, speak with a licensed agent at 800-700-7500, or save their information and make the purchase later. There is absolutely no cost or commitment to use the service.

  • Customers will only be contacted in the future by or the carrier of the policy they purchase.

Walmart Works with to bring Customers First-of-its-Kind Comparison Service [Walmart]

Study: Salesperson’s Rude Attitude Can Put Customers In The Buying Mood

Big mistake? Vivian would've probably liked these meanies according to this study.

Big mistake? Vivian would’ve probably liked these meanies according to this study.

Walking into the rarefied air of a fancy boutique might take your breath away if you’re not used to staring at price tags with more zeroes tacked on than you’ve ever held in your hands, but add in a hoity toity salesperson and and you’ve got shopping magic, says a new study looking at snobby sales staff.

Instead of a ginger avenging angel in the guise of Julia Roberts, triumphing over her former tormentors by waving her high-end purchases in their snobby faces a la Pretty Woman, the study says that when sales people act above the shopper, people can be swayed into buying those tony goods, says a study from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.

Published in the upcoming Journal of Consumer Research, the study says such treatment might make shoppers feel like they’re getting the real, fancy deal.

“It appears that snobbiness might actually be a qualification worth considering for luxury brands like Louis Vuitton or Gucci,” says Sauder Marketing Prof. Darren Dahl. “Our research indicates they can end up having a similar effect to an ‘in-group’ in high school that others aspire to join.”

Ah yes, leave it to the cool kids to be mean to someone, just to find that such treatment only further chains the poor outcast to the idea of buying her way into acceptance! Sorry, there’s a 12-year-old in me who is feeling skeptical of this whole thing.

Anyway, participants in the study had imagined or real interactions with sales representatives, some who were rude, some who were perfectly pleasant. They then rated their feelings about the brands they were shown and how much they wanted to own them.

Lo and behold, participants said they wanted to be associated with high-end brands and felt that way more after they’d been treated like the stuff on the bottom of Tiffany’s perfectly white Keds. Shh, quiet, 12-year-old me.

However, the sales person had to really come off as an authentic representative of the brand, or face turning off the customer (which might’ve been the case in Pretty Woman) And sales staff acting snobby didn’t help impressions of mass-market brands.

“Our study shows you’ve got to be the right kind of snob in the right kind of store for the effect to work,” says Dahl.

He suggested that if you’re being treated rudely and don’t like it, you should leave and come back later. Or shop online, where you can only count on strangers to leave rude reviews.

Snobby staff can boost luxury retail sales [University of British Columbia]

mardi 29 avril 2014

FCC Chairman: I’d Rather Give In To Verizon’s Definition Of Net Neutrality Than Fight

With every word he writes, recently installed FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler shows he has little interest or belief in net neutrality as most consumers understand it. In another flimsy attempt at defending his position on “fast lanes” — i.e., allowing Internet service providers to charge more to content companies seeking priority access to end-users — Wheeler contends that consumers should do what Verizon and other telecoms want because well, it could take a while to do it correctly.


“The idea of net neutrality (or the Open Internet) has been discussed for a decade with no lasting results,” writes Wheeler in a lengthy blog post. “Today Internet Openness is being decided on an ad hoc basis by big companies. Further delay will only exacerbate this problem.”

Once again, Wheeler completely glosses over the fact that the only reason a federal appeals court gutted the previous neutrality rules was because a shortsighted FCC never thought to categorize Internet service providers as vital communications infrastructure. As numerous supporters of a true net neutrality have repeatedly pointed out, reclassifying ISPs would likely mean the FCC could reinstate the old rules (and possibly more stringent ones) and survive a legal challenge.

But Wheeler doesn’t want to take that chance because he’d rather allow clever lawyers for the telecom industry to dictate the direction of net neutrality than use the clever (but less well-paid) lawyers at the FCC to figure out a solution that doesn’t undercut the entire notion of an open Internet.

He once again points to this so-called “blueprint” that the appeals court laid out in its opinion as a way to “create Open Internet rules that would stick,” without regard to whether or not those rules result in an Internet that is open.


Lawyers for the telecom industry do not look at a court’s ruling and say, “Well, there you go… That’s the final word, I guess. Thank garsh I have this fancy laws degree!” Had Verizon been defeated at the appeals court level, it most certainly would have submitted one heck of a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court — an option that Wheeler did not pursue.

You’d think that, given his previous experience CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association and president of the National Cable Television Association, Wheeler would have some insight at how to beat the telecoms at their own game. But instead he’s fine with letting Verizon win, so long as it results him checking “Do net neutrality thingy” off his to-do list.

“I am concerned that acting in a manner that ignores the Verizon court’s guidance, or opening an entirely new approach, invites delay that could tack on multiple more years before there are Open Internet rules in place,” explains Wheeler, who says his proposal is “an enforceable rule,” which he believes is more important than “continuing the debate over our legal authority that has so far produced nothing of permanence for the Internet.”

Does he not realize that this isn’t giving your kid a dang Ritz cracker to shut him up until you eat dinner at Grandma’s house? These are binding regulations that will be used to set important precedents during a crucial stage in the development of the Internet.


Wheeler’s defense does begin to show some cracks, which is a positive sign — and an indicator that concerned consumers should continue to write the FCC to let them know their feelings.

He writes that if his proposal “turns out to be insufficient or if we observe anyone taking advantage of the rule,” he “won’t hesitate” to reclassify ISPs as infrastructure… which only raises the question of why he hesitates to do that now, before the feces hits the fan.

Again, he explains, it’s a matter of being expedient. The FCC can’t use that delight roadmap from the court.


On the specific issues of fast lanes, Wheeler once more accuses consumers of overreacting and not trusting that a governmental agency run by a former frontman for both the cable and wireless industries has their back.

To show just how awesome his FCC will be at keeping fast lanes from turning standard Internet connections into mud roads in order to squeeze the most money from online content companies, Wheeler outlines the various ways in which the agency will police fast lanes.

Let’s take these on a point-by-point basis…

“Something that harms consumers is not commercially reasonable. For instance, degrading service in order to create a new ‘fast lane’ would be shut down.”

That’s good to hear, but this statement doesn’t differentiate between degrading service and passive-aggressively not improving service. We don’t expect the Verizons and Comcasts of the world to slow down the current level of service; we just expect they will largely maintain the status quo while charging a premium for even mildly improved access.

“Something that harms competition is not commercially reasonable. For instance, degrading overall service so as to force consumers and content companies to a higher priced tier would be shut down.”

Again, this statement fails because it doesn’t take into account that a failure to improve service is a de facto degradation.

“Providing exclusive, prioritized service to an affiliate is not commercially reasonable. For instance, a broadband provider that also owns a sports network should not be able to give a commercial advantage to that network over another competitive sports network wishing to reach viewers over the Internet.”

That sounds nice, Mr. Wheeler, but this doesn’t seem to require the ISP to provide the same level of service or access; merely that it not make that better service exclusive. So if Cable Company X (which is also an ISP) owns an online sports channel that it gives priority access to, Company X need only offer priority access to competing networks; it doesn’t say Company X can’t charge a premium fee for that access.

“Something that curbs the free exercise of speech and civic engagement is not commercially reasonable. For instance, if the creators of new Internet content or services had to seek permission from ISPs or pay special fees to be seen online such action should be shut down.”

This is really just a restatement of one of the few remaining principles of net neutrality — that ISPs can’t block legal content. What it doesn’t deal with is the increased cost for entry into a market because of fast lane fees.

Say there are three streaming video companies competing — two established services with millions of paying subscribers, and one startup that is showing promise but is still leaning heavily on venture capital funding while gaining its audience. If ISPs start charging fast lane fees, the two established businesses can pay while the startup can not. The quality of its service begins to look poor in comparison to the others and it can’t gain subscribers. Additionally the other two companies increase their rates to offset the cost of the fees; they also no longer have to worry about being undercut by a low-cost competitor.

This isn’t blocking legal content or curbing the free exercise of speech, but it is an example of how fast lanes can limit consumer options and result in decreased competition and higher prices.

On this last issue, Wheeler makes more promises that are reactive instead of proactive.

“If we get to a situation where arrival of the ‘next Google’ or the ‘next Amazon’ is being delayed or deterred, we will act as necessary using the full panoply of our authority,” he writes, again ignoring the fact that he can preempt that concern by not allowing fast lanes in the first place and simply reclassifying ISPs.


Perhaps Wheeler is indeed an idealist and truly believes that ISPs will continue to innovate and improve their networks for everyone at their current rate, and that they will only use fast lane access in the most extreme cases — and never in a discriminatory, anti-competitive, anti-consumer manner.

But the fact that he repeatedly makes statements about not hesitating to reclassify ISPs if necessary seems to indicate that he doesn’t really believe these things; it’s just faster and easier for now to pretend he does.

GameStop Will Close Around 125 Stores, Open Up To 400. Wait, What?

You might associate GameStop with video game consoles and software for your computer, but the chain is looking ahead. They’re looking toward a future where everyone plays games on the mobile phones in their pockets…and, more importantly, needs somewhere to buy those phones. That means closing around 125 GameStop stores, and adding new shops in other brands that the company owns: Spring Mobile, Simply Mac, and authorized sellers of Cricket Wireless.

What are these chains? Spring Mobile is a mobile products store that sells AT&T phones and plans. GameStop bought the chain in late 2013, and they have a few hundred stores scattered across the country.

Cricket is a mobile carrier that recently tied its fortunes together with AT&T’s no-contract Aio Wireless brand. GameStop doesn’t own this company, but operates stores that sell Cricket phones and service.

Simply Mac, as you might guess from the name, is an authorized reseller of Apple products that runs small stores in markets that lack Apple stores.

Maybe this will be a more promising plan for GameStop: the main problem that we can see from here is that the stores have tied their future very closely to that of AT&T Wireless.

GameStop to close 120-130 stores; open 300-400 tech stores under new banners [Chain Store Age]

GameStop 3.0 pushing company beyond games [Games Industry]

Former AOL E-mail Users Report Spam Spewing From Zombie Accounts

Did you sneer at the mysterious AOL breach that has compromised some customers’ information because you don’t use AOL e-mail anymore? Yeah, about that. Some former AOL users have reported that messages went out under their former IDs. Are spammers forging messages from defunct addresses, or have these AOL accounts gone zombie?

Normally, when we talk about zombie accounts, we mean financial or utility accounts that have been explicitly closed and are reactivated again, creating unexpected disasters for the account’s owner. In this case, though, the zombie accounts aren’t really dead…the users had just abandoned them for so long that they probably assume that the accounts had been cleared out of the system.

CNN spoke to one ex-AOL user who heard from co-workers and former students that her long-dormant account was sending out messages. She found that the messages had been forged, and weren’t being sent from her account, but they were going out to people she had e-mailed in the past, and did bear her return address.

If you still have access to your account, AOL asks that you change the password. Whether you’re a customer or not, report any suspicious messages that claim to originate from AOL to

Reports on this are spotty, so we’re calling on our readers: if you notice any messages from someone who you know hasn’t used AOL in years, or if your contacts complain of receiving e-mail from your long-abandoned account, please let us know.

If this incident has taught us anything, it’s that it’s a really, really good idea to shut down accounts that you don’t intend to use again, if possible.

AOL hack causes zombie spam [CNN Money]