jeudi 31 juillet 2014

TiVo E-Mails Me Coupon Code, Reserves Right To Remove Discounts After Order


Seemed like a good idea at the time.

When TiVo was offering a great price on their Roamio DVRs, reader Victor thought that his mother-in-law could use one. He thought about it, put one in his virtual cart, and then took some time to decide. Like many retailers will do, TiVo sent him an e-mail with a $50 off coupon to entice him back. How could he resist? He placed the order, and that’s where things started to go wrong.

The total was supposed to be $594.98. Fabulous deal.


All seemed well until he received the shipping notification. His total order for the DVR and a TiVo service subscription for the life of the device came to $594.98. A few days later, the order shipped, and he received a notification that his card had been charged for $794.98. Wait, what? That was $200 more than he thought he had spent.



Naturally, he called up TiVo to find out what was going on. Their explanation was that they had some problems in the past with customers stacking coupon codes on top of each other, and reserved the right to change orders after the fact if they used ill-gotten coupons. This is spelled out in the company’s terms:

We reserve the right (without liability) to (1) accept or decline your order for any reason (including if we suspect you are ordering products for resale), (2) supply less than the quantity you ordered of any item, (3) change prices for products displayed on at any time, (4) correct inadvertent pricing or product/service information errors, and (5) charge your credit card on file a 15% restocking fee for orders that are refused at the shipping address designated for your account at the time of purchase.

Well, fine. We would accept this explanation from TiVo if Victor had been gathering coupon codes he wasn’t entitled to and trying them together to find out what happened. It would make sense if the $50 offer they e-mailed him had been incompatible with the current sale on the Roamio. The trouble is, that isn’t what he was doing.

“This wasn’t some code I scrounged the internet for that accidentally worked,” he wrote to Consumerist. “This was a targeted promotion for TiVo’s own special that was already in my cart that TiVo shouldn’t have sent me if they didn’t want to give it to me.” Right. If you don’t want people to use coupons, don’t send them those coupons. Simple.

If he didn’t want this to happen, he should have read all of the company’s terms and conditions before going through with the purchase. Everyone probably should do that, but admit it: hardly anyone ever does.

Victor contacted us, and we turned around and asked TiVo what was up with this deal. They told us that they can’t discuss specific customers’ accounts, but the company’s executive customer service team did follow up with Victor. He told us that TiVo’s offer was that “they would honor the promotion since they sent it to me directly with no message or indication that it couldn’t be combined,” he explained. Yay!

Still, Victor wonders what would have happened to a more meek consumer. “I’m afraid that others not tenacious enough just ended up eating the $50 thinking there was nothing else to be done once customer service denied them,” he observed.

It’s fair to limit promotions, but not to e-mail customers with false hope.

Kickstarter Suspends Alleged AirBNB Squatter’s Second Game Campaign

conexIn Palm Springs, California, a man booked a vacation condominium for 44 days, saying that he would be in town on a business trip. After 30 days, he gained rights as a tenant under California law, and refused to pay rent or to leave. When the story broke, he was discovered to be an indie game developer who has failed to deliver a Kickstarter-funded project. That’s when the justice of the sharing economy kicked in. Kind of.

When the owner of the condo where the man is squatting threatened to turn off the electricity, he said that would be disastrous because he works from home, earning $1,000 to $7,000 a day. He is a game developer, apparently, who raised more than four times its $40,000 goal. The game was supposed to be released sometime around now, but no updates were coming. Backers were promised a copy of the company’s next title, called Knuckle Club.

The problem with that? Knuckle Club is still in the funding phase on Kickstarter. Well, it was. Kickstarter has now suspended the project, as of today. Why? Kickstarter isn’t saying, but the negative publicity surrounding the condo-squatting incident and the non-delivery of the other Kickstarter-funded title. Backers of the other projects may have also complained to Kickstarter after someone using the developer/squatter’s account left a comment saying “10/10 would squat again” on the project’s page.

Lesson learned? Use a fake name for everything. No, wait, that’s not a good lesson, or a practical one. The lesson here should be that the Internet never really forgets anything, and that people who invest in your project through crowdfunding expect to get something back in return.

Kickstarter suspends accused Airbnb squatter’s game project [Polygon]

United Fliers, Prepare To Be Bored By This Punishingly Long “Humorous” Safety Video

Even people who haven’t flown are pretty familiar with the basics of the safety spiel the cabin crew gives before takeoff — no smoking, buckle your seatbelt and keep it buckled, know where the exits are, don’t freak the f*#$ out when the oxygen bag thing drops, and if we crash into the water and manage to survive, you can float in the freezing water on your seat cushion. The more concise an airline can make these statements, the better. But United Airlines thinks that the best way to make you give a hoot about airline safety is to make you watch a 4.5-minute video that tries to tickle your funny bone.

It takes a full 20 seconds of United staffers greeting you in different languages and your “pilot” finishing up his coffee at some presumably French bistro before it finally makes even the first mention of the rules.

Then there’s a huge pause as the pilot admires a Parisian on a unicycle, mangling “Rhapsody in Blue” while carting fresh-baked bread in a bag on his back.

Followed by another long stretch of nothing worth watching as a flight attendant hails a cab in NYC, all so she can eventually show you how to buckle the seatbelt.

It’s worth noting that the saxophone playing loudly over this part of the video is eerily reminiscent of Bernhard Herrmann’s score for Taxi Driver. Probably not the association that United was hoping to make.

Now it’s off to Japan, where a flight attendant makes… an origami plane, complete with CGI exits, and emergency slides.

It goes on… and on… and on like this. Traveling to Las Vegas to watch a United staffer drone on about sitting in exit rows; the Swiss alps, where all this boring talk of safety is interrupted by a brief James Bond-like clip of a fist fight on top of a gondola.

Keep in mind, we’re only halfway through the video at this point. It’s likely taken you less time to read this and think of the hate mail you’re going to send me than it would have to watch just this portion of the mini-movie.

We won’t even get into the remaining segments of the video that linger too long on kangaroos and flamingos because we can already feel you getting angry and don’t want to have to return to the gate and kick you off this flight.

All the safety stuff you already knew is finally over around the 4:15 mark, but United has to crank up the Gershwin full blast to waste another 15-20 seconds of your time with people you will never meet telling you how much they appreciate you.

“We’re taking an approach of sophisticated humor that reflects our brand,” a rep for the company tells the Chicago Tribune.

We’ll disagree that the video is sophisticated or humorous, but we do agree that the bloated, stagnant, and overlong clip does indeed reflect the United brand.

Internet’s Organizing Body: Nobody Actually Owns Country Codes, Not Even Countries. Or Us.

Does anyone actually own the internet? That might be the existential crisis of our age. We know companies own and operate websites, that other companies own the software that let us look at those sites, and that still other companies own and operate the physical infrastructure that allows us access to those sites. And when we stop to think about it, we know that there are registrars and regulations and standards in place that make specific parts of web addresses — the bits after the dot — work around the world. But does anyone own those? According to the organization that manages the names and numbers that make the whole system tick, the answer is a resounding no.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the organization that, basically, makes sure the whole world’s internet functions more or less the same way and stays compatible with itself. ICANN is based in the United States, but is not an American organization. In fact, certain functions of internet management that were under the control of the U.S. government in years and decades past have been making a transition over to ICANN.

This particular question of ownership all began with a series of lawsuits. Several victims or families of victims of terrorism filed lawsuits against nations they claimed had sponsored the terroristic acts: Syria, North Korea, and Iran. The plaintiffs won their various suits against the three countries. Now, they’re trying to collect on those judgements, and actually get some money in hand.

That is, of course, far easier said than done. None of the three nations are particularly interested in handing over a pile of damages to the Americans who sued them. So among the assets the plaintiffs are trying to collect from these three nations are their country code top-level domains (ccTLD), and they subpoenaed to ICANN to help make it happen.

A top-level domain is the extension at the end of a website name — like the .com, .edu, and .org we all type a zillion times every day. Country code top-level-domains are two-letter top-level domains assigned to nations or sovereign territories. Two of the most commonly-seen are .us and .uk, but there are over two hundred others like .fr (France), .jp (Japan), and .za (South Africa).

Some ccTLDs have citizenship requirements for anyone trying to register a site under them, but there are plenty that permit worldwide commercial use. For example, the .ly in is the ccTLD for Libya. The .tv TLD belongs to Tuvalu, which makes a fair bit of money leasing it out, and Google itself has registered — using Belgium’s .be — for video URL shortening.

The three ccTLDs the lawsuit winners are trying to seize are the ones that belong to the countries they won their cases against: .ir (Iran), .sy (Syria), and .kp (North Korea).

So if a ccTLD is something that can be bought, sold, leased, licensed, or traded, clearly it has some value. But, ICANN says, it isn’t actually property, and cannot be owned or possessed by anyone, including ICANN. And if it’s not a thing that can be owned, then it’s not a thing that can be seized.

If the internet is the superhighway that the 90s told us it was, then, the argument goes, domain names and the system behind them are the addresses on that road. And an address isn’t exactly transferable or a thing you can possess.

Someone can own a property at 1 Main Street, and build a house there. They can sell or lease that house or the land it’s on, and if they commit a criminal act or lose a lawsuit then law enforcement can seize the house. But even if the authorities take and resell the property, they can’t seize the name “1 Main Street” and reassign it to the guy on 73 Maple Lane who sued you. 1 Main Street stays where it is, even if the property changes hands and the house there gets razed.

ICANN also pointed out, in their response, that taking the ccTLDs away from the countries that currently use them would pretty much strip them of their value, making them worthless assets to seize anyway. Even if they could be seized, which they can’t.

John Jeffrey, ICANN’s general counsel, said in a statement that “ICANN’s role in the domain name system has nothing to do with any property of the countries involved.” He added, “Country code top-level domains are part of a single, global interoperable Internet.”

ICANN filed its response in federal court on Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether the court agrees with the organization, or whether three entire nations can have their internet identities assigned to someone else.

The documentation — the writs and subpoenas, and ICANN’s responses and motions to quash — is all available on ICANN’s website.

CFPB Report: Typical Overdraft Situation Is Comparable To Small-Dollar Loan With 17,000% Interest Rate

If you’re one of the hundreds of millions of consumers who use a debit card you’ve likely found yourself on the receiving end of an overdraft fee when your account balance just wasn’t quite enough to make a desired purchase. While consumers might not necessarily question the occasional overdraft fee, a new report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau puts the fees into a disconcerting perspective.

According to the report [PDF], a majority of the $32 billion in annual debit card overdraft fees are incurred for transactions of $24 or less, and the majority of those overdrafts are repaid in three days.

That doesn’t sound too bad, right? Wrong. The CFPB did the math and if a consumer borrowed $24 for three days and paid the average overdraft fee of $34, that would mean their “loan” comes with an interest rate of 17,000%.

That seems outrageous. But we’re not done. Consider the fact that consumers are twice as likely to use their debit cards as their credit cards and that the average debit card holder uses their card 17 times each month, giving ample opportunity to run up those overdraft fees.


In fact, the report found that more than half of consumer checking account income is from overdraft fees – often the costliest of all banking fees. That’s a problem the CFPB is looking to tackle as it works on creating necessary consumer protections for overdraft and related services.

“Overdraft fees should not be ‘gotchas’ when people use their debit cards,” CFPB director Richard Cordray says. “We need to determine whether current overdraft practices are causing the kind of consumer harm that the federal consumer protection laws are designed to prevent.”

The CFPB study examined nearly two million consumer checking accounts and found that approximately 14% opted for overdraft protection.

On average, those customers paid about $260 a year in overdraft and non-sufficient fund fees. That means that a consumer would have at least 10 overdraft occurrences in a 12-month period.

On the other hand, consumers who did not opt-in for the plan paid just $35 in annual fees.


One concern regulators encountered when reviewing the study data was the way in which banks organize transactions. Some banks were found to have maximized overdraft fees by processing transactions not in the order in which they are made, but in a way that results in a larger number of overdrafts.

The practice, often called stacking, has been criticized by a number of consumer groups, including Pew Charitable Trust which has studied the overdraft process extensively.

In a June report on overdrafts, Pew found that reordering only inflates the issue of overdrafting and in the end consumers pay significantly more.

Pew reports that while banks have employed additional policies that can help limit the impact of overdraft fees, including reordering only certain types of transactions, implementing a threshold amount to trigger an overdraft, and not charging an extended overdraft fee, more attention is needed for this often unfair practice.

Just last month, Wells Fargo announced it would put an end to the practice for its checking customers. The bank previously stopped reordering debit card transactions and ATM withdrawals.

While Wells Fargo’s move is a step in the right direction, issues concerning overdraft fees continue to be prevalent, even though some federal regulations were put into place over the last five years.

Not too long ago, consumers were often unaware of overdraft fees until they appeared on their statements. That changed back in 2010 when federal regulators mandated that banks use an “opt-in” requirement. That mean institutions had to obtain consumers’ consent before charging fees for allowing overdrafts on most ATM and debit card transactions.

While the mandates meant that consumers were more aware of their accounted being enrolled with overdraft protection, that doesn’t mean they fully understand the program or realize the amount of fees they’ll actually incur.

Around the same time, some banks updated their policies to allow customers to not be charged if they are only overdrawing their account by a small amount, such as $5. Additionally, some banks began capping the number of overdraft and NSF fees charged on an account on a single day.

Cordray says that today’s report doesn’t mean banks should stop offering overdraft coverage, it just means there needs to be a determination of whether current practices are causing consumers more harm than good and if consumers have a clear understanding of the plans to begin with.

French Company Iliad Wants To Enter U.S. Market With $15B Offer For T-Mobile

Three years after T-Mobile USA’s parent company Deutsch Telekom failed to make a lasting match between its magenta-hued wireless provider and AT&T, it’s now receiving requests for T-Mobile’s hand from suitors closer to home, as French communications company Iliad has offered up a meager $15 billion for the company.

Iliad is apparently becoming known as a disruptive force in France for undercutting the competition on price, and it looks to be trying that same tactic with its offer for T-Mobile USA; the $15 billion offer is nearly $10 billion less than T-Mobile’s current market value.

And the Iliad offer is only half the size of the reported $30 billion deal that Sprint has been trying to hammer out with Deutsche Telekom for months.

While it’s unlikely that DT would ever accept such a low number, U.S. regulators would probably be much more willing to approve the sale of T-Mobile USA from one European company to another, rather than seeing the nation’s third- and fourth-largest wireless providers merge into a company that still wouldn’t come close to being able to compete with AT&T or Verizon.

After all, it wasn’t T-Mobile or AT&T that backed out of their attempted merger. It was both the FCC and the Justice Dept. who moved to block the deal, arguing that further consolidation of the U.S. wireless market would lead to higher prices and slowed innovation.

But regulators didn’t have much problem when Japanese telecom SoftBank became the majority owner of Sprint in 2013.

So perhaps an improved offer from Iliad or a reasonable bid from another European or Asian company would be enough to shake the idea of a Sprint merger.

T-Mobile has confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that it received the offer from Iliad, but isn’t saying anything else.

Comcast Makes Money Off Everest University Ads, Even As Schools Are Being Sold Or Closed

Earlier this summer, facing lawsuits and investigations from multiple state and federal agencies, Corinthian Colleges Inc. struck a deal with the U.S. Dept. of Education to either sell off or wind-down most its schools, like Everest University, WyoTech, and Heald College. Yet Corinthian continues to plague the airways with ads, trying to talk potential students into enrolling in schools that may not exist in a few months. And guess who is making money off the ads? The folks at Comcast.

Ads for CCI schools have been airing on syndicated daytime TV for quite some time, but we’d expected them to cool off, it not vanish completely following the deal with the DOE, which stipulates that the $35 million in federal aid released to the schools only be used for “approved education activities.”

Advertising for schools that will no longer exist doesn’t seem like it would fall under that heading, so we recorded some daytime TV programming to see if the ads were still running.

Every time this Everest shill shouts "Hey ladies!" between segments on Maury, Springer, or Steve Wilkos, the folks at Comcast make some money, regardless of the fact that most Everest campuses may be closed or sold off in the coming months.

Every time this Everest shill shouts “Hey ladies!” between segments on Maury, Springer, or Steve Wilkos, the folks at Comcast make some money, regardless of the fact that most Everest campuses may be closed or sold off in the coming months.

Lo and behold, when reviewing the 6-hour block of daytime talk shows airing from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekday on WPHL 17 here in Philadelphia, we found that Everest ads continued to show up 2-4 times per hour for most shows.

A few things stood out to us:

• The Everest ads were often positioned in that prime spot at the beginning of the commercial break.

• Some Everest ads featured a voice-over lead-in from the talk show host stating, “Brought to you in part by…”

• While lie-detector chat show The Test, which is sandwiched between episodes of Maury during this block, ran many of the same ads for sketchy car-title loans, personal injury attorneys, and other for-profit colleges, it didn’t air any Everest spots.

These all seemed to indicate to us that the Everest ads weren’t being sold by the local station, but by the shows’ distributors; a fact confirmed to Consumerist by a rep for WPHL.

“These spots are not sold by WPHL locally,” explains the rep. “This advertiser is buying the show from the syndication barter sales staff. We are simply fulfilling our obligation to run the show that includes the national advertisers sold by the syndication company.”

So who is that syndication company?

Well, for Maury, Jerry Springer, and The Steve Wilkos Show, the distributor is Comcast-owned NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution.


Meanwhile, The Test, which didn’t have the Everest ads — though we can’t say for sure it hasn’t run Everest ads during episodes we didn’t watch — is distributed by CBS.

Reps for NBC’s distribution division declined to comment on this story or why the company continues to run ads from a company that is under scrutiny from regulators and prosecutors around the country.

NBC’s Double Standard

And while these may only represent about 1-in-20 ads on each of the shows that air them, it’s still ad revenue — money that likely came from taxpayer-funded federal aid — that is going into the pockets of Comcast so that a school facing allegations of grade-manipulation and bogus job-placement stats can continue to lure in new students.

Just from the handful of ads on these few NBC-syndicated shows, Everest could be seen by several million people every day. These shows air on hundreds of over-the-air stations, including in every major market in the U.S. No cable connection or satellite service is needed to find out who the father is on Maury or to watch Steve Wilkos kick some alleged abuser off his stage.

These shows enjoy a high viewership among a wide range of demographics.

According to the NBC Universal page about Maury , the show has 3.1 million daily viewers, ranks as the #1 rated syndicated talk show among women from 18 to 49, and all adults in several age groups. Maury also has, per NBC, the youngest audience among all the syndicated talk shows.

And yet, in spite of this diverse group of viewers, the ads on these shows target the low-income viewers, pushing predatory financial products, ambulance-chasing lawyers, local car dealers, bottom-of-the-barrel insurance companies, and expensive career-training programs at for-profit schools like Everest, ITT, Kaplan and ICDC.

Meanwhile, during the same hours over on Comcast-owned Bravo, you’ll find reruns of second-tier reality shows like Ladies of London but the ads are for high-profile retailers, cosmetics, upcoming theatrical releases.

So Comcast is apparently selective on how it agrees to sell ads to questionable companies — if the show features predominantly lower-income, minorities shouting at each other over paternity, then it’s okay to profit off these ads. But it the show is about wealthy white women shouting at each other for a reality show, that production merits only top-tier advertisers.

All’s Quiet On Capitol Hill

Interestingly, no one from the Dept. of Education nor any of the federal lawmakers who have called for Everest to cease enrolling students altogether have been willing to go on the record about whether or not these ads violate the operating agreement between CCI and the feds.

However, a government source tells Consumerist that while the DOE does not have the legal authority to cease advertising the operating agreement does require that CCI immediately halt enrollment at schools that entering teach-out programs.

While the feds may not be openly trying to stop CCI from enrolling campuses at schools that are up for sale, the Illinois Board of Higher Education recently ordered CCI to immediately stop all sales, advertising, marketing and enrollment activities in the state.

Sen. Dick Durbin, who has been an outspoken critic of for-profit schools, but whose office would not comment on this story did say that he hopes other states will follow Illinois’ lead.

“All Everest College students should immediately be made aware of the company’s intent to sell their campuses in Illinois and their financial options whether they choose to continue their education or not,” the Senator said in a recent statement.

Others Aren’t Being So Quiet

“Everybody tracking this issue is incredibly concerned and upset that Corinthian is still advertising and enrolling students,” Maura Dundon, senior policy counsel for the Center for Responsible Lending tells Consumerist.

Since schools like Everest are really just student loan mills that accept as many students as possible in order to get as much student loan money as they can, it’s not shocking that CCI continues to advertise from its deathbed.

“Even if the federal loan spigot is turned off, students could still sign up for private loans that put money in the schools’ pockets while the students are left on the hook,” explains our colleague Suzanne Martindale from Consumers Union. “The ongoing advertising is deceptive to students, who are being promised something that the schools can’t deliver.”

Martindale also points to CCI’s ongoing ad campaign as a sign of how broken the for-profit college system is.

“If an institution is only thinking about short-term profit goals — enrolling as many new students as possible — the situation will deteriorate in the end and leave behind a trail of victims,” she tells Consumerist. “It’s a shame that so many students have been treated like dollar signs, and that American taxpayers have been unwittingly footing the bill. Lax oversight of the for-profit college industry has taken a major toll on Americans seeking job training, personal improvement, or simply a better life for their families.”

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which recently sued for-profit ITT Tech (also a big advertiser on the NBC-distributed shows) could not comment on the Everest ads, but did point to previous remarks by CFPB director Richard Cordray at the time of the ITT enforcement action.

“[W]e believe many for-profit colleges may be saying one thing to students as they load them up with debt but saying another thing to investors as they sell their business model,” said Cordray at the time. “In the end, the outcomes for many of these students do not live up to the promises the schools made to them.”

United Airlines Forgets To Finish Letter About (SPECIFIC PROBLEM)

unitedtarmaca A few weeks ago, a passenger experienced some kind of problem with (MAJOR U.S. AIRLINE). She sent a complaint letter about this (SPECIFIC EVENT) and received a printed letter back. This letter made it clear that the person who sent the letter had forgotten to use (CUSTOMER RELATIONS MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE) to fill in the blanks, resulting in a Mad Libs apology of sorts. Naturally, the recipient posted it to (POPULAR SOCIAL MEDIA SITE).

The letter-writer got partway there with their form-lettering, managing to fill in the customer’s name. In the salutation. The sender of the letter (in name, anyway) also included his signature, which the Reddit submitter thoughtfully redacted.


In case you’re on a mobile device or using a screen reader, here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear Mrs. [Redacted],

Thank you for letting us know about your recent experience with United Airlines. I apologize if our service did not meet your expectations, and appreciate you taking time to share your concerns.

Our goal is to provide a consistently reliable product and an exemplary level of customer service. Based on the events you describe, we did not meet this goal. Your comments regarding (SPECIFIC EVENT) will be used for coaching and training our employees.

To encourage you to fly with us again and as a tangible means of acknowledging your disappointment, enclosed is (SPECIFIC ITEM).

(CUSTOMER NAME), I ask that you allow us another opportunity to serve you, as we consider it our privilege to have you aboard.

Yes, there’s nothing that makes a customer feel valued and respected as a person quite like being referred to as (CUSTOMER NAME). A United spokesperson contacted by the Daily Caller said that he couldn’t confirm whether the letter was authentic, but that the company would like to straighten things out if they knew who the customer was.

We can’t exactly fault a company for using form letters, though. Even we use canned responses when reading our voluminous tipline, and make occasional mistakes with copy and paste. For example, here’s what a reader gets when they copy us on their e-mail to a company:


No one pretends that customer service worker bees are sitting in an office somewhere, typing out fresh and heartfelt responses for every lost suitcase and oversold flight. It’s better when a company at least pretends to give a crap, though, isn’t it?

United Airlines writes the most sentimental apology letters. (Thanks, Kent!)

Woman Who Changed Middle Name To “Skywalker” Denied A Passport On Copyright Grounds

It was the passport she was looking for, but British officials didn’t want to allow a woman to sign that official document using her middle name of “Skywalker.” The Home Office said the name is a no-go because it infringes on a trademark. This, despite the fact that she’s used the moniker on other official documents.

The 29-year-old woman added Skywalker — after Luke Skywalker, a character created by George Lucas for Star Wars, if you’re not down with the folks from Tatooine — to her name in 2008 “for a bit of a laugh,” she tells the BBC.

She says she has the signature on a bunch of other official documents, but when she tried to renew her passport and changed her signature to include the name, the Home Office said it “will not recognize a change to a name which is subject to copyright or trademark.”

“We have a duty to ensure the reputation of the UK passport is not called into question or disrepute,” a spokesman said.

But the woman is wondering why this case is so different from her other forms of identification.

“It’s on my driving license, my bank cards, everything. Everyone else is happy with that signature apart from passport office,” she said.

She’ll now perhaps be able to keep the name on her passport, but would have to submit a new form with her old signature. Unless perhaps George Lucas himself arrives on a landspeeder brandishing a lightsaber to grant her permission personally. And if that’s what happens, well, just call me Princess Leia Quirk.

‘Skywalker’ signature rejected by passport officials [BBC]

Contact Lens Makers Work Together To Make Sure You Pay More

As anyone with bad eyesight could probably tell you, having options when it comes to the cost of contact lenses is extremely important. Just ask my fiance, because apparently I have “very expensive eyes.” I’ll take that as a compliment, but the idea that I won’t have the opportunity to find the best priced lenses next time I fill my prescription is a very real possibility, and one that’s already hurting some of the 35 million consumers who wear contacts.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel met to consider whether decisions by three of the four major U.S. contact lens makers to set price floors for their products constitutes anticompetitive behavior by limiting competition and possibly resulting in higher prices, Reuters reports.

The moves by Alcon, owned by Novartis AG; Bausch & Lomb, owned by Valeant Pharmaceuticals; and Johnson & Johnson – the maker of Acuvue brand lenses – prevent many low-cost retailers (think 1-800-CONTACTS) from discounting their lenses.

The new policies bring up several questions surrounding the motivation of these producers. Two antitrust experts tell Reuters there’s a chance the companies see the price floors as a way to give optometrists an incentive to prescribe their lenses instead of a competitors’ lenses, possibly creating a kickback of sorts.

Contact lens makers, discount retailers, industry trade groups and and our colleague, Consumers Union senior policy counsel George Slover, offered their opinions during the subcommittee’s testimony Wednesday.

Joe Zeidner, general counsel for from 1-800-CONTACTS, told the committee that the decision by the lens makers would undoubtedly run up prices for consumers.

“They (consumers) will see higher prices. They will lose their ability to shop around,” Zeidner said.

Slover testified [PDF] that there really is no reason for such a provision to be implemented to begin with.

“In any event, the new practice constitutes an antitrust violation from a legal standpoint, from a practical standpoint it is anti-competitive to refuse to allow discounting,” he said. “Consumers are denied more affordable alternatives. They pay more than they need to, and sellers who would like to make those affordable alternatives available are denied the opportunity to do so. That’s not good for consumers, however you look at it.”

Officials with Johnson & Johnson testified that while the company discontinued discounts, they lowered prices of their products.

“By instituting uniform pricing, lowering our prices and making the process by which we make those prices available, we believe we can better compete in contact lens market,” Millicent Knight, an official with Johnson and Johnson said.

It’s hard to fathom HOW J&J could “better compete,” given that it is already controls 47.1% of the contact lens market.

Alcon was the first company to jump on the idea of price floors last summer. The other two makers followed suit, with Johnson & Johnson discontinuing rebates when its policy went into effect this summer.

A spokesperson for Novartis, the company behind Alcon, tells Reuters that the company implemented its new price floor policy to combat the practice of so-called “showrooming” where optometrists educate patients on a product only to have them go to an online retailer to purchase at a lower price.

All three makers hold a significant portion of the contact lens market, while industry officials estimate that only about 10% of contacts are sold online.

Those online retailers are trying to brace themselves for the effect of the new pricing model by urging consumers to stock up.


One Consumerist reader sent over an email he received from 1-800-CONTACTS notifying him of the changes.

“A new policy, known as Unilateral Pricing Policy (UPP), is being implemented by many contact lens manufacturers. This policy regulates the lowest price we can sell their lenses for and will cause the overall price of contact lenses to increase with the elimination of sales, rebates and discounts.

“In the next day or so, we will be sending you additional information as well as an opportunity to stock up on your brand using discounts and rebates before they are no longer available.”

The letter goes on to list a number of Acuvue brand contact lenses that will be effected by the pricing change starting August 1.

“In a truly competitive market, if one manufacturer tries this kind of rigid pricing, another would step in and take advantage, appealing to cost-conscious consumers with a lower price,” explains Slover. “Yet that kind of competition could now be absent in the contact lens industry. We hope antitrust enforcers will take a close look at these anti-consumer industry practices.”

U.S. Senate panel to look into price setting for contact lenses [Reuters]

Papa John’s Introduces Pulled Pork Pizzas For Some Reason

papa-johns-spicy-pulled-pork-pizzaSure, summer is a time for eating barbecue, but we’re not so sure that it should be a time for strange barbecue mashups in our chain pizzerias. Yet Papa John’s is taking what we can only assume is mediocre pulled pork and slathering it on their bland, salty pizza.

Well, that isn’t fair. I am not a particular fan of Papa John’s, but clearly a lot of people like or at least tolerate their pizza. Brand Eating reports that in addition to “Carolina-style” pulled pork, the pizza also features pepper jack (not pepper Jill) cheese and crushed red pepper.

The pulled pork pizza will be a limited-time offering, only in stores until August 24th.

News: Papa John’s – New Spicy Pulled Pork Pizza [Brand Eating]

If You’re Not Cooking With Hot Lava Or Lightning, Just Quit Calling Yourself A Grillmaster Now

I’m not here to burst your happy grilling bubble, but come on — can you really consider yourself a master of the art of grilling if you haven’t tried cooking with hot lava? What about lightning? Maybe. But bending the forces of nature to do your culinary bidding? There’s no topping that, at least not yet. Call me when you beat an egg with a tornado.

Don’t feel too ashamed, my fellow normal people who do not have access to hot lava or lightning on demand, it’s not like Pat and Terry next door are going to top you anytime soon, as these two methods aren’t things anyone should be trying at home.

Over at DesignBoom, however, a video made by a London-based creative team knowns as Bompas & Parr shows how it could be done if you’ve got the right tools: An artificial volcano, allowing grillers to get molten hot liquid to 2,100 degrees using an industrial furnace, an ice flue and dry ice.

The resulting stream of hot lava flows beneath a normal grilling surface to cook steak and corn on the cob, basically instantly roasting both foods.

The B&P team also cooked with lightning, using a high-voltage laboratory that again, isn’t going to be easy to replicate but is super cool.

I don’t even have to warn you not to try this at home, because unless you happen to have the abovementioned tools or live on top of an active volcano (in which case you’d have other things to worry about besides ribeyes), you’re not going to be able to top Pat and Terry next door anyway. But it’s still fun to watch.

B&P Cook Out from robert wysocki on Vimeo.

Seattle Police Officer Reassigned After Review Finds He Wrote 80% Of City’s Marijuana Tickets

While marijuana has been legal in Washington state since the beginning of this year, it’s not like the streets are filled with people lighting up bongs and toking on pipes. Because if you do, you’re going to get a ticket for public marijuana use. That being said, the Seattle Police Department says one officer has been reassigned after apparently going a bit ticket-happy and issuing about 80% of the city’s pot citations so far this year.

Chief Kathleen O’Toole of the Seattle PD writes on the department’s web site that the first biannual report on marijuana enforcement shows that 66 of 83 marijuana tickets were issued by just one officer.

He added notes to the tickets requesting the attention of City Attorney Peter Holmes in some cases, addressed to “Petey Holmes,” writes O’Toole.

In other cases, the officer added notes that he flipped a coin to decide which smoking citizen to cite, or referenced the changes to marijuana laws as “silly.”

Because of the above incidents, O’Toole says he’s been reported to the Office of Professional Oversight and has been reassigned — meaning he won’t be on patrol duties while the matter is under investigation.

“Please know that officers who perform professional and constitutional police service and enforcement will always have my full support,” she writes, in a bit of a “HINT HINT don’t do this, got it?”

Officer Reassigned Following Investigation Into Marijuana Citations [Seattle Police Department]

5 Things We Learned From The GAO Report On Broadband Caps

Broadband data caps might not be affecting everyone just yet, but that could easily change as the current wave of ISP merger mania continues. A preliminary government report taking a look at data caps, both wired and wireless, was released this week. It finds that ISPs and subscribers are far from being on the same page when it comes to how much data consumers move.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), at the behest of Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, looked at broadband data caps by examining ISPs policies, conducting focus groups with the public, and interviewing tech experts and public interest advocacy groups.

The report (PDF) is still preliminary; the final version won’t be released until November. Even so, though, the report is a good gauge of the pitfalls and potential benefits of usage-based pricing plans. The short version? Consumers don’t feel they’re getting all of the info they need, and are worried about their home and mobile broadband providers soaking them for extra cash.

1.) Everyone expects limited data on their phone; nobody wants it on their home network.

The GAO looked at four mobile carriers and 13 wireline ISPs. All of the wireless companies employed metered data usage, but only seven of the 13 traditional broadband companies did.

In all eight focus groups the GAO conducted, participants “expressed strong negative reactions” to the idea of metered or capped broadband at home. Consumers observed that the internet is increasingly important to all aspects of their lives and that having reduced access could be harmful, particularly to students, telecommuters, and lower-income households.

They also did not want to have to worry about data usage at home, after years or even decades of being used to unlimited access. And participants also worried that ISPs would use broadband caps as a way of jacking up prices for internet service.

2.) Consumers are confused about how much data they use, and the tools ISPs provide aren’t helping.

The focus group participants expressed confusion about how much data usage different sites and applications actually require. For example, the report says that consumers were afraid that leaving social media sites like Facebook or Twitter open all day, or doing a heavy amount of online shopping, would run them into trouble with potential data caps. (Both are actually comparatively low-data activities.) Some participants also said that having many users in their households, with multiple devices each, posed additional challenges in correctly tracking data use.

Although the ISPs customer service representatives and websites provided data-usage estimates, the GAO found that those estimates weren’t consistent. They also found that “hidden” data usage, like system and software updates, accounts for up to 30% of home data use and is trending upward. As a result, consumers don’t necessarily have the information they need to subscribe to the right plan, and may pay for data they don’t need or face surprise overage charges.

3.) Consumers aren’t sure how their carriers handle excessive data usage.

The report finds that focus group participants with wireless data plans often expressed uncertainty about plan details such as their data allowance, and about whether their plans were subject to throttling. However, when it came to mobile data most participants were not concerned that their plans had data caps; instead, they were mainly focused on avoiding extra charges.

The GAO also found that among seven the wireline broadband ISPs with caps, every company handled theirs a little differently. Some imposed overage charges for extra chunks of data, some granted discounts for low usage, and some claimed to have caps but didn’t actually do anything about it at all when customers went over.

4.) Neither wired nor wireless carriers have yet found the sweet spot to meet their customers’ needs with lower-cost options.

When it comes to mobile broadband, the GAO reports that the median wireless customer uses about 102 Mb per month of data on their plan — and yet only a small fraction of subscribers to one of the wireless carriers use a 500 Mb plan. That suggests that a not-insubstantial number of consumers, afraid of ever meeting an overage charge or cut-off, are paying for more data than they need.

As for wired broadband, the GAO report mentions one anonymous company that offers a discount for accepting a low data cap — a threshold 20% of their customers fall below, they told the GAO. Of course, as we learned earlier this year, that’s Time Warner Cable… and their very own CEO admitted that nobody wanted to limit themselves to that data cap for such a puny discount.

5.) Lack of competition means consumers can’t vote with their wallets.

The report did note several potential benefits of broadband caps to businesses and even some consumers. But it also noted that for many consumers, opting into a usage-based plan, should their ISP jump to one, won’t be a choice. Broadband competition is notoriously minimal in most areas; the GAO report cites an FCC statistic that “54% of households are in census tracts” that have more than two wireline ISP options (usually one DSL, one cable). Even if every residences in every one of those census tracts had a choice (and they don’t), that’s still barely half the country with options.

The focus group participants said they would switch away from an ISP that implemented metered broadband if they could, but probably wouldn’t have a choice. Some of the experts the GAO interviewed also pointed out that in a marketplace without competition, ISPs have no incentive to provide a good variety of data plans to subscribers.

Why Do Criminals Love This Walmart So Much?

The Walmart on State Route 436 in Casselberry, Florida is very popular. Unfortunately, it’s popular with a demographic that retailers shouldn’t want to attract: criminals. Specifically, shoplifters. Some very talented shoplifters, like the man who allegedly removed 18 televisions from the store while dressed as a woman.

When contacted by a reporter from local station WFTV, a Walmart spokesperson countered that the huge number of arrests reflects well on the store, not poorly. Why is that? It means that the store’s efforts to “thwart crime” are effective.

Still, the brazen criminals of Casselberry have created some dangerous situations for local cops. Last week, two officers tried to stop an alleged shoplifter who was trying to leave in his truck. The suspect refused to stop, even when one of the cops was hanging on to the truck’s window.

The mega-retailer is doing some things differently: anyone caught shoplifting gets a trip to jail instead of a court date. There are probably other measures that the store has taken that they don’t want members of the public to know about.

In the last month, local police have made 37 arrests at the store in question in Casselberry. Police say that they’ve made 202 arrests so far in 2014. Since they’re averaging more than one arrest per day and the article we got those statistics from was published yesterday, those stats must be up to at least 38 and 203 by now.

Police: Casselberry Walmart a target for criminals [WFTV]

Rental Car Companies Asked GM To Look Into Ignition-Related Crashes Years Before Recall

It’s becoming harder and harder for GM execs to claim that the company was largely unaware of the problems with the Chevy Cobalt and other vehicles with an ignition problem that has resulted in at least 13 deaths, dozens of accidents and the long-delayed recall of millions of cars. A new report shows that car rental companies have been telling GM to look into the issue since at least 2005.

Bloomberg News reports that, following a fatal Sept. 2006 crash involving a Cobalt, an investigator for Vanguard Car Rental — then the parent company of rental biggies Alamo and National — wrote to GM urging it to look into the incident.

“[D]ue to the serious nature of this accident we feel that it is imperative that you open a claim and inspect this vehicle for possible defects,” reads the message, uncovered thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Additional documents turned up by Bloomberg show that Enterprise — which purchased Alamo and National from Vanguard in 2007 — pushed GM to investigate a potential Cobalt defect after routine crashes in which the airbags failed to inflate, going back to 2005.

The failure of an airbag to deploy is not definitive evidence that a car’s ignition switch was inadvertently turned to the “off” position, but if the switch is turned off, the airbag will not work as intended in a crash.

According to Bloomberg, Enterprise first pressed GM to investigate following a March 2005 crash in a Saturn Ion — another vehicle involved in the mass ignition recall — that killed the driver and her husband, and resulted in serious injuries to their teen daughter in the back seat.

In July 2005, GM replied to Enterprise that it had inspected the vehicle but didn’t find a defect or malfunction.

Enterprise then asked GM to investigate a fatal Jan. 2006 crash involving a rented Cobalt. The car veered off the road and hit a tree, killing the driver. The car’s airbags did not deploy.

Bloomberg reporters found that GM referred the case to an investigations unit, but could not turn up any documentation showing what occurred after that referral.

An auto industry consultant and former board member at Dollar Thrifty Automotive group likens car rental drivers to canaries in the coal mine for the automotive industry; they’re the first to get their hands on these new cars and, with so many drivers putting so many miles on these cars so quickly, rental cars are usually the first to highlight defects.

“It’s really like a test fleet,” she explains to Bloomberg. “You put a lot of miles on very quick, and any initial defects on the car rise to the surface, and, in fact, that’s the way auto companies were supposed to use this. They were supposed to be able to detect defects very early.”

Wireless Carriers Are Victims Of Phone Cramming Too, They Just Make Billions Of Dollars Instead Of Losing It

Opening your monthly mobile phone bill to find it significantly more expensive than it’s suppose to be can be infuriating. Finding out that it’s more expensive because you were charged for products you never requested is even worse. But wireless cramming is a practice that more and more consumers – and wireless providers (huh?) – are finding themselves victims of.

A new report [PDF], and subsequent hearing, on the subject by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Wednesday revealed that the practice of placing charges for third-party goods and services – think Hollywood gossip or daily horoscope texts – on consumers’ phone bills is growing more prevalent by wireless carriers, despite their so-called self-regulation practices.

“I don’t think the telephone companies were happy or content that the crammers were defrauding their customers,” Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal said, “but they almost certainly welcomed the revenue.”

And that revenue translated into billions of dollars for wireless providers and the third-party companies who produced the products.

Still, those working in the wireless industry contend that carriers are doing their best to stop the hurtful practice.

Michael Altschul, an official with wireless trade group Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, said during the hearing that wireless carriers agreed that “placing an unauthorized, misleading or deceptive third-party charge on a consumer’s wireless bill is wrong and simply not acceptable.”

But don’t go blaming the carriers for all that cramming, because they, too, are apparently victims. Or at least that’s what Altschul implies.

“Carriers have been victimized by fraudsters who crafted elaborate schemes to defeat the industry’s self-regulation and third-party monitoring,” he told the committee.

It’s incredibly difficult to see carriers as victims when they’ve benefited greatly from cramming practices and continued to allow consumer protection gaps to exist in their safequards.

The committee report found that third-party billing on wireless phone bills has evolved into a billion dollar industry for carriers such as AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile, each of which generally retain 30% to 40% of each vendor charge.

And those self-regulation and third-party monitoring policies being purported by the industry? They don’t appear to hold up well when it comes to actually protecting consumers.

The report revealed most wireless carriers were aware of the growing cramming problem at least six years ago, but continued to retain lax oversight and self-regulation policies leaving ample opportunity for scammers to strike.

Those casual policies included touted safeguards such as “double opt-in” requirements which were often skirted by scammers. Additionally, some policies allowed vendors to continue billing consumers even when the vendors had several months of consistently high consumer refund rates – at times those rates topped 50% of monthly revenues.

However, major U.S. carriers Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile each agreed in November 2013 that they would stop billing for a certain type of charge – premium SMS messages.

Since the carriers may have largely stopped charging for PSMS, officials with the FTC told the Senate Committee that “complaints have fallen off a cliff.”

But there is a new source of cramming: direct carrier billing.

According to the report, the practice of cramming through digital content – apps, videos and songs – downloaded through app stores has increased nearly 30% from 2009 to 2012.

And even if carriers do discontinue cramming and direct carrier billing, they are still open to action by federal regulators.

Such action happened earlier this month when T-Mobile became the first major carrier to be charged by the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly making hundreds of millions of dollars off those premium text-messaging subscriptions that were never requested by subscribers.

For its part, T-Mobile officials say the FTC complaint was unfounded and without merit because of the company stopped charging consumers after their 2013 promise.

Just this week, the FTC announced a series of recommendations that could slow, or even cease, the practices of cramming and direct carrier billing.

The commission also had a hand this week in shutting down a mobile cramming operation that allegedly stuck consumers with more than $100 million in unauthorized charges.

In all, that action included charges against six companies and six individuals that used deceptive practices, including fake websites with bogus offers of “freebies” or gift cards, to trick consumers into providing their mobile phone numbers. The defendants then placed monthly subscription fees for a variety of “services” on consumers’ mobile phone bills without their authorization.

Lands’ End Announces Science-Themed Shirts For Girls Because Boys Aren’t The Only Ones Who Like Science

Girls can now choose from decorative stars or a more realistic solar system, just like the boys.

Girls can now choose from decorative stars or a more realistic solar system, just like the boys.

Somehow there are still retailers out there who are late to get the message: Yes, some boys like science. But so do some little girls, and the fact that Lands’ End had science-themed shirts featuring “realistic images of planets and our solar system,” while its T-shirts for girls only had unrealistic stars and dogs in tutus was very disappointing to the mother of one girl who happens to be bonkers about all things space. She wrote a letter telling Land’s End so, prompting the retailer to announce that it’s adding new sciencey shirts for girls as well.

A few weeks ago, the mom posted an open letter to Lands’ End on Facebook (via HuffPo), writing that her nine-year-old daughter loves science and wants to be an astronaut someday. So she was excited when she saw the Lands’ End catalog with science-themed tees for boys, including “a ‘NASA Crew’ tee design that she immediately declared to be ‘the coolest shirt ever.’ “

But then when they flipped to the girls’ section to find her size, “instead of science-themed art, we were treated to sparkly tees with rhinestones, non-realistic looking stars, and a design featuring a dog dressed like a princess and wearing a tutu.”

She says her daughter was very confused, because she and many of her friends love science.

“In 2014, why are you selling ‘mighty’ tees for boys and ‘adorable’ tees for girls?” the mom asked, citing Lands’ End’s descriptions.

The retailer has now responded with a line of shirts pretty close to the science-themed boys’ shirts (though it still has dogs in tutus because of course there are plenty of girls who love a good dog/tutu combo).

“You asked, we listened — take a look at our brand-new girls’ science tees,” Lands’ End announced Wednesday on its Facebook page. “Our first two tees are live on the site — pre-order now to reserve her size (due to the quick turnaround, the shirts will ship in August). Based on your response to the tees, we will continue to add new styles moving forward.”

Snack Foods Transformed Into Art At “Cheese Curls Of Instagram”

Can a picture of two cheese curls be pornographic? It sounds impossible, but the site Cheese Curls of Instagram has elevated what should be random, orange-coated lumps of snack food to fascinating sculptures just by propping them up in front of a blank background and giving us needlessly detailed captions.

After all, a former Consumerist staffer found four pieces of religious iconography in a single bag of Cheetos. By that standard, people worldwide must be mindlessly gobbling what could be millions of beautiful sculptures every year. Don’t believe us? Just peruse the Cheese Curls of Instagram gallery.


See it? If not, read the title and look again. “After Urinating on their Subordinates to Assert Dominance, these Two Monkeys Give Each Other a High Five.”

Some of the sculptures are suitable for a science museum, like this one:


Look like nonsense? No, read the title:

By Means of Natural Selection, Life has Flourished in the Evolutionary History of Primates and the Emergence of Homo Sapiens as a Distinct Species of Hominids

We won’t even embed this next photo, since it will become Not Safe For Work as soon as you read the caption:

In an Adult Film, Peter North Takes his Role as a French Professor Seriously by Wearing a Beret While Performing in a Scene with a “Failing Female Student Earning Extra Credit”, and after he Finishes, he Points to the Director Because he Knows he Nailed it

You’ll just have to click through and enjoy the filth over on Instagram.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to find a market for these sculptures yourself, or start your own Instagram account. Frito-Lay doesn’t have a buyback program. They probably don’t even have a Cheeto art museum.

cheesecurlsofinstagram [Instagram, where else?] (via Foodbeast)

Only 1 Out 12 Small Cars Gets “Good” Rating In New Crash Test Results

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (the place that crashes cars into walls for science) recently ran a dozen popular small cars, including the Chevy Volt, Ford C-Max Hybrid, Mini Cooper Countryman, and the Mazda 5, through its “small overlap” front crash test, where only the front corner of the vehicle is involved in a collision. While several of the tiny cars had okay results, only one earned an overall “good” rating from the IIHS.

The Mini Cooper Countryman was the only small car among the dozen tested to earn that overall “good” rating in the overlap test, which was introduced in 2012 to simulate collisions where a car strays across the median and hits an oncoming vehicle, or where cars smash into objects like trees or poles.

For years, car makers were building vehicles to pass the IIHS head-on frontal crash tests, in which the full front end of a vehicle collides with a solid object, but the small overlap test shows that not all car makers have been thinking about what happens when it’s just the corner of the vehicle.

“In the small overlap test, the main structures of the vehicle’s front-end crush zone are bypassed, making it hard for the vehicle to manage crash energy,” explains the IIHS. “The occupant compartment can collapse as a result.”

To earn a “good” rating in the overlap test, the car’s occupant compartment must resist intrusion, its safety belts must prevent the driver from pitching too far forward, and its side curtain airbags must provide enough forward coverage to cushion a head at risk of hitting the dashboard or window frame or things outside the vehicle.

“The Mini Cooper Countryman gave a solid performance,” says Joe Nolan, the Institute’s senior vice president for vehicle research. “The Countryman’s safety cage held up reasonably well. The safety belts and airbags worked together to control the test dummy’s movement, and injury measures indicate a low risk of any significant injuries in a real-world crash this severe.”

The IIHS points out that the small overlap rating for the Countryman — the 4-door version of the Mini Cooper — doesn’t apply to the two-door model, which hasn’t been tested.

Four other small cars — the Volt, the C-Max Hybrid, Mitsubishi Lancer, and the Scion xB — showed minimal damage to their respective crash test dummies, but fell short of an overall good rating for concerns about their structures or restraint systems. However, all but the Scion xB are still considered “Top Safety Picks” by the IIHS.

Of greater concern are the four cars earning “poor” overall ratings in the overlap test — the Fiat 500L, Mazda 5, Nissan Juke and Nissan Leaf.

IIHS’s Nolan says that “Collapse of the occupant compartment is the downfall” for these four vehicles. “A sturdy occupant compartment allows the restraint systems to do their job, absorbing energy and controlling occupant motion.”

Test showed that the structure of the Fiat 500L was being pushed into the driver’s survival space, “knocking the steering wheel back and to the right of the driver,” which puts the airbag out of position, meaning the dummy’s head slid off to the left side.

According to the IIHS, the Mazda 5 is among the worst-performing cars in the small overlap test, along the 2014 Kia Forte, and the 2012 Prius v.

“When we tested the Mazda 5 we saw a host of structural and restraint system problems. Parts of the occupant compartment essentially buckled, allowing way too much intrusion,” Nolan says.

The test dummy in the Mazda 5 showed high risk of injuries to the left thigh and left lower leg. The steering wheel moved to the right, meaning the dummy’s head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off the left side.

Additionally, the safety belt failed to keep the dummy’s head and torso from moving too far forward. The dummy’s head made contact with the left side of the dashboard.

Even worse, the side curtain airbag didn’t deploy at all, says the IIHS and the driver door unlatched during the test, putting the driver at risk of being ejected.

If You’re Unhappy About Comcast Charge, Don’t Pull Gun On Service Tech

While we disagree with some who think that Comcast is an admirable company, we certainly don’t advocate using a gun to resolve your disputes with the cable company. Apparently our talk-it-out ways are not shared by a New Mexico woman who is accused of pulling a gun on a Comcast tech following a dispute over unexpected charges for a service call.

According to the criminal complaint [PDF], police in Albuquerque were dispatched on July 28 to a private home to check on a possible aggravated assault incident.

The homeowner told the officer that she’d had a Comcast tech out to do some requested work on her home and that she’d been led to believe that the work would be free of charge.

But when the tech arrived and she found out otherwise, the customer was not happy. She called Comcast customer service, where a rep confirmed there was a fee for the call. Then the tech told the homeowner that if she didn’t sign the document agreeing to the charges, he’d have to leave.

She refused and the tech began to leave.

This is where their stories differ…

Her Side of the Story

The homeowner says the tech left but then returned, claiming he’d left behind a tool bag on the outside of her home, but which she’d brought inside after he left.

The woman refused to let the tech come on her property and told him to leave. He said his supervisor would still need to come back and get the tools.

The homeowner told police that the man was standing in her driveway and refused to leave, so she went inside to get her handgun.

Pointing the gun in the air, she says she asked the tech, “Are you going to leave now?”

He responded by driving away without his tools.

The homeowner then called the police to complain about the Comcast tech. She admitted to officers that the tech was not attempting to enter the home; that he was only standing in the driveway and refusing to leave.

His Side

The tech claims that while he was packing his tools back into his truck, someone at the home grabbed a bag of tools — worth an estimated $400 — and took them inside the home.

He then knocked on the door and asked for his tools back, but a woman — not the homeowner — who answered the door allegedly refused to give them back.

While he was walking away from the front porch, he alleges that the homeowner exited the house and pointed the handgun at his torso, telling him “You need to get off my property now.”

The tech says he agreed to leave and then called 9-1-1.


Police searched the home and turned up a handgun and the tech’s tools. The homeowner was arrested and booked on charges of Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon. She was released after a few hours behind bars.

Comcast customer pulled gun on technician after objecting to bill, police say [Ars Technica]

Comcast customer jailed in gun case []