jeudi 31 décembre 2015

If You’ve Received The Gift Of New Gadgets, Recycle The Old Ones Or Pass Them On

(Dan Domme)
Many of you are now enjoying new gadgets, whether it’s from a winter holiday present or post-holiday clearance sale self-gifting. If your new item replaced an old one, don’t throw the old one in a drawer: consider recycling it or passing it on to an organization that re-uses technology. Yep, there really is someone out there interested in your old game console and conference swag flash drives.

CNET brought together a list of useful places to send your old electronics other than the recycling bins outside your local Best Buy. For example, you can send your old console or unwanted games to the Get-Well Gamers Foundation, which passes them on to children’s hospitals to keep them supplied with a steady supply of video games.

RecycleUSB takes your drawer full of old USB drives, loads a version of Linux designed for kids’ educational use on them, and sends them to students all over the world. Finally, RecycleHealth takes old fitness trackers and recycles them to people in the community who need to be more active but can’t afford one.

The easiest ways to donate your old tech [CNET]

Google Gets Access To Your Kids’ Data Because It’s A “School Official”

gafeSometimes, data has to be shared to be useful. For example, a school district needs information on the students in it, in order to function. When are they absent? What are their grades? How are things going with scheduling? So it wouldn’t come as a surprise to most parents that “school officials” are on the list of entities who are allowed to access data, even sometimes sensitive data, about their kids. But it would shock most parents to find out that Google — yes, that Google — is one of those “school officials.”

That’s what the Washington Post points out is going on in schools around the country right this minute. Google’s tools are ubiquitous, cheap, and more-or-less user-friendly, leading them to be adopted by educators nationwide.

That’s not the problem, on its own. This is: although federal law requires most entities to receive written permission to access students’ confidential data, there’s an exception for “school officials,” who have unfettered access… and the amount, and type, of available data has simply exploded in the 21st century.

That loophole has allowed Google, and others, access to more data than could have been imagined when the law was first enacted int he 1970s. At that time, “school officials” actually meant employees of the district. But education has changed, and hundreds of functions — from cafeterias to testing — are outsourced to third parties.

In 2008, then, the exemption was extended to cover any contractor that works for the district as well. To qualify for that exemption, a business working with the school must do something that the school would otherwise do itself, and those businesses that do qualify are held to the same general rules on handling student data as any other actual school official.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education told the WaPo, “Student safety – including privacy – is a top priority for the Department. That’s why we continue to put out guidance and resources so that district leaders, schools, educators and students can use cutting-edge learning tools in the classroom while also safeguarding student privacy.”

The kind of data Google can collect while students are using its educational tools includes everything from email and chat records to metadata — routing, length of connection, location history — that educators don’t even know exist.

The EFF filed a complaint with the FTC about Google’s monitoring of student data about a month ago. At the time, the EFF said that even if the aggregation and anonymization always worked flawlessly, “Google’s use of students’ browsing history for its own benefit and without authorization from the student or parent, runs contrary to the letter and spirit of the Student Privacy Pledge. Aggregating and anonymizing students’ browsing history does not change the intensely private nature of the data – nor the fact that at the time of collection, it was tied to identifiable student accounts – such that Google should be free to use it, despite having promised not to do so without authorization from the student or parent.”

Google, a ‘school official?’ This regulatory quirk can leave parents in the dark. [Washington Post]

Our Picks From 2015: Editors’ Favorite Stories Of The Year

We write thousands of posts every year at Consumerist, and before we hit “publish,” we tell each of them that they’re our favorite. That’s a lie, though: everyone has their favorite projects or tasks at work, and so do we. Whether it’s because of their real-world impact, delicious research, important topics, or strange paths they led us down, we each have our favorites out of our work for the year. Each of our writers chose theirs along with some honorable mentions, and explained precisely why they enjoyed it so much.

Chris Morran

Image courtesy of Seth

The Comcast Seth Trilogy:
New Homeowner Has To Sell House Because Of Comcast’s Incompetence, Lack Of Competition
UPDATE: A Happy Ending For Man Who Almost Had To Sell His House Due To Comcast’s Incompetence
POSTSCRIPT: Even After Embarrassing Story, CenturyLink Still Has No Idea That This House Is Not On Their Network

Why this was my favorite: The story of Seth, who came to the brink of having to sell his newly purchased home because both Comcast and CenturyLink lied to him about being able to provide the much-needed Internet access for his home office, combines so much of the worst of what we write about the cable and broadband industries.

You’ve got clear evidence of lack of competition, the industries’ typical disregard for rural Americans, and systemic incompetence in customer service. Then you throw in the fact that Seth’s county operates a high-speed fiberoptic line that runs very near his house, but is blocked by a ridiculous state law forbidding the county from selling directly to consumers, and you’re talking about the very nightmare scenario that Comcast and other companies claim doesn’t exist.

But Seth’s perseverance, and the county’s willingness to work with him to reach an arrangement that ultimately connected his house while not violating the inane state law, also demonstrated the best of the American consumer. By navigating the bureaucracy and sharing his story with our readers, Seth became a bit of a consumer folk hero for the connected age.

Lawmakers Get Serious About Banning Gag Clauses:
For years, we’ve been writing about so-called non-disparagement (or “gag”) clauses that some companies use to scare customers away from writing honest, negative reviews. From the nation’s biggest banks to online retailers you’ve never heard of, the practice was growing in popularity, even if it often failed in court.

After a failed 2014 attempt to introduce national legislation banning these legally dubious clauses, the idea was resurrected this year. In November, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing, where multiple Consumerist stories on this topic were introduced to support testimony in favor of a ban.

Then in December, the Senate unanimously passed the bill that will hopefully clear the House in early 2016.

Honorable Mentions:
Wireless & Cable Industries Fight Net Neutrality With Laughably Misleading Op-Eds & Video
Will The FDA Ever Get Around To New Warning Labels For Cigarettes?
Philadelphia Won’t Show Results Of Comcast Customer Survey To Anyone — Except Comcast
Anatomy Of A Comcastrophe: A Look Back At How Comcast Failed To Buy Time Warner Cable For $45B
Philip Morris International Uses Copyright Claims To Quiet Marlboro Critics
Why Is It So Dang Difficult To Get Accurate Information About Broadband Speeds?
Verizon’s New Ads Are Apparently Unfamiliar With Verizon’s Own Business Practices
Comcast Exec Who Failed At Time Warner Cable Merger Gets Boost To Annual Bonus
FDA’s Voluntary Guidance Failing To Curb Antibiotic Overuse In Farm Animals

Mary Beth Quirk

Image courtesy of Scott DeFillippo/Consumerist
We Tried It: 4 Ways To Cook A Burger That’s Safe To Eat But Doesn’t Taste Like Leather

Why this was my favorite: Any time I can combine food and work, I’m a fan (as you can see below by the other stories I picked as my favorites this year). It’s even better when we team up with the Consumer Reports sensory lab team and I get to eat burgers all morning in the name of science. Informing readers about food safety while snacking on perfectly cooked beef? Yes, please.

Honorable Mentions:
There’s A Preservative That Can Give You An Awful, Itchy Rash — And It’s Probably In Your Bathroom
How Did The Hot Dog Get Such A Bad Rap?
That Was Then, This Is Now: How 72 Brands From ‘Mad Men’ Have Changed Since Don Draper Was In Charge
How To Make Pizza At Home That Won’t Be Horrible Bans Members Without Investigating Complaints Against Them First

Laura Northrup

Image courtesy of Mentality Cosmetics
If You Sell Nail Polish, Try Not To Destroy Your Customers’ Nails
Why this was my favorite: The Internet has made it much easier to start a small cosmetics business, and there’s a vibrant scene producing some really interesting and beautiful stuff. Yet homemade beauty products can come without safety testing and other safeguards that consumers assume are in place. This can lead to trouble, and that trouble looks like the stained, peeling, and painful nails of customers and models who used some products from popular boutique nail polish brand Mentality Cosmetics.

This story is still ongoing: more testing of the products is coming. Yet the case is an interesting illustration of how a two-person backyard operation that seems much larger can attract legions of fans, and how company representatives’ behavior on social media can come back and destroy their reputation even more than some peeling fingernails..

Honorable Mentions:
Yes, Those Are Real Cars Poking Out Of This Dumpster
Changes To TurboTax Lead To Consumer Revolt, Opportunity For Competitors
Sierra Mist Sweetener Switcharoo Leaves Soda Drinkers Bitter (This is probably not the last sweetener switcharoo we’ll see. Be vigilant if you don’t like sucralose or stevia.)
This Glorious ’80s Time Capsule House Is Real, In Living Primary Colors
eBay Will Send Your Full Name, Location, And Phone Number To Any Auction Bidder Who Asks (eBay quietly ended this policy a few months later when ABC News asked about it – auto-play video at this link.)
Angry Sephora Customers Invent Mass Returns As A Form Of Consumer Protest
Good News: Loose Tarantula That Freaked Out Petco Shopper Was Just A Shed Exoskeleton
Problems At Snapfish Lead To Pre-Christmas Photo Scramble, Angry Customers

Kate Cox

Image courtesy of Alan Rappa

How Do Video Game Publishers Continue To Get Away With Mistreating Their Customers?
Why this was my favorite: Because gaming is an industry with a weird confluence of opacity and transparency, and because it is such a blatantly crappy situation for consumers… that millions of us voluntarily continue to make worse every year through pre-ordering! Players, as a whole, don’t stop to think about our role in this cycle often enough. And because I care about games, personally, and want the artistic side and the consumer tech product side to keep getting better, not worse.

Honorable mentions:
Whatever Happened to GeoCities, Lycos, Netscape, & Other Giants Of Web 1.0?
It’s True: The Comcast/TWC Merger Is Officially Dead
[Because it was very satisfying to be able to say]
Here Are The Most Ridiculously Long Binge-Watches Available For Anyone With 200+ Hours To Kill
Why Your Cable Company Doesn’t Always Know If Your New Address Gets Service
Why Don’t Huge Privacy Flaws Result In Recalled Smartphones?

Ashlee Kieler

Image courtesy of C x 2
Insurance Loopholes & Master Pricing: How Surprise Medical Bills Knock Consumers Down

Why It’s My Favorite: The issue of surprise medical bills hasn’t always garnered the attention it deserves. Surprise, unaffordable medical bills are a problem that can happen to anyone. While we might want to brush off these unexpected bills as someone just not knowing enough about their insurance coverage, this story highlights how even those who do everything right – research their coverage, talk to their doctors, and plan every aspect of their care – can be blindsided by exorbitant bills they can’t afford.

Honorable mentions:
Corinthian Colleges Completes Collapse, Closes Remaining Campuses Effective Immediately
Countless Consumers Are Paying Off Someone Else’s Debt Because Of Default Judgments
The White Castle Story: The Birth Of Fast Food & The Burger Revolution
Angie Of Angie’s List Defends Policy Of Removing Negative Reviews If Customers Get Refunds

Some GM SUV Owners Say Their Vehicles Are Making Them Sick


From time to time you might feel a bit nauseated while driving (or riding) from point A to point B, and that’s pretty normal. But it appears that some General Motors SUV owners are having a bit more than just a little bout of carsickness while trolling around in their vehicles. reports that some full-size SUV owners have filed complaints with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that a buffeting and vibration problem in their model year 2015 Chevy Tahoe, Suburban, Cadillac Escalade, and GMC Yukon vehicles is making them sick.

Owners say the issue can vary from an annoying vibration inside the vehicle to a more severe shaking that causes dizziness and headaches.

The owner of a 2015 Suburban filed a complaint in March noting that the car was creating a “buffeting, pressure sound, and sensation at low to mid range speeds. Creating headache, dizziness and strain.”

In another complaint, a fellow 2015 Suburban owner, tells NHTSA when driving the vehicle “we experience an awful ear pressure vibration. The car is not drivable and is causing headaches and vertigo.”

GM spokesman Tom Wilkerson confirmed to AutoBlog that the company is aware of the complaints that it “has been tracking this issue for a while.” Wilkerson downplayed the scope of the problem, noting that that there is a fairly low rate of occurrence.

So far, the company hasn’t found an exact cause for the issue. In some cases, Wilkinson says that balancing tires or chafing door seals has helped.

Owner complaints filed with NHTSA suggest that a problem with a headliner in the vehicle’s roof might be connected.

In one complaint, the owner of a 2015 Suburban tells NHTSA that the “roof will not remain attached to the roof bows. This causes the buffeting similar to a window being down when all are up. The results span from annoying to painful.”

Another owner, this time of a 2015 Yukon, tells regulators that he brought his vehicle to a dealer at least seven times in four weeks because of vibration issues. In all, the service department replaced the driveshaft, suspension components, and more, but nothing worked.

GM tells Autoblog that the company is working with customers on an individual basis to fix things. Owners experiencing similar issues are advised to contact their local GM service department.

Fullsize GM SUVs have a problem that’s making owners sick [Autoblog]

Apple Patent Shows System Designed To Let People Pay Their Friends From Inside iOS Apps

Usually when I’m harassing my roommate via text message to pay me back for the pizza and beer I bought her the night before, I have to use another app to request that $519 (we really like pizza). Apple is thinking about offering another option, it seems, with a patent for a system that would allow iMessage users to pay each other from within the messaging app itself.

Quartz noticed the patent filing published earlier in December, which seems to show that Apple would not only let people send money via iMessage, but in other apps that come with iOS like phone calls, email and calendar invites.

The patent clearly shows how the system might work: two friends are chatting, one asks the other to pony up what they owe, and there’s a “Make Payment” button in the upper right-hand corner that would allow for that to happen, ostensibly using credit card information saved in Apple Pay.

While every patent application doesn’t mean a company will definitely follow through, it makes sense that Apple would be exploring ways to grow its mobile payments. Other tech companies are already on that path, as well: in March, Facebook added a payment feature to its Messenger app that allows friends to send money without leaving a conversation.

Apple wants to let you make payments through texts, phone calls, and emails [Quartz]

2015: By The Numbers

While 2015 didn’t smash as many records for “terrible things that can happen to consumers in a single event” as 2014 — what with last year’s GM recall, Sony hack, and the like — we still had rather a lot go on in the last 365 days. Here’s a run-down of the numbers from 2015.

Be Careful What You Wish For

In 2015, the “hoverboard” did indeed come to pass, though not precisely in the same way it was foretold. And maybe we wish it hadn’t:

  • At least 22 of them have exploded in the U.S…
  • …causing at least 70 injuries that sent people to the ER.
  • Across the pond, in the UK, 88% of hoverboards failed safety checks
  • …and so over 15,000 were seized for safety reasons on their way in to that country.

Driver Danger

Happily, there were no massive 30 million-car recalls this year. But there were plenty of smaller ones, and the consequences of last year’s still linger.

  • More than 47 million vehicles faced a recall this year…
  • …including a Rolls-Royce recall of exactly 1 (one) car.
  • Meanwhile, NHTSA revised to 19.2 million the total number of cars recalled over exploding Takata airbags…
  • …in 44 separate notices.
  • At least 8 deaths in the U.S. so far are due to the defect.
  • $70 million: The fine Takata has to pay to NHTSA over this mess.

Burrito Barf

According to the CDC…

  • On average, 48 million Americans will suffer some kind of food poisoning every year.
  • This year, 53 of them so far have gotten sick from E Coli linked to Chipotle…
  • …plus another 5 cases that are probably connected…
  • …and 136 folks in metro Boston who got infected with unrelated but also gross norovirus from a Chipotle near BC.
  • 34.5%: The amount by which Chipotle’s stock price has dropped so far since its high ($750.42) in October.

The Joy of Data Security

You got data? It’ll be breached. As of December 22…

  • …there have been at least 766 data breaches in 2015…
  • …exposing at least 177,840,420 different records that we know of, with millions more not tallied or disclosed.
  • Within that, at least 121 million healthcare profiles or records have been accessed…
  • Including 78.8 million from the Anthem hack alone.

Meanwhile, in long-term consequences…

  • Target had to pay Visa $67 million over their 2013 hack…
  • …with another $39.4 million to other card-issuing banks…
  • …and $10 million to consumers who were affected or shopped at the retailer during that time.

Time Warner Cable and Friends

  • Number of successful attempts by Comcast to buy TWC: Zero (0)
  • Including Comcast, the number of companies Time Warner Cable has tried to sell itself to this year: 2
  • Days elapsed between the official failure of the Comcast merger and Charter’s official offer to buy TWC instead: 32
  • $55 billion: what Charter is willing to spend on acquiring TWC
  • $45 billion: Comcast’s failed offer
  • $37 billion: What Charter tried to pay for TWC back before Comcast had a go.

Student Loans Still Suck

Student debt remains a pressing problem for a full generation of young adults, and isn’t looking so hot for the next generation either.

  • 69% of college graduates finish with outstanding student loans…
  • …with an average debt load of $28,950.
  • That’s 6% more borrowers with an average of 2% more debt than last year, when it was 63% of students oweing an average of $28,400.
  • Graduates today will owe, on average, more than 56% more than their counterparts of only a decade ago.
  • Over 41 million Americans have an open student loan.
  • Collectively, borrowers owe more than $1.2 trillion in student debt.
  • 75: the minimum age at which the Class of 2015 will probably be able to retire.

And Finally, Your Humble Hosts

In 2015, here at Consumerist…

  • A staff of just 5 editors…
  • …brought you more than 5,850 stories…
  • …averaging over 23 articles posted per workday this year.
  • Of which 7 were about would-be thieves stealing meat from grocery stores by concealing it in their pants…
  • …and 1 (one) who tried the same with shellfish….
  • …while serving up 0 (zero) advertising, because that’s how we roll.

Starting Tomorrow, Hawaii Becomes First State To Raise Smoking Age To 21


Hawaii may have been the fiftieth state to join the U.S., but when the calendar flips over to 2016 after midnight tonight, it will become the first state to raise the legal smoking age to 21.

Back in April, Consumerist reported that Hawaii was poised to become the first state to raise the minimum age for smoking to 21 after a bill changing the age requirements passed the Hawaii Legislature. Governor David Ige then signed the bill, which bars people under the age of 21 from smoking, buying, or possessing both traditional and electronic cigarettes.

Anyone caught in violation of the law would be fined $10 for the first offense, with subsequent incidents prompting a $50 fine or mandatory community service.

Businesses that are caught selling tobacco products to people under the age of 21 will be fined $500 for their first violation and up to $2,000 for subsequent offenses, Buzzfeed News reports.

While Hawaii is the first state to raise the legal smoking age to 21, a number of municipalities, including Hawaii County and New York City, have done so on a local level. Washington state, Utah, and Colorado have also considered boosting the legal minimum age.

Proponents of such laws say raising the legal age to buy cigarettes to 21 would result in fewer smokers. In Hawaii, the state’s Department of Health says 5,600 kids try smoking every year, with 90% of daily smokers starting the habit before they turn 19.

[via BuzzFeed News]

24 Stories We Covered In 2015 That We Never Saw Coming

The following is a true story: One day, two Consumerist staffers were chatting about the work day. One said, “I can’t believe I’m writing about the legal ramifications of butt-dialing.” The other replied, “We should probably remember this conversation for a year-end story about things we didn’t expect to ever write in 2015.” A calendar alert was made, and our future selves were duly reminded.

From the aforementioned rear-end action to the news that U.S. citizens would be traveling to Cuba as tourists, we gathered some of the stories we covered this year that frankly, our past selves could never have predicted happening in the near future, if ever.

1. The Time Warner/Comcast merger actually failed: Sure, we thought it could possibly get the kibosh from federal government, but in 2014, it still seemed likely it had a fighting chance. In fact, 50% of our readers predicted in 2014 that the two companies would tie the knot and ride off into the sunset. It was not to be.

2. After all that, Comcast’s Executive Vice President managed to keep his job — and then some: After the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger failed miserably, we wouldn’t have been shocked to write that the public face of the deal, Comcast Exec VP David Cohen, was moving on to another job. But not only did Cohen keep his job, he got a boost to his annual bonus. We’re in the wrong business.

3. Costco and American Express tell everyone they’re breaking up: It’s over for the former long-term steadies come 2016. In February, the chain announced that its exclusive deal with AmEx would be going kaput, opening the door to other forms of credit card payment.

4. In which we all learn a lesson about the intersection of butts, technology, and the law: Yes, Virginia, there can be legal repercussions when your rump calls someone it shouldn’t be calling. A federal court ruled in July that if you accidentally dial someone using any part of your anatomy, don’t expect anything you say during the call you don’t know you’re making to stay private.

5. That time McDonald’s got to report a boost in sales for once: The desperation of the Golden Arches finally paid off (cough, *all-day breakfast*, cough). The chain announced in October that it had finally managed to see in an improvement in its U.S. stores for the first time in two years. We are genuinely surprised.

6. Americans heading to Cuba — for fun: After more than 50 years of being kept out of Cuba, U.S. tourists can finally visit the island to the south, whether by cruise ship, ferry, or airplane.

7. The largest collapse in U.S. higher education finally occurred: It took almost a year, but in 2015 we saw the end of for-profit education chain Corinthian Colleges Inc., with the closure of its 13 remaining Everest and WyoTech campuses in California, Everest College Phoenix and Everest Online Tempe in Arizona, the Everest Institute in New York, as well as 10 locations of Heald College in California, one in Hawaii and one in Oregon.

8. We pondered whether a non-human primate has the right to its own photography: We’ve been covering the monkey selfie story since 2014, but the mystery of “Who owns the right to this self-portrait of a grinning macaque?” reached its peak in September when PETA filed a lawsuit on behalf of the monkey, claiming that not only should it be granted the copyright, but that it deserves royalty payments.

9. We get hoverboards (sort of) at last, and they immediately set themselves on fire: We got one step closer to a Jetsons reality, except these hoverboards don’t actually hover. And they’re also hard to ride when they’re aflame.

10. Marijuana, marijuana, everywhere: It’s not just those hippies out there in California with prescriptions for wacky tobaccy anymore. In 2015, the topic of legal pot became rather ordinary. Mary Jane made her way into dispensaries and stores, conversations, ballots and the country’s common conscious. Heck, even my grandmother is fine talking about the stuff now.

11. There are no limits to what companies will try to pull to keep customers from speaking ill of them: After years of covering inane “non-disparagement” clauses that seek (often illegally) to prevent customers from writing honest-but-negative online reviews, we hit the bottom of the barrel, ethically speaking, with this contract from an Orlando wedding contractor.

12. Learning there is such a thing as fromagicide: A crime against cheese that has an official name? No one could’ve predicted that, because no one should be considering hurting cheese. And yet in August, the Russian government destroyed literal tons of premium cheese.

13. A TV pitchman going to trial after refusing to admit he kicked an owl while paragliding: We really thought there might be a story about a TV pitchman refusing to admit he punched an eagle while hang-gliding, but this one really blew us out of the water.

14. Someone can go to jail for “nut rage” on an airplane: And not just anyone — a top airline executive who’d become enraged in 2014 for improperly served macadamia nuts. The former vice president at Korean Air was convicted in February of violating aviation safety law and received a one-year prison sentence.

15. A major telecommunications company would rather tell fans to switch cable companies than give customers the channel they want: It’s not news that Time Warner Cable hates its customers, and that the company specifically hates L.A. Dodgers fans, many of whom couldn’t see their favorite team because of the minimal available access to TWC-owned SportsNet L.A. Then, in March the company rubbed dirt in the wound by telling angry customers that if they wanted access to the cable channel, they should just switch to a provider that offers it… without mentioning that no other provider in the area had SportsNet at the time. That sort of customer disservice takes (base)balls.

16. Verizon bought the smoldering remains of AOL: It’s not often you hear about a shotgun wedding between two tech companies, but that’s what happened for Verizon and AOL, with a $4.4 billion acquisition in June. This, only a month after the bride and groom (or bride and bride, or groom and groom) announced the proposed merger.

17. Sears is still in business: We know, we’re just as shocked as you are that this company is still kicking around. Heck, it even reported its first profit since 2012! Though it wasn’t because it actually sold a lot of stuff or finally convinced customers to return en masse.

18. You don’t have to be hot to work at Abercrombie & Fitch anymore: Put away that self tanner and step away from that exercise machine — normal, uncool kids are now acceptable employees at A&F, as of April.

19. No more on-demand porn in your hotel room: Times, they are a’changin — Hyatt gave over-priced blue movies the boot. Now what are you going to lie to the front desk about on your bill?

20. Someone in the world sued over not achieving a footgasm: Woman sees commercial with women who are very pleased with their stockings, wants what they’re having. When her feet don’t achieve the same level of ah, comfort, as she hoped, she sued.

21. Major companies turn their logos rainbow in honor of a landmark ruling: Many of America’s biggest names came out to show support for same-sex marriage, which was then deemed a constitutional right by SCOTUS.

22. T-Mobile makes us ask a very important question — what about Andorra?: The wireless carrier claims $0.20 per minute coverage in “all” of Europe… but one country is left out. Did we ever think we’d be asking about Andorra? No, we did not.

23. Dating in the 20th century involves comparison to livestock: In which we wonder if we just heard the guy in the ad correctly.

24. The death and subsequent rebirth of SkyMall: As long as we can remember flying, there’s always been SkyMall, welcoming us with ridiculous, yet wholly necessary, things like inflatable movie screens and jumping hot dogs. So when the company filed for bankruptcy in January, at first we were all like, “RIP SkyMall, how could this happen?!?” And then by December, it was more like, “Hey, welcome back, SkyMall.”

Car Owner Tries To Drive Vehicle Away While It Was Being Towed

(David Dennis)
When you live in an occasionally snowy urban area and own a car, snow emergencies are an inevitable occasional annoyance. They impose different alternate-side parking rules so plow crews can clear heavy snow accumulation from the sides of roads, towing vehicles that remain in the way. One woman in St. Paul, Minnesota tried to rescue her car, then learned that you can’t actually drive a car hooked to a tow truck.

Yes, that’s how snow emergencies work: the plow crews need the street to be clear of vehicles so they can clean up, and police will helpfully move motorists’ cars out of the way for them if they fail to do so. They move them to an impound lot after trying to contact the car’s owner, but one St. Paul, Minnesota resident tried to solve the problem herself.

Specifically, she allegedly tried to drive off while her car was partway up the truck’s bed. Police officers say that when they found out and arrived on the scene, the woman ran away and went back into her house.

“She could be hurt, the tow driver could be hurt, tow truck could be damaged and even her vehicle could be damaged,” a police officer observed. “Nobody wants any of that to happen.”

It would have cost a $75 fee for the tow truck driver to simply release her car, but she didn’t have that money on hand. Instead, she owes a higher fee to have her car released from the impound lot, and a $56 citation for remaining parked on the street during the snow emergency. In addition to that, one of her tires deflated during the tow truck ruckus, so that will need to be fixed before she can drive the vehicle home… or to a different safe location.

She claims that she had no idea about the snow emergency.

St. Paul Woman Tries to Drive Away While Connected To Tow Truck [CBS Minnesota]

Old Navy Apologizes, Pulls Toddler Shirt That Suggests Kids Shouldn’t Aspire To A Career In The Arts

oldnavytoddlerPart of the wonder of being a little kid is the idea that you can grow up to be whatever you want to be — whether that’s President of the United States, a teacher, a veterinarian, an astrophysicist or a concert pianist. So when Old Navy sold a line of toddler T-shirts that featured the phrase, “Young Aspiring Artist,” with the “Artist” part crossed out and replaced with other careers like “Astronaut” and “President,” many online expressed anger at what they saw as the company valuing other careers over those in the arts.

After folks started calling out Old Navy earlier this week for denigrating the arts and trying to steer young ones away from spreading their creative wings and flying, the brand apologized and says it will stop selling the shirt.

In a statement, an Old Navy spokeswoman said the retailer would “never intentionally offend anyone, and we are sorry if that has been the case. Our toddler tees come in a variety of designs including tees that feature ballerinas, unicorns, trucks and dinosaurs and include phrases like, ‘Free Spirit.’ They are meant to appeal to a wide range of aspirations,” she said, via Forbes. “With this particular tee, as a result of customer feedback, we have decided to discontinue the design and will work to remove the item from our stores.”

Delta Pilots Turn Around Plane To Pick Up Passengers Traveling To Funeral

(Quinn Dombrowski)

For the most part, when a gate agent closes the door to a plane, that’s it, you’re out of luck. But that wasn’t the case for a family traveling to a funeral via Delta Air Lines earlier this month. The pilots of the plane, which had already pulled away from the gate, returned to pick up the grieving passengers. 

Tucson News Now reports that the show of compassion took place at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport in mid-December when a delay caused a family traveling to their father’s funeral in Tennessee to miss boarding their flight by just seconds.

The father, who passed away earlier in the month, had asked to be buried in Tennessee. To follow through with his wishes, the family planned the Tennessee funeral from their home in Arizona.

They booked a flight for the day before the planned funeral and things were going smoothly until they ended up sitting on the plane in Arizona for an hour after their planned takeoff.

The delay led the family to frantically race to their connecting gate at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport.

“The delay gave us seven minutes to get to the gate,” the mother says. “With only two minutes to spare, we got to the gate and the attendant was not at the podium. The sky way was pulling away from the plane.”

The woman and her children began waving at the pilot of the plane and the ground crew in hopes of getting their attention.

“We are pleading for them to not take off,” she says. “The attendant came out of the sky way and said there was nothing she could do, as the door had already been closed. We continued to plead. If we did not get on that flight, we would miss the funeral. We had to get to Memphis.”

While the woman and her son continued to wave down the pilots, and her daughters cried, the gate agent called her supervisor, who also said there was nothing they could do.

Instead, they offered to put the family on another flight to Atlanta. From there they could drive to Tennessee, but they would still likely miss the funeral.

“My son still waving his arms and pleading with the pilot through the floor to ceiling windows. I was crying and attempting to console my girls when the phone rang,” the woman said. “The pilot was pulling back to the gate to let us board the plane.”

While the family isn’t sure why the pilots chose to come back to the gate, or if they were aware of the family’s need for travel, they’re grateful either way.

“These pilots did not have to pull back to the gate,” the mother says. “Pilots Adams and Anderson of flight DL 3955 on Dec. 19 from [Minneapolis/St. Paul] to Memphis on Delta Air Lines have blessed my family and gave us a gift that no one else could. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts and may you both be blessed ten fold.”

Delta pilots turn around to get family to funeral [Tucson News Now]

Another Year That Shouldn’t Have Been: The 50 Most Embarrassing Stories From 2015

The end of the year is a time to reflect on the good times, bad times, and those that just made you scratch your head in disbelief. While there were plenty of really great – and not so great – things that happened in 2015, we’re here to remind you of some of the most baffling, embarrassing, and gaffe-worthy business and consumer stories that graced the pages of Consumerist in the last 12 months. 

Like most other years, 2015 was rife stories that left us wondering just who has control of companies’ social media platforms and how many times companies have to make insensitive products or ads before they get the idea that it’s just not okay.

From derogatory, mean-spirited receipt descriptions to ads that suggested “no doesn’t really mean no,” there was no shortage of fails, gaffes, and just plain stupid comments, social media posts, and apologies made in 2015.

So without further adieu, here is Consumerist’s list of stories that make us go “What, The What?”


Image courtesy of marielle.m.n.o.p
Every year, without fail, a number of companies do something that warrants a great big “we’re sorry.” While these apologies are generally warranted, the reasons why they’re needed in the first place can often be perplexing.

1. Plastic Cups Are The New Urinal: In April, the Chicago Cubs issued a truly astonishing apology after wait times for the restroom on opening day became excessive (about 45 minutes), leading some baseball fans to take matters into their own hands: seeking out remote corners of the stadium to pee into plastic cups or just sprinkle on the ground instead of waiting in the long lines.

2. The New Legal Drinking Age Is 2: That is if you happen to be a Texas Roadhouse location in North Carolina. The restaurant issued an apology in March after serving a 2-year-old Sangria, instead of cranberry juice.

3. What Tweet?: Sometimes it’s hard for a company to admit when it was wrong, that appeared to be the case for Bud Light after the company tried to discreetly delete a Tweet suggesting people randomly walk around pinching others who didn’t wear green on St. Patrick’s Day.

4. The Food Illness Apology Train: Chipotle CEO Steve Ells has been on a mea culpa parade in recent months, asking for forgiveness for a string of food safety issues that left hundreds of customers ill after eating at the fast casual restaurant.

5. A Long Time Comin’: When taking over a company, you also agree to take over that company’s problems – even those with former customers. Such was the case for Oscar Munoz, the new CEO of United Airlines. The first action on Munoz’s to-do list: apologize for five years of merger-related problems.

6. “Get An Interpreter” Is Not An Acceptable Thing To Tell A Deaf Person: The U.S. Postal Service issued an apology to a Florida woman after workers at her local post office refused to accommodate her by providing service through writing, instead they allegedly mocked her and made her feel humiliated.

7. Passive-Aggressive Apology: In an attempt to bring awareness to excessive hotel fees that it doesn’t charge (or misses out on, we’re not sure which), Airbnb plastered several passive-aggressive ads around San Francisco. They were not greeted warmly by employees, and the company eventually acknowledged that workers were right to be “embarrassed and deeply disappointed” in their employer.

8. Things You Don’t Want To Find In Your Seat-Back: Vomit. You don’t want to find a full barf bag of, well, barf waiting for you after boarding a flight. United Airlines issued an apology for just this after a couple found a full barf bag in a blanket in the seat-back pocket in front of them. To make matters worse, while handing over the bag to a flight attendant, it spilled on both her and her husband.

9. People Will Buy Anything…: …Except for asparagus water that cost $6. Whole Foods apologized for accidentally selling bottles of water with several stalks of asparagus floating around.

10. Fishy, Fishy, Fishy: PetSmart issued its regrets in July after a video posted on Facebook showed live goldfish swimming in a bag that had been chucked in a store’s garbage bin. The pet store said the whole thing was a misunderstanding, an employee apparently didn’t realize some of the fish in the bag were still alive.


Companies continue to astonish us by knowingly or unwittingly using symbols or images that evoked memories of horrific events in our past, or belittle cultural figures. Nothing changed in 2015:

11. Gandhi Should Never Be A Robot: New England Brewing Company kicked off the year with a bit of controversy after plastering their India Pale Ale with a label depicting Gandhi as a robot. As one might expect, the “Gandhi-Bot” brew did not go over well with a lot of people, and the company eventually changed the beverage’s name.

12. We Shouldn’t Be Surprised By Urban Outfitter’s Tapestry That Looks Like A Concentration Camp Uniform: Last year it was the infamous Kent State sweatshirt, this year it was a grey-and-white-striped tapestry with pink triangles that looked “eerily reminiscent” of uniforms gay male prisoners wore in Nazi concentration camps.

13. Fanta’s History Is An Entire Peoples’ Tragedy: Sure it’s great to celebrate important milestones in business, but when Coca-Cola decided to look back on the birth of Fanta, it failed to account for the fact that people can do math and would figure out that the Coca-Cola syrup scarcity 75 years ago in German (where Fanta was created) had a little something to do with the Nazis. So, maybe it wasn’t such a great time, after all.

14. The Case Of The Upside-Down Flag T-Shirt: PacSun removed a T-shirt that featured an upside-down flag from its stores and online in May after receiving backlash from customers, who viewed the item as disrespectful and called for a boycott of the chain.

15. Comparisons Between The Iwo Jima Flag Raising And Dudes Playing Basketball Is Not Okay…: Under Armour pulled a “band of ballers” T-shirt in May after the company was criticized for basing the imagery on a famous photograph taken of soldiers raising a U.S. flag on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima during World War II.

16. … And Neither Is Including Concentration Camps In A Video Game: Google subsidiary Niantic Labs apologized in July when a German newspaper found that so-called “portals” within a mobile role-playing game were located within concentration camps like Dachau, Sachsenhausen and a slew of others.

17. Hypodermic Needles Aren’t Writing Tools: Pens come in all shapes and sizes, but novelty pens that look like hypodermic needles? Target felt the ire of drug abuse prevention advocates when life-like, needle-shaped pens popped up in stores around Halloween.

18. “Chai Maintenance” Issues: A Hanukkah-themed sweater sold at high-end retailer Nordstrom failed to get people in the holiday mood in November. Instead, the company received backlash from people claiming the sweater, emblazoned with a menorah and the phrase, “Chai Maintenance” across the chest, was an unfair stereotype of Jewish women. Chai is the Hebrew word for life, and sounds somewhat like “high” when pronounced.


Image courtesy of Courtesy: Imgur
When in doubt it seems that companies adhere to the idea that “sex sells.” But for a few companies 2015 proved to be a cautionary tale of how not to mix suggestive behavior and advertising.

19. That’s Not What We Meant, Promise: Being spontaneous can be great, but Budweiser learned last spring that maybe it should not have suggested that being “up for whatever” means turning a woman’s “no” into a “yes.” The company’s marketing campaign proposed that it was the “perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.” The company later apologized for the apparent gaffe, saying it never intended to condone disrespectful or irresponsible behavior.

20. Don’t Secretly Get People Drunk: It might be cute in movies when some wacky friend at a party pours some liquor into the punch bowl, but it’s not that charming in real life. That’s why Bloomingdale’s apologized in November for an ad that appeared to encourage a well-dressed young man to spike the drink of a well-dressed young lady looking away from him, with the caption: “Spike your best friend’s egg nog when they’re not looking.”

21. Hardcore Heinz Porn: An expired web domain sent Heinz Ketchup lovers who scanned a QR code looking to create their own bottle label somewhere much more adult: a hardcore porn website.

22. Not A PG-Rated Movie Preview: A Florida movie theater came under fire in April when a mother said it showed a suggestive make-up ad featuring people putting on lipstick and kissing each other before a showing of the PG-rated animated kid’s film Home.

23. Kid-Friendly Social Media And (Kinda) NSFW Pics Don’t Mix: Crayola started off the year cleaning up a social media mess after a hacker allegedly took over the company’s Facebook page, plastering it with juvenile but decidedly not kid-friendly updates.

24. Pee Humor: Google took the blame in April when someone used the editing tool in its Map Maker to create an Android figure urinating on an Apple logo somewhere near Pakistan. The company took down the image and temporarily suspended the editing tool for a time.

25. Target, Home Of Heavy Breathing: Shoppers at a California Target store got more than was on their list when the intercom system began playing porn for everyone to hear. The noises reportedly went on for about five minutes, while the store’s workers generally freaked out. Target later said that it believes the sounds of professional coitus originated from an outside source.


Image courtesy of Courtesy:
Some companies just never learn (cough, Comcast, cough), but customer service should be a top priority. After all, if you don’t have customers, you don’t have revenue.

26. To Be Fair, Most Comcast Customers Are Angry: After years of dealing with customer complaints, Comcast, in October, appeared to just give up and assume everyone contacting it on Twitter feed was angry.

27. Comcast Changes Customer’s First Name To “A**hole”…: Comcast started the year on the outs with at least one customer, after someone at the company renamed her account “A**hole Brown.” At first, reps for Comcast didn’t appear to take the issue seriously, but once the media found out, Kabletown higher-ups took a bit more of an urgent stance.

28-30. … and “Whore,” “Dummy,” “Super B*tch,” and “C*nt”: Comcast employees apparently didn’t get that bestowing decidedly unfriendly names on customer accounts wasn’t a good look for the company. Following “A**hole Brown” in January, a slew of individuals came forward claiming reps for the cable company changed the names on their accounts out of spite. The company, of course, apologized and promised to take action against those responsible.

31. When Reps And Prank Callers Sound The Same: Comcast’s customer service image didn’t get any help in February when pranksters made some bizarre and profane calls to customers who Tweeted their service issues to the @comcastcares Twitter account. There was some confusion at first on whether or not the callers were actual reps for the cable company, because, you know, it is Comcast.

32. Can’t See Your Team Here: Time Warner Cable told subscribers in the Los Angeles area that if they wanted to watch the Dodgers, they should switch to a company that provides SportsNet L.A. The only problem? TWC was the only cable company in the region offering the channel (which it co-owns).

33. Comcast CEO Try His Goodest To Explain Why Data Cap So Much Important: CEO Brian Roberts, whose daddy just also happened to start Comcast, attempted to ease his customers’ minds about data caps earlier this month, explaining that those who use the most should pay the most, while failing to apply that same caveman logic to those customers who use the least.

34. American Airlines’ Delays Customer Call Six Hours: We’ve all been subject to a long hold time while calling a major U.S. company, but six hours is a little excessive. That’s exactly what an American Airlines customer endured back in March. The would-be traveler didn’t actually get the problem handled in that chunk of time, they simply hung up after realizing it was a line to nowhere.

35. Rent, Cable Bill It’s All The Same For Comcast: As if Comcast doesn’t charge customers enough for their services, the company also apparently has no problem taking more money, even when it’s clear the rent check they received was sent by accident.

36. But There’s Nothing To Return: In October, a Dish rep less-than-sensitively demanded a couple — who had just lost their home in a California wildfire — return their equipment despite knowing the devices had been destroyed in said fire.

37. Sorry Isn’t Good Enough For Sephora Customers: Beauty store Sephora hosted an “Epic Rewards” special event, promising customers amazing deals like a trip to Paris if they accumulated enough points by, you guessed it, buying products. But when it came down to the event, most customers left empty-handed. At first the company chalked it up to “snooze-or-lose,” and people were not too happy about that.

38. No Apology Here, You “Beast”: The owner of a Portland, Maine, diner refused to offer an apology to a family after calling a crying child a “monster” and “beast” on Facebook. The post, which was in response to the child’s mother’s own post, was not met kindly by the Internet (though some gave the owner virtual high-fives for calling out parents with loud kids).


Image courtesy of chispita_666
Here at Consumerist we support the right of parents to feed their infants however and wherever they choose. Also, it’s the law. Unfortunately, not everyone feels that way, making 2015 yet another year rife with examples of companies trying to shame nursing mothers.

39. A Pet And A Baby Are Two Different Things: United Airlines received an Internet butt-kicking in October after an employee for the airline suggested a mom pump her breast milk in the Dulles Airport pet relief area. The airport doesn’t have a designated breastfeeding area, but officials there say they’re working on it.

40. There’s No Shame In Feeding Your Child: A woman claimed in March that a United Airlines (again) flight attendant publicly shamed her — and tossed a blanket to her husband — in an attempt to get her to cover up while feeding her baby during a flight.

41. You Gotta Check The Breast Pump: A nursing mother received an apology from Delta Air Lines in January after the airline forced her to check the bag containing her breast pump, despite a policy that says medical devices don’t count against carry-on bag limits.

42. Dressing Rooms Aren’t For Breastfeeding: That is according to a Marshall’s employee in Oregon, who refused to let a mother nurse her child in one of the rooms. The company later issued an apology, noting that policy “instructs associates to allow customers to breastfeed as they choose within stores.”

43. Cover Up Or Leave: That’s what one Illinois woman says a local restaurant told her to do while dining out with her family. The woman shared her story on Facebook, and the owners of the restaurant says he received violent threats.


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Calling people names is not okay. Using racial slurs and other derogatory descriptions is even worse. Yet, several businesses — or their employees — did just that this year.

44. Comcast Isn’t The Only Company To Nickname Customers: A Georgia woman received an unfriendly salutation on a receipt after visiting a local car wash in September. Unsurprisingly, the note, which read “B*tch is crazy,” was not met kindly by the patron.

45. Not For The Customer’s Eyes: A Denver restaurant owner apologized in August after a supposed joke between the front-of-house staff and kitchen staff made its way onto a customer’s printed receipt. The offensive statement: “You F*ing Mexicans.”

46. A Merging Of Racial Discrimination: A Pizza Hut customer in Arkansas got more than their ordered pie in May, opening up their pizza box and finding that “KKK” and a swastika had been scribbled on the inside of the lid in marker. Underneath the pizza, someone had written a racial slur. The three employees deemed responsible were fired.

47. More Racist Receipts: A New Orleans restaurant fired a server after he supposedly wrote “N– 100% DISLIKE” on a woman’s receipt.


Image courtesy of Left: Courtesy of; Right: Courtesy of
Last year, LEGO received widespread backlash when it seemingly overlooked the fact that women could be scientists, and Mattel drew an equal amount of ire after portraying Barbie as being incompetent when it comes to computers and coding. Unfortunately, things didn’t exactly get better in 2015. In fact, some toy companies even toyed the line of discrimination for disabilities, too.

48. LEGO, Little Girls Don’t Need Beauty Tips: LEGO’s Club magazine offended some parents when a spread about the company’s Friends salon play set offered advice about the best hairstyles for their faces. The advice was seen to be promoting beauty standards to youngsters. The magazine is targeted toward children as young as five.

49. Lollipop, Ice Cream… Anything But “Window Licker”: Things didn’t get any better for LEGO three months later, when it was chastised for describing a toy named “Turg” as “part frog, part chicken, part back-of-the-bus window-licker, this Mixel has the longest tongue of them all.” People quickly called the company out for its used of a term they deemed offensive to those with disabilities.

50. Unisex Doesn’t Mean Costume Should Be Labeled “Boy”: Disney found itself in a bit of a gendered controversy around Halloween when a Disney store was selling a costume of Captain Phasma (of The Force Awakens fame) with a “BOY” label, when the online store sold it as unisex.

The World’s Largest, Most French Fry-Box-Shaped McDonald’s Is Now Closed

McDonald’s lost its biggest restaurant in the world last night. Which sounds like a sad thing, to folks who value size and fried potato shapes, probably, but don’t fret — an even larger location is in the works.

The famous French fry-box-shaped McDonalds in Orange County, FL shut its doors permanently at 11 p.m. on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

It’s reportedly the biggest McDonald’s known to man (aliens have yet to weigh in) and has fed millions of hungry mouths since it opened in 1976. And it wasn’t all cheeseburgers and neon green pickles that you swore you asked not to receive at this location, either: bowling, slides, and video games were also said to be popular activities at this Golden Arches outpost.

Lest your tears overwhelm you, you should know that a so-called state-of-the-art and apparently larger replacement is in the works nearby, with an expected debut of February.

In the meantime, if you work at the world’s smallest McDonald’s, we’d love to hear from you.

World’s largest McDonald’s closes as replacement nears opening [Associated Press]

What Does It Take To Get On The FDA’s “Most Wanted” List?

fdamostwantedWe all know that law enforcement agencies like the FBI and Interpol publish lists of fugitives wanted for things like murder, armed robbery, terrorism, and kidnappings. But did you know that the Food and Drug Administration also maintains a list of “Most Wanted” fugitives?

The current FDA list contains a dirty dozen on-the-run suspects, wanted for a variety of reasons. Lest you think these are things like “putting undeclared soy in a protein bar,” a closer look at these allegations shows that these are some truly awful offenders.

There’s Dushyant Patel, the former president of a North Carolina company called AM2PAT, which sold syringes pre-filled with the important anti-coagulant Heparin. Patel falsely claimed that his products had been made under approved, sterile methods. In fact, according to the FDA, he shipped Heparin needles without doing any sterility testing, resulting in the deaths of at least five people along with hundreds of hospitalizations for bacterial infections linked to the unclean syringes.

Another FDA fugitive is Stephen Van Rooyen, who previously operated a Georgia company called Biomark International, selling stem cells and stem cell injections to treat Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (aka “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”), Multiple Sclerosis, and other chronic diseases. According to the FDA, Van Rooyen and his accomplice Laura Brown used stem cells that were only intended for use on lab animals, but still charged patients between $10,000 and $32,000 per injection for treatments they said would cure these afflictions. In all, they raked in more than $1 million from this heartless deception.

That’s nothing compared to the $12 million in bogus Lipitor tablets imported and manufactured by Pablo Manuel Fernandez back in 2002 and 2003. The FDA says Fernandez and his pals were making fake versions of the cholesterol-lowering drug in Costa Rica and Honduras, then illegally shipping the pills to the U.S. Fernandez, who already has a 1995 conviction for cocaine trafficking on his sheet, has been on the run for more than a decade.

A more recent FDA fugitive is Nuritsa Grigoryan, who the FDA says wrote fake prescriptions, using a real doctor’s name and license number. Making matters worse, the alleged “patients” named on these prescriptions were actually victims of ID theft. Once these folks’ Medicare or Medicaid plans paid for the drugs, the pills were then funneled back to the pharmacies then sold on the black market. Grigoryan was convicted in 2014 on five felony charges and faces 35 years behind bars. Or at least she will if police ever find her. In Feb. 2014, she unlawfully removed her ankle monitor, obtained a passport from an Armenian consulate in California, and fled the country.

Blasts From The Very Recent Past: Consumerist’s Most-Read Stories For 2015

Another 365 days, another 6,000 or so Consumerist stories in the can. We’ve seen the biggest name in TV fail miserably (again, and again), cooked our own burgers and pondered the history of the hot dog, investigated surprise medical bills while getting the sense of what it’s like to own a very small share of a very large NFL team. In short, it’s been your typical sort of year for us.

As we chill our sparkling apple cider and set our DVRs to record Ryan Seacrest at midnight because we’ll all be long asleep by then, we take this look back at the year’s most-read stories.

Another Comcastic Year

While the story we covered with most frequency (at least in the first half of 2015) was the doomed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable (and the aborted plan to spin off the bizarrely named GreatLand Connections), the single-most read story of the year was about a guy named Seth who was just trying to get Comcast to provide the broadband connection it promised was already in place at his newly purchased home.

Seth’s story — both Comcast and CenturyLink had lied to him about their ability to provide his home with the broadband access he needed for his home office, and Washington state law prohibited his county from selling him access to its high-speed fiber network — made headlines around the country, with various companies and people coming out of the woodwork offering advice and help.

Ultimately, it was Seth’s own determination, and his willingness to figure out how to work the system that finally got him connected to that county fiber line (though not without considerable personal expense). Of course, even after millions of people around the world had read about Seth’s story, CenturyLink still sends him mail urging him to sign up for service that the company knows it can’t actually provide.

5 Empty Promises Comcast Has Made About Time Warner Cable Merger & One Promise They Won’t Make
Philadelphia Won’t Show Results Of Comcast Customer Survey To Anyone — Except Comcast
These 2 Charts From Comcast Show Why Net Neutrality Is Vital

Surprise! You Owe The Hospital A Lot Of Money

Image courtesy of MeneeDijk

As more and more hospitals bring on freelance doctors, nurses, technicians, and other specialists who may or may not accept the same insurance plans as those honored by the building, we’re seeing an increase in the number of patients who find out after they’ve been treated that they are stuck with unexpectedly high medical bills.

According to our colleagues at Consumer Reports, around 30% of patients with private insurance had been hit with these surprise bills in the last two years alone.

We spoke to some of those patients, along with some experts on medical billing in a pair of our most-read stories from 2015. First we looked at how loopholes in insurance coverage, along with hospital billing practices, allow for these surprise bills to happen in the first place. We then followed this up with personal stories from consumers who were hit with sky-high bills after emergency room visits, including a woman who now has to drive to a hospital several towns over just to make sure she doesn’t get hit with another crippling out-of-network bill.

We’ll have more to come on this issue in early 2016.

Another popular medical story from 2015 involved a father’s months-long search to find out what was causing a mysterious, painful rash on his 8-year-old daughter’s skin. The source: A common preservative used in a number of products that may be in your bathroom or closet right now.

If It Please The Court

Image courtesy of Adam Fagen

We write about a lot of lawsuits, from the incredibly serious to the arguably frivolous, but one particular case attracted more attention than the others.

In April, we brought you the story of Val, a California woman who had been sued for defamation by her mother’s nursing home simply because Val copied her mother’s legal aid attorney on an email. That case was ultimately dropped, but now Val is caught up in a Sisyphean effort of trying to hold the law firm that filed the defamation case — one of the nation’s largest and most powerful firms — accountable for illegally trying to shut her and her mother up.

Countless Consumers Are Paying Off Someone Else’s Debt Because Of Default Judgments
Yes, Owners Of Recalled Volkswagens Can File Deceptive Marketing Complaints With The FTC
Appeals Court Makes Important Ruling In “Dancing Baby” Copyright Case
Feds File Criminal, Civil Cases Against More Than 100 Supplement Companies

Getting Our Hands Dirty

Image courtesy of MeneerDijk

As much fun as it is to write about other folks’ experiences, sometimes we have to take the plunge and experience things for ourselves. Perhaps that’s why some of our most-read stories involved Consumerist writers sharing their first-hand experiences.

Like when our Mary Beth Quirk returned home to Wisconsin to fulfill her nonexistent fiscal obligation as one of several hundred thousand shareholders of the Green Bay Packers.

In some ways, it was the same as any other shareholders’ meeting — voting on board members, financial updates, PowerPoint presentations — except those slides were being shown to 12,000 Packers fans on a jumbotron at Lambeau Field.

As one shareholder who’d traveled all the way from Virginia explained to someone who asked why he attended the event, “I’m an NFL team owner, you’re not.”

We also got our hands mucked up making and tasting burgers in the Consumer Reports test kitchen.

Some of the recipes we tried out came from readers who wanted to help us show that you could indeed cook a burger to a safe 160 degrees Fahrenheit and not end up with something that tastes like a hockey puck. Just imagine the halls of the CR offices filling with the smell of dozens of frying burgers at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday morning… Somedays it’s fun to go to work.

We Tried It: Does Country Crock’s New Formula Actually Taste Like Garbage?
5 Things To Consider Before Spending $20/Month On Sling TV

That Was Then, This Is Now

Image courtesy of James Vaughn

To understand the present, you have to look to the past. So it’s no surprise that some of the most-loved stories of 2015 include a few history lessons.

There was our look at what happened to 72 different real-life brands that had been featured on Mad Men in the 45 years since the Don Draper era.

Speaking of advertising, we called out Dodge for taking historical liberties with its “Dodge Brothers” campaign, which grossly overstates the brothers involvement in the muscle cars that the carmaker is known for.

We did several popular histories on fast food chains, including White Castle, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. Not to mention our not-exactly-an-exposé on why hot dogs got such a bad rap.

With everyone talking about the apparent invincibility of companies like Google — sorry, “Alphabet” — and Facebook, we did a “Where are they now?” with the faded superstars of Internet 1.0, catching up with the likes of AltaVista, GeoCities, Lycos, and others.

And finally, we not only waxed nostalgic about supposed movie theater innovations like Smell-O-Vision, Sensurround, and indoor weather machines, we also rated their staying power alongside more worthwhile changes like stadium seating and IMAX.