vendredi 30 janvier 2015

Toshiba Quits U.S. TV Market, Licenses Name To Taiwan’s Compal



Toshiba will be leaving the U.S. market for televisions, but you’ll still be able to buy a Toshiba TV later this year. Confused? Like other brands in the TV market, the company will license its name to Compal Electronics. TVs made by Compal will hit shelves starting in March.

While you may not have heard of Compal, it’s possible that you’re reading this post on a laptop computer or desktop monitor manufactured by them. They manufacture computers for more familiar names like Dell, Compaq, HP, and… Toshiba.

Toshiba blamed the “harsh price competition” in the television market for their struggle to turn a profit from selling TVs in North America. It will also seek similar licensing agreements with another manufacturer for its television products in other countries. Instead of bothering with the television business, the company will simply rent out its name to Compal. This could work out badly if Compal sells subpar televisions.

Our alert colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports had the same question that we did: who will handle repairs and distribute parts for Toshiba TVs sold under the older regime? Toshiba will continue to sell computers in the United States, so it may be able to provide service and sell remaining parts through that operation.

Toshiba gives up selling TVs in the U.S [Consumer Reports]

Restaurant Bonus Gift Card Promotions Mean Discounted Meals

Sure, gift card bonus deals are meant to induce you to buy even more gift cards, maybe keeping the smaller one for yourself. While giving gift cards can be problematic, In the case of a restaurant or store that you already plan to visit or visit regularly, gift card deals area a great way to take advantage of these promotions.

Yes, it seems obvious, but the key is to watch specifically for these deals. Sometimes the savings can be substantial. Travis Pizel over at Money Ning started to keep track of bonus gift card deals when he came across them, and encountered quite a few in just a month or so of looking. They even included local restaurants, which he found as part of a package deal at Costco where $100 worth of gift cards cost $80, an immediate 20% off discount.

Other deals that he discovered were mostly at national chain restaurants, like Outback Steakhouse (an extra $20 gift card if you buy a $100 card) or the same promotion at Red Lobster. One tricky transaction is at Buffalo Wild Wings, where there’s a time limit on the second gift card: you can’t use both in the same transaction.

You’re saving exactly zero dollars, of course, if you buy gift cards that you’ll never use, or that force you to go somewhere you don’t like.

How to Save Money at Restaurants by Buying Gift Cards [MoneyNing] (via Lifehacker)

Study: “Anonymous” Credit Card Data Is Actually Completely Identifiable

We all kind of know that credit card data isn’t terribly secure, and that the payment information is likely to get swiped eventually. But that information is all theoretically anonymous. Without a name, address, or ZIP code attached, our credit card information doesn’t say much about us personally, right? Wrong.

A study released by researchers at MIT this week shows just how easy to spot almost all of us our just by our spending, the AP reports.

The research team wanted to know: how much “anonymized” data would it take to identify you? If your ZIP code and name and all other identifying information are stripped away, how many records does someone need to figure out who you are?

The answer is: four. At most. Three, if at least one price is included.

That’s all it takes to pick you out of a crowd with over 90% accuracy, the research team found.

Any three or four transactions can give you away, and it doesn’t have to be anything fancy like air travel. Kleenex, coffee, and a sandwich? If the researchers could see the price for any one of those items, they could figure out who it was doing the spending.

The researchers looked at transaction information from 10,000 retailers (not in the U.S.), with each piece of data time-stamped. They were then able basically to reverse engineer identities from spending:

As an example, the researchers wrote about looking at data from September 23 and 24 and who went to a bakery one day and a restaurant the other. Searching through the data set, they found there could be only person who fits the bill – they called him Scott. The study said, “and we now know all of his other transactions, such as the fact that he went shopping for shoes and groceries on 23 September, and how much he spent.”

The study also found that it was easier to identify women than men by their spending alone, though did not determine why that is.

The complete lack of anonymity in “anonymized” data is a major area of concern for privacy experts and even the FTC. The ability for “non personally identifiable” data to in fact personally identify basically everyone is, at best, a hazard to privacy and, at worst, downright menacing. If you buy things less innocuous than a muffin — like medical supplies — you probably don’t want every company in the world able to follow your digital breadcrumbs and figure out who you are.

‘Anonymized’ credit card data not so anonymous, study shows [Associated Press]

Appeals Court Sides With FTC In POM Wonderful False Advertising Case

The Federal Trade Commission hasn’t let the bee out of its bonnet over health claims made by POM Wonderful that it says amount to deceptive advertising, having kept on the company’s case since 2010. Now, eight months after POM made its case before a federal appeals court that it’s not being misleading about the things its juice can do, the court is siding with the FTC.

It all started back in Sept. 2010 when the FTC filed an administrative complaint against POM Wonderful, seeking to keep it from making health benefit claims without providing independent scientific research that backed up those claims, and from making statements about disease prevention or treatment without approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

The FTC argues that POM Wonderful goes beyond the normal touting of generally accepted health benefits from pomegranates (like that they contain nutrients and antioxidants), and accused it of making statements that its juice fought atherosclerosis, prostate cancer and other specific diseases, and claimed that these statements were backed up by medical research.

The ruling, by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed a January 2014 FTC decision that the marketers of POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice and POMx supplements deceptively advertised that the products could treat, prevent, or reduce the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction, and were clinically proven to have such benefits, a press release from the FTC says. This allows the government to ban POM Wonderful from marketing its products with such claims.

While the court didn’t uphold the FTC’s order requiring two randomized, well-controlled human clinical trials by POM before making disease prevention, it did affirm the FTC’s order requiring at least one such study, and said there could be a time when two might be warranted in certain cases.

Judges also disagreed with the company’s argument that its ads are protected by the First Amendment.

Judge Sri Srinivasan said in the ruling that the FTC’s deceptions findings “are supported by substantial evidence,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

“Many of those ads mischaracterized the scientific evidence concerning the health benefits of Pom’s products with regard to those diseases,” the judge wrote in a 45-page opinion.

“Consumers know that pomegranate juice is inherently healthy, and Pom Wonderful has always communicated with consumers in a transparent, honest manner, delivering valuable information about the potential health benefits of our products,” a POME spokesman said, ostensibly while swilling said juice.

In a statement from FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, the agency calls the rule a “victory for consumers.”

“It is in keeping with established law that advertisers who market products for serious health conditions must have rigorous science to back up those claims,” her statement reads. “The court specifically recognized that this applies to food and dietary supplement marketers such as POM. It also held that requiring a randomized, well-controlled human clinical study for future disease benefit claims is an appropriate remedy based on POM’s conduct.”

Appeals Court Upholds FTC’s Deception Findings on Pom Wonderful [Wall Street Journal]

Lawsuit Alleges Costco Managers, Employees Taunted Greeter With Tourette’s

A new federal lawsuit filed today claims that Costco and the managers of a Long Island store violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and New York State Human Rights laws by allegedly allowing managers and staff to taunt a fellow employee about his Tourette’s Syndrome, to the point where the man had to be hospitalized.

The New York Post reports the 38-year-old man, who has worked as a greeter at the store since he was 19, filed the lawsuit this week in a U.S. District Court, claiming that he was subjected to a hostile environment because of his disability.

According to the lawsuit, when new management took over at the Costco store in 2103, they disregarded the company’s Code of Ethics and systematically targeted, discriminated against and physically endangered the man.

“Appallingly, instead of ‘taking care’ of [the plaintiff], Costco subjected him to the same discrimination and stigmatism he has fought against his entire life,” the suit states. “For nearly the past two years, [the plaintiff] has endured unabated harassment, scrutiny, and ridicule so severe that it sent Plaintiff’s disabilities into a tailspin, and resulted in [the man’s] most recent hospitalization.”

The man alleges that when the new managers were hired, they immediately made it known that they did not like the man.

At times one manager allegedly told the employee, “I cringe every time I walk by you.”

The man claims in the lawsuit that the managers refused to allow him to take required medication and “maliciously stood by as Costco employees verbally assaulted [the man] with tasteless comments such as ‘hut-hut-hike,’ a jibe meant to mock the man’s uncontrollable grunts.”

In addition to being taunted by managers and employees, the man claims he was reprimanded for complimenting customers and was transferred from his position as a greeter to a cashier’s assistant position.

Managers told the man they believed the new position would keep the man so busy that he would not be able to interact with customers.

“Clearly, Defendant shamefully wished to hide Plaintiff away from its patrons on the basis of Plaintiff’s disabilities and their attendant symptoms,” the suit states.

According to the lawsuit, the man attempted to bring the issues to the attention of Costco’s CEO, but the efforts made no difference.

The issues culminated one day in November, when according to the lawsuit, the man hit his breaking point and suffered a debilitating panic attack while at work. He had to be taken from work in an ambulance, and is currently on leave for work-related stress.

“This episode was directly spurred on by the increased stress and anxiety [the plaintiff] experienced as a result of his maltreatment at Costco,” the suit states. “To date, the Plaintiff continues to recover from his attack.”

The man is seeking compensatory, emotional, psychological and punitive damages, lost compensation, front and back pay, injunctive relief and other damages for the alleged treatment and violations.

Verizon Wireless Will Finally Allow Users To Opt Out Of Being Tracked By “Supercookies”

Verizon has been watching you. If you use their mobile service, Verizon has been tracking your every move on the internet for the better part of the last two years, with no way for you to opt out. That’s the bad news. Here’s the good: the company is finally letting consumers turn off the trackers.

The news comes from the New York Times, which reports that Verizon is easing up on the perma-tracking after years of pushback.

Here’s how it works: Verizon appends a little header that you can’t see to all web traffic coming out of your phone. The tracker, called a UIDH (unique ID header) is consistent and permanent. Unlike regular site tracking code, clearing out your cookies and upping your privacy settings doesn’t do anything about these. And they build a comprehensive, unique, entirely trackable history of basically everything you’ve ever Googled or visited on your phone.

All the time. Usable by third parties (even though Verizon says it’s not).

If that feels to you like a privacy disaster waiting to happen — or really, already in progress — you’re not alone. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, among others, has been calling for Verizon to halt the practice.

Customers have already been able to opt out of receiving ads based on the tracking information, but have been unable to opt out of having the data collected. That, finally, is going to change.

In a statement, a Verizon representative said, “We listen to our customers and provide them the ability to opt out of our advertising programs. We have begun working to expand the opt-out to include the identifier referred to as the UIDH, and expect that to be available soon.”

There’s no official word on when “soon” might be, but hopefully it’s on the order of days or weeks rather than months or years.

Verizon Wireless to Allow Complete Opt Out of Mobile ‘Supercookies’ [New York Times]

Super Bowl Weekend Is The Big Show For Pizza Box Manufacturers

Did you know that there’s a pizza season? Pizzerias say that their business picks up in October, and the bump lasts through the NCAA tournament in March. 12.5 pizzas are ordered on Super Bowl Sunday alone. Supporting all of that delivery business in a very literal sense is a crucial American industry: the factories that make pizza boxes.

On the surface, pizza boxes are extremely simple. They’re boxes that are used for a very short time to transport a pizza between the oven and the home it’s delivered to. They have to be sturdy and keep the pizza warm, but not trap steam inside so it becomes soggy. This is more difficult than you might think.

If you’re into checking where things are made, look at the box the next time you order pizza to see where it came from. The most likely candidate is Rock-Tenn, a Georgia-based company that makes boxes for nationwide chains like Pizza Hut, Little Caesar’s, Domino’s, and Papa John’s as well as your neighborhood pizza joint. They print branded boxes for the big chains, branded boxes for little shops, short runs of boxes for special promotions, and generic boxes that are good for any size shop as long as it sells pizzas.

Rock-Tenn makes about half of the pizza boxes used in this country. They have 17 factories that make pizza boxes, and six of them make nothing but pizza boxes all day.

Super Bowl Challenge for Box Makers: 12.5 Million Pizzas [Wall Street Journal]

Alibaba Vows To Step Up Efforts To Prevent Online Sales Of Counterfeit Goods

alibabapledge It’s been a whirlwind week for the relationship between e-commerce giant Alibaba and the Chinese government. After one agency released a report criticizing the company for allowing fake goods to be sold online through its vendors, and another government group promised to crack down on such practices in general, Alibaba is now pledging to shape up its business practices.

Alibaba and its eBay-like subsidiary Taobao at first seemed a bit ticked off by Wednesday’s white paper from the State Administration of Industry and Commerce, which alleged that “Alibaba Group hasn’t been paying enough attention to the mismanagement of the Alibaba Internet transaction platforms for a long time.”

Taobao said in a statement at the time that the site is “willing to assume the responsibility of fighting fakes,” while also saying it would file a formal complaint with the SAIC regarding the investigation. It alleged that a top SAIC official demonstrated “procedural misconduct during the supervision process” and that SAIC obtained a “biased conclusion using the wrong methodology.”

But as of yesterday, the white paper was removed from SAIC’s site, and today Alibaba has come forward to pledge a renewed effort to prevent fake goods from being sold online. This, after the value of its U.S.-traded shares took a major hit, reports the Associated Press.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma and the director of the SAIC met and pledged to work together more closely to fight sales of fake items, the agency said.

Though e-commerce “still has problems” says SAIC director Zhang Mao in the statement, it’s still important to create jobs and keep the economy robust, so companies need to “strengthen self-discipline.”

“The two sides will strengthen communication to jointly explore management of online markets and build a new pattern of governance,” said the statement, citing Alibaba’s Ma as promising to spend more on culling fake goods from the online racks. “Regulators will further strengthen Internet market supervision.”

Alibaba promises more action against fake goods [Associated Press]

Comcast Is Also Changing Customers’ Names To “Whore” And “Dummy”



This is not how Comcast wanted to end a week that saw it having to explain how a supposedly rogue employee could change a customer’s name to “A**hole Brown.” Other customers have since come forward claiming they also had their names tweaked for the worst by Comcast staffers.

Once again the complaints come via journalist and consumer advocate Christopher Elliott’s blog, which first broke the news of the A**hole incident.

As that story caught fire online, other Comcast customers reached out to Elliott with claims that their accounts were altered with offensive names.

One customer’s bill added the word “Whore” to the name on her account.

“What’s most interesting is that Comcast said the ‘whore’ was added on Dec. 6,” she tells Elliott. “I have no record of any recent contact with Comcast until Dec. 16. So whoever chose to re-name me picked my account out of a hat. That says there are probably millions of us out there who Comcast employees have renamed. We need to find all of them.”

The woman, whose name is not “Whore,” said she had to speak with “at least 20″ Comcast staffers over the course of several weeks before her account was finally fixed.

And it’s not just happening to customers with paper bills. One Comcast subscriber says she checked her account online and saw that her first name had been replaced with “dummy.”



“They changed my name to ‘dummy’ in my online account, so that the greeting was ‘Hello, dummy,’” she tells Elliott. “I had to call several times but they said they didn’t see it until I went in person to Comcast and they removed it.”

She claims that no one offered an apology or explanation for how the name change occurred.

A third customer says that after his parents called Comcast to remove their phone and TV services from the account, the first name on the account was mysteriously changed to “Fakoe,” which in no way resembles the name previously on the account.

“This ‘Fakoe’ name is nowhere near either of their monikers and seems to be an insult in the form of the F-word aimed towards my parents,” the customers’ kid explains.

One former subcontractor for Comcast explains how it’s easy to make these name changes, but that it would have to be deliberate.

“There are no confirmations or prompts asking you if you want to do something or not,” he tells Elliott. “But it does take some serious navigation to get to the portion of the biller, or the software they used to make changes on accounts, where you change account names and information. So the rep who changed the customer’s name to ‘a**hole’ couldn’t have done it by accident.”

We’ve contacted Comcast HQ for comment on this latest spate of insulting name-changes and will update when we hear anything back.

Are Cable Companies Lowering HBO Rates In Advance Of Standalone HBO Go?

Though we still don’t know a specific launch date, name, or monthly cost of HBO’s upcoming standalone streaming service, it looks like some pay-TV providers are cutting their rates for the premium service or offering discounted promotions in advance of its debut.

This is according to, which reports that Comcast recently dropped its standard HBO subscription rate from $18.95 to $15, which just happens to be the number that most — including Consumerist readers — are predicting for the HBO streaming service.

What’s more, Comcast is apparently offering a promotion that cuts the monthly rate to $10 for people who order online.

Comcast’s proposed merger partner is also offering that same discounted rate for online orderers of HBO.

That’s the same introductory price that Verizon FiOS is now offering customers for 12 months, doubling its previous promotional offer of six months at $10. Though it still looks like the price will jump to $20/month after that year passes.

TVpredictions notes that Comcast also dropped its standard monthly price on Showtime and Starz from $17 to $12, which may or may not have anything to do with the fact that both of these premium networks have said they plan to get into the standalone streaming business.

Several signs point to cable companies selling access to the HBO streaming service, which would allow them to continue making money off these premium channels.

That might explain why the satellite providers, Dish and DirecTV, have not dropped their HBO rates, as they don’t currently offer an all-in-one TV and broadband service like the terrestrial cable operators. They do stand to lose some business from subscribers who no longer have a reason to pay for live TV, but at the same time many of their customers — especially those in rural areas — may not have broadband access that would be fast enough to handle HD video streaming.

Again, until HBO finally pulls the curtain off its service, much of this is speculation.


Addicted To Tanning? Study Says It Might Be In Your Genes

While there are those of us who shun the sun and it’s potential to tan skin into a hue other than scariest white, some people find themselves craving the sun’s rays or seeking to get their Vitamin D fix in tanning beds. Those addicts seeking a fix every day could be driven by genetics, a new study says.

Being “addicted” to tanning means getting a feel good sensation in the brain, or as it’s known, a high. The study by a senior research scientist at the Yale Cancer Center (via USA Today’s college portal) whose those high and lows that come with tanning dependence is more about the genes than the person lying in the UV bed every day.

“We were interested in tanning, particularly indoor tanning, because of the increase of young people who were getting skin cancer at least in part because of it,” says Brenda Cartmel. “Dermatologists for years have never seen this type of cancer and now they do quite a lot.”

The 292 participants in the study included 79 who showed signs of being addicted to tanning, while others tanned but weren’t showing signs of addiction. After analyzing everyone’s DNA, one variation of a certeain gene stood out in the first group over the second. The gene’s function isn’t known yet, but researchers know that the proteins it codes for are found mainly in the brain.

“We were a little surprised because it was not a gene we had hypothesized that might be affiliated with a tanning dependence,” Cartmel says, while admitting that the limited participant group isn’t broad enough to make a conclusion about tanning and genetics. Further studies could use her work as a starting place, however, and eventually lead to methods of treatment for any addiction.

Almost 30 million people tan indoors every year, says the Skin Cancer Foundation, with teens making up two to three million of those people. Some states are moving to prevent teenagers from tanning inside, however, with nine states and D.C. having bans in place to keep minors from using UV beds. Other states require parental consent.

But don’t go around bragging that you can’t help getting bronze day after day, as it’s unlikely most people are actually addicted.

“There is a small percentage of the population that gets addicted [to tanning],” says Cartmel. “Ultimately, we hope that we might be able to develop new interventions that would help those people.”

“Our ultimate goal is to encourage people not to use indoor tanning, and use protective measures when they’re outside,” she adds.

Jones New York Will Close Stores, End Wholesale Business

jones ny This week hasn’t exactly brought good news for women’s fashion. Kate Spade announced yesterday that it would shutter its Kate Spade Saturday and Jack Spade stores, and today, Jones New York announced it would close stores and discontinue its wholesale business.

Bloomberg reports that the multichannel women’s sportswear brand will close 127 outlet stores and terminate its wholesale business throughout the year.

The company sold apparel in a number of department stores, such as Macy’s, at Jones New York Outlet stores and through its own website.

Officials with the company say the move was made after a review of its recent performance and outlook.

“We recognize that the Jones New York brand is important to many loyal customers, and we are pursuing strategic alternatives for the brand,” Interim Chief Executive Officer Andrew Hede said in the statement. “We will work with our wholesale customers and vendors to ensure an orderly transition over the course of this year.”

Jones Group Inc., which owns the brand as well as Nine West, was acquired by private equity firm Sycamore Partners in December 2013 as part of a $1.2 billion deal.

Jones New York to Close Stores and Seek Strategic Alternatives [Bloomberg]

Exec Formerly Known As “Comcast Frank” Has Some Tough-Love Advice For Company

Once upon a time, Frank Eliason was better known Comcast Frank, heading up the cable company’s Digital Care team during a time when people began to realize that complaining on the Internet could get results. He left Comcast in 2010 to take his social media and customer service skills to Citigroup, but his legacy of giving a damn about customers remains. So after months of seeing Comcast make one huge goof after another, Frank apparently felt compelled to pen an open letter to his former employer with some good advice.

“I have had the privilege of working for the company,” Eliason writes in a lengthy post on LinkedIn, “and I consider many who work there to truly be family, but today I have to say I am disappointed.”

Though we take issue with his assertion that Comcast customer service complaints had quieted in recent years — we can testify that they have not — we agree that the last year has been one disaster after another for the company.

There was the Aug. 2014 incident in which a desperate Comcast retention specialist desperately demanded that writer Ryan Block provide a reason for canceling his service.

Comcast apologized profusely for that incident an insisted that this wasn’t how employees were trained, though employees told us differently, and an in-house Comcast memo acknowledged that the employee was doing “what we trained him to do.”

“I have no doubt that the corporate office did not realize that employees were trained this way,” writes Eliason, “but I am confident that the customer service representative was doing what he was taught — up-selling, or retaining, rather than risking the loss of a subscriber. In any job we strive to perform according to how we’re measured. And for most companies, employees in a retention department are measured on the number of customers they save from closing an account.”

The Ryan Block call was followed by other high-profile customer service disasters like this one, and this one, and this one — and let’s not forget about the customer who was fired from his job at a Comcast vendor after complaining about thousands of dollars in overcharges for service and equipment.

And 2015 has not gotten off to a great start, with the most recent cock-up — the customer whose name was changed to “A**hole Brown” by someone at Comcast.

“From what I have seen, Comcast has been handling this in the best manner you can expect,” writes Eliason. “They have offered the Customer credits for multiple years of service and they have privately and publicly apologized.”

He says he agrees with Comcast Senior VP Charlie Herrin, who wrote in response to the incident that “we need to show them respect, patience, and enthusiasm to provide them with an excellent experience.”

But Eliason questions what it is about the employee culture at Comcast that is still allowing for these sorts of gaffes to occur.

“How can this happen today?” he asks. “Why do we not hear many incidents like these from other companies? Companies do implement technology solutions to prevent these type of things, which Comcast has stated they are working on, but often other companies do not have the same issue because they hire people to fit within their company culture.”

Because human customer service is a huge expense for businesses and doesn’t directly generate revenue, companies have both been trying to automate the process, removing humans from the equation whenever possible. And for those times when you must use actual people, businesses are more frequently going the cheapest possible route while also turning frontline customer service reps into de facto salespeople, argues Eliason.

“Call centers tried to shift to become sales centers,” he explains. “This is why any time a customer calls, they’re pitched everything under the sun instead of actually helping you with the reason why you called in the first place. We have been in a age of outsourcing, and finding the cheapest means possible to provide customer service. Comcast has become the poster child for this shift in company thinking.”

Eliason believes there is something wrong with the inside culture at Comcast that allows bad behavior to persist.

“The reason you tend not to hear about incidents like this from other companies is because people within the company would be horrified if they heard of such a thing, and they can easily escalate the situation to higher levels,” he writes. “How would you react if you worked for a company and a customer pointed out that the company changed a customer’s name to a–hole? I personally would hit the roof.”

But as happened in the A**hole Brown story, the customer claims she appealed to both the local Comcast office and the regional office to no avail. It wasn’t until she reached out to journalist Christopher Elliott that she finally got anyone to care.

“In my view it should have been able to be handled by those in the store,” contends Eliason. “They should have had the ability to escalate the situation to the senior leaders who could find a reasonable solution to a very unreasonable situation.

“I am sure Comcast will be reviewing the entire situation,” he continues, “and I hope they not only look into why the first person thought this was okay to do, or that they could get away with it (although they may have intended to go out in style too), but why others were not completely horrified by it and yelling from the rooftops for all leaders to hear? This is where culture comes into play and it should not have taken public shame to do the right thing.”

Eliason concludes his post with some actionable advice on what Comcast could do to improve its customer service and minimize the likelihood of high-profile errors:

1) Hire a Chief Customer Officer to represent the views of the Customer in everything the company does…

2) Simplify pricing strategies instead of forcing people to threaten to cancel service just to get a better rate. Stop creating situations where customers have to fight with you.

3) Review current customer service staffing and consider moving roles back to the US (please note, in my view and experience this incident was most likely done by someone in the US), where at least the service personnel can relate to what it is like to being a Comcast Customer.

4) Actions speak louder than words, so no more apologizing, but instead doing.

5) Live up to being the Philadelphian that you already are. We will support you, but you need to support us too. Treat us in the same manner you would want to be treated.

While these are all valid points, what Eliason — who supports Comcast’s pending acquisition of Time Warner Cable — glosses over is one of the main reasons that people hate their cable and broadband providers so much: lack of choice.

It’s one thing to get bad service from a company. It’s another when you have no other option for that service. Even those who get their pay-TV service from satellite or who don’t watch TV at all still rely on cable companies for broadband.

Imagine being publicly an “A**hole” by your supermarket and then having to go back to that same supermarket because you’re simply not allowed to shop elsewhere. Then you’ll understand why consumers hate Comcast and the few remaining cable companies out there.

Adobe Accuses Forever 21 Of Pirating Design Software



Wait a minute…Forever 21 is in legal trouble over an intellectual property issue that doesn’t involve accusations that it ripped off another fashion company’s design? Yes, the fast-fashion superstore is being sued by three software companies that accuse it of pirating their expensive software. The lead plaintiff is Adobe, maker of professional software and a company that would definitely notice if an entire company were using unlicensed versions.

It used to be that a use could purchase a copy of a pricey program once, install it from a disc of some kind, and then use it into perpetuity as long as they held on to the disc and a compatible computer. (For example, I’ve been using Adobe CS3 since 2010 and regret nothing.) The rise of cloud computing and software as a service is better for software companies since they an depend on regular income between major releases. Consumers, however, have to pay monthly for programs per user, and we can see how a penny-pinching boss might not appreciate that.

The other software makers involved are AutoDesk, a maker of computer-aided design software, and Corel, maker of Paint Shop Pro and WinZip, among other programs. These companies also allege that Forever 21 was using pirated versions of their programs. “Plaintiffs are informed and believe and thereon allege that Defendants continued

their infringing activities even after being contacted by Adobe regarding the infringement,” the companies’ lawyers write in the initial complaint.

They ask that Forever 21 stop using the alleged stolen software, that they destroy ill-gotten copies floating around on office computers, and the companies also ask that their damages be calculated based on the profits that Forever 21 earned using the allegedly ill-gotten software.

Adobe is suing Forever 21 for pirating Photoshop [The Verge]

ESPN Selling U.S. Fans Live-Streaming Access To Cricket World Cup For $99.99

While cricket doesn’t enjoy the immense popularity it inspires in other countries, fans of the sport who’ve been going without their fixes here in the United States will have a way to watch the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup: In a first for ESPN, the network is selling live-streaming access to the cup’s 49 matches in February and March for $99.99.

ESPN is calling it a one-time deal, notes CNNMoney, but if it’s a success, it’s likely that it could happen again in the future.

It’s the first time ESPN has sold programming directly to consumers, a trend that’s gaining steam lately. Just yesterday, Nickelodeon announced its own direct-to-consumer subscription, which will start this year. Others like HBO and Showtime have also said they’re planning similar services for customers who don’t want to get cable or satellite services.

ESPN is keeping those providers in the loop with this deal, however, teaming up with Dish Network, Time Warner Cable and Mediacom so that customers can buy the cricket package through those providers as well. Prices will vary on those packages, as each provider will get to set the cost.

It’s worth pointing out that Re/code first reported that this would happen last November, so it’s not a total surprise that it’s come to fruition.

Russell Wolf, an ESPN executive vice president calls the “digital subscription service” as a “complement to our core networks and the value of the multichannel environment.”

You see, ESPN isn’t trying to overthrow The Man, just exist alongside him, with him, if you will. Everyone makes money, everyone wins, as it’s a chance for ESPN to “develop new expertise and agility in a dynamic media environment.”

ESPN selling Cricket World Cup on the Web [CNNMoney]

Yelp Goes To Court To Protect Identity Of Anonymous Review-Writer

Once again, a business who is displeased with an anonymous review on Yelp is trying to sue that reviewer and attempting to compel Yelp to reveal that user’s actual identity. But this morning, lawyers for Yelp and consumer advocates were in court to argue that there is no justification for unmasking the writer of this review.

In June 2013, a Yelp user with the screen name “Lin L.” wrote a Yelp review for a real estate firm in Texas.

The review stated that the agent she worked with was “by far the worst deceitful and money greedy sales agent you would ever deal with,” who “failed to represent us as clients, never explained our contracts to us and not once did he ever ask us what we wanted to keep or take in our home,” along with other claims that she was rushed into selling the house so that the agent could make his commission.

Then in May 2014, the firm contacted Yelp to request the removal of the review. After looking into Lin L.’s comments, Yelp decided in June 2014 to allow the review to stand “because it appeared to reflect the user’s personal experience and opinions, consistent with Yelp’s Terms of Service and Content Guidelines.”

When Aug. 2014 rolled around, the firm’s lawyer contacted Yelp, claiming that Lin L. was never a client and that what she describes in the review never occurred. The lawyer warned that if Yelp did not “immediately remove this review and disclose the full identity of this individual,” the firm would file a lawsuit seeking damages and attorney fees.

Yelp’s response defended its decision to keep the review online saying it still believed the write-up reflected the user’s opinions and experiences. However, if the real estate firm were able to prove in court that the review is defamatory, Yelp would reconsider. The site also said it would not reveal Lin L.’s identity without a valid subpoena.

Keep in mind that Yelp may not even have Lin L.’s real identity. Yes, you need to provide a first/last name, e-mail address and ZIP code when registering for Yelp, but there are no assurances that the name or location info provided to Yelp is accurate. I could go in and create an account using the name Steve Sanders and giving a 90210 ZIP code, but that doesn’t make me this guy.

Back to the case at hand…

In Nov. 2014, more than a year after the original review was posted, the real estate firm filed suit in a county court in Texas, alleging claims for defamation, civil conspiracy, and exemplary damages against defendant Lin L., but did not name Yelp as a defendant. The firm did, however, issue a subpoena to Yelp’s registered agent in Delaware, demanding identifying information and “all records and documents in your possession pertaining to LIN L.”

Yelp objected to the subpoena as it was served in Delaware, seeking documents stored in California, for a case in a Texas court.

Eventually, the firm’s lawyer filed a motion to compel with the court, asking it to require that Yelp provide the information sought by the subpoena.

Last week, Yelp and Paul Alan Levy, attorney for consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, filed an opposition [PDF] to the motion to compel, and then appeared before the court this morning to make their case.

The first issue involves the validity of the subpoena. Yelp maintains that a court in Texas, where Yelp has no offices, lacks subpoena jurisdiction over the California-headquartered company. This could have been avoided, argues Yelp, if the firm’s attorney had presented the Texas subpoena to the clerk’s office of a California circuit court, along with the proper application and fee. The clerk would then be obligated to issue a California subpoena.

But even if the subpoena had been served properly, or if the court rules that a local Texas court does indeed have subpoena jurisdiction, Yelp contends that the real estate firm has not yet met the constitutional requirements for compelling Yelp to identify Lin L.

“Because compelled identification trenches on the First Amendment right of anonymous speakers to remain anonymous, justification for infringing that right requires proof of a compelling interest, and beyond that, the restriction must be narrowly tailored to serve that interest,” reads Yelp’s opposition to the motion.

Yelp also points out that the mere unmasking of an anonymous reviewer may have a chilling effect on others’ decisions to exercise their First Amendment right to anonymous speech.

“Indeed, in a number of cases, plaintiffs have succeeded in identifying their critics and then sought no further relief from the court,” argues Yelp and Levy. “The federal Fifth Circuit has sanctioned a Texas lawyer who used subpoenas to identify anonymous defendants, not with any intention of litigating against them but in the hope of extorting quick settlements through the threat of public shaming.”

Yelp also asks the court to rule that the subpoena and the motion to compel is frivolous. The lawsuit was filed more than a year after the original review was posted, which is beyond the 12-month statute of limitations for libel claims in Texas.

Delta Air Lines Flight Makes Emergency Landing After Pilot Gets Locked Out Of Cockpit

In what can only be akin to walking out the front door and realizing you locked your keys and the baby inside, the pilot of a Delta Air Lines flight found himself in a spot of trouble after the cockpit door locked behind him, forcing the first officer to make an emergency landing.

The flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas landed safely after calling to report there’d been a bit of a snafu with a malfunctioning cockpit door, reports ABC News.

“About half way through [the 2.5-hour flight] there seemed to be some talking at the front of the plane. You could see the captain out there,” a passenger told ABC News. “There wasn’t a huge panic but some confusion.”

He explained that the door was jammed and he was stuck on the wrong side, the passenger said, calling it “very, very bizarre.”

But when the first officer was able to land at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas without a hitch, managing it “perfectly,” everyone broke out into spontaneous applause, he said.

Having the first officer on the other side of the plane meant he had access to the right controls to make the landing, but the plane needed to be towed in instead of taxiing to the gate.

“There was a door malfunctioned that locked the captain out so the first officer had to do an unassisted landing,” an airport spokesman said. “We take everything very seriously. This was an unusual landing. He called the airport so that we would have ground response available.”

Delta Plane Makes Emergency Landing After Pilot Locked Out of Cockpit [ABC News]

Intuit Caves To Pressure: Offers Free TurboTax Upgrades, Will Undo Changes To Software For Next Year

Intuit CEO Brad Smith is sorry.

Intuit CEO Brad Smith is sorry.

Ask, and ye shall receive. Or rather, create a fuss big enough to let a company know people aren’t okay with changes made to a popular product, and force that company to back down and do the right thing. After TurboTax customers heartily voiced their disapproval over Intuit tweaking its software and charging more for features that used to be included in certain versions of the software, Intuit has reversed course, saying it’ll undo the hell it wrought.

Intuit changed which services come with each tier of desktop software — Basic, Deluxe, Premier, and Home and Business — shifting some forms to more expensive versions. One big bone of contention was that the new version of TurboTax Deluxe no longer included four forms that are an essential part of some customers’ tax returns, forcing them to upgrade to the Premier software to gain access to those forms.

At first, Intuit tried to make good by offering a $25 rebate to those forced to upgrade, but first they had to finish and e-file their taxes and then apply for the rebate, and it only worked if they filed by April 15.

That wasn’t good enough, and now Intuit is saying it’s sorry and wants customers to come back into the fold. The company announced yesterday that it will roll back the changes it made to TurboTax software this year, and will cancel those changes for next year as well.

“These past couple of weeks have not been our finest hour,” Intuit CEO Brad Smith says in a new video posted by the company. In a blog post on LinkedIn accompanying the video, he adds that the company’s initial response and apology were off.

“Our apology and the way we handled the situation significantly missed the mark. Comments on my post as well as emails, calls and online reviews clearly stated we needed to do more to rectify the situation,” he writes.

Those customers forced to upgrade to complete their taxes can now upgrade from within the program for free, instead of waiting to complete their taxes and getting that $25 rebate. If you’ve already upgraded, you still have until April 20 to apply for the $25 rebate.

It will take until early February for necessary program changes to take effect, Smith notes, so if you don’t see the free upgrade right away, be patient.

Sorry Wasn’t Enough. Here’s What We’re Doing Now. [LinkedIn]

Feds Take Action Against Pair Of Deceptive Auto Title Lenders

When it comes to short-term, high-interest loans, payday lenders may get most of the headlines, but auto title loans can be just as perilous for borrowers, especially when the lenders use deceptive marketing. This morning, the Federal Trade Commission announced its first ever legal actions involving title loan operations that misled borrowers.

The FTC announced Friday that First American Title Lending of Georgia, LLC and Finance Select, Inc. have agreed to settle charges they advertised, both online and in print, 0% interest rates for a 30-day car title loan without disclosing important loan conditions or the increased finance charge imposed after the introductory period ended.

While advertised as short-term loans, title loans can become longer-term, high cost installment loans with payments due over several months. The annual percentage rate of a car title loan can be over 300 percent. If a consumer does not repay the loan within 30 days, high finance charges can add up quickly, with a consumer paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in fees or forfeiting the vehicle.

According to the FTC complaint [PDF], First American Title Lending, which operates 30 locations in Georgia, advertised a zero percent offer and failed to disclose that the borrower had to meet specific conditions to actually receive that rate.

The borrower had to be a new customer, repay the loan within 30 days, and pay with a money order or certified funds, not cash or a personal check. If a borrower failed to meet those conditions, the offer did not apply, and he or she would be required to pay a finance charge from the start of the loan.

Additionally, the company’s ads failed to disclose the amount of the finance charge after the introductory period.

According to the FTC’s complaint [PDF] against Finance Select, which does business as Fast Cash Title Pawn, the company failed to disclose that unless a loan was paid in full in 30 days, the zero percent offer did not apply, and the borrower would have to pay a finance charge for the initial 30 days of the loan in addition to any finance charges incurred going forward.

Fast Cash, which has five locations across Georgia and two in Alabama, also failed to disclose how much the finance charge would cost a borrower after the 30-day introductory period was over.

Under the proposed settlement, the two companies are prohibited from failing to disclose all qualifying terms associated with obtaining a loan at its advertised rate; failing to disclose what the finance charge would be after an introductory period ends; and misrepresenting any material terms of any loan agreements.

First American Title Lending is also prohibited from stating the amount of any down payment, number of payments or periods of repayment or the amount of any payment or finance charge without clearly and conspicuously stating all the terms required by the Truth in Lending Act and Regulation Z.

The FTC reports that the latest action is part of an ongoing effort to protect consumers in the short-term lending and auto marketplaces.

In First FTC Cases Against Car Title Lenders, Companies Settle Charges They Deceptively Advertised the Cost of Their Loans [Federal Trade Commission]

Police: Telemarketer’s Phone Call Saved Woman 900 Miles Away From Violent Attack

Usually a telemarketer’s call is greeted with annoyance, disdain or even outright anger. But in one recent case, that unsolicited phone call has been credited with saving a woman’s life, from 900 miles away.

Workers at a call center in Las Vegas found themselves listening to what sounded like a horrible, violent scene, reports KLAS-TV, after a phone call to a woman in Oregon was picked up, but no one answered.

The worker called over her supervisor and had her listen in.

“She said, ‘Tina, you need to hear this. I don’t think this is a joke. Something’s happening. I think this lady is getting hit,’” the supervisor said. “The young lady on the other end of the phone never said hello. There was just a horrible whimper.”

Her boss also stepped in, saying the phone call was getting “progressively worse.”

The workers didn’t hang up the phone, convinced that the “as far as the people in that room were concerned, we were the only lifeline she had.”

The workers alerted the sheriff’s office in Oregon where the woman lived, and officers were sent to the home. Once there, they said they heard a woman calling for help and a man telling her to be quiet.

Upon entering the home, deputies report that a man was holding a woman from behind, and let her go when he saw the police. She was reportedly crying and gasping for air, running past the police out the door. Officers said it appeared she had been physically assaulted and smothered with blankets and pillows during the attack.

Police say she also claimed the man had shoved a gun into her chest and put the barrel near her face, and that she was in fear for her life, thinking he wanted to either kill himself or both of them.

Her phone had apparently been in her back pocket during the entire ordeal, and she said she had no idea how someone had called the police. Deputies say the telemarketers 900 miles away are likely responsible for saving her life.

The man was arrested and booked on charges of fourth degree assault, menacing and strangulation.

Local call center hears attack, saves Oregon woman [KLAS-TV]

Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Here are ten of the best photos that readers added to the Consumerist Flickr Pool in the last week, picked for usability in a Consumerist post or for just plain neatness.

(Mike Mozart">Mike Mozart)

(<a href="Mike Mozart“>Mike Mozart)

Want to see your pictures on our site? Our Flickr Pool is the place where Consumerist readers upload photos for possible use in future Consumerist posts. Just be a registered Flickr user, go here, and click “Join Group?” up on the top right. Choose your best photos, then click “send to group” on the individual images you want to add to the pool.