vendredi 27 février 2015

Chrysler Adds 467,000 Vehicles To 2014 Recall Of Jeep, Durango SUVs With Fuel Pump Issues


Nearly five months after Fiat Chrysler issued a recall of 230,000 Dodge and Jeep SUVs for fuel pump issues that could lead to a vehicle stall, the company expanded the number of affected vehicles by more than 467,000.

The automaker announced today that it would recall an additional 467,480 model year 2012-2013 Dodge Durangos and 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokees in order to fix an issue with the vehicle’s fuel pump function.


Engineers with the company determined that a condition in a 2014 investigation may now extend to later model vehicles. The issue centers on a pattern of repairs to fuel-pump relays that are susceptible to deformation, and could prevent the vehicle from starting or lead to an engine stall.


The company says it is unaware of any injuries or accidents related to the problem.


In all, the recall covers 338,216 vehicles in the U.S., 18,991 in Canada, 10,829 in Mexico and 99,444 outside the North American Free Trade Agreement.


Chrysler will notify owners of affected vehicles when they can schedule service to install a new relay circuit.


In the meantime, the company says customers who experience no-start or walling ins sues should advise their local dealer.


Statement: Fuel-Pump Relay [Fiat Chrysler]





Who’s Making The Money When Your Smart TV Watches You Back?




We’ve heard plenty of times in the past few years that if you have a smart TV — one that’s internet-enabled, for all that app goodness — that it might be watching you just as much as you watch it. Samsung in particular generates a lot of questions about how secure your data is with your TV, as do LG and Vizio. But there’s a missing piece to the equation. If your TV is watching you, why? Who stands to gain (in the sense of cold hard cash) from your data?

That’s what our colleagues over at Consumer Reports (Consumerist’s parent company) decided to find out.


Your TV is collecting and sending data about everything you watch — TV, streaming content, or discs — to a third party, CR explains. And those three companies have been doing it since as far back as 2012. The process is known as automatic content recognition (ACR), and there’s an entire industry now built on collecting and making money from viewer behavior data.


And the data is indeed valuable, to the right buyers. After all, if the TV is recording everything you watch, isn’t that more accurate and granular than relying on a Nielsen estimate? Content providers would pay well to get to-the-second viewership data.


And of course, there’s endless advertising potential. Companies could buy ad space directly on your TV, bypassing the network level altogether. If you’re watching a TV show with a certain actor in it, why wouldn’t the TV want to try to sell you that actor’s book? Or a movie they were in? Or airplane tickets to the glamorous place they’re visiting?


There are several different companies whose software is embedded into smart TVs. CR names Cognitive Networks, Enswers, and Gracenote as just a few. Those companies monitor the video and/or audio that the user is consuming. The software then captures a “fingerprint” of the content, phones home with it, and a remote server reads the fingerprint and reports back, “That’s Game of Thrones, season 2, episode 4″ or whatnot.


And since all this data does fly back and forth among so many points, it’s leaving a lovely trail of breadcrumbs that adds up to a pretty significant picture of your household’s viewing history, all in the hands of some middleman company (or companies) you’d otherwise never hear of.


Even worse, CR points out, consumers have no real way of knowing what they’re agreeing to when they buy and set up their new TVs. One LG set that Consumer Reports tried had more than 6000 words of legal disclosures to read through in order to be fully informed. The Samsung user agreement spanned 47 separate pages… all of which you can of course agree to with a single click.


The end result? Consumers who are having the most boring and innocuous evening possible, kicking back with an hour of reality TV and a frothy beverage, are being watched and targeted in their own living rooms in ways they may not even realize.


The good news, CR says, is that consumers can opt out. They just have to dig through their TV settings for a few hours to find the right setting first.


Samsung, LG, and Vizio smart TVs are recording—and sharing data about—everything you watch [Consumer Reports]





Senators Chastise Govt. For Making Money Off Struggling Student Loan Borrowers, Not Offering Enough Relief


For several years now the government has offered federal student loan forgiveness programs aimed at helping borrowers to avoid defaulting on their debts. While recent reports have shown that the popularity of the programs has exceeded expectations, a group of six senators say the Department of Education could do more given the billions of dollars in payments it receives from federal loans each year.

Six senators — Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA), Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH), Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (WI), and Sen. Edward Markey (MA) — sent a letter [PDF] to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan scolding the Department for turning federal student loans into a source of revenue while students struggle to make ends meet.


The Department is “squeezing students who are struggling to get an education” in order to maximize profits, the senators say, pointing to the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent estimates indicating that the federal government is expected to produce $110 billion in profits from its student loans over the next decade.


“Congress did not create federal student loans to generate revenue for the federal government – to the contrary, it gave the Department of Education a host of tools to ensure that federal student loan borrowers are treated fairly and with dignity,” reads the letter.


Instead of using those tools and following Congress’ directives, the senators say the Department has continued to let student loan borrowers be buried in debt.


As an example, the letter cites the Department’s failure to give borrowers a clear idea of how to exercise an option under the Higher Education Act that allows for the cancellation of student loan borrowers’ debts the college acts in a way that hurt the quality of their education or their finances.


“Similarly, the Department of Education has broad authority to compromise, modify, discharge, and cancel student debts,” the letter states. “Instead, the Department continues to gouge borrowers who struggle to meet their payments, subjecting them to debt collection, wage and benefit withholding, and other harsh penalties even when it is clear that the debtors can not pay.”


The senators also pointedly accuse the Department of failing to protect students from collapsing for-profit college chain Corinthian Colleges Inc. last year.


“The Higher Education Act also requires the Department of Education to offer student loan discharges to students whose colleges close their doors,” the letter states. “Instead, last year the Department of Education undertook an elaborate plan to use federal funds to bail out …Corinthian Colleges, Inc. and deprive students of the ability to discharge their federal student loans.”


The senators say they aren’t asking the Department to stop making money off federal loans, they are asking that more steps be taken to ensure “vulnerable young people struggling with the burden of federal student debt have meaningful opportunity to build a sting future for themselves and their families.”


Senators to Education Department: Stop Profiting Off Student Loans and Fulfill Congressional Directives to Help Struggling Borrowers [Sen. Elizabeth Warren]





Passenger’s Lawsuit Blames American Airlines For Wife’s Death


A Canadian man who flew with his wife on an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Mexico in March 2013 has filed a lawsuit against the airline, blaming it for his wife’s death.

He claims that when his wife started to experience respiratory distress and couldn’t breathe, he told the crew that she had a pre-existing lung condition, and they would need an ambulance to meet their plane, reports ABC News.


Instead, his suit says two crew members showed up at the plane with a wheel chair.


The husband also claims that although crew administered oxygen to his wife while she was in the midst of the episode, and she improved, she was forced to give the oxygen equipment back.


“While disembarking the aircraft and over [the plaintiff’s] objection, a member of the flight crew demanded that [she] give up the oxygen supplied earlier by the flight crew that had been keeping her alive,” the lawsuit said. According to the complaint, she died about 30 minutes afterward.


The airline declined to comment to ABC News.


American Airlines Named in Lawsuit After Passenger Dies [ABC News]





Taco Bell Testing Cap’n Crunch-Coated, Cream-Filed Donut Calorie Bombs For Breakfast

Cap'n Crunch Delights copy If you’ve been considering starting your morning with the cream-filled Cinnabon Delights at Taco Bell but decided they weren’t sugary enough, the fast food chain is now testing a similarly cream-filled, deep-fried treat that is coated in Cap’n Crunch and has a mysterious pink dough.


Taco Bell, which might as well change its name to “Why The Hell Not?,” tells Nation’s Restaurant News that the “Cap’n Crunch Delights” are being tested in Bakersfield, CA, and are intended to be a throwback to Cap’n Crunch Crunch Berries cereal.


“It’s a nostalgic throwback brand from when you were a kid,” explains the Bell’s senior director of marketing, presumably in between bites of a chalupa-wrapped beignet filled with pure adrenalin. “We feel like it will appeal to what we call ‘kid-ults,’ or the kid-adults out there.”


While these sugar bombs are going to be on the breakfast menu, Taco Bell says they will also be available the rest of the day.


Over at FoodBeast, they already have actual photos of the calorie bombs in the wild:









4 Things We Still Don’t Know About Net Neutrality


The FCC voted yesterday to reclassify broadband and protect the open internet. In other words, at long last, we have a net neutrality rule. And that’s great! But there is still a lot we don’t know, and there are a lot of questions left unanswered. Here are the major things we don’t know, and parts we’re waiting to better understand.


1.) We still don’t know exactly what the rule says — and that’s completely normal.

As the Washington Post points out, some folks are already working themselves into a bit of a conspiracy-theory frenzy about the fact that the full text hasn’t yet been published, even though the vote happened 24 hours ago.


But a delay between FCC votes and the release of the full, finalized text of the rule they’re voting on is completely normal — it’s part of the process, just how the agency always works. You can argue whether or not the rule should have been made public before the vote, but after the vote there’s a very specific procedure the commission needs to follow.


The FCC’s staff have to make their final edits, which means accounting for the dissenting arguments. And as we observed yesterday, those dissents are lengthy and quite detailed. In other words, it’s going to take some time to capture all of that information and collect it into the final rule, as FCC guidelines require.


After that, the commission can get it up on their website for all of us to read.


2.) We don’t know exactly when the new rules will take effect.

A rule made by the FCC doesn’t become the law of the land until after it’s published in the Federal Register, which can’t happen until after the text is finalized. The Federal Register, overseen by the National Archives, operates on its own timetable and it could be days to weeks after the time the rule is ready before it’s published. And after that, rules usually allow for 30 days, 60 days, or even longer after publication to go into full effect, to give all relevant parties time to adjust the things they need to adjust.


Add it all together, and we’re probably not looking for any actual changes before May at the earliest, and possibly not until much later this year.


3.) We don’t know to what degree interconnection agreements are covered (or not).

Netflix has been at the center of the net neutrality arguments ever since the fight started up last January. The streaming video goliath had been in standoffs with major ISPs — Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and AT&T — over delivering TV traffic to subscribers. Netflix eventually had to pay the ISPs for direct connections in order to see streaming video traffic delivered to customers at reasonable speeds.


The disputes, though, didn’t happen at the “last mile” level, where the ISP runs a cable into your house and you request Netflix over it. They happened farther back, at interconnection — peering — points between the place where Netflix sends out data to a backbone carrier and your ISP picks it up from that carrier.


Netflix has argued repeatedly that the FCC should cover interconnection in any net neutrality rules; the ISPs have said the FCC can do no such thing.


What the FCC has to say about the matter so far is: “For the first time the Commission can address issues that may arise in the exchange of traffic between mass-market broadband providers and other networks and services. Under the authority provided by the Order, the Commission can hear complaints and take appropriate enforcement action if it determines the interconnection activities are not just and reasonable.”


That makes it sound like the FCC will not be putting any specific rules in place about what can or can’t happen with interconnection agreements, but that if one party (like Netflix or Verizon) files a complaint that the other party is being a jerk, the FCC can then take investigate to see if that’s true and, if so, take action (like ordering them not to be a jerk, or ordering them to pay a fine and stop being a jerk).


However, it’s unclear under what specific authority those investigations would take place, and what specific actions the FCC would be willing or able to enforce.


4.) We don’t know how this will affect “zero rating” programs or data caps.

Zero rating is when a company arranges it so certain data doesn’t count against your data caps. So for example, that thing where T-Mobile doesn’t count your streaming Pandora against your monthly data allotment? That’s zero rating.


Comcast has experimented with variations on the theme, as has Time Warner Cable. AT&T has tried a different approach, but with a similar outcome.


None of these programs actually change anything about the data connection: you access Pandora on your T-Mobile phone at the exact same speed you access any other streaming service. But because one counts against your data cap and the other does not, you are more likely to gravitate to the ones that don’t. And so those services that pay for zero-rating agreements become de facto preferred apps for millions of consumers.


So: are those kinds of arrangements kosher? Does using data caps as leverage, rather than data throttling or fast lanes, count as interference or is it just business? The answer is: we have no idea. The FCC’s released statements don’t address it at all, so we don’t know if the final rule will either.





Man Finds His Missing Log Cabin 3,750 Feet From Where He Last Saw It

(Klamath County Sheriff's Dept.)

(Klamath County Sheriff’s Dept.)





Though sometimes it feels like your keys, wallet or phone can just go walking away from where you left them, a man in Oregon was shocked this week to first find that his log cabin had been stolen, and then to find that it had somehow wandered 3,750 feet away from its original resting place.

The circumstances surrounding the case of the mysterious move are a bit complicated: A woman, her ex-husband and her ex-boyfriend type all own the property where the log cabin sat jointly, explains ABC News, but only the ex-boyfriend’s name is on the home loan and he apparently built the cabin.


Police believe the ex-husband sold the house to a neighbor for $3,000, placing it in the new owner’s field half a mile away, without the ex-boyfriend’s permission.


When he came back to the property months after last being there and found the log cabin missing, he called the cops.


“Quite frankly, it’s one of the most unusual moments I’ve ever seen,” the sheriff said, adding that the home was listed for $10,000 but the buyer bargained down to just $3,000.


“To quote him, ‘It was a steal of a deal,'” a sheriff’s department official said at a news conference. Get it? Literally.


Thus far, no charges have been filed during the ongoing investigation.


Missing Log Cabin Found 3,750 Feet Away From Original Location [ABC News]





Can New McDonald’s CEO Turn Tide Against Antibiotic Abuse In Farm Animals?


Since the Food and Drug Administration won’t set down hard-and-fast rules on non-medical antibiotic use in farm animals, it’s up to the farmers and the companies who buy the most meat to make a change that will cut down on the use of drugs that result in bigger cows, pigs, and chickens, but also put us all at risk for drug-resistant pathogens.

That’s why some public health advocates are looking to Steve Easterbrook, who will take over as CEO of McDonald’s on Monday and who is in the rare position of being able to effect change on a large scale.


The fast food giant reportedly buys upwards of 2% of all beef sold in many countries where it operates, and even more chicken, making it one of the largest single buyers of meat.


McDonald’s own guidelines [PDF] acknowledges that there are concerns about the use on farm animals of antibiotics that are medically important to humans, and say that antibiotic use at its meat-supplying farms “shall be used in accordance with all applicable regulatory requirements.”


Which is the issue, as the current regulatory requirements don’t forbid farmers from using antibiotics for growth promotion. The FDA merely asked drug companies to stop selling drugs solely for this purpose. Additionally, the FDA guidelines still allow for everyday prophylactic use of antibiotics, which many critics say only requires farmers change the reason they use the drugs from “growth promotion” to “disease prevention” without any significant effect in the amount of antibiotics going into the animals’ feed.


So we have a situation where the FDA is putting the onus on big meat buyers to demand change while the big meat buyers say “We’re doing exactly what the FDA requires.”


Thus it’s up to consumers to demand more drug-free beef, pork, and poultry. And it’s working, with companies like Chipotle, Panera and the recently IPOd Shake Shack already selling only antibiotic-free products.


Meanwhile Tyson, Perdue, and Chick fil-A have all recently made pledges that could have a significant positive impact on the availability and cost of drug-free chicken.


Given increased public interest in drug-free meat — especially among younger Americans — and McDonald’s sagging sales to that same demographic, the public health advocates at the Natural Resources Defense Council believe that McDonald’s new CEO McCheese could enact more strict antibiotic-use requirements for its suppliers that will make us all safer in the long-run and earn McDonald’s some new customers.


“Sitting at the controls of that enormous supply chain, Mr. Easterbrook now has the opportunity to adopt a progressive antibiotics stewardship program that would reverberate through all corners of the global meat and poultry industry and truly set his company apart from the fast food pack,” writes NRDC’s Jonathan Kaplan, pointing out that Chipotle, Panera, and Shake Shack are all mainstream chain operations making money by “tapping into growing consumer demand for healthier, safer and more sustainable meat choices. They seem to be enjoying growth and brand success that McDonalds must envy.”


McDonald’s has done so much tinkering with its menu in recent years, to little effect other than the irritation of franchisees, but it could possibly improve its business without menu changes simply by going drug-free with its Big Macs and McNuggets.





Don’t Lie About Paying For Online Reviews. It’s Against The Law


In this era of social media and crowdsourced reviews, businesses with happy customers do what they can to publicize positive feedback. But if a company compensates customers for reviews and fails to disclose that tit-for-tat relationship, it’s illegal and deceptive marketing.


Just ask the Georgia-based auto-shipping company targeted in the Federal Trade Commission’s first case involving misrepresented online reviews.


The FTC announced today that AmeriFreight, an automobile shipment broker, agreed to settle charges that it violated the FTC Act when it deceptively represented that its favorable online reviews were based on unbiased reviews from customers.


According to the complaint [PDF], AmeriFreight – which arranges the shipment of consumers’ cars through third-party freight carriers – provided consumers with a discount of $50 off the cost of services if they agreed to review the company’s services online.


If customers refused to make an online review, the company would allegedly raise the cost of services $50.


The company also supplied customers with “conditions for receiving a discount on reviews,” which stated that if people left an online review, they would automatically be considered for a $100 “Best Monthly Review Award” given to the most creative write-ups.


After a vehicle was shipped, the company would contact consumers to remind them of their obligation to complete the online review.


In an attempt to drum up business, AmeriFreight would then encourage new customers to Google top-rated car shippers with the Better Business Bureau. “You don’t have to believe us, our consumers say it all,” the company boasted.


However, the company never disclosed the material connection between customers’ positive reviews and compensation made for the endorsements.


Under the proposed settlement, the company is prohibited from misrepresenting that their products or services are highly rated or top-ranked based on unbiased consumer reviews, or that customer reviews are unbiased.


It is also required to clearly and prominently disclose any material connection, if one exists, between them and their endorsers.


“Companies must make it clear when they have paid their customers to write online reviews,” Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “If they fail to do that – as AmeriFreight did – then they’re deceiving consumers, plain and simple.”


FTC Stops Automobile Shipment Broker from Misrepresenting Online Reviews [Federal Trade Commission]





What Happened After TV Show ‘Pimp My Ride’ Pimped People’s Rides?

pimpmyridexzibit While no one can take away the joy of watching someone’s jalopy get turned into a gleaming pile of doodads and gadgets in bright colors that just so happened to also have wheels, the internet has been abuzz about reports that MTV’s early ‘aughts “reality” TV show Pimp My Ride wasn’t exactly the fairy tale you see on the screen.


The Huffington Post had a few people talking about how the show hosted by Xzibit really went down. Though it purported itself to be the kind of surprise fantasy-turned-reality set-up we all love about contests like Publishers House or other seemingly random rewards, things weren’t so simple.


For example, one guy said MTV took back some of the gadgets installed in his car after they filmed it for TV, including in his case, a “pop-up” champagne contraption and a “drive-in theater.” Sounds shady, sure, but he further explained to HuffPo that MTV didn’t want to condone drinking and driving, thus pulling the booze device, and that the theater wasn’t street safe.


Brooke Siegel at the DailyWorth had her car revamped as well, taking on the question most people wanted to know — can you sell the pimp my ride car after it’s been pimped?


The short answer: You’re not supposed to.


The long answer: She wrote that after a weird experience where she had to rehearse being excited and surprised to find Xzbit at her door and pretending to be a film student trying to earn money for grad school when really she was a cocktail waitress, she found herself with an odd vehicle she would rather sell than drive, after handing over her white Chevy Cavalier convertible named Betsy.


“They filmed my reaction to the car at least 10 times — before I’d ever even seen it. And when I did, holy hell, poor Betsy looked like Barbie’s Dream Car From Hell,” Siegel writes. “It was neon pink and turquoise and had a video projector and popcorn machine. (Remember, I was a “film lover.”)”


She adds that she drove it once, and then parked it in the garage “where it could appreciate value.”


“There was just one teeny snafu: My contract stipulated that I, Brooke Siegel, could NOT sell the car,” she explained, adding that she didn’t remember how long she had to wait or whether it was that she couldn’t advertise it as being on the show. “The premise of the show was that this was my dream car — and producers didn’t want people hawking their rides immediately.”


To get around that, she says she gifted the car to her boyfriend and made it official at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and he then sold it for $7,500.


“A clever gambit (if I do say so myself) that MTV’s lawyers didn’t find quite so charming,” she writes.


Again, as weird as this show might sound in reality — the one you and I live in, and not TV — isn’t that what most shows are based on anyway? Something so crazy and out of the norm that it must be on TV to entertain the masses. Most of these people seemed to walk away feeling positive overall, if not a hefty chunk of change, even if they didn’t need a car with a built-in suntan dispenser.


How I Made Money Off Pimp My Ride [The Daily Worth]

Here’s What Really Happened To The Cars From ‘Pimp My Ride’ [Huffington Post]





Police Say Trucker Used Bond, James Bond-Style Device To Avoid Paying $95 Toll


Perhaps you think you’re clever, sure, but just because you can pull a James Bond and movie move and rig your car in a way that helps you break the law, doesn’t mean you won’t get in trouble for it. Police in New York say a truck driver tried to skirt the rules by modifying his bumper in such a way that it could flip up and hide his license plate when he went through tolls.

That move effectively blocked the toll booth’s cameras from capturing an image of his license plate, blocking the toll system from seeing it and thus, avoiding the $95 fare for an 18-wheeler on the George Washington Bridge, reports Reuters.


Police said he was hauling a load of candy across the bridge going to New York City this week, and before he got to the toll gates, he flipped a switch on his dashboard, enabling the tricky device that tilted the bumper up, hiding the plate.


“The officer positioned at the toll booth sees the bumper lift to a 90-degree angle. This makes it unreadable to the EZ-Pass reader,” said spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police.


Officials also said his rear license plate was smudged with grease and unreadable. He’s the owner-operator of the rig, making it possible that he’s done this James Bond move before, but police are not sure if he has.


Police charged him with tampering public records and possession of burglary tools. He’s not the brains behind the whole thing, however (and of course, James Bond needs a Q).


“He did volunteer that the kit cost him about $2,500,” said the spokesman, adding that the official use for the device is to keep bumpers from getting scraped at construction sites or other places where the pavement may be wonky.


Interestingly enough, another driver was accused of doing this same thing on the same bridge back in 2011, reported the Associated Press then, when the toll was $65 and everyone still called it a “James Bond” device. Some things never change.


NYC trucker accused of avoiding toll with device inspired by James Bond [Reuters]





Lawsuit From Ericsson Wants To Ban Apple From Importing iPhones, iPads


Another day, another lawsuit against Apple: This time around, the company’s facing a lawsuit from Ericsson that seeks to ban imports on all iPads and iPhones amidst a dispute about licensing fees for several patents.

Fresh off the heels of another lawsuit this week that found a jury ordering Apple to pay $532 million to another company, Apple is squaring off against telecom manufacturer Ericsson, after the Swedish company accused it of infringing on 41 of its patents that are used in iPhones and iPads, reports the New York Times’ Bits Blog.


One of the patents involved includes technology related to Long Term Evolution, known as LTE, which is the latest high-speed wireless technology used for transmitting data between cellular networks and mobile devices.


The two sides sued each other over Apple’s use of some of those patents last month, with Apple claiming that Ericsson was demanding too much money to license the technologies, and Ericsson saying in a separate suit that Apple was using its patents even after a license that gave it permission to do so expired in January.


Now Ericsson is adding two more complaints against Apple with the United States International Trade Commission seeking to block Apple mobile devices from coming into the U.S. until the patent issue is cleared up. It also filed separate lawsuits with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas involving what Ericsson claims is Apple’s misuse of its intellectual property.


Ericsson also wants payments for any potential damages Apple could cause by continuing to use the patents without a license.


“Ericsson’s technology and our engineers are behind these patents,” Gustav Brismark, head of the company’s patent strategy told the NYT. “We’re asking for a fair payment from Apple for using our technology.”


But Apple claims it’s willing to pay to use those patents, pointing out in last month’s counterclaims that it respects Ericsson’s rights to its intellectual property, but it just doesn’t want to pay what the other company is demanding.


“Unfortunately, we have not been able to agree with Ericsson on a fair rate for their patents,” Apple said last month.


Ericsson Again Sues Apple Over Wireless Patents [NYT Bits Blog]





My Credit Card Interest Rate Is Going Up. What Are My Options?


Earlier this week, American Express announced that it would be raising annual interest rates on more than 1 million accounts, leading lots of people to ask if this could happen to their credit card — and what they should do about it.

Credit card companies are indeed allowed to raise your APR, but the CARD Act of 2009 includes pro-consumer restrictions that prevent sudden and retroactive rate hikes for cardholders in good standing and gives them the option of closing your account without penalties.


NO SUDDEN RATE HIKES

While the CARD Act allows to hit delinquent customers (those who are at least 60 days behind on payments) with a higher penalty APR, cardholders who are continuing to make payments must be given 45 days notice in writing before a rate change. That’s why you need to open every piece of mail from your credit card company even if you get all your statements online.


NO RETROACTIVE RATE HIKES

That higher APR will only apply to new transactions and not to your current balance. So if you don’t want to be hit with the increased interest rate, you can try to not use that card for new purchases. If you have multiple credit cards, choose the one with the lowest APR. Depending on your creditworthiness, you may want to consider applying for a new card though there’s no guarantee that the new account will come with a friendlier APR.


CLOSING OUT YOUR CARD WITHOUT PENALTIES

If you’re facing a rate hike, the law allows cardholders to close their credit card accounts without facing immediate repayment in full or penalty fees. That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for the balance; you must still continue to make monthly payments and interest will still accrue. Card companies can put a five-year repayment deadline on closed accounts, so cardholders with substantial balances or who have been making minimal payments may need to pay more than they’re used to.


The one caveat with closing out a credit card is that it can have a temporary negative impact on your credit score. Credit bureaus factor in a consumer’s debt-to-credit ratio when tallying up their scores, so closing out a line of credit while retaining the same level of debt means that ratio increases.


[via Credit.com]





Amazon Imagines A Future Where Delivery Trucks Print 3D Products At The Curb

One of Amazon's patent applications.

One of Amazon’s patent applications.



There can be a lot of worry over getting a package from Amazon delivered successfully — but what if your item never had to travel farther than the distance between the curb and your door? Amazon has filed a few patent applications in an effort to perhaps make curbside 3D printing a reality for the future.

These “mobile manufacturing hubs” would allow drivers to pop out products right outside the customer’s home, reports the Wall Street Journal, all from the delivery truck that’s already driving around dropping off other products.


The explanation for the patents says that using such a system would cut down on the time it takes to deliver a package, and also cut down on how much warehouse space Amazon needs to hold all its products.


“Time delays between receiving an order and shipping the item to the customer may reduce customer satisfaction and affect revenues generated,” Amazon wrote in the applications. “Accordingly, an electronic marketplace may find it desirable to decrease the amount of warehouse or inventory storage space needed, to reduce the amount of time consumed between receiving an order and delivering the item to the customer, or both.”


This kind of thing could be good if you needed replacement car parts or other 3D printed items on the day you’re set to go on a road trip, posits the WSJ, but find something is missing. It could also mean that some products would never be out of stock, meaning less frustration on the customer end once you find that perfect item you absolutely must have.


When Drones Aren’t Enough, Amazon Envisions Trucks with 3D Printers [Wall Street Journal]





TiVo Picks At The Scraps Of Aereo’s Remains


It’s been about eight months since a divided U.S. Supreme Court thrust a dagger through the gut of streaming video startup Aereo, and three months since the company filed for bankruptcy protection. And any hope that the company might be sold or resurrected has vanished with news that its name and patents have been sold off like parts of an old used car.

GigaOm points to a bankruptcy court filing showing the results of an assets auction that only brought in around $2 million, a small fraction of what investors had hoped to get from bidders.


We may someday here the Aereo name again, with DVR-maker TiVo snatching up the company’s trademarks and its list of customers. Perhaps TiVo will use the name for an upcoming version of its DVR that records over-the-air network feeds, or maybe it will just plaster the name on a wall at TiVo HQ as a reminder to employees of what can happen when you anger the TV networks.


Another company, RPX, managed to walk off with Aereo’s patents for what appears to be a steal. In total the auction didn’t even manage to bring in a full $2 million. Investors had hoped for upwards of $100 million.


“We are very disappointed with the results of the auction,” Aereo’s counsel tells GigaOm. “This has been a very difficult sales process and the results reflect that.”


For those who missed out on the whole Aereo thing, it was a service that used arrays of tiny antennae to capture freely available over-the-air TV feeds, which were then streamed to paying customers. Because each antenna was dedicated to a single end-user, and since it only allowed users to see broadcast feeds in their market, the company and its supporters contended that Aereo was nothing but a rooftop antenna with a really long cord.


The networks contended that Aereo was violating their copyright by rebroadcasting their signals for a fee without permission and without paying the mandatory retransmission fees that cable companies pay.


After winning multiple federal appeals court battles, Aereo ultimately lost when the matter came before SCOTUS, the majority of whom felt that the company was operating a service that was substantively no different than a cable TV provider.


And so after shutting down its streaming business days after the SCOTUS ruling, Aereo tried to make the argument that if it was going to be considered a pay-TV operator than it should be able to license the networks’ content for a reasonable fee.


But the U.S. Copyright Office disagreed and a federal appeals court wouldn’t hear Aereo’s case, effectively putting the nail in the startup’s coffin.





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.












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.





jeudi 26 février 2015

We’re Not Eating Cereal, And It’s Hurting Kellogg The Most


It’s not surprising that sales of breakfast cereal are falling: Americans, as a whole, are starting to eat breakfast on the move, cut carbs, and many people are fearful of genetically modified corn and wheat. If we do sit down and eat breakfast, we’ll scramble some eggs or microwave some oatmeal.

Sure, there’s one cereal cafe in the world, but overall the trends are going against cereal. Kellogg’s was one of the companies that pioneered the food, making corn into flakes so they could serve a light breakfast at the Kellogg family’s health resort in Battle Creek, Michigan.


This week, Bloomberg Businessweek asks: why is Kellogg all soggy now, performing worse than its competitors in the cereal business? Companies like General Mills are hurting, but doing better overall. Some experts blame this on miscalculations, like alienating core customers of its organic brand, Kashi. While sales of frozen waffles and pancakes are doing well overall, Kellogg’s Eggo brand is not.


You may remember back in 2009, when Consumerist accidentally created a national media frenzy by pointing out that Eggo waffles were in short supply. While the official company line is that rounds of cost-cutting around that time had nothing to do with a Listeria-related recall and flooding at the plant that cut back on the company’s waffle-producing capacity, insiders pointed out to Businessweek that a lot of institutional knowledge about how to run facilities walked out the door when the company cut back on staff.


What’s the way forward for Kellogg? They’re trying to turn Special K into a health brand rather than a brand for ladies on diets, and try to get Kashi’s healthy cred back.


Who Killed Tony the Tiger? [Bloomberg Businessweek]





We’re Not Eating Cereal, And It’s Hurting Kellogg The Most


It’s not surprising that sales of breakfast cereal are falling: Americans, as a whole, are starting to eat breakfast on the move, cut carbs, and many people are fearful of genetically modified corn and wheat. If we do sit down and eat breakfast, we’ll scramble some eggs or microwave some oatmeal.

Sure, there’s one cereal cafe in the world, but overall the trends are going against cereal. Kellogg’s was one of the companies that pioneered the food, making corn into flakes so they could serve a light breakfast at the Kellogg family’s health resort in Battle Creek, Michigan.


This week, Bloomberg Businessweek asks: why is Kellogg all soggy now, performing worse than its competitors in the cereal business? Companies like General Mills are hurting, but doing better overall. Some experts blame this on miscalculations, like alienating core customers of its organic brand, Kashi. While sales of frozen waffles and pancakes are doing well overall, Kellogg’s Eggo brand is not.


You may remember back in 2009, when Consumerist accidentally created a national media frenzy by pointing out that Eggo waffles were in short supply. While the official company line is that rounds of cost-cutting around that time had nothing to do with a Listeria-related recall and flooding at the plant that cut back on the company’s waffle-producing capacity, insiders pointed out to Businessweek that a lot of institutional knowledge about how to run facilities walked out the door when the company cut back on staff.


What’s the way forward for Kellogg? They’re trying to turn Special K into a health brand rather than a brand for ladies on diets, and try to get Kashi’s healthy cred back.


Who Killed Tony the Tiger? [Bloomberg Businessweek]





From Applause To Lawsuits And Legislation: What Key Players Are Saying About Today’s Net Neutrality Vote

Over the summer, we rounded up what all the key players in broadband and online were saying about the potential for the FCC to write a clear net neutrality rule. Earlier today, the FCC actually went and made that rule; here’s what everyone has to say about it now.


Although AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon all hint once again at lawsuits, it will be some time before they can actually file any. The rule first has to be made official with publication in the Federal Register, and then it will take even longer for it to go into effect to be challenged.


AT&T


AT&T started trying out legal frameworks for objecting to the vote weeks before it became a reality, so today the company took a more personal and emotional tactics with a first-person blog post from SEVP of external and legislative affairs Jim Cicconi.


Cicconi chides the FCC for actually taking a stand and regulating, saying:


Every chairman in my memory, including the current one, has faced political stampedes of one sort or another. Yet the agency has always tried to find a middle ground and a consensus win. They’ve understood that a win, unlike a fight, is the product of reaching out to both sides, and working in a bipartisan way to find a solution. A win is the product of compromise, thoughtful policy, and a genuine desire to find the answer to a complex set of issues.


We had such a situation – and a bipartisan win – in the 2010 net neutrality rule. Unfortunately, this was undone by a court decision, facing us with the same situation a second time. Today, an Administration and an FCC that appeared headed toward another bipartisan win on net neutrality were driven instead to a partisan fight. The 3-2 FCC vote, along party lines, for sweeping new regulation of the Internet, is a rejection of the compromise win and an embrace, however reluctant, of the political fight. It’s unfortunate that this single issue, more than any other, has over the course of ten years caused a divisive spirit to spread to an agency that has long sought unanimity on significant long term issues, and generally found it. A 5-0 decision doesn’t leave a lot of room for either side to continue the argument, while a 3-2 decision, particularly on issues of such broad scope, is an invitation to revisiting the decision, over and over and over.


“Instead of a clear set of rules moving forward, with a broad set of agreement behind them, we once again face the uncertainty of litigation,” Cicconi continues. This is no doubt true, as AT&T is one of the companies that plans to litigate.


Cicconi concludes, “For our part, we will continue to seek a consensus solution, and hopefully bipartisan legislation, even if we are the last voice seeking agreement rather than division. And we will hope that other voices of reason will emerge, voices who recognize that animosity, exaggeration, demonization and fear-mongering are not a basis on which to make wise national policies.”


Comcast


Comcast continues to try to have it both ways, explaining that they love net neutrality but that all these pesky rules do is get in the way:


We know that our business has grown and thrived because consumers want access to everything that the Internet makes possible, and we want to meet that demand. This is why we have no issue with the principles of transparency and the no blocking, no throttling, and no fast lanes rules incorporated in today’s FCC Order. But we remain deeply concerned that implementing those principles through Title II will do more harm to the vibrant Internet ecosystem than good.


While we don’t agree that using Title II is necessary, we are encouraged that the Commission has apparently forborne from numerous statutory provisions and cumbersome regulations, which will alleviate some of the most troubling aspects of using Title II. But we have not yet read the Order as adopted by the Commission, and we are concerned with what some have reported as incomplete legal forbearance in important areas. So we will need to await release of the Order so we – and everyone else – can review completely all of the actions taken through today’s important vote. Specifically, after seeing the Order, we’ll have to engage in additional internal scrutiny on what our investment plans with respect to broadband will be going forward.


After today, the only “certainty” in the Open Internet space is that we all face inevitable litigation and years of regulatory uncertainty challenging an Order that puts in place rules that most of us agree with. We believe that the best way to avoid this would be for Congress to act. We are confident this can be done in a bi-partisan manner with a consensus approach that accomplishes the common goals of stakeholders on all sides of the open Internet debate without the unnecessary focus on legal jurisdiction and the unnecessary regulatory overhang from 80 year-old language and provisions that were never intended to be applied to the Internet.


Comptel


Comptel is a trade organization representing many small and medium broadband ISPs, including retail providers as well as intermediary carriers like Level 3.


Comptel CEO Chip Pickering said in a statement:


The Commission’s historic decision today to promote and protect an open Internet is vital to consumers and companies of all sizes – particularly small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs – that depend on the Internet to communicate, conduct business and serve their customers. Today’s action is a defeat for those companies that want to exert gatekeeper control over the Internet and a clear victory for individual choice, free expression, competition and the Internet-driven free market economy.


COMPTEL commends the Commission for ensuring an open Internet by prohibiting blocking, throttling, paid prioritization and unreasonable discrimination that would prohibit consumers from obtaining the online content, applications and services of their choice. Our broad membership – which includes top Internet companies, over-the-top providers, Internet backbone operators, wireless and enterprise service providers – praise the Commission for its strong action and clear commitment to the innovation, investment and pro-growth policy for an open Internet.


We are pleased that the Commission followed the evidence in the record and determined that ISPs have threatened and can continue to threaten the open Internet at the interconnection points they control. By providing a complaint process, the Commission can now ensure that interconnection is not used to evade the open Internet protections, and it will be able to address cases of abuse that are harming or threaten to harm ISPs’ customers and the virtuous circle of innovation and investment.


Consumers Union


Our colleagues at Consumers Union (the advocacy arm of Consumerist’s parent company, Consumer Reports) have been advocating for the FCC to reclassify ISPs as common carriers since the 2014 court decision, and so were in favor of today’s vote.


Ellen Bloom, senior director of federal policy for Consumers Union, said in a statement:


“It would be hard to overstate how big of a deal this is for consumers and the future of the Internet. It’s a huge win after years of fierce debates and massive opposition from the biggest providers of Internet service.


“We’re not out of the woods yet. We’re into the woods, really. We expect opponents to look for every angle they can to stop these rules, whether in court or in Congress. It should be obvious, with the millions of people who spoke out in favor of these rules, that the battle should end now. We’re going to keep the pressure on to preserve these consumer protections.”


Bloom was also glad to see the FCC extend the rules to cover wireless services, saying, “As more people rely on mobile devices to access the Internet, extending these rules to wireless is absolutely critical.”


Consumers Union also applauded the FCC’s move to allow municipalities to expand broadband access.


Free Press


Free Press, like Consumers Union, has been advocating for the FCC to reclassify broadband services ever since the old rule got thrown out in Jnuary, 2014. In his statement, Free Press CEO Craig Aaron called the vote a “historic win” for consumers and continued:


“A diverse coalition of activists, artists, musicians, social justice organizers, faith leaders, legal scholars, free speech advocates and Internet startups pushed back daily against phone and cable lobby efforts to undermine the open Internet. We built the detailed case for Title II, deluged the FCC’s website, jammed switchboards on Capitol Hill, and forged new alliances that are transforming how telecom and technology policy is made.


“The engaged Internet community is now a political force to be reckoned with. It’s one that will no longer sit quietly by as politicians and lobbyists attempt to take away our rights to connect and communicate. Today’s win is momentous for us, but we’ve only scratched the surface of what a well-organized Internet constituency can accomplish.


“There’s no doubt that the cable and telecom monopolies and their hired guns will ramp up their lies and lobbying in an attempt to take this victory away from Internet users. But we’re ready to fight back to defend this historic win. We need an open, fast, affordable and secure Internet for everyone. Today’s vote moves us one step closer to that reality.”


NCTA


The NCTA is the major trade and lobbying group that represents the cable industry, most notably including Comcast and Time Warner Cable (among many others). The head of the NCTA — Michael Powell, former FCC chairman — has spoken vehemently against reclassification several times throughout the past year. In a statement, Powell said:


“Today, the FCC took one of the most regulatory steps in its history. It began regulating the Internet, abruptly abandoning a bipartisan national commitment to limited government involvement that has reigned for decades.


“This extraordinary action has been justified by the desire to preserve net neutrality, but the FCC Order goes well beyond that reasonable objective. The FCC has taken the overwhelming support for an open Internet and pried open the door to heavy-handed government regulation in a space celebrated for its free enterprise. The Commission has breathed new life into the decayed telephone regulatory model and applied it to the most dynamic, free-wheeling and innovative platform in history.


“Since the dawn of broadband Internet service, consumers have enjoyed a fully open Internet. Our industry has always been committed to providing that experience to our customers. The day after this Order becomes law, consumers will see nothing different in their experience. However, they surely will bear the burden of new taxes and increased costs, and they will likely wait longer for faster and more innovative networks since investment will slow in the face of bureaucratic oversight.”


Powell also called for Congress to intervene and move forward with their own net neutrality legislation, rather than allowing the FCC to regulate.


Netflix


Netflix has spent much of the last year right at the center of the net neutrality argument. The FCC didn’t say much today one way or the other specifically about peering agreements, which have been the streaming video giant’s main source of conflict with carriers. However, Netflix in their statement still called it a win for consumers:


“The net neutrality debate is about who picks winners and losers online: Internet service providers or consumers. Today, the FCC settled it: Consumers win.


“Today’s order is a meaningful step towards ensuring ISPs cannot shift bad conduct upstream to where they interconnect with content providers like Netflix. Net neutrality rules are only as strong as their weakest link, and it’s incumbent on the FCC to ensure these interconnection points aren’t used to end-run the principles of an open Internet.


“Given the lack of competition among broadband providers, today’s other FCC decision preventing regulations that thwart local investment in new broadband infrastructure also is an important step toward ensuring greater consumer choice. These actions kick off a new era that puts the consumer, not litigious corporate giants, at the center of competition policy.”


Public Knowledge


Public Knowledge has, like Free Press and Consumers Union, been heavily advocating for the Title II approach for many months. In the organization’s statement, SVP Michael Weinberg said:


“After an unprecedented outpouring of public support, today the FCC voted to enact the strongest net neutrality rules in history. By embracing its Title II authority and creating clear, bright-line rules against blocking and discrimination, Chairman Wheeler and the FCC have earned a reputation as defenders of an Open Internet.


“This day would not have happened without the support of the millions of Americans who commented with the FCC, called Congress, and wrote to the White House. This bipartisan wave of Open Internet supporters from across the country came together to make it clear to their government that it had a crucial role in protecting an Open Internet.


“After months and years of hard work and advocacy, today is a day to celebrate. Thank you, FCC, for standing up for consumers to achieve this historic victory for net neutrality. Your landmark work will be remembered by the American people.”


The group is also throwing a party tonight — or two parties, really, one on each coast — in celebration.


Verizon


Last but not least, we have Verizon, who do admittedly get all of the marks for creativity if not for substance.


The company, which filed the lawsuit that led to the FCC’s lenient old rules being thrown out and today’s stringent new ones being needed to replace them, titled their blog post, “FCC’s ‘Throwback Thursday’ Move Imposes 1930s Rules on the Internet” and proceeded to write it entirely in Morse code (pictured at the top of this post).


For the translated version (PDF), Verizon dated the release “February 26, 1934″ and abused typefaces to make it look as though their statement had come from a particularly ill-maintained and badly made typewriter. It reads:


“Today’s decision by the FCC to encumber broadband internet services with badly antiquated regulations is a radical step that presages a time of uncertainty for consumers, innovators and investors. Over the past two decades a bipartisan, light-touch policy approach unleashed unprecedented investment and enabled the broadband internet age consumers now enjoy.


The FCC today chose to change the way the commercial internet has operated since its creation. Changing a platform that has been so successful should be done, if at all, only after careful policy analysis, full transparency, and by the legislature, which is constitutionally charged with determining policy. As a result, it is likely that history will judge today’s actions as misguided.


“The FCC’s move is especially regrettable because it is wholly unnecessary,” continued the company that, once again, sued to have the old rules overturned and created the vacuum for the new ones. “The FCC had targeted tools available to preserve an open internet, but instead chose to use this order as an excuse to adopt 300-plus pages of broad and open-ended regulatory arcana that will have unintended negative consequences for consumers and various parts of the internet ecosystem for years to come.”


And if you’re still wondering what this is all about…


Our colleagues up in the frozen north (of Yonkers, New York) at Consumer Reports have put together a quick and easy video to explain net neutrality and why today’s vote was awesome for consumers.






JetBlue Realizes Pun Referencing Large Flying Machines Falling From The Sky Is Not The Best Idea

The tweet that has since been deleted. (@JetBlue)

The tweet that has since been deleted. (@JetBlue)



JetBlue is busy apologizing on Twitter for a now-deleted and ill-advised Tweet that made a bad pun referencing the Hindenburg Disaster. Too soon, perhaps, but also, reminding people of the time a flying machine crashed isn’t the best way to instill confidence in your own flying machines. Just sayin’.

Though it’s been more than 75 years since the Hindenburg burst into flames and crashed, killing 36 people, JetBlue’s now-deleted “Oh, the Bluemanity!” Tweet with a photo of one of its plane’s tails did not go over well with Twitter users.


This, in reference to the famous remark made by radio broadcaster Herbert Morris , “Oh, the humanity!” while reporting as the zeppelin burned and fell to the ground.


The Twitterverse was not amused.


















Since deleting the Tweet, @JetBlue has issued a series of apologies, basically admitting that the urge to make a pun was greater than the brand’s ability to fully research what it was referencing. The more you know.













Macy’s Decides To Grow By Targeting Bargain-Hunters


How does a department store company grow when department stores, as a category, are not doing so well? They have to go where customers are, and in general where customers are headed is “downmarket.” Looking at the success that its competitors have had with stores aimed at “aspirational shoppers” with thinner wallets, Macy’s is expanding into the discount brand-name model that you can find at chains like Nordstrom Rack and Off Fifth.

Sure, you can boost profitability by cutting costs, which Macy’s has tried to do in recent years, but it also makes sense for them to go where consumers are. Where we are is “not shopping at department stores.” Instead, we’re combing racks at stores like the department store-affiliated outlets, as well as closeout fashion chains like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Burlington Coat Factory, and other regional discounters.


Macy’s has announced that it’s spending $1.2 billion on expanding in two directions: internationally and down the price scale. While most off-price retailers have items manufactured just for them, Macy’s hasn’t said yet that’s their plan for this new venture: right now, their plans are to sell past season fashions as well as store returns and merchandise with slight defects.


For Macy’s, going downmarket looks like the way ahead [Reuters]