vendredi 29 mai 2015

The IRS Is Still Using Windows XP, Has A Cybersecurity Staff Of 363 People



In the last few years, tax return fraud has become a serious problem at the state and federal levels, thanks to the growth of e-filing and security holes in IRS and third-party tax software systems. Is the IRS to blame for this trend? There are really only two options: the IRS is either broke or incompetent.

CNN puts it in slightly different terms, asking whether the agency is broke or unable to allocate the budget that it has to protect all of the data that it collects about us. The agency has 10% fewer employees than it did five years ago, but processes more tax returns and also has even more work since the Affordable Care Act was implemented, processing health insurance information and assessing penalties when needed.

While maybe better technology could help the IRS finish more work quickly, there’s a catch: they still have computers running 13-year-old Windows XP, and even their fraud-catching software is two decades old. The agency employs fewer cybersecurity staff than it used to, even as one would think the demand would go up as e-filing has become more popular.

At the same time, the “incompetent” thing might also apply: a new anti-fraud program was supposed to be finished three years ago, and is late and over-budget. Congress is still punishing the agency for what some members of Congress consider “lavish” spending in recent years on things like conferences and training videos. However, when it’s innocent taxpayers who end up with their identities stolen and their tax refund sent to the other side of the world, that punishment is affecting the wrong people.

Is the IRS too broke to protect your info? [CNN Money]

Sally Beauty: Investigation Confirms Customer Payment Info May Have Been Put At Risk, But Not Debit PINs

Three weeks after Sally Beauty first said it was looking into whether it’d been the victim of a hack attack, the company says it’s confirmed that criminals used malware on some of its point-of-sale systems, possibly exposing payment information for customers who used cards at some of its U.S. stores.

Criminals deployed the malware at certain stores during “varying times” between March 6 and April 17, the company said in a press release, though it’s unclear how many stores or how many customers were affected.

Although payment information may have been at risk for some customers, Sally Beauty says it has “no reason to believe, and has no information to suggest that debit card PINs may have been impacted.”

It says it’s eliminated the malware from all Sally Beauty point-of-sale systems.

“We regret any inconvenience this incident may have caused our customers, and we want to reassure them that protecting our customers is our priority,” said Chris Brickman, President and CEO in the press release, adding that because the company “cannot pinpoint exactly which cards might have been affected during our reported date range,” it’s offering credit card monitoring services to anyone who used a credit or debit card at Sally Beauty store between March 6 and April 17.

Customers who wish to take advantage of the free identity protection services can go to; call 1-866-234-9442 or email

This McDonald’s Asks Drive-Thru Customers To Bend The Laws Of Physics

McDonald’s is trying all kinds of new things to attract younger customers and sling fries at them, but we’re not so sure about their plan to increase drive-thru traffic in the United Kingdom by bending the laws of physics. “Please use both lanes to place your order,” a new sign says. Both?

An Alert Twitter user somewhere in the UK shared this confusing notice while visiting only one of the drive-thru lanes.

Yes, yes, we know what the sign is supposed to mean, but that has never stopped us from following an amusing premise through to a conclusion. Perhaps there is a hole in the universe centered on this McDonald’s that allows customers to be in two places at once, doubling drive-thru revenue. Seems like a waste of a perfectly nice wormhole.

Of course, bending the laws of physics is nothing new in marketing: there were the curtains that somehow block more than 100% of light and gravity-proof soup. None of these lead to bilocation, though.

McDonald’s defy quantum physics with sign

Man Named God Reaches Settlement With Equifax, Finally Gets A Credit Score

You might recall a story from about a year back where a man with the first name “God” had a little dispute with credit-reporting agency Equifax, namely that the company wouldn’t recognize his moniker as legitimate. He’s now come out on top in his battle with Equifax, which has agreed he and his financial history do exist, and have granted him a shiny new credit score.

The Russian native and Brooklyn resident sued the credit-reporting agency last year in federal court claiming that the snag in his Equifax report that rejects his first name has kept him from buying a car, despite his credit scores of more than 720 at other agencies. He claimed a customer service representative even suggested he change his first name to make everything easier.

The New York Post reports that God and Equifax have reached a settlement where Equifax has agreed to enter his name into its database, as well as giving him an undisclosed payout.

With his new healthy credit score, God says he’s relieved the case has been settled and is planning to buy a BMW to celebrate.

“It’s been five years of this,” he told the NYP. “I’m glad that it’s over.”

His lawyer adds that Equifax actually added God’s name to its database when he took legal action last year, but that the financial part of the settlement took longer to finalize.

Equifax did not comment to the NYP.

Man named God settles lawsuit with credit agency [New York Post]

If You Have $100M To Spare, Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch Could Be Yours

If you don’t know who Bubbles the Chimpanzee was, you should probably just stop reading now. For the rest of you who may have a spare $100 million burning a hole in your pocket, Michael Jackson’s famed Neverland Ranch is on the market under a new name.

Sycamore Valley Ranch, as the late Jackson’s estate is now called, no longer has carnival rides or primate pals, but the floral clock still spells “Neverland” by the train station ands its train tracks, and a llama lives on the property, reports the Wall Street Journal.

All told, the property has about 22 structures on its 2,700 acres, with the six-bedroom house with attached staff quarters measuring 12,000 square feet.

Then there are all the things associated with celebrity homes: A swimming pool with a cabana, a basketball court and a tennis court, a 50-seat movie theater with a private viewing balcony and a place for magic shows — do we really need to go on? Michael Jackson lived here, it’s super expensive — you get it.

Don’t think you can just waltz in and get a free tour, however, as the listing agents say there will be “extensive prequalification” of anyone looking to buy before they show the property.

Michael Jackson’s Onetime Neverland Lists for $100 Million [Wall Street Journal]

American Credit Cards Are Most Popular In The World For Hacks, Fraud (Because Our Tech Stinks)

If it feels like we hear a whole lot of stories about retail data breaches here in the U.S., well, that’s because we do. Americans are super duper popular targets for card hacks and fraud, and it’s for one simple reason: our credit card security is bad and should feel bad.

Quartz reports this week on a new report from British-based international megabank Barclays, and it’s bad news for consumers on this side of the Atlantic.

American credit cards represent about a quarter — 24% — of all cards in use in the world. But when it comes to fraud, American cards represent nearly half — 47% — of cards that have been subject to fraud.

The main culprit is one we’ve covered many times before: in the U.S., where magnetic stripe technology is still the dominant way payment cards are accepted, we are vulnerable to software incursions and theft. Simply put, we are low-hanging fruit. Intruding into a system like Target or Home Depot and making off with usable data for tens of millions of payment cards is easy as pie, at least as compared to other nations.

And that is, of course, because other nations have long since switched to more secure, EMV (chip-using) credit and debit cards. The EMV system doesn’t completely eliminate the potential for card fraud, but it does make it much harder to do.

Worldwide, Barclays reports, chip-card adoption sits at about 43% — but that doesn’t include the U.S. In Western Europe, most nations have long since gone through the conversion process and the adoption rate sits at almost 82%. Since starting the transition to chip-and-PIN cards in 2003, the U.K. has seen an over 70% reduction in payment card fraud.

Here in the states we are finally on our way to joining the rest of the world, but it’s a slow process happening one bank and one retailer at a time, rather than something with a firm, government-imposed deadline. Originally MasterCard and Visa were to require merchants to upgrade to having chip-enabled payment systems by October of this year, but that deadline has since shifted another two years into the future.

One only wonders how many 50 million card megabreaches American consumers will see between now and then.

Americans are, by far, hackers’ favorite credit-card fraud targets [Quartz]

ThinkGeek Parent Geeknet Giving Hot Topic Three Days To Match Rival Suitor’s Offer

thinkgeekhotfeudThe love triangle between the parent company of online retailer ThinkGeek and its two suitors continues to heat up, with Geeknet now telling original suitor Hot Topic it has until Monday to match or exceed the higher bid from a new mystery rival. Because like so many real life dating situations, it all comes down to an ultimatum.

The choice facing Hot Topic now is whether to top the unnamed rival’s offer of $20 per share — after originally offering $17.50 a share — or walk away, ostensibly broken-hearted and ready to hit the booze and ice cream aisles hard.

Geeknet noted then that its board of directors still has to approve the undisclosed suitor’s offer. Today the company says in a statement [PDF]that while it hasn’t changed its recommendation in favor of the Hot Topic buyout, the new bid is a superior deal and Hot Topic has just three days to match it.

While Geeknet says it’s required and “intends to” negotiate in “good faith with Hot Topic” during the match period, which lasts until Monday, June 1 at 9 a.m., iff the board determines then that the new suitor’s offer continues to be a superior proposal, the company says that under its agreement with Hot Topic it’ll be required to pay a 3% break-up fee. In that event, Geeknet says its new bidder has agreed to reimburse the company for paying that fee.

Dunkin’ Donuts Debuts Chips Ahoy-Flavored Doughnuts

Dunkin_chips_ahoyIf you feel your energy flagging at work today, don’t worry: as of Monday, Dunkin’ Donuts has a new doughnut for afternoon eating. Starting Monday, they’re starting a partnership with Nabisco’s Chips Ahoy brand to turn doughnuts into an all-day food.

The Chips Ahoy doughnut has two versions: there’s a plain version with chocolate frosting and cookie crumbs on top, and then a filled version with the same toppings and the addition of cookie dough-flavored buttercream inside.

Sounds tasty, but is that valid as an afternoon snack, which is how Dunkin’ Donuts has been marketing it? Well, maybe an occasional treat. The frosting-filled doughnut is 380 calories, and the non-filled version is 310 calories. Maybe they’ll have the same Dunkin’ is also testing mini-doughnuts (which are separate from doughnut holes, of course.)

“As doughnuts become more of a culinary treat across the industry, I think we see an opportunity to expand our doughnuts in the afternoon,” the company’s vice president of marketing told Bloomberg Businessweek, because if there’s one thing that Americans really need, it’s more occasions in the day to eat donuts.

In other news from the same company, Dunkin’ Donuts also is holding Free Donut Day next Friday…if you buy a coffee. It doesn’t matter whether you do so in the morning or afternoon, though.

Dunkin’ to Sell Chips Ahoy Doughnuts to Spur Afternoon Traffic [Bloomberg News]

AT&T Still Trying To Wriggle Out Of Federal Throttling Lawsuit

Seven months after the Federal Trade Commission sued AT&T’s wireless division for allegedly misleading customers about “unlimited” data plans, and nearly two months after a judge denied AT&T’s attempt to dismiss the case, the Death Star is still trying to choke the government’s lawsuit into submission.

By way of background: In 2011, AT&T began getting rid of the unlimited data plans that it had used to lure in millions of customers when it had the exclusive on the iPhone. Customers with those plans were allowed to keep them, but the users who consumed the most data would have their connection speeds throttled after passing a certain threshold each month.

Since this restriction effectively limits access to supposedly unlimited data, customers complained. Some even sued, though AT&T’s terms of use prevent subscribers from taking their complaints to court or banding together in a class action.

The FTC eventually sued AT&T in 2014, not over the throttling practice itself, but over the way in which the company described it to customers.

According to the lawsuit, AT&T failed to adequately disclose to customers that throttling could occur, and that it could have a drastic impact on a customer’s use of the service. Some unlimited users’ access to AT&T data was allegedly slowed by as much as 90%.

At least 3.5 million AT&T subscribers have been directly affected by the policy, says the FTC. Some customers who attempted to cancel their service in response to the throttling faced hefty early termination fees.

In response to the lawsuit, AT&T tried to get it dismissed by claiming that, even though the lawsuit was filed before the FCC voted in Feb. 2015 to reclassify data services as a common carrier, AT&T’s wireless phone service is a common carrier telecommunications service which is regulated by the FCC and not the FTC.

But this argument didn’t hold water with the judge who denied AT&T’s dismissal attempt in April.

The judge ruled that the common carrier exception only applies to instances in which the allegations in the complaint involve common carrier activity. Since the FTC’s lawsuit had nothing to do with the legality of the throttling process, but instead deals with concerns of deceptive disclosures and marketing, the judge held that there was no issue of regulatory overlap.

AT&T also argued that the new net neutrality rules — which haven’t even gone into effect yet, and which AT&T is suing to stop — mean that wireless data is now indeed a common carrier.

The district court judge said that reclassification doesn’t matter and that it “will not deprive the FTC of any jurisdiction over past alleged misconduct as asserted in this pending action.”

In its appeal [PDF] to the Ninth Circuit, AT&T doesn’t change its contention that the FTC can’t sue; it mostly argues that the issue of whether the FTC can sue should be decided now before spending “enormous amounts of time and money litigating this case to completion.”

The telecom titan points out that both the FTC and FCC are pursuing actions against the company with regard to the throttling policy.

“AT&T has recently learned that the FCC expects to issue, as early as next week, a Notice of Apparent Liability against, and seeking statutory forfeitures from, AT&T,” reads the appeal.

The company also claims that the district court’s dismissal denial conflicts with a federal appeals court ruling in another FTC case, FTC v Miller.

That 1976-77 appeal involved a company that transports mobile home. It too is treated as a common carrier and regulated by the Interstate Commerce Commission, and like AT&T was being sued for misleading marketing.

AT&T argues that the Seventh Circuit ruling in Miller shows that the common carrier exception to FTC enforcement is status-based and not activity-based, i.e., that AT&T’s mere status as a common carrier is sufficient to exempt it from FTC regulation on misleading marketing and deceptive disclosures, even though those alleged violations are coincidental to the company being a common carrier.

Now it’s time to wait and see how this case plays out.

[via MediaPost]

N.Y. Gov. Cuomo On Fighting Abuse At Nail Salons: “Nobody Can Do It Faster Than The Consumer Can Do It”

cuomoIn the aftermath of a recent two-part investigative report on the conditions in the nail salon industry, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office worked with lawmakers to create a multi-agency task force aimed at fighting abuses in the workplace. At a task force event today in New York City, Cuomo and other public officials said that after working with nail salon employees to educate them on their rights and talking to business owners, the final, most powerful step is up to consumers.

Joining Cuomo at today’s Nail Salon Industry Task Force event were public advocate Letitia James, Secretary of State Cesar Perales and Assemblyman Ron Kim, who all pledged to help fight the abuse that finds many workers laboring in unsafe conditions, inhaling dust and chemicals while often not making minimum wage or earning overtime.

Cuomo stressed the point that such abuses aren’t restricted to the nail salons in New York, but anywhere that has a vulnerable workforce who don’t think they have rights — often including undocumented workers — that often exploited for the profit of others.

Those rights are now explained on a nail salon workers’ bill of rights [PDF] that the task force says will be required for owners to post where it’s visible to customers and workers alike. The bill outlines workers’ rights to minimum wage and overtime, as well as noting that they shouldn’t be paying for any kind of training or working without pay as an apprentice.

After working with nail salon workers to educate them on the new bill of rights — as well as talking to businesses about the changes — the governor says it’s now up to consumers to help combat abuse at the city’s 3,000+ salons.

Cuomo addressed the question many consumers have right now after learning about the conditions at some nail salons — what can I do? People still want to get their nails done, but don’t want to tolerate businesses that abuse their workers. To that end, Cuomo urged New Yorkers to download a five-step list of questions [PDF] that customers can bring with them to ask a nail salon owner before getting services.

The basics:

1. Are workers paid at least the minimum wage and overtime?
2. Is appropriate protective equipment (respirator mask, gloves, eye protection) provided to workers and used?
3. Is there adequate ventilation (no strong chemical odors)?
4. Is the salon business license posted in plain view?
5. Is the Nail Salon Workers’ Bill of Rights posted in plain view?

“The power of the consumer in this situation could change this situation in a matter of days,” Cuomo said, adding that with so many nail salons in the city, it makes it hard to police.

On the other hand, with salons on almost every block in the city, “consumers have a choice,” Cuomo said. “If a nail salon is abusing workers, don’t go there. Walk down the block to one of the other 2,999 nail salons.”

“Nobody can do it faster than the consumer can do it,” Cuomo added, urging consumers to boycott the “bad” businesses. “Nobody can do it faster than the market can do it.”

If customers have concerns over any potential abuse at a salon they visit, or to report an unlicensed salon, they’re urged to call the Nail Salon Industry Task Force Hotline: (888) 469-7365 or go online at

School Year Ends, Students Wonder Where Their Senior Photos Are

“I feel like I’m gonna be a senior citizen rather than a high school senior by the time I get them,” one student wrote about their photos. That’s an important part of the business when you’re a school photographer: delivering students’ photos to them, preferably before they graduate. One school photo company in California failed to do that this school year, and families are upset.

Unlike, say, weddings, school photography is a business where a photographer can expect their customer (the school) to come back every year. However, another photographer told CBS Sacramento, that won’t happen if a company fails to deliver the pictures as promised.

While students at one school, Modesto High School, at least have their photo proofs, they don’t have the prints that they ordered. This kind of delay would have been unacceptable even back before most students brought their own high-resolution cameras to school every day.

Families filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau, but if the school had threatened not to bring the photographer back this year, that would have been much scarier threat. The owner of the company, which was still advertising on its website that it was looking for new business, blamed production delays, and managed to get photos out to one family that complained to the TV station’s consumer advocate before the story aired. Good timing.

Call Kurtis: Where Are My Senior Portraits? [CBS Sacramento]

Verizon Knows More About What You Watch On FiOS Than You Do



Verizon isn’t a cable company. Its FiOS product doesn’t spring from decades of guaranteed local monopolies, which means most FiOS customers can, if they get annoyed enough, jump ship to a competitor. But you leaving is bad news for Verizon. They want to keep their subscribers. And they have an enormous mountain of highly personalized data on hand to try to do it with.

Quartz points us to a presentation a Verizon executive gave this week at a conference of, basically, data nerds.

Data is great! It’s cool! It tells you all sorts of things that you can then use to improve your business and how it operates. But there’s a line somewhere, a border separating “useful” from “creepy.” That line is “privacy,” and Verizon’s customer behavior tracking at the very least seems to tap-dance right along that line.

When you call FiOS to complain, downgrade, or cancel, the rep on the other end of the line can now argue back at you with all of your own data: how much you download in a month, what channels you watch, how many hours you spend watching, and more.

So, for example, let’s say money’s tight and you want to cut back. You call and ask for a smaller, less expensive bundle of channels. “I never really watch them anyway,” you say. But the Verizon rep on the other end of the phone can see that you watch a solid 30 channels in any given month, and that you spend 8 hours a week watching premium channel content. You probably enjoy that content. Perhaps they can entice you to stay on board for another year if they give you HBO and Starz for free?

Or perhaps you’re more into broadband than TV. You use a lot of data in a given month — and because you rely on cloud storage or peer-to-peer file sharing, you have a fairly high volume of uploaded data, too, not just downloaded. Maybe the way for Verizon to keep you on board is to offer a small broadband discount and to remind you very strongly that their network is symmetrical, so your upload speeds will continue to match your download speeds.

Armed with that level of personalized data, there are thousands of ways Verizon customer service agents can personalize their pitch to convince you to cancel or switch providers.

Verizon executive Mahmoud El Assir told Quartz that giving CSRs all of that data when the customer calls in certainly works out in Verizon’s favor. “Customers are four times more likely to upgrade their DVR boxes to newer versions that record more shows when we bring up the data on recording conflicts,” El Assir told Quartz.

Praising the personalization of data, El Assir called it “a more educated conversation with the customer.”

“Now when an agent gets a call, instead of blindly resizing customers cable packages, agents can tell them how they might lose these two channels and how often they watch them,” El Assir said.

Verizon also monitors customer service calls for certain key words and can have supervisors leap in to save the day if they hear certain things — like, for example, “Cablevision,” “Time Warner,” or “Comcast,” competitors frustrated subscribers are likely to say they will switch to.

All the personal data that Verizon FiOS uses to keep you from canceling [Quartz]

Dear Sonic: Please Don’t Store Any More Hamburger & Hot Dog Buns Next To The Toilet

Imagine you’re at a fast food joint and you’re taking your young child to the bathroom. Of all the possible things you could find in the lavatory, one of the least-expected would probably be whole trays of buns for hamburgers and hot dogs.

For a man visiting a Sonic Drive-In in Topeka, KS, this wasn’t an imaginary scenario, but a reality that he documented with his camera and posted to Facebook.

“Welcome to the bathroom in Sonic,” he wrote in the caption to the photo.

The customer, who says he and his family left the restaurant without ordering anything, was later told that the Sonic’s maintenance folks had moved the buns into the bathroom.

The company tells the Topeka Capital-Journal that this was an “innocent mistake” and that these buns were thrown out after the storage issue had been brought to their attention.

[via Eater]

Self-Driving Cars: Fewer Accidents, But More Motion Sickness

Cars increasingly drive themselves. If tech companies have their way, then entirely autonomous vehicles will be the future as soon as possible. But that future isn’t exactly primed to be glorious for everyone. For those of us at all prone to motion sickness, that future — despite being lower on accidents and higher on energy efficiency — is not going to be fun.

Quartz reports on a recent study conducted at the University of Michigan that points out something many of us have been avoiding: if you’re not driving the car, you’re going to need to do something else with that time. And if you’re reading, watching a video, or doing a whole host of other stuff, you’re drastically upping the chances of a motion sickness episode.

Most people who are prone to motion sickness have more trouble as passengers than as drivers. When we’re controlling the car and focusing our attention ahead of us, we mainly do okay. But when we’re passengers in a vehicle of whatever sort, the dissonance between what we’re looking at and where we’re going can create a, well, gut reaction.

Researchers asked what most people plan to do while their car is driving itself and while a surprisingly high number answered that they’d stare at the road, about 37% said they’d be using that time about the same way folks commuting by conventional mass transit do: reading, working, typing, watching videos, and so on. And all of those activities are more likely to increase motion sickness.

The verdict? Somewhere between 6% and 10% of Americans riding in self-driving cars will probably experience motion sickness more often than not. Biking to work is suddenly starting to look a lot more appealing.

Driverless cars are going to make some people puke [Quartz]

Costco Misses Out On $40M/Year Because Of $5 Rotisserie Chickens, And It’s Okay With That

When you buy a jug of mayonnaise or a mammoth pack of toilet paper rolls at Costco, you understand that you’re saving by buying in bulk. But then there are the $4.99 rotisserie chickens that you don’t have to buy by the dozen to get that low price. In fact, Costco is the one getting the short end of that deal, missing out on millions a year by keeping the price low.

Speaking this week to analysts about the wholesale club’s quarterly earnings, Costco chief financial officer Richard Galanti answered a question about the company’s philosophy on the cheap chickens.

“I can only tell you what history has shown us: When others were raising their chicken prices from $4.99 to $5.99, we were willing to eat, if you will, $30 to $40 million a year in gross margin by keeping it at $4.99,” he explained, according to the Seattle Times. “That’s what we do for a living.”

In 2014, Costco sold 76 million of these chickens, just about one per club cardholder. Just like the $1.50 hot dog and soda combo (and other low-priced menu items) at the Costco in-store snack bars, they appear to be helping to get customers in the doors where they can make purchases on higher-margin items.

The price of chicken has remained flat in the last year, but that might change due to a recent outbreak in avian flu, though many of the chickens that have died or been euthanized were raised for egg production.

Uber Proposes Simpler Privacy Policy, Will Let Riders See Their Ratings

One feature of ride-hailing app Uber that’s meant to keep riders from acting like complete jerks is mutual rating: passengers rate their drivers, sure, but drivers also rate passengers. Secretly. Users can’t see their own ratings, but they could prevent someone from being picked up at a busy time. The company has promised to clarify its privacy policy and allow passengers to see their own ratings.

They aren’t doing this to win over new riders or just for funsies: it’s at the recommendation of an outside law firm’s review of their privacy policies. Last year, people began to have some very understandable concerns after the existence of what’s called “God mode” within available to select employees. This mode serves as a sort of Marauder’s Map of real life, showing where every user of the service is in real time.

Last year, people began asking questions about Uber’s privacy policies after one of the company’s executives answered a reporter’s questions about the service by e-mailing her excerpts from logs of her own Uber trips, something that she didn’t give him permission to do.

The new privacy policy makes it much clearer that Uber collects certain information about its users, which includes their location at any time (even when the app isn’t running) and that the company will store information about people in your address book that you share with the app.

Uber Broadens Rider Privacy Policy, Asks for New Permissions [Bloomberg News]

Swiss Cheese Has Been Losing Its Holes, And Now Science Knows Why

The 21st century has not been kind to the trademark texture of Emmental cheese. To Americans, that’s Swiss cheese: the stuff with all the holes in. But the holes have been vanishing and the cheese becoming smoother over time. Scientists determined to find out why. The answer? Modern cheese is just too clean.

The AP reports that a Swiss government-funded agricultural institute delved into the mystery of the nation’s most famous cheese and found that holes need hay. Or, more specifically, that “microscopically small hay particles” that make their way into the milk are responsible for the holes when that milk becomes cheese.

When a dairy farm is all manual labor, with people doing their best to keep rooms clean but using pre-industrial tech, some of those airborne particles will make their way into milk and there’s nothing you can do about it. But the transition from traditional milking methods into fully-automated industrial systems means there’s less stuff in the air, and that means fewer holes in the cheese.

The solution? More hay. “In a series of tests,” the AP reports, “scientists added different amounts of hay dust to the milk and discovered it allowed them to regulate the number of holes.”

Mystery of disappearing holes in Swiss cheese solved [Associated Press]

Amazon Brand Coffee And Cereal May Soon Be Coming To An Internet Near You

Amazon really, really wants to be your everything store. They do tech, they do digital goods, they do groceries, they even do same-day delivery. So perhaps it seems inevitable that they’re no longer just interested in selling other people’s stuff, but coming up with their own house brand for everyday items too.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, like basically every grocery and big box store out there, Amazon is planning to launch its own in-house store-brand line of items under the Amazon Elements label.

Amazon’s first foray into the Amazon Elements brand was not without its challenges. They started late last year with diapers and baby wipes, but had to yank the diapers off the virtual shelves less than two months in to the experiment because customers basically hated them and said they didn’t work properly. (And if there is one baby care product you really, really want to work properly, it is a diaper.)

At this point, the only Elements-branded product Amazon sells are the baby wipes. But, the WSJ reports, they could soon be joined by not only other personal care and home care items like razors and cleaning products, but also by your standard grocery-store staples like coffee, soup, water, pasta, and pet food.

Sales of generic (store-brand) items are on the rise, the WSJ points out, and it makes sense for Amazon’s bottom line that they would want to enter that market. The WSJ points out that Amazon’s Elements brand is likely to compete with Costco’s Kirkland line and Target’s Archer Farms and Up & Up lines. Private-label items have a higher profit margin for retailers, despite the fact that they generally cost consumers less.

But customers like generics mainly because they cost less. Not only did the Elements diapers not work particularly well, but also Elements baby products were framed as an upscale, higher-end option for parents to consider — on par with the biggest brand names, and more expensive than existing generic options. If Amazon wants Prime members to sip a cup of Amazon Brew with their Amazon-Os in the morning, they’ll probably have to make sure that their products cost less than some Starbucks and a box of Cheerios.

Amazon Plans to Add Its Own Line of Food [Wall Street Journal]

Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Here are eleven 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.

(C x 2)

(C x 2)

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 28 mai 2015

3 More Toxic Salad Beetles Show Up In Canada And Texas

Maybe save this post until you're done eating your salad.

Maybe save this post until you’re done eating your salad.

It turns out that fleeing to Canada won’t keep you safe from the Salad Beetle Scourge. You may remember the Iron Cross Blister Beetles turning up in organic salads and pakages of leafy greens across the United States. We learned today of three more discovered in different parts of North America, two of which were in Canada.


In Canada, two beetles found in greens this week made the news: Erin found our site while researching the creature she found in her salad greens and sent us this picture:


She also appeared on TV news this morning to talk about her find.

Maybe the experience wasn’t as novel as the CBC thought, though: just a few hours later, another CBC story appeared out of the province of Saskatchewan, featuring another woman who found the same type of beetle in her salad: this one from Earthbound Organics. The company told the CBC in a statement that it had never encountered the Iron Cross blister beetle in its farms before, and that it would stop using greens from that particular supplier and investigate the situation. They offered the woman $30, which she declined, and then $250, which she also declined. “I don’t know how long it will be until I can eat packaged food like this again,” she said about the offers.

While Earthbound Farms may be correct that they’ve never encountered the insect on their farms before, one of the original four salad beetle reports was about an Earthbound Organics product. A similar beetle was found in one two weeks ago. The company responded by sending a form letter about the beneficial insects used in organic farming. The blister beetle, you may have guessed, is not supposed to be one of them.

Melissa encountered one of the critters in a restaurant. She lives in Texas, which is a within the beetle’s native habitat, but they’re not supposed to live in restaurants. She didn’t get a picture, but described the scene instead:

It was the scariest creature I have ever seen! As I realized it was a beetle, I came into a state of shock and even feeling my blood pressure rise a little, I did not think about taking a photo of it or my salad. :( Once I realized I needed a photo so people could believe me, the waitress had already thrown it in the trash.

Reminder: if you find a large black, yellow, and red beetle in your food, contact the Food and Drug Adminstration (or equivalent agency where you live) and let them know. Also contact the packager of the product as well as the retailer if those are separate companies.