mardi 30 juin 2015

United Airlines Invests In Alternative Fuel Company, Plans To Use Biofuel In Trips This Summer

Last year, Southwest Airlines announced it would start using biofuels created from forest remnants to power some flights beginning in 2016. Today, United Airlines raised the stakes in the alternative jet fuel game, announcing plans to fly a plane this summer using fuel generated from farm waste and oils derived from animal fats, while also investing millions of dollars in other alternative fuel processes. 

The New York Times reports that Chicago-based United Airlines’ summer flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco is part of the company’s ongoing effort to cut down on carbon emission though the use of alternative jet fuels.

In addition to sharing plans for the summer flights, United announced it would invest $30 million in Fulcrum BioEnergy, one of the largest producers of aviation biofuels.

California-based Fulcrum has developed and certified a technology that turns household trash into aviation fuel. The company says its alternative fuel could cut an airline’s emission by about 80% when compared to traditional fuel.

United expects to begin receiving fuel from Fulcrum in 2018, with quantities reaching 90 million gallons a year by 2020.

That amount of alternative fuel could fuel up to 20,000 flights a year, but even that’s just a drop in the bucket for a major airline like United. Last year, the airline used an estimated 3.9 billion gallons of jet fuel.

The airline’s deal with Fulcrum isn’t its first foray into alternative fuels. United conducted its first test flight using biofuels in 2009, and again using algae-based fuels in 2011, the NYT reports.

In the more immediate future, United expects to receive nearly 15 million gallons of biofuel from AltAir Fuels this summer to power the Los Angeles to San Francisco flights.

United entered into a deal with AltAir, which generates biofuels out of nonedible natural oils and agricultural waste, back in 2013.

The company say that for the first few weeks after it acquires the AltAir fuel, four or five flights a day will use a mixture that is about 30% biofuel and 70% traditional jet fuel.

“The AltAir project serves as a catalyst intended to pave the way for the industry,” Angela Foster-Rice, United’s managing director for environmental affairs and sustainability, tells the NYT.

United and other airlines have been seeking out alternative fuel products in recent years after environmentalist and regulators began to raise concerns about the excessive release of carbon emissions from planes.

Back in 2012, Consumerist reported that a number of airlines were looking in to greener ways of flying planes, but were running into roadblocks by way of high costs and low availability.

Farm Waste and Animal Fats Will Help Power a United Jet [The New York Times]

Pew: With Nearly 23 Million Consumers Using Prepaid Cards, More Protections Are Needed

To the naked eye, general purpose reloadable prepaid cards function much like long-established credit and debit cards and have quickly gained traction with consumers, especially those who have been shut out from traditional banking options. In fact, about 23 million consumers use prepaid cards regularly.

That’s according to a new report [PDF] from Pew Charitable Trusts that examines consumers’ knowledge, attitudes, and perception based on whether or not they have a checking account.

According to the latest “Banking on Prepaid” report, prepaid card use is becoming more and more common among individuals, even those who have bank accounts.

Despite advocates’ concerns over some fee-laden cards, use of the banking product increased more than 50% between 2012 and 2014.

While adoption of the products by those already served by traditional banking has increased, it’s consumers who fall into the “unbanked” category that drive the industry.

These consumers often use the prepaid cards more like traditional checking accounts: checking their balances more regularly, reloading more frequently, and registering their cards more often than banked cardholders do.

The cards also provide a welcome budgeting tool for many individuals, the report finds.

Because most of the people who use the cards are unbanked and have annual household incomes below $50,000, they tend to use the cards as a way to help control spending, stay out of debt and avoid overdraft fees.

Although the use of prepaid cards has steadily increased in recent years, some users remain confused by terms and conditions associated with the products.

For example, the Pew report found that most prepaid card users do not know whether their funds are FDIC-insured or whether their cards have an arbitration clause.

According to Pew, nearly all cards carry FDIC insurance, and about 77% of the cards studied included a binding arbitration clause.

“The availability of these features depends on the policy of the prepaid card manager, and consumers must read and understand their account agreement to determine their status,” the report states.

Still, many prepaid card holders who are covered by liability protections don’t know it.

Such safeguards minimize or eliminate a cardholder’s liability for unauthorized use if a card is lost or stolen — but only if the card is registered and the problem is reported in a timely manner.

“Unbanked prepaid cardholders tend to be less knowledgeable about this protection than those who also have bank accounts,” according to the report.

Pew says the reports findings, both in the sheer use of prepaid cards and their limited safeguards, give credence to the fact that the products should have more regulatory protections, such as those proposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in November 2014.

“The findings in this report demonstrate the need for the CFPB to finalize its proposed rules on prepaid cards,” the report states. “This is especially important for the unbanked, for whom prepaid cards are often their only transaction account, to ensure that these cards are safe, transparent financial products with uniform protections against theft, loss, and deception.”

The CFPB proposed a number of rules intended to extend the protections currently enjoyed by checking account and credit card users to the prepaid card market, including:
• Monthly statements or free online access to account info.

• $50 limit on fraudulent transactions for cardholders who report suspicious activity in a timely manner.

• Standardized disclosure forms explaining all relevant fees and surcharges.

• Limits and regulations involving prepaid debit cards that offer credit in the form of overdraft protection.

“Ensuring the safety and transparency of these financial products is critical to the health of this fast-growing market and to the financial well-being of its customers,” the Pew report states.

U.S. Chamber Of Commerce: Lobbying Hard For Big Tobacco Worldwide

The term “Chamber of Commerce” plants visions of a quaint, local organization helping hang banners in the town square at Christmas time, or sponsoring youth groups in a Fourth of July parade during warmer seasons. Realistically, however, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the nation’s largest business and commerce trade group. And among all their other lobbying work, the Chamber of Commerce has become one of the world’s biggest advocates for Big Tobacco, pushing that industry’s interests globally.

The New York Times reports today on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s extensive efforts overseas, where it’s doing everything in its power to torpedo other nations’ anti-tobacco efforts.

Big tobacco is, after all, big business — and the Chamber of Commerce exists to promote business interests. From one point of view, it’s a natural fit. And so the organization has taken on a global effort in order to bolster the interests of tobacco companies against other nations’ attempts to curtail the industry.

It’s a tricky time for the tobacco industry, as the NYT points out. A global treaty, negotiated through the World Health Organization, has pushed anti-smoking and anti-tobacco measures worldwide. The treaty went into effect ten years ago and so far there are 179 signatory nations — but the United States, built in so many ways on the existence of tobacco farming, is not among them.

In that intervening decade, many of the signatory nations have gotten moving on their promised anti-smoking legislation — and that’s where lobbying from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and its international partners, comes in.

One of the biggest examples of the Chamber’s intervention that the NYT cites is one that comedian John Oliver delved into earlier this year: Ukraine’s unexpected support of Philip Morris in a claim the company made against Australia a few years ago.

In their filings, Ukraine claimed that Australia’s plain packaging law would hurt Ukrainian exports. If Ukraine had ever exported tobacco to Australia, that might make sense — but they don’t. “Ukraine is inserting themselves into something they have nothing to do with,” as Oliver described it in February. “They’re taking the Kanye West approach to international trade disputes.”

But of course Ukraine did not act without encouragement, and that encouragement came from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This March, the NYT reports, Ukraine’s parliament convened a hearing to try and sort out why they were involved in a lawsuit against Australia.

“When it came time to defend the tobacco industry, a man named Taras Kachka spoke up,” the Times writes. “He argued that several ‘fantastic tobacco companies’ had bought up Soviet-era factories and modernized them, and now they were exporting tobacco to many other countries. It was in Ukraine’s national interest, he said, to support investors in the country, even though they do not sell tobacco to Australia.”

The speaker, as the NYT explains, was neither a tobacco industry member nor lobbyist. He was the head of a Ukranian affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And indeed, the Ukranian prime minister recently revealed that Ukraine’s case against Australia was in fact prompted by a complaint from the Chamber.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce not only meddles in existing legislative processes around the world in favor of tobacco companies, but also works to maintain their interests in future agreements as well. The current head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has lobbied extensively to make sure that as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the pending trade agreement the U.S. is poised to sign with a dozen Pacific Rim nations, that tobacco companies retain their rights to sue governments when they feel they are being too strongly impinged upon.

That’s not a hypothetical scenario: Since 2010, Philip Morris has sued Uruguay, Australia, and the U.K. as well as making legal threats against other, smaller nations like Togo, Moldova, and Nepal.

The Chamber has sent letters and reports to several nations, taking different approaches. To smaller or less wealthy nations, the letters might be an implicit threat for U.S. businesses to take their ball and go home.

“The U.S. Chamber of commerce is committed to promoting a robust and growing trade and investment relationship with Jamaica,” reads a 2013 letter to that nation’s Prime Minister. “For this to occur, the decisions made by public policymakers must have a sound basis in science and reflect global best practice.”

In other countries, the Chamber has taken alternate approaches. A 2014 letter to New Zealand’s parliament takes a different tactic, claiming that nation’s plans to implement plain packaging — which strips branding and logos from the exterior of tobacco products and replaces it with health warnings — are in violation of trademark and intellectual property laws. That’s the same approach that Philip Morris took in its 2011 lawsuit against Australia.

Of course, not everyone involved with the Chamber of Commerce is necessarily on board with this plan. The organization has over three million member companies, including health insurers and pharmaceutical companies, as well as 21st century tech giants that tend to promote healthful living.

When the Times asked the Chamber of Commerce for a statement, the organization replied: “The Chamber regularly reaches out to governments around the world to urge them to avoid measures that discriminate against particular companies or industries, undermine their trademarks or brands, or destroy their intellectual property. We’ve worked with a broad array of business organizations at home and abroad to defend these principles.”

American tobacco companies might be feeling the strain as other countries try their hardest to enact anti-smoking measures, but American lobbying exports seem to be doing just fine.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Works Globally to Fight Antismoking Measures [New York Times]

Sprint’s New Unlimited Plan Covers The Phone, But Sticks You With 3G Streaming

sprintallinIn an attempt to show customers exactly what they’re paying for with their phone plans, Sprint is throwing its hat into the phone-leasing ring with a new “All-In” plan. The $80 monthly price includes a $20 leasing fee for the customer’s chosen device, as well as unlimited text, talk and data.

New customers or current customers eligible for an upgrade can choose between three different phones for the 24-month lease: a 16GB iPhone 6, a 32GB Galaxy S6 or the HTC One M9. There’s also $36 activation when you sign up, as well as taxes and Sprint surcharges on top of that $80 price.

One thing to note for those who like streaming video when they’re away from WiFi — Sprint is limiting streaming video to 3G speeds of 600Kbps. Netflix recommends speeds of about 1500Kbps for streaming video, so you’d have a hard time watching Orange Is the New Black without WiFi access on the All-In plan.

As PC World notes, this might be less preferable than Sprint’s previous method of throttling unlimited data users, as it only slowed users down when the network was congested. This will mean slow video speeds on the Sprint network, all the time.

The All-In plan is notably $10 more expensive than Sprint’s current iPhone plan, which runs for $50 per month plus a $20 device fee. If you don’t need unlimited data, of course, you can choose a plan that costs less.

Sprint Chief Marketing Officer Kevin Crull tells CNET that the $70 “iPhone for Life” plan was a promotion that will be phased out with this new All-In option, although those currently on the cheaper plan will be grandfathered in.

Dept. Of Labor Proposal Would Expand Overtime Pay To Nearly Five Million More Americans

Working more than 40 hours a week but not getting paid overtime because you make too much already? If so, you might soon be pocketing more dough for your extra hours under newly proposed federal regulations that raise the threshold income level at which workers are exempt from overtime pay of time-and-a-half wages.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the proposed Department of Labor rule would be the first change to the salary threshold governing overtime pay in more than a decade and could affect the pay of nearly five million Americans starting in 2016.

The proposed regulations would more than double the current salary threshold at which employers can avoid paying overtime from $23,660 a year to $50,400 per year. Likewise, the regulation increases the pay of hourly workers exempt from overtime pay from $455 per week to $970 per week.

This means that if an hourly or salaried worker makes less than $970 per week or $50,400 per year, they would now have the right to receive additional pay if they work more than 40 hours per week.

“We’ve got to keep making sure hard work is rewarded. Right now, too many Americans are working long days for less pay than they deserve,” President Barack Obama said in an op-ed piece announcing the proposed changes published on the Huffington Post late Monday.

Like the current rules, it is possible that some companies could skirt the new requirements. Currently some employers get away with dodging the extra pay by making an employee who’s paid more than $455 per week or $23,660 a year a “manager” with limited supervisory duties.

The potential rule change comes as a result of the Department of Labor’s review into overtime pay initiated last year.

The most recent change to the salary cap came in 2004. Obama contends that the current level has been diminished by inflation and is too low.

“In this country, a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. That’s at the heart of what it means to be middle class in America,” Obama wrote.

While the potential for overtime pay will likely be welcomed by employees, some industries believe the changes will hurt businesses and consumers.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) said in a statement that the proposal would dramatically increase operational costs for retailers and diminish the flexibility and benefits currently provided to full-time employees that have advanced into management.

“Retailers will have two options if this rule is implemented: raise prices in order to absorb a dramatic increase in labor costs, or take away the benefits, such as flexibility and leadership opportunities, that come when an associate works their way into management,” Kelly Kolb, RILA vice present of government relations, said in a statement. “Neither of these are outcomes that will raise standards of living for our employees or our customers.”

The proposed rules must go through a public comment period before they take effect, which likely won’t happen for several months.

New federal rules to boost overtime pay for millions [The Los Angeles Times]

Study Spoiling 4th Of July Fun Says Fireworks Release Harmful Particulates Into The Air

Just in time for the Fourth of July comes some news that might put a damper on your celebrations: A new study says exploding fireworks create toxic air pollution that could be harmful to your health. Happy Independence Day, everyone.

A study by federal scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published in the journal Atmospheric Environment says the thousands of Fourth of July firework celebrations we set off around the country is contributing to air pollution, releasing tiny particles called particulates into the atmosphere.

Those particulates can affect your health because they travel into your respiratory tract and enter the lungs. Other particulate matter includes dust, dirt, soot smoke and liquid droplets, notes USA Today. They’re measured in micrometers, which is one-millionth of a meter.

In this study, particulates from fireworks were 2.5 micrometers in size. Whether you’re breathing them in often or only in the short-term, the particulates are linked to health effects like coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, asthma attacks and even heart attack and stroke. It could contribute to premature death in people with heart or lung disease, the study says.

When it comes to the Fourth of July, the air will be at its most particulate-laden between 9 and 10 p.m. — which makes sense as that’s when it gets dark in the summer and many cities around the nation shoot off their fireworks. By noon on July 5, levels drop back down.

“These results will help improve air quality predictions, which currently don’t account for fireworks as a source of air pollution,” said Dian Seidel, NOAA scientist and study lead author. “The study is also another wake up call for those who may be particularly sensitive to the effects of fine particulate matter.”

Police: Man Who Took 300-Mile Cab Ride Jailed Because He Couldn’t Pay $749 Fare

Can you take a cab on a cross-state ride? Sure. But you better be able to pay for it when you reach your destination, or you could face jail. One New York man found that out the hard way, after police say he didn’t have the money to pay his cab driver after a 700-mile journey.

Police in Pennsylvania say a Brooklyn man and his children took a cab from Philadelphia to Uniontown, reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, so he could surprise his fiancée.

Instead, his cab driver called the police to report that his passenger refused to pay after the 304-mile journey. According to police, the passenger said he’d taken the trip to surprise his loved one, but didn’t have the fare when it came time to settle up.

“I asked [the passenger] to pay the driver for the fare, and he stated he did not have the money and that his credit card was maxed out for the day,” the patrolman on duty said in police records.

Because no one else had the money to pay up, the man was taken into custody and charged with theft of services.

Again, if you’re planning on a long trip, make sure you’ve got the money to pay for it or your destination could be a jail cell.

Brooklyn man’s cross-state taxi ride leads straight to jail in Uniontown [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]

Victims Of Debt Collection Scam To Start Receiving $4M In Refunds From FTC



More than a year after the Federal Trade Commission settled charges with a massive debt collection operation that extorted payments from consumer using false threats, those affected by the deceptive practices are finally seeing a bit of restitution in the form of checks totaling $4 million.

The FTC announced today that it is in the process of returning $4 million to the victims of Asset Capital and Management Group’s illegal debt collection operation.

Last May, Asset Capital and Management Group settled FTC charges that it used a sprawling network of intertwined companies and dozens of fictitious names to illegally extract payments from consumers for credit card debt that it had purchased from creditors.

According to the FTC’s complaint [PDF], the company posed as process servers in calls to consumers and third parties, falsely threatened consumers with lawsuits, wage garnishment, seizure of their property, and arrest, and disclosed debts to consumers’ employers, colleagues, and family members.

In addition to paying $4 million in restitution, the company was banned from the debt collection industry.

People who receive checks from the FTC – through Analytics Consulting LLC – are asked to deposit or cash them within 60 days.

Consumers who receive checks and have questions can contact Analytics at 1-855-312-3324. More information about the FTC’s refund program is available on the FTC’s website.

FTC Returns Almost $4 Million to Consumers in Debt Collection Scam [Federal Trade Commission]

Apple Is On The Hook For $450M After Losing Federal Appeal In E-Book Price-Fixing Case



Though Apple’s alleged co-conspirators have long since settled and gone about the process of making good for the price-fixing they did not legally admit to committing, the elecronics company had held out in its fight to clear its name, taking the case to a federal appeals court late last year. It seems the electronics company will have to give up that battle, after the court upheld a 2013 decision that found Apple liable for conspiring with publishers to raise the price of e-books.

Apple is expected to pay more than $450 million — much of that to consumers by way of refunds, with the rest going toward fees and other fines, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Quick background for those unfamiliar: In 2012, the Dept. of Justice sued Apple and many of the nation’s largest book publishing companies for allegedly conspiring to set high prices on the e-book market. Part of Apple’s argument before the federal appeals court in December was that it was just trying to snap the stranglehold Amazon had on the e-book market, but that apparently didn’t convince the court.

In a 2-1 ruling by the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan [PDF], the judges sided with the lower court’s decision to hold Apple to the November agreement with private plaintiffs and 33 states that joined the Justice Department’s 2012 lawsuit.

“We conclude that the district court correctly decided that Apple orchestrated a conspiracy among the publishers to raise e-book prices,” wrote Second Circuit Judge Debra Ann Livingston. The conspiracy “unreasonably restrained trade” in violation of the Sherman Act, the federal antitrust law, the judge wrote.

Prosecutors had argued that Apple and publishers had ganged up to fight Amazon’s aggressive discounts by agreeing to use an agency model of pricing, wherein the publisher sets the price of books and the retailer gets a cut. Under the alleged agreement, if another retailer was selling an e-book for a lower price, the publisher would have to match that price in Apple’s store.

E-mails from Apple executives, including company co-founder Steve Jobs, were used against the iPhone maker in court to demonstrate that the goal of agency pricing was to increase what people paid for e-books.

“Throw in with Apple and see if we can all make a go of this to create a real mainstream e-books market at $12.99 and $14.99,” wrote Jobs in one message to News Corp, the parent company of HarperCollins.

The publishers had the leverage they’d need to fight Amazon with this new model, Justice Department lawyers said, and prices on many e-books increased immediately. Apple’s legal team had said the company didn’t realize it was leading the publishers’ charge against Amazon.

But the Second Circuit majority said evidence showed Apple knew exactly what it was doing.

“Apple understood that its proposed contracts were attractive to the publisher defendants only if they collectively shifted their relationships with Amazon to an agency model — which Apple knew would result in consumers facing higher e-book prices,” Judge Livingston wrote in a decision joined by Judge Raymond J. Lohier Jr.

Apple had no immediate comment to the WSJ. It can now either ask the Second Circuit to hear the case or ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take it up.

Delaware Becomes The Only State Without Commercial Air Travel After Frontier Airlines Flies Away

While flying is often the easiest and quickest way for travelers to get from one place to another, the nearly one million residents in Delaware will have to find a different mode of transportation in their home state — unless they want to fly privately. That’s because the state’s lone commercial airline servicer quietly exited the market last week.

Forbes reports that Frontier Airlines flew relatively under the radar last week when it discreetly pulled the plug on its service from Wilmington’s New Castle Airport, citing a lack of profit.

The company – which began service at the airport just two years ago – initially announced in April that it would discontinue flights to and from the airport on a seasonal basis.

The Denver-based airline’s move means that Delaware is the only state in the U.S. that doesn’t have direct commercial airline service.

A number of airlines – including United, Delta and U.S. Airways – have attempted to provide flights at the airport since the 1960s, but all eventually dropped their service.

According to Forbes, New Castle Airport won’t be sitting vacant amidst Frontier’s departure. The airport sees a healthy dose of private air travel.

Of course, residents of Delaware aren’t exactly being shut out of air travel. The city of Wilmington is less than 70 miles away from two major airports: Philadelphia Intentional Airport (28 miles) and Baltimore-Washington International Airport (65 miles).

Additionally, the city is teeming with Amtrak options, as it serves as a thoroughfare between Washington D.C. and New York and other places, Forbes reports.

Delaware, Key To Corporations, Is Now The Only U.S. State Without Air Service [Forbes]

Hyundai, Nissan Dealerships In Las Vegas Settle Deceptive Advertising Complaints

Back in March, federal regulators teamed up with their Canadian counterparts to crack down on auto dealers’ deceptive, fraudulent practices. While that operation culminated in six enforcement actions resulting in more than $2.6 million in judgments and consumer refunds, that wasn’t enough for the Federal Trade Commission, as the agency has now charged two Las Vegas auto dealers with similarly misleading practices.

The FTC announced this week that two auto dealers in Las Vegas have agreed to settle charges they used deceptive ads to promote the sale or leasing of their vehicles, including advertising heavily discounted prices that were not actually available to customers.

According to the complaints against TC Dealership (doing business as Planet Hyundai [PDF]) and JS Auotworld, Inc. (doing business as Planet Nissan [PDF]) the companies regularly ran ads that misrepresented the purchase price or leasing offers of their vehicles and the amount due at signing.

Since about 2014, Planet Hyundai has allegedly misled customers by prominently advertising a vehicle price for “$0 DOWN AVAILABLE.” But that deal wasn’t actually obtainable for many prospective buyers, as the fine print for the ad noted that customers must turn in a vehicle with a trade-in value of at least $2,500.

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 10.59.47 AM

In another instance, the company promoted offers for vehicles as “50% OFF” in newspaper ads. The FTC charges that the deal wasn’t actually available to consumers unless they met a very specific set of requirements noted in the “minuscule” print at the bottom of the advertisement.

“A consumer can qualify for the advertised prices only if the consumer meets certain qualifications for incentives, rebates, or discounts, such as being a recent college graduate, being a member of the military, owning a currently registered Hyundai, or trading in a qualifying vehicle,” the complaint states.

Additionally, the FTC says the dealership failed to disclose other information in its ads such as whether or not a security deposit was required.

In the case of Planet Nissan, the FTC alleges the dealership prominently showcased ads of “PURCHASE! NOT A LEASE!” when, in fact, the vehicles shown were only available through leases.

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 11.00.19 AM

Another allegedly deceptive ad includes the “NOW” pricing of vehicles. According to the FTC, the newspaper ads featured images depicting cars available at discounts with a prominent “NOW” price.

For example, one ad for a 2015 Nissan Versa shows the “WAS” price of $12,888 cut to “NOW” $9,977. While that would certainly be a great deal, the FTC says that the fine print in the ad suggests buyers must receive both a military and college discount to get the vehicle for the discounted price.

The owners of both Planet Nissan and Planet Hyundai have agreed to settle the FTC charges of deceptive advertising.

Under proposed consent orders, the dealerships are prohibited from misrepresenting the cost to purchase or lease a vehicle and are required to comply with the Consumer Leasing Act and Regulation M and the Truth in Lending Act and Regulation Z.

These cases are part of the Commission’s continuing efforts to protect consumers in the auto marketplace. The FTC provides a variety of resources for consumers buying or leasing a vehicle, including Are Car Ads Taking You For A Ride?

Two Las Vegas Auto Dealers Settle FTC Charges They Deceptively Advertised the Cost of Their Cars [Federal Trade Commission]

Not Content To Remain In The Burger Realm, Wendy’s Expands The Baconator Brand To Fries

The thing about bacon is, once you’ve put it on one thing, everyone expects you to dump it all over everything else. Which is just fine with Wendy’s, as the chain is extending the Baconator brand from its burgers to its new bacon-and-cheese fries.

The menu item is a limited time offer, but in the short time it’ll be available, the $1.99 Baconator Fries don’t skimp on toppings: Wendy’s natural-cut fries are drizzled with warm cheddar sauce and topped with bacon, before shredded cheddar is added as the cheesy cherry on top.

Wendy’s knows that people like bacon, simply put, citing bacon sales at an all-time high and the 50 or so bacon festivals planned for 2015 in its announcement. But Wendy’s wants customers to know its bacon is different from all the other bacon out there, noting that the chain cooks its bacon fresh in restaurants every day.

“Others use factory cooked bacon and reheat it in a microwave because it’s easier, but that just isn’t the Wendy’s way,” said Kurt Kane, Wendy’s chief concept officer in a press release. “When you walk into a Wendy’s and smell the bacon cooking, then you know we treat it with the respect that bacon lovers deserve.”

Consumer Reports: Nearly 1.5M Vehicles Have Higher-Than-Average Oil Consumption

When I first started driving, I remember being told to change my car’s oil every 3,000 miles. More than a dozen years later – and after several advancements in vehicle production – most cars can go 5,000 miles to 10,000 miles before they need a fresh dose of oil. But according to a new analysis from Consumer Reports, those mileage markers may be a bit too optimistic, as many new cars actually require additional oil between changes – and that’s not really acceptable.

According to a new in-depth analysis from our colleagues at Consumer Reports – which appears in the August issue of the magazine – several automakers have built engines that excessively burn oil between changes, requiring the owners of nearly 1.5 million vehicles to add a quart of oil to their engines as often as every month.

The CR “Thirsty 30″ list of oil-guzzling models is based on 498,900 vehicles from the 2010 to 2014 model years, many of which are still under their powertrain warranty.

Topping the list are several Audi, BMW and Subaru models including the Audi A3, A4, A5, A6, and Q5; BMW 5, 6, and 7 Series, and X5; and Subaru Forester, Impreza, Legacy, and Outback.

“While it’s normal for cars to burn a little oil as they age toward 100,000 miles and beyond, we believe that for a late-model car to burn a quart or more of oil between changes is unacceptable,” Mark Rechtin, Consumer Reports’ Cars Content Development Team Leader said. “It’s also our strong opinion that any engine that burns oil between changes should be repaired under the powertrain warranty.”

The analysis found that in the worst case scenario, owners of the BMW 5 Series with V8 engines were 27 times more likely to suffer excessive oil consumption as owners of an average vehicle.

When asked about the oil-guzzling nature of some of their vehicles Audi, BMW and Subaru said it was a natural part of a car’s operation.

In fact, Subaru considers a quart burned every 1,000 to 1,200 miles to be acceptable, while BMW and Audi consider one quart every 600 to 700 miles to be reasonable.

According to CR, if a driver has to add a quart of oil every month, that could add up to seven to nine quarts of oil between changes. And all that oil, well, it costs a pretty penny.

While such excessive oil consumption is worrying and taxing on an owner’s wallet, CR didn’t find there to be any directly correlated engine problems with the guzzling.

Still, according to the data, if a car burns oil early in its use, it will burn even more as it ages.

Of course, not all cars suffer from exorbitant oil use. CR’s analysis found that 98% of 2010-2014 cars don’t require extra engine oil between changes.

Consumer Reports Reveals: ‘Thirsty 30′ List of Oil-Guzzling Late-Model Cars [Consumer Reports]

Lawsuit Accuses Jewelry Company Lia Sophia Of Refusing To Honor Lifetime Guarantee

liasophiaSix months after direct-sales jewelry company Lia Sophia said it was shutting down, one of its former sales representatives has been joined by a customer in a lawsuit against the company, claiming it refuses to honor its lifetime guarantee on purchases, even while it’s continued to stay alive through online sales.

Until the company’s announcement in December 2014 that it was closing up shop, the business worked much like Avon or Tupperware: Sales representatives known as “advisers” would peddle jewelry directly to customers at parties and gatherings.

Those customers were given a lifetime replacement guarantee on purchases that allowed them to exchange their jewelry if it ever broke, or provide a certificate redeemable for comparable value. That perk had allowed Lia Sophia to sell its wares for more than the market would usually demand, the lawsuit says.

But in a lawsuit seeking class-action status filed this month in Chicago’s federal district court, one of its former advisers and a customer claim that Lia Sophia refuses to honor that lifetime guarantee on purchases, even while it has continued to sell jewelry online, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Initially, Lia Sophia had said it would keep the online store open through February to clear out remaining merchandise, but it’s June and the “outlet” site still features jewelry for sale.

The company said in December after announcing it was closing up shop that all replacement certificates would expire Dec. 28, 2014. But when customers complained on Facebook, Lia Sophia said those guarantees were no longer valid, according to the suit.

It also told customers that the online store still remained because demand was so strong, that it was trying to figure out other ways to sell its jewelry, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit alleges breach of contract, violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act, fraud and unjust enrichment. The fact that it’s still peddling products online contradicts “repeated statements and promises” Lia Sophia made to its sales advisers that it wouldn’t ever cut them out of the deal and sell straight to customers, the lawsuit says, alleging that Lia Sophia’s owners knew for months before the announcement in December that they were going to cease operations.

“Yet, Lia Sophia induced its sales advisors to continue to sell and recruit, and to purchase additional products and supplies from Lia Sophia, despite knowing that Lia Sophia would not be around for its sales advisors to ever recover on those purchases and recruitments,” the complaint says. “Similarly, Lia Sophia continued to sell jewelry to customers with its lifetime guarantee, all the while knowing it was going to close its business and attempt to extinguish the guarantee.”

Lia Sophia responded to the lawsuit in a statement, saying: “We feel confident that this complaint is without merit. Beyond that, we are not commenting further.”

Lawsuit against Lia Sophia alleges broken promises [Chicago Tribune]

Today Will Be Extra Long, But Businesses Promise It Won’t Crash Their Computers This Time

If today feels like a really long day, that’s because it is. There’s going to be a leap second this evening, making Tuesday 24 hours and one second long. The last time this happened, in 2012, a lot of computers took issue with time going all wonky and systems worldwide crashed as a result. This time around, the big businesses promise they’ve learned their lesson, and we should be able to look forward to business as normal.

The leap second is basically like a micro version of the leap year: the actual rotation of the Earth slows down in tiny increments over time. Therefore, time is not quite synced up with the way in which we mortals measure it, and so every so often we have to fudge the numbers a tiny fraction of a bit to catch up. Thus, the leap second.

However, the extra second isn’t as predictable as the clockwork arrival of February 29, and so computer systems — new and old — are not necessarily designed with it in mind. The last time a leap second arrived, in 2012, the resulting mess temporarily took down a number of sites and services, including Reddit, Amazon’s (massive, widely-used) web hosting services, and Qantas Airways. There were also ripples in the Australian financial markets, which were open at the time.

Google avoided trouble in 2012 by forcing their systems to add a tiny, tiny fraction of extra time onto every other second in the day. This year, Amazon is basically taking the same tactic.

Many of the concerns this time around have to do with computer-driven stock-trading markets. The 2012 leap second was over a weekend, but today’s is the middle of a bustling work-week. As Bloomberg points out, trading basically never stops and markets worldwide will be active — the major cities of the Asia-Pacific region are all supposed to come online right when the leap second happens.

To make sure nothing gets lost in the shuffle, many trading firms and markets are either shutting down five minutes early, or putting a +/- 5 minute “pause” around the key hour. And in Japan, South Korea, and Australia, trading will begin after the leap second.

So is everyone prepared this time around? Given the way the world works, probably not. A representative for the U.S. Naval Observatory told Bloomberg that probably about 10% of large-scale computer systems will experience a hiccup of some kind.

In the U.S., the leap second will take place around 8:00 p.m. on the East Coast (5:00 p.m. Pacific).

We Should Drop The Leap Second Before it Causes Real Damage [Wired]
With 61 Seconds in a Minute, Markets Brace for Trouble [Bloomberg]

McDonald’s Offering Flavored Hot Coffees For The First Time, But In Just One Market



Craving a little flavor with your morning cup of hot java? If your breakfast joint of choice is McDonald’s, then you likely know that just isn’t an option. Until now – but only in one select area.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that McDonald’s is now offering caramel, hazelnut and French vanilla McCafé hot coffees in at least one market.

While a spokesperson for the company confirms that the piping hot coffees are being promoted as a local menu item in at least one area of the country, she didn’t specify which area or whether the drinks would be expanded nationally.

McDonald’s has served flavored ice McCafé coffees since 2007, but this is the first time a hot option has ever appeared on the menu. Additionally, the company sells bags of French vanilla and Hazelnut coffee at local retailers.

McDonald’s to expand flavored coffee sales to restaurants, but not nationwide (yet) [The Christian Science Monitor]

Today’s The Day: JetBlue’s Checked Bag Fees Are Now In Effect

Say goodbye to that free checked bag when flying on JetBlue: The company announced last November that it was going to start charging passengers who fly with checked bags at some point, and that point is today.

Customers buying tickets on the airline’s lowest tier of fares will have to pay $20 during online check-in or $25 at the ticket counter — one way. If you want to bring that bag home, it’ll be another fee.

The move leaves Southwest Airlines as the sole remaining carrier that lets all travelers check a bag for free.

If you don’t want to pay a bag fee, customers can upgrade from the lowest “Blue” fare bucket to a “Blue Plus” level that will usually cost about $15 more than the base ticket price.

Investors have been all about this change, though many consumers are less than pleased to see the airline give sway to the siren song of cold, green cash. But JetBlue says many travelers don’t check bags as often as they did in the past anyway.

“Half of the customers don’t even check bags,” Marty St. George, JetBlue’s executive vice president for commercial and planning told Reuters. “In effect what’s happening is, the customers who aren’t checking bags are paying for the customers who do.”

He says this new approach allows customers to pay only for what they need, pointing to the “Blue Flex” fare level as an example: it’s about $100 more than the one-way base fare and gives customers two free checked bags and no fees for changes or cancellations.

And besides, this is all about the customer anyway, St. George tells the Associated Press. JetBlue is doing this for you! Which means the airline says it’s investing in new seats and TVs with some of the money it’ll get from the bag fees.

“Some of these changes are going to help pay for what’s the biggest product upgrade JetBlue has had in the history of the company,” he told the AP.

If you’ve already booked a JetBlue flight before today, these changes won’t apply to you, only to new reservations.

Chick-fil-A, Chipotle Lead In Customer Satisfaction Survey, McDonald’s Brings Up The Rear… Again

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 5.33.13 PM

By now we’re well aware that McDonald’s has struggled to attract and keep new customers in recent years, leading to an all-out overhaul of the fast-food powerhouse. The Golden Arches’ trouble is perhaps most evident this week, as the company clocked in dead last among competition in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, yet again.

The ACSI recently unveiled its annual Full-Service Limited-Service Restaurant ratings [PDF], which compares a dozen name-brand burger, sandwich, pizza, and coffee chains, as well as sit-down dining establishments.

For the sixth year in a row, and the 19th time in 20 surveys, the iconic fast food restaurant brought up the rear with a score of 67 — three points below its score last year, and 19 points below new leader Chick-fil-A.

Speaking of Chick-fil-A, the company had a strong showing in its debut in the ACSI ratings, tallying a rating of 86,  the highest ever score by a company in the quick-service category.

The restaurant wasn’t the only first-timer to the report to have an impressive showing: Chipotle ranked second with a score of 83, while Panera came in third with a score of 80.

“The fast casual segment of quick service restaurants is nicely situated for the confluence of changing consumer tastes and a rebounding economy,” ACSI Director David VanAmburg said in a statement. “Consumers have a bit more money in their pockets, but are still pressed for time. Fast casual outlets offer higher-quality ingredients, freshness and fast service – all at a reasonable price.”

Other newbies, Arby’s and Jack In The Box, didn’t benefit quite as well as their fellow rookies, scoring 74 and 72, respectively.

Last year’s leaders, Papa John’s and Pizza Hut, both shed several points this year, each scoring 78 points.

In fact, nearly all of the restaurants named in the survey saw a drop from their previous rating, with Little Caeser’s 7% drop from 80 to 74 being the worst. Domino’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and McDonald’s each faced a significant drop of at least 5%.

The only establishment to improve in rankings this year was Dunkin’ Donuts, with an increase of 4% from 75 to 78.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 5.33.34 PM

Full-service restaurants tended to fare better in the ACSI rankings, with the lowest score — belonging to Ruby Tuesdays — coming in at just 73 points.

Once again, a new entrant took top billing, with Texas Roadhouse rating an 83. Rounding out the top 5 (which included one tie) is LongHorn Steakhouse (81), Cracker Barrel (80), Olive Garden (79) and Outback Steakhouse and Applebee’s (78).

lundi 29 juin 2015

Hyundai Replaces General Motors As Official Automotive Sponsor Of The NFL

Sure, sometimes breaking up might be hard to do, but it always helps when you’ve got another suitor lined up to take your former flame’s place. Such is the arrangement for the National Football League, which announced today that it’s ending its relationship with General Motors and hooking up with Hyundai.

Hyundai will take GM’s place as the NFL’s official automotive sponsor, reports the Chicago Tribune, in a deal that will let the Korean automaker use the league’s trademarks in marketing. It’ll also get access to the NFL’s biggest events like the Super Bowl and annual draft proceedings.

Though Hyundai isn’t saying how much it shelled out to get this special status, it’s likely that it would be in the neighborhood of what GM had paid, somewhere around $25 million per year.

“There is no better venue to reach consumers,” Hyundai Motor America CEO Dave Zuchowski said in a statement.

Hyundai will launch its sponsorship during the NFL’s season kickoff activities on Sept. 10.

Meanwhile, it sounds like GM isn’t locked in its room crying over a box of paraphernalia that reminds it of its ex.

“We value our relationship with the NFL and its fans, but have decided to focus our sponsorship resources in other areas in the future,” GM said in a statement.

Elsewhere in professional sports, the National Basketball Association also had a major sponsorship change this year, choosing to break up with Coca-Cola for its biggest rival, PepsiCo, in April.

Hyundai replaces General Motors as NFL auto sponsor [Chicago Tribune]

Victoria’s Secret Plans To End On-Call Scheduling

Employees at Victoria’s Secret will no longer have to call in to find out if they’ll be hawking lotions, perfumes, bras, underwear and other products on any given day, as the company plans to end its use of on-call scheduling.

BuzzFeed News, citing several current and former staff members, reports that the retailer decided to reverse its use of so-called “on-call shifts,” in which employees are given little notice on whether they are required to show up for work or stay at home without pay.

While on-call scheduling allows retailers to be more flexible with hours and save on payroll expenses by only having workers report for work if the store is busy, the system can make it difficult for employees to predict when they’ll work and their pay.

In most cases, employees who are scheduled on-call must phone, email or text managers shortly before their shift begins.

According to the retailer’s staff, in addition to ending on-call scheduling, the company will now notify employees in advance if upcoming shifts may involve “extensions,” in which workers are required to stay past their scheduled end time.

Employees will also be able to sign up for extra hours if they so desire.

Representatives for L Brands, the owner of Victoria’s Secret and several other companies, declined to provide comment to BuzzFeed.

Over the past several years, Victoria’s Secret and other retailers have come under scrutiny for their use of on-call scheduling.

Back in April, the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent letters warning 13 major retail companies including Target, Sears, Gap, and Victoria’s Secret that some stores may be violating state law by using on-call scheduling systems.

According to the letter, the practice leaves “too little time to make arrangements for family needs, let alone to find an alternative source of income to compensate for the lost pay.”

Before that, in 2013, Victoria’s Secret faced a lawsuit over the system in California that claimed employees may be scheduled for more than 30 hours of work across five days in a week, but only actually worked about 10 hours.

The suit centered around whether or not being available for on-call shifts constituted reporting to work – thereby, requiring compensation even if the shift were canceled.

According to BuzzFeed, the judge in that case dismissed the call-in reporting time claim.

Victoria’s Secret Is Getting Rid Of On-Call Scheduling In Stores [BuzzFeed News]

Now Available At Petco: One Long Tailed Grass Lizard Skeleton For Only $9.99



Are you in the market for a new pet, one that doesn’t require much maintenance or care? Or perhaps, one that requires absolutely nothing from you? You’re in luck: One Petco appears to have a long tailed grass lizard skeleton available in its store tank, for the low price of just $9.99.

Consumerist reader Holly pointed us to a recent Reddit post titled, “We clean our cages regularly,” with a link to a series of photos apparently snapped at a Texas Petco.

If you’re not looking closely enough, you might just think it’s an empty tank, devoid of any pets. That can surely happen when someone buys a pet and the store hasn’t moved a new inmate in yet.

But further inspection reveals the skeleton of a small lizard, ostensibly the Long Tailed Grass Lizard on the tank’s sign. That same sign includes helpful instructions that might’ve helped the store’s animal handlers, things like feeding the lizard and making sure it has enough water. The sign also promises a pet that is “quick and active,” which we’re sure these lizards are… when they’re alive.

One commenter who claims to have worked for the company in another location in Texas points out that this particular store has a bad reputation, and that this kind of thing “is NOT standard” for other stores in the area.

We’ve reached out to Petco corporate to ask how this kind of thing could happen, if it’s investigating this particular incident (as this could all be part of an elaborate hoax), and what company policy is on displaying animals for sale that have clearly been dead long enough to decompose to a skeletal state. We’ll let you know when and if we receive a reply.

App Developer Settles Charges It Hijacked Consumers’ Phones To Mine Virtual Currency

The FTC and New Jersey AG's office allege that the makers of the Prized app used the program to infect customers phones with malware for their own use.

The FTC and New Jersey AG’s office allege that the makers of the Prized app used the program to infect customers’ phones with malware for their own use.

Some reward programs aren’t really rewarding. In fact, some are downright harmful to consumers. That was apparently the case with an Ohio-based smartphone app developer that recently agreed to settle charges that it hijacked consumers’ phones through a seemingly innocuous gaming app.

Smartphone app developer Equiliv Investments advertised its Prized app as a way for users to earn points for clothing, gift cards and other prizes by downloading affiliated apps, playing video games embedded with advertisements, or taking online surveys.

But the Federal Trade Commission and New Jersey Attorney General’s office say the app was actually used as an entryway to mine virtual currency like Litecoin, Dogecoin, and Quarkcoin.

According to a complaint [PDF] filed by the FTC and AG’s office, Equiliv and director Ryan Ramminger began marketing the Prized app in February 2014 through the Google Play Store, Amazon App Store and other third-party sites.

The company promised users that the downloaded app would be free from malicious software and viruses.

However, shortly after users download the app, it took control of the device’s computing resource to mine for virtual currencies.

The complaint alleges that the app developers then used consumers’ devices to attempt to solve equations that create virtual currencies, thus lining their own virtual wallets.

As a result of this mining, the infected devices quickly burnt through their monthly data plans, lost battery power rapidly and recharged more slowly.

“Consumers downloaded this app thinking that at the very worst it would not be as useful or entertaining as advertised,” said Acting New Jersey Attorney General John J. Hoffman. “Instead, the app allegedly turned out to be a Trojan horse for intrusive, invasive malware that was potentially damaging to expensive smartphones and other mobile devices.”

In all, the complaint alleges that Equiliv and Ramminger violated the FTC Act and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.

To resolve the allegations, the company has agreed to a proposed settlement banning it from creating and distributing malicious software.

Additionally, the company is required to pay a suspended monetary judgement of $50,000 to the state of New Jersey.

The case is part of the FTC’s ongoing work to protect consumers taking advantage of new and emerging financial technology, also known as FinTech. As technological advances expand the ways consumers can store, share, and spend money, the FTC is working to keep consumers protected while encouraging innovation for consumers’ benefit.

App Developer Settles FTC and New Jersey Charges It Hijacked Consumers’ Phones to Mine Cryptocurrency [Federal Trade Commission]

Where In The World Can You Find The Cheapest Beer?

If you’re the kind of person who needs to know everything about a city before you visit, your list of requirements might include pinning down where you can get a cheap beer. So before you hit the road or book that flight, you might want to check out a recent list of which cities around the globe have the priciest pours.

A company called GoEuro collected data on the price of beer at both supermarkets as well as bars in cities and then took that average to create the Beer Price Index. The results may factor in when you’re planning a trip, depending on how much you can handle paying for a beer.

Traveling to Switzerland? Better save your change for a cold one: Geneva’s beers will hit your pockets the hardest, according to a beer price index compiled by GoEuro: The average price of a brew there is $6.32 ($1.87 in stores and $10.77 at bars).

On the cheap end of things, Krakow, Poland and Kiev, Ukraine were tied for the least expensive beers, with an average price of $1.66 each.

In the United States, New Yorkers won’t be surprised to find their favorite beverage comes at a higher average price ($5.20) than its fellow notoriously expensive city on the West Coast, San Francisco ($3.97).

The Wall Street Journal took GoEuro’s data and turned it into a searchable database, for those who don’t feel like scanning the entire list.

And you should always remember, temperature is also key when choosing your brew. So sayeth Strong Bad:

Fiat Chrysler Recalls 7,000 SUVs, Tells Customers To Immediately Stop Driving Them

About 65 Jeep and Dodge SUV owners can expect to receive a phone call from Fiat Chrysler telling them to stop driving their vehicles.

The car maker announced over the weekend that it will recall about 7,690 model year 2015 Dodge Durangos and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles that have a suspension component that could fail.

While a majority of the affected SUVs have not been sold, the automaker has taken an unusual step for those that are currently in the possession of consumers by urging them to immediately stop driving the vehicles, according to the Detroit Free Press.

While more than 7,000 SUVs remain on dealer lots or in transit to dealers, Fiat Chrysler plans to personally call the owners of the 65 vehicles currently on the road.

The company says that some of the suspension components installed in the cars were not correctly treated by a supplier for high temperatures. Because of this, the component could break leading to rear-end instability and/or reduced braking power.

The suspension issue was discovered by the supplier during an internal quality review. Fiat Chrysler then investigated the issue and halted vehicle shipments from its assembly plant.

Fiat Chrysler says it is unaware of any accidents or injuries related to the issue.

Affected vehicles will be inspected and if they contain the compromised parts, they will be shipped to a dealership for repairs.



FCA makes unusual move amid SUV recall [The Detroit Free Press]
Statement: Suspension-component Inspection/Replacement [Fiat Chrysler]