mercredi 30 septembre 2015

9 Things We Learned About Why Better Business Bureau Ratings Don’t Mean Much

(amboo who?)
In a lengthy nationwide investigation of Better Business Bureaus across the country, CNN interviewed businesses, consumers, and watchdogs, ultimately learning that how consumers see the organizations as something different, and a good grade from a local Bureau doesn’t guarantee that a business is trustworthy.
  1. The Better Business Bureau isn’t a government entity that serves as a consumer watchdog: you’ll need to contact your state attorney general for that.
  2. There isn’t one single Better Business Bureau covering the whole country: there’s more than 100, which together form the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
  3. The Council does have standards: the former BBB in Los Angeles was shut down after a blogger managed to gain accreditation for the terrorist group Hamas, a prank that was aired on ABC News’ “20/20” in 2011.
  4. Your local Better Business Bureau doesn’t claim to be a consumer watchdog: if you ask (and CNN did) they will claim to be a mediator between consumers and businesses when problems come up.
  5. Companies maintain their good rating if they’re able to “resolve” their complaints, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the customer will be satisfied.
  6. Companies under investigation or actually charged with wrongdoing by government entities can maintain a pristine BBB rating: for example, settling with the federal government over allegedly filing illegal debt collection suits against members of the military didn’t affect the rating of Military Credit Services.
  7. Having active lawsuits from a customer doesn’t necessarily lower a business’s grade.
  8. Local BBBs earn most of their money from dues paid by members, and some former members report their ratings plummeting after they decided not to renew.
  9. Businesses claim that local BBBs put more effort in notifying members than non-members about complaints, when not responding to complaints tanks their rating.

Slammed by the government, A-rated by the Better Business Bureau [CNN]

Target Charges $1 Extra If You Want Your Applesauce In A Bigger Box

Perhaps Target’s goal is to simplify our lives, reducing the number of boxes that we have to carry out of their stores. Probably not, though. There is no logic behind Target math, but at least now they’ll price match to a store with more logical pricing.

Stuart sent along these examples from his local Target. A box containing four packets of applesauce costs $2…


Put four times as many in a single box, and that’ll cost you an extra dollar.


This may be because it’s harder to stock and move around the larger boxes, but it still makes no retail sense. The last time we checked, Target was in the retail business.

AdBlock Plus Will Use An Independent Board To Choose Ads To Unblock

One way that ad-blocking programs make money is, paradoxically, by showing you some ads. The popular add-on AdBlock Plus shows users ads that it deems “acceptable” by default, and has been accused of charging some publishers a percentage of the ad income that otherwise would have been lost. Now the maker of AdBlock Plus, Eyeo, is changing how it decides which ads deserve unblocking.

The “acceptable ads” whitelist is optional for users, but is turned on by default. The idea isn’t to abolish ads altogether, but to make the ads that people do see tolerable ones while supporting publishers. Small to medium publishers don’t have to pay to be let through, but large ones do. Eyeo hasn’t quantified what “large” means in this context.

How it works now is that publishers and advertisers apply for a spot on the whitelist, and members of the company’s forum evaluate the ads in question. The company has made the final selections, but today they announced that an independent board will make the decisions. They haven’t announced board members yet, but they’re likely to be representatives of different groups of stakeholders: advertisers, publishers, and Internet users.

AdBlock Plus creator to set up independent board to oversee ‘whitelist’ [Guardian]

Federal Perkins Student Loan Program Set To Expire At Midnight

After 57 years of assisting nearly 20 million low-income students to finance their dreams of obtaining a higher education, the Federal Perkins Loan program could soon be grinding to a halt. 

The Perkins Loan program, which has offered more than $41 million in low-interest loans to students at nearly 1,500 schools since 1958, is set to expire tonight unless Congress takes action to extend the availability for one year as provided under a resolution [PDF] in The Higher Education Act.

According to U.S. News & World Report’s The Student Loan Ranger blog, barring the passage of the resolution – which currently seems unlikely – schools would be prohibited from issuing new Perkins loans to students who have not received them prior to Oct. 1, 2014.

The potential end of the program doesn’t mean that students currently receiving Perkins loans are out of luck.

Instead, as the Student Loan Ranger points out, students who already receive disbursements will continue to collect the loans until their program is completed at their existing school.

Perkins Loans – set at a fixed 5% interest rate – are available through a revolving fund maintained by institutions, who then divvy out the loans to students attending a graduate or undergraduate program on at least a half-time basis.

Undergraduate students can receive up to $5,500 in Perkins funds per year, up to a total maximum of $27,500 for the entire duration of their program. Graduate students are eligible for up to $8,000 per year, with a total maximum of $60,000 for the length of their program.

The program offers a variety of benefits for borrowers, including an interest-free period while the student is enrolled in school. Additionally, the Perkins loan will not accrue interest when a loan is in deferment or during the typical nine-month grace period after graduation.

The future of the program has been in question for several years, as other federal student loan programs like Stafford loans and Pell Grants have been more widely used.

The Perkins Loan program problem has recently come down to budgetary issues, the Student Loan Ranger reports. By stopping the distribution of new Perkins loans, the government can funnel funds to other programs.

Last week, a group of senators introduced a resolution expressing support for the continuation of the Perkins Loan program “in order to provide educational opportunities to future generations of students who need low-cost financing to make their dreams of higher education possible.”

The resolution passed the House on Monday, but has since received strong opposition in the Senate.

What Borrowers Should Know as Perkins Loan Program Set to Expire [U.S. News & World Report The Student Loan Ranger]

Facebook Is Testing 7-Second Video Profile Pictures

Because torturing yourself by gazing at your ex’s profile pic on Facebook might not be punishment enough, Facebook is now testing video profile photos (really, profile videos) that can be up to seven seconds and will be set to loop over and over while you keep staring/crying.

As part of a larger profile redesign for mobile that shows a bigger photo right smack in the middle of the user’s page, with a new bio section below it, Facebook is trying out looping profile videos. If you’re not a fan of the Harry Potteresque videos (a la the Daily Prophet, of course), you can of course keep a normal photo.


The new profiles allows users to set up a profile photo that expires after a certain amount of time: fore cample, someone on vacation who might want their friends to know they’re off somewhere having more fun that everyone else, by adding a note to their photo saying something like “vacation mode!”


Once you’re done being on vacation, the photo reverts to the old version so you won’t have to remember to take it down in your post-vacation funk. In this case, it’s a good idea to make sure your profile — or even just the photo — isn’t viewable by the public, so strangers don’t see you’re on vacation and decide to swing by.

Mashable reports that iPhone users in California and the U.K. will be among the first to have access to the new profile videos, starting Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. PT/2:00 p.m. ET. It’s expected to roll out to the larger user base in the near future, as Facebook says it wants to help people express themselves creatively on the site.

Bed Bath & Beyond Is Losing Money On Our Coupon Addiction

Do you refuse to buy anything at Bed Bath & Beyond without a coupon? So does everyone else, apparently. While the company is making plenty of sales, they aren’t as profitable as they used to be… something that experts attribute to the chain’s training its customers to always come in clutching a coupon.

A discount of 20% on the wall sconce of your dreams might not seem like a killer deal, but it adds up if you bring a coupon every time you visit, and use a 20% coupon on every item that you purchase. (Yes, if you collect enough coupons, you can use more than one in a single shopping trip.) “These are expected now by most shoppers,” one investment analyst observed to the Washington Post while pondering 20% off coupons.

Once shoppers are trained to not walk in the store unless they have a coupon, how do you bring them in without mailing them more coupons? That is the company’s marketing dilemma. Their sales are actually up, but profitability is down.

The big-box store has also adapted slowly to the “omnichannel” environment, since the items it sells are bulky and difficult to ship. Home goods competitors like Wayfair have popped up online instead, stealing business that once belonged to Bed Bath & Beyond.

The trouble with those 20 percent off coupons from Bed Bath & Beyond [Washington Post]

That Guy Holding A Sign On The Side Of The Road Could Be A Cop Looking For Drivers Breaking The Law

So you’re stopped at a traffic light, when you see something interesting out the window. Of course, you pull out your phone and snap a photo to let all your friends on social media see whatever crazy thing you just saw — which is exactly what New Hampshire police think you’ll do, in violation of the state’s laws on cell phone use behind the wheel. And sometimes, that spectacle by the side of the road has been staged by law enforcement to catch you in the act.

In one recent example, a woman received a $124 ticket after she snapped a photo at a red light of a man with a sign around his neck reading, “Repent! The end is near!” reports the Associated Press.

She said her daughter begged her to take the photo with her phone, and now she’s regretting fulfilling that request: shortly after she took the photo she was pulled over and told the man with the sign was an undercover officer — and he’d just seen her breaking the state’s new law against using phones or other electronic devices while driving.

She says she doesn’t usually use her phone behind the wheel, but was unaware that the new law applies to vehicles that are stopped at stop signs or traffic lights. Her plan is to appeal the ticket.

“I just think it’s a stinky way to do it,” she told the AP of her experience, which was first reported by Foster’s Daily Democrat. “Granted, should I have said no to my daughter? Probably, yes. But I wasn’t even thinking of the law at the time.”

New Hampshire isn’t the only state where police departments are coming up with new ways to take down drivers using their phones behind the wheel: state police in New York use unmarked SUVs to help officers get a peek at drivers’ hands from a higher vantage point, while in California, San Bernardino police officers have posed as panhandlers… but with signs that say they’re not homeless, they’re just looking for seatbelt and cell phone violations.

One police chief in New Hampshire said when the law first took effect in July, he didn’t see as many drivers using their phones. The problem has returned, however, prompting the department to think creatively.

“About two weeks ago, I was sitting in an unmarked car watching traffic, and everyone and their brother was on their phone,” he said. “So we were looking at innovative ways to maybe come down on people.”

Repent! Undercover New Hampshire cops nab cell ban violators [Associated Press]

Federal Appeals Court Nixes Plan To Pay College Football, Basketball Stars

A federal appeals court has ruled that colleges are violating antitrust laws by profiting from student-athletes’ names and likenesses while these same students are forbidden from receiving any money. However, the same appeals panel struck down the lower court’s plan that would have allowed NCAA member schools to pay certain athletes up to $5,000 a year in deferred compensation.

Last year, in a 2009 lawsuit filed by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, a U.S. District Court determined that the NCAA’s prohibition against student-athletes being paid for anything related to their sport is an unlawful restraint of trade in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

At the time, the judge said the NCAA could not stop schools from compensating students who played FBS football and Division I men’s basketball for the use of their likenesses through scholarships that cover the full cost of attending that college and through deferred payments of up to $5,000 per year that would be held in trust for student-athletes for after they leave college.

The NCAA appealed this ruling and this morning won a partial victory from the 9th Circuit, which agreed with the lower court that the NCAA’s rules forbidding compensation “have an anticompetitive effect on the college education market. Were it not for those rules… schools would compete with each other by offering recruits compensation exceeding the cost of attendance, which would ‘effectively lower the price that the recruits must pay for the combination of educational and athletic opportunities that the schools provide.'”

According to the court, student-athletes pay for college and its associated services through their labor and by allowing the schools to use their names, images, and likeness. However, by barring students from earning anything from these same very personal assets, the colleges have collectively agreed to put a price of “zero” on them.

Viewed through this lens, writes the court, “colleges and universities behave as a cartel — a group of sellers who have colluded to fix the price of their product.”

In appealing its case, the NCAA argued that the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in NCAA v Board of Regents declared the organization’s amateurism rules “valid as a matter of law.”

But the appeals panel says the the Supreme Court ruling in the Board of Regents case, which involved television rights for NCAA made no such determination.

“The Board of Regents Court certainly discussed the NCAA’s amateurism rules at great length, but it did not do so in order to pass upon the rules’ merits, given that they were not before the Court,” reads today’s opinion.

The Supreme Court’s intention in even bringing up the amateurism rules, notes the appeals court, was to show ‘why NCAA rules should be analyzed under the Rule of Reason, rather than held to be illegal per se.”

In other words, SCOTUS “did not approve the NCAA’s amateurism rules as categorically consistent with the Sherman Act. Rather, it held that, because many NCAA rules (among them, the amateurism rules) are part of the ‘character and quality of the [NCAA’s] ‘product,’’ no NCAA rule should be invalidated without a Rule of Reason analysis.”

The NCAA’s second bone of contention in its appeal was that the Sherman Act doesn’t apply to the NCAA rules because the rules don’t regulate commercial activity.

Again, the appeals panel disagreed, saying that “This argument is not credible” and point out that the modern legal understanding of “commerce” is broad, “including almost every activity from which the actor anticipates economic gain.”

“That definition surely encompasses the transaction in which an athletic recruit exchanges his labor and [naming, image, likeness] rights for a scholarship at a Division I school because it is undeniable that both parties to that exchange anticipate economic gain from it,” concludes the opinion.

The NCAA had tried to characterize the amateurism requirement as mere “eligibility rules” that don’t restrain any sort of commerce, but just because they are presented as eligibility guidelines doesn’t mean the rules aren’t subject to antitrust consideration, says the court.

“True enough, the compensation rules are written in the form of eligibility rules,” acknowledges the opinion. “The mere fact that a rule can be characterized as an ‘eligibility rule,’ however, does not mean the rule is not a restraint of trade; were the law otherwise, the NCAA could insulate its member schools’ relationships with student-athletes from antitrust scrutiny by renaming every rule governing student-athletes an ‘eligibility rule.’ The antitrust laws are not to be avoided by such ‘clever manipulation of words.'”

It’s the substance of the rules that matters to the court, explains the panel.

“And in substance, the rules clearly regulate the terms of commercial transactions between athletic recruits and their chosen schools: a school may not give a recruit compensation beyond a grant-in-aid, and the recruit may not accept compensation beyond that limit, lest the recruit be disqualified and the transaction vitiated,” reads the opinion, which says the NCAA is trying to perform some “sleight of hand” by cloaking the rules as eligibility requirements. “There is real money at issue here.”

The one important area in which the appeals panel differed from the lower court was the plan to allow for deferred cash payments to student-athletes.

The lower court identified that there were at least two pro-competitive justifications for the amateurism rule — preserving the NCAA’s popularity, and integrating athletics and academics — and ruled that deferred cash payments would have zero net effect on these positive aspects.

The appeals court determined that this ruling was made in error.

“[I]n finding that paying students cash compensation would promote amateurism as effectively as not paying them, the district court ignored that not paying student-athletes is precisely what makes them amateurs,” reads the opinion. “Having found that amateurism is integral to the NCAA’s market, the district court cannot plausibly conclude that being a poorly-paid professional collegiate athlete is ‘virtually as effective’ for that market as being as amateur.”

Instead of the cash payments, the appeals court determined that scholarships covering the full cost of an education would suffice as compensation for the use of players’ names and likenesses.

Thief Commandeers Forklift In Failed ATM Heist

(Ludovic Bertron)

ATMs tend to weigh quite a bit, that may be why would-be thieves often rely on the help of big machinery when attempting to make off with one of the money dispensing apparatuses — or its contents. Once such case occurred early this morning in North Dakota where ne’er-do-well(s) commandeered a forklift and tried to pilfer the contents of a Wells Fargo cash machine. 

The Dickinson Press reports that while no money was stolen from the ATM, the forklift used in the attempted robbery sustained about $2,000 in damages.

Police, who say they have no suspects, were alerted to the destruction of the ATM and the attempted theft of its contents after an alarm was triggered at around 12:14 a.m.

Upon arriving at the scene, officers found the forklift – with keys inside – rammed into the ATM.

A local business manager tells the Dickinson Press that the forklift used in the attempted robbery was taken from a nearby apartment location. The company says it will hand over any available surveillance video to authorities.

A spokesperson for Wells Fargo says the company is “thankful no one was harmed during the incident.”

UPDATE: Wells Fargo ATM destroyed by forklift in attempted robbery [The Dickinson Press]

Kohl’s Testing Cafe Concept At Two Wisconsin Locations

(Nicholas Eckhart)

Kohl’s is joining the ranks of retailers like Target, Sam’s Club, IKEA, Costco, and countless others in bringing weary shoppers what they really want: something to snack on while traipsing down the aisles checking off items from their list.

On Tuesday, Kohl’s began testing small in-store cafes at two of its locations in Wisconsin in an attempt to keep customers caffeinated and engaged while shopping, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

The new “Kohl’s Cafe” stores will serve select drinks from Caribou Coffee, as well as snacks, such as granola bars, breakfast bars, chips, cookies, and other quick-grab items.

The idea behind the pilot cafes is to keep consumers in stores longer, increasing the chance they’ll buy more stuff.

“You want the customer to dwell more,” Jon Grosso, executive vice president and director of stores for Kohl’s said. “You want them to spend time in the building.”

The test is the latest venture in the company’s “Greatness Agenda,” an initiative to increase the chain’s sluggish sales by around $2 billion by 2017, the Journal Sentinel reports.

The 1,166-store retailer previously revamped its beauty sections and launched online order pickup at some stores.

Grosso tells the Journal Sentinel that the company doesn’t have immediate plans to expand the cafe concept, but never say never.

“We want to test and learn and see what we can do in 2016,” he said. “…And then, wherever we expand it, if and when we do, we want to apply those (lessons).”

Kohl’s testing small cafes as part of moves to re-energize sales [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

Police: Man Got A Manicure, Then Robbed The Nail Salon

(Yellow Sky Photography)
It’s one thing to walk into a business and demand cash, but police say a man suspected of robbing a Philadelphia nail salon sat through a manicure first, getting his nails nicely trimmed and buffed before grabbing cash from the register.

According to police, the man came in near closing time and asked for a manicure, reports CBS Philly. When it was time to pay for the service, however, he demanded the cashier hand him money instead, allegedly pointing a gun at her.

“It’s pretty nervy to sit into a nail salon and actually get a manicure and then produce a gun and announce a robbery you know. And he was very serious about what he was doing,” said a Philadelphia police captain.

Surveillance video shows the suspect trying to snatch money from the worker’s hand and then grabbing for more in the register (if he did get any nail polish, he surely messed it up at that point). Police say he also stole a cell phone and money from a worker’s purse. Once he had what he wanted, he left.

Police are investigating whether he could possibly be responsible for other robberies in the area, and are hoping the video from the salon will help identify him.

Police: Man Gets Manicure, Allegedly Robs Nail Salon [CBS Philadelphia]

New TiVo Bolt Will Let You Skip Some Ad Breaks With Push Of A Button (For $150/Year)

tivoboltTiVo’s new Bolt DVR has some neat-sounding functions — the ability to skip ad breaks at the press of a button [big asterisk] or speed up what you’re watching by 30% without screwing with the audio — and it’s also 4K compatible and provides an all-in-one portal for access to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon. But it does so, not just at a hefty retail price, but with a subscription requirement that might turn potential customers away.

The TiVo Bolt comes with two hard drive sizes: 500 GB and 1,000 GB, for $300 and $400, respectively. Given that TiVo boxes can often be used to replace your cable company’s set-top receiver/DVR, that price isn’t really so bad when you spread the cost out over a few years.

But after those first twelve months, you’ll need to start factoring in the TiVo subscription fee. This currently runs $150/year.

So say you buy the 500GB one and keep it for four years before upgrading to something new. By that point, between the device cost and the subscription, you’ll have spent $750 (assuming the yearly subscription fee doesn’t increase), coming out to $15.65/month on average. After five years ($900 total), that average is still at $15/month. That’s still more than you’re likely paying each month for your cable company’s leased DVR.

That’s not to say people should or will write off the Bolt. Some may see these new features as worth it, while others would be happy to simply not be paying that money to their cable company.

Regarding the “big asterisk” referenced at the beginning? The Bolt’s “SkipMode,” which lets you jump over a commercial break with a single button press, doesn’t work on all recordings. In fact, it will only work on about 20 channels.

The device is already on sale through the TiVo site and It will hit retail store shelves starting Oct. 4.

Thirteen Manufacturers Recall 1.3 Million Bikes Over Quick-Release Lever Crash Hazard

Opened quick-release levers on nearly 1.3 million bikes can come into contact with brake rotors, leading to an increased risk of crashes and injuries to riders.

Thirteen companies are recalling nearly 1.3 million bicycles equipped with front disc brakes and quick-release levers that can cause the front tire to lock up or completely separate from the bike, posing an increased risk of injury to riders. 

The voluntary recall, which involves 17 different bike brands produced between 1998 and 2015, was initiated because of the risk that an open quick-release lever can come in contact with the brake rotor and cause the front wheel to stop suddenly or separate from the bicycle.

According to a notice from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the issue occurs when the quick-release lever is fully opened – meaning there is less than six millimeters of space between the lever and the disc brake rotor on the bike wheel.

Bicycles that do not have disc brakes are not included in the recall. The CPSC released a video to assist owners in identifying if their bike is involved in the recall.

There have been three incidents reported in which an open quick-release lever on a bicycle’s front wheel hub came into contact with the bike’s front disc brake assembly and caused the front wheel to come to a sudden stop or separate from the bicycle.

In one case, a man suffered a broken finger, a wrist injury, a shoulder injury and abrasions. The other two incidents did not result in injuries.

Consumers are advised to immediately stop using the affected bikes – which sold from between $200 and $10,000 at bike shops nationwide – and contact the recalling company for the free installation of a new quick-release on the front wheel.

In addition to the roughly 1.3 million bikes covered by the recall in the U.S., nearly 245,000 of the bikes were sold in Canada, and 9,000 in Mexico.

Here’s a full list of recalled bikes and manufacturers:
Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 11.02.09 AM

Moms Try To Snag Taylor Swift Tickets, Get Scammed Twice

Two moms wanted to take their daughters to see Taylor Swift when she played in St. Louis recently, but didn’t have tickets. That’s fine: that’s what the underground ticket economy is for, right? In theory, but they managed to get scammed twice in one night by two different ticket sellers, and missed the concert.

The night of the concert, they found a listing for tickets through Craigslist. Nothing raised any warning flags for them, until they sent off an online payment and waited for the e-mail notification that their tickets had been transferred. They kept waiting, but no tickets came.

Fine: there should be plenty of people hawking tickets outside the stadium doors, right? They found a friendly neighborhood scalper outside venue and got to business. “They went back and forth with each other, made us feel like we were getting really a bargain,” the mom who didn’t negotiate said.

Counterfeit tickets aren’t a bargain at any price, though, and that’s what they bought. (Negotiating on the price makes you feel more confident that the deal is real.)

On the third try, they successfully bought real tickets and got to attend the concert, but not without losing money to scammers twice.

Sometimes we all have to turn to the secondary market for tickets, but you can protect yourself while doing so. Deal with verified sellers when dealing in tickets. If you’re buying them right outside the door, and that’s legal in your area, have the seller walk you to the turnstile and take a picture of them: if they’re trying to sell you bogus tickets, they won’t do either of those things.

Mothers scammed twice over Taylor Swift concert tickets [KTVI]

Caffeinated Peanut Butter Now Exists Because Time Is Precious

If you have a tough time making it through lunch because your morning cup of coffee just isn’t enough, one Massachusetts company says it has the perfect product — caffeinated peanut butter that packs a punch equal to a cup of coffee in just one tablespoon. No more sleeping through that PB&J.

Steem touts its product as all-natural, with its only ingredients peanuts, salt, peanut oil and agave nectar, reports the Boston Herald. The caffeine comes from green-coffee extract that’s mixed into the spread.

“It’s a time-saver; your two favorite products in one jar,” Steem co-founder Chris Pettazzoni told the Herald.

This is also great news for people known to live off caffeine and peanut butter for long stretches of time due to sheer laziness (yes, I am that person, and I have no regrets).

Unsurprisingly, the idea came from a conversation between Steem’s business partners, who were trying to drum up new hangover cures. Because who hasn’t dug into a tub of peanut butter with a spoon after a particularly boozy Saturday night?

“The unsaturated fats actually create bonds with the caffeine so the digestion process is slower and results in a steady release of energy,” Pettazzoni said.

*Thanks to Consumerist reader Jenny for the tip!

Caffeinated peanut butter is now being made in Massachusetts [Boston Herald]

Whole Foods Says It Will Stop Selling Prisoner-Made Products Made By April 2016

(Glyn Lowe Photoworks)
After a protest at one of its Texas stores, Whole Foods says it will no longer sell products made using a prison labor program. The company has sold tilapia and goat cheese produced through a Colorado inmate program at some stores since 2011, and now plans to have the products out of stores by April 2016 or sooner.

A prison reform advocate who organized a protest at a Whole Foods store in Houston this past weekend said the company told him it’d be changing its policy. Though other companies sell products produced through inmate programs, he said it was hypocritical of Whole Foods to do so, due to how the company presents itself.

“They say they care about the community, but they’re enhancing their profit off of poor people,” he told the Associated Press, adding that prisoners usually don’t make much money for their work.

A Whole Foods spokesman said that the company had sourced prisoner-made products as a way to “help people get back on their feet and eventually become contributing members of society,” but that it chose to stop doing so because some customers were uncomfortable with it.

Whole Foods to stop selling products made by prisoners [Associated Press]

Twitter Expands Availability Of “Buy Now” Buttons

Twitter announced an expansion of its Buy Now button.

A year after Twitter began dipping its toes in the waters of e-commerce by testing “Buy Now” buttons,buttons, the company is expanding its foray into retail sales with new partnerships intended to give more businesses the ability to sell their wares directly through Twitter.

According to the official Twitter blog, it has made deals with e-commerce platforms Bigcommerce, Demandware, and Shopify. These partnerships will enable retailers and brands like Best Buy, Adidas, and PacSun to sell their products straight to customers without requiring them to take their eyes off their Twitter feed.

“Today, as we begin rolling out to a wider group of platforms and partners, people will have even more opportunities to discover and purchase products from the brands they love on Twitter,” Nathan Hubbard, Twitter’s head of commerce, writes in a blog post about the new expansion.

While the buttons are, for now, a U.S.-only option, Twitter believes the step will open a larger revenue stream beyond advertising.

“The goal for all our commerce initiatives on Twitter is simple: make it as easy as possible for businesses to connect directly with, and sell to, customers on Twitter,” Hubbard wrote. “With Buy Now, businesses can drive more conversions and remove much of the friction in the mobile purchasing process.”

Twitter first began utilizing Buy Now buttons in Sept. 2014, in tests that included just 26 handpicked musical artists and nonprofit organizations at the start, and just two brands.

The social network says it plans to continue growing its ecommerce business in coming months.

“As we continue to develop new products and expand the ecosystem of platforms and partners in the social commerce space, we can help even more brands and customers connect on social and mobile,” Hubbard said.

Wednesday’s announcement comes just two weeks after online payments company Stripe – one of the networks original ecommerce  partners – announced it would start letting  retailers sell their goods directly on the social media network through its new product Stripe Relay.

According to Stripe, Relay lets merchants compose one buy button that can be placed on Twitter and other apps in as little as 30 seconds, streamlining a process that previously required customers to click through to retailer’s own websites — a task that can be complicated on smartphones.


Virgin America To Offer Free In-Flight WiFi For Netflix Subscribers

Netflix customers who’ve wished they could download content to bring with them on their mobile devices when they fly still won’t be able to do that, but they will be able to stream video on some Virgin America planes by way of a new partnership that gives Netflix subscribers free WiFi.

The offer will last until March 2, 2016, the two companies said in a press release, and is only available on those planes equipped with Virgin America’s new ViaSat WiFi, which the airline says delivers internet speeds that are typically eight to 10 times faster than any other in-flight WiFi system.

“This advances our goal to bring Netflix to members wherever they are and whenever they want,” Bill Holmes, global head of business development at Netflix said. “For us, the future of streaming technology is about delivering an on-demand service that takes advantage of the expansion of Wi-Fi to public places, parks, and now airplanes.”

To access free WiFi on Virgin planes included in the partnership, passengers will open a browser and sign into the ViaSat network. They’ll then be prompted to either log in to their existing Netflix accounts or create a new, free 30-day trial account (which is great for Netflix’s goal of gaining new subscribers). This of course means you’ll have to bring your own device to watch Netflix, though Virgin will also offer seasons 1-3 of the Netflix series House of Cards on all seat-back screens.

The partnership is in line with Netflix’s anti-downloading stance — the company has said in the past that people shouldn’t have to download content if there’s quality WiFi service available.

It’s also similar to a somewhat recent initiative from JetBlue and Amazon: in May, the airline started offering free streaming to Amazon Prime subscribers. Though customers might need even need to take advantage of that deal if they plan ahead, as Amazon now offers downloads for its Prime members to watch video offline on iOS and Android devices as well.

AT&T Touts “Lower Prices” For Gigabit Internet; Still Charges $40 More If Google Fiber Isn’t Around

gigapowerIf you have AT&T wireless service, your voice/data plan is going to cost you the same amount of money each month regardless of your home address. But AT&T’s broadband division isn’t taking this one-price-fits-all approach, and is continuing to sell broadband access that can range in price by $40/month, depending on where you live… and apparently whether Google Fiber is in the area.

Yesterday, the Death Star touted GigaPower availability in more than a half-dozen new GigaPower markets, including Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville, Orlando, Miami, and San Antonio.

We noticed that — rather than make a big splash about this news with one huge press release — AT&T broke down each market into its own statement. Why? One reason has to be that prices can vary so much from area to area.

In Atlanta and Nashville, GigaPower starts at $70/month for 1Gbps data speeds.

But in Chicago and Miami, where AT&T boasts of now offering “lower prices,” the monthly rate is $80, but for 300 Mbps data speeds.

That’s correct: $10/month more for slower access. If you want the full gigabit access available from AT&T in these markets, you’ll have to pay $110/month, more than a 50% price increase from the other areas.

The price difference can’t be attributed to AT&T’s questionable “Internet Preferences” program that offers a discount to users willing to let their online use be tracked and sold off by the company. The press releases make it clear that being part of this program is required for getting this advertised price.

The obvious link between the cities with the lower rates is that they are all currently being built out by Google Fiber, which charges, you guessed it, $70/month for gigabit broadband.

We pointed out this connection in the spring after noting that Austin, where Google had just begun to sell Fiber, was getting the $70 price while Cupertino, CA, an area that is merely under consideration by Google, was being charged the $110/month rate.

The fact that AT&T believes it can charge $40/month more just because no one else in a market is offering a comparable service only underscores the need for increased competition in high-speed broadband service. When more companies are selling comparable services, no single operator can dictate what consumers should pay.

Legislation Would Hold For-Profit College Leaders Accountable For Misrepresentations


Lawmakers on Tuesday continued their mission to protect consumers from unscrupulous players in the for-profit college industry by introducing legislation that would impose stiffer penalties and restrictions on the leaders of such institutions. 

The Students Before Profit Act – introduced by Senators Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, and Dick Durbin, of Illinois – aims to protect students from deceptive practices and bad actors in the for-profit college sector by better holding schools and their executives accountable for violations and poor performance.

“For-profit colleges and their executives shouldn’t be able to get away with cheating students and leaving them with huge debt loads while these schools rake in big profits off of federal loans,” Senator Warren said in a statement. “This bill creates better tools to strengthen accountability and to protect both students and taxpayers when colleges and their executives break the law.”

Under the Act, the Department of Education would receive broader discretion to require owners and executives of for-profit colleges to assume liability for financial losses associated with Title IV funds.

The Dept. of Education can also pursue claims against these owners and executives after discharging borrowers’ student loans.

Additionally, the Act would authorize enhanced civil penalties on institutions and their executive officers if it is determined that the college misrepresented its cost, admission requirements, completion rates, employment prospects or default rates.

Fines paid by the schools, or its executives, for these issues would be filtered into a Student Relief Fund to help potentially defrauded students.

The Students Before Profit Act also aims to improve oversight of any default rate manipulations. To do so, the Act requires the Secretary of Education to use corrected data to recalculate student loan cohort default rates for institutions of higher education that have engaged in default manipulation. The Secretary would then make determinations on whether an institution should be disqualified from participating in financial aid programs.

Finally, the law would prevent “repeat offenders” – those who have once served in an executive position or on a board at a for-profit college that the Dept. of Education has brought an enforcement action upon – from holding leadership positions at another higher education institution.

“Too many students looking for a quality college education have found themselves at for-profit institutions that are more concerned with profit margins than career readiness,” Brown said in a statement. “These bad actors have misled students about graduation rates, job prospects, and cost – leaving them battling debt and unable to find work in their fields. This legislation would help protect students while also holding for-profit educational institutions accountable to taxpayers.”

Target Will Price-Match 29 Competitors’ Websites

Beginning tomorrow, October 1, Target will price-match the websites of 29 major retailers in stores and for purchases from their website. These include the usual big names that you might expect, like Amazon, Walmart, and Best Buy, but also some major specialty retailers like Sports Authority and cosmetics retailer Ulta.

Target has only price-matched the websites of a few retailers until now: those were Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, Toys ‘R’ Us, and Babies ‘R’ Us. The new list expands price-matching beyond the online outlets of local retailers with physical stores. If you don’t happen to have a Buy Buy Baby in your area, for example, but they have an excellent sale, Target will price-match the website.

Target’s existing price-matching policy doesn’t allow customers to match with items available from third-party sellers, who might post an item at an unrealistically low price for the sole purpose of price-matching.

They’re also matching online prices from two warehouse clubs, Costco and Sam’s Club. It’s not clear whether you need to be a member of one of those clubs to get the online price of an item from Target.

Price-matching has become much easier in an era where many shoppers carry smartphones, and Target even thoughtfully provides in-store wi-fi. Yet making it available is also a little bit deceptive: exclusive and store-brand items can’t be price-matched because they simply aren’t available from other retailers. Target will price-match Kohl’s, for example, but Kohl’s mostly carries its own brands.

For the curious, here’s the full list of Target’s new online price-matching buddies:

Amazon, Babies ‘R’ Us, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Buy Buy Baby, Costco, CVS,, Dick’s Sporting Goods,, GameStop, JCPenney, Kmart, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Newegg, Office Depot, Petco, Petsmart, Sam’s Club, Sears, Sports Authority, Staples, Toys ‘R’ Us, Ulta, Walgreens, Walmart, and Wayfair.

Target expands price-matching policy to 29 rivals [Star-Tribune]

mardi 29 septembre 2015

Ralph Lauren Steps Down As CEO Of Ralph Lauren

(MIKI Yoshihito)
For the first time since the company’s founding, Ralph Lauren will not be running the Ralph Lauren Corporation. The 75-year-old plans to stay on as executive chairman and maybe design some ties or something, but the new chief executive officer will be Stefan Larsson, formerly head of Gap’s Old Navy brand and of H&M.

If that sounds like an odd match to you, it might be. H&M and Old Navy are mostly known for fashionable(ish) clothes at cheap prices and quick turnaround when a new trend comes up. Ralph Lauren is known for… well, that’s sort of the problem that the company has right now.

Ralph Lauren (the company) has a lot of labels. It’s a designer line that you can’t afford, and then some sort of affordable lines, and then some factory outlets that are even more affordable, furniture and paint, and some clothing items that license the name but come from other companies. The company has been heading toward developing its luxury brands and seeking higher prestige, yet hired their new CEO from the most mass-market retailer in the average mall.

Ralph Lauren (the person) says that he will stay with the company for now, serving as executive chairman and creative director. His company has been unusual in that one person was in charge of the business and creative sides of the company, as he generally has been. “When they start designing things I can’t understand, I’ll quit,” the 75-year-old said during an interview with the New York Times before the announcement.

Ralph Lauren, Creator of Fashion Empire, Is Stepping Down as C.E.O. [New York Times]

Amazon Flex Launches In Seattle, Allows Regular Joes To Earn Money Delivering Prime Now Packages

(Akira Ohgaki)

Amazon’s latest attempt to quickly and cheaply deliver packages got underway in Seattle on Tuesday with the launch of the company’s consumer-turned-courier program, Amazon Flex. 

The program, which was first speculated about in June, allows any regular ol’ Joe to earn $18-$25 per hour by delivering Amazon Prime Now packages out of their own cars while out-and-about.

According to the Amazon Flex site, delivery drivers must own their own cars, have valid drivers’ licenses, be over the age of 21, pass a background check, and own an Android smartphone.

For now, the company is prohibiting deliveries from being made on bikes or on foot.

Once drivers are approved, they will be given access to Amazon’s proprietary delivery app, which can be used to choose delivery shifts any day of the week.

The shifts can be as short as two hours or as long as 12 hours, but must be in two-hour increments. A driver’s delivery roster and area of coverage is then determined by the length of their shift. Deliveries can be picked up at an Amazon location nearest to the driver.

Back in August, “Flex” signs were spotted at the company’s recently opened Kirkland, WA, facility. Signs inside the new location describe the Flex method as much like waiting in line at the deli counter: consumers take a numbered ticket, watch for their number to be displayed on the wall and pick up their packages once their number is shown.

While it was unclear at the time whether the service was for customers to pick up their own packages, it appears the lines are for the new delivery drivers.

[via Ars Technica]

Feds Recommend Overhaul Of Student Loan Servicing

Earlier this year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau launched a public probe into potentially anti-consumer practices of the student loan servicing industry. More than 30,000 people responded, leading the Bureau, along with the Departments of Education and Treasury, to release a framework they hope will curb these questionable practices, promote borrower success, and minimize defaults.

The report [PDF] highlights the key issues that concern many borrowers and includes recommendations on how those problems can be handled.

Borrower Benefits and Consumer Protections
Borrowers complained about their difficulties in obtaining accurate and comprehensible information on alternative repayment programs and other benefits, including income-driven repayment plans.

In some cases, commenters said their servicers, instead of providing information regarding payment plans, had suggested they postpone payments through forbearance or deferment, or instructed them that the only available option was to pay the full amount due.

“The availability of ANY student loan repayment system is poor at best,” reads one comment. “The online system only allows for minimal direct contact with a person and is completely inflexible. When you reach someone on the phone, after an eternal wait, they do not provide thorough information regarding all the options available to anyone in repayment.”

In other instances, borrowers say they were not given pertinent information about plans unless they took the step of inquiring directly about these options.

Servicing Transfers
Like other loans, student debt can often be sold from servicer to servicer without the borrower’s approval. But borrowers say they often aren’t being made aware of the change in servicer, resulting in confusion about new policies and practices, and sometimes leading to missed and late payments, and other problems.

Customer Service and Error Resolution
Many people who filed comments with the CFPB mentioned having difficulty in accessing accurate account information and then addressing errors that could dramatically impact their credit reports and scores.

“I submitted a payment for $75 and my service processor lost the payment,” one borrower tells the CFPB. “Somehow they were able to send me a letter stating they had received a check but did not know which account to apply it to. From there I was instructed to send a copy of the original check in reference to the letter. I received no confirmation and my account went into default. The people who handled my phone call transferred me from department to department and still after 4 years have not been able to remedy the situation because my loan has been transferred to 2 different loan services since my initial complaint.”

Payment Processing
When you send in more than you owe one month, do you know how your loan servicer will apply that overage? Servicers are not consistent on this, and many consumers are consequently in the dark. This is just one of the processing-related issues highlighted in the report.

Others included commenters who making monthly payments in the amount instructed by their servicer, but who continued to experience errors, leading to the payments being flagged as missed, which means unexpected late fees, and surprise interest charges.

A borrower says his servicer delayed applying his payment by up to 21 days, which meant his loan was accruing more interest than it should. In one case, he says the servicer simply never applied one payment he received.

The CFPB also found that consumers experienced issues in receiving notifications regarding their payments due and statements detailing previous action on their accounts.

Practices That Affect Specific Borrower Segments
According to the report, certain borrower groups — like servicemembers, veterans, and older Americans — experienced problems related to their particular circumstances.

For example, some servicemembers tell the CFPB that they were guided into military deferments or forbearance and were not told that their total loan debt would balloon at the end of their military service due to accrued interest.

Likewise, older borrowers who co-signed on private student loans, stated their payments are misapplied to all loans held by the primary borrower, instead of only the loans they have an obligation to.

The agency made a number of recommendations for improving the servicing industry, including:

Create consistent, industry-wide standards for the entire servicing market: The market currently lacks consistent standards that cover the servicing of all private and federal student loans. Consistent standards should help ensure that consumers know what to expect from their student loan servicer and that distressed borrowers can access available assistance.

Hold servicers accountable: Regulators must continue to act to protect borrowers if errors occur or if servicers break the law. Consumers should be able to access adequate customer service to answer questions and resolve errors.

Provide access to clear, timely information: The agencies call for information provided by servicers to be accurate and actionable, ensuring borrowers are empowered to make choices that encourage borrower success and mitigate defaults.

“The process for education loan servicing today is a mess,” explains Suzanne Martindale, our colleague and staff attorney for Consumers Union. “Your servicer is supposed to manage your account and help you avoid default. Too often, a servicer provides the student with information that isn’t accurate or consistent, and that can drive students deeper into debt. Students and families deserve better treatment from their loan servicers, and they truly need change now.”