lundi 29 février 2016

Alfalfa Sprouts Under Investigation For Salmonella And E. Coli Formally Recalled

(Erin Collins)
Last week, we brought you the news that there were two unrelated investigations into bean sprout producers, but no recalls yet. Maybe, we thought, it’s time to put warning labels on sprouts served raw in sandwich shops and salad bars, telling people to eat at their own risk. Now the sprouts involved in both incidents have been formally recalled.

Salmonella were was found in the water and some sprout samples taken from Sweetwater Farms in Kansas, giving the company and health authorities information about which lot and type of sprouts to recall. They were alfalfa sprouts (the type seen growing in the picture on this article) and they’ve been linked to 13 illnesses in 4 states.

Over at Jack and the Green Sprouts in Wisconsin, they still aren’t sure which products may be contaminated with E. coli, but do know that illnesses were linked to the company’s alfalfa sprouts. The company has put out a recall notice for alfalfa and alfalfa onion sprouts, but it contains confusing statements like this:

Health officials recommend not eating any alfalfa sprouts produced by Jack & The Green Sprouts. Currently, there is no evidence that any products produced by Jack & The Green Sprouts are contaminated.

That simply means that they haven’t found an uneaten sprout that’s contaminated with bacteria, but officials still want consumers to use caution and avoid products that have been linked to illnesses. The FDA takes it a little further if you’re in a group of people that can be vulnerable to foodborne illnesses: they warn that young children, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, and pregnant women should avoid sprouts altogether.

Oregon Police Thank “Anonymous Shopping Cart Guy” For Tripping Up Fleeing Suspect

(Portland Police)
Some heroes wear capes and have an arsenal of tools to fight crime hanging from their fancy utility belts. Other heroes, of the everyday sort, have different weapons at their disposal. To wit: one brave, mysterious shopper known only as “anonymous shopping cart guy” sacrificed his groceries to stop a fleeing suspect in Portland, OR.

Our hero shoved his shopping cart in the path of a man who police were trying to catch, after he was spotted jaywalking, “nearly being hit by several drivers,” Portland Police said in a recent Facebook post.

When officers contacted him in the parking lot of a Fred Meyer supermarket, the suspect fled into the store. During the chase, “an unidentified shopper rolled his shopping cart into the path of the fleeing suspect, causing him to crash onto the floor, which allowed officers to catch up and take him into custody.”

The suspect wasn’t injured, but he was arrested and charged with Disorderly Conduct in the Second Degree, Interfering with a Peace Officer and a parole violation. The mystery shopper righted his cart, picked up his groceries, and kept on shopping.

Police posted a video of the incident, saying that “[T]he officers wanted to thank him for sacrificing his groceries to stop a fleeing suspect.

Sprint Finds Another Retail Buddy To Open 500 More Stores

(Misfit Photographer)
A year ago, RadioShack filed for bankruptcy protection, and a little less than half of their retail stores were sold to a major creditor. That creditor in turn teamed up with Sprint to re-open the Shacks with mini-Sprint stores inside. Opening new stores with a buddy has apparently worked well for Sprint, and now they’re teaming up with the biggest mobile retailer in Europe to open 500 more stores in the U.S.

If that sounds familiar, you’ve been paying very, very close attention to mobile retail news in the last year or so. Sprint and Dixons Carphone, their partner in this project, announced their joint venture last summer, but that was a pilot project to see whether Sprint/Dixons stores would work.

Dixons Carphone is the result of a merger between two UK companies, Dixons and Carphone Warehouse. When the pilot deal was announced, CNET reported that Dixons tried to enter the US electronics market by purchasing the chain Silo back in the ’80s, while Carphone Warehouse partnered with Best Buy to open stores in the UK that ultimately didn’t succeed.

The 20-store pilot in this case has succeeded, though, and the 50-50 joint venture plans to open a total of 500 stores across the United States.

Sprint Decides It Needs 500 More Stores, Partners With U.K.’s Dixons [Re/Code]
Sprint and Dixons Carphone announce 500 new U.S. retail stores [Kansas City Star]

AGs Seek Better Protections For Servicemembers Deceived By For-Profit Colleges

(Hammerin Man)

Federal regulators must do more to protect servicemembers from unscrupulous colleges seeking to get their hands on their education benefits. That’s the message eight states want to get across to the secretary of Veteran Affairs following reports that some for-profit colleges target military personnel using predatory practices. 

The attorneys general from California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Mexico, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, and Kentucky urged secretary of Veteran Affairs, Robert McDonald, to use his authority to restore education and vocational benefits to thousands of servicemembers who enrolled at for-profit colleges because of deceptive and misleading enrollment tactics, such as those used by now-defunct Corinthian Colleges.

While the Department of Education has agreed to discharge student loans for some former Corinthian College students, the attorneys general ask the Department of Veterans Affairs to do its part.

“Rather than being honored, the veterans who enrolled in Corinthian schools were cheated out of these benefits,” the letter states. “ED has acted to remedy the harms suffered by student borrowers who were defrauded by Corinthian and other unscrupulous institutions—we respectfully urge you to act in harmony with your sister agencies and offer similar relief to student veterans who were harmed by precisely the same misconduct.”

Veterans have long been prime targets for unscrupulous for-profit colleges and their recruitment officers, thanks in part to federal funding provisions.

Under the current federal rule – known as the 90/10 rule and used to cap for-profit colleges’ federal funding – for-profit colleges and universities are barred from deriving more than 90% of their revenue from the U.S. Department of Education’s federal student aid programs. The other 10% needs to come from sources other than the federal government.

However, tuition assistance such as the GI Bill for servicemembers and MyCAA for their spouses are not included in the 90/10 calculation. That essentially allows for-profit colleges who enroll veterans to count federal funds for 100% of their funding. Once a servicemembers’ funds have been used they can’t get them back.

The attorneys general specifically asked McDonald to restore these benefits to veterans who attended institutions found to use erroneous, deceptive, or misleading advertising, sales or enrollment practices.

“This relief should be provided when a regulatory or enforcement action is taken by the U.S. Department of Education, a State Approving Agency, or a State Attorney General after a showing of misconduct, or when a court enters a judgment against a school, or upon application by a veteran or group of veterans alleging that an educational program or college has been deceptive or misleading,” the letter states.

The states also seek to end the for-profit industry’s allegedly predatory marketing campaigns and aggressive recruitment of military members and their families by ensuring servicemembers are provided accurate information about the schools and informing them about the potential consequences of utilizing educational benefits at schools that have been subject to investigations or lawsuits.

“Specifically, we urge you to include additional conditions under which a ‘caution flag’ is
raised on the GI Bill Comparison Tool,” the letter states. “This tool could be further improved by flagging schools that are the subject of investigation or lawsuits filed by state agencies, including State Attorneys General and State Approving Agencies.”

The AGs also urge the VA to support the efforts of state approving agencies and other offices.

“We urge you to ensure that the VA is working collaboratively with and supporting the efforts of the State Approving Agencies and Attorneys General in this context,” the letter states. “It is only through such collaboration that we can protect our student veterans and prevent future misconduct.”

Legislators and regulators have recently taken a tougher stance when it comes to for-profit colleges and veterans and servicemembers.

In October, the Department of Defense put University of Phoenix on probation, meaning the school is barred from recruiting on U.S. military installations, and its participation in the DoD Tuition Assistance Program for active duty military personnel is on hold.

According to an earlier report from Reveal, the University of Phoenix received $20 million in military tuition assistance from the Pentagon last year and $1.2 billion in GI Bill benefits since 2009.

The Department of Defense announced it would take the University of Phoenix off probation, allowing the school to once again recruit on military bases and participate in servicemember tuition assistance programs.

The DOD freed the company of its probationary status based on an internal review, the school’s response to department concerns, and university administrators’ cooperation.

The college chain will still be subject to a “heightened compliance review” for a year, according to a Defense Department official.

DMV Report: Google Self-Driving Car Hit City Bus While Changing Lanes

Google has been quick to point out in the past that its self-driving cars haven’t been at fault for any of the accidents they’ve been involved in. In what could be the first incident that’s the driverless car’s fault, a California Department of Motor Vehicles report says a Google Lexus hit a city bus while in autonomous mode.

According to the report [PDF] (first noted by writer Mark Harris on Twitter), the Google autonomous vehicle, or AV, was traveling in autonomous mode in the right-hand lane, as it was attempting to turn right on a red light.

But the Google AV had to stop and go around sandbags that were positioned around a storm drain in its way, so when the light turned Green, the car let a few cars pass and then started to move into the center of the lane to pass the sand bags.

“A public transit bus was approaching from behind,” the report says. “The Google AV test driver saw the bus approaching in the left side mirror but believed the bus would stop or slow to allow the Google AV to continue.”

That wasn’t the case: about three seconds later, the Google AV came into contact with the side of the bus, the report says. The car was going less than 2 mph, while the bus was traveling at 15 mph when they hit each other. The Google vehicle sustained body damage to the left front fender, the left front wheel and one of its driver’s -side sensors. There were no injuries reported at the scene.

Google will be sharing its monthly self-driving report soon, so it’s likely that the company will include more details about the accident then. In the meantime, we’ve reached out to Google for comment, and will update this post if we hear back.

Here are the full details from the report:

A Google Lexus-model autonomous vehicle (“Google AV”) was traveling in autonomous mode eastbound on El Camino Real in Mountain View in the far right-hand lane approaching the Castro St. intersection. As the Google AV approached the intersection, it signaled its intent to make a right turn on red onto Castro St. The Google AV then moved to the right-hand side of the lane to pass traffic in the same lane that was stopped at the intersection and proceeding straight. However, the Google AV had to come to a stop and go around sandbags positioned around a storm drain that were blocking its path. When the light turned green, traffic in the lane continued past the Google AV. After a few cars had passed, the Google AV began to proceed back into the center of the lane to pass the sand bags. A public transit bus was approaching from behind. The Google AV test driver saw the bus approaching in the left side mirror but believed the bus would stop or slow to allow the Google AV to continue. Approximately three seconds later, as the Google AV was reentering the center of the lane it made contact with the side of the bus. The Google AV was operating in autonomous mode and traveling at less than 2 mph, and the bus was travelling at about 15 mph at the time of contact.

The Google AV sustained body damage to the left front fender, the left front wheel and one of its driver’s -side sensors. There were no injuries reported at the scene.

Airbnb Guests Find Decomposing Body In French Rental’s Garden

We’ve heard of Airbnb horror stories before — from nightmare renters who refuse to leave, to guests who find hidden cameras watching them — but this might be one of the worst, and saddest: renters staying at a house near Paris discovered the decomposing body of a woman in the home’s garden.

A group of friends staying at the seven-bedroom house with a swimming pool were paying around $435 per night for their party weekend, in a ritzy town 12 miles southwest of Paris, reports The Associated Press.

“Her body was found at the bottom of the property which opens out into a woods,” a police source said, according to The Guardian.

Foul play is suspected. The listing was removed on Sunday.

Airbnb guests shocked by decomposing corpse in garden [The Guardian]
Weekend renters find corpse in Paris garden of Airbnb rental [The Associated Press]

Waffles Are Serious Business, So Which Makers Are The Best?

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 1.27.55 PMI’ll be the first to admit it, I’m not a breakfast person. I know, that’s crazy. But I married into a breakfast family, and not just plain jane morning meal enthusiasts; we’re talking dedicated waffle fans. The waffle maker sitting in my cupboard is probably the only appliance my husband knows how to use, and finding that machine was a test of patience for yours truly. 

But shopping for the appliance may be a bit easier for you, thanks to our colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports who so bravely took up the challenge to find the best waffle maker in the land.

CR tested half a dozen of the most popular waffle makers on the market; from all-in-one makers to those that cook on the stove.

The appliances were tested on high and low settings, and scored based on the consistency of browning from side to side, and batch to batch.

Looking for more breakfast tips? Check out three maple syrup facts everyone should know.

The final verdict: sometimes you have to spend a little more dough for a perfect breakfast item. CR found the $100 Cuisinart Breakfast Central consistently turned out evenly cooked waffles, and beeps when it’s done cooking.

Additionally, it has removable griddles for easy cleaning.

Of course, no waffle is complete without a little sweet syrup on top. To that end, CR tested 14 different maple syrups.

Testers found that all were pretty good and suggest customers buy based on price. Top contenders for vale included Costco’s Kirkland’s Signature Organic Maple and Trader Joe’s 100% Vermont Maple Syrup. Leap Year Promotion Specifically Excludes Pretty Much Every Hotel Everywhere

Marketers are having a lot of fun with the idea of Leap Day, which is nice: it’s a fun non-holiday that everyone who uses the Gregorian calendar can appreciate, but that a marketer didn’t have to invent. One promotion at seems like a nice idea–in a virtual drawing, customers can choose a coupon worth up to 29% off their total hotel bill–but the key question is which hotel?

That’s an important question, because the list of hotel chains and individual hotels specifically excluded from this promotion puts coupon-exclusion offenders like Macy’s, Babies ‘R’ Us, Petco, and Kmart.

The exclusions are pretty standard, though they make it clear that you wouldn’t want to plan an actual vacation around any bookings that you made with this coupon, considering these items under the terms:

2. Participating hotels are subject to change.


7. We reserve the right to change or withdraw the offer at any time and to cancel any bookings made where the coupon has been used to make any speculative, false or fraudulent bookings or any bookings in anticipation of demand.

Fine, they don’t want you booking a room for the next Super Bowl and then reselling it on the side. We get that. The site having the right to change your booking is problematic, though, and so is the list of excluded hotels, which seems to exclude every hotel on the planet, including all the major global chains. We hit “print” just to see how long the document would be if printed out: it would be 39 pages long.

Motel 6? There. Hilton? There. Mariott? Definitely. Days Inn is missing from the exclusion list, but some of their local outposts have excluded themselves. There must be others, but it still seems like a list that would have been a lot shorter if they had listed the hotels where you can use the coupon instead.

We contacted and asked them where this coupon can be used: we’ll update this post if and when we hear anything back from them.

Discount Coupon Property Exclusions and Basic Terms []

Costco Credit Cards Will Officially Switch To Citi, Visa In June

(Mike Mozart)

For more than a year now, Costco has been preparing to take its store-branded credit card business in a new direction. Specifically, it’s transferring its credit card network from long-time partner American Express to Citigroup and Visa. After hitting a few snags in the road, the shopping club now plans to make things official in June. 

USA Today reports that that’s when the retailer will officially transfer its Costco-branded credit portfolio to Citibank and cardholders will receive their new plastic.

Under the deal, which was supposed to close in April but was delayed, Visa will become the exclusive credit-card network for Costco stores, and Citi will be able to issue the retailer-branded cards.

Once the transition is official — a specific date is still to be determined — current American Express cards will no longer work at the retailer.

Current Costco/American Express cardholders will continue to earn rewards on their cards until the deal goes through, USA Today reports, and rewards accrued before the deal is finalized will be paid out.

Of course, customers can still use debit cards from either Visa or MasterCard, as well as Costco cash cards, which can be purchased online.

Costco cardholders will transfer from Amex to Citi in June [USA Today]

Judge Signs Off On Settlement That Will Ensure Subway’s Footlong Sandwiches Measure Up

(Mandy Jansen)
Our national nightmare is nearly over: the so-called “Footlong” sandwich from Subway will finally have to measure up to a full 12 inches in length.

A judge last week gave final approval to a settlement resolving a class-action lawsuit customers filed in 2013. An Australian teenager shared a photo of his sandwich on Facebook that was only 11 inches, kicking off an international media blitz.

Further investigations by customers and media outlets found that many sandwiches measured only 11 or 11.5 inches.

According to the settlement — which received preliminary approval in October — Subway agrees to institute practices for at least the next four years to ensure that sandwich bread measures at least 12 inches long, reports The Associated Press.

The judge approved $520,000 in attorney fees and $500 for each of the 10 individuals who were representatives of the class, but no monetary claims were awarded to potential members of the class.

“It was difficult to prove monetary damages, because everybody ate the evidence,” said Thomas Zimmerman, who was co-lead attorney for the class.

Lynn Adelman, a judge for the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Wisconsin, wrote in the final approval that attorneys for the plaintiffs realized their claims may not hold up after a mediation session. So the plaintiffs decided to focus on making Subway ensure sandwiches are 12 inches.

The bread is made with frozen dough sticks that weigh the same when they arrive at stores frozen, plaintiffs’ attorneys discovered, that is then thawed and stretched for baking. That process can lead to different sizes and shapes of bread.

Though the dough might look different from sandwich to sandwich, the amount of ingredients remains the same. Meat and cheese portions are standardized, but it is possible that a shorter sandwich “might be missing a few shreds of lettuce or a gram or two of mayonnaise,” the judge wrote.

Adelman added, however, that customers can ask for more toppings.

“Thus, the plaintiffs learned that, as a practical matter, the length of the bread does not affect the quantity of food the customer receives,” she wrote.

Subway said in a statement that it’s pleased the judge didn’t find any wrongdoing on its part.

“This allows us to move forward, without distractions, on our goal to provide great tasting sandwiches and salads, made exactly as each guest likes. We have already taken steps to ensure each guest receives the Footlong or six-inch sandwich they order,” the statement said.

Going forward, Subway says it’ll take steps to make sure bread is 12 inches long regardless, including having franchisees “use a tool for measuring bread.”

Subway to ensure ‘Footlongs’ measure up after lawsuit [The Associated Press]

Former Uber, Lyft Drivers Are Selling Their Vehicle Decals Online

(Σπύρος Βάθης)

The bright pink mustaches and the “U” decals used to designate ride-sharing vehicles for Uber and Lyft have found a second purpose: making their owners quick cash on sites like eBay. While selling the insignias might be a good way for former drivers to pad their wallets — sometimes by thousands of dollars, it means the decals might be used for other purposes. For that reason, always be sure to double check the license plate, and driver’s name before getting in a hailed vehicle. [Business Insider]

Cruise Ship Recently Damaged In Major Storm Turns Around Again Due To Bad Weather, Norovirus Outbreak

Royal Caribbean cruise ship Anthem of the Seas is not having a good year so far: after getting smacked around by a major storm in February, the vessel had to turn around on another journey due to more bad weather, and, to add to the fun for passengers this time, a norovirus outbreak.

The ship headed back to its home port in New Jersey on Sunday after running into another storm, Royal Caribbean Tweeted over the weekend “to avoid a severe storm and provide guests with a comfortable journey back home.”

“On a recent sailing, Anthem of the Seas experienced bad weather that was much worse than forecast; therefore, we want to be extra cautious about our (guests’) safety and comfort when it comes to weather in the area,” a spokeswoman for the cruise line told WNBC-TV (warning: link has video that will autoplay) in New York City. “That is why we have decided to head back to Cape Liberty immediately so that we can stay a safe distance from the storm.”

John Turell, an executive with The Associated Press who happened to be on the ship said that the ship’s captain and its cruise director have made announcements about the norovirus, CBS News reports. There aren’t any numbers yet on how many people were affected by the illness.

“Sanitation levels on the ship have been boosted,” said Turell. “(Ship) workers are scurrying around like ants, scrubbing down handrails, tables and any other surfaces that can be washed.”

The ship skipped planned stops in Barbados and St. Kitts, Turell said, due to a storm developing off Cape Hatteras. The cruise should return to port by Wednesday.

Anthem of the Seas was on its way to Port Canaveral, FL in February when it experienced “extreme wind and sea conditions, with wind speeds higher than what was forecasted,” the cruise line said at the time. The rough seas prompted the captain to ask guests to stay in their rooms until the weather improved, “in an abundance of caution.”

Amazon And Brita Announce Smart Pitcher That Orders Its Own Filters

brita_infinity_pitcherSavvy observers probably knew when Amazon created its Dash system of buttons that let consumers re-order single items that they use often that the buttons themselves were never the point. The real point of Amazon Dash was to create smart home goods that replenish themselves, like printers that order their own ink and dishwashers that prompt you to order more soap after a certain number of wash cycles. Now that technology will be applied to… water filters.

Water filters? Yes, Brita has created a smart pitcher that’s part of Amazon Dash, connecting to your home WiFi and keeping track of how many gallons of water you’ve filtered. You connect the pitcher to your home Internet connection, then register for a Brita Infinity account and link that to your Amazon account. Remember, this is all supposed to simplify your life.

Once the pitcher hits its limit, it sends an order to your Amazon account, which you confirm or cancel. “By integrating Wi-Fi connectivity into this pitcher so it can connect with Amazon Dash Replenishment,” Brita general manager Ed Huber said in a statement, “we’ve created an elegant, simple solution to eliminate that moment when you realize you didn’t re-order your filter.”

While this does give users unprecedented convenience in their water filter replenishment, it has a nice advantage for Brita: automatic re-ordering based on how much water customers filter is a great way to keep customers from stretching their current filter for just a few more weeks.

WhatsApp Ending Support For Some Older Devices By End Of 2016

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 10.44.24 AMIf you own an older Nokia or Blackberry smartphone and are an avid user of WhatsApp, you might want to think about your phone’s future: the messaging service plans to end support for several operating systems by the end of the year. 

WhatsApp announced the upcoming change on its blog as part of the future outlook for the company following its seventh anniversary last week.

By the end of 2016, WhatsApp will no longer be supported on BlackBerry – including BlackBerry 10; Nokia S40; Nokia Symbian S60; Android 2.1 and Android 2.2; and Windows Phone 7.1.

The company says it came to the decision to drop support for the systems in order to focus its efforts on the platforms that the majority of consumers use, such those offered by Microsoft, Apple, and Google.

“When we started WhatsApp in 2009, people’s use of mobile devices looked very different from today,” WhatsApp said in its blog post. “About 70% of smartphones sold at the time had operating systems offered by BlackBerry and Nokia.”

The landscape is vastly different in 2016, with operating systems offered by Google, Apple and Microsoft now accounting for 99.5% of sales today, according to WhatsApp.

While the company says the older mobile devices will always be a part of its history, “they don’t offer the kind of capabilities we need to expand our app’s features in the future.”

“This was a tough decision for us to make, but the right one in order to give people better ways to keep in touch with friends, family, and loved ones using WhatsApp,” the company says.

[via VentureBeat]

6 Leap Day Deals For Leaplings (And 5 For The Rest Of Us)

If today is the first birthday you’ve had since 2012, happy birthday! Today is your day, Leap Day babies, and because you only get to celebrate every four years, you might as well get some extra perks and freebies to mark the occasion.

While today is mostly about honoring 200,000 or so Americans out there, as the chances of having Feb. 29 as a birthday are one in 1,461, there are a few places offering deals to everyone else as well.

Deals for Leaplings and Leapers

1. Pizza Hut: Anyone who visits a participating Pizza Hut restaurant on Feb. 29 and shows a government-issued photo ID to prove they were born on Leap Day will receive a free, one-topping Personal Pan Pizza for carryout.

2. Hard Rock Cafe: Celebrate being a quarter of your actual age with a free entree from the Hard Rock Cafe’s “Leaplings Eat Free” menu today, by showing a valid photo ID at participating locations.

3. McAlister’s Deli: Guests with a Feb. 29 birthday will get a free cookie at all restaurants nationwide, no purchase necessary.

4. Olive Garden: Free dessert for Leap Day babies is on the menu, by way of the chain’s Dolcini menu item.

5. Great American Cookies: All locations will give Leaplings a free cookie cake to help them celebrate if you’ve got a valid photo ID to prove your specialness.

6. Houlihan’s: All Leapers get a free entree today, as well as 28 additional free entrees — one per visit — over the next 30 days. Yes, that’s 29 free meals. Photo ID required.

Deals for everyone

1. Caribou Coffee: All customers can get in on the Leap Day discount action with a buy one beverage, get one beverage for $0.29 deal at Caribou. The offer is good for any drink on the menu, and only valid today.

2. Krispy Kreme: If you need doughnuts to go with that coffee, Krispy Kreme is selling a dozen signature Original Glazed doughnuts for $2.29 with the purchase of another dozen at regular price.

3. Hungry Howie’s Pizza: The chain is offering a large round, one-topping pizza for $0.29 when you buy a large round one or more topping pizza. The deal will be available from 2/29/16 to 3/1/16 at participating locations, excluding Alabama and Florida.

4. Tropical Smoothie Café: Loyalty members can get any 24 oz. Classic Smoothie for $2.29.

5. Dog Haus: Get a free patty upgrade from a single to a double on all burgers on Feb. 29.

Snapchat Employee Falls For CEO Email Scam, Reveals Some Employees’ Personal Info

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 9.36.24 AMLast week, we warned readers that the so-called “CEO email scam” was back (did it ever really go away?) with a tax season twist: asking employees to hand over files of employee information, such as a W-2 form. The folks at Snapchat apparently didn’t get the memo, as the photo sharing company announced that it was the victim of a phishing scam that led to ne’er-do-wells getting their hands on the personal information of some employees. 

Snapchat announced the hack on Sunday, noting that the issue only affected employees, that the company’s servers were not breached, and no user data was at risk.

According to Snapchat, the scam took place when a payroll department employee was “targeted by an isolated email phasing scam in which a scammer impersonated our Chief Executive Officer and asked for employee payroll information.”

The email wasn’t recognized as a scam, either by the employee or by email spam filters, and payroll information — including social security numbers, bank details, and salaries — for some current and former employees was disclosed externally.

“Needless to say, we responded swiftly and aggressively,” the company said. “Within four hours of this incident, we confirmed that the phishing attack was an isolated incident and reported it to the FBI. We began sorting through which employees–current and past–may have been affected. And we have since contacted the affected employees and have offered them two years of free identity-theft insurance and monitoring.”

In an effort to ensure another phishing scam doesn’t best employees in the future, the company says it will “redouble our already rigorous training programs around privacy and security in the coming weeks.”

[via NBC News]

Your Trip To A Disney Park Is Probably Going To Get More Expensive With New “Demand Pricing” System

We first heard Disney was considering a new surge pricing model back in October, and thus, it has come to pass: the next time you plan a trip to the mouse’s house, you’re likely going to be paying more, depending when you visit.

The new surge pricing system is in place as of yesterday at U.S parks including Disneyland and Disney World, reports the Los Angeles Times, in a change from the current one-day ticket price of $99. If you decide to hang out at the park on a slow day, like a Wednesday in the middle of September, you’ll pay $95.

But most days of the year will be more expensive, with prices for a “regular” day or “peak” day hiking to $105 and $119, respectively. About 30% of the year will be designated as “value days,” 44% will be “regular” and 26% will be “peak,” which means you’ve got a 70% of paying more than you do now.

This is going to be a good thing for crowd management, says Disney, instead of being all about the almighty dollar.

“The demand for our theme parks continues to grow, particularly during peak periods,” a Disneyland spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times. “In addition to expanding our parks, we are adopting seasonal pricing on our one-day ticket to help better spread visitation throughout the year.”

And besides, other companies are already doing the same thing, Disney says.

“It’s an approach that you are probably familiar with from many other areas, including sports, entertainment and travel,” Disney’s Thomas Smith wrote on the official Disney Parks blog.

In an effort to sooth customers who might be ruffled that they’re probably going to pay more than they used to, Disney is touting new attractions, including a “Star Wars” land that’s in the works, and a new stage show based on Frozen.

Disneyland ‘demand pricing’ will cost you $5 less on slow days and $20 more when it’s busy [Los Angles Times]

Bill Would Charge FAA With Creating Airline Seat-Size Requirements


It seems as if each year airlines shrink the sizes of their seat in the name of fitting more people into their flying metal tubes. One lawmaker wants to put an end to that trend by creating a seat-size standard for commercial airlines. 

The Federal Aviation Administration should establish unspecified seat-size requirements in an effort to prevent airlines from continually cutting seat size and leg room in order to pad their bottom line, New York Senator Chuck Schumer told the Associated Press Sunday.

Schumer plans to get the ball rolling on the requirement by creating an amendment to the currently pending FAA Reauthorization bill.

“One of the most vexing things when you travel on an airplane is there’s almost no legroom on your standard flight,” Schumer said. “There’s been constant shrinkage by the airlines.”

In fact, the senator says that the average distance between rows of seats — known as the seat pitch — has decreased from 35 inches in the 1970s to 16.5 inches today.

“They’re like sardines,” Schumer said of airplane passengers. “It’s no secret that airlines are looking for more ways to cut costs, but they shouldn’t be cutting inches of legroom and seat width in the process. … It’s time for the FAA to step up and stop this deep-seated problem from continuing.”

While some airlines offer passengers the option of purchasing a seat with more room, Schumer says that tactic simply “exemplifies” the problem, the AP reports.

“It’s just plain unfair that a person gets charged for extra inches that were once standard,” he said.

Schumer’s push for seat-size standards comes less than a month after Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen proposed a bill that would also require the Federal Aviation Administration to set in stone how far airlines can shrink down seats, citing the “health and safety” of passengers.

Charles Schumer condemns ‘shrinkage’ of airline seats, proposes standard size [The Associated Press]

Coolest Tells Kickstarter Backers That It’s Out Of Money, Needs Investment To Ship All Coolers

coolestThe Coolest hit Kickstarter in 2014, raising over $13 million and promising backers “a party disguised as a cooler.” That party may be winding down or at least significantly delayed, as the project’s creator says that he is now out of money and looking for an investor to help keep cranking out coolers.

It turns out that Team Coolest had always planned on having a budget shortfall, but expected to make it up in sales. We don’t have the e-mail sent to backers, but Crowdfund Insider does, and it read in part:

We are in the process of identifying the right partner who can provide the capital and strategic resources to fund the remaining production of backer rewards and help grow the company to the next level. We’re not quite there yet, but it is moving forward.

Translation: if you have millions of dollars and also think that smart coolers are the future, drop them a line. Either way, the coolers will be delayed even more… unless you’re an Amazon customer.


Yes, the controversial Amazon listing is back, where the Coolest sells for its full retail price of $499, compared with the price as low as $165 that some early Kickstarter backers paid. The idea behind the Amazon listing was apparently to raise more money to keep making coolers for those early backers, who remain outraged that there are finished coolers for Amazon customers, but not for them. Remember, the campaign concluded in August 2014.

Unlike some other spectacular crowdfunding failures, at least the Coolest ended with a product that actually works, as backers who have received their coolers report.

Yet stories like this are a cautionary tale for aspiring creators of products: it’s possible to be too successful and promise too much to customers after a successful crowdfunding campaign, which is a dangerous position to be in when creating an entirely new product.

Coolest Cooler Not So Cool as Project Runs Short of Cash [Crowdfund Insider]
COOLEST COOLER: 21st Century Cooler that's Actually Cooler [Kickstarter]

vendredi 26 février 2016

OUR Walmart Says That More Workers Are Interested After Store Closings, Union Split

(Ben Schumin)
The closure of hundreds of Walmart stores earlier this year wasn’t good news for anyone, except for perhaps some small-town storeowners and well organized resellers. One group that’s really benefiting, even though they’d probably rather not, is OUR Walmart, a group that is not a union, but works to share information between employees and organizes protests and strikes. As store closings continued, OUR Walmart noticed their Internet traffic is up.

It’s one thing to have a lot of online visitors, but one leader explained to Buzzfeed that the increase in traffic also means that more people are reaching out and interested in talking. He also notes that increases in traffic tend to happen when there are stories in the news about the stores and their plight, and around key dates affecting employees’ status under the federal WARN law. That requires 60 days’ notice before a layoff, and some workers are still waiting to either find a job at a different store, or receive severance payments.

A spokesperson for Walmart pointed out to Buzzfeed that the group is claiming huge membership growth after breaking off from the United Food and Commercial Workers, the union that originally supported them as they started. Now the group runs on $5/month dues payments from members and grant money, and the company is skeptical that workers are clamoring to join now that the groups are no longer affiliated.

As Walmart Closes Stores, Facebook Group For Workers Gets Spike In Visits [Buzzfeed]

Labor Board Orders Walmart To Rehire 16 Employees Fired For Striking
Walmart Raises Suspicions After Closing 5 Stores In Same Day For “Plumbing” Problems
Here’s A Look Inside The Last Days Of Some Closing Walmarts

Town Officials Not Pleased With Man Who Patched Neighborhood Potholes Himself

pothole_repairThe problem isn’t necessarily that a man in Massachusetts went out and patched some holes in his street himself, at his own expense. The town prefers to use hot asphalt instead of the patching material he used. The core problem is that he happens be the sales manager for the company that sells that patching material.

Other nearby towns do use the material, and town officials suspect that his ultimate goal isn’t to prevent pothole-related accidents and damage to cars. They think that he wants to his company’s product and demonstrate that it holds up better.

Making his own street––where he’s patched two potholes recently––safer was a nice bonus. One neighbor noted how deep the hole was on camera with TV station WGZ, but the town would still prefer if he hadn’t used the street as a sales demonstration.

“Instead of filling it, tell us where it is and we’ll do it,” the town manager told the TV crew.

The resident isn’t in trouble or anything, but the town is in the strange position where all they can do is ask residents to please not perform DIY road repairs.

Millbury Man Takes Heat From Town For Fixing Pothole [WGZ]

Man Who Resurrected Hydrox Can Now Bring Jordan Marsh, Bullock’s, May Company Brands Back To Life

It's doubtful you'll ever see a Bamberger's moving back into anchor stores like this, but Kasoff hopes to bring back the idea of regional department stores. (Photo: Ben Schumin)
Two years ago we profiled Ellia Kassoff, the mad genius who seems intent on bringing back every brand that you ever said “remember when…” about. He has already resurrected Hydrox, the original sandwich cookie, but he’s also been battling Macy’s for several years over a slew of trademarks for stores Macy’s acquired and shut down. Today, Kassoff says he’s reached a deal with the department store giant that will allow him to try to breathe new life into several long-dead retail brands.

Kassoff has a knack for researching defunct brands and taking a risk on claiming trademarks that he believes are up for grabs because the most recent owners of those marks have not used them.

Given the sheer number of stores that Macy’s has acquired directly or inherited through mergers with Federated Department Stores in 1994 and May Department Stores in 2005, there was a trove of once-popular store brands that had gone unexploited and whose trademark went undefended.

Among the many Macy’s-related brands that Strategic attempted to claim trademark on were Marshall Field’s, Burdines, Filene’s, Jordan Marsh, Strawbridges, and Abraham and Straus.

In response to Kassoff’s efforts to resurrect these trademarks independently of Macy’s, the retail giant filed two separate lawsuits against him, most recently in Feb. 2015.

Earlier this month, Macy’s scored a victory, with a court ruling that Kassoff could not use the Marshall Field’s brand, and a handful of others, on T-shirts.

A trial on the bigger issue of trademark ownership was slated to begin in early May, but Kassoff tells Consumerist that he’s reached a deal with Macy’s that gives him control over some, but not all, of the disputed marks.

According to Kassoff, Strategic Marks now owns all goodwill associated with the trademarks for historic Boston retail brand Jordan Marsh, defunct West Coast chain I. Magnin, New Jersey legend Bamberger’s, Houston-based Foley’s, longtime California retailer Robinson’s, Midwestern mainstay May Company, and one-time L.A. luxury brand Bullock’s.

The remaining marks that were part of the dispute will remain under Macy’s control. So don’t get your hopes up about seeing another Marshall Field’s or Filene’s anytime soon.

Kassoff says he was prepared to go to trial, but agreed to attend a settlement conference with Macy’s.

“After over five hours of negotiating with Macy’s, we finally hammered out a deal that we’re really happy with,” says Kassoff, who hopes to bring these stores back to the markets where they are remembered fondly.

“Consumers noted the current shopping experience is quite drab, as there is no localized marketing or buying for the regional stores anymore,” he says of his research into retail habits. “People want to go back to the days when shopping was a real experience at their local department store. They really miss that.”

Today’s settlement will give him the authority to meet in earnest with retail investor, but Kassoff also notes that there are ways to capitalize on these once-famous brands, giving the example of selling Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins online and in regions where people grew up with the brand.

Macy’s has not yet responded to our request for comment on this story.

New Contact Lens Solution Warnings Mean Fewer Users Getting Peroxide In Their Eyes

(Angry JulieMonday)
If anyone ever tries to convince you that life isn’t constantly getting better, remember this: only an average of three people each year since 2012 have stuck contact lenses soaked in hydrogen peroxide in their eyes and caused injuries bad enough to report to the Food and Drug Administration. 61 people did from 2010 to 2011. The reason for this medical miracle? Red plastic.

Specifically, red plastic tips on bottles of contact lens solution that contains peroxide. Broadly speaking, there are two types of contact lens solution that disinfect your lenses: multi-purpose solution disinfects and dissolves protein and fat deposits on your lenses, and does not scorch your corneas. You do, however, have to rub the lenses to clean them.

ucm487777Hydrogen peroxide disinfecting solution performs the same functions but doesn’t contain preservatives, and users do not need to rub the lenses to clean them, but if used to store lenses in a case not designed for use with peroxide solution, they can cause terrible pain and even serious injuries. .

Before 2012, manufacturers didn’t do much to differentiate the bottles, and this caused serious and painful problems. Back in 2010, we suggested putting a giant label on the bottles that says “DON’T PUT THIS IN YOUR EYES, DUMBASS,” but the eye care industry is smarter and added red warning labels and a red tip on all bottles that contain hydrogen peroxide solutions.

See? Progress. Thanks to some basic safety measures, contact lens wearers are significantly less likely to mix up bottles and cause injuries.

Contact Lens Solutions With Hydrogen Peroxide: To Avoid Injury, Follow All Instructions [FDA]

Major Airlines’ Regional Partner, Republic Airways, Files For Bankruptcy Over Pilot Shortage


Two years ago, regional airlines warned that new regulations, higher costs of school, and lower salaries had led to a shortage of pilots for the companies that typically handle the smaller, regional routes for larger airlines. Now, one short-haul carrier says that lack of pilots is the reason it’s filed for bankruptcy. 

Labor disputes and the loss of up to 40 pilots a month during contract negotiations led Republic Airways — which provides flights for American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Continental — to file for bankruptcy Thursday, Forbes reports.

The Indianapolis-based airline, which operates a fleet of 240 small planes, was able to negotiate a new labor contract with employees in October, but that simply wasn’t enough.

“Our filing today is a result of our loss of revenue during the past several quarters associated with grounding aircraft due to a lack of pilot resources, combined with the reality that our negotiating effort with key stakeholders shows no apparent prospect of a near term resolution,” Bryan Bamford, CEO for Republic, said in a statement.

Bloomberg reports that the airline flew just 41 of its 45-seat jets at the end of 2015, parking as many as 80 of its other planes.

In 2015, Republic accounted for 16% of the 3,400 daily regional flights for American Airlines, while its Shuttle America service few about 15% of all Delta Connections.

“We filed with a strong core business and the liquidity resources necessary to carry out our restructuring plan,” Bedford said. “We believe this action will allow us to restore our airline and take it to new heights,” Bamford said in the statement.

Republic says it will continue flight operations during its bankruptcy and restricting plan.

The airline hopes to become “a single fleet, a single operating certificate carrier and one airline with a bright future,” Bamford says.

Republic Airways CEO Says Bankruptcy Filing Will Take Airline To New Heights [Forbes]
Republic Airways Files for Bankruptcy After Pilot Shortage [Bloomberg]