jeudi 31 mars 2016

Tesla Says It Already Has Reservations For 115,000 $35K Model 3 Electric Vehicles

It’s been nearly two years since Tesla CEO Elon Musk confirmed the development of the Model 3, the high-end electric vehicle maker’s first venture into more affordable automobiles. Aside from that price point and claims about being able to get around 200 miles to a single charge, not much else has been disclosed until tonight’s long-awaited press/sales event.

In front of an adoring crowd in California on Thursday night, Musk finally pulled the covers of the Model 3, confirming the $35,000 base price, and saying the vehicle will have at least an EPA-rated 215 miles on a full charge.

“These are minimum numbers,” said the CEO. “We hope to exceed them.”

The company began allowing customers to register for the Model 3 last night. Putting your name on the list for the car will set you back $1,000 but Musk claims that more than 115,000 people have already signed up to get theirs, whenever it’s released.

So when will that be?

That’s a good question. At first, Musk confidently stated that customers will be able to take delivery next year, only to then hesitate and — with a nervous titter — clarify that “I do feel fairly confident that it will be next year.”

In terms of features, Musk says that the goal isn’t to make a car that averages 5 stars across the various automotive safety categories, but which earns a 5-star rating in each category. Additionally, Tesla’s “Autopilot” software — which warns against things like side collisions and assists with with parallel parking and lane-changing — will be standard on all Model 3s.

Tesla also says the Model 3 will be a speedster, with the base version accelerating from 0-60 mph in fewer than six seconds, and higher-performance editions that can go faster.

“At Tesla, we don’t make slow cars,” boasted Musk.

The Model 3 will seat five adults. Since there is no large combustion engine eating up space under the hood, Tesla was able to compress the dashboard and give more legroom to the front seats. Musk also claims that the rear window design — a large pane of glass that extends over the passengers’ heads — makes backseat driving a more tolerable experience.

Like the Model S, the Model 3 will have both front and rear trunks. Musk says that the new vehicle will have more cargo capacity than any gas-powered car of the same size.

“Can you fit a 7-foot-long surfboard on the inside?” asked the CEO to himself. “Yes you can.”

All Model 3 versions will also be Supercharger compatible, meaning they will be able to power up quickly at one of the company’s hundreds of branded charging stations. There are currently more than 3,600 of these Superchargers worldwide, with the plan to double that number by the end of 2017.

Facebook, Reddit, Wells Fargo, Bank Of America CEOs Among Those Urging North Carolina To Repeal New Anti-LGBT Law

Earlier this month, in a hurried legislative process, North Carolina lawmakers passed HB2, a bill that overrides and prevents local governments from establishing anti-discrimination rules against gay and transgender people. This morning, advocacy groups delivered a letter to NC Gov. Pat McCrory signed by top executives from more than 100 companies, all calling for the state to repeal the law.

The letter [PDF], organized by the Human Rights Campaign, was signed by CEOs of major tech and online companies (Facebook, Reddit, Google, PayPal, eBay, Twitter, Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Intel, Yelp, among others), retail and hospitality (Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, Starwood Hotels, Marriott) — and perhaps most importantly to North Carolina, banks.

Both Wells Fargo, which has a major corporate presence in Charlotte, and Bank of America, which calls Charlotte home, signed onto the letter.

It was a Charlotte city ordinance that would have allowed transgender people to use whichever public restroom they identify with that spurred the state legislature to pass HB2. The new state law overrides any local laws that provide anti-discrimination protections for people based on sexual preference or gender identity.

“We are disappointed in your decision to sign this discriminatory legislation into law,” reads the letter. “The business community, by and large, has consistently communicated to lawmakers at every level that such laws are bad for our employees and bad for business. This is not a direction in which states move when they are seeking to provide successful, thriving hubs for business and economic development.”

The businesses contend that HB2 will only complicate matters for North Carolina businesses seeking to recruit employees to move to the state. Similarly, it will hurt the state’s tourism appeal, argues the letter.

“Discrimination is wrong, and we believe it has no place in North Carolina or anywhere in our country,” concludes the letter. “As companies that pride ourselves on being inclusive and welcoming to all, we strongly urge you and the leadership of North Carolina’s legislature to repeal this law in the upcoming legislative session.”

This morning, HRC President Chad Griffin, Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro, and transgender advocate Candis Cox-Daniels traveled to Raleigh to deliver the letter to McCrory.

According to the HRC, the governor initially refused to meet with Cox-Daniels, but eventually relented.

“In our meeting with Governor McCrory, we made crystal clear that HB 2 is discriminatory, shameful, and needs to be repealed immediately,” said Griffin. “We also called on him to continue to meet with LGBT North Carolinians in the days and weeks prior to April’s legislative session. The question Governor McCrory faces is a simple one: will he seize this opportunity to show true leadership, or will he allow North Carolina to remain on the wrong side of history? This law is doing extraordinary damage to the state’s economic prospects, its reputation, and most importantly, it’s LGBT community. The nation is waiting and watching to see which path he will take.”

Sgro says they asked McCrory to not only repeal this law but to work with lawmakers to draft a piece of statewide legislation that provides “comprehensive non-discrimination protections including sexual orientation and gender identity.”

LGBTQ rights advocates are currently suing the state to overturn the law. Earlier this week, NC Attorney General Roy Cooper — who is also currently running for governor — said he could not defend the law, which he called a “national embarrassment,” because it runs counter to his own agency’s anti-discrimination policies.

Verizon Will Charge Customers $20 To Upgrade Phones Because They Can

If you’re a Verizon customer planning to upgrade your phone, don’t be surprised when you’re charged an extra fee: as of Monday, April 4, the carrier will charge customers $20 to activate upgraded devices, even if they don’t buy the device from Verizon. Customers who get their phones elsewhere simply get the fee added to their next bill after the upgrade.

Macrumors was the first to share the news, and CNN confirmed it with a Verizon spokesperson. The only way around the fee appears to be to buy your own compatible device elsewhere, then bring it to a Verizon corporate-owned store to have it activated on the network.


Last November, Verizon began charging a $20 fee for new lines on payment plans, and now they’ll be charging the fee on whenever you upgrade a phone, whether you buy it on an installment plan or at full retail. Yes, that includes the iPhone Upgrade Program at the Apple Store.

To cheer you up, via Re/Code, here’s a video of some puppies unboxing Verizon’s new LG G5 smartphone. Sure, it’s also an ad for a smartphone, but the puppies are so cute that you almost forget about the $20 fee you’ll have to pay when upgrading to this phone. Or switching to Verizon for it.

Verizon Introducing $20 Fee to Upgrade Your Smartphone [MacRumors]

Walmart Launches Revamped Credit Card Rewards Program

Saving money at Walmart is as easy as 1-2-3 — or 3-2-1? Either way, that’s the point the mega-retailer appears to be trying to get across with its newly launched Walmart Credit Card and Walmart MoneyCard cash-back rewards program. 

Starting Friday, the company says its cards will offer a percentage of cash back to users under what it calls a simplified rewards value proposition, dubbed “3-2-1 Save.”

Under the program, users can earn 3% cash back on purchases made on; 2% cash back on fuel purchases at Walmart or Murphy USA gas stations; and 1% cash back on purchases made at Walmart stores or anywhere Walmart Credit Cards or Walmart MasterCard is accepted.

The company’s previous program only had two ongoing rewards: $5 back for every $500 spent and a discount of $0.05 per gallon on fuel purchased at Walmart gas stations.

“We’re always looking for ways we can create and change products and services to make them even better for our customers,” Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services at Walmart, said in a statement. “The new 3-2-1 Save program simplifies and strengthens the card proposition for more than 10 million cardholders and helps add even more value to their Walmart purchases no matter how they choose to shop with us.”

[via Business Insider]

Divided FCC Votes To Approve Lifeline Modernization, Consider New ISP Privacy Rules

The Federal Communications Commission today in their monthly meeting voted narrowly to move forward with two high-profile, contentious proposals. One is formally adopting a plan to modernize the Lifeline program, and the other is to start considering how to apply stronger consumer privacy protections to ISPs.

The meeting, originally scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, got off to a late and rocky start, being delayed at the very last minute first to 12:00 and then to 1:30, before finally kicking off at 2:00.

Shortly before the meeting began, conservative Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly told the press that they had reached an agreement with Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the prime backer of the lifeline reforms, regarding budget caps on the program but that Chair Tom Wheeler blew that deal up at the last minute.

We’ll get back to that issue below…


The privacy proposal has been contentious from the moment it was first announced earlier this year.

The gist of the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) is that the FCC has a mandate to protect certain consumer information transmitted over common carrier networks, which now includes broadband thanks to the landmark net neutrality vote in 2015. Before reclassifying broadband, all online privacy matters came under the umbrella of the Federal Trade Commission, but now the FCC has to devise privacy rules for these Internet service providers.

And that’s what they’re now proposing. The action the commission voted on today is not itself a rule, but rather a decision to begin the process that will eventually create a rule, after months of internal deliberation and public comment have passed.

If the first wave of pushback from ISPs is any indication, the broadband industry is prepared to fight this one tooth and nail. The arguments the industry seems to be cuing up are that having protections placed on their broadband operations that (1) do not apply to their other operations and (2) do not apply to the thousands of edge providers (like Facebook, Google, and so on) out there in the world are onerous and unfair and won’t fix anything anyway.

Your broadband provider doesn’t just know when you’re going online and how much data you’ve used, but may also know which sites and services you’re using at any given time.

“This is a treasure-trove of information,” said Clyburn at today’s meeting. “That is not only very personal to me, but is also very valuable to marketers and retailers. As a consumer of these services, I want the ability to determine when and how my ISP uses my information.”

These sentiments were echoed by Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who noted that “Our digital footprints are hardly in sand. They are effectively in wet cement.”

Pai acknowledged that there is a need to fill the privacy regulation vacuum, but accused Wheeler and supporters of the proposal of restricting ISPs’ to the benefit of “edge providers” — companies like Facebook and Google that make billions from tracking and selling information about users.

“The FCC tilts the regulatory playing field by proposing more burdensome regulation on Internet service providers than it imposes on edge providers,” said Pai, adding that “Consumers don’t necessarily know which particular online entities can access their personal information — let alone the regulatory classification of those entities. They do care that their personal information is protected by everyone who has access to it… It makes little sense to give some companies greater leeway under the law than others when they all have access to the very same personal data.”

This is effectively the same argument that AT&T and others have been making against the proposed rules. The response from supporters of the regulation point out that the FCC does not have the legal authority to set privacy rules for content providers.

However, Pai snarkily countered that the Wheeler and the FCC could use the same argument they used to push through broadband reclassification — to expedite the deployment of Internet access.

He pointed out that the Commission’s annual National Broadband Plan reports have identified that privacy concerns are a barrier to more widespread Internet adoption.

“Under the Commission’s expansive reading of the Telecommunications Act and the ‘virtuous cycle’ theory — a reading I don’t support, to be clear — the FCC can take practically any action necessary to break down those barriers… This agency hasn’t been shy about pushing legal boundaries.”

In response, Wheeler used the analogy of long-held phone privacy regulations.

“When a consumer makes a phone call, all the information about that call is protected unless the consumer authorizes its disclosure,” he explained. “How does the fact that the network is connecting to the Internet — rather than to a telephone — make the expectation of consumer privacy any different?”

In the end, the Commission voted as expected, 3-2 in favor of moving forward with the rulemaking.


The FCC first voted to consider adopting a proposal to add broadband to Lifeline back in June of last year, and a few weeks ago announced that they’d finished the process, and would be voting to adopt the new proposal for real.

MORE: What is Lifeline, and how does it work?

In short, the rule would give Lifeline-eligible consumers the option of using their $9.25/month to pay for broadband services — fixed or mobile. Given that some ISPs offer service tiers for as little as $10-15/month, that could help get additional low-income consumers online.

It will also put in place a centralized, independent, national eligibility verifier that would ultimately replace the patchwork state-by-state system currently in place. Thus, an eligible consumer would be able to more readily carry that eligibility from location to location.

The new rule sets minimum standards for services that want to be eligible to accept Lifeline payments. Fixed broadband providers must offer at least 10 Mbps downloads with 1 Mbps uploads, while allowing users access to at least 150GB of data each month.

Mobile data standards and allowances will be phased in. By Dec. 1, they must offer at least 500 MB per month of 3G data. A year later, that minimum increases to 1 GB, then doubles again to 2GB by Dec. 1, 2018.

The big bone of contention this morning involved the notion of capping the annual budget on Lifeline expenditures. No previous administration has capped how much could be paid out in Lifeline allowances each year, even after it was expanded to include cellphones in the last decade.

The new rule includes a figure of $2.25 billion annually — indexed to inflation — but it’s not the hard number that the FCC’s more conservative commissioners had hoped to see.

Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly contend that, in an effort to reach a rare 5-0 vote among the Commission, Clyburn approached them yesterday and expressed her willingness to reach a compromise with regard to the budget.

At the end of her remarks, Clyburn addressed the “elephant in the room” and provided her side of what had transpired in the hours leading up to the meeting.

“I have been consistent in saying a cap should not be imposed” on Lifeline, said the commissioner. “And, to be honest and completely transparent, I continue to hold that view. However, I have also been steadfast in my desire to reach consensus and compromise whenever possible.”

Clyburn says her office “negotiated in good faith” to reach a budget that would be fiscally responsible for the Universal Service program — which funds that Lifeline — while also making sure that millions of Americans could take advantage of Lifeline.

“On further deliberation, I concluded that such a mechanism does not fully achieve my vision of a 21st Century Lifeline program,” she concluded. “But I applaud the deliberative process and thank Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly and their staff for engaging well, well, well into the night and early this morning.”

Pai and O’Rielly were more blunt with regard to their response to what they portrayed as a last-minute about-face.

Pai claimed in his statement that their staffs had reached an agreement on a document that memorialized the exact details of the compromise.

“Think about about what that signifies in this agency at this time,” he explained. “In this political environment on this politically charged of an issue, we had a bipartisan vote on Lifeline reform.”

He accused Wheeler’s staff of “actively working to undermine and unwind” the compromise by “leaking non-public information to the press” and “encouraging left-wing special interests to blast the deal before the vote could be cast.”

Pai, who said that these apparent machinations “represent the worst of government,” declared that it is “one thing to refuse to work toward bipartisan compromise” but “another thing to force a Democratic FCC commissioner to renege from a compromise on her signature issue.”

The commissioner’s chief staff maintained on Twitter that Clyburn had not just agreed to the deal, but had put her name to the document:

Before calling for the vote — which again, went 3-2 in favor of the reforms — Wheeler addressed the today’s behind-the-scenes confusion, praising all three commissioners involved in the compromise discussions.

“These are important issues, and these are issues that are worthy of agonizing over,” explained Wheeler. ” However, the deliberative process does not always lead to consensus in the end, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.”

Hot Lotto Says Employee Fraud Didn’t Necessarily Affect Next Winner’s Prize

Last year, the man who used to be in charge of security for the Multi-State Lottery Assocation was convicted of rigging one of his employer’s games and buying himself the winning ticket. The winner of the next jackpot sued the Association, arguing that his own prize would have been bigger if the fraudulent win hadn’t happened. Is that true? The lottery group argues that it’s not.

Like other lottery games, when someone wins the Hot Lotto, the jackpot resets to $1 million. The real winner argues that if the fraudulent winner hadn’t won, the prize money would have rolled over into his prize money. The lottery group argues that this is a false premise: if the prize hadn’t reset after the fraudulent win, he probably wouldn’t have won at all.

There would have been different numbers drawn that day if the game hadn’t been rigged, their attorneys pointed out in a legal brief, and someone else could have won on December 29.

“Moreover, had the jackpot continued to progressively increase following the December 29, 2010 drawing,” they write, “the player pool for all drawings would have increased as well, resulting in more number combinations being purchased for each drawing, until a jackpot winner was chosen.”

People love to buy tickets when the jackpot climbs: a larger prize would have meant more tickets sold. Even if the plaintiff hypothetically won in this situation, he could have won a smaller jackpot or had to share it with someone else who played the same numbers.

If the 2011 winner prevails in this case, it could become very expensive for the Multi-State Lottery Association: there are four other jackpots dating back to 2005 that the former security director is suspected of rigging, and subsequent winners might decide to sue, too.

Lottery group seeks to dismiss lawsuit over rigged jackpot [AP]

New Microsoft Office Starbucks Extension Lets You Schedule Coffee Meetings, Buy Gift Cards

The technological powers that be understand that people often don’t want to click around in more apps or programs than they have to. In a move meant for caffeine lovers on the job, one of Microsoft’s newest add-ins for its Office programs lets Starbucks customers do things like schedule meetings at the local coffee shop and buy gift cards for the store as well from within Outlook.

The new extension will run inside Outlook on both Macs and PCs in the coming weeks, reports Mashable.

Customers using the tool will be able to buy and send gift cards via email as well as schedule meetings at their local Starbucks. After the appointment has been scheduled, you can also order coffee beforehand so it arrives right in time.

The Starbucks plugin joins the roughly 100 other add-ins like Uber, Yelp, and Evernote. It sounds like Microsoft is confident users will like the new feature.

“Our customers like innovation — they like interacting with Starbucks in new and interesting ways,” Gerri Martin-Flickinger, the new Starbucks chief technology officer, said on stage at Microsoft’s Build developer conference today, as reported by GeekWire.

Video Makers Unhappy With Facebook’s Slow Response To Allegedly Pirated Videos

Chances are you’ve seen a few of those popular, captivating video on Facebook — you know, the ones of the cooking demonstrations or the science experiments. While those videos can be fun for you to watch, they’re often part of a longer video that was posted somewhere else first. And the creators behind them don’t enjoy seeing them repurposed by someone else. 

In fact, these video makers say the pirating taking place on Facebook costs them hundreds of dollars and the social network isn’t doing enough to protect them or their work, the Wall Street Journal reports.

While creators say they’ve bombarded Facebook with requests to take down the so-called “freebooting” videos they claim infringe on their work, it’s a constant back-and-forth to protect their videos.

“I have become so jaded by it and exhausted by it,” the creator of a science experiment says of his attempts to get the social network to remove clips posted without his permission. “It’s a bit like your house is being robbed and you’re on holiday. You’d almost wish you didn’t know so you could enjoy your holiday.”

Another YouTube creator says he spend 36 hours crafting “take down” requests to companies, including Facebook, after posting a snowboarding video that he claims was freebooted at least 200 times.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, video creators must flag infringing content to companies — like Facebook — which are then required to respond.

The trouble, creators says, is that these requests to Facebook often take hours or days to be addressed. While that might not seem like a long period of time, in the era of fleeting attention and viral videos, hours can seem like a lifetime.

The WSJ reports that Facebook has elevated its anti-freebooting efforts by testing new rights-management technology, partnering with video content makers, and using third-party technology that “listens” to videos uploaded to the site and checks for matches in a database.

Additionally, the company has expanded the team that responds to “take down” requests, and is now removing pages or profiles that repeatedly upload pirated content.

“Feedback from our partners is essential to creating a robust solution that fits their needs, and we’re committed to providing a comprehensive video management system,” a Facebook spokeswoman said.

The rights-management technology, which is still under development, has hit a few snags, according to the WSJ. At first the system wasn’t able to detect a match if a user recorded a show with a mobile phone and uploaded it to the social network site.

Video creators see Facebook’s progress as a “good-faith effort,” but it’s not quite fast enough and continues to cut into revenue.

“Why would anyone go to YouTube at all if they’re getting their fill of great videos in their Facebook feed with no idea of where that came from?” Hank Green, the creator of YouTube channel “vlogbrothers,” tells the WSJ.

Video Creators Are Frustrated With Pace of Facebook’s Antipirating Efforts [The Wall Street Journal]

Don’t Like Talking? Save Money By Ditching Voice Service For Your T-Mobile Smartphone

Depending on your habits and personality, you may not need to make a lot of actual phone calls using your smartphone. If you find that you don’t use your phone as a phone all that much, you can save quite a bit of money by taking advantage of a set of mobile plans originally designed for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The roots of this plan were in the first pseudo-smartphone available to consumers, Danger’s Hiptop (later called the Sidekick) which was a popular device for texting, instant messaging, and calling relay services for deaf or hard of hearing people, and it was a T-Mobile device.

The carrier developed special text and data plans without voice minutes for their large population of customers who had no need for them. Other carriers introduced these plans, too, but T-Mobile did something that other carriers haven’t: they removed the restriction that only people who are deaf or hard of hearing can actually sign up for the plan. T-Mobile doesn’t really advertise the plans, but anyone can sign up for what they currently call the Simple Choice data only plan.

Would you cut out voice service and turn your phone into a tiny tablet equipped with mobile data to save twenty bucks a month? If you’re comfortable with using apps to make any voice calls that you do make, the data-only plans cost as little as $20 per month for 2 GB of LTE data. You would still have the ability to call 911 by voice in an emergency if needed.

T-Mobile quietly introduces data-only wireless plans without voice call inclusions [TMoNews]

The History of the Sidekick: The Coolest Smartphone of All Time [Complex]

IRS Wants Your Help To Make Its Website Better

Earlier this year, the Internal Revenue Service announced that its website was used as an avenue for hackers to get their hands on nearly 500,000 stolen Social Security Numbers. While those ne’er-do-wells apparently didn’t have a difficult time traversing the site, consumers who actually head to the portal for help during tax time aren’t so lucky. For that reason, the agency is asking for help in revamping its online presence — and a chance to win $10,000. 

The IRS launched a three-week contest — with cash prizes — this week, asking individuals to suggest ways in which the agency can improve the design, organization and presentation of its website.

The “tax design challenges” aims to make the IRS’s site easier for a person to manage their tax responsibilities, and use their own tax data to make informed and effective decisions about their personal finances.

The IRS says submissions will be considered for three categories: overall design, best taxpayer usefulness, and best financial capability. Prizes range from $1,000 to $10,000.

“Crowdsourcing is a new activity for the IRS, but we believe working with citizens and the private sector will help support innovation in an important area for the nation’s tax system,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement.

To take part in the contest, individuals must register online and submit their ideas for ways to better organize and present a person’s tax information.

Submissions for the contest will be accepted from April 17 to May 10.

Postmates Launches Same-Day Delivery Subscription Service For $10 A Month

In a move that brings it closer to Amazon Prime territory, Postmates is launching a new subscription service that promises same-day delivery for a monthly fee of $9.99.

Dubbed “Postmates Plus Unlimited,” the program works much like Amazon Prime: subscribers get free same-day delivery on orders of at least $30 from Postmate’s collection of partners, the company announced on Thursday. The company currently has deals with about 3,000 stores and services in the U.S.

Subscribers will also skip the 9% service fee usually charged for Postmates delivery on every order.

The hope is that customers will become loyal to the Postmates program and order things more often, which will then attract more retail partners.

“The great thing about Amazon Prime is it centers everyone’s default e-commerce to Amazon, and on Amazon, you default to products on Prime,” Sean Plaice, co-founder and chief technical officer at Postmates told Bloomberg. “That’s the same thing we’re looking to have here. Why use any service but Postmates to get your food delivered? You have a subscription. It gives you the best, most affordable delivery.”

Feds Say Drug Company Illegally Blocked Lower-Cost Generics From Entering Market

When a drug patent nears its end, drug companies sometimes do really stupid, potentially illegal things to delay or prevent their bottom line being dinged by a lower-cost generic version. One drug company is accused of not just paying off a generic drug maker to delay the release of its version of two medications, but further hurting consumers by agreeing to not compete with the generic.

Pennsylvania-based Endo Pharmaceuticals — maker of brand-name opioid Opana ER and lidocaine patch Lidoderm — is accused of making these sorts of illegal deals with generic companies, according to a lawsuit [PDF] filed this week by the Federal Trade Commission.

According to the complaint, back in 2009 these two brand-name drugs accounted for 64% of Endo’s annual revenue, but generic competition was in the offing for both products.

So in 2010, the FTC says that Endo made a deal with California’s Impax Laboratories — a company that was trying to introduce a generic of Opana ER — to keep that generic off the market for another two-and-a-half years.

The complaint alleges that $40 million in cash changed hands, in the form of a “development and co-promotion deal” that the FTC alleges was nothing more than a smokescreen to hide the pay-for-delay scheme.

Impax received significantly more benefit from the second part of the deal — in which Endo agreed to not market its own generic to compete with Impax.

In general, the first generic drug maker to successfully file with the FDA gets a 180-day exclusivity period on the generic. But “exclusive” might be a misnomer, as the maker of the brand-name drug is allowed to offer a generic version at any time.

Thus, Endo would have been freely within its rights to sell an “authorized generic” (AG) version of Opana ER that competed with the Impax generic. Instead, the FTC says the company entered into a “no-AG agreement” that would allow Impax to enter the generic market without any competition for six months.

In total, the FTC claims that Impax reaped $112 million in benefits from this arrangement — not to mention the revenue generated by Endo during the 2.5 year extension for its brand-name drug — all while consumers were paying more than they should have.

And this was not an isolated incident. The FTC alleges that Endo made a similar deal in 2012 to protect its Lidoderm patch.

The company, along with its partner Teikoku Pharma of San Diego, allegedly made a deal with Watson Laboratories (now owned by Irish pharma giant Allergan) to keep a Lidoderm generic off the market for more than a year.

In return, Watson got nearly eight months of being the sole marketer for the generic. Endo also provided Watson with somewhere between $96 million to $240 million in free Lidoderm patches which it was then free to sell. Unfortunately, the FTC’s estimate of how much Watson made from this deal is redacted in the court documents.

Teikoku has already reached a settlement deal with the FTC that bars the company from engaging in “no-AG” agreements and other forms of reverse-payment for 20 years.

“Settlements between drug firms that include ‘no-AG commitments’ harm consumers twice – first by delaying the entry of generic drugs and then by preventing additional generic competition in the market following generic entry,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez in a statement. “This lawsuit reflects the FTC’s commitment to stopping pay-for-delay agreements that inflate the prices of prescription drugs and harm competition, regardless of the form they take.”

Judge: Nestlé, Hershey Don’t Have To Put Child Slave Labor Disclosure On Chocolate Labels

While it might matter to some consumers that slave labor was involved in making that chocolate bar on the grocery store shelf, food companies like Nestlé and Hershey don’t have to disclose what kind of workers are involved in the production process on product labels, a judge ruled this week.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Spero ruled that the two chocolate companies don’t have a duty to disclose that their cocoa suppliers use child slave labor, Courthouse News reports, basically because there’s not enough room for such things.

“There are countless issues that may be legitimately important to many customers, and the courts are not suited to determine which should occupy the limited surface area of a chocolate wrapper,” Spero wrote in a pair of identical rulings related to two class actions against Nestlé and Hershey.

Two customers sued the companies back in September 2015, claiming that both Nestlé and Hershey were violating California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act and the state’s unfair competition and false advertising laws by not disclosing labor uses in its supply chain on chocolate product labels.

Another class action was filed by a customer against Mars, but his appeal of U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg’s dismissal of the case is pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals at the moment.

According to a Tulane University study cited in the complaints, more than 4,000 children are forced to work at plantations in Ivory Coast producing cocoa. Some of those young ones are sold by parents to traffickers, and others are kidnapped, the study says. Others may have migrated voluntarily but are then snapped up by traffickers and sold to recruiters or farmers, the complaint alleges. Once they’re sent to isolated farmers, they’re locked up at night, threatened with beatings, and forced to work long days even when they’re sick, the complaint states.

It wasn’t enough that the plaintiffs wouldn’t have bought Hershey or Nestlé products if they’d known about these practices, however, Spero found, referencing Seeborg’s ruling in dismissing the other consumer’s actions.

“The court agrees with Judge Seeborg’s conclusion that the weight of authority limits a duty to disclose under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act to issues of product safety, unless disclosure is necessary to counter an affirmative misrepresentation,” he wrote. “Further, the court agrees with Judge Seeborg and Hershey that some bright-line limitation on a manufacturer’s duty to disclose is sound policy, given the difficulty of anticipating exactly what information some customers might find material to their purchasing decisions and wish to see on product labels.”

Just because California law includes a duty to disclose, that doesn’t extend to “‘all information [that] may persuade a consumer to make different purchasing decisions,’ ” Spero said, citing the Mars case.

Spero dismissed the unfair competition claim against the companies, finding that the plaintiffs hadn’t identified any legislative policy that would require the companies to disclose their supplier’s slave-labor practice on product labels, and that those disclosures are not required under the law.

He also put the kibosh on the false advertising claim, saying they were based on “pure omissions” instead of actual misleading statements.

We’ve reached out to Nestlé and Hershey on the question of whether the companies work with suppliers that use child slave labor, and will update this post if we hear back.

Hershey & Nestle Duck Suits Over Slave Labor [Courthouse News]

Toshiba Recalls 91,000 Laptops Over Fire Hazard

What’s worse than sitting down with your laptop only to have the hot computer burn your legs? When that laptop catches on fire. And that’s why Toshiba is recalling the laptop battery packs used in 39 of its computer models.

According to a notice filed with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the lithium-ion battery packs in approximately 91,000 Toshiba laptops can overheat, posing burn and fire hazards to consumers.

The battery packs were used in several Toshiba computers, including the Portege, Satellite, and Tecra laptops, sold between June 2011 and January 2016.

In addition to the laptops directly affected by the recall, Toshiba cautions that other computers may be affected if their owners purchased extra battery packs or had their batteries replaced during servicing.

A complete list of battery pack part numbers included in this recall can be found on Toshiba’s website.

Toshiba says it has received four reports of the battery packs overheating and melting. However, no injuries have been reported.


Affected laptop batteries can be identified by the model, part, and serial number. If a consumers’ battery has been recalled, Toshiba suggests users power off the laptop, remove the battery, and request a replacement battery pack.

Until a replacement battery pack is received, consumers should use the laptop by plugging into AC power only.

Leasing Brochures Indicate Sears Plans To Shrink 3 More Stores, Rent Out Empty Space

On our master list of known Sears and Kmart stores that will be closing in coming months, one item kind of stands out: one store in Albuquerque plans to cut the size of its store in half and close the Auto Center, renting out the rest of the store. Sears appears to be using the same plan in other markets, including three stores in California.

At least, that’s the speculation of Sacramento Business Journal, which noticed rental brochures for retail spaces that looked like half of local Sears atores.

The addresses matched up, and the stores happen to be in malls where the Sears store had been sold to Seritage Growth Properties, a real estate investment trust that shares many investors with Sears, including manifesto-writing CEO Eddie Lampert.

When Sears decides to close or downside a store, Seritage is able to rent the unoccupied space out to anyone it likes.

None of this should be news to Consumerist readers, who have known for a few years now that Sears Heritage has been trying to take in roommates to save money. They don’t need all of the retail space, so it makes sense to shrink the store size down and pay less rent to the company’s own real estate trust.

Sears appears to be cutting three local stores in half [business Journal]

Amazon Files Patent For Talking Drone Propellers That Tell You To Get Out Of The Way

While we don’t know all the details of Amazon’s long-anticipated Prime Air delivery drones just yet, we can guess at some of the specifics along the way. And if a recent patent application the company filed means anything, the drones may have a few things to say.

Amazon filed a patent for automated aerial vehicle technology that has two parts: first is the use of multiple propellers rotating in different directions to cut down on noise, notes The Register. One propeller goes one direction to provide lift.

“While the second propeller may cause lift of the AAV,” the patent suggests, it “may also be operable to produce sound that cancels noise generated by the first propeller.”

The other part of the patent is also split into two parts, and involves using propellers to communicate with folks on the ground.

First, the propellers can be used to make sounds, the patent says, to do things like warn people to get out of the drone’s way.

“Suppose, for instance, that the AAV were delivering an inventory item to a location,” the patent says. “Upon approaching the location, the AAV determines (e.g., based on a video signal fed as an input parameter to the controller via a camera) that a person is situated at or near an intended or a suitable landing area corresponding to the delivery location.”

That information might trigger the drone to utter something like “Watch out!” or other warning messages. The controller can also determine if such a warning is needed, and change up the speed of the propeller to produce “a series of sounds that are audibly perceptible as ‘Watch out!’ ”

Another method would have the drones figuring out whether they need to alert humans that they’re around. In some situations, “light sources [e.g., light-emitting diodes (LEDs)] coupled to one or multiple propellers may be caused to intermittently emit light in a synchronized manner while the propellers are rotating to generate patterns that are visibly perceptible as ‘HELLO’.”

Oh, hey there, drone.

Amazon plans drones with talking propellors [The Register]

World Cup Champ Women’s Soccer Players Accuse U.S. Soccer Federation Of Wage Discrimination

While the women on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team have outshone the men’s team — winning three World Cup championships since 1991 and gold medals in all but one of the Summer Olympics since 1994 — they remain significantly underpaid than their underperforming male counterparts. Today, five members of that championship team filed an action with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that the U.S. Soccer Federation is unfairly discriminating against female players.
In the complaint — disclosed this morning by the law firm representing players Carli Llloyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Hope Solo — the reigning World Cup champs contend that the USSF pays male players upwards of four times what the women get, even though the female team is a significant generator of revenue for the organization.

“Recently, it has become clear that the Federation has no intention of providing us equal pay for equal work,” said Rapinoe in a statement released today.

Goalie Solo explains that “The numbers speak for themselves… We are the best in the world, have three World Cup Championships, four Olympic Championships, and the USMNT get paid more to just show up, than we get paid to win major championships.”

Their attorney Jeffrey Kessler — who has represented numerous professional sports players associations in their contract negotiations — claims that recent developments in the collective bargaining process between the team and the Federation forced the players’ hands to pursue the EEOC action.

The Women’s National Team Players Association submitted what Kessler terms a “reasonable proposal” in January, with the underlying idea being equal pay for equal work.

For example, players on the men’s team earn $68,750 each if the team makes it to the World Cup. That’s more than double the $30,000 amount paid to players on the women’s team for the same feat.

But the Federation responded to the proposal by suing the players association, seeking to have the court clarify that the current agreement — accepted in 2013 — remains valid and unbreakable through the end of the year.

The players’ EEOC complaint argues that “There are no legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for this gross disparity of wages, nor can it be explained away by any bona fide seniority, merit or incentive system or any other factor other that sex.”

The woman’s team players have also accused the Federation of favoring the men’s team when it comes from everything from playing surfaces to travel.

“We want to play in top-notch, grass-only facilities like the U.S. Men’s National Team,” said Morgan, referencing the potentially dangerous turf surfaces that the team has had to play on. “We want to have equitable and comfortable travel accommodations, and we simply want equal treatment.”

While the women’s team is currently gearing up for the upcoming Olympics in Rio, there is no set timeline for the EEOC to investigate and make a determination on these allegations.

Sprint Offering Customers Access To Amazon Prime On A Monthly Basis

Sprint has a deal that might be attractive to some out there, but there’s a bit of math involved: customers can get access to Amazon Prime as a monthly add-on to their regular contracts. Okay, cool — but then there’s the price. It’s $10.99 per month for free two-day-shipping, access to Amazon’s music and video services, and all the other stuff that comes with a Prime membership.

That monthly price adds up to $131.88 a year (h/t The Verge), which is $32.88 more than the $99 regular Prime customers pay for a year’s access.

So why would you ever want to pay more money than everyone else for something? Perhaps people may want to try Prime for more than a month but not an entire year. Because once you’ve used your Prime membership — either to buy something with two-day shipping or access Prime videos and music, etc. — you’re locked into paying that $99 for the entire year.

That would seem to be the only scenario that would make sense here.

If you do decide to use the Sprint program, pay attention to how many months you’ve got under your belt. Once you hit nine months, you’ll have spent only a tiny bit less than that $99 for a year, so take that into account before you end up paying too much.

The offer is available to both existing and new customers, Sprint says.

Lawsuit: Target Failed To Pay New York Warehouse Workers Overtime

A group of Target warehouse employees in New York filed a class-action seeking lawsuit against the retailer, accusing the company of misclassifying workers with low-level management responsibilities so they wouldn’t receive overtime pay. 

The lawsuit, first filed in New York Supreme Court in December, claims that Target violated state labor laws by misclassifying “operations group leaders” as exempt from overtime, Reuters reports.

According to the original complaint, the Target employee claims he was required to work approximately 48 to 54 hours per week as well as being required to attend a 90-minute meeting once a month and another 90-minute meeting each quarter.

In addition to these duties, the plaintiff claims he would routinely take his work home after hours, emailing updates to supervisors.

“However, [he] never received any overtime pay of time and one-half his regular rate of pay for any hours worked over 40 hours in a week,” the suit states.

The man says that because Target misclassified his duties, he is owed approximately eight to 14 hours per week of overtime for the duration of his employment, which was from 2011 to 2015.

The man’s lawyer tells Reuters that the retailer “controls very carefully what the group leaders do such that they are not left with meaningful executive authority that would satisfy exemption under the law.”

The suit seeks to represent all current and former Operations Group Leaders who worked at the company’s New York warehouse.

According to a notice for removal [PDF] filed by Target — to move the case from the New York Supreme Court to federal court — the retailer estimates that the class would cover 209 individuals.

While Target denies the lawsuit’s allegations in its reply [PDF] to the original suit, the company did “quantify the amount of overtime damage” being sought by the plaintiff and proposed class as more than $5 million.

A spokesperson for Target tells Reuters that the company’s distribution center group leaders are properly classified as exempt, salaried team members and said these department leaders hire, manage and lead teams of up to 50 people.

“They are competitively compensated and rewarded for their performance. We dispute the allegations in the suit,” she said.

Target workers in New York sue over not being paid overtime [Reuters]

Court Agrees With Florida: Skim Milk Is “Imitation Milk Product” Unless You Add Vitamins

Last year, we told you of a long-running dispute over a Florida state law that says skim milk must be categorized as “imitation milk product” unless the dairy adds vitamins to the final product. This week, a federal court finally chimed in on the matter, upholding the state regulation.

This case goes back to 2012, when a company called Ocheesee Creamery found out from the Florida Department of Agriculture that — because Ocheesee didn’t add any vitamins to its skim milk — it would have to be labeled as a “Non-Grade ‘A’ Milk Product, Natural Milk Vitamins Removed.”

The state contends that some vitamins and nutrients are removed when the cream is skimmed off of whole milk, and so skim milk must re-introduce those items to be nutritionally equal to milk. The Ocheesee folks counter that they should not be forced to introduce additives to their skim milk.

There are also federal standards with regard to replacing nutrients that have been removed from a product, but they only apply to milk sold for interstate commerce. The milk in this case was only intended for sale in Florida.

In 2014, the creamery filed a lawsuit [PDF] against the state, arguing that its First Amendment rights were being violated. By forcing Ocheesee to either add vitamins or accept the “imitation milk product” designation would “confuse and mislead its customers by mislabeling its safe, all-natural, pure skim milk.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Central Hudson Gas v. Public Service Commission of NY established a multi-part test for determining when government restrictions on commercial speech violate the First Amendment:

Does the government have a substantial interest in restricting that speech? Does that restriction directly advance the government’s interest? Is the restriction only as extensive as it needs to be to serve that interest? And is the speech being restricted misleading or concern an unlawful activity?

In granting summary judgment [PDF] in favor of the state, the judge notes that state and federal regulations regarding “standards of identity and nutrition standards for foods easily pass muster under Central Hudson.”

That would include, explains the court, the state and federal requirements regarding skim milk.

“A state can recognize — and indeed deliberately create — a standard meaning of a term used to describe a food product, including, in this instance, skim milk,” writes the judge.

Ocheesee had argued in court that it had sold its skim milk for years without complaint or problems, and that its conception of skim milk — literally, milk that has had the fat skimmed off — is what most people understand the term to mean.

The judge agreed that it is “undoubtedly true that a typical consumer would think ‘skim milk’ is simply milk from which the cream has been skimmed.” However, counters the court, that only serves to indicate that these identity and nutrient standards work.

“[C]onsumers take for granted the nutritional value of skim milk without even knowing that the vitamins have been restored,” explains the judge. “The record includes a survey that confirms this conclusion: most consumers buy milk for its nutritional value, and most expect skim milk to include the same vitamin content as whole milk.”

The judge contends that if you accepted Ocheesee’s argument that the everyday consumer’s understanding of a product makes it okay to disregard state and federal standards, it would “would initiate a frontal assault on the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and its state counterparts, whose validity was established long ago.”

And, concludes the court, even if Ocheesee were not misleading consumers by labeling its product “skim milk,” the state regulations would still withstand the remaining three-point test under Central Hudson.

“The governmental interest in establishing a standard of identity and nutritional standards for milk is substantial,” explains the judge. “The challenged restriction directly advances that interest; indeed, the match is nearly perfect. And the restriction is not more extensive than is necessary to serve that interest; a standard of identity works only if products that do not meet the standard cannot appropriate the identity.”

As you’d expect, the folks at Ocheesee were not pleased with the ruling.

“I just want to tell the truth,” says creamery owner Mary Lou Wesselhoeft. “Our skim milk was pure skim milk, and nobody was ever confused when we called it skim milk. I refuse to lie to my customers, so I have stopped selling skim milk until I am allowed to tell the truth again.”

The creamery was represented in this case by the Institute for Justice, which says it plans to appeal the ruling.

“Businesses have the right to tell the truth and the government does not have the power to change the dictionary,” explains IJ Florida Office Managing Attorney Justin Pearson in a statement.

Plane’s Emergency Slide Falls 2,800 Feet, Lands Outside Arizona House

Remember last year when an airplane door panel fell from the sky, landing on a North Carolina golf course? While that was certainly an unusual and scary situation, an Arizona woman can now top it: an airplane emergency slide dropped from the heavens and landed outside her house. 

A Mesa woman tells AZFamily that she’s used to hearing the sounds of planes flying above, but she got more than she ever imagined on Wednesday.

“It was a loud bang and then the house actually shook,” the woman recalls, noting that at first she thought the commotion may have been a downed tree. “It just smelled like sulfur burning.”

When she went to investigate, she found it was anything but a tree.

Someone else had called 911 to report that they had witnessed an object falling from an airplane, AZFamily reports.

“They kind of put two and two together that this must be the emergency slide,” the homeowner says.

A spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that the object was indeed an emergency slide and that the agency was investigating the incident.

The slide belonged to an Atlas Air Boeing 767 that was on its final approach to Sky Harbor Airport when the right over-the-wing emergency slide deployed at about 2,800 feet.

The plane, which was carrying only crew members, was able to land safely, the FAA, which is investigating the ordeal, said.

While the only casualty of the unusual event was a tree in the woman’s yard, she can’t help but worry about what could have happened.

“There’s Riverview Park literally in my backyard and the Cubs are currently playing games right now,” she said. “If it had fallen on a car, it still would have been devastating.”

Emergency escape slide from jumbo jet falls from plane and hits Mesa home [AZFamily]

Coca-Cola Plans ‘Share A Coke’ Bottles With Song Lyrics Instead Of Names

The “Share a Coke” campaign was a huge success for Coca-Cola, boosting sales as people scooped up bottles with their own or family members’ names. Other than bringing names back for a third year in the United States, how could the beverage giant replicate the success? Instead of names, now they’re switching to song lyrics, which are less personalized but can sometimes be even more personal.


A few examples that a Coke executive shared with Buzzfeed News include famous lines from super-famous longs like “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers, or “We Are the Champions” by Queen. Those may be poor examples, actually, since the lyric shared for both of those is also the title of the song,

You’ll be able to hunt through coolers for your favorite lyrics starting in April, and the bottles will be available through summer. Coke plans to target different songs and genres of music to different regions, based on research about what’s popular in different parts of the country.

“Share A Coke” Trades In Names For Song Lyrics [Buzzfeed]

United Airlines Flight Turns Around Because Passenger Wouldn’t Stop Doing Yoga

We’re no strangers to the idea of one unruly passenger prompting a commercial flight to change course, but who would have ever thought someone could disrupt a flight by doing something so peaceful as yoga and meditation? Folks, it can happen, and it did.

According to the FBI, a recent United Airlines flight heading from Honolulu International Airport to Narita International Airport in Japan turned around because a passenger refused to stop doing yoga in the back of the plane and return to his seat, the Associated Press reports.

The FBI says in its complaint that the man told them he didn’t feel like sitting in his seat during the meal service, so he retreatd to the back of the plane to do yoga and meditate. When his wife and flight attendants told him he had to return to his seat, he got angry.

The man “pushed his wife because she was trying to make him stop,” the complaint said. “He felt that she was siding with the flight crew.”

He also attempted to head-butt and bite some Marines on the flight who tried to get him back to his seat, Assistant U.S. Attorney Darren Ching said at the man’s detention hearing Wednesday.

The complaint says he threatened to kill passengers and yelled that there was no god. As for what caused him to fly into a rage? He felt like the crew was ordering him around, Ching said at the hearing.

After his arrest, a judge ordered that the man be released on a $25,000 bond but with certain conditions, including that he must stay on the island of Oahu for the time being.

FBI: Man arrested after doing yoga, meditating on airplane [Associated Press]

Amazon Adds More Dash Buttons For Condoms, Chips, Energy Drinks

For almost exactly a year now, users of Amazon’s ordering gadget, the Dash button, have been able to quickly restock their supply of nearly 30 household products like Tide, Cottonelle, Bounty, and Ziplock. Today, the e-commerce giant announced it would add close to 100 additional products — many not of the household variety — to the line-up, including Energizer batteries, Stayfree feminine pads, Peet’s Coffee, Red Bull, Doritos, and Trojan condoms. As was previously the case, the gadget can be purchased for $4.99, but for a limited time Amazon will provide customers a $4.99 credit for each Dash button they buy. [Amazon]

Senator Calls For Everyone To Rally Around Encryption Like They Did Against SOPA

While the debate about encryption (brought to the foreground by the recent fight between Apple and the FBI) continues to rage on, at least one U.S. senator has clearly had enough, and is ready to draw a line in the sand.

Speaking at the RightsCon conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, Sen. Ron Wyden (OR) called on those in attendance — mostly members of the tech community, and advocates for consumer, civil, and human rights — to support his efforts in Washington to protect encryption, security, and privacy for all Americans.

In his remarks, Wyden explained that he was motivated, in part, by the string of data breaches involving retailers and government agencies that now seem to occur on a regular basis.

“We had a series of high-profile hacks at the same time — Target, Anthem, OPM,” said the senator, “and understandably, consumers said, ‘We want better security for our devices,’ and companies began to respond.”

Encryption, Wyden argued, is a vital part of that protection. It’s part of every card transaction, it’s what protects kids’ data: “Really our whole life might be on a smartphone — our health records, our personal communications — and it protects our national security secrets from falling into the hands of countries that do not wish us well.”

But of course, it’s not that straightforward. Improved encryption protects the data of both the law-abiding and the law-violating.

Law enforcement and tech — most prominently in the form of Apple and the FBI — have been at loggerheads about whether, when, and how to limit or work around encryption.

In the course of that ongoing discussion, it “seems like it would be a pretty good idea for agencies to hire some of the people in this room,” cracked Wyden. “But what I am not going to support — I am not going to support an effort to weaken strong encryption.”

At issue, Wyden later said, is — well, basically everything.

At this point in history, the existence, scope, and affordability of complex technology is so pervasive that there is no other era like it.

“There are very, very few places we can expect real privacy [anymore], not even our most personal spaces,” said the senator. “Even our very thoughts often end up recorded on the technology we carry.”

Wyden focused heavily on governments’ new abilities to listen in and follow their citizens, but the same applies to an extraordinary array of private companies as well.

“For centuries,” he explained, “individual liberty was protected by technological limitations. Gathering real-time personal information about a country’s entire population was impossible. It would have required more resources than any government could muster.”

He then alluded to 1984, the famous novel by George Orwell, and said that the technology at play now has outpaced even that popular literary touchstone, which warns of government’s invasions into citizens’ private lives.

“Your television screen can indeed watch you,” he said, “along with more and more gadgets that we wear, carry or live with every day.” The files that can be compiled on basically anyone with connected gadgets are more enormous and detailed than they have ever been.

The New Compact

To that end, Wyden introduced a policy platform he calls “The New Compact for Security and Liberty in the Digital Age,” something of a mouthful. The new compact is built around five core principles.

First, and perhaps most controversially, Wyden says we should end government campaigns against strong encryption.

“Encryption is one of the best defenses an individual has to protect himself or herself in the digital world,” he argued, adding:

“Without encryption, the technologies we live with would enable thieves to take not only our wallets and purses, but our entire life savings in the blink of an eye.

“Without encryption, connected technologies could be perverted to plan home invasions, abductions, and worse. Baby monitors and wi-fi enabled dolls have already been hacked. Cars have been hacked. Personal photos of the rich and famous have been hacked. Health records and credit cards and millions of sensitive government documents have been hacked.

“Without encryption, the most personal affairs of every individual, whom they spend time with, where they go, and what they think could be laid bare despite their best efforts to keep that information private. Even with encryption, poor implementation and carelessness can leave an individual exposed, but encryption gives individuals a fighting chance at maintaining digital security in the modern world.”

Secondly, Wyden said lawmakers need to strengthen the protections on data that individuals share, often unwittingly, with private business.

“I propose to you today … that individuals do not lose their privacy rights just because they share some of their personal information with a particular company,” Wyden announced.

It’s not really possible to live in 2016 without sharing some data with private companies, and in many cases we make those choices voluntarily: we use apps and social networks and services and wearable tech, and we get something beneficial out of that exchange.

But that data, once transmitted, can then legally go to any other third party without Fourth Amendment rights attached. In other words: data, once given to Company A, can be legally no longer considered yours alone to give, but Company A’s to do with as they like (within the bounds of the law).

“There is a huge, glaring problem with that logic,” Wyden said. “When you share your information with a single private company, that is not the same thing as making it public.”

“Your phone company may have records of who you call, and your bank may have records of how you spend your money,” he continued, “but your contract with them will have rules for when and how they are allowed to share that information.”

And that, Wyden said, should hold true for the digital world as well.

“When I post a new profile picture on Facebook, or send out a Tweet… I’ve chosen to make that information public,” the senator explained. “But when I send an email to my wife … my service provider and I have an agreement that my information will stay private. [But] the premise in current law is that I have agreed to make that information public just because my service provider is holding it.”

“And that premise,” Wyden concluded, “is simply absurd.”

Wyden then ran through his third, fourth, and fifth key platform proposals, saying that: Congress needs to hold more open hearings to deal with surveillance laws publicly; that “defenders of digital rights” need to be on their guard against subtle changes to extant law; and finally, that it is important for everyone to realize that law enforcement does have a valid job to do, and needs to come up with a way to do it.

But really what his effort needs, Wyden exhorted the room, is work from advocates to drive the point home in public.

In one day in Jan. 2012, Wyden reminded the room, basically the entire Internet went into protest mode against the controversial anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA, drumming up a tremendous tide of opposition to the proposed legislation.

“In a few days before that vote,” Wyden said, “More than 10 million Americans weighed in. Calls and letters and emails… You might remember the Internet going dark. And about 36 hours after this began I got a call,” and was told that the scheduled vote to move the bills forward was cancelled.

“So when the dust settles, everybody now knows that it can be done!” he explained. “Those who believe in a free and open Internet, those who want an encryption policy that assures we have more security rather than less security, I want to ask you as the community did when it came together back in 2012: I want to ask you to join me in working together once again to make sure a free and open internet, and policies that ensure security and liberty are the law of the land.”

“We did it once,” he concluded to applause, “let’s do it again!”

Wyden’s platform — particularly doubling down on encryption and creating more data protections — would indeed improve consumer protections in the U.S. However, realistically, even with public opinion rallied strongly around him, it seems unlikely that most — or perhaps even any — of these principles would see significant action in the near term.

That’s because 2016 is a major election year, with all of the House and a third of the Senate (including Wyden) up for re-election in November.

Congress has about seven months to act between then and now and frankly, a lot of that time is going to be spent campaigning —  on the trail, on the chamber floors, and, of course, while speaking at conferences.

The Grim But Necessary Art Of Closing Accounts For Dead Family Members & Loved Ones

mercredi 30 mars 2016

FBI Now Helping Other Law Enforcement Agencies Bypass Apple’s iPhone Security Measures

One of Apple’s biggest concerns about being compelled to assist the FBI in bypassing the security measures on the iPhone was that it would be just the first of many requests to get around the device’s encryption, thus increasing the odds of this work-around getting into the hands of hackers. Now comes news that the FBI — which was able to crack the iPhone lockdown without Apple’s assistance — is offering to unlock Apple devices for other law enforcement agencies.

The AP reports that the FBI has agreed to assist prosecutors in Arkansas by unlocking Apple devices belonging to a pair of teenagers charged with murder.

One of the teens was slated to go to trial next week, but after news broke earlier this week that the FBI had been able to bypass the iPhone encryption, the judge in the case agreed to delay proceedings until June so that prosecutors could seek assistance from the FBI in unlocking an iPhone and an iPad they believe contain evidence of the suspects’ plans for the July 2015 murder of a 66-year-old couple in Conway, AR.

The Prosecuting Attorney for Faulkner County now tells the AP that the federal law enforcement agency has agreed to use its recently devised technique to bypass the security on the suspects’ devices.

Recently released data from the American Civil Liberties Union shows the extent to which the FBI and other federal agencies have sought court orders to compel Apple and Google to assist in unlocking iPhones and Android smartphones.

Many of the more than 63 instances cited in the ACLU report involve phones that were seized before the two companies upgraded their operating systems in late 2014. Those upgrades now mean that neither Apple nor Google have easy backdoor access to users’ devices. It also means that complying with court orders to assist the FBI would require Apple or Google to come up with a way to weaken the privacy measures they put in place.

Google has said that is has yet to receive a court order compelling the company to bypass these upgraded security measures, but that it would challenge any such order if it received one.

Chipotle Trademarks Name ‘Better Burger,’ Thinking About Fast-Casual Burger Chain

Would you eat a burger from Chipotle? No, not at Chipotle, but a fast-casual burger restsaurant that uses the same food-sourcing and cooking methods, and has a similar vibe and a GMO-free menu? The company, which also runs pizza and pan-Asian noodle restaurants modeled on its main brand, trademarked the phrase “Better Burger,” which sounds like a nice name for a burger place.

The Chipotle brand name might be a bit tainted right now, which might make the idea of expanding their business under a familiar model but a new brand name an appealing idea. The company’s other brands, ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen and Pizzeria Locale, are relatively small now, with fewer than ten outlets of each open now.


In an e-mail to Bloomberg, which noticed the original trademark application, a Chipotle spokesperson said that the company is “exploring” the burger idea, describing it as a “growth seed” alongside the other two chains. Their business model could extend to more than pizzas and ramen, he points out: company executives and representatives “have noted before that the Chipotle model could be applied to a wide variety of foods,” he e-mailed.

In a strange parallel, McDonald’s, which at one point owned 90% of Chipotle, recently trademarked what could be a new slogan, “The simpler the better,” which suggests that it may continue its strange marketing of itself as a restaurant serving artisanal, almost-homemade food.

Chipotle Considers Opening Chain Under ‘Better Burger’ Name [Bloomberg]

Should Cable, Internet Companies Be Required To Let You Cancel Service Online?

Just about any pay-TV or Internet service provider (often one in the same) lets new customers sign up online. You can do the whole process — check your address for availability (even if the company’s database is dreadfully wrong), pick a service tier, schedule an installation appointment, and even have your credit history checked — all without talking to a single human being. But if you need to cancel that same service, you likely have to spend quite a long time talking to someone on the phone, explaining that you simply don’t want to give their company any more money.

A recently introduced piece of legislation in California, AB 2867, is hoping to compel cable companies and ISPs to offer the option of one-click cancelation on their websites.

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Mike Gatto from Los Angeles, argues that “if you are able to sign up for a service online, you should also be able to cancel it the same way.”

And that’s exactly what the bill’s language currently states:
“If a cable or Internet service provider enables an individual to subscribe to its services through an Internet Web site, it shall also enable all of its customers to cancel their subscriptions through the Internet Web site.”

The bill has the support of Ryan Block, who famously recorded a needy Comcast retention employee demanding that Ryan explain his reason for canceling service. A call that Comcast admitted was “embarrassing” and “painful,” even though the employee was doing “what we trained him to do.”

“Two years ago my wife and I called to cancel our service, and as is usually the case, that call was pretty unpleasant,” said Block in a statement about the California bill, which he believes “would finally allow most customers to be able to cancel their service online, without having to talk to someone whose job is specifically to prevent you from canceling.”

While Los Angeles was spared having to go through a merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable and the customer service nightmare that would have resulted from that marriage, TWC — the predominant provider in the area — is nearing a merger with Charter, meaning there will inevitably be hiccups as the two companies consolidate staffs, hardware, and customers.

This particular bill, if passed, would only require this change in California, but as we’ve seen in other cases — most recently the Vermont GMO-labeling rules — it’s sometimes easier for national companies to just make a blanket countrywide policy change instead of customizing a product for just one state.

Unregulated Preparers, Lack Of Disclosures & Costly Financial Products Put Your Tax Refund At Risk

Each year during tax time millions of consumers put their financial future in the hands of strangers, trusting that these tax preparers — who are largely unregulated — know the rules, will get them the best possible result (hopefully a refund), and won’t sell them on a product that costs more than it’s worth. But in the world of complicated tax codes and credits, consumers continue to face a long list of risks, including untrained preparers, undisclosed fees, and dangerous refund anticipation products. 

These are just a few of the issues — and financial dangers — that the National Consumer Law Center and Consumer Federation of America are warning consumers about in their annual Tax Time Report [PDF].

“There’s a minefield of dangers for the tens of millions of consumers who use paid tax preparers to fill out their most important financial document of the year,” Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, and author of the report, said in a statement. “The hazards range from losing a chunk of their refund for unnecessary financial products, to errors or even fraud committed by unregulated preparers.”

Unprepared Tax Preparers
NCLC, CFA, and a host of other consumer groups and government agencies have previously highlighted the dangers of using untrained and unregulated tax preparers, but it’s worth noting again that there are just four states that actually have laws in place that require paid tax preparers to meet minimum education, competency, or training standards.

In fact, a 2013 study by the NCLC found that 47 states have stricter regulations for barbers than they did for paid tax preparers.

These ill-prepared preparers can expose consumers to potential error and even fraud. These risks were highlighted in a “mystery shopper” report from NCLC last year that found inaccuracies in 27 out of the 29 tax returns prepared by paid tax preparers.

While taxpayers may not be aware of the lack of regulation or training for paid preparers, they certainly expect these professionals to be held to certain standards.

A recent poll conducted by CFA as part of the new Tax Time report found that 80% of the public supports requiring paid tax preparers to pass a test administered by the government that would ensure that paid preparers have the knowledge and training to complete taxpayer returns correctly, while 83% of respondents support licensing requirements for preparers.

Another 56% believe that paid preparers should have special training but don’t need a degree and 31% of the public believes that paid tax preparers should have a college degree in accounting.

Even large chains of tax prep offices are not immune from ill-trained and unscrupulous preparers. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice sued to shut down a South Carolina franchisee of the huge Liberty Tax Service company for filing fraudulent returns. Among other accusations in the lawsuit, preparers allegedly gave customers fictional jobs based on their hobbies and told them to claim children that don’t exist.

While errors perpetrated by ill-prepared tax preparers can certainly wreak havoc on the refund a consumer receives, it isn’t the only danger lurking inside the walls of the local tax preparation office.

Refund Anticipation Products
Years after high cost Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs) were all but removed from tax preparation offices, NCLC and CFA say a new generation of these unnecessary and costly financial products are being pushed by tax preparers.

When banks exited the RAL market in 2012, they left a hole for non-bank entities to fill, namely payday loan companies.

According to the new report, non-bank and “no-fee” RALs have been cropping up with increased frequency around the country.

“This year, some lenders are offering a new version of RALs that purportedly does not impose a charge directly on the consumer,” the report found. “However, some of these “no fee” RALs do appear to impose a cost in terms of a higher RAC fee. Also, there is concern that some preparers may pass the cost of the loans onto the taxpayer through increased tax preparation or junk fees.”

Tax preparation offices across the country are also now offering Refund Anticipation Checks (RACs). Much like RALs, RACs are a financial product used to deliver tax refunds and to pay for tax preparation fees by deducting them from the refund.

Under a RAC, a bank will open a temporary account into which the IRS direct deposits the refund monies. After the refund is deposited, the bank issues the consumer a check or prepaid card and closes the temporary account.

NCLC and CFA found that RACs, of which 21.6 million were issued in 2014, do not deliver refunds any faster than the IRS, despite charging consumers fees between $25 to $60.

Difficult To Compare Fees
As with past reports, the NCLC and CFA found that it was increasingly difficult to obtain tax preparation fee information before signing on the dotted line.

Tax preparation is one of the few services that do not provide meaningful price information to consumers, the report found.

And when fees can be as high as $400 to $500, it’s important for consumers to know how much they’ll shell out ahead of time. Yet, ask a paid preparer for an estimate on what it will cost you and they may flat-out refuse to give you a figure. They may also give you a vague estimate that they aren’t locked into and which could be very different from the actual costs.

“The lack of transparency and disclosure in tax preparation fees is appalling,” Wu said in a statement. “Without adequate price information, it’s a complete failure of the competitive market.”

According to the CFA’s poll, 89% of respondents support requiring paid preparers to supply an upfront list of fees.

“It is not surprising that the public overwhelmingly supports requiring upfront pricing from paid preparers –households need every penny of their refunds and should be able to comparison shop  paid preparers for the best value just like they can for other services,” CFA senior policy advocate Michael Best, said in a statement.

Waze Wants To Tell You When You’re Over The Speed Limit

One feature of the Google-owned navigation app Waze that I hear is very useful is its sometimes-controversial crowdsourced police alerts, which warn users when there’s a speed trap ahead. Now the app is adding a feature which your GPS from the last decade may have had: it will warn you when you’re over the speed limit.

Waze_Speed_Limits_on_iOS_Settings (1)Speed limits are complex, since they can include school zones, construction zones, and varying limits along the same highway. You might wonder what the limit is when you’ve just turned onto an unfamiliar road, and Waze will tell you if you’re speeding –– or if you’re a preset speed over the official limit, like 5 or 10 miles per hour over.

The feature has rolled out in 20 countries, which do not include the United States or Waze’s home country of Israel. They promise that support in the rest of the world is coming “soon.”

In some large cities, the app has compiled data about intersections that it considers especially dangerous, and will warn users to be especially cautious when approaching them, according to PC Magazine.

Here’s what you should remember about those speed limits, though: like must of the rest of road data within Waze, the information is crowdsourced, coming from the app’s community of users and super-users, its map editors. That means that the information is updated more often than commercial GPS apps might be, but trust it as far as you ever trust crowdsourced data.

For our international readers and people with travel planned, the countries where the feature is turned on are Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, El Salvador, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, New Zealand, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad, Tobago, and Uruguay.

Avoid Tickets and Stay Informed with New Waze Speed Limits Feature [Waze]