vendredi 29 avril 2016

All Those Quarters You Lose In Your Car Go To China… And Then Get Sold Back To The U.S.

When Americans travel, our money goes with — and not just in a metaphorical sense. Where people go, coins get left behind. Meanwhile, the pennies we drop at home get swept into trash heaps and scrap yards, falling out of sight and out of mind. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist — and even if they’re beat up, it doesn’t mean they lose their value.

The Wall Street Journal reports this week on the weird and lucrative market of coin repatriation. Money that has traveled around the world can come back home, and those pennies add up.

How many nickels, dimes, and quarters have you lost in your car over the years? Now multiply that by 315 million Americans and the more than 250 million cars we collectively own, and it adds up.

When those cars are scrapped and shredded, the metal goes overseas, often to China. And that’s where the repatriation business comes in.

A bunch of hired hands go through all that salvage and pulls out the coins. The man behind the repatriation business then collects them in bulk, from various salvage yards, and ships them to a partner in the U.S. The American partner then turns in all those coins to the Mint, which will buys back for nearly face value.

It adds up — big. The U.S. Mint has paid out more than $100 million in coin redemption since 2009, the WSJ reports. And it’s not just American money, either: repatriation takes place for British coins too, for example.

If it sounds like maybe that fat wad of cash is too good to be true, well, the feds think so too. So many more coins started pouring in since 2009 that law-enforcement officials are thinking a bunch of them have to be fake.

The coin reimbursement program shut down last year, and officials detained $664,000 worth of coins from our cunning entrepreneur. While the man profiled in the WSJ piece was not accused of any wrongdoing, federal prosecutors allege three others in the same line of work have been importing counterfeit coins.

Lost in the Seat Cushions, There’s $100 Million in Spare Change

Collectibles Seller Films FedEx Worker Flinging Packages Around

When a Long Island collectibles seller heard reports from customers that items were arriving damaged, he became a one-man investigative reporting team and decided to watch workers in action at the local FedEx store. He was surprised to watch an employee picking up packages and flinging them onto a truck. Yes, even packages labeled “fragile.”

“I was just blown away. I was absolutely left speechless for the most part,” he told New York’s WCBS. “I couldn’t believe it.” He evidently isn’t a regular Consumerist reader, though we see delivery drivers chucking one package at a time more often than drivers chucking entire loads of packages at a time. He was so surprised to see this that he whipped out his phone and took a video.

“If my local fedex store is any example of the companies standards then they are in need of a major reboot,” he noted on the original footage that he posted to YouTube.

When asked about the video footage, a FedEx representative said that customers should complain to the company and file claims when they receive packages that have been damaged. “The behavior depicted in the video is not consistent with the professionalism FedEx Ground demonstrates every day,” the company said in a statement. “They’re committed to treating packages with the utmost care, and will take the appropriate action to address this situation.”

Video shows East Northport FedEx driver tossing packages [Newsday]

AB InBev To Sell SABMiller’s Eastern European Brands For $8B

Anheuser-Busch InBev’s pending $107 billion merger with SABMiller will now include fewer brands: the beer behemoth announced today that it will sell several of its betrothed’s eastern European assets in order to appease federal regulators and speed up approval for the mega-merger. 

Reuters reports that AB InBev said that it had put up for sale SABMiller’s business in Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia for $8 billion.

The sale would likely include a number of top brands in eastern European markets, such as Pilsner Urquell in Czech Republic and Dreher in Hungary.

AB InBev said it expected considerable interest from potential buyers, with analysts suggesting the top candidate could be Carlsberg.

The potential sale of the eastern European brands would mean that AB InBev would continue to have a minuscule presence in the market, Reuters reports.

“The eastern European markets may have provided an unwelcome and unnecessary distraction, and valuation notwithstanding, we regard this asset sale as a net positive” for AB InBev, Morningstar analyst Philip Gorham tells Reuters, noting that the decision to sell off the brands was likely made to prevent regulatory delays and get out of areas where the company would be less profitable.

Any sale of the brands is conditional on the completion of AB InBev’s purchase of SABMiller.

European regulators say that they will either approve AB InBev and SABMiller’s merger or open a longer investigation by May 24.

News that AB InBev is willing to sell off the premium brands is the company’s latest move to pave the way for regulatory approval. Of course, it’s perhaps less painful for AB InBev since the current list of sold-off brands only involves beers currently owned by SABMiller, including Miller/Coors, CR Snow, Peroni, Grolsch, and Meantime.

Here’s a look at the brands that are currently being sold off to pave the way for the merger:

Brand Owner Buyer Price
Miller/Coors SABMiller Molson Coors $12 Billion
CR Snow (Chinese brand) SABMiller China Resources $1.6 Billion
Peroni, Grolsch, & Other European Brands SABMiller Asahi Group $2.9 Billion
Eastern European Brands (Pilsner Urquell, Dreher, and others) SABMiler To Be Determined ~$8 billion

AB InBev to sell more SAB assets as seeks EU deal approval [Reuters]

American Airlines Apologizes For Preventing Musician From Bringing Violin On Board

American Airlines has apologized to a concert musician who wasn’t allowed to board a flight carrying her 18th-century violin, despite the airline’s policy that says small musical instruments can be treated as a traveler’s carry-on.

The woman says a flight attendant and the captain of an American Eagle flight from Chicago to Albuquerque, NM told her she’d have to valet-check the instrument, which she refused to do.

“Violins are too delicate to be checked,” she told the Associated Press.

And though her 1742 Guarneri is a rare and valuable instrument, that shouldn’t matter when it comes down to it, she says. “It could be a $50 student violin and the same problem exists.”

Both federal regulations and American’s own policy back her up: “Musical instruments are also considered a carry-on item and must fit in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you,” American’s carry-on policy reads.

In January 2015, the Department of Transportation finalized its rule regarding instruments as carry-ons as well, which requires airlines to let passengers bring their musical instruments on-board as their carry-on item as long as they’re complying with carrier’s rules (like that it must fit in an overhead bin or under a seat).

The musician says she hopes that her experience will serve as a reminder to other travelers who fly with their instruments.

“A law is only helpful if people know what it is,” the musician told the AP. “I hope that bringing this to light will help other musicians know their rights and obligations.”

An American spokeswoman told the AP that the captain of the flight had determined that her instrument couldn’t be safely secured in an overhead bin or under a seat. The musician was rebooked for travel Friday morning on a larger plane that the airline said could better handle her instrument as carry-on.

The airline says it reached out to the woman directly to apologize for the inconvenience.

American Airlines apologizes to musician for barring violin [Associated Press]

Rovi Buys TiVo For $1.1B

Rovi and TiVo are getting hitched. The technology maker announced Friday that it would pay $1.1 billion to bring the set-top box recorder under its wing. 

Through the deal, Rovi says it plans to combine TiVo’s traditional television and on-demand content with its own guides, advertising, analytics, and cloud services.

The new company aims to “write the next chapter of the consumer entertainment experience.” Rovi said in a statement.

Rovi estimates that the combined company will have revenue of more than $800 million. TiVo will keep its name after the transaction is completed, which is expected to occur within 12 months.

“It’s an exciting time as the media and entertainment landscape undergoes a significant evolution,” Tom Carson, CEO of Rovi, who will continue to lead the combined company, said in a statement. “The combined capabilities of TiVo and Rovi place us in a tremendous position to extend services across platforms and to a customer base that includes traditional, over-the-top and emerging players across the globe.”

Screwed Over By A For-Profit College? You Probably Signed Away Your Right To Sue

When Corinthian Colleges Inc. collapsed, leaving thousands of students in the lurch with student loan debt and credits that they didn’t know would be usable at other schools, they were generally unable to sue the failed for-profit educator because the students had unwittingly signed away their right to a jury trial or class action. CCI wasn’t the only for-profit operator with this anti-consumer practice, and a new report tries to get a grasp on the scope of the problem.

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 9.32.05 AMThe study [PDF] from the Century Foundation shows all ten of the largest for-profit school chains — representing more than 600,000 students and nearly $8 billion a year in federal student aid — use at least one overly restrictive clause in their enrollment contracts (click chart at left to enlarge).

These include the all-too-typical forced arbitration clauses, which strip students of their right to take the school to court. Instead, legal disputes must be resolved through a confusing process involving a third-party arbitrator whose decision is final, even in cases where the arbitrator makes an obvious error that should have resulted in a different outcome.

Arbitration clauses are generally bolstered with “go-it-alone” clauses, or bans on class actions. This means that even when multiple students have identical legal disputes with the school, they must each arbitrate their issue separately. Because of the financial burden and the limited reward, these class action bans are an effective way to rob wronged students of their legal rights.

The report found some schools are also using “gag clauses” that prohibit students or former students from telling other people about the complaint-resolution process, or about the specifics of any final ruling.

“These types of agreements have long been common in settlements of disputes, but they are now appearing in contracts and other documents that colleges require students to sign as a condition of enrollment, before a dispute even arises,” reads the report.

Finally, a number of schools are not only encouraging students to first go through an internal, institutional dispute resolution process before entering arbitration, they are actually requiring it. Thus, not only are the students forced into arbitration, but they must first go through an entirely separate process first before they can even get to arbitration.

The study looked at a wide variety of schools under three general categories — for-profits, non-profit private schools, public universities — and found a huge disparity between the use of these clauses among the three types:
Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 9.28.00 AM

Almost all (98%) of for-profit schools use forced arbitration clauses, while very few (7%) of non-profit private schools used them, and they are not used by a single public school looked at by the researchers.

For go-it-alone class-action bans, the stats for the non-profit and public schools remains the same, though the percentage of for-profits using these clauses decreases to 63%. Gag clauses were found in around 10% of for-profit schools, but were not present in any of the non-profit or publics.

Regarding mandatory internal review clauses, the report acknowledges that all schools have some sort of internal dispute resolution processes, but only a few — all for-profits — have contract language that actually requires students to run that bureaucratic gauntlet.

Given that for-profit colleges represent a disproportionately large chunk of federal student aid money, both lawmakers and consumer advocates have argued that for-profit schools with forced arbitration clauses — which appears to be nearly all of them — should not be able to receive federal aid until they remove these clauses and give students the same legal rights enjoyed on other college campuses.

“These clauses don’t benefit the public or students who dream of an education,” Julie Murray, an attorney for Public Citizen, recently said regarding arbitration provisions in education contracts. “They benefit the bottom lines of education companies.”

A group of U.S. senators — including Dick Durbin (IL), Sherrod Brown (OH), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Barbara Boxer (CA), Al Franken (MN), Ed Markey (MA), Jeff Merkley (OR), Chris Murphy (CT) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) — recently wrote that forced arbitration “has prevented victimized students from holding for-profit education companies accountable in court for their misconduct and has prompted students instead to seek relief from the Department of Education and the taxpayers.”

Does Cord-Cutting Always Automatically Save You Money?

For the past several months we’ve been working our way through real customers’ pay TV bills one by one, and one piece of reader feedback keeps bubbling up again and again: Why pay for TV at all? This is the age of the cord-cutter, right? Just ditch cable already!

So we got curious: how much money, if any, would one of our real live customers save by swapping entirely to online video?

As a yardstick, we’ll price against what our sample Comcast customer was paying. Their bill was nominally $99 for a triple-play package, plus $39.93 in taxes, surcharges, and fees, for a total of $138.93 per month. For the sake of easy math, we’ll round that off to a $140 bill, and work from there.

First Comes the Internet

You can’t watch online video without a broadband connection, so we need to start there.

Since we’re comparing against our sample Comcast customer from before, we priced out internet packages for new customers living in the same neighborhood where that customer lives. In that area, as in thousands of others, Comcast is the only available broadband provider so we’re sticking with them.

The current internet options in our sample customer's neighborhood.

Under their current triple-play package, our subscriber has been getting 75 Mbps service. Assuming they don’t want to drop to a slower tier, Comcast will charge $79.95 (we’ll round to $80) per month for the same service level.

But Wait! You Also Get…

There’s a “but” (there’s always a but), but in this case it’s not a bad thing for our customer.

As Comcast presents it, that $80 internet service is the fool’s option. Because Comcast also offers “Internet Pro Plus HBO” for $55 per month — a $25 savings for the same level of internet service, plus a 45-channel TV package as well as HBO (which of course would then also include HBO streaming access through HBO Go).

In other words, cutting cable out completely will cost this triple-play customer $25 per month more than simply letting Comcast hook them up with some channels. Comcast, clearly, is pushing incentives very, very hard to keep video subscribers.

Of course, if there’s anything we learned from researching our bill guide, it’s that the promised rate is not what it appears. If the customer takes the cheaper offer, they will end up being charged $10 per month for the included X1 box, even if they never use it. They also may owe another $8 in Broadcast and Regional Sports fees.

That said, $55 + $18 is $73 — so even with taxes and pay-TV fees with the bundle, that bill is still going to be less than, or at least not more than, $80.

Most consumers, when faced with a choice between “please charge me less for more” or “please charge me more for less,” are going to go with the former and therefore end up with more stuff — which probably helps explain why Comcast, in their latest quarterly report, is mysteriously bucking the industry-wide cord-cutting trend and says their video subscriptions are up.

Anyway, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that when all the taxes, fees, and surcharges are included on Internet Pro Plus HBO, that in most jurisdictions (including this one) it comes to about the same as just paying outright for internet only. Given that, we’ll assume this customer’s monthly Comcast bill, no matter what, now drops from $140 to $80. That leaves us $60 worth of streaming TV to play with.

The Golden Age of Watching Things

So now that our customer is shopping over-the-top services, there a lot of big-name ones they can choose among:

  • Amazon Prime, charged monthly, is $8.99.
  • Hulu Plus, with commercials, is $7.99.
  • Netflix, in HD, is $9.99.
  • Starz, as an add-on to Amazon, is $8.99.
  • Showtime, as an add-on to Hulu or Amazon, is $8.99.
  • HBO Now, through any provider, is $14.99
  • PlayStation Vue is between $29.99 and $44.99
  • Dish Sling is $20 (unless you buy add-ons)
  • CBS All Access is $5.99

We have $60 in our budget to play with, and there are a lot of different ways of putting that together. A few ideas:

  • Sling ($20) plus Amazon Prime ($9) plus Netflix ($10) plus HBO Now ($15) = $54
  • Vue ($30) plus Amazon Prime ($9) plus Starz ($9) plus Showtime ($9) = $57
  • Amazon Prime ($9) plus Netflux ($10) plus Hulu ($8) plus Starz ($9) plus Showtime ($9) plus HBO ($15) = $60

…and so on and so on. The combinations are not infinite, but they are plentiful.

But let’s say our customer actually likes some of the basic cable channels they could get through Sling or Vue. In that case, the best way to save money, or to maximize the amount of programming they get for the same cash, is for our customer to… let Comcast keep selling them TV.

If the subscriber buys the “Internet Pro Plus” package, they do not need an HD antenna, an HBO Now subscription, or an alternative over-the-top bundle like Dish Sling or PlayStation Vue to get that content. This customer, for the $60 difference left after paying that Comcast bill, could buy Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, Starz, and Showtime — and still have $15 left over in the budget.

In Conclusion: Always Do Your Own Math First

Although dropping to one billed service from three billed services should be a price-saving option, by most common-sense metrics, it might not be.

If our customer wants a basic cable or cable-like package and HBO, they’re financially better off letting Comcast sell it to them. Comcast will basically pay them not to go be a Sling or Vue customer, and there’s no reason not to take advantage of that offer if that’s stuff this family will watch.

That said, every cable provider is going to have a different plan on the table, and that’s always going to change your math too. Time Warner Cable’s 50 Mbps plan, right now, costs $65 and only offers internet access. Charter, on the other hand, offers 60 Mbps internet-only plans for $40. And Verizon offers new FiOS subscribers 50 Mbps FiOS plans for $50.

And there’s one last hurdle: a cord-cutter is, by definition, an existing customer. You may not be eligible for the plans offered to new customers… but calling to cancel may also get you a retention deal as good or better. Our tip? Figure out your budget, the content you want access to, and whether or not you’re willing for your provider to call your bluff before you cancel cable.

PayPal’s Venmo Peer-To-Peer Payment Service Under Federal Investigation

Venmo is a PayPal-owned money-transfer service that allows users to send payments to each other over the internet. Yesterday, PayPal revealed that Venmo is currently under investigation by federal regulators.

In its quarterly earnings report PayPal discloses that it received a Civil Investigative Demand from the Federal Trade Commission on March 28 as part of the FTC’s “investigation to determine
whether we, through our Venmo service, have been or are engaged in deceptive or unfair practices in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act.”

The FTC is seeking documents and answers to Venmo related questions, which could ultimatley lead to an enforcement action by, or settlement with, the government, along with possible changes to the way Venmo operates.

Venmo, which handles hundreds of millions of dollars each year in peer-to-peer transfers, has been around since 2009. PayPal acquired the service in 2009.

The idea behind Venmo was to allow individuals to transfer money for non-purchases. For example, say you and your friends went to dinner and you forgot your wallet or you were unable to cover your porition of the bill because you were waiting for your paycheck. You could later use Venmo to transfer money to whichever friend covered for you.

Last year, PayPal announced that merchants would be able to use Venmo to accept payments from customers.

PayPal isn’t saying which specific aspects of Venmo are under the regulatory microscope, only stating that the company is cooperating with the FTC.

Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Here are ten of the best photos that readers added to the Consumerist Flickr Pool in the last week, picked for usability in a Consumerist post or for just plain neatness.

(Sten Dueland)
(Karen Chappell)
(Carbon Arc)
(Mento ITA.)
(Domingo Washington)
(Mike Mozart)
(seth albaum)
(Great Beyond)

Bonus photo: please welcome Consumerist’s new hire, Archibald Leash of the Philadelphia Leashes. He’s now training as the junior officer of our K-9 unit.


Want to see your pictures on our site? Our Flickr pool is the place where Consumerist readers upload photos for possible use in future Consumerist posts. Just be a registered Flickr user, go here, and click “Join Group?” up on the top right. Choose your best photos, then click “send to group” on the individual images you want to add to the pool.

jeudi 28 avril 2016

Amazon’s Alexa Now Available On A Device That Isn’t The Echo Speaker

Alexa is spreading her personal assistant wings. The Amazon Echo mainstay is now available on its first device not produced by Amazon: the Triby, a connected message board of sorts for your home, office, or other destination. 

Triby’s integration of Alexa comes just a month after Amazon announced it had improved developers’ ability to use the personal assistant in their own devices.

Alexa’s presence in the portable voice-controlled hub built by Invoxia works much like it does inside Amazon’s Echo: it can follow simple verbal commands, stream music, connect to other smart devices, and answer inquiries.

“As a company with a speciality in creating speakers and telecoms devices, we are excited by the world of possibilities consumer products like Triby offer families to improve their lives,” Sébastien de la Bastie, managing director of Invoxia, said in a statement.

While Triby and the Echo speaker are similar products, the Triby is more on par with Amazon’s newer Echo Tap or Dot: portable and smaller.

Language Creation Society: Paramount Does Not Own Klingon Language

As we reported earlier this month, Paramount Pictures is trying to block a crowdfunded Star Trek fan film based, in part, on the studio’s claim that it actually owns the copyright on the Klingon language. Now the Language Creation Society has chimed in on the case, making the argument that Paramount can’t claim ownership on a fictional language.

While Klingons have been part of the Star Trek universe since the original TV series, the actual Klingon language was not created until 1984 for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, produced by Paramount.

“Given that Paramount Pictures commissioned the creation of some of the language, it is understandable that Paramount might feel some sense of ownership over the creation,” writes the LCS in a brief [PDFKlingonamici] filed yesterday with the federal court hearing the case. But, feeling ownership and having ownership are not the same thing.”

While Paramount has long asserted its ownership over the Klingon language, and official books published by groups like the Klingon Language Institute, have licensed the language from the studio, this is believed to be the first time Paramount has made a claim to ownership in a legal proceeding.

In its brief, the LCS contends that Klingon is no longer used solely within the context of a fictional universe, noting that Microsoft’s Bing search engine, allows users to translate text to and from Klingon.

“The popular television show The Big Bang Theory featured Klingon dialogue at several points, with one episode even featuring a game of Klingon Boggle,” adds the LCS. “Similarly, Klingon was substituted for Hebrew as a gag in the hit television show Frasier. A Swedish couple spoke their marriage vows in Klingon during a traditional Klingon wedding ceremony. Even foreign governments have seen fit to provide official statements in Klingon.”

In addition to arguing that a movie studio can not lay claim to an entire language known by millions of people throughout the world, the brief points out that Paramount cites “no authority supporting their assertion that Klingon (or any language) can be copyrighted.”

While you can try to trademark a single word or short phrase, U.S. copyright law, the LCS say it “does not give the copyright holder the right to exclude others from making use of the ideas or concepts themselves.”

The LCS says that works written in Klingon — or any other constructed language (or “conlanguage”) — are deserving of copyright protection. So the dialog in a Star Trek script would be covered, or a story written in Klingon, but that doesn’t mean the entire language can be copyrighted.

“Allowing copyright claims to a language would create a monopoly on use extending far beyond what is needed to protect the original work or to claim credit for the language’s creation,” writes the group in a blog post from today. “The potential threat of a lawsuit for merely using a conlang, or creating new works to make it more accessible, has a chilling effect; it makes conlangers, poets, authors, educators, and others less likely to build on and enjoy each others’ work, to the detriment of conlanging in general.”

Subway Giving Out Free Breakfast Sandwiches For The Month Of May — But There’s A Catch

Mandy Jansen
In what seems to be an effort to carve itself a share of the fast food breakfast market, Subway is offering customers a free breakfast sandwich throughout the month of May. Getting that “free” food won’t be as easy as simply holding out your hand and saying “gimme,” however: you’ll either have to be the kind of person who likes to eat sub sandwiches before 9 a.m., or have a refrigerator to stash one until lunchtime, because the Subway deal is a buy-one-get-one situation: customers will get a six-inch savory breakfast sandwich “with the purchase of any of their favorite handcrafted subs” at participating locations. [Subway]

McDonald’s Brings Back Mighty Wings In Atlanta: Wait, What?

You might remember Mighty Wings. Back in 2013, McDonald’s tested the breaded and fried wings after months of testing, and they failed, leaving the chain with 10 million pounds of leftover wings in a freezer vault. The original $1 per wing price point just didn’t appeal to people, especially when they could get wings cheaper in sports bars and the chain still had a dollar menu. The wings are back, though, for a limited time in Atlanta.

Don’t call it a test, since it’s unlikely that the wings will come back nationwide. We contacted McDonald’s to confirm the news, and they told us that “the juicy, bone-in chicken wings are in a bold, spicy breading and available until mid-June.”

On Twitter, people in Atlanta are rather confused about this.

Atlanta was one of the early test markets for Mighty Wings back in 2012, and apparently the product was successful enough there to revive it four years later.

VW’s Emissions-Cheating Scandal Could Cost Carmaker More Than $18B

It doesn’t pay to cheat. That’s the moral of Volkswagen’s ongoing emissions-cheating scandal after the carmaker announced Thursday that its tab for fixing vehicles, compensating owners, and paying fines to federal regulators in the U.S. could exceed the $18 billion previously earmarked to address the scandal. 

VW executives warned in an annual earnings report [PDF] Thursday that the company could face “further significant financial liabilities” as it continues to work with regulators in several countries to address the scandal that affects more than 11 million vehicles worldwide.

The company’s tab in the U.S. alone will likely exceed the $18 billion the carmaker deducted from last year’s earnings to cover costs of the scandal.

VW estimates that it will spend nearly $8.8 billion to pay for fixes and provide buybacks for the more than 500,000 vehicles equipped with “defeat devices” designed to cheat federal emissions tests in the U.S., per a settlement the company entered into with federal regulators last week.

In addition to the buybacks and fixes, the Environmental Protection Agency tells the Associated Press that it could levy fines totaling up to $18 billion against the carmaker.

VW CEO Matthias Mueller said on Thursday that fixing the emissions-cheating vehicles “will remain our most important task until the very last vehicle has been put in order.”

But to do so, the company may have to find additional funds, which the report suggests “may lead to assets being sold.”

Analysts tell Reuters that those actions could include the sale of VW’s truck business. However, Mueller told reporters on Thursday that that option was not currently under consideration.

Despite the ongoing scandal and pending lawsuits, Mueller stressed that the company’s car business remains “fundamentally sound.”

VW says emissions scandal bill could get much bigger [Reuters]
Volkswagen CEO Apologized in Person to Obama Over Scandal [The Associated Press]

Take This Weight-Loss Supplement And Give Up Your Right To A Jury Trial

If you wanted to get an idea on the ridiculous overuse of forced arbitration, here’s one of the more absurd examples we’ve seen — a weight-loss supplement with the added non-benefit of stripping users of their right to sue the company that made the pills.

On the back of the box for MetaboUp, you can find the following mice-print paragraph:


“All sales are subject to ORI’s Terms & Conditions of Sale which can be found at These terms include a mandatory, binding arbitration clause and a waiver of the right to a jury trial or to participate in a class action.”

So it’s not the actual arbitration clause. To find that, you need to go to the MetaboUp website, and find the Terms of Use link buried far at the bottom of the homepage:
Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 11.42.16 AM

On that page, there is more detailed information, specifying that “Any claim, dispute, or controversy… shall be resolved exclusively and finally by binding arbitration,” along with the names of the possible forums for such hearings.

“The arbitration will be conducted before a single arbitrator, and will be limited solely to the dispute or controversy between Customer and ORI,” it continues, meaning that each individual dispute must be dealt with on its own, even if you and another customer have the exact same complaint.

In case that weren’t explicit enough, the clause then states that class-action arbitrations are not allowed. The one bright spot: There is a way to opt out of the forced arbitration in writing within 30 days.

So is this sort of arbitration clause actually enforceable? There doesn’t appear to be a clear answer to that question.

The Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 was intended as a way to allow companies to expedite contractual disputes by agreeing in advance to have their problems heard outside the legal system. However, Supreme Court rulings over the last few decades have made forced arbitration more attractive as a method for preventing consumers from filing class actions.

But while those SCOTUS decisions have confirmed that companies like AT&T can insert clauses into contracts you’ll never read and can’t change, all of these rulings have involved agreements that you must at least actively acknowledge that you are accepting.

One could argue that putting the arbitration disclosure on the exterior packaging is sufficient to alert consumers before they make the purchase. Conversely, one could also argue that, without the customer being required to agree to the terms of use they can’t enter into a contract that strips them of their right to sue. It’s a matter that likely needs to be litigated or resolved through legislation and regulation.

There have been a handful of legislative efforts to curb the practice. In February, Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Al Franken from Minnesota proposed the Restoring Statutory Rights Act, which seeks to create an exception in the Arbitration Act for disputes involving individuals and small businesses.

Under the proposed law, the only way individuals would enter into arbitration is if they agreed to do so after the dispute has been filed. That’s very different from the current process, which automatically shunts all customer disputes into binding arbitration.

Sen. Franken is also expected to co-sponsor, with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT) the Justice for Telecommunications Consumers Act, which would bar phone, cable, broadband, and other telecom companies from using forced arbitration clauses in their customer contracts.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is currently considering new rules that would limit financial institutions’ use of forced arbitration. A group of 164 advocacy groups — including Consumers Union — have written to CFPB director Richard Cordray, calling on him to follow through on these regulations and give consumers back their right to access to the legal system.

“Few practices are as fundamentally contrary to the public interest as the increasingly widespread use of these ‘ripoff clauses’ that impose forced arbitration in most consumer financial contracts, including credit cards, student loans, debt settlement, credit repair, auto financing, and payday loans,” reads the letter. “These clauses force consumers into a secretive, unfair system set up by corporations to protect and hide harmful and unlawful corporate behavior. Not only does forced arbitration eliminate the right to jury trial in a civil action, limit discovery, restrict or prohibit publicity, and make meaningful appeal impossible; these clauses also often prohibit consumers from banding together in a class action to hold the company responsible.”

Just another thing think about the next time you’re buying a weight-loss supplement…

Lawsuit Accuses Snapchat Of Negligence For Speed-Capturing Filter

On the list of dangerous and distracting activities you should not be doing while driving, Snapchatting behind the wheel is definitely up there, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been reminding everyone this month on social media with the #justdrive hashtag. Nevertheless, the lure of a Snapchat filter that displays your speed can prove too strong for some drivers, resulting in at least one accident.

A recently filed lawsuit [PDF] accuses Snapchat of negligence for the speed recording filter that allows app users to record their speed of travel while walking, running, and, unfortunately, driving.

According to the lawsuit, an 18-year-old woman was using the Snapchat video filter in September 2015 when she slammed into an Uber driver’s car at 107 mph in a 55 mph zone. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and was hospitalized for months, and now needs a walker or wheelchair to get around and cannot work, the complaint says.

The plaintiff’s lawyer says in a statement (h/t The Washington Post) that the woman was driving friends home from work in her father’s Mercedes c230 at a local restaurant in a suburb of Atlanta, with her phone in hand, when she started driving fast. One of her passengers, who was pregnant, objected, and asked her to slow down.

But the woman was “caught up in Snapchat,” using the miles per hour filter. She “wanted to post an image of herself going fast,” the statement reads. “She argued that she was, ‘Just trying to get the car to 100 miles per hour to post it on Snapchat.’ ”

The statement says the driver was just about to post the video when she crashed into the Uber driver’s Mitsubishi. She later posted a photo of herself strapped to a backboard in a neck brace, with blood trickling down her forehead, with the caption, “Lucky to be alive.”

The lawsuit alleges that Snapchat bears equal blame for causing the crash, because the company didn’t delete the filter from the app even after it was cited in similar accidents prior to the September 2015 crash.

“On and before September 10, 2015, Snapchat knew that wrecks had occurred due to the use of Snapchat’s app while driving at high speed,” the lawsuit reads. “Despite Snapchat’s actual knowledge of the danger from using its product’s speed filter while driving at excessive speeds, Snapchat did not remove or restrict access to the speed filter.”

In a statement to CNN (warning: link contains video that autoplays), Snapchat declined to comment on the pending lawsuit but said that app has a warning not to Snapchat while driving.

Thieves Ram SUV Into Paris Chanel Store, Make Off With Designer Handbags

The lure of luxury goods can be very strong, but thieves in Paris took that desire for designer products to an extreme, police say, using a sports utility vehicle to ram their way into a Chanel boutique, ransacking the store and fleeing on scooters with a “quite significant” haul.

Police say the burglars slammed into metal shutter protecting the front of the store with a stolen Jeep Cherokee early Thursday morning, The Wall Street Journal reports, at a time when police patrols in the city are typically ending their night shift and returning to their stations.

After raiding the store and grabbing a bunch of bags, the robbers set fire to the vehicle in an effort to get rid of evidence, and fled on scooters, police said. It’s unclear how many people were involved or the value of the stolen goods, with police noting that the haul was “quite significant.”

“These criminals generally dump the products on black markets at a fraction of their official price,” a police officer said.

Burglars Ransack Chanel Boutique in Paris [The Wall Street Journal]

Dole Restarts Production At Salad Facility That Had 9-Month Listeria Outbreak

Back in January, the state of Ohio and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered and investigated Listeria contamination in salad greens that came from a Dole processing plant in Springfield, OH. The plant has been closed since January, and started limited production this week, but haven’t announced exactly what the source of contamination was or how they were able to eradicate it.

The CDC was able to identify the bacteria in patients beginning in July 2015, and the last documented case was in January of 2016. There were a total of 33 people in the United States and Canada who were confirmed ill with the pathogen from the Springfield plant, with 19 patients in the United States and 14 in Canada.

“Confirmed” cases, in food poisoning, are people who were ill enough to visit a doctor or who were hospitalized and had samples of their blood or feces taken to be matched to the CDC database. Of the known patients who died, one was in the U.S. and three were in Canada.

“After fully coordinating with these regulators, limited production has restarted and will expand in the coming weeks, the company said in a statement. The company also expressed gratitude to its employees and local residents in Springfield, OH. When asked by Food Safety News, spokesperson said that the company had no further statements other than the official release.

Dole restarts salad facility; mum on Listeria cleaning process [Food Safety News]

American Airlines Flight Turns Around After Bird Strike Leaves 2-Foot Dent In Plane

A bird might be small compared to a jetliner, but get a whole bunch of them together and they can do some pretty serious damage. Passengers on an American Airlines flight out of Seattle found that out yesterday, when the plane was forced to turn around after a bird strike left a two-foot dent in the nose of the aircraft.

American Airlines Flight 2310 was heading to Dallas/Fort Worth last night with 150 passengers on board, but ended up turning around after two or more birds apparently hit the plane, reports KIRO-TV (warning: link contains video that auto-plays).

The plane landed safely back at Sea-Tac, with a visible dent on the nose cone.

“American Airlines 2310, from Seattle-Tacoma (SeaTac) to Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), returned to SeaTac due to a bird strike, which struck the nose of the aircraft,” the airlines said in a statement. “Our maintenance team is currently evaluating the aircraft. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience, and are working to get them to Texas as soon as possible.”

Two-foot dent left on plane after Sea-Tac birdstrike [KIRO-TV]

Comcast Officially Acquires DreamWorks For $3.8B

The rumors are true: Comcast’s media empire is getting a new addition in the animation department.

Comcast is, of course, not just a cable and telecom behemoth; they are also NBCUniversal, film and TV giant. And now Universal is picking up DreamWorks Animation for even more than $3 billion the rumor mill guessed earlier this week.

The move brings family-friendly franchises like Shrek, Madagascar, and How To Train Your Dragon under the NBCU umbrella, as well as classics like Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer… and positions Universal Studios, with all its subsidiaries, in prime position to compete with Disney/Pixar for those lucrative movie and merch dollars.

“DreamWorks Animation is a great addition to NBCUniversal,” Steve Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal, said in a statement. “[DreamWorks has] created a dynamic film brand and a deep library of intellectual property.”

And really, it is all about that back-bench and licensing: “DreamWorks will help us grow our film, television, theme parks and consumer products businesses for years to come,” Burke said.

After the merger is completed, pending regulatory review, DreamWorks co-founder and CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg will transition to chairman of DreamWorks New Media — which we mention because it is made up of two companies called NOVA and AwesomenessTV, which is apparently a real thing and not an idea cooked up by a middle-schooler.

Priceline CEO Resigns After In-House Investigation Uncovers Relationship With Fellow Employee

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 9.46.43 AMOnline travel booking site Priceline announced today that CEO Darren Huston — who has served in that role since January 2014 — will be resigning after a company investigation discovered he was in a relationship with a fellow employee.

The resignation is effective immediately, Priceline said in a statement today. While Priceline looks for a replacement, former CEO and current board chairman Jeffery H. Boyd will serve as Interim Chief Executive Officer and President of the company. He was also the CEO of, and will be replaced in that position by Gillian Tans, the division’s operating officer since September 2011, and its president since January 2015.

Husto, who had served as CEO since January 2014, stepped down after an in-house investigation conducted by independent board members uncovered a personal relationship he had with another employee, who was not under his direct supervision, the company said in a statement.

“The investigation determined that Mr. Huston had acted contrary to the company’s code of conduct and had engaged in activities inconsistent with the board’s expectations for executive conduct, which Mr. Huston acknowledged and for which he expressed regret,” Priceline said in a statement.

Huston’s resignation “was not related in any way to the company’s operational performance or financial condition,” a company spokesman told USA Today.

Owner Of Radisson Hotel Chain Purchased By Chinese Conglomerate

Just weeks after China’a Anbang Insurance Group bowed out of its bid for the Starwood Hotel brand, another Chinese hotel group has gobbled up a different group: Carlson Hotels, the operator of the Radisson chain. 

Carlson announced Wednesday that it had finalized a deal to sell itself to HNA Group, a division of HNA Group Co.

Under the agreement, for which a purchase price was not disclosed, the companies say they will be able to more rapidly expand their respective chains.

“We look forward to working within HNA Tourism Group, a greatly respected global enterprise, in what will be an exciting new chapter in the history of Carlson Hotels,” David P. Berg, Carlson Hospitality Group chief executive officer, said in a statement. “As part of HNA Tourism Group, Carlson Hotels will have an opportunity to advance our commitment to providing guests with hospitality world-wide.”

Carlson currently operates 1,400 hotels in 115 countries and employs about 90,000 people.

The Carlson deal, which is subject to regulatory approvals, is expected to close in the second half of 2016.

The Consumerist Guide To Understanding Your Dish Network Bill

When you sign up for telecommunications services — some combination of TV, broadband, and/or phone — you’re told you’ll pay something like $49 or $99 a month… and yet the price you actually pay can be as much as 40% again on top of that, thanks to a heap of sometimes confusing charges and fees. Which ones do you blame the government for, and which are made up by your cable company? One business at a time, we’re using real customers’ bills to break it down. We’ve covered Comcast, TWC, DirecTV, Charter, FiOS, and Uverse in our bill guide series so far. Now, it’s Dish’s turn.

The below bill was provided to Consumerist by a real-life Dish customer who subscribes to a programming service tier that nominally costs $89.99 per month. The subscriber also pays for some extra premium and movie options, which definitely increase the rate. Setting aside the premium content add-ons, though, $28.57 — about 18% of their overall $157 bill — comes from some kind of additional surcharge or fee.

Dish bills are, well, pretty short. Since the company only provides pay-TV service, and not internet or voice, they’re limited in scope. Dish also charges fewer fees overall than most of their competitors — a fact they tout far and wide as a major marketing tactic on their website, where they compare their own fee structure favorably against basically all the same providers (except Uverse) we’ve looked at so far.

But “short” doesn’t necessarily mean “clear” or “absent of any weasel language,” even with Dish. Let’s break it down:

(KEY: The RED numbers [1-10] are Dish-originating fees; BLUE numbers [11] are government fees)

Monthly TV

1.) America’s Top 250
This is the quoted price for the service bundle you subscribe to. In this case, it’s the “America’s Top 250” service tier, which includes almost every English-language TV channel there is, including all of the premium networks that usually require an additional fee.

Dish does all pricing based around their minimum bundle, which they advertise as “$49.99 a month plus taxes,” and the “America’s Top 250” tier package is described as a $25 / month upgrade over that. Do the math, and that’s $74.99 per month for the package, which includes basically all of the basic, standard, and extended cable channels you can think of, from the major to the niche, including a bunch of sports — but not including the premium channels (HBO, Starz, etc).

On their website, DirecTV currently advertises this bundle like so:


This is the price you expect to pay, and the one you sign up for.

2.) First Receiver (add’l $7 – $17)
Satellite service requires some kind of receiver. This is functionally your cable box, for which the FCC thinks you are paying too much. Dish makes a point of not charging for the first, primary receiver subscribers have, but they still put the $0 line item on the bill so you can feel like you’re saving money.

3.) Joey Receiver
…Dish does, however, charge for additional receivers, and this subscriber has one. The company has a kangaroo-themed naming scheme, and the “baby” receivers on second and subsequent TVs in a customer’s home are called Joeys.

4.) DVR Service
Dish makes clear up-front that they charge separately for their fancy-pants “Hopper” (again with the kangaroo theme) DVR service. New customers pay $10, according to Dish’s website. However, of the Dish bills we looked at, all but one were paying $12 for their DVR service.

5.) HD Free For Life (reg $10)
As part of the bundle this customer subscribes to, they get a “discount” on receiving HD service, zeroing the $10 fee out.

However, this is somewhat misleading: HD service is always free, according to Dish’s website, on all service tiers.


6.) HBO
Who doesn’t need their Game of Thrones and Sesame Street fix, right? HBO is your classic premium channel. However Dish is currently offering their package of 9 HBO networks for $15, rather than $19, to customers who sign up for it now.

7.) Dish Movie Pack
The Dish movie pack gives you, well, movie channels, and lots of ’em. This particular customer has chosen to add this channel bundle to their subscription package.

8.) Protection Plan
Dish, like its satellite competitor DirecTV, has an optional Protection Plan — equipment insurance, basically — that subscribers can opt to pay for.

Basically the fee is a $96 annual bet against whether you’ll have expensive repair needs or not. The plan covers replacement equipment, replacement cables due to power surges, and reduces the fee for having a tech come out to provide service to $10.

Dish automatically includes six free months of the protection plan with all of its two-year contract bundles — so most people are going to see their monthly bill suddenly jump by $8 on month seven of their “guaranteed two-year” price plan.

One-Time Charges

9.) VOD Hotel Transylvania 2
10.) Vacation
It’s the year 2016: you rent movies by pushing a button on your remote control, instead of heading down to the local Blockbuster, because there is no local Blockbuster. This subscriber’s family enjoys movies of an evening, and paid for some content this month.

Not pictured: Other one-time charges or one-time credits, like installation fees, repair fees, refunds, negotiated discounts, or similar non-recurring charges.


11.) State / Local Tax (Sales)
Tax? Tax. Taxes are inevitable. Rates vary wildly depending where you live but the vast majority of jurisdictions in the U.S. impose some kind of communications and/or sales tax on pay-TV services.

Googling “[state name] communications tax” should be the fastest way to find the pay-TV service tax rates in your state. Rates may also vary based on county or municipality.

Additionally, some states and jurisdictions impose standard sales taxes on pay-TV or telecommunications serivces; some impose them at a different rate than on other goods, and some may not impose them at all. You’ll need to google “[state name] sales tax” to start working that one out.

Dish lumps basically all state and local tax you might pay into a single line item, which is not helpful for understanding why the money is coming out, and where it goes. We’ve looked at eight different detailed Dish bills from seven different states, and the “State and local tax” line on them read anything from $0 to $9, without any state / local breakdown or further explanation.

One of the eight bills did list “tax (telecommunications)” and “tax (sales)” as two different line items, but it was not the only state of the ones we received bills from that imposes telecommunications taxes — separate from sales taxes — on satellite TV.

Additionally, on one of the bills we also saw Dish break out a state surcharge but without giving it a clear name to help the consumer understand it, like so:

This customer has some kind of state surcharge on their bill, but the charge does not specify if it is a public access fee, a rights-of-way fee, a franchise fee, or some other kind of tax. Nor does the bill specify if the charge is statewide or local. That makes it very hard for a consumer to suss out where this charge comes from, why, and what the law behind it is. (Our research indicates it’s a state tax specifically on satellite television services.)

Dish does maintain a list of state / regional taxes on their website, which is a good start. However, the names given to line-items on customers’ bills do not match the names given on the website, nor is the list all-inclusive, as it leaves out several states that do also charge a tax.

Not a Dish Network subscriber? Never fear! Previous installments of this series have included detailed breakdowns of bills from Comcast, Charter, Time Warner Cable, Verizon FiOS, AT&T Uverse, and DirecTV, for all your cable bill comprehension needs.

5 Things We Learned About The $300 Billion Painkiller Industry

Relieving pain isn’t a simple issue of taking a pill and feeling better. It’s a complicated cornucopia of treatments ranging from over-the-counter remedies to holistic healing to prescription medications, with some $300 billion a year spent each year on painkillers in the U.S. alone.

Treating pain is also risky business, with studies showing that consumers often aren’t aware of what’s in the over-the-counter medications they take, resulting in deaths from something as seemingly innocuous as kids-formula acetaminophen.

At the same time, there is growing concern about the overuse of prescription painkillers, with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently urging doctors to give some thought to how generous they are with their prescription pad, saying that the overprescription of opioids is a “key driver of America’s drug-overdose epidemic.”

In the current issue of Consumer Reports, our colleagues take an in-depth look at the current state of painkiller use and abuse. Here are just some of the key takeaways:

1.) Prescription painkiller overuse and abuse is rampant: Every day, more than 1,000 Americans are treated in emergency rooms for misusing opioid painkillers like Percocet and Vicodin.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 14,000 Americans died of overdoses involving prescription opioids in 2014 alone.

2.) Addictive drugs can hijack your brain: Because our brains are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid danger, CR reports that patients using painkillers are more susceptible to becoming hooked on the drugs.

As many as one-in-four people taking a prescribed opioid for several months or longer struggles with addiction, according to the CDC.

3.) The federal government is finally taking notice: In March, the CDC issued its first-ever guidelines to physicians for prescribing opioids for chronic pain. The advisory suggests doctors consider non-drug and non-opioid medications for these patients, before resorting to opioids.

When opioids are the only option, the CDC recommends doctors only prescribe the lowest effective dose possible.

Additionally, the Food & Drug Administration has created an initiative aimed at curbing inappropriate prescriptions of the drugs. The plan includes changes to the regulation and approval of opioid drugs, along with new, more apparent warning labels.

4.) Over-the-counter pain medication has its own problems: According to CR, about 17 million Americans take either one aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen each day for pain relief. While these medications may not contain opioids, they continue to pose threats to one’s health.

Taking too much or taking them too often can cause bleeding in the intestines, kidney failure, heart attacks, stomach ulcers, and stroke. Aspirin may cause stomach bleeding even at low doses.

Medications like Advil and Aleve can actually trigger headaches if you take them more than a few times in a week.

5.) A cool sensation is not the same thing as cooling: There are plenty of over-the-counter creams and patches that, when applied, result in a warming or cooling sensation. But CR says it’s just the result of inflammation from either capsicum (used in warming products) or menthol (used in cooling treatments). It’s a distraction from your pain, but is it actually doing anything?

“There’s little evidence they actually address the underlying pain,” explains CR, “though some people still might find relief. This isn’t the same as using ice, which can reduce inflammation.”

mercredi 27 avril 2016

You Now Might Have To Pay Extra If You Keep Your Uber Waiting

Just like you might get annoyed when you have to wait too long for your Uber driver, that driver might be losing money for all the time you dawdle inside because you weren’t ready to be picked up. That’s why the service is testing a new policy that allows drivers to tack on a fee if a passenger keeps them waiting for more than two minutes. 

This is a revision of an existing policy in some markets, where Uber drivers are allowed to charge no-show fees of $5-10 to passengers who don’t turn up within five minutes of the car’s arrival.

TechCrunch reports that the late passenger fee is currently being piloted in New York City, New Jersey, Phoenix, and Dallas, and depending on evaluations could expand to other areas in the coming months.

The “Request When You’re Ready” pilot was first spotted by a New York Uber user via a pop-up on the company’s app.


“Drivers’ time is valuable, and while we expect riders to request a ride only once they’re ready, we know that waiting for a rider at their pickup location can be frustrating,” a rep for the company tells TechCrunch. “When riders and drivers are respectful of each other’s time, the whole system runs more smoothly and the Uber experience improves for everyone.”

While the changes mean that passengers should hustle it when ordering a ride, it doesn’t actually change when riders are charged a cancellation fee.

That fee is only applied if the rider doesn’t show up within five minutes. Instead, the new policy states that a driver can start charging its city’s per-minute rate for every minute they decide to wait for the passenger after the first two minutes.

Essentially, the policy allows driver to start trips for tardy passengers before they actually get to the car.

It’s unclear if a passenger being charged the per-mile rate after two minutes will charged both that fare and the no-show fee if the fail to arrive after five minutes and the driver cancels their trip. We’ve reached out to Uber and will update this post when we hear back.

For now, Uber has updated it’s help page to reflect the charges imposed after two minutes: “Cancellation fees may differ depending on the city and selected vehicle option. Many cities have a 5 minute charge-free cancellation window, but select cities and uberPOOL trips may charge after two minutes from a driver accepting your request.”

TechCrunch notes that while the policy shift appears to be a response to driver complaints about tardy passengers and wasted time and fuel, it could become an issue given the company’s varying estimated time of arrival posted on the app.

For example, the app could show your car is 6 minutes away, but it arrives in three and you’re not waiting on the curb.

Now some Ubers will only wait 2 minutes before charging you, not 5 [TechCrunch]

Comcast Raising Data Caps To One Terabyte On June 1

Comcast has — deservedly so — been the subject of thousands of customer complaints since expanding its test of data caps in 2015. In an effort to establish a more realistic data cap, Comcast is more than tripling the monthly data threshold in these markets from 300 GB to a full terabyte.

In a blog post, Comcast claims that its typical user only goes through about 60 GB of data a month, and that the new terabyte limit would suffice for more than 99% of its customers. The change will kick in for affected customers starting June 1. The new 1 TB limit applies to all plans in these markets, regardless of the customer’s data speeds.

For customers who can’t keep their data use under that 1 TB ceiling, Comcast will continue to offer its “Unlimited” add-on tier. But instead of the current level of $30-35/month, users who want to go beyond the terabyte mark would have to pay $50 for each month of unlimited access. Users who just need to go slightly over the terabyte limit will have the option of buying buckets of 50 GB of data for $10 each.

The need for higher data caps was inevitable as consumers not only increase their use of online video, but as that video increases in fidelity. A couple hour of HD video will eat up 4GB or so of data, but download an Ultra-HD 4K movie, or a new full-length video game, and you’re looking at several times that amount. Additionally, many households now contain multiple devices accessing the Internet simultaneously.

Comcast says the change is a result of customer feedback on the data cap trials, which have been going on for four years, but only began to expand in earnest after the April 2015 failure of Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable.

“We have learned that our customers want the peace of mind to stream, surf, game, download, or do whatever they want online,” writes Comcast Executive VP of Something or Other Marcien Jenckes. “So, we have created a new data plan that is so high that most of our customers will never have to think about how much data they use.”

Girls Scouts Want To Know How Pallets Of Girl Scout Cookies Ended Up At Discount Stores

The only place you’re supposed to be able to get Girl Scout cookies is from the scouts, so how did a bunch of discount stores in South Carolina end up selling these treats at upwards of 90% off?

WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, SC, recently looked into this mystery and found that the stores had purchased them from a wholesaler, who had apparently gotten the cookies from an affiliated baker as a donation after the conclusion of the most recent Scouts sales season.

The Scouts tell WSPA that the cookies were donated in “good faith and consistent with past practices to a domestic hunger-relief charity,” not with the intention of them then being resold to at a discount retailer.

Sales of the coveted cookies are generally restricted to the troops, who are expected to learn lessons of responsibility and leadership through the process. Additionally, heavily discounted offseason sales of the cookies may make the treats less attractive when the season rolls around again.

“If the public thinks that they can buy discounted cookies after our cookie sale is over, then it could harm the programs that are available to girls,” explains one regional Scouts exec.

The store chain that sold the cookies is apparently removing the product from shelves, though the owner maintains that he did nothing wrong.

“It is not uncommon for manufacturers to get rid of any overage or overstocked items at the end of a season. This is how stores like ours survive, by purchasing these items at a drastically reduced rate and selling them to the consumers at a discount,” writes the owner, who says “this circumstance is not different from many others where we provide items at prices so much lower than all of our competition that it is mind boggling to some.”

JetBlue Pilot Charged With Flying Plane From Florida To New York Drunk

FAA regulations prohibit pilots from consuming alcohol at least eight hours before flying or having a blood-alcohol level higher than .04%, and it’s a federal crime to fly with a BAC of .10% or higher, which is why a now-former JetBlue pilot is in hot water.

The pilot of a JetBlue flight from Florida to New York was arrested last year for flying under the influence of alcohol when a random breathalyzer test found his blood-alcohol content was .11, the New York Post reports.

The April 21, 2015 arrest was recently made public after a Brooklyn court unsealed a federal complaint about the incident on Wednesday.

According to the complaint, the pilot was selected for the random test after he flew 151 passengers from Orlando to New York’s JFK airport.

After the initial test returned a reading of .11, the pilot allegedly tried to blame the results on the “gum that he was chewing,” the complaint states.

“During the walk to the onsite testing office at JFK Airport, Murphy’s face was red, and he was chewing gum rapidly,” the complaint says.

A second test was administered in the office 15 minutes later. At that point, the pilot’s blood-alcohol level registered .091.

The complaint goes on to show that the man piloted two flights on April 21. On the first trip, from JFK to Orlando, he was the “pilot flying,” meaning he was responsible for manning the aircraft.

For the second flight, which the man was tested after, he was deemed to be the “pilot monitoring.” However, the complaint states he was the sole pilot in control of the aircraft when his co-pilot used the restroom.

The co-pilot for both trips told authorities that the witnessed the man “drinking an unknown beverage from a cup” before and during two flights, according to the complaint.

Following his arrest and before a meeting with JetBlue, the NY Post reports, the pilot resigned from his position and was stripped of his medical certification.

A spokesperson for JetBlue tells the Associated Press that the carrier has a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

JetBlue pilot busted for flying drunk to JFK [New York Post]
Pilot accused of flying drunk on Florida-to-New York flight [The Associated Press]