mercredi 31 août 2016

Court Upholds Federal Ban On Gun Sales To Medical Marijuana Cardholders

A large number of states have legalized marijuana use for medicinal purposes, even as the federal government continues to maintain that pot is as dangerous and addictive as heroin. However, even though you can’t currently be prosecuted by the feds for properly obtaining medical marijuana in a state like Nevada, your status as a confirmed marijuana user could be used to prevent you from buying a gun.

Federal laws regarding firearms sales include a prohibition against selling guns to fugitives, convicts, “mental defectives,” and anyone who is an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” as defined by the Controlled Substances Act.

As mentioned above, not only does the DEA consider marijuana a controlled substance, but lists it as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning the agency considers it to be highly addictive, dangerous, and having no legitimate medical application.

Back in Oct. 2011, a Nevada woman attempted to purchase a gun from a firearms retailer outside of Carson City. The owner of the store knew the customer and knew she had recently obtained a medical marijuana registry card from the state.

Only days earlier, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had sent out a notice to all licensed gun sellers clarifying that medical marijuana use, in the eyes of the federal government, still constitutes an unlawful use and “you may not transfer firearms or ammunition to” these potential customers.

The customer need not even admit to being a marijuana user or card holder. If the retailer is aware that a buyer has a medical marijuana card, explained the ATF, “then you have ‘reasonable cause to believe’ that the person is an unlawful user of a controlled substance.”

So even though the Nevada customer did not note on her paperwork that she had the card, the gun owner refused to complete the transaction because he knew she was a cardholder.

Two weeks later, the woman filed a federal lawsuit alleging that this refusal to sell her a firearm violated her First and Second Amendment rights, along with the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fifth Amendment. She subsequently claimed that the ATF notice that clarified the legality of selling firearms to medical marijuana users violated the Administrative Procedure Act by effectively making new rules without going through the necessary processes.

In March 2014, a District Court in Nevada granted [PDF] the government’s motion to dismiss the case, noting that while the Second Amendment does protect American’s right to bear arms, that protection is not unlimited.

Additionally, unlike some of the other categories of those barred from buying guns — convicted felons, people who had been previously committed to a mental institution — the lower court noted that drug users can get around this prohibition by ceasing to take the drugs.

The Nevada woman had also argued that the law was overbroad because it could have the effect of barring a vast number of otherwise innocent citizens from owning guns. Again, the court was unconvinced, explaining that “Whether nearly half of the U.S. population engages in conduct that is illegal under federal law does not affect the illegality of that conduct.”

The customer appealed the lower court’s dismissal and today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling [PDF] upholding the earlier decision.

First, the appeals panel found that the Nevada customer lacked standing to challenge the particular part of the law barring gun sales to “unlawful user[s]” or addicts because she never admitted to being either of those things. In fact, notes the court, she has previously stated that she obtained the card but had never used it to acquire medical marijuana.

However, she is allowed to challenge the portion of the law that prohibits firearm or ammunition sales based on “reasonable cause to believe” that the buyer is a drug user.

The appeals court acknowledged that this law — along with the ATF’s interpretation in the notice it sent to gun sellers about medical marijuana — does indeed restrict the plaintiff’s Second Amendment rights, but that the burden is “not severe” because it limits only her ability to acquire new firearms, not her right to possess any she might already have.

The Ninth Circuit noted that the plaintiff “could have amassed legal firearms before acquiring a registry card,” and the laws she’s challenging “would not impede her right to keep her firearms or to use them to protect herself and her home.”

Additionally, explains the court, she could have purchased firearms “at any time by surrendering her registry card, thereby demonstrating to a firearms dealer that there is no reasonable cause to believe she is an unlawful drug user.”

In an effort to counter the plaintiff’s argument that the rules unfairly burden largely non-violent medical marijuana cardholders, the government pointed to studies indicating a link between violent behavior and the use of illegal drugs.

However, the appeals court chided prosecutors for “conflat[ing] registry cardholders with unlawful drug users. While these two categories of people overlap, they are not identical.” Since the plaintiff only has standing to challenge the “reasonable cause to believe” prohibition, any studies about the behavior of known drug users and addicts is not immediately relevant.

That said, the court found that it was reasonable to see a connection between this particular prohibition and the aim of preventing gun violence.

“The connection between these laws and that aim requires only one additional logical step: individuals who firearms dealers have reasonable cause to believe are illegal drug users are more likely actually to be illegal drug users (who, in turn, are more likely to be involved with violent crimes),” explains the court, which conceded that some small number marijuana cardholders may only have the card for expressive purposes, while also concluding “it is eminently reasonable for federal regulators to assume that a registry cardholder is much more likely to be a marijuana user than an individual who does not hold a registry card.”

Yes, admits the Ninth Circuit, enforcing this prohibition on all cardholders will inevitably result in some people who do not use marijuana being barred from buying guns, but points out that “the Constitution tolerates these modest collateral burdens in various contexts, and does so here as well.”

Regarding the plaintiff’s First Amendment claim, the appeals court agreed that obtaining a medical marijuana card is indeed a form of protected free expression. It, however, took issue with her allegation that the ATF’s 2011 medical marijuana notice was part of an organized federal campaign to stamp out state laws legalizing medicinal use of the drug.

“[A]ll the federal government would have needed to do to ‘crush’ the medical marijuana movement would have been to enforce the federal laws prohibiting marijuana possession,” explains the ruling.

Even if you take the plaintiff’s speculation as true, notes the court, it does not “demonstrate that the Government targeted [the plaintiff’s] expressive conduct of acquiring a registry card.” In other words, the court is saying that the gun law does not stop anyone from getting a marijuana card.

“The production, distribution, and use of medical marijuana are not protected by the First Amendment,” explains the order, “and efforts by the Government to impede – or even eliminate altogether – the production, distribution, and use of medical marijuana are not evidence of any conspiracy against free speech.”

Though the Ninth Circuit has affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case, she still has the option to petition the Supreme Court, though SCOTUS is not obligated to hear the matter.

Aeropostale Receives A Bid That Would Keep At Least 229 Stores Open

Aeropostale, a teen-focused clothing retailer, filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, and since then its continuing existence has been in question. Its business assets are up for auction this week, and the retailer reports that a bid has come in that would keep the doors open and the jeans flowing onto store shelves.

The bidder would be a joint venture between two real estate trusts that are prominent mall owners: Simon Property Group and General Growth Properties. The venture would keep the retail chain in business as a “going concern,” with at least 229 stores and perhaps more surviving the change in ownership.

Sycamore Partners, the lender that Aeropostale accuses of using its control over one of the chain’s suppliers to cut off credit lines and push it into bankruptcy, is eligible to use Aeropostale’s debt against it to bid in the bankruptcy auction. The company fought this in court, but the judge ruled that Sycamore should be allowed to bid, and that Aeropostale has to accept the highest bid.

You may recall that a similar post-bankruptcy deal is why there are still RadioShacks around: lender Standard General bid using RadioShack’s debt as currency over the objections of other creditors, keeping less than half of the chain’s stores open.

If the going-concern deal falls through, the ever-present liquidators Hilco and Gordon Brothers, along with Authentic Brands Group, would buy the inventory and fixtures, holding liquidation sales in the traditional manner.

At the time it filed for bankruptcy, Aeropostale had about 800 stores in North America.

Aeropostale Gets Going Concern Bid to Keep 229 Stores Open [Bloomberg]

Let’s Review: You Will Never Have To Send $6K In iTunes Gift Cards To The IRS

When you owe money to the Internal Revenue Service, they don’t call you up. Instead, they send letters through the mail. Yet people send thousands of dollars every day to scammers in faraway call centers who claim to represent the federal government. If you don’t know that the call is a scam, it can be super scary to be threatened with seven years in prison over the phone.

A woman in Idaho wants everyone to use her story as a cautionary tale, and recounted what happened to TV station KTVB. She received a phone message in a robotic voice telling her that she owed the IRS a large sum of money, and called the number back.

“I should know better,” admitted the victim, a single mother who immigrated to the United States from Japan 14 years ago. “But by the time my head was already frozen, and scared and feared because they threatened about my kids and all that.”

giftcardsThe fake IRS instructed her to withdraw almost $6,000 worth of cash from the bank, then go to a store and purchase iTunes and Toys-R-Us gift cards. She was to read the gift card numbers to them over the phone.

Why gift cards? They’re portable, accessible, and easy to re-sell, but one reason why scammers have shifted to gift cards is that wire transfer companies are on to them.

A few months ago, NPR’s Planet Mone interviewed an employee at MoneyGram whose job it is to explain to scam victims, mid-scam, what is happening to them.

An almost-victim explained that she felt like she was “in a trance” and fearful of the fake IRS, and holding two phones that offered her two different realities.

In summary: the IRS doesn’t leave threatening voice mails, and they don’t want your gift cards. Tell your friends and family. Perhaps soon, stores that sell gift cards will begin flagging people making massive gift card purchases in cash.

Woman loses thousands in IRS scam [KTVB]

CBS Will Let You Watch New Star Trek Show Without Commercials… For $4/Month More

As CBS prepares to put bona fide original content — like the upcoming online-only version of Big Brother and next year’s new Star Trek: Discovery series — on its $6/month All Access streaming service, the network realizes that hey, maybe people will pay a bit more to avoid having to watch all those flippin’ commercials.

The company announced today that All Access users can “upgrade” to the commercial-free tier of the service for $9.99/month, which is $4/month more than the current rate.

All Access is CBS’s answer to Hulu, the streaming venture jointly owned by the parent companies of NBC, ABC, and FOX. That higher-profile streaming service offers a bigger library of shows and movies than All Access, and also produces original content.

Meanwhile, All Access had basically just been a way to either watch Big Brother feeds or spend more NCIS time with on-demand Mark Harmon. The network is hoping that the service’s first real online-only content will bring in new subscribers — who they hope will ante up for ad-free streaming.

That includes Big Brother feedsters. While the live feeds from the BB house are constantly interrupted for “awesome” competitions, not to mention every time an addle-brained houseguest sings a copyrighted song, the network does not break up the monotony with ads.

However, CBS recently confirmed that the new original content on All Access would have up to 12 minutes an hour of advertising. We’ll have to wait to see whether that holds true for all 24 hours of the day for the Big Brother live feeds, or if the service will concentrate those ads during the hours when the hamsters are actually awake in the house.

The big question is whether $6 or $10 a month is worth the investment just for one or two original shows and access to a bunch of old CBS crime procedurals.


Explosion On Truck Carrying Takata Airbags Not Caused By Improper Shipping

On Aug. 22, a truck carrying potentially volatile airbags made by auto parts company Takata exploded, killing one person and injuring four others. Today, federal safety regulators said that the tragic incident could not be blamed on improper shipping.

According to Reuters, an initial investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board indicated the parts being shipped by Takata were properly packaged and stored.

A spokesperson for the NTSB said the agency’s hazardous material team made the determination along with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration following an initial survey of shipping documents.

The NTSB hasn’t ruled out a full-fledged investigation into the issue, however, noting that it will decide in the next few weeks whether a deeper investigation is needed.

The Takata parts truck was hauling airbag parts on Aug. 22 when it exploded, incinerating a nearby home and killing a woman.

The truck, Takata said, was carrying airbag inflators and propellants containing ammonium nitrate — the explosive chemical that the company said in 2015 it would phase out of new production. It was headed from a Takata factory in Mexico to a plant in Eagle Pass, TX and was being driven by a subcontractor.

“Takata immediately deployed personnel to the site and has been working closely with the subcontractor and the appropriate authorities to investigate this incident,” the company said in a statement earlier this week.

The initial NTSB finding comes the same day as Senators Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, and Edward Markey, of Massachusetts, called on the NTSB to investigate the Texas explosion.

“We also seek answers on what steps must be taken to ensure other towns and communities aren’t endangered by the shipment of ammonium nitrate on our highways,” they wrote in a letter to the agency.

NTSB checks show Takata shipped properly in Texas blast [Reuters]

American Girl Dolls Will Soon Be Available At Toys ‘R’ Us Stores

When I was but a young Consumerist, the only way to get your hands on an American Girl doll — once parents had been successfully harangued into purchasing the pricey toy — was by mail order. Since then, Pleasant Company, now a subsidiary of Mattel, has 20 stores around the country dedicated to selling the dolls as well as a website. Times are changing yet again: starting next month, the dolls will also be available at Toys ‘R’ Us stores.

Not all dolls will be available in the new deal, however: Toys ‘R’ Us will sell American Girls’ new line of $60 WellieWisher dolls (as seen in the above photo) at all of its 870 stores starting next month, reports the Associated Press.

In late October Toys’R’Us will open 700-square-foot American Girl shops inside about 100 of its stores, which will sell the WellieWisher line and American Girl’s signature Truly Me dolls, which come with a $115 price tag. Mattel says it’s planning to work with the retailer to open more American Girl shops within stores in 2017.

Toys’R’Us Global Chief Merchandising Officer Richard Barry said the company is “focused on finding new, exciting ways to bring our stores to life,” the Wall Street Journal reports, pointing out that the new partnership is just in time for the holidays.

Mattel could use the help: last year, American Girl sales fell 8% from the previous year. To that end, Jefferies analyst Trevor Young said in a note to clients reported by the AP that the deal “bodes well” for a turnaround, with sales expected to rise by the end of 2016 or early next year.

Can You Tell Your Exotic Foods From Your Science Fiction Characters?

If someone says “Would you like a strawberry?” you know exactly what they’re talking about. But what if someone asked for your opinion on Dulse: Would you understand that they were referencing an edible form of red algae, or maybe they’re talking about a character from Babylon 5?

If you think you can tell the difference between a Manioc and a Mentat, go ahead and take our quiz. Some foodies and sci-fi fans will ace this easily, but it might prove a little more difficult to those of us for whom Swiss cheese is exotic or who have never referred to anything using the term “expanded universe.”

We couldn’t decide whether to end this lead-in with a quote from Andrew Zimmern or Philip K. Dick, so we’ll just politely suggest that you take the dang quiz already:

Kmart Holds ‘Grand Re-Opening’ For Millennial-Focused Illinois Store

What do millennials––a generation loosely defined as “anyone younger than Consumerist’s senior staff”––want from the physical stores that they still visit? Discount chain Kmart hopes to solve that mystery, re-opening an existing store near its headquarters as a “revitalized and refreshed” concept store intended to attract younger shoppers.

Department store chains like Macy’s are investing in experiences like blow-out bars and salons, and grocery chains like Whole Foods, Aldi, and even dollar stores know that young adults like to shop there for low prices on basic items.

What about that new Kmart, though? The store is in Des Plaines, a town between Chicago and the suburban headquarters of Sears in Hofmann Estates, IL. The grand re-opening even had a celebrity guest for no obvious reason: Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen showed up at the ribbon-cutting event.

What does the store actually have to offer the younger customers that it wants to attract, though?

The Des Plaines store is trying new things out, including:

  • A customer service desk rebranded as the “Happy to Help Center,” with a store for kids where they can shop with parents’ points in the Sears Holdings Shop Your Way rewards program.
  • A personal shopping service called Shoparazzi, where customers can give Kmart a shopping list and pick up their purchases later.

    This feature includes the improbable promise that employees will go to another store and pick up any items on your list that Kmart doesn’t carry.

  • A selection of items at low prices, some as cheap as $1, in a section called the “Aisle of WOW!” which sounds a lot like Target’s One Spot.
  • A section with fresh groceries and a selection of candy from local companies.

Will these changes roll out to a Kmart near you? If the Des Plaines experiment works, these could be great new features for a discount store, and especially fun for children. If nothing else, the grand re-opening ceremony reminded local shoppers that Kmart is still there.

Kmart Unveils ‘A Whole Lotta Awesome’ At Des Plaines Store [PR Newswire]
Does Des Plaines’ Kmart reopening offer hope for Sears Holdings? [Daily Herald]

Amazon No Longer Marketing Private Student Loans To Prime Members

Just a month after Amazon announced it would partner with Wells Fargo to offer Prime members a discount on private student loans, nearly all traces of the criticized program have disappeared. 

With the exception of news releases announcing the partnership, there is no sign of the Amazon/Wells Fargo student loan discount option on either company’s websites.

When reached for comment by Consumerist, a rep for Well Fargo would only say that the “promotion for Prime Student members has ended.” The bank declined to explain the reason for ending the program or say whether the offer was supposed to be so short-lived. Amazon has not yet responded to our request for comment on this story.

Previously, Wells Fargo hosted an entire page dedicated to the promotion, touting the ability for eligible college-aged Amazon Prime members to received up to a 0.75% interest rate discount on new loans.


That page,, now redirects to the bank’s regular private student loan page.

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 1.16.25 PM

We’ve reached out to both Wells Fargo and Amazon for information on the current state of the partnership. We’ll update this post when we hear back.

The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) applauded the end of the program Wednesday.

“We congratulate Amazon for deciding to stop promoting Wells Fargo’s costly private education loans,” Pauline Abernathy, executive vice president for TICAS, said in a statement. “Private loans are one of the riskiest ways to pay for college, with none of the flexible repayment options and consumer protections that come with federal student loans.”

Under the partnership, announced July 21, Amazon Prime Students were eligible to receiving a 0.50% discount on new loans, as well as an additional 0.25% interest rate discount offered when they enrolled in an automatic monthly loan repayment plan.

The discounts were available only for new student loan applications received on or after July 21, 2016. That means borrowers who had current Wells Fargo student loans are not eligible for the discount.

At the time, the head of Wells Fargo’s Personal Lending Group called the Amazon cross-promotion a “tremendous opportunity to bring together two great brands.”

However, the program was roundly criticized by consumer advocates for touting private loans over more affordable options with better protections.

While saving 0.75% on your student loans might seem like a great deal, many advocates say it really isn’t when you consider most students headed for college are eligible for less costly federal student loans.

Private loans like the one previously touted by Amazon and Wells Fargo don’t offer the flexible repayment and discharge options found in federal student loans.

Other warned that the Wells Fargo/Amazon offer could mislead consumers into thinking they were getting a good deal when they might not be.

For example, federal student loans currently have a fixed interest rate of 3.76%, while private loans can reach as high as 13.74%.

Additionally, the fine print for the program included a notice that Wells Fargo “reserves the right to modify or discontinue interest rate discount program(s) for future loans or to discontinue loan programs at any time without notice.”


That means that while you might receive a discount when taking out the loan, it wasn’t guaranteed to stick.

Financing one’s higher education can be a difficult and information-packed endeavor. And with nearly two-thirds of students who take out student loans unprepared for the financial obligations associated with the debt, advocates advise that they should look at all options available to them.

Judge Dismisses Lawsuit’s Claims That Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine Cheated Early Beats Partner

After Beats Electronics and Music scored $3 billion when it became part of Apple, not everyone was happy. A former partner of Beats executives Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, for one, who sued the pair in 2015, claiming they’d swindled him out of money that should’ve been his. A judge has now dismissed key claims in the former partner’s lawsuit.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William Fahey issued a summary judgment that ties up the main part of the double-crossing case, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Noel Lee, founder of video and audio cable maker Monster, was an early partner of Beats co-founders Dr. Dre and Iovine, holding a 5% stake in Beats as part of a partnership between his company and the headphone makers. He alleged in the lawsuit that his former pals worked out a “sham deal” with HTC in 2011 that effectively ended Monster’s alliance with the company, and Lee’s stake in Beats was cut to 1.25%.

He eventually sold off the rest for $5.5 million in late 2013, claiming in his lawsuit that Beats executives assured him that the company wouldn’t be sold in the immediate future — but then in May 2014, Beats announced that Apple was buying it for $3 billion.

His former 1.25% stake could’ve reaped more than $30 million, Lee’s suit claimed, and his original 5% would’ve netted about $150 million.

Judge Fahey found, however, that Beats’ actions were allowed under the contracts that Lee and Monster had entered into as sophisticated investors. He also dismissed Monster’s claims alleging misconduct by HTC America and a Beats investor and board member.

The case was scheduled to go to trial next week, but will now be limited to Beats’ efforts to force Monster to pay its attorney fees and other costs.

Apple declined to comment on the ruling, and Monster attorney did not respond to the LAT’s requests for comment.

Beats wins in case that accused Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine of double-crossing investor [Los Angeles Times]

Rejoice! You Can Now Zoom In On Instagram Photos, Videos

How many times have you looked at an Instagram photo on your smartphone and instinctively tapped the picture to get a closer look at the details captured, only to be reminded that the photo sharing site doesn’t support zoom? Countless. Well, that’s about to change, finally. 

After five years of making users squint and hold their smartphones within inches of their faces to decipher what’s in the background of pictures, Instagram announced it will add a zoom function to its set of tools.

Instagram shared a video on its — what else? — Instagram account unveiling the new feature, noting iOS users can start zooming in today, while Android users will have to wait a few weeks.

Instagram Photo

“Starting today, you can pinch to zoom on photos and videos in feed, on profiles and on Explore,” the announcement states.

While the social network doesn’t say exactly how long it’s been working on the feature or why it wasn’t included in the original platform, Instagram says the tool is just the latest innovation it plans to add to the service.

“And as things change, we’re still focused on improving the core parts of Instagram,” the company says.

Of course, adding the functionality comes with one drawback: pinching photos, videos, and profile photos puts us all at risk for inadvertently liking things we shouldn’t be looking at.

[via Mashable]

Samsung Delays Galaxy Note 7 Shipments After Reports Of Explosions, Fires

Following Korean news reports of the batteries in some new Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones catching fire or exploding, Samsung says it is delaying shipments of the device pending additional quality control testing.

“Shipments of the Galaxy Note 7 are being delayed due to additional tests being conducted for product quality,” the company tells Reuters, with a similar statement going to the Wall Street Journal.

South Korean news agency Yonhap was among the first to report that Samsung had halted its shipment of the Note 7 to wireless providers in the company’s home country. That report says there are at least five claims thus far of the device exploding while being charged.

A quick search of the U.S. database didn’t turn up any stateside complaints about the Note 7, but does show that a number of Samsung customer have previously complained about their previous model Galaxy phones allegedly catching fire or smoking while plugged in for charging.

What Samsung has not made clear in its statements regarding the Note 7 is how the delays will impact the global rollout of the product. The Note 7 is set to release in Europe this week, and reportedly in China next month. A company official declined to tell the Journal which specific markets were affected by the halt in shipping.

Transatlantic United Airlines Flight Diverted After 12 Injured During Severe Turbulence

A United Airlines flight from Houston bound for London was diverted to Shannon Airport in Ireland, after extremely bumpy skies injured 12 onboard.

Airport officials and the airline at first said 14 passengers and two members of the flight crew were hospitalized for injuries sustained during the flight — including cuts, bruises, and minor head injuries— but University Hospital Limerick later confirmed that 10 passengers and two crew members were admitted, and 11 people discharged so far.

“All have since been discharged, except for one of our flight attendants,” United said in a statement.

Flight 880 was diverted due to a “medical situation,” a Shannon Airport spokesman told NBC News, resulting from “severe and unexpected turbulence.”

One passenger told the news station that things were flying “all over the cabin and kitchen area.”

“One attendant [cracked] the side of her head and was bleeding,” he said. “My shoulders are really really hurting from grabbing onto the armrest during those altitude declines.”

Another passenger told The Telegraph that there was a “sudden huge drop.”

“People who didn’t have their belts on flew out of their seats, all the TVs and the lights went off and people were screaming,” she said. “Some people were walking around and it was mainly them who were injured, but we were all terrified. For a moment I thought I was going to die.”

This is the second report of extremely bumpy skies this month: earlier in August, 24 JetBlue passengers were injured during severe turbulence on a flight from Boston to Sacramento.

Amazon May Or May Not Be Trying To Overtake UPS And FedEx

When you see a UPS or FedEx truck in your neighborhood on a weekday, or a U.S. Postal Service truck on a Sunday, they’re probably there with some kind of delivery from an online retailer, and that retailer is likely to be Amazon. As more of our everyday shopping happens online, someone will need to bring those items to our doorsteps, but it may not necessarily be the carriers we’re used to.

Amazon is taking over more of its own delivery functions. Is the retail giant trying to put its partners out of business? No, Amazon representatives say, as it adds cities and drivers to its Flex package delivery service.

In a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story this week, though, we learned about the big picture of Amazon’s delivery projects in the context of its global ambitions and future projects.

In a public interview at this year’s Code Conference put on by Recode, tech journalist Walt Mossberg asked Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos about the growth of white Amazon vans in some metropolitan areas, and specifically about whether Amazon wants to replace existing delivery services.

“We will take all the capacity that the U.S. Postal Service can give us and that UPS can give us and we still need to supplement it,” Bezos explained.

Yet in the United Kingdom, Amazon now delivers about half of its packages itself, insisting that the Royal Mail doesn’t have the capacity to handle all of the packages that Amazon customers are ordering up. Royal Mail representatives dispute this, but Amazon went ahead and created a delivery network in that country anyway.

Its home country is bigger and sprawls more, though, and here Amazon used the exact opposite tactic, paying the U.S. Postal Service to make Sunday deliveries and carry more of its packages from a final distribution point to customers’ homes.

When discussing Amazon, its delivery partners, and their future together, Christmas 2013 is a key date: while the carriers appeared to be unprepared for an onslaught of packages, carriers’ complaint was that Amazon dumped more deliveries than expected on them at distribution centers, leading to a backlog that disappointed gift recipients and

Will Amazon Kill FedEx? [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Dropbox Breach Affected Logins For 68 Million Accounts

Last week, Dropbox asked longtime users to update their login credentials after learning that their information may have been compromised nearly four years earlier. At the time, the file-sharing site didn’t say just how many users were affected by this breach, but a new report shows that more than 68 million accounts were involved.

Motherboard reported Tuesday that it was recently able to obtain a selection of files containing 68.6 million email addresses and passwords for Dropbox accounts.

An employee with Dropbox confirmed to Motherboard that the data it received was legitimate and tied to the previously disclosed breach.

Motherboard reports that the hacked passwords would have been nearly impossible to decipher. Nearly 32 million of the compromised credentials include passwords secured with a strong hashing function bcrypt, while the remaining passwords include a random string — called a “salt” — added to the password process to strengthen them.

Patrick Heim, head of Trust and Security at Dropbox, maintained that no accounts were improperly accessed following the 2012 breach and that the password change prompt issued last week covered nearly all of the affected users.

“Even if these passwords are cracked, the password reset means they can’t be used to access Dropbox accounts,” Heim said in a statement. “While Dropbox accounts are protected, affected users who may have reused their password on other sites should take steps to protect themselves on those sites.”

Heim goes on to suggest users enable two-step verification and make strong, unique passwords for their accounts.

Hackers Stole Account Details for Over 60 Million Dropbox Users [Motherboard]

When Is A Cooler Too Cool? When People Keep Stealing Them

When you think of designer goods that are prime targets for thieves, you might think of stuff like handbags, jewelry, and clothing, perhaps. But coolers? Really?

Yes, really, there is one specific brand of cooler popular among the outdoorsy set that keeps getting stolen, reports the Wall Street Journal: it’s made by Yeti, a company that has a super popular line of luxury outdoor gear. The coolers are especially prized, with prices starting at $250 for the smaller models and up to $1,300 for a version that can hold two tuna or three dressed elk.

The coolers are designed to endure the rigors of nature, like say, a bear chomping on it. To that end, Yeti coolers earned a seal of approval from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, an organization dedicated to preserving grizzly habitats.

This popularity has driven the coolers to popularity not only among campers, but among thieves who have been swiping them from campers, stores, beaches, and boats all around the country, the WSJ notes.

Here’s just a taste of recently reported Yeti cooler crimes:

• Police in Mobile, AL are dealing with a suspected gang of Yeti Bandits who have been targeting store in coastal Alabama and Mississippi, stealing thousands of dollars worth of merchandise.

• Yeti thieves in Cadiz, KY made friends with their victims one night at a local eatery, then tracked the men back to their lodge and stole nine Yeti coolers worth about $2,500 from pickups and boats, the local county sheriff’s deputy said.

• Police arrested two women in Paducah, KY in July accused of stealing $500 worth of soft-sided Yeti coolers from a grocery store — with the help of two toddlers they sat on top of the loot to hide it in their shopping cart.

It’s obvious why the coolers have become a target.

“They’re expensive, man,” one man currently in jail after being accused of stealing Yetis for about a week. “I get good money for them.”

The authorities agree.

“When you have $400 coolers,” one police detective sergeant told the WSJ, “people are going to start stealing them.”

Yeti Coolers Are Hot! No Really, People Are Stealing Them. [Wall Street Journal]

Study: The “Better” Walmarts Are In Higher-Income, Whiter Areas

All Walmarts are, bluntly, not created equal. Some have better customer service than others and are just plain more pleasant shopping experiences. And if you’ve felt like the Walmarts in richer ZIP codes are more likely to be the nicer ones, well, one study says you’re right.

A study published this year took a look at Walmart customer satisfaction by analyzing the 35,000 total Yelp reviews for all Walmarts nationwide. And the trend the researcher found is… disquieting.

The reviews covered a total of 2.840 stores. Among them, the study found, reviews for stores in areas with a lower average income were significantly worse than reviews for stores in areas with higher incomes.

And worse: even controlling for average area income, the higher the percentage of black or Latino residents in a certain ZIP code, the worse a Walmart there would rate.

The researcher running the study didn’t just look at the numerical ratings stores got; he also looked at the words reviewers were using to describe them. Stores in areas with predominantly black residents tended to be “negative,” “nasty,” “terrible,” “unorganized,” and, mainly, “worst.” Stores in areas with mostly white residents tended to be “friendly,” “typical,” “clean,” and even “pleasant” or “amazing.”

Now, it seems incredibly unlikely that anyone at Walmart is actually sitting around twirling their handlebar moustache and trying to figure out how to make life miserable for low-income or minority customers on purpose. Still, the trend in the data is there — so what’s going on?

The researcher who conducted the study points to chronic understaffing and poor working conditions as probably causing the poorer service. In a series of interviews, he and his student-assistants talked to 89 Walmart workers around the country. Employees across the board reported a lack of support, but it seemed “particularly acute,” he writes, for employees working in low-income communities of color.

And all of that — Walmart’s ability to cut corners and generally suck while still drawing in customers — is tied to competition, the researcher suggests, or specifically, the lack of it.

Walmart is able to compete so aggressively on price that it drives other retailers out of an area and establish a local monopoly, the researcher suggests. It’s called a “monopsony”:

“Instead of raising prices and lowering product quality and quantity to increase profits, profits are increased by lowering wages and staffing levels, worker effort, and employee retention. All companies trade-off lower turnover and effort for lower wages; Walmart is distinct for the extent to which it has chosen a strategy in which low-wage workers do not stay very long, do not invest much effort, but are paid such low wages that Walmart is still making a profit.”

Walmart, of course, thinks the study is bunk. In a statement to Business Insider, a spokesperson for Walmart called it “flawed and without merit.”

“Our customer traffic and overall customer satisfaction scores have been improving and we’re focused on continuing to do better,” the representative told BI, tacitly acknowledging that the company has some pretty serious customer satisfaction problems overall.

The statement continued: “Our associates play a critical role in the company’s success and that’s why we’ve invested $2.7 billion on associate education, training and wages. We’re also proud to provide communities across the country, regardless of social or economic background, access to affordable goods and career opportunities to help them better provide for their families.”

And, as BI points out, the study itself may be flawed: using Yelp alone, though it generated a fairly high sample of reviews, can’t account for other biases or outside influences. The Yelp-using population may not be representative of the broader population, or it may be predisposed to perceive any store in a ZIP code mainly populated by people of color as low-quality, regardless of the reality.

On the other hand, the Yelp reviewers aren’t the first to notice a significant absence of staff at Walmart stores, either: staff cutbacks have led to increased crime across the board at Walmart locations.

walmart’s consumer redlining [Contexts]
A study reveals a disturbing trend about Walmart locations across the US [Business Insider]

We’re Spending More At Restaurants, But Not Because We’re Dining Out More

In 2015, the average household spent around $3,008 to go to restaurants and have someone else do the cooking and dishwashing for once. That’s a slight uptick over the previous year, but spending more money at restaurants doesn’t necessarily mean we’re eating out more frequently.

Instead, Burger Business reports that the 7.9% spending increase seen in 2015 is likely tied to higher menu prices, not more frequent visits.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, households dedicated 5.37% of their income to dining out last year compared to spending 5.21% of funds in 2014.

On the flip side, consumers are still spending plenty to eat at home, just not as much as typically seen in the past.

In 2015, income dedicated to at-home food declined to 7.17%, compared with 7.42% in 2014.

Analysts believe that while we all might like a night out or a quick bite from a local fast food or fine dining establishment every once in a while, consumers aren’t exactly heading to those restaurants all of the time.

Instead, NPD Group suggests that food-away-from-home spending increased in 2015 largely based on menu-price inflation, as visits to restaurants stayed relatively flat.

Burger Business reports that both quick service restaurants — think McDonald’s and Burger King — as well as fast casual establishments — like Chipotle — saw no change in customer visits for the second quarter of 2016, while the first quarter only saw a 1% increase in patron visits.

Restaurants saw the largest decline in visits around the lunch hour, while breakfast saw a subtle 1% increase.

“Contributing to the stalled visit growth are consumers’ uncertainties about current and future economic conditions,” Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group restaurant industry analyst, tells Burger Business. “These uncertainties have put a damper on overall consumer spending. Compounding the situation for the restaurant industry is the decline in food at home inflation while at the same time restaurant operators have been increasing menu prices.”

Food-Away Spending Up; Visits Flat [Burger Business]

Uber Driver Accused Of Robbing, Assaulting Disabled Woman

It seems every week we’re reporting on ride-share drivers accused of mistreating the passengers they’re hired to take from point A to B, and this week is no different: an Uber driver in Massachusetts has been accused of stealing from an elderly disabled woman and assaulting her in the process.

Prosecutors say a 21-year-old man went to an elderly woman’s house to pick her up on Monday night in Malden, reports CBS Boston, though she hadn’t hailed him through the Uber app. Instead, she told police, she’d called him directly because he’d given her rides before.

He said he had to use the bathroom, and went inside her home. When he came out, he allegedly said to her, “Sorry, I’m going to have to take this,” snatching her handbag and a bag of medicine, reports.

The bag contained several hundred dollars and credit cards, she said. When she tried stop him, police said he assaulted her by shoving her. He was arrested on Tuesday and arraigned on charges of assault and battery on a person over 60 years old and larceny over $250. He’s also been ordered to stay away from the victim and is barred from driving for hire in the state.

We’ve reached out to Uber for comment and will update this story when we hear back.

In just the month of August, we’ve had reports of a Uber drivers accused of raping passengers in Atlanta and in a Boston suburb, and a Los Angeles driver accused of sexually assaulting a female passenger after he’d dropped her at her destination.

Uber Driver Accused Of Stealing From Disabled Woman [CBS Boston]
Uber driver accused of robbing and assaulting passenger in Malden []

Fox & Hound, Champps Locations Closing After Owner Files For Bankruptcy

If you were planning on watching upcoming NCAA or NFL games at a Fox & Hound or Champps sport bar, you should call first. Dozens of locations for the bar/restaurant chains are shuttering only weeks after their parent company filed for bankruptcy protection. 
When it filed for bankruptcy in early August , the now-ironically named Last Call Guarantor LLC operated 48 Fox & Hound locations and 23 Champps bars, along with 9 Bailey’s restaurants.

Now, a company rep tells Nation’s Restaurant News that Last Call has shuttered a total of 25 locations, leaving 37 Fox & Hounds, 14 Champps, while Bailey’s only has 4 remaining eateries.

Closed locations include those in Chattanooga, New Orleans, and New Jersey

The restaurant closures came after Last Call received $5.4 million in financing from Kelly Investment Group — a private equity firm that specializes in restructuring — to keep the company in operation until a planned auction next month.

Last Call said in a bankruptcy filing that without the financing, it would “not be able to continue their business operations beyond August 30,” NRN reports.

In addition to providing needed financing, Kelly Investment Group acquired the rights to $75 million in first lien debt that Last Call had owed to Antares Capital.

Antares has pushed the bankruptcy court to convert Last Call’s filing to Chapter 7, which would have resulted in the closure of all operations.

This is the second time Last Call has filed for bankruptcy since 2013. At that time, the company filed for federal debt protection with $117 million in debts, blaming its issues on failed financial decisions.

Fox & Hound, Champps close 25 units [Nation’s Restaurant News]

United Airlines Employee Accused Of Stealing $129K Worth Of Jewelry From Passenger

Despite that popular childhood chant, finders is not keepers in the adult world, which is why a United Airlines employee is in hot water for allegedly boosting $129,000 in jewelry that was stashed in a passenger’s lost bag.

Police arrested a customer service agent who works at Denver International Airport, accusing him of swiping a cosmetic case that had fallen out of a traveler’s suitcase, The Denver Post reports. Inside that case was $129,000 worth of jewelry.

The woman who owns the jewelry arrived at DIA on Aug. 8 on a United flight from Aspen, and realized her case had gone missing, a search warrant says. She reached out to the Aspen airport, and was told that the case had been located and was on its way back to her in Denver.

But police didn’t find the case when the flight arrived, so they took a look at security camera footage from the area. In it, the worker is seen “wrapping the cosmetic case in printer paper. He leaves and then returns with a brown paper bag,” according to the arrest warrant.

He then slides the cosmetic case into the paper bag, then picks up his phones, water bottle, and the bag and leaves the customer service desk.

Police arrested him later that day and charged him with one count of felony theft in the case. Officials recovered the cosmetic case and its expensive contents at his home.

United employee charged in $129,000 DIA jewel heist [The Denver Post]

Diamond Macadamia Nuts Recalled For Possible Salmonella Contamination

Nuts are a delicious and filling snack and a tasty addition to a cookie, but they’re a lot less healthy when they come with a generous coating of Salmonella bacteria. That’s the case with macadamia nuts from Diamond, which have been recalled after routine testing turned up bacteria on a bag of nuts.

The good news is that the bacteria turned up in routine testing, and hasn’t yet been linked to any illnesses among customers out in the real world. This may be because the bags included in the recall are marketed for baking, which might heat the products up enough to kill the bacteria.

However, two different sizes of the nut packaging have been recalled as a precaution, and those include:

  • 4 ounce package (1 cup), Chopped Macadamia Nuts

chopped nuts

  • 2.25 ounce package (1/2 cup), Macadamia Halves and Pieces

halves and pieces

Affected products will have a “best before” date between November 16 and December 7, 2017. If you have the affected products, or if you have any questions about the recall in general, contact Diamond at 503-364-0399 or the company’s e-mail contact page.

For-Profit College Operator Sues Feds After Non-Profit Status Rejected

Earlier this month, the Department of Education denied non-profit status to a chain of for-profit career colleges, accusing the schools’ operators of trying to avoid accountability with the switch. This week, the Center for Excellence in Higher Education fired back, suing the Department, alleging the government has a political agenda of putting career schools out of business.

The lawsuit [PDF], filed yesterday in a federal court in Utah, probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who saw CEHE’s response to the government’s rejection of the schools’ non-profit status. Earlier this month, CEHE’s top executive told Consumerist the company would “fight this politicized attempt to smear our good colleges and our amazing students.”

According to the complaint, CEHE — which is seeking a court declaration that the colleges are non-profit institutions and should be regulated as such —  the DOE’s decision to deny status was “arbitrary and capricious.”

“The Department has arbitrarily targeted institutions submitting change in ownership applications in instances in which the new owner is a non-profit corporation by treating those institutions as if they were proprietary institutions during the pendency of their applications. This practice is improper and unjust because it is occurring without forewarning and is contrary to the Department’s historic practice. It is being done solely to subject the institutions to more burdensome compliance requirements,” according to the complaint.

The DOE announced on Aug. 11 that it denied the Utah-based career education operator’s request after determining that the transfer would not benefit the public.

In a letter to CEHE CEO Eric Juhlin, the DOE outlined its process for determining whether a school can be converted to non-profit status and ultimately ordering the company to “continue to be accountable to taxpayers, students through federal regulations.”

CEHE is itself a non-profit organization. In 2012, after it acquired a group of colleges — including CollegeAmerica, Stevens-Henager College, and California College San Diego — from the Carl Barney Living Trust for $400 million, CEHE applied to extend this non-profit status to these schools.

However, the DOE ultimately determined that Barney — who became chairman of the board for CEHE — retained significant control over the schools and received income in a way that is not in line with the requirement that the net earnings of a non-profit can not benefit any private shareholder or individual.

If the colleges were granted non-profit status, they would not face the increased scrutiny of Gainful Employment regulations — which require career schools to demonstrate that a sufficient number of their graduates go on to earn a reasonable living — or the “90/10 rule,” which says that for-profit colleges can’t get more than 90% of their operating revenue from federal student aid funding.

The DOE’s rejection of the CEHE request means the four colleges must still meet those standards.

“This should send a clear message to anyone who thinks converting to non-profit status is a way to avoid oversight while hanging onto the financial benefits: Don’t waste your time,” U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said in a statement at the time.

CEHE alleges in its lawsuit that the DOE’s reasoning and the process to make this determination was drawn-out and unfairly targeted the schools because of their for-profit history.

The college operator argues in the complaint that the DOE strung it along since 2012, requiring it to provide at least four audits, financial statements, and other evidence although it never intended to grant non-profit status to the schools.

In 2015, the company claims the DOE required it to guarantee credit of $42.9 million to protect taxpayers and students in case of financial failure after the Denver branch of CollegeAmerica was sued by the Colorado attorney general’s office.

CEHE claims it made “numerous urgent requests” to meet with Department officials over the nearly four-year classification process, but was repeatedly ignored before learning of the rejected non-profit status through press release earlier this month.

CEHE also takes issue with the DOE’s application of the definition of a “non-profit institution.” The DOE defines a non-profit institution as one that is “owned by one or more non-profit corporations and associations, no part of the net earnings of which benefits any private shareholder or individual.”

CEHE argues that it is operated by a non-profit entity. However, the DOE determined that previous owner Barney still benefited from the colleges financially.

Barney told the New York Times on Wednesday that he doesn’t profit from the schools, which he calls his “baby.”

“I’m out of pocket about $77 million,” he said, of the costs and lost revenue that allegedly resulted from the sale of his colleges. “It was the worst deal I ever made in my life.”

[via The New York Times]

Google Launching Actual Ride-Sharing Pilot To Compete With Uber, Lyft

When Uber was new, it may have claimed to be a ride-sharing service, but these days it’s a high-tech, glorified, unlicensed taxi app. So Google’s planning to start competing against it in San Francisco, with… an actual ride-sharing service.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, Google’s going to use Waze, which it acquired in 2013, to match commuters with carpools headed their way.

The Waze pilot program charges riders a maximum of $0.54 per mile (the current IRS mileage reimbursement rate, so a pretty common rate to see mileage reimbursement set to) to be matched to drivers headed their way.

That’s lower than Uber’s rate, which is an incentive for passengers to try it. And for now at least, Google’s not taking a slice of the money — which may be incentive for drivers to pick up as many folks as they can cram into their cars.

That said, it’s still a very limited pilot. While any Waze user in San Francisco can sign up to be a driver, riders for now have to be one of roughly 25,000 area employees of several pre-selected large businesses including Google, Walmart, and Adobe among others. Riders are also limited to two rides per day: carpools into and out of the office.

Your standard “person familiar with the situation” told the Wall Street Journal that Google’s future plans would let anyone using the Waze app sign up to be a passenger or a driver, Uber-style, and that Google is likely to take a slice of fares in the future — tlhough what percentage, exactly, still hasn’t been determined.

Google, like Uber, is also not planning to consider its drivers to be employees — meaning it has it’s work cut out to avoid the same kind of driver lawsuits that have been a high-profile thorn in Uber’s side. One way Google is making sure not to treat drivers like employees? Not subjecting them to background checks, instead relying only on user reviews to “weed out problems.”

Rumors have been swirling since early 2015 that Google was planning to enter the ride-sharing space, so in one sense, the company took its sweet time. Meanwhile, Waze has been integrated into the Lyft app since January, meaning in one sense, Google’s just gone into competition with itself.

Google Takes on Uber With New Ride-Share Service [Wall Street Journal]

Shoppers Use Sledgehammer To Rescue Infant From Hot Car In Parking Lot

When there’s a baby locked in a hot car, there’s only one option: get that kid out of there, no matter what it takes. In the case of a four-month-old who had been left in a hot vehicle in a shopping center parking lot, that meant two passers-by using a sledgehammer to break the car’s windows.

A 53-year-old man and a 30-year-old woman were both in the parking lot of a New Jersey Kohl’s store when the man said he heard a baby cry out just before 1 p.m., and saw an infant strapped into the seat inside a car, reports the Asbury Park Press. According to police, the windows were closed, the car was off, and the outside temperature was in the upper 80s. Temperatures in the car were likely much higher than that.

“It was a little baby wrapped up in a woolen blanket — crying, sweating, eyes rolling in the back of her head,” said the man, who is a retired police officer.

He and the other woman asked other passers-by if they had a tire iron or something to break the windows, when he suddenly remembered he had a sledgehammer in his car from pounding tent stakes into the ground over the weekend. He smashed the window, pulled the baby out, took off her sweaty clothes, and brought her into the air conditioning in the store.

“The baby appeared to be in a great deal of distress — screaming, crying, bright red and sweating profusely,” a police sergeant told the Park Press. “The baby was fully clothed with a blanket partially covering her.”

Police arrived on the scene, and the baby was turned over to her father. The child’s mother came out of the store with two other children about 20 minutes later, asking where her baby was. She was charged with endangering the welfare of a child, after police said she left the baby in her car for almost 40 minutes.

“That baby would have been dead,” the retired police officer said. “If we didn’t do what we did, that mom would have driven home not knowing if the baby was sleeping or dead.”

Jackson man rescues baby locked in hot car [Asbury Park Press]

mardi 30 août 2016

Uber “Local Rewards” Program Offers Free Rides For Shopping, Dining Out

Two months ago, Uber launched a rewards program that offered free rides to users who used a Capital One credit card. Today, the company unveiled a separate reward program with Visa, providing free rides based on how much customers spend at local businesses. 

Uber announced today that it would launch a new feature called Local Rewards that will see the company providing riders with one “Uber point” for each dollar spent at a business using the Visa card saved to their Uber account.

For every 100 points accumulated, users will receive a free ride valued up to $10. The program is being rolled out in San Francisco and Los Angeles, with other cities expected to be added in the future.

uber reward2

Unlike the Capital One rewards program, which currently has an end date of March 2017, the Visa partnership appears to be a more permanent offer to Uber customers.

Users can enroll in the program and view a list of participating local businesses above the “Promotions” section of the app menu. Uber points will appear in the app immediately after the card has been swiped at an eligible merchant.

Petsitter Loses $1 Million Lawsuit Over Negative Yelp Review

The six-month saga of the Texas petsitter who sued a customer for up to $1 million in damages over a negative Yelp review appears to have come to an end, with a judge agreeing to dismiss the case that made national headlines.

Just to backtrack, in case you’ve somehow had more important things to read about than petsitter-related litigation in the Lone Star State.

A couple in Plano, TX, hired a local petsitting company to look after their dogs and fish while they were on vacation. The customers weren’t terribly thrilled about the quality of service they received and shared their feedback publicly on Yelp in Oct. 2015.

The petsitting company not only responded to that write-up, but followed it with a cease-and-desist notice directing the customers to remove their review. When they did not take their Yelp post down, the petsitter filed a lawsuit in justice of the peace court for around $6,700, accusing the couple of violating a non-disparagement clause in the petsitter’s customer agreement.

Non-disparagement clauses are questionably legal conditions inserted into contracts and agreements that try to prohibit consumers from freely expressing their opinion on a transaction. California recently outlawed such clauses and a bipartisan bill that would make them illegal nationwide is waiting for Congress to return for a vote.

After the initial lawsuit made national headlines, the petsitter dropped that complaint and re-filed their case in a state district court, expanding on the allegations to include defamation and upping the damage request to as much as $1 million.

By this point, the case had attracted the attention of advocates for consumers and free expression. Attorney Paul Alan Levy from Public Citizen took on the task of asking the court to dismiss the case, arguing that the petsitter’s complaint is a frivolous SLAPP. That’s a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”; in other words, a lawsuit filed in the hopes of getting the defendant to shut up.

The Texas Citizens Participation Act is an example of a so-called “anti-SLAPP” statute, allowing the defendants in cases involving issues of speech to seek a dismissal if the plaintiff can’t “establish by clear and specific evidence a prima facie case for each essential element of the claim in question.”


The judge heard from all parties involved in this mess in late July and today issued an order [PDF] dismissing the petsitter’s lawsuit.

In accordance with the Texas anti-SLAPP law, the defendants are also now entitled to recover court costs and reasonable and necessary attorney fees from the petsitter.

Levy says that by “seeking to silence negative criticism,” the petsitters may have ended up risking the future of their entire company.

“Not only did the company lose business when customers were disgusted over the non-disparagement lawsuit, it now is responsible to pay attorney fees and sanctions,” he explains.

In a statement, the couple expressed their relief and gratitude regarding today’s ruling.

“We should all have the opportunity to express our opinions without the fear of a lawsuit,” reads the statement. “We are so grateful for the attorneys who have supported us through the case. It took lots of hours and many smart minds spending too much time talking about Gordy the betta fish. Thank goodness they did not lose sight of the real issue: the threats posed by non-disparagement clauses to our right to free speech.”

In response to the petsitter story and other dubious lawsuits filed against Yelp users, the reviews site recently began publicly flagging certain companies that were believed to be making “questionable legal threats” over online reviews.

“Consumers don’t necessarily know that these threats are sometimes empty or meritless (and often both!), so the threat of legal action is enough to scare them into silence,” wrote Yelp Sr. VP Vince Sollitto earlier this summer. “We don’t think that’s right.”

Twitter Wants Your Videos So Much, It Will Let You Keep Most Of The Ad Money

Hey, have you heard about video? You might have missed it, what with literally every social media platform all but begging you to post more and watch more at all times, but video is the new hotness. And to get individuals to post more video to their platform, Twitter’s willing to split the ad take.

In a blog post today, Twitter announced that Twitter Amplify, its revenue-generating (read as: advertising) program for video creators, will now be available to individuals in the US.

Amplify currently has certain large-scale VIP partners like the NFL, but has not been available to the would-be internet stars of the next generation — the burgeoning YouTube, Instagram, and Vine celebrities of the world — until now.

It’s a fairly sweet deal, Recode reports: Twitter Amplify users will be able to keep 70% of the ad revenue their content generates for the social network, the same split that existing contributors get. YouTube, on the other hand, requires a 55% / 45% split.

That said, you can’t just roll up a new Twitter account today and hope to start making bank for video content. The program will a one-click ticky-box option for “approved creators.” If that process is anything like becoming a verified user, it’s likely to strike as very hit-and-miss for a whole lot of users.

IKEA Taking Its Time Providing Records Related To Massive Dresser Recall

Two months after IKEA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission took the unprecedented step in recalling $29 million top-heavy Malm and other models of dressers and chests linked to the deaths of six children, the retailer has missed a deadline to hand over documents related to the recall.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that IKEA missed an Aug. 19 deadline to provide the internal records to lawyers representing the family of a two-year-old boy who died after being crushed by a dresser in 2014.

The family’s lawsuit against IKEA accuses the company of continuing to sell the dressers despite knowing of the tip-over risk and potential injury to children.

A lawyer representing the family says the documents, which include photos and video of IKEA dresser tests and emails, will shed light on the true nature of the the dangers posed by the furniture, including information related to global Malm tip-over incidents.

The 75 requested documents relate to IKEA’s two year-long discussion with regulators that resulted in a July 2015 repair program that included sending replacement wall anchoring kits to owners instead of simply recalling the furniture.

“It is hard to think of anything more relevant [to our case] than Ikea’s discussions with the CPSC about whether or not this product should be recalled,” lawyer Alan Feldman, representing the family, tells the Inquirer, noting that the family has now asked a judge to fine IKEA $1,000 for each day it fails to provided the documents.

If agreed to, those funds would go to Kids in Danger, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group that played a part in getting the dressers recalled and off the market.

The lawyer representing IKEA didn’t return comment to the Inquirer, but has said in court filings that the documents should stay confidential.

He argued that if companies knew such documents related to negotiations would be handed over it could cause others to be less willing to seek recall compromises.

Ikea balks at releasing records tied to deadly dresser recall [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Jack In The Box Is Testing “Brunchfast” Menu In Southern California

As it was foretold, so it has come to past: after filing a trademark application for the term “brunchfast” earlier this summer, Jack in the Box is now testing a new menu with that name in Southern California.’s Dine 909 blog spotted the new menu in the wild way back in July, with noting the find just this week. The chain is reportedly testing the option at about 20 locations in Riverside County, CA.

Jack in the Box already serves regular breakfast all day, so this effort seems to be more about having a funny name/idea to bring in customers in between breakfast and brunch. To that end, the company’s chairman and CEO admitted during the most recent earnings call that all-day breakfast at McDonald’s is affecting their business from 10:30 to noon, even though Jack’s breakfast business remains brisk. Brunchfast to the rescue?

Brunchfast is also available all day long, and includes a Brunch Burger that previously appeared on the chain’s late night Munchie Meal menu: it’s a burger patty, bacon, cheddar, and a fried egg on a croissant bun. There’s also a bacon and chicken brunch sandwich, a sourdough omelet sandwich, and a Southwest scrambler plate. Each option can be made into a combo, which includes one side and either a regular hot coffee or fountain drink.

We’ve reached out to Jack in the Box for more details — like whether brunchfast will be tested in any other locations or go nationwide eventually — and will update this post when we hear back.


Apple Sued Over “Touch Disease” Flaw In iPhone 6s

It was really only a matter of time: owners of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus devices affected by the so-called “touch disease” have sued Apple over a supposed flaw that leads touchscreens to become unresponsive, essentially rendering the devices useless.

The proposed class-action lawsuit [PDF], filed Saturday in U.S. District Court for Northern California, accuses Apple of fraud and violating California consumer protection laws, claiming the tech giant concealed the defect and hasn’t done anything to address the problem.

According to the lawsuit, the issue, which surfaces after a flickering gray bar appears atop the touchscreen, is the result of Apple’s decision not to use a metal “shield” to protect chips that control the touchscreen.

These two chips translate your finger pressure into information the phone can use, iFixit reported about the flaw last week. When the chips go bad, they don’t register even the most forceful touch.

The lawsuit claims that Apple previously used a metal shield to protect the chips in earlier iPhone models, but chose not to with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

iphone 6


The lack of protection makes the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus “substantially less durable to foreseeable and reasonable use by consumers and ultimately causes the touchscreen defect.”

Had owners known about the defect or Apple addressed the issue previously, the plaintiffs say these people might not have made the purchase or would have paid substantially less for the devices.

Fixing the issue isn’t easy for customers either, the suit — filed on behalf of two Pennsylvania and Delaware residents — alleges.

For one thing, according to the complaint, Apple has reportedly refused to fix the problem when customers bring in affected phones.

Both claimed to have taken their affected phones to an Apple store or contacted Apple Care for repairs related to “touch disease.”

Each say they were told by Apple that they would need to pay more than $300 for a replacement iPhone.

“Many other iPhone owners have communicated with Apple’s employees and agents to request that Apple remedy and/or address the Touchscreen Defect and/or resultant damage at no expense,” the complaint states. “Apple has failed and/or refused to do so.”

iFixit reports that only third-party repair techs can replace the chips, as Apple repair Geniuses aren’t allowed to make specialized repairs to logic boards.

“As a result of Apple’s unfair, deceptive and/or fraudulent business practices, owners of the iPhones, including Plaintiffs, have suffered an ascertainable loss of money and/or property and/or value,” the case states. “The unfair and deceptive trade practices committed by Apple were conducted in a manner giving rise to substantial aggravating circumstances.”

The suit seeks unspecified damages and an order that requires Apple to repair, recall, and/or replace affected iPhones and to extend the warranties of those devices for a reasonable period of time.

The Battle Between Trader Joe’s & Pirate Joe’s Rages On

Can you effectively recreate a supermarket by buying a bunch of that store’s products, shipping them across the border and selling them in a store with a deliberately similar name? That’s the question at the center of a years-long legal battle between Trader Joe’s and its Canadian lookalike Pirate Joe’s.

We first wrote about this dispute back in Aug. 2013, when Trader Joe’s filed a lawsuit against Pirate Joe’s, a small Vancouver retailer that re-sold TJ products bought in the U.S. and shipped across the border.

Trader Joe’s argued that this was a case of trademark infringement and dilution that could cause possible confusion and harm to the brand. The Canadian store sells TJ-branded products, but at a substantial markup. Additionally, the U.S.-based chain said its reputation could be indirectly hurt if someone were to fall ill from eating frozen food that was improperly transported.

But the court disagreed, dismissing the lawsuit and ruling that the Lanham Act — the U.S. law that bars abuse of trademarks — does not apply to Pirate Joe’s conduct in Canada because the potential for harm posed by one small Vancouver shop does not merit extraterritorial application of the law.

However, last week the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s decision, ruling that TJ’s had indeed met the standard for allowing the company to bring a Lanham Act complaint against the Canadian owner of Pirate Joe’s, and that it didn’t matter that the alleged trademark infringement occurred in another country.

The appeals panel says that the effect on Trader Joe’s need not be substantial for the case to move forward, just “some effect.” This is important here because this effect usually involves foreign goods coming into the U.S. and allegedly harming a trademark. In this case, TJ’s makes no claim that the items sold at Pirate Joe’s are working their way back south of the border.

Nevertheless, argues the retailer, the fact that PJ’s is selling Trader Joe’s branded food at a significantly higher price to people who are familiar with — and may even drive to the U.S. to shop at — Trader Joe’s is sufficient to make the “some effect” claim.

What about the doctrine of “first sale,” which holds that after you buy something you’re pretty much free to do with it as you please? This is why there are used book stores, yard sales, eBay, Craigslist, etc. Why shouldn’t you be able to just resell Trader Joe’s brand food at whatever price you want to charge?

Trader Joe’s contends that unfettered reselling of its products may result in harm to its reputation and reduce the value of its trademarks if, for example, people get sick after eating a resold item, or obtain a substandard product that was harmed during the shipping process.

“There is nothing implausible about the concern that Trader Joe’s will suffer a tarnished reputation and resultant monetary harm in the United States from contaminated goods sold in Canada,” writes the Ninth Circuit. “Incidents of food-born illness regularly make international news, and Trader Joe’s alleges that it is aware of at least one customer who became sick after consuming food sold by Pirate Joe’s. Courts have held that reputational harm to an American plaintiff may constitute ‘some effect’ on American commerce.”

Additionally, there is the similarity of the names of the two stores and Trader Joe’s contention that Pirate Joe’s is attempting to pass itself off as an authorized partner of TJ’s.

If Pirate Joe’s customers mistakenly believe the two retailer’s are linked, the shoppers may incorrectly assume that Trader Joe’s is okay with the higher prices being charged at Pirate Joe’s, notes the ruling. TJ’s also contends that Pirate Joe’s provides a lower quality of customer service, which it says could harm the U.S. retailer’s reputation if shoppers believe the two stores have an official relationship.

“False endorsement gives rise to an actionable harm under the Lanham Act,” notes the court, “and Trader Joe’s contends it will suffer this harm in the United States because it draws international shoppers to its northern-Washington stores, and its trademarks stand to lose value in the United States.”

Finally, while Pirate Joe’s only resells the TJ’s items in Canada, Trader Joe’s alleges that the smaller store is nonetheless doing business in the U.S., by purchasing the food for resale in Washington and also allegedly hiring U.S. citizens to buy food on PJ’s behalf.

“This domestic economic activity weighs in favor of applying the Lanham Act” to Pirate Joe’s, says the court, which overturned the District Court’s 2013 dismissal of the case.

None of this means that Trader Joe’s has won the dispute or will ultimately prevail. The Ninth Circuit ruling only means that the Trader Joe’s lawsuit against Pirate Joe’s has been given new life and can continue to move forward.

A lawyer representing Pirate Joe’s tells the WSJ Law Blog that “We are obviously disagree with, and are disappointed in, the Court’s ruling. We are evaluating the opinion and our options going forward.”

Chipotle Hopes Freebies For Kids & Students Will Convince Customers To Return

In its continuing effort to make everyone forget about all that food-borne illness stuff from last year, Chipotle is trotting out two new promotions in September aimed at the younger set.

The chain announced different freebies for different age groups: kids 12 and under will eat free on Sundays next month if their adult purchases one regular-priced entrée; and high school and college students will get a free drink with their order of an entrée if they show proper school ID.

“It’s back-to-school time, and students — particularly high school and college students — have always been such loyal customers, so we thought a promotion directed specifically to them would be a great way to help them ring in a new school year,” a Chipotle spokesman said.

That, and also it’d be super great for Chipotle if it could create loyal customers early that then grow up to be loyal adults willing to spend their money on burritos.

Other efforts in the Chipotle campaign to make people forget its run-ins with e. coli and norovirus: a new loyalty program called Chiptopia, free booze at some locations, and (e. coli-free!) free burritos.

You Can Go Livestream 400 PlayStation 3 Games On Your PC Today

To people immersed in the world of video games, some things read as a given. You only play Halo titles on Xbox consoles. You only play Uncharted games on Sony hardware. PCs are yet another planet; there are worlds of exclusives that simply never meet. And yet today, it seems some streams will cross.

Sony announced today that its PlayStation Now streaming service is now available on Windows PCs, for all the PC gamers out there who want to get a taste of the console life.

PlayStation Now is basically a Netflix for video games: you pay your monthly fee, log in when you want, and can play games available on the service through live-streaming tech as long as you’re a subscriber in good standing.

When PlayStation Now first launched in 2015, it was expensive and limited. Subscriptions ran for $20 per month, and were basically only useful as a partial work-around for the absence of backward compatibility on the PS4 — you could use the new console to stream some PS3 titles, and that was it.

Nearly two years on, though, Sony’s now pushing a big expansion.The full list of PS3 games available on the service is now a fairly comprehensive sampler of the PS3 generation, from indie art-game darlings like The Unfinished Swan and Journey to major blockbusters like the God of War and Uncharted series.

Opening the service and all its Sony-exclusive titles to PC gamers is also a big move, especially since it’s going to come with an adapter that lets you connect a PS4 DualShock 4 controller to your computer for easy play.

To promote the new offering, Sony is also repeating / extending its earlier promotional offer of a year’s subscription for $100.

Sears Bringing Paint Back To Store Shelves Nationwide

Now that home improvement materials are selling like hot cakes,, Sears is hoping it can capitalize on the DIY trend by selling paint for the first time in four years.

Noting that a strong housing market has prompted an increase in home improvement projects, Sears said it will sell Craftsman, Weatherbeater, and Easy Living paint brands in 23 locations first, before eventually expanding to the rest of its U.S. stores. Paint accessories like brushes and tape will also be available in Sears home improvement sections, the company said, along with “a trained sales team in all paint stores to assist customers in finding the best product for their project.”

“After stepping away from the paint business in 2012, we are seeing the demand from our customers to bring it back. With updated paint mixing technology, and by enlisting dedicated and trained associates, we are confident the time is right to re-enter the category and fill a need for our members,” said Dean Schwartz, vice president of Tools, Lawn and Garden at Sears in a press release.

The first stores to get paint will be: Albany, NY, Glen Burnie, MD, Oak Brook, IL, Aurora, IL, Des Moines, IA, Westland, MI., Sterling Heights, MI, Novi, MI, Livonia, MI, Saginaw, MI, Flint, MI, Muncie, IN, Altoona, PA, Lansing, MI, Louisville, KY, Whitehall, PA, Wilmington, Del., Moorestown, N.J., Pittsburgh, PA, Greensburg, PA, Waldorf, MD, St. Clairsville, OH., Niles, OH.

Sears is in need of a boost: after reporting last week that sales had dropped yet again, the company announced it would be borrowing $300 million from its own CEO.

Amazon Echo Will Let You Control Sonos Speakers

The Amazon Echo has a decent voice-controlled “assistant” in Alexa; too bad the speaker itself isn’t so great. Meanwhile, Sonos makes decent, web-connected speakers but without any voice control. You see where we’re going with this?

Sonos announced Tuesday that it had partnered with Amazon, and other companies, to “usher in a new era of connected home listening.”

This means that, starting in early 2017, Sonos speakers will work with Amazon’s Alexa. No, you won’t suddenly be able to shout orders at your $500 Play 5 speaker; you’ll need to have at least one of Amazon’s Alexa-enabled devices (Echo, Echo Dot, or Amazon Tap) connected to your network.

Folks who have both Sonos and one of these Amazon products will be able to ask Alexa to play music from Amazon Music, Spotify and other services and it will flow to any group of Sonos speakers in the home, Sonos says.

“Our mission is to fill every home with music,” Sonos President Patrick Spence said in a statement. “We don’t care what you listen to, how you get to it, or in what room – we just want it to be effortless, quick and epic. Alexa on Sonos will be all that, and fun too.”

In other connected device news, Sonos says that it has added Spotify Connect integration to devices, providing additional functionality to speakers that make them the only whole home sound system fully controlled by the Spotify app.

Sonos says that nearly 50% of all homes with one of its speakers uses Spotify.

“By tightly integrating the Spotify experience with the Sonos system, we’ve created an easier way for Sonos owners to get music out of their phones and playing all around their homes,” Sonos Vice President of Software Antoine Leblond says.

A software update will be available in October as part of the Sonos public beta program.

Consumer Privacy Groups File FTC Complaint Over Facebook, WhatsApp Data Sharing

It’s been less than a week since WhatsApp announced it would start sharing some user data with parent company Facebook, but in that short time, app users and privacy advocates alike have raised a ruckus over what they see as a broken promise. Now, some consumer privacy watchdog groups have filed a formal complaint with the FTC, asking them to look into it.

The complaint (PDF) comes from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD). The groups ask the FTC to investigate the new terms that Facebook and WhatsApp have set, saying it constitutes “an unfair and deceptive trade practice,” which is the legal term for all those misleading things the FTC’s responsible for quashing.

The change, EPIC and CDD claim, is widely viewed as a reduction of users’ privacy. They cite several tech journalists, international regulators, and experts who all shared negative views of the news when it broke. They also cite the FTC’s own previous communications to Facebook and WhatsApp about, well, exactly this.

Back when Facebook first announced its plans to buy WhatsApp back in 2014, the FTC warned the two to play nice when it came to users’ privacy. Facebook has been subject to strict privacy rules since a 2011 settlement with the FTC, and the feds warned the social network that it has to uphold its end of the bargain.

At the time, in 2014, the FTC advised, “WhatsApp must continue to honor these [existing] promises to consumers.”

And also at the time, both companies’ executives promised to do just that. In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook was “absolutely not going to change plans around WhatsApp and the way it uses user data.” The CEO of WhatsApp echoed the sentiment, saying flatly, “We will never change our privacy policy.”

Given that the existing promise has now changed, as has the privacy policy, EPIC contends, Facebook and WhatsApp are now violating a promise to their billions of users, and are violating Section 5 of the FTC Act.

“When Facebook acquired WhatsApp, WhatsApp made a commitment to its users, to the Federal Trade Commission, and to privacy authorities around the world not to disclose user data to Facebook,” EPIC president Marc Rotenberg said in a statement. “Now they have broken that commitment.”

For what it’s worth, WhatsApp users have 30 days to opt out of having their data shared with Facebook. Clock’s a-ticking!

Abercrombie & Fitch Not Focused On Sexy Abs Now, Just Wants You To Be Your “Best Self”

We’ve come a long way from the days of glistening abs stretching across every Abercrombie & Fitch billboard and shopping bag, and “cool” executives who’d rather not deal with any uncool customers: as the company continues its campaign toward wholesomeness, the new focus is on making shoppers feel good about themselves.

The company says its designs and marketing will now be focused on the shopper’s “best self and inner confidence,” Chief Merchandising Officer Fran Horowitz told analysts Tuesday, as reported by CNBC. “Image is less important than character.

Abercrombie has been trying to retool its image from the 1990s version of itself that banked on sexual imagery and clothing made only for people cool enough to wear it. Those “cool” people ostensibly wore khaki cargo shorts. Last year, the company decided to stop using shirtless models in its marketing, and has been moving toward a “casual luxury” vibe instead of “oversexed college freshman on spring break for the first time” vibe. That new store atmosphere also means that not being undeniably hot is no longer an impediment to getting a job there.

In order to make this shift, the company is planning on pumping money into marketing that conveys this new image, and will be testing a new store format early next year.

The company could use the makeover, as its sales have been struggling lately in the face of competition from other retailers: Abercrombie posted its 14th straight quarter of declining sales, and says it doesn’t expect comparable sales to improve this year, despite predicting otherwise. Shares dropped nearly 21% on Tuesday, the biggest-one day drop the company’s had since 2001, Reuters notes.