jeudi 19 octobre 2017

Target’s Plan To Combat Online Rivals: Open, Remodel More Actual Stores

While Walmart increasingly turns its focus online to bring in customers, Target is doing the opposite, doubling down on efforts to get customers inside its physical stores. To that end, the company will open dozens of new stores and remodel another 1,000 in coming years.

Target announced today that it would build on its previously unveiled initiative to remodel stores in a way that is more convenient for customers and encourages them to stick around, and you know, shop some more.

Getting A New Look

The expanded plan will see Target add 325 additional stores to its list of to-be-remodeled locations.

Previously, the company said it would remodel more than 600 locations through 2019. Now, the retailer says it will remodel more than 1,000 stores through 2020.

The decision to add to the number of remodels came after Target saw an increase in sales at recently redesigned locations.

CEO Brian Cornell said at an event marking the opening of a New York City store today that the retailer experienced a 2% to 4% sales boost at the locations, The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.

The remodels, which will be customized based on customer feedback, will feature stenciled floors, unique lighting, and wood-paneled walls and beams, Target previously announced.

One entrance will be for customers in a rush, complete with an online order pickup counter close by and grab-and-go food and beverage displays near the exits. This section will also house the stores’ groceries and new beer and wine section.

The second entrance will contain merchandise displays meant to grab customers’ attention in the hopes they’ll make purchases. The store will also feature outdoor space for those times when guests are just wandering around the store avoiding their family.

Additionally, the new Target stores will have curved, more circular center aisles that will feature merchandise displays to engage guests with compelling products.

New Stores

In addition to remodeling more than 1,000 existing stores, Target says it will also accelerate the opening of new locations, including its smaller-format design.

Target is opening 32 new stores in 2017, with plans to open 35 new stores in 2018.

Cornell noted today that building the smaller-format locations — typically located in urban areas and near colleges — has provided the company with a set of untapped customers.

“The majority of shoppers are brand new to Target,” Cornell said of customers to the smaller-format locations.

So far, Target has opened 55 small-format stores, but expects that number to increase to 130 by next fall.



Report: Former GE CEO Brought Along An Extra Empty Plane On Some Trips

Have you ever stashed a spare shirt in your bag in case you spilled something, or brought along a spare pair of shoes in case you got a blister? Former General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt reportedly took similar precautions: According to company insiders, he brought an extra jet along with him on some business trips in case the first one broke down.

Jets, of course, aren’t something that you can stash in your messenger bag or the trunk of your car. According to “people with knowledge of the situation” who spoke to The Wall Street Journal, Immelt had another empty plane follow his jet on some trips.

The crews were told not to discuss the spare jet, and the two planes sometimes wouldn’t even park near each other, making it less likely that onlookers would connect them.

A spokesperson for GE told the WSJ that Immelt didn’t always double up on planes when he traveled, explaining, “Two planes were used on limited occasions for business-critical or security purposes.”

This news is coming out now because Immelt is no longer in charge, and his successor, John Flannery, started his time in the top job by grounding all of GE’s corporate jets, at least temporarily.

He’s conducting a “strategic review” of the entire business, which will involve even bigger cost cuts than grounding the extra private planes. Another visible cost cut will be ending the program of company cars, which around 700 executives have.



Patent Trolls, Big Pharma Try To Use Native Tribes To Skirt Patent Review

There are always patent lawsuits and challenges happening around the country. But the new trend in patent suits — from major, established drug companies to fly-by-night outfits alike — seems to be an attempt to get a leg up by using tribal sovereignty to avoid certain parts of the process.

Patents, at their core, are designed to give some innovative party exclusive rights to make the thing they thought of for a certain period of time. They’re a legal tool to create incentives for research, development, and invention: If your efforts lead you to create a brand new widget, then we, the government, will give you the exclusive right to make and sell that widget for a while, so you recoup your costs and make a bit of profit, too.

But that means patents themselves — and not just the things they describe — are extremely valuable. And anything with value can be bartered, sold, traded, and sometimes abused in the name of money.

Patent trolls, for example, are an entire category of individuals and small businesses that exist to buy up patents for things, then sue anyone they can think of who may be using that patented thing. Most entities settle, and so a decent troll can make a steady stream of income through the courts.

Much in the same way that payday lenders have tried hiding behind tribal affiliation in order to skirt laws regulating debt instruments, some patent holders are now shifting their patents to native tribes in order to try to skirt review or prevent competitors from arising.

Big Pharma’s Big Patent

Allergan owns the patents on the dry-eye drug Restatis, which you’ve probably seen TV or magazine ads for.

In recent months, the company had been facing a legal challenge to its Restasis patents, however. And so Allergan tried a workaround: It transferred all of the patents for Restasis to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in New York.

Under the agreement, the tribe became the patent-holder — but immediately granted Allergan an exclusive license to use the patents. For sitting on the ownership and letting Allergan do its thing, the tribe got more than $13 million up front and up to $15 million in annual royalties thereafter.

“I believe it’s novel,” Allergan CEO Brent Saunders told CNBC at the time.

But giving the tribe ownership of the patents can’t protect the patents from being thrown out in court — and that’s what happened anyway, a month later.

In a ruling [135-page PDF] issued Monday, U.S. Circuit Judge William Bryson not only invalidated the patents, but also made very clear he thought Allergan’s “novel” legal strategy was a terrible idea.

“The court has serious concerns about the legitimacy of the tactic that Allergan and the Tribe have employed,” Bryson wrote. “When faced with the possibility that the PTO [patent office] would determine that those patents should not have been issued, Allergan has sought to prevent the PTO from reconsidering its original issuance decision.”

“What Allergan seeks,” Bryson concluded, “is the right to continue to enjoy the considerable benefits of the U.S. patent system without accepting the limits that Congress has placed on those benefits.”

Further, Bryson noted, “If that ploy succeeds, any patentee facing [review] proceedings would presumably be able to defeat those proceedings by employing the same artifice.”

The Same Artifice

And Bryson was indeed correct: Allergan is far from the only entity trying to use tribal sovereignty to skirt around patent law.

Amazon and Microsoft are both also facing patent suits from the Saint Regis Mohawk tribe, Reuters reports. In this case, the other patent holder trying to skirt review is a company called SRC Labs

Apple is also facing a patent-troll style lawsuit over patents owned by a new entity called MEC Resources, Ars Technica reports. And MEC Resources is owned in its entirety by the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation (Three Affiliated Tribes).



GM, States Reach $120M Settlement Over Claims It Kept Ignition Switch Defect Under Wraps

Three years after General Motors recalled millions of cars that contained a ignition switch defect that was ultimately linked to more than 120 deaths, the carmaker is finally closing another chapter of the saga. The company will pay $120 million to resolve allegations that it failed to disclose the safety defect in a timely manner. 

The settlement puts an end to a years-long multi-state investigation that aimed to determine if GM failure to properly address the dangerous safety defect.

“Instead of prioritizing customers, General Motors turned a blind eye for years and chose to conceal the safety defects associated with several models of their vehicles,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.

In all, 49 states and the District of Columbia will receive $120 million from GM, while the company has also agreed to complete all applicable repairs and no longer misrepresent vehicles as “safe” until they comply with federal safety standards.

Arizona was not included int eh settlement, as the state had filed its own lawsuit against GM. 

According to the states’ complaint [PDF], General Motors and certain employees knew as early as 2004 that the ignition switch found in millions of vehicles contained a safety defect that could cause an airbag to fail to deploy in the event of a crash.

The states contended that General Motors Corporation (GM before its 2009 bankruptcy restructuring) knew prior to the switches going into production in 2002 that the device was “prone to movement out of the ‘run’ position, but that production was approved regardless.”

Road To Recall

Starting in 2004 and 2005, GM customers and employees began experiencing sudden stalls and engine shutoffs caused by the switch.

In late 2004, the company opened the first of six engineering inquiries into the switch; this was meant to consider changes to the device. That inquiry was closed “with no action.”

Despite this purported knowledge, the suit alleged that GM did not issue a recall of these dangerous vehicles until nearly 10 years later.

Instead, the company decided the issue wasn’t a safety concern, and continued to market the vehicles as reliable and safe, the suit claims.

Finally, beginning in Feb. 2014, GM issued seven recalls affecting nine million vehicles that contained the ignition switch defect.

The states alleged that GM’s inaction and reiteration that vehicles were safe constituted unfair and deceptive practices in violation of state consumer protection laws.

To resolve these claims, GM will no longer represent a vehicle as “safe” unless it complies with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety standards; will only represent that certified pre-owned vehicles are safe if they do not have open safety recalls or those recalls have been addressed; and will instruct dealers that all recall repairs be made before a GM vehicle is sold in the U.S.

 



Google’s Alphabet Takes Aim At Uber With $1B Investment In Lyft

A long time ago, in a ride-hailing era that now seems far away, Google and Uber were friends, with the internet giant plugging $258 million in Uber in 2013. Four years later, the two sides are embroiled in a legal battle over self-driving cars, and the tech company is pouring money into Uber’s biggest rival, Lyft, instead.

Lyft announced today that Alphabet’s investment arm, CapitalG, led a $1 billion round of funding in the ride-hailing company. CapitalG partner David Lawee will also be joining Lyft’s board of directors.

It’s not like no one saw this coming: Things first started to go sour between the two comapnies back in 2015 amid speculation that Google was interested in starting its own ride-hailing service.

The relationship got a lot more tense when Google’s self-driving-unit Waymo sued Uber, claiming the company stole trade secrets.

Then a few months later, Waymo and Lyft announced they were working together on autonomous vehicles.

This investment was also the subject of speculation last month, when rumors started to swirl that Alphabet was considering a $1 billion investment in Lyft, buzz that has now been borne out with today’s news.



Report: Chocolate Industry Paid For Research Showing That Chocolate Is Healthy

Chocolate isn’t just delicious (although it definitely is); according to some studies out there, it’s good for your health, too. But as you’ve probably guessed, the research supporting that idea isn’t exactly objective: It was commissioned by chocolate makers

Yes, Vox reports, companies like Mars have paid for studies that show chocolate is good for study subjects’ hearts and circulatory systems.

“Keep in mind that too much of anything is not really good,” a chocolate historian (yes, that is an actual thing) at Yale University told Vox. “If you’re hooked on chocolate, you’re hooked on sugar.”

Marion Nestle, a nutrition researcher who is not related to the food conglomerate that also makes chocolate products, told Vox that chocolate companies “made a conscious decision to invest in science to transform the image of their product from a treat to a health food.”

Nestle has cataloged chocolate research funded by snack companies, noting that Mars even markets a “cocoa flavonol” dietary supplement for heart health, even though the product was originally developed as a snack. Why? Supplement-makers can make broader, if more vague, claims about what their products do than if the same product were sold as a food or a drug.

Vox’s review of chcoolate studies funded by Mars found that 98% of what was published had positive results. It’s not necessarily that researchers deliberately skewed their projects, or that Mars prevented negative studies from being published. Mars may have only approached researchers whose work was already choco-friendly, and simply funded them to perform more of it.

We’re sorry to tell you that while specific compounds in chocolate are linked to improved health, these effects are less pronounced in studies that aren’t funded by the candy industry, and in any case, chocolate itself is not good for your health. Research on flavonols is promising, but those compounds are mostly processed out of the chocolate that we snack on.

The thing is, chocolate isn’t the only source of the plant-based chemicals, flavonols, that can have a positive effect on our health. You can also get these substances by drinking tea or eating, say, apples, cranberries, kale, onions, or pears. Bonus: Apples and pears contain sugar naturally, but don’t come with huge doses of added sugar and fat like even dark chocolate does.



MasterCard Ending Signature Requirements

For as long as we can remember, paying with a credit card required you to sign your name on the dotted line. While this system has changed over the years — mandating your John Hancock only for purchases over a certain amount — MasterCard is perhaps planning the biggest change of them all: The payment company will eliminate signature payments altogether. 

Starting in April 2018, MasterCard users will no longer be required to sign their name when they purchase something using their debit or credit cards.

The change comes as the company has eliminated signatures over time. To date, the company says that just 20% of transactions in North America still require a signature at checkout.

Convenient & Secure

By doing away with signatures, MasterCard says it is taking another step in its “digital evolution of payments and payment security,” while also providing convenience for customers.

“At first glance, this might sound like a radical proclamation, especially to people who have had credit and debit cards for decades,” Linda Kirkpatrick, executive vice president of market development at MasterCard, said in a statement. “However, the change matches all of our expectations for fast and convenient shopping experiences.”

According to MasterCard’s own consumer research, the majority of people believe it would be easier to pay and that checkout lines would move faster if they didn’t need to sign when making a purchase.

As for security, MasterCard assures customers that removing the need for signatures at the time of checkout will not impact the safety of their purchases.

For starters, shoppers generally just scribble their name in the “sign here” box at checkout. Often those signatures aren’t checked against anything, otherwise we’d probably have a lot more denied transactions.

MasterCard notes that its network and payment system already include other methods to prove someone’s identity, including the use of chips, tokenization, and personalized identification numbers.

“Beyond what you see and experience at checkout, there is behind-the-scenes technology at work every second of every day to protect every transaction,” Kirkpatrick notes.

All In Agreement

MasterCard’s impending signature change has already been greeted with support from merchants.

Kirkpatrick says the move will help partner merchants speed customers through checkouts, provide more consistent experiences, and decrease the costs associated with storing signatures.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association — which counts a number of major retailers, such as Apple, Best Buy, Gap, Target, Walmart, and others as members — called MasterCard’s end of signature requirement a “good first step.”

The change addresses retailers’ long-argued position that signature requirements are costly, and a now less relevant way to secure transactions.

“RILA supports this policy change and encourages other payment networks to follow Mastercard’s lead,” Austen Jenson, president of government affairs for RILA, said in a statement. “Going forward, the payment industry needs to focus on finding solutions to the growth of fraud both in stores and online, where current measures are inadequate for protecting consumers and merchants.”



Is Tootsie Roll Losing The Candy Aisle Battle Because It’s Stuck In The Past?

You may not know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop lollipop, but anyone who’s ever gone trick-or-treating knows Tootsie Roll well. That could be a problem for the candy company, according to a new report that says the confectioner is relying too much on nostalgia at the cost of innovation.

In a report titled “All Tricks, No Treats,” Spruce Point Capital Management predicts that Tootsie Roll Industries stock could drop by 25-50% because the company is stuck in the past and isn’t innovating as much as its competitors.

Spruce Point says the more than 100-year-old company’s brands — including its namesake candy as well as Andes mints, Dots, and Sugar Daddy — are “withering along with its core customers.”

“In Spruce Point’s opinion, Tootsie Roll’s historical success is tied to consumer nostalgia around select products and children’s craving of sugary snacks,” the report said.

Sales haven’t grown in six years, claims Spruce Point, estimating that Tootsie Roll is losing market share.

“Our channel checks reveal it uniformly receives the worst product placement on the shelves” especially during the Halloween season, Spruce Point says.

For example, it found that Tootsie Roll products were often on the bottom shelf at stores like Target, Duane Reade, and Walmart — while other brands enjoyed eye-level placement — and absent from checkout counters — where impulse purchases like candy often happen.

And while competitors like Hershey have experimented with “healthy and indulgent snacking,” Tootsie’s products “fail to address consumer demand for healthier products.” Instead, Spruce Point says the company has stuck with going after the younger set, resisting “industry self-regulatory movements” to limit marketing to children.

This, despite the fact that Tootsie Roll’s labels show it has shrunk its serving size, “an implicit acknowledgement consumers are eating less candy,” Spruce Point notes.

We’ve reached out to Tootsie Roll for comment on Spruce Point’s report, and will update this post if we receive a response.



Cable Providers Hiking Cost Of Broadband In Face Of Cord-Cutting

With more and more consumers cutting the cord and ditching their cable providers, these companies have to make up the lost revenue somehow. That apparently means increasing costs elsewhere, like your broadband.

Nasdaq reports that companies like Charter and Comcast have increased the cost of broadband services in recent months as one-time customers flee in favor of services like Netflix or Hulu.

A recent survey from Morgan Stanley found that cable companies have increased broadband prices by an average of 12% in the last year.

The increases have hit broadband-only customer the most, with the average bill now sitting at around $66/month.

In contrast, customers who have a broadband/cable bundled package pay on average $49/month for the broadband service.

Despite the double-digit cost increases, analysts believe the new prices might not be enough. Instead, companies would need to set their broadband-only prices to $80/month in order to offset the lost revenue from cord-cutters.

To that end, the companies will likely continue to increase their broadband prices.



Passenger Sues Airline For Serving Him Sparkling Wine Instead Of Champagne

Sure, you may have a preference when it comes to ordering fancy drinks on a flight, but would you be ticked off enough to sue over bubbly that is not actually Champagne?

A man who flew on a Sunwing Airline flight from Quebec to Cuba last year says he was expecting an advertised complimentary “champagne service” as part of his travel package, but that instead of receiving a glass of bubbles from France’s Champagne region, he was served another kind of cheaper sparkling wine, reports The National Post.

He’s now filed a lawsuit seeking class-action certification demanding compensation for the difference in cost of the beverage as well as punitive damages.

This incident — which only happened on one leg of his flight — apparently popped his cork not because he’s snobby, but because he claims Sunwing’s advertising was misleading.

“You have to go beyond the pettiness of the (wine cost) per head,” the man’s lawyer told the National Post. “What’s important is you’re trying to lure consumers by marketing something, and you’re not giving them that something … It’s a dishonest practice.”

A search for Sunwing’s Champagne service does bring up a result for “Champagne Service – Sunwing,” but the landing page only notes “a complimentary glass of sparkling wine” (as long as the flight isn’t within Canada or to the U.S.).

The passenger’s lawyer told the National Post that the airline was still including “champagne” on billboards and in ads at airports until recently.

In a statement to Consumerist, Sungwing says that it used the words “champagne service” and “champagne vacations” as a way to “denote a level of service in reference to the entire hospitality package from the flight through to the destination experience,” and not as a reference to specific beverages it serves.

“Anywhere that we’ve detailed our inflight services, we have accurately described these as including ‘a complimentary welcome glass of sparkling wine’ across relevant marketing materials and even announce them on the aircraft,” Sunwing says, adding that it considers any legal action relating to the marketing of this service to be “frivolous and without merit.”



Most Eye Drops Are Too Big For The Human Eye, Wasting Money And Medicine

When you’re using eye drops and feel like you’re spilling half of each dose down your face, it’s not because you’re clumsy. You are, in fact, spilling what can be pricey medicine down your cheeks or into your sinuses, because most eye drop bottles dispense at least twice as much as you need.

Why would that be? A ProPublica report explains that liquid medications are sold by volume, and drug companies don’t really have any incentive to help us use them up any more slowly — whether they’re inexpensive over-the-counter moistening drops or a glaucoma medication that costs hundreds of dollars per bottle.

In this case, more medicine isn’t better: Eye drop bottles dispense as much as 50 microliters per dose, when the eye can only hold less than half that amount of liquid.

ProPublica interviewed a chemist who was on the team at Alcon (now part of Novartis) that figured out how to dispense medication in a 16-microliter drop that was just enough medication to coat the eye. A study of glaucoma patients showed that the smaller amount of medication was effective.

The research was published 25 years ago, which means that pharmaceutical companies have had plenty of time to change their bottles and reduce waste.

Alcon didn’t want to take the risks needed to get its microdrops on the market. A different dosage of eye medication would need its own approval from the Food and Drug Administration, requiring more studies to prove that the smaller dose is just as effective. It would also reduce sales, putting the company at a competitive disadvantage if it had to raise the price of products dispensed in microdrops.

“[Drug companies] had no interest in people, their pocketbooks or what the cost of drugs meant,” one ophthalmologist told ProPublica, explaining what happened when he has asked drug companies why they can’t make drops less wasteful.

Remember that the next time your eye drops run down your face: Millions of dollars are wasted every year because no pharmaceutical company wants to be the first to make this change.



Would You Buy Luxury Clothes From Walmart?

On the surface, Walmart and luxury department store Lord & Taylor don’t have a lot in common outside of selling clothing. But that could soon be changing. 

The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, reports that the two companies are in talks to team up to take on every retailer’s rival, Amazon.

Sources say the unlikely duo are close to inking a deal that would see Lord & Taylor receiving a dedicated space on Walmart.com to sell its products.

You Help Me, I’ll Help You

The potential partnership could be beneficial to both parties.

Like other department store chains, Lord & Taylor — owned by Saks Fifth Ave parent company Hudson’s Bay — has been struggling in recent years to keep customers in the door.

Back in June, Hudson’s Bay cut more than 2,000 jobs as it scaled back its workforce. News of the employee downsizing came on the same day that the retailer reported a 3% decline in retail sales to about $2.37 billion (or $3.2 billion Canadian) for the first quarter of 2017.

By selling products on Walmart.com, the company would be tapping into another avenue for sales — and customers — it might not otherwise reach.

Additionally, the partnership would add convenience for Lord & Taylor customers. For instance, sources tell The WSJ, that eventually, customers who make purchases from either Lord & Taylor’s website or from Walmart’s could pick up those orders at their local Walmart store.

On the other side of the deal, offering higher-end clothing and other products could be Walmart’s way of trying to attract customers with more disposable income.

The idea is if these customers purchase more expensive clothing from Walmart.com, they might stick around and buy other things, like groceries.

A One-Stop Shop Site

The possible deal is just the latest effort from Walmart in turning its focus toward online sales.

Walmart is looking to create a website that would mirror a mall, where customers could shop from a variety of different brands, including those the retailer has already purchased, such as Modcloth, MooseJaw, and Bonobos.

This brand-heavy website would also be similar to something else we’ve already seen: Amazon’s marketplace.

Rumors of talks between Walmart and Lord & Taylor come just a week after Walmart e-commerce head Marc Lore highlighted his plans for the retailer’s website.

The WSJ reports that Lore’s immediate plans for the site included “elevating the Walmart.com brand by redesigning the site and creating partnerships with more premium brands.

Still Work To Do

Despite Walmart’s push to increase its online presences — buying online retailers and revamping its shipping services — the company still has a long way to go before catching up to Amazon.

For instance, The WSJ reports that while Walmart is positioning itself as the only company with the ability to beat Amazon, the retailer’s website receives just half the visitors Amazon’s marketplace sees.



Toyota Recalls 310,000 Minivans Over Rollaway Risk

When you park your car, you expect for it to stay parked. Yet, that might not happen in nearly 310,000 Toyota minivans that may contain an extra greasy shift lever.

Toyota announced Wednesday the recall of 310,000 model year 2005 to 2007 and 2009 to 2010 Sienna minivans after discovering an issue with the shifting lever.

According to the carmaker, grease inside the shift lever — that thing that makes your car go from park to neutral, driver, or reverse — can transfer to internal components, causing them to function improperly.

This could allow the shift lever to be moved out of the “park” position without the brake pedal being depressed.

If this occurs when the parking brake isn’t engaged, it could lead the vehicle to roll away, increasing the risk of crash.

It is unclear if Toyota has received any injury or crash reports related to the issue.

Consumerist has reached out to the carmaker for additional information.

Owners of the affected vehicles will be notified of the recall by mid-December, and dealers will replace the shift lock with a new one, remove grease, and reapply the appropriate amount of grease.



Blue Apron Laying Off Hundreds Of Employees In “Realignment” Effort

As e-commerce giant Amazon and major grocery chains across the country crowd into the meal kit service arena, it seems Blue Apron may be feeling the heat: The meal kit company announced Wednesday that it’s laying off 6% of its workforce as part of a companywide “realignment” effort.

Several hundred employees will be realigned right out of the company, Blue Apron announced in a companywide email that it included in a recent filing [PDF] with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company says the realignment comes down to a reduction of about 6% of the company’s total workforce of around 5,000, both at the corporate offices and fulfillment centers.

“A companywide realignment, like the one we announced, is always painful, and especially so for a close knit team like ours,” CEO Matthew Salzberg wrote in the letter, noting that company leadership and the board didn’t “take this decision lightly.”

READ MORE: 7 Things We Learned About The Rapid Expansion Of Meal Kit Service Blue Apron

“I want to assure you that we believe it was necessary as we focus the company on future growth and achieving profitability,” Salzberg adds.

Things started to turn a bit sour for Blue Apron after its disappointing IPO in June, with stock sinking 17% in the first week after the offering.

Things only got worse when Albertsons announced in September that it was buying Blue Apron’s rival, Plated.



Why Does Capital One Need My Income To Sign Into Website?

By now you’re probably used to going to your bank’s website and being upsold on everything from car loans to mortgages to retirement accounts before you can move on to see how your money is doing. But have you ever gone to your bank’s site only to be told you must update your income with the bank before going any further?

That’s what happened to Consumerist reader Sean, who was just trying to log on to CapitalOne.com, where he has both a savings account and a credit card, only to be faced with a demand for his latest income info:

He said he suspected it had something to do with him having a Capital One credit card, and acknowledged that other financial institutions had asked for such information in the past, but that he’d never seen anything “so intrusive” because there was no option to opt out. He was frustrated that he couldn’t access his non-credit card accounts without entering something in that field.

“Maybe it was just an error because I have a credit card with them too, but this feels really unethical,” Sean wrote, wondering if it was legal to require that information before allowing him to log in to see any of his accounts.

Is This Legal?

Although Sean felt Capital One was being intrusive, it’s not only legal for credit card companies to ask for income information, they’re also required by law to keep records of that info current: According to federal regulations, credit card issuers have to make an “ability to repay” evaluation when considering potential customers, or when contemplating credit increases to existing customers.

“A card issuer must not open a credit card account for a consumer under an open-end (not home-secured) consumer credit plan, or increase any credit limit applicable to such account, unless the card issuer considers the consumer’s ability to make the required minimum periodic payments under the terms of the account based on the consumer’s income or assets and the consumer’s current obligations,” states this ability-to-repay rule.

To accomplish this, card issuers may consider things like the ratio of the customer’s debt obligations to their income.

“It would be unreasonable for a card issuer not to review any information about a consumer’s income or assets and current obligations, or to issue a credit card to a consumer who does not have any income or assets,” the rule reads.

Capital One notes this on their web site:

“It’s important to make sure that all your personal info is accurate and current. Federal regulations generally require that credit card companies use up-to-date income information when considering an account for a credit limit increase,” the site reads. “Check yours at least once a year to make sure it’s accurate.”

Credit card companies don’t just rely on customers’ past disclosures, however. They may periodically reach out to them to make sure the information is still correct.

“It is important that we have current customer information for ongoing account management purposes,” the Capital One rep told Consumerist. “We conduct reviews regularly, and ask customers to update their info if it is either missing or dated.”

So again, while this may feel icky, it’s definitely legal — and could actually benefit you in the long run.

“While it may feel uncomfortable to be asked how much you make when you contact your credit card company, credit card companies have a legitimate reason for asking,” Christina Tetreault, our colleague and Senior Staff Attorney for Consumers Union, explains. “Having your income information helps credit card companies calculate how much credit they should offer you, and ideally means that you can manage to repay what you borrow.”

How To Get Around It

When Sean contacted Capital One on Twitter, a customer service representative told him that he was not required to provide that information before he could log into his accounts, and that he could enter “123” into the “Total Annual Income” field to bypass the option.

However, the bypassing method is not disclosed on the screen when Capital One requests the information, which could have been useful to Sean at the time he was attempting to log in. Instead, he had to reach out to Capital One on Twitter.

In an email from Capital One to Sean after his Twitter chat, a company rep said they were aware of his concerns, and “there not being an option to opt out without contacting us about how to bypass it.”

The company said it’s glad the social media rep alerted him to the bypassing method, and that it appreciates him “addressing these concerns for other customers in the same situation.”

So What’s The Deal With “123”?

As it turns out, the rep wasn’t just advising Sean to enter any old random numbers — and effectively lie about his income in the process — but was instead offering a workaround.

“We allow customers that contact us and are reluctant to provide their income to use a code to bypass the income field,” a Capital One spokesperson explained to Consumerist, noting that the “123” code will not show up as your updated income, it’s just a sign to the system that the information wasn’t updated.

But be warned: Entering a random string of numbers into this field could constitute fraud, as you’re effectively giving the bank inaccurate information about your income.

When customers apply for a credit card with Capital One, they attest that everything they’ve stated is correct, including information about them needed to manage their account, the company’s rep noted. For example, among other things, it needs your legal name, date of birth, Social Security number, and employment and income information.

But because frustrated customers may put in whatever numbers come to mind in order to access their accounts — say, $1,234,567 — Capital One says it performs “reasonableness checks” to help verify information provided by customers.



mercredi 18 octobre 2017

Why You Need A Medication Checkup

With half of Americans regularly taking prescription medication — four, on average, according to a nationally representative Consumer Reports survey of 1,947 adults — a medication “checkup” can reduce your risk of side effects and interactions, and stop you from taking unnecessary pills.



Amazon Takes Over Most Of The Macy’s Building In Seattle

What’s even more symbolic than Amazon building a warehouse on the site of what was once the world’s largest enclosed mall? In its hometown of Seattle, Amazon is gobbling up as much office space as it can, and now that includes the top six floors of the Macy’s building downtown.

The Seattle Times reports that the Macy’s store, which started out as a Bon Marché location, is still in business, but has cut back its footprint considerably. While the building is eight stories tall, only the first two are still retail space. Macy’s sold the top half of the building to Starwood Capital Group in 2015, and sold two more stories earlier this year.

Amazon is taking over 312,000 square feet of office space in those six stories, which is enough room for around 1,500 employees. The Times reports that Amazon has signed leases on 1.65 million square feet of office space in Seattle, including all of the office space in an entire skyscraper at Rainier Square, which is scheduled to open in 2020. Guess what that skyscraper is replacing? Yep, another dead mall.

The e-commerce giant takes up a total of eight million square feet in Seattle, and is currently on a search across North America for a second headquarters. (Let us guess: The nearest city to you is working on its bid right now.)



Romano’s Macaroni Grill Files For Bankruptcy

The long list of restaurant chains filing for bankruptcy amid slower sales added another name today: Romano’s Macaroni Grill. 

Romano’s Macaroni Grill owner RedRock Partners announced today that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as a way to reorganize the company and reduce debt.

The Italian restaurant chain — which operates 93 locations in 25 states — said in a FAQ [PDF] the filing for bankruptcy was done after “very careful consideration and consultation” with financial and legal experts.

“Macaroni Grill decided that this would be the most effective path for it to shed legacy liabilities and obligations, as a result of decisions by past ownership,” the company notes.

The chain will operate in a “business as usual” manner during the Chapter 11 process, meaning that the company’s locations will remain open, loyalty programs will continue, and employees will be paid.

The Latest Problem
RedRock Partners, which bought the chain through its Mac Acquisition LLC in 2015, said in a bankruptcy court filing [PDF] that the company’s current woes stem from the same slow sales that have been affecting dining establishments in recent years.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill joins a long list of chains to have filed for bankruptcy or closed, including CosiLogan’s Roadhouse, Fox & The Hound, Champs, and others.

In addition to feeling the pressure from fewer customers, the company notes that debt resulting from its sale in 2015 has continued to weigh on the chain.

As the company has struggled to pay its debts — estimated to be more than $23 million — the chain has already closed 37 underperforming locations.

Through the bankruptcy, the company seeks to restructure its current liabilities. To do so, the chain has obtained $5 million loan from Raven Capital Management to remain in business.



Trump Changes Mind, Comes Out Against Bipartisan Obamacare Stabilization Bill

If you feel like you’re getting whiplash just from trying to follow the healthcare policy debate in Washington, you’re not alone; the hits in this saga have been coming seemingly nonstop. After saying the federal government would no longer pay certain subsidies that make the insurance marketplace work, President Trump at first seemed to support a bill that would create short-term stability. But that was yesterday. Today, he’s apparently changed his mind and is now against it.

There’s been a lot going on in healthcare policy in recent weeks; it seems like one of the many unrelenting drumbeats of 2017. But the TL;DR of where we stand today with healthcare is:

The payments are a critical part of making the ACA work. The federal government provides cost-sharing subsidies (CSRs) to insurers to offset certain expenses incurred by health plans. Insurers receive those payments to guarantee that co-pays and deductibles for low-income Americans buying coverage on the exchange can stay low.

Cut the CSRs, and the insurers have to make up the money somewhere. And that “somewhere” is the consumer’s pocket. Absent the subsidies, premiums, co-pays, and deductibles all shoot upwards — with the effect of utterly destabilizing the individual marketplace.

And that brings us to today, when two things at once are going on.

The White House Suddenly Hates Bipartisan Bill

Trying to figure out the White House’s strategy at any given moment in 2017 is, well… let’s be diplomatic and call it a challenge.

The day the Alexander-Murray proposal was announced, the President seemed to be in favor of it. He told reporters, “Yes, we have been involved,” adding:

Lamar [Alexander] has been working very, very hard with the Democratic, his colleagues on the other side. And Patty Murray is one of them in particular.

And they are coming up and they are fairly close to a short-term solution. The solution will be for about a year or two years. And it will get us over this intermediate hump, because we have, as you probably know — we have — either have the votes or we are very close to having the votes. And we will get the votes for having really the potential of having great health care in our country.

So they are indeed working, but it is a short-term solution, so that we don’t have this very dangerous little period.

However, President Trump this morning on Twitter made very clear his personal opinion of the bill has shifted, saying that although he is “supportive of [Sen.] Lamar [Alexander] as a person & also of the process,” he cannot support “bailing out” insurance companies who have “made a fortune” under the ACA.

That’s a pretty significant shift, and it even surprised the Senators involved.

“Trump completely engineered the plan that we announced yesterday,” Alexander told Axios about the bill. “He wanted a bipartisan bill for the short term.”

Heading to Court

Meanwhile, the coalition of attorneys general who are suing the administration have also asked the courts to intervene.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra both announced today that the coalition was seeking an injunction to put Trump’s policy change on hold and make the payments continue.

In the petition [PDF], the attorneys general asked the court “to enter a nationwide temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction requiring [the federal government] to continue making the cost-sharing reduction payments required by the [ACA] pending judicial resolution of this action.”

In other words, the AGs are asking the court to maintain the current status quo — where the payments exist — until such time as the lawsuits are decided one way or the other, which can take years.

“This is no longer about a campaign promise or a punchline. The Trump Administration is willingly breaking the law by refusing to make required payments that keep healthcare affordable for millions of Americans. It is taking active steps to sabotage the Affordable Care Act,” Becerra said in a statement.

Scheiderman echoed the sentiment, saying, “President Trump’s abrupt move to cut these subsidies is reckless, dangerous, – and illegal.”

He added, “We won’t stand for it – and we’re moving to block these dangerous cuts before they do any more harm.”

Senate Traffic Jam

There are a heap of other healthcare proposals also floating around in the Senate as we speak.

There’s the single-payer, Medicare-for-all proposal co-signed by nearly two dozen Democrats out for consideration. Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine (VA) and Michael Bennet (CO) also just introduced a bill proposing to add a public option that consumers could buy into through the marketplace.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has the privilege of setting the chamber’s agenda. So even if a bill actually has enough bipartisan support to move through a committee and pass a vote, it won’t see the light of day if leadership doesn’t want to let it.

The Washington Post reports that the Alexander-Murray proposal stalled out in the Senate almost immediately, with “discord” swiftly “casting the plans’ viability into serious doubt.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan joined Trump in his criticism of the proposal, Politico notes, which further limits its odds of success (a bill has to pass both the House and the Senate to become law).

With Congress either unwilling or unable to take action, that leaves the ball in the court’s court, to either approve or deny the states’ request for an injunction as a next move.



Stonyfield Farm Recalls Soy Yogurts That May Be Dairy Yogurts

If you’re buying yogurt made from soy milk, you’re probably trying to avoid dairy for health or ethical reasons, including potential allergies. That’s why it’s a problem that a batch of soy yogurt from Stonyfield Farms may actually be dairy yogurt, and the company has recalled the entire lot as a precaution.

What to look for

Two consumers have complained to Stonyfield Farms that their soy yogurt containers contained dairy yogurts instead. There have been no reported allergic reactions or illnesses.

Affected yogurt cups are strawberry-flavored O’Soy yogurt cups which measure 5.3 ounces. They have a “use by” date of November 4, 2017 printed on the lid.

In a statement, the company’s “CE-Yo,” which is a job title that we are not making up, said, “While we continue to investigate this issue, we believe recalling all potentially affected cups is the most responsible and transparent choice at this time.”

What to do

The company asks people who have yogurt from this production lot to throw them away without consuming them.

If you have questions about the recall or the prodcuts, Stonyfield Farms has the amusing phone number of 800-PRO-COWS (800-776-2697) and you can also email the company at crelations@Stonyfield.com.



Apple’s New Self-Driving Car Technology Spotted In The Wild

Apple’s efforts to get into the self-driving car industry have been shrouded in layers of mystery and speculation for years. But at long last, physical proof that a car does indeed exist has been spotted the wild, after Apple took its autonomous driving tech out for a spin on California streets this week.

Twitter user MacCallister Higgins — who also happens to be the cofounder of a self-driving startup called Voyage — posted video of what he calls “The Thing” yesterday.

Another user replied to his thread, noting another recent sighting:

The somewhat clunky hardware — featuring six lidar sensors, several radar units, and a bunch of white cameras encased in white plastic — is mounted atop a Lexus SUV. Part of the reason the setup may seem large is that the compute stack could be located inside the roof unit, Higgins suggests in the Tweet’s thread. Other self-driving cars often put that technology in the trunk.

After major staffing shakeups in its Project Titan project in 2016, Apple was approved last April to start testing autonomous vehicles in California.



Recalled IKEA Dresser Linked To Another Child’s Death

More than a year after IKEA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the recall of about 29 million topple-prone Malm and other style dressers, another child’s death has been linked to the dangerous furniture.

The Philly Inquirer reports that a two-year-old California boy was killed in May when the Malm dresser in his bedroom toppled onto him.

Another Death

A rep for IKEA confirmed the death, noting that it received information about the incident from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Consumerist has reached out to the retailer and the safety regulator for additional information.

According to the Inquirer, the boy had recently been put in his room for a nap on May 25 when the unsecured dresser fell on him. The boy’s father found the child trapped under the three-drawer dresser and called 9-1-1.

The death is thought to be the first to occur since IKEA and the CPSC issued the recall for the Malm dressers in June 2016.

A lawyer for the family tells the Inquirer that the parents were not aware of the recall and had not heard of the associated tipping dangers.

“The family is still grieving and requests that their privacy be respected in this very difficult time,” the lawyer, who also represented the parents of three other children who died as a result of Malm dressers tipping over, tells the Inquirer.

IKEA confirmed that the dresser involved in the California incident was not attached to the boy’s bedroom wall.

“Our hearts go out to the affected family, and we offer our sincere condolences during this most difficult time,” a rep for the company said, adding that the company continues to urge customers to anchor the furniture to walls.

Other Deaths

The California death is the eighth linked to an IKEA dresser.

In Nov. 2016, the CPSC released an update on the recall, confirming that four deaths had been linked to Malm dressers, and three other deaths had been linked to non-Malm IKEA furniture.

IKEA said at the time that it had received reports of 41 tip-over incidents involving the MALM chests and dressers, resulting in 17 injuries to children between the ages of 19 months and 10 years old.

The Recalled Dressers

The May death is just the latest in a string of incidents and actions related to IKEA’s dressers.

In June 2016, IKEA and the CPSC announced a full recall of Malm dressers and chests — along with a variety of other non-Malm items — that don’t comply with industry anti-tipping standards.

The recall came after IKEA offered repair kits and wall anchors to customers as part of a repair initiative that just wasn’t getting the job done, as evidenced by the deaths of several small children.

As part of the June recall, IKEA agreed to come to consumers’ homes to take away old dressers and hand out refunds to replace the pieces of furniture. Additionally, if a customer wanted to keep the dressers, IKEA said it would send a crew out to ensure that the piece is anchored to the wall properly.

Refunds for the dressers were to work one of three ways: A full refund would be issued if the chest or dresser was manufactured between Jan. 1, 2002 and June 28, 2016; a store credit for 50% of the original purchase price if the product was manufactured before Jan. 2002; or a $50 store credit if the date stamp is unidentifiable.

Since the recall was announced last year, the Inquirer reports that IKEA has redesigned its dressers to meet industry safety standards.

Unlike the recalled dressers, the new furniture can remain upright without being anchored when a 50-pound weight is hung on a drawer. This test mimics a toddler or young child hanging or climbing the furniture.

Call For Action

Following reports of another death tied to the recalled dressers safety advocates have renewed their call for more action.

William Wallace, our colleague at Consumers Union, tells the Inquirer that the latest incident “raises serious doubts about the effectiveness of the IKEA recall.”

Those concerns were echoed by Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger.

“We’ve been trying to pressure CPSC and IKEA both to do more,” she said. “Because this is a result of a bad recall, that more children are injured.”



CPSC Bans 5 Potentially Harmful Chemicals From Children’s Products

Almost a decade after the Consumer Product Safety Commission was ordered to study the potential health affects of phthalates — chemicals often used in plastic products for children — and make recommendations on what further steps should be taken, the agency has voted to approve a final rule that prohibits manufacturers from selling items that have more than a minimal level of five of these chemicals.

The CPSC voted 3-2 this morning on a final rule [PDF] that would ban children’s toys or child care items — like teething rings — that contain concentrations of more than 0.1% of diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP), dinpentyl phthalate (DPENP), dinhexyl phthalate (DHEXP), or dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP).

These kinds of chemicals are usually used to soften plastic and make it more pliable. Exposure to these chemicals by children has been linked with health problems like hormone disruption and damage to reproductive development, among other serious issues.

Back in 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act [PDF] banned some specific phthalates. The law also required the CPSC to gather together a chronic hazard advisory panel (CHAP) to study the effects of these chemicals on children’s health, and to make recommendations on what additional steps the CPSC should take beyond the permanent bans that Congress instituted on other phthalates at the time.

The agency was required to issue a final rule after CHAP published its report on the matter, which it did [PDF] in July 2014. The CPSC issued a proposed rule in Dec. 2014, followed by long delays as industry trade groups pushed back.

In Dec. 2016, several groups — the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Justice Health Alliance, and Breast Cancer Prevention Partners — filed a lawsuit seeking to compel the agency to finalize its phthalates rule. That case was settled, and the CPSC agreed to take a final vote by today, and to send the rule to the Federal Register for publication within a week of the vote.

That brings us to today’s vote, which advocates are greeting with praise.

“This is a big victory for children’s health,” said Avinash Kar, Senior Attorney, NRDC. “These chemicals in children’s toys and child care articles are a known health risk. In banning them, CPSC is following the advice of its scientific experts and doing precisely what Congress directed the agency to do in a 2008 law it passed overwhelmingly.”

Our colleagues at Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports, also welcomed the news.

“Consumers should be able to trust that their kids’ toys and other products are free of toxic chemicals,” William Wallace, policy analyst for Consumers Union, said. “We applaud the CPSC for putting this rule in place to protect children from the health hazards of phthalates. This rule finally fulfills the intent of Congress, which voted nearly unanimously to require the CPSC to take action almost a decade ago.”



Home Depot Replaces Family’s Stolen Halloween Decorations

For the past several weeks, families across the country have been decorating their homes in preparation for the upcoming Halloween holiday. One New Mexico family found all that hard work destroyed recently when ne’er-do-wells stole their trimmings. But to their surprise an unlikely hero emerged to save the day… er, holiday. 

KRQE reports that an Albuquerque family received a welcome surprise Tuesday when a local Home Depot stepped in to replace Halloween decorations stolen from their yard.

The theft occurred last week, when thieves were caught on security camera jumping from a truck and hauling a massive inflatable pumpkin-head and a projector from their yard.

The homeowner posted video footage of theft on Facebook and pleaded for the return of the decorations.

One person who saw the footage decided to take matters into his own hands: The manager at a local Home Depot reached out to the family and donated the same items that were taken.

“We are all about taking care of our customers and the community and whatever we can do, you know it’s part of our core values,” the manager tells KRQE.

The gift was just the thing the family needed to get back into the Halloween spirit.

“This was the last thing I expected from this. Honestly, I am just floored. Obviously, I am very excited to be able to decorate again,” the woman tells KRQE.



Kohl’s Launches Amazon Mini-Stores, Return Counters

Amazon wants a bigger retail presence in physical stores and for its customers to have an easier time returning things, and Kohl’s wants to shrink its physical stores and rent out some extra space. That sounds like a match, which is probably why Kohl’s and Amazon have teamed up to open their first 10 “Amazon Experience” mini-stores and return counters in Kohl’s stores in Los Angeles and Chicago this week.

While the salespeople in the “Amazon Experience” shops will work for Amazon, the retailers have worked out a deal where Kohl’s employees will staff the Amazon returns counter.

Kohl’s said in its announcement back in September that the retail pals plan to have a total of 82 stores with Amazon shops and Amazon counters running in the Chicago and Los Angeles areas. Kohl’s didn’t specify when the next 72 stores will open, and whether this will be before the peak holiday shopping frenzy.

“This is a great example of how Kohl’s and Amazon are leveraging each other’s strengths – the power of Kohl’s store portfolio and omnichannel capabilities combined with the power of Amazon’s reach and loyal customer base,” Richard Schepp, the Chief Administrative Officer at Kohl’s, said in a statement when the project was announced.

The two companies could work together in other ways, too. While Amazon makes a bigger push into fashion, wouldn’t it be nice to try some of the items on, or to get an idea of the house brand’s sizing? One retail analyst speculated in an interview with CNBC that the Amazon-Kohl’s partnership could expand to include Amazon’s own brands of apparel.

“We could potentially see new Amazon lines popping up in Kohl’s,” apparel analyst Tiffany Hogan told CNBC.

Kohl’s is also experimenting with smaller-format stores, opening four this month, though for the chain that means a 35,000-square-foot building that is 60% smaller than a standard Kohl’s store, yet has 25% less inventory.



Waitress Accused Of Stealing Almost $500K From Regular Customer

Being a regular at a dining establishment can come with some perks; the servers knows what you like and you might even receive a free dessert here or there. But for one New York woman it also came with a rather big drawback: The waitress she befriended allegedly bilked her out of $500,000. 

A Brooklyn woman was indicted on grand larceny, identity theft, and other charges for allegedly stealing $470,000 over a five-year period from an elderly customer she befriended while working at a Brooklyn diner.

Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced the charges, accusing the 46-year-old of spending years gaining the trust of the elderly and vulnerable widow only to take advantage of her financially.

According to the indictment, the waitress began befriending the now 84-year-old woman in 2002 when she worked as a waitress at a restaurant the older customer frequented.

While the elderly woman gave the defendant permission to use her credit cards for small purchases at local drug stores and supermarkets, she allegedly took advantage of this trust.

Authorities claim that from June 2012 to Dec. 2016, the waitress stole more than $200,000 by cashing 75 checks written to herself or cash on the woman’s HSBC bank account; each of the checks contained the victim’s forged signature.

Then from March 2013 to April 2016, the waitress allegedly stole $277,789 by making unauthorized charges against the woman’s Citibank Sears Mastercard accounts.

These charges included $73,399 in cash advances and $204,390 in purchases from retailers such as Apple, JetBlue, Victoria’s Secret, Harrah’s in Atlantic City, Belmont Racetrack, and hotels, clubs and restaurants in Miami and other parts of Florida.

In addition to allegedly stealing more than $470,000, authorities claim that over the course of the friendship the waitress gained access to the woman’s personal information, including her date of birth, address, social security number, and bank and credit card information.

She then allegedly used this information to open additional lines of credit and create online profiles with horse-wagering websites such as TwinSpires and Churchill Downs.

In all, the waitress has been charged with second-degree grand larceny, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and first-degree identity theft. She faces up to five to 15 years in prison if convicted on the top count.

She was ordered held on bail of $2.5 million and to return to court on December 6, 2017.



Google Pulls Calorie Counting Feature From Maps App After Backlash

If you use Google Maps, you may have noticed a new feature recently: One that tells you how many calories you’ll likely burn walking to wherever it is you’re going. Google has now pulled that tool, after users complained that it often wasn’t correct, and criticism over the fact that it showed users how many mini cupcakes worth of calories they could burn on their route.

Google started rolling out the feature last week, explaining that “the average person burns 90 calories by walking 1 mile. To help put that into perspective, we’ve estimated how many desserts your walk would burn. One mini cupcake is around 110 calories.”

On Monday night, Google pulled the feature, confirming to Engadget that it had been a test for iOS users, but that user feedback had prompted the company to abandon the tool.

Indeed, many did not welcome this new feature when it launched, with Twitter users complaining that there was no way to disable it, and pointing out that it felt a bit like shaming people into exercising. Besides, there are already plenty of fitness tracking apps out there.

The clinical director of the Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders at the University of North Carolina told The New York Times that she was baffled to see the feature pop up on her app last week: Even if Google meant the tool to be an incentive to walk, she says people with eating disorders may fixate on the number, which can be a dangerous way of thinking and is something counselors try to minimize.

“We’ve gotten into this habit of thinking about our bodies and the foods we take in and how much activity we do as this mathematical equation, and it’s really not,” Stephanie Zerwas told the NYT. “The more we have technology that promotes that view, the more people who may develop eating disorders might be triggered into that pathway.”

We’ve reached out to Google for more information and will update this post if we receive a response.



Charter Sues NYC Union, Accuses Striking Workers Of Sabotaging Cables

For six months now, union workers for Charter in New York and New Jersey have been on strike. Now the cable company has filed a lawsuit against the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3, accusing union members of sabotaging customers’ cable installations to make Charter look bad.

Why does Charter believe that its employees are the ones behind at least 125 incidents where someone allegedly cut fiber optic and coaxial cables, knocking out service for tens of thousands of customers?

“The saboteurs clearly knew the optimal locations where they could quickly cut cable lines to multiple customers without being harmed or observed,” Charter explains in a filing in New York state court, according to the New York Daily News, “suggesting they are cable technicians who work for Charter.”

Someone dressed as a Charter worker wouldn’t attract any attention lurking in the utility areas for apartment buildings or outside of homes cutting wires. Former employees would also know exactly where to cut to knock out service to the maximum number of people.

Charter is asking for an emergency order that would ban union members from being within 25 feet of any of its facilities, or from threatening workers or equipment

Yet the union insists that it is not behind the sabotage.

“Any act of sabotage we don’t condone, you shouldn’t do it, it hurts your [negotiating] position,” the union local’s business manager told the Daily News.

The striking technicians have been working without a contract since 2013, dating back well before Charter took over their employer, Time Warner Cable.



Ford Recalls 1.1M Trucks Over Doors That Don’t Stay Shut

One of the last things you want to happen when driving down the road is to have your vehicle’s door unexpectedly open. For that reason, Ford has issued the recall of 1.1 million trucks. 

Ford announced today the recall of model year 2015 to 2017 F-150 and model year 2017 Ford Super Duty trucks after determining the doors of the vehicles may not open or close properly.

According to the carmaker, a frozen door latch or a bent or kinked actuation cable may result in the vehicles’ doors not opening or closing.

If the latch is affected, but the door appears to close, Ford warns it might not stay that way. That’s because the latch may not fully engage the door striker, leaving the potential for the door to open while driving.

As you can imagine, a door that opens while the vehicle is in motion could prove to be dangerous to drivers and passengers.

In complaints submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration’s safercar.gov database, owners recall the moment their doors failed to latch.

The owner of a 2015 F-150 notes that the door mechanism froze and the latch malfunctioned. The doors of the vehicle would not remain locked and on two separate occasions the driver side door erroneously opened while driving.

An owner of a 2016 Ford F-150 notes in a complaint that the door latches malfunctioned both while the car was in motion and while parked.

In one instance, the door opened and would not stay closed when prompted. The door remained open while driving.

So far, Ford says it is not aware of any injuries related to the issue.

The company will begin notifying owners of the recall in coming weeks. Dealers will install water shields over the door latches and inspect and repair the door latch actuation cables if needed.



Twitter Cracks Down On Nudity, Harassment & Violence… Again

For years now, Twitter has been rolling out tool after tool designed to combat harassment and abuse. While the company says these initiatives are working — despite a lack of data — it’s also doubling down on its efforts: Twitter will soon roll out another set of changes to protect users.

Wired reports that Twitter is prepping to unveil a set of new policy updates in coming weeks with a focus on once again cutting down on harassment and abuse between users.

The policy changes — highlighted in an email to the company’s Trust and Safety Council — include a more rigid stance on “nonconsensual nudity,” or images or videos shared without permission, and a streamlined process to report “unwanted sexual advances.”

Non-Consensual Nudity
While Twitter cracked down on so-called revenge porn in 2015 through a change to its terms of service, the company is increasing its efforts to combat the harassment.

Revenge porn is when someone else puts nude photos or videos online without the consent of the subject, and it’s an issue many sites have been dealing with.

Currently, Twitter says that a person who Tweets non-consensual nudity — either maliciously or inadvertently — are temporarily blocked and the content is deleted. Twitter then permanently deletes the user’s account if they post the non-consensual nudity again.

With the upcoming changes, Twitter says it will “immediately and permanently suspend” any account identified as the original poster or source of non-consensual nudity. The same goes for a user who makes it clear they are intentionally posting said content to harass their target.

The company says it will do a full account review whenever it receives a report about non-consensual nudity Tweets. If the account appears to be dedicated to such posts, it will be suspended immediately.

Finally, Twitter says it is expanding its definition of non-consensual nudity to include content such as upskirt images, “creep shots,” and hidden camera content.

“While we recognize there’s an entire genre of pornography dedicated to this type of content, it’s nearly impossible for us to distinguish when this content may/may not have been produced and distributed consensually,” the email reads. “We would rather error on the side of protecting victims and removing this type of content when we become aware of it.”

Unwanted Advances
Twitter generally allows pornographic content on its site. To differentiate when a conversation is consensual or not, Twitter currently relies on and takes action only if it receives a report from a participant in the conversation.

Going forward, the social media site says the rule will make it more clear that harassing behavior is not acceptable.

“We will continue taking enforcement action when we receive a report from someone directly involved in the conversation,” the email reads.

The company will also debut tools to improve the ability of bystanders and witnesses to report an interaction is unwanted, and will also use signals from previous interactions — such as when someone is blocked or a conversation is muted — to make a determination and act on the content accordingly.

Hate Symbols & Violent Groups
Twitter notes that it is still defining the exact scope of what will be covered when it comes to an upcoming policy on hate symbols and imagery, as well as violent groups.

At a high level, Twitter says that hateful imagery, hate symbols, and other similar content will be considered sensitive media and treated in a similar way to adult content and graphic violence.

As for violent groups, the company says it will take enforcement action against organizations that use or have historically used violence as a means to advance their cause.

Tweets That Glorify Violence
Another new policy will revolve around Tweets that promote direct threats, vague violent threats, and hopes or wishes for physical harm.

Moving forward, Twitter will also take action against content that glorifies and/or condones violence.

Example Tweets include: “Praise be to <terrorist name> for shooting up <event>. He’s a hero!” or “Murdering <x group of people> makes sense. That way they won’t be a drain on social services.”

“We realize that a more aggressive policy and enforcement approach will result in the removal of more content from our service,” Twitter says in the email. “We are comfortable making this decision, assuming that we will only be removing abusive content that violates our Rules.”

In an effort to ensure that only violating Tweets are removed and action taken against users, Twitter’s product and operational teams will be work to improve the appeals process and turnaround times for their reviews.

A rep for Twitter tells Wired that the company plans to unveil more details on the new guidelines in coming weeks.



Two Chicago Aviation Officers Fired For Role In Dragging United Passenger From Flight

More than six months after a ticketed United Airlines passenger was forcibly removed from a flight by Chicago law enforcement personnel, two of the four Chicago Department of Aviation Security officers involved have been fired.

According to a new report [PDF] from Chicago’s Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, an Aviation Security officer and a sergeant were fired. A third officer resigned, and the fourth received a two-day suspension.

The OIG’s investigation found that the officers “mishandled a non-threatening situation that resulted in a physically violent and forceful removal” of Dr. David Dao from the United flight headed to Louisville on April 9.

The report details Dao’s injuries due to the “use of excessive force,” including a concussion, a broken nose, and the loss of two teeth.

READ MORE: United Airlines Won’t Be Fined Over Passenger-Dragging Incident

According to the investigation, the unnamed employees made “misleading statements and deliberately removed material facts from their reports.”

Based on the OIG’s findings and recommendations, the Chicago Department of Aviation fired the officer who “improperly escalated the incident” as well as the sergeant involved in the deliberate removal of facts from an employee report.

The department also said a review of its policies and procedures was underway, with the goal to have it complete by 2018.

READ MORE: United Airlines Reaches Confidential Settlement With Forcibly Removed Passenger

Dao’s attorney Thomas Demetrio said in a statement that it’s “unfortunate” that the conduct of the two aviation officers resulted in their losing their jobs. However, “this is not a day of celebration for Dr. Dao, who is neither vindictive nor happy about Mr. Ferguson’s findings,” he adds.

Instead, he says there’s a lesson to be learned for law enforcement at all levels.

“Do not state something that is clearly contrary to video viewed by the world,” Demetrio said. “But for the video, the filed report stating that only ‘minimal’ force was used would have been unnoticed. Simply put, don’t make stuff up.”



The Many Ways In Which Your Kids’ Smartwatch Can Be Hacked

mardi 17 octobre 2017

Amazon Sells Big Landlords On Package Hubs For Apartment-Dwellers

Online retail is very attractive to apartment-dwelling urbanites who may not have a car and whose nearby stores probably charge higher prices than the malls out in the suburbs. But this customer base has always posed a problem for Amazon and its ilk: Where do you leave the packages?

Amazon has previously put communal lockers in retail stores, but unless you live a block or two away from a locker location, there’s no real convenience.

So why not take the same approach that Amazon has taken on some college campuses and put lockers right where its customers actually live? The retail giant is reportedly hard at work installing lockers in large apartment complexes with the hope of having them working by this holiday season.

So far, sources tell The Wall Street Journal, landlords have signed deals that put lockers in buildings that have a total of 850,000 units, meaning that well over a million Americans could be covered by this holiday season. The lockers cost $10,000 to $20,000 to purchase, which is about half the cost of similar systems from companies that aren’t Amazon.

For the companies that manage these properties, the advantages are obvious. Instead of paying workers to deal with and sort packages for hours every day, they delegate that to Amazon, which places other carriers’ packages inside locker spaces too. The lockers are an amenity that some residents will use a lot more often than a pool, which can be used to sell new residents on signing up.

The chief executive of one property management company in Maryland that has around 68,000 units likes the idea, and is starting with lockers in four buildings.

“I think about how much money I spend on my amenity spaces and all of a sudden we were in a situation pre-Amazon hub where we had boxes stacking up,” he told the WSJ.



States Accuse Betsy DeVos Of Failing To Protect Students From Sketchy For-Profit Schools

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has made no effort to hide her support for the for-profit education industry, going so far as to hit “reset” on rules intended to protect students from schools that provide minimal education at a maximum cost. Now, a coalition of 18 state attorneys general are suing DeVos and the Dept. of Education, alleging they failed to hold these schools accountable.

In June, DeVos indefinitely delayed enforcement of the “Gainful Employment” rule, which requires that for-profit educators demonstrate their former students are making a living wage after they graduate.

The states, in a lawsuit [PDF] filed in the D.C. federal court, accuses DeVos and the Ed. Dept. of violating the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) by deciding she wouldn’t enforce the Gainful Employment rule without first going through all the steps required in changing a federal rule, like soliciting and responding to public comment.

Rule Changes

Since DeVos’ confirmation as Secretary of Education, she has taken a number of steps to either reset or amend rules aimed at protecting students from shady for-profit colleges.

A “Reset”
DeVos announced in June that the rules would be indefinitely delayed as she revealed her intention to establish rulemaking committees starting a process to “reset” the rules, claiming the previous rulemaking process “missed an opportunity to get it right,” resulting in a “muddled process that’s unfair to students and schools, and puts taxpayers on the hook for significant costs.”

The Gainful Employment rule [PDF], which took effect in July 2015, requires that for-profit educators demonstrate their former students are making a living wage after they graduate.

For-profit colleges are at risk of losing their federal aid should a typical graduate’s annual loan repayments exceed 20% of their discretionary income, or 8% of their total earnings. Discretionary income is defined as above 150% of the poverty line and applies to what can be put towards non-necessities.

So for example, say the typical recent graduate of a career education program earns $25,000. That student would need to average annual student loan payments less than $2,000, or the school would be at risk for losing federal financial aid.

While DeVos claimed the rule was created through a flawed process, her announcement calling for the rules to be reset didn’t mention that the regulation went through multiple rounds of rulemaking to address the objections raised by the for-profit industry, which has also repeatedly attempted — without success — to challenge this rule through the legal system.

Gainful employment was proposed in June 2011 and spent years being written, lobbied against, scuttled and rewritten. They were finalized in Oct. 2014, and then repeatedly battled over in court before finally going into effect in July 2015.

A Delay
DeVos announced additional changes to the rule in August, revising the appeals process for schools that were found to offer programs in violation of the Gainful Employment rule.

The Department’s proposed changes — published in a notice [PDF] in the Federal Register — appeared to tip the appeals process in the college’s favor.

Currently, a school has 60 days to appeal findings that their programs are in violation of the Gainful Employment rule. In the case of this year, schools had until March 1 to file; however, that date was pushed back to July 1. Under today’s announcement, schools found to be in violation of the rule now have until Feb. 1, 2018 to appeal.

In appealing these findings, a school must base their arguments on surveys that include at least 50% of program graduates or state data that uses at least 30 graduates of the program. Additionally, appeals based on surveys with few than 80% of a program’s graduates must demonstrate the respondents are representative of all grads.

Now when appealing, the schools would no longer have to meet a minimum percentage or number of represented students in their findings. Instead, DeVos would determine what is reliable on her own.

The Objections

As with a previously filed lawsuit by a coalition of AGs related to the Department’s action in delaying the Borrower Defense rules, today’s complaint asks the court to declare the agency’s actions unlawful.

The states claim that the Department’s action to delay and not enforce the rule is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law,” and “in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations, or short of statutory right.”

According to the lawsuit, the Dept. violated the APA — the federal law which dictates the process for creating and revising regulations — when it issued notice of intent to reset or delay the rule and to issue a new regulation to replace the current rule.

While the APA allows an agency to engage in a negotiated rulemaking process to revise regulations, an agency may not change a regulation without engaging in a public, deliberative process and soliciting, receiving, and responding to comments from stakeholders and members of the public.

Yet, the AGs claim the Dept. and DeVos did just this in June by revoking “a duly promulgated and implemented regulation.”

The states contend that the Department’s notice operates as an amendment to or recision of the rule.

“The APA does not permit the Department to delay a duly promulgated and implemented regulation in order to draft a replacement, and it similarly does not permit the Department to delay or refuse to enforce a duly implemented rule without complying with the requirements of that statute,” the lawsuit states.

The suit also alleges that the Dept. essentially delayed portions of the Gainful Employment rule when it change the appeals process and pushed back the deadline to comply with the disclosure requirements.

Again, the states argue that the Department’s actions were in violation of the APA, as it did not ask for feedback or comments before making the change.

“By illegally delaying these disclosure deadlines and extending alternative appeal deadlines to all institutions affected by the Rule, the Department upended the Gainful Employment administrative scheme in its totality,” the lawsuit states.

The AGs seek to have the court order the Department and DeVos to implement the rule.

“From delaying student loan forgiveness to exposing students to misconduct by abusive schools, Secretary DeVos and the Department of Education have put special interests before students’ best interests,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “Failing to implement the Gainful Employment Rule leaves students vulnerable to exploitation and fraud. If Washington won’t defend students against predatory for-profit schools, we will.”

The states involved in the lawsuit against DeVos and the Department are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

A rep for the Dept. of Education essentially likened the lawsuit to a political stunt.

“This is just the latest in a string of frivolous lawsuits filed by Democratic Attorneys General who are only seeking to score quick political points,” press secretary Liz Hill told Consumerist in a statement. “While this Administration, and Secretary DeVos in particular, continue work to replace this broken rule with one that actually protects students, these legal stunts do nothing more than divert time and resources away from that effort.”