vendredi 31 mars 2017

Some EpiPen, EpiPen Jr. Devices Now Being Recalled In U.S. Because They May Not Work When Needed

Mylan, the makers of the EpiPen emergency allergy treatment are expanding a previously announced overseas recall to now include EpiPen and EpiPen Jr. devices distributed in the U.S. over concerns they may not function properly when needed.

Like the earlier recall, the affected EpiPens were manufactured in the U.S. for Mylan by Pfizer subsidiary Meridian Medical Technologies. Mylan says certain epinephrine auto-injectors may have a defect that could “make the device difficult to activate in an emergency.” More precisely, the EpiPen could fail to function or could require additional force.

If a person in need of a epinephrine injection doesn’t get the correct amount of the drug, their symptoms could worsen, with potentially lethal results.

Mylan says its testing of the recalled devices has not turned up any units with this defect, but the recall is “being expanded to include additional lots as a precautionary measure out of an abundance of caution.”

The devices affected by the recall are EpiPens with strengths of 0.3 mg and 0.15 mg.

According to Mylan, these are the specific lot numbers and expiration dates that make up the U.S. part of the recall:

Note that the recall does not include the generic version of the auto-injector released by Mylan in late 2016.

Rather than discard the recalled EpiPens, Mylan is suggesting that patients who have one of the devices on the above list to hold onto their injector until they have secured a replacement.

Replacement EpiPens can be obtained from your pharmacy, if it has the auto-injector (or its generic equivalent) in stock.

People with questions about the recall can call Mylan Customer Relations at 800-796-9526 or via email at

Mylan says it will be posting more information on this recall on

Wells Fargo Still Has A Lot Of Fake Account Fiasco Investigations To Deal With

Wells Fargo may believe that its recently announced $110 million settlement will put an end to the many federal lawsuits over the bank’s fake account fiasco, but that may be wishful thinking. In fact, the financial institution is still party to nearly a dozen investigations and lawsuits. 

CNN reports that despite taking steps to put the ordeal behind it — ditching high-pressure sales goals, former CEO John Stumpf’s “retirement,” the forfeiture of executive bonuses, and other measures — the company still faces outside probes from federal and state regulators, as well as internal investigations.

CNN provides a full list of the investigation currently facing Wells Fargo, but here are three of the larger ones:

• Department of Justice Criminal Investigation – Back in September, federal prosecutors in U.S. attorney’s offices announced they were in the early stages of an investigation related to the bank’s alleged improper sales tactics that started in 2013

Sources said at the time that the probe could eventually lead to criminal or civil charges. So far, prosecutors have issued a subpoena for documents and materials related to the sales practices.

• Whistleblowers — Wells Fargo also faces separate investigations and lawsuits related to whistleblowers.

The bank confirmed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing in November that the agency has been looking into the fake account fiasco.

While the SEC didn’t provide details on the probe, it was thought to be related to whether or not Wells misled investors by promoting the financial benefits of its cross-selling policies (i.e., getting employees to sell lines of credit to checking account customers, mortgages to credit card customers, etc.) while failing to properly disclose that it was aware of employees who had gamed this system by opening fraudulent, unauthorized accounts in customers’ names.

The investigation could also be tied to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s call for the SEC to look into whether Wells’ violated federal whistleblower protection laws after employee claim they were fired for reporting the bank’s bad deeds, CNN reports.

Speaking of whistleblowers, several former employees have filed lawsuits against the bank claiming wrongful termination after calling the bank’s ethics hotline, leading lawmakers to urge the Department of Labor to inquire about the company’s actions.

These allegations also prompted the DOL to review allegations that the bank violated federal laws by not paying overtime to employees, CNN notes.

• Internal Reviews — Wells Fargo isn’t just being probed from the outside. as investigations continue internally related to the scope of the fake account fiasco.

CNN points out that Wells Fargo agreed to review accounts opened between 2009 to 2010 to see if they are legitimate or a product of high-pressure sales tactic.

The company’s board also recently announced the firing of several executives and said it wouldn’t pay others $32 million in bonuses.

In addition to these lawsuits and investigation, CNN reports that Wells also faces inquiries from several states, shareholders, and Congress.

Not Quite Settled

When Wells Fargo announced the $110 million settlement in a California class-action lawsuit over these fake accounts, the bank said it expected the deal would cover all affected customers, putting an end to the dozen or so other federal consumer lawsuits.

However, lawyers representing plaintiffs in some of those cases are skeptical.

Zane Christensen, an attorney representing plaintiffs in one lawsuit currently pending in a Utah federal court, recently told Consumerist that he does not believe the proposed settlement serves the purpose of satisfying all injured parties.

“The parties have not conducted any discovery to determine the full nature or extent of the damages caused from the fraudulent acts of Wells Fargo,” explained Christensen. “Therefore, without this information, we do not believe this settlement will make all injured parties whole.”

Number Of Big Retail Bankruptcies In 2017 Already Equal To All Of Last Year

We’re only three months into the year and already the retail battlefield is littered with the corpses of nine brands that have filed for bankruptcy — the same number that filed in all of 2016.

Gordmans, hhgregg, RadioShack, Gander Mountain, BCBG Max Azria, MC Sports, Eastern Outfitters, Wet Seal, and The Limited have all filed for bankruptcy in just the first few months of 2017. At this rate, the industry is on pace to far surpass the high-water mark of 18 major retail bankruptcies set in 2009, notes CNBC.

Two more retailers may be joining their friends on the garbage heap soon as well: Recent reports have indicated that Payless and Bebe are both struggling and could head in the bankruptcy direction in the near future.

So why is 2017 shaping up to be so bad for retailers? Part of the problem — as we’ve said before and we’re bound to say again — is the lure of convenient online shopping.

However, CNBC brings up another factor that might play in to the recent onslaught of bankruptcies: Many of this year’s filings are from retailers that were purchased in the past by private equity firms, according to consulting firm AlixPartners.

When these firms agree to buy out retailers, they often use both equity and debt to do so, which can leave the company struggling with debt right off the bat.

Changes made to the bankruptcy code in 2005 may also be leading some retailers to rush into liquidating their inventories. Previously, retailers could remain in bankruptcy protection for more than a year, giving them time to decide on whether to keep or close locations. Now, they only have up to 210 days, leading some chains to make this decision too soon.

Things will only get worse, industry insiders say, amid rising interest rates that will make it hard to refinance those debts.

And while chains like Macy’s, Kmart, Sears, JCPenney, Game Stop, and Abercrombie & Fitch are all remaining afloat — for now — those companies have each announced store closures this year, paring back their physical footprint to keep their brands viable.

Closed stores may also have a tainting effect on otherwise strong retailers. If a mall or shopping center has too many vacancies, it means less foot traffic for the stores that do remain.

The figure of Amazon, as always, looms large for each and every one of these retailers. If they want to stay alive, they’ve got to compete with their own improved online shopping experiences, if they can. Because while you can surely buy a shirt from Macy’s online, at Amazon you could buy a shirt, a pallet of cat food, refills for your razor, and a tablet in one fell swoop.

What remains to be seen is how much further the bricks-and-mortar retail industry can sink. Many chain retailers spent the ’90s and early 2000s investing heavily in expanding their stores (and the size of those stores) while ignoring the coming threat of online retail. At some point, we’ll reach something akin to an equilibrium, but it could be awfully painful getting there.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Pinky-Swears He Won’t Tell Anyone Else To Go See His Movies

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin raised eyebrows recently when — in the face of federal ethics rules — he suggested that parents should take their kids to see the LEGO Batman Movie, one of many films on which the former Goldman Sachs executive has a producer credit. Mnuchin has already tried to downplay the incident, but today he officially told a government ethics watchdog that he won’t do it again, for real.

In a letter [PDF] to the Director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, Mnuchin restates his contention that he was simply answering a direct question when some say he committed the ethical no-no of using public office for private gain.

At a televised event for Axios, the host had finished the interview by asking Mnuchin to recommend a movie to see.

“Well, I’m not allowed to promote anything that I’m involved in,” Mnuchin admitted, indicating his awareness of the ethics rule, “so I just want to have the legal disclosure that you’ve asked me the question and I am not promoting any product. But you should send all your kids to LEGO Batman.”

Today’s letter acknowledges that maybe the phrase “send all your kids to LEGO Batman” could have been interpreted as Mnuchin “encourag[ing] the questioner to see a film with which I was associated.”

“I should not have made that statement,” he writes. “I want to assure you that I was aware of the rule against using public office to promote a particular product, as I specifically acknowledged in the interview, and in responding to the question posed by the interviewer, it was not my intention to make a product endorsement.”

Mnuchin says he subsequently responded to a similar question without mentioning LEGO Batman, Suicide Squad, Keanu, Batman v Superman, Mad Max: Fury Road, Sully, or any of the dozens of other movies he was involved in during his brief but prolific dalliance with Hollywood.

“I fully appreciate the core ethics principle that public office is a public trust and that no employee may use his office for his own or others’ private gain,” said the Secretary. “I want to reassure you that I will exercise greater caution to avoid any suggestion that I do not take these important rules seriously.”

Mnuchin’s movie comment would probably not have received such scrutiny had they not come shortly after White House counselor Kellyanne Conway exhorted shoppers on national TV to purchase apparel from Ivanka Trump’s clothing line.

FDA Shuts Down Source Of Contaminated Soy Butter That Sickened 26 Kids

Now that 29 people, 26 of whom are children, have been confirmed sick from E. coli in contaminated I.M. Healthy brand soy butter, at least we know which company actually made the recalled products. A Food and Drug Administration inspection of the facility earlier this month found insects, dirty and broken equipment, and general filth.

The FDA announced that it “suspend[ed] the food facility registration” of the manufacturer, Dixie Dew in Erlanger, KY. Since that means no products can leave the facility, translated from bureaucrat-ese, the plant has been effectively shut down.

Dixie Dew is a contract manufacturer and packager. It processes a wide variety of food products, including marinara sauce, dessert glaze toppings, meat glazes, and dry mixes.

“Though we produce many nationally known products, client confidentiality is of extreme importance to all parties and prevents us naming names,” the company says on its website.

Inspectors visited the plant at the beginning of March, and found that it skipped several steps normally taken to prevent pathogens from contaminating and growing in packaged food products.

For example, the FDA reported:

• The company doesn’t bother with a “kill step,” like cooking the product to a high temperature, when it leaves soy paste behind from a production batch overnight or over the weekend, then picks production back up the following work day.

• According to plant supervisors, one machine used for mixing has been malfunctioning, shutting off mid-cycle, for the last 15 years.

• Thermometers used during production were either malfunctioning or had never been checked to find out whether they were accurate.

• A “clear liquid,” identified as water from a leaking overhead pipe, dripped from the processing room ceiling and onto the soy paste processing equipment during the entire production run that the FDA observed.

• The inspectors observed floors, walls, and ceilings were covered in soy butter residue from previous batches of the product, and there was also standing water and “black and brown apparent filth” on the processing room floor.

• The processing equipment hadn’t been taken apart and sanitized since Dec. 2015.

• Mops used for bathrooms and processing facilities intermixed and in terrible shape.

• The plastic tote used to transport soy oil had “brown residue” and employees reported that it was never cleaned.

There’s a lot more in the full inspection report, which is very readable (except for the trade secret redactions) and may make you want to grind your own peanut or soy butter at home.

Bill Marler, an attorney who handles cases of food poisoning and the publisher of Food Safety News, told the publication that the inspection report seemed familiar. He noted that the conditions sound a lot like the Peanut Corporation of America plant, which produced Salmonella-contaminated peanut butter that was officially linked to 714 illnesses and nine deaths, though the total was most likely much higher. In that case, the former owner of the plant, his brother, and three other employees were sent to federal prison for their part in knowingly shipping peanut butter made under gross conditions.

“After reading the Form 483, I would recommend that the principals of Dixie Dew lawyer up with a good criminal defense counsel,” Marler told FSN, “because assuming the Trump Administration is as aggressive as the Obama Administration was with respect to investigation and prosecution under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, they should be worried.”

No one knows yet how the current administration plans to treat cases of food contamination. We can only hope that the people running the relevant agencies believe that a company should be punished for manufacturing a product marketed for children with life-threatening allergies in a filth-encrusted room. The question will be whether they end up prosecuting the company principals personally for crimes.

Twitter Ditching Default Egg Profile Photos Because They’re Tied To “Negative Behavior”

If you want to harass your fellow internet denizens on Twitter, you’ll have to do it without the cover of an anonymous egg in your profile photo: The social media site says it’s doing away with its default avatar, partly because it’s become associated with online harassment and other bad behaviors.

The original idea of the egg photo was a reference to Twitter users hatching from their default profile with brand new baby Tweets, the company writes, but things have changed. One problem with the ovule is that it’s come to represent “negative behavior” for many users, and Twitter doesn’t want to let that prevent new users from expressing themselves.

“We’ve noticed patterns of behavior with accounts that are created only to harass others – often they don’t take the time to personalize their accounts,” Twitter says. “This has created an association between the default egg profile photo and negative behavior, which isn’t fair to people who are still new to Twitter and haven’t yet personalized their profile photo.”

The company also says it’s trying to update its brand and “help prompt more self-expression.” The new default photo — a faceless head on a gray background — feels more like “an empty state or placeholder,” Twitter says, “and we hope it encourages people to upload images that express yourself.”

Twitter didn’t make this decision lightly, it says, outlining in detail the process it went through to make sure that the new profile photo felt generic, universal, unbranded, and inclusive, among other things.

For example, once the company landed on a faceless head, it wanted to make sure that the figure didn’t seem gender-specific.

“We reviewed many variations of our figure, altering both the head and shoulders to feel more inclusive to all genders,” the company writes, before finally settling on the new image.

Twitter has rolled out a series of updates aimed at online safety and curbing harassment lately, including an effort to proactively identify abusive accounts and a “mute” feature it first rolled out in November and recently expanded. Whether or not giving online harassers a different photo to hide behind actually helps anything remains to be seen.

Prepare For Deluge Of Fax Spam On Machines You Haven’t Used Since 2004

In 2005, just about the time many of us were finally giving up on fax machines, the ever-hip Congress passed the Junk Fax Prevention Act, severely restricting the use of fax machines for advertising purposes. However, a federal appeals court ruled today — when there are college students who don’t even know what a fax is — that the FCC overstepped its authority in writing the actual regulations tied to this law.

While the law effectively outlaws the sending of unsolicited ads via fax machine, the FCC rule takes the additional step of requiring an opt-out notice on faxed ads, even when the recipient had agreed to receiving these ads.

That may not sound too restrictive to you. After all, a lot of legitimate companies that blast out marketing emails now include links for recipients to unsubscribe.

But some faxed-based advertisers apparently disregarded this rule, and were sued for not giving recipients of their ads the ability to stop using them. When one of these companies asked the FCC to declare that the opt-out requirement didn’t apply to ads where the recipients had explicitly given their permission to receive the ads, the Commission maintained its earlier position, but agreed to retroactively waive application of the rule through April 2015.

The affected faxers — who apparently still exist, though we have no idea who is still getting all these faxes — appealed their petition to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled today [PDF] that yes, the FCC had gone too far in its rulemaking.

“Although the [Junk Fax Prevention] Act requires an opt-out notice on unsolicited fax advertisements, the Act does not require a similar opt-out notice on solicited fax advertisements – that is, those fax advertisements sent with the recipient’s prior express invitation or permission,” explains Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the majority of the three-judge panel. “Nor does the Act grant the FCC authority to require opt-out notices on solicited fax advertisements.”

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Nina Pillard says the majority is taking a too-limited view of the FCC’s authority under the Junk Fax law to prevent “unsolicited” fax ads.

“The FCC reasonably concluded that opt-out notices are needed on all fax ads so that recipients can easily limit or withdraw their ‘invitation or permission,'” explains Pillard. “Regulation of ‘unsolicited’ advertising requires a mechanism for discerning whether someone who okayed fax ads at some point in the past is still willing to receive an advertiser’s further faxes.”

Without this opt-out requirement, Pillard contends that the court has made it more difficult for recipients of these ads to “control what comes out of their fax machines… precisely the sort of anti-consumer harm Congress intended to prevent.”

Comcast, AT&T: We Totally Respect Your Privacy Even Though We Helped Kill The Law Protecting It

The FCC rule that would have prohibited your ISP from collecting and selling your personal data without your permission is pretty much dead, leaving consumers to fend for themselves. Members of the House and Senate didn’t all spontaneously come up with the same talking points about why the FCC rule was unfair, though; they had help from lobbyists and telecom corporations along the way. And now some of the biggest of those corporations are pinky-swearing that just because they can abuse the heck out of your data now doesn’t mean they will.

That’s the gist of a post on Comcast’s corporate blog today from the company’s chief privacy officer, Gerard Lewis.

Comcast is committed to privacy principles that are “in line with the FTC’s regime,” Lewis writes. “We have committed not to share our customers’ sensitive information unless we first obtain their affirmative, opt-in consent.”

“We want to make sure that our customers understand how strong our privacy protections really are,” Lewis concludes, writing that Comcast is about to revise its privacy policy “to make more clear and prominent that we do not sell our customers’ individual web browsing information to third parties and that we do not share sensitive information unless our customers have affirmatively opted in to allow that to occur.”

Lewis links to a press release [PDF] from January, co-signed by all the big telecom companies and trade (lobbying) groups, including Comcast, to prove his point.

“For over twenty years, ISPs have protected their consumers’ data with the strongest pro-consumer policies in the internet ecosystem,” the release reads, appearing not to take into account that time AT&T charged extra for privacy, or that time Verizon tracked everyone with supercookies, or that other time a whole bunch of ISPs got caught redirecting users’ searches.

AT&T exec Bob Quinn echoed the sentiment in a post on AT&T’s Public Policy blog.

Because the FCC’s rule had not yet gone into effect, Quinn writes, consumers didn’t actually lose anything. After spending several paragraphs explaining why former FCC chair Tom Wheeler and the rules he approved were awful, Quinn continues by explaining why you should totally trust AT&T with your data.

“AT&T was one of the first companies to move away from a privacy policy that looked like a legal document and towards a policy that communicated our practices to our customers in words that the consumer didn’t need a lawyer to help decipher,” Quinn writes. Which would be useful, except that privacy policies don’t mean your data is private, and also not even 2% of users read them ever.

Quinn also challenges what of your data can actually count as “sensitive.” AT&T doesn’t include location data in that bucket, but the FCC did.

If the government believes that location data is sensitive and requires more explicit consumer disclosures and permissions, then those protections should apply to all players that have access to location data, whether an ISP or edge player or search engine,” Quinn writes, which is a pretty solid sentiment.

“If the government bans the ISP from that data but allows, for example, OS providers, app developers and everyone else who has software running on your phone to collect your location and internet data, use it, share or sell it,” Quinn continues, “that does not protect but rather confuses the consumer.”

Which again, is in one sense, true: if your data is sensitive, it should be treated as such no matter who holds it. That would be really nice! But that’s not the way any of our laws work.

Every existing privacy law we have depends on two key things: what data is being collected, and who is collecting it. Your health data may be covered by the law if your doctor gathers it, but it is not if your Fitbit does. Is that confusing? It sure as heck is! But that’s the way our entire regulatory system has shaken out.

Moreover, The FCC cannot regulate edge providers like Google and Facebook; that falls to the FTC. But the FTC likewise cannot regulate Title II common carriers, which all broadband providers now legally are. That means falling back on the FTC as the regulator of choice for your ISP is a disingenuous move at best.

As we’ve observed before, meanwhile, the industry spent a great deal of money making sure that the resolution to overturn the FCC’s rule would have friends in Congress.

The Verge compiled a full list of how much each of the member of the House and Senate who voted for the CRA received in donations from the telecommunications industry in 2016 (or, for Senators, their most recent previous election).

The one and only listed member — out of a total 265 who voted to overturn the rule — for who the number was $0 is the one appointed in Feb. 2017 to fill the seat former Sen. Jeff Sessions vacated when he became Attorney General. The other 264 Senators and Representatives who voted to roll back privacy for consumers all received some kind of donation from the industry.

At the high end of donations we have Sen. Mitch McConnell (KY), the Senate Majority Leader, whose campaign received $251,110 from the industry. He’s followed by Sen. John Thune (SD), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee; his campaign netted $215,000 from these sources.

Another 10 Senators who received more than $100,000 from the telecom industry — Roy Blunt (MO), Thad Cochran (MS), John Cornyn (TX), Chuck Grassley (IA), Orrin Hatch (UT), Ron Johnson (WI), Jerry Moran (KS), Pat Roberts (KS), Pat Toomey (PA), and Roger Wicker (MS) — also all voted to overturn the FCC rules.

In the House, the numbers are a little smaller — but there are also hundreds more Representatives than Senators. Rep. Greg Walden (OR), chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee, tops out the list with a cool $155,100 in telecom donations. Re. Steve Scalise, the House Majority Whip, clocks in second with $121,750.

They were followed by another 35 Representatives whose campaigns received between $40,000 and $120,000 from the telecom industry, including: Reps. Gus Bilirakis (FL), Marsha Blackburn (TN), Susan Brooks (IN), Doug Collins (GA), Barbara Comstock (VA), Kevin Cramer (ND), Carlos Curbelo (FL), Rodney Davis (IL), Bill Flores (TX), Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ), Bob Goodlatte (VA), Steven Guthrie (NY), Richard Hudson (NC), William Hurd (TX), Darrell Issa (CA), Bill Johnson (OH), Adam Kinzinger (IL), Bob Latta (OH), Billy Long (MO), Kevin McCarthy (CA), Martha McSally (AZ), Patrick Meehan (PA), Cathy McMorris-Rogers (WA), Markwayne Mullin (OK), Pete Olson (TX), Erik Paulsen (MN), Bruce Poliquin (ME), Jim Renacci (OH), Pete Sessions (TX), John Shimkus (IL), Jason Smith (MO), Lamar Smith (TX), Fred Upton (MI), Ann Wagner (MO), and Mimi Walters (CA).

Usually if a company spends a lot of money getting a law passed or repealed, it’s because they see a way to make more money out of the action they support. But just because internet service providers have literally been caught doing those things before in the absence of rules preventing it doesn’t mean they’ll try again, right? Surely we can simply trust our oligopolistic providers to do what’s right, even though we don’t have the option to leave them for another carrier if they don’t?

Dunkin’ Donuts Franchises Settle Lawsuits Over Butter Substitute

When you ask for a buttered bagel, what do you mean? Do you want a spread made from the milk of cows, or would you be fine with any spreadable facsimile thereof? A man who wanted the former sued Dunkin’ Donuts last year after getting a bagel that was slathered in butter substitute, and will now receive a settlement in the case.

A man from the Worcester, MA, area filed two lawsuits last year in county court, accusing more than 20 Dunkin’ Donuts locations in the state of serving people butter substitute as butter, reports The Boston Globe.

The suits sought class-action status to represent any Dunkin’ customer who “ordered a baked product, such as a bagel, with butter, but instead received margarine or butter substitute between June 24, 2012, and June 24, 2016.”

His lawyer admits that the legal fight may seem like a small thing to fight about in the grand scheme of things, but hey, some people really like their butter, he told the Globe.

“The main point of the lawsuit is to stop the practice of representing one thing and selling a different thing,” he explained to the Globe. “It’s a minor thing, but at the same time, if somebody goes in and makes a point to order butter for the bagel… they don’t want margarine or some other kind of chemical substitute.”

An attorney for one group of 17 franchises involved in the lawsuit said a settlement has already been reached, though he declined to say if the plaintiff will receive any money. He did say that the stores he represents have changed how they provide butter, though he declined to provide specifics.

“The litigant is satisfied with the operational changes made in those stores,” he told the Globe.

A spokesperson for Dunkin’ said the company wasn’t aware of the lawsuit, but that most stores in Massachusetts carry individual whipped butter packets that customers can use instead of a butter-substitute vegetable spread.

This isn’t the first time Dunkin’ has faced backlash over butter substitutes: Back in 2013, another Massachusetts resident was highly displeased to find margarine on his bagel, which he wanted buttered.

At the time, Dunkin’ said the switch was about being safe.

“For food safety reasons, we do not allow butter to be stored at room temperature,” a spokesperson explained then, “which is the temperature necessary for butter to be easily spread onto a bagel or pastry.” Yes. the company recommends that their stores serve individual butter packets with the bagel instead.

Apple Update Fixes Flaw That Caused 911 Cyberattack

Last fall, 911 emergency-response service centers in a dozen states were the victims of a massive cyberattack that resulted in hundreds, if not thousands, of iPhones repeatedly calling 911 without the knowledge or direction of owners. Nearly five months later, Apple say it has fixed the apparent flaw that made the attack possible. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple’s latest iOS update — iOS 10.3 — is aimed at preventing similar cyberattacks from happening in the future.

The October incident, which lasted for nearly 12 hours and affected call centers across the country, was allegedly caused when an 18-year-old wrote code that exploited a feature in iOS devices that allowed users to click on a phone number and immediately make a call.

While the total number of calls received isn’t known, many of the centers reported receiving hundreds more than they would on a normal day.

For example, the Journal has previously reported that a center in Surprise, AZ, fielded 174 calls in just one hour. The same time the day before only yielded 24 calls.

Apple tells the WSJ that it first began working on the issue with app developers, asking them to remove the capability.

The new update, according to the tech giant, completely removes that capability from apps and requires users to provide a second confirmation that they actually want to place a call.

TSA Reaches Out To Woman Who Said Son Endured “Horrifying” Pat-Down

Man Pleasantly Surprised When Suspected Scam Is Actually Legitimate $763K Windfall

Every time I get an email from a Nigerian official bearing the news that deceased royalty has inexplicably left me a huge sum of money, I can’t help but wish it really were true. So when a man in South Carolina got a phone call informing him he was due $763,000 in unclaimed cash, it’s not surprising he thought the whole thing was a scam. Except this time, it wasn’t.

It all started when the recipient’s son got a phone call from state treasurer Curtis Loftis, who had been trying to reach his father to let him know there was a quarter of a million dollars in unclaimed funds that had been waiting for him for more than a decade. Loftis is also the president of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, and as such, makes it his mission to return unclaimed money to its rightful owners.

It wasn’t easy in this case: The money was from the man’s father, who had passed away more than 15 years ago. Loftis had to use Facebook to track down the heir, ultimately finding the son, who convinced his dad to call the treasurer back, despite his suspicions that the whole thing was a scam.

The treasurer tells The New York Times he even offered to drive to a Starbucks to meet the heir in public to prove the offer was valid. Finally, the man was convinced he was really about to be a lot richer.

“I’m so happy that we are able to return the money to the rightful heir,” Loftis said in a statement.

The recipient doesn’t know what he’ll do with the money, but he sure is grateful it’s his.

“We had no idea we had this much money waiting for us,” he said, praising Loftis for tracking him down.

If you’re wondering whether there’s a pile of money somewhere out there for you, it’s always a good idea to check with your state’s online unclaimed money division.

“No one on the planet believes that they have money waiting for them,” he told the Times, adding that there’s about a one in four chance of having unclaimed property.

Not everyone will get such a large sum, of course, as Loftis says this $763,000 award is the largest the state has ever paid out.

“You have about a one in four chance of having unclaimed property,” Loftis said.

Panera Launches New ‘Clean’ Beverage Line, Will Post Calorie And Sugar Info At Soda Fountains

Panera announced plans today to extend its “clean” food philosophy to its self-serve beverages… sort of. The chain will post calorie and added sugars information on all of its drinks, including soda fountains, perhaps encouraging customers to try a new line of iced teas and lemonades that will launch next week instead.

This announcement comes after the chain’s war of words over whose food is the “cleanest” of them all with quick-serve rival Chipotle. Both chains emphasize the absence of artificial food additives and genetically modified ingredients in their food, but have standard soda fountains that dispense fizzy beverages loaded with artificial colors and flavors and high fructose corn syrup made from conventionally grown corn. Both chains also offer iced tea and water as an alternative to HFCS-sweetened soft drinks.

Today, though, Panera announced that its new line of “clean” beverages will start to launch next week, reaching all stores nationwide by September. It features beverages with no added sugars, like the existing plain iced tea, and beverages that are “lightly sweetened” or that have alternative sweeteners like agave syrup. All have 35 grams or less of added sugar, though drinks that get all or some of their sweetness from fruit juices don’t count as having “added” sweeteners.

The new lineup announced today includes:

• Iced Black Tea
• Plum Ginger Hibiscus Tea
• Prickly Pear Hibiscus Fresca
• Passion Papaya Green Tea
• Blood Orange Lemonade
• Agave Lemonade

“With up to 75 grams of sugar — just one 20 oz. soft drink contains more than the recommended daily amount of added sugar,” Panera CEO Shaich said in a statement. “While we won’t tell people what they should drink, we want to provide real options and real transparency — and we’re challenging the industry to join us.”

After 8 Years And $7.5 Million In Sanctions, Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Over Delta, AirTran Checked Bag Fees

Nearly a decade has passed since travelers sued Delta Air Lines and AirTran, alleging that the carriers colluded in creating their fees for checked bags. In that time, the AirTran has vanished and Delta had to pay millions of dollars in sanctions for being a stubborn defendant. Now, less than a year after the court finally granted class-action status in the case, it has been dismissed.

Back in 2008, American Airlines became the first major U.S. carrier to charge baggage fees for checked luggage. At the time, the CEO of Atlanta-based AirTran publicly stated that his airline could follow suit, but that it would wait to see what Atlanta’s other big airline, Delta, did first.

Delta was the last of the major national airlines to jump on the baggage-fee bandwagon, but when it did, AirTran followed. In fact, both carriers began charging these fees on the same day: Dec. 5, 2008.

A slew of class actions ensued from all over the country. They were eventually consolidated into one multi-district litigation before a federal judge in Atlanta.

Then began the long slog of trying to get information from Delta. Overwritten email servers, lost (and then miraculously found) backup tapes, 60,000 pages of documents that were delayed for years… a series of what a court-appointed special master referred to as “colossal blunders” on Delta’s part, resulting in multiple sanctions against the airline totaling around $7.5 million.

This is where we put the sanctions in perspective by pointing out that Delta made $659 million from baggage fees in just the first eight months of 2016 (and $5.9 billion since 2008).

Getting back to the lawsuit, the judge in this case says it comes down to whether Delta and AirTran’s effectively simultaneous decisions to collect baggage fees is a matter of illegal collusion or is it lawful “conscious parallelism”?

In other words, is there evidence that the airlines conspired together to start charging these fees, or could these actions be the product of a “rational, independent calculus” by two airlines vying for market share in an industry with limited competition?

To survive a dismissal, the plaintiff would need to “simply present some evidence that tends to exclude the possibility of conscious parallelism or that tends to establish a price-fixing conspiracy,” explains the judge.

That said, the court found that the plaintiffs had not presented sufficient proof to allow the case to continue.

“Even when viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, the evidence in this case simply does not permit a reasonable factfinder to infer the existence of a conspiracy,” concludes the court, “as it does not tend to exclude the possibility that the alleged conspirators acted independently.”

Lest you think this lawsuit — which is getting near old enough to have “the talk” with its parents — is over, a lawyer for the plaintiffs tells the Atlanta Journal Constitution that his clients will appeal.

You Can Apparently Fool Samsung Galaxy S8 Facial Recognition With A Photo

A number of companies have turned to facial recognition as a way to offer customers another level of security: from MasterCard’s “selfie” verification to British Airways’ face-scanning boarding process. Now, Samsung is using the technology as a way to unlock its new Galaxy S8 smartphone, but it turns out the process may not be as secure as one would hope. 

Just days after Samsung debuted the new smartphone, and its facial recognition software, a researcher says he was able to trick the face-scanning program with a photo.

The flaw was uncovered in a live Periscope video by bloggers at Marcianophone and posted by iDeviceHelp on YouTube.

In the demo, the researcher registered his face to the phone to lock it. He then took a photo of himself on another device, placed it above the Galaxy S8 and unlocked the device.

While the video from iDeviceHelp notes that it is unclear if the Galaxy S8 used was a demo version or the final product, The Verge reports that Samsung has previously said facial scanning isn’t the most secure form of authentication for the devices.

Instead, users can use a PIN, fingerprint, or the also new iris scanner to secure their devices.

We’ve reached out to Samsung for comment on the alleged flaw and will  update this post when we hear back.

Amazon Vs. Walmart Battle Means Lower Prices For You; Headaches For Manufacturers

Amazon can now deliver many things in one or two days, so Walmart has to have lower prices for the many customers who can wait. Similarly, Amazon has to undercut Walmart’s grocery prices if it’s going to stake out any significant portion of that $800 billion market. For shoppers at either of these two retail giants, this can mean lower prices, but it’s also forcing manufacturers and suppliers to rethink how they do business.

Consumer brands have been increasingly dedicated to figuring out ways to deal with this pricing war, one executive told Re/code, noting that “it’s dominating the conversation every week.”

Though Amazon made headlines this week for gathering some of the biggest packaged food brands together to pitch them on the idea of frustration-free packaging, as part of a push to attract more customers to online shopping instead of buying in physical stores, Walmart has also been meeting with its suppliers in an effort to ramp up the battle for shoppers.

Last week, Walmart brought together major household brands at its headquarters for a pricing powwow. According to a presentation Re/code viewed, Walmart wants to have the lowest price on 80% of its sales, which means brands that sell through the retailer would have to cut costs elsewhere.

Some vendors say doing this will mean they’ll lose money on every sale — but if they don’t cooperate, they could find their distribution limited in comparison to those who do play along. Walmart could also develop new in-house brands and sell those products to consumers instead of using outside suppliers.

“Once every three or four years, Walmart tells you to take the money you’re spending on [marketing] initiatives and invest it in lower prices,” Jason Goldberg, head of SapientRazorfish, a digital agency that works with large brands and retailers, told Re/code. “They sweep all the chips off the table and drill you down on price.”

Amazon may not yet be the grocery powerhouse that Walmart is, but it still has significant leverage to push suppliers to keep their prices low. The online retailer is not only willing to lose money on certain products just to beat the competition on price, notes Re/code, but isn’t afraid of dumping brands or products when vendors don’t play along.

Re/code gives the example of Pampers diapers disappearing from Amazon last week, prompting speculation in the industry that the e-commerce giant booted Pampers in an effort to negotiate better prices.

When Education Dept. Said Your Student Loan Would Be Forgiven, It May Not Have Meant It

One way to erase federal student loan debt is to work for the government or at a non-profit for 10 years. However, thousands of people who received notices from the Department of Education that their federal student loans were going to be forgiven through this program may still be on the hook for this debt, as the Department now says these notices are not binding.

The revelation was made in a filing [PDF] by the Dept. of Education last week in response to a lawsuit that accused the agency of failing to keep its promise to forgive the education debts of public servants after 10 years.

For those unfamiliar, in 2007 the government began offering a public service loan-forgiveness program that will forgive certain federal student loans for borrowers who work for government organizations and non-profit groups for 10 years and make 120 on-time monthly payments on their loans.

While it’s fairly simple to determine what a government agency is, finding a qualified non-profit is more difficult. For that reason, the Dept. allowed prospective program participants to fill out an Employment Certification for Public Service Loan Forgiveness form.

The forms, which the Department encourages participants to fill out each year, are reviewed by FedLoan Servicing.

But at some point in the last several years, FedLoan began telling people who had previously been qualified for the forgiveness program that they were no longer eligible to have their loans forgiven. What’s more, the decision was retroactive, meaning none of the time they’d spent working toward the forgiveness goal would be counted.

After receiving such letters, four previously qualified participants and the American Bar Association sued the Department of Education to find out why the changes were being made.

The lawsuit [PDF] alleges that the Department acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when it changed its interpretation eligibility requirements without explanation.

“When an agency changes its position on its interpretation of a rule, it must – at a minimum – acknowledge that it is changing its position and provide an explanation for the new policy,” the lawsuit states.

The plaintiffs say this didn’t happen with regard to the Dept. of Education’s decisions. Instead, they received notices from FedLoan that they no longer qualified for forgiveness, and those notices didn’t provide an actual explanation.

“This new interpretation seriously harms borrowers who have made career, financial, and life choices – many of them irrevocable – in reliance on the availability of loan forgiveness and the Department’s prior certifications of eligibility,” the lawsuit states.

The Dept. of Education replied to the lawsuit last week, noting in a filing that the FedLoan approval letter was never a reflection of a “final agency action on the borrower’s qualifications” for the program.

The agency may be trying to distance itself from these letters, but the Department of Education name and logo are used on the notices:

In the filing, the Dept. denies that its acts were arbitrary or that the plaintiffs are required to any relief as a result of being deemed ineligible for the forgiveness program.

The New York Times reports that if this is indeed the case, that notification of qualification by FedLoan Servicing isn’t accurate or that it can change, thousands of borrowers could find out in October that their 10 years of public service were for naught when it comes to their federal student loans.

October marks the official tenth anniversary of the program’s creation and the first batch of borrowers who should receive forgiveness.

In all, the Times reports, more than 550,000 borrowers have signed up for the program, but, as the lawsuit claims, their eligibility isn’t a foregone conclusion.

Report: Verizon Planning To Jump Into The Streaming-TV Fray While Go90 Flails

It’s been two years since Verizon launched its Go90 streaming video service, and it often feels like the only people who talk about it are tech journalists who occasionally mention that it’s not doing well. Yet Verizon apparently believes that the work it put into Go90 can soon be used to build the latest entry into the streaming TV market.

The ever popular “people familiar with the matter” tell Bloomberg that Verizon is planning to launch a proper competitor in the online TV space sometime this summer.

The as-yet-unnamed streaming live-TV service would be independent of any other service Verizon currently offers, in the vein of Dish’s Sling, AT&T’s DirecTV Now, and Sony’s PlayStation Vue. The package will reportedly include “dozens of channels,” and work on computers and mobile devices as well aso on TV-connected platforms like Roku. Sources tell Bloomberg that it will probably be similarly priced to the competition as well, with offering tiers in the $20 to $65 range.

As you probably recall (from just a few paragraphs ago), Verizon does already have one streaming service: the poorly-named Go90. That launched in 2015 to basically zero fanfare as a free, ad-supported mobile app trying to entice the ever-popular millennial audience.

The coveted 18-34 demographic, however, has largely expressed very little interest in what Verizon has to offer. In Sept. 2016, several launch partners said outright that it was “an absolute dud,” performing “far, far worse than [Verizon’s] projections.”

A month later, Verizon even tried using free streaming NBA games to get folks to sign up for Go90, but that effort, too, appears to have fizzled out.

So Verizon’s trying again, with one last “3.0” reboot, Business Insider reports.

So far, former Go90 employees tell BI, the company has mostly just overpaid badly for long runs of content that then failed to ever find viewers.

“They went in guns blazing and spent all the money,” one former employee told BI, but without a strong strategy, instead just buying everything. That left the company spread too thin, trying to be something to everyone instead of focusing on an audience niche and then growing from there.

Leadership started to get a better handle on how to manage Go90 over time, the sources told Business Insider, and now executives are focusing on a few successful areas: live sports, especially soccer; original sports-related programming; and dramas that particularly appeal to young women and teenage girls. The company is also pulling back on its “mobile only” stance, becoming less “maniacally focused on the smartphone,” BI writes.

With its big 3.0 push, Go90 is trying hard to fix the ills that still plague it, especially including discoverability. In short, when it’s hard to find good content on a platform, viewers just… won’t. They’ll go elsewhere. So Verizon bought up a recommendation and discovery tool called Vessel, shut Vessel down, and had all its people entirely rebuild Go90.

And that brings us back to Verizon’s rumored new non-cable competitor. The new, improved Go90 platform isn’t just for Go90 anymore: A Verizon executive told Business Insider that the plan is to use it to help launch a new set of video apps, too, calling it “a platform we can build upon.”

Verizon insiders describe the fight to save go90, its video service that has burned more than $200 million trying to catch the eye of millennials [Business Insider]
Verizon Said to Plan Online TV Package for Summer Launch [Bloomberg]

Streaming Music Revenue Surpasses Other Formats For The First Time Ever

Digital music has come a long way: Once feared as the poison arrow that would take down the recording industry, streaming music is now making more money for recording companies than any other format.

Subscription music services generated the majority of revenue for recording companies last year, in a first for the industry: They accounted for more than 51% of the industry’s revenue, in comparison to 34% in 2015, according to a report [PDF] from the Recording Industry Association of America.

Overall music revenues went up by more than 11% in the U.S. in 2106 RIAA says, after growing by barely 1% in 2015.

Though $7.7 billion in total sales sounds like a hefty number, it’s only about half what the industry pulled in during its pre-Napster heyday in 1999, points out The Wall Street Journal.

Of course, subscription services are a lot different than simply swiping an mp3 off the Internet — we call that piracy — because they have more than 22 million subscribers in the U.S. who are paying for the right to stream music.

It’s not all streaming puppies and rainbows, however, as RIAA chairman and chief executive Cary Sherman warned in a blog post that despite the boost in sales in 2016, things could still take a downward turn.

“As excited as we are about our growth in 2016, our recovery is fragile and fraught with risk,” he wrote. “The marketplace is still evolving, and we’ve experienced unexpected turns too many times before. Moreover, two of the three pillars of the business — CDs and downloads — are declining rapidly. It remains to be seen whether growth of the remaining pillar will be sufficient to offset the losses from the other two. ”

To that end, CD sales declined 21%, and digital downloads also took a steep dive, dipping 22%. Streaming sales first beat out digital downloads back in 2015, the same year that Warner Music said it was making more money from streaming than any other source. Streaming sales have been beating CD revenue since 2015 as well.

But Sherman goes on to say that the “unfortunate reality” is that the industry has achieved success “in spite” of current music licensing and copyright laws, not because of them. He takes aim specifically at YouTube, noting that “it takes a thousand on-demand streams of a song for creators to earn $1 on YouTube, while services like Apple and Spotify pay creators $7 or more for those same streams.”

He accuses YouTube of “wrongly” exploiting loopholes to pay creators at rates “well below the true value of music” while other digital services can’t do that.

We’ve reached out to YouTube for comment on Sherman’s remarks, and will update this post if we hear back.

Loyalty Programs Make More Money For Airlines Than Ticket Sales

You might think think of frequent flier miles as a giveaway for airlines; carriers rewarding loyal customers with free or discounted travel. However, these programs are now a bigger money-maker than airfare for U.S. airlines.

A good chunk of loyalty revenue comes from airlines selling miles to the banks that run co-branded credit cards. According to Bloomberg, these deals now account for nearly 50% of revenue for many airlines.

For every mile an airline sells to a credit card partner — like Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and others —  it’s making $0.015 to $0.025.

While a fraction of a cent might not seem like a lot, Bloomberg notes that the big banks buy miles by the billions each month, and that translates to big bucks.

For example, Bloomberg reports that Delta Air Lines’ American Express partnership is expected to bring in $4 billion in revenue per year by 2021. Alaska Air Group says its partnership with Bank of America will bring in $900 million annually.

While having a slew of unused miles outstanding may be an accounting liability, analysts note that airlines aren’t too worried since they sold to these miles to credit card companies for “much more than they will cost the airline when those miles are redeemed.”


jeudi 30 mars 2017

Smartphones May Be Behind Unprecedented Rise In Pedestrian Deaths

Despite increased consumer awareness of safety and a growing number of cars on the road with crash-avoidance technology, pedestrian deaths in the U.S. are at their highest level in 20 years. One reason for the increase: Smartphones.

According to data [PDF] compiled by the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit that represents the highway safety offices of the states and territories, the total number of traffic fatalities in the U.S. increased 6% between 2010 and 2015, but pedestrian deaths increased by 25% during that same time period.

Preliminary figures for 2016 put the number of pedestrian deaths at 5,997 — an 11% increase over just the year before and the highest number of pedestrian fatalities in two decades.

So what has happened in recent years that could explain this tragic increase?

There are several factors that contribute to the number of cars and people on the road, like the economy, and fuel prices. The healthier the economy, the more people drive — both for work and pleasure. And the report acknowledges that Federal Highway Administration numbers show recent increases in motor vehicle travel on all roads and streets.

Then there are those things that aren’t part of the ups and downs of economic cycles.

“A more recent contributing factor may be the rapidly growing use of smart phones to access wireless data while walking and driving,” explains the report, saying these devices can be a “significant source of distraction for both pedestrians and motorists.”

The author of the report found the increases in pedestrian deaths over the last few years “shocking.” He has been in the field for decades, and year after year of increases in fatalities is unprecedented — especially since our cars and roads have, in general, been getting safer.

“The why is elusive. We don’t know all the reasons,” Richard Retting told CNN (warning: auto-play video at that link) “Clearly lots of things are contributing. But not one of these other factors have changed dramatically.”

American Students Moving To Europe For Free College

With the average recent college graduate leaving campus with a diploma and $30,000 in debt, it’s no surprise that would-be-students are looking for ways to get an education without taking on such a financial burden. While they could opt to live in certain cities or states, or go to work for any of a number of the companies offering free schooling, many are moving… to Europe.

CNN Money reports that the lure of free or deeply discounted tuition is enough for thousands of students to cross the pond each year to make their dreams of a higher education a reality.

While tuition in the U.S. can range from $9,000 to $32,000 each, the price tag in Europe is much less, with many programs charging under $2,500 or no more than $9,000 each year, according to college advising service Beyond the States.

But that cost might even be on the high side, CNN reports, as there are at least 44 schools in Europe that don’t charge anything for students to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

In fact, all of the public colleges in Germany, Iceland, Norway, and Finland are free for residents and international students. There are also some private schools in Europe that do not charge tuition.

Of course, going to college overseas is different than in the U.S.; for example, students tend to live off campus instead of on.

Students who choose to attend college overseas tell CNN they based their decisions on cost, length of time it would take to receive a diploma, and the amount of experience they can gain from studying abroad.

Chelsea, a student at the University of Deggendorf, paid just $220 a semester for school when she first began, but since then the country has made college tuition free. As a result, she only pays a $50 administrative fee each semester and about $420/month for insurance and rent.

While the cost is an improvement from what she might have paid at a U.S.-based school, she says the studying is different.

“You need to be prepared to study 10 hours a day, and there’s probably not time for a job in addition to your studies,” she warns.

Another student, Hunter, pays about $3,300 in tuition at Tallinn University of Technology in Estonia.

“Last semester I only had to have a single book and I checked it out of the school library,” he tells CNN. “For some professors, a lot or all of the material is online, and for others you have to be in class to receive the knowledge.”

Man’s Honesty Pays Off When He Gets To Keep $15K He Found In The Street A Year Ago

As the old saying goes, crime doesn’t pay. But in some cases, being honest — and patient — can certainly reap financial rewards, as one man now gets to keep $15,200 he turned in after finding it on the street.

More than a year ago, the Pennsylvania man was on his way home from work close to midnight on a state road when he spotted a package in the middle of the street, reports the Delaware County Daily Times.

He turned around to check it out and found what appeared to be a banker’s bag filled with stacks of cash, along with some drug paraphernalia.

He called the police and handed the cash over to the officer who arrived on the scene, and the cops have had the money ever since.

He filed a civil suit in September to retain ownership of the cash, claiming in his petition that a few days after he turned in the money, he was told it’d be turned over to him in 90 days if the owner didn’t claim it.

“As such, because plaintiff found the money, he can claim superior title to the money over the police department,” the petition read.

Although a common please court judge ordered the money returned to him in December when the owner didn’t materialize, that order was vacated a week later. His persistence paid off this week when another judge for the court ordered the Upper Darby Police Department to return the money to him.

The department’s superintendent said it took too long to reunite the man with his monetary find.

“He should have had that money a month afterward,” he told the Times. “He was an honest man, he could have driven off with it … I don’t have a problem with him having the money. No one claimed the money, or it has not been requested.”

Along with that hefty chunk of change, this honest fella has now earned the status of, “You’re Not A Horrible Person,” along with the following subjects of previous Consumerist stories:

• A Wells Fargo customer in Pennsylvania who turned in $400 that unexpectedly shot out at her from a drive-thru ATM.

• The Domino’s customer who got free pizza for a year for returning $5,000 she found in her chicken wings box.

The woman who found $1,000 at a bank drive-thru and didn’t give into temptation.

The person who turned in a lost diamond ring at Newark Airport

The homeless guy who turned in a backpack containing $42K.

The California man who found $6,900 at the DMV and returned it to the rightful owner.

The Taco Bell customers who returned the to-go bag that was filled with $3,600 in cash that didn’t belong to them.

And one of the two men who found $1,000 outside a Schnucks store in Missouri.

FCC Stops Authorizing New Providers Of Low-Cost Broadband

New FCC Chair Ajit Pai has made no effort to hide his intention to roll back many of the rules and policies put in place by his predecessor, Tom Wheeler. Now that Congress has effectively undone Wheeler’s internet privacy rules, Pai has set his sights on low-cost internet access.

The Lifeline program dates to the Reagan administration and provides low-income Americans with a small monthly subsidy to use for phone service. Some years back, the program expanded to include not only landlines but also mobile phones. Then in 2016, the FCC expanded it so that low-income families can buy broadband service with it if they want.

Chairman Pai announced this week that the FCC will no longer be directly authorizing Lifeline providers to sell subsidized broadband services to consumers, instead deferring the program to the states to manage.

“As we implement the Lifeline program – as with any program we administer – we must follow the law,” Pai said in a statement. “And the law here is clear: Congress gave state governments, not the FCC, the primary responsibility for approving which companies can participate in the Lifeline program.”

That sounds like an arcane procedural thing, and to an extent it is, but it’s one with a big impact.

When the FCC decided last year to expand Lifeline, it also gave itself the ability to review and approve partners to sell the service. That significantly sped up the process: The FCC is one entity, which even at its most bureaucratic is still going to be easier to navigate than 50 different states, a District, and a handful of territories.

Both new entrants to Lifeline, as well as existing voice service providers that want to expand to broadband (including mobile broadband) now have to go through every state’s approval process separately.

The Commission approved nine companies’ participation in Lifeline last year, but chairman Pai rescinded those authorizations barely a week after he took the helm. Now, he adds, all the other pending applications to the FCC are pretty much toast.

“I do not believe that the Bureau should approve these applications,” Pai said in his statement, explaining why he prefers to defer to the states over an “unlawful federal authorization process that will soon be withdrawn.

Pai also added that the FCC won’t defend itself in court when it comes to the lawsuits against Lifeline — not surprising, considering Pai has ordered the FCC to stop defending rules he doesn’t like in the past, but still a disappointment.

Pai’s actions don’t exactly reverse the FCC’s ruling on Lifeline, but they do make the broadband subsidy harder for low-income Americans to access.

Even while praising the program, the chair is still clearly holding on to some kind of feeling from last year’s dramatic and contentious vote to expand Lifeline to allow the subsidy to be used on broadband services.

“I support including broadband in the Lifeline program to help provide affordable, high-speed Internet access for our nation’s poorest families,” Pai said. “Indeed, I worked hard to get a bipartisan agreement in place last year that would have expanded Lifeline to include broadband, but the agreement was undone by those who preferred a party-line vote.”

Cable Companies May Be Headed For “Street Fight” Over Streaming Services

Cable TV operators like Comcast and Charter have rarely, if ever, had to compete directly with each other. But that truce — kept in place thanks to local franchise agreements that limit competition — may soon end if the pay-TV companies decide to start offering service outside of their footprint.

Bloomberg reports that in order to stay relevant with consumers, companies like Comcast and Charter might just have to start encroaching on each other’s turf with their own streaming services.

At least that’s the belief for Discovery Communications chief executive David Zaslav, who told reporters this week that increased competition from streaming services will eventually take a toll on cable providers.

For as long as we can remember, cable providers like Comcast and Charter have stayed away from each other’s largest service areas — an issue that was constantly discussed during the merger approval process in recent years.

Zaslav contends that the companies will eventually have to disrupt the system, starting a “street fight” of sorts between traditional cable companies and streaming service providers such as AT&T (DirecTV Now), Dish (Sling), and Sony (PlayStation Vue).

These live TV streaming services are offered by companies that have never been hemmed in by franchise agreements. DirecTV and Dish compete against each other, and against traditional cable companies, for viewers nationwide. The cable providers offer ample streaming content, but currently only for their existing pay-TV customers.

“Every cable operator is probably lying and waiting, and they need to have their own over-the-top solution,” Zaslav said, as reported by Bloomberg.

Still, he cautions that providers should be careful about their next steps.

While Zaslav didn’t provide any inside knowledge on when providers might launch their own streaming services, rumors surfaced this week that Comcast is going to join the competition and launch a $15 streaming service later this year.

While that service is expected to only be available to existing Comcast customers, the cable giant has also reportedly been working “most favored nation” clauses into its contracts with broadcasters. These agreements could let Comcast offer streaming access to these channels outside of its current service footprint.

Woman Says Her Bluetooth Speaker Smoldered On Bed

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are ubiquitous in our gadget-filled lives. You probably have multiple devices containing one within reach right now. It’s easy to forget how dangerous they can be, as a New Jersey family did when a speaker sitting on a bed began to give off smoke.

According to NBC New York, the mother and daughter panicked, grabbing the smoking speaker with an oven mitt and placing it in a paper bag. They recounted that the bag burst into flames after they got it out of the apartment. This is why you shouldn’t put a smoldering gadget in a paper bag.

The fire was put out with water and the fire department summoned, and the mother took to Twitter to warn others.

When something like this happens to you, after calling 911 and (optionally) posting about it on social media, gather all of the information that you have about the product and the incident and report it to, the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s site.

Gizmodo speculates based on the speaker’s markings that it could potentially be a counterfeit version of the JBL Pulse.

We contacted JBL’s parent company, Harman, about these reports and will update this post if we hear anything back. Harman International was just acquired by Samsung, a deal that closed a few weeks ago on March 10. Samsung has presumably learned a lot about how to deal with overheating batteries.

Without Internet Privacy Rules, How Can I Protect My Data?

Crayola Decides To Weed ‘Dandelion’ Hue From Its Crayon Garden

Although Crayola was originally set to announce which shade it would be dropping from its crayon collection on Friday, the company decided to speed up the news and let the world know today that it is yanking Dandelion yellow from the box.

In an announcement on Twitter, the company anthropomorphizes the hue, calling it an “adventurous spirit” who had a case of wanderlust and decided to announce his retirement early. A Crayola spokesperson tells Consumerist the color has been available for 27 years, and part of the 24-count box for the last 18.

You’ll still have to wait to find out which shade will be replacing Dandelion — as a box of 24 crayons should contain 24 different colors, after all — as the company says it’s announcing the “color family” of the new crayon tomorrow at an event in Times Square.

This moves means Dandelion will never be available again — in any box — so if you’re in love with it, you’ll have to buy crayons that are on shelves now. Or you could just buy a crapload of them in bulk online.

While Crayola retired eight colors from its overall roster in 1990 (RIP Green Blue, Orange Red, Orange Yellow, Violet Blue, Maize, Lemon Yellow, Blue Gray, and Raw Umber) and another four (Blizzard Blue, Magic Mint, Teal Blue, and Mulberry) as part of its 2003 Save the Shade contest (Burnt Sienna was given a reprieve) this is the first the first time the company is retiring a color it included in its 24-count box.

This 18-Year-Old Would Not Sell Urban Outfitters 10,000 Of His Hats

Imagine you’re selling your own line of clothing, and a major retailer asks to buy a few thousand of your designs and sell them in stores. You might be tempted to sign on the dotted line for your shot at the big time with the help of an established chain, but for the social media savvy among us, that’s just not a priority.

To the contrary, some young designers have found a more direct path to success by harnessing the power of Instagram to gain social influence and create an air of exclusivity around their products, Bloomberg noted recently, driving customers to their online stores instead of to chains like Urban Outfitters. Going for direct sales is a pretty sophisticated strategy given the supply chain issues and speed necessary to compete these days.

Take the example of a teen hat designer living in Paris who goes by the nickname Millinsky: He hired a contractor when he was 17 to help him with the manufacturing side of his business, while he focused on working his connections under the company name Nasaseasons.

“I didn’t really know how fashion worked but I knew social media,” he told Bloomberg. “And as a teenage fashion designer, that’s all I needed.”

It turns out he was right: He was catapulted to fashion fame and success after he was tagged in an Instagram photo of Rihanna wearing a hat bearing his slogan, “I Came To Break Hearts.”

He sold more than 500 hats within days, selling so many so quickly that he had to shut down his web store, he says. Other celebrities soon followed in the inevitable rush to be relevant and cool.

Since then, Millinsky’s brand has been carried by more than a dozen retailers around the world, including some luxury stores that charge anywhere from $50 to $70 per hat.

Instead of relying on those bricks-and-mortar stores to bring in the money, however, he’s instead bending them to his purpose in order to create an air of exclusivity.

To wit: Soon after Rihanna was spotted in his hat, Urban Outfitters asked him for 10,000 hats, 10 times the volume Millinsky had at the time. He gave the deal a hard pass, telling Bloomberg that it would have pushed the “underground aspect” of the brand straight out the window.

“We make sure that our products are sold out quickly through retailers,” he says. “We create rarity, and then— boom! — we have waves of clientele coming to our website directly, no middleman necessary.”

Twitter Will No Longer Count Usernames Against Character Limit In Replies

Twitter’s long-standing 140-character limit for messages isn’t going anywhere, but the social media giant is once again revamping the way it counts the characters: Usernames will no longer count toward that limit, but only for reply messages.

Twitter announced the change today, rolling out its third update to the way in which it allows user to express their inner-most thoughts for the entire world to see.

Under the revamp, Twitter won’t delete the “@username” handle, but it will rearrange it. Now, users are replying to will appear above the Tweet text rather than within the Tweet text itself.

When viewing a conversation, Twitter says users will actually see what people are saying, rather than seeing lots of @usernames at the start of a Tweet. Additionally, users can tap on the “replying to…” button to easily see and control who is part of a conversation.

The change, Twitter says, will make communication and following conversations easier to read. That was an issue many users who got their hands on the updates early encountered, as the @username had simply vanished.

Users expressed confusion and frustration over the way Tweets appeared with respect to conversations. Many said the change made it difficult to pick and choose who they speak with and seemed to be an indication that the networking site didn’t care about their input.

Sam Sharma, a producer for Playstation, Tweeted at the time of the first update that users helped to invent the @(username) reply to show their acknowledgement of others and to keep some conversations less visible.

“The updates we’re making today are based on feedback from all of you as well as research and experimentation,” Twitter said Thursday, adding that its “work isn’t finished.”

Prepare For Onslaught Of Facebook Friends Begging For Donations

If Facebook wants anything, it’s to keep you on the Facebook site for as long as possible. That’s why perhaps it’s not surprising that given the popularity of personal online fundraisers, Facebook is now entering that business, letting people raise money for medical expenses, funerals, education, or any other cause.

In its announcement of the new feature, Facebook explains that there will be six broad categories of personal fundraisers that users can hold. Those are education, medical, pet medical, crisis relief, personal emergencies, and funeral and loss (including living expenses after a loved one’s death.)

Hoping to avoid the fraud accusations that have popped up against other crowdfunding sites designed for personal fundraisers, Facebook will limit fundraisers to those categories for now, and each will be reviewed within 24 hours by a staff member. “As we learn more, we hope to expand our categories and automate more of the review process,” the social network’s vice president for social good explains in the announcement.

Personal fundraisers are not to be confused with the existing program that lets Facebook users hold their own fundraisers on behalf of verified nonprofits. Those still exist, and in a new feature, Facebook will let verified nonprofit groups put donation buttons on Facebook Live, allowing the groups to solicit donations during any broadcast, or even hold online telethons.

Slew Of New Bills Aim To Reform Marijuana Laws At Federal Level

While the Trump Administration has hinted at a coming crackdown on non-medical use of marijuana, federal legislators continue to introduce new bills — some with bipartisan support — intended to further legitimize the cannabis industry.

This morning, members of both the House and Senate introduced legislation that — if passed — would extend federal tax benefits to locally legalized marijuana businesses, take away the threat of criminal prosecution and property loss for those businesses, and make sure the industry is contributing to the country’s bottom line by imposing a tax on marijuana sales.

While a number of states legalized marijuana, the companies that produce and sell cannabis products are not currently able to claim deductions or tax credits in the way that most businesses can. The Small Business Tax Equity Act [PDF] would tweak the Internal Revenue Code to make sure that marijuana businesses would be able to enjoy these benefits — so long as they are operating legally according to their relevant state laws.

This bill is being introduced in the Senate by Oregon’s Ron Wyden, with Sen. Rand Paul (KY) as co-sponsor. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, also of Oregon, is introducing the legislation in the House, with Florida’s Carlos Curbelo co-sponsoring.

Despite state laws legalizing medical and recreational marijuana use and sales, the federal government still categorizes cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance — the same designation given to heroin. Federal law currently prohibits the Justice Department from prosecuting medical marijuana operations in states where they are legal, but recreational pot stores and producers face a continuous threat of arrest, prosecution, and asset forfeiture.

A second bill, the Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act [PDF], addresses this issue by removing the possibility of federal criminal penalties and civil asset forfeiture for people and companies that comply with state law.

This bill also attempts to a number of other financial issues that marijuana businesses face because the drug is outlawed on a federal level. It would be legal for pot sellers to advertise in states where their businesses are allowed, though there would be restrictions on TV ads that encourage people to travel from places where pot is not legal to where it has been legalized.

Banks holding accounts of legal marijuana businesses would no longer be at risk of federal prosecution or of losing their FDIC insurance. Similarly, federal banking regulators would not be allowed to discourage financial institutions from doing business with legalized cannabis operations.

On a personal level, previous marijuana-related violations can prevent people from getting public housing or a federal student loan. This bill would provide an expungement process for these individuals, making sure that minor marijuana offenses are not the only barrier for entry to federal programs. Similarly, legal use of marijuana would not be sufficient grounds to deport or deny entry to the U.S. for an individual.

The bill also aims to lift restrictions that prevent veterans from having legal access to medical marijuana in states that have allowed it.

Finally, there’s the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act [PDF], which would not only take away marijuana’s Schedule 1 classification, but remove it altogether from the federal schedule of controlled substances. The goal would be for pot to be regulated much like alcohol is now regulated. States would still be able to decide that marijuana is illegal, but in states where it is allowed, marijuana producers, importers, and wholesalers would need to obtain permits from the U.S. Treasury Department. Much like the government currently imposes excise taxes on beer, wine, booze, and tobacco, there would be an excise tax on legalized marijuana, gradually increasing to a maximum of 25% of the sales price.

Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, says today’s barrage of bills is more evidence of the changing federal attitude toward marijuana.

“State-legal cannabis businesses have added tens of thousands of jobs, supplanted criminal markets, and generated tens of millions in new tax revenue,” says Smith. “States are clearly realizing the benefits of regulating marijuana and we are glad to see a growing number of federal policy makers are taking notice.”

Sen. Wyden and Rep. Blumenauer are both from Oregon, where in 2014 voters approved a ballot measure legalizing marijuana.

“The federal government must respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls and allow law-abiding marijuana businesses to go to the bank just like any other legal business.” Sen. Wyden said in a statement. “This three-step approach will spur job growth and boost our economy all while ensuring the industry is being held to a fair standard.”

“As more states follow Oregon’s leadership in legalizing and regulating marijuana, too many people are trapped between federal and state laws,” Rep. Blumenauer said. “It’s not right, and it’s not fair. We need change now – and this bill is the way to do it.”