mercredi 28 juin 2017

Airports Must Enhance Security Screenings, Or Face Laptop Ban

The Department of Homeland Security is telling airports around the world that they could face a ban on carry-on electronics for U.S.-bound flights if their security doesn’t meet new DHS standards.

DHS Secretary John Kelly revealed the new measures Wednesday afternoon, noting that the agency is raising “the global baseline of global aviation security.”

“Unless we raise our security standards, terrorists will find a way to attack the weakest link,” Kelly said. “Today is just a starting point to reduce insider threats and identity suspicious passengers.”

The new measures, which will affect roughly 2,100 daily commercial flights departing from 280 airports, include:

• enhanced overall passenger screening
• heightened screening of personal electronic devices
• increased security protocols around aircraft and in passenger areas
• advanced technology, expanded canine screening, and additional preclearance locations.

While Kelly did not provide specific details on the enhanced screening, he said DHS will lay out a “clear path” to encourage airlines and airports to adopt more sophisticated screening approaches, including better use of explosive detection canines and advanced checkpoint screening technology.

Additionally, the agency says it will encourage more airports to become Preclearance locations, where security is enhanced because passengers go through customs and border security screening before boarding flights to the U.S.

“The enhanced security measures are both seen and unseen but all passengers flying to the United States may experience additional screening of their person and property,” DHS said. “We recommend that passengers flying to the United States prepare for a more extensive screening process.”

Airports that do not cooperate with the new measures or are too slow to adopt them “could be subject to other restrictions—including a ban on electronic devices on their airplanes, or even a suspension of their flights to the United States,” Kelly added.

To determine if foreign airports are abiding by the new regulations, DHS will assess and inspect airlines.

“With this announcement, we send a clear message that inaction is not an option,” Kelly said.

Kelly didn’t provide a timeframe for when the new restrictions would take effect, but noted that the agency would work with aviation stakeholders over the next several weeks and months to ensure these enhanced security measures are fully implemented.

Reuters, citing people familiar with the agency, reports that airlines have 21 days to put in place increased explosive screening and 120 days to comply with other security measures.



Southwest Airlines Reducing Flights To Cuba

In light of the Trump administration’s decision to further restrict travel to Cuba, Southwest Airlines has decided to scale back the number of flights it offers to the island nation.

Southwest announced today that it would consolidate travel to Cuba by ending service to Varadero and Santa Clara after the summer. Effective Sept. 5, Southwest will only be offering flights to Cuba’s capital, Havana.

Currently, the airlines flies three nonstop flights to Havana, two from Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and one from Tampa. Southwest has applied for a third daily roundtrip from Ft. Lauderdale.

The carrier says the change is meant to focus on customers’ desire for low-fare flights to Havana.

“Our decision to discontinue the other Cuba flights comes after an in-depth analysis of our performance over several months which confirmed that there is not a clear path to sustainability serving these markets, particularly with the continuing prohibition in U.S. law on tourism to Cuba for American citizens,” Steve Goldberg, Southwest Airlines Senior Vice President of Ground Operations and lead Executive sponsor for Florida, said in a statement.

That conclusion was similar to one reached by other airlines flying to Cuba. Spirit, Silver, and Frontier were approved for travel to the country, but dropped service to Cuba earlier this year amid waning demand.

Additionally, JetBlue and American revised their flights, shifting to smaller jets to minimize the number of empty seats, for the same reason.

Even with Southwest’s reduction of flights, there are several other airlines offering flights to the country, including American, United, Delta, JetBlue, and Alaska. Sun Country, which has been approved for travel to the country, delayed flights until this winter.

Earlier this month, President Trump proposed changes to existing Cuban travel policy that, once in effect, will heavily restrict travel to the island. The change also appears to indicate that the current administration has no immediate intention of permitting open tourism travel to Cuba, meaning demand for these flights likely won’t be growing at the rate these airlines had hoped.



New Law That Would Set Minimum Sizes For Airplane Seats Inches Closer To Becoming Reality

For at least the third time in as many years, federal lawmakers are hoping to pass legislation that would set minimum standards for airline seating. That battle inched slightly closer to becoming a reality last night.

On Tuesday, the House Transportation Committee approved a bill that reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration, including an amendment offered by Rep. Steve Cohen (TN) that would establish minimum dimensions: seat widths, length, and pitch (the spacing between rows of seats).

The amendment is effectively the same as the SEAT Act, a separate piece of legislation that Cohen introduced earlier this year. Like that bill, this amendment doesn’t prescribe any seat dimensions. Instead, it directs the Secretary of Transportation to come up with appropriate minimum standards that “are necessary for the safety and health of passengers.”

One thing to be mindful of: There’s no promise that any seat standards set by the DOT/FAA would be any better than what we have now. There’s even the chance that regulators could look at the typical 16.5″ seat and determine that this is just fine, or that it could get even skinnier without putting travelers at risk. That’s not to say they will do that; just that you shouldn’t get your hopes up that any law will stop your knees from knocking into the seat in front of you every time you move.

A potential positive about putting the dimensions in the DOT’s hands is that the public would be allowed to comment and provide feedback during the rulemaking period. Again, that doesn’t mean your flight is going to get any more luxurious, but the regulators would have to justify the standards it ultimately sets, particularly if they do nothing to improve passenger comfort.

In a statement, Rep. Cohen points to the importance of standard seat dimensions to the safety of airline passengers.

“Emergency evacuation is a serious issue, as is the potential for air rage as tensions mount inside more tightly packed cabins,” explained the congressman. “In addition, doctors have warned that deep vein thrombosis can afflict passengers who do not move their legs enough during longer flights.”

Getting this amendment on to a reauthorization bill is significant, as the larger bill is effectively a must-pass piece of legislation, lest the government decide to bring the FAA to a grinding halt. However, sometimes Congress is unable to agree on a reauthorization package and just passes a brief extension of the status quo. That happened last year, and the current extension is set to expire on Sept. 30.



ABC News Settles ‘Pink Slime’ Defamation Case With Beef Company

Well, that was quick: Just a few weeks after Beef Products Inc. and ABC News squared off in the opening arguments of the trial over the broadcaster’s use of the phrase “pink slime” to describe an ingredient in some ground beef, the two sides have agreed to put the whole thing to rest.

The settlement’s terms are confidential, reports the Associated Press, but BPI was seeking $1.9 billion in damages. The damages could then have been tripled under South Dakota’s Agricultural Food Products Disparagement Act.

The case involves a product known in the meat industry as Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB), which is lean beef that has been mechanically separated from beef trimmings, a process that yields about 10-20 pounds of additional lean beef per animal. LFTB has been approved by the USDA for use in ground beef since 1993.

In its lawsuit [PDF], BPI accused ABC of defamation, product disparagement, and tortious interference, claiming that a March 2012 series of news reports misled viewers into believing that LFTB wasn’t safe, and implying that it wasn’t beef by referring to it as “pink slime.”

ABC had argued that the network presented views and information from “knowledgeable sources on a matter of keen public interest.” A spokeswoman reiterated that point in a statement today, noting that ABC has maintained that its reports accurately represented the facts and views of knowledgeable people about the product.

“Although we have concluded that continued litigation of this case is not in the Company’s interests, we remain committed to the vigorous pursuit of truth and the consumer’s right to know about the products they purchase,” the spokeswoman said.

BPI says that although the lawsuit was difficult, it was necessary to repair the harm it claims was caused by ABC’s reports: The company said sales declined from around five millions pounds per week to less than two million pounds, and BPI had to shut down multiple plants in three states.

Several chains also stopped using the product around the time of those reports, though some preceded ABC’s coverage: In January 2012, McDonald’s, discontinued the use of the lean finely textured beef in their products. Other companies like Safeway and Kroger followed in March that year.

“Through this process, we have again established what we all know to be true about Lean Finely Textured Beef: it is beef, and is safe, wholesome, and nutritious,” the company and its family owners said in the statement. “This agreement provides us with a strong foundation on which to grow the business, while allowing us to remain focused on achieving the vision of the Roth and BPI family.”



Ford’s Latest Recall Involves Only 3 Vehicles

Another day, another recall for airbags. But what makes this Ford recall stand out is that the recall involves a grand total of just three vehicles.

Not three car models, or three model years, but three individual SUVs. More precisely, three 2016 Ford Escape vehicles that contain knee airbags that the carmaker says do not meet safety standards.

According to Ford, the knee airbag modules may not inflate in the event of a crash due to the lack of inflator gas generate material.

If the airbag doesn’t inflate properly, it could increase the risk of injury to the driver.

Ford says that the dealerships associated with the three vehicles are working to contact owners, and will replace the knee airbag at no cost. Hopefully it won’t take more than a few calls, since again we’re only dealing with three SUVs here.

The recall wasn’t Ford’s only safety campaign announced Wednesday: The manufacturer also recalled 400,000 model year 2015 to 2017 Transit van/bus vehicles, and four 2017 Ford Police Interceptor Utility vehicles.

The affected vans may have a cracked flexible coupling that could cause separation of the driveshaft, leading to loss of power while driving or unintended vehicle movement in park without the parking brake applied.

Ford says it is unaware of any injuries related to the recall. The company will notify owenrs and dealers will replace the flexible coupling if needed.

As for the police vehicles, Ford says the the second row main contain missing or ineffective seat attachment studs. If this is the case, the inboard attachments might not adequately restrain passengers in the event of a crash, increasing risk of injury.

Dealers are contacting owners to schedule service appointments to inspect for the presence of the second row seat attachment studs and repair as required.



CVS Ditches Tanning Oil, Hides The Candy

We all refer to chains like CVS and Walgreens as “drugstores,” but they also sell everything from makeup to school supplies to snacks. However, CVS has been quietly revising its inventory and store layout to remove or deemphasize some items that are making customers less healthy.

CVS made a big splash in 2014 when it decided to remove tobacco products, but the Wall Street Journal reports that the retailer has been making less obvious moves, like its decision to stop selling tanning oils or sunscreens with an SPF under 15. These products do little to nothing to prevent skin cancer.

Foods containing trans fats are next, with the chain removing them a year before a nationwide ban is set to go into effect.

Beyond the trans-fat ban, CVS is aiming to make its food offerings healthier in general. A new format that’s now in a few test stores and will roll out nationwide next year puts pretzels, nuts, and dried fruit where the candy and cookies once were, and moves the candy and cookies closer to the middle of the store.

Candy and gum will still be impulse items near the checkout, but you’ll have to go hunting for larger packages of these products. Some soda in the beverage case will give way to water and juices.

“We are giving more healthy-choice options and making sure the customer can find them,” the chief merchant at CVS told the WSJ.

Walgreens, meanwhile, is leaving the choice up to consumers, while rewarding them for making healthier selections through the chain’s customer loyalty program. Stores sell tobacco products, but no longer display them as prominently. Walgreens is adding more healthy snack options while keeping candy and cookies at the front of the store.

“How do you still give customers the choice and not tell them what is good for them, but help them make healthier choices?” the co-operating chief for Walgreens Boots Alliance asked the WSJ in an interview. “There’s a level of making things available so it’s the customer’s choice, and there’s a level of incentivizing the customer.”

Which model will win out? Maybe it doesn’t matter in the end: The retail business may take up most of the store’s square footage, but store sales are an ever-decreasing portion of drugstore chains’ income.



Best Buy Is Now A Showroom For Amazon, Google Home Products

How quickly tides turn. Not that long ago, Best Buy looked upon Amazon and Google with disdain, angry that “showrooming” customers were coming into Best Buy stores just to look at products that they would then — sometimes while in the store — purchase online for less. Now Amazon and Google have turned to Best Buy to showroom their growing array of devices.

Best Buy announced today that it would open Amazon Alexa and Google Home “experience stores” in 700 locations across the country this year.

The mini-stores, located near the smart home department, are intended to allow customers to explore “what’s possible with voice technology” with the help of specially trained Geek Squad agents and other employees.

Customers can test out the latest features available with Google Home and Amazon Echo’s Alexa, along with the products that work with the systems, like Nest thermostats, Philips Hue lighting, and Insignia’s smart plugs.

“In collaboration with Amazon and Google, these experiences will help people understand and use this groundbreaking technology to make their lives safer, easier and simply more fun,” Amy College, senior vice president of merchandising at Best Buy, said in a statement.

The new in-store experiences are Best Buy’s way of ensuring the company has a foothold in the connected-home business, one of the fasted growing categories in tech.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that IHS Markit projects that by 2021 there will be more than 220 million devices globally controlled by a voice assistant.

Of course, the Best Buy displays aren’t the only place you’ll be able to test out Amazon or Google’s voice-controlled products. Amazon’s physical book stores and planned pop-up stores have served as a way for the company to showcase its devices.



Neanderthals May Have Performed Their Own Dental Work 130,000 Years Ago

Tooth pain — cavities, chipped teeth, impacted molars — is not some discovery of modern man. In fact, new research suggests that our neanderthal predecessors may have tried to figure out ways to fix their aching teeth long before the dawn of human history.

It’s no secret that the concept of dentistry has ancient roots, with the American Dental Association noting that the earliest known reference to a person identified as a dental practitioner is an inscription on the tomb of an Egyptian scribe who died somewhere around 2,600 BCE.

But a new study led by a University of Kansas researcher published today in the Bulletin of the International Association for Paleodontology suggests that the discovery of multiple toothpick grooves on teeth and other signs of manipulations by a Neanderthal nearly 130,000 years ago are evidence that humans were attempting a “kind of prehistoric dentistry.”

Researchers analyzed four separate but associated bottom teeth on the right side of a Neanderthal’s mouth, which were found at a site called Krapina in Croatia where other Neanderthal discoveries have been made. Though the teeth were discovered more than 100 years ago, researchers have been reexamining those finds in recent years.

They looked at the teeth with a light microscope and documented wear, toothpick groove formation, scratches, and other signs that may point to someone trying to deal with irritation or discomfort.

For example: Two of the teeth — a premolar and a molar — had been pushed out of their normal positions, with researchers finding six toothpick groves among those teeth and the two molars behind them.

“The scratches indicate this individual was pushing something into his or her mouth to get at that twisted premolar,” said one of the study’s co-authors, David Frayer, professor emeritus of anthropology at the university.

It’s unclear what this individual was using to pick his teeth, but researchers believe it could have been a bone or a piece of grass.

Because of the fact that the chips were mostly on the tongue-side of the teeth and at different angles, researchers ruled out the possibility that something happened to the teeth after the Neanderthal died.

Frayer notes that previous research in the fossil record has identified toothpick grooves going back almost two million years, so perhaps it’s not surprising that a Neanderthal was picking at his or her teeth. However, he isn’t aware of any other specimen that would indicate that someone was trying to self-treat a pesky problem.

The toothpick grooves, scratches, and other signs left on the teeth have led researchers to believe this Neanderthal’s efforts were palliative measures meant to “treat” dental problems.

“It was an interesting connection or collection of phenomena that fit together in a way that we would expect a modern human to do,” Frayer says. “Everybody has had dental pain, and they know what it’s like to have a problem with an impacted tooth.”



NBC Offers $50 Premier League Streaming Service; No Cable Plan Needed

Soccer fans in the U.S. are used to the complications of watching Premier League games, which often require getting up at an ungodly hour to watch British teams like Manchester United or Chelsea FC at a bar with a fancy cable sports package. They’ll have another option this summer, however.

NBC Sports $50 “Premier League Pass” will let subscribers stream live games from the U.K.-based league starting in August, without requiring them to have a cable subscription first.

There will be 130 lives games available to U.S. fans — with at least three games per club — as well as additional content like studio shows, recaps, highlight clips, and archive programming. NBC’s broadcast channel will still show a few games as well, along with a few hundred more on NBCSN and CNBC, available only to pay TV customers.

NBC previously gave paying customers the option to stream some Premier League games that weren’t available on the air, notes Recode, but the expansion to cord-cutters gives the company a whole new way to make money.

The broadcaster also offers a la carte streaming access for Tour de France coverage, motocross, rugby and other niche sports through its NBC Sports Gold streaming offering, but the Premier League package targets a much larger audience.

NBC won’t be alone in streaming soccer games, either: Facebook said yesterday that it will team up with FOX Sports to stream more than a dozen matches from the Champion League, a European soccer tournament that includes Premier League teams, this fall for free.



How Facebook Secretly Decides What Counts As Hate Speech

Facebook, like many social media platforms, wants to be a supporter of free expression without being seen as actively encouraging hate speech, threats, or harassment. Internally, Facebook has guidelines on what crosses that threshold, but a new investigation finds that these rules do not always make sense, nor do they tend to protect those who are most likely to be targeted.

In its latest investigation of Facebook’s black box, ProPublica dived into the actual rules Facebook uses to determine what qualifies as “hate speech” vs “legitimate political expression.”

The line, of course, can be blurry. Sometimes someone may quote or share hate speech they’ve received, in order to make a point. Or perhaps someone in a position of power, like a lawmaker, says something particularly hateful — in that instance, millions will share it, to meaningful effect. Or maybe someone really is a genuinely awful human being, throwing slurs, attacks, and threats at people who don’t look like them.

All of these, and more, happen every day. So what did ProPublica learn about how Facebook handles the (growing) problem?

Too Many People

One of the biggest challenges for Facebook is simply its sheer reach and scope.

The company wants to put in place globally applicable rules, but with a user base of more than 2 billion people — more than a quarter of the entire human population on Earth — the laws and culture each user is subject to or part of are going to have a pretty wide variance.

After a recent hiring spree, Facebook will eventually be up to approximately 7,500 content moderators. So right off the bat, users outnumber moderators by more than 266,000:1.

There aren’t any current, updated public statistics available about how much content hits Facebook every day. However, Of Facebook’s 2 billion users, about two-thirds, or 1.28 billion, use the site on any given day. Back in 2013, four years ago, Facebook users were uploading 350 million photos a day, worldwide.

Even if that were all the content put on Facebook daily, it would still mean posts outnumber the moderators by more than 46,000:1. And the real number of photos, videos, and status updates shared each day is much, much higher than that.

With a user base that large, scanning everything posted would simply be physically impossible, completely aside from any questions of speech rights or ethics — you just couldn’t do it.

So Facebook, as it recently explained, analyzes content that gets flagged or reported by other users as being hate speech. The company says that on average, over the past two months, it’s deleted 66,000 posts per week that were reported as hate speech.

That, however, isn’t how many posts are reported for hate speech. Nor does that number of deletions include groups, pages, or profiles that get deleted or suspended for inappropriate behavior.

(As for getting more granular numbers, Facebook says, “We are exploring a better process by which to log our reports and removals, for more meaningful and accurate data.”)

The Math Of Protection

ProPublica obtained a set of training slides that Facebook uses to teach its content moderation team what is and isn’t hate speech.

It starts out with reducing the nuance of language to a single mathematical equation: “Protected category + Attack = hate speech.”

Mentioning a protected category does not count as hate speech, the slides say, which makes sense. Attacking a protected category does count as hate speech. In theory.

Facebook trains its content reviewers to explicitly protect users based on eight key categories: Sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, ethnicity, race, national origin, and disability or disease.

It also explicitly instructs reviewers not to protect certain other groupings: social class, continental origin, appearance, age, occupation, political ideology, religions, and countries.

It’s confusing right off the bat: Attacks bases on someone’s religious affiliation or national origin seem to be against the rules, but attacks based on religions or countries seem not to be. Except for when they are.

Because it gets tricky when Facebook starts splitting people up into “subsets.” Someone who belongs to two protected categories is a protected person, Facebook seems to say, but someone belonging to one protected category and not another qualifies as “not.” The second, unprotected category basically overrides your presence in the protected category.

For example, the slide concludes, “Irish Women” qualify as a protected category, because that subset includes both national origin and sex. But “Irish teens” do not, because that subset is where national origin meets age.

Civil rights advocates often apply a concept called “intersectionality” to examinations of discrimination and hate speech, where a person is considered to sit at the nexus where all the aspects of their identity meet. So for example, one’s position in society is not simply considered on the basis of their gender, but also of their race, their disability status, their age, their socioeconomic standing, and so on.

But Facebook’s content moderation guidelines seem to apply the opposite tactic, instead considering people not as a whole, but as a pile of disparate parts, where the least qualified sets the overall rule.

And that leads to confusing results, like one training slide ProPublica obtained that included three examples of groups and asked, “Which of the below subsets do we protect?” The options were female drivers, black children, and white men; as Facebook has it, the correct answer to the quiz is “white men.”

Why? Because both “white” (a race) and “men” (a gender) are considered protected categories. But while “female” (a gender) and “black” (a race) are protected categories, neither “driver” (an occupation or skill) or “children” (an age) are. The unprotected part overrides the protected part, and so those groups are not protected from hate speech as far as Facebook is concerned.

Who It Hurts

As ProPublica found, Facebook’s uneven application of “protected class,” and exemptions for certain users, has a tendency to advantage the powerful and — inadvertently or not — silence those who are trying to draw attention to harm or oppression.

Facebook, for what it’s worth, is actively discussing its changing approach to hate speech as part of its corporate “hard questions” initiative, where it publicly discusses challenges like terrorism, hate, and propaganda pose for the platform.

“Sometimes, it’s obvious that something is hate speech and should be removed – because it includes the direct incitement of violence against protected characteristics, or degrades or dehumanizes people,” Facebook says. “If we identify credible threats of imminent violence against anyone, including threats based on a protected characteristic, we also escalate that to local law enforcement.”

But sometimes, Facebook admits, it doesn’t correctly interpret context, and makes a bad call. For example, at one point last year civil rights activist Shaun King posted hate mail he had received. Facebook deleted it because its vulgar slurs were indeed hate speech — but King shared it not to attack anyone, but rather to show that he was attacked.

“When we were alerted to the mistake, we restored the post and apologized,” Facebook says. “Still, we know that these kinds of mistakes are deeply upsetting for the people involved and cut against the grain of everything we are trying to achieve at Facebook.”

However, that kind of experience is far from isolated, ProPublica reports.

It profiles several black academics and activists in the U.S. who have had posts voicing sentiments like, “White folks. When racism happens in public — YOUR SILENCE IS VIOLENCE” deleted without explanation.

As ProPublica notes, users who have content deleted, or who have their accounts suspended, are not usually told what rule they may have broken, and they cannot appeal the decision.

This is particularly challenging in parts of the world with recurrent armed conflict or occupation: ProPublica profiled activists and journalists from India Ukraine, Western Sahara, and Israel who say they have had their accounts or pages disabled by Facebook, and have had to create new accounts.

Users who are high enough profile to be able to gain media attention may see an apology and their content restored. “If you get publicity, they clean it right up,” activist Leslie Mac told ProPublica.



If You’ve Had Trouble Using The Internet Today, Here’s Why

We’re getting a bit of deja vu over here in Consumerist-land: Four months after an Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage apparently took down most of the internet, another huge hosting company had some issues this morning, making it difficult to access popular sites like CNN, Reddit, and the New York Times.

Fastly, a cloud hosting service, reports that it has resolved a “degraded performance” issue on its network, which supports the backend for sites such as Pinterest, Etsy, and others.

“Fastly is reporting a global event on our network at this time,” the company noted on its status page around , adding that multiple teams were responding and investigating the issue.

As a result, internet users on the East and West coasts of the U.S., and other densely populated areas around Chicago and in Florida, experienced issues in loading webs tires, Down Detector showed.

BGR reports that users affected by the issue experienced failed load pages and other error messages when visiting affected sites, including Business Insider, Wired, and others.

One Etsy user noted on Down Detector that the site was down, “The website isn’t working at all. Every time I try to access it I get an error page.” Similar issues were posted on other sites.

For instance, one CNN user said that he received a “maximum threads” warning early Wednesday. Other noted the same “Error 503 Maximum threats for service reached.”

Just five minutes after addressing the issue, Fastly said it had identified the issue and was implementing a fix. About an hour later the incident was deemed to be resolved.



2 Years After Being Sentenced, Egg Execs Behind Massive Salmonella Outbreak Are Finally Going To Prison

In April 2015, a federal judge sentenced the father and son former executives of the inaccurately named Quality Egg — the company behind a salmonella outbreak that sickened around 60,000 people — to three months in prison, but neither of the two men have begun to serve their sentence, hoping the U.S. Supreme Court would see things their way. But now that the Supremes have snubbed the eggs-executives, it’s finally time for them to do their brief stints behind bars.

Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his son Peter each agreed to plead guilty to introducing adulterated eggs into interstate commerce for the Quality Egg products that were tainted with salmonella.

In the 2015 sentencing memorandum [PDF], prosecutors noted Quality Egg staff “made significant misrepresentations regarding its food safety and sanitation practices and procedures, and manufactured false documents” required by an independent auditor. The company falsely claimed that it performed flock testing to identify and control salmonella, but government inspectors say no flock testing was ever done.

In addition to bribing a USDA inspector to release eggs that had been flagged for failing to meet minimum standards, Quality personnel deliberately mislabeled eggs with false processing and expiration dates in an apparent attempt to mislead state regulators and retail customers about the age of these eggs.

Though prosecutors never definitively proved that the DeCosters knew that Quality Eggs was shipping out salmonella-tainted eggs, the court found that the company’s decisions to ignore positive salmonella environmental test results, to not test eggs in the wake of such results, and other bad behavior was sufficient to create a “work environment where employees not only felt comfortable disregarding regulations and bribing USDA officials, but may have even felt pressure to do so.”

Despite their unconditional guilty pleas, both father and son filed an appeal, arguing that not only was their sentence unconstitutional but so was the underlying law, which allows the government to hold company executives criminally responsible if they have the responsibility and authority to prevent or fix food safety violations but fail to do so.

The DeCosters argued to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that their constitutional rights to due process were violated by being sentenced to prison for crimes they did not personally commit. They contended they were being held vicariously liable for the actions of people who worked under them.

The Eighth Circuit disagreed in 2016 [PDF], pointing out that Jack and Peter DeCoster weren’t being held accountable simply for the actions of others, but because the DeCosters had a responsibility under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) to prevent or remedy the dangerous actions of their staff.

“[A]s owner of Quality Egg, Jack decided which barns were subject to salmonella environmental testing, and as chief operating officer, Peter coordinated many of the company’s salmonella prevention and rodent control efforts,” explained the Eighth Circuit. “Neither of the DeCosters claim to have been ‘powerless’ to prevent Quality Egg from violating the FDCA.”

The DeCosters were familiar with the unsatisfactory conditions at their Iowa facilities, said the appeals panel, but “failed to take sufficient measures to improve them,” and thus knew or should have known of the risks involved and the remedies needed.

The fact that the DeCosters did not explicitly know that the eggs were tainted was also not sufficient to make a due process claim, said the Eighth Circuit, noting that “The language in the FDCA and Supreme Court precedent interpreting the statute support the conclusion that defendants are not required to have known that they violated the FDCA to be subject to the statutory penalties.”

Separately, the DeCoster duo made the argument that their sentences violated their Eighth Amendment protections against excessive penalties, but the appeals panel was once again not convinced, noting that the three-month sentences are only a fraction of the maximum allowed by the FDCA even though the DeCoster’s failure to act led to an estimated 56,000 illnesses, including some that resulted in severe and long-term injury — all for just eating an egg.

The DeCosters weren’t done yet. In 2016 they filed a 232-page petition [PDF] asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case, effectively repeating the same claims that failed in their earlier appeal.

But on May 22, the Supremes declined to hear arguments in the case, allowing the Eighth Circuit ruling to stand, and sending it all back to the District Court judge to finalize the sentencing details for the DeCoster father and son, now aged 83 and 53, respectively.

So last week, the judge ordered [PDF] that Peter DeCoster must begin his three-month sentence at a federal facility in South Dakota in the weeks to come. The exact window for beginning the sentence is still to be set by the Bureau of Prisons.

The two DeCosters won’t be in prison at the same time, however. Jack’s sentence can not begin until 30 days after his son has been released. The older DeCoster will do his three months in a facility in New Hampshire. Both former executives will have a year of supervised release after their time in prison.

[H/T AP]



Pharma Frantically Searching Humanity’s Medicine Cabinet For Non-Opioid Pain Medicines

As opioid addiction continues to ravage large swaths of the country, doctors are being urged to prescribe fewer narcotic painkillers, putting pressure on drug companies to come up with new ways to treat pain patients.

Rather than treating generalized pain, some new drugs target specific types of pain. For example, some researchers looking to soothe the nerves of osteoarthritis patients aren’t taking the usual approach of affecting pain signals to the brain. Rather, they hope to cut off the signal elsewhere in the body, or to deal with the nerve endings at the source of the hurt.

One injection that’s still in clinical trials uses a synthetic version of capsaicin, the main ingredient in chili peppers, and injects it into a joint. The chemical gives the nerve endings in the joint “a hair cut,” the chief medical officer of Centrexion, the company behind the drug, explained to Bloomberg News.

Nerve-growth-factor inhibitors are another class of medicines useful for arthritis, and can be so effective that early clinical trials were stopped due to concerns that patients didn’t feel enough pain, and were using affected joints too much.

One drug that’s earlier in its development shows promise for chronic pain sufferers, and uses what scientists have learned from people with a rare disorder that keeps them from feeling pain at all. Drugs in early stages also use the same receptors that cannabis does to reduce pain, and use promising substances like toxins from snails.

Other drugmakers are taking a different tactic, developing opioids that help with pain, but that don’t have some of the side effects that make the drugs both dangerous and addictive. One medication under development reduces the euphoric effect by crossing the blood-brain barrier more slowly. Another avoids the common opioid side effect of slowed breathing.

Efforts to develop new drugs are now even more urgent after recent news about opioid medication Opana ER. The Food and Drug Administration asked manufacturer Endo Pharmaceuticals to remove the drug from the market, concluding that the drug’s potential for abuse and role in outbreaks of hepatitis and HIV outweighed its benefit to patients overall.



Amazon Hosts Invite-Only Events To Keep Sellers From Defecting To Walmart

Like the guy in the office who tries to make up for the fact that he’s been a real jerk by taking everyone out to happy hour, Amazon is hoping that some meet-and-greets with under-appreciated third-party sellers will keep them from fleeing to Walmart.com or other rivals.

Bloomberg reports that Amazon is offering 1,500 sellers the chance to meet with executives and attend sales seminars at the company’s first ever seller meet-and-greet with merchants in New York today.

The event appears to be one way Amazon can placate seller concerns that the e-commerce company isn’t looking out for their best interests by providing seminars on how to access more shoppers and break into foreign markets.

“We know the seller appreciates a chance to meet with a face of Amazon and get answers to questions,” Senior Vice President Tom Taylor tells Bloomberg. “We want to make sure this event is valuable for the seller.”

Today’s event will likely serve as a way for Amazon to rally sellers and make them feel heard. Still, with more than two million third-party sellers calling Amazon home, inviting 1,500 merchants is a very small step.

In recent years, some of Amazon’s sellers have expressed displeasure with the recent flood of third-party sellers offering items for sale on Amazon, and finding it was hard to compete on a marketplace where tens of thousands of other sellers were offering the same or similar products.

As a result, some Amazon merchants looking for a bigger piece of the sales pie are heading to Walmart.com, a place they see as the Amazon of a decade ago, with a vast, untapped marketplace.



Online Consignment Retailer ThredUP To Open Physical Stores

While some traditional retailers are moving their businesses online-only, one previously online-only clothier is doing the opposite: Online consignment and thrift store ThredUP is taking its business offline, opening several bricks-and-mortar stores.

ThredUP announced this week that it had opened its first physical store in San Marcos, TX, this month, with plans to open at least four other locations by the end of the year.

You might be asking yourself, why would a retailer with a seemingly popular online business want wade into an arena where many retailers are struggling?

Well, ThredUP — which previously partnered for a promotion with Target — believes it has the answers. First, the company is opening stores in cities where its online business is popular.

Second, because the company can see what customers are buying online, it says it can determine what brands are trending in certain areas and stock stores accordingly.

For instance, the company says that its new store will be stocked with J.Crew tops, which are trending in the area; Michael Kors bags, which are the No. 1 search online in Texas; and designer denim, which is the No. 1 seller in Texas.

The new stores will be a combination of traditional retail and high-tech shopping, where customers can use in-store iPads to find clothing online that isn’t stocked in the physical store.

For example, if you found a shirt you just have to have, but the size isn’t available in-store, you can use the iPad to find it online and have it sent to your home.

However, not all of the company’s online activities will be in physical stores, at least not at first. Customers wanting to exchange or sell their old clothing won’t have the option at the physical stores. Instead, the company says that for now, customers must still use ThredUP’s Clean Out Kits to send the company their like-new clothing.



Tinder Will Let You See Who’s Already Swiped Right On Your Profile — For A Price

Part of the attraction to the Tinder dating app is the experience of swiping left or right through the various profiles and having your flow interrupted with the (hopefully) good news that someone you right-swiped had already done the same to you. But not everyone likes surprises and are willing to pay for a degree of certainty in their swipes, which is why Tinder is now willing to let you know who’s already liked your profile — for a price.

Although Tinder already offers Tinder Plus — which comes with perks like the ability to view users anywhere and the power to take back accidental swipes — Tinder Gold is even more premium, the company says.

Calling it a “first-class swipe experience,” which one could also use to describe utilizing a golden toilet, Tinder Gold has all the same features of the premium tier, as well as a new feature called “Likes You.”

This is basically an anti-rejection measure: It allows users to see who already likes them, before they swipe.

“Think of it as your personal Swipe Right concierge—available 24/7—bringing all of your pending matches to you,” the company says. “Now you can sit back, enjoy a fine cocktail, and browse through profiles at your leisure.”

Tinder Gold will be tested first in Argentina, Australia, Canada, and Mexico soon in the next few days, before it’s rolled out to all users, eventually.

Pricing is unclear, at this point, but it’s likely to cost at least a bit more than Tinder Plus. That tier currently costs $4.58/month with a 12-month package, $5.83/month with a six-month package, or $9.99/month if you pay one month at a time.

It’s worth nothing that rival app Bumble already includes this feature for a monthly price as parts of its VIBee package.



mardi 27 juin 2017

Here Are Some Insightful Things That People Said About The Theft Of A Jimmy John’s Meat Slicer

Deli meat slicers are expensive pieces of equipment, and useful ones if you want to run a sandwich shop. Police in Indiana are looking for someone who cut through the ceiling of a Jimmy John’s sub shop and took a meat slicer, the store’s video surveillance system, some aprons, and… that’s pretty much it.

Detectives believe that the burglar had eyes only for the meat slicer and the video system, leaving the cash register and other, more portable items behind. Local TV station WISH interviewed two Jimmy John’s customers, who were exceptionally insightful about sandwich-related crime.

“Being in jail with other criminals, you’re the guy that stole a meat slicer from Jimmy John’s, like, that just seems kind of odd,” one customer told the TV reporter.

“What are you going to do with it?” another customer mused. “It’s going to sit at your house until you find someone stupider than you to buy it off you for 5% of what it’s worth, probably.”

“I really don’t know what their use for that would be,” the police chief for Franklin, IN, said. “They must just like their sandwiches.” The chief has apparently not priced out food service-grade meat slicers recently.

Detectives are investigating the crime, but there’s a problem: If the burglar was caught on the store’s video surveillance system, he or she stole that, too.



Ad Watchdog: Saying Google Pixel Is Available ‘Exclusively’ From Verizon Was Misleading

If you see an ad that says a product is available “exclusively” from only one vendor, what does that mean? Would you take it to mean that the retailer is the only place where you can buy that product? That’s what ads for the Google Pixel smartphone seemed to say about the phone’s relationship to Verizon, but it wan’t so.

Co-branded ads from Google and Verizon said that the phone was available “Exclusively at Verizon.” While Verizon was the only mobile carrier with the right to sell the phone, one could buy the device directly from Google.

When the Pixel was first released, T-Mobile tried to grab some publicity by offering bill credits that would add up to half the price of the phone.

“Don’t let the ‘exclusive’ advertisements fool you,” T-Mo CEO John Legere said at the time. “The Pixel phone is tested and proven to be fantastic on our lightning fast network, and we want to help you get the best of both worlds!”

While Verizon was billed as the “exclusive carrier partner” for the Pixel, this didn’t mean what it used to: Customers could order Pixel and use it with the carrier of their choice.

That’s why T-Mobile filed a complaint with the National Ad Division, a service of the Council of Better Business Bureaus that serves as a voluntary referee when companies have an issue with each other’s advertising.

In this case, T-Mobile took issue with the “exclusive” language and to claims from Verizon about its network being the best for the zippy new phone.

It its decision, the NAD noted that Verizon couldn’t prove that it had the only network that could help users get the most out of the new flagship Google phone, and that while it was the exclusive carrier that sold the phone, it was not the only retailer.

Verizon agreed to keep these guidelines in mind for future ads, but these TV commercials have stopped airing.



Facebook Crosses 2 Billion User Mark, Now Used By 27% Of Entire World

It’s not literally everyone, but it sure feels like it some days: Facebook has announced that as of today, it officially boasts more than 2 billion (yes, with a b) active users per month… a number that only keeps going up.

Facebook is of course touting the good news and the human interconnection angle of this milestone, because that makes the overall implications seem warm and cuddly.

Users can expect to see a personalized “Good Adds Up” video hitting their news feeds sometime this week, the company says. It will also be increasing the number of “good job” style messages it populates into your feed whenever you wish someone a happy birthday, create a group, or use the “love” reaction on a post.

The implications of Facebook’s reach, however, are enormous. It’s impossible to think of a parallel in history where more than a quarter of all living humans on the entire Earth — across boundaries of geography, language, and nation — could all be reached with a single tool at the same moment.

But Facebook has often been criticized over its privacy practices and the way in which it allows advertisers to access and use its massive trove of user data to unethically or unlawfully target or exclude certain people and groups.

Facebook’s easy sharing mechanisms are also routinely blamed for a massive uptick in “fake news” being easily and virally spread, and the company still hasn’t really figured out how to handle the problems of hate speech; revenge porn; violent, graphic, or offensive content; terrorism; and other kinds of threats and and harassment on its platform — problems which are spreading as Facebook’s reach does.

As the company grows, it continues to want to be basically your everything service. Facebook keeps adding new functions to Messenger in an attempt to become the “everything app” for countries outside of China the same way WeChat is for 1 billion users in that country. It’s become a live video streaming service regularly used by polticians, celebrities, and anyone else who needs to reach a crowd on the spot. And soon, if the company has its way, it will be yet another “channel” you can watch exclusive scripted TV shows on.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a memo of congratulations to the world about the major mathematical milestone on his own Facebook page.

“We’re making progress connecting the world, and now let’s bring the world closer together,” Zuckerberg wrote. “It’s an honor to be on this journey with you.”

In response to questions in the comments, Zuckerberg added that while it took from 2004 until October 2012 to reach the first billion users, the second has all happened in under five years.

If that trend were to continue and it were to take three fewer years to reach the next billion than it did to reach the second, we’d see the three billion user milestone around 2020. But of course, there’s no guarantee that Facebook’s growth rate will take any particular form — and trying to predict even six months into the future, let alone six years, is a fool’s game when it comes to internet businesses and culture.



Baby Cursed To Ruin His Birthday Flying Spirit For The Rest of His Life

Earlier this month, a baby born on a Jet Airways flight was gifted with free flights for life. Not one to be completely outdone, Spirit Airlines said today that a baby boy born on a recent flight will also receive free flights for life… but only on his birthday.

Spirit announced today that it gifted a baby boy born Saturday on a flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Dallas-Fort Worth with the worst/best birthday gift: Free flights for himself and a guest on his birthday for the rest of his life.

Of course, Spirit’s gift, while generous, likely won’t come in handy for a while. Under Spirit’s contract of carriage, the airline allows children under the age of two to fly for free if they sit on an adult’s lap.

According to Spirit, the birth happened about 30 minutes into the flight, when a Phoenix woman, who was 36 week pregnant at the time, told flight attendants that she wasn’t feeling well and requested for medical attention.

“Everything started happening very quickly,” the woman said. “I didn’t think I was having the baby because it was too soon, but after a few minutes I knew I needed medical attention.”

The flight was then diverted to New Orleans Louis Armstrong Airport where emergency medical crews were expected to meet the plane.

In the meantime, a nurse and pediatrician on the flight helped comfort the woman, who ended up giving birth to the 7-pound baby before the flight landed.

Once the plane landed, the woman and baby Christoph were taken a local hospital.



How To Avoid Ticks And What To Do If A Tick Bites You

The bad news (for humans): It’s shaping up to be a great year for disease-bearing ticks. The good news: We can tell you how to defend your body and your yard from these pests.

Epidemiologists and other experts are warning that factors like climate change are boosting tick populations in U.S.: Warmer temperatures allow ticks to hit the road and spread farther north than they usually would, as well as to higher altitudes.

“As the climate warms, the ticks become active earlier and earlier in the season,” Richard Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies at Yale explained to a university publication.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tickborne diseases are on the rise: Every year, more than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the agency, but studies suggest that the number of people diagnosed is closer to 300,000.

You should be especially wary if you live in one of these 14 states, which home to 95% of all Lyme disease cases: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Again, the range of tick that transmits Lyme disease is expanding, so everyone should be prepared.

And Lyme disease isn’t the only worry, as the CDC notes there has been an increase in other less known, but serious diseases, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, Powassan virus, and babesiosis.

How To Prevent Tick Bites

Destroy their homes: Ticks love hiding out in tall grass and shade, so keep your lawn mowed and tidy up any leaves and debris, suggest our colleagues at Consumer Reports. You can also spray your lawn with insecticide approved for residential spraying. Consumer Reports has some more tips on that process here.

Avoid them in the wild: Steer clear of areas with high grass and leaf litter when you’re out hiking, and keep to the center of the trail to prevent ticks from latching on, recommends the CDC.

Use insect repellant and dress accordingly: Even if it’s a hot summer hike, wearing pants, long-sleeved shirts, and socks tucked into closed shoes will discourage ticks from getting to your skin. Clothing treated with permethrin can also help ward off pests.

And don’t forget to spray yourself down with insect repellant — Consumer Reports suggests looking for products containing 15-30% deet. Anything over that isn’t effective.

Do a tick check when you get home: Strip down after your hike and find a mirror — you’ll want to get up close and personal to inspect yourself (or your kids) for ticks. Shower or bathe as soon as possible (preferably within 2 hours) to wash off any you may have missed.

Kill them with your dryer: The CDC recommends washing our clothing right away with hot water to kill any hangers-on. If you don’t have access to hot water, a dryer will do: Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes (damp clothing will take longer).

Treat your pets: Tick collars, sprays, shampoos, and a monthly “top spot” dose of medication can help protect your pooch from ticks, says the CDC.

What To Do If A Tick Bites You

Spot a tick? It’s important to remove it right away.

1. Get a pair of fine-tipped tweezers and grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.

2. With steady, even pressure, pull upward. Avoid twisting or jerking the tick, as it could cause its mouth-parts to dislodge and stick in your skin. If that does happen, remove those bits with the tweezers if you can. But if you can’t get them out, the CDC says to just leave it alone and let the skin heal.

3. Once you’ve removed the tick, clean the bite area and your hands thoroughly with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.

4. Get rid of the body in a bath of alcohol, put it in a sealed bag or container, wrap it tightly in tape, or flush it down the toilet. Do not crush a tick with your fingers.

What you should definitely not do: Folk remedies like “suffocating” ticks with butter, petroleum jelly, or other thick, waxy substances won’t work. Using heat from a glowing match also will not work, and could encourage the tick to burrow deeper into your skin. Both of these methods waste time and give the tick a better chance of passing on its diseases.

If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, it’s time for a trip to the doctor. Make sure to let your physician known when you were bit and where you most likely picked up the tick.



Senate Delays Vote On Obamacare Repeal Bill Until After July 4 Recess

Multiple reports are claiming that Senate Republican leadership has decided to delay the vote on a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care, following a Congressional Budget Office review estimating that 22 million additional Americans will be without healthcare if the bill passes as it is.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Senate vote will not take place before the upcoming 10-day July 4 recess.

Supporters of the bill had hoped to get that vote complete before the holiday in order to keep momentum going. Since the Senate bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, is a different piece of legislation from the one passed last month by the House, it still needs approval by that chamber of Congress.

Some moderate GOP lawmakers applauded the delay. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who had raised concerns about the bill’s impact on older Americans, Medicaid, and Planned Parenthood, called the decision, “good, because I don’t think we’re ready to proceed today. This person is not ready to proceed today.”

President Trump has called senate leaders to the White House for an afternoon meeting to discuss the bill. In recent days, he’s spoken with several senators, including Ron Johnson (WI), Rand Paul (KY), and Ted Cruz (TX), about their various problems with the bill, but to no apparent avail.

Though the legislation is being considered as a budget resolution — meaning supporters would only need 51 votes to pass the bill, and not the usual 60 votes to invoke cloture and end a filibuster — small groups of moderate Republicans and hardline conservatives have raised the question of whether or not the GOP could even get to 50 votes, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie.



Target Goes After Prime Pantry, Launches Giant Box Shipments In Minnesota

Target wants to encourage customers to order more everyday basics online, and to order those items all in one single shipment. That’s why the retailer wants you to fill a box that’s roughly the size of a shopping cart with non-perishable food and household goods, which will be delivered to you the next day for five bucks. Does that sound like Amazon’s Prime Pantry? It should, except that Restock’s shipping is slightly cheaper and a lot faster.

Like Prime Pantry, a service whose existence we still question, the program’s idea is to turn a shopping trip into a big shipment. The box size is fixed: Shoppers are told how much room is left as they fill their virtual carts (or boxes) with goods, and can even shop by how much of the box an item takes up.

So far, the program is only open to people who have Target’s RedCard and who live in the retailer’s home state of Minnesota. Customers can fill the giant box with their household products, food, or baby and pet supplies, and then have it shipped for a $4.99 flat rate.

The beta version of Restock has a separate site to shop on and its own inventory of items, like Prime Pantry. Orders placed by 3 p.m. will arrive by the end of the next day.

What Restock doesn’t offer is any discounts or deals: Shoppers get their customary 5% off for using the RedCard, but there aren’t other discounts. If an item is on sale or there’s a free gift card promotion at a regular Target or the main Target.com site, it won’t be on sale on the Restock site.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune points out that the program exists to make e-commerce shipping more efficient: Instead of shipping a single lip gloss, the retailer is shipping you a box containing 45 pounds or so of merchandise, boosting the retailer’s average purchase size in its online operations.

If you live in Minnesota and have tried Restock, or live anywhere and have tried Prime Pantry, let us know how it goes!



Four Credit Repair Agencies Accused Of Misleading Customers, Charging Illegal Fees

Four different “credit repair” operations have been ordered to pay a total of more than $2 million in penalties for allegedly tricking people into thinking their bad credit could be easily fixed.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced today that it filed complaints and proposed judgments against Prime Credit, LLC, IMC Capital, LLC, Commercial Credit Consultants, and Park View Law, accusing the companies of misleading consumers and charging illegal fees for so-called credit repair services.

The CFPB alleges that, starting as far back as 2009 for some the companies, these operations made misleading, unsubstantiated claims that they could remove virtually any negative information from credit reports and could boost credit scores by significant amounts.

In order to attract customers, the companies would cold-call debtors, often targeting those seeking to obtain a mortgage, loan, refinancing, or other extension of credit.

The CFPB claims that once customers agreed to the services, the companies illegally charged fees in advance of providing any service.

Under federal law, telemarketers and certain companies are prohibited from requesting or collecting fees for credit repair services until certain conditions are met.

In the case of the four credit repair companies in the CFPB’s complaint, the operations charged consumers an initial consultation fee of about $60 to review a consumer’s credit report and set-up fees totaling hundreds of dollars, as well as monthly fees that often equaled $89.99 per month.

In all, the CFPB claims that the companies charged approximately 71,000 customers at least $31 million in fees from Aug. 2009 to Sept. 2014.

While the operations offered “money-back guarantees,” the CFPB claims that they failed to disclose the limits of these promises. For instance, customers were not properly informed that the guarantees were only available if they paid for six months of service, or that they were limited to the removal of a minimum of one disputed item within 180 days.

Further, the companies’ construed the guarantee as meaning that so long as the credit repair services resulted in the removal of a single disputed item within six months, the customers could not obtain a refund, even if their credit scores did not improve.

Finally, the complaints allege that the credit repair companies misrepresented that they could remove negative entries on consumers’ credit reports and increase their credit scores. In fact, the CFPB notes in the complaints that the companies lacked a reasonable basis to make these claims.

For instance, the complaint alleges the companies not obtain credit reports or credit scores for customers, meaning they couldn’t determine if negative items had been removed from consumers’ credit reports or whether their scores had increased.

Under the proposed judgments, Prime Credit, IMC Capital, and Commercial Credit Consultants must pay a civil penalty of $1.5 million, while Park View Law must pay $500,000 in relinquished funds to the U.S. Treasury.

Additionally, the companies are prohibited from doing business within the credit repair industry for five years and are permanently prohibited from violating the Dodd-Frank Act or the Telemarketing Sales Rule.



Kroger CEO Says He’s Not Surprised By, Or Scared Of, Amazon Buying Whole Foods

With over 3,800 stores and more than $110 billion in revenue, Kroger is the second-largest retailer in the U.S., behind Walmart. Normally, a company of this size would not fret about Whole Foods’ relatively paltry 460 stores being sold off to a company whose bricks-and-mortar footprint consists mostly of a few bookshops. But because that buyer is Amazon, some are expecting Kroger to be worried.

Whether the company is worried or not; its investors are. June 15 and 16 were a rough couple of days for Kroger. First, its stock plummeted almost 19% when it warned investors that its profit would be smaller than expected this year. Then the company’s value tumbled even further after Amazon announced its $13.7 billion deal to acquire Whole Foods. That was nearly two weeks ago, and Kroger’s share price is still down nearly 25% from where it was on June 14.

This morning, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen appeared on CNBC, where he did his best to downplay the seriousness of the Amazon/Whole Foods alliance and its eventual impact on the industry.

“I guess for me it wasn’t as much of a surprise as it was for others,” McMullen told CNBC. “You could tell that Amazon wanted to do something from a physical asset standpoint and I think Whole Foods is a great fit for them.”

McMullen argued that the retail industry is in a state of “constant change,” and while this deal aligns a huge market disruptor with an established physical retail chain, he claimed that “We don’t see this deal as any different than anything else.”

The CEO wouldn’t directly address speculation that Kroger might try to outbid Amazon for Whole Foods, other than to say “you should assume that we look at any potential opportunities.”

Some prognosticators predict that Amazon — with its higher profit margin non-food items (not to mention heavily profitable businesses like Amazon Web Services), and its vast delivery reach — will be able to undercut existing supermarkets on price, particularly on organics, a sector that is notorious for its expensive price tags.

“From our long-term business model we always assume the market will get more competitive,” explained McMullen, noting that organics is a $16 billion sector his Kroger Co., which also includes chains like Ralphs, Fred Meyer, and Fry’s. “We’ve been able to make natural and organic accessible to all customers both from a pricing standpoint and from a product offering standpoint. We feel great about the proactive things that we’ve done to help lower prices for our customers and we see that opportunity continue going forward.”

And while Amazon may be able to reach millions of potential customers with its existing logistics and delivery network, McMullen told CNBC that “people still like to go visit with friends, engage and see new foods and new experiences.”

“Kroger has been in business 134 years and we’ve been through many, many changes and we really see this change as well,” said the CEO. “What we find is when we help the customer fall in love with food and we deliver it at a great value, the customers reward us with that business. We don’t see that changing.”



Former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler: Net Neutrality Fight Destined For Courtroom

Despite millions of public comments and objections from businesses and consumer groups nationwide, the Trump administration’s FCC seems determined to go ahead and kill off net neutrality as soon as possible. While this rule, which prohibits internet service providers from having any say in what you do online, is likely headed for reversal in the months to come, it’s not dead yet, and former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler says it will likely be up to a court to decide if the rule gets discarded, which is why it’s important for supporters to get their concerns on the record.

Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia held a forum just outside of D.C. last night for his constituents to come learn and voice their concerns about the fate of net neutrality in. Though Beyer was the host, the real headliners of the event were Wheeler and former FCC general counsel Jon Sallet, who both spoke at length to a packed house about how we got to where we are today, with the rules under fire, and what consumers can still do to try and make their voices heard.

A couple key take-aways?

No Neutrality Without Title II

Wheeler first reviewed what net neutrality is, and why under his leadership the Commission used Title II to put the rule in place.

The Open Internet Order of 2015, he reminded the room, created three bright-line rules for the ISPs that carry your internet traffic: No blocking, no throttling, and no discrimination.

2015: FCC officially votes to protect net neutrality, reclassify broadband

The good news, Wheeler led off, is that the Open Internet Rules have been the law of the land since 2015. But now, “Their repeal is being championed by a handful of companies; you basically know who those companies are. Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Charter — they’re the people that dominate access to the internet today.”

These days, as they attempt to have the rule reversed, the big companies — particularly Comcast, but also others — like to claim that they love net neutrality; it’s just Title II, the legal underpinning, that they can’t stand.

Wheeler, however, hoped his audience knew better.

“What I hope you’ll think about is that that legal term is a smokescreen for not having to discuss” the bright-line net neutrality principles, privacy guidelines, and the FCC’s oversight authority, he said.

“Those who are trying to overturn the rules want to talk about them in these [legalistic] terms, instead of talking about the effect of Title II.”

“We looked hard to see if there would be ways other than Title II to accomplish these goals,” Wheeler said. “They weren’t there.”

More: 4 misleading things ISPs need to stop claiming about net neutrality

For decades, Wheeler said, “The FCC has made decisions based on, ‘Is the activity that is occurring just and reasonable?'”

Wheeler explained that “just and reasonable” is a term of art — a phrase with a fixed, precise legal meaning — when it comes to telecommunications, then continued, “We need a set of rules to be able to look at actions … so that when they come to pass, you’re looking at it and you say, whoa, is that just and reasonable? And you can’t get there without Title II.”

Why Commenting Is Important

That the current FCC, under Chairman Ajit Pai, will eventually succeed in reversing the Open Internet Rule was something of a foregone conclusion in the room among presenters and the audience.

“The Trump FCC has announced in no uncertain terms that they intend to repeal the rules that are now in place, at the request of these handful of companies,” Wheeler said. “They got a letter the other day [it was in April] from 800 entrepreneurs saying, ‘you can’t do that, because you’ll threaten our access, our ability to have access to reach consumers. We’ll have to go to say, mother may I to be able to get on the networks. we won’t be able to compete.'”

“Eight hundred vs four,” he added. “The other number is that there is a majority at the FCC. That is now a Republican majority. The two [Republicans] that are there now were the two votes that were against net neutrality in 2015, and they’ve made it clear that they want to repeal it.”

They will probably get the rule reversed, Wheeler, Beyer, and Sallet all admitted — but that doesn’t mean they’ll truly succeed.

“We can all predict what can happen at the FCC, but I can tell you this,” Sallet said: “When I was general counsel, I didn’t think that what the FCC said was the last word. I knew there would be a day in court.”

And indeed there was: The businesses that threatened to sue the FCC if it passed a net neutrality rule did so the second they were legally able to.

As general counsel for the FCC, Sallet argued that case before the D.C. Circuit in late 2015. And the FCC did, indeed win that case, with the court ruling to uphold the FCC’s policy almost exactly a year ago.

Pro-neutrality and pro-consumer advocates are just as likely to sue the FCC over repealing the rule as the industry was to sue over the Commission enacting it in the first place. And preparing for that, Sallet said, is where public comment comes in.

More: Here’s the timeline for the likely death of net neutrality

Both Sallet and Wheeler admitted that the FCC’s mind is probably already made up, no matter what public comments come in to the proceeding now. But those comments become vital in the case of a lawsuit and “can shape what happens if it’s necessary to go to court one more time,” as Sallet put it.

So, one audience member asked, “Is there any legal basis that I can mention in my comments as to why net neutrality should be preserved?”

There are “two legal questions on how consumers see their broadband connections” that may (will) come into play in a court case, Sallet explained.

“And so an important question for anyone to answer is: when you use an internet connection, do you expect to receive content exactly as you requested it, or do you expect it to change along the way?” Sallet asked.

Because that’s part of the legal analysis, he continued: “What do consumers believe they’re buying when they buy an internet connection? Do they think they’re buying a pathway, or do they think they’re buying the content itself?”

The other thing that matters from a consumer point of view is your expectation of the rules, Sallet continued.

“You buy a service that says it will take you everywhere on the internet,” he said. “Do you think that expectation is that you can go to all legal websites and apps, or do you think there are some that the broadband provider will say are off limits?”

Those are the points that will come up in a court case, and so those are the really important points to make in your comments to the FCC, all speakers stressed in response to audience questions.

“The current political situation is not going to produce a law in Congress that is as strong as the regulations that now exist,” Wheeler said. “That’s step one. Nothing is over until the court says it’s over, and that’s why your comments are so crucial. Because building that record that will be cited is crucial.”

“The law is in place today. The law has been affirmed by the courts. And we’ve got to fight to make sure that it stays in place.”

If you do want to add a comment to the record, here’s how to tell the FCC just what you think of its plan to kill net neutrality.



WannaCry All Over Again? European Servers Hit By Massive Ransomware Attack

In an attack reminiscent of WannaCry — the ransomware that held servers around the world hostage in May — web servers across Europe have reportedly been hit by another strain of rapidly spreading malware.

How bad is it? Pretty darn bad: Reuters reports that computers at Rosneft, Russia’s biggest oil company, and some of the country’s banks have been compromised, while Ukraine’s international airports, power grid and banking system have also reportedly been impacted.

Among the other victims: Food conglomerate Mondelez, Danish shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk, and German logistics company Deutsche Post, among others. (Reuters has a running list of victims here).

According to The Telegraph, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant has also had to shut down computers after the virus infected its network.

The attack appears to unfold like other ransomware exploits: Channel 24 in Ukraine says its computers were blocked, followed by a demand for $300 worth of Bitcoin to restore access to the company’s files.

“If you see this text, then your files are no longer accessible, because they have been encrypted. Perhaps you are busy looking for a way to recover your files, but don’t waste your time. Nobody can recover your files without our decryption service,” the message said.

WannaCry All Over Again?

Researchers from various cyber security firms seem to agree that the ranswomare is a strain of a virus called Petya, which, like WannaCry, exploits a known vulnerability in Windows known as EternalBlue — an exploit that allegedly came from the NSA and was made public in a data dump from a hack a few weeks back.

“There have been indications of late that Petya is in circulation again, exploiting the SMB (Server Message Block) vulnerability,” the Swiss Reporting and Analysis Centre for Information Assurance (MELANI) said.

The strain was first spotted in March, notes Kaspersky Lab’s Costin Raiu on Twitter, adding that it’s spreading fast and a number of payments have been made to the Bitcoin wallet associated with the ransomware.

“It’s like WannaCry all over again,” F-Secure Chief Research Officer Mikko Hypponen told Reuters, noting that so far nothing is stopping the virus. “This could hit the U.S.A. pretty bad,” he said.

“With the severity of this attack and the degree to which the virus has already spread on an international scale across major business and infrastructure, it is now almost impossible to stop it from spreading further,” Robert Edwards, a barrister and cybercrime specialist at St. John’s Buildings told The Telegraph, adding that the fallout will likely be severe, “and raises serious questions about the security of devices and the ease in which hackers are able to commit such attacks.”



Don’t Use These Recalled Fireworks Next Week & Other July 4th Safety Tips

Each year, tens of thousands of people are injured in fireworks accidents. While these incidents can occur when someone is ill-trained in setting off the brightly colored explosives, they can also be the result of defective products, such as the 36,000 TNT Red, White, & Blue Smoke fireworks now under recall. 

American Promotional Events recalled 36,100 TNT Red, White, & Blue Smoke fireworks that can explode unexpectedly after being lit, posing burn and injury hazards to consumers.

According to a notice posted with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the recalled fireworks have been linked to three people suffering burn injuries. No property damage has been reported.

The pyrotechnic devices, which make smoke when lit, were sold from May 2017 to June 2017 at Albertsons, Kroger, Meijer, Target, Wal-Mart and other retailers in Illinois, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin.

The fireworks — which can be identified by the UPC number 027736036561 — came in a bag containing one red, one blue and one white canisters.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled fireworks and contact America Promotional Events for a full refund at 800-243-1189 or via email at info@tntfireworks.com.

The recall comes on the same day that the CPSC held its annual fireworks safety demonstration, which was broadcast live on Facebook.

The CPSC’s demonstration included setting off several fireworks explosions mirrored after scenarios that have killed or seriously injured Americans.

“Seemingly simple safety tips can really avoid injuries when using fireworks,” Ann Marie Buerkle, acting chairman of the CPSC, said during the demonstration.

Some of the steps to a safer celebration from the CPSC include:

• Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.
• Avoid buying fireworks that are packaged in brown paper because this is often a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and that they could pose a danger to consumers.
• Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities. Parents don’t realize that young children suffer injuries from sparklers.
• Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse.
• Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.
• Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
• Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
• Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.
• Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
• After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire.
• Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them.

Related: Listen To A Guy With Experience Talk About Fireworks Safety

According to the CPSC’s annual fireworks report [PDF] released earlier this week, in 2016 four people died and more than 11,000 were injured in incidents involving fireworks.

On average, 230 people go the emergency room every day with fireworks-related injuries in the month around the July 4th holiday, the CPSC notes.

Of these fireworks-related injuries, 69% involved burns. Additionally, 33% of all fireworks injuries occur on the hands, 28% to the heads, faces, and ears, and 18% on the legs.

As for the products associated with these injuries, the CPSC estimates that 900 emergency department-treated injuries were associated with sparklers and 400 with bottle rockets.

Another 1,300 were related to firecrackers. Of these, 47% were associated with small firecrackers, an estimated 4% with illegal firecrackers, and an estimated 49% with firecrackers for which there was no specific information.



You Can Now Request An Uber Ride For Your Friend Who Refuses To Uber

Whether you need to get your drunk friend who refuses to use ride-sharing apps home safely, or order up a lift for your mom when she locks herself out of the car, Uber will now let users request a ride for other people.

Uber announced the new feature today, noting that it could be helpful for not only helping out friends in a pinch, but also loved ones who may have limited mobility.

When you set your pickup location in the app away from your current location, Uber will automatically ask whether the ride is for someone else. You then select the rider from your address book, set the destination, and request the ride.

The rider will then receive a text message when their car is on the way, as well as contact details for the driver, and a link to track their route.

The new feature rolls out in more than 30 countries including the U.S. today, and will eventually expand to other locations soon.

While Lyft doesn’t have a dedicated feature for requesting rides for friends, the company is totally fine with users who want to do so, simply noting in its policy that you can enter your friend’s address into the app when ordering a car.

“We just ask that you call the driver to give them a heads-up that they’ll be picking up your friend,” Lyft says. “It’s also advisable to enter the destination address into the app if you know where your friend is going.”