vendredi 18 août 2017

Here’s A Giant List Of Solar Eclipse Promotions

On Monday, Aug. 21, people from Oregon to South Carolina will get to experience a rare total solar eclipse, with folks outside this path still experiencing a partial eclipse. And because every notable event must be accompanied by a marketing bonanza, there is no shortage of companies offering everything from eclipse-themed appliance sales to one-day-only donuts.

We’ve rounded up some promotions and freebies that you might find interesting. If you know of other promotions that we missed, please let us know so we can update this post before the event!

Home Appliances

Frigidaire: A “blackout sale” on matte black stainless steel appliances will run from Aug. 17 to Aug. 23. The collection will be at least 30% off at participating retailers, including online.

Food

Krispy Kreme: The hot doughnut chain is celebrating the eclipse by putting a chocolate glaze on its original glazed doughnuts for the first time.

“The Chocolate Glazed Doughnut is a delicious way to experience the solar eclipse — no matter where you are — and we can’t wait for fans to try it,” the company’s chief marketing officer said in a statement, leaving people who live in places with neither Krispy Kreme shops nor a full view of the eclipse bereft.

Pilot/Flying J Travel Centers: Get a free Milky Way candy bar or pack of Eclipse gum (of course!) with any beverage purchase. (You may have to download the chain’s rewards app to get this deal; we’re waiting for clarification.)

Pizza Hut: They don’t have an eclipse special, but did make an instructional video showing how to make a pinhole eclipse viewer out of a pizza box.

Dairy Queen: From Aug. 21 to Sept. 3, you’ll be able to buy one Blizzard and get one for $0.99, which somehow involves the eclipse.

Eyewear

Warby Parker: While most places are out of the special viewing glasses you’ll need to protect your eyes during the eclipse, Warby Parker is giving them away for free at its physical stores. Or, follow these instructions to make your own pinhole projector.

Stamps

U.S. Postal Service: The USPS is selling super cool eclipse stamps. They’re the first postage stamp in this country that uses thermocromatic ink that changes the image when you touch the stamp. The moon covering the sun disappears.

Booze

José Cuervo Tequila: The brand sent along some eclipse-themed cocktail recipes, including the “Total Especial Eclipse.” Here’s how you make it, and you now have two days to locate charcoal lemonade:

2 oz Jose Cuervo Especial
2 oz orange juice
1 tsp grenadine
1/2 oz. charcoal lemonade

Shake tequila and orange juice and pour into a rocks glass over ice. Mix charcoal lemonade and grenadine and slowly pour into the cocktail.

Regional events & parties

The eclipse cuts a swath across the country from the Pacific Northwest to the coastal Southeast, so there’s no way we can include every big eclipse viewing event or post-eclipse party. But there are some handy lists out there.

Travel Oregon has put together this roundup things to do and see in the state on Monday.

• Here’s a massive map of the 100+ events going on in and around St. Louis on the day of the eclipse.

• This page at the Charleston Post & Courier site gathers together some of the best places to celebrate after the eclipse for people visiting the last city in the path of totality.

• And USA Today has its guide to events both in and outside the path of the total eclipse.

Watch in person

By air: Private plane operators and small airlines like Million Air have packages that will take you to a remote airport to view the eclipse for $10,000, according to Bloomberg News. Even private jet companies and commercial carriers like Southwest are giving away viewing glasses to passengers on flights that might get to see the eclipse from their windows.

On the ground: The American Astronomical Society has a handy tool for looking up local events taking place along the path of the eclipse, from astronomy club meetings to community festivals and live streams.

Watch from afar

NASA: If you don’t live somewhere where the moon will completely cover the sun and/or will be stuck at your desk, NASA has you covered: It will be streaming the eclipse from a weather-proof vantage point above the clouds. The space agency expects up to a billion people to watch.

The Weather Channel: Another option for watching the eclipse will be on The Weather Channel, which will be broadcasting live from seven locations across the country.

SolarEdge: If you’re wondering who is seeing the eclispe right now, solar energy systems company SolarEdge is also offering a stream that will show you the path of the eclipse and how it’s affecting solar energy systems.



Bring Your Own Cup To 7-Eleven This Weekend, Fill It With Slurpee For $1.50

Grab your dog’s huge water bowl or your favorite drinking boot: It’s time for Bring Your Own Cup day at 7-Eleven.

Today and tomorrow, anyone visiting a 7-Eleven between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. can fill a vessel of their own choosing with Slurpee and pay just $1.50.

Same as last year, there are a few ground rules that keep you from filling an inflatable pool or a giant trash bag:

• All cups must be able to fit upright through a 10-inch hole (stores have a cutout to measure this).

• The vessel must be food-safe and water tight.

• Limit is one cup per person.



Facebook Cracking Down On Video Clickbait In The Newsfeed

If you’ve ever clicked on what looks like an interesting video promising “17 Ways You’re Eating Cheese Wrong,” only to find yourself on a spammy website that has nothing to do with cheese, you know how frustrating such clickbait can be. Facebook is now introducing new updates aimed at keeping those deceptive posts out of your news feed.

There are two kinds of video clickbait Facebook is going after: Stories that feature either fake video play buttons embedded in their imagery, or videos that only play a static image.

“People want to see accurate information on Facebook, and so do we,” Facebook engineers Baraa Hamodi, Zahir Bokhari, and Yun Zhang note in a blog post.

To that end, the social media network will begin demoting stories that feature feature fake video play buttons and static images disguised as videos in news feeds.

“Authentic communication is one of our core News Feed values, and we know our community values it,” the company says.

And if you’ve got a page that relies on these “intentionally deceptive practices,” Facebook notes that you “should expect the distribution of those clickbait stories to markedly decrease.”



Atari Claims Nestlé Ripped Off Video Game With ‘Breakout’ Commercial

A 2016 ad for Nestlé’s Kit Kat bars includes a video game that looks an awful lot like Breakout, the classic Atari video game co-created by Apple’s Steve Wozniak. Problem is, Atari says Nestlé didn’t get permission to make this Kit Kat-themed Breakout clone.

In a lawsuit [PDF] filed in San Francisco on Thursday, Atari claims that ads Nestlé aired in the United Kingdom constitute a “blatant invasion and misappropriation of its intellectual property rights” related to the game, which was released more than 40 years ago.

Give me a Breakout

In an ad called “Kit-Kat: Breakout”, people of all ages, sexes, and races come together to play a video game that involves moving paddles back and forth to bounce balls against bricks made out of Kit Kat bites. It’s all set against a beeping, hooping video game soundtrack.

“Share your break, with new Kit Kat bites,” the voiceover says. “Whoever you are, however you break— have a break, have a Kit Kat.”

Atari’s lawsuit also notes a Nestlé ad campaign on Twitter and Facebook that invited people to “Get your game on Breakout Breakers.”

Atari is displeased

In 1975, Atari was looking to follow up on its “groundbreaking” hit game, Pong, Atari’s lawsuit explains. “The new simple, addictive game was also a hit, and helped propel Atari to its long-held spot on top of the video game industry.”

The original game spawned multiple sequels, like Super Breakout and Breakout 2000, and has been ported to just about every gaming console at some point. There are many knockoffs of the game available, but Atari attempts to keep the Breakout brand alive with a version that’s free to play online:

“Forty years later Nestlé decided that it would, without Atari’s authorization, leverage Breakout and the special place it holds among nostalgic Baby Boomers, Generation X, and even today’s Millennial and post-Millennial ‘gamers’ in order to maximize the reach of worldwide, multi-platform advertisements for Nestlé Kit Kat bars,” the complaint alleges.

Just using the term “Breakout” in an advertising context “is the plainest invasion and infringement of Atari’s trademark rights,” the lawsuit claims.

This alleged infringement could eliminate Atari’s licensing opportunity “across a wide range of products and sectors,” the complaint alleges, because “any potential Atari licensee will have to consider both Atari’s past and continuing involuntary association with Nestlé when determining whether to license Breakout, or hundreds of other Atari games.”

Atari claims that Nestlé’s conduct was “willful,” and “obviously designed to leverage the decades of goodwill Atari and Breakout have garnered across multiple generations.”

The ads were “specifically designed to piggyback on the scope of the public’s familiarity with Atari and Breakout, given that millions of consumers, from the youngest gamers to aging Baby Boomers, have been exposed to the game,” the complaint alleges. “The infringement was not hidden, fleeting, or innocuous – Breakout is the central player, and binding thread, across all of the infringing ads.”

Nestlé responds

In a statement, Nestlé notes that the campaign was a UK TV advertisement that ran in 2016.

“The ad no longer runs and we have no current plans to re-run it,” the company said. “We are aware of the lawsuit in the U.S. and will defend ourselves strongly against these allegations.”



Chuck E. Cheese’s Testing Restaurants With No Animatronics

Children today: They still love video games, pizza, and music, but they aren’t as into animatronic animal bands as generations past. That’s why some locations will experiment with taking the robots out and replacing them with humans in animal costumes. Don’t worry, though: Drunken brawls among adult guests are sure to continue.

Dancing with the Mouse

Chuck E. Cheese’s is introducing revamped restaurants that have TV screens, open kitchens, large-format video games, and dance floors, but no stage that features animatronic animals performing music. That’s been a fixture of the restaurant since the beginning, but they just don’t hold kids’ attention like they used to.

“The kids stopped looking at the animatronics years and years ago, and they would wait for the live Chuck E. to come out,” the company’s chief executive, Tom Leverton, told CBS.

Yes, someone dresses up in a mouse costume and dances with children, and kids raised on hyper-realistic animation and video games find that more appealing than the jerky movements of the aging animatronic figures.

The company plans to renovate four restaurants in the San Antonio, TX, area to the more modern look and format, then convert three others in the Kansas City, MO, area as well. Depending on how this test goes, other restaurants will be converted, too.

Leverton, the company’s Big Cheese, predicted in his interview with CBS that the new format will go over well with young children, and they’ll be removing the robo-critters from restaurants in the future. There are 500 restaurants nationwide.

Atari and Rick the Rat

Technically, this brings the chain and the Chuck E. Cheese character back to its roots. The Chuck character began as a costumed mascot for Atari. Yep, the video game company. Co-founder Nolan Bushnell claims that he ordered a coyote costume and received a mouse/rat costume instead, but went along with it.

The brand began as part of Atari, with the goal of making video games more mainstream and acceptable for families to play. Bushnell bought the pizza restaurant and its intellectual property from Warner, the company that purchased Atari, and developed it as a standalone company.

The animatronic shows were meant to entertain adults when the chain first started. They would watch the 8-minute show while waiting for pizza, and banter between characters edged into PG territory. Instead, the characters became entertainment for the whole family.

(via A.V. Club)



Lawmakers Seek Investigation Into Alleged Attack On FCC Commenting System

When the FCC’s new leadership officially began the process of dismantling net neutrality rules, it didn’t come as much of a surprise when an overwhelming amount of traffic crashed the Commission’s public commenting system. After all, it happened a few years ago when these rules were being written. What did surprise people was the FCC’s claim — made without providing any additional information — that the system failure was not the result of too many people trying to comment, but a malicious attack. The FCC has never fully explained how it reached that conclusion, and now some lawmakers want to know why.

The system is down

In May, the second net neutrality fight, much like the first back in 2014, got a swift kick in the pants from a segment on John Oliver’s show Last Week Tonight.

The FCC’s updated, but still somewhat fragile, online commenting system was overwhelmed with demand in the hours immediately following the first airing of Oliver’s story, and was temporarily inaccessible for millions. Most assumed that it was simply overloaded due to high demand and too many simultaneous requests. The Commission, however, said that the demand was not simply from millions wanting to have a say, but a deliberate attack designed to take the system down.

David Bray, the FCC’s Chief Information Officer at the time (he has since left), said in a statement that Sunday evening right after Oliver’s show, “the FCC was subject to multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS).”

“These were deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCC’s comment system with a high amount of traffic to our commercial cloud host,” Bray added. “These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves; rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC.”

But where’s the proof?

If the timing of the claim seems a little too “convenient” to you, you’re not the only one.

The day after the FCC cried foul, a pair of Senators, Ron Wyden (OR) and Brian Schatz (HI), sent a letter to FCC Chair Ajit Pai asking for more information about this DDOS attack.

If it really was an attack against a U.S. federal agency by external actors, Wyden and Schatz pointed out, then that constitutes a singificant threat.

So the Senators asked Pai a series of questions about the attack: Approximately how many devices were involved? Were people actually blocked from commenting? How many simultaneous visitors can the FCC’s comment portal actually handle? Who was behind it?

Pai was given until June 8 to respond. He made it by the deadline, but the response [PDF] was underwhelming.

The FCC said it classified the “disruption” as “a non-traditional DDoS attack.” Some cloud-based bot entity went specifically for the comment filing system, the Commission said, and as it was making more than 160 requests per second it overwhelmed the API.

But the Commission also said that after consulting with the FBI, the attack didn’t seem major enough to bother pursuing — and the rest of its answers weren’t exactly deeply detailed.

So Schatz, along with New Jersey Representative Frank Pallone, are asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the FCC’s claims [PDF].

“While the FCC and FBI have responded to Congressional inquiries into these attacks,” Pallone and Schatz write, “they have not released any records or documentation that would allow for confirmation that an attack occureed, that it was effectively dealt with, and that the FCC has begun to institute measures to thwart future attacks and ensure the security of its systems.”

The letter asks the GAO to find out how the FCC determined a cyberattack took place; what evidence the FCC used to make that determination; and what processes the Commission has in place to “prevent or mitigate” another attack just like the supposed May 8 event.

Not the first time

As we mentioned, this was the second time John Oliver got involved in the net neutrality fray. The first time, in 2014, his memorable segment (in which he called then-chair Tom Wheeler a dingo, among other things) also led to the comment system crashing in June of that year.

A few weeks later, as the comment deadline loomed, the system once again got overwhelmed with traffic, leading the Commission to extend the filing deadline by three days in order to accomodate everyone.

These both just seemed like high-traffic events at the time: A deadline is looming, and everyone suddenly wants to get their last word in at once. The proceeding received a then-record 4 million comments, an extremely high volume for the creaky old system to handle. Makes sense.

But as Gizmodo notes, Bray also claimed at the time that the FCC suffered a comment system outage due to a hack — even though no evidence of a malicious attack ever existed.

Multiple sources at the FCC told Gizmodo that no evidence ever existed that a cyberattack occured in 2014, even though they looked hard to find any.

Gizmodo, meanwhile, filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the FCC seeking any document that could possibly be related to a cyberattack in May, 2017.

The result was a total of 16 pages of mostly-redacted emails, and a statement from the Commission that it sreal-time observations of the disruption “did not result in written documentation.” The FCC declined to release a further 209 pages of documentation, Gizmodo reported.

In response to Gizmodo’s reporting, the FCC issued a press release blasting “inaccurate media reports;” Gizmodo, in turn, countered with a full rejoinder under the headline, “The FCC is full of s**t.”



Victoria’s Secret Is Over Bralette Trend, Sticking With Push-Ups

After trying to get into what the cool kids want these days, lingerie veteran Victoria’s Secret has decided to stop trying to be trendy, and just stick with what it knows best: Bras with padding, wiring, and the ability to push things upward.

Going up

Competitors are all about pushing bralettes these days. Some shoppers like these wireless bras — that usually don’t have padding — because they come in simple sizes like small, medium, large, and extra-large, instead of cup sizes, which can make it easier to predict how something will fit.

But despite its best efforts, Victoria’s Secret apparently hasn’t had much success with the trendy items, and will pull back on that front. Bralettes will now be less than 5% of its production mix, Victoria’s Secret Chief Executive Jan Singer said on an earnings call this week.

Instead, it’s back to pushing things upward.

“Bralettes trend up and down and we’ll have them,” Singer said. “But we make constructed bras best and anyone can make bralettes. We get paid for construction.”

Singer notes that the company has a “cornerstone in the business of the push-up bra,” and while they tried the bralette thing, they’re now finding “a lot of sexy in the middle,” noting that “fashion in constructed bras is the way to go for us going forward.”

“I think anybody can make a bralette and that was a moment that will come and go [and] it will come again,” Singer noted. “But for us, we make constructed bras best.”

Trying new things

Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands has rolled out a bunch of changes in the last few years in an effort to increase sales and keep customers coming back.

Among those moves: Selling more sports bras, getting rid of the swimwear category altogether, and trying to become less reliant on its print catalog. Last fall, the company also announced it would be ditching those ever-present “free panty” coupons.

In the meantime, Victoria’s Secret is facing new rivals like Amazon, which is reportedly interested in expanding its in-house apparel brands to include women’s intimate apparel.

The brand is also feeling the pressure from a recent flood of lingerie startups, many of which offer a subscription-like model and promise to provide more accurate sizing.



Old Navy Is Still The Only Part Of Gap Inc. That’s Doing Well

As retailers continue to struggle to keep sales up and stores open, Gap Inc. has been able to stay profitable. It’s all thanks to one brand, Old Navy.

Propped up by the low-end brand

According to the company’s earnings statement released late yesterday, sales at comparable stores were up 1% across the whole company, but here’s the problem: All of that growth came from Old Navy. Gap stores’ sales actually fell by 1%, and Banana Republic stores’ sales fell by 5%. Old Navy, meanwhile, had a 5% sales increase in comparable stores.

Art Peck, the company’s president and CEO, says that Gap Inc. is planning for the long term, and working to be less slow to respond to trends when it faces competition from the H&Ms and Zaras of the world, brands that turn new products around faster and at lower prices.

“As we continue to focus on long-term growth, we are accelerating our strategies that put the customer at the center of everything we do – including a focus on product categories where we have clear differentiation, continued investment in our online and mobile offerings, and taking advantage of our operating scale to drive speed to market, responsiveness to customer demands and efficiency,” Peck said in a statement. Imagine that: A retailer planning to focus on what customers want to buy!

Clothes that people want to wear?

The company wasn’t supposed to still be depending so heavily on Old Navy. Two years ago, the Gap brand even promised to produce some clothes that customers would actually want to wear by the spring of 2016.

Instead, it turned out to be almost good news for the company when one of its warehouses caught fire in the fall of 2016, destroying inventory that customers didn’t want anyway.

Now Gap Inc. just needs to concentrate on making clothes that people can wear and want to wear across the rest of its brands. Old Navy is the company’s low-end brand, but notably is the only one of the company’s fashion brands that offers extended sizes, if only online.



Chipotle May Discontinue Chorizo; Would You Care?

It hasn’t even been a year since Chipotle added chorizo sausage to its menu on a nationwide basis, but there’s the possibility it could be going away — but would that many people really miss it?

Earlier this summer, Chipotle began testing queso at a small number of test stores, and now Business Insider reports that queso-selling stores in Chipotle’s home state of Colorado are not selling chorizo, presumably to keep the total number of menu items the same.

If chorizo were to go away, it may not be sorely missed by most Chipotle customers. According to industry analyst Peter Saleh of BTIG, the sausage only accounts for about 3% of the chain’s protein sales, dwarfed by the much more popular beef, chicken, and pork. So if queso goes nationwide, that might be the end of Chipotle’s chorizo experiment.

At the same time, judging by some responses to the queso on social media, Chipotle might not want to go nationwide with that new menu item:



Nevada Court Lifts Block On Marijuana Wholesalers Because Stores Desperately Need More Pot

Good news for the recently legalized recreational marijuana industry in Nevada: To help meet overwhelming local demand, a state court judge has opened up the pool of applications for pot distribution licenses.

Nevada marijuana retailers have been running low on their marquee product in recent months because wholesale alcohol distributors in the state are currently the only companies allowed by law to distribute the drug. The exclusivity window will end in about 16 months, but retailers need a solution now.

There will likely be a bunch of new applications now that Carson City District Judge Russell lifted an order blocking regulators from handing out those distribution licenses to non-alcohol wholesalers, reports the Associated Press.

In the day after recreational pot sales officially started in Nevada, state regulators issued emergency rules to allow dispensaries to act as their own distributors in order to start business July 1.

Russell ruled that there is overwhelming evidence that alcohol wholesalers aren’t keeping up with needs of the state’s 50 or so licensed recreational pot dispensaries, reports the AP.

And to the alcohol distributors who sued over this issue, Russell said they can always appeal, but “it’s not up to this court to supersede the authority of a state agency.”

Officials with the state’s tax department had argued that widening the pool of distribution applicants is not only in the interest of Nevada’s coffers, but also necessary to keep residents from going back to the black market.

“Without the ability to license marijuana distributors to continue the flow of product to the retail store, a high likelihood exists that consumers will revert to the black market,” regulators said in July.



Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

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

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



jeudi 17 août 2017

$183M Settlement Means 41,000 Former Corinthian Students Will Get Private Loan Forgiven

Nearly 41,000 former students of now-defunct for-profit educator Corinthian Colleges will soon receive refunds for the private student loans they received to attend college, after a coalition of state attorneys general and federal agencies reached a $183.3 million settlement with Aequitas Capital Management, the issuer of these loans. 

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced today the settlement — reached by 13 state attorneys general and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — essentially canceling or writing down all outstanding balances for former students of Corinthian.

For instance, students who have fallen into default and whose campuses closed as a result of Corinthian’s bankruptcy will have their debts canceled. The remaining students will have 55% of their Aequitas loan discharged, including any past-due interest.

This, the AGs estimate, will result in each former student receiving between $6,000 and $7,000. The settlement must still be approved by the Oregon federal court overseeing the Aequitas receivership.

The Case

Prior to Corinthian College’s demise, the school relied heavily on federal student aid. However, the so-called 90/10 Rule, schools can only derive 90% of their revenue from federal funds. This means they must find a way to collect 10% of their revenue from other sources.

To do this, Corinthian entered into an agreement with lender Aequitas Capital Management. Under the deal, Aequitas provided private student loans to Corinthian students. Corinthian then agreed to buy back all loans that defaulted within a specified period, eliminating Aequitas’ risk of losses from defaults.

The AGs and CFPB alleged that Aequitas made the loans despite knowing that Corinthian students were unlikely to be able to repay the loans. The loans had a default rate of 50% to 70%.

“Aequitas Capital Management took advantage of their ambition and schemed with Corinthian to saddle these students with high-default loans at the now-bankrupt college,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “This was nothing more than a sham that victimized unwitting students and deceived the government and taxpayers.”

Loan Forgiveness

In recent months, several states and the federal government have worked to refund borrowers hundreds of millions of dollars in student loans taken out by those attending now-defunct for-profit colleges.

However, a majority of these refunds are related to federal student loans, and the so-called Borrower Defense rule, which allows students at failed schools to appeal to get out of their federal loan obligations.

Related: You Can’t Discharge Your Student Loans In Bankruptcy Because Of Panicked 1970s Legislation

This rule, however, does not apply to private student loans.

Still, at least one college in the last year has forgiven private loans. In Sept. 2016, Bridgepoint Education, the operator of for-profit colleges Ashford University and the University of the Rockies, was ordered to forgive $23 million in student loans to resolve allegations it deceived students into taking out private student loans that cost more than advertised.



Watch Out For Great Deals From Brand-New Amazon Sellers

The most effective scams take advantage of our greed, so it’s always good to have a reminder that deals that seem too good to be true probably are. The problem is that even if you know that an amazing deal from a seller who just joined Amazon last week and has no feedback is a red flag, Amazon’s buy box doesn’t necessarily understand this.

Whack-A-Mouse

The problem isn’t necessarily Amazon’s fault, Buzzfeed reports. The e-commerce megastore bans bad sellers when they’re reported, asks new sellers for detailed information, and issues refunds to customers who are ripped off.

In a statement to Buzzfeed, Amazon explained its policy: “In the event that sellers do not comply with the terms and conditions they’ve agreed to, we work quickly to take action on behalf of customers.”

The problem is that scammers are very, very determined.

“As soon as Amazon sets up a way to identify these sellers, they have a way to get around it,” a consultant to Amazon sellers who used to work for the site told Buzzfeed. It’s variously compared to “cat and mouse” and “whack-a-mole,” but doesn’t seem like much of a game to customers who receive counterfeit goods or nothing at all.

The sellers

Buzzfeed looks at this from the point of view of sellers who have to compete with phantom prices. One seller of board games explained that Amazon asks sellers complaining about potentially fraudulent competitors to perform “test buys” from them and see what happens.

This spring, he made 33 test buys, and 27 of them were scams. The seller might claim that packages were delivered to the wrong address, or there was no evidence that they were shipped at all.

Fake Amazon

One customer shared a scam with Buzzfeed that we hadn’t heard of before: Sellers who ask for payment on an Amazon gift card on a site that looks like Amazon. One user reported that a vendor with a great deal on a camera she wanted requested that customers e-mail them before purchasing the item from the site.

She did so, and was instructed to buy an Amazon gift card and submit the number. The seller later asked her for another gift card for shipping and insurance, which she sent.

When she contacted Amazon, they knew nothing about the transaction. She was able to obtain a refund eventually, but take this as a warning that when you’re shopping on Amazon, you shouldn’t carry out the transaction over email.



Court Throws Out AT&T’s Effort To Block Google Fiber In Louisville

Competition in broadband and cable is scarce at best. That’s in part because when a new player does try to build service somewhere, incumbents like AT&T will pull every legal maneuver they can to try and block it. But one court has now ruled on a contentious case in Louisville, KY, throwing out AT&T’s lawsuit and paving the way for competition to come to town.

The background

Running new wires, for a new broadband or TV service, is an expensive and complicated proposition. So when cities like Louisville want to pave the way for a new player to come to town, they pass rules making the process simpler.

One common regulation is called a One-Touch Make-Ready ordinance. Basically, they change the rules about city utility poles so that a new “attacher” can come string their wires up in one literal touch, without having to first get every existing incumbent to come move their own cable a few inches. The only caveats are that newbies have to give fair warning first, they can’t actually interfere with a cable or the service it provides. (You’re allowed to slightly shift existing cables, not cut them.)

With an ordinance like that in place, a company like Google Fiber can attach their own cable all the way down the street without first having to get the phone company, the cable company, the electric company, and anyone else who runs cables in an area to come each move their own wires ever so slightly first — a process that takes basically forever and costs a lot of money.

Louisville passed one such ordinance in early 2016, hoping to encourage Google Fiber to provide service in the area. But the incumbent telecom companies — AT&T Charter — both filed suit.

The lawsuit

AT&T filed its lawsuit against the Louisville government in Feb. 2016.

The company made several claims about why it thought the city’s rule was unlawful. In short, it argued that the city violated two state laws and one federal one. The FCC, however, formally sent a letter to the court (via the Justice Department) effectively saying that AT&T’s claim about the federal rule was bunk.

“There is no conflict between the federal pole-attachment regulations and the Louisville ordinance,” the FCC concluded after laying out the relevant laws.

District Court judge David Hale pretty much agreed with the FCC. Ruling in favor of the city, he dismissed AT&T’s claim [PDF].

Hale laid out all his legal reasoning in his opinion [PDF]. Neither AT&T’s federal nor local legal arguments hold any water, the judge determined, and so the court “concludes that the ordinance is valid and that Louisville Metro is entitled to summary judgment.”

What next?

AT&T can appeal the ruling if it chooses to. A spokesman for the company told local media, “We are currently reviewing the decision and our next steps.”

Google, meanwhile, said in a statement that it is “thrilled” with the decision, adding, “We have long said, and continue to believe, that local governments have the right to determine how to manage their rights of way and create processes that pave the way for broadband choice for their residents.”

Although Google Fiber ceased expanding earlier this year, the company has said that it will continue to serve any city that where it already has a presence or has a build-out in progress. That seems to include not only Louisville, but also Nashville, which is facing extremely similar lawsuits to its own one-touch ordinance from both Comcast and AT&T.



Science Says Whiskey Tastes Better With A Little Water — Here’s Why

For many whiskey connoisseurs, enjoying their favorite brown alcohol any other way than neat is bordering on sacrilegious. But according to science, a bit of water makes the libation taste even better.

While whiskey aficionados have long held that adding a few drops of water to your drink will allow the aroma and flavors to bloom even more, there hasn’t been much science to back it up.

Meanwhile, in Sweden…

That is until now. A team of Swedish chemists set out to find out why and how dilution enhances the taste of whiskey.

Writing in a study published in Scientific Reports, researchers said they performed computer simulations of how water and ethanol mixes with a molecule called guaiacol, which helps give Scotch its distinctive, smoky taste and smell.

They found that ethanol molecules and guaiacol molecules tend to stick together, and are both “hydrophobic” — which means that don’t mix uniformly with water.

The researchers’ simulations aimed to determine at what ethanol levels had the most impact on guaiacol, or rather, the taste and smell of whiskey.

When the whiskey with an ethanol concentration of 59%, the taste and smell was mixed throughout.

In a glass of whiskey, which typically exhibits alcohol concentrations of 45% or 27% if diluted, guaiacol will thus be found near the liquid surface, where it greatly contributes to both smell and taste of the spirit.

“This indicates that the taste of guaiacol in the whiskey would be enhanced upon dilution prior to bottling,” the researchers wrote.

It should be noted that the report does not mention if ice would provide the same effect as water, although, as we all known, the key ingredient in ice is, well, water.

So What’s This Mean?

In the end, the researchers believe that their simulations found that the higher the ethanol concentration at the time of bottling, the better the whiskey will be when it is poured and diluted.

“Dilution of cask-strength whiskey improves its taste by increasing the propensity of taste compounds at the liquid-air interface,” the report notes.

But don’t expect your next bottle of whiskey to come diluted. Adding water to the libation before bottling would add costs, and it might not fit everyone’s preference. Because, after all, you should just drink your whiskey how you like it.

 



Federal Appeals Court Is Okay With Uber Taking Away Customers’ Right To Sue

Like companies in just about every industry, the ride-hailing app Uber requires users to agree that they will take any disputes to an arbitrator rather than the legal system. And although you may never have noticed this clause, a federal appeals court has now ruled that customers receive “reasonably conspicuous” notice about the arbitration requirement.

“The choice the user makes”

In his opinion issued today [PDF], Judge Denny Chin of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals went ahead and blamed Uber users who don’t tap on the hyperlink and read the user agreement. (Never mind that 98% of users do the same.)

The plaintiff claimed that he had not done so, and the court accepted that he hadn’t read the terms and conditions before registering for an Uber passenger account. The question was: Was it his responsibility to know that by signing up for an account, he was agreeing to arbitration? The court concluded that yes, it was.

“As long as the hyperlinked text was itself reasonably conspicuous — and we conclude that it was — a reasonably prudent smartphone user would have constructive notice of the terms,” Chin wrote. “While it may be the case that many users will not bother reading the additional terms, that is the choice the user makes.”

Meyer v. Kalanick

Originally, the case was a price-fixing complaint [PDF] filed against then-CEO Travis Kalanick, accusing the company of conspiring with its drivers to price-gouge customers in need of transportation by using surge pricing, multiplying fares up to eight times the normal rate.

Uber argued that instead of an antitrust suit, the plaintiff and anyone else who believes that its pricing is unfair should individually take their cases to arbitration.

READ MORE: From Credit Cards To Mail-Order Steaks: 87 Companies That Are Taking Away Your Right To Sue

Arbitration, a stripped-down legal process where individuals are at a distinct disadvantage, arbitrators often work for the same companies, and there’s no way to appeal decisions.

Ironically, this opinion now means that the case heads back to a lower court, Reuters reports, where another judge must decide whether Uber waived its own arbitration agreement by fighting the original lawsuit in the regular court system.

A few months ago, a judge in California ruled the exact opposite: That Uber’s process is deficient, and customers don’t really agree to arbitration when signing up.



Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Will Allow For-Profit Schools To Continue Offering Programs That Don’t Meet Standards

Earlier this year, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos revealed plans to “reset” the Gainful Employment rule meant to hold for-profit colleges more accountable for the education they provide students. Today, she continued tearing apart the rule, announcing the intention to allow colleges to continue enrolling students in programs that run afoul of the regulation.

In a notice [PDF] published in the Federal Register today, the Department of Education announced that it would “reduce the burden on institutions” by revamping the appeals process for colleges when their programs fail to meet the gainful employment standards for employment after graduation.

The Rule

Under the Gainful Employment rule [PDF], for-profit educators must demonstrate their former students are making a living wage after they graduate.

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

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

Additionally, institutions must publicly disclose information about the program costs, debt, and performance of their career education programs so that students can make informed decisions.

The rule allows schools found to be in violation to appeal the findings if they believe the program graduates earn more than the federal data indicates.

Changing The Appeal

The Department’s new proposed changes appear to tip the appeals process in the college’s favor.

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

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

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

The Department’s notice claims that the changes are being made on a one-time basis to comply with a court order. However, the agency notes that the order only applies to members of the American Association of Cosmetology Schools.

Consumerist has reached out to the Department of Education for additional information on the changes. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

That’s Not Okay

Several consumer advocacy groups characterized the Department’s most recent changes to the rule as an “illegal gutting,” noting the agency has taken action without going through the legally required process to amend regulations.

“The gainful employment rule was extensively deliberated, based on years of evidence and diverse stakeholder engagement, to ensure that students and taxpayers do not bear the financial burden of subsidizing failing career education programs,” Suzanne Martindale, staff attorney for our colleagues at Consumers Union, tells Consumerist. “Today’s actions by the Department are a major step in the wrong direction.  We cannot allow poor-quality programs to operate with impunity when they do little more than saddle students with debt.”
Pauline Abernathy, executive vice president for The Institute for College Access & Success, notes that today’s “unilateral changes illegally gut” the rules, while “opening  the floodgates for schools to use federal taxpayer funds to enroll students in failing programs and reinstate low-quality programs and predatory practices.”

As a result of the changes, TICAS warns that failing programs will be able to continue to enroll students without warning them, and may avoid sanctions entirely based on data that could significantly overstate the earnings of graduates by excluding those with no or low earnings.

The Center For American Progress echoed TICAS’ sentiments, noting that weakening the appeals process is another “extralegal action by the Department of Education to avoid enforcing a rule its political leadership does not like.”

“The lack of any clear standards could let any appeal pass, regardless of how ridiculous or poorly designed it is,” Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary equation at CAP, said in a statement. “The department should stop putting schools ahead of students and enforce the gainful employment regulation.”

The organizations claim that the Trump Administration’s own filing in response to a June 2017 lawsuit contradicts the validity of today’s changes.

In the filing, the administration notes that “the prospect of future rulemaking has no bearing on the validity of the current gainful employment regulations, which remain in effect unless and until they might be revised.”

“The Department may intend to dismantle student and taxpayer protections by rewriting the regulations, but until new rules are finalized and in effect, the current rule is the law of the land,” Debbie Cochrane, TICAS Vice President, said in a statement.



“We Left Richard In North Dakota”: Belle & Sebastian Abandons Drummer At Walmart

With a gig looming in Minnesota, Scottish band Belle & Sebastian found themselves without a drummer — because they accidentally left him one state away at a Walmart in North Dakota.

The band was passing through Dickinson, ND, on Monday night when they decided to stop at a Walmart to grab some water. That’s when, B&S frontman and founder Stuart Murdoch tells The Current, drummer Richard Colburn got off the bus, and — like a twee, Scottish version of Kevin McCallister from Home Alone — he was left behind on his own

“When I woke up a few hours ago, we realized we left our drummer in North Dakota,” Murdoch said. “I was coming out of the Walmart, and he [drummer Richard Colburn] was coming into the Walmart, and he was waving very happily, in a good mood. And that was the last time that we saw him.”

Colburn didn’t have a phone, but he probably figured his bandmates would be back for him, Murdoch said… except no one realized he was gone, because they all went to bed.

“There used to be a system, but because we all have mobile phones these days, everybody’s got a little bit blasé about it,” Murdoch explains, adding that they used to leave a pass on the passenger seat to alert the driver that someone was off the bus.

After waiting for hours for his bandmates to return, Colburn gave up and checked into a hotel to catch some Zs. Meanwhile, his friends put out the word that he was stuck in North Dakota.

Luckily, someone responded to that Tweet and gave Colburn a lift to the Bismarck airport, where he boarded a flight to Minneapolis — dressed in his pajamas and with only a credit card as ID — and made it to the gig on time.

Thankfully, Colburn was spared the fate of so many British drummers — like Joe “Mama” Besser, Richard “Ric” Shrimpton, and Scott “Skippy” Scuffleton — who have gone missing over the years.

For a band the size of Belle & Sebastian — it currently has seven full-time members, and often tours with additional horn and string players — it’s perhaps not surprising that Colburn’s absence went unnoticed.

But that’s no excuse for leaving a mate behind, so the band is implementing a new system to make sure no one gets abandoned again.

It’s worth noting that this incident did not come up on Walmart’s quarterly earnings call this morning.

(h/t A.V. Club)



You Probably Live Near A Walmart, So It’s Depending On In-Store Pickup For Growth

Walmart is out to dominate in e-commerce, but while finding ways to deliver as few orders as possible to customers using the postal service or private carriers. Instead, the company wants to draw customers to its stores with pickup towers or grocery pickup points, or dispatch store employees to make deliveries.

Towers of E-Commerce Dominance

During today’s quarterly earnimgs confefence call, Walmart CEO Doug McMilon was pleased with the company’s increased sales growth. Its comparable store sales just keep increasing, and Walmart is using those online sales, whcih incude grocery orders for pickup, to bringg customers to the store. Or at least the parking lot.

“Customers are responding to the improvements we’re making to deliver a seamless shopping experience that saves them time and money and that’s exciting to see,” McMillon said during this morning’s quarterly earnings call.

This is a practical matter. The company notes that 91% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart. That means stopping by one is usually convenient, and changes the way that the company approaches e-commerce compared to its competitors.

This year, the retailer is going hyper-local, storing more than a million supply lists for teachers, delivering full sets of school supplies to customers’ doorsteps (or local Walmart store) even before the academic year begins.

A long way for Amazon to go

We know that Walmart and Amazon are locked in a battle for national sales dominance, so it’s notable that while Amazon is working hard to expand its private label offerings and its food offerings, it has an obvious role model in Walmart.

Amazon’s biggest brand in sales, the private-label electronics line AmazonBasics, sold $210 million in the first half of the year. Compare that with Walmart’s biggest proprietary brand, Member’s Mark, consists mostly of food items, and does $10 billion per year in sales.



Dish Solves Pending Channel Blackout By Giving Its Customers TV Antennas

While it’s news to some consumers that they can, in fact, watch their local news without a pay-TV subscription, carriers like Dish know perfectly well that over-the-air antennas work. And the company, apparently sick of paying retransmission fees in one market, appears to be using those antennas to call a network’s bluff.

The fight this time is between Dish Network and the ABC affiliate in Providence, Multichannel News reports.

The current retransmission deal between the two expires on Friday, Aug. 18, but Dish is signaling that it has no intention of budging, outright giving digital antennas to its subscribers in the region instead.

Why the fight?

The details differ, but every fight that a network and a pay-TV provider has over a contract is the same at its core: Each company involved either wants to spend less money or make more money, and they come into conflict over the perfect balancing point.

A blackout happens when they can’t agree — or basically, when they’re playing chicken. The network bets that the provider will lose subscribers if they lose content. And the provider bets that viewers don’t care enough about a given network to walk away over it. Each is basically making a calculated guess that the stalemate will hurt the other side more than it hurts them.

Cable networks, of course, need cable and satellite companies to carry them or they have no viewers. (Though the addition of streaming options is beginning to change that.) But broadcast networks are a different story. Consumers who live in densely populated areas, near enough to broadcast towers, can simply grab a signal out of the air for free (even if many folks don’t know they can).

So Dish has an extra weapon in its arsenal against the network: It can simply give customers antennas, remove the local networks from its package of offerings, and wipe its hands of the whole situation.

And Dish really doesn’t want to bother signing a new contract, it seems. The company is telling customers they can save $10 a month on their bills if they drop their local channel bundle, and it adds that thousands of customers in the area have already switched to doing just that.

This sounds familiar…

These contract disputes are pretty common among all carriers, but Dish in particular seems extremely prone to fights with the companies that broadcast local channels.

In March of this year, Dish let Hearst-owned networks go dark in 30 states. In 2016, it was a very public fight with Tribune. And in 2015, it was a fight with Sinclair that left local networks dark for a day.



JetBlue Crew Members Sent To Hospital Over… Nail Polish Remover Odor?

There are a number of odors that might permeate through an airplane that could make occupants sick: fuel, exhaust, travelers’ farts, but nail polish remover? That was apparently the case on a recent JetBlue flight, sending two crew members to the hospital. 

WCVB reports that two JetBlue employees were hospitalized Wednesday after becoming ill on a flight from Boston to Charleston.

The incident occurred around 12:40 p.m. when firefighters were called to Charleston International Airport as JetBlue flight 1667 landed. According to airport officials, the two crew members sent to the hospital reportedly became ill after smelling what they believed was smoke in the cabin.

A rep for JetBlue tells WCVB that the plane was inspected and the odor was determined to come from nail polish remover. It’s unclear how the nail polish remover — or its odor — came to be on the plane. Consumerist has reached out to JetBlue for additional details on the incident. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

Other Incidents

This isn’t the first time JetBlue crew members have fallen ill after recent flights.

WCVB reports that just last week, a flight from Boston to San Diego was diverted after three crew members said they felt ill.

Before that, a JetBlue flight made an emergency landing because of an unknown odor. Three crew members and two passengers were taken to the hospital following the incident.



National Park Service Changes Its Tune, Ends Ban On Disposable Water Bottle Sales In Parks

In a move meant to “expand hydration options” for visitors to national parks, the National Park Service is reversing a six-year-old policy that allowed parks to ban the sale of bottled water.

NPS announced that effective immediately, the water bottle ban “has been rescinded to expand hydration options for recreationalists, hikers, and other visitors to national parks,” noting that the ban “removed the healthiest beverage choice at a variety of parks while still allowing sales of bottled sweetened drinks.”

As part of an effort to combat piles of water bottles cluttering sites like the Grand Canyon, NPS issued rules in 2011 that let parks ban the sale of bottled water — a policy that didn’t include bottled sweetened drinks.

It was a big problem at that time for the Grand Canyon, for example, where discarded plastic bottles accounted for around 30% of trash in 2011.

Of the 417 NPS sites in the country, 23 have implemented the policy, including Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Mount Rushmore, and the Grand Canyon, park officials said.

Why change now?

The change in policy comes after a review of the policy’s aims and impact in close consultation with Department of the Interior leadership, NPS said in its statement.

Members of Congress also weighed in on the issue, prompting the House Appropriations Committee to ask park officials to review the policy, NPS spokesman Jeremy Barnum told the Associated Press. Going forward, NPS thinks visitors will make good choices on their own.

“While we will continue to encourage the use of free water bottle filling stations as appropriate, ultimately it should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park, particularly during hot summer visitation periods,” said Acting National Park Service Director Michael T. Reynolds.

Parks will still push recycling of plastic water bottles, while some also provide free water bottle-filling stations to encourage people to reuse their bottles instead of tossing them when they’re done.

We’ve reached out to NPS for more information and will update this post if we hear back.

Mixed reactions

Unsurprisingly, the bottled water industry is pleased with NPS’ decision.

A spokeswoman for the International Bottled Water Association applauded the move, calling it a “seriously flawed” policy that allowed the sale of less healthy beverages.

“It was established to reduce waste left behind by park visitors, but people coming to the parks that banned the sale of bottled water were still allowed to buy other less healthy beverages – including carbonated soft drinks, sports drinks, teas, milk, beer, and wine – that are packaged in much heavier plastic, glass, cans, and cardboard containers,” a spokesperson for IBWA said in a statement, adding that the group will work with NPS to develop effective recycling programs aimed at addressing waste issues in national parks.

Environmental groups are not so happy.
“It’s a really bad message for the parks to be sending and inconsistent with their mission which is … to protect the resources, and so having plastic water bottles littering the landscape is certainly not consistent with that,” Sandy Bahr of the Arizona chapter of the Sierra Club told the AP. “The National Park Service should be showing leadership and setting examples and not taking steps backward — and that’s what this is.”



Zillow Admits It’s In Hot Water With Regulators Over Lender Advertising

Real estate listings site Zillow — home of the controversial “Zestimate” — is in the regulatory hot seat over an advertising program for mortgage lenders that may violate federal anti-kickback law.

Realtors pay to post properties on Zillow, but the website also has a “co-marketing” program that lets lenders offset some of that expense by advertising on Zillow.

The company’s most recent quarterly earnings report [PDF] revealed that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau believes this co-marketing program may violate the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), which prohibits kickbacks, and the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s prohibition of deceptive business practices.

The CFPB has pushed for a settlement, says Zillow, which maintains the program complies with the law. The Bureau is now considering legal action against Zillow, according to the filing.

The Program

The CFPB’s investigation involved Zillow’s so-called “co-marketing” program that allows mortgage lenders to pay for a portion of a “premier” realty agents’ monthly cost to post listings on the site.

The Washington Post notes that premier listing agents pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a month in order to receive leads on prospective home buyers. Under the program, lenders can pay for a portion of these agents’ costs. In some cases, more than one lender can pay to co-market with a premier agent. In these instances, the lenders could be paying for a majority of the listing agent’s monthly costs to advertise on Zillow.

Once the lenders pay for a portion of these costs they are allowed to place their ads on that agent’s listing. These ads are presented as an option for potential buyers to finance their homes, generating new leads for the lender.

The ads typically feature the lender’s photo under the words “Ask these lenders about financing.” The only way for Zillow users to know of this financial arrangement between the agent and lender is to click on the “?” icon that appears after the phrase “ask these lenders about financing.”

Additionally, if a prospective buyer enters their information into the “contact agent” box of a listing and checks the “I want financing information” box, their data is sent not only to the premier listing agents, but to a “Zillow confirmed lender.”

 

The Problem

While the CFPB declined to comment to the Post, legal experts note that the agency likely investigated whether or not the co-marketing arrangement was in violation of the RESPA. Under RESPA, it is prohibited for loan officers or lenders to pay for referrals of business.

Back in January, the CFPB ordered Prospect Mortgage and three other companies to pay more than $5 million to settle allegations they participated in an illegal kickback scheme. The CFPB accused Prospect Mortgage of paying real estate brokers ReMax Gold Coast and Keller Williams Mid-Willamette, and lender Planet Home in exchange for referrals of customers purchasing homes.

In its consent order [PDF], the Bureau claimed that the companies violated RESPA by using an unnamed third-party website’s ads to pay for referrals. The Bureau’s description of this process sounds strikingly similar to Zillow’s co-marketing program.

For its part, a rep for Zillow tells the Post that the company believes the program is lawful and that it will discuss the allegations with the CFPB.

Consumerist has reached out to both Zillow and the CFPB for additional information on the investigation and possible enforcement action. We’ll update this post if we hear back.



Hackers Briefly Take Control Of Some HBO Twitter Accounts

It’s been a rough few weeks for HBO: Not one, but two unreleased episodes of its hit show Game of Thrones have been leaked online ahead of schedule, and hackers are claiming to hold massive amounts of the company’s data for ransom. And on Wednesday night, a group of hackers temporarily took over various HBO Twitter accounts.

Along with the main @HBO account, pages for several of the company’s series — including Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, True Blood, Veep, and Vinyl — sent out messages purporting to be from known hackers, reports NBC News.

It appears that only accounts based in the U.S. were affected.

HBO regained control within the hour and removed the Tweets, but here’s one NBC saved:

“The infringement on our social media accounts was recognized and rectified quickly,” an HBO spokesperson told Consumerist.

While it’s unconfirmed that OurMine was definitely responsible for this incident, the messages mirror those posted by the group in past hacking episodes. The group is well known for breaching high-profile social media accounts, including Netflix, Marvel, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams (Twitter), Sundar Pichai (Google), Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), BuzzFeed, and Forbes.



mercredi 16 août 2017

Verizon Wireless Customers In New York Are Receiving Surprise Checks: Here’s Why

If you’re a current or former Verizon Wireless customer in New York state, you may get a check in the mail soon from Verizon. It’s a refund of taxes paid on your wireless bill in the past, as far back as 2008.

Unexpected tax refunds… from Verizon?

People across New York state have started to receive mysterious checks from Verizon Wireless that they weren’t expecting. Information on the checks indicates that they’re refunds of a gross revenue tax covering the period from 2008 to 2014. What does that mean?

The Albany Times Union looked into the mystery checks, and found that no one at the state or Verizon either knew or could say what the checks were.

The Times Union contacted a spokesperson for the state Department of Taxation and Finance, who told the newspaper that he couldn’t say what the refunds were for for privacy reasons.

The state Public Utilities Commission, which oversees telecommunications companies, had nothing to do with the change to mobile plan taxes, and told the TU that it had nothing to add.

Not-so-local phones

Consumerist contacted Verizon to learn more, and confirmed the real reason for the checks. They are indeed refunds of a tax collected from 2008 to 2014 on mobile phone plans under the assumption that they were “local” plans, and that the state’s gross revenue tax applied.

In 2015, the Department of Taxation and Finance decided that mobile phone bills aren’t “local” phone service, and issued a technical memo [PDF] explaining the change in taxes on mobile phone bills.

“The State recently refunded some of the remitted funds to Verizon, and we have returned those refunds to current and former Verizon Wireless Customers,” a Verizon spokesman told Consumerist. That’s why the checks are showing up now, even though the tax changed in 2015.