Current Events in March 2006

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    Sunscreen Makers Lie, Suits Charge

    Manufacturers of the top sunscreen brands relied upon by millions of American swimmers and sunbathers each year have lied about the effectiveness of their products in blocking sun rays and preventing skin diseases, including cancer, according to several coordinated lawsuits filed in California Superior Court in Los Angeles.

    Such famous brands as Coppertone, Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic, marketed as protective "sunblocks," are in fact unreliable in protecting adults and children and can create a sense of false security that actually endangers users, the complaint charges.

    "Sunscreen is the Snake Oil of the 21st Century and these companies that market it are Fortune 500 Snake Oil salesmen," said Samuel Rudman, a New York attorney. "False claims such as 'sunblock' 'waterproof" and 'all-day protection' should be removed from these products immediately."

    "Parents, especially, have been defrauded into believing the false labeling and advertising claims of these products. They have sent their children to play or swim in the sun, believing that slathering them with one of these products specifically marketed for children provides protection, when it does not," said Mitchell Twersky, another New York attornoey."And the guys who are marketing these products know their claims are false," he added.

    The attorneys are litigating coordinated class actions, alleging systematic fraud, false advertising and persistently misleading claims that exaggerate the ability of sunscreens to protect against the sun and reduce the risk of cancer and other skin ailments.

    The seven defendants and their five brands named in the suits include Schering-Plough (Coppertone); Sun Pharmaceuticals and Playtex Products (Banana Boat); Tanning Research Laboratories (Hawaiian Tropic); Neutrogena Corp and Johnson & Johnson (Neutrogena); and Chattem Inc. (Bullfrog).

    "Coppertone WaterBabies advertises 'Instant Waterproof Protection, UVA/UVB Sunblock lotion 45 SPF' on the bottle as well as the representation that the product provides '45 times your child's natural sun protection', giving parents a false and dangerous sense of security," said Twersky. "The 45 SPF applies only to UVB rays, the product is not waterproof, and it does not actually block the sun. The main element being blocked is the truth."

    The suits show how manufacturers are making deliberately fraudulent and misleading claims on their labels, Web sites and advertising and seek an injunction on the claims, compensation for consumers and other remedies, including a public education program concerning sun protection paid for by the industry.

    SPF designations, the suits say, apply only to protection from UVB rays, but manufacturers use it to imply a similar level of UVA protection, which it does not in fact provide. The FDA accepts SPF standards for UVB but there is no standard to measure UVA protection. Both UVA and UVB pose health threats.

    The suits also note that the "waterproof" designation is deceptive because all sunscreen products lose efficacy when immersed in water and there is no standard for measuring their efficacy against UVA rays.

    The impact of these misleading claims on consumers is enormous. A report by The International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organization, stated that "(s)everal relevant epidemiological studies have shown significantly higher risks for melanoma in users of sunscreens than in non-users. The protective effects of sunscreens can be outweighed by overexposure based on the false assumption that sunscreens completely abolish the adverse effects of UV-light."

    The Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration addressed the over-reaching claims of the sunscreen industry in 1997 and 1999, respectively.

    The FTC reached an agreement with Coppertone's manufacturer, Schering-Plough, to cease and desist from misrepresenting the length of time protection is provided by their products and the efficacy of their products' protection against the harmful effects of the sun. Schering-Plough has not complied with the agreement and false claims still appear on their products.

    The FDA drafted new rules to specifically restrict the use of these misleading labeling claims, but in 2001 cosmetics industry lobbyists -- arguing that "commercial speech" protection for sunscreen manufacturers was more important than truthful consumer protection for the public -- persuaded the FDA not to implement the rules. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more than 1.5 million skin cancer cases are diagnosed annually in the U.S., with 8,000 deaths per year -- more than breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer combined.

    The coordinated cases are before Judge Carl J. West.

    Sunscreen Makers Lie, Suits Charge...

    Study: Young Women Don't Get Enough Calcium

    There's good news and bad news about Americans' intake of calcium says a new study in the April issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

    The good news is, that after years of decline in calcium consumption, the drop has not only leveled off, calcium intake is actually going up in some groups.

    The bad news is that teenage girls and young women, especially African Americans, are not getting enough calcium at the time in their lives when calcium is most critical to building bone density.

    "The start of adolescence to about age 30 is the most important time to get enough calcium," says the study's lead author, Richard Forshee, of the University of Maryland's Center for Food, Nutrition and Agriculture Policy (CFNAP). "It's that small window of time when they build the bone density that can help prevent osteoporosis in later years."

    "These results tell us that we should look at what calcium fortification and supplements can do to increase calcium intake during this critical time," says Maureen Storey, a study co-author and director of CFNAP.

    The Study

    The study examined changes in calcium intake and its association with milk and other beverage consumption over a 10-year period. Other studies have suggested a connection between soda consumption and reduced intake of some nutrients, including calcium.

    Using data from 24-hour dietary recalls taken between 1994 and 2002 in the Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the researchers analyzed data on calcium intake for different age-gender categories.

    They found that while non-diet soft drink consumption increased, calcium intake was either unaffected or increased for some groups. Milk consumption declined in some groups, but stayed the same or increased in others. The study's key findings include:

    • Calcium intake increased for most age-gender categories, including adolescent females. Despite the increase, calcium intake is well below the recommended levels for adolescent and young adult women. The Adequate Intake for calcium is 1,300 milligrams per day for 9-18-year-old females, but the study found the group's average consumption was only 814 milligrams per day. The problem is especially serious among African-American females.

    • Average regular carbonated soft drink (RCSD) consumption increased in most age-gender categories, with the highest consumption being in the 20-39-year-old category.

    • Soft drink consumption was not associated with lower calcium intake, except for a small association among females 40-59 years old. Fluid milk was the only variable that had a strong association with calcium intake.

    • Average milk consumption decreased in the 6-11-year-old age category, but was unchanged or higher in the other age-gender categories. Many categories that showed increased average RCSD consumption had no change in average milk consumption.

    • Females 40-59 years, the only category to have a significant increase in average milk consumption, also had a significant increase in average RCSD consumption.


    "Consumption of low-fat milk and dairy products should continue to be encouraged," says Forshee. "And it is time to seriously consider carefully targeted calcium fortification programs and calcium supplementation to help adolescent and young females meet their recommended calcium intake levels."

    Teenage girls and young women, especially African Americans, are not getting enough calcium at the time in their lives when calcium is most critical to bui...

    GlaxoSmithKline Settles Paxil Lawsuit

    Suit claims it wrongfully delayed generic competition for Paxil

    GlaxoSmithKline has agreed to pay $14 million to resolve a multistate legal action that claims it wrongfully delayed generic competition for Paxil, its blockbuster drug used to treat depressive, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

    The settlement resolves claims by 49 states that charged their Medicaid programs had been gouged. In August 2004, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer reached a separate agreement with GSK under which the company became the first major drug manufacturer to publicly disclose information on clinical studies of its drugs.

    Spitzer's settlement followed a lawsuit alleging that the company withheld negative information suggesting a possible increased risk of suicidal thinking and acts in certain individuals taking Paxil.

    In April 2005, Spitzer reached a second unrelated national settlement with GSK for $10 million. It was designed to resolve state claims that GSK delayed generic competition by fraudulently listing and prosecuting litigation concerning the drug nabumetone, an anti-inflammatory drug that GSK sells under the trademark Relafen.

    Proceeds from the settlement will be distributed among the states.

    GlaxoSmithKline Settles Paxil Lawsuit...

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      Net Neutrality Gets Short Shrift in Congress

      A final draft of Congressional legislation designed to update the nation's telecommunication laws is being called a "mixed bag"

      A final draft of Congressional legislation designed to update the nation's telecommunication laws is being called a "mixed bag," as it addresses issues ranging from cities developing their own Wi-Fi networks to codifying the principles of "net neutrality" into law.

      Like any mixed bag, some are happy with what they're getting, while others are not.

      Proponents of net neutrality, the principle of access to Internet content remaining unrestricted, were dismayed that language supporting it was deleted from the final draft.

      Cable companies were taking up arms at the prospect of phone companies such as AT&T being able to more easily offer cable subscription services without having to negotiate individual contracts.

      And local city and town governments were cheering the prospect of being able to set up their own broadband and wireless networks without waiting for their parent states to give them the go-ahead.

      The "Communications, Promotion, and Enhancement Act" was drafted by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), in his capacity as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

      Barton, along with co-sponsor Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), hailed the new regulations as a necessary update to outdated laws, and a ticket to delivering high-quality broadband and video services to Americans.

      "Current law no longer reflects the technological and competitive reality," Barton said in a press statement. "Congress has a responsibility to update our communications laws."

      But Internet powers such as Google and Microsoft were incensed at the committee's lack of support for net neutrality. In a response letter drafted to the committee, the companies said Barton's bill would "fail to protect the Internet."

      The bill is scheduled for debate by the full committee on March 30th.

      Vying for Video

      Phone companies such as AT&T and Verizon have been salivating over the prospect of providing cable-style television programming to customers who, until now, have been forced to make do with the likes of Comcast.

      The Barton bill grants the phone companies a provisional "national franchise" status, which would enable them to start rolling out video services without having to apply for the same local franchises as cable companies.

      Both sides are engaged in a high-profile publicity war. AT&T recently took issue with what it called "misleading advertisements" by the cable companies' lobby groups, such as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA).

      The NCTA fired back, claiming that it was the phone companies who were "[pressuring] Congress and statehouses for one-sided legislation that would give them privileged regulatory status in the video marketplace, [while] they continue to flood the airwaves and print media with a multitude of advertising that distorts the truth."

      The "national video franchise" provision has some restrictions. The new competitor would not be allowed to turn away customers based on income.

      Wi-Fi Citywide

      Another provision would allow "public provider[s] of telecommunications service, information service, or cable service" to create wireless networks in their cities in towns.

      If the bill becomes law, it would supersede several states' laws that prevent local communities from developing their own free Wi-Fi networks for residents to use.

      The issue of municipal Wi-Fi is a hot one in New Orleans, where an emergency-authorized free Wi-Fi system has enabled residents to stay in touch with missing relatives, hunt for jobs, and provide the world with information about life after Katrina.

      BellSouth has been campaigning to have the Wi-Fi service shut down, in order to prevent residents and employers from switching over full-time.

      Net In Neutral

      Supporters of the "net neutrality" principle were disappointed to find that the final draft of the Barton bill omitted language that specifically prevented broadband providers from blocking or impairing access to Internet content.

      Instead, the current draft amends the original Communications Act of 1934 to enable the FCC to adjudicate claims that content is being blocked. The new draft claims to uphold the "four principles" of broadband, espoused by former FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

      Powell's "four principles" included "access to the lawful Internet content of their choice," fair competition between providers, and the ability to use devices for accessing content that "did not harm the network."

      Current FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has not explicitly supported or opposed net neutrality, saying that he "was hesitant to adopt rules that would prevent anti-competitive behavior where there hasn't been significant evidence of a problem."

      Content providers and business giants alike believe there is a significant problem, enough to draft a letter of response to the Barton bill.

      Google, Microsoft, eBay, Yahoo, and others stated that "[c]onsumers embraced the Internet because innovation was rapid and anyone could provide lawful content without interference or permission from those companies that control the networks."

      "This bill would allow for such a fundamental change in the paradigm of the Internet that it would frustrate the reasonable expectations of the tens of millions of Americans who go online," the companies said.

      Part of the problem is that Web content companies, for all their public clout and name recognition, don't have the sheer financial capital and lobbying muscle that old-school cable and telecom companies enjoy on Capitol Hill.

      A CNET News study on tech firm spending in Washington found that telecom companies enjoyed a 3-to-1 spending advantage over Internet companies, with businesses such as Verizon and AT&T spending a combined total of $230 million in lobbying efforts since 1998.

      Google, at least, is hurrying to get into the game. The search engine giant is hiring lobbyists and public affairs consultants all over Washington in an effort to be represented around the pork barrel.

      Meanwhile, consumer groups such as Public Knowledge are expressing concern that the new bill, if it becomes law, won't explicitly prevent cable and telecom providers from subtly degrading service and access to content in order to favor their own offerings.

      Public Knowledge Gigi Sohn said in a press statement that "without stronger legislation, the cable and telephone companies will have the power to change the fundamental nature of the Internet. This bill needs significant improvement before it will preserve the open Internet that consumers and service providers expect and deserve."

      Net Neutrality Gets Short Shrift in Congress...

      Whirlpool-Maytag Merger Gets Final OK

      Whirlpool Corp. has won approval of its $1.79 billion purchase of Maytag Corp.

      Whirlpool Corp. has won approval of its $1.79 billion purchase of Maytag Corp. The Justice Department today agreed the merger would not significantly reduce competition. Canadian authorities approved the merger March 14.

      "We are pleased with the decision ... that the global home-appliance industry is open and competitive," said Jeff M. Fettig, Whirlpools chairman and CEO. "This transaction will result in better products, quality and service, as well as cost efficiencies, which will enhance our ability to succeed in the competitive global home-appliance industry. Consumers will benefit from a combined Whirlpool and Maytag business."

      The Justice Department said that although the combined company will be producing half of the dishwashers in the United States, an investigation by its Antitrust Division found that at least five other companies are well established in the U.S., thus making it unlikely the merged company would be able to drastically raise prices.

      The combined entity is expected to control more than 70 percent of the clothes washers and dryers.

      Whirlpool is the largest appliance manufacturer in the U.S. Maytag is number three, behind GE Consumer products.

      Whirlpool had agreed not to complete the transaction until March 30, to give the Justice Department time to review the deal.

      Whirlpool-Maytag Merger Gets Final OK...

      Sony Playstation Battery Charger

      March 28, 2006
      The Pelican Power Brick battery charger, sold with the Sony PlayStation Portable, is being recalled because of a potential overheating problem. The battery charger's circuit board can overheat and cause its plastic cover to melt which poses a fire and burn hazard to consumers, Electro Source LLC said.

      The company said it has received 143 reports of the recalled battery charger overheating including one report of fire damage. No injuries have been reported.

      The Pelican Power Brick consists of two lithium-ion battery cells connected via a circuit board and mounted in a small plastic housing. The battery cells are charged when plugged into an electrical outlet using the PSP(tm) AC adaptor. Once charged, it is used to recharge the PSP(tm).

      The model number for the battery charger, PL-6018, can be found on the back of the unit. The battery charger was sold alone and also as part of several kits containing other accessories by Electro Source LLC. Sony neither manufactured nor distributed the Pelican Power Brick. Only the Pelican Power Brick is included in this recall.

      The chargers were sold at electronics and discount department stores nationwide, catalogs, and various Web sites from April 2005 through March 2006 for about $20 when sold alone, and for between $40 and $50 when sold as part of certain kits packaged by Electro Source LLC.

      Consumers should stop using the battery charger immediately and contact Electro Source LLC to receive a choice of several replacement products.

      Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact Electro Source at (800) 263-1156 anytime, or visit the firm's Web site at

      The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

      Sony Playstation Battery Charger...

      Class Actions Target Blue Hippo

      A class action lawsuit accuses Blue Hippo Funding of "an elaborate scheme to violate a host of federal and state consumer protection laws" through its broadcast and online sales of big-screen TVs, computers and other consumer items.

      The latest lawsuit, filed in Maryland, is similar to one filed two weeks ago in California. It argues that Blue Hippo collects payments from customers, then delays shipments and won't give refunds - even if the product is never delivered.

      Blue Hippo requires at least 13 consecutive weeks of payment before it will ship a product and, even once that threshold is crossed, the suit charges other obstacles often arise.

      Blue Hippo portrays itself as a friend of those with bad credit, claiming it helps them buy products they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford. Basically, the company sells plasma TVs, computers and other merchandise through a pay-in-advance credit plan.

      "I called to order a computer which I saw on television on an infomercial," said Rhonda of Van Nuys CA in a complaint to "When I called to cancel they said 'ok' but now I get a letter from a collection attorney's office saying that they are holding me to that contract even though I don't have a computer from them nor did I sign any contract."

      They said they will get a judgment against me for $2100," Rhonda said.

      Darrell Proctor, a columnist for Denver's Rocky Mountain News, recently wrote that consumers "would pay $1,820 to Blue Hippo for a computer that would retail for about $500."

      It's hard to tell from the company's Web site whether prices are reasonable, as cash prices aren't specified. Everything is stated in terms of weekly payments.

      On its Web site on March 17, BlueHippo was offering a desktop computer for $99 down and $39.99 per week. It's not immediately apparent how long the payments last but it's quite likely most consumers could find a similar computer for a lot less if they saved their money and paid cash.

      Class Actions Target Blue Hippo...

      Small Businesses Urged to Lock Down Vital Data

      March 27, 2006
      As major corporations squander customers' trust in their security measures, small businesses are being advised to tighten security and privacy procedures. The Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) is launching an education effort to provide smaller businesses with the tools to lock down vital data.

      Small businesses "often believe they're better protected than they really are, because they don't have in-house experts to advise them on what else they should be doing beyond locking up their storefronts," said Steve Cole, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

      "It's difficult for them to know where and how to access support. This makes us all vulnerable, as small businesses are a strong part of our economy. Business owners of all sizes need to be vigilant in protecting their customers, their employees and themselves," he said.

      The BBB's program is designed to demystify the complexities of data security and give small businesses a non-technical roadmap to securing their customer data.

      The national program includes free, easy-to-read security and privacy toolkits, with separate kits focused on customer and employee data protection. The customer data kit is available now, and the employee kit will be released in the fall.

      In addition, the program will feature a downloadable "webinar" featuring key topic experts, plus ongoing updates about new security and privacy developments that affect small businesses. The educational materials are accessible online at:

      The program was developed in partnership with two privacy and security experts -- Dr. Alan F. Westin, founder of Privacy & American Business, consulting with Dr. Lance Hoffman, Distinguished Research Professor, George Washington University Department of Engineering and Applied Science. Hoffman also founded GW's Cyberspace Policy Institute, serving as its director for seven years.

      As a first step, the toolkits will be distributed through the 116 local Better Business Bureaus (BBB) across the country, reaching a potential audience of 380,000 small businesses and thousands of other small businesses nationwide.

      The program is being supported by IBM, Visa U.S.A., Equifax, Verizon Wireless, The Wall Street Journal, eBay and PayPal.

      The high profile data breaches at major corporations have largely eclipsed small business vulnerabilities. Yet, a 2005 survey by the Small Business Technology Institute reports that more than half of all small businesses in the U.S. experienced a security breach in the last year.

      Nearly one-fifth of small businesses do not use virus-scanning software for e-mail, over 60 percent do not protect their wireless networks with encryption, according to the study, and two-thirds of small businesses do not have an information security plan. Small businesses, overall, make reactive purchase decisions in relation to information security, and usually purchase products only after suffering an information security incident.

      "Small business owners are focused on running their businesses, but all it takes is one data breach to damage customer relationships and impact their bottom line," said Dr. Alan Westin. "Our initiative encourages small retailers to take ownership of their responsibilities, to develop a privacy and security policy, and implement an action plan that makes privacy and data protection an integral part of their everyday business operations. This will pay off for them across the board."

      As major corporations squander customers' trust in their security measures, small businesses are being advised to tighten security and privacy procedures....

      Hughes Plans Rural Internet Satellite Service

      Hughes will launch a campaign to sell satellite Internet access to small businesses and consumers in rural areas

      Now that it has sold its DirecTV satellite television business, Hughes Network Systems says it will launch a campaign to sell satellite Internet access to small businesses and consumers in rural areas under the HughesNet brand. It already has about 275,000 customers taking its DirecWay satellite broadband service.

      Hughes, an earlier innovator in satellite communications, developed the DirecTV service in the 1980s. Hughes was taken over by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. in late 2003 and Murdoch moved DirecTV to a separate company, then sold his interest in Hughes to private investors. Hughes went public a few weeks ago.

      "This is the beginning of an exciting new era for Hughes," said Pradman Kaul, Chairman and CEO. "The new HughesNet brand underscores our corporate commitment to enable our customers to realize the full potential of broadband solutions and services, utilizing the best of satellite and terrestrial technologies."

      Hughes' primary business today is managing satellite networks for Wal-Mart and other large corporations, linking facilities throughout the country. HughesNet is intended to expand its reach into smaller businesses and professional services firms in areas where DSL and cable Internet are not available.

      In June of 2005, the editors of Fortune called Wal-Marts deployment of VSAT technology one of the top 20 decisions that "shaped the modern world of business."

      But there are only so many Wal-Marts and Hughes' new focus is on the consumer market, including small and medium-sized businesses, Kaul said.

      At a starting price of about $60 per month, satellite broadband may not be price-competitive with broadband and DSL, but it is seen as a good fit for businesses that would otherwise be stuck with dial-up service or dedicated broadband circuits costing more than $1,000 per month.

      It's estimated thtere are at least 15 million U.S. homes without access to Internet broadband service. Most of them are in rural areas.

      In 2004, when it was under the Murdoch thumb, DirecTV announced it was abandoning its plans to develop satellite broadband for the home market but its kept the DirecWay service running for existing customers.

      HughesNet encompasses all broadband solutions and managed services from Hughes, bridging satellite and terrestrial technologies. Hughes has shipped more than 1 million systems to customers in over 100 countries. Its broadband satellite products are based on the IPoS (IP over Satellite) global standard, approved by the TIA, ETSI, and ITU standards organizations.

      Hughes Plans Rural Internet Satellite Service...

      New York Accuses Gratis Internet of Largest Deliberate Privacy Breach Ever

      New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has filed suit against a company responsible for what is believed to be the largest deliberate breach of privacy in Internet history. The suit against Gratis Internet alleges that the company sold personal information obtained from millions of consumers under a strict promise of confidentiality.

      "Unless checked now, companies that collect and sell information on consumers will continue to find ways to erode the basic standards that protect privacy in the Internet age," Spitzer said.

      Spitzer's office began an investigation of companies involved in "data mining" or compilation and sale of marketing lists, early last year. The focus of the investigation quickly turned to Gratis, a Washington, D.C.-based company that owns and operates several Web sites that provide consumers with ways to receive free products, generally through free trials of yet other products.

      These sites include or have included:;; and

      From 2000 through 2004 Gratis made numerous explicit promises to the users of its web sites about protecting personal information. Among the promises the company made were:

      • "We will never give out, sell or lend your name or information to anyone";
      • "We will never lend, sell or give out for any reason your email address or personal information";
      • "We at [Gratis web site] respect your privacy and do not sell, rent or loan any personally identifiable information regarding our customers to any third party"; and
      • "Please note that we do not provide your E-mail address to our business partners."

      Even on its sign-up pages, Gratis promised consumers that it "does not . . . sell/rent emails."

      However, the investigation confirmed that Gratis's owners, Peter Martin and Robert Jewell, repeatedly violated these promises during 2004 and 2005 by selling access to lists of millions of Gratis's customers to three independent email marketers.

      The marketers then sent hundreds of millions of email solicitations to those users, on behalf of their own customers. In each of these deals, Gratis wrongfully shared between one and seven million confidential user records. This is believed to be the largest deliberate breach of a privacy policy ever discovered by U.S. law enforcement.

      Leading privacy advocates praised the lawsuit:

      • Marc Rotenberg, the Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center based in Washington D.C. said: "Without strong enforcement, privacy policies are meaningless. We support the efforts of the New York Attorney General to safeguard consumer privacy."

      • Beth Givens, Director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer advocacy organization said: "Attorney General Spitzer continues to send a strong message to Gratis and others like it who would sell their email lists to spammers when their privacy policy says otherwise: Deception doesn't pay."

      The suit also sets forth how, during the course of its investigation, Gratis repeatedly, but falsely, denied that such data sharing had even occurred.

      In one written response to the attorney general, for instance, Gratis assured the Attorney General that "at all times during its existence . . . Gratis has never sold, rented, or lent email addresses or personal information of its users to any third-party and the company has always maintained control over and ownership of such information."

      The attorney general's suit cites specific data sharing contracts, as well as testimony and other evidence provided by internet marketers that did business with Gratis. It seeks penalties and injunctive relief, against Gratis and its principals, under New York's consumer fraud statutes

      Earlier this month, Spitzer reached settlements with e-mail marketer Datran Media, to whom Gratis had sold its user records.

      New York Accuses Gratis Internet of Largest Deliberate Privacy Breach Ever...

      Herbal Products Linked to Cocaine Use in Teens

      A new study suggests adolescents who used herbal supplements are six times more likely to have tried cocaine and almost 15 times more likely to have used anabolic steroids than teens who have never used herbal products. The findings are in a University of Rochester Medical Center study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

      More than a quarter of the high school students in the sample reported having used herbal remedies and of those, the heaviest herbal users were more likely to use illicit drugs.

      Teen responders decided for themselves what would be considered "herbal or other natural products, either to make you feel better, or to help you perform better at sports or school," as asked in the survey. Herbal remedies could include products from dietary supplements such as vitamins or St. Johns wort to natural performance enhancers, such as creatine.

      "The study points to the need for parents and health care providers to ask if teens are using herbal remedies and from there probe deeper for possible drug use," said study author, Susan Yussman, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at the universitys Golisano Childrens Hospital at Strong.

      "Children who are open to experimenting with herbal products may be more open to trying illicit drugs."

      However, Yussman cautioned against directly linking herbal product use with drug use: "This was a cross-sectional study that examines an association, not a causal link. Health care providers should ask all adolescents about potential substance use, regardless of herbal product use."

      Yussman said that counseling should be provided to those teens found to have a substance abuse problem and to all patients regarding proper use of any type of medication, including herbal products.

      The study found that teens who have ever used herbal products are:

      • 4.4 times more likely to have ever used inhalants
      • 4.4 times more likely to have ever used LSD, PCP, ecstasy, mushrooms, and other illegal drugs
      • 5.9 times more likely to have ever used cocaine
      • 6.8 times more likely to have ever used methamphetamines
      • 8.1 times more likely to have ever used IV drugs
      • 8.8 times more likely to have ever used heroin
      • 14.5 times more likely to have ever used steroids

      than teens who have never used herbal products.

      "Those numbers could go higher with a survey that includes students who dont attend school regularly or who have dropped out. Those teens are considered at higher risk for drug use," Yussman said.

      The study was based on the 1999 Monroe County, N.Y., Youth Risk Behavior Survey which provided data on a random sample of 2,006 high school students. Herbal product use was defined by lifetime use of "herbal or other natural products--to feel better, or perform better in sports or school."

      Overall, 28.6 percent of teens reported using herbal products. Herbal product use increased with age (25 percent of 9th graders to 30 percent of 12th graders) and varied by ethnicity (33 percent of Hispanics, 31 percent of Caucasians, 29 percent of Asians, Native Americans, or Pacific Islanders, and 12 percent of African Americans), but not by gender.

      Yussman said further studies are needed to determine which herbal products may be associated with use of which specific drugs.

      "A teen using a sports-enhancing product probably has a very different substance use pattern than a teen taking echinacea for a cold," she said.

      Herbal Products Linked to Cocaine Use in Teens: A new study suggests adolescents who used herbal supplements are six times more likely to have tried cocain...

      Dollar Tree Jewelry Recalled for Lead Poisoning Hazard

      March 23, 2006
      Dollar Tree Stores is recalling about 580,000 pieces of costume jewelry because of high lead levels that could endanger small children.

      The recalled products include the Dollar Tree Mood Necklace and Ring, Glow-in-the Dark Necklace and Ring, and UV Necklace and Ring

      The recalled jewelry contains high levels of lead, posing a serious risk of lead poisoning and adverse health effects to young children.

      The rings are silver in color, adjustable, and have one of a variety of designs with a toy "gem" in the center. The necklaces have a black string with silver colored clasps and a silver charm with a "gem" in the center. The following are printed on the charms packaging: "Mood Necklace," Mood Ring," "Glow in the Dark Necklace," "Glow in the Dark Ring," "UV Necklace" or "UV Ring." The "UV" jewelry packaging reads, "The Suns Energy Will Change The Color." On the reverse of the packaging is "SKU#815485" and the name "Mannix."

      The jewelry was sold at Dollar Tree, Dollar Bill$, Dollar Express, Greenbacks, Only $1 and Super Dollar Tree stores nationwide from September 2003 through February 2006 for $1.

      Consumers should immediately take this jewelry away from children. Consumers should return the recalled jewelry to the store where purchased for a refund.

      Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact Dollar Tree Stores Inc. at (800) 876-8077 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or visit the firms Web site at

      The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

      Dollar Tree Jewelry Recalled for Lead Poisoning Hazard...

      Lead Poisoning Hazard Prompts Recall of Metal Charm Bracelets

      March 23, 2006
      About 25,000 beaded photo charm bracelets are being recalled because they contain high levels of accessible lead, posing a serious risk of lead poisoning to young children.

      Lead poisoning in children is associated with behavioral problems, learning disabilities, hearing problems and growth retardation.

      The recalled charm bracelets consist of silver-colored metal beads. A silver-colored metal heart frame is attached to the bracelet.

      The bracelets were sold on Oriental Trading Company's Web site from July 2004 through September 2005 for about $0.50 each.

      Consumers should immediately take the recalled charm bracelets away from children and contact Oriental Trading Company to receive a refund or credit for the product. Oriental Trading Company is contacting consumers who purchased the bracelets.

      Consumer Contact: For more information, contact Oriental Trading Company at (800) 723-6155 anytime, or visit the firm's Web site at

      The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

      Lead Poisoning Hazard Prompts Recall of Metal Charm Bracelets...

      New Government Rules May Fuel Gas Prices

      Gas Now Above $2.50 a Gallon

      New Federal rules requiring oil companies to replace an emissions-reducing chemical added to gasoline with ethanol could spark shortages and lead to $3 a gallon gasoline again, according to a U.S. Energy Department assessment. Gas prices are already rising quickly, with the national average now above $2.50 a gallon.

      The new regulations require refiners to replace the gasoline additive MTBE with more costly ethanol. The additive transition is scheduled for summer and ethanol producers in the Midwest may have trouble transporting enough of the fuel to key markets along the East Coast on a timely basis, according to the report.

      The Energy Department reports that the U.S. ethanol industry continues to show serious growing pains that could bring higher fuel prices as well as cause short supplies at the pump.

      Oil industry analyst Trilby Lundberg says prices could climb as much as another 30 cents a gallon though she does not expect prices to reach the record levels set following Hurricane Katrina.

      "Chances are prices will be higher than they are now in the coming weeks, as we use more gasoline, and new regulations make gasoline more expensive to make," Lundberg said.

      As prices continue to climb, experts are concerned that the ethanol industry will be unable to meet the summertime jump in demand and the shortfall could produce a spike in gasoline pump prices at the start of the countrys peak driving season.

      The refining industry claims to have pointed out the difficulty ethanol producers might encounter iin offsetting the loss of MTBE, which accounts for about 10 percent of every gallon of gasoline.

      There are transportation issues with ethanol as well. Gasoline can be shipped in large quantities through an extensive network of pipelines. Ethanol, however, corrodes pipelines and must be transported in trucks or other relatively small volume carriers to terminals where the fuel is blended into gasoline.

      Gasoline prices are continuing to rise in anticipation of an ethanol problem. Uncertainty about future supplies, even though there's plenty to go around at the moment, seems to be enough to push prices up.

      The national average prices for gasoline in now above $2.50 a gallon. Gasoline jumped 15 cents over the last week as the average price across the country reached $2.51.

      A month ago the average price for regular unleaded was $2.24 a gallon. One year ago it was $2.07 a gallon.

      Diesel fuel is on the rise as well with the average price up 3 cents to $2.66 a gallon. One month ago the average price was $2.55 a gallon. One year ago the average price for a gallon of diesel was $2.26.

      The highest price found for regular unleaded gasoline is now in Ragged Point, California at $3.79 a gallon. Paducah, Kentucky enjoys the lowest gasoline price a $1.98 a gallon.

      New Government Rules May Fuel Gas Prices...

      "Net Neutrality" Battle Heats Up

      Giant Telecoms Use Shock and Awe to Confound and Confuse

      There's nothing virtual about the battle lines being drawn in the fast-developing Net Neutrality War. Disney, Verizon and AT&T are among the superpowers developing a shock and awe strategy intended to annihilate the rag-tag band of consumers and non-profits working to keep the Internet playing field level.

      The phrase "level playing field" is a favorite of telecommunications providers trying to gerrymander the regulatory landscape to ensure that the field slants in their direction. It's being rolled out once again as the big-money players empty their armories to launch their latest scorched-earth crusade.

      The once and perhaps future monopolies have all weighed in recently against legislation to enforce net neutrality, saying that "market-oriented approaches" favor the consumer, and that companies would push customers away if they tried to enact "tiered pricing" systems for faster content access.

      Appearing at the TelecomNEXT convention in Las Vegas on March 20th, Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger stated, "We do not support any [Network Neutrality] legislation at this time."

      Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg concurred, saying that lightly regulated markets were "a good framework" for business and government to develop a "shared vision to vault into the markets of the 21st century."

      AT&T boss Ed Whitacre modified his anti-net neutrality stance at the convention. Whitacre pledged that his company would not block or degrade any customer access to applications or content on the Internet.

      Whitacre had previously lit up the sky by saying content providers like Google were "nuts" for trying to use AT&T's cable and broadband networks -- "my pipes," he called them -- without paying extra for them.

      Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, who also attended the convention, stated that the FCC does have the authority to issue judgments in cases of Internet providers favoring content, or making content providers pay extra.

      But Martin shied away from supporting net neutrality outright, saying that he "favored a regulatory system where businesses can invest in their networks."

      Metering the Web

      Although major telecom and cable companies are claiming they support the ability of Web surfers to access content regardless of who provides it, they're simultaneously doing all they can to wring maximum profit from the usage of the broadband infrastructure in America and would clearly like to turn it into a virtual taxicab, with the meter always running.

      Verizon recently won what it called "regulatory relief" from the FCC, as the commission lifted a number of rules governing Verizon's pricing structure for business broadband, as well as its obligation to pay into a fund for providing low-cost broadband services to rural regions America.

      Verizon has said it will continue to voluntarily pay into the fund "for a time." AT&T, never one to pass up a government hand-out, has filed for similar treatment with the FCC in the hopes of an expedited resolution.

      As part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, telecom and cable companies were mandated to expand their networks in order to provide broadband services to the whole of the country, in exchange for deregulation of their business and pricing.

      Although businesses have been able to take advantage of the expanding cable infrastructure, consumers have not been as lucky.

      The US ranks fifteenth in the world in rankings of broadband deployment, with only 40 percent of American households within reach of or able to afford DSL or cable Internet services.

      FCC commissioner Michael Copps, who opposed Verizon's regulatory relief award, recently criticized the telecoms' slow pace of deploying broadband beyond cities and urban centers.

      "If high-speed broadband is permitted to become a primarily urban phenomenon, the digital gap will grow wider, [resulting in] rural America being worse off," Copps said.

      Spin Cycle

      Verizon is also part of the U.S. Internet Industry Association (USIIA), a trade association dealing with Internet commerce and policy.

      The USIIA recently launched a high-profile campaign decrying support of net neutrality as "preventing network operators from exploring ways to guarantee the reliability of advanced Internet services over a public Internet that was not designed to be reliable."

      In fact, the Internet was designed by Department of Defense engineers whose primary goal was reliability. Through what is called packet switching, data moves in small "packets" that can follow different routes over the network and be reassembled on the receiving end. The Internet may not be as "secure," or private, as one would like but it is extremely reliable, telecommunications observers noted.

      The USIIA paid for splashy ads telling readers to "protect bloggers from government regulation" on popular progressive Web sites and blogs such as the Daily Kos and the American Prospect.

      Ironically, progressive bloggers are one of the groups that largely favors net neutrality, joining an unlikely alliance of content providers such as Google and Yahoo, consumer groups such as the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), and AARP.

      The seniors' advocate group, famous for its lobbying power in Congress, joined a petition to push for Congressional support of net neutrality. AARP spokesman Mark Kitchens said that the increasing number of senior citizens active on the Internet meant that the debate directly affected their constituency.

      For supporters of net neutrality, the issue isn't just content, but price as well. Consumers don't want to be held hostage to overpriced service that doesn't deliver quality broadband.

      If infrastructure providers can block other companies from sharing their lines, and prioritize their own content in turn, users may be stuck with choosing between Verizon, AT&T, and not much else.

      Daniel Berninger, analyst for the telecom and IT research firm Tier1, said that ending net neutrality would spell the end of the Internet as we know it.

      "Network neutrality allows end users to choose winners and losers in an application meritocracy that threatens service providers long dependent on barriers to entry," he said. "The idea that Yahoo could pay Verizon to improve performance over Google means Verizon, not the end user, decides which search engine wins."

      Net Neutrality Battle Heats Up...

      Connecticut Asks MySpace to Provide Blocking Software

      Site Needs to be Safer for Kids, State Argues

      March 22, 2006
      Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has sent a letter asking the company to provide parents with software to block the web site, ban kids under 16, institute new measures against pornography and take other steps to protect children from sexual predators and inappropriate material.

      The letter follows discussions between Blumenthal's office and top executives, including a February meeting with MySpace co-founder/CEO Chris DeWolfe and company lawyers.

      "While our discussions have been encouraging, I ask MySpace to take specific practical steps to address immediately the most critical concerns identified by my office," Blumenthal said in his letter. "These measures are technologically feasible, as well as consistent with your stated terms of service and your own explicit goal of prohibiting nudity and other offensive or inappropriate material from your website.

      "This site now exposes young people to a perilous cyber environment with people posting sexually explicit materials and looking for sexual relationships. In fact, children can still view pornographic images, links to X-rated web sites, 'clubs' involving adults seeking sexual encounters and webcam sex for sale offers. I ask you to adopt my proposed steps immediately even as you develop new technology offering better protection," Blumenthal wrote.

      Blumenthal asked the company to:

      • Provide parents with free software allowing them to block access to MySpace from their home computers.

      • Raise the minimum age for a MySpace profile from 14 to 16. If the company wants to continue serving that age group, it should create a separate and distinct site for 14- and 15-year-olds.

      • Require users to log in and verify their age before viewing profiles. Once logged in, only users 18 or older would be allowed to view adult material.

      • Make technical changes preventing 14- and 15-year-olds from making their profiles "public" and requiring parental consent for anyone 16 or older to view them.

      • Add staff and technology to filter out and remove pornography and prohibited content. Also, prohibit people seeking casual sexual encounters from communicating with minors, remove explicit references to "swingers," and fully disclose that parts of the site contain adult material.

      • Banish permanently users who repeatedly post so-called "deep links" to pornography or other prohibited content.

      • Hire an aggressive watchdog independent of the corporate hierarchy that reports directly to the board of directors about inappropriate material, sexual predators or other problems on the site.

      Connecticut Asks MySpace to Provide Blocking Software...

      Vonage 911 Caller Put On Hold While House Burns Down

      By the time fire crews arrived on the scene, the fire had become a five-alarm blaze

      A Minnesota homeowner charges VoIP provider Vonageput him on hold when he called 911 to report his house was on fire. The home was a total loss.

      Loren Velthamp of Chanhassen, Minnesota, said he grabbed the phone and called 911 when he realized a fire has started in his home. "I called 911 using Vonage broadband and they put us on hold," Velthamp told KSTP-TV in Minneapolis. Unbelievable your house is burning down, and you're put on hold by Vonage.

      Fire department officials say that by the time fire crews arrived on the scene, the fire had become a five-alarm blaze. No one was injured, but they described the dwelling as a total loss.

      The incident has raised anew the question of how VoIP services, which provide telephone services over the Internet, interface with community 911 emergency services systems.

      Because the calls aren't routed through the land-line telephone system's infrastructure, there has to be way to transfer into the 911 system that serves the nation's 6,200 emergency call centers. That transfer has posed numerous stumbling blocks so far, both technical and political.

      As it now stands, VoIP 911 calls can be unreliable. Calls made after normal business house may be misdirected to emergency-services administrative offices, where the caller gets a recorded message. Even when the VoIP 911 call does make it to an EMS dispatcher, it sometimes lacks the information traditional phone services provide, like the caller's address and telephone number.

      There could well be repercussions from the Minnesota incident at the Federal Communications Commission. Last year the FCC gave VoIP providers an ultimatum to institute by September 2005 the same kind of 911 access provided to people using landlines or cell phones.

      Vonage 911 Caller Put On Hold While House Burns Down...