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    Barnes & Noble, Microsoft Plan Joint e-Book Venture

    Primary focus is on the college textbook market

    When it comes to the growing trend of e-books, electronic juggernauts Apple and Amazon have maintained the lion's share of both the sales and marketing of this newly developed reading style.

    Now book retailer Barnes & Noble is trying to level the playing field a bit, partnering with Microsoft to start a new subsidiary built around the Nook, GN's e-reader. The new venture will focus on educational texts for college.

    Microsoft will be making a $300 million dollar investment to launch this new venture, which will allow Barnes & Noble to be major players in the e-book world, while at the same time ensuring company longevity, unlike their ex-competitors Borders, who failed to adjust to the changing book climate, and went out of business in 2011.

    “Our complementary assets will accelerate e-reading innovation across a broad range of Windows Devices,” said Microsoft President Andy Lees in a statement. “We’re on the cusp of a revolution in reading.”  

    The investment will give Microsoft a 17.6 percent ownership of the venture, and Barnes & Noble will retain 82.4 percent of the newly formed company.

    Microsoft’s large investment will include the creation of a Nook application for Windows 8, that will allow several million Windows customers to take advantage of Barnes & Noble’s online store.  

    William Lynch, CEO of Barnes & Noble called Microsoft “ideal partners” in a statement. “Few companies own more screens worldwide than Microsoft”, he explained.  

    “Microsoft’s investment and our exciting collaboration to bring world-class digital reading technologies and content to the Windows platform and its hundreds of millions of users, will allow us to significantly expand the business,” Lynch added.

    This new merger is in stark contrast to the previously contentious relationship between Microsoft and Barnes & Noble, as the two companies went through legal disputes over patent infringement involving Nook e-readers in March of 2011. The case was ultimately thrown out in January 2012 by an International Trade Commission (ITC) judge, which created the first steps in these two powerhouse companies joining forces.

    When it comes to the growing trend of e-books, electronic juggernauts Apple and Amazon have maintained a stronghold on both the sales and marketing of this...
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    Koss Introduces Wireless Wi-Fi Headphones

    The mouse and keyboard are wireless; why not the headphones?

    Wireless headphones fall under that weird category of products that are seemingly oxymoronic, like fried ice cream or the waterless car wash (yes, there is such a thing).

    But now Koss, which has been in the headphone business since the 1950’s, says it has created the first headphone that pulls music directly from the Internet, without any cords or wires.

    “People have complained constantly about wires. We’ve always wanted to get rid of wires.  We’ve been trying to get rid of wires since the 70’s,” said Michael Koss, president and chief executive officer of Koss, who took over the company from his father John C. Koss in 1991.

    Named the Koss Striva, the new headphones contains a Wi-Fi component where one can stream music directly to the headphones, by accessing online radio stations by way of Koss’ MyKoss online portal.  Various radio stations can be searched for by a control located on the side of the headphones.  Customers can choose the in-ear version called the Stiva Tap, or the over-the-ear version named the Striva-Pro.

    Wired or wireless

    The Koss Striva allows you to stream music and other audio content directly from the internet, assuming there is a Wi-Fi signal available within a 300 foot range.  They can also be used as standard headphones, as they do come with an audio cable for those who are a bit freaked out by the wireless component and prefer things a bit more traditional.

    The Striva is ideal for those who park themselves in coffee shops or plan to be stationary while listening to headphones.  A bigger challenge will be for those who typically use their headphones on the go, as different Wi-Fi signals will have to be accessed, which may give you an inconsistent amount of headphone play.

    In addition, the revolutionary headphones comes with revolutionary costs at $500 a pair on the Koss website, which will probably scare away casual music listeners, and entice those who are serious about their sounds.

    These new headphones have brought about some needed positive news, as Koss Corporation received some unwanted press back in December of 2009, when former vice president of finance Sujata “Sue” Sachdeva was accused in federal court of wire fraud, and embezzling $4.5 million from the company.

    In a recent statement given to the press concerning the Striva, Micheal Koss spoke about the long journey his company has traveled since his parents started the business six decades ago.  

    “60 years ago this month, my father and mother received $200 as a wedding gift from my grandparents to buy a living room set.  Instead my father convinced my mother to start a business with it.  Here we are 60 years later and we’re starting another revolution,” he said.




    Wireless headphones fall under that weird category of products that are seemingly oxymoronic, like fried ice cream or the waterless car wash (yes, there is...
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    Viagra, Levitra and Cialis Get Some Competition

    FDA approves Stendra for erectile dysfunction

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Stendra (avanafil), a new drug to treat erectile dysfunction. That's the condition when a man has trouble getting or keeping an erection.

    An estimated 30 million men in the United States are affected by erectile dysfunction.

    Stendra is a pill that patients take on an as-needed basis 30 minutes before sexual activity. Doctors should prescribe the lowest dose of Stendra that provides benefit.

    “This approval expands the available treatment options to men experiencing erectile dysfunction, and enables patients, in consultation with their doctor, to choose the most appropriate treatment for their needs,” said Victoria Kusiak, M.D., deputy director of the Office of Drug Evaluation III in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

    Stendra belongs to a class of drugs called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors, which are used to help increase blood flow to the penis. As with other PDE5 inhibitors, Stendra should not be used by men who also take nitrates, commonly used to treat chest pain (angina), because the combination can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure.

    Loss of vision

    PDE5 inhibitors may rarely cause color vision changes. In rare instances, men taking PDE5 inhibitors have reported a sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes. Sudden loss or decrease in hearing has also been reported in patients taking PDE5 inhibitors. Patients who experience a sudden loss of vision or hearing should stop taking PDE5 inhibitors, including Stendra, and call a doctor right away.

    The most common side effects reported in greater than 2 percent of patients in the clinical studies of Stendra include headache, redness of the face and other areas (flushing), nasal congestion, common cold-like symptoms and back pain. In rare cases, patients taking Stendra and other PDE5 inhibitors may get an erection lasting four hours or longer that will not go away (priapism). If this happens, patients should seek immediate medical care. 

    Clinical studies

    Stendra’s safety and efficacy were established in three double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical studies. A total of 1,267 patients were randomly assigned to take Stendra for up to 12 weeks at doses of 50 milligrams (mg), 100 mg or 200 mg, or a placebo as needed about 30 minutes before sexual activity.

    At the start of the studies and every four weeks thereafter, patients completed questionnaires to evaluate erectile function, vaginal penetration and successful intercourse. Results showed patients taking Stendra experienced statistically significant improvement in all three endpoints for all three doses of Stendra studied.

    To further evaluate Stendra’s safety, a subset of patients from two of the studies were enrolled in another trial to receive up to an additional 40 weeks of treatment.

    Patients were initially given Stendra at the 100 mg dose, but could have their dose increased to 200 mg or decreased to 50 mg based on their individual response to treatment. Results showed that the side effects commonly reported in patients using Stendra did not worsen over time.

    Stendra is marketed by Mountain View, Calif.-based VIVUS Inc.

    For Immediate Release: April 27, 2012Media Inquiries: Stephanie Yao,             ...
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      Kindle Fire Burning Up the Android Tablet Competition

      Consumers obviously like the $200 price tag

      Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the hottest Andoid tablet of all? That would be the Amazon Kindle Fire, according to a report by comScore, a digital market research firm.

      The report shows the Kindle Fire, Amazon's souped-up e-reader, had an astounding 54 percent of the Android tablet market just four months after its release. No one else was even close.

      A ConsumerAffairs analysis of about 940,000 consumer comments on Facebook, Twitter and other social media finds a similarly meteoric rise in net sentiment, with a positive rating of 72 percent last month.

      Emotions expressed by the comments we analyzed were almost uniformly positive.

      Distant second

      According to the data, the Samsung Galaxy Tab is second with a 15.4 percent market share. The Motorola Xoom is third with only seven percent.

      “The Kindle Fire, introduced to the market in November 2011, has seen rapid adoption among buyers of tablets,” the authors write. “Within the Android tablet market, Kindle Fire has almost doubled its share in the past two months from 29.4 percent share in December 2011 to 54.4 percent share in February 2012, already establishing itself as the leading Android tablet by a wide margin.”

      Low price

      There's no question that the Kindle Fire's popularity is at least partly due to its low price. It costs $200, compared to $500 or more for other tablets. 

      The Fire's low price draws consumers of limited means, like Marilyn, of New York, N.Y., who thinks $200 is a lot, especially if the product breaks.

      “My daughter purchased a Kindle Fire for me for a Christmas gift,” Marilyn wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. "By Feb. 18, it no longer worked. This cost $200! Of course, I threw out the box it came in.”

      Hopefully someone informed Marilyn that the product was under warranty.

      Content delivery system

      While the Fire generally gets good reviews, consumers should understand that its main purpose is to sell you more Amazon content.

      “A few weeks ago I was trying to view videos on my Kindle Fire when I saw that I couldn't get them unless I was a 'Prime' member,” Kelly, of Alexandria, Va., wrote to ConsumerAffairs. “I expected by clicking on the "Prime" icons on my Fire that I would not be charged for Prime membership as I was already a Prime member. When I realized I had in fact been charged $79 for Prime membership - turns out video membership is an upgrade I had to pay for though I didn't know this at the time - I called and canceled the paid membership and received a refund.”

      ComScore notes that tablet adoption among U.S. consumers continues to climb as more devices appealing to various price and feature preferences are introduced to the market. Screen size is perhaps the most outwardly apparent differentiator between devices, with the market offering consumers a wide variety of options such as the 10" Apple iPad, 9" Sony S1, 7" Amazon Kindle Fire and 5" Dell Streak.

      Analysis of page view consumption by screen size found a strong positive association between screen size and content consumption. Specifically, 10" tablets have a 39-percent higher consumption rate than 7" tablets and a 58-percent higher rate than 5" tablets.

      ---

      Sentiment analysis powered by NetBase

      Mirror, mirror, on the way, who's the hottest Andoid tablet out there? That would be the Amazon's Kindle Fire, according to a report by comScore, an IT mar...
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      Walmart Rolls Out In-Person Payment for Online Purchases

      New process gives the "underbanked" the chance to shop online

      In an effort to give non-credit and debit card holders an equal chance to buy products online, Walmart has created a new way for their customers to make purchases.

      Here’s how it works: Customers can go to Walmart.com, place an online order, then pay with cash at any Walmart store, after receiving an email and presenting their order number to a cashier 48 hours after purchase.

      Since the online store theoretically has a wider range of products than the physical store, customers who typically make their purchases with cash, will have the same access to products as their plastic carrying counterparts.

      “Many of our customers shop paycheck to paycheck and are looking for more ways to purchase items online but don’t have the means to a credit, debit or prepaid card,” Joel Anderson, president and CEO of Walmart.com, said in a press release.

      “Our new ‘Pay with Cash’ offering is designed just for them.  It makes it easier for our customers to shop the way they want, where they have access to a broader product selection at Walmart.com coupled with the convenience of payment and shipping as they want,” he said.

      Underbanked

      Consumers rate Walmart's customer service

      Not only does this new method benefit those who simply prefer cash to plastic, it also better serves those Walmart customers that are of lower income or considered to be “underbanked” and may not have access to credit cards, or even a bank account.

      With a strong desire to tap into the current online-shopping trend, the company's research shows that 81 percent of those customers without credit cards, or a bank account, still have a computer with internet access to make online purchases.

      According to Walmart, two thirds of their customers considered to be “underbanked” desired a way to shop online but still be able to pay by cash. In one fell swoop Walmart has addressed this particular customer need, while simultaneously increasing their chances of selling more product and increase profit margins.

      Obviously, from a public relations standpoint, it’s Walmart's best interest to market this new buying technique as a great benefit for the buying public, as opposed to a great monetary benefit for Walmart, which it truly is.

      This new online cash option will be rolled out to all of Walmart’s 3,800 stores across the U.S., including their grocery store locations. It’s the first of its kind for any major retailer.

      Impulse buys

      While this does provide some convenience for the non-credit-card-customer in terms of variety, having to physically go to the store for payments dilutes some of that convenience, as an extra step is added to the sometimes hectic buying experience.

      Convenient as it is, Walmart’s ‘Pay with Cash’ may negatively impact those “underbanked” households that will potentially spend more money than they normally would.  As current online shoppers can attest, it’s easier to spend and break the bank with an entire store and its products right at your fingertips.   

      In an effort to give non-credit and debit card holders an equal chance to buy products online, Walmart has created a new way for their customers to make pu...
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      Costco Gets Into the Mortgage Business

      Lending Tree-type program matches lenders with applicants

      Costco, which sells everything from gigantic tubs of peanut butter to funeral supplies, is getting into the mortgage business. 

      The giant wholesale outlet has been testing the mortgage lending program for the last year, in partnership with First Choice Bank of New Jersey and ten other lenders.

      It's a Lending Tree-type program that maches lenders with applicants, except that under the Costco program, the borrower's identity is revealed only after they have selected the lender, giving consumers an extra measure of privacy and protecting their credit reports from being dinged by lenders the consumer not even know about.

      Costco says its lending partners have issued more than 10,000 mortgages under the program so far and expects that number to rise quickly when it starts promoting the program nationwide.

      Consumers rate Costco

      This isn't Costco's first entry into financial services.  It already offers health and auto insurance, boat and RV loans and stock brokerage services.  It's planning to add auto loans soon and may also get into the student loan business, according to Lauren Kutschka, Costco's manager of financial services.

      "We've always known that our members wanted more financial services," she said. "Right now, we offer recreational vehicle and boat loans and we're going to add auto loans to that. We're also looking to offer student loans."

      Costco says it will be policing its lenders closely to ensure they provide accurate rates and terms and follow up promptly to consumer questions and requests.

      Costco says it will be making no profit on the actual loans but is collecting a fee to market the service for the lenders.

      Costco, which sells everything from gigantic tubs of peanut butter to funeral supplies, is getting into the mortgage business. The giant wholesale o...
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      Plasma Flashlight May Prove To Be Bacteria Zapper

      High-tech pocket tool kills bacteria and is completely portable

      First, there was old fashioned soap and water. Lately, hand sanitizers have come into vogue. Now there is a new high-tech tool to eliminate bacteria.

      Its developers call it the plasma flashlight. It looks at lot like a regular flashlight, except that it emits a plasma jet that kills bacteria on the skin in an instant. Developed by a group of Chinese and Australian scientists, the flashlight is completely mobile, light, efficient, and works at room temperature, its sponsors say.

      Due to its mobility it could be used in ambulance emergency calls, natural disaster sites, military combat operations and many other instances where treatment is required in remote locations.

      Health care centers

      “The plasma flashlight is an exciting development in potential health treatments,” said Kostya Ostrikov, one of the researchers who worked on the device. “It not only inactivates individual bacterial cells but also bacterial biofilms.”

      Don't expect to see these devices in public restrooms, or even your home for that matter. At least not right away. Their anticipated use is in areas where bacteria has built up resistance to soap and other cleaning agents, like hospitals and dental offices.

      Reearchers say the plasma flashlight effectively inactivated a thick biofilm of one of the most antibiotic and heat-resistant bacteria, Enterococcus faecalis, a bacterium which often infects the root canals during dental treatments.

      10 seconds

      “We used an extreme example to demonstrate that the plasma flashlight can be very effective even at room temperature,” Kostya said. "For individual bacteria, the inactivation time could be just tens of seconds.”

      Kostya says tests suggest the device can be used to kill pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, spores or fungi. In a hospital setting, it could be used to clean and sterilise medical equipment and wounds. It could also be used for plasma-assisted coagulation to help heal wounds, plus it could be used to treat cancers such as skin cancer.

      But it doesn’t have to be restricted to medical use. It could end up in homes at some point in the future, incorporated into a variety of consumer products.

      “This device could be miniaturized and used in hygiene treatments such as toothbrushes or chopping boards in the kitchen,” Kostya said.

      First, there was old fashioned soap and water. Lately, hand sanitizers have come into vogue. Now there is a new high-tech tool to eliminate bacteria.Its ...
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      Exercise Could Reduce Sickle Cell Complications

      Scientists find Sickle Cell Trait is cause for more concern than previously thought

      Sickle cell disease (SCD) is an inherited condition that causes red blood cells to sometimes deform into a crescent shape. It affects an estimated 100,000 Americans, typically those of African descent.

      However, doctors say far more people have sickle cell trait (SCT), caused when individuals carry just a single copy of the disease-causing mutation in their genes. Rather than all their red blood cells being affected, those with SCT carry a mix of affected red blood cells and normal ones.

      Previously, researchers and physicians had assumed that those with SCT didn't have anything to worry about, that they were immune from the increased burden of sickness and death that those with SCD carry.

      However, they may not be the case. Recent research suggests that the same problems that follow SCD patients at an increased rate also affect those with SCT to a lesser extent.

      Oxidative stress

      The problem is oxidative stress, a condition in which free radicals overwhelm the body’s natural antioxidants.

      In healthy individuals, oxidative stress has been linked with conditions including cancer, heart disease, and simply aging; in sickle cell disease patients, oxidative stress is thought to play a role in causing the inflammation, problem with the linings of blood vessels, and blood cell blockages that cause complications from this disease.

      French researchers now say regular exercise may be an effective way to minimize these adverse effects. Scientists have long known that exercise increases the level of antioxidants present in the body, defending against oxidative stress.

      Regular exercise is the key

      In a new study, researchers compare the effects of exhaustive exercise on people with SCT who exercise regularly with those who don’t. They found that training regularly seems to offset the burden of exhaustive exercise by lowering the levels of molecules associated with oxidative stress, increasing antioxidant molecules, and increasing nitric oxide, a molecule important for opening blood vessels which could play a role in preventing the blood vessel occlusion that sometimes occurs in SCD and SCT.

      “We think that regular physical exercise that’s controlled by a physician and performed at low intensity could be a strategy to limit the disease burden in SCD patients,” said Dr. Vincent Pialoux, of the University of Lyon.

      He and his colleagues are currently testing this strategy in animal models of the disease, with plans to eventually test human subjects.

      Sickle cell disease (SCD)is an inherited condition that causes red blood cells to sometimes deform into a crescent shape. It affects an estimated 100,000 A...
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      Berries May Reduce Cognitive Decline In Seniors

      Bulking up on strawberries and blueberries can delay aging process, researchers say

      If you're in your 50s or 60s and are concerned about staying mentally sharp as you age, you might consider adding blueberries and strawberries to your diet. A new study suggests the flavonoids in them slow cognitive decline by two and a half years.

      The study, published in the medical journal Annals of Neurology, say increasing your consumption of flavonoids have the potential to reduce inflammation in the body. The researchers believe that stress and inflammation contribute to cognitive impairment and that increasing consumption of flavonoids could mitigate the harmful effects. This isn't the first study to suggest the compound found in berries is good for the brain, but researchers say it's much larger and comprehensive that previous efforts.

      Senior population growing quickly

      According to the 2010 U.S. Census, elderly Americans — those 65 years of age and older — increased by 15 percent between 2000 and 2010, faster than the total U.S. population, which saw a 9.7 percent increase during the same time period.

      "As the U.S. population ages, understanding the health issues facing this group becomes increasingly important," said Dr. Elizabeth Devore with Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass. "Our study examined whether greater intake of berries could slow rates of cognitive decline."

      The research team used data from the Nurses' Health Study—a cohort of 121,700 female, registered nurses between the ages of 30 and 55 who completed health and lifestyle questionnaires beginning in 1976. Since 1980 participants were surveyed every four years regarding their frequency of food consumption. Between 1995 and 2001, cognitive function was measured in 16,010 subjects over the age of 70 years, at 2-year intervals. Women included in the present study had a mean age of 74 and mean body mass index of 26.

      Findings show that increased consumption of blueberries and strawberries appear to slow cognitive decline in older women. A greater intake of anthocyanidins and total flavonoids was also associated with reduce cognitive degeneration.

      Slowed cognitive aging

      Researchers observed that women who had higher berry intake delayed cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years. The authors caution that while they did control for other health factors in the modeling, they cannot rule out the possibility that the preserved cognition in those who eat more berries may be also influenced by other lifestyle choices, such as exercising more.

      Flavonoids found in berries have recently been touted for other health benefits. A 2011 study found they are effective in reducing the risk of Parkinson's disease. A 2006 study found blueberries, in particular, are an effective mood enhancer.

      Just keep in mind that it's always best to eat the fresh fruit itself and not rely on packaged extracts or supplements. In 2005 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned 29 manufacturers of berry supplements about their health claims.

      If you're in your 50s and 60s and are concerned about staying mentally sharp as you age, you might consider adding blueberries and strawberries to your die...
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      Feds Seize 36 Websites Involved in Selling Stolen Credit Card Numbers

      Sites were "automated vending carts" for crooks, prosecutors allege

      Seizure orders have been executed against 36 domain names of websites engaged in the illegal sale and distribution of stolen credit card numbers, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride of the Eastern District of Virginia, and Acting Executive Assistant Director Kevin Perkins of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch, announced.

      The seizures are the result of Operation Wreaking hAVoC, an FBI and Justice Department operation targeting the sale of stolen credit card numbers via the Internet. The operation was coordinated with international law enforcement, including the United Kingdom’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).

      The 36 seized domains are in the custody of the federal government. Visitors to the sites will now find a seizure banner that notifies them that the domain name has been seized by federal authorities.

      “The websites we are targeting today were commercial outlets for stolen credit card information,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “By making this information available on the Internet, these websites facilitated fraud on credit card holders around the world. The actions announced today are the result of extraordinary coordination with our international law enforcement partners and reflect our commitment to use every tool at our disposal to shut down fraudulent, criminal enterprises.”

      “Countless lives are thrown into financial turmoil because of these websites,” said U.S. Attorney MacBride. “With a few simple clicks, thousands of stolen credit card numbers can be bought or sold to fraudsters anywhere in the world. Today’s seizures are part of an ongoing campaign to disrupt this online market regardless of where it operates.”

      “By seizing the websites the criminal underground uses to blatantly sell stolen personal information, Operation Wreaking hAVoC shows that we are committed to protecting individuals online and preventing criminals from using the Internet to line their pockets,” said FBI Acting Executive Assistant Director Perkins. “The FBI and our partners around the world are committed to disabling these criminal networks. No single law enforcement agency can fight cyber crime on its own, and the FBI is proud to be a part of such an outstanding effort by all of the participating agencies.”

      Automated Vending Carts

      The websites of the seized domain names are commonly referred to as Automated Vending Carts (AVCs). An AVC is a website that functions as an open-ended invitation to any visitor to purchase stolen credit card numbers. AVCs allow a user to buy stolen credit card data over the Internet, even using an online shopping cart, just like a traditional online retailer. Some AVC sites allow a buyer to select which type of credit card number to purchase, the account’s country of origin, and, in some cases, the state in which the account holder lives. AVCs allow sellers to traffic stolen credit card data without communicating directly with buyers.

      During this operation, law enforcement officials made undercover purchases of credit card numbers, including credit card numbers issued by Bank of America, SunTrust, and Capital One. The banks confirmed that the sites were not authorized to sell the credit card numbers. Seizure orders were obtained from a federal magistrate judge in the Eastern District of Virginia.

      This U.S. operation was led by FBI’s Washington Field Office; the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property and Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Sections of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. The FBI’s Pittsburgh Field Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania also assisted in the investigation.

      The international operation was led by the United Kingdom’s SOCA. The Australian Federal Police (AFP); German Bundeskriminalamt (BKA); United Kingdom’s Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit (DCPCU); Macedonian Ministry of Interior Cyber Crime Unit (MOI); Ukraine Ministry of Internal Affairs; Romanian Ministry of Interior; and the Dutch High-Tech Crimes Unit (KLPD) provided assistance. Activities conducted by these international law enforcement agencies included arrests of AVC operators and purchasers, additional domain seizures, and data seizures.

      Seizure orders have been executed against 36 domain names of websites engaged in the illegal sale and distribution of stolen credit card numbers, Assistant...
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      Green Consumers Deluge Kellogg's Kashi With Pesticide Concerns

      Controversy erupted when health food store removed Kashi from its shelves

      Consumers review Kellogg's products

      You might call it a tempest in a cereal bowl.  Green consumers are feeling betrayed following reports of genetically-modified grains (GMO) and pesticide residues in Kashi cereal products.

      Kashi, a division of Kellogg's, has a hugely loyal following among the Birkenstock set and its products can be found lining the shelves of Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and nearly every other organically-aware store.

      Except, that is for the Green Grocer, a Portsmouth, R.I., store that cleared its shelves of Kashi products and posted a sign quoting a report, Cereal Crimes,  by The Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit advocacy group, that alleged that Kashi and some other cereals packaged as "natural" nevertheless contain genetically-modified grains and pesiticide residues. 

      The explosion of consumer outrage is still echoing around the blogosphere and social media.

      Lost all faith

      "I have lost all faith in Kellogg's and the food industry in general," said Joe of Westerly, R.I., in a ConsumerAffairs posting

      As images of the Green Grocer sign spread across the Web, one Facebook page collected more than 11,000 "shares" and angry consumers began calling and writing Kashi and posting comments on the company’s Facebook page expressing their outrage at being misled by the company’s marketing spin. 

      "Had I known I was buying a product that was like all the others in the "normal" cereal aisle....I would have never purchased it and I certainly would not have paid the high prices!!!!!  It disgusts me," wrote one consumer, on Kashi’s Facebook page

      Tepid response

      Kashi's response has been tepid at best. It has issued nothing on its media relations page, cited no expert opinion and so far put forth no top executives to defend the company.

      Kashi's "Keegan"

      In a posting on its Facebook page, Kashi says seven of its products are certified by the USDA as organic.

      "We believe the credible way to provide information about GMOs is through USDA Organic certification and Non-GMO Project Verification. On store shelves now you can find seven of our foods with Non-GMO Project Verification, several others are USDA Organic certified and many more that contain organic ingredients," the company's statement said.

      Also on its Facebook page, a person identified only as "Keegan," who says she is a nutritionist, discusses the "inaccurate information being circulated online" stumbling haltingly through an obviously-scripted video. She does not cite any academic credentials other than to claim to be a nutritionist.

      In the video, the person who calls herself Keegan concedes that some Kashi products may contain GMOs but basically says it is not the company's fault, since so much of the grain grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. She said the company has a "longstanding commitment" to producing organic foods and repeats the assetion that seven products are now certified organic.

      As for pesticide residues, Keegan says in the video that all Kashi products meet USDA guidelines. 

      Keegan claims the information being circulated is "inaccurate and misleading" because, she says, it was not based on actual testing of Kashi products but was instead USDA data.

      Blatantly false

      "This characterization of our work by Kashi is blatantly false," said Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s Research Director.  "We purchased a readily available box of Kashi’s GoLean cereal from a Whole Foods store.  We then sent a sample to an accredited national lab for testing, finding that the soy in the natural cereal was 100% GMO."

      "Committed organic companies that source wholesome ingredients free from synthetic pesticides and GMOs are competing in the marketplace with giant multinationals such as Kraft Foods (Back to Nature), Pepsico (Mother’s) and Kellogg’s (Bear Naked/Kashi) and their misleading natural marketing claims," said Fantle.  "When marketers intentionally mislead consumers with their ‘natural’ products, they are taking business away from those companies providing truly safe and healthy food and supporting certified organic farmers."

      "We hope that companies like Kashi, marketing what they call natural foods, will instead choose to meet their consumers’ expectations by sourcing truly organic ingredients," Fantle added.

      Below is a short video provided by Cornucopia. The Kashi video featuring "Keegan" does not contain the embed code or permissions required to display it here.

      Consumers review Kellogg's productsYou might call it a tempest in a cereal bowl.  Green consumers are feeling betrayed following r...
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      Seniors Often Confused About Life Insurance Policies

      "Guaranteed coverage" doesn't always mean what they think it does

      When people reach a certain age, they begin to ponder the end of life and what they will pass on to their children. If they don't have many assets, they look to life insurance as a quick way to build an estate, or at least cover their funeral expenses.

      But for people 70 and over, getting reasonably priced life insurance isn't always as simple as the TV commercials make it seem. Paul, of Yorktown, Ind., found that out when he learned the premiums on the life insurance policy he had been paying on for years were about to rise dramatically.

      "I took what remaining cash value I had and as a AARP member applied to New York Life," Paul wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. "I was honest and supplied my medical information with the application."

      Paul says he has Type II diabetes which is controlled with medication but is otherwise an active, healthy 72-year-old. He was angry when New York Life turned him down for coverage.

      Coverage might not start right away

      Alta, of Manassas, Va., says her parents signed up for AARP's New York Life policy, which had a two-year waiting period.

      "My mother passed away five days before a two-year waiting period for her life insurance policy," Alta writes. "She and my dad took out a small policy each of $5000 to cover their funeral. They were told they were getting the guaranteed life that AARP and NY Life advertise in the mail, email and on TV. What NY Life gave them was a group life and because my mom signed the paper, they now will not pay her life insurance -- leaving my dad to pay the funeral cost that he cannot afford."

      Currently, AARP offers four different life insurance products for seniors and they are very different. The lowest level, for example, is limited to a $50,000 death benefit but will be cancelled when the policyholder turns 80, or perhaps even sooner. It starts with low premiums that rise as the policyholder gets older.

      Lifetime coverage, or maybe not

      The two higher levels offer protection that can last a lifetime, in some cases. The benefit is limited to $50,000 in one case but only $15,000 in the other. The latter is the only policy that does not base acceptance on existing health issues.

      All four of the products have no requirement for a physical exam, which is featured prominently in marketing materials. It might lead some seniors believe that life insurance at an advanced age is easy to get and affordable. It rarely is ... for obvious reasons.

      Life insurance companies always play the odds. They are betting that you will live long enough to pay them enough to more than offset what benefits they have to pay out. If you don't look like a good bet, they will either pass or price the product they sell to you accordingly.

      Many consumers who have reviewed the AARP policies advise others to read all the policy material carefully and talk to a trusted financial adviser before making a decision.

      When people reach a certain age, they begin to ponder the end of life and what they will pass on to their children. If they don't have many assets, they lo...
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      Gerber Legendary Blades Recalls Instant Knife

      The blade can fold up during use

      Gerber Legendary Blades is recalling about 3,000 Instant Knives. The locking mechanism on the spring-assisted blade can fail to engage properly, causing the blade to fold during use, posing a laceration hazard.

      The recalled knives are spring-assisted clip knives with a black retractable 3.18" blade which can be folded into the textured black handle when the knife is not in use. The black handle has four diagonal slots on both sides. When closed, the knife measures 4.57" in length and when open, it measures 7.75". The Gerber "sword and shield" trademark appears in silver, on one side of the blade, close to the handle. The name "Gerber" is written in silver on the knife's pocket clip.

      This recall involves model numbers 30-000435 and 31-001101. The different model numbers refer to the same knife sold in a box (30-000435) and in a blister pack (31-001101). The model number is printed on the original packaging underneath the barcode. It is not printed on the knife.

      Sporting goods stores sold the knives nationwide from February 2012 through March 2012 for about $50. They were made in China.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled Instant Knives and contact Gerber Legendary Blades to receive a free replacement.

      For additional information, please contact Gerber Legendary Blades toll-free at (877) 314-9130 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. PT, Monday through Friday, or visit the firm's website at www.gerbergear.com

      Gerber Legendary Blades is recalling about 3,000 Instant Knives. The locking mechanism on the spring-assisted blade can fail to engage properly, ...
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      FTC Bans Bogus Timeshare Resellers

      Consumers paid their money but got no help selling their timeshares

      A telemarketing operation that allegedly deceived consumers who were trying to sell their timeshare properties is permanently banned from the timeshare resale and rental business, and from all telemarketing, under settlements with the Federal Trade Commission. 

      According to the FTC's complaint against Vacation Property Sellers Inc., Vacation Property Services Inc., Higher Level Marketing Inc., Frank M. Perry, Jr., David S. Taylor, and Albert M. Wilson, the defendants deceived consumers who were trying to sell their timeshare properties into paying an upfront fee ranging from $200 to more than $8,000, claiming they had buyers lined up or would find buyers for consumers' properties.

      When consumers realized they had been duped, the defendants allegedly ignored their phone calls and denied refund requests. The FTC charged the defendants with misrepresenting their refund policies and the existence of potential buyers, and calling consumers whose phone numbers were on the FTC's Do Not Call Registry.

      In addition to the timeshare and telemarketing bans, thesettlement order prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting material facts about any goods or services, and selling or otherwise benefitting from consumers' personal information.

      The order imposes a $23.5 million judgment that was suspended when Perry and the companies surrendered almost all of their assets. The settlement order against Taylor contains the same conduct prohibitions and imposes a $3.7 million judgment, which was suspended based on his inability to pay. The full judgments will become due immediately if the defendants are found to have misrepresented their financial condition. Litigation continues against the remaining defendants, Vacation Property Services Inc. and Albert M. Wilson.

      To avoid pitfalls when selling a timeshare unit, read the FTC's Selling a Timeshare Through a Reseller: Contract Caveats.

      A telemarketing operation that allegedly deceived consumers who were trying to sell their timeshare properties is permanently banned from the timeshare res...
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      Mad Cow Discovery Puts Consumers Off Their Feed

      It's the latest in a long series of safety scares affecting ground beef

      It's been six years since mad-cow disease made its last documented appearance in the United States, but that's small comfort to consumers who were already worried about the safety and general healthfulness of the American food supply.

      A ConsumerAffairs sentiment analysis of about 240,000 comments on Facebook, Twitter and other social media finds attitudes about ground beef only slowly recovering from the "pink slime" scare of a few weeks ago.

      The U.S. Agriculture Department is saying that the California dairy cow that tested positive for the brain-wasting disease doesn't pose a health threat since the disease wouldn't be transmitted through the animal's milk. But the discovery that the disease is still lurking in American cattle won't do much to improve public confidence.  

      The latest case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), as mad-cow disease is formally known, is the fourth to be documented in the U.S. since 2003.

      The discovery of the sick cow's carcass at a rendering plant was just the latest piece of bad news for the cattle industry.  A few weeks ago, social media whipped up a frenzy of near-hysteria over a ground beef ingredient that has come to be known as "pink slime." The filler material has been in use for two decades and is actually considered by most experts to increase, not decrease, the safety of ground beef but alarmist news reports further depressed consumer demand for beef, already depressed by consumer resistance to higher prices and continuing concerns over the health effects of a meat-heavy diet.

      Encouraging words

      Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today assured consumers the food supply was safe, as did consumer activists who are not always so supportive.

      “We have a good surveillance system and have been successful in reducing the number” of cases of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, Vilsack said. “We’re very confident in the sampling we currently do.”

      Supporting Vilsack's view was Sarah Klein, an attorney specializing in food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington non-profit that is often sharply critical of government agencies' handling of food safety issues.

      "A case of a single cow with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy is not a reason for significant concern on the part of consumers, and there is no reason to believe the beef or milk supply is unsafe," Klein said. "If the cow were exposed to the typical strain of BSE via animal feed—and the government says that’s not the case here—that would have represented a significant failure. The government’s ability to track down other cattle that may have been exposed via feed would have been hampered without an effective animal I.D. program," Klein said.

      But Klein said that while the U.S. may have dodged the bullet this time, it may not always be so lucky.

      "The United States has first-world resources and technology but a third-world animal identification system. In fact, some third-world countries do a better job of tracking livestock than America does. Botswana, for one, uses RFID microchips to track its animals up and down the supply chain. If American cattlemen suffer economic losses at the news of this discovery of BSE, they should blame only themselves and other opponents of a mandatory animal identification system," she said. 

      About BSE

      BSE is a degenerative brain disease that is thought to be spread through infected meat. Cattle can be infected by eating protein supplements made with the ground-up remains of other animals, a practice now outlawed in most countries. The human variant of BSE is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), which the National Institutes of Health describes as a rare, degenerative, invariably fatal brain disorder. There are three major categories of CJD: sporadic CJD, hereditary CJD, and acquired CJD.

      CJD is characterized by rapidly progressive dementia. Initially, patients experience problems with muscular coordination; personality changes, including impaired memory, judgment, and thinking; and impaired vision. People with the disease also may experience insomnia, depression, or unusual sensations. CJD does not cause a fever or other flu-like symptoms.

      As the illness progresses, the patients mental impairment becomes severe. They often develop involuntary muscle jerks called myoclonus, and they may go blind. They eventually lose the ability to move and speak and enter a coma. Pneumonia and other infections often occur in these patients and can lead to death.

      In the case of hereditary CJD, onset of symptoms occurs at about age 60. For other forms, there can be an incubation period of many years.

      How Is It Contracted?

      CJD cannot be transmitted through the air or through touching or most other forms of casual contact. Spouses and other household members of sporadic CJD patients have no higher risk of contracting the disease than the general population. However, exposure to brain tissue and spinal cord fluid from infected patients should be avoided to prevent transmission of the disease through these materials.

      In some cases, CJD has spread to other people from grafts of dura mater (a tissue that covers the brain), transplanted corneas, implantation of inadequately sterilized electrodes in the brain, and injections of contaminated pituitary growth hormone derived from human pituitary glands taken from cadavers.

      ---

      Sentiment analysis powered by NetBase

      It's been six years since mad-cow disease made its last documented appearance in the United States, but that's small comfort to consumers who were already...
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      How To Select Tires For Your Car

      A lot of considerations go into making the right choice

      Tires are probably the most important, but most under-appreciated part of your vehicle. They are literally where "the rubber meets the road," the only part of your car that makes contact with the highway. You tend not to think much about them, until something goes wrong.

      Robert, of Cottonwood Falls, Kan., said he purchased four Yokohoma tires for his truck in February 2011. Upon checking them this month he reports what he considers excessive wear.

      "The mileage on the tires from purchase date is 26,000 miles," Robert wrote to ConsumerAffairs. "I'm very dissatisfied and angry that the tires cost over $750 and did not last longer than 14 months."

      Paul, of Hicksville, N.Y., reports what he considers a more serious problem with the tires he purchased at Pep Boys three years ago. He said he made a disturbing discovery when he had a flat tire.

      "On changing the tire I found the tire delaminated," Paul wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. "To a trained person, it is clear the tire is defective. Upon looking at the other tire, it is clear it is beginning the same delamination."

      Should be defect-free

      Consumer comments about Pep Boys

      Obviously, new tires should not contain defects and should not wear out after a year of use. Sometimes, however, it's not the tires that cause the wear but an improper installation or alignment. But there's no question that getting the right set of tires for a vehicle is the starting point for satisfaction and safety.

      If it's time to replace you tires, you have several options. You can replace your tires with the same brand and size that came with the vehicle. Or, you could move up to better quality tires - ones that promise more miles or an added measure of safety.

      Considerations

      Choosing the right tire involves knowing how you expect to drive the vehicle. Do you drive long distances for your work? Do you have to navigate mountainous back roads? Do you in an area that gets lots of rain or snow? Or, will you rarely drive at highway speeds?

      It also involves what's most important to you about tires? Do you want tires that will last longer? Ones that enhance the comfort of your ride? Do you want tires that minimize road noise?

      Where you buy is important too

      Read consumer comments about Just Tires

      Once you have figured out how you will drive and what's most important to you, find a store that you trust to recommend a tire that fits you needs. A good sales person will ask a lot of questions before recommending a tire.

      A good tire store will also stand behind their work, so that if you experience problems like Paul and Robert did, they'll help you resolve it.

      While the technology behind tires is a lot better than it used to be, tires are also more expensive than they once were. That's why it's important to shop carefully, buying the right tires for you vehicle from the right store.

      What's the right store?

      How do you decide what store is right for you.  A good place to start is the ConsumerAffairs Tire Department. There you'll find consumers reviewing -- and often lamenting -- their experiences with various stores and tire brands. Keep in mind that reviews tend to focus on the negative, but at the same time, watch out for patterns.  If tons of consumers complain that a certain tire brand delaminated or didn't wear well, that should be a cautionary note.

      The problem with many tire stores is that they tend to push certain brands. In other words, they sell you want they want to sell you, not what's best for you. One way around this is to shop online at a site that walks you through the process and displays as many or as few options as you specify.

      Just a few consumer comments about TireRack

      TireRack.com, a favorite of ConsumerAffairs editors, has a well-designed website that basically "interviews" you about your vehicle and your driving preferences. You can, for example, specify your model and ask to see only all-weather tires made by certain companies. The prices are competitive -- usually $10 to $30 less per tire than you would pay locally.  If you're not up for installing tires yourself, TireRack will ship your tires to a local service station or tire store that will install them for you.

      Ironically, the tires may wind up being shipped to one of the local tire stores you initially avoided.

      A ConsumerAffairs editor had this experience recently when buying new tires for a MiniCooper. He initially visited a Just Tires store in his neighborhood but found only a few tires in the right size. He ordered from TireRack instead and had the tires shipped to -- guess who? -- Just Tires. By the time he paid Just Tires $20 or so per tire to install the tires, he wound up paying about what he would have paid if he had bought the tires at Just Tires but he got the specific tires he wanted, which Just Tires didn't have in stock.

      Good margins

      While waiting around Just Tires, our editor made small talk with the store manager, who groused about all the online orders the store was now installing.

      "Well, you're making $20 a tire for the installation with no inventory cost, no long-term storage and no sales expense.  That sounds pretty good to me," the editor said.

      "Yeah, you're right.  I hadn't really thought about it that way," the manager said, though he still didn't seem very happy about it as he slouched back to his office.

      Tires are probably the most important, but under-appreciated part of your vehicle. They are literally where "the rubber meets the road," the only part of y...
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      Credit Card Companies Still Heavily Target Young Consumers

      Study finds new law has done little to change marketing to students

      The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 was designed to end a number of credit card industry abuses, among them the heavy marketing of credit cards to college students.

      While some of the reforms in the law may have been effective, a study by University of Houston Law Center Professor Jim Hawkins finds college students still are getting nearly the same number of credit offers, despite their inability to repay.

      An expert in consumer credit, Hawkins said he surveyed more than 500 students and examined 300 agreements between issuers and colleges and alumni associations over the past two years.

      Little effect

      "Based on this survey and study, I found that many of the CARD Act's student and young consumer provisions have not affected credit markets in the ways the Act's proponents had hoped," Hawkins said.

      The CARD Act took effect in February 2010 and was designed to prevent student over-indebtedness, to end aggressive marketing to college students, and to reveal and change agreements between credit card issuers and colleges.

      According to the study, 68 percent of students under 21 reported receiving credit card offers in the mail during the preceding year, a practice the Act's sponsors hoped to curtail. Also, 40 percent of students reported seeing credit card companies giving gifts to students while the Act was in effect.

      Under the Act, banks and card issuers were also banned from offering credit cards to anyone under the age of 21, unless they have a qualified co-signer or proof of sufficient income to repay the debt. Hawkins says he found little evidence of that change.

      Troubling

      "Most troubling, students are still qualifying for credit cards without demonstrating an ability to repay the debt," Hawkins said. "My study found that 27 percent of students under 21 who were applying by themselves for credit cards listed loans as part of their income to qualify for the card."

      Hawkins also said he found that the requirement that credit card companies disclose previously secret agreements between issuers and colleges has caused virtually no change in the number of these agreements or their terms. Approximately 64 percent of the 300 agreements studied remained exactly the same in 2010 as they were in 2009.

      "Some agreements were terminated, but almost all of them appear to have been terminated in the ordinary course of business," Hawkins said. "In only two cases in all of the 300 agreements that I reviewed did I observe any mention of regulation as influencing the decision to end the arrangement."

      Loopholes

      Part of the problem, says Hawkins, may lie in loopholes in the law. The Act does not explicitly ban sending people under 21 credit card offers in the mail; it just makes it more difficult to get their addresses. The Act also does not ban credit card marketing on colleges; it just prevents one narrow type of advertising, Hawkins notes.

      "If Congress was concerned about people under 21 receiving credit card offers in the mail, it could directly prevent that conduct by making it illegal to mail anyone under 21 a credit card offer," Hawkins said. "Similarly, if Congress was concerned about abusive terms in the agreements between credit card companies and colleges, it could directly forbid those abusive terms instead of just requiring companies disclose the agreements."

      The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 was designed to end a number of credit card industry abuses, among them t...
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      For Seniors, Giving Up Car Keys Can Be Traumatic

      Families should face it early, and with sensitivity

      It's an issue every aging person faces, sooner or later. Has disease, or age itself made them unsafe behind the wheel?

      At that point, they have to stop driving for their own safety and that of others. But geriatric specialist Dr. Kavon Young of the Harris County, Tex., Hospital District, says loved ones should approach the matter compassionately to preserve the person’s dignity and keep them and others safe.

      “Aging is a process where so many things are lost," Young said. "Part of what seniors try to hold onto is their independence — the independence to make decisions about their health, their future and their driving. To them, driving is more than a way to get from one place to another.”

      Big blow to self-esteem

      Young says losing the ability to drive can be a big blow to self-esteem to a senior and could trigger depression, anxiety and loneliness. In some cases, seniors may feel isolated and not want to keep up with their medical care.

      It's an issue that will become more important in the years ahead because seniors are one of the fastest growing segments of America’s population. Making a decision to limit or restrict driving should not be taken lightly.

      “A lot of factors and family participation go into discussing driving with seniors because the goal is maintain their dignity in the process. These are adults and should be treated as such,” said Young, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth) at Houston.

      Embrace the issue early

      If worried about the ability of a loved one to drive safely, the ideal situation is to talk to them early about driving and safety concerns. Young suggests being open and honest to help when decisions like driving are determined. While most seniors will limit their driving if they don’t feel safe, some may not be aware of deficits in vision or memory and will not self-limit.

      How do you know when it's time to consider giving up the car keys? Here are some signs:

      • Longer drive times for short distances
      • Not obeying traffic signs
      • Forgetting destinations or locations
      • Hitting curbs
      • Being angry or anxious when driving

      According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, a total of 4,139 people ages 70 and older died in motor vehicle crashes in 2010, representing a 4 percent increase from the previous year.

      Its an issue every aging person faces, sooner or later. Has disease, or age itself made them unsafe behind the wheel?At that point, they have to stop dri...
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      Google, Microsoft Hope to Box In Dropbox & Box

      File lockers under assault by Internet gargantuas

      Build a better mousetrap and ... what? The world beats a pathway to your door? Maybe that was true once but what generally happens today is that Microsoft and Google duplicate your mousetrap, slap their logo on it and leave you wondering where all the mice and cheese went.

      Such is the fate of Dropbox, a very clever and useful file hosting service that uses the Internet to enable its users to store and share files and folders across the Internet.

      It's not just a storage system, it also provides very sophisticated file synchronization -- so that your laptop, desktop, iPad and other devices all stay up to date as files are changed and deleted. Founded in 2007 by MIT graduates Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, Dropbox now has millions of individual and enterprise customers using free and premium versions. 

      It's also extremely popular with its users, with a positive net sentiment of more than 80% over the last year, according to a ConsumerAffairs sentiment analysis of about 950,000 comments on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. 

      What does everyone like about Dropbox?  It might be more illustrative to ask what they don't like. The answer is: almost nothing, as this chart illustrates.

      No snooping

      Among its advantages is that Dropbox is independent and, as the techies say, platform-agnostic. It is not tied to your Google profile, your Microsoft profile or any other profile.  It simple stores your stuff without nosing around to see what ads, offers and promotions might be floated by you. It works with Windows, Mac, Linux and all kinds of smartphone and tablet systems.

      Of course, Dropbox could see its popularity erode now that Microsoft and Google are on the Dropbox beat -- Microsoft with its SkyDrive and Google with a new service reportedly known as Google Drive -- although Dropbox is not sitting still. The company announced yesterday that it was offering a new service that enables Dropbox clients to share documents, photos and videos with non-Dropbox clients.

      "We're always looking for ways to make life easier and solve the basic problems people face everyday," said Drew Houston, CEO and co-founder of Dropbox. "Sending files has always been a painful process, but now with Dropbox, sharing with friends, family, and colleagues is effortless."

      Business presentations, home movies, and even entire folders can be opened and viewed instantly without having to sign in, download anything, or open files separately, Houston said.     

      "One-stop shop"

      Dragging out the oldest and most anachronistic metaphor it could think of, Microsoft says it's hoping to make SkyDrive a "one-stop shop" (clever, no?) for file syncing and remote file access. On the software side, there are new clients for Windows and Mac OS X to sync files with the cloud, and updated versions of the Windows Phone and iOS clients. Of course, there's nothing for Linux users and at least for now, no Android or Blueberry support.

      As for storage, users will get 7 GB of synced storage, with options to buy more space, starting at $10 for 20 GB per year, up to $50 for 100 GB per year.

      Google Drive

      Details of Google's new offering aren't yet known but it will include both free and for-pay versions, sources say. And of course, it will include search capabilities so you (and Google?) can rummage around in your files. 

      Reports say you'll get 5 GB of storage for free with Google Drive, while various versions with incrementally more storage capacity, topping out at about 100 Gigabytes, will be available for monthly fees, the source said.

      How does all this compare with Dropbox? Well, you can get up to 18 GB free, although you start out at 2 GB and get 500 MB for each person you refer. Paid plans include 50 GB for $99 per year or 100 GB for $199 annually.

      Box not dropping out

      Another established service, known simply as Box, established six years ago, provides cloud storage as well as enterprise collaboration tools and says it is relying on its focus on large corporate and institutional customers to survive the new competitive challenges.

      "We think the enterprises are going to value platform-agnostic players that are very, very, very focused on security and the enterprise depth that we offer,” said co-founder Aaron Levie in a video provided by the company. "We think that our level of focus is going to be the huge competitive advantage that we have against any player in the space, whether it’s Google, or Microsoft, or Apple or IBM or anyone… they’re going to be competing with one company that is just entirely focused on this proposition.”


      Build a better mousetrap and ... what? The world beats a pathway to your door? Maybe that was true once but what happens today is taht Microsoft and Google...
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