Current Events in June 2015

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    The humanization of pet foods is leading to market growth

    Companies are trending towards humanizing their pet foods to make them more appetizing to consumers.

    Everyone knows that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Well, it works that way with pet food as well. The marketing companies know you love your pet, and the way to get you to buy their pet food is to make it look and sound good enough for you to eat too.

    Natural Balance does a pretty good job of describing their ingredients. They boast that their food is “Available in a variety of mouthwatering flavor combinations, which include Tuna with Shrimp, Salmon, Ocean fish and Chicken & Turkey, as well as Chicken, Liver, Duck & Salmon”.

    Those selections could be on a fine dining menu anywhere. Nature’s Recipe has pictures of fresh cooked chicken breasts with green beans and sweet potatoes, and state that “Our recipes are crafted to help your pet thrive”.

    Great for your pets' health

    Not only do the foods sound delicious, they are great for your pets’ health too. Many companies are sure to mention the vitamins, minerals, and proteins that they include in their pet foods to keep your pet going strong. They also shun artificial colors, preservatives, and other ingredients that may make you doubt them.

    It all sounds good enough to feed your kids tonight (though that is definitely not recommended). Pet food companies across the nation are trending toward humanizing their food. They are ensuring nutritional benefits and their manufacturing standards have been set as high as with human food.

    Dog treats, in particular, have had a spotlight on them in the last few years. Ever since products from China were shown to make pets sick, owners have been extremely careful about what they feed their pets. They look for products that contain whole grains, and a survey reports that 55% of people are worried about the fillers that go into treats, such as animal byproducts.

    At least 45% of consumers are concerned with what pet food tastes like. They say that it is one of the most important factors when deciding which type to buy; price comes in at a very close second. Overall, price limits the capacity for consumers to upgrade to premium products.

    A growing industry

    Organic pet foods sell very well in grocery stores. 39% of consumers agree that organic pet food options are better than non-organic ones. Millennials are even cooking their pet’s food to make sure it is healthy and fresh.

    U.S. sales of pet food totaled $21 billion in 2014, which was an increase of 0.4% from the previous year. Mintel forecasts that pet food will grow to a $22.8 billion dollar industry by 2019. This shows how the humanization of these products have led to market growth. 

    Everyone knows that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Well, it works that way with pet food as well. The marketing companies know you love y...

    Mitsubishi recalls vehicles with sun visor- air bag issue

    The passenger side sun visor may detach when the air bag deploys

    Mitsubishi Motors North America (MMNA) is recalling 459,618 model year 2000-2005 Eclipse vehicles manufactured April 5, 1999, to December 17, 2004; 2001-2005 Eclipse Spyder vehicles manufactured January 19, 2000, to March 18, 2005; 2001-2005 Chrysler Sebring vehicles manufactured April 17, 2000, to February 21, 2005; and 2001-2005 Dodge Stratus vehicles manufactured April 17, 2000, to February 22, 2005.

    The passenger side sun visor may be folded down in such a position that, if the passenger frontal air bag deploys, the passenger side sun visor may detach. If the passenger side sun visor detaches and is propelled rearward, there is an increased risk of occupant injury.

    MMNA will notify their owners, and Chrysler will notify the Chrysler and Dodge owners. Dealers will install a tether strap to retain the passenger sun visor, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

    Owners may contact MMNA customer service at 1-888-648-7820. Chrysler and Dodge owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. MMNA's number for this recall is SR-15-005.

    Mitsubishi Motors North America (MMNA) is recalling 459,618 model year 2000-2005 Eclipse vehicles manufactured April 5, 1999, to December 17, 2004; 2001-20...

    Bicycles with SR Suntour bicycle forks recalled

    The front wheel could come off the bicycle

    SR Suntour North America of Vancouver, Wash., is recalling about 101,600 bicycles with SR Suntour bicycle forks in the U.S. and Canada.

    The bolt that attaches the upper part of the bicycle’s fork to the lower part of the fork can break or separate and cause the front wheel to come off the bicycle, posing a crash hazard.

    There have been 15 reports of the bolts breaking or separating from the bicycles, including 2 reports of minor injuries, including abrasions, cuts and bruises.

    This recall involves Cannondale, Diamondback, Giant, GT, INA International, Schwinn, Scott and Trek brand bicycles with SR Suntour bicycle forks models M3010, M3020, M3030, NEX and XCT.

    The recalled forks have serial numbers in the top row beginning with “K” and ending with a number between 141101 and150127. The fork model and serial numbers are located on the back of the fork’s crown. The serial number is the first row. The model number is in the second row. “SR Suntour” is printed on stickers on both sides of the fork legs.

    A detailed list of the specific model numbers included in the recall is on the firm’s websitehttp://www.srsuntour-cycling.com/service/download-bereich/consumer-downloads/recall/fixingbolt/ .

    The bicycles, manufactured in China, were sold at bicycle stores, sports stores and mass merchandisers from November 2014, through May 2015, for between $300 and $400 for the bicycles.

    Consumers should immediately stop using bicycles with the recalled SR Suntour bicycle forks and return the bicycle to the place of purchase for a free inspection and repair.

    Consumers may contact SR Suntour toll-free at (888) 820-8458 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., CT, Monday through Friday.

    SR Suntour North America of Vancouver, Wash., is recalling about 101,600 bicycles with SR Suntour bicycle forks in the U.S. and Canada. The bolt that atta...

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      School Specialty recalls NeoRok Stools

      The stool can break during use

      School Specialty of Greenville, Wis., is recalling about 1,350 NeoRok Stools.

      The stool can break during use, posing a fall hazard.

      The company has received 2 reports of stools breaking. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves three models of Classroom Select NeoRok Stools with a tilting and rocking feature, for use by children in the classroom. Recalled stools were sold in three sizes: 15 inch tall (Item Number 1496633), 18 inch tall (Item Number 1496340) and 20 inch tall (Item Number 1496342).

      The Classroom Select logo/name is printed on one side of the base and the NeoRok name is printed on the other side of the base. The stools have a round black rubber seat insert with a solid color plastic seat and black rimmed base, and were were sold in five colors: Pistachio (green), Paprika (orange), Periwinkle (light blue), Cardinal (red) and Marine (navy blue).

      The stools, manufactured in the U.S., were sold in Classroom Direct catalogs, School Specialty Furniture and Equipment catalogs, School Specialty Education Essentials catalogs, School Specialty Early Childhood catalogs, and on www.schoolspecialty.com from May 2015, through June 2015, for between $105 - $115.

      Consumers should immediately stop using these recalled stools and may contact School Specialty. The company is contacting consumers directly and sending free replacement stools with a prepaid return shipping label and instructions.

      Consumers may contact School Specialty toll-free at (877) 204-3948 from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., CT, Monday – through Friday.

      School Specialty of Greenville, Wis., is recalling about 1,350 NeoRok Stools. The stool can break during use, posing a fall hazard. The company has recei...

      Good Seed recalls soybean sprouts and mung bean sprouts

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Good Seed of Springfield, Va., is recalling all packages of soybean sprouts and mung bean sprouts.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The following products are being recalled:

      • 1-lb bags of soybean sprouts in clear plastic bags labeled "GOODSEED Soy Bean Sprouts" "Keep Refrigerated" with a UPC Code of "21111 10035" produced on or after May 8, 2015.
      • 1-lb bags of mung bean sprouts in clear plastic bags labeled "GOODSEED Mung Bean Sprouts" "Keep Refrigerated" with a UPC code of "21111 20136" produced on or after May 8, 2015.
      • 2-lb bags of soybean sprouts in clear plastic bags labeled "GOODSEED Soy Bean Sprouts" "Keep Refrigerated" with a UPC Code of "21112 58772" produced on or after May 8, 2015.
      • 2-lb bags of mung bean sprouts in clear plastic bags labeled "GOODSEED Mung Bean Sprouts" "Keep Refrigerated" with a UPC code of "21111 25871" produced on or after May 8, 2015.
      • 10-lb bags of soybean sprouts in black plastic bags labeled with a sticker "GOODSEED Soy Bean Sprouts" produced on or after May 8, 2015.
      • 10-lb bags of mung bean sprouts in clear plastic bags labeled with a sticker "GOODSEED Mung Bean Sprouts" produced on or after May 8, 2015.

      The recalled products were distributed to retail stores in Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.

      Customers who purchased these products should return them to the place of sale for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company directly at 703-392-0075 or the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Food Safety Program at 804-786-8899.

      Good Seed of Springfield, Va., is recalling all packages of soybean sprouts and mung bean sprouts. The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocyto...

      Jeep Cherokees with power liftgates recalled

      The liftgate control modules may be inadvertently exposed to water

      Chrysler (FCA US) is recalling an estimated 164,000 model year 2014 and 2015 Jeep Cherokee SUVs equipped with power liftgates.

      The power liftgate control modules may be inadvertently exposed to water, which could cause a short-circuit, creating a fire hazard.

      The company says it is unaware of any related injuries or accidents.

      The recall affects an estimated 99,436 vehicles in the U.S.; 13,195 in Canada; 2,406 in Mexico and 48,966 outside the NAFTA region.

      Chrysler says it will advise vehicle owners when they may schedule service. If the modules show signs of water exposure, they will be replaced at no cost to the owners.

      In the interim, the cargo areas of the recalled vehicles should be monitored and kept dry.

      Customers with questions may call the Chrysler customer information center at 1-800-853-1403.

      Chrysler (FCA US) is recalling an estimated 164,000 model year 2014 and 2015 Jeep Cherokee SUVs equipped with power liftgates. The power liftgate control...

      An atlas of elderly brain scans could help diagnose Alzheimer's disease

      An atlas of elderly brain scans could be used to diagnose neurodegenerative diseases much more quickly.

      Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders may be easier in the future. A new study suggests that digitally mapping the brains of older people may help doctors detect anomalies and treat conditions much more quickly.

      Doctors currently use MRI’s of healthy brains to compare individual cases and make diagnoses. The problem is that most of these MRI’s are of young or middle-aged brains. Diseases and disorders like Alzheimer’s primarily affect people who are older, so many of the MRI’s do not accurately depict what happens in our brains as we age.

      Mapping the elderly brain

      To remedy this, researchers from the University of Edinburgh created a detailed atlas of an aged human brain. The atlas was created from scans of over 130 people who were 60 years of age or older.

      After creating the atlas, the research team compared brain scans of healthy, older brains and the brains of patients that had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The atlas was able to locate areas in the brain where brain tissue was deteriorating, which can be an early sign of Alzheimer’s if caught in the early stages.

      Earlier Diagnoses

      “We’re absolutely delighted with these preliminary results and that our brain MRI atlases may be used to support earlier diagnoses of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Earlier diagnoses are currently our strongest defense against these devastating diseases and, while our work is preliminary and ongoing, digital brain atlases are likely to be at the core of this defense,” said Dr. David Alexander Dickie, who is the first author of the study and a researcher at The University of Edinburgh’s Brain Research Imaging Center.

      While researchers have had a great measure of success with their atlases, they are always looking for more data to make them more precise. They urge brain imaging centers to continue collecting scans of brains of people of all ages so that they can create large brain image banks to work from.

      The full study is published in the journal PLOS ONE

      Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders may be easier in the future. A new study suggests that digitally mapping the brains of...

      Why young adults need to be checking their blood pressure

      Elevated, but 'normal' blood pressure could be dangerous for young people in middle age

      In recent years doctors have determined that older adults can enjoy health with higher elevations of blood pressure than had previously been considered normal.

      In 2013 a medical panel on hypertension, or high blood pressure, issued guidelines suggesting patients over 60 were fine with a blood pressure reading of 150/90. Blood pressure goals were also eased for adults with diabetes and kidney disease.

      In March 2014 researchers at Duke University ran an analysis and determined that an estimated 5.8 million adults no longer needed blood pressure medicine under the new guidelines.

      Sub-clinical heart damage

      But researchers are careful to point out that the same cannot be said for young adults. In fact, a federal study led by Johns Hopkins researchers says mild elevations in blood pressure considered to be in the upper range of normal during young adulthood can lead to sub-clinical heart damage by middle age, a condition that could lead to full-blown heart failure.

      Elevated blood pressure is one that tops 140/90, a reading that measures the force of pressure in the heart as it contracts – that's the top number – and as it relaxes between contractions, the bottom number. High blood pressure has been long implicated as a risk factor in a range of cardiovascular diseases.

      What is different about the new study is its suggestion that pressure just below that threshold, what is called high normal pressure, begins to fuel heart damage in people as young as 20 and can lead to changes in heart muscle function in as little as 25 years.

      Troubling

      Investigators are especially troubled because their findings come from a group of patients, most having had no hypertension. They are concerned that a pattern of high normal blood pressure in early adulthood could be indicators of 2 forms of heart failure, a condition marked by the progressive weakening heart muscle and the organ's gradual loss of blood-pumping ability.

      “Our results suggest the heart muscle may be more exquisitely sensitive to the effects of even subtle elevations in blood pressure than we thought,” said principal investigator Joao Lima.

      To review, the most recent clinical guidelines issued by the Joint National Committee in 2014 define hypertension as blood pressure above 140/90, which is higher than it has been in recent years. The guidelines also call on clinicians and patients to aim for a pressure below 150/90.

      The Johns Hopkins team says these guidelines are not “one size fits all.” They do not apply to all ages, and what constitutes normal should probably change with age, they say.

      “Our results suggest that 'high-normal' blood pressure may be too high and far from normal for some people,' said lead author Satoru Kishi, M.D., a cardiologist at Mitsui Memorial Hospital in Tokyo who worked on the study as a research fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “A concerning number of young adults with pressures in the high-normal range develop insipient heart dysfunction in middle age.”

      Young people may suffer from elevated blood pressure because of lifestyle issues. Diet and body mass are big influencers.

      Young people who are overweight or obese, eat an unhealthy diet and get little exercise may experience elevated blood pressure levels. In the past these levels were seen as fairly normal. The Hopkins team says now they should be cause for concern.

      In recent years doctors have determined that older adults can enjoy health with higher elevations of blood pressure than had previously been considered nor...

      A shrinking economy

      The nation's gross domestic product is moving in the wrong direction

      The national economy, as measured by real gross domestic product -- the value of the production of goods and services in the U.S., adjusted for price changes -- declined at an annual rate of 0.2% in the first quarter, according to the "third" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

      Real GDP grew at a 2.2% annual rate in the final 3 months of 2014.

      The GDP estimate released today is based on more complete source data than were available for the "second" estimate issued last month.

      In the “second” estimate, the decrease in real GDP was 0.7%. but this latest estimate is based on more complete data. With the third estimate, exports decreased less than previously estimated, and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) and imports increased more.

      The decline in real GDP primarily reflected decreases in exports, nonresidential fixed investment, and state and local government spending that were partly offset by contributions from PCE, private inventory investment, and residential fixed investment. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

      GDP inflation and spending

      The price index for gross domestic purchases, which measures prices paid by U.S. residents, fell 1.6% in the first 3 months of the year. It was down 0.1% in the fourth quarter. Excluding food and energy prices, the price index for gross domestic purchases was up 0.1%, compared with an increase of 0.7% in the previous quarter.

      PCE increased was up 2.1% in the first quarter, compared with an increase of 4.4% in the fourth. Durable goods spending increased 1.3%, versus an advance of 6.2%, while spending for nondurable goods inched up 0.8% after rising 4.1%. Spending for services rose 2.7% versus 4.3%.

      The full GDP report may be found on the Commerce Department website.

      The national economy, as measured by real gross domestic product -- the value of the production of goods and services in the U.S., adjusted for price chang...

      Virtual reality therapy may help those suffering from alcohol dependence

      Researchers hope to diminish cravings for alcohol by utilizing virtual-reality software.

      Therapy involving the use of virtual-reality software may help people with alcohol dependence. A new study suggests that the treatment can slow a patient’s brain metabolism, which can diminish their cravings for alcohol.

      Virtual-reality therapy has been used in the fields of psychology and psychiatry to treat many different disorders, including phobias and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It allows researchers and doctors to expose people to the things that trigger their fears and anxiety while ensuring they are in a safe and controlled setting.

      Senior researcher Dong Hyun Han and his team conducted the study with the help of 12 patients who were being treated for alcohol dependence. After detoxing for a week, each patient took part in 10 sessions of virtual reality therapy.

      Changing brain chemistry

      The sessions placed each patient in three virtual situations. The first was a relaxing environment with no stressors. The second was a “high-risk situation”, where patients were placed in a restaurant where other people were drinking. The third was an “aversive situation”, where patients were surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of people getting sick from drinking too much.

      Although measurable outcomes are hard to measure in this kind of study, researchers were able to observe what the treatment did to the patients’ brain chemistry. Before beginning the sessions, Han and his team took brain scans of the patients and noted that each had a faster metabolism in the brain’s limbic circuit. Having a faster brain metabolism makes a person more sensitive to stimuli, like alcohol.

      After the virtual-reality therapy sessions were complete, doctors scanned the patients again and noticed that their brain metabolisms had slowed. Han suggests that this shows a reduced craving for alcohol.

      Better manage real-life situations

      Han and his team believe that this therapy is a promising approach to treating alcohol dependence. It puts patients in realistic situations and makes them actively participate in the process. The researchers hope that being exposed to triggers in sessions will help patients better manage situations that may occur in real life.  

      Although it has not been proven, virtual-reality therapy may be useful in treating substance abuse disorders as well. Longer-term studies are still needed, however, to determine if the treatments can help patients remain abstinent and avoid relapses.

      The full study has been published in the July issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs

      Therapy involving the use of virtual-reality software may help people with alcohol dependence. A new study suggests that the treatment can slow a patient’s...

      The volatility continues in mortgage rate applications

      Applications rose last week following a decline the week before

      It continues to be difficult to get a handle on applications for mortgages.

      Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey show a applications rose 1.6% during the week ending June 19 after dipping the previous week.

      The Refinance Index were up 2%, increasing the refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 49.0% of total applications from 48.5% the week before.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 7.0% of total applications -- the highest level since December 2014., while the FHA share of total applications slipped to 13.9% from 14.2 percent the week prior.

      The VA share of total applications decreased to 10.9% from 11.5% a week earlier and the USDA share was unchanged at 0.9%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) dipped 3 basis points -- to 4.19% from 4.22%, with points decreasing to 0.38 from 0.46 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) slipped from 4.18% to 4.14%, with points decreasing to 0.35 from 0.36 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA was down 4 basis points 3.96%, with points decreasing to 0.14 from 0.20 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs dropped to 3.38% from 3.43%, with points rising to 0.37 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs plunged 11 basis points to 3.04%, with points decreasing to 0.46 from 0.52 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

      The survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

      It continues to be difficult to get a handle on applications for mortgages. Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Application...

      Ford recalls Mustangs with possible fuel tank issue

      Prolonged exposure to elevated underbody temperatures can cause degradation of the fuel tank

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 19,095 model year 2015 Ford Mustangs manufactured February 14, 2014, to February 10, 2015, and equipped with 2.3L engines.

      Prolonged exposure to elevated underbody temperatures can cause degradation of the fuel tank and/or fuel vapor lines, which may eventually result in a fuel leak. In addition, this condition could cause seals in the parking brake cable to degrade, potentially affecting parking brake function.

      If the vehicle experiences a fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source it can, increase the risk of a vehicle fire. Reduced parking brake function could potentially result in unexpected vehicle movement, which may increase the risk of injury.

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel tank shield, add thermal patches to the fuel tank and parking brake cable, and add thermal wraps to the fuel vapor lines. The repairs will be performed at no charge. The recall is expected to begin July 6, 2015.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 15S19.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 19,095 model year 2015 Ford Mustangs manufactured February 14, 2014, to February 10, 2015, and equipped with 2.3L engines. ...

      EPIC fail for Uber's new privacy policy: FTC asked to block “deceptive data collection”

      Electronic Privacy Information Center files anti-Uber complaint on Monday

      The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a non-profit privacy rights group, has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission asking that the FTC halt the “unfair and deceptive data collection practices” which car-sharing company Uber plans to impose on customers starting in mid-July.

      Among other things, Uber's new “User Privacy Statement” claims the right to track its users even when they're not currently using the app.

      Uber's posted announcement of this update included the sentence “We value your privacy and encourage you to review the new statement” prominently backlighted in blue at the top of the page. When you scroll down to the fourth full paragraph, you find this:

      Location Information: When you use the Services for transportation or delivery, we collect precise location data about the trip from the Uber app used by the Driver. If you permit the Uber app to access location services through the permission system used by your mobile operating system (“platform”), we may also collect the precise location of your device when the app is running in the foreground or background. We may also derive your approximate location from your IP address.

      In other words: when the app is on, we can use it to track your location, and when it's not, we can use your IP address instead. The policy goes on to say that it can use your address-book contact information “to facilitate social interactions through our Services and for other purposes,” a polite way of saying they can spam anybody in your email contact list.

      Lax Views on Privacy

      Uber already has a storied history of coming under fire for its lax views on privacy. Last November was a particularly bad month for Uber's public relations department. First, BuzzFeed reported that Uber executive Emil Michael floated the idea of handling any criticism of the company by digging up dirt on any journalists who dared criticize it.

      When an editor from the website PandoDaily accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny” for apparently working with a French “escort service,” Michael suggested, among other things, that Uber's dirt-diggers could expose the editor by proving a very particular, specific (and presumably unflattering) claim about her personal life.

      Such an attitude arguably sounds bad expressed by any company executive, but are especially damaging coming from a tech company like Uber which, by its very nature, has access to lots of information which customers might prefer to keep private — in Uber's case, its business model ensures that it knows where its customers live, what places they visit, and when. (Indeed, with such information, you could prove lots of particular and specific claims about various people's personal lives, no?)

      Also last November, it came out that an Uber executive had used a program called “God View” to track a journalist's location and movements. Not that “God View” itself was breaking news by then; the previous month, Forbes magazine reported that Uber used “God View” as a form of entertainment at company launch parties, letting staffers enjoy watching real-time “God's eye” views of Uber passengers at that moment, including their identities, current locations and trip itineraries.

      Then, a couple of days before Thanksgiving, Newsweek reported Uber's tendency to advertise its services by sending “ghost texts” – spammy messages allegedly sent from Uber drivers that urged their friends to sign up as well, except the drivers never sent their friends such messages, and didn't even know about them.

      A host of complaints

      EPIC's complaint (available as a .pdf here) lists all of these anti-Uber complaints and several more, and also quotes the proposed new privacy policy before spelling out some of its implications:

      Uber’s Revised Business Practices Will Allow the Company to Routinely Track the Location of Internet Users Even When They are not Customers of Uber

      Uber’s revised privacy policy creates several risks for American consumers. Uber will now collect the precise location of the user when the app is running in the foreground through traditional GPS location services. Uber will also collect precise location information if the app is operating in the background. On phones running iOS, this means that Uber may be able collect location data even after an app has been terminated by the user. … Further, given Uber’s statement that it will collect location data from a user’s device only “[i]f you permit it to,” a user would reasonably assume that the company does not track his or her location by other means. In fact, Uber may continue to “derive your approximate location from your IP address.”

      EPIC's complaint does go on to note that Uber claims “it will allow users to opt-out of these features,” but says Uber's “change in business practices places an unreasonable burden on consumers and is not easy to exercise: while iOS users can later disable the contact syncing option by changing the contacts setting on their mobile devices, the Android platform does not provide any such setting. These statements could lead users to believe that that [sic] they can choose to not share location data with the company after downloading the app, which is not true.”

      The 23-page complaint also points out that “prior to the emergence of Uber and similar services, American consumers could routinely hire taxis without any disclosure of personal information or tracking of their location.” EPIC asks the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Uber's business and data-collection practices; investigate Uber's “possible violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act”: “Halt” Uber's collection of contact list information and user location data unless it is required for actual provision of the service; and also investigate other companies engaged in similar practices.

      But representatives for Uber say neither EPIC nor the FTC have any reason for complaint. Spokeswoman Jessica Santillo said that “We care deeply about the privacy of our riders and driver-partners. These updated statements don't reflect a shift in our practices, they more clearly lay out the data we collect today and how it is used to provide or improve our services.”

      The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a non-profit privacy rights group, has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission asking that th...

      Smart patches could be a game changer for diabetics

      Researchers have developed smart patches that are more precise, and less painful, than standard insulin injections.

      Researchers from the University of North Carolina and NC State have developed a small insulin patch that may help the 387 million people who suffer from diabetes. If successful, the patch could replace painful insulin injections and better regulate blood sugar levels in the human body.

      The developing patch is a thin square that is no bigger than a penny. It is covered with over one hundred “microneedles” that each hold a small store of insulin and a sensor that detects glucose. When you apply the patch to your skin, the sensors in the needles will detect if your blood sugar levels are too high. If they are, then the needles release their insulin stores to regulate your glucose levels.

      “We have designed a patch for diabetes that works fast, is easy to use, and is made from nontoxic, biocompatible materials,” said Zhen Gu, who is co-senior author of the study. “The whole system can be personalized to account for a diabetic’s weight and sensitivity to insulin, so we could make the smart patch even smarter.”

      Impractical and imprecise

      The current standard for those with diabetes is to prick their fingers to test their glucose levels, and take an insulin shot if they need to. This can be a dangerous practice, though. John Buse, who is another co-senior author of the study, calls it impractical and imprecise.

      “Injecting the wrong amount of medication can lead to significant complications like blindness and limb amputations, or even more disastrous consequences such as diabetic comas and death,” he said.

      Researchers have already begun testing their patches on mice to see if they could control their blood sugar levels. One set of mice was given a standard insulin injection; their blood sugar levels dropped to normal levels, but rose back up to hyperglycemic range quickly. Another set of mice was given the new smart patch; their blood sugar levels were brought under control within 30 minutes and stayed that way for several hours.

      These tests reflect positively on the smart patch’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels in people. Mice are less sensitive to insulin, so the stabilizing effects of the patch could last even longer when given to humans. Researchers hope that the patch could last up to a few days before needing to be changed. This would save a lot of time for diabetics who need to constantly be on top of their blood sugar regulation.

      “The hard part of diabetes care is not the insulin shots, or the blood sugar checks, or the diet, but the fact that you have to do them all several times a day, every day, for the rest of your life,” said Buse. “If we can get these patches to work in people, it will be a game changer.

      The full study has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

      Researchers from the University of North Carolina and NC State have developed a small insulin patch that may help the 387 million people who suffer from di...

      How ready are you for retirement?

      Millennials are preparing at at a surprising rate

      Ask different financial planners how much you need to retire and you are likely to get several different answers. That's because there are a lot of variables, depending on each individual's situation.

      But all will tell you the same thing. You need to be saving money. Now.

      Fidelity Investments suggests that by age 35, you should have saved 1 times your current salary, then 3 times by 45, and 5 times by 55.

      “Setting up clear goals linked to your salary can help simplify your planning, and help you determine if you are on track throughout your working life,” said Fidelity Executive Vice President John Sweeney. “Having such guideposts is particularly important in today’s workplace, where layoffs, job switching, longer life expectancy, and escalating health care costs can complicate your efforts to save for retirement.”

      How you save is important

      The U.S. Department of Labor points out that how you save can be just as important as what you save. Inflation and the type of investments you make play important roles in how much you'll have accumulated at retirement.

      For example, if you're putting your savings into low-yield bonds, or even worse, certificates of deposit, it may reduce risk of losing the investments but it will do well to keep up with inflation.

      Know how your savings or pension plan is invested. Learn about your plan's investment options and ask questions.

      Diversify

      One way to reduce risk is to diversify, by putting your savings in different types of investments. Your investment mix may change over time depending on a number of factors such as your age, goals, and financial circumstances. Financial security and knowledge go hand in hand.

      While young people have the advantage of a long time line before retirement, they face a very difficult savings environment. Wages have been slow to grow while many everyday expenses haven't. With young families, many Millennials face obstacles in setting aside money for the future.

      However, they appear to be doing it. T. Rowe Price's latest Retirement Saving & Spending Study concludes this generation has relatively good financial habits, especially when compared with a national sample of their parents' generation.

      Both samples in the study had 401(k) retirement accounts. While Millennials are not saving at least 15% of their annual salary for retirement as recommended, they acknowledge the importance of saving for retirement and are interested in saving more.

      Better habits

      The study identified several areas where Millennials have better money habits than Baby Boomers. They are more likely to carefully track monthly expenses and stick to a budget.

      "It's encouraging to learn that millennials are so receptive to saving for retirement and are generally practicing good financial habits," said Anne Coveney, a senior executive at T. Rowe Price. "These Millennials are working for private sector corporations, with a median personal income of $57,000 and an average job tenure of five years. So their circumstances may be somewhat driving their behaviors. When they have the means to do the right thing, it appears that they often do.”

      Yet Coveney worries about the difficulty young savers face. Median pay raises for this group were a paltry 3%. Still, she says she's impressed by Millennials' financial discipline in managing their spending and are defying stereotypes that this generation is “prone to spend-thrift, short-sighted thinking."  

      Ask different financial planners how much you need to retire and you are likely to get several different answers. That's because there are a lot of variabl...