Current Events in June 2015

Browse Current Events by year

2015

Browse Current Events by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thanks for subscribing.

    You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Bring your dog to work on June 26th

    Promote awareness for pet adoption by bringing your dog into work this Friday.

    You better start packing an extra lunch and a few toys; don’t forget about a bowl for water! Friday is Take Your Dog to Work Day, and many companies will be participating.

    Take Your Dog to Work Day was created in 1999 by the group Pet Sitters International (PSI). They wanted to find a way to give back to the pet community from which their members earn their living. It is estimated that 300 businesses participated in the event in that first year. The event is held annually on the Friday after Father’s Day.

    If you are a business that is participating in Take Your Dog to Work Day, PSI asks that you focus on the fun employees and employers have, celebrate the value of pets in the workplace, and encourage pet adoptions amongst workers.

    Not left out

    In an effort not to leave out other kinds of pets, PSI has sponsored Take Your Pet to Work Week as well. Every day leading up to the Friday, businesses are encouraged to let employees bring their pets to work.

    If you are an employee of a company that is on the fence about participating in PSI’s event, there are some very convincing facts that you can bring up to your boss. According to a study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012, employees who brought their dogs to work produced lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol throughout the day. Other studies show that bringing dogs to work can increase interaction between co-workers and employee satisfaction.

    Animal shelters all over the United States are having trouble staying open due to an overflow of animals. Help create awareness for pet adoptions and show your community how your company supports animals this Friday.

    If you would like more information on how you can participate, go to www.takeyourdog.com.

    You better start packing an extra lunch and a few toys; don’t forget about a bowl for water! Friday is Take Your Dog to Work Day, and many companies will b...

    Tobacco use on the decline? Not necessarily

    The FDA has some facts and figures that might surprise you

    You might think that all the warnings about tobacco use would sink in. In a lot of cases it has, but in too many it hasn't happened.

    While the number of kids smoking cigarettes is down, the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), co-conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finds, the number using other tobacco products is way up.

    “This is the only nationally representative survey of middle and high school students that focuses exclusively on tobacco use,” says Benjamin J. Apelberg, Ph.D., branch chief of epidemiology at FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

    Survey results provided a national snapshot of what tobacco products today’s middle and high school youth are using, as well as emerging trends over time.

    Key findings

    Here's what the survey discovered:

    • In 2014, 1 in 4 high school students and 1 in 13 middle school students reported being tobacco users (using one or more tobacco products in the previous 30 days).
    • Of the then-current 4.6 million youth tobacco users, 2.4 million reported using e-cigarettes.
    • Between 2011 and 2014, the percentage of students reporting current use of cigarettes plunged from 15.8% to 9.2%.
    • Between 2011 and 2014, hookah use among high school students doubled and e-cigarette use increased even more dramatically.
    • In 2014, nearly 2.2 million students reported using 2 or more tobacco products.

    The rise of e-cigarettes

    Since the survey started collecting data on e-cigarettes in 2011, their current use surpassed current use of every other tobacco product -- including conventional cigarettes -- for the first time in 2014 .

    “One thing the study confirms for us is that the tobacco product landscape has changed dramatically,” Apelberg says. “Middle and high school kids are using novel products like e-cigarettes and hookahs in unprecedented numbers, and many are using more than one kind of tobacco product.”

    It’s something of a good news/bad news picture, says FDA epidemiologist Catherine Corey. “While we’re glad to see cigarette smoking decreasing in middle and high school youth, the increase in the use of e-cigarettes and hookahs undermines progress in reducing tobacco use among kids,” she says.

    Nicotine's consequences

    Nicotine is dangerous and highly addictive for kids at any age, whether it comes from an e-cigarette, hookah, cigarette or cigar. Because the brain is still developing, adolescence appears to be a particularly vulnerable time.

    Research has clearly demonstrated that exposure to nicotine at a young age increases the chance that kids will become addicted. In addition to nicotine exposure, tobacco use can be harmful due to the numerous other chemicals present in tobacco products that can cause disease.

    “Youth should not use tobacco in any form,” Apelberg says.

    At this time, FDA has regulatory authority over cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco. The agency is in the process of completing work on a rule that would extend its authority to regulate additional products that meet the legal definition of a tobacco product, such as electronic cigarettes, cigars and hookahs. FDA is also proposing a minimum age of 18 for buying tobacco.

    “These latest findings serve to strengthen existing scientific evidence that novel tobacco products like e-cigarettes and hookah have great appeal to youth, and that comprehensive youth prevention efforts that focus on reducing all forms of tobacco use are needed,” says Corey.

    You might think that all the warnings about tobacco use would sink in. In a lot of cases it has, but in too many it hasn't happened. While the number of k...

    Amazon's Echo will turn on your lights, open the garage door and remind you to take out the garbage

    No one at home to nag you? Here's the answer

    We talk to our computers and other gadgets all the time but, like our significant others, they mostly ignore us. Amazon hopes to change all that with its latest gee-whiz gadget -- the Echo, a slender tube that is somehow reminiscent of the monolith in "2001: A Space Odyssey," only without corners.

    The Echo doesn't appear to do much but Amazon assures us that it's always listening, ready to respond to our slightest wish, as long as that wish is something that can be answered by a weather report, Taylor Swift tune or other digitally-rendered data or activity.

    And no, it's not just a knock-off of Apple's Siri. While Siri just rides around in your pocket, the Echo stays home and gets stuff done.  

    It's a smart hands-free remote control, in other words. It's been available by invitation-only for the past seven months and Amazon assures us that the initial users have been nothing short of ecstatic, giving it a 4.5 (out of 5) rating.

    Alexa-powered

    “The customer response to Amazon Echo has been incredibly positive, and we’ve been working hard to build more as quickly as possible,” said Greg Hart , Vice President, Amazon Echo. “We’re excited to get Echo into the hands of even more customers and continue to invent new features and experiences.”

    The slender tube-like device uses far-field voice recognition with an array of seven microphones to keep tabs on your every whim. It is also stuffed with dual downward-firing speakers that are said to produce 360-degree omni-directional, room-filling audio. It doesn't mumble under its breath when it talks back to you, in other words.

    Echo is powered by Alexa, Amazon's cloud-dwelling repository of data that, unlike people, keeps getting smarter, we're told. At launch, Echo featured hands-free voice control for music (Amazon Music, Prime Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn), information from Wikipedia and the web, weather, timers and alarms, news, and shopping/to-do lists.

    Does this sound like something you just can't live without? If so, Amazon will ship you one for $179.99 starting July 14.

    We talk to our computers and other gadgets all the time but, like our significant others, they mostly ignore us. Amazon hopes to chan...

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thanks for subscribing.

      You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      A day late and a dollar short: Consumers still aren't putting away money for a rainy day

      There are things you can do to solve the problem

      While you may have seen your income creep up a bit recently, it's probably a pretty safe bet your savings haven't kept pace.

      According to a survey that accompanied Bankrate.com's Financial Security Index for June, just 22% of those asked said they had enough to pay for at least 6 months of expenses, which is generally considered by personal finance experts to be the amount needed for a satisfactory cushion.

      Shockingly, 29% reported no savings -- the highest level in 5 years of surveying and up 3% from last year. Another 21% said they had some savings but not enough to cover 3 months of expenses, and 13% didn't know how much they had or didn't want to answer.

      Yet incredibly, despite this lack of emergency savings, consumers say they are feeling good about their overall financial health.

      "These results are further evidence that Americans remain woefully under-saved for unplanned expenses," says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate's chief financial analyst. "And rather than progressing, (Americans) are moving in the wrong direction.

      More saving power

      The index results come as consumers' capacity to save appears to be improving. The economy last month added 280,000 jobs -- much more than expected -- and wages climbed 2.3% from April 2014 to April 2015, according to the federal government.

      Yet, only some groups appear to be saving. For instance:

      • Those 50 or older are more likely than their younger counterparts to have amassed enough savings to cover 6 months of expenses or more. McBride notes that's because they've had more time to save up.
      • However, those under 30 are actively saving; they were the most likely to have enough to cover 3-to-5 months of expenses.
      • Not surprisingly, income level is a great predictor of emergency savings. Fifty-three percent of those making less than $30,000 a year had no emergency savings. That's nearly twice as much as the $30,000-$49,999 group; more than 3 times as much as the $50,000-$74,999 group; and more than 4 times as much as the $75,000-plus group.
      • Emergency savings also increases with more education. College grads are more than twice as likely to have 6 months or more in expenses built up than those with a high school degree or less. The latter are more than 4 times as likely to have no savings as those who graduated from college.

      What to do

      If you need to bulk up your emergency savings, start with incremental goals, says Bruce McClary, spokesman for the National Foundation of Credit Counseling. Track your spending and find where you can reallocate money toward savings. Celebrate small victories, he says, and be ready for occasional setbacks.

      "I think a lot of people are intimidated by the enormity of the amount when starting from scratch," he says. "They think: 'That's too big of a mountain to climb,' and that can be demotivating."

      Have your employer deposit a small amount each pay period into a savings account, says Peter D'Arruda, president of Capital Financial Advisory Group in Apex, North Carolina.

      "It needs to be a savings account and not a checking account because checking is too easy to take money out of," he says. "We have a real hard time identifying a 'want' from a 'need,' and the extra time it takes to get money from savings will make us think twice."

      Bankrate's survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from June 4 to 7. It included 1,000 adults living in the continental U.S. and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7%.

      While you may have seen your income creep up a bit recently, it's probably a pretty safe bet your savings haven't kept pace. According to a survey that a...

      Colleges with the lowest student loan default rates

      But in a world where delinquency is rapidly rising, they are the exception

      Most of the time it is the colleges with the highest student loan default rates – the Corinthian Colleges of the world – that get the attention.

      So it is refreshing to learn that there are plenty of public and private schools graduating students out into the world who are able to pay back their student loans. BestColleges.com has released its 2015 ranking, finding Virginia's George Mason University has the best default rate of any public college and California's Claremont McKenna College the best record among private schools.

      Among public colleges and universities, Virginia institutions rank 1 and 2 for the lowest student default rates. George Mason University, in Fairfax, Va., just outside the nation's capital, leads the nation with a default rate of only 1.8%. James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, Va., was close behind.

      According to the Department of Education, the national average student loan default rate is 13.7%.

      Able to get jobs

      “It shows that our students get jobs and are able to pay back their loans, and that is the most significant part,” said Carol Brosseau, George Mason University’s senior associate director for student financial aid.

      It helps that George Mason's in-state tuition is a bargain for a quality public university – just over $5,000 per semester.

      About 58% of Mason students graduate with a loan debt that averages $26,710, Brosseau said. Generally, students have 10 years in which to pay back their loans.

      “It's telling you students are graduating and finding jobs,” Brosseau said. “And that is what everyone hopes for.”

      In addition to providing millions of dollars in funding every year, BestColleges.com says George Mason is focused on preparing students to be competitive for top jobs upon graduation. Innovative internship programs and continual career networking opportunities ensure students gain experience and build contacts throughout their education, giving them a number of options upon graduation.

      Fewer students take out loans

      On the private side, Claremont, Calif.'s Claremont McKenna has the lowest default rate, in part, perhaps, because fewer of its students take out loans. According to the ranking, only 16% of the students take out loans to pay for their education. Those who do, however, graduate with about $35,000 in debt.

      Approximately half of the study body received scholarship and grant aid in 2014, averaging $35,693 per student.

      Claremont, Calif. is also home to Pomona College, a private school that coincidentally places number 2 in the rankings. The university is known for providing excellent scholarship and grant opportunities. Only 15% of all students took out a loan to pay for their education, with the average amount $4,490 per year.

      While annual tuition totals $45,500, in the 2013-14 academic year, the average financial aid reward was $41,213.

      Meanwhile, here is a list of the colleges whose students have the toughest time paying back their student loans.

      Make no mistake, student loan defaults are a serious problem, not just for the students who are drowning in debt but for the financial institutions holding the notes. According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, the implied delinquency rate for all student loan borrowers is over 27%.

      A statue of George Mason greets visitors to the GMU campus Most of the time it is the colleges with the highest student loan default rates – the Corin...

      New homes sales in May build on April increase

      Home prices were mixed

      It's 2 gains in a row for sales of new homes.

      A joint report by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development puts the sales pace for new single-family houses in May at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 546,000 – up 2.2% from the revised April rate of 534,000. It's also 19.5% above the year-ago rate of 457,000.

      Inventory and prices

      The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end last month was 206,000, representing a supply of 4.5 months at the current sales rate.

      The median sales price of new houses -- the point at which half sold for more and half for less -- was $282,800, down $2,800 from a year ago. The average sales price was $337,000, a gain of $13,500 from May 2014.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      FHFA house prices

      In a separate report, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) reports its House Price Index (HPI) rose 0.3% in April, matching the March advance

      On a year-over-year basis house prices were up 5.3%. Still, the index is 2.3% below its March 2007 peak and is roughly the same as the February 2006 index level.

      For the 9 census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly price on a month-to month basis ranged from -0.8% in the East North Central division to +1.4% in the West North Central division.

      The 12-month changes were all positive, ranging from +2.3% in the Middle Atlantic division to +7.5% in the Pacific division.

      The FHFA HPI uses home sales price information from mortgages sold to or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

      The complete report may be found on the FHFA website.

      It's 2 gains in a row for sales of new homes. A joint report by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development puts the sales pace ...

      Fiat 500e hatchbacks recalled

      Cruise-control software is being upgraded

      Chrysler (FCA US) is recalling an estimated 3,975 Fiat 500e hatchbacks to upgrade cruise-control software.

      An investigation by company engineers discovered the vehicles were inadvertently equipped with software that may misread torque levels generated by their motors, causing them to shift into neutral – a prescribed failsafe mode.

      This condition may occur only while cruise-control is engaged and the driver attempts to override the feature with accelerator-pedal applications or rapid tapping of the accelerate/decelerate buttons. Restarting the vehicle restores normal function.

      The Company says it is unaware of any related injuries, accidents or customer complaints.

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

      Chrysler (FCA US) is recalling an estimated 3,975 Fiat 500e hatchbacks to upgrade cruise-control software. An investigation by company engineers discover...

      Eighth Takata airbag death involves a rental car

      Car rental companies aren't required to perform safety recalls or to warn customers that recalls haven't been carried out

      The latest death-by-airbag case illuminates a larger danger -- renting a car that may have uncompleted safety recalls.

      Jewel Brangman, 26, was driving a rented Honda Civic last Sept. 7 when she was involved in a collision. The Takata airbag spewed shrapnel-like metal into the car, inflicting a severe neck laceration and killing Ms. Brangman, who became the eighth person known to have died from Takata-caused injuries.

      The car had been recalled back in 2009 but its owner, Sunset Car Rental of San Diego, had never bothered to take the car in to have the recall carried out, a lawsuit filed by Ms. Brangman's family alleges. Perhaps surprisingly, it was within its rights to ignore the recall.

      Convenient loophole

      Because of one of those oh-so-convenient loopholes that benefit well-lobbied business interests at the expense of consumers, car rental companies don't legally have to have recalls performed and aren't required to tell consumers that the car has been recalled but not fixed.

      Even when rental companies sell cars, they're not required to perform the recalls or warn the purchaser.

      Congress has tried to fix the "oversight" -- to use a polite term -- a few times but with no success. Major rental companies say they do carry out the recalls but there is no public evidence that this is true.

      Everyone is sorry

      Both Takata and Honda say they are sorry Ms. Brangman was killed.

      Honda said four separate notices were sent to the car's owner since the recall for the driver side airbag was issued in July 2009 but all were apparently ignored.

      A second recall -- this one for the passenger side airbag -- was issued in April 2013. It was also ignored, the lawsuit charges.

      About 34 million Takata airbags have been recalled because of a defect that can cause their inflaters to explode and hurl metal into cars' passenger compartments. More than 100 injuries have been recorded.

      Photo: Sunset Car Rental's Facebook pageThe latest death-by-airbag case illuminates a larger danger -- renting a car that may have uncompleted safety...

      Colleges may no longer be the gatekeepers to the middle class

      More young people seeking success without a four-year degree

      With high school graduation season reaching its peak, millions of 18-year olds who plan to attend college in the fall have just been through the nerve-wracking process of college admissions.

      A college degree has always been viewed as a ticket to the middle class, but in recent years that ticket has been harder to come by, even if you could afford it.

      Sometime during the 1990s even state-supported colleges and universities got more choosy about the students they admitted.

      Open enrollment, whereby any resident of the state who had received a high school diploma was automatically admitted, gave way to selective enrollment, long practiced at elite private schools. If you wanted to get a college degree you had to make it past the college admissions gatekeepers, who didn't just look at grades and SAT scores but delved into a host of personal attributes as well.

      In a noteworthy piece in April 2000, The New York Times explored the admission process at one school, Wesleyan University, finding that the subjective criteria of a compelling personal saga could sway a committee of gatekeepers and often make the difference between making it to college or being shut out of the middle class.

      Plenty of student loans available

      Of course, most people aspiring to the middle class wanted to attend college. As it became more competitive to get in, colleges found they could raise tuition rates without diminishing the pool of students. After all, student aid was available, as were student loans.

      While inflation in the general economy slowed to a crawl, the average cost of tuition at a four-year college has increased by 41% in the past 10 years, according to the College Board. It's up nearly 100% since 2000.

      As a result millions of students who were smart, skilled and savvy enough to make it past the gatekeepers are contending with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Even if they have been lucky enough to get a good job after graduation, their monthly student loan payments sometimes make it feel like they haven't quite made it to the middle class.

      So it may not be all that surprising that the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll finds many younger Americans no longer believe college provides the only route to success. Their definition of success has some things in common with their parents and some things that aren't.

      Different paths

      “Young people want the ‘American Dream’ of homeownership, career and financial security, though they’re working hard to achieve it on different paths compared to their parents and other generations,” said Troy Hawkes, Field Senior Vice President of Allstate.

      For example, it's more important to young people to live in an area with a strong sense of community and volunteerism and more public services. And, they think it might be a better choice to wait for financial stability before getting married and having children.

      That's because, according to the poll, 45% of them are still paying student loans. A separate survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that 53% of the college students it polled said concern about their student loan debt was causing the most stress in their lives. Stress over credit card bills was only 22%.

      Opting out of college

      While most young people still believe a college degree is important to success, a growing number are deciding to reach for success without it. In May the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) reported college enrollments are declining because fewer Millennials are attending.

      Among the interpretations of the NSCRS report is young adults in their mid 20s are choosing to go to work rather than attend college. The report does not make clear whether these young adults are leaving school to pursue the workplace or not attending college in the first place.

      With high school graduation season reaching its peak, millions of 18-year olds who plan to attend college in the fall have just been through the nerve-wrac...

      Why the housing market is still a shadow of its former self

      Remaining underwater homeowners likely stuck for years to come

      When the housing market collapsed in 2008, millions of homeowners found themselves underwater, owing more on mortgages than their homes were worth.

      Over the last seven years home prices have recovered – in some markets more than others – and each month more people find that the have a small bit of equity once again in their once-underwater homes.

      But a report this month from Zillow shows just how much farther the housing market has to go before it fully recovers. The report found that more than half the homeowners who are still underwater are so far under they have almost no chance of re-surfacing for years to come.

      This explains a lot about the housing market and the headwinds it faces in trying to get back to its pre-bubble equilibrium.

      The good news

      First, the good news. The rate of negative equity among mortgaged homeowners was 15.4% in the first quarter of 2015, down from 16.9% in the fourth quarter, a marked improvement. And the numbers have been improving each quarter.

      But of those remaining underwater homeowners, about half -- some 4 million owners – still owe over 20% more than the value of their home. For example, if they owe $200,000 on their mortgage they could only sell their home for $168,000.

      The report further found that lower-priced, entry level homes were more than three times as likely to be underwater than more expensive homes. All of this has a distorting effect on the housing market.

      First, there are some four million homes that might have gone on the market in the last seven years but haven't, because their owners are essentially hopelessly trapped. These homes are concentrated in the lower end, where they would normally be purchased by first-time home buyers.

      Tight inventories

      That may be partly responsible for tight inventories, which have helped prices increase because of fewer homes for sale. But it has also resulted in fewer sales, which has a ripple effect on many other types of businesses, such as home centers, decorators and furniture retailers.

      Because there are millions of entry-level homeowners still underwater, they can't move up by purchasing a more expensive home, resulting in a slowdown in sales in that segment.

      The recovering housing market has slowed in recent months and this may be partly why. Rising prices helped many homeowners close to the break-even point escape. Going forward, it's clear fewer negative equity homeowners will be able to get their heads above water.

      Toughest situations remain

      At the peak of the housing market crisis, more than 15 million homeowners were underwater on their homes. Foreclosures, short sales and rising home values freed nearly half of those homeowners, leaving 7.9 million homeowners upside down at the end of the first quarter of 2015. Zillow says the homeowners who remain underwater will likely be the toughest to free from negative equity.

      "It's great news that the level of negative equity is falling, but what really worries me is the depth of negative equity,” said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries. “Millions of Americans are so far underwater, it's likely they may not regain equity for up to a decade or more at these rates."

      That creates a real problem for first-time buyers, the consumers who normally drive the housing market. The selection of homes they can afford is smaller than it should be because many of these homes simply can't be sold.

      “And owners of those homes can't move up the chain because they're stuck underwater in the entry-level home they bought years ago,” Humphries said. “The logjam at the bottom is having ripple effects throughout the market, and as home value growth slows, it will be years before it gets cleared up.”

      In the meantime, Humphries predicts the housing market will be left with volatile prices, limited inventory, tepid demand, elevated foreclosures and “a whole lot of frustration."

      When the housing market collapsed in 2008, millions of homeowners found themselves underwater, owing more on mortgages tha...

      Security flaw in Android apps from Google Play store leaves user passwords vulnerable

      Affected apps include those for Safeway, Pizza Hut, NBA Game Time and Match.com

      Android owners take note: security researchers from AppBugs, a free Android app designed to spot dangers in other apps on the same device, have discovered “dozens” of Android apps in the Google Play store that leave user passwords and other sensitive data exposed because the apps either fail to properly apply encryption, or don't bother applying it at all.

      The faulty apps include the official apps from the National Basketball Association, Safeway supermarkets, Pizza Hut, and Match.com.

      AppBugs' CEO Rui Wang told Ars Technica that the Match.com app uses an unencrypted hypertext transfer protocol to send user passwords, which in turn means pretty much anybody in a position to monitor the traffic (such as somebody using the same wi-fi network as the Match app user) to read those passwords.

      Meanwhile, other apps including NBA Game Time and the Safeway and Pizza Hut apps do attempt encryption but don't apply it correctly, leaving those apps' users vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks (which allow hackers to alter, spy on or control data while it's traveling between the sender and receiver).

      "S" for secure

      “Hypertext transfer protocol” is the “http:” you see at the beginning of many web addresses. Essentially, it's the protocol that lets visitors view a website and send information back to the server. If, instead, you see an address starting with “https,” that's not the plural form of http; in this context, the “S” stands for “secure.”

      So if you're engaged in sensitive, password-protected online activities – such as email, online banking or credit card activity – the web address for that page should start with “https,” not “http,” to indicate that your data is being encrypted before it's sent.

      But AppBugs discovered that some Google Play apps, including Match.com, didn't bother using a secure “https” address in the first place, whereas other apps including Safeway and Pizza Hut at least made the attempt, but didn't implement it properly.

      This is not the first time such flaws were discovered in official Google Play apps; last September, student researchers from City College of San Francisco discovered a fatal HTTPS flaw in several Android apps including those of OKCupid Dating and CityShop – for Craigslist. Those apps, like Safeway, NBA Game Time and others recently discovered by AppBugs, attempted and failed to apply secure encryption, leaving users vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks.

      The faulty apps exposed by AppBugs have a total of more than 200 million downloads between them.

      Android owners take note: security researchers from AppBugs, a free Android app designed to spot dangers in other apps on the same device, have discovered...

      Google changes search policy to crack down on revenge porn

      Google promises to honor takedown requests from revenge porn victims

      Google has announced a policy change to crack down on “revenge porn” -- henceforth, the company will honor requests from victims to remove “revenge porn” images from its search engine, and will stop linking to the results.

      Google senior vice-president Amit Singhal explained the rationale in a post on the company's public policy blog Friday:

      Our philosophy has always been that Search should reflect the whole web. But revenge porn images are intensely personal and emotionally damaging, and serve only to degrade the victims—predominantly women. So going forward, we’ll honor requests from people to remove nude or sexually explicit images shared without their consent from Google Search results. This is a narrow and limited policy, similar to how we treat removal requests for other highly sensitive personal information, such as bank account numbers and signatures, that may surface in our search results.

      Nasty trend

      Revenge porn is arguably one of the nastier online trends of the past few years. As the name (and Singhal's wording) suggests, it's a practice wherein people, usually angry ex-lovers, post identifiable nude or sexually explicit photos of their partners, along with the partners' names and other identifying information, with the intention of humiliating them and/or damaging their careers.

      Online advocacy groups such as “End Revenge Porn” share horrifying real-life stories from revenge-porn victims.

      Google's announcement makes it the latest major tech or social media company this year to announce a policy crackdown on revenge porn. Reddit and Twitter announced policy changes in February and March, respectively; Twitter's stated “content boundaries” now include the clause “You may not post intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject's consent.”

      A few days after Twitter announced this change, Facebook also updated its policies to disallow revenge porn; although it was already disallowed under Facebook's previous no-nudity policies, Facebook later updated its policies specifically to forbid “images shared in revenge or without permissions from the people in the images.”

      Google has announced a policy change to crack down on “revenge porn” -- henceforth, the company will honor requests from victims to remove “revenge porn” i...

      Existing-home sales rebound in May from April's slump

      First-time buyers may have been the difference

      After posting a decline the previous month, sales of previously-owned homes were on the comeback trail in May.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports existing-home sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops -- rose 5.1% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million, the highest pace in nearly 6 years.

      In addition, sales have now increased year-over-year for 8 consecutive months and are 9.2% above the year-ago pace of 4.90 million.

      More choices

      "Solid sales gains were seen throughout the country in May as more homeowners listed their home for sale and therefore provided greater choices for buyers," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "However, overall supply still remains tight, homes are selling fast and price growth in many markets continues to teeter at or near double-digit appreciation. Without solid gains in new home construction, prices will likely stay elevated -- even with higher mortgage rates above 4 percent."

      Total housing inventory at the end of May increased 3.2% to 2.29 million existing homes available for sale, and is 1.8% higher than a year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 5.1-month supply at the current sales pace, versus 5.2 months in April.

      The percent share of first-time buyers rose to 32% in May, up 2% from April, matching the highest share since September 2012. A year ago, first-time buyers represented 27% of all buyers.

      "The return of first-time buyers in May is an encouraging sign and is the result of multiple factors, including strong job gains among young adults, less expensive mortgage insurance and lenders offering low down payment programs," said Yun. "More first-time buyers are expected to enter the market in coming months, but the overall share climbing higher will depend on how fast rates and prices rise."

      The median existing-home price for all housing types in May was $228,700, up 7.9% above the same month last year and the 39th consecutive month of year-over-year price gains.

      Regional Breakdown

      • Existing-home sales in the Northeast surged 11.3% to an annual rate of 690,000, and are now 11.3% above a year ago. The median price -- the point at which half the homes sold for more and half sold for less -- was $269,000, 4.8% higher than May 2014.
      • In the Midwest, sales rose 4.1% to an annual rate of 1.27 million and are 12.4% a year earlier. The median price in the was $181,900, up 9.4% from a year ago.
      • Sales in the South increased 4.3% to an annual rate of 2.18 million -- a year-over-year gain of 6.9%. The median price was $198,300, up 8.2% from May of last year year ago.
      • In the West sales climbed 4.3% to an annual rate of 1.21 million and are 9.0% above a year ago. The median price was up 10.2% from a year earlier to $324,000.

      After posting a decline the previous month, sales of previously-owned homes were on the comeback trail in May. The National Association of Realtors report...

      Amazon will pay some authors by the page instead of by the book

      Think about it: this may actually be a good thing for readers

      Oh-oh. It just got a little harder for writers to eke out a meager living. First it was the Internet, which made it possible for skinflint publishers to tell which newspaper stories people actually looked at (hint: not many), thus spelling the end of many posh assignments.

      Now Amazon wants to start paying some authors based on how many pages of their books consumers actually read. 

      Books are, after all, one of the few commodities that are often purchased but seldom consumed. In fact, it's hard to think of anything comparable, unless it's that 2001 Porsche 911 that is slowing sinking through the floor of your 94-year-old neighbor's garage. He always meant to drive it but just never seemed to get around to it. Same type of thing is often true of books.

      Back when there were such things as real books, people proudly displayed them on coffee tables and bookshelves, prompting occasional queries along the lines of: "Golly, did you actually read all these here books?"

      Now it's more an impulse buy. After all, its hard to impress anyone by showing them the contents of your Kindle. But happily for authors, though sadly for readers, Amazon's one-click shopping makes it easy to buy titles that we never quite get around to reading.

      In the case of many self-published books in the Amazon library, we get around to starting them but quickly bail out. Because, let's face it, lots of this stuff is not too good and would never have seen the light of day had Amazon not made it as easy to publish an e-book as to post some dumb comment on Facebook.

      They take up space

      It's not that Amazon's literary sensibilities are offended by much of the dreck in their library but simply that, being penny pinchers, the Amazonians have discovered through digital skullduggery that many of these self-published books are bought but not read in their entirety. This is bad for business; it annoys consumers and takes up bits and bytes that could be used to store listings for stuff that consumers actually consume, like potato chips or gluten-free bread (which is nearly as hard to digest as some self-published books we could name).    

      To tighten things up a bit, Amazon says that effective July 1, the way authors get royalties for self-published books in the Amazon Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited services will change. 

      As Amazon put it in a note to authors: “We’re making this switch in response to great feedback we received from authors who asked us to better align payout with the length of books and how much customers read. Under the new payment method, you’ll be paid for each page individual customers read of your book, the first time they read it.”

      Free refills, in other words.

      Literary tip jar

      The by-the-page payout applies only to Amazon's "subscription" services -- those for which customers pay a set monthly fee. Like the tip jar at Starbucks, all the money from these services gets thrown into a virtual pot and at the end of each month, has been divided among authors based on how many of their books were downloaded that month.

      Next month, royalty payments will be based on how many pages readers actually flip through. 

      While some might say this will be the end of publishing as we know it, others might say it will be a great service to consumers as it will save us all those two-minute blocks of time we previously wasted reading the first few pages of something that should never have been sold in the first place.

      Oh-oh. It just got a little harder for writers to eke out a meager living. First it was the Internet, which made it possible for skinflint publishers to te...

      Champ's Sliced Crimini Mushrooms recalled

      The product be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      United Salad of Portland, Ore., is recalling Champ's Sliced Crimini Mushrooms, a product of Canada.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of this product to date.

      The following product is being recalled:

      Brand nameCommon nameSizeUPCCodes
      Champ's MushroomsSliced Crimini Mushrooms227 g (8 oz)6 78286 88877 5Not available

      The recalled mushrooms were distributed from 06/13/15 to 06/14/15 to retailers and supermarkets in Oregon and Washington.

      Individual containers do not have code date; however product average shelf life is 10 days.

      Consumers who have the recalled product in their possession should not consume it and should destroy or discard it.

      This recall is being made with the knowledge of the Food and Drug Administration.

      Consumers may contact the company at 1-800-547-5536 Monday – Friday between 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM (PDT).

      United Salad of Portland, Ore., is recalling Champ's Sliced Crimini Mushrooms, a product of Canada. The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocyto...

      Boulder Dog Food Company recalls Chicken Sprinkles

      The product many be contaminated with Salmonella

      Boulder Dog Food Company is recalling 3-oz. bags of Chicken Sprinkles.

      The product many be contaminated with Salmonella.

      One complaint was received from a consumer who had contact with the product.

      The recall is limited to Chicken Sprinkles with a “Best By” date of “05/04/16”, Lot # “998” and a UPC Code of 899883001231. The product is packaged in a clear poly bag, with the UPC Code located in the lower right hand corner of the label on the front of the bag. The “Best By” date and Lot Number are on a label on the reverse side of the bag.

      The recalled product consists of 10 bags of Chicken Sprinkle that were distributed to 2 retail stores in Colorado, 1 retail store in Washington state, and 1 retail customer in Maryland. Eight of the 10 bags have been retriever and the company says it believes the remaining 2 bags have been used or destroyed.

      Consumers who may posses the recalled product should discontinue use of it and return the unused portion to either the retailer where it was purchased or Boulder Dog Food Company.

      Consumers with questions may contact Boulder Dog Food Company at 303-449-2540 Monday – Friday between 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM (MDT.)

      Boulder Dog Food Company is recalling 3-oz. bags of Chicken Sprinkles. The product many be contaminated with Salmonella. One complaint was received from ...

      General Motors recalls Cadillac ATS and CTS vehicles

      The rod that actuates the brakes that may fracture

      General Motors is recalling 2,163 model year 2015 Cadillac ATS and CTS vehicles.

      The recalled vehicles have a bracket between the brake pedal assembly, and the rod that actuates the brakes that may fracture during normal brake pedal operation. If the bracket fractures, the driver would not be able to apply the brakes, increasing the risk of a crash.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the vehicle and replace any affected bracket, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin August 1, 2015.

      Owners may contact Cadillac customer service at 1-800-458-8006. GM's number for this recall is 15352.

      General Motors is recalling 2,163 model year 2015 Cadillac ATS and CTS vehicles. The recalled vehicles have a bracket between the brake pedal assembly, a...

      Top Fin plastic aquarium heaters recalled

      An electrical problem poses a risk of fire or electrical shock

      PetSmart Phoenix, Ariz., is recalling about 117,000 Top Fin plastic aquarium heaters in the U.S. and Canada. Some 33,000 heaters were recalled in August 2014.

      An electrical problem with the aquarium heaters poses a risk of fire or electrical shock to the consumer.

      The firm has received 13 reports of incidents, including 4 reports of minor shock, 7 reports of the water tanks overheating and 1 report of property damage from an electrical shortage resulting in fire.

      This recall involves all 50-, 100-, 150-, 200- and 250-watt Top Fin brand plastic aquarium heaters sold between August 2014 and April 2015 with model numbers: HT50, HT100, HT150, HT200 or HT250.

      The black cylindrical-shaped heaters are about 1.5 inches in diameter and about 13 inches tall. “Top Fin Premium Aquarium Heater,” the model number and the heater's wattage are printed on the side of the heater near the top.

      The lot number is printed beneath the words “Made in China.” All lot numbers are included in this recall.

      The heaters, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at PetSmart stores nationwide from August 2014, to April 2015, for between $25 and $40.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled heaters and return them to any PetSmart store for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact PetSmart toll-free at (888) 839-9638 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. MT Monday through Friday.

      PetSmart Phoenix, Ariz., is recalling about 117,000 Top Fin plastic aquarium heaters in the U.S. and Canada. Some 33,000 heaters were recalled in August 20...