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    Websites plan to go 'red' to bring back net neutrality

    Lawmakers have a chance to undo an FCC vote that gutted net neutrality laws last year

    Thousands of websites on May 9 will go “red” in an effort to reinstate net neutrality laws. Etsy, Tumblr, NetFlix, and OkCupid are among the sites that have joined the “go red” campaign sponsored by BattleForTheNet.

    Organizers behind the campaign say that on May 9, a “red alert” or a red plug-in will appear before users can access a participating site’s homepage. The notice will urge users to contact their lawmaker on the day that Congress is scheduled to vote on a measure that could bring back net neutrality.

    The Federal Communications Commission last year voted 3-2 to gut net neutrality rules that digital rights and consumer advocates said had allowed for a free and open internet. The effects of the reversal have not yet been implemented or seen because the FCC is still rewriting the regulations.

    Lawmakers and advocates are now racing against the FCC to undo last year’s vote. Under The Congressional Review Act, Congress can strike down any new rule with a majority vote, and some lawmakers are hoping that they can use that authority on May 9 to reinstate net neutrality.

    “The FCC voted to kill net neutrality and let ISPs like Comcast and Verizon ruin the Internet with throttling, censorship, and new fees,” BattleForTheNet says.

    Thousands of websites on May 9 will go “red” in an effort to reinstate net neutrality laws. Etsy, Tumblr, NetFlix, and OkCupid are among the sites that hav...
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      Richard Branson says hyperloop travel could soon become a reality

      Hyperloop would allow humans and cargo to be transported significantly faster

      Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson says he hopes to see hyperloop travel become a reality within three years. 
      Branson, who chairs Virgin Hyperloop One, said he finds the prospect of hyperloop travel -- or the concept of transporting people and goods via pods -- “ridiculously exciting.” He believes it won’t be long before humans are traveling by hyperloop.
      “We’re talking about two to three years away, not many years away,” Branson told CNBC from Dubai on Sunday. “My children and grandchildren are going to want the same things as I’m going to want—they’re going to want to get to places quicker.”
      "I think if we can build Virgin Hyperloops in a number of different countries, connecting countries, that will bring the world much closer,” he said. 
      On Sunday, Virgin Hyperloop One and Dubai port operator DP World announced a new joint venture called DP World Cargospeed. The goal of the partnership is to build high-speed delivery systems for cargo using hyperloop technology.

      What is hyperloop? 

      The idea of a hyperloop was introduced in 2013 by Tesla founder Elon Musk. Hyperloop transport would allow humans and cargo to travel in pods through a large underground system at speeds of 750 mph using magnets. 
      "When you're talking about the pods going at 6, 7, 800 miles an hour, both with people and cargo, that's tremendously exciting," Branson said. 
      Hyperloop technology could be used to transport passengers between two airports in minutes, Branson said, adding that the concept would allow people to avoid traffic jams simply by "jumping into a pod.” 
      “Suddenly, those two airports effectively become one airport,” Branson said. “All the misery of travel can be taken away.”

      Faster and cheaper

      Hyperloop travel would drastically cut down on travel time while also costing less. Virgin Hyperloop One CTO Josh Giegel said that passenger ticket prices on a hyperloop will be comparable to existing methods of transport, such as air or rail travel. Transporting cargo would be less expensive because hyperloop travel is “less energy intensive than a plane.” 
      “This is going to be a system for everybody, not just the super-rich,” Giegel said. However, he noted that “there will be a little bit of a premium that you pay because it’s so fast.”
      Virgin Hyperloop One is one of a few other companies pouring millions of dollars into designing the systems. Hyperloop One has planned routes in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It also intends to build a route between Mumbai and Pune in India, with the goal of eventually implementing the technology around the world.
      Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson says he hopes to see hyperloop travel become a reality within three years.  Branson, who chairs Virgin Hyperloop O...
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      Bitcoin investors cry foul and seek to file suit against Bitcoin.com

      Buyers accuse the site of purposely misleading them about the products they purchase

      Fervent Bitcoin supporters are banding together in a fight against Bitcoin.com and alleging that the site is misleading buyers into purchasing Bitcoin Cash (BCH) instead of Bitcoin (BTC).

      The protesters have threatened to file a lawsuit against Bitcoin.com and are using the website bitcoincomlawsuit.info as a rallying point to bring together disturbed claimants.

      In the crosshairs of the nearly-thousand strong group is Bitcoin Cash promoter and Bitcoin.com domain owner Roger Ver, who Bitcoin supporters feel is misleading investors and losing them money.

      “Have you lost money because of bitcoin.com's fraudulent practices? We can help you,” is the site’s rallying cry. The site’s endgame is to finance legal action against Bitcoin.com and its movement is led by real estate entrepreneur Ragnar Lifthrasir, founder of a blockchain real estate advocacy group, IBREA.

      “Dishonest and misleading actions”

      Lifthrasir is reaching out to anyone who has “suffered ANY financial loss due to dishonest or misleading actions by Roger Ver, from ANY website, wallet, ICO, or other crypto activity” to report their claims on the website.

      The Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash communities have been at it like the Hatfields and McCoys since day one. The name alone of Ver’s Bitcoin.com carries the perception that it and the “real” Bitcoin are in bed together -- going as far as using the same color in their respective logos -- and undoing that perception may be a long, hard road.

      “It is clear to anyone who knows the history and technology that Bitcoin BTC is inaccurately using the Bitcoin name ... and is no longer bitcoin or even a cryptocurrency,” said Calvin Ayre, CoinGeek.com Founder, in a statement.

      Where will all of this end up?

      Eleven years after Bitcoin’s birth, the circus swirling around it is still alive and well. Take for instance when hackers tried to hold up the city of Atlanta last month, demanding the ransom be paid in Bitcoin.

      The U.S. government is doing all it can to bring some normalcy to the digital currency world by trying to make anyone and everyone that qualifies as a cryptocurrency exchange be registered, a move that Congress wholeheartedly backs.

      The feds also have to be concerned that with Bitcoin, as well as other cryptocurrencies, transactions are tax-free. It’s unclear how legitimate or shady the cryptocurrency game is once the curtain is pulled back. Whether it’s illicit commerce, tax avoidance, fraud, or deception, getting Bitcoin and its blood relatives under some sort of control tops the government’s to-do list.

      As an investment, Bitcoin’s wild ride seems far from over. In mid-December 2017, it hit a record high of $19,850 and then went on a pinball-like spree before rebounding some 20 percent last week to above $9,000.

      Fervent Bitcoin supporters are banding together in a fight against Bitcoin.com and alleging that the site is misleading buyers into purchasing Bitcoin Cash...
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      Greenbelt Microgreens recalled

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Greenbelt Greenhouse of British Columbia, Canada, is recalling all Greenbelt Microgreen products with the best before dates from 4/24/18 and 4/30/18.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The following products, distributed to Whole Foods stores in Washington from April 4 – 24/2018, are being recalled:

      BrandProductSizeUPCCodes
      Greenbelt MicrogreensArugula Microgreens75 g8 90082 00012 4Best Before:
      4/24/18
      4/30/18
      Greenbelt MicrogreensBroccoli Microgreens75 g8 90082 00016 2Best Before:
      4/24/18
      4/30/18
      Greenbelt MicrogreensFresh Microgreen Mix75 g8 90082 00041 4Best Before:
      4/24/18
      4/30/18
      Greenbelt MicrogreensSweet & Crunchy Microgreen Mix75 g8 90082 00006 3Best Before:
      4/24/18
      4/30/18
      Greenbelt MicrogreensSpicy Microgreen Mix75 g8 90082 00000 1Best Before:
      4/24/18
      4/30/18
      Greenbelt MicrogreensPea Shoots Microgreens100 g8 90082 00023 0Best Before:
      4/24/18
      4/30/18
      Greenbelt MicrogreensSunflower Microgreens100 g8 90082 00030 8Best Before:
      4/24/18
      4/30/18

      The recalled products can be identified by the Greenbelt Microgreen label (which is purple & Green) on the clear lid of the plastic clamshells. The best before date is on the bottom left corner of the label above the UPC barcode.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should dispose of them return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact Greenbelt Greenhouse at 519-647-1112 from Monday – Friday, 8am – 4pm (EST) or by email at info@greenbeltmicrogreens.ca

      Greenbelt Greenhouse of British Columbia, Canada, is recalling all Greenbelt Microgreen products with the best before dates from 4/24/18 and 4/30/18.Th...
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      Hit-and-run fatalities have hit a record high

      Cyclists and pedestrians are most vulnerable to these types of accidents, a new report says

      The number of fatal hit-and-run motor vehicle fatalities has risen significantly as more Americans choose to bike or walk to work.

      Hit-and-run fatalities saw a 62 percent increase from 2009 to 2016, according to a report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Pedestrians and bicyclists accounted for almost 70 percent of the victims.  

      “Hit-and-run crashes in the United States are trending in the wrong direction,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

      Highest number on record

      The number of cyclists commuting to work rose 40 percent from 2006 to 2016, according to Census records. As the number of cyclists and pedestrians on the streets grows, so has the number of fatal motor vehicle collisions.

      Almost 2,000 fatal hit-and-run crashes occured in 2016, making it the “deadliest” year since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began collecting data on fatal motor vehicle crashes in 1975.

      The analysis revealed that a majority of fatal hit-and-run collisions were pedestrians or cyclists. Almost 20 percent of all pedestrian deaths over the last decade were caused by hit-and-run crashes, compared to 1 percent of driver fatalities.

      Avoiding crashes

      The study’s authors said they hope these new statistics serve as a wake-up call for drivers and that they underscore the importance of being alert on the road.

      To avoid being involved in a crash with a pedestrian or cyclist, AAA recommends that drivers be aware of their surroundings, yield to pedestrians even if they’re not crossing at a designated crosswalk, and give cyclists plenty of space when passing them on the road.

      Drivers should also look out for small children and be especially alert in areas such as school zones, playgrounds, bus stops, and intersections.

      If a collision with a pedestrian or cyclist does occur, drivers are advised to stay on the scene because the penalties for fleeing are “significantly” more severe, regardless of who caused the crash.

      The number of fatal hit-and-run motor vehicle fatalities has risen significantly as more Americans choose to bike or walk to work. Hit-and-run fataliti...
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      The Weekly Hack: Thieves steal Ether coins and phone numbers

      If it connects to the internet, it’s vulnerable to hacks. Cryptocurrency traders are learning this again and again.

      Tens of thousands of dollars worth of cryptocurrency have been stolen by hackers, once again raising concerns about the security of blockchain technology.

      MyEtherWallet.com is a free site that allows consumers to trade Ethereum, or Ether, a cryptocurrency currently valued in the ballpark of $650. The site warns all visitors that it doesn't consider itself responsible should hackers access users’ Ether accounts.  

      “We cannot recover your funds or freeze your account if you visit a phishing site or lose your private key,” a notice on the site says. “You and only you are responsible for your security.”

      That’s bad news for MyEtherWallet users who recently fell victim to a DNS hijacking scam. Hackers apparently redirected people who visited MyEtherWallet.com to a fake look-alike site. When users logged into the spoof site, the hackers were able to access their passwords and subsequently empty their accounts.

      In all, the hackers reportedly made off with 215 Ether -- or the equivalent of $160,000.

      According to a statement that MyEtherWallet published on Reddit, the hack was no fault of their own. Instead, the site blames vulnerabilities in Google’s DNS servers for the theft.

      “This redirecting of DNS servers is a decade-old hacking technique that aims to undermine the Internet’s routing system,” MyEtherWallet  said. “It can happen to any organization, including large banks. This is not due to a lack of security on the @myetherwallet platform. It is due to hackers finding vulnerabilities in public facing DNS servers.”

      It’s unclear if affected traders will get their funds back. MyEtherWallet adds in its statement that “we are currently in the process of verifying which servers were targeted to help resolve this issue as soon possible.”

      Uber’s Dubai competitor

      Careem, a Dubai-based ride-hailing app that is Uber’s largest competitor in the Middle East, admitted that it discovered a security breach that exposed consumer data back in January.

      The company did not disclose the breach until Monday because “Cybercrime investigations are immensely complicated and take time.”

      “We wanted to make sure we had the most accurate information before notifying people,” a statement published by Careem added. Now that the breach has been disclosed, Careem is advising users to change their passwords and to monitor their bank accounts for any suspicious activity.

      Phone numbers

      Law enforcement in Colorado are asking for the public's help in finding suspects accused of taking part in a popular and relatively easy phone hijacking scam.

      Using online services that identify the carriers of any phone number, identify thieves took information to a mobile phone store, where they impersonated the carrier to get a new phone without paying for it. Instead the cost of the phone showed up as an unpleasant surprise on consumers’ monthly bill.

      According to the Federal Trade Commission, reports of this crime doubled since 2013, with 2,658 complaints submitted in 2016.

      Yahoo rises from the grave

      The company Yahoo may be no more after getting sold to Verizon in 2016, but it still owes the government some money -- $35 million to be exact. The SEC is fining Yahoo for failing to alert investors and consumers about a massive security breach that happened back in 2014.

      The SEC alleges that Yahoo’s information security team learned that “Rusian hackers had stolen what the security team referred to internally as the company’s ‘crown jewels’” several days after the attack took place in 2014.

      To be more specific, the security team that stolen information included “usernames, email addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, encrypted passwords, and security questions and answers for hundreds of millions of user accounts.”

      Yahoo eventually did disclose the breach two years later, shortly before it closed the deal with Verizon. Altaba, the company behind the Yahoo brand, has now agreed to pay a  $35 million penalty for the cover-up.

      Shipping companies

      Forget pirates. A group of hackers based in Nigeria have figured out how to steal money from shipping companies via the internet, according to a report by a cybersecurity firm.  

      The hacking group, which goes by the name Gold Galleon, attempted to steal at least $3.9 million from maritime shipping businesses and their customers, the researchers said.

      Tens of thousands of dollars worth of cryptocurrency have been stolen by hackers, once again raising concerns about the security of blockchain technology....
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      T-Mobile and Sprint reportedly joining forces

      Reports suggest that a merger announcement could come within a week

      T-Mobile and Sprint, the smallest of the big four wireless providers, reportedly plan to merge, creating a bigger rival to AT&T; and Verizon.

      In an exclusive report, Reuters says the two telecom companies have been quietly negotiating details of their union and could be ready to announce a deal as early as next week. Neither company has publicly commented on the report.

      A combination of Sprint and T-Mobile would create a wireless company with more than 127 million customers and reduce the number of competitors in a nearly saturated wireless market. For mobile communications companies to grow, they usually have to take customers away from their rivals.

      Would require regulatory approval

      Since a merger would reduce the number of companies offering wireless services, the deal would have to win approval from federal regulators, including the antitrust division of the U.S. Justice Department.

      This would not be the first attempt to shrink the number of telecom competitors through merger. AT&T; attempted to merge with T-Mobile back in 2011, a deal that encountered so much opposition from the Justice Department that AT&T; eventually backed away.

      Consumer advocates were vocal opponents of the deal as well, with an official at Consumers Union warning that the merger would have “dangerous consequences” for mobile customers.

      But the Communications Workers of America backed the proposed deal, saying it would create 96,000 new positions while protecting existing jobs.

      Changes in the industry

      The wireless landscape has changed significantly since 2011, with the smaller players increasing the size of their networks and independent providers like Cricket Wireless and Boost Mobile providing consumers with more low-cost options.

      Regulators might see the merger as reducing the number of providers, but they might also view the deal as creating a more powerful competitor for AT&T; and Verizon, the two dominant companies.

      For their part, Verizon and AT&T; have moved toward becoming content providers. Verizon offers a TV programming service and recently acquired Yahoo. AT&T; owns DIRECTV and is currently defending its deal to acquire Time Warner in court after being challenged by the Trump administration.

      Reuters reports its sources agree that a successful agreement to merge T-Mobile and Sprint is not a certainty. The two companies' main shareholders are trying to agree on a corporate structure that protects their interests.

      T-Mobile and Sprint, the smallest of the big four wireless providers, reportedly plan to merge, creating a bigger rival to AT&T; and Verizon.In an excl...
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      Windows to release April 2018 Update on Monday

      Microsoft is focusing on keeping users productive with its latest patch

      Microsoft has announced that it will be rolling out its April 2018 Update for its Windows operating system worldwide on Monday.

      Users will be able to download the upgrade for the for free on April 30 by using the Windows Update tool; those who delay installation will receive notifications for the patch starting on May 8.

      Aaron Woodman, general manager of Microsoft’s Windows product, tells TechCrunch that the update will add a few new features that should help users be more productive and manage their time wisely.

      “When you think about the release, there is a theme being pulled through,” he said in an interview. “How do we help customers really get things complete and save time and be more efficient on Windows than on any other operating system?”

      Keeping users productive

      The answer to that question comes in the form of a couple of new features called Timeline and Focus Assist.

      Timeline allows users to track their most recent activity with the files that they open and work on across all of their devices. The feature allows consumers to sync their progress on any given document or file to mitigate any problems of figuring out where they last left off. A search function also allows users to filter their files, so they can find what they’re looking for quickly.

      While Timeline should help consumers track their progress and easily access files, Focus Assist basically acts as a mute button for notifications. Users can set the feature to automatically mute notifications during a certain time of day, or it can be turned on whenever a user needs to bear down and focus on their work.

      Users can choose exactly which types of notifications are muted within the feature, so there’s no need to worry if you’re awaiting an important call or email when you’re trying to be productive. Users will receive all of their notifications promptly after turning the feature off.

      For more information on patches and features included in the April 2018 Update, such as changes to Microsoft Edge and dictation, consumers can visit Microsoft's site here.

      Windows has announced that it will be rolling out its April 2018 Update worldwide on Monday.Users will be able to download the upgrade for the Windows...
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      Wells Fargo may be under investigation again

      The Labor Department is said to be examining the bank's 401(k) practices

      Wells Fargo may be the subject of a government probe of how the bank handles 401(k) retirement accounts.

      If so, it would follow revelations that the bank signed up millions of customers to accounts without their permission and sold unneeded car insurance to auto loan customers.

      The Wall Street Journal reports the U.S. Labor Department is investigating Wells Fargo to determine whether it pushed retirement plan enrollees into more expensive plans. The article maintains that Wells Fargo guided enrollees into funds that the bank managed in a bid to increase its profits.

      10-k filing

      When asked for comment, Wells Fargo referred the media to its last quarterly Securities and Exchanges Commission 10-k filing, in which it is required to disclose all material factors, including any federal investigations. In a statement to the media, the bank said the 10-k statement reflects its commitment to transparency, even when all details are not yet known.

      “We are making significant progress in our work to identify and fix any issues, make things right, and build a better, stronger company," the bank said in a statement.

      The 10-k filing does, in fact, make references to a review of its wealth and management business – a response to government inquiries.

      Previous issues

      In 2016, Wells Fargo faced a tempest when it revealed that employees had opened millions of checking and credit card accounts for customers without their knowledge or consent. The bank made a number of policy changes, including the way it provided performance incentives to employees.

      A year later, the bank revealed that it had sold insurance to some auto loan customers without their knowledge. The action reportedly pushed some borrowers into default. The banks also admitted to charging some improper mortgage fees.

      Wells Fargo paid a $110 million fine to settle the unauthorized accounts scandal. Published reports suggest it could face a much bigger fine for alleged auto loan and mortgage improprieties.

      Wells Fargo may be the subject of a government probe of how the bank handles 401(k) retirement accounts.If so, it would follow revelations that the ban...
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      Study finds bank technology often frustrates consumers

      Digital-only bank customers are the least-satisfied

      Banks that have embraced technology have gained digital-only customers in recent years, but new research suggests the move has been costly in terms of customer satisfaction.

      The J.D. Power 2018 U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study found that 28 percent of bank customers are now digital-only, yet they are the least satisfied among the banks' overall customer base.

      Paul McAdam, senior director of the Banking Practice at J.D. Power, says investing in technology helps banks reduce their costs. But technology can also provide a barrier to customer engagement, a key element of the banking industry's traditional business model.

      'Growing digital divide'

      Three decades ago bank customers visited a branch to cash a check, where they might know the tellers. They might even get a toaster if they opened a new account. McAdam says there is a sizable segment of consumers that like that approach.

      "Right now, retail banks need to address the growing digital divide that is emerging within customer segments,” he said. “Successfully navigating that transition will require banks to provide better, more personalized advice that is consistent across both digital and branch interactions and to ensure that customer needs are met, regardless of channel."

      The study found that bank customers who only used online or mobile banking were the least satisfied among all bank patrons. Customers who only did their banking at a branch were slightly more satisfied. Consumers who used both branches and online banking were actually the most satisfied bank customers.

      Communication issues

      Drilling deeper into the data, the study authors found that communication appears to be the weakest link in digital banking's relationship with customers. Digital-only customers said the main source of their frustration with their bank came in the areas of communication and advice; products and fees; and opening a new account.

      Communication has long been an issue for bank customers. In a recent post at ConsumerAffairs, James, of Alpharetta, Ga., voiced his frustration about dealing with his bank when it froze his accounts.

      “Unable to pay bills, process checks, take out cash that is legally ours,” James wrote. “We have over $100K in checking and deposit and they put a freeze on us. Something about our mother-in-law who was on the account many years ago had to contact the bank. She is 80 years of age and in poor health and did not know what she was calling about. I could not tell her either as the bank would not tell me.”

      It's not just aging Baby Boomers who are frustrated with their banks' technology. The study found the biggest satisfaction gap between digital and branch-dependent customers is among millennials, followed by Gen X. But McAdam says the satisfaction problem is fixable.

      "Some of the best practices being pioneered today by digital leaders include highly personalized digital interactions along with branch transformation efforts that serve the needs of both digital-centric and branch-dependent customers."

      Banks that have embraced technology have gained digital-only customers in recent years, but new research suggests the move has been costly in terms of cust...
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      Ziegenfelder recalls ice pops

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      The Ziegenfelder Company of Wheeling, W.Va., is recalling approximately 3,000 cases of Budget $aver Cherry Pineapple Monster Pops and Sugar Free Twin Pops.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses or incidents involving have been reported to date.

      The recalled frozen products were sold 12 to a package under the brand names Budget $aver Cherry Pineapple Monster Pops and Sugar Free Twin Pops.

      • The Cherry Pineapple Monster Pops carry the UPC code 0-74534-84200-9, and have lot codes D09418A through D10018B.
      • The Sugar Free Pops carry the UPC code 0-74534-75642-9, and have lot codes D09318A through D10018B.

      They were shipped from April 5 – 19, 2018, to retail grocers and distributors in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 888-683-0379, Monday – Friday, 8am – 8pm (EST).

      The Ziegenfelder Company of Wheeling, W.Va., is recalling approximately 3,000 cases of Budget $aver Cherry Pineapple Monster Pops and Sugar Free Twin Pops....
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      Delta Air Lines staff accused of tying disabled woman to a wheelchair

      Passengers who use wheelchairs have long described intolerable conditions on flights

      Delta Air Lines, facing accusations that employees tied a woman with multiple sclerosis (MS) to a wheelchair, is apologizing for the “perception” that customers have of its service.

      Maria Saliagas and her husband travel from their home in Atlanta to Europe every year and had no plans of stopping, even after she was diagnosed with MS five years ago.

      When they arrived in Amsterdam for this year’s trip on April 1 , Delta employees could not find a wheelchair equipped with straps to support her back.  So the employees instead placed her in chair with inadequate back support and used a dirty blanket to secure her, according to an account her son gave.

      “The Delta employee thought it would be appropriate to tie my mother with someone else's dirty blanket, in such a way it has left bruise marks on her arms,” Nathan Saliagas wrote in a Facebook post. “When she started crying, she was told to 'shut the [expletive] up' or she will be 'left there.'”

      After his account was reported by the local news. Delta issued a statement that hedged somewhere between an apology and a defense.

      “We regret the perception our service has left on these customers. We have reached out to them, not only to resolve their concerns, but also ensure that their return flight exceeds expectations,” says a statement that a Delta representative sent WSB-TV.

      The couple is scheduled to return to Atlanta on April 30.

      “Intolerable conditions”

      People who use wheelchairs have long described intolerable conditions while flying, and they say that the situation has worsened as seating gets tighter than ever. Reporting from the Government Accountability Office has found that complaints from disabled air travelers more than doubled between 2005 and 2015.

      Airlines are exempt from the American Disabilities Act and have resisted calls to make planes more friendly for the disabled, claiming such upgrades could cost billions of dollars.  

      Passengers are typically barred from bringing their own wheelchairs on airplanes. Instead they must depend on temporary wheelchairs issued by airline staff for help boarding and getting off the flight.

      During the flight, passengers’ motorized wheelchairs are often stored in the cargo hold. In numerous cases, motorized wheelchairs have been returned to their owners in pieces, leaving travelers stranded once they arrive at their destinations. Disabled people have called on airlines to better train staff about how to properly handle motorized wheelchairs.

      While airlines are required to publicly report lost luggage, delayed flights, or animals that were killed or injured in their care, the same does not apply to wheelchairs. That was scheduled to change this year, until Trump took office.

      After five years of public debate, the Obama administration finalized a rule that would have required airlines to publicly report damaged or lost wheelchairs. But several months before the rule was scheduled to go in effect in January 2018, the Trump administration delayed its implementation for another year, sparking a lawsuit from the  Paralyzed Veterans of America.

      Delta Air Lines, facing accusations that employees tied a woman with multiple sclerosis (MS) to a wheelchair, is apologizing for the “perception” that cust...
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      Ford to phase out sedans in North America

      The move reflects a market shift to trucks and SUVs

      Ford, which made its name on the Model T, will phase out production of sedans for the North American market and will instead focus its efforts on building trucks and SUVs.

      The announcement, made during Ford's first quarter earnings report, reflects the new reality among today's automotive consumers. With relatively low gas prices over the last two years, and with improved mileage efficiency, consumers have shunned sedans in favor of sexier and more functional utility vehicles.

      “By 2020, almost 90 percent of the Ford portfolio in North America will be trucks, utilities and commercial vehicles,” Ford CEO Jim Hackett said in a statement. “Given declining consumer demand and product profitability, the company will not invest in next generations of traditional Ford sedans for North America.”

      So long Taurus and Fusion

      That means the venerable Taurus, introduced in 1986, will disappear from Ford's line-up, along with the Ford Fusion. Hackett says the multi-year transition will leave the iconic Mustang and a redesigned Focus crossover as Ford's remaining cars.

      The company said it is also exploring new “white space” vehicle silhouettes that combine the best attributes of cars and utilities, such as higher ride height, space, and versatility.

      New car sales data tells the story. In March, light truck sales surged 16 percent, posting a 9.5 percent increase for the first quarter. At the same time, car demand was down 8.9 percent in March and down 11 percent for the quarter, according to Autoweek.

      Ford did not give a timetable for the transition, saying only that it would take place “over the next few years.” The move not only reflects a change in consumer taste, it could make the automaker more profitable, since margins are higher on SUVs than sedans.

      Wall Street applauded the move, sending Ford shares 2.5 percent higher in early Thursday trading.

      Ford, which made its name on the Model T, will phase out production of sedans for the North American market and will instead focus its efforts on building...
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      Senate bill would establish banks in every post office to serve low-income consumers

      The measure would create competition for payday lenders

      A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate takes aim at payday lenders by establishing retail banks in every U.S. Post Office to serve low income consumers.

      The measure, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), would set up a bank in all U.S. Postal Service locations. The banks' mission would be to give underserved populations – the so-called “unbanked” – access to basic banking services.

      Gillibrand says the lack of access to traditional banking services creates an economic burden for low-income Americans, forcing them to spend large percentages of their income to cash their paychecks or pay back high-interest payday loans.

      “Millions of Americans are being forced into payday lending schemes that only exacerbate their money problems, and Congress has the ability to wipe out these predatory practices right now by creating a Postal Bank that would be accessible to everyone, everywhere,” Gillibrand said

      The New York Democrat says millions of consumers with no banking relationship face huge fees when they need to cash a check or pay for an unexpected car repair.

      Basic financial services

      “The Postal Bank would solve this problem by putting a retail bank branch in all of the U.S. Postal Service’s 30,000 locations, providing low-cost, basic financial services to all Americans, and effectively ending predatory lending nationwide,” she said. “Politicians in Washington have taken millions of dollars from payday lenders to help protect this industry’s predatory behavior on hardworking families, and it has to stop.”

      The legislation is in line with recent suggestions from consumer advocates. Rather than regulating payday lenders out of existence, which is hard to do in a political environment, they suggest letting market forces do it by creating alternatives.

      Under the Obama administration the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) drafted strict rules for payday lenders, requiring them to ensure a borrower can repay any loan. However, the Trump administration quickly backed away from that regulation.

      It's been done before

      Mehrsa Baradaran, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Georgia School of Law, says postal banking has been successfully employed by many countries in the past, including the United States. In the U.S., the United States Postal Savings System was established in 1911 but discontinued in 1966.

      “Today, there are many communities across the country that are banking deserts,” Baradaran said. “The only financial service providers are fringe lenders and check cashers whose business model relies on the poor paying more for banking services than anyone else. This is a threat to our democracy.”

      Baradaran said putting banks in post offices would provide safe, accessible, and much-needed financial services to the most financially-struggling communities in the U.S.

      A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate takes aim at payday lenders by establishing retail banks in every U.S. Post Office to serve low income consumers.T...
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      Consumers urged to bring in old pills and prescriptions for National Drug Take Back Day

      Expired medications can pose a danger if left unattended in homes

      National Drug Take Back Day is coming up this Saturday, April 28. The nationwide event, held by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), is an opportunity for consumers to safely dispose of dangerous expired or unwanted prescription drugs -- an action that is crucial in the midst of America’s opioid drug abuse epidemic.

      Surveys show that a majority of teens who have taken a prescription medication for a non-medical reason said they did so because it was easy to get from their parents’ medicine cabinets.

      “Medicines that languish in home cabinets are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse and abuse," the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) noted in a statement.

      Curbing misuse and abuse

      To keep leftover medication from ending up in the wrong hands, consumers can drop off their old pills or patches between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at a Take Back Day location near them. The service is free and anonymous.

      Disposing of expired or unwanted medication isn’t only a good way of combating the opioid epidemic, it’s also good for the environment. According to the DEA, the "usual methods for disposing of unused medicines -- flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the trash -- both pose potential safety and health hazards."

      Last year’s Take Back Day resulted in more than 912,000 pounds of prescription drugs being handed over to the DEA and local law enforcement partners. More than 9 million pounds of pills have been turned in over the course of the previous 14 years that Take Back events have been held.

      Finding a disposal site

      This year, Google has partnered with the DEA to help consumers find a disposal site near them.

      “Using Google Maps API, our team worked with the DEA to create a locator tool for the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day,” Google said in a statement.

      “The locator tool can help anyone find a place near them to safely dispose of leftover prescription medications. Click on the image below to access the locator, and enter an address or zip code to find nearby Take Back Day events this Saturday and help fight the opioid epidemic.”

      Consumers can also find a nearby prescription drug drop off location by visiting DEATakeBack.com.

      National Drug Take Back Day is coming up this Saturday, April 28. The nationwide event, held by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), is an opportunity for co...
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      Subway to close 500 US stores while expanding internationally

      The chain is making changes in an effort to boost slumping sales

      Subway will close 500 of its 26,000 U.S. locations this year but will open more than 1,000 stores overseas. The move is part of the company’s revitalization plan, which will require franchise owners to invest more in their individual operations.

      The international expansion plan will put Subway restaurants in Mexico, the U.K., Germany, South Korea, India, and China, CEO Suzanne Greco told Bloomberg.

      “Looking out over the next decade, we anticipate having a slightly smaller, but more profitable footprint in North America and a significantly larger footprint in the rest of the world," Subway said in a statement.

      Rebranding itself

      Subway has been trying to rebrand itself in an effort to draw in more customers and kickstart sales, which dropped 4.4 percent last year due to competition from newer chains and other fast food options.

      Subway had to shutter more than 350 U.S. stores in 2016. The year prior, the company had taken a public relations hit when former spokesman Jared Fogle pleaded guilty to charges of child pornography and crossing state lines to pay for sex with minors.

      In 2017, the company closed another 800-plus locations.

      "People are voting with their feet. They don’t want what Subway has to offer," Bob Phibbs, CEO of the New York-based consultancy The Retail Doctor, told USA Today. "They’ve been closing stores for a long time. They’re hoping to make this up internationally."

      The chain plans to revamp its stores by adding self-service kiosks and more comfortable seating, as well as Wi-Fi and USB charging ports.

      Subway launched a new line of wraps earlier this year and a loyalty program, called Subway MyWay Rewards. Last Summer, Subway started redesigning the look of its stores. The company moved away from its old "Tuscany" design and introduced a brighter aesthetic inspired by fresh vegetables.

      Subway will close 500 of its 26,000 U.S. locations this year but will open more than 1,000 stores overseas. The move is part of the company’s revitalizatio...
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      Survey shows older workers are postponing retirement

      More than half aren't sure when they'll stop working

      More than half of workers 60 years old or older say they are postponing retirement plans, according to a new study by employment site CareerBuilder.

      Despite an improved economy and rising wages, a large percentage of seniors in the workplace appear to be worried they won't have enough money to stop working.

      The survey shows 53 percent of age 60-plus workers are putting off retirement, with significantly more men making that decision than women. Four out of 10 workers said they don't think they can retire until at least age 70.

      It's going to have an impact

      "Postponing retirement will make an impact across all of our country's workforce, along with retirement policy and financial and health care planning," said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder. "With workers staying in their jobs longer, employers are adjusting hiring needs, but also reaping the benefits of the extra skills and mentoring abilities of mature employees."

      While employers appear to be benefiting from the trend, what about the workers themselves? Few appear to be putting off retirement because they enjoy their jobs. Rather, it's a matter of addressing the uncertainty retirement brings.

      Nearly a quarter of the workers in the survey admitted they don't know how much money they need in savings in order to stop getting a regular paycheck.

      When asked to make an estimate, 20 percent of workers said they think they can retire on $500,000 in savings. Thirty-one percent said they would need between $500,000 and $1 million.

      Challenges

      Getting to those amounts have proven to be problematic. Roughly one in four people in the survey who are at least 55 said they do not contribute to a 401(k) or IRA retirement plan. Younger workers have a better record on that score, according to CareerBuilder.

      As most Americans have longer and healthier lives, the concept of retirement has undergone changes. The financial crisis of 2008 has also had an impact, disrupting retirement savings plans for many just as they were entering what should have been their peak earning years.

      A decade of stagnant wages hasn't helped matters. A 2017 study from Country Financial found over half the workers it surveyed were not saving for retirement. The most common reason was the difficulty in paying current expenses, with nothing left over for savings.

      More than half of workers 60 years old or older say they are postponing retirement plans, according to a new study by employment site CareerBuilder.Des...
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      The New York Stock Exchange suspended trading of Alphabet and Amazon

      A “price scale code issue” led the NYSE to suspend trading of five securities on Wednesday

      The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) halted trading on five Nasdaq-listed symbols, including Amazon and Alphabet, midday on Wednesday due to a "price scale code issue," according to the exchange's website.

      "Due to the previously announced price scale code issue affecting [Binary Consumer Customer Gateway] execution reports, trading in the following Tape C symbols will be suspended for the balance of the trading day," NYSE wrote on its website.

      "Any open orders in these securities will be cancelled,” the alert to traders said. In addition to Amazon and Alphabet, trading for Booking Holdings (formerly Priceline), Zion Oil, and Gas Equity Warrants was also suspended.

      Affected highest-priced stocks

      The glitch appeared to have affected stocks with prices above $1,000. Booking Holdings, Amazon, and Alphabet are the three highest-priced stocks in the S&P 500.

      Traders were alerted that execution reports priced above $1,000 were being incorrectly published with a price sale code of 5, which meant that they were being divided by a larger number than was accurate to determine their trading prices.

      A spokeswoman for the NYSE, Kristen Kaus, said the technical issue only affected a handful of clients whose trading reports in the affected symbols were being returned in an unexpected format. The exchange elected to suspend trading in the affected symbols to minimize customer impact, Kaus said.

      Trading of the five symbols outside the physical trading floor ran normally.

      "To me it sounds extremely minor and not a big deal but definitely part of the [Nasdaq symbol migration] rollout," Joe Saluzzi, partner and co-founder at Themis Trading, told CNBC.

      The NYSE confirmed at 4:40 on Wednesday that all securities will be active for trading today (April 26).

      The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) halted trading on five Nasdaq-listed symbols, including Amazon and Alphabet, midday on Wednesday due to a "price scale c...
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      Google will shelve Play Music in favor of the forthcoming YouTube Remix

      The tech giant is getting out of the music streaming brawl and moving to a profitable niche it already knows

      It looks like Google’s Play Music days are numbered. Reports have surfaced that the tech king may move all its musical eggs to the forthcoming YouTube Remix basket. The service was slated to start a month ago, but it looks like it’ll be closer to the end of the year.

      Google’s move from an all-you-can-hear music streaming service to an all-you-can-hear-and-see music streaming service puts them in an exclusive space and away from the traffic jam that Play Music has had a hard time finding a comfortable seat in.

      Out of the estimated 475 million monthly music streamers, Google is thought to have fewer than 10 million users -- a far cry from ruling that space. Spotify claims 140 million monthly users, including 70 million who pay for the premium version; Pandora counts 73 million among its faithful; Apple Music has 40 million of its own; plus there’s Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Slacker, Tidal, and a dozen more fighting over what’s left.

      Google has already gone down the road of combining YouTube and music once. Its YouTube Red platform offered access to advertising-free music streaming through Google Play Music on top of "YouTube Red Original" series and movies. However, the service has yet to gain traction where others like Hulu and Netflix have.

      Why is Google making this move?

      In a keynote speech at South by Southwest (SXSW) this year, YouTube’s global head of music Lyor Cohen said the new offering would bring “the best of Google Play Music’s context server and YouTube’s ‘breadth and depth of catalogue.’

      Cohen doesn’t pretend to be a psychic, but he realizes that changing horses in the middle of this stream could be dicey. "We know we’re late to the party. It’s okay," he said.

      Still, YouTube is both a cash cow and an eyeball magnet for Google, and sticking with what made it famous has a great upside. The video streamer is on track to pull in $3.96 billion this year -- more than 20 percent of the U.S. video advertising revenue market -- and its audience is projected to reach 188 million users in 2019. These are metrics that Cohen is fully aware of.

      "I’m focused on bringing diversity to distribution; and we’ll do that by adding a subscription business on top of YouTube’s already growing advertising business," Cohen remarked.

      There are dozens of loose ends for Google to tie up: getting unfettered buy-in from the music labels and publishers, how it plans to convince Play Music fans to become Remix ones, and what new video content it’ll serve that’s different from all the free music videos it has now.

      It looks like Google’s Play Music days are numbered. Reports have surfaced that the tech king may move all its musical eggs to the forthcoming YouTube Remi...
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      Superior Foods Company recalls smoked salmon spreads

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Superior Foods Company of Kentwood, Mich., is recalling 487 lbs. of smoked salmon spreads.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The following items, produced on March 26, 2018, are being recalled:

      • Smoked Salmon Spread – 5 lb. bulk units; Code Number: 68487; Sell by Date: 4/25/18; Lot Number 0728-2; UPC #043823684873
      • Simply Superior Smoked Salmon Spread 6X5 oz units – Code Number: 92379; Sell by Date: 4/25/18; Lot Number 0728-2; UPC #043823923798
      • Morey’s Smoked Salmon Spread 6x6 oz units – Code Number: 92503; Sell by Date: 4/25/2018; Lot Number 0728-2 UPC #043823925037

      The recalled products were sold in retail grocery stores and some food service businesses in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Minnesota.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should discard them or return them to the store where purchased for a full credit.

      Consumers with questions may contact Scott Ruth at 616-698-7700.

      Superior Foods Company of Kentwood, Mich., is recalling 487 lbs. of smoked salmon spreads.The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes....
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      Nutrizone expands dietary supplement recall

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      NutriZone of Houston, Texas, is expanding its earlier recall of various kratom dietary supplements to all lots sold.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

      The following products, with lot numbers on the package near the Nutrition Facts Panel, are being recalled:

      Product NameNet Quantity
      (Capsules Per Container)
      Lot NumberPackaging
      Cali Green MalayAllAllAll
      Cali Maeng DaAllAllAll
      Cali ThaiAllAllAll
      Nirvanio BaliAllAllAll
      Nirvanio Green MalayAllAllAll
      Nirvanio Maeng DaAllAllAll
      Nirvanio Special ReserveAllAllAll
      Pain Out Green MalayAllAllAll
      Pain Out Maeng DaAllAllAll
      Pain Out ThaiAllAllAll

      The products were sold in Florida, California, Oklahoma. Georgia, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Washington, Mississippi, Missouri, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, New York and Illinois.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should discontinue using them and return the unused portion to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact NutriZone at 800-936-7936, Monday through Friday, 9am – 5pm (CST).

      NutriZone of Houston, Texas, is expanding its earlier recall of various kratom dietary supplements to all lots sold.The products may be contaminated wi...
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      Nissan recalls Titan and Titan XD models

      The vehicles are missing a Load Carrying Capacity modification label

      Nissan North America is recalling 483 model year 2016-2018 Nissan Titans and model year 2016 and 2018 Nissan Titan XDs.

      Although accessories installed on these vehicles reduced the load carrying capacity, a Load Carrying Capacity modification label was not installed, possibly allowing the vehicle to be overloaded, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Nissan will notify owners and provide a new modification label, with installation instructions, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin on June 16, 2018.

      Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-867-7669.

      Nissan North America is recalling 483 model year 2016-2018 Nissan Titans and model year 2016 and 2018 Nissan Titan XDs.Although accessories installed o...
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      Altaba agrees to $35 million data breach settlement

      The company formerly known as Yahoo waited two years to reveal that hackers compromised a billion accounts

      Altaba, formerly known as Yahoo, has agreed to pay a $35 million fine to settle charges that it failed to promptly disclose a massive data breach relating to hundreds of millions of user accounts.

      The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ruled that the company essentially misled investors because the stock price plunged after the breach was finally revealed.

      The SEC found that within days of the breach, Yahoo knew that Russian hackers had broken into the network and made off with usernames, email addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, encrypted passwords, and security questions and answers for hundreds of millions of user accounts.

      The regulator says the information was reported to Yahoo's senior management, but the company failed to properly investigate the circumstances and adequately consider whether the public should be notified.

      Delayed for two years

      The SEC says Yahoo waited two years, until it was in the process of selling its operating business to Verizon in 2016, before revealing the data breach.

      “We do not second-guess good faith exercises of judgment about cyber-incident disclosure,” said Steven Peikin, Co-Director of the SEC Enforcement Division. “But we have also cautioned that a company’s response to such an event could be so lacking that an enforcement action would be warranted. This is clearly such a case.”

      Last year, Yahoo executives were pressed by members of a Senate committee to answer questions about the breach. Then-CEO Marissa Mayer was asked to describe Yahoo's efforts to notify affected users and what steps the company had taken to mitigate consumer harm.

      Last month a federal judge ruled that affected Yahoo users can move forward with a lawsuit against the company. The judge turned aside Verizon's objections, saying affected users might have behaved differently had they known their data had been compromised.

      Harm to investors

      The SEC settlement specifically addresses investors – people who had purchased Yahoo stock without knowing the company faced a potentially expensive liability. The order found that when Yahoo filed several quarterly and annual reports during the two-year period following the breach, the company failed to disclose the breach or its potential business impact and legal implications.

      The SEC also said Yahoo failed to reveal information about the breach to its auditors or outside counsel to learn what it was obligated to disclose.

      Altaba, formerly known as Yahoo, has agreed to pay a $35 million fine to settle charges that it failed to promptly disclose a massive data breach relating...
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      Consumers may lose access to government bank complaint database

      The CFPB Acting Director says the agency should not be running a 'Yelp for banks'

      Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Acting Director Mick Mulvaney is floating the idea of removing public access to consumer complaints about banks.

      Speaking to the American Bankers Association (ABA), Mulvaney said the CFPB is not required to operate a “Yelp for financial services, sponsored by the federal government.”

      The CFPB has a web portal where consumers can post complaints about banks and other financial service providers. The complaints are then accessible by consumers, who may be in the process of selecting a bank or other company. Other websites, such as ConsumerAffairs, have similar review databases.

      A quick review of the web portal by CosumerAffairs shows numerous complaints about debt collectors, some of whom are employing tactics consistent with scams – such as threatening the consumer with arrest. Consumer advocates maintain that this type of information can be helpful to consumers who encounter similar problems.

      Complaints are not vetted

      Mulvaney said he sees nothing in the Dodd Frank law that established the CFPB that requires it to collect complaints and make them available to the public. Mulvaney said a major objection to the current system is that the complaints have not been vetted and may be untrue.

      The bank executives attending Tuesday's speech in Washington applauded Mulvaney's remarks, and even offered more suggestions for loosening CFPB's regulatory role. In a comment letter to Mulvaney's agency, the ABA urged it to consider the costs and burden to banks before it launches a civil investigation.

      The bankers agreed that civil investigations can be important investigatory tools if carefully used, but they contend that, in the past, they have been abused in ways that “violate reasonable due process and frustrate the pursuit of justice.”

      Bankers seek more input

      In its comments, the bankers trade group urged the bureau to rely less heavily on civil investigation demands as a way to obtain information and to instead rely on its supervision division to request information from the companies it supervises.

      “We welcome the opportunity to provide feedback, and look forward to being a constructive participant in the bureau’s public review as it seeks information on these important regulatory issues going forward,” said ABA Senior Vice President Virginia O’Neill.

      In his speech, Mulvaney got warm applause from this audience of financial executives. He gets a somewhat different reaction from consumer advocates, who say he his trying to dismantle the very agency he leads.

      Earlier this month Mulvaney appeared before a Congressional committee and suggested four major changes that critics charge would reduce the agency's power and independence.

      Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Acting Director Mick Mulvaney is floating the idea of removing public access to consumer complaints about banks...
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      Here are the changes coming to Spotify’s free tier

      Non-paying users will no longer be limited to shuffle mode

      On Tuesday, Spotify unveiled changes to the free version of its smartphone app, which hasn’t been updated since 2014.

      Spotify’s 90 million non-paying users will now get access to 15 personalized playlists created by Spotify and will have more control over their music, among other new features.

      With the changes, Spotify is aiming to grow its free user count, which should create more paying users. The company has noted that 60 percent of paying users first started out as free users.

      On-demand tracks

      The changes were launched in an effort to keep non-paying users satisfied and to better understand the needs of users.

      "The free experience on Spotify is becoming a lot more like Spotify Premium," Babar Zafar, vice president of product development, said during Spotify's presentation at an event in New York.

      Spotify is launching the ability to listen to music from 15 playlists which can be played in any order, rather than in shuffle mode. Users can listen on-demand to whatever song they want, as many times as they want.

      Those 15 playlists are the equivalent of about 40 hours of music (750 tracks). They’re generated by Spotify based on a user’s listening habits and are constantly updating based on a user’s listening activity.

      Assisted playlisting

      Spotify will also help users create playlists by suggesting songs that are similar to those they have already added or searched for. To get to know users’ tastes, Spotify will ask free users to choose their favorite artists as soon as they start using the app.

      The new free version of Spotify will also include a “data saver” mode, which the music streaming service says will reduce data consumption by as much as 75 percent.

      Advertisements will still run on the free tier of Spotify, since ads help the company fund its free version, as well as serve to encourage users to switch to the premium version.

      The new free experience will be rolling out globally to all markets in the coming weeks.

      On Tuesday, Spotify unveiled changes to the free version of its smartphone app, which hasn’t been updated since 2014. Spotify’s 90 million non-paying u...
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      Supreme Court gives an important patent review procedure a thumbs-up

      The process is designed to keep patent trolls at bay and the cost of protecting a patent in check

      ​The U.S. Supreme Court gave the green light to a patent review process designed to contend with “patent trolls” and others looking for a way to cash in on someone else’s patent.

      In a 7-2 vote, the justices ruled that an in-house patent review at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office doesn’t violate a defendant’s right to have their case judged by a federal court and jury.

      Patent trolling (aka patent hoarding) is a term given to a person or company that sues patent holders by trying to enforce loose interpretations of a patent. Typically, patent trolls don’t manufacture the patented products in question; they simply look for a interdependent part or component of the patent they can leverage a claim on. If it sounds like a stick-up, it is.

      To get past the gatekeepers at the patent office, patent challengers have to go through a review process known as an inter partes review (IPR), a procedure for challenging the validity of a patent.

      Congress came up with the idea for patent reviews in 2011 in an effort to sift out the extraneous number of lame patents historically issued by the patent office. Seven years into the process, the agency’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board has annulled all or part of a patent in close to 80 percent of the decisions it’s handed down.

      Protecting a patent isn’t cheap

      Patent reviews are a favorite for tech companies that are frequently hit by trollers. For example, Apple was hit by a patent troll named VirnetXhas that claimed inter-rights to patents related to Apple’s FaceTime and iMessage patents. A federal court in Texas -- a troll-friendly state -- ordered Apple to pay VirnetXhas $502.6 million. If Apple had a patent review on its side, the suit may have never happened.

      Big pharma has seen its share of patent challenges, too -- sometimes with a twist. In 2015, Hayman Capital’s hedge fund chief, Kyle Bass, started rolling out the first of 16 challenges to pharmaceutical company patents. Bass’ end-goal was to lower the price of drugs and get rid of the “pay-for-delay” tactics within the industry.

      “However, Bass also stands to benefit by short-selling the stocks of those companies he considers to be ‘the worst offenders in the patent world,’” observed Anna Rose Welch, Editor, Biosimilar Development at Life Science Leader.

      “Rather than challenging these patents in the district court, Bass turned to the Inter Partes Review (IPR) proceedings established in 2012 as part of the America Invents Act (AIA). This process promises a more efficient approach to resolving patent disputes surrounding chemical structure, formulations, methods of dosing or administration, or drug combinations.”

      ​The U.S. Supreme Court gave the green light to a patent review process designed to contend with “patent trolls” and others looking for a way to cash in on...
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      Model year 2018 Jeep Wranglers recalled

      The left rear seat mount may come loose

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 106 model year 2018 Jeep Wranglers.

      The rear under body ladder rail may corrode, possibly reducing the strength of the rear floor pan and causing the left rear seat mount to become loose.

      If the floor pan strength is reduced and/or the rear seat mount becomes loose, the rear seat may detach in a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      The remedy for this recall is still under development. The recall is expected to begin June 1, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U27.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 106 model year 2018 Jeep Wranglers.The rear under body ladder rail may corrode, possibly reducing the strength of th...
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      VW recalls Audis with cooling system issue

      The cooling system may overheat or short-circuit

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 342,867 model year 2013-2017 Audi A5 Cabriolets, A5 Sedans and Audi Q5s; model year 2012-2015 Audi A6s; and model year 2013-2016 Audi A4 Sedans and A4 allroad.

      The vehicles, equipped with 2.0l Turbo FSI engines, have an electric coolant pump that can either become blocked with debris from the cooling system causing it to overheat or can short-circuit from moisture within the pump.

      A blocked or short-circuited pump can increase the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Audi will notify owners, and dealers will replace the pumps, free of charge. Parts are not currently available. Owners will be sent an initial notification beginning on June 11, 2018.

      A second notice will be mailed once remedy parts become available.

      Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Audi's number's for this recall is 19N3/19N4.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 342,867 model year 2013-2017 Audi A5 Cabriolets, A5 Sedans and Audi Q5s; model year 2012-2015 Audi A6s; and model...
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      Car companies advertise a green future but won’t commit to tougher emissions standards

      The auto industry claims consumers will have to turn in their trucks to meet environmental goals, but experts say the technology to make cleaner cars is already here

      The auto industry is presenting consumers with a stark choice if they want  cars to emit less pollution in the future. In an interview, an auto industry lobbyist evoked a communist-style takeover of personal trucks to justify the industry’s successful campaign to undo Obama-era fuel efficiency standards.

      “To meet the standards, some people would have to give up their trucks,” Wade Newton, a spokesman with the Auto Industry Alliance, the powerful trade group representing the automobile industry, told ConsumerAffairs.

      Newton said that earlier plans for personal car and truck fleets to reach an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 -- which the industry initially agreed to under the Obama administration -- are no longer feasible because gas prices are lower than carmakers anticipated.

      That, in turn, has caused consumers to choose trucks over electric cars. “I don't think people forecast that consumers would want [the number of] trucks that they have,” Newton said.

      But experts and environmental advocates say that selling fully electric vehicles, though helpful, was never a key part of the 2025 standards.

      “These standards don’t require that a single electric vehicle be made,” Dan Becker, director of the Center for Auto Safety’s Safe Climate Campaign, told ConsumerAffairs. "The auto companies are trying to confuse people by saying that people don't want the vehicles that would be made under the standards.”

      Pointing to a technical analysis done by the EPA under the previous administration, advocates say that the technology already exists to make gas-powered vehicles efficient enough to reach an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

      Instead of using that technology, however, car companies have convinced Trump to indefinitely postpone the regulations. At the same time, the car industry is asking consumers to buy electric vehicles that are in shorter supply and more costly upfront.

      Detroit follows Tesla

      Tesla may like to portray itself as the start-up taking on entrenched automobile interests, and it is the only car company to continue publicly endorsing the Obama-era fuel standards. But plenty of brands are at least paying lip service to electric and plug-in vehicles and are promoting their own electric models.

      General Motors has embraced electric vehicles more quickly than any other of the “big three” automakers in the United States, with the company’s popular Chevy Bolt coming a close second to Tesla’s Model S in electric vehicle sales last year.  

      “General Motors believes the future is all-electric,” Mark Reuss, the company’s head of product, said in an announcement last October. “We are far along in our plan to lead the way to that future world.”

      Other companies are vowing to catch up. Earlier this year, Mercedes Benz said it would make electric versions of all its vehicle models by 2022 and build a “global battery network” to support the program.

      Ford Motor Company, which moved just 1,817 of its electric Focus models in 2017, similarly promised to ramp up its efforts and double their investment in electric cars in the near future.

      “We’re all in,” Ford Motor Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr said of electric cars at the North American International Auto Show that took place last January. “The only question is, will the customers be there with us?”

      The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade group that represents “the big three” as well as a dozen other major international brands, introduced a campaign last month to encourage consumer purchases of electric cars on the East Coast.

      “The ‘Drive Change. Drive Electric.’ campaign will focus on the benefits of electric cars and advancing consumer awareness, understanding, consideration and adoption of these vehicles in the region,” the group says in their campaign.

      "That's the challenge...we invested billions of dollars in alternative technologies and fuel efficient vehicles,” Newton, the car industry lobbyist, tells ConsumerAffairs. “We need consumers to embrace those products.”

      But, in fact, consumers have already been embracing the models -- 2017 was a record year for electric vehicle sales, with 199,826 vehicles sold in the United States, according to figures analyzed by Ars Technica. That represents a 25 percent increase from 2016, which was another record year for electric car sales.

      Electric cars, which advocates say are helpful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in states where the grid is clean, are more popular than ever, but they still constitute only a fraction of the cars that get produced.  

      “They’re not making very many of them,” Becker says, pointing to Ford’s particularly slow embrace of electric cars.

      "We're not evaluated on what we make, we’re evaluated on what consumers buy,” responded Newton to such criticisms. “We produced a lot. The problem is selling them.”

      The original agreement

      The original plan to make vehicles twice as efficient by 2025 was hailed as a major compromise between environmentalists who wanted stricter standards and an industry that is resistant to change.

      The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which measure the average fuel economy of a corporation’s passenger car and truck fleet, were introduced by the feds during the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s. From its inception, auto companies based here and elsewhere resisted attempts to regulate their overall emissions. Emissions gradually improved over the years, but change happened slowly.

      The long-term compromise that the companies agreed to seven years ago marked a historic departure. Joined by representatives from Ford, GM, Chrysler, and foreign manufacturers, Obama announced in 2011 that the CAFE standards would gradually increase, with a final goal of reaching 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, or a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gases.

      The 2025 figure was lower than the 62 mpg standard that environmentalists said was doable and necessary, but advocates were cautiously optimistic at the time that the less restrictive standards would still reduce pollution.

      “The talks over the last few weeks have yielded real progress, and we’re hopeful there’s a way to improve fuel economy but retain customer choice and the industry’s recent resurgence,” a General Motors spokesman said at the time.

      Auto industry changes its tune

      Not long after Trump was elected into office, however, car companies began singing a different tune. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers sent the Trump administration a letter last year claiming that the emissions rules they previously agreed to were unrealistic. (The industry says that their request to have the regulations reviewed had nothing to do with the new administration).

      And several weeks after Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, the CEOs of Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler Fiat met with him privately. Afterward, Ford Motor Company's then-CEO Mark Fields proclaimed that 1 million United States jobs would be at risk under Obama’s fuel economy standards.

      "It was a Trumpian alternative fact by this Ford CEO,” says Becker, the director of the Safe Climate Campaign, noting that Ford Motor Company does not employ close to one million people at its manufacturing plants in the United States. According to figures from the US government, the entire auto industry combined does not employ one million people at manufacturing plants in the United States.

      Regardless, it’s an argument that has worked with an administration that has been characteristically hostile to any environmental regulations, especially if they were imposed under Obama.

      In early April, after months of discussions, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced that he would establish new, more relaxed fuel standards for cars made between 2022 and 2025, citing arguments made by car companies that consumers were not interested in fuel efficient cars.

      Pruitt’s analysis also said that safety and consumer choice was at risk under the Obama plans. “One thing they haven’t done is say that the previous technical analysis was wrong,” says Becker, with the Safe Climate Campaign. "This is mechanics, not rocket science. All these companies have the technologies.”

      By casting the previous administration's analysis aside, the EPA under Trump has “decided to ignore this evidence and misconstrue how the standards work,” David Cooke, a senior vehicles analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote in a recent blog post.

      Uncertainty about the new standards

      How the new fuel standards will look is unclear. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has not yet announced what the new standards will be, only that the Obama rules have been put on hold.

      In his report explaining why they were reworking the Obama-era rules, Pruitt and the EPA relied heavily on criticisms leveled by the auto industry that did not propose any alternative solutions. Newton, with the auto alliance, says that stakeholders have not reached a consensus on what they want.

      Automakers have at times wavered between complaining about the Obama-era standards while stating that they would still comply with them. One Ford representative told the site CityLab recently that they have “not asked for a rollback,” instead characterizing their own lobbying efforts as simply a request for more “flexibility.”

      “We will continue to work with EPA, NHTSA, and California on one national standard with additional flexibility to help us provide more affordable options for our customers,” the Ford spokesman told the site.

      California to propose its own standards

      California has promised to enact its own efficiency standards should the Trump administration back away from the 2025 plan, sparking Pruitt’s EPA to threaten legal action against the state. The uncertainty is bound to create a regulatory headache for car companies.

      Advocates like Becker say that the industry may be getting more than they bargained for under Trump, as California and governments in other nations  impose stricter standards on fuel emissions that could conflict with the standards that Pruitt may introduce.

      Environmental organizations, meanwhile, have jumped on what they describe as auto industry double talk, with GreenPeace releasing a spoof ad for a “Ford future” that shows a family using oxygen masks.

      The auto industry alliance disputes the idea that they are “greenwashing” their image by promoting electric cars while lobbying to loosen fuel standards. If more consumers could just buy electric cars, the auto industry says there wouldn’t be a problem.

      “We want attention to these fuel efficient vehicles,” Newton says.

      The auto industry is presenting consumers with a stark choice if they want  cars to emit less pollution in the future. In an interview, an auto industry lo...
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      Facebook releases its complete guidelines for policing content

      The company wants to provide clarity on how it decides which posts to take down

      Facebook published 27 pages of previously secret rules today on how the site’s moderators decide which photos, videos, and posts should be removed and which can stay online.

      The company said it spots potentially problematic content by using either artificial intelligence or reports from other users. That information is then passed on to its 7,500+ human content reviewers who work around the clock in over 40 languages.

      Detailed policies

      Facebook said it does not allow hate speech about “protected characteristics,” including race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, serious disability, or disease.

      It said there are “some protections” around immigration status and three “tiers of severity” by which posts are judged. Here are a few of the site’s rules:

      • The sale of marijuana is not allowed (even in states where it’s legal)

      • Sexual activity in general is banned unless “posted in a satirical or humorous context”

      • Photos of breasts are allowed if they depict an act of protest

      • Guns can only be shown to adults aged 21 or older, and sales between individual people are not allowed

      • Bullying rules don’t apply to comments made about public figures

      Providing clarity

      A shorter version of the guidelines had leaked before, but the full guidelines had not been released to the public until today.

      In releasing the detailed guidelines (which include specific examples), Facebook hopes to provide transparency about its content-policing process, which has in the past been criticized for appearing to be inconsistent at times.

      “We decided to publish these internal guidelines for two reasons,” said Monika Bickert, Vice President of Global Policy Management at Facebook, in a statement.

      “First, the guidelines will help people understand where we draw the line on nuanced issues. Second, providing these details makes it easier for everyone, including experts in different fields, to give us feedback so that we can improve the guidelines – and the decisions we make – over time.”

      "We want people to know about these standards, we want to give them clarity," Bickert said.

      Getting user feedback

      The company admits that its enforcement “isn't perfect.”

      “We make mistakes because our processes involve people, and people are not infallible," Bickert said. For this reason, Facebook is also adding a way for users to appeal when one of their posts gets taken down because of sexual content, hate speech, or violence.

      Users will get a message explaining why the post was taken down and can follow a link to request a review, which will be handled by a team member “typically within 24 hours.”

      “We are working to extend this process further, by supporting more violation types, giving people the opportunity to provide more context that could help us make the right decision, and making appeals available not just for content that was taken down, but also for content that was reported and left up,” Bickert said.

      Facebook published 27 pages of previously secret rules today on how the site’s moderators decide which photos, videos, and posts should be removed and whic...
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      Say goodbye to net neutrality as you know it

      Although the rules have expired, some internet providers and state governments are still fighting for consumers

      Consumers can pretty much kiss net neutrality goodbye. The Obama-era "Open Internet Order" ended Monday and the "Restoring Internet Freedom Order" took over.

      Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai originally introduced the Restoring Internet Freedom Order in December, and it passed by a single vote of the FCC’s commissioners. Congress tried to overturn the order but came up short.

      Net neutrality levied heavy regulations on internet service providers (ISP) by requiring them to treat all internet traffic the same. It prevented ISPs from charging more for access to certain content or stifling the speed at which content was delivered.

      "In place of that heavy-handed framework, the FCC is returning to the traditional light-touch framework that was in place until 2015," wrote the FCC in a press release. "Moreover, the FCC today also adopted robust transparency requirements that will empower consumers as well as facilitate effective government oversight of broadband providers’ conduct."

      Who wins and who loses?

      For an ISP, the repeal of net neutrality is like winning the lottery. With the new law in place, these companies have the authority to decide what content consumers can access, plus reap the financial rewards of that control.

      For the consumer, it’s a different story. Net neutrality ensured a level playing field where everyone had access to the same internet services and experiences. Now, given the fact that there’s only one major broadband provider is more than half of the United States, those sole providers can dictate what a consumer pays, the content they can get, and the speed at which they get it.

      There’s no way to foretell the future, but the FCC has shown that its viewpoint on the internet can shift from one administration to another.

      "Net neutrality was essential for our economy; it was essential to preserve freedom and openness, both for economic reasons and free speech reasons," said Julius Genachowski, FCC commissioner in the Obama administration.

      All is not lost

      There appears to be a few ISPs riding into this battle wearing a white hat. Take Comcast for example. David L. Cohen, Comcast’s Senior Executive Vice President, went on record saying that this change is not the end of net neutrality.

      “Despite repeated distortions and biased information, as well as misguided, inaccurate attacks from detractors, our Internet service is not going to change. Comcast customers will continue to enjoy all of the benefits of an open Internet today, tomorrow, and in the future. Period," he said.

      States and communities can still have a say in this matter, too. New York governor Andrew Cuomo took a stand for the little guy and signed an executive order stating that "the Internet is an essential service that should be available to all New Yorkers." With that order, Cuomo banned New York State's government from entering into any agreement with an ISP unless that ISP agreed to the fundamentals of net neutrality.

      Several other governors -- including Washington, Montana, Vermont, New Jersey, and Hawaii -- have also signed executive orders to preserve net neutrality rules and an additional 30+ states have proposed legislation that would keep those rules in place.

      On top of those efforts, there are 22 state attorneys general who’ve come together to block the FCC’s rollback of net neutrality.

      At the grassroots level, the activist group Fight for the Future has nearly 25,000 signatures in a petition asking legislators to defend net neutrality and "protect the free and open Internet for generations to come."

      Consumers can pretty much kiss net neutrality goodbye. The Obama-era "Open Internet Order" ended Monday and the "Restoring Internet Freedom Order" took ove...
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      Sears CEO offers to buy parts of the retailer

      The move is seen as the latest effort to keep the company solvent

      Struggling retailer Sears Holdings just may have bought some time. Eddie Lampert, the company's CEO, has offered to purchase the retailer's more valuable parts through a hedge fund he heads.

      The result could be a leaner operation with more cash and less debt. Sears Holdings has announced the receipt of a letter from ESL Investments that lays out the proposal.

      The letter suggests that Sears Holdings, which operates Sears and Kmart stores, should sell all or a portion of its Kenmore brand, along with the Sears Home Improvement business and the PartsDirect portion of the Sears Home Services division.

      Substantial value

      The letter notes these three properties have "substantial value," and that selling them could enable Sears Holdings to improve its financial stability. The letter went on to say that if the company is willing to take those steps, ESL could be a buyer.

      Sears Holdings has struggled in recent years to stem the flow of red ink from its operations. Earlier this month, published reports detailed the company's plans to spin off some of the real estate from its closed stores, primarily in shopping malls.

      The Wall Street Journal reported the company had retained a commercial real estate firm to sell about 16 locations in an online auction.

      Kenmore is one of the company's more valuable assets. A year ago, Sears Holdings worked out a deal to sell the appliance line on Amazon. In addition to the marketing deal, Sears also said that its Kenmore Smart room air conditioners are integrated with Amazon's Alexa app and are available now on Amazon. It said it would expand the distribution to include all Kenmore home appliances.

      Closing stores

      Meanwhile, the company continued to close unprofitable stores throughout 2017. In January, it announced the closing of 150 Sears and Kmart locations. A couple months later, the company said in an SEC filing that there was “substantial doubt” that the business could continue unless it found a way to raise additional capital.

      Only one month later, Sears opted to close another 50 auto center locations and 92 Kmart pharmacy operations, with Lampert saying that the company would “continue to take difficult yet necessary actions,” and “closely evaluate the longer-term viability of stores where a clear path to return to profitability is not in sight.”

      Last August, the downsizing efforts continued with yet another batch of store closings. In a quarterly earnings report, Sears Holdings announced that it would close another 28 Kmart stores as part of its transformation effort.

      As for the proposal from Lampert's hedge fund, Sears Holdings said it will review the proposal, noting there is no assurance that it will result in a transaction.

      Struggling retailer Sears Holdings just may have bought some time. Eddie Lampert, the company's CEO, has offered to purchase the retailer's more valuable p...
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      Iran’s banks banned from using cryptocurrency

      The decision was made to address money laundering and financial terrorism concerns

      Iran’s central bank has issued a ban on the use of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies by banks and other financial institutions, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.

      The decision to ban digital currencies was made in an effort to prevent money laundering and financial terrorism.

      “According to CBI public relations department, CBI made the decision by its supreme committee in charge of fight with money laundering last Iranian calendar year,” the state news agency said in a statement.

      “Virtual currencies have the option to be used for money laundering, supporting terrorism, and exchange of sums between wrongdoers,” pointed out the CBI circulation.

      Shielding Iranians from cryptocurrency risks

      The decision was preceded by months of doubt and uncertainty about the idea of cryptocurrencies coming out of Iran. Last November, deputy director of new technologies at the Central Bank of Iran said Bitcoin was “risky” and that the bank planned to conduct a comprehensive review of the currency.

      "Given that Bitcoin and other currencies have not been introduced by the central bank as the official currency, as well as the risk of buying it and the activity of traders in this field, more precautions are coming into the market because of the possibility of malice,” Naser Hakimi said at the time.

      In February, the country’s central bank released a statement indicating that it did not recognize the legitimacy of any cryptocurrency within the country's borders. It discouraged Iranians from purchasing cryptocurrencies in the interest of protecting them from risk.

      "The wild fluctuations of the digital currencies along with competitive business activities underway via network marketing and pyramid scheme have made the market of these currencies highly unreliable and risky," the statement said.

      The move to officially ban the use cryptocurrencies comes weeks before a May 12 deadline when President Trump will decide whether to restore economic sanctions on Tehran, which would be a blow to the 2015 pact between Iran and six major powers. Iran’s currency, the rial, hit an all-time low amid concerns about a possible return of crippling sanctions.

      To avoid unnecessary risk, the IRNA is advising Iranian banks and financial institutions to avoid any sale or purchase of cryptocurrencies or taking any action to promote them.

      Iran’s central bank has issued a ban on the use of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies by banks and other financial institutions, the Islamic Republic News...
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      Polaris recalls Ranger XP ROVs

      The center seat belt bracket can separate from the frame

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 10,900 Polaris Ranger XP recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).

      The center seat belt bracket can separate from the frame, posing an injury hazard to the riders.

      The company has received five reports of insufficient welds of the center seat belt bracket to the vehicle frame identified by dealers during required vehicle setup inspection procedures. No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves model year 2016 and 2017 Polaris Ranger XP recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs) sold in a variety of colors.

      The ROVs have “POLARIS” printed on the front grill, “XP” on the front fenders, and “RANGER” on the rear fenders.

      The vehicle identification number (VIN) is printed on a label on the driver-side frame of the vehicle, between the cargo box and left rear tire.

      Polaris Model Year 2016 - 2017 Ranger XP ROVs

      Year

      Model Number

      Model Description

      2016

      R16RTA87A1

      RANGER XP 900 SAGE GREEN

      2016

      R16RTA87A4

      RANGER XP 900 SOLAR RED

      2016

      R16RTA87A9

      RANGER XP 900 POLARIS PURSUIT CAMO

      2016

      R16RTE87A1

      RANGER XP 900 EPS SAGE GREEN

      2016

      R16RTE87A4

      RANGER XP 900 EPS SOLAR RED

      2016

      R16RTE87AK

      RANGER XP 900 EPS BLACK PEARL

      2016

      R16RTE87AM

      RANGER XP 900 EPS TITANIUM MATTE METALLIC

      2016

      R16RTE87AS

      RANGER XP 900 EPS SUNSET RED

      2016

      R16RTE87AV

      RANGER XP 900 EPS VELOCITY BLUE

      2016

      R16RTE87A9

      RANGER XP 900 EPS HUNTER EDITION PPC

      2017

      R17RTA87A1

      RANGER XP 900 SAGE GREEN

      2017

      R17RTA87A9

      RANGER XP 900 POLARIS PURSUIT CAMO

      2017

      R17RTE87A1

      RANGER XP 900 EPS SAGE GREEN

      2017

      R17RTE87A4

      RANGER XP 900 EPS SOLAR RED

      2017

      R17RVA87A1

      RANGER CREW XP 900 SAGE GREEN

      2017

      R17RTA99A1

      RANGER XP 1000 SAGE GREEN

      2017

      R17RVA99A1

      RANGER CREW XP 1000 SAGE GREEN

      2017

      R17RVE87A9

      RANGER CREW XP 900 EPS POLARIS PURSUIT CAMO

      2017

      R17RTE99AS

      RANGER XP 1000 EPS SUNSET RED

      2017

      R17RTE99AW

      RANGER XP 1000 EPS WHITE LIGHTNING

      2017

      R17RTE99AY

      RANGER XP 1000 EPS NARA BRONZE

      2017

      R17RTE99A9

      RGR XP 1000 EPS HUNTER ED CAMO

      2017

      R17RVE99A9

      RGR CREW XP 1000 EPS POLARIS PURSUIT CAMO

      2017

      R17RVE99AS

      RANGER CREW XP 1000 EPS SUNSET RED

      2017

      R17RVE99AY

      RANGER CREW XP 1000 EPS NARA BRONZE

      2017

      R17RTM99AM

      RGR XP 1000 EPS HIGH LIFTER ED MATTE METAL

      2017

      R17RVM99AM

      RGR CREW XP 1000 EPS HIGH LIFTER ED MATTE

      The ROVs, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide from April 2016, through April 2018, for between $12,000 and $20,000.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ROVs and contact a Polaris dealer to schedule a free inspection and repair. Polaris is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact Polaris at 800-765-2747 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.polaris.com and click on “Off Road Safety Recalls” at the borrom of the page for more information and to check their VIN to see if their vehicle is included in any recalls.

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 10,900 Polaris Ranger XP recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).The center seat belt bracket...
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      Vitakraft Sun Seed recalls Sunseed Vita Prima Sugar Glider Food

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Vitakraft Sun Seed of Weston, Ohio, is recalling one lot of Sunseed Vita Prima Exotics Sugar Glider Formula.

      The pet product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There have been no reports of illness to date.

      The following product is being recalled:

      • UPC #: 87535-20060
      • DESCRIPTION: Sunseed Vita Prima Exotics Sugar Glider Formula, 28oz
      • LOT: 271391
      • EXP: 12/20/19

      The recalled product was distributed in California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Edmonton, Alberta in Canada.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should discontinue using it and may return the unused portion to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact customer service at 800-221- 6175, Monday through Friday from 8:30am – 5:00pm (EST).

      Vitakraft Sun Seed of Weston, Ohio, is recalling one lot of Sunseed Vita Prima Exotics Sugar Glider Formula.The pet product may be contaminated with Sa...
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      Hyundai recalls Sonatas and Sonata Hybrids

      The airbag control units may short circuit in a crash

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 580,058 model year 2011-2013 Sonatas and model year 2011-2012 Sonata Hybrids.

      In the event of a crash, the air bag control unit (ACU) may short circuit, preventing the front airbags, seat belt pretensioners, and side airbags from deploying.

      If the front air bags, seat belt pretensioners, and side airbags are disabled, there is an increased risk of injury to the vehicle occupants in the event of a vehicle crash necessitating deployment of these safety systems.

      Earlier this year, Hyundai recalled 154,753 model year 2011 Sonatas and has now expanded that the vehicles noted above.

      What to do

      The remedy for this recall is still under development.

      Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-371-9460. Hyundai's number for this recall is 174.

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 580,058 model year 2011-2013 Sonatas and model year 2011-2012 Sonata Hybrids.In the event of a crash, the air bag co...
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      Government reportedly investigating AT&T and Verizon for collusion

      The telecom giants are suspected of making it harder to switch carriers

      Antitrust lawyers at the Justice Department are reportedly investigating AT&T and Verizon for possible collusion.

      Published reports cite people close to the investigation as saying the government is trying to determine whether the rival wireless carriers have worked together to make it more difficult for consumers to switch from one cell phone company to another.

      The Justice Department has a policy of not commenting on potential investigations.

      Specifically, the probe is focusing on whether the two telecom giants have tried to block embedded SIM (eSIM) technology, a way to make it easier to switch from one communication system to another.

      According to Engadget, eSIM integrates the identification technology contained on the plastic SIM card and places it into the device's processor or modem. That way, consumers can switch carriers without having to get a new SIM card.

      Customer retention

      For major wireless companies, losing customers to another carrier is costly. Not only does the company lose revenue, it must spend money through marketing to gain a new customer to make up for the one it lost.

      Bloomberg News reports that Apple, which has been a major developer of eSIM technology, is one of the parties raising the collusion complaint. The news service quotes a Verizon spokesman as saying the whole matter is "a difference of opinion" with hardware makers on what the standard should be for the switching technology.

      “Any good government inquiry is looked at and ultimately decided on merit,” Verizon's Rich Young told Bloomberg. “That was the case in 2016 and we are very confident the government will reach the same conclusion this time.”

      More customers plan to switch

      The data site Statista notes that consumers increasingly are looking for better deals from cell phone companies. In the spring of 2008, it counted 17.7 million wireless customers who planned to switch to another carrier. By the spring of 2017, the number had grown to over 25 million.

      AT&T is already involved with the Justice Department in a lawsuit over its proposed merger with Time Warner.

      The government argues that the combined company would be too big and powerful. However, AT&T says merging its wireless business with a content producer like Time Warner would not harm competition.

      Antitrust lawyers at the Justice Department are reportedly investigating AT&T; and Verizon for possible collusion.Published reports cite people close t...
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      ZTE says export ban will ‘severely affect’ its business

      The company says the ban will likely hurt many U.S. companies

      Chinese electronics maker ZTE issued a statement today in response to the government’s decision to ban the company’s American exports for the next seven years. In its statement, the company warned that the ban could threaten its survival and negatively impact American companies.

      “The Denial Order will not only severely impact the survival and development of ZTE, but will also cause damages to all partners of ZTE including a large number of U.S. companies,” ZTE said.

      Illegal shipping and false statements

      The ban was handed down earlier this month, one year after ZTE pleaded guilty to illegally shipping telecoms equipment to Iran and North Korea. The company agreed to pay $1.19 billion in penalties.

      However, the U.S. said that ZTE made "false statements" to the Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) while the investigation was still ongoing. The false statements centered around the disciplinary actions it took toward employees who were involved in the incident.

      ZTE allegedly violated the terms of a 2017 plea agreement by giving employees who acted illegally full bonuses. The company also admitted that it did not fire all 35 of the employees who violated the law.

      The denial of export privileges will keep ZTE from getting parts or software from U.S.-based suppliers, such as Qualcomm and Dolby.

      Efforts to comply

      Now, the company is saying that it tried to comply with the US and invested “tremendous resources in export compliance.” It said measures were taken against employees who may have been responsible for the incident. Additionally, ZTE said it spent $50 million on an export control compliance program in 2017.

      "It is unacceptable that BIS insists on unfairly imposing the most severe penalty on ZTE even before the completion of investigation of facts, ignoring the continuous diligent work of ZTE and the progress we have made on export compliance," the company said.

      ZTE says it will continue its efforts to “resolve the issue through communication.”

      The company added that, if necessary, it could “take judicial measures to protect the legal rights and interests of our company, our employees and our shareholders, and to fulfill obligations and take responsibilities to our global customers, end users, partners and suppliers."

      A leaked internal memo suggests that ZTE has assembled a crisis team to deal with the situation.

      Chinese electronics maker ZTE issued a statement today in response to the government’s decision to ban the company’s American exports for the next seven ye...
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      Hackers targeted some Gmail accounts to send spam

      Consumers are being urged to not respond to any suspicious emails

      A number of Gmail users have reported finding messages in their “Sent” folders that appeared to have been sent from themselves. Users said they discovered messages for things like “growth supplements” delivered to email addresses they didn’t recognize.

      “My email account has sent out 3 spam emails in the past hour to a list of about 10 addresses that I don’t recognize,” a user posted on Gmail’s Help Forum.

      “I changed my password immediately after the first one, but then it happened again 2 more times. The subject of the emails is weight loss and growth supplements for men advertisements,” the user continued.

      Forged email headers

      The messages contained forged email headers to make them appear to have been sent “via telus.com,” a Canadian telecommunications company.

      The forged email headers allowed the messages to slip past spam filters. The fact that they appeared to have been sent by the affected user is what caused them to end up in the Sent folder.

      Many users were concerned that the messages were an indication that their account had been hacked. However, Google assured users that their accounts were secure and that the issue had been fixed.

      “We are aware of a spam campaign impacting a small subset of Gmail users and have actively taken measures to protect against it,” Google confirmed to Mashable. “This attempt involved forged email headers that made it appear as if users were receiving emails from themselves, which also led to those messages erroneously appearing in the Sent folder.”

      “We have identified and are reclassifying all offending emails as spam, and have no reason to believe any accounts were compromised as part of this incident,” the company said.

      Report as spam

      Google encouraged Gmail users to report any suspicious email as spam, noting that more information on how to report spam can be found by visiting the site’s Help Center.

      TELUS, meanwhile, confirmed that its servers aren’t generating the emails.

      “We have identified spam emails being circulated that are disguised to appear as if they are coming from http://telus.com. We are aware of the issue and can confirm the messages are not being generated by TELUS, nor are they being sent from our server,” a spokesman for the carrier said in a statement.

      “We are working with our 3rd party vendors to resolve the issue, and are advising our customers not to respond to any suspicious emails.”

      A number of Gmail users have reported finding messages in their “Sent” folders that appeared to have been sent from themselves. Users said they discovered...
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      Southwest engine inspections cause weekend delays

      The airline cancelled 40 of its flights on Sunday

      Travelers returning home on Sunday on Southwest Airlines encountered a few delays as the carrier cancelled about 40 flights for engine inspections.

      In a statement, Southwest said the flight disruptions were the result of its decision to step up its ongoing engine fan blade inspection program, looking for signs of metal fatigue. An engine blade separated from an engine in mid-flight last Tuesday, killing a passenger aboard Southwest Airlines flight 1380.

      "We have minimized flight disruptions this past week through actions such as proactive aircraft routings to cover open trips, performing inspections overnight, and utilizing spare aircraft, when available," the company said.

      "On Sunday, we only canceled about 40 flights due to fan blade inspections out of a planned schedule of almost 4,000 flights. The cancellations are minimal -- roughly 1 percent of scheduled flights."

      Delays not related to FAA order

      The airline stressed that the flight disruptions had nothing to do with the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Emergency Airworthiness Directive that requires airlines flying planes using the CFM56-7B engine to inspect those engines within 20 days. Southwest said its existing inspection program “meets or exceeds” the requirements set out in the FAA directive.

      The CFM56-7B is a commonly used engine on a Boeing 737, which makes up the Southwest Airlines fleet.

      In the immediate aftermath of last week's accident, Southwest said it would accelerate its own engine fan blade inspection program. The initial investigation of last week's accident revealed that a titanium blade from one of the Boeing 737's engines separated and shattered a window, gravely injuring the passenger sitting next to it.

      The accident occurred about 20 minutes after the jet took off from New York's Laguardia Airport on a flight to Dallas. The pilot made a heroic emergency landing at Philadelphia as passengers fought to keep the injured passenger from being sucked out of the plane. The passenger died at a Philadelphia hospital.

      Southwest says the voluntary inspection program will continue this week and may affect operations. It advises travelers to visit Southwest.com frequently to check flight status.

      Travelers returning home on Sunday on Southwest Airlines encountered a few delays as the carrier cancelled about 40 flights for engine inspections.In a...
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      Yield on the 10-year Treasury bond nearing 3 percent

      Economists explain why consumers should care

      The yield on the U.S. government's 10-year bond, which had been struck at around 2 percent for years, is suddenly rising and is almost at 3 percent today.

      For Wall Street investors, rising bond yields can be a warning sign. Stocks that were cheap at a 2 percent yield look more expensive when these interest rates rise. Consumers with stock portfolios can expect this year's volatility to continue for a while.

      Five percent is about average

      But rising bond yields may mean more than that for consumers. Robert Frick, corporate economist for Navy Federal Credit Union, doesn't think the jump in bond yields is the result of fundamental changes in the economy. Rather, he says rates are just getting back to normal.

      "The long-term average of the 10-year is about 5 percent, but that's easy to forget considering we've had artificially low rates since the Great Recession," Frick told ConsumerAffairs.

      Economist Joel Naroff, of Naroff Economic Advisors, believes rising bond yields serve as an inflation warning. In fact, he predicted rising prices when Congress passed the landmark tax cut and stimulus bill last December.

      "What did anyone expect when you cut taxes when the economy is solid and the labor markets are tight?" Naroff asked. "Rising inflation was going to happen, was forecast by most economists and only the naive among us thought that you could implement massively expansionary fiscal policy when it wasn’t needed without any negative impacts."

      Benchmark for interest rates

      The 10 year Treasury note is a key benchmark for many interest rates consumers pay, so when yields rise, so do interest rates.

      "The impact on consumers will be higher rates for those with variable rate loan products and on mortgages," Naroff said. "For many who have had variable rate products for a while and who didn’t see much change, they could be in for a shock, especially if the Fed keeps raising rates, as expected."

      Frick agrees that rising interest rates may be the effect consumers feel most. Since mortgage rates are affected, he says 2018 may be an opportune time to purchase a home, while rates are still relatively low.

      There may also be a positive effect for consumers, especially those who put money away in savings. For well over a decade the interest paid on savings has been paltry, often less than 1 percent. This month, several banks have increased the interest rate paid on a one year certificate of deposit (CD) to over 2 percent.

      That's still low by historical standards, but it’s much higher than typical interest paid on deposits over the last decade.

      The yield on the U.S. government's 10-year bond, which had been struck at around 2 percent for years, is suddenly rising and is almost at 3 percent today....
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      World’s Best Cheese recalls l’Explorateur soft ripened cheese

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      World’s Best Cheeses of Armonk, N.Y., is recalling 22 cases of Formagerie de la Brie brand, l’Explorateur soft ripened cheese.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recalled product, which comes in a 250-g (8.8-oz.), clear plastic package marked with lot #’s H036, H038, H043 and H044, and is made from pasteurized milk, was sold in retail stores in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Utah, Colorado, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington D.C., from February 28, 2018, through April 13, 2018.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but discard it or return it to the store for refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact World’s Best Cheeses at 914 273-1400, Monday – Friday from 8:00am – 5:00pm, or by email at Recall@wbcheese.com.

      World’s Best Cheeses of Armonk, N.Y., is recalling 22 cases of Formagerie de la Brie brand, l’Explorateur soft ripened cheese.The product may be contam...
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      Model year 2018 Buick Regals recalled

      The rear seat belts may fail to restrain passengers adequately

      General Motors is recalling 8,738 model year 2018 Buick Regals.

      During the manufacturing process, the rear seat belts may have been improperly routed around the bolster bracket on the rear outboard seats, which can cause inadequate restraint of passengers.

      Failure of the seat belt to restrain passengers adequately in a crash can increase the risk of injury.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the rear outboard seat belts, correcting the routing of the seat belts as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin June 5, 2018.

      Owners may contact Buick customer service at 1-800-521-7300. GM's number for this recall is 18117.

      General Motors is recalling 8,738 model year 2018 Buick Regals.During the manufacturing process, the rear seat belts may have been improperly routed ar...
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      K9 Natural recalls K9 Natural Frozen Chicken Feast raw pet food

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      K9 Natural Ltd. is recalling four batches of the K9 Natural Frozen Chicken Feast 2.2-lb. and 11-lb. bags that were imported into the U.S. in June 2017.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria Monocytogenes.

      No pet or human illnesses, injuries or complaints have been reported to date.

      The recalled batch numbers are:

      K9 Natural Frozen Chicken Feast 2.2-lb. bags, shipped to distributors in Washington, California, Texas and Colorado, and distributed to pet specialty retail stores.

      • Batch number #170517 with an expiration date of 17NOV2018

      K9 Natural Frozen Chicken Feast 11-lb. bags, shipped to distributors in Washington, California, Texas and Colorado and Pennsylvania, and distributed to pet specialty retail stores.

      • Batch number #150517 with an expiration date of 15NOV2018
      • Batch number #160517 with an expiration date of 16NOV2018
      • Batch number #170517 with an expiration date of 17NOV2018

      The batch number and expiration dates are stamped in the bottom left on the back of the pack.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should stop using it product and return the unused portion to the place of purchase for a full refund or replacement.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 888-345-4680 Monday – Friday, 8am – 5pm (PST) & (EST), by email atinfo@k9natural.com.

      K9 Natural Ltd. is recalling four batches of the K9 Natural Frozen Chicken Feast 2.2-lb. and 11-lb. bags that were imported into the U.S. in June 2017....
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      Polaris recalls Phoenix 200 ATVs

      The throttle limiter can fail posing a crash hazard.

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 4,600 Polaris Phoenix 200 all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).

      The throttle limiter can fail due to damage during shipping, posing a crash hazard.

      The firm has received nine reports of a damaged throttle limiter, including one report of throttle limiter failure that resulted in minor injuries.

      This recall involves all model year 2014 through 2017 Phoenix 200 all-terrain vehicles.

      “Polaris” is stamped on the front grill and on the sides of the ATV seats, and “Phoenix 200” is stamped on the side panels. The ATVs were sold in blue and gray.

      Model numbers A14PB20AF, A15YAP20AF, A16YAP20AF and A17YAP20A8, located on the vehicle frame, are included in this recall. The model number is located on the vehicle frame.

      The ATVs, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide from July 2013, through April 2018, for about $3,600.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ATVs and contact Polaris for instructions on how to inspect for a damaged throttle limiter, and, if damaged, to schedule a free repair.

      Consumers may contact Polaris at 800-765-2747 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.polaris.com and click on “Off Road Safety Recalls” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 4,600 Polaris Phoenix 200 all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).The throttle limiter can fail due to dama...
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      Study finds mainstream ads on 'extremist' YouTube videos

      Videos about white nationalists and pedophiles draw ads for household names

      Ads for major corporations that are household names are routinely shown on YouTube videos identified as “extremist content,” according to a CNN investigation.

      The TV network said it counted at least 300 businesses and organizations whose ads have run on videos about white nationalists, pedophilia, and even North Korean propaganda.

      When an advertiser places a buy on YouTube, its message is inserted into the site’s content, sometimes playing before the start of a video. YouTube, which is owned by Google, often tries to match the advertiser's message with the tone of the video, but sometimes the ads are placed at random.

      The CNN report found five U.S. government agencies had paid for ads that were paired with the out-of-the-mainstream videos, meaning U.S. tax dollars went to the videos' producers.

      In addition, the analysis found ads for Hershey, Facebook, Nordstrom, Amazon, Hilton, Netflix, Adidas, and Under Armour on these videos. When contacted by CNN, the companies said they were not aware they were sponsoring extremist content.

      Under Armour pauses ads

      A spokesman for Under Armour told CNN the company is suspending its advertising on the video platform until it can investigate how its messages are being displayed.

      YouTube gives advertisers a tool that can be used to target advertising messages to certain demographics and user behavior. They can block specific topics and employ a filter that keeps ads away from videos pertaining to sensitive subjects.

      A spokeswoman for YouTube told CNN that the company has worked with advertisers to implement better controls, stricter policies, and greater transparency when it comes to ad placement.

      “When we find that ads mistakenly ran against content that doesn’t comply with our policies, we immediately remove those ads,” she said.

      YouTube policy

      A year ago YouTube made changes to the way video producers can monetize their videos on the platform. The change requires video producers to rack up at least 10,000 lifetime views on their channel before they have the option to have ads appear in their videos.

      YouTube made the change, not to weed out extremist content, but to crack down on copycat creators – those who copy videos from other sources and put them on their channel.

      Ads for major corporations that are household names are routinely shown on YouTube videos identified as “extremist content,” according to a CNN investigati...
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      Lyft announces plan to go completely carbon neutral

      The ride-hailing service says it will invest millions in carbon offsets

      Lyft co-founder John Zimmer announced Thursday that all Lyft rides are now carbon neutral thanks to the transportation service’s multimillion-dollar investment in carbon offset programs.

      Lyft will balance out its vehicles’ emissions by investing in an undisclosed number of environmental and sustainability efforts. The company anticipates neutralizing “over a million metric tons of carbon” in just the first year of utilizing carbon offsets.

      "Lyft rides are now carbon-neutral through the direct funding of emission mitigation efforts, including the reduction of emissions in the automotive manufacturing process, renewable energy programs, forestry projects, and the capture of emissions from landfills," Zimmer wrote.

      Combating climate change

      The decision to go carbon neutral is rooted in the fact that Lyft is aware of transportation’s harsh impact on the environment.

      “The stark reality is that transportation is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions,” the company’s co-founders wrote. “As a growing part of the transportation ecosystem, we are holding ourselves accountable to being part of the solution.”

      “This action is not the full solution, but a real step forward,” Zimmer and Green added.

      An expensive endeavor

      The company will invest millions in balancing out its carbon footprint. Lyft says it will be teaming up with an organization called 3Degrees, which oversees the registration and independent verification of carbon-offset projects.

      “The majority of these projects will be in close proximity to our largest markets, and all projects will be US-based,” the co-founders wrote.

      Lyft’s eco-friendly aspirations were initially born of President Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord. After the decision was made, Lyft hired its own climate advisor and joined “We Are Still In” -- a coalition of businesses and local governments who pledged to continue to uphold the agreement.

      Lyft co-founder John Zimmer announced Thursday that all Lyft rides are now carbon neutral thanks to the transportation service’s multimillion-dollar invest...
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      New report calls the FTC’s consumer privacy efforts into question

      Raising the bar on expectations and self-reporting could benefit everyone

      A new white paper -- "Understanding and Improving Privacy ‘Audits’ under FTC Orders’" -- calls the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on the carpet for its lenient approach to privacy audits required of tech companies like Facebook and Google.

      "These audits, as a practical matter, are often the only ‘tooth’ in FTC orders to protect consumer privacy," wrote Megan Gray, an FTC attorney and non-residential fellow at Stanford Law School. "They are critically important to accomplishing the agency’s privacy mission. As such, a failure to attend to their robust enforcement can have unintended consequences, and arguably, provide consumers with a false sense of security."

      While the FTC’s privacy audits are regarded as an efficient way of keeping tech companies in line with privacy commitments made to consumers, Gray urges the agency to improve its privacy standards if it intends on being serious about protecting consumers.

      The paper illuminates how privacy audits are not actually audits as most understand them to be.  Rather, because the FTC’s language only requires third-party "assessments," tech companies get away with submitting reports that are essentially a confirmation that they did all that was required.

      Take Facebook for instance

      A contemporary example would be Facebook’s run-in with its users’ privacy. Under the social media company’s agreement with the FTC, all it’s required to do is undergo twice-yearly privacy audits to show it isn’t misinforming its users about their privacy.

      However, none of Facebook’s audits brought Cambridge Analytica’s data mining into question. Despite Facebook knowing about the misuse as far back as 2015, Congressional leaders implied that Facebook wasn’t following the FTC’s instructions as rigorously as it should have been.

      In the FTC’s complaint against Facebook, the agency harped on the word "deceptive" in questioning Facebook on how it handled users’ private information in areas like profile and app settings.

      As an example, the FTC brought up the fact that in November 2009, approximately 586,241 users had used their Friends’ App Settings to "block" Platform Applications that their Friends used from accessing any of their profile information, including their Name, Profile Picture, Gender, Friend List, Pages, and Networks.

      Yet, in Facebook’s December 2009 Privacy Changes, its users could no longer restrict access to their "publicly available information," and all prior user choices to do that were overridden. Although Facebook reinstated those settings soon thereafter, the FTC found that the settings weren’t stored to a user’s Profile Privacy restrictions and instead were essentially hidden.

      Better protection of consumers’ privacy is needed

      Gray offers several ways the FTC could improve its privacy audits. At the top of her list would be requiring the FTC to end its reliance on a company’s simple confirmation that its privacy protection is up to snuff.

      Gray suggests that the current method could be greatly improved if the FTC detailed its expectations in what it wants privacy auditors to examine and have assessors report directly to the FTC instead of the company being audited.

      "Simply ‘staying the course’ puts consumers...in an untenable situation, with real-world consequences," concludes Gray. "It’s time to dive deeply into understanding these third-party privacy assessments and consider meaningful proposals for their improvement. The FTC is an extraordinary agency, and it is more than capable of rising to this challenge."

      In an email to ConsumerAffairs, the FTC stated that Gray currently has no involvement with current privacy or data security investigations and that the comments made in her paper do not reflect the agency's views.

      A new white paper -- "Understanding and Improving Privacy ‘Audits’ under FTC Orders’" -- calls the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on the carpet for its len...
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      National teachers union drops Wells Fargo over gun industry ties

      The American Federation of Teachers has removed the bank from its list of approved lenders

      The nation’s largest teachers union has cut ties with Wells Fargo over the bank’s financial relationship with gunmakers and the National Rifle Association (NRA).

      The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) removed the bank from its list of recommended mortgage lenders after attempts to meet with Wells Fargo executives to discuss the matter were met with silence, according to a letter released Thursday.

      "Despite our several attempts, by phone and email, to schedule such a meeting, your office's response has been radio silence," AFT President Randi Weingarten said in the letter to Wells Fargo Chief Executive Officer Tim Sloan.

      Connection to the NRA

      The teachers union had previously requested that Wells Fargo cut lending ties with or impose new restrictions on firearms business partners following the mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

      The AFT’s decision to drop the bank came after multiple attempts to engage in a conversation about gun violence with CEO Tim Sloan went unanswered.

      “We can only assume that, in light of your silence and the NRA attacks, you have decided that the NRA business is more valuable to you than students and their educators are,” the letter stated.

      The AFT has 1.7 million members and channels about 20,000 mortgages to Wells Fargo through its benefit program. The union said it will stop offering mortgages from the bank unless it ends its relationship with the gun business.

      Wells Fargo responds

      Wells Fargo said it wants schools to be safe, but that elected officials -- not banks -- should decide which products Americans can buy. It added that safety issues should be decided by lawmakers.

      Other banks have taken a different stance. Bank of America, Chase, Citigroup, and others have limited their business dealings with gunmakers in light of recent events.

      Weingarten said that the AFT has a responsibility to its members and their students who face potential gun violence every day.

      “Gun violence is a public health epidemic, and in order to help stop it, we’ll stop the flow of resources to the companies that manufacture these weapons that have caused so much civilian carnage and death,” Weingarten said.

      The nation’s largest teachers union has cut ties with Wells Fargo over the bank’s financial relationship with gunmakers and the National Rifle Association...
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      Wild & Wolf recalls Petit Collage children’s toy xylophones

      The ball on the end of the beater stick can separate, posing a choking hazard

      Wild & Wolf of the U.K. is recalling about 2,900 Petit Collage musical jumbo wooden xylophones sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The ball on the end of the toy xylophone beater stick can separate, posing a choking hazard to young children.

      The firm has received one report of the ball separating from the beater rod and one report of the ball being loose. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Petit Collage musical jumbo wooden xylophones.

      The recalled children's toy xylophone has a wooden base shaped like the profile of an elephant with five different colored metal keys and a wooden beater stick with a red wooden ball attached to one end. The beater stick measures about 5 5/8 inches long by 3/4 inches wide.

      “Petit Collage” and “TT.1902.0617” are printed on the bottom back of the xylophone. Only xylophones with this letter/number combination are included in the recall.

      The xylophones, manufactured in China, were sold at Barnes & Noble, Patina, Urban Outfitters stores and other stores nationwide and online at PetitCollage.com and other websites from August 2017, through February 2018, for about $24.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately take the recalled toy xylophone beater sticks away from children, stop using them and contact Wild & Wolf for a free replacement beater stick.

      Consumers may contact Wild & Wolf toll free at 855-215-5879 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, online at www.petitcollage.com and click on “Product Safety” or www.wildandwolf.com and click on “Product Safety News” for more information.

      Wild & Wolf of the U.K. is recalling about 2,900 Petit Collage musical jumbo wooden xylophones sold in the U.S. and Canada.The ball on the end of the t...
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      Seacrest Foods recalls l’Explorateur soft ripened cheese

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Seacrest Foods International of Lynn, Mass., is recalling 29 cases of Formagere de la Brie brand, l’Explorateur soft ripened cheese.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been confirmed by public health authorities to date.

      The recalled product, made from pasteurized milk and comes in a 250g (8.8 oz), clear plastic package marked with lot # H010 or H011 on the bottom, with UPC: 3 390010 004080., was distributed at retail stores in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Jersey and New Hampshire from February 6, 2018 through March 31, 2018.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but discard it or return it to the store for refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Seacrest Foods at 781-581-2066 from 9:00 a.m. – 5 p.m. (EST), Monday through Friday.

      Seacrest Foods International of Lynn, Mass., is recalling 29 cases of Formagere de la Brie brand, l’Explorateur soft ripened cheese.The product may be...
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      Microsoft claims to make Chrome safer with a new browser extension

      The plug-in alerts users about malicious links and directs a clear path back to safety

      Google’s Chrome browser has competent protection against malicious websites already in place, but Microsoft feels it can make Chrome’s armor even stronger with a new browser extension called "Windows Defender Browser Protection."

      The primary drawing point of Microsoft’s plug-in is added protection against phishing. Phishing occurs when hackers attempt to maliciously obtain sensitive information such as passwords and credit card details by posing as a trustworthy person or company. The scams usually come in the form of a spoof email that directs the user to a fraudulent, but authentic-looking, website.

      Well-known examples of phishing include the Nigerian family who’s trying to flee the country, advanced fees paid for a guaranteed loan, and the “turn your computer into a money-making machine” ploy.

      The more protection, the better

      Microsoft rationalizes its reason for invading Google’s turf by pointing to a 2017 NSS Labs report on web browser security that showed its Edge browser thwarted 99 percent of phishing attempts while Chrome only caught 87 percent. In theory, Microsoft’s Edge plug-in should bring Chrome up to 99 percent as well.

      "The Windows Defender Browser Protection extension for Google Chrome allows you to add an additional layer of protection when browsing online, powered by the same trusted intelligence found in Microsoft Edge," wrote Microsoft’s team. "The extension alerts you about known malicious links, and gives you a clear path back to safety."

      Some pundits theorize that Microsoft stopped short of directly comparing its extension to Chrome’s current security component -- possibly in hopes of reclaiming some of the browser turf the company lost to Google.

      They may be right. Microsoft Internet Explorer’s previous dominance of the browser market is now a ghost in the company’s rearview mirror, and its infant two-year-old Edge browser is still trying to gain traction. According to NetMarketShare, Chrome is the reigning king with more than 60 percent of the browser market, with Internet Explorer way back at 12 percent and Edge at 4 percent.

      The Defender plugin is for use only by Windows users who are using the Chrome browser, but not by those using the Chrome operating system.

      Google’s Chrome browser has competent protection against malicious websites already in place, but Microsoft feels it can make Chrome’s armor even stronger...
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      New York Attorney General opens probe into Bitcoin exchanges

      The AG is asking for more information about each platform’s practices and policies

      New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has announced the launch of a “fact-finding inquiry” into the policies and practices of cryptocurrency trading platforms.

      In sending the letters, which include detailed questionnaires intended to glean insight into the practices of each platform, Schneiderman aims to increase consumer protection within the digital currency space.

      “Too often, consumers don't have the basic facts they need to assess the fairness, integrity, and security of these trading platforms," Schneiderman wrote. "Our Virtual Markets Integrity Initiative sets out to change that, promoting the accountability and transparency in the virtual currency marketplace that investors and consumers deserve."

      Schneiderman’s office sent letters to the following major crypto-exchange platforms: GDAX, Gemini, bitFlyer USA, Bitfinex, Bitstamp USA, Kraken, Bittrex, Poloniex, Binance, Tidex, Gate.io, itBit Trust Company, and Huobi.Pro.

      Improving transparency

      The questionnaire in each letter asks for specific details on exchange fees, trading policies and procedures, internal controls, and privacy and money laundering, among other topics. Trading platforms have until May 1 to respond.  

      “Ensuring that enforcement agencies, investors and consumers have the information they need to understand the practices and the risks on these platforms is critical, given reports of the theft of vast sums of virtual currency from customer accounts, sudden and poorly explained trading outages, possible market manipulation and difficulties when withdrawing funds from accounts,” a statement for the Initiative reads.

      Most exchanges welcomed the inquiry, and Gemini was one of the first to announce that it will happily comply with the Attorney General’s request.

      “Gemini applauds the Attorney General's focus on this industry and the Virtual Markets Initiative, and we look forward to cooperating with and submitting our responses to the questionnaire that has been circulated," Tyler Winklevoss, CEO of Gemini, said in a statement to CNBC.

      Kraken, which left New York in 2015 due to the state’s “foul” cryptocurrency regulatory framework, has said it won’t respond to the Attorney General’s request for information.

      "Why don't you try extracting this information from those businesses actually operating in your state?", said Kraken CEO Jesse Powell.

      In response to Powell’s remarks, a spokesperson for the Attorney General's office told CoinDesk that the requested information should not be hard for exchanges to find.

      "Legitimate entities generally like to demonstrate to their investors that their money will be protected. This is basic information that credible platforms should all have on hand," the spokesperson said.

      New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has announced the launch of a “fact-finding inquiry” into the policies and practices of cryptocurrency trading...
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      Senate votes to overturn auto financing regulation

      Consumer advocates say the rule protects minorities from discrimination

      The U.S. Senate has voted, along mostly  party lines, to overturn a 2013 consumer protection rule aimed at preventing costly discrimination against minority car buyers.

      Specifically, the legislation would reverse a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) regulation that prevented auto finance companies from routinely charging minorities a higher interest rate on car loans.

      The vote was just the first step in the process. The legislation will still have to be approved by the House and signed by the President to eliminate the CFPB rule.

      Car dealers applaud the vote

      The CFPB regulation is viewed in opposite ways by consumer advocates and industry groups. The 2013 rule was put in place so minorities wouldn't get stuck with higher car payments.

      But the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), which applauded the Senate vote, said the regulation actually ended dealers' ability to offer discounted auto loan rates.

      “The CFPB was attempting to change the $1.1 trillion auto loan market and limit market competition without prior public comment, using flawed statistics and without analyzing the impact of its guidance on consumers, despite the likelihood it would raise credit costs for car buyers,” NADA said in a statement.

      Warren defends the rule

      But what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky,) sees as “chopping away at Obama-era regulations,” Democrats in the Senate view in an entirely different way.

      In a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said the CFPB passed the rule because it found minority car-buyers were consistently getting worse loans than their white counterparts.

      “The underlying reason was something called a dealer reserve - where the lenders providing the financing for a car loan gave the dealer the discretion to mark up the interest rate on the loan and then the dealer could keep some of the additional profit generated from the markup,” Warren said.

      “The problem was that there was growing evidence that dealers marked up loans more often and higher for minorities than for whites with similar credit profiles.”

      Warren said the legislation that passed the Senate on a 51-47 vote is part of a “broader Republican attack” on efforts to counter economic discrimination. She notes the vote follows Senate action to undo another CFPB regulation that she said makes it harder to monitor the fairness of mortgage lending.

      The U.S. Senate has voted, along mostly  party lines, to overturn a 2013 consumer protection rule aimed at preventing costly discrimination against minorit...
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      Gas prices surge in the last week

      Pump prices are responding to increased demand and higher oil prices

      Gasoline prices have surged in the last week, propelled by the annual switch-over to summer grade fuel, strong demand, and a sharp rise in oil prices.

      The price of crude oil rose above $68 a barrel on Wednesday for the first time since 2015, when OPEC flooded the market with oil to drive down prices in a bid to take marketshare from U.S. shale oil producers. Rising crude prices have increased costs for oil refineries at precisely the time they are producing more expensive summer blends.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the average price of regular gasoline is $2.73 a gallon, up seven cents in the last week, and 19 cents higher than last month. The national average price of gas is at its highest level since the summer of 2015.

      There is a wide disparity in what motorists are paying at the pump. The lowest statewide average is found in Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas, at $2.48 a gallon. The most expensive gas is in Hawaii, at $3.57 a gallon, but California is close behind, at $3.55.

      $5 per gallon gas is back

      Patrick DeHaan, petroleum analyst at GasBuddy, reports gas prices have exceeded $5 a gallon at two stations in Essex, Calif. He attributes much of the surge in gas prices to a spike in demand.

      The U.S. Energy Information Administration report for the week ending April 13 shows gasoline demand surged to 9.86 million barrels a day, well ahead of the normal start of the summer driving season.

      AAA reports that demand level is at the highest mid-April rate on record and the highest so far this year. The group speculates the increase is likely the result of more drivers hitting the road as warmer weather starts to spreads across the country.

      At the same time, U.S. oil refineries are upping their exports to other nations. According to AAA, total U.S. gasoline production grew to 10.2 million barrels a day last week, production rates usually found during the peak summer months.

      Gasoline prices have surged in the last week, propelled by the annual switch-over to summer grade fuel, strong demand, and a sharp rise in oil prices.T...
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      Rose Acre Farms recalls 206 million eggs

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella Braenderup

      Rose Acre Farms of Seymour, Ind., is recalling more than 206.7 million eggs that may be contaminated with Salmonella Braenderup.

      Twenty-two illnesses have been reported to date.

      The following eggs, from plant number P-1065 with the Julian date range of 011 through date of 102 printed on either the side portion or the principal side of the carton or package, are being recalled:

      Lot Codes 011 – 102

      Item DescriptionCarton UPC
      COUNTRY DAYBREAK A LARGE X 30 DOZEN077236000302
      COUNTRY DAYBREAK A LARGE X15 DOZEN077236000302
      COUNTRY DAYBREAK A JUMBO X24 DOZEN077236000500
      COUNTRY DAYBREAK A MEDIUM X30 DOZEN077236000203
      COUNTRY DAYBREAK A XLARGE X30 DOZEN077236000401
      COUNTRY DAYBREAK A JUMBO X12 DOZEN077236000500
      FOOD LION A JUMBO X 12 DOZEN035826089618
      FOOD LION A MEDIUM X15 DOZEN035826089649
      FOOD LION A XLARGE X 15 DOZEN035826089625
      FOOD LION A 18PK LARGE X15 DOZEN035826089601
      FOOD LION A LARGE X15 DOZEN035826089588
      FOOD LION A 6PK LARGE X 15 DOZEN035826089632
      LOOSE A USDA SMALL X 30 DOZENN/A
      LOOSE A USDA MEDIUM X 30 DOZENN/A
      LOOSE A XLARGE X15 DOZENN/A
      LOOSE A XLARGE X30 DOZENN/A
      LOOSE A MEDIUM X 15 DOZENN/A
      LOOSE A MEDIUM X30 DOZENN/A
      LOOSE USDA AA XLARGE X30 DOZENN/A
      LOOSE USDA AA XLARGE X15 DOZENN/A
      LOOSE USDA AA LARGE X30 DOZENN/A
      LOOSE USDA AA LARGE X15 DOZENN/A
      LOOSE USDA AA MEDIUM X30 DOZENN/A
      LOOSE AA XLARGE X30 DOZENN/A
      LOOSE USDA AA LARGE PFG X 30 DOZENN/A
      LOOSE USDA AA LARGE PFG X 15 DOZENN/A
      LOOSE USDA A XLARGE X30 DOZENN/A
      NELMS A JUMBO X24634181000018
      WAFFLE HOUSE LOOSE USDA A LARGE X 30 DOZENN/A
      CRYSTAL FARMS A MEDIUM X30077236000203
      CRYSTAL FARMS A 18PK MEDIUM X 30077236000258
      CRYSTAL FARMS A 2.5 DOZ MEDIUM X 25077236000124
      COUNTRY DAYBREAK A XLARGE X15 DOZEN077236000401
      COUNTRY DAYBREAK USDA GRADE A XLARGE X 240 DOZEN PULP077236700400
      COUNTRY DAYBREAK USDA GRADE A LARGE RACK X 240 DOZEN PULP077236700301
      COBURN FARMS A MEDIUM MP X 30 DOZEN051933182608
      COBURN FARMS A LARGE X 30 DOZEN051933190801
      COBURN FARMS A 18PK LARGE X 30 DOZEN051933182509
      SUNSHINE FARMS A JUMBO X 12 DOZEN804879457336
      GLENVIEW USDA AA LOOSE LARGE (6-2.5 FLATS) X 15 DOZENN/A
      GLENVIEW USDA AA LOOSE LARGE (12-2.5 FLATS) X 30 DOZENN/A
      GLENVIEW USDA AA LOOSE MEDIUM (6-2.5 FLATS) X 15 DOZENN/A
      GLENVIEW USDA AA LOOSE XLARGE (6-2.5 FLATS) X 15 DOZENN/A
      GLENVIEW USDA AA LOOSE MEDIUM (12-2.5 FLATS) X 30 DOZENN/A
      GLENVIEW USDA AA LOOSE XLARGE (12-2.5 FLATS) X 30 DOZENN/A
      GREAT VALUE GRADE A USDA 18PK XLARGE X 24 DOZEN RPC078742127132
      GREAT VALUE GRADE A USDA 12PK XLARGE X 24 DOZEN RPC078742127128
      GREAT VALUE GRADE A USDA TWIN 18PK LARGE X 24 DOZEN RPC078742127101
      GREAT VALUE GRADE A USDA 6PK LARGE X 15 DOZEN078742127095
      GREAT VALUE GRADE A USDA 12PK MEDIUM X 15 DOZEN078742127224
      GREAT VALUE GRADE A USDA 12PK LARGE X 24 DOZEN RPC078742127071
      GREAT VALUE GRADE A USDA 18PK LARGE X 24 DOZEN RPC078742127088
      GREAT VALUE GRADE A 12PK JUMBO X 22 DOZEN RPC078742127149
      GREAT VALUE GRADE A USDA 5DZ LARGE X 5 DOZEN078742127118

      The eggs were distributed from the farm in Hyde County, N.C., and reached consumers through retail stores and restaurants via direct delivery in Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should immediately discontinue using them and return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (855) 215-5730 from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. (EST).

      Rose Acre Farms of Seymour, Ind., is recalling more than 206.7 million eggs that may be contaminated with Salmonella Braenderup.Twenty-two illnesses ha...
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      Badass Helmet recalls Metalhead 2.5 helmets

      The helmets may not provide adequate protection in a crash

      Badass Helmet Company is recalling 64 Metalhead 2.5 helmets.

      The helmets may not adequately protect the wearer in the event of a head impact during a motorcycle crash, increase the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Badass Helmet will notify owners, and issue a full refund.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Badass Helmet customer service at 1-866-334-3563.

      Badass Helmet Company is recalling 64 Metalhead 2.5 helmets.The helmets may not adequately protect the wearer in the event of a head impact during a mo...
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      Facebook says it will adopt Europe’s stringent privacy rules worldwide

      The company will gradually launch new privacy protections to users in the coming months

      Facebook has announced that it plans to roll out Europe’s strict new privacy rules to users worldwide. 
      The social media giant says it’s taking steps to comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is slated to go into effect on May 25 and aims to give consumers control of their personal data. Companies that don’t comply with the law will have to pay a fine.
      “We not only want to comply with the law, but also go beyond our obligations to build new and improved privacy experiences for everyone on Facebook,” the company said in a blog post. 
      "As soon as GDPR was finalized, we realized it was an opportunity to invest even more heavily in privacy," Facebook said in statement. "We've also sought input from people outside Facebook with different perspectives on privacy, including people who use our services, regulators and government officials, privacy experts, and designers."

      Consumers must give consent

      Per the new legislation, companies must ask consumers for their consent on sharing their data using clear, easy-to-understand statements. 
      Companies won’t be able to lump different things together in order to get consumers to agree to data sharing. Children under 16 must have a parent opt-in to data collection on their behalf.  Users must also be able to rescind their consent.
      The new law gives consumers the ability to access the personal data being stored by companies. Consumers can see where their information is stored and find out what purpose it is being used for.
      Applied to Facebook users, the new privacy law gives users the option to choose whether they want to allow the platform to use partner data to display relevant ads. Users will also be asked whether they want to continue sharing political, religious, and relationship information on their profile, and the company’s facial recognition feature will be disabled by default. 
      The rollout of the new law is the latest action taken by the company to ensure users that their information is safe in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal, in which it was revealed that the personal data of up to 87 million users had been accessed without their knowledge.
      Last month, Facebook announced it would be giving users more control over their privacy settings by consolidating 20 privacy screens to just one and giving users more control over the ads they view.
      Facebook has announced that it plans to roll out Europe’s strict new privacy rules to users worldwide.  The social media giant says it’s taking ste...
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      A divided Supreme Court hears online sales tax arguments

      Some justices say this should be a question for Congress to answer

      Despite the urging of more than 40 states and the Trump administration, the U.S. Supreme Court couldn’t come to a decision regarding how sales taxes should be paid for online purchases.

      By the end of Tuesday’s hearing, there didn’t appear to be enough votes to overturn Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, a 1992 ruling which prevented states from collecting any sales tax from retail purchases made over the internet or other e-commerce route unless the seller had a physical presence in the state.

      The participating states argued that they’re losing billions of dollars in lost tax revenue because online merchants don’t have to collect state sales tax. And since consumers are making more and more of their purchases online, the tax revenue is becoming increasingly critical to state governments.

      “Our small businesses on Main Street are being harmed because of the unleveled playing field created by Quill, where out-of-state remote sellers are given a price advantage,” said Marty Jackley, South Dakota’s attorney general.

      In 2017 alone, it’s estimated that states could have collected as much as $13.4 billion in additional online sales taxes, according to the General Accountability Office.

      Who should make the decision?

      However, a handful of justices raised concerns about the heavy-handed impact collecting sales tax would have on small businesses who are codependent on internet sales. The estimates of how much it would cost internet businesses to comply with the proposed tax laws ranged from $12 to $250,000.

      “Is there anything we can do to give Congress a signal that it should act more affirmatively in this area?” Justice Sonia Maria Sotomayor asked.

      Sotomayor’s contention got buy-in from George S. Isaacson, a lawyer for the internet retailers, who said a national solution should come from Congress instead of the Supreme Court.

      But Sotomayor or Isaacson’s argument didn’t get much support. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said that “it would be very strange for us to tell Congress it ought to do something in any particular area.” And both Roberts and Justice Elena Kagan raised the point that if Congress hasn’t acted on the question, then was Congress good with the status quo?

      Chief Justice Roberts also commented that the problem might be taking care of itself.

      “The bigger e-commerce companies find themselves with a physical presence in all 50 states,” he said, “so they’re already covered.”

      The Trump administration is all in on the sales tax initiative. President Trump has minced no words about how Amazon deals with taxes and shipping. Amazon, while not part of this suit, does collect sales tax on goods it sells directly, but it places the tax responsibility on the shoulders of any third party who sells items via Amazon.

      Despite the urging of more than 40 states and the Trump administration, the U.S. Supreme Court couldn’t come to a decision regarding how sales taxes should...
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      Tech companies sign pledge not to help governments launch cyber attacks

      More than 30 major companies have signed on to the Cybersecurity Tech Accord

      A group of 34 tech companies have signed an agreement to refrain from helping world governments wage cyberwar on each other.

      Microsoft, Facebook, Cisco, Cloudflare, Github, and Oracle are among the top tech and security companies that have signed on to the Cybersecurity Tech Accord. In the agreement, the companies pledge to “empower civilians online and to improve the security, stability and resilience of cyberspace.”

      “We will not help governments launch cyberattacks against innocent citizens and enterprises from anywhere, and will protect against tampering or exploitation of their products and services through every stage of technology development, design and distribution,” the accord states.

      Joining forces

      Microsoft president Brad Smith, who spearheaded the effort to organize this alliance, says that tech companies can be a powerful force if they work together to strengthen cybersecurity protection.

      “This tech sector accord will help us take a principled path towards more effective steps to work together and defend customers around the world,” Smith said in a statement. He added that he sees the cybersecurity accord as a precursor to some sort of “digital Geneva Convention.”

      "It aligns the resources, expertise and thinking of some of the world's most important technology companies to help to build a trusted foundation for technology users who will benefit immensely from a more security connected world,” Smith said.

      Four main commitments

      The agreement centers around four key principles:

      • Strong defense. The companies are committed to building a stronger defense against malicious code. To achieve this goal, the companies will launch new security practices and new features for companies.

      • No offense. The companies pledge not help governments launch cyber attacks against “innocent citizens and enterprises.” They will also protect their products and services from tampering and exploitation.

      • Capacity building. The companies vow to do more to empower developers, as well as the people and business who use their technology.

      • Collective action. The companies aim to strengthen their existing relationships and build new partnerships with the goal of improving technical collaboration, coordinating vulnerability disclosures, sharing threats, and minimizing the threat of malicious code.

      Follows a string of cyberattacks

      The pact comes less than a year after the WannaCry ransomware virus, which targeted Windows vulnerabilities. Another major attack followed closely behind, and also targeted Windows PCs.

      “The devastating attacks from the past year demonstrate that cybersecurity is not just about what any single company can do but also about what we can all do together,” Smith said.

      Apple, Amazon, Twitter, and Google have not yet signed the Tech Accord. However, the agreement remains open to membership requests from “new private sector signatories, large or small and regardless of sector.”

      A group of 34 tech companies have signed an agreement to refrain from helping world governments wage cyberwar on each other. Microsoft, Facebook, Cisco...
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      Tax-filing deadline extended another day

      IRS computer problems prevented tax-filers from paying electronically

      The crush of last-minute tax filers crashed an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) computer network, so the tax agency is extending the tax deadline through today.

      “Individuals and businesses with a filing or payment due date of April 17 will now have until midnight on Wednesday, April 18,” the IRS said in a statement. “Taxpayers do not need to do anything to receive this extra time.”

      According to the announcement, the IRS encountered system issues Tuesday morning. Taxpayers were still able to file their tax returns electronically if they were using software and the IRS's Free File. Taxpayers using paper to file and pay their taxes at the deadline were not affected by the system issue.

      What failed was the part of the IRS network that allows taxpayers to pay their taxes electronically. Direct Pay failed early in the day – reportedly from the large number of people trying to access it – and wasn't restored until late in the afternoon.

      The part of the network that allows taxpayers to pay their taxes in installments was also affected, but it has since been restored.

      Busiest tax day of the year

      “This is the busiest tax day of the year, and the IRS apologizes for the inconvenience this system issue caused for taxpayers,” said Acting IRS Commissioner David Kautter. “The IRS appreciates everyone’s patience during this period. The extra time will help taxpayers affected by this situation.”

      Consumers who used commercial tax preparation services were also affected by the outage. A spokesperson for Intuit told CNBC that consumers using the company's service should continue filing their taxes normally. She said that returns filed while the IRS system was down were held until it was working again.

      The extension moves the tax-filing deadline two days beyond its traditional date. The normal April 15 deadline was extended to April 16 this year because of a District of Columbia holiday on Monday.

      The crush of last-minute tax filers crashed an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) computer network, so the tax agency is extending the tax deadline through tod...
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      New bill would push Veterans Affairs office to study cannabis

      Lawmakers are frustrated with the agency’s reluctance to explore marijuana as the nation faces a deadly opioid epidemic

      A bipartisan group of lawmakers are once again pushing the the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to soften its attitude on marijuana.

      Representatives Phil Roe ( R-Tenn) and Tim Walz (D-Minn), who both lead the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, on Monday introduced the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018.

      The bill would give the VA authority to conduct its own research into cannabis, in particular to study whether it is beneficial to veterans suffering PTSD, chronic pain, and other conditions. The agency would also have to supply congress with regular reports about their research efforts, according to an early draft of the bill.

      Opening up ability to research

      The proposal is just the latest that lawmakers have made over the years to encourage the VA to study cannabis. A wealth of research suggests that medical marijuana can be a viable alternative to more addictive and dangerous drugs.

      The push to get the VA office to take marijuana seriously has reached a new urgency as veterans and others across the United States are in the grips of a deadly opioid epidemic. Lawmakers have repeatedly asked the VA to explore marijuana as a possible alternative to opioids, but the agency has responded by claiming that federal law restricts their ability to conduct such testing, as the Military Times reported.

      “It’s time the VA did a formal study,”  Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif) told the publication. “Rather than risk becoming dependent on opioids, these veterans find relief in medical cannabis. … I want to bring these brave men and women the relief they deserve. This legislation will finally allow the VA to perform research on medical cannabis.”

      Pushing past current prohibitions

      Last year, the VA rolled out new rules allowing doctors to discuss marijuana with veterans who request information. But discussing marijuana is about all the doctors can do, according to the agency’s rules.

      “Providers are prohibited from completing forms or registering Veterans for participation in a State-approved marijuana program,” the agency said at the time, citing the Federal Controlled Substances Act that criminalizes marijuana at the federal level.

      A bipartisan group of lawmakers are once again pushing the the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to soften its attitude on marijuana.Representatives...
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      Starbucks to close stores for bias training on May 29

      The company will close 8,000 stores for one afternoon following a racially charged incident in Philadelphia

      Following the arrest of two African American men at one of its Philadelphia locations, Starbucks has announced that it will close 8,000 stores for an afternoon to educate employees on how to combat racial bias.

      The announcement comes after a phone call to police from a Starbucks manager last week led to the arrest of two men who were waiting on a friend. Video footage of the arrests went viral over the weekend, sparking a frenzy of outrage on social media. The video appeared to show no cause for police involvement.

      Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson issued a statement saying the incident was both “disheartening” and “reprehensible.” He also met with the two men arrested and apologized for how they were treated.

      Now, the CEO has announced that Starbucks employees will be receiving “racial bias training” to help ensure that an incident like the one that occured last week doesn’t happen again.

      Training developed with guidance from experts

      The announcement explains that on May 29, thousands of Starbucks locations won’t open to the public because 175,000 of its employees will be receiving bias training.

      “On May 29th, we will close our company-owned stores in the US to conduct racial-bias training in order to address implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion, and prevent discrimination so everyone feels safe and welcome at Starbucks,” the company said.

      The training will be developed with input from experts that include former Attorney General Eric Holder, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson, and Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

      Starbucks said it will also “review the effectiveness” of the training.

      Addressing racial bias

      Starbucks said it recognizes that racial bias is a problem that it needs to address.

      "I've spent the last few days in Philadelphia with my leadership team listening to the community, learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it," Johnson said.

      "While this is not limited to Starbucks, we're committed to being a part of the solution," he said. "Closing our stores for racial bias training is just one step in a journey that requires dedication from every level of our company and partnerships in our local communities."

      The company said it is “ashamed” of what happened at the Philadelphia location. The employee who called the police no longer works for the company.

      Following the arrest of two African American men at one of its Philadelphia locations, Starbucks has announced that it will close 8,000 stores for an after...
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      Koch Foods recalls beef patties

      The products may be contaminated with thin blue plastic pieces

      Koch Foods of Fairfield, Ohio, is recalling approximately 119,480 pounds of beef rib-shaped patties.

      The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials -- specifically thin blue plastic pieces.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The fully cooked, not shelf stable rib-shaped items, produced on July 8, 2016, are being recalled:

      • 30-lb. bulk boxes containing 6 plastic shrink-wrapped unlabeled packages of “Fully Cooked Rib-Shaped Beef Patty With BBQ Sauce” and identified by case code “67329” and lot number “JTM 16190” represented on the label.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 20795” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to a distributors nationwide for institutional use.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard them or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Mark Kaminsky at (847) 384-5940.

      Koch Foods of Fairfield, Ohio, is recalling approximately 119,480 pounds of beef rib-shaped patties.The products may be contaminated with extraneous ma...
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      Plastic-eating enzyme could help solve the world’s pollution problem

      Researchers believe the accidental discovery could be adapted at the industrial level

      An international team of researchers may have accidentally engineered an enzyme that could help mitigate the global plastic pollution crisis.

      The enzyme is able to digest polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, of which hundreds of millions of tons are produced each year in the form of plastic bottles. PET plastics, which were first patented in the 1940s, can linger in the environment for centuries.

      However, researchers from Britain’s University of Portsmouth and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory say they may have serendipitously discovered an enzyme that can eat PET plastic.

      How the enzyme was discovered

      The discovery was made while examining the structure of a natural enzyme believed to have come of age in a Japanese recycling center. The bacterium had naturally evolved to eat plastic.

      When the team tweaked the structure of the enzyme by adding some amino acids, tests showed that it made the molecule even better at breaking down PET plastic.

      “What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock,” said lead researcher John McGeehan, a professor at the University of Portsmouth in the UK. “It’s great and a real finding.”

      The enzyme’s plastic-eating abilities were enhanced by the slight alteration, which McGeehan says is “really exciting because that means that there’s potential to optimize the enzyme even further.”

      The discovery could be a step toward eliminating the huge swaths of plastic waste often found floating in oceans or washed up on beaches all over the world, the researchers said.

      Speeding up the enzyme

      The researchers are currently working on improving the enzyme further to allow it to be used industrially to quickly break down plastics.

      "Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research and our discovery here is no exception," said McGeehan. "Although the improvement is modest, this unanticipated discovery suggests that there is room to further improve these enzymes, moving us closer to a recycling solution for the ever-growing mountain of discarded plastics."

      The research has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

      An international team of researchers may have accidentally engineered an enzyme that could help mitigate the global plastic pollution crisis.The enzyme...
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      Scammers are targeting seniors receiving new Medicare cards

      Crooks pretending to be from Medicare are trying to steal personal data

      The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is issuing new Medicare cards to seniors, with random letters instead of Social Security numbers.

      The Social Security numbers are being removed from the cards as a security precaution to prevent fraud. But true to form, scammers are exploiting the switch over in an attempt to defraud seniors.

      AARP reports scammers are calling up Medicare recipients and pretending to be representatives from the government's healthcare program. The caller tells the victim that they need personal identifiers – including Social Security numbers and bank account information – to facilitate the switch to a new card.

      According to AARP, here is some of the misinformation scammers are telling seniors:

      • You must pay for your new Medicare card now or else you'll lose your Medicare benefits

      • Medicare is updating its files and needs your bank and credit-card numbers

      • Medicare is confirming your Social Security number before you can receive your new card

      • Medicare needs your bank information to send you a refund on your old card

      Many unaware of the new cards

      None of these things are true. However, some seniors might fall for them because an AARP survey shows that 75 percent of seniors are unaware that new Medicare cards are being issued.

      The survey shows other information gaps – 60 percent of seniors think they must pay for the new Medicare cards and half said they wouldn't question a phone call from someone claiming to be a Medicare rep.

      Representatives of Medicare do not call consumers. The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud says seniors should just hang up on any caller claiming to be from Medicare. In actuality, they're crooks trying to scam you.

      Medicare will actually send you an alert when your new card is in the mail. You can sign up for the alert here.

      Once your new card arrives, destroy your old one; don't just toss it in the trash. It contains your Social Security number and can be used to steal your identity.

      The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is issuing new Medicare cards to seniors, with random letters instead of Social Security numbers.The Soc...
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      Netflix subscriber growth exceeded expectations in the first quarter

      The company added an impressive 7.4 million users in Q1

      In its first-quarter earnings update, Netflix disclosed that it signed up 26 million new subscribers in the past year. In the first quarter alone, the streaming giant added 7.4 million subscribers worldwide.

      Subscriber growth expectations were high prior to the release of the earnings report, but the company’s user growth was much higher than expected in the first quarter. Its earnings met expectations, and its revenue managed to top estimates.

      Netflix said in its letter to investors that quarterly revenue grew 43 percent year-over-year in Q1, “the fastest pace in the history of our streaming business.” The results of the report caused Netflix shares to jump more than 5 percent in after-hours trading on Tuesday.

      A new record for the first quarter

      As of the end of March, Netflix had 125 million subscribers worldwide. The streaming giant reported $3.7 billion in revenue for Q1 and a net profit of $290 million.

      Its higher-than-expected revenue in Q1 was due to a 25 percent increase in average paid streaming memberships, plus a 14 percent hike in the average subscription price. Netflix previously raised rates on its plans in the U.S. and other territories at the end of last year.

      Going into the second quarter, the company said it expects 6.2 million global net additions -- an increase of 5.2 million from last year’s first quarter. Netflix expects content spending to hit between $7.5 billion to $8 billion for 2018, which is on par with previous estimates.

      Adding more original series

      The company announced earlier this year that it would be focusing on adding more original titles. Netflix said it will “continue to raise debt as needed to fund our increase in original content.” As of March 31, the company had $6.54 billion in long-term debt and $3.4 billion in long-term content payment obligations.

      Netflix says that adding more original series, such as sci-fi thriller “Altered Carbon” and returning seasons of “Marvel’s Jessica Jones,” should help to fuel subscriber growth and retention.

      “We’re investing in more marketing of new original titles to create more density of viewing and conversation around each title (i.e bigger hit in a nation or demographic),” the company said in the report.

      “We believe this density of viewing helps on both retention and acquisition, because it makes our original titles even less substitutable. Because we operate in so many countries, we are able to try different approaches in different markets, and continue to learn.”

      In its first-quarter earnings update, Netflix disclosed that it signed up 26 million new subscribers in the past year. In the first quarter alone, the stre...
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      T-Mobile fined for deceiving consumers calling rural areas

      The company inserted ringtones to make callers think the call had gone through when it hadn't

      T-Mobile will pay $40 million to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to settle charges that it failed to correct ongoing problems with its service in rural areas, in violation of the Communications Act.

      Because of network issues in some sparsely populated rural areas, where there aren't many cell towers, T-Mobile had difficulty completing all calls. The FCC charged that when calls couldn't be completed, T-Mobile inserted ring tones so that the caller would think the call had gone through, but no one answered.

      The FCC charged that this occurred on hundreds of millions of calls. Because of the size of its network, T-Mobile often depended on other carriers' facilities in rural areas where it did not have towers. The agency began an investigation when it noted a pattern in consumer complaints about calls not going through.

      'Basic tenet of the nation's phone system'

      “It is a basic tenet of the nation’s phone system that calls be completed to the called party, without a reduction in the call quality—even when the calls pass through intermediate providers,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “The FCC is committed to ensuring that phone calls to all Americans, including rural Americans, go through.”

      FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, one of two Democrats on the FCC, said it's good that T-Mobile is being held accountable, but she said the FCC should have provided compensation for consumers.

      “According to the consent decree, T-Mobile admits to inserting false ringtones into calls that failed to connect,” Clyburn said in a statement. “This may have affected ‘hundreds of millions of calls each year’ after the practice was expressly prohibited by the Commission in January 2014.”

      As a result, Clyburn said that meant consumers making calls to certain rural areas would hear ringing on their end, even if the call was not actually connecting and the phone was not actually ringing at the called party's premises.

      Gave callers reason to worry

      Not only did the deception make the problem difficult to discover and resolve, Clyburn said that callers who believed their call had gone through might worry when no one picked up.

      “How many times was a loved one calling to check on the well-being of an elderly relative, only to have the phone ring and ring with no answer? How many times did a consumer try calling his or her doctor for an urgent refill of an important prescription, only to think that nobody was picking up on the other end of the call?” Clyburn asked.

      Clyburn said the $40 million fine, which will be paid to the U.S. Treasury, is much smaller than some of the FCC fines levied against robocallers.

      T-Mobile will pay $40 million to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to settle charges that it failed to correct ongoing problems with its service...
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      Badass Helmet recalls Rogue helmets

      The helmets may not provide adequate protection in a crash

      Badass Helmet Company is recalling 134 Rogue helmets.

      These helmets may not adequately protect the wearer in the event of a head impact during a motorcycle crash, increasing the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

      What to do

      Badass Helmet will notify owners, and issue a full refund.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Badass Helmet customer service at 1-866-334-3563.

      Badass Helmet Company is recalling 134 Rogue helmets.These helmets may not adequately protect the wearer in the event of a head impact during a motorcy...
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      Whole Foods Market recalls Explorateur French Triple Creme cheese

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Whole Foods Market is recalling Explorateur French Triple Crème cheese from nine stores located in New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, Connecticut and New Jersey.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recall includes Explorateur French Triple Crème cheese (under the names Explorateur, Explorateur French Triple Crème Cheese and Explorateur Triple Crème French Cheese) which were cut and packaged in clear plastic wrap, and sold in branded 8-oz. packages with "sell by" dates from 02/15/2018 through 04/03/2018.

      The products labeled as Explorateur French Triple Crème with scale labels beginning with PLU code 0294317 were sold at the following Whole Foods Market stores:

      • 90 E. Putnam Avenue, Greenwich, Conn.
      • 222 Main Street, Madison, N.J.
      • 701 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair, N.J. 

      The products labeled as Explorateur Triple Crème French Cheese with scale labels beginning with PLU code 203971 were sold at the following Whole Foods Market stores:

      • 7245 Lake Street, River Forest, Ill.
      • 760 Waukegan Road, Deerfield, Ill.

      The products labeled as Explorateur with scale labels beginning with PLU code 293693 were sold at the following Whole Foods Market stores:

      • 753 Cerillos Road, Santa Fe, N.M.
      • 100 Pitt Street, El Paso, Texas

      The products labeled as Explorateur in 8-oz. branded packages with UPC codes 339001000408 and lot codes H10, H010, H11 or H011 were sold at the following Whole Foods Market stores:

      • 753 Cerillos Road, Santa Fe, N.M.
      • 100 Pitt Street, El Paso, Texas
      • 7245 Lake Street, River Forest, Ill.
      • 760 Waukegan Road, Deerfield, Ill.
      • 501 Bowman Road, Little Rock, Ark.
      • 11920 Domain Drive, Austin, Texas

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product may bring a valid receipt into stores for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may call 1-844- 936-8255 between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. (CST) Monday through Friday, or 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. (CST) Saturday and Sunday.

      Whole Foods Market is recalling Explorateur French Triple Crème cheese from nine stores located in New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, Connecticut and N...
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      FDA to ban pure, highly concentrated bulk caffeine supplements

      Federal regulators are taking another step to stop consumers from ingesting dangerously high levels of pure caffeine

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Friday new guidance on the sale of supplements containing high amounts of caffeine.  

      Supplements that contain pure or highly concentrated caffeine in powder or liquid forms "present a significant public health threat,” the FDA said in a statement. These supplements are no longer permitted to be sold in bulk quantities directly to consumers, the agency said.

      The FDA said it is ready to take action to remove these dietary supplements from the market after reports of at least two deaths in otherwise healthy individuals.

      Dangerous caffeine “cocktails”

      Accidental ingestions can occur if a consumer mistakes the liquid form of these products for a safe household liquid, such as water or distilled vinegar. Pure powdered caffeine could easily be confused with flour or powdered sugar.

      “The consequences of a consumer mistakenly confusing one of these products could be toxic or even lethal,” the FDA wrote.

      The agency is especially concerned about the health effects that can occur when these products are intentionally misused.

      “We know these products are sometimes being used in potentially dangerous ways. For example, teenagers, for a perceived energy kick, sometimes mix dangerously high amounts of super-concentrated caffeine into workout cocktails,” said commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

      “The amounts used can too easily become deceptively high because of the super-concentrated forms and bulk packaging in which the caffeine is being sold." Gottlieb added.

      Equivalent to 20 to 28 cups of coffee

      A half cup of a highly concentrated liquid caffeine can contain approximately 2,000 milligrams (mg) of caffeine. A single teaspoon of a powdered pure caffeine product can contain approximately 3,200 mg of caffeine.

      That's the equivalent of 20 to 28 cups of coffee -- “a potentially toxic dose of caffeine,” the agency noted. Ingesting just a few tablespoons of some formulations of powdered, pure caffeine can be deadly to most adults, and even smaller amounts can be life-threatening to children.  

      Bulk amounts of these supplements pose a high risk of overuse and misuse because consumers have to measure a very small, precise, recommended serving, and often they do not have the proper tools to do so, the FDA explained. The recommended safe serving is 200 mg, which is about 1/16 of a teaspoon of pure powder or approximately 2.5 teaspoons of a liquid.

      Previous measures to curb overuse

      In 2015 and 2016, the FDA issued warning letters to five sellers of powdered caffeine in an effort to stop these highly concentrated or pure caffeine supplements from being sold directly to consumers online. However, the supplements remained on the market.

      "Despite multiple actions against these products in the past, we've seen a continued trend of products containing highly concentrated or pure caffeine being marketed directly to consumers as dietary supplements and sold in bulk quantities, with up to thousands of recommended servings per container," Gottlieb said.

      The FDA is now banning the sale of pure or highly concentrated caffeine in powder or liquid forms in bulk quantities directly to consumers. The new rule is effective immediately.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Friday new guidance on the sale of supplements containing high amounts of caffeine.  Supplements...
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      Department of Commerce bans ZTE from exporting tech from U.S.

      The company demonstrated a pattern of lying, officials say

      Earlier today, Chinese electronics maker ZTE was hit with a seven-year ban on American exports from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The restriction will keep ZTE from getting parts from U.S.-based suppliers, such as Qualcomm and Dolby.

      The ban comes a year after ZTE allegedly violated the terms of a 2017 settlement.

      In March 2017, the electronics giant pleaded guilty of illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea and agreed to pay $1.2 billion in penalties. The company was also supposed to revoke the bonuses of any employees involved.

      However, the company was found to have violated the terms of the settlement when it was discovered that employees who engaged in illegal conduct were not penalized. Some of them even got their full 2016 pay bonuses.

      Didn’t honor the agreement

      "ZTE made false statements to the U.S. Government when they were originally caught and put on the Entity List, made false statements during the reprieve it was given, and made false statements again during its probation," Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross, Jr. said in a statement.

      “ZTE misled the Department of Commerce. Instead of reprimanding ZTE staff and senior management, ZTE rewarded them. This egregious behavior cannot be ignored.”

      A senior department official told Reuters that ZTE, “provided information back to us basically admitting that they had made these false statements.”

      “We can’t trust what they are telling us is truthful,” the official continued. “And in international commerce, truth is pretty important.”

      The export ban comes amid escalating tariffs and growing fear of a trade war between the U.S. and China.

      Earlier today, Chinese electronics maker ZTE was hit with a seven-year ban on American exports from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The restriction will k...
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      Study suggests cancer surgery raises risk of disease spread

      Researchers say the wound-healing process can unleash new tumors

      Surgery has long been an option to treat breast cancer, but new research suggests that it could make the disease worse in some cases.

      Findings published in the the journal Science Translational Medicine show that the process of the wound healing from surgery may increase the possibility of cancer spreading.

      “Patients undergoing surgical resection of primary breast tumors confront a risk for metastatic recurrence that peaks sharply 12 to 18 months after surgery,” the authors write.

      Previous research has also indicated that growth factors and inflammatory response from surgery are tied to increased risk of cancer spreading to other areas of the body. In some studies, the invasiveness of the procedure is tied to the risk.

      Removes constraints on cells

      Robert Weinberg, the study’s senior author, says the process of the surgical wound healing appears to remove the constraints on other cancer cells that have already spread to other areas of the body. Those constraints usually keep the cells from producing new malignant tumors.

      Dr. Jason Williams, a radiologist at the Williams Cancer Institute, says the findings may be especially important for breast cancer patients.

      "This gives further support to less invasive breast cancer treatments such as ultrasound guided percutaneous Cryoablation," Williams said. "We have known of these links and have combined injecting ketorolac into the tumor site treated by cryoablation for several years."

      Ketorolac is a medication that has been used to slow or prevent cancer spread. Williams says it makes sense that it, and other less invasive treatments, should receive new consideration. However, he says more research will be necessary to refine the treatments.

      Somewhat controversial

      The theory that surgery can cause cancer to spread is somewhat controversial. In fact, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) includes it among its list of myths about the disease and says the risk is very low.

      “Following standard procedures, surgeons use special methods and take many steps to prevent cancer cells from spreading during biopsies or surgery to remove tumors,” NCI says on its website. “For example, if they must remove tissue from more than one area of the body, they use different surgical tools for each area.”

      Surgery has long been an option to treat breast cancer, but new research suggests that it could make the disease worse in some cases.Findings published...
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      Supreme Court to decide if all online retailers must collect sales tax

      A ruling in favor of the measure would increase costs for consumers from smaller retailers

      The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case this week that will determine, to some degree, what you pay for things purchased online.

      At issue is whether online merchants collect your state's sales tax when it adds up your purchases. Forty states brought the case, arguing that online merchants that don't collect sales tax cost them billions of dollars in lost tax revenue.

      In the early days of ecommerce, almost no online merchants collected sales tax, a savings for consumers that helped to offset shipping costs.

      Previous court rulings

      The Supreme Court has addressed this issue over the years, eventually ruling that merchants with a physical presence in a state must collect that state's sales tax when selling to a resident of the state.

      That covered most large retailers, like Macy's and Walmart, because they have stores in nearly every state. In 2017, Amazon began collecting sales tax in every state that has one, even though it was not legally required to.

      Congress weighed in on the issue last year, as a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Marketplace Fairness Act, legislation that would require all businesses selling online to collect sales tax for the state where the consumer making the purchase resides.

      Most retailers support collecting sales tax

      Small, independent online retailers have protested that requiring them to collect and pay sales tax for all states presents a hardship that could drive many of them out of business, but the National Retail Federation (NRF) supports a uniform collection of sales tax by all retailers, saying states are losing out on much needed tax revenue.

      “This is a critically important issue for retailers – both large and small – across the country,” Mathew Shay, CEO of the NRF, said last year. “Both brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce leaders understand that the Marketplace Fairness Act is common-sense legislation dedicated to protecting states’ rights, strengthening our communities and preserving our free market system.”

      The Trump administration has also come down on the side of the states, arguing that all online retailers should pay state sales tax, as a matter of fairness. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told a Congressional hearing in February that Trump believes sales tax should be paid on all purchases, whether they are made in a brick-and-mortar store or online.

      While the issue could eventually be addressed through legislation, 40 states are asking the high court to settle the issue once and for all.

      Their case asks the justices to set aside the previous ruling that exempts some online retailers from tax collection responsibilities that give them a slight price advantage over the retailers that are required to collect sales tax.

      The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case this week that will determine, to some degree, what you pay for things purchased online.At issue is whether onl...
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      Gmail redesign to include self-destructing email option

      A revamped version of Gmail will give users the option of setting an expiration date for emails

      Google is reportedly testing a self-destructing option for emails as part of its upcoming Gmail redesign. Sending an expiring email will ensure that only the intended recipient can view the message -- and only for a set period of time.

      Once the link has expired, the message will effectively disappear. Users can set an email to expire after one week, a month, or after a couple of years.

      “Working on an email service is hard as you have to be compatible with all sorts of email providers and email clients,” TechCrunch reported. “But it doesn't seem to be stopping Google as the company is now evolving beyond the simple POP3/IMAP/SMTP protocols."

      Confidental Mode

      “Confidential Mode” will allow users to limit what recipients can do with the email. This feature -- which can be activated by clicking a lock icon in the window -- prevents recipients from forwarding, downloading, or printing the email’s content.

      Additionally, users can choose to require a recipient to verify their identity by entering a passcode sent via text message. It's unclear if the passcode feature will work for non-Gmail users, TechCrunch noted.

      The tech giant previously said it planned to give Gmail “a fresh, clean look.” Several new features will be added in the redesign, including smart replies, a new sidebar, the ability to snooze emails, and three new layouts to choose from.

      The new version of Gmail on the web is expected to launch over the next few weeks, with some speculating it could be announced at Google’s I/O development conference May 8.

      Google is reportedly testing a self-destructing option for emails as part of its upcoming Gmail redesign. Sending an expiring email will ensure that only t...
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      Honda Pilots & Ridgelines and Acura MDX vehicles recalled

      Rivets securing the front seats may break in a crash

      American Honda Motor Company is recalling 5,827 model year 2018 Honda Pilots & Ridgelines, and model year 2018 Acura MDX vehicles.

      The front driver and passenger powered seats in the Hondas and the driver powered seats in the Acuras may have been assembled with improperly manufactured rivets.

      In the event of a crash, the rivets can break causing the seats not to be secured to the floor.

      If the seat does not remain secured to the floor, the occupant has an increased risk of injury.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver seat frame assembly in MDX vehicles, and replace the driver and front passenger seat slide rail frames in Honda Pilots and Ridgelines, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin May 18, 2018.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at 1-888-234-2138. Honda's numbers for this recall is D0S, and T0T.

      American Honda Motor Company is recalling 5,827 model year 2018 Honda Pilots & Ridgelines, and model year 2018 Acura MDX vehicles.The front driver and...
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      Club 13 recalls “Maeng Da Red" and “Maeng Da Red XS” kratom

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Club 13 of St. Augustine, Fla., is recalling "Maeng Da Red" and “Maeng Da Red XS” kratom.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      • The “Maeng Da Red” powder products come in 15-gram, 30-gram, 90-gram, 150-gram, and 454-gram packages marked with lot # MRMD012618 on the back of the pouch.
      • The “Maeng Da Red” capsule products come in 5-count, 25-count, 50-count, 100-count, 120-count capsule bottles marked with the following lot numbers on the bottom left side: MRMD013018, MRMD013118, MRMD020118, MRMD020518, MRMD022318, MRMD022718, MRMD030118, MRMD030218, and MRMD030618.
      • The “Maeng Da Red XS” capsule products come in 5-count, 20-count, 25-count, 40-count, 50-count capsule bottles marked with the following lots numbers on the bottom left side: KRXS020718, KRXS030618, KRXS102417, KRXS110617, and KRXS120117.

      The recalled products were sold nationwide in retail stores and through mail orders.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at 877-922-5783, Monday through Friday from 9:15 AM to 5:30 PM (EST).

      Club 13 of St. Augustine, Fla., is recalling "Maeng Da Red" and “Maeng Da Red XS” kratom.The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.No illnes...
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      Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods recalls Organic Amaranth Flour

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods is recalling 2,099 cases of Organic Amaranth Flour.

      Testing has revealed the presence of Salmonella in a single lot of the product.

      There have been no reports of any injuries or illnesses associated with this recall.

      The following item is being recalled:

      • Organic Amaranth Flour (22-oz.) with a Sell By Date of 11/26/2015, LOT: 169617, which can be found on the side of the package, near the top of the panel. UPC: 0 39978 00911 1

      The recalled product was sold through retailers and distributors nationwide in California, Florida, Michigan, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Washington from June 11, 2014, through August 7, 2014

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but return it to the place of purchase for credit or refund or discard it.

      Consumers with questions may call the Bob’s Red Mill hotline at 800-349-2173.

      Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods is recalling 2,099 cases of Organic Amaranth Flour.Testing has revealed the presence of Salmonella in a single lot of the...
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      Spinach is showing a ‘sharp increase’ in pesticides, report says

      Spinach carries more pesticides than any other crop tested by the USDA

      A diet full of fruits and vegetables is better than a diet without them, but if possible, consumers should go organic when purchasing certain leafy greens and other produce, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

      It’s tried and true advice given by the EWG when they release their annual their lists of fruits and vegetables that accumulate the most and least amount of pesticides.

      But some produce, notably spinach, seems to be getting worse. According to federal data analyzed by the EWG, spinach samples are showing a “sharp increase” in pesticide residue. Non-organic spinach samples “contained far more pesticides by weight than all other crops tested,” the EWG reported.

      High levels of pesticide residue

      Using data provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the EWG reported in their 2018 shopper’s guide, released this week, that non-organic strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and sweet bell peppers all had potentially harmful levels of pesticide residues, as they have in previous years.

      While most pesticide samples found on the samples are legal in the United States, many samples, particularly spinach, contained relatively high levels of permethrin. The chemical has been banned in Europe since 2000 for use on food crops, due to some research suggesting it has neurotoxic effects on children even at low levels.

      And the pesticide DDT, which has been banned in the United States for nearly fifty years, was present on 40 percent of spinach samples. EWG researchers speculate that the DDT is appearing on spinach due to residual product that remains in the soil.

      EWG advises consumers to “buy organic spinach and other leafy greens if you can” and to wash all produce thoroughly before eating it, though they add that “the USDA washed all of the spinach samples vigorously before testing.”

      Meanwhile, produce covered with thick, non-edible skins, such as avocado, eggplant, pineapple, cantaloupe, and honeydew continue to score well in terms of pesticide residue. Cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli also had relatively low pesticide levels.

      A diet full of fruits and vegetables is better than a diet without them, but if possible, consumers should go organic when purchasing certain leafy greens...
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      Backpage CEO pleads guilty to prostitution and money laundering charges

      ​The executive has agreed to testify against fellow co-founders of the company

      Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer has pleaded guilty to money laundering and conspiracy to facilitate prostitution, according to a Washington Post report. The executive has agreed to testify against fellow co-founders of the website, several of whom are currently in prison and awaiting full detention hearings scheduled for next week.

      In his admission statement, Ferrer admitted that he conspired with other Backpage officials to facilitate prostitution crimes being committed by users of the site. The company achieved this, Ferrer said, by creating a moderation process that removed explicit words and images from advertisements peddling prostitution.

      “Such editing did not, of course, change the essential nature of the illegal service being offered in the ad – it was merely intended to create a veneer of deniability for Backpage,” Ferrer said. “[The] editing practices were only one component of an overall, company-wide culture and policy of concealing and refusing to officially acknowledge the true nature of the services being offered in Backpage’s ‘escort’ and ‘adult’ ads.”

      “I have long been aware that the great majority of these advertisements are, in fact, advertisements for prostitution services (which are not protected by the First Amendment and which are illegal in 49 states and in much of Nevada).”

      In addition to modifying advertisements, Ferrer admitted that he and other Backpage officials duped credit card companies and banks that refused to process the company’s payments.

      “I worked with my co-conspirators to find ways to fool credit card companies into believing that Backpage-associated charges were being incurred on different websites,” he said.

      Ferrer’s guilty pleas were filed in state courts in California and Texas, as well as in federal court in Arizona.

      Guilty pleas and shutting down pages

      Court documents unsealed on Thursday show that Ferrer’s plea process began earlier this month when he pleaded guilty to money laundering in a federal court in Phoenix. The executive then traveled to Texas where he again pleaded guilty to money laundering and Backpage pleaded guilty to human trafficking.

      Ferrer then traveled to Sacramento where he pleaded guilty to money laundering once more and was released on bond. Although he has agreed to testify against other executives at Backpage, the California plea agreement indicates that Ferrer will face up to five years in prison; sentences handed down in Arizona and Texas would run along the same time period.

      Ferrer has also agreed in his California plea to take down every Backpage-affiliated website that he can within five days and forfeit all Backpage-related domains within 14 days.

      The case that can change the world

      Regulators in California have been entrenched in legal battles with Backpage for years over the site’s activities and practices. In 2015, the state filed charges against the company for pimping and money laundering, but the case was thrown out the following year.

      Maggy Krell, a former assistant attorney general in California and lawyer who worked on the case, says that the recent pleas and indictments could be a major turning point.

      “This is such an important step forward for the many people who’ve been combating human trafficking. There is no one in the entire world who made more money off sex trafficking than the owners of this website,” she said.

      “Seeing it shut down and having their business model become clearly illegal is really gratifying. If one case can change the world, it’s this case.”

      Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer has pleaded guilty to money laundering and conspiracy to facilitate prostitution, according to a Washington Post report. The execu...
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      Uber raises the bar on passenger safety

      ​911 assistance, trusted contacts, and a more thorough background check on drivers are in the spotlight

      Uber announced on Thursday that it’s “getting serious” about passenger safety. It’s not only amping up background checks on drivers, but its new app update also includes add-ons that give riders an instant connection to 911 help and automatically shares trip details with friends and family.

      “Every day, our technology puts millions of people together in cars in cities around the world,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s CEO. “Helping keep people safe is a huge responsibility, and one we do not take lightly.”

      The rideshare firm can use all the good ink it can get. While this week has been a good one for Uber thanks to the announcement that it’s adding public transportation, car rental, and bikes to its mobile app, it still has a lot of bad ink to erase.

      Over the last three years, the company was raked over the coals for its drivers cancelling rides at the last minute, suffered through a “delete Uber” campaign, and less than a year ago it encountered complaints at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that charged executives with taking pride in being a “disruptive” business.

      “When it comes to safety, Uber is ready to move forward”

      It may take a while to reach spic-and-span status, but the company’s new consumer-facing add-ins have all the signs of wanting to get things right. Khosrowshahi doubled-down on that commitment, too.

      “Technology can make travel safer than ever before. And while there’s been a lot of progress, we’re committed to doing more. When it comes to safety, Uber is ready to move forward," Khosrowshahi said.

      The first moves Uber is taking toward owning that promise include three new app features:

      • Safety CenterThe app will have a dedicated place where riders can access key safety information, driver screening processes, insurance protections, and community guidelines.
      • Trusted Contacts. Riders will have the option of designating friends and family members as Trusted Contacts. Users will be prompted to share trip details with them during every ride.
      • 911 Assistance. If a passenger faces an emergency situation, all they have to do is tap the new emergency button, which will connect them directly with 911. This feature will show the rider’s real-time location both on a map and as an address so it can be shared with the 911 operator.

      Improved driver screening process

      Uber’s most important move might be in a much-improved driver screening process. Going forward, the company will tighten up its screening process in two ways:  

      • Annual re-runs. Previously, Uber conducted background check re-runs in jurisdictions, but only where required. Now, it will re-run criminal and motor vehicle checks each year, regardless of whether there is a legal obligation to do so.
      • New offense notifications. Using data sources that cover most new criminal offenses, Uber will be notified when a driver is involved and leverage this information to help continuously enforce our screening standards.
      Uber announced on Thursday that it’s “getting serious” about passenger safety. It’s not only amping up background checks on drivers, but its new app update...
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      Court hears suit to remove Mick Mulvaney as acting head of the CFPB

      The former acting director claims she was illegally removed

      The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments Thursday in a case seeking to remove Mick Mulvaney as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

      The case was brought by Leandra English, who was acting director last year when the agency's first and only director, Richard Cordray, resigned. But before English could take the agency's reins firmly in her grasp, President Trump installed Mulvaney, who also serves as budget director, as the agency's acting director.

      English sued the President, charging that his appointment of Mulvaney was illegal because Congress established the consumer agency to be independent of both Congress and the Executive branch of government. English is not only suing to reclaim her job; she also seeks to change the CFPB's direction under the Trump administration.

      Democrats and consumer advocates charge Mulvaney has pulled the agency back from its mission to protect consumers from financial abuses. Mulvaney told Congress this week he thinks the agency has too much power and should be changed structurally so that it is accountable to Congress.

      Goals of the lawsuit

      At the beginning of the oral arguments, which were streamed online, justices asked English's attorney, Deepak Gupta, how his client had standing to bring the suit.

      "She is seeking to establish her entitlement to a position she believes she lawfully holds," Gupta said. "That is the legal question here."

      Gupta said his client is seeking a temporary injunction that would make her the acting director.

      "The injunction would prevent Mr. Mulvaney from holding himself out as the director of the CFPB and occupying that position," Gupta told the court. "And it would restore Ms. English to what she believes is the status quo."

      In their questions and comments, the justices appeared reluctant to tell the President who he can appoint to a position, suggesting the case hinges on successfully making the case for an injunction.

      But in later questioning, two of the judges on the panel seemed to question the legality of Mulvaney's appointment as CFPB acting director, noting that he also serves as Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The law that created the CFPB specifically stated that the OMB should not have jurisdiction over it.

      Mulvaney-Warren showdown

      As for Mulvaney, he spent a second day on Capitol Hill -- this time testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, of which Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is a member. It was a highly anticipated showdown, since Warren conceived the idea for the agency's creation, which was a target of Mulvaney and other Republicans from the beginning.

      "In Congress, you tried repeatedly to kill the consumer agency," Warren told Mulvaney. "But here's what you don't get, Mr. Mulvaney: this isn't about me. This is about active-duty military, it's about first responders, and students, and seniors, and families-and Ari, and his dad, and millions of other people who need someone on their side when consumers get cheated."

      The exchange between Mulvaney and Warren highlights the long-standing conflict between consumer advocates and Republicans on the need for an independent consumer protection agency. Mulvaney pointed out there are other federal agencies that protect consumers. Warren suggested those agencies have failed in that effort.

      The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments Thursday in a case seeking to remove Mick Mulvaney as acting director of the Consumer F...
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      The Weekly Hack: ‘Despacito’ fans receive message to ‘Free Palestine’

      ​Vevo and Youtube respond by taking down the popular music video

      People watching the music video “Despacito” this week may have been slightly confused by the cover photograph and description displayed on their screens. Before the music video started, a photograph of masked men pointing their guns at the camera — a clip from a Spanish Netflix show — appeared in the video display.

      Underneath, the title of the video was changed to say, “x – hacked by prosox & kuroi’sh @OpIsrael ???? FreePalestine ft. Maluma.”

      Videos uploaded by Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Drake, and Shakira were also altered by the same group.

      In several posts on Twitter, the hacker who identifies themself as Prosox told YouTube and Vevo that it was a harmless prank and that they did not remove the actual music videos.

      But the breach was apparently not amusing to YouTube and Vevo, as both sites temporarily took down “Despacito” and the other affected videos in response.

      “I did not delete despacito must believe me,” Prosox added, in a post ridiculing Vevo’s security.

      Virgin Island nation

      Hackers have targeted the government of Sint Maarten, a small Caribbean nation located within the island nation of Saint Martin.

      It’s unclear what the hackers did exactly. On its website, the Sint Maarten government only admits that some sort of cyber-attack took place and that they are now recovering from it.

      “The Ministry of General Affairs hereby informs the public that the recovery process of the Government of Sint Maarten ICT Network is progressing steadily,” a local newspaper reported on April 6.

      Hacking gaps found in power chords

      Researchers in Israel identified a new method that hackers would be able to use to launch a hypothetical cyber-attack: hacking computer power chords.

      “In this attack, the attacker taps the power lines at the phase level, in the main electrical service panel,” write researchers at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Preventing such an attack would require installing special filters in power outlets, they say.

      Researchers this week have also identified a method in which hackers would be able to use data from shared word documents in “Rich Text Format” (as opposed to Doc format) to steal data from consumers’ Microsoft Outlook accounts. The research is yet another reminder to never open attachments sent from strangers.

      People watching the music video “Despacito” this week may have been slightly confused by the cover photograph and description displayed on their screens. B...
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      Zillow getting into the home-flipping business

      Zillow Instant Offers will buy and sell homes in Las Vegas and Phoenix

      Zillow is one of the go-to websites for consumers seeking to buy or sell a home. Now, the real estate marketplace is getting into the business of buying and selling homes itself.

      Instead of just listing homes for sale, Zillow will begin to buy homes directly from owners, renovate them, and list them for sale -- a move with potential to disrupt the traditional brokerage model for selling houses.

      The program, called Zillow Instant Offers, is launching first in Las Vegas and Phoenix. It is similar to the smaller operators found in every market who post signs in neighborhoods declaring "we will buy your house for cash!" Zillow, of course, can operate on a much larger scale.

      Targeting motivated sellers

      Zillow says it will target "motivated" sellers, those who need to sell quickly or might not have the money to make needed improvements to put a house on the market. These sellers are more likely to accept below-market offers, adding to profit margins on each home.

      Zillow makes clear it is not trying to remove traditional real estate brokers from the equation. The company says it will initially partner with three real estate brokers in the Phoenix market, providing business for affiliated agents.

      "Even in today's hot market, many sellers are stressed and searching for a more seamless way to sell their homes," said Zillow Chief Marketing Officer Jeremy Wacksman. "They want help, and while most prefer to sell their home on the open market with an agent, some value convenience and time over price."

      Competing with house-flippers

      The move will also make a Zillow a deep-pocketed competitor to mom and pop house flippers, who have made a living since the 2008 housing crash buying and renovating foreclosed houses.

      Zillow says that when it buys a home, it will make necessary repairs and updates and get the home back on the market as quickly as possible. In all transactions, it says it will use a local real estate agent. It says it will also charge the seller a fee, in addition to commissions paid to listing agents.

      While Instant Offers is designed to help sellers, it could assist buyers in the long run. With the current shortage of homes for sale, getting distressed properties back in move-in condition and back on the market should give buyers in search of a home more options.

      Zillow is one of the go-to websites for consumers seeking to buy or sell a home. Now, the real estate marketplace is getting into the business of buying an...
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      NTSB removes Tesla as a party in the investigation of fatal crash

      Tesla maintains that it willingly withdrew from the probe

      The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has removed Tesla from the investigation of a fatal crash involving one of its Model X vehicles.

      The move follows Tesla’s decision to release information about the crash that occured on March 23, despite the investigation still being open. The NTSB previously said it was “unhappy” with Tesla’s March 30 disclosure that the vehicle’s “Autopilot” system was engaged during the accident.

      “The NTSB took this action because Tesla violated the party agreement by releasing investigative information before it was vetted and confirmed by the NTSB,” the agency wrote in a press release.

      “Such releases of incomplete information often lead to speculation and incorrect assumptions about the probable cause of a crash, which does a disservice to the investigative process and the traveling public.”

      A rare move

      The agency said revoking party status in an investigation is rare but not unprecedented. Losing party status means Tesla will no longer be able to provide technical assistance to the NTSB. However, the automaker will be free to defend its Autopilot technology.

      Tesla initially drew the ire of the NTSB after it published a blog post disclosing that Autopilot was engaged. In the post, the company also suggested that the vehicle’s driver -- an Apple engineer named Walter Huang -- was at fault in the accident.

      "In the moments before the collision, which occurred at 9:27 a.m. on Friday, March 23rd, Autopilot was engaged with the adaptive cruise control follow-distance set to minimum,” the company said. “The driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive and the driver's hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision."

      Tesla says it withdrew

      In a statement to CNBC, Tesla maintained that it willingly “withdrew” from the NTSB investigation and said it will complain to Congress.

      "It's been clear in our conversations with the NTSB that they're more concerned with press headlines than actually promoting safety," Tesla said. "Among other things, they repeatedly released partial bits of incomplete information to the media in violation of their own rules, at the same time that they were trying to prevent us from telling all the facts. We don't believe this is right and we will be making an official complaint to Congress."

      The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has removed Tesla from the investigation of a fatal crash involving one of its Model X vehicles. The mo...
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      Toys ‘R’ Us fields offers of over $1 billion for its Asian business

      Several Chinese private equity firms have expressed interest

      Although Toys “R” Us has formally announced that it will be closing its U.S. stores, it seems that not everything is going wrong for the retailer.

      While it couldn’t find an interested buyer in the U.S., there seems to be no shortage of candidates when it comes to its Asian business. The company reportedly received several bids of over $1 billion for that part of the company on Wednesday, according to the company’s lawyer Joshua Sussberg.

      Potential buyers include several Chinese private equity firms, including the Fung Group – which currently owns 15 percent of the business as a local partner.

      Company officials say they have received an $80 million commitment in incremental financing from noteholders to support operations abroad and boost liquidity. The move should help give stores the ability to build inventory in preparation for the 2018 holiday season.

      The fall of Toys “R” Us

      While brick-and-mortar retailers have been behind the eight-ball for some time, Toys “R” Us finally succumbed to the pressure back in September 2017 when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

      The company viewed the 2017 holiday shopping season as its last chance to return to profitability, with executives opting to hire thousands of seasonal workers at stores and distribution centers to handle the anticipated rush. Unfortunately, the needed sales never quite materialized, and the company announced in January that it was closing 180 stores.

      With no buyers coming to the rescue, the company finally announced a complete shutdown of its U.S.-based business in March.

      Although Toys “R” Us has formally announced that it will be closing its U.S. stores, it seems that not everything is going wrong for the retailer.While...
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      L.L.Bean recalls knife with sheath

      The knife blade can cut through the protective leather sheath

      L.L.Bean of Freeport, Maine, is recalling about 600 Allagash fixed blade hunting knives with sheaths.

      The knife blade can cut through the protective leather sheath, posing a laceration hazard.

      The company has received three reports of the knife cutting through the leather sheath, resulting in minor cuts to consumers’ hands.

      This recall involves the Allagash fixed blade hunting knife with sheath.

      The sheath measures 7 inches long by 2 inches wide, is made of brown leather and contains white stitching down one side.

      The knife blade measures 3.55 inches long by 1 inch wide, is made of stainless steel and is attached to a light brown handle.

      L.L.Bean is embossed on the brown leather sheath and engraved on the top of the knife blade near handle on one side.

      The recalled knife with sheath has the product identification number 501794 printed on the green box in which the knife is packaged.

      The knife with sheath, manufactured in China, was sold exclusively at L.L.Bean stores nationwide, L.L.Bean catalogs and online at llbean.com from August 2017, to February 2018, for about $90.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the knife with sheath, and cover and store in a safe area out of the reach of children. Contact L.L.Bean for a free replacement sheath. The firm is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact L.L.Bean at 800-555-9717 daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (ET) or online at www.llbean.com and click on Recall & Safety Info at the bottom of the page for more information.

      L.L.Bean of Freeport, Maine, is recalling about 600 Allagash fixed blade hunting knives with sheaths.The knife blade can cut through the protective lea...
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      The liquor industry is lobbying to expand self-driving car testing

      Unlikely groups are joining the lobbying effort to allow more autonomous vehicles on the road

      The trade group representing wine and spirits wholesalers is proudly supporting autonomous vehicle technology, even if they don’t want to fully explain why.

      The Coalition for Future Mobility, a lobbying group devoted to passing the AV Start Act, the automobile industry’s controversial answer to self-driving car regulation, announced last month that the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association of America (WSWA) is joining their effort.

      The wine and liquor wholesalers make a somewhat unusual addition to the group of supporters, which is mainly comprised of tech and automobile companies. The latter industries have invested billions in testing autonomous technology and have an obvious financial interest in a bill that would expand autonomous testing across the country.

      Consumer groups charge that the bill could also exempt autonomous cars from longtime vehicle safety standards and prevent consumers injured by the technology from suing. The consumer groups want to see significant changes to the bill before it passes, but the automobile industry and the coalition say they want the bill to pass in its current form.

      Safety and increased profits

      WSWA president Craig Wolf previously cited “safety” as the reason that his group was joining the car and tech industries’ campaign. “Safety is a constant concern for us,” he told the Washington Post. “When we see a new technology that could improve safety, we want to learn more about it and share our unique perspective.”

      In an email to ConsumerAffairs, WSWA declined to comment further on their interest in self-driving technology.

      Safety is certainly a laudable goal, but it may not be the only one. A report by Morgan Stanley found that ride-hailing apps like Uber are already linked to an increase in alcohol sales -- and the firm predicted that fully autonomous technology would make sales even better.

      According to the Morgan Stanley analysts, self driving vehicles could generate an extra $56 billion for the alcohol industry, or a 0.8% increase over 10 years.

      Groups support increased use of technology

      Fully autonomous cars do not yet exist, meaning that people who work as testers or who simply own a Tesla equipped with “Autopilot” must not be impaired and must be prepared to take the wheel at any time, even when the car seems to be smoothly driving by itself.

      In the future, analysts and robotics engineers hope that fully autonomous vehicles will allow people to act as passengers in their own cars. It’s for that reason that groups representing the disabled have also joined the automobile industry’s lobbying effort to support autonomous cars, as has the non-profit Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

      “Autonomous vehicle technology — and other advanced technologies such as the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, or DADS — hold incredible potential to completely eliminate drunk driving,” MADD says an online statement.

      MADD has a history of taking policy positions that support equipping cars with technology to prevent drunk driving. Ignition interlocks that test the car owners’ breath for booze and screens that can read a driver’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) with the touch of a fingertip are two other proposals that the group formally endorses to reduce drunk driving deaths.

      Meanwhile, consumer safety groups and a group of ten Democrat senators say that the legislation needs to be significantly reworked to address their safety and liability concerns.

      The trade group representing wine and spirits wholesalers is proudly supporting autonomous vehicle technology, even if they don’t want to fully explain why...
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      Google to launch a redesigned version of Gmail

      The company says a ‘fresh, clean look for Gmail on the web’ is on the way

      Google has confirmed that it will be rolling out a redesigned version of Gmail in the coming weeks. The company says the update will feature a “fresh, clean look” and give users access to several new features, like Smart Reply, the ability to snooze emails, and offline support.

      Leaked screenshots of the redesign obtained by The Verge show the company plans to let users choose from three different views. A compact view will look similar to the current version of Gmail but with less vertical whitespace; a default view highlights attachments such as images or documents; and a comfortable view doesn’t highlight attachments.

      “We’re working on some major updates to Gmail (they’re still in draft phase),” a Google spokesperson said. “We need a bit more time to compose ourselves, so can’t share anything yet—archive this for now, and we’ll let you know when it’s time to hit send.”

      New sidebar and tools

      A major change to the forthcoming version of Gmail would be the addition of a new sidebar.

      Sahil Bhutani saw a Google employee playing with the new design on public transport and told TechCrunch: “The left-side column was more like inbox.google.com and the right side was an enlarged version of Gmail. The color in the background had a blue-ish gradient. Every folder on the left had an icon just like Inbox and dividers to split the categories.”

      Screenshots of the redesigned Gmail show that a smart reply feature for quickly answering emails without typing anything is on the way, as well as a snooze button for muting email threads in your inbox until you’re ready to reply to them.

      For now, it’s unclear when the new version will launch. However, some have speculated that if it doesn’t happen in the next few weeks, the company may share more details about the redesign at Google I/O in May.

      Google has confirmed that it will be rolling out a redesigned version of Gmail in the coming weeks. The company says the update will feature a “fresh, clea...
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      ‘Warranty void if removed’ stickers are illegal, FTC says

      The agency has asked several companies to amend their warranty statements

      In a series of warning letters sent to six different companies, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) noted that the practice of placing “warranty void if removed” stickers on consumer electronics is deceptive and illegal.

      The letters were sent to six U.S. companies that market and sell automobiles, mobile devices, and video game consoles.

      While the FTC didn’t say which major companies it contacted, products that come with “warning void if removed” stickers include the Sony Playstation 4 and Xbox One video game consoles.

      Each of the warnings made it clear that “consumers must use specified parts or service providers to keep their warranties intact.”

      "Provisions that tie warranty coverage to the use of particular products or services harm both consumers who pay more for them as well as the small businesses who offer competing products and services,” the agency said.

      Meaningless and deceptive

      Under the 1975 Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, companies are prohibited from placing repair limits on warranties “unless warrantors provide the parts or services for free or receive a waiver from the FTC.”

      Such statements may also be “deceptive under the FTC Act,” the agency concluded.

      The FTC said the following service claims are in violation of the 1975 law:

      • The use of [company name] parts is required to keep your … manufacturer’s warranties and any extended warranties intact.

      • This warranty shall not apply if this product … is used with products not sold or licensed by [company name].

      • This warranty does not apply if this product … has had the warranty seal on the [product] altered, defaced, or removed.

      The agency has requested that all of the companies examine their promotional and warranty materials and make sure they neither state or imply that warranty coverage is only provided with the use of specific parts of services.

      The Commission said it will review the companies’ websites after 30 days to ensure that any potential violations of the law have been amended. Failure to make proper revisions could result in legal action, it noted.

      In a series of warning letters sent to six different companies, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) noted that the practice of placing “warranty void if rem...
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      The cost of selling a home is on the rise

      A recent analysis puts the average total at more than $18,000

      We know how hard it is to buy a home in today's market, with rising prices and declining inventories.

      But it's no picnic for sellers, at least when it comes to opening their wallets. Yes, they likely stand to clear thousands of dollars on the sale, but that can sometimes obscure the costs of selling a home, which can be considerable.

      Real estate marketplace Zillow and home service website Thumbtack have totaled up the expected and unexpected costs of selling a home and found the average seller will pay $18,342 in selling expenses.

      The anticipated expense includes closing costs. If a full-commission Realtor is involved in the sale, the seller pays 6 percent of the sale price. Other closing costs may include paying a lawyer, local taxes, and fees to file assorted documents.

      Closing costs

      On a national average, home sellers pay $13,357 in agent commissions and closing costs, but that total is a lot more in the expensive housing markets on the coasts.

      Zillow calculates closing costs on a median home in San Jose, Calif., one of the pricier housing markets, are nearly $75,000. But selling a median-priced home in Indianapolis costs a lot less -- $8,604 on average -- because homes there cost a lot less. Indiana has no transfer tax, which also helps to keep the cost down.

      But closing costs aren't the only expenses a home seller faces. Zillow found that 78 percent of homeowners putting their houses on the market will make at least one home improvement.

      Hiring a professional to perform basic seller prep projects like painting, staging, carpet cleaning, lawn care, and gardening costs an average of $5,000. Then, once a buyer has performed a home inspection, there could be other repairs or modifications required to close the deal.

      "Even in the hottest housing markets in the country, selling a home takes time and costs money," said Jeremy Wacksman, Zillow's chief marketing officer. "From decluttering and staging to pre-inspections, agents and homeowners often spend months behind the scenes prepping a home – well before it's listed on the market."

      What to do

      Wacksman's advice? Before listing your home for sale, do some research to determine what costs you may be responsible for and how they could affect your profit or budget for your next house.

      Carefully consider the cost of any improvement you think will make your home more attractive to a buyer. Real estate experts say most buyers these days want a home in "move-in" condition, so improvements should be focused on painting and flooring and repairing things that are broken.

      However, major upgrades usually don't pay for themselves in a home sale transaction. It's often more cost effective to lower your price slightly than remodel a kitchen or bath.

      We know how hard it is to buy a home in today's market, with rising prices and declining inventories.But it's no picnic for sellers, at least when it c...
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      Netflix accused of rigging its employee bonus system

      A lawsuit claims the company skirted U.S. tax law by awarding undeserved employee bonuses

      A federal lawsuit filed by the City of Birmingham Relief and Retirement System accuses Netflix of rigging its executive bonus program so that “multi-million dollar windfalls” could be awarded to some of its top executives.

      The lawsuit alleges the Netflix board “rigged the compensation process, guaranteeing Netflix officers huge cash payments while misleading investors into believing that these payments were justified by attainment of real performance goals”.

      The suit claims the company awarded unwarranted compensation to top management in order to take advantage of a prior tax loophole, which stated that bonuses for employees earning a salary of more than $1 million must be performance-based in order to qualify for a federal tax deduction. Performance-based tax deductions were eliminated under the new tax law.

      $18 million paid to top executives

      Netflix’s board of directors reached their goals in seven out of eight quarters leading up to July 2017. The suit alleges that the milestones were either changed or managed to make them easier to achieve.

      The lawsuit referred to the behavior of missing just one percentage point in the other quarter as “artificial precision.” Top members of the board were paid approximately $18.73 million out of the $18.75 million set aside in a target pool.

      The four executives named in the lawsuit are: chief content officer Ted Sarandos ($10.5 million), former chief product officer Neil Hunt ($12.5 million), current chief product officer Greg Peters ($3.2 million), and general counsel David Hyman ($800,000).

      The lawsuit is asking for damages and a new system of corporate governance to prevent another violation of board members’ fiduciary responsibilities. The suit also demands the executives give back “all compensation and remuneration of whatever kind paid by Netflix” that is determined to be unlawfully gained.

      “We intend to respond to these claims at the appropriate time,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement.

      A federal lawsuit filed by the City of Birmingham Relief and Retirement System accuses Netflix of rigging its executive bonus program so that “multi-millio...
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      CFPB director urges Congress to change the agency's structure

      Mick Mulvaney says the consumer agency should be run by a bipartisan commission

      In appearances on Capitol Hill this week, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is urging Congress to take steps that critics say would reduce the agency’s ability to protect consumers.

      In an appearance before the House Financial Services Committee, Mick Mulvaney, who also serves as the Trump administration budget director, elaborated on his written report to Congress and denied charges by Democratic lawmakers that he's trying to wreck the agency he leads.

      However, a report by The Wall Street Journal says Mulvaney has floated the idea of changing the structure of the CFPB, turning it into a bipartisan commission that would make it more akin to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is run by five commissioners, made up of both Democrats and Republicans.

      According to The Journal, Mulvaney believes replacing a single director with bipartisan commissioners would prevent "wild swings" in policy whenever there is a change in administration.

      Many consumer advocates contend that the CFPB was established to protect consumers from financial abuses, and its structure is designed to shield it from political pressures. The agency is funded by the Federal Reserve, not Congress, so lawmakers can't reduce funding if the CFPB takes action lawmakers don't like.

      'Lack of accountability'

      But Mulvaney argues that the agency’s independence is actually a lack of accountability. In testimony before the House panel, Mulvaney argued that the CFPB should operate with more transparency and accountability.

      "It is not designed structurally to be accountable," Mulvaney said in his opening statement. "It's not accountable to anybody other than itself."

      Mulvaney not only wants Congress to approve funding for the agency, he wants lawmakers to also approve major rules the CFPB makes.

      Mulvaney-monitoring website

      Consumer groups, which championed the establishment of an independent federal agency with the sole mission of protecting consumers, have reacted with horror as Mulvaney -- who they say was illegally appointed in the first place -- has taken actions they say have weakened the consumer agency.

      The Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), Allied Progress, and Americans for Financial Reform, have launched a website, ConsumersUnderAttack.org, to document the changes at the Mulvaney-led agency they say are hurting consumers.

      "The website provides an accessible resource for people to see how Mick Mulvaney, the ‘Acting Director’ of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is severely weakening consumer financial protections," said Debbie Goldstein, CRL's executive vice president.

      Goldstein said President Trump should nominate a permanent CFPB director who will "faithfully fulfill the mission of the Consumer Bureau."

      In appearances on Capitol Hill this week, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is urging Congress to take steps that crit...
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      April's top deals on certified pre-owned cars

      Dealers are offering longer warranties and low-rate financing

      This week's consumer price report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows prices of used cars actually went down in March, making them an even better deal for car shoppers.

      Since new car prices continue to rise, consumers seeking a comfortable and reliable ride can save thousands by shopping for a late model used car. And because automotive quality has increased in recent years, there are more attractive options.

      "Because in-car technology is evolving so quickly and the price of new cars continues to climb, one way that shoppers can get new-car features at a used-car price is with certified pre-owned," said Brian Moody, executive editor for Autotrader.

      Top used car picks

      Moody says several manufacturers are offering special deals for their certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicles this month. Here are some of his top picks:

      BMW

      BMW's CPO program offers one year and unlimited miles of additional warranty coverage, beyond the 4-year/50,000 mile factory warranty period. It also offers financing incentives through the end of April to qualified buyers, with 0.9 percent interest for up to 24 months.

      Cadillac

      Through the end of May, Cadillac has specials on its ATS, a sporty compact coupe, and the Escalade, a full-size luxury SUV. Qualified shoppers can finance certified pre-owned versions of both the ATS and the Escalade with 2.9 percent interest for up to 60 months.

      Jaguar

      Autotrader singles out the Jaguar deals as among the best in the industry. The automaker provides seven years or 100,000 miles of warranty coverage, as well as financing deals ranging from 0.9 percent to 2.9 percent.

      Land Rover

      Land Rover's certified pre-owned program also offers seven years or 100,000 miles of comprehensive coverage from the original sale date, for purchases made in April. Its financing offers are similar to Jaguar's.

      Lincoln

      Lincoln's CPO program offers six years or 100,000 miles of comprehensive coverage from the original sale date. Through the end of June, qualified buyers can get a 2.9 percent auto loan for up to 66 months.

      Toyota

      Toyota is offering qualified buyers one year of comprehensive coverage and up to seven years of powertrain coverage from the original sale date. This month, it's also offering a 1.9 percent interest rate on all CPO Camry models for up to 36 months, for qualified buyers.

      “Certified” vehicles

      It's important for consumers to understand what exactly makes a pre-owned vehicle "certified." In general, these are late model cars with low mileage and no record of significant damage. In many cases they are coming off three-year leases.

      These are vehicles the manufacturer resells through its dealers instead of at auction, and it will usually provide additional warranty protection. Deals may also include perks provided to new car buyers, such as free maintenance and roadside assistance.

      This week's consumer price report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows prices of used cars actually went down in March, making them an even better dea...
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      J.T.M. Provisions recalls pulled barbequed beef

      The product may be contaminated with pieces of rubber

      J.T.M. Provisions Company of Harrison, Ohio, is recalling approximately 14,525 pounds of fully cooked not shelf stable pulled barbequed beef.

      The product may be contaminated with extraneous materials -- specifically pieces of rubber.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      The the following item, produced on September 23, 2017, is being recalled:

      • 14-oz. sealed plastic tray covered with a paper sleeve containing pulled (shredded) barbequed beef labeled “Bar-B-Q Sauce With Pulled Beef” with Julian pack date 17266 printed on the label.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “EST. 1917” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to retail locations in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased recalled product should not consume it, but discard it or return it to the place of purchase

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Joe Maas at (800) 626-2308.

      J.T.M. Provisions Company of Harrison, Ohio, is recalling approximately 14,525 pounds of fully cooked not shelf stable pulled barbequed beef.The produc...
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      BRP recalls ATVs Due to Crash Hazard

      The vehicles can lose steering control, posing a crash hazard

      BRP U.S. of Sturtevant, Wis., is recalling about 8,300 model year 2017 Can-Am Outlander and Outlander Max All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs)sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The dynamic power steering shaft can break and result in a loss of steering control, posing a crash hazard to consumers.

      The firm has received 13 reports of broken steering shafts worldwide -- two of them in the U.S. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves model year 2017 Can-Am Outlander and Outlander Max all-terrain vehicles equipped with a dynamic power steering (DPS) and a 450 or 570 engine. The vehicles were sold in various colors.

      The model name is printed on the side panels of the vehicles. The vehicle identification number (VIN) is printed on the frame under the seat in the middle and on the frame behind the right front wheel.

      Model

      Colors

      2017 Outlander DPS 570 EFI

      Yellow, Green, Camo

      2017 Outlander DPS 450 EFI

      Yellow, Green, Camo

      2017 Outlander XT 570 EFI

      Yellow, Pure Magnesium

      2017 Outlander Hunter Edition 570 EFI

      Camo

      2017 Outlander XMR 570 EFI

      Red, White, Black

      2017 Outlander MAX DPS 570 EFI

      Yellow, Green

      2017 Outlander MAX DPS 450 EFI

      Yellow, Green

      2017 Outlander MAX XT 570 EFI

      Pure Magnesium, Yellow

      The ATVs, manufactured in Mexico, were sold at Can-Am dealers nationwide from June 2016, through December 2017, for between $6,000 and $9,750.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled vehicles and contact a BRP Can-Am ATV dealer for a free repair. BRP is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact BRP toll-free at 888-272-9222 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET) Monday through Sunday or online at www.can-am.brp.com for more information.

      BRP U.S. of Sturtevant, Wis., is recalling about 8,300 model year 2017 Can-Am Outlander and Outlander Max All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs)sold in the U.S. and C...
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      Mercedes-Benz vehicles with airbag inflator issue recalled

      The front driver-side airbag could rupture

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 57 model year 2018 AMG GT, AMG GT C, GLC43 AMG 4Matic, GLC300, GLC300 4Matic and GLC350e 4Matic vehicles.

      The housing for the front driver-side airbag inflator may have been made with defective steel.

      In the event of an airbag deployment, the defective steel may cause the inflator to improperly inflate the driver-side air bag and potentially rupture, resulting in serious injury or death to the driver or occupants.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front driver-side airbag module, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin May 29, 2018.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-800-367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 57 model year 2018 AMG GT, AMG GT C, GLC43 AMG 4Matic, GLC300, GLC300 4Matic and GLC350e 4Matic vehicles.The hou...
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      Facebook’s Zuckerberg apologizes before Congress and promises change

      The Senate responds with a rigid new bill to ensure consumer privacy

      Mark Zuckerberg’s “I’m Sorry 2018” tour played to an SRO crowd on Capitol Hill on Tuesday with the Facebook honcho taking all the punches he could withstand and promising all the privacy changes he could muster up.

      Zuckerberg’s nearly four-hour Q&A match with 42 Senators focused on his company’s repeated privacy missteps and its breakdown in detecting the Russia-led crusade to influence U.S. voters.

      “We were too slow to spot and respond to Russian interference, and we’re working hard to get better,” said Zuckerberg in a prepared statement.

      “Our sophistication in handling these threats is growing and improving quickly. We will continue working with the government to understand the full extent of Russian interference, and we will do our part not only to ensure the integrity of free and fair elections around the world, but also to give everyone a voice and to be a force for good in democracy everywhere.”

      Not so fast, Facebook

      However, despite Zuckerberg vowing transparency and verification rules to protect its business and its flock, there were two Senators already loaded for bear, introducing a privacy bill of rights to protect the personal information of all American consumers, not just Facebook’s.

      Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) put into play a bill -- tagged CONSENT (Customer Online Notification for Stopping Edge-provider Network Transgressions) -- that would make “opt-in” the default option for whether users want their information collected or repurposed in any shape, form, or fashion.

      While Facebook has offered its users the option to “opt-out” on the data it collects since 2010, it’s likely that most consumers never really paid attention to what information they were giving away until now.

      “The startling consumer abuses by Facebook and other tech giants necessitate swift legislative action rather than overdue apologies and hand-wringing,” said Senator Blumenthal. “Our privacy bill of rights is built on a simple philosophy that will return autonomy to consumers: affirmative informed consent. Consumers deserve the opportunity to opt in to services that might mine and sell their data – not to find out their personal information has been exploited years later.”

      Making privacy the king

      In hopes of reversing a platform such as Facebook’s power over a user’s personal info, the CONSENT Act:

      • Requires edge providers to obtain opt-in consent from users to use, share, or sell users’ personal information

      • Requires edge providers to develop reasonable data security practices

      • Requires edge providers to notify users about all collection, use, and sharing of users’ personal information

      • Requires edge providers to notify users in the event of a breach

      • Ensures that requirements are enforced by the FTC

      This bill covers every conceivable corner of a user’s potentially sensitive information, too. Included are restrictions on:

      • financial information

      • health information

      • information pertaining to children

      • Social Security numbers

      • precise geolocation information

      • content of communications

      • call detail information

      • web browsing history

      • application usage history

      To prove their seriousness, Blumenthal and Markey built some legal weight into their proposal by treating any violations of the measure as an infraction of the Federal Trade Commission Act. That act was created with the sole objective of "protect[ing] the process of competition for the benefit of consumers, making sure there are strong incentives for businesses to operate efficiently, keep prices down, and keep quality up.”

      The Federal Trade Commission Act also has the power to protect privacy, giving the FTC the permission to penalize companies that violate their own policies through false advertising and other actions that can harm consumers.

      Mark Zuckerberg’s “I’m Sorry 2018” tour played to an SRO crowd on Capitol Hill on Tuesday with the Facebook honcho taking all the punches he could withstan...
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      Bank of America won't lend to 'assault rifle' manufacturers

      The decision is similar to an action taken by Citigroup

      Bank of America is the latest major bank to pull back from clients who produce military style rifles for civilians, such as the AR-15.

      The revelation came Tuesday as a Bloomberg television crew interviewed the bank's vice chairman, Anne Finucane.

      "For us, we have just a handful of (gun) manufacturers," Finucane said. "They know what our intentions are, we have had intense conversations over the last few months, and it's our intention not to finance these military style firearms for civilian use."

      Currently, Bank of America has client relationships with Vista Outdoors, Remington, and Strum Rugar. Finucane's announcement follows a similar decision by Citigroup.

      Withdrawing credit from gunmakers that produce so-called assault-style rifles will likely affect many firearms manufacturers because the semi-automatic AR-15 is one of the most popular rifles in America, with just about every gun manufacturer producing a version of it.

      Popular with consumers

      The AR-15 has been the major focus in the gun debate because it has been the weapon of choice for most mass killers, mainly because it quickly fires a large number of rounds and is easily reloaded.

      The firearm is popular with consumers for the same reason. The National Rifle Association (NRA) says the AR-15 is widely used for home defense, calling it easy to learn, easy to use, accurate, and reliable. The organization says rifles of any kind are seldom used to commit crimes.

      Both Citigroup and Bank of America have responded in the wake of the most recent mass shooting, when 17 people were killed earlier this year at a Florida High School by a killer wielding an AR-15, a civilian version of the M-16 rifle used by the U.S. military.

      BlackRock, the largest asset manager on Wall Street, has served notice that it plans to use its financial clout to influence gun manufacturers. BlackRock currently owns 16 percent of Strum Ruger and 10.5 percent of American Outdoor Brands, according to CNBC.

      In January, BlackRock founder Larry Fink wrote an open letter to CEOs at major corporations, telling them they have to be socially responsible.

      "Indeed, the public expectations of your company has never been greater,” he wrote.

      Bank of America is the latest major bank to pull back from clients who produce military style rifles for civilians, such as the AR-15.The revelation ca...
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      Spotify reportedly making changes to its free subscription tier

      The company wants to make its free tier more accessible

      Not long after going public, Spotify may be planning changes to its free subscription tier.

      Sources familiar with the matter told Bloomberg that the music-streaming giant is planning to change its free tier to be more like its paid subscription service. The new version of the app will make it easier to use the ad-supported service on mobile devices, according to the report.

      An official announcement regarding the planned update is expected in the next few weeks.

      Greater control

      The rumored changes would give mobile users with free plans the ability to access playlists more quickly and have greater control over what track or playlist they’re listening to. Currently, Spotify’s free tier prevents mobile users from selecting specific tracks in a playlist; users listen to whatever track comes next in shuffle mode.

      Spotify went public on April 3 and is expected to focus on growing its number of users. Making the free music-streaming experience better would help it do just that.

      Spotify is available in 61 countries and has a user base of 159 million, including ad-supported free listeners. The service also has 70 million paying subscribers (as of January 2018). The company predicts that it could hit as many as 96 million paid subscribers by the end of this year.

      The company’s rival Apple recently confirmed that Apple Music has amassed approximately 40 million subscribers. Unlike Spotify, Apple’s music streaming service does not offer a free tier.

      Not long after going public, Spotify may be planning changes to its free subscription tier.Sources familiar with the matter told Bloomberg that the mus...
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      Trump signs executive order pushing work requirements for public assistance

      The order focuses on strengthening work requirements to help the poor achieve economic mobility

      President Trump has signed an executive order calling for federal agencies to establish or strengthen employment requirements for those on public assistance.

      A memo issued by the White House argues that “common-sense reforms” would help those who rely on welfare or other public benefits, like SNAP, achieve economic mobility.

      "The Federal Government should do everything within its authority to empower individuals by providing opportunities for work, including by investing in Federal programs that are effective at moving people into the workforce and out of poverty," the executive order states.

      Stronger work requirements

      The new requirements would apply only to those who are able to work, according to the memo. The administration is focusing on able-bodied, working-age adults who have joined the assistance programs in recent years.

      In a statement, Trump said that this order will “restore independence and dignity to millions of Americans.”

      The Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families is in favor of the executive order and said it will allow the agency to take “aggressive action” toward enforcing work requirements.

      "Strengthening work requirements for welfare recipients is a critical element of moving welfare recipients from dependency to self-sufficiency," said Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary of HHS’ Administration for Children and Families. "More than just a means of income, work creates opportunities for individual growth, instills a sense of personal dignity and leads to improved health."

      “Cutting benefits for millions of Americans”

      While many conservatives embraced the order, many progressives have been quick to point out the potential implications.  

      Rebecca Vallas, vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress, said Trump's order reinforced myths about poverty in the U.S.

      "By using dog-whistle terms like 'welfare,' Trump's trying to paint people who turn to Medicaid, SNAP, and other public programs as Reagan's mythical 'welfare queen' -- so we don't notice that he's coming after the entire working and middle class," Vallas tweeted.

      Kate Gallagher Robbins, director of poverty policy at the Center for American progress, disagreed with the idea that stripping low-income individuals of benefits would help them achieve self-sufficiency.

      "Everything in this order is about cutting benefits for millions of Americans to pay for the #TrumpTaxScam," she tweeted. "[N]othing is about actually helping people achieve economic security."

      The department heads of each agency have 90 days to submit a list of recommended policy and regulatory changes to achieve Trump’s goals.

      President Trump has signed an executive order calling for federal agencies to establish or strengthen employment requirements for those on public assistanc...
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      Kroger to hire 11,000 people in 2018

      The “Amazon Effect” has major grocers scrambling to stay competitive in the industry

      Kroger said in a statement Tuesday that it is adding 11,000 positions this year, including nearly 2,000 management jobs.

      The Cincinnati-based chain also said it is investing $500 million in employee wages, training, and development over the next three years due to the money it saved from the tax reform. Details of the “Restock Kroger” plan will be announced later this month.

      The grocer said it had created 10,000 new jobs in 2017 and 12,000 in 2016. Today, Kroger and its subsidiaries employ nearly half a million associates.

      "Over the last decade, Kroger has added 100,000 new jobs in communities across America," said Tim Massa, Kroger's group VP of human resources and labor relations. "In addition to fueling the U.S. economy, many of our supermarket jobs are an opportunity for associates to grow and advance their careers."

      "Kroger is a place where you can come for a job and stay for a career," Massa said. "We are committed to creating great entry-level jobs and investing in our associates so they can reach their full potential."

      Keeping up with the competition

      The company’s growth comes at a time when the grocery industry is undergoing big changes. Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, as well as efforts made by other grocers to align with changing consumer preferences, have fueled competition among food retailers.

      Walmart has made several moves to stay competitive in the industry, including expanding delivery options and launching its own line of meal kits.

      Efforts made by Kroger include expanding its “Scan, Bag and Go” platform, which allows shoppers to scan and bag items as they shop. The company aims to make the service available in 400 locations by the end of this year.

      Kroger said in a statement Tuesday that it is adding 11,000 positions this year, including nearly 2,000 management jobs. The Cincinnati-based chain als...
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      Inflation gauge shows decline in March

      Falling gasoline prices offset rising costs for food, shelter, and healthcare

      The government's gauge of consumer prices fell in March, pulled lower by an unexpected decline in gasoline prices.

      The Consumer Price Index (CPI) fell 0.1 percent after rising 0.2 percent in February. It was the first drop in prices in almost a year.

      That's not to say everything was cheaper last month. The costs of food, shelter, and medical care were all higher in March, but they were outweighed in the CPI by a 4.9 percent drop in prices at the pump.

      When you strip out food and energy from the March index, prices were up a modest 0.2 percent, in line with estimates. Over the last 12 months, inflation is running at a rate of 2.4 percent.

      That's the largest 12-month increase since March 2017 and higher than the 1.6 percent average annual rate over the past 10 years. Energy prices were up 7.0 percent over the past 12 months, with gasoline up 11 percent.

      Rising food costs

      Overall food costs rose 1.3 percent last month, with prices for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs rising 0.8 percent. Prices of cereals and bakery products rose 0.4 percent. The cost of dairy products was up 0.3 percent after being up the same amount in February.

      The Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows prices for new cars and trucks showed no increase in March, while prices of used vehicles fell 0.3 percent. Prices consumers paid for clothing went down 0.6 percent.

      Overall prices were a little softer than most economists predicted. The consensus estimate was for the CPI to match February's level. However, prices could soon resume their upward movement.

      On Tuesday the Producer Price Index (PPI), a measure of inflation at the wholesale level, ticked up 0.3 percent, suggesting building price pressure among producers. While those higher prices normally get passed along to consumers, economist Joel Naroff, of Naroff Economic Advisers, says that it's not clear they will in this case.

      The government's gauge of consumer prices fell in March, pulled lower by an unexpected decline in gasoline prices.The Consumer Price Index (CPI) fell 0...
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      Izzy’s Maple Nut Ice Cream recalled

      The product may contain peanut residue, an allergen not declared on the label

      Izzy’s Ice Cream is recalling a limited amount of its Maple Nut Ice Cream pints.

      The product may contain peanut residue, an allergen not declared on the label.

      No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

      The recalled items, produced on January 29,, 2018, February 6, 2018, February 12, 2018, February 19, 2018, and February 27, 2018, can be identified by the following codes on the bottom of the pint:

      • 18012729
      • 18020312
      • 18024706
      • 18028819
      • 18025206
      • 18020327
      • 18028806

      What to do

      Consumers with question may contact Jeff Sommers at (651) 341-7709 or Shannon Leach at (612) 554-5196, or by email at shannon@izzysicecream.com.

      Thank you for your help in maintaining our commitment to consumer safety. This recall is being made with the knowledge of the Food and Drug Administration.

      Izzy’s Ice Cream is recalling a limited amount of its Maple Nut Ice Cream pints.The product may contain peanut residue, an allergen not declared on the...
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      Mercedes-Benz vehicles with seatback issue recalled

      The front seat seatbacks may not lock properly

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 3,088 model year 2017-2018 C43 AMG 4Matic Coupes, C300 Coupes, C300 4Matic Coupes, C300 4Matic Cabriolets, C300 Cabriolets, C43 AMG 4Matic Cabriolets and C63S AMG Cabriolets; model year 2017 C63 AMG Cabriolets, C63S AMG Coupes and C63 AMG Coupes; and model year 2018 E400 Coupes and E400 4Matic Coupes.

      The seatbacks of the front seats may not properly lock on the right side of the seat.

      As a result, the seatbacks may fold forward, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the locking of the seatbacks, replacing the seatbacks lock, as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin May 25, 2018.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-800-367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 3,088 model year 2017-2018 C43 AMG 4Matic Coupes, C300 Coupes, C300 4Matic Coupes, C300 4Matic Cabriolets, C300 Cabr...
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      Report suggests Wells Fargo could face record fines

      Regulators are said to be considering action for alleged mortgage and auto loan abuses

      Wells Fargo could face record fines for past financial abuses, according to a published report.

      Rueters quotes three sources close to the situation that say the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is working with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) to levy fines against the bank for abusive actions in the administration of auto insurance and mortgages.

      The bank has already paid a huge fine to settle 2016 charges that it enrolled millions of customers in checking and credit card accounts without their knowledge or permission.

      According to Reuters, CFPB acting director Mick Mulvaney is considering fines that would approach one billion dollars, making it a record sanction.

      Different approach for Mulvaney

      It would be the first major CFPB enforcement action under Mulvaney, who has come under criticism from consumer advocates for his approach to policing the financial services industry. Mulvaney has repeatedly criticized the agency he heads, saying it is unaccountable and has too much power. As a member of Congress, he voted to abolish it, calling it a "sick, sad, joke."

      The difference in Mulvaney's interest in the Wells Fargo case may be his boss. President Trump has taken to Twitter on several occasions to criticize Wells Fargo for its sales practices.

      "Fines and penalties against Wells Fargo Bank for their bad acts against their customers and others will not be dropped, as has incorrectly been reported, but will be pursued and, if anything, substantially increased," Trump tweeted on December 8. "I will cut Regs but make penalties severe when caught cheating!"

      Extra mortgage fees

      Last September, plaintiffs filed a class action suit against the bank, claiming it bilked home loan borrowers by charging them extra fees when their applications were denied, even when a bank error caused the denial.

      The case revolved around rate-lock extension fees -- the fees borrowers pay to "lock in" an interest rate for a specific period of time, usually 30 to 45 days. If it takes longer than that for the loan to be approved, the borrower was charged an extra fee.

      A couple of months before that suit, it was revealed more than a half million consumers who financed auto purchases through Wells Fargo may have been sold a collateral protection insurance (CPI) policy without their knowledge or consent.

      All auto lenders require borrowers to maintain adequate insurance on the financed vehicle to ensure the lender is repaid if the vehicle is stolen or damaged in a crash. Wells Fargo says its lending agreement allowed it to buy a CPI policy from a vendor on the customer’s behalf if there was no evidence — either from the customer or the insurance company — that the customer already had the required insurance. Wells Fargo says it discontinued the practice in 2016.

      Reuters reports all of the parties involved in its report -- Wells Fargo, the CFPB, and the OCC -- declined to comment on the report.

      Wells Fargo could face record fines for past financial abuses, according to a published report.Rueters quotes three sources close to the situation that...
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      Walmart teams up with Postmates to grow its home grocery delivery service

      The company plans to expand its Walmart Online Grocery Delivery to more markets this year

      Walmart is partnering with delivery service Postmates to expand its grocery delivery program, the companies announced today.

      Walmart Online Grocery Delivery will start in Charlotte, North Carolina and will expand to other markets “soon.” The retailer says its goal is to reach more than 40 percent of U.S. households in the coming months.

      In March, Walmart announced it would be expanding home delivery to an additional 800 stores by the end of this year, with grocery transportation provided by companies including Uber and Deliv.

      "We will ... reach as many households as we can," said Tom Ward, the vice president of Walmart's digital operations in the U.S. "We will leverage our footprint where it makes the most sense."

      Reaching more customers

      A recent study conducted by the Food Marketing Institute and Nielsen found that 70 percent of consumers will be grocery shopping online in as few as five to seven years.

      Partnering with Postmates to expand its grocery delivery service may help Walmart compete with the likes of Amazon, Target, and other retailers who have started delivering groceries to consumers’ homes.  

      “Both Walmart and Postmates strive to make the lives of our customers easier,” said Dan Mosher, senior vice president, merchant lead, Postmates. “With our growing fleet of 160,000 couriers, we are confident that we’ll be providing Walmart customers with the ultimate convenience.”

      Competing with Amazon

      The push to make same-day grocery delivery available to more Walmart shoppers comes as Amazon is ramping up its own grocery delivery service. Earlier this year, Amazon started delivering groceries from Whole Foods through its two-hour Prime Now platform.

      Meanwhile, other big grocers -- including Kroger, HEB, Albertsons, and Publix -- have teamed up with Instacart to expand their own same-day delivery services.

      Walmart’s Online Grocery Delivery service gives customers the ability to get groceries from the retailer delivered to their home within the same day as an order being placed. The minimum purchase amount is $30, and there's a fee of $9.95 for delivery.

      Walmart also announced earlier this year that it would begin selling its own line of meal kits in stores to make meal preparation easier and more convenient for consumers.

      Walmart is partnering with delivery service Postmates to expand its grocery delivery program, the companies announced today.Walmart Online Grocery Deli...
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      Apple is now totally powered by renewable energy worldwide

      The tech company claims its global footprint is as clean as it can be

      Apple announced on Monday that its entire global business is fueled by 100 percent clean energy. Everything that powers the company -- from its new Cupertino headquarters to stores and data facilities -- is certifiably renewable, fulfilling its 2016 commitment to becoming totally green.

      “We’re committed to leaving the world better than we found it. After years of hard work we’re proud to have reached this significant milestone,” said Tim Cook, CEO of Apple.

      “We’re going to keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible with the materials in our products, the way we recycle them, our facilities and our work with suppliers to establish new creative and forward-looking sources of renewable energy because we know the future depends on it.”

      Producing clean energy

      However, Apple's flag-waving should be viewed with an ounce of caution. While it says its energy is "100 percent renewable," a report from The Verge points out that the company "uses the term to signal that it buys enough green energy to offset its global power consumption."

      This line of reasoning allows the company to meet its goals in areas of the world where relying on renewable energy isn't necessarily viable; for example, clean energy isn't readily available in areas like China where Apple operates overseas facilities.

      Nonetheless, Apple’s efforts are worthy of being considered proactive in Mother Earth’s eyes. All in all, Apple has 25 operational renewable energy projects around the world, totaling 626 megawatts of generation capacity, with 286 megawatts of solar PV generation coming online in 2017, its most ever in one year. It also has 15 more projects underway.

      Once everything is in place, more than 1.4 gigawatts of clean renewable energy generation will be dispersed across 11 countries.

      Good for both business and communities

      Over the course of the next five years, renewable energy is set to grow faster than any other power source. The International Energy Agency’s crystal ball sees a future where renewable energy will make up 40 percent of the world’s power by 2040 and, no doubt, Apple wants to be a leader in that metric.

      At present, Apple ranks sixth on the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Green Power Partnership National Top 100, behind Microsoft, Intel, Google, Kohl’s Department Stores, and Bank of America.

      Others on that list include a variety of corporate green energy trailblazers ranging from the National Hockey League (NHL) to Netflix, IKEA, University of Tennessee (Knoxville), and the cities of Dallas, Austin, and Portland, Oregon.

      Good for Apple’s bottom line, too

      In 2016, The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted Apple the right to sell power it doesn’t need from renewable resources it owns or has under contract.

      As part of its green energy plan, Apple is buying Renewable Energy Certificates -- tradable, non-tangible energy commodities -- that provide a mechanism for the purchase of renewable energy that is added to or pulled from the electrical grid.

      Apple’s clean power investments also include wind and solar energy facilities, and the company is set on making sure all new facilities meet the clean energy mark. All in all, the company counts 25 renewable energy projects around the world.

      Apple announced on Monday that its entire global business is fueled by 100 percent clean energy. Everything that powers the company -- from its new Cuperti...
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      Payday lenders sue CFPB over Obama-era rule

      The two payday-lending trade groups say the rule would essentially put an end to the payday industry

      Payday lenders sued the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on Monday in an attempt to block the agency’s “draconian” final rule on short-term loans, which they say would “virtually eliminate” the payday-lending industry.

      The regulation, which was finalized under the Obama administration, would require payday lenders to verify that borrowers can afford the debt before giving them the money and would limit the number of times a person can take out successive loans.

      The lawsuit -- which was filed in Texas federal court by the Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA) -- alleges that the rule is "arbitrary, capricious, and unsupported by substantial evidence," and is in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

      Would be implemented in 2019

      The CFSA argues that the rule “was motivated by a deeply paternalistic view that consumers cannot be trusted with the freedom to make their own financial decisions.” It is not yet known whether the CFPB will fight the lawsuit.

      Republicans in the House and Senate have already introduced legislation to try to block the rule, which would go into effect in 2019. By taking legal action, the two payday lending trade groups aim to put even more pressure on the CFPB to block the rule from being implemented.

      “We do not take lightly that we are suing our federal regulator, however, we have long said we are pursuing all options with regard to the CFPB’s harmful small-dollar lending rule, and one of these options was litigation,” said Dennis Shaul, chief executive of the Community Financial Services Association of America, the primary industry group for payday lenders.

      Payday lenders sued the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on Monday in an attempt to block the agency’s “draconian” final rule on short-term loan...
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      Model year 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvios recalled

      Water may leak into the body control module and its connectors, causing corrosion

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 12,595 model year 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvios.

      Water may leak into the body control module and its connectors, causing corrosion, resulting in illumination of one or more malfunction indicator lamps, a loss of windshield wiper function, a loss of exterior lighting, a loss of horn function and/or unintended turn signal activation.

      Electrical malfunctions such as windshield wipers that may not work in the rain and lights that may not work at night increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will install additional sealing protection to prevent water from entering the body control module and its connectors.

      The recall is expected to begin May 18th, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U36.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 12,595 model year 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvios.Water may leak into the body control module and its connectors, causing c...
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      Vornado Air recalls electric space heaters

      The space heater can overheat when in use, posing fire and burn hazards

      Vornado Air of Andover, Kan., is recalling about 350,000 VH101 Personal Vortex electric space heaters.

      The space heater can overheat when in use, posing fire and burn hazards.

      The firm has received 15 reports of the heaters catching fire.

      This recall involves Vornado VH101 Personal Vortex electric space heaters sold in black, coral orange, grayed jade, cinnamon, fig, ice white and red.

      The heaters measure about 7.2 inches long by 7.8 inches wide by 7.10 inches high and have two heat settings (low and high) and a fan only/no heat setting. “Vornado” with a “V” behind it is printed on the front of the unit.

      The model/type “VH101,” serial number and ETL mark are printed on a silver rating label on the bottom of the unit.

      The heaters, manufactured in China, were sold at Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Depot, Menards, Orchard Supply, Target and other stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com, Target.com, Vornado.com and other websites from August 2009, through March 2018, for about $30.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled heaters and contact Vornado for instructions on how to receive a full refund or a free replacement unit, including free shipping.

      Consumers may contact Vornado toll-free at 855-215-5131 from 8 a.m. to 5p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, or online at www.vornado.com and click on “Recalls” in the lower right corner of the homepage.

      Vornado Air of Andover, Kan., is recalling about 350,000 VH101 Personal Vortex electric space heaters.The space heater can overheat when in use, posing...
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      Nutrizone recalls multiple dietary supplements

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      NutriZone of Houston, Texas, is recalling various lots of multiple dietary supplements that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.

      The following dietary supplements are being recalled:

      Product NameNet Quantity (Capsules Per Container)PackagingLot Number
      Pain Out Maeng Da36PouchAll
      Pain Out Thai108Bottle10960-D
      Pain Out Malay324Bottle10958-I
      Nirvanio Green Malay25Bottle10958-C
      Nirvanio Special Reserve Kratom Blend50Bottle10796

      Lot numbers can be found on the packaging near the Nutrition Facts Panel.

      The recalled products were sold in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Washington, Missouri, Florida, Mississippi, California and Texas.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled should discontinue their use and return the unused portion to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact NutriZone at 1-800-936-7936, Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm (CST).

      NutriZone of Houston, Texas, is recalling various lots of multiple dietary supplements that may be contaminated with Salmonella.No illnesses have been...
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      Child advocates call for FTC probe of YouTube

      The group says the site is illegally collecting children’s data

      In a complaint filed Monday, a group of child, consumer, and privacy advocates claim YouTube illegally collects data about underage viewers and uses that data to advertise to its youngest users.

      The group of advocates, led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said it wants the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google -- which owns YouTube -- for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which sets strict rules for how companies can collect data about children under the age of 13.

      Per COPPA regulations, companies that run websites targeted at children must notify parents and obtain their consent before collecting any personal data.

      “Acted duplicitously”

      The group says YouTube avoided COPPA requirements by saying in its terms of service that YouTube is only intended to be used by those over 13, even though Google knows YouTube is widely used among kids in the 6-12 age range.

      The site even caters to young viewers, the group said, citing content that is specifically aimed at children under 13.

      “Google has acted duplicitously by falsely claiming in its terms of service that YouTube is only for those who are age 13 or older, while it deliberately lured young people into an ad-filled digital playground,” said Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy. “Just like Facebook, Google has focused its huge resources on generating profits instead of protecting privacy.”

      Calls for a fine

      The group wants YouTube to change how it deals with content for children, pay a fine for allegedly profiting off young viewers, and “assess civil penalties that demonstrate that the FTC will not permit violations of COPPA.”

      "Google has made substantial profits from the collection and use of personal data from children on YouTube. Its illegal collection has been going on for many years and involves tens of millions of US children," the complaint reads.

      YouTube issued a statement saying that it “will read the complaint thoroughly and evaluate if there are things we can do to improve. Because YouTube is not for children, we’ve invested significantly in the creation of the YouTube Kids app to offer an alternative specifically designed for children.”

      This isn’t the first time a complaint has been filed against YouTube for the way it handles children’s privacy. In 2015, advocacy groups said the site was violating FCC laws about advertising to children.

      In a complaint filed Monday, a group of child, consumer, and privacy advocates claim YouTube illegally collects data about underage viewers and uses that d...
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      Facebook implements new transparency and approval process for political ads

      The social media company leaves no stone unturned in trying to reclaim its users’ trust

      In the face of everything else it’s trying to remedy, Facebook is doubling down on how it deals with what it calls political “issue ads.”

      It’s a new layer of approval for anyone who wants to pay to have their political voice heard on Facebook. On top of the existing authorization process, advertisers will have to confirm their identity and location before they’re cleared to advertise.

      As Facebook continues to fend off the voodoo stemming from its Cambridge Analytica misstep, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg coming to Capitol Hill today to answer to lawmakers, the company wants the world to know that it’s serious about changing how it deals with political ads and pages.

      “We know we were slow to pick up foreign interference in the 2016 US elections,” wrote Facebook’s Rob Goldman, VP of Ads and Alex Himel, VP of Local & Pages. “Today’s updates are designed to prevent future abuse in elections — and to help ensure you have the information that you need to assess political and issue ads, as well as content on Pages.”

      And, hoping to make this move perfectly clear, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stressed that these steps “won't stop all people trying to game the system. But they will make it a lot harder for anyone to do what the Russians did during the 2016 election and use fake accounts and pages to run ads.”

      How will these changes appear?

      Going forward, political ads on Facebook will be clearly marked as “Political Ad” and will feature information about who the ad is “paid for by.” The full rollout of the new identifiers is expected later this spring.

      At the center of Facebook’s political ad target are “issue ads,” the type that advocate for controversial matters. The social media platform says it’s working with third parties to craft a list of political hot potatoes which will vary depending on voter climate.

      Facebook is also upping its ante on artificial intelligence and bringing in more people to help pinpoint political advertisers that should have gone through the authorization process but somehow got past its filters.

      “We realize we won’t catch every ad that should be labeled, and we encourage anyone who sees an unlabeled political ad to report it. People can do this by tapping the three dots at the top right corner of the ad and selecting ‘Report Ad,’” Goldman and Himel went on to say.

      As if to cover all the transparency bases, Facebook is also implementing a tool that will give its users the option to see all of the ads a page is running. That add-on is currently being tested in Canada with the intention of taking it worldwide if all goes according to plan.

      In the face of everything else it’s trying to remedy, Facebook is doubling down on how it deals with what it calls political “issue ads.”It’s a new lay...
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      Justice Department to investigate early-admission practices

      The investigation will focus on how some colleges share information with other colleges

      The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating possible antitrust violations over the way some colleges share information about applicants who were accepted early through early-decision programs, according to an Inside Higher Ed report.

      The pending investigation centers around whether colleges are using the information they share with each other to ensure that students attend institutions where they have been accepted.

      The DOJ has remained fairly tight-lipped about its inquiry, saying that it is only examining “a potential agreement between colleges relating to their early-decision practices.”

      Sharing admissions lists with competing institutions

      The Department of Justice sent letters to a number of colleges last week asking them to maintain documents detailing agreements to share the identities of accepted students with people at other colleges.

      Admissions officials at several colleges with early-decision programs told Inside Higher Ed they don’t share any information. However, some colleges may still be engaging in the practice of exchanging information about applicants admitted through early-decision policies, officials say.

      “It’s a very informal I-show-you-mine, you-show-me-yours kind of thing,” an anonymous admissions official told The Chronicle. “We don’t want to put out offers of admission to students who’ve committed to other places. This process is just verifying that somebody hasn’t been admitted to another college under a binding early-decision program.”

      Another enrollment official said that there is “no admissions information, like grades or test scores, that gets shared. It’s just names.”

      Common App asks applicants to consent

      When students apply early through the Common Application, they (as well as their parents and high school counselors) sign a statement saying that they are aware that colleges that admit them early may share their information.

      For this reason, several enrollment officials said they believed the practice didn’t raise any legal issues.

      Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government relations and public affairs at the American Council on Education, said he did not know if the waiver of privacy rights for early applicants was enough to change the legal repercussions for colleges.

      Hartle said the sharing appears to affect only the small number of students accepted early through the early-decision process who want to back out of their commitments.

      "These practices have been around a long time, and it's not a bad idea to shed light on them," Hartle told Inside Higher Ed. "They either will withstand scrutiny or they won't."

      The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating possible antitrust violations over the way some colleges share information about applicants who were...
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      Credit card companies will stop requiring signatures this month

      Experts say the chip is the highest form of security

      This month, four of the largest credit card companies -- American Express, Discover, Mastercard, and Visa -- will stop requiring a signature for purchases made with a card that uses a security chip.

      Credit card companies say the computer chips embedded in cards are much more effective at preventing fraud than scribbled signatures, since merchants rarely verify a person’s signature after asking for their credit card.

      Experts say consumer signatures have become virtually meaningless in the age of chip cards and contactless payment systems (like Apple Pay), so phasing them out won’t likely have much of an impact.

      Transitioning away from signatures

      The change is optional, meaning some shops and restaurants -- such as those without chip card compatibility, for instance -- may not adopt the change right away. However, major retailers like Walmart have already decided to stop requiring signatures on card transactions.

      Walmart considers signatures “worthless as a point of sales verification” and has already stopped recording them on most transactions, according to a company spokesman. It plans to get rid of them completely in the near future. Target will eliminate signature requirements this month.

      The change will likely speed up the checkout process and likely won’t even be noticed by many consumers.

      According to research by Mastercard, nearly one in five Americans (17 percent) don’t remember the last time they used their signature outside of a sales receipt, while 20 percent of those 18-34 years and 14 percent of those 55 and older don’t remember.

      Chip is better at preventing fraud

      Mastercard said the change had been a long time coming, but the decision to do away with signature requirements was delayed until cards embedded with chips became common. A separate report by Visa found that counterfeit fraud has dropped 70 percent since chip cards were introduced in October 2015.

      “Our fraud capabilities have advanced so that signatures are no longer necessary,” said Jaromir Divilek, American Express’s Executive Vice President of Global Network Business, in a statement.

      The four largest credit card companies in the nation will stop requiring merchants to ask for customers’ signatures starting April 14.

      This month, four of the largest credit card companies -- American Express, Discover, Mastercard, and Visa -- will stop requiring a signature for purchases...
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      Consumers give high marks to Asian airlines

      Southwest was the only U.S. carrier to make TripAdvisor's top 10

      Singapore Airlines is the favorite carrier for international travelers while Southwest is consumers' favorite U.S. airline, according to the latest TripAdvisor rankings.

      The travel website analyzed consumer feedback over a 12-year period, ranking the world's airlines for customer satisfaction.

      Bryan Saltzburg, senior vice president and general manager for TripAdvisor Flights, says the industry has introduced new competitive fare products, along with new in-flight services. Those that can improve service and keep fares reasonable, he says, do well with consumers.

      “Consumers continue to seek out the carriers that deliver value and a quality experience,” he said.

      Among international airlines, carriers based in Asia did particularly well. Japan Airlines, EVA Air, and Korean Air joined Singapore Airlines in the top 10. Two airlines based in the Middle East – Emirates and Qatar Airways – also made the top 10.

      Besides being the overall number one pick among travelers, Singapore Airlines won the categories of best first class and best economy class. Qatar Airways won the best business class category.

      Southwest the highest-ranking North American carrier

      Southwest Airlines was the highest ranking domestic airline in the international rankings, placing sixth behind Taiwan-based EVA Air and just ahead of Jet2, based in the UK. Southwest won praise for its on-time flights and the level of its service.

      Posting a recent review on ConsumerAffairs, Murray, of Scottsdale, Ariz., also praised Southwest's service, saying he was treated like family.

      “Last minute changes happen,” Murray wrote. “I was treated with such warm humility, I was blown away by the compassion and understanding on a very busy Sunday morning. Just wanted to say thank you from a very happy and homebound traveler.”

      Among North American airlines, Alaska Airlines, Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, and WestJet joined Southwest in earning travelers' praise. Southwest was voted the best economy class service and JetBlue took honors for best business class.

      Singapore Airlines is the favorite carrier for international travelers while Southwest is consumers' favorite U.S. airline, according to the latest TripAdv...
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      PFP Enterprises recalls raw beef products

      The products did not undergo federal inspection

      PFP Enterprises, also doing business as Texas Meat Packers of Fort Worth, Texas, is recalling approximately 7,146 pounds of raw beef products.

      The products did not undergo federal inspection.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

      The following frozen and fresh beef items, produced on March 23-24, 2018, are being recalled:

      • 5-lb. vacuum-packed frozen packages of “BEEF SKIRT DICED FOR TACOS,” with a case code of 1470 in the upper left-hand corner of the label and a packaging date of 03/24/18.
      • 5-lb. vacuum-packed frozen packages of “PRESEASONED BEEF FOR FAJITAS,” with a case code of 36989 in the upper left-hand corner of the label and a packaging date of 03/24/18 and a use-by date of 03/23/19.
      • Varying weights of vacuum-packed packages of fresh “USDA CHOICE ANGUS BEEF, FAJITA SEASONED STEAK, BEEF FLANK STEAK FOR FAJITAS,” a packaging date of 03/23/18 and 03/24/18, a use or freeze-by date of 04/18/18, and an item code of 567248261 in the upper left-hand corner of the case label.
      • Varying weights of vacuum-packed packages of fresh “USDA CHOICE ANGUS, FAJITA SEASONED STRIPS, BEEF FLANK STRIPS FOR FAJITAS,” a packaging date of 03/24/18, and a use or freeze-by date of 04/18/18, and an item code of 567248253 in the upper left-hand corner of the case label.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 34715” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to institutional and retail locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard them or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Shane Fresh of Patterson Foods, at (817) 546-3561.

      PFP Enterprises, also doing business as Texas Meat Packers of Fort Worth, Texas, is recalling approximately 7,146 pounds of raw beef products.The produ...
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      Healthy Nut Factory recalls Organic Coconut Smiles

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Healthy Nut Factory of Bayside, N.Y., is recalling 7-oz. pouches of Organic Coconut Smiles that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illness have been reported to date.

      The recalled product, packaged in green rice paper pouches, with UPC Code: 8 13449 02099 3 and the expiration date 6/1/2018 on the back of the pouch, was sold at retail stores in New York City and Long Island.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product from August 22, 2017, through November 20, 2017, should return unused product to the store where it was purchased for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Healthy Nut Factory at 718-224-5096 Monday – Friday 9:30 am – 4:00pm, or by email at info@healthynutfactory.com.

      Healthy Nut Factory of Bayside, N.Y., is recalling 7-oz. pouches of Organic Coconut Smiles that may be contaminated with Salmonella.No illness have bee...
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      Ford recalls F-650s, F-750s, F-150s and Expeditions

      The transmission could be in a different gear than indicated by shift lever position

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 292,909 model year 2018 F-650s and F-750s equipped with 6-speed automatic transmissions and model year 2018 Ford F-150s and Expeditions equipped with 10-speed automatic transmissions (excluding Expeditions with a Rotary Gear Shift Dial on the console).

      The gear shift cable clip may not be properly seated, allowing the transmission to be in a different gear than indicated by the gear shift lever position.

      If the gear shift cable clip becomes unseated or dislodged, the gear shift lever position may indicate that the transmission is in 'Park' when it may be in a different gear.

      Additionally, despite selecting 'Park', if the parking brake is not applied before the vehicle is exited, the vehicle may roll. Either scenario increases the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the shift cable locking clip and properly seat it, if necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin April 16, 2018.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for the recall is 18S10.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 292,909 model year 2018 F-650s and F-750s equipped with 6-speed automatic transmissions and model year 2018 Ford F-150s and...
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      The Weekly Hack: Attackers posing as honor students tried to change grades

      A hack of several major pipelines has also raised concerns about the potential for environmental disaster

      Police in Virginia are now investigating a hacking attempt to change grades at a local high school. Back in November, police say, an email purporting to be from the Oaktown High School’s Honor Council,  the school panel dedicated to “honor and integrity,” directed recipients to a link that they said had news about the school.

      But users who opened the link were then targeted by malware that recorded their keystrokes and other data, allowing hackers to access log-in information to the school’s computer system. Shortly after the emails circulated, the school found multiple cases of grade changes being requested.

      It’s unclear who was behind the hacking attempt, but it wouldn’t be the first time that students have hacked into a public school system to change grades, as the Washington Post reports.

      While it may seem like a harmless crime to students, prosecutors have gone after such cases aggressively. One University of Iowa wrestler who attempted such a stunt now faces charges from the FBI.

      Every Facebook user

      Facebook admitted Wednesday that nearly every one of its users has had their data collected by “malicious actors.”

      In response to the ongoing Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook published a blog post Wednesday updating people on changes they are making to privacy settings.

      Buried in that blog post, Facebook announced that they are disabling a popular search feature that had let users search for each other by phone number and email. According to Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer, the feature posed a security risk for nearly every one of Facebook’s users.

      “Until today, people could enter another person’s phone number or email address into Facebook search to help find them,” Schroepfer wrote. Hackers figured out how to “abuse” this feature, as well as the the account recovery feature, to scrape data from “most” Facebook users.

      Pipelines

      Environmentalists have long warned that the aging, cheap pipes that deliver oil and natural gas are ill-equipped at preventing natural gas explosions or leaks. As oil and gas companies have become more dependent on digital technology, it turns out that even these supposedly modern safety improvements also put people at risk.

      Hackers reportedly launched a cyber attack on Latitude Technologies, a Texas-based firm that handles computer communications for the oil, gas, and utility industries. The hack forced four major natural gas pipeline companies, including Energy Transfer Partners, to temporarily shut down their computer systems.

      It’s unclear what the motives of the hackers would have been, but a security expert told the New York Times that the energy industry’s increasing dependence on technology  poses an environmental and safety hazard. The systems may allow attackers to remotely cause “explosions, spills, or fires, which easily will threaten human life, property and the environment,” the expert said

      Police in Virginia are now investigating a hacking attempt to change grades at a local high school. Back in November, police say, an email purporting to be...
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      Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay millions in talcum powder lawsuit

      A man claims he developed cancer because of asbestos in talc-based products

      Johnson & Johnson has been sued thousands of times over the past few years over its marketing of talcum powder. Many women have claimed the company knew of a link between ovarian cancer and talc use for decades.

      Asbestos-related lawsuits are the most recent challenge for the pharmaceutical giant. The latest lawsuit to hit the company was filed by a man, Stephen Lanzo, who alleged that he developed mesothelioma after inhaling dust that was generated through his regular use of Johnson & Johnson talc powder products since his birth in 1972 to approximately 2003.

      On Thursday, a New Jersey state court jury ordered Johnson & Johnson and Imerys SA to pay at least $37 million in damages in the case. The jury awarded Lanzo $30 million and his wife $7 million after finding Johnson & Johnson responsible for 70 percent of the damages and Imerys (the company’s talc supplier) responsible for 30 percent.

      J&J denies claims

      The second phase of the trial is set to begin next week. On Tuesday, the jurors will decide whether to award punitive damages. Johnson & Johnson said it was disappointed by the jury’s most recent decision.

      “While we are disappointed with this decision, the jury has further deliberations to conduct in this trial and we will reserve additional comment until the case is fully completed,” Carol Goodrich, a spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson, said in a statement.

      Johnson & Johnson maintains that its products are not carcinogenic and have never contained traces of asbestos fibers.

      “Since the 1970s, talc used in consumer products has been required to be asbestos-free, so JOHNSON’S talc products do not contain asbestos, a substance classified as cancer-causing. JOHNSON’S Baby Powder products contain only U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) grade talc, which meets the highest quality, purity and compliance standards,” a statement on the company’s website reads.

      More than 6,600 talcum powder lawsuits have been filed against the company by female plaintiffs who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer following years of genital talc use. The New Jersey verdict is the first trial loss for J&J in a lawsuit over claims that talc products contain cancer-causing asbestos, Reuters reported.

      Johnson & Johnson has been sued thousands of times over the past few years over its marketing of talcum powder. Many women have claimed the company knew of...
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      JP Morgan CEO optimistic about healthcare venture with Amazon

      The new venture will have six points of focus, Jamie Dimon says

      In his annual letter to shareholders, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon outlined some of the goals for his company’s new healthcare venture with Amazon and Berkshire Hathaway.

      The CEO says his focus is on improving several failures with the US healthcare system, including poor outcomes, high administrative and fraud cost, and a high percentage of healthcare spending devoted to chronic care.

      “While we don’t know the exact fix to this problem, we do know the process that will help us fix it,” he wrote. “We need to form a bipartisan group of experts whose direct charge is to fix our healthcare system. I am convinced that this can be done, and if done properly, it will actually improve the outcomes and satisfaction of all American citizens.”

      Six focus areas

      Dimon said the joint venture with Amazon and Berkshire Hathaway would focus on:

      • Aligning incentives system-wide;

      • Studying the amount of money spent on waste, administration, and fraud costs;

      • Leveraging health data and telemedicine to drive a consumer-driven approach;

      • Developing better wellness programs that focus on chronic diseases like cancer, stroke, and heart disease;

      • Determining why costly and specialized medicine and pharmaceuticals are frequently over- and under-utilized; and

      • Studying the costs associated with specialty care, drugs, and end-of-life care

      “The effort will start very small, but there is much to do, and we are optimistic,” he wrote in the letter.

      Dimon said the company plans to focus on using “top management, big data, virtual technology, better customer engagement and the improved creation of customer choice” to address critical problems and issues. However, he added that it could take “years” for notable progress to be seen.

      Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffet also appeared to temper expectations in an interview with CNBC, in which he said that he’s “hopeful” about the new venture “but don’t expect any miracles out of us soon.”

      An announcement of the joint venture was made back in January. At the time, Buffet referred to healthcare costs as “a hungry tapeworm on the American economy.”

      In his annual letter to shareholders, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon outlined some of the goals for his company’s new healthcare venture with Amazon and B...
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      Coinbase set to open cryptocurrency-oriented venture capital firm

      The company feels it’s just scratched the surface of what’s possible with digital currency

      Coinbase, a digital currency exchange, is opening Coinbase Ventures, a venture capital arm set on funding promising, early stage cryptocurrency companies.

      “Our goal is simply to help the most compelling companies in the space to flourish,” the company said in an announcement. “Our focus is on building strong relationships and helping to spur on the development of the ecosystem. The digital currency ecosystem has the opportunity to transform the lives of billions of people, but we have only just scratched the surface of what’s possible.”

      Asiff Hirji, Coinbase’s President & Chief Operating Officer, reiterated his company’s intent on CNBC’s “Fast Money” on Thursday. "It's not about investing in a token, it is really about helping these investments to mature," Hirji said.

      If successful, the company’s new enterprise could help flip the shady narrative of cryptocurrency and give the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) the type of firms it wants to see.

      Coinbase intends on being as fair-minded as possible with who it invests with. The company will tap into the braintrust of its alumni base to look for ideas to invest in, as well as companies in the same monetary exchange space Coinbase is in. In a statement, the company accentuated the positive side of those kinships.

      “We may be comfortable investing in companies that are potentially competitive, because it’s in everyone’s interest to see the ecosystem innovate,” it said.

      One good turn deserves another

      Coinbase itself was built on the beliefs of others and seems glad to pay it forward. Since its 2011 launch, Coinbase has raised more than $100 million and has become the first Bitcoin start-up to achieve a valuation of at least $1 billion. Its 2017 revenue also topped $1 billion.

      Over the course of the exchange’s rise, it formed partnerships with Dell, Expedia, Time Inc. PayPal, and others to leverage cryptocurrency as a viable and trustworthy payment option.

      Now, seven years later, the company has more than 13 million users. Contrast that to Charles Schwab, which reported 10.6 million active brokerage accounts last year.

      “In short, it’s in all of our interest to see this space evolve, expand, and mature. We’ll learn a lot along the way, and we’re excited to get started,” the company concluded in its announcement.

      Coinbase, a digital currency exchange, is opening Coinbase Ventures, a venture capital arm set on funding promising, early stage cryptocurrency companies....
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      Target reaches settlement in employment discrimination suit

      The retailer will pay $3.7 million and upgrade its hiring practices

      Target has reached a settlement with plaintiffs who sued the retailer, claiming racial and ethnic discrimination in its hiring practices.

      The company has agreed to pay $3.74 million and upgrade its hiring practices, although it did not admit to any wrongdoing.

      The lawsuit alleged that Target's practice of using criminal background checks served to exclude racial minorities from its workforce. The plaintiffs charged that Target had "imported the racial and ethnic disparities" present in the criminal justice system into its hiring process. The result, the suit charged, was job applicants were rejected for convictions unrelated to the work they sought.

      “Target’s background check policy was out of step with best practices and harmful to many qualified applicants who deserved a fair shot at a good job,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “Criminal background information can be a legitimate tool for screening job applicants, but only when appropriately linked to relevant questions such as how long ago the offense occurred and whether it was a non-violent or misdemeanor offense.”

      Ifill said the Target process was overly broad, unfairly limiting opportunities for minority applicants due to widespread discrimination at every stage in the criminal justice system.

      "We commend Target for agreeing to this settlement, which will help create economic opportunities for deserving Americans,” Ifill said.

      In a statement to the media, a Target spokeswoman said the company no longer asks applicants to list a criminal history but still conducts criminal background checks late in the hiring process.

      Plaintiffs sought jobs as stockers

      The plaintiffs are black and charged Target didn't hire them for jobs as stockers after the company discovered prior convictions. The Fortune Society, an organization that assists former prisoners reenter society, was also a plaintiff in the suit.

      The suit was filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating based on race, gender, and other characteristics.

      Under the settlement, which awaits a judge's approval, Target applicants who can show they were denied employment after a criminal background check may share $1.2 million of the settlement, or receive another chance at a job.

      Non-profit groups that help people with criminal backgrounds reenter the workforce will receive about $600,000.

      Target has reached a settlement with plaintiffs who sued the retailer, claiming racial and ethnic discrimination in its hiring practices.The company ha...
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      The economy produced fewer jobs in March

      However, the unemployment rate remains at 4.1 percent

      The nation's economy added fewer jobs than expected last month, but workers enjoyed a modest boost in wages.

      In its monthly report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 103,000 new non-farm jobs in March, well short of estimates. However, February's robust growth of more than 300,000 jobs was revised higher.

      The nation's unemployment rate remained at 4.1 percent, and the labor force participation rate remained little changed at 62.9 percent.

      Among demographic groups, the unemployment rates for adult men and adult women were the same -- 3.7 percent. Among ethnic groups, Asians have the lowest jobless rate, at 3.1 percent, followed by whites, at 3.6 percent. The unemployment rate among Hispanics was 5.1 percent and 6.9 percent among African Americans.

      Sectors that added jobs

      It was a little easier to find jobs last month in the manufacturing, healthcare, and mining industries. However, it was not a good month for workers in construction and retail. Both sectors lost employees.

      After adding 65,000 workers in February, construction jobs fell by 15,000 in March. It was much the same story for retail, which added 47,000 jobs in February but gave back 4,000 of them last month.

      It was easier to find a job in healthcare and manufacturing last month. Both sectors added 22,000 jobs. Over the last 12 months, U.S. manufacturers have added 232,000 jobs.

      The mining industry added 9,000 jobs in March, with most of them in mining support jobs and oil and gas exploration.

      Employees earned a little more money last month, but it wasn’t enough to set off inflation fears at the Federal Reserve. Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 8 cents to $26.82. Over the last 12 months, wages are up 71 cents, or 2.7 percent.

      The nation's economy added fewer jobs than expected last month, but workers enjoyed a modest boost in wages.In its monthly report, the Bureau of Labor...
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      Polaris Recalls RZR XP 1000 ROVs

      The heat shield may not manage heat leading to melting of nearby components or fire

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 107,000 model year 2014-2018 Polaris RZR XP 1000 recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).

      If the exhaust silencer fatigues and cracks, the heat shield may not manage heat, which may lead to melting of nearby components or fire.

      The company has received 30 reports of cracked exhaust silencers, including 3 reports of fire. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Model Year 2014-18 Polaris RZR XP 1000 ROVs.

      The ROVs have “POLARIS” stamped on the front and back grilles, and “Polaris,” “RZR,” “1000,” & “XP” stickers on the side panels. 

      The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) can be found on the right rear frame of the vehicle, to the rear of the engine. The full list of affected models can be found on the CSPC's website here.

      What to do

      The ROVs, manufactured in the U.S. and Mexico, were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide since December 2013.

      Consumers should immediately stop riding the affected vehicles and contact a Polaris dealer for a free repair.

      Consumers may contact Polaris at 800-765-2747 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.polaris.com and click on “Off Road Safety Recalls” at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Consumers may check their VIN on the “Product Safety Recalls” page to see if their vehicle is included in any recalls. Polaris is contacting all known affected consumers directly.

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 107,000 model year 2014-2018 Polaris RZR XP 1000 recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).If th...
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      Facebook ups its possible data misuse total to 87 million users

      Cambridge Analytica says it’s no more than 30 million

      In updated estimates, Facebook says it’s possible that up to 87 million people had their data repurposed by Cambridge Analytica.

      However, that metric comes with a precautionary warning.

      “We wanted to take a broad view that is a conservative estimate,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in an interview. “I am quite confident that given our analysis that it is not more than 87 million. It very well could be less, but we wanted to put out the maximum we felt that it could be as that analysis says.”

      In response, Cambridge Analytica argued that figure loudly and defiantly.

      “Cambridge Analytica licensed data for no more than 30 million people from GSR (Global Science Research), as is clearly stated in our contract with the research company,” the company wrote in a press release. “We did not receive more data than this.”

      Cambridge wants its name cleared, too

      Cambridge Analytica wants its name expunged from the list of entities behind any manipulation of data regarding Trump’s bid for the White House.

      “We did not use any GSR data in the work we did in the 2016 US presidential election,” claims Cambridge Analytica in an attempt to define its position..

      “When Facebook contacted us to let us know the data had been improperly obtained, we immediately deleted the raw data from our file server. We carried out an internal audit to make sure that all the data, all derivatives, and all backups had been deleted, and gave Facebook a certificate to this effect.”

      Where do we begin?

      The “millions” figures quoted by Facebook and Cambridge Analytica started out as 270,000 -- the number of respondents that used GSR’s “thisisyourdigitallife” app.

      However, in addition to harvesting metrics on Facebook users who used the app, it has also been revealed that information was collected on those users’ “friends” on Facebook. That, in turn, raised the number of affected individuals exponentially.

      Cambridge Analytica used the statistics it collected to build user profiles. The company credited the use of those profiles in helping the Trump ‘16 campaign take advant