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    Despite rise in superbug cases, report finds rampant antibiotic use in pork industry

    Experts say that a loophole in food safety legislation passed under Obama is being exploited by pork producers

    Warnings about the dire risks of antibiotic resistance date back to 1945, when the scientist credited with discovering penicillin said that he feared an unknown day in the future “when penicillin can be bought by anyone in the shops.”

    As it turns out, antibiotics in the United States and other industrialized nations still require a doctor’s prescription, preventing “the ignorant man” as scientist Alexander Fleming described him, from picking up penicillin at the store and giving himself an incorrect dose. But for farm animals, that’s been a different story

    At animal feed stores, meat and poultry producers for decades have been able to purchase antibiotics in bulk that humans could only access for themselves with a doctor’s visit and a prescription. That scenario led some humans to apparently medicate themselves by shopping at PetSmart rather than seeing a doctor. But more importantly, it allowed farmers to medicate their herds cheaply and efficiently.

    On massive farms, animals that spent much of their lives in close-confinement and unsanitary conditions were given a cocktail of antibiotics on a routine basis to prevent diseases. Being fed antibiotics routinely also proved to make animals grow fatter more quickly.

    These two factors have made mass antibiotic usage an enormously popular practice on the corporate mega-farms that have come to characterize the American meat industry.  

    After decades of new and more frightening warnings from the public health community about the risks of antibiotic overuse -- namely, that wonder drugs like Penicillin could lose their effectiveness in the face of rare bacteria that have evolved to resist modern medicine -- the United States government finally decided to act.

    Under the Obama administration, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took what a former commissioner said was “the first significant step in dealing with this important public health concern in 20 years.”

    Rules that were introduced in 2013 and implemented in January 2017 required all farmers to obtain something like a prescription before dosing their herds with medically important antibiotic drugs, or antibiotics that are also used to treat illnesses in humans.

    Under the Obama administration’s 2017 rules, a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) signed by a licensed veterinarian must be presented at any feed store before a farmer can buy antibiotics for his livestock, ending the days of over-the-counter antibiotic sales at pet stores.

    Food safety groups at the time raised concerns that getting a VFD could turn out to be just as easy for major meat producers as buying antibiotics over-the-counter, but those concerns were waived away.

    “It’s a big shift from the current situation, in which animal producers can go to a local feed store and buy these medicines over the counter and there is no oversight at all,” the FDA’s then-commissioner Michael Taylor claimed at the time.

    Pork industry rejects findings

    Over a year later, however, a new report published by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) suggests that getting a VFD isn’t so difficult after all.

    Analyzing sales data of antibiotics to pork producers, the group determined that medically important antibiotics continue to be sold in roughly the same amount to pigs as they are to humans.

    Strictly comparing antibiotic sales in different livestock, the pork industry constitutes a significant chunk of sales (37 percent), the report says. When livestock sales and human sales are factored together, the NRDC found that 27 percent of all medically important antibiotics sold in the United States go straight to pigs.

    “The irresponsible use of antibiotics on pig farms has created ripe conditions for drug-resistant bacteria -- as well as the genes that foster resistance -- to multiply and spread from farms to people,” the report says.

    The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), the lobbying arm of the pork industry, argues that the NRDC’s report is misleading because it is analyzing antibiotic sales rather than actual antibiotic usage.

    “While the 37 percent figure may be correct, sales aren’t ‘uses;’” an NPPC spokesman tells ConsumerAffairs via email.

    But even if that is true, advocacy groups say they sales remain one of the only few reliable options to track antibiotic usage in the meat industry. The NRDC report says that government data on the issue is scare, and “the lack of clear data unnecessarily hampers public and government efforts to reduce antibiotic overuse.”

    The pork industry also argues that pig and cow producers are unfairly judged because their animals live longer and are larger than other livestock, which they say make them more likely to get sick and require antibiotics

    “The US pork industry never has said it has no part to play in the efforts to combat the very real problem of antibiotic resistance, but food-animal producers seem to be the only segment being asked (mandated?) to address the problem,” the NPPC spokesman complains.

    Regulatory loopholes

    While the pork industry seems to claim that it is being unfairly targeted in the antibiotic resistance crisis and burdened by regulations, research suggests that the opposite is true. The industry actually faces very few mandates or barriers in obtaining antibiotics, according to Dr. David Wallinga, a public health researcher at the NRDC who authored the antibiotics report.

    Part of the problem, Wallinga says, is that those feed directives that were supposed to function as something like prescriptions for the meat industry are poorly regulated and ripe with loopholes.

    For example, he says it’s unclear under the Obama-era legislation whether the veterinarians who write the directives are required to write a new prescription every time, or whether the same prescription can be reused repeatedly for an unknown duration of time on an unknown number of animals.

    He also points out that a veterinarian who is employed by a meat producer is likely going to do whatever that company wants, regardless of whether it is in the public’s interest.

    "What constitutes veterinary oversight is a huge grey area,” Wallinga tells ConsumerAffairs. Ultimately, his report suggests that reform lies at the feet of major pork producers rather than government regulations.

    “Overuse of antibiotics occurs within a markedly changed U.S. pork industry dominated by larger, more specialized farms….these entities have the power to catalyze much-needed change in how antibiotics are used throughout the pork production chain,” the report concludes.

    The growing superbug epidemic

    A prime example of one such entity with the power to “catalyze much-needed change” would be Smithfield foods. The Virginia-based company, which is technically a subsidiary of a massive pork corporation that is based in China, remains the largest pork company in the United States.

    “Smithfield Foods employs staff veterinarians and utilizes contract veterinarians who prescribe any necessary medications,” a public relations agency that represents Smithfield Foods sent ConsumerAffairs in a prepared statement. The agency spokesman directed other specific questions to the “Antibiotics Policy” page on Smithfield’s website, which claims that the company uses antibiotics safely and judiciously.

    But researchers continue to uncover growing evidence of superbugs at farms and on food. Several years ago, Ohio researchers discovered what they said was an “extremely rare” superbug on a pig farm, and they said they had no idea how it could have arrived there.

    While the researchers stressed at the time that there was no evidence the superbug actually reached the food chain, public health researchers also continue to uncover evidence that other superbugs are already appearing on raw meat sold in grocery stores.

    On Thursday, the Environmental Working Group said that their own analysis of federal government data uncovered that 71 percent of pork chops sold in American grocery stores are contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The group said that was also true for 62 percent of beef samples, 79 percent of turkey samples, and 36 percent of chicken samples.

    Wallinga, the NRDC researcher, says that antibiotic usage on chicken farms has dropped in recent years because major producers like Perdue voluntarily decided to scale down its usage.

    "But the consumers have also stepped up and demanded chicken raised with fewer antibiotics,” he adds, leading industry giants to reconsider their ways. "By contrast we haven't seen that kind of leadership by either companies producing pork, or, with a few exceptions, by restaurants serving pork. "

    The World Health Organization has identified antibiotic-resistance as a growing public health threat, and researchers in Europe predict that if no action is taken to address this, superbugs will kill 10 million people worldwide each year by 2050.

    Warnings about the dire risks of antibiotic resistance date back to 1945, when the scientist credited with discove...
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      Oklahomans vote to legalize medical marijuana

      The measure would make the state one of the least restrictive in the nation for people seeking cannabis treatment

      Oklahoma became the thirtieth state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana on Tuesday after voters overwhelmingly supported a ballot initiative that would regulate and expand access to it.

      The initiative, called Question 788, won support from 57 percent of voters.

      The law allows for the possession of up to eight ounces of marijuana, possession of six mature plants, and possession of six seedlings or edibles, as long as patients have a medical license.

      The law also allows doctors to recommend marijuana as medicine, something that even Colorado’s state laws do not allow for, and says that there are “no qualifying conditions” to obtain medical weed, meaning that the doctor can use his own judgement.

      The law would also help decriminalize weed by letting people arrested with 1.5 ounces or less to say that they have a medical condition in hopes of reducing felony charges to a ticket.

      Measure still requires signature

      The measure passed despite intensive lobbying from faith-based and law enforcement groups, as well as a $500,000 campaign urging voters to say “no. “

      “Question 788 is a tremendous victory for patients and for access to medical cannabis,” Americans for Safe Access said in a statement.  

      Like other states with legal weed, residents will still need a license to possess and purchase medical marijuana in Oklahoma.

      The measure also still needs to be signed by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who seems hesitant to implement the measure as it is written. "As I mentioned in previous public comments, I believe, as well as many Oklahomans, this new law is written so loosely that it opens the door for basically recreational marijuana," Fallin said.

      State lawmakers who are opposed to marijuana legalization may try to add restrictions to the law before it is implemented.

      Problematic for gun owners

      Oklahoma is not the first “red” state to legalize medical weed. Galvanized by the opioid epidemic, a combination of marijuana business interests and grassroots organizers helped convince voters to legalize medical marijuana in Arkansas in 2016, but officials only recently began dispensing permits for cultivators and dispensaries.

      While marijuana advocates are finding solid support in so-called “red” or conservative and rural states, local enthusiasts in states with high gun ownership rates may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

      Federal firearm and drug enforcement agencies say that it is illegal to be in possession of both a firearm and marijuana. In Oklahoma, just above 30 percent of the population owns a gun.

      Oklahoma became the thirtieth state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana on Tuesday after voters overwhelmingly supported a ballot initiative that w...
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      Crypto market takes a $9 billion hit

      Blame was pointed toward Bitcoin and Ether

      The Bitcoin bloodbath marches on, taking a dive to below the $6k mark – the first time it’s been this low since November 2017.

      According to the lookouts at CryptoCoinsNews (CCN), the low volume of Bitcoin and Ether -- the native cryptocurrency of the Ethereum blockchain protocol -- are to blame. And the forecast is rockier than some would like.

      "At this rate, the bitcoin price could dip as low as $5,800 in the short-term, especially if the daily volume of BTC does not spike by a large margin in the next 24 to 48 hours," reported CCN.

      As of June 29, Bitcoin’s volume is still under the $4 billion mark and Ether’s volume is below $1.5 billion. While it’s higher than the volume of the day before, analysts are concerned that it’s not sufficient enough to push the crypto market up for the short-haul.

      Feast, famine, or funeral?

      "There's more blood to come," said Ran Neu-Ner, founder of OnChain Capital, host of CNBC’s "Crypto Trader," and someone who predicted Bitcoin’s tumble weeks ago.

      "Right now my money is on the market continuing to go down," Neu-Ner warns, estimating that there’s a 60+ percent chance the crypto market could become bearish versus a 16 percent chance of a bull market.

      "And a bear market means we're going to test $5,350" as the new low, the founder of OnChain Capita said.

      Bitcoin has been declared "dead" more than 300 times by financial savants ranging from Warren Buffett to the Washington Post who proclaimed "Bitcoin isn’t the future of money — it’s either a Ponzi scheme or a pyramid scheme."

      ConsumerAffairs recently reported the findings of economics scholars at the University of Texas who found that the enormity of Bitcoin’s peak value of $19,000 may have come at the hand of some artificial market manipulation.

      First, Russia. Now, Bitcoin?

      On Wednesday, cybersecurity expert Scott Dueweke, president of The Identity and Payments Association (IDPAY), testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that virtual currencies are the ideal tool for state actors and foreign parties to use in altering the U.S. political process.

      "Considering that a large percentage of global criminal hackers and many cybercriminals are Russian or speak Russian (it is estimated that 25% of Darknet content is Russian), and given Russia’s current state of tension with the United States and Europe, this development should be closely monitored," Dueweke warned in his prepared testimony.

      The Bitcoin bloodbath marches on, taking a dive to below the $6k mark – the first time it’s been this low since November 2017.According to the lookouts...
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      California passes strict new online privacy law

      The new law will give consumers in the Golden State sweeping control over their personal data

      On Thursday, California legislators passed the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018. Under the new law, the data-harvesting practices of Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Uber will be restricted and consumers will have control over their personal data.

      The new law gives consumers the right to know what information these big tech companies are collecting, as well as why they’re collecting it and where it’s being shared. Under the new law, consumers can also choose to bar tech companies from selling their data to third parties, including advertisers.

      The new privacy rules are set to take effect in 2020, but only in the state of California.

      "The state that pioneered the tech revolution is now, rightly, a pioneer in consumer privacy safeguards, and we expect many additional states to follow suit," James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, said in a statement.

      "Today was a huge win and gives consumer privacy advocates a blueprint for success. We look forward to working together with lawmakers across the nation to ensure robust data privacy protections for all Americans,” Steyer added.

      Online privacy protection

      News of the new legislation comes about a month after the European Union implemented strict new privacy rules known as General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR.

      However, the Norwegian Consumer Council recently stepped forward with claims that tech firms such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft instituted changes to their user controls that only give consumers “the illusion” of privacy.

      The California Consumer Privacy Act has gotten the support of most privacy advocates, but some have pointed out that there are a few loopholes in the law that could cause problems. For example, the law would allow tech companies or ISPs to charge higher prices to consumers who opt out of having their data sold to third parties.

      "For the first time California is explicitly allowing 'pay for privacy' deals that are in direct contradiction to our privacy rights," Emily Rusch, executive director of the nonprofit California Public Interest Research Group, said in a statement.

      State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D), who supported the law, said paying for online privacy is a “dangerous and slippery slope.”

      California’s new law provides some of the toughest online protections in the country.

      “I think it’s going to set the standard across the country that legislatures across the country will look to adopt in their own states,” said state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D).

      On Thursday, California legislators passed the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018. Under the new law, the data-harvesting practices of Amazon, Faceboo...
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      Instagram releases new soundtrack option for Stories

      Users can now add music to their posts

      Instagram just released an update to its app that allows users to add songs -- from artists like Bruno Mars, Dua Lipa, Calvin Harris, or Guns N’ Roses -- to their Stories. The launch comes following Facebook’s new relationship with all major record labels and is expected to make the photo sharing app even more popular.

      The songs will be offered to users directly in the app and will play as background music to whatever picture or video they post to their Stories. Instagram also reported that new songs will be added to the app daily.

      Much like the Sticker feature in Instagram Stories, adding music will work in much the same way. Users can search for any song, artist, or genre, and then drag and drop the song of their choice from the Music “sticker,” and it will then be added to their post.

      The new Music feature will be available for both picture and video posts. Instagram also allows users to scan through the entire song to find the section they want to post in their Stories. Additionally, iOS users can switch to the Music shutter mode in the Stories camera to pick a song prior to taking a picture or video. When watching a Story that has a song, friends will be able to see the song’s title and artist and the song will play automatically.

      “Now you can add a soundtrack to your story that fits any moment and helps you express how you’re feeling,” Instagram writes.

      Instagram reported that artists with rights holders will be properly compensated for their music, though how those payments will work out is still unclear.

      Success of Stories

      This new update to Stories comes on the heels of a big announcement from Instagram.

      Just last week, the company revealed that the app has one billion monthly users. And today, it announced that there are 400 million daily Instagram Story users -- up from 300 million in November and 250 million last year.

      Instagram Stories have taken off recently, as the company continues to add new features, like SuperZoom, Highlights, and the ability to reshare public posts. The number of users utilizing Stories is currently growing six times faster than Snapchat’s whole app. Many believe Snapchat’s redesign -- which was received very poorly by users -- was partly the reason behind the company’s slowest growth rate ever last quarter.

      As for Stories’ new Music feature, it is currently available in select countries -- most likely where the company was able to get licenses for songs -- and it is expected to roll out to more locations soon.

      Instagram just released an update to its app that allows users to add songs -- from artists like Bruno Mars, Dua Lipa, Calvin Harris, or Guns N’ Roses -- t...
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      Adidas warns millions of U.S. customers of potential data breach

      The U.S. website is the likely culprit of the company’s data concerns

      On Thursday, Adidas reached out to millions of customers in the United States to warn them about a potential data breach that occurred within the company’s U.S. website. According to a company statement, Adidas is referring to the situation as a “potential data security incident.”

      “On June 26, Adidas became aware that an unauthorized party claims to have acquired limited data associated with certain Adidas customers,” the company said.

      Based on a preliminary investigation conducted by outside data security firms, the leaked data was limited in nature.

      “The limited data includes contact information, usernames, and encrypted passwords,” the statement said. “Adidas has no reason to believe that any credit card or fitness information of those consumers was impacted.”

      Cause for concern

      Adidas found out about the possible data breach on June 26, and though it informed customers right away, the company is still uncertain when the breach took place.

      “We are alerting certain customers who purchased on adidas.com/US about a potential data security incident,” a company spokeswoman told Bloomberg. “At this time, this is a few million consumers.”

      A data breach -- though not uncommon for major brands as of late -- does have the ability to tarnish the reputation of a company. Based on a recent study by KPMG, 55 percent of global consumers have decided against purchasing something from companies that have had issues with online privacy.

      Moreover, since 2017, several major brands have had issues with matters of data privacy, including Sears, Best Buy, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, and Under Armour -- among countless others. Most recently, Delta Airlines reported a cyber attack that released the payment information for thousands of customers.

      Despite this most recent incident, Adidas is looking to rectify the issue for consumers and is continuing to work to prevent future attacks on data privacy.

      “Adidas is committed to the privacy and security of its consumers’ personal data,” the statement said. “Adidas immediately began taking steps to determine the scope of the issue and to alert relevant customers.”

      On Thursday, Adidas reached out to millions of customers in the United States to warn them about a potential data breach that occurred within the company’s...
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      Chase's smartphone bank is being expanded nationwide

      Finn has been test-marketed in St. Louis since October

      JP Morgan Chase has rolled out its smartphone bank, Finn, on a nationwide basis after testing it in the St. Louis market since last fall.

      Chase stresses that Finn is not just an app, but a stand-alone bank. The company says it’s accessible through mobile devices and offers an array of tools designed to help users spend smarter and save more money.

      “Finn continues to evolve based on the meaningful feedback that we get from our customers,” said Melissa Feldsher, head of Finn by Chase. “We look forward to adding new features and experiences that our customers ask for as we continue to learn from them.”

      According to American Banker, a publication of the American Bankers Association, banks in general are grappling with how to alter traditional banking for a younger generation of consumers who prefer to do everything digitally.

      Possible trendsetter

      NerdWallet banking expert Kimberly Palmer says Finn could become a trendsetter for brick and mortar banks that are looking to get a foothold with younger consumers.

      "Millennials often want to go outside of traditional banks, which they tend to associate with high fees and low APRs,” Palmer said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “Digital banks, like Finn by Chase and Marcus by Goldman Sachs, are an attractive alternative.”

      Palmer says many older consumers might hesitate to do business with a bank lacking physical branches, but it's not an issue for a growing segment of younger consumers.

      “Since they generally live so much of their financial lives online anyway, moving to an all-digital bank isn’t that big of a jump," she said.

      Doing everything from your phone

      Chase says Finn enables customers to do all of their banking from their phone, such as opening an account, making a deposit, or sending money to friends. Finn has a debit card that allows transactions with no fee at more than 29,000 Chase and partner ATMs across the country.

      Finn will compete with other digital banks, such as Ally, that tend to have fewer fees and provide higher rates of interest on deposits. Citigroup, which has a brick and mortar presence in just six states, announced in March it will launch a digital banking service later this year.

      JP Morgan Chase has rolled out its smartphone bank, Finn, on a nationwide basis after testing it in the St. Louis market since last fall.Chase stresses...
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      Consumer group charges big tech of only giving 'the illusion' of privacy

      Norwegian Consumer Council calls out Facebook, Google, and Microsoft

      Just weeks after the European Union enacted sweeping new privacy rules, the Norwegian Consumer Council has issued a report questioning how Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are meeting these requirements.

      In a report entitled Deceived by Design, the group claims the U.S.-based tech firms have instituted changes to their user controls that appear to give consumers more power to protect their privacy, but in fact use default settings and “misleading” wording to accomplish the opposite.

      The report looked at the changes the tech companies made to their sites in April and May, in preparation for Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which recently went into effect. At the time, Facebook was also responding to harsh criticism it received after it revealed that some of its user data had been used for unauthorized political marketing purposes.

      Privacy-friendly settings hard to access

      As examples, the Norwegian report cites some cases of the most privacy-friendly settings being the hardest to access and choices being presented with only two options.

      For example, if a Facebook user disables facial recognition, they are told that Facebook will be unable to prevent someone from using their photo to impersonate them. The report said that is a not-too-subtle attempt to persuade Facebook users not to disable facial recognition.

      In statements to news outlets, the companies named in the report have reaffirmed their commitment to privacy. Google said it is constantly updating its controls in response to user experience tests. Facebook said it had “made its policies clearer, our privacy settings easier to find.” Microsoft said it is committed to GDPR compliance.

      'Vast array of design techniques'

      But the report suggests big technology firms, while giving users more control, take overt steps to try to influence those choices.

      “Providers of digital services use a vast array of user design techniques in order to nudge users toward clicking and choosing certain options,” the authors write. “This is not in itself a problem, but the use of exploitative design choices, or 'dark patterns,' is arguably an unethical attempt to push consumers toward choices that benefit the service provider.”

      The report concludes that the firms' attempts to influence consumer privacy choices cross the line, becoming techniques that could, in some cases, be “deceptive and manipulative.” For that reason, the report questions whether the firms are in actual compliance with Europe's tough, new privacy regulations.

      Just weeks after the European Union enacted sweeping new privacy rules, the Norwegian Consumer Council has issued a report questioning how Google, Facebook...
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      Inflation rises in May, but so do incomes

      An economist says a Commerce Department report shows a still-healthy economy

      Inflation ticked up in May, hitting the Federal Reserve's target of 2 percent for the first time since 2012. But in good news for consumers, a government report shows incomes rose even more.

      The Commerce Department reports the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index rose 0.2 percent last month on the heels of a similar gain in April. In the last 12 months, the PCE price index – which is closely monitored by the Fed – is up 2.3 percent.

      At the same time, consumers' incomes rose 0.4 percent in May, following a 0.2 percent gain in April. Wages were up 0.3 percent and the savings rate climbed to 3.2 percent.

      Healthy expansion

      Robert Frick, corporate economist with Navy Federal Credit Union, says the report paints a mostly upbeat picture.

      “Nothing in the Personal Income and Outlays report this morning casts doubt on the health of the expansion, or on the Fed's plan to raise interest rates two more times this year,” Frick said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “The good news for American workers is personal income increased as expected, so hope remains that wages— which have been eroded by inflation the last year — will rise above their current level and workers' purchasing power will increase.”

      Frick says the rise in inflation is no cause for concern because it is still at a relatively low rate. Besides, it is only now hitting the level the Fed has decided is healthy for a growing economy.

      Consumer spending was down

      “That consumer expenditures dipped is also not a cause for concern,” Frick said. “That is a particularly volatile figure, and if accurate reflects that consumers are channeling more towards savings, which has been bumping at historically low levels.”

      Consumers also spent less on their utility bills in May, since most areas of the country fell between the heating and air conditioning seasons last month. The savings likely contributed to the increase in savings.

      The report may quell rising concern on Wall Street in recent days that a potential recession is looming. Stocks have fallen in the last week as traders have fretted over the narrowing gap between the yield on the Treasury's two-year and 10-year bonds, a traditional sign of an economic slowdown.

      Inflation ticked up in May, hitting the Federal Reserve's target of 2 percent for the first time since 2012. But in good news for consumers, a government r...
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      Data breach may have exposed the personal information of 340 million people and businesses

      Financial information was not leaked, but a range of personal characteristics were compromised

      A database controlled by a Florida-based marketing and data aggregation company may have been compromised, exposing individual records on nearly 340 million people and businesses.

      Security researcher Vinny Troia found that nearly 2 terabytes of data were exposed, which includes records of 230 million consumers and 110 million businesses.

      "It seems like this is a database with pretty much every US citizen in it," Troia, founder of the New York-based security firm Night Lion Security, told Wired. “I don’t know where the data is coming from, but it’s one of the most comprehensive collections I’ve ever seen.”

      If these estimates are accurate, the leak would be even larger than the Equifax data breach of 2017, which exposed the personal data of around 145 million people.

      Highly personal information

      Although credit card information and Social Security numbers don’t appear to have been leaked, the alleged breach reportedly exposed highly personal information, including phone numbers, home addresses, email addresses.

      It also exposed more than 400 personal characteristics, including interests, habits, if the person owns a dog or cat, and the age and gender of the person’s children. Wired noted that in some cases, the information may have been inaccurate or outdated.  

      Despite the fact that no financial information was included, experts say that the wide range of personal data revealed could still make it possible for bad actors to create a more complete profile of individuals or help scammers steal identities.

      Troia said he informed Exactis and the FBI that he was able to access the database on the internet earlier this month. The data is no longer publicly accessible. Exactis has not yet confirmed the leak.

      A database controlled by a Florida-based marketing and data aggregation company may have been compromised, exposing individual records on nearly 340 millio...
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      Automakers say Trump’s proposed tariffs are likely to harm consumers

      Car companies say the legislation could raise prices and eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs

      A group of major foreign automakers have warned that President Trump’s intent to impose a 20 percent import tariff on all cars assembled in the European Union could result in a significant price hike of the average new car. The tariffs could also cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

      The two groups that issued the warning to the Trump Administration are the Association of Global Automakers -- which represents major automakers including Toyota, Subaru, Nissan, Hyundai, and more -- and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which includes BMW, Ford, General Motors, and ohers, Reuters reports.

      “The greatest threat to the U.S. automotive industry at this time is the possibility the administration will impose duties on imports in connection with this investigation,” wrote the Association of Global Automakers.

      Average price hike of $5,800

      On Tuesday, Trump said the 20 percent tariffs he threatened last week to impose on all imports of EU-assembled cars are coming soon.

      “We are finishing our study of Tariffs on cars from the E.U. in that they have long taken advantage of the U.S. in the form of Trade Barriers and Tariffs. In the end it will all even out - and it won’t take very long!” Trump tweeted.

      The tariffs threaten to tack on thousands to the typical cost of a new car, which is currently approximately $34,000. U.S. consumers would see a price hike of around $5,800 on a new car as a result of the tariffs, according to an analysis by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

      “Such duties would raise prices for American consumers, limit their choices, and suppress sales and U.S. production of vehicles,” the group said.

      Job losses and slowed technology development

      Members of the Association added that imposing tariffs would also result in the loss of auto jobs.

      “Rather than creating jobs, these tariffs would result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of American jobs producing and selling cars, SUVs, trucks and auto parts,” the group said.

      Further, the proposed tariffs would stymie the development of advanced safety features like autonomy and electrification, the group warned.

      "The increased costs associated with the proposed tariffs may result in diminishing the US' competitiveness in developing these advanced technologies," said the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

      Secretary Wilbur Ross indicated that research into import tariffs on European cars is underway, according to Reuters. That research is expected to conclude by July.

      A group of major foreign automakers have warned that President Trump’s intent to impose a 20 percent import tariff on all cars assembled in the European Un...
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      Instagram releases new Lite app

      The new slimmed down version of the app will soon be available in several countries

      In an effort to bring Instagram to areas where mobile coverage is spotty or data is expensive, the social media company just released Instagram Lite -- a new version of the app that “takes up less space on your device, uses less data, and starts faster.”

      The app appeared today in the Google Play App Store without any official statement from the company. However, the official description in the App Store describes the app as “small” so that users can save space on their phone and download it quickly.

      According to TechCrunch, Instagram Lite takes up 1/55th of the space of the full app at just 573 KB compared to the 32-megabyte main app. The Lite version allows users to filter and post photos to their feeds, watch Stories, or browse the Explore page. However, it currently lacks the capabilities to share videos or Direct messages with friends.

      Instagram has yet to report if the Lite app will contain ads, as advertisements typically tend to use a lot of data.

      Benefits of the Lite app

      In creating a version of the app that is better suited for emerging markets, Instagram is addressing a number of common issues consumers are facing overseas.

      With the Lite app, users on older phones, phones with less storage, phones operating on slower network connections, or those who can’t afford big data packages can still utilize the features that one billion Instagram users have access to. Additionally, users won’t have to delete anything -- apps or photos -- off of their devices to download the Lite version, or spend tons of time waiting for it to download.

      Instagram Lite was released in testing phases in Mexico this week. As the year progresses, the app will become available in more countries and expand to include both messaging and video posting/sharing.

      “We are testing a new version of Instagram for Android that takes up less space on your device, uses less data, and starts faster,” the company said in a statement.

      The Lite trend

      Recently, many apps have adapted their software to produce new Lite versions.

      Earlier this month, Uber launched Uber Lite in India and boasted about its five-megabyte size and ability to connect users to rides in areas with little to no reception. Similar to Instagram’s new Lite app, Uber Lite is available only for Android users. Upon release, Uber Lite was only available in India, though the company reported that it was working to expand it to other countries.

      In 2015, Facebook launched a lite version of its app, and by 2017, boasted 200 million users. The success of that helped launch Messenger Lite this past April.

      In an effort to bring Instagram to areas where mobile coverage is spotty or data is expensive, the social media company just released Instagram Lite -- a n...
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      Appeals court rules Carfax didn't violate antitrust laws

      The vehicle information company battled car dealers for five years

      Carfax says it has won a lengthy court battle with nearly 500 used car dealers that sued the vehicle information company for alleged antitrust violations.

      In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a lower court ruling, dismissing a lawsuit filed against Carfax by Maxon Hyundai Mazda and approximately 470 used car dealers.

      The dealers filed a $50 million class action suit five years ago claiming that Carfax has exclusive agreements with the most popular used car sites, meaning dealers advertising on those sites must offer Carfax vehicle reports, instead of those offered by competitors.

      The suit said Carfax also had exclusive arrangements with 37 out of 40 used car certification programs and charged more for its services.

      "In our over 30 years of doing business, Carfax has never wavered from our commitment to help dealers increase the success of their business," said Bill Eager, vice president, dealer business unit at Carfax. "Our focus is, and always will be, on providing the innovative products and exemplary services our dealer customers expect and rely on to confidently acquire, advertise, service, and sell used cars.”

      30,000 dealer relationships

      Carmax says it has more than 30,000 dealer relationships, maintaining a database of more than 20 billion records. The reports provide a vehicle history and tell a prospective buyer if the car or truck has suffered damage in an accident.

      In its class action suit, the dealers charged that the reports sometimes contain inaccurate information, causing them to lose sales. Consumers posting at ConsumerAffairs over the years have made similar complaints.

      Credit report for vehicles

      A Carfax report has been likened to a credit report for vehicles. The information comes from a variety of sources and sometimes, just as with credit reports, erroneous information gets into the record.

      Carfax says that among the things its reports check for are major damage, mileage rollbacks, multiple owners, service history, flood damage, estimated miles driven each year, and whether an airbag has been deployed. It also checks to see if the car has ever been totaled by an insurance company or has been branded as a lemon.

      Carfax says it has won a lengthy court battle with nearly 500 used car dealers that sued the vehicle information company for alleged antitrust violations....
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      Loblaw recalls chicken burgers

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Loblaw Companies Limited is recalling its no name brand chicken burgers that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      Canada's Public Health Agency is investigating an outbreak of human illness.

      The following product, which was sold at retail stores throughout Canada, is being recalled:

      Brand NameCommon NameSizeCode(s) on ProductUPC
      no nameChicken BurgerskgOuter package: 2019 FE 06
      Inner package: 0378M
      0 60383 16636 6

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but discard it or returned it to the where purchased.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (888) 495-5111or by email at customerservice@loblaws.ca

      Photo source: Health CanadaLoblaw Companies Limited is recalling its no name brand chicken burgers that may be contaminated with Salmonella.Canad...
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      Model year 2018-2019 BMW X3 vehicles recalled

      The "Active Lane Keeping Assistant" option may malfunction

      BMW of North America is recalling 51 model year 2018-2019 BMW X3 xDrive30i, X3 sDrive30i, and X3 M40i vehicles with the "Active Lane Keeping Assistant" option.

      The steering wheel may be incompatible with the lane keeping assistant function and may not detect if the driver's hands are off the wheel.

      If the sensors do not properly detect the driver's hands are off the wheel, the driver may not be alerted by one or more warning signals, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the steering wheel, replacing it if necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin July 23, 2018.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.

      Photo source: BMWBMW of North America is recalling 51 model year 2018-2019 BMW X3 xDrive30i, X3 sDrive30i, and X3 M40i vehicles with the "Active Lane...
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      Supreme Court ruling deals major blow to unions

      Non-union employees will no longer be required to pay towards collective bargaining

      On Wednesday, the Supreme Court struck down an Illinois law that required non-union workers to pay fees that go towards collective bargaining. The decision has massive implications on the financial structure of public sector unions and could be devastating to their future outlook.

      Conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority in the 5-4 decision.

      “It is hard to estimate how many billions of dollars have been taken from non-members and transferred to public-sector unions in violation of the First Amendment,” Alito wrote. “Those unconstitutional executions cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.”

      “The First Amendment was meant for better things,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote, in dissent of the decision. “It was not meant to undermine but to protect democratic governance -- including over the role of public-sector unions.”

      Ramifications for unions

      Those in favor of the decision believe that non-union members shouldn’t be responsible for paying a share of union dues that cover the cost of negotiating contracts. However, union members have previously reported that this exact outcome would cut off an income source, as well as diminish their political influence in the 23 states where they advocate for both members and non-members.

      Nearly half of all union members in the United States are government employees, and a recent non-partisan study found that a Supreme Court defeat would eventually cause public employee unions to lose 726,000 members -- which would be a significant blow.

      While Alito noted that unions could “experience unpleasant transition costs in the short term,” he believes labor’s problems aren’t as serious as “the considerable windfall that unions have received...for the past 41 years.”

      Despite being in the minority, Justice Kagan continued to reinforce the implications this decision will have moving forward.

      “There’s no sugarcoating today’s decision,” Kagan wrote. “The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this Nation’s law -- and its economic life -- for over 40 years. As a result, it prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance. And it does so by weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.”

      History in the case

      The debate surrounding the case stems from the decision in the 1977 Supreme Court case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. That ruling decided that non-members of public sector unions cannot be required to pay fees for a union’s political activities, but they can be required to pay “fair share” fees that go towards employee grievances, physical safety, and training.

      The current case began with a lawsuit against an Illinois public sector union filed by Republican Governor Bruce Rauner.

      Two years ago, the court was locked in a 4-4 standstill on this same issue when it was presented by a group of California teachers who were opposed to paying the fees. Since then, Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the court and provided the fifth vote to end the fees.

      “By requiring unions to represent everyone in a collective bargaining unit without ensuring fair contributions for that representation, unions will be forced to do more with much less -- to the detriment of those they represent,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-California). “The decision today is the latest blow in a decades-long, nationwide effort by conservatives to bust unions that advocate for workers and protect them from employer abuses.”

      On Wednesday, the Supreme Court struck down an Illinois law that required non-union workers to pay fees that go towards collective bargaining. The decision...
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      Employers complain of growing 'talent shortage'

      Positions such as electricians, welders, and drivers are going unfilled

      With the unemployment rate hovering just above record lows, employers are complaining that they can't find the talent they need to fill existing jobs.

      But if you spent four years and tens of thousands of dollars getting a college degree, you might not be the workers employers are looking for.

      The latest talent shortage survey from the ManpowerGroup found the most difficult slots for employers to fill are skilled workers, with the shortage at the worst it's been in 12 years.

      In particular, employers said skilled workers -- such as electricians, welders, and mechanics -- are hard to find. They also said many positions as salesmen and drivers are going unfilled.

      College degree not necessary

      Many of the jobs that 46 percent of employers say they can't fill require training, but not a four-year college degree.

      "We continue to see increasing demand for skilled workers across all sectors of the U.S. economy from transport and trade to manufacturing and sales," said Becky Frankiewicz, President of ManpowerGroup North America. "Employers cannot find the people they need with the right blend of technical skills and human strengths and the problem won't fix itself.”

      To fill the gap, the survey found employers are luring retired workers back to their old jobs and recruiting returning parents and part-timers.

      More than half of the companies in the survey said they are investing in learning platforms and development tools to build their talent pipeline. To make their open positions more attractive, 19 percent of employers are offering flexible work arrangements and other modifications to the jobs.

      Increasing salary

      Pay is also improving for many of these positions. According to U.S. News and World Report, the median salary for an electrician in the U.S. was $52,720 in 2016. Electricians are licensed by the states in which they operate after completing a training course. Most require a high school diploma but not an expensive college education.

      “It's time for a new approach to attract, recruit and retain talent,” Frankiewicz said. “Employers need to buy skills where necessary, borrow from external sources and help people with adjacent skills bridge from one role to another.”

      In other words, employers may have to build their own talent pool because the education system isn't providing it.

      As we reported earlier this month, many college graduates struggle to find jobs, even in this tight labor market. Research conducted for the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows the average college graduate who does not leave school with a job will spend 7.4 months looking for one.

      While jobseekers can focus on jobs where a talent shortage exists, the ManpowerGroup urges employers to develop more training programs to cultivate talent, both inside and outside the organization.

      With the unemployment rate hovering just above record lows, employers are complaining that they can't find the talent they need to fill existing jobs.B...
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      Tesla reveals Model 3 price cuts, changes to design studio

      The company is opening up invites to all remaining Model 3 reservation holders

      On Tuesday, Tesla announced that it will open up orders to all remaining Model 3 reservation holders in the U.S. and Canada.

      The company also gave the Model 3 Performance and Dual Motor AWD version a price cut.

      Tesla was able to trim the cost of the Model 3 Performance by making many of its features optional instead of standard. Now, a base Model 3 Performance will start at $64,000 (down from $78,000). Consumers can spring for optional features such as a white interior or premium paint.

      Model 3’s with dual motors and a Long Range battery pack will cost $53,000, which is $1,000 less than before. The new prices will be applied retroactively for customers who have already placed orders.

      The company also updated its delivery timeline to prioritize the Performance version with a 2- to 4-month delivery window. The Long Range battery pack with rear-wheel drive motor now has a 3- to 5-month delivery window, as does the dual motor version without the performance package.

      Tesla has been working hard on improving its production process in an effort reach its goal of making 5,000 Model 3s a week.

      Although a $35,000 Model 3 still isn’t available, the price cuts and changes to the Model 3 design studio suggest that the company is making headway in achieving its goal of bringing an affordable electric vehicle to mass market.

      On Tuesday, Tesla announced that it will open up orders to all remaining Model 3 reservation holders in the U.S. and Canada. The company also gave the...
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      AAA says smartphone apps are safer than cars' infotainment systems

      Researchers say Apple CarPlay and Google's Android Auto are less distracting

      Distracted driving remains a significant safety issue on the nation's highways, and drivers who use their cell phones aren’t the only reason.

      Late model cars feature complex infotainment systems that studies have shown draw drivers' attention away from the road. These studies have shown that even hands-free systems, designed for safety, are still distracting.

      "We're seeing more automakers try to address the issue of distracted driving through semi-autonomous features, but we're also mindful of the fact that some of these features could distract drivers even more and often give drivers a false sense of security," said Stephanie Braun, director of the connected car department at Esurance.

      New AAA study

      In a new study, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that Apple CarPlay and Google's Android Auto are actually less distracting to drivers than most vehicles’ factory-installed infotainment systems.

      Apple CarPlay, available on select models, allows drivers to use voice commands to control their phones by getting information directly from Siri or having it displayed on the car's in-dash screen.

      Google's Android Auto is similar. It displays information on the car's screen and gives the driver requested information verbally via Google Assistant.

      The AAA researchers said CarPlay and Android Auto were 24 percent faster on average than a vehicle's native system when making a call and 31 percent faster when programming navigation.

      Critical difference

      That difference in speed is critical, researchers contend, because drivers who remove their gaze from the road double their risk of an accident. The takeaway, according to AAA, is that cars' infotainment systems can be designed to be less distracting, and therefore safer.

      "Google and Apple are proving that it is possible to reduce the level of demand in-vehicle infotainment technology places on drivers," said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

      Yang says all systems have considerable room for improvement, but he believes that smartphone-based software has the potential to offer a simpler, more familiar design that is less confusing to drivers, and therefore less demanding.

      AAA says drivers should not use in-vehicle infotainment technology to perform non-driving related tasks. Even with increased speeds provided by the smartphone apps, drivers still took up to 33 seconds to complete a navigation task. Still, that's much better than the 48 seconds needed for native systems.

      AAA says distracted driving is responsible for more than 390,000 injuries and 3,500 deaths every year.

      Distracted driving remains a significant safety issue on the nation's highways, and drivers who use their cell phones aren’t the only reason.Late model...
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      Judge dismisses lawsuit against five major oil companies

      Two cities believe the companies should pay for costs related to climate change

      A San Francisco federal judge has ruled in favor of five big oil companies in a lawsuit brought by two California cities, Oakland and San Francisco, over the fossil fuel industry’s responsibility in paying for the cost of climate change.

      Judge William Alsup didn’t dispute the science of climate change, but he said it was a matter of the law. “This order accepts the science behind global warming,” Judge Alsup said in his order. However, “the issue is not over science. The issue is a legal one,” he said.

      Judge Alsup ruled in favor of the defendants -- Chevron, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell, and BP. The companies argued that the case should be dismissed because the courts were not the proper venue to address climate change.

      “The court will stay its hand in favor of solutions by the legislative and executive branches,” Alsup wrote.

      Public nuisance law

      The lawsuits said that Big Oil created a public nuisance and that the companies should pay for sea walls and other infrastructure to protect against the damage from global warming and sea level rise.

      However, if the courts determined that oil and gas production was a public nuisance, it would “invade the prerogatives of Congress and the executive branch,” Theodore Boutrous, the lawyer representing Chevron, said in a hearing.

      “Earlier attempts to use nuisance claims in lawsuits about climate change have been heard under federal law in cases such as American Electric Power v. Connecticut, but none have succeeded,” the New York Times reports.

      “In a unanimous 2011 decision, the Supreme Court said that the Clean Air Act displaced the federal common law of nuisance, leaving enforcement and regulation to the Environmental Protection Agency.”

      Alsup said that although it's "true" that carbon dioxide released from fossil fuels has contributed to global warming, we have all benefited from fuel and coal. “Development of our modern world has literally been fuelled by oil and coal,” he wrote.

      "The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case," Judge Alsup concluded.

      A San Francisco federal judge has ruled in favor of five big oil companies in a lawsuit brought by two California cities, Oakland and San Francisco, over t...
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      Child finds loaded gun in IKEA couch

      A shot was fired, but no one hurt

      It sounds like an urban legend: a child finds a loaded handgun in the cushions of a sofa at IKEA and fires a shot.

      But it's no urban legend. Police say it actually happened at an IKEA store in suburban Indianapolis. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

      According to a local police report, a shopper carrying a handgun sat down on the sofa and did not realize that the weapon slipped out of his pocket and lodged between the cushions.

      Minutes later, a child sat on the sofa and discovered the gun. Pulling it out, the child played with it for about a minute before apparently pulling the trigger, firing off a round into the back of the sofa.

      At that point, police say the gun's owner heard the shot, checked for his weapon, and discovered it was missing. Police say the man identified himself to alarmed store employees as the gun's owner.

      No arrests

      Police were called to the store but no arrests were made. The man had a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

      IKEA has a policy against bringing guns into its stores, but the store policy does not have the force of law. However, Indianapolis television station WTTV said a police investigation of the incident is still underway.

      Fishers, Ind., Police Sgt. Tom Weger told the station that the incident is an example of why gun owners must be responsible and keep their weapons under control at all times.

      For its part, IKEA apologized to the child's parents.

      “The safety and security of customers and co-workers is the top priority," the company said in a statement. “Ikea has a no-weapon policy in our locations to prevent exactly these types of situations."

      It sounds like an urban legend: a child finds a loaded handgun in the cushions of a sofa at IKEA and fires a shot.But it's no urban legend. Police say...
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      Land O’Frost recalls Black Forest Ham

      The package contains labeling discrepancies

      Land O’Frost of Madisonville, Ky., is recalling approximately 4,944 pounds of ham.

      The front of the package is accurately labeled as Black Forest Ham; however the back of the package is incorrectly labeled as Honey Smoked Turkey Breast.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of the product.

      The following item, produced on April 27, 2018, is being recalled:

      • 1-lb. plastic gas-flushed resealable packages containing a single ham labeled “Land O’Frost PREMIUM Old World Style Black Forest Ham” with Lot 8117D and a sell-by date of August 10, 2018 on the label.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “Est.500K” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to a retail locations in Arizona, California, Oregon, Texas and Washington.

      What to do

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Dar Gautreaux at (800) 762-9865.

      Land O’Frost of Madisonville, Ky., is recalling approximately 4,944 pounds of ham.The front of the package is accurately labeled as Black Forest Ham; h...
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      Toyota recalls Lexus IS and GS vehicles

      The vehicles may develop a fuel leak

      Toyota Motor North America is recalling about 115,000 model year 2006-2013 Lexus IS 350s, model year 2010-2014 IS 350Cs and model year 2007-2011 GS 350s, and GS 450h vehicles.

      The diaphragm material in the fuel pulsation dampers in certain 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engines may harden over time and crack, causing fuel to leak.

      A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source can increase the risk of a vehicle fire.

      What to do

      Lexus notify all known owners and dealers will replace the fuel delivery pipe with a new one containing improved pulsation dampers at no cost.

      Owners may contact Lexus at (800) 255-3987.

      Toyota Motor North America is recalling about 115,000 model year 2006-2013 Lexus IS 350s, model year 2010-2014 IS 350Cs and model year 2007-2011 GS 350s, a...
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      Uber wins 15-month provisional license to operate in London

      The rideshare company is looking to restore its reputation overseas

      This past September, London’s transport regulator rejected Uber’s request to renew its license to operate in the city. Now, nine months later, Uber has won an appeal to operate on a provisional license in the city for the next 15 months.

      Today, the judge hearing the case allowed Uber to operate in the city on the grounds that the company continues to work on past issues and applies for a five-year license.

      “While ULL was not a fit and proper person...it is now a fit and proper person, and I grant a license,” said chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot in her ruling.

      According to the justice, she feels that Uber has provided substantial evidence of modifying its practices and is committed to adhering to her final decision. ULL will also be paying £425,000 in court charges for the case.

      A rocky past

      Uber’s license was initially declined to operate in London primarily because of concerns surrounding customer safety.

      Transport for London (TfL) -- the city’s transport regulator -- argued that Uber “demonstrated a lack of corporate responsibility” in reporting serious incidents, and the agency deemed the company not “fit and proper to hold a private hire operator license.”

      Other reasons for denying Uber’s license included:

      • Uber’s approach to obtaining medical certificates and Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service checks.

      • Uber’s use of Greyball -- software that can block regulatory agencies from gaining full access to the app and/or undertaking regulatory or law enforcement duties.

      “The attitude of the previous managers appeared to be grow the business, come what may,” Arbuthnot said of the company’s previous operation.

      One of the major issues that was discussed during the two-day trial was Uber’s system of monitoring and reporting complaints, and how it relays those issues to the police when they are related to criminal activity.

      However, according to the company’s lawyer, Tom de la Mare, the company now has a new reporting procedure in place that includes six-month checkups on the process to ensure its success.

      “Uber is committing to report every complaint that could be construed as criminal, “ De la Mare said.

      Changing for the future

      Despite the past issues between Uber and TfL, the company appears to be making changes to ensure a positive relationship in London moving forward.

      In addition to making changes to its business model, Uber has also been reporting crimes on a daily basis and limiting drivers’ working hours.

      “Over the past year, we’ve been working hard to put right past mistakes as we’ve gone through a much-needed period of reflection and change,” said Tom Elvidge, Uber’s U.K. general manager. “We are pleased with today’s decision. We will continue to work with TfL to address their concerns and earn their trust, while providing the best possible service for our customers.”

      TfL is also optimistic about Uber’s future in London.

      “As a result of our action, Uber has made a number of commitments to reform, including implementing a new governance structure and changing how it deals with allegations of criminal activity,” the agency said in a statement. “The short-term license with conditions allows us to closely monitor Uber’s adherence to the regulations and to swiftly take action if they fail to meet the required standards.”

      This past September, London’s transport regulator rejected Uber’s request to renew its license to operate in the city. Now, nine months later, Uber has won...
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      Robocalls hit an all-time high in May

      As the calls continue to mount, the FCC ups its efforts to crack down on the nuisance

      Robocalls shattered a U.S. record in May, with more than 4 billion calls placed -- a 40 percent increase since January. Over a quarter of those calls were scams.

      According to robocall-blocking software developer YouMail and its Robocall Index, the first place trophy for most scam calls placed goes to the Interest Rate Scam, a swindle that offers zero-percent interest rates to trusting consumers in exchange for their personal financial details.

      Now, with summer vacations and the upcoming school year being top-of-mind, there are new scams lurking. Those include the Student Loan Scam which guarantees student loan forgiveness to hopeful graduates, and the Travel Scam, which offers free trips to naive vacationers. Travel scams are the robocall du jour, increasing 162 percent in the last two months alone.

      “Despite the best efforts of regulators, industry groups, service providers, and app developers to stop scam robocalls, we are warning consumers to remain vigilant by not picking up any calls from unfamiliar numbers, using robocall blocking apps, and researching numbers before calling them back,” commented YouMail CEO Alex Quilici to ConsumerAffairs.

      Is there an end in sight?

      While there seems to be little progress in the 27 years since Congress enacted the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, both the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are trudging forward in their battle with robocall bandits via lawsuits and million dollar fines like the one levied on the Dish Network. Nonetheless, there are consumer groups shouting that the rules don't go far enough.

      In response, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says the agency is working to “stop the scourge of illegal robocalls” and is soliciting consumer input for an upcoming report on robocalling. The focus of that report is the success of combating illegal calls and the hurdles still to be cleared.

      In his comment to the FCC, attorney Victor Wandres aired his feelings on the matter, saying “Everyone knows that robocalls are out of hand. I receive several per day, interrupting my work. Just because a consumer provided his cell phone number once to a company does not mean that she shouldn't be able to tell that company to stop calling her if the calls from the company are getting out of hand.”

      “A consumer should only have to tell a company ONCE that they have the wrong number and not to call him again without having to deal with a computer constantly calling him back looking for someone else,” Wandres said.

      Steps consumers can take

      Besides using robocall-blocking phone apps and simply not answering a call from an unfamiliar phone number, FCC chief Pai offers consumer tips to avoid scam robocalls and spoofing.

      Consumers wishing to comment on the FCC’s latest inquiry into robocalls can find out how to express their opinion here. Comments are due July 20, 2018.

      Robocalls shattered a U.S. record in May, with more than 4 billion calls placed -- a 40 percent increase since January. Over a quarter of those calls were...
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      Apple launches special news section ahead of midterm elections

      The tech giant is aiming to present readers with reliable news ahead of this year’s crucial races

      Apple has unveiled a new 2018 Midterm Elections section in Apple News, which gives U.S. readers access to important political content through November.

      The news section will offer coverage from Fox News, Vox, and other selected outlets, along with special exclusives like The Washington Post's Election Now dashboard, a weekly briefing from Axios, and Politico's Races to Watch.

      Apple says the goal of the section isn’t to censor politics, but to present consumers with a selection of top stories from trustworthy sources.

      “Today more than ever people want information from reliable sources, especially when it comes to making voting decisions,” said Lauren Kern, editor-in-chief of Apple News. “An election is not just a contest; it should raise conversations and spark national discourse.”

      “By presenting quality news from trustworthy sources and curating a diverse range of opinions, Apple News aims to be a responsible steward of those conversations and help readers understand the candidates and the issues.”

      Combating false news

      Apple isn’t the first tech giant to implement efforts to fight false news in the wake of the 2016 election and ahead of the November elections. Facebook, Twitter, and Google have also taken steps to stem the spread of misinformation on the web.

      Facebook recently announced that it is expanding the scale and scope of its third-party fact-checking program, which relies on a combination of technology and human editors to make news from less reliable sources less visible. The company also announced that it would begin fact-checking photos and videos in addition to text.

      In March, Google launched a new effort called Google News Initiative, which aims to combat the spread of misinformation during elections and breaking news moments. Google said it was working with Harvard University’s fact-checking organization First Draft for the program, which identifies inaccurate news stories and removes them from Google News rankings.

      Twitter announced earlier this year that it would notify nearly 678,000 users that may have inadvertently interacted with now-suspended accounts believed to have been linked to a Russian propaganda service called the Internet Research Agency (IRA).

      Apple’s news section for the 2018 Midterm Elections is now available to U.S. readers and will remain up through the elections in November.

      Apple has unveiled a new 2018 Midterm Elections section in Apple News, which gives U.S. readers access to important political content through November....
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      PayPal launches Venmo-branded debit card

      Younger, millennial customers are Venmo’s target market

      Venmo has announced that it is launching a new MasterCard debit card that will allow users to make in-store and online payments with their Venmo balance.

      The card, which is issued by the Bancorp Bank, is being rolled out in an effort to expand Venmo’s monetization potential and help the company reach more younger consumers.

      The peer-to-peer payment app says that if a cardholder has a low balance, the card will reload using the user’s preferred funding source. Venmo says its new card will allow up to $400 in daily withdrawals. There’s a $2.50 fee to withdraw money from your Venmo account using an ATM, but no fee to make regular purchases.

      Card purchases will show up on a transaction history in the app, which will give users the ability to split charges among friends. Also within the app, users can deactivate the card when it’s misplaced and then reactivate it when it’s found.

      The card features a vertical design and comes in a choice of six colors -- yellow, pink, blue, green, black, and white. It has a chip for security and an icon near the chip that indicates support for contactless payments.

      Venmo says users can now “get in line” for the card, adding that it’s striving to quickly move people off the waitlist and process applications. There’s no fee to sign up for it, and it should arrive within 5 to 7 days after approval. The card can be used everywhere MasterCard is accepted, but only in the United States.  

      Last fall, PayPal added the ability for Venmo users to shop on the mobile web at almost everywhere PayPal is accepted. In the first quarter of this year, Venmo processed around $12 billion in payments.

      Venmo has announced that it is launching a new MasterCard debit card that will allow users to make in-store and online payments with their Venmo balance....
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      Wells Fargo Advisors settles improper trading charges

      The SEC says the bank pushed investment clients into multiple transactions to reap high fees

      Wells Fargo has agreed to a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), resolving charges that its advisors unit engaged in misconduct in the sale of financial products, known as market-linked investments (MLI), to small investors.

      The SEC said its investigation found that the bank was able to charge large fees by encouraging its retail customers to actively trade the products, even though they are designed to be held until they mature.

      The SEC said that from 2009 to 2013, Wells Fargo Advisors improperly encouraged investors to sell MLIs before maturity, then invest the money in new MLIs. The bank assessed substantial fees on each transaction.

      $4 million penalty

      The bank agreed to pay a $4 million penalty and return money to investors. In a statement, Wells Fargo said it cooperated with the SEC investigation.

      The SEC said the improper activity took place despite bank policies that prohibited it. Investigators point to rules in place barring clients from engaging in short-term trading or "flipping" of assets, but they note that Wells Fargo supervisors routinely signed off on these transactions.

      “It is important that brokers do their homework before they recommend that their retail customers buy or sell complex structured products,” said Daniel Michael, Chief of the Enforcement Division’s Complex Financial Instruments Unit. “The products sold by Wells Fargo came with high fees and commissions, which Wells Fargo should have taken into account before advising retail customers to sell their investments and reinvest the proceeds in similar products.”

      Past transgressions

      This is far from the first time that Wells Fargo has run afoul of financial regulators. In September 2016, bank officials revealed that employees had opened checking and credit card accounts for millions of Wells Fargo customers without their knowledge or permission. The scandal ultimately resulted in a $185 million fine and dozens of lawsuits.

      In the last year, Wells Fargo has been under investigation by regulators and faced lawsuits for the way it conducted its auto loan and mortgages businesses. Last year, the bank faced a class action lawsuit by plaintiffs who said they were charged extra fees when their mortgage applications were denied, even when the denial was due to a bank error.

      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 is charged an extra fee.

      Also in 2017, Wells Fargo revealed that 570,000 consumers who financed auto purchases through the bank may have been sold a collateral protection insurance (CPI) without their knowledge or consent.

      Wells Fargo has agreed to a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), resolving charges that its advisors unit engaged in misconduct in...
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      New home sales jump in May

      But most of the gains were confined to one region

      Sales of new single-family houses rose sharply in May, an encouraging sign for the housing market as it continues to be plagued by a lower-than-normal inventory of available homes.

      In its monthly report, the U.S. Census Bureau said new home sales occurred at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 689,000. That's up 6.7 percent from April and is 14 percent higher than May 2017.

      The median sales price of new houses sold in May was $313,000, the lowest since April 2017. It suggests builders are offering more affordable homes, pulling down the median price. The average sales price was $368,500.

      Homebuilding is still occurring at about half the pace it was before the housing crash a decade ago. Builders say their costs have risen dramatically since then, which has forced them to focus on the high-end, luxury market.

      Better than expected report

      Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist for LendingTree, says the May new home sales report was better than the market expected, but he notes that the improvement was limited to just one area of the country.

      "Sales gains were driven by the South," Kapfidze said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. "An increase of 17.9 percent month-over-month in the South accounted for all the gains. Other regions were lower or flat."

      Kapfidze says rising mortgage rates may have contributed to builders' lower-priced homes selling better than the luxury market. The share of home sales over $500,000 was 15 percent in May, the lowest since February 2015.

      Homebuilders have complained that their labor costs have risen sharply in recent years, while the cost of land has also gone up. They say that it makes it difficult to deliver a new home at a price that is affordable for the typical first-time homebuyer.

      The Census Bureau report shows that the inventory of new homes at the end of May was an estimated 299,000. That represents a supply of 5.2 months at the current sales rate, sharply higher than the 4.1-month inventory supply of existing homes.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported a 0.4 percent decline in existing home sales, with a median sale price of $264,800. It notes total inventory rose 2.8 percent for the month, but that figure was still 6.1 percent lower than a year ago.

      Sales of new single-family houses rose sharply in May, an encouraging sign for the housing market as it continues to be plagued by a lower-than-normal inve...
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      Bumbleride recalls Speed 3-wheel jogging stroller

      The stroller does not meet Canada's sharp edge requirements

      Bumble ride Inc., is recalling approximately 600 Bumbleride Speed 3-wheel jogging strollers.

      The stroller does not meet the sharp edge requirements of the Carriages and Strollers Regulations in Canada as the metal edge of the back hinge located on the right side can be sharp, posing a potential risk of cut or laceration.

      No incidents or injuries related to the use of the jogging stroller have been reported.

      This recall involves Bumbleride Speed 3-wheel jogging stroller. The affected models are folding jogging strollers with Bumbleride imprinted on upholstery in the base of the seat.

      The following model numbers are being recalled:

      Model NamePart NumberSKU Number

      Speed Matte Black

      SP-300BLK

      812812014447

      Speed Maritime Blue

      SP-300MB

      812812014492

      Speed Camp Green

      SP-300CG

      812812014485

      Speed Dawn Grey

      SP-300DG

      812812014454

      Speed Silver Black

      SP-300SVB

      812812014881

      The recalled product, manufactured in Taiwan, was sold throughout Canada between April 2016, and December 2017.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should immediately stop using it and contact Bumbleride Inc. or register on their website to receive a retrofit kit.

      Consumers with questions may contact Bumbleride at (800) 530-3930 between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday, or by email at info@bumbleride.com.

      Bumble ride Inc., is recalling approximately 600 Bumbleride Speed 3-wheel jogging strollers.The stroller does not meet the sharp edge requirements of t...
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      People's Sausage recalls jerky and meat sticks

      The products were prepared without an approved voluntary grant of inspection

      People’s Sausage of Los Angeles, Calif., is recalling approximately 13,554 pounds of elk, bison and beef jerky and meat sticks.

      The products were prepared without an approved voluntary grant of inspection.

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

      The following shelf-stable items, produced from May 3, 2016, through June 15, 2018, are being recalled:

      • 4-oz plastic bags containing “MONTRAIL BISON WILD STICKS Hot and Spicy” with a use by date from May 3, 2018 to June 15, 2020.
      • 3-oz plastic bags containing “MONTRAIL BISON LLC. Elk Jerky Lemon Chile” with a use by date from May 3, 2018 to June 15, 2020.
      • 3-oz plastic bags containing “MONTRAIL BISON LLC. Elk Jerky Teriyaki” with a use by date from May 3, 2018 to June 15, 2020.
      • 3-oz plastic bags containing “MONTRAIL BISON Elk Jerky Sweet and Spicy” with a use by date from May 3, 2018 to June 15, 2020.
      • 3-oz plastic bags containing “MONTRAIL BISON Elk Jerky Old Fashioned” with a use by date from May 3, 2018 to June 15, 2020.
      • 3-oz plastic bags containing “MONTRAIL BISON LLC. Bison Jerky Lemon Chile” with a use by date from May 3, 2018 to June 15, 2020.
      • 3-oz plastic bags containing “MONTRAIL BISON LLC. Bison Jerky Teriyaki” with a use by date from May 3, 2018 to June 15, 2020.
      • 3-oz plastic bags containing “MONTRAIL BISON LLC. Bison Jerky Sweet and Spicy” with a use by date from May 3, 2018 to June 15, 2020.
      • 3-oz plastic bags containing “MONTRAIL BISON LLC. Bison Jerky Old Fashioned” with a use by date from May 3, 2018 to June 15, 2020.

      The recalled products bearing establishment number “EST. 4160” inside the triangle shaped USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations in Montana.

      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 may contact Mark Bianchetti at (213) 627-8633.

      People’s Sausage of Los Angeles, Calif., is recalling approximately 13,554 pounds of elk, bison and beef jerky and meat sticks.The products were prepar...
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      Security researcher says breaking into locked iPhone not that hard

      Apple disagrees, calling the testing 'incorrect'

      Apple's security for its locked iPhones is said to be ironclad, but a cybersecurity expert says it can be circumvented, as long as you have a Lightning cable connecting the phone to a computer.

      As a security feature, an iPhone can only be unlocked if you enter the correct password, and to prevent someone from guessing, the device only gives a user 10 tries. After that, a user is locked out, sometimes permanently.

      The issue was in the news a couple of years ago after police seized the iPhone belonging to a man who murdered co-workers attending a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif. Apple refused to unlock the phone, forcing authorities to turn to outside experts in an effort to crack the device.

      'Brute force'

      According to Matthew Hickey, a security expert and co-founder of Hacker House, a cybersecurity firm, it's not that hard to open a locked iPhone using a "brute force" method. In a series of tweets, Hickey said that if you connect the phone to a computer using a Lightning cable and enter passwords using the keyboard, instead of typing directly on the phone, you can enter an unlimited number of passwords with no adverse consequences.

      When technology websites began reporting this over the weekend, Apple responded, saying it's not true. Technology site Engadget reports an Apple spokesperson as saying the phones have no vulnerability and the claim that they do is "the result of incorrect testing."

      Hickey, meanwhile, posted a video on Vimeo, demonstrating his methods of cracking an iPhone.

      Apple's security for its locked iPhones is said to be ironclad, but a cybersecurity expert says it can be circumvented, as long as you have a Lightning cab...
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      AT&T managers allegedly encouraged unethical DirecTV Now sales pitches

      Former employees say they were pushed to trick customers into purchasing subscriptions

      Former AT&T employees are speaking out against the company for allegedly pushing unethical sales practices on its sales teams in hopes of getting customers to subscribe to its streaming service, DirecTV Now. The groups says that consumers paid for unexpected services once they were subscribed. The company’s subscription service currently has 1.46 million subscribers.

      According to an investigative report by Hawaii News Now, employees were getting fired for engaging in the very practices that upper management had been encouraging.

      The report details how sales representatives would offer customers a trial service of DirecTV Now and promise to cancel the subscription for the customer prior to the automatic renewal that would cost $35 per month. Cancelling the trial for customers goes against AT&T’s policy, but employees were urged to go ahead with the practice.

      “We were told by managers to cancel it to avoid any future headaches, but a lot slips through the cracks,” said Abraham Buonya, a former AT&T employee and Hawaii’s leading AT&T salesman for two years.

      Getting into trouble

      Though encouraged by upper management to cancel subscriptions -- even though it was against policy -- many AT&T employees say they didn’t always cancel customers’ subscriptions, leading to charges of $35 per month. Some subscribers were paying the $35 for up to seven months, despite not ever using the DirecTV Now subscription.

      In some cases, AT&T sales representatives would allegedly sign a customer up for three DirecTV Now subscriptions on one single account.

      All of this supposedly occurred while AT&T was running a promotion that gave customers the DirecTV subscription for just $10. However, AT&T’s system allowed employees to sign up a single customer for three individual subscriptions on one credit card, thus increasing the total number of subscriptions and meeting the quota placed on AT&T retailers.

      “My manager picked up my iPad, which was signed in under me, made a fake email and then activated a DirecTV Now subscription on the email and then said if I can do it, here you go, you can do the next one,” a fired AT&T employee told Hawaii News Now.

      The former employees say retailers used a similar tactic when customers came in to buy a new phone. Sales representatives would tell the customers that the purchase carried a fee, even though it didn’t. The fee could be waived, however, if the customer agreed to sign up for a trial of DirecTV Now. The trial -- which was $10 -- cost less than the fee, and customers would oftentimes agree to try the service.

      “Last fall, we detected some simultaneous customer orders and cancellations of a free product trial,” an AT&T spokesperson told Hawaii News Now. “We determined some employees had violated our policies and based on our findings we took appropriate action.”

      Why was this so important?

      Because of the tight competition amongst AT&T retailers nationwide, many stores allegedly felt compelled to go to great -- even unethical -- lengths to be the top store. Phones don’t pull in as much of a revenue for AT&T, and so TV sales are an important part of day-to-day transactions.

      Hawaii had been one of the top DirecTV Now subscription sellers in the country, though an employee who asked to remain anonymous said that roughly 90 percent of those sales were done unethically.

      Buonya reported that goals for stores “would be met” no matter how lofty they seemed to employees.

      “They kept pressuring us to do it,” Buonya said. Buonya was among five people at his store that were fired.

      Both current and former AT&T employees are encouraging customers to be extra diligent when reviewing their statements. The phone company also reported they will be reversing unauthorized charges for customers that were affected by these sales tactics.

      “Check your statements,” a current employee said. “I have no doubt that there are still people that are being charged.”

      Former AT&T employees are exposing the company for pushing unethical sales practices on its sales teams in the hope of getting customers to subscribe to i...
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      Party City chain to open ‘pop-up’ Toy City stores

      There will be 50 locations to start, all alongside Halloween City sites

      Party City, the largest party goods retailer in North America, is hoping to fill the void left by the collapse of Toys 'R' Us.

      The company’s strategy will be built around the concept of "pop-up" locations, a trend of opening short-term sales spaces. There will be 50 temporary Toy City sites starting in September 2018, all alongside the retail chain’s existing Halloween City pop-up stores. At present, the chain’s intent is to have the stores open through the holiday season.

      "Party City is the unmatched leader when it comes to relevant product offerings for everyday occasions and seasonal celebrations, and we’re always looking for opportunities to enhance these assortments for our customers," said James M. Harrison, Party City’s CEO.

      "The creation of a Toy City concept to complement our temporary seasonal retail strategy is a logical extension of our brand; one that will allow us to leverage our existing pop-up store capabilities and capitalize on the category whitespace that has recently been created."

      Concurrent to the pop-up locations, Party City is also expanding its toy line through its online store.

      The pop-up concept continues to grow

      Pop-up shops have been around for centuries in one form or another, but it only began to gain traction in the last 10 years.

      Some -- like Party City’s Halloween City -- are seasonal and most are in empty spaces where short-term leases can be had at an attractive price. Other retailers use the temporary space to test products or spur a marketing buzz.

      The pop-up idea is estimated to be a $50 billion industry. Much of the concept’s pay-off is attributed to millennials, who are only the largest demographic segment in the U.S., but who’ve also demonstrated a fondness for the pop-up experience.

      Party City, the largest party goods retailer in North America, is hoping to fill the void left by the collapse of Toys 'R' Us.The company’s strategy wi...
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      Consumers are spending more for used cars

      The average transaction price was $19,657 in the first quarter

      Even though a near record number of cars are hitting the used car market this year, used car prices have never been higher.

      Edmunds, an automotive publisher, reports the average transaction price (ATP) for a used car in the first quarter was $19,657, up 2.2 percent from the same period a year ago.

      That doesn't mean the price of all used cars went up, it only shows that consumers are choosing to purchase more expensive used cars. In this case, it might be because the market is top-heavy with three year old models coming off leases.

      "Used-car shoppers are typically more price-sensitive to changes in the market, but this is the first time in years that we're seeing renewed demand for smaller vehicles," said Ivan Drury, senior manager of industry analysis at Edmunds. "With rising fuel costs breathing fresh air into this segment, subcompact and compact cars are finally retaining value again."

      Trucks and SUVs still popular

      But there is still strong demand for SUVs and trucks, mainly because newer models are much more fuel efficient than vehicles from a decade ago.

      "For now, SUV and truck segments are insulated from rising fuel costs, but a large spike or steady creep past the $4 a gallon threshold could spell disaster for resale values," Drury said.

      As trucks and SUVs became more popular in the recent era of low gasoline prices, small sedans have seen much slower sales. But Edmunds says that has begun to change in 2018, and as a result the prices of these vehicles have bounced off their lows.

      Small sedans are more expensive now

      The average price for a three year-old compact car has increased by 3.9 percent, and time spent on the lot has decreased by 7 percent in the first quarter of 2018, compared to the first quarter of 2017. Subcompact prices have increased by 3 percent, with time on the lot declining by 8.5 percent.

      While consumers were willing to pay more for a used car in first quarter, they also bought more of them, defying predictions that auto sales would decline in the "sharing" economy. So far, there's no sign of that.

      The sales of 10.57 million used cars sales in the first three months of 2018 was the highest for the period, going back to 2013.

      Even though a near record number of cars are hitting the used car market this year, used car prices have never been higher.Edmunds, an automotive publi...
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      Uber appeals licensing ban in London

      The company is seeking to have its license to operate in London restored

      Uber is fighting to keep its license to operate in London after its bid to renew its license in the British capital was denied last fall. The ride-hailing company will appear in Westminster Magistrates' Court on Monday to appeal the decision.

      In September, the Transport for London regulatory agency rejected Uber’s application to renew its license to operate in London. The agency argued that Uber London Limited "demonstrated a lack of corporate responsibility" in how it reports serious incidents.

      Based on its shortcomings in the arena of public safety and security, the agency declared that the company is not “fit and proper to hold a private hire operator licence.”

      Uber claims to have changed

      Since then, Uber has implemented a number of changes to its business model, including reporting crimes directly to police and controlling drivers' working hours.

      “Over the past year we’ve been working hard to put right past mistakes as we’ve gone through a much-needed period of reflection and change,” Uber’s UK general manager Tom Elvidge wrote in the London Evening Standard newspaper.

      “Our new global CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, is establishing a new culture and direction for the company from the top, while in the UK we’ve brought in three experienced independent directors to help us stay on the right track. If there are times when we fall short, we are committed to being open, taking responsibility for the problem, and fixing it.”

      The court hearing kicks off today and is expected to last several days. Uber has been allowed to operate normally in London during the appeal process.

      Uber is fighting to keep its license to operate in London after its bid to renew its license in the British capital was denied last fall. The ride-hailing...
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      More oil from OPEC could mean lower prices at the pump

      But rising demand could limit how far prices will fall

      A month ago, the national average gasoline price was pennies away from $3 a gallon. However, the cost of fuel has dropped in the last four weeks, and an OPEC decision could send prices even lower.

      The member nations of the oil cartel have voted to increase oil production by 1 million barrels a day to meet growing demand. As a result, world oil prices have begun falling, lowering the costs for refiners who turn oil into gasoline.

      While that's good news for consumers, Patrick DeHaan, Head of Petroleum Analysis at GasBuddy, said gas prices may not respond immediately.

      "Perhaps eventually, but it will take time for oil production to rise, so in this case we may not see that additional oil until the second half of the summer at best," DeHaan told ConsumerAffairs. "I wouldn’t expect much change just yet."

      Uncertainty remains

      That's because there remains some uncertainty over how much extra oil refiners will see. The 1 million barrels a day is a target, but analysts say not all members will be able to meet it. At the same time, U.S. oil producers are expanding production to take advantage of higher prices.

      OPEC said over the weekend that it could increase production even more than what has been announced in an effort to keep rising energy costs from damaging the world economy.

      Despite recent high prices for oil and the increase in demand for gasoline, motorists have gotten some relief at the gas pump in recent weeks. The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gasoline is $2.84 a gallon, down from $2.89 a week ago and 12 cents lower than a month ago.

      In a statement, AAA said the long-term outlook for consumers is positive. With the increase in crude production, AAA says crude oil prices are expected to decrease, and in turn, lower the cost of producing refined products, including gasoline.

      A month ago, the national average gasoline price was pennies away from $3 a gallon. However, the cost of fuel has dropped in the last four weeks, and an OP...
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      Italian Center Shop brand ground veal recalled

      The product may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7

      Messinger Meats of Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, is recalling Italian Center Shop brand ground veal.

      The product may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

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

      Italian Center Shop, sold in Alberta, Canada, is being recalled:

      Common NameCode(s) on ProductUPC
      Veal –Ground Alberta 13095

      Best before MA.28.18
      Packed on MA.07.18

      Best before JN.04.18
      Packed on MA.14.18

      Starts with 0 213095

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (587) 273-3838.

      Messinger Meats of Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, is recalling Italian Center Shop brand ground veal.The product may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7....
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      Report: Uber safety driver was watching Hulu just before fatal Arizona crash

      Tempe, Ariz., police report calls the accident 'entirely avoidable'

      Police in Tempe, Ariz., have released a report finding that the safety driver behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber, which struck and killed a pedestrian, was streaming a Hulu program on her phone just before impact.

      The report says the crash that claimed the life of Elaine Herzberg, who was walking her bicycle across a roadway, was "entirely avoidable."

      A preliminary report found that the sensors in the self-driving car saw Herzberg in the road but did not recognize her as something to be avoided. Therefore, the car did not slow down or take evasive action. Police say the safety driver could have done so.

      Watching The Voice

      As part of their investigation, police obtained the records from Hulu and found driver Rafaela Vasquez was streaming an episode of the reality TV show The Voice up until the moment of the crash. Because police determined that the accident could have been avoided had Vasquez been watching the road, they say the driver could face vehicular manslaughter charges.

      So far, Uber has not issued a public statement on the police report. Neither Vasquez nor her attorney have commented on the report.

      The accident in March sent a shockwave through the autonomous car industry. As a result, Uber suspended its testing of self-driving vehicles in its fleet.

      Uber moved its fleet of self-driving cars to Arizona in late 2016 because the company argued it should not have to comply with California self-driving car regulations. At the time, Arizona rules were much more lenient.

      California also requires companies to report all crashes involving their test cars. The information is then published on the California DMV website.

      In compiling its report, the Tempe police relied on several sources of information. Among them is video footage from inside the vehicle.

      Video footage

      The report says the footage shows Vasquez was looking down for much of the trip, reacting to something she was seeing. The report described her as "distracted and looking down" for about a third of the time before the car hit the pedestrian.

      While autonomous cars are being promoted as a way to make the highways safer, a number of consumer and safety groups worry they are being rushed onto the road without proper testing.

      Last fall, a coalition of safety groups voiced opposition to legislation to speed up autonomous vehicle testing on public roads, saying the legislation exempts autonomous car makers from many federal safety standards.

      Currently, only 2,500 vehicles are exempt from Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), since they are being tested. Under the proposed bill, they said that number jumps to 50,000 in the first year and then 100,000 in year three.

      Police in Tempe, Ariz., have released a report finding that the safety driver behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber, which struck and killed a pedestrian...
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      In Obamacare suit, Jeff Sessions calls for return of 'discriminatory premium rates'

      The Trump administration is asking a federal judge to invalidate the protection for pre-existing conditions

      The Trump administration is planning to drop health insurance protections for consumers with pre-existing health conditions, according to legal filings signed off on by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

      Texas and nearly a dozen other Republican states have been fighting the Affordable Care Act since Obama was in office and filed a new lawsuit in February once again attempting to strike the law down.

      In a legal brief filed in mid-June in response to the ongoing lawsuit, the DOJ agreed with the states, at least when it comes to gutting what is perhaps Obamacare’s most popular provision, the mandate that prevents health insurers from charging consumers higher rates if they have “pre-existing conditions.”

      The DOJ’s legal brief, which is just the start of a lengthy policy battle, requests that the federal district judge in Texas presiding over the case invalidate pricing protections for people with pre-existing conditions. But the DOJ’s filing also asks District Judge Reed O’Connor to refrain from making a decision on the matter until January 2019, safely after the midterm elections this fall.

      While the federal government typically defends its own laws when it is sued, Sessions said in a public letter to Speaker Paul Ryan that he wants to eliminate regulations "prohibiting discriminatory premium rates” and other Obamacare mandates, framing it as a money-saving measure for consumers.  “...otherwise individuals could wait until they become sick to purchase insurance, thus driving up premiums for everyone else,” Sessions wrote.

      Driving up costs

      But experts say that discriminatory pricing only serves to prevent people from getting covered. Allowing health insurers to once again charge people more for experiencing conditions that range from diabetes to pregnancy could cause 52 million Americans to drop their health insurance, according to a 2016 analysis by the Kaiser Family Health Foundation.

      People who viciously fought the Affordable Care Act when Obama was in office are now protesting the DOJ’s decision. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, told Politico that Sessions’ arguments against protections for patients with pre-existing conditions are "as far-fetched as any I've ever heard."

      A bipartisan group of state governors on Monday sent a letter to Trump calling for continued protections for consumers, urging his office to “reverse their decision and instead work with Congress and Governors on bipartisan solutions to protect coverage and lower health care costs for all Americans, all while protecting those with preexisting conditions.”

      Even Americans Health Insurance Plans, the lobbying group that represents the health insurance industry, appears hesitant to be allowed to return to its old ways. The group told The Houston Chronicle that “removing those provisions will result in renewed uncertainty in the individual market.”

      However, the industry does not plan to lower rates in response to the news. Instead, health insurers claim that this “uncertainty” will cause  “rates to go even higher for older Americans and sicker patients, and make it challenging to introduce products and rates for 2019.”

      The Trump administration is planning to drop health insurance protections for consumers with pre-existing health conditions, according to legal filings sig...
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      The Weekly Hack: In Australia, a paperless real estate transaction may have cost a woman her house

      On futuristic payment platforms, homeowners and cryptocurrency traders watch their money disappear

      Australia is currently in the process of rolling out a new law that requires all real estate transactions -- from mortgage payments to home sales -- to go paperless.

      The online-only property exchange and payment system is run by a company called Property Exchange Australia (PEXA), which is either a government-sponsored monopoly or an important disrupter and leader of the digital revolution, depending on who you talk to.

      But like other digital “disruptors,” the PEXA platform may not be as secure as the company would like the public to believe. Dani Venn, an Australian woman and a former contestant on the reality show MasterChef, recently lost $250,000 after hackers stole the funds she had earned from selling her home.

      Venn had planned to use the proceeds to purchase a new house. Instead, hackers somehow intercepted the payment, leaving the family homeless for the time being.

      PEXA is reportedly trying to help the family, but the company is also denying that it bears any responsibility or liability in relation to the theft. In an interview with a local newspaper, the company claimed that the hacker had gained access to the victim’s money because of a hack on her email account rather than attacking the PEXA system itself.

      But Venn does not buy that story. “I feel I want to pull out all my money from the bank. I don’t trust these big corporations. They don’t care about ordinary Australians,” she told the Sydney-Morning Herald.

      The theft comes just several weeks after another homeowner reported losing more than $1 million from the PEXA system. Independent property brokers in Australia told the paper that the PEXA system does not require users to verify their identity thoroughly enough.

      South Korean cryptocurrency market

      Repeated hacks are taking their toll on the cryptocurrency market. Less than two weeks after a multimillion dollar cryptocurrency theft in South Korea sent the value of Bitcoin tumbling worldwide, a different trading platform in South Korea reported falling victim to a similar attack.

      The South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Bithumb on Wednesday announced that about $31.5 million worth of its virtual coins had been stolen. Bithumb, which is the world’s sixth largest cryptocurrency trading platform, promised to compensate all affected customers.

      Still, a refund for victims doesn’t address the underlying security problem facing crypto-traders. “No security measures or regulations can 100% guarantee safety of virtual coins,” a security expert told the Guardian. “It is held anonymously and in lightly secured systems, which makes them an irresistible target.”

      Bitcoin’s value has so far remained steady following the more recent hack, hovering above $6,000.  

      Military contractors

      A group of hackers based in China are going after military contractors in the United States and Southeast Asia, according to the security firm Symantec. The hackers appeared to be interested in learning how affected companies operate.

      Symantec's report follows a Washington Post story last week detailing how a group of hackers backed by the Chinese government accessed 600 gigabytes worth of data that belonged to a United States Navy contractor. The hackers collected declassified but sensitive data, including information on a supersonic missile project, according to the FBI, which is now investigating the breach.

      Though troubling, this has hardly been the worst hack on a government contractor. The news once again highlights security holes that even companies that do military business are apparently not patching.

      Australia is currently in the process of rolling out a new law that requires all real estate transactions -- from mortgage payments to home sales -- to go...
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      Supreme Court rules police need warrant to track your phone location

      Proponents say the decision is a major win for consumer privacy

      The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that law enforcement must obtain a search warrant to get access to cell phone location information.

      The 5-4 decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who sided with the court’s four other liberal judges.

      The decision is seen as a victory by advocates of increased privacy rights, who argued that protections were needed when the government gets involved with a third party -- like a phone provider -- to obtain information.

      This is seen as a loss by the Justice Department, which argued that an individual’s privacy rights are diminished when it comes to information that has been voluntarily shared with others.

      The background

      The ruling follows a contentious ruling regarding a series of armed robberies that occurred in 2010 and 2011.

      The police got a court order to get access to 127 days of cell phone tracking for a suspect named Timothy Carpenter. The location information found on Carpenter’s phone matched the robbery locations, and that information was used to convict him.

      However, Carpenter appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court on the grounds that the police need to first obtain a warrant before getting his location from a cell-phone provider, as is stated in the Constitution.

      Rather than obtain a warrant, which would have required the police to prove to a judge there was probable cause to believe the phone records contained evidence, the police opted to obtain a court order under the Stored Communications Act.

      “The government’s position fails to contend with the seismic shifts in digital technology that made possible the tracking of not only Carpenter’s location, but also everyone else’s, not for a short period of time, but for years and years,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote.

      Present day

      Because of limited technologies seven years ago, the information used at Carpenter’s trial wasn’t as precise as location information taken off phones today. It didn’t log where he was when his phone wasn’t in use or where he was when he sent texts. Police personnel were able to see his location where he made phone calls within a mile to two miles, which worked in their favor in terms of the robberies.

      Last November when this case made its way to the Supreme Court, justices were conflicted on whether they wanted to break with the third-party doctrine, which states that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy when an individual shares information with a third party (phone provider). Under this doctrine, police wouldn’t need a search warrant to obtain the pertinent information.

      However, many justices have noted the stark differences in technology from when these laws were written to the present day. Chief Justice Roberts noted that allowing government access to historical GPS data represented an infringement of Carpenter’s Fourth Amendment Rights.  

      “This is a groundbreaking victory for Americans’ privacy rights in the digital age,” said ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler. “The Supreme Court has given privacy law an update that it has badly needed for many years, finally bringing it in line with the realities of modern life. The government can no longer claim that the mere act of using technology eliminates the Fourth Amendment’s protections.”

      The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that law enforcement must obtain a search warrant to get access to cell phone location information.The 5-4 decision w...
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      Four cups of coffee daily may improve heart health

      A study of mice finds that caffeine can protect heart cells from damage and help them to repair

      A new study finds that drinking four cups of coffee daily could set off a sequence of internal events that could boost heart health, especially in older adults.

      Researchers from Heinrich-Heine-University and the IUF-Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Düsseldorf, Germany found that caffeine levels equivalent to around four cups of coffee protected against heart damage in pre-diabetic, obese mice, and in aged mice.  

      The study of mice found that caffeine induced the movement of a regulatory protein called p27 into mitochondria, which set off certain physiological events that are crucial to enhancing the function of heart cells as well as helping in heart attack recovery.

      Reached in humans by drinking four cups of coffee

      The study authors found that p27 -- an enzyme that normally slows cell division -- promoted migration of endothelial cells into mitochondria, which ultimately helped to protect heart muscle cells from cell death. It also triggered the conversion of fibroblasts into cells containing contractile fibers.

      These tasks are vital to the repair of heart muscle following a heart attack, the researchers explained.  

      "Our results indicate a new mode of action for caffeine, one that promotes protection and repair of heart muscle through the action of mitochondrial p27," said lead author Professor Judith Haendeler, adding that "enhancing mitochondrial p27 could serve as a potential therapeutic strategy not only in cardiovascular diseases but also in improving health span."

      "These results should lead to better strategies for protecting heart muscle from damage, including consideration of coffee consumption or caffeine as an additional dietary factor in the elderly population," Haendeler said.

      The study has been published in the journal PLOS Biology.

      A new study finds that drinking four cups of coffee daily could set off a sequence of internal events that could boost heart health, especially in older ad...
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      Delta Air Lines updates its policy regarding service and support animals

      Other carriers make similar changes following recent incidents

      Beginning July 10, Delta’s new policy regarding support animals will limit each customer to one animal. At the same time, Delta also instituted a ban against pit bull type dogs as service or support animals.

      This move punctuates Delta’s recent policy change that requires passengers flying with service animals to sign a statement that their animal is healthy and well-behaved before they can board a flight.

      "The safety and security of Delta people and our customers is always our top priority," said Gil West, Chief Operating Officer, in the company’s statement on the policy change. "We will always review and enhance our policies and procedures to ensure that Delta remains a leader in safety."

      "Ignoring the true intent of existing rules governing the transport of service and support animals can be a disservice to customers who have real and documented needs," the company added.

      Recent incidents in which several employees were bitten and an increasing number of fliers who insist their pets are service or emotional support animals has become a sore point for airlines. Not only has Delta’s policy changed, but similar changes have been implemented by American Airlines and United Airlines.

      What qualifies as a service animal?

      Delta says it’s had its hands full with what passengers claim to be "comfort" animals. It claims to have seen passengers attempting to fly with turkeys, gliding possums, snakes, and even spiders.

      The Department of Transportation defines a "service animal" under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) as "any animal that is individually trained or able to provide assistance to a person with a disability; or any animal that assists persons with disabilities by providing emotional support." The agency created the below video to explain further and provide more information.

      Legally, airlines have the right to ask for documentation to prove that an animal is an emotional support animal. The specifics of that documentation might vary from airline to airline, but according to US Service Animals, passengers should expect to provide proof from a licensed doctor or mental health professional stating that the animal is an essential part of treatment for a disability.

      Beginning July 10, Delta’s new policy regarding support animals will limit each customer to one animal. At the same time, Delta also instituted a ban again...
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      Federal judge finds Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unconstitutional

      But the ruling will likely have a limited effect

      A U.S. District Court judge in New York has agreed with Republicans, ruling that the way the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is structured is unconstitutional.

      The ruling by Judge Loretta Preska is a victory for acting CFPB director Mick Mulvaney, who has done his best since taking the job to limit the consumer agency's power.

      In an appearance before Congress earlier this year, Mulvaney urged lawmakers to take direct control of the agency, arguing that in its present form it is not accountable.

      Preska's ruling may be limited in its effect, since it only pertains to a single case in which the judge is blocking the consumer agency from participating in a lawsuit with the New York Attorney General's Office, which sued a company for running an alleged scam, targeting 9/11 first responders.

      An appeals court has spoken

      The argument about the CFPB's constitutionality has already had its day in court, with a federal appeals court in Washington upholding its constitutionality.

      In her opinion, Judge Preska disagreed with the higher court, saying the fact that the agency was set up as a completely independent agency, with a single director who cannot be fired by the president except for cause, places it outside the boundary of the U.S. Constitution.

      The CFPB was established by a Democratic Congress and president in the wake of the financial crisis. Its mission was the financial welfare of consumers, and to shield it from political pressure, lawmakers gave it total independence, placing it under the jurisdiction of the Federal Reserve, not Congress.

      Republicans, from the beginning, argued that was unconstitutional. Mulvaney, who served in Congress before joining the Trump administration, twice voted to abolish the agency.

      Consumer advocates' angst

      Consumer advocates who applauded CFPB actions during the Obama administration have lashed out at the agency's leadership under the Trump administration. They have accused Mulvaney of unilaterally changing the agency's mission, as established by the Dodd Frank Financial Reform Act.

      The Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) said the impact of the judge's ruling is unclear, but it notes that the decision runs counter to the holding of the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the agency’s constitutionality.

      "The 2008 financial crisis proved the need for the CFPB, a successful independent consumer watchdog," said Will Corbert, an attorney for CRL. "Under the radical logic of this court’s ruling, our consumer watchdog would be eliminated and the door would be reopened for financial predators, such as those who steal from 9/11 heroes."

      CLR said the New York judge's decision is a "clear and completely inappropriate example of legislating from the bench."

      A U.S. District Court judge in New York has agreed with Republicans, ruling that the way the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is structured is u...
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      Facebook expands fact-checking program to 14 new countries

      The company will also start fact-checking photos and videos to help fight false news

      Facebook announced on Thursday that it is expanding its third-party fact-checking program to an additional 14 countries to combat the spread of false news on its site.

      In the wake of the 2016 election, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged that false news and misuse of the social network are among the site’s biggest problems. He vowed to make changes to the site to help stem the spread of misinformation.

      Over the last two years, the company has implemented several strategies to fight false news, including removing fake accounts, hiring “news publisher specialists” to advise on content that appears on the platform, and relying on artificial intelligence to help fact-check more than a billion posts each day.

      Now, Facebook says it is expanding its news fact-checking program to new countries, with “plans to scale to more countries by the end of the year.”

      Reducing false news stories

      Facebook’s third-party fact-checking program, which debuted last spring, relies on organizations like the Associated Press and Snopes to inform the site’s moderators of content that is misleading. Content that is not verified as accurate appears smaller, making it harder to read and easier to miss.

      “We reduce the visual prominence of feed stories that are fact-checked false,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch earlier this year.

      In a blog post announcing the expansion of its fact-checking program, Facebook proclaimed that “the effort will never be finished and we have a lot more to do,” but said that its fact-checking policies can reduce the spread of inaccurate news stories by "an average of 80%."

      Fact-checking photos and videos

      When Facebook first announced the program, it was only available in France. It is now expanding to an additional 14 countries. Facebook also announced that it will start fact-checking photos and videos in addition to text.

      “This includes those that are manipulated (e.g. a video that is edited to show something that did not really happen) or taken out of context (e.g. a photo from a previous tragedy associated with a different, present-day conflict),” Facebook said in a statement.

      The company also announced that it’s partnering with Schema, an open-source framework used for fact-checking. Facebook says the partnership “will make it easier for fact-checkers to share ratings with Facebook and help us respond faster, especially in times of crisis.”

      Facebook announced on Thursday that it is expanding its third-party fact-checking program to an additional 14 countries to combat the spread of false news...
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      AT&T to launch ‘skinny bundle’ service next week

      A small number of channels will be available for as little as $15 per month

      AT&T has unveiled a new video service called WatchTV, a skinny bundle of channels that will be available “on virtually any smartphone, as well as on certain streaming devices.”

      AT&T said Thursday that its new service will feature 31 TV channels, including recently acquired CNN, TNT, and TBS, as well as channels from AMC Networks, Discovery Communications, and Viacom.

      Coming "soon" after launch, AT&T says it will add BET, Comedy Central, MTV2, Nicktoons, Teen Nick and VH1 to its live channel lineup. In addition to live channels, there will be 15,000 movies and TV shows available for on-demand viewing.

      For non-AT&T customers, the package will be available as a standalone service for as little as $15 per month. It will be offered free to AT&T customers with AT&T’s “Unlimited & More" or “Unlimited & More Premium" plans. The new unlimited data plans and WatchTV launch next week.

      Competing with streaming services

      The debut of the new service comes as a growing number of consumers are choosing to drop traditional pay-TV and instead get their entertainment through video-on-demand streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu.

      The new offering also comes a week after the telecommunications giant closed its deal to acquire Time Warner and renamed the entity WarnerMedia. During testimony related to obtaining regulatory approval for its acquisition of Time Warner, CEO Randall Stephenson noted that traditional cable lost 3 million subscribers on a base of 90 million in 2017.

      AT&T’s new service for cord-cutters will compete with Netflix, Sling TV, CBS All Access, and other streamers, as well as with big cable providers like Comcast and Charter Communications.

      ”We were the first wireless provider to bring entertainment and unlimited data together, and, once again, we’re redefining what that means,” said David Christopher, president of AT&T Mobility and Entertainment, on Thursday.

      “This is no longer about including one channel or service with your wireless plan, but an incredible lineup of content that delivers more of what you care about," Christopher said.

      AT&T; has unveiled a new video service called WatchTV, a skinny bundle of channels that will be available “on virtually any smartphone, as well as on certa...
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      FTC announces hearings to examine big tech companies

      Findings could guide future enforcement actions

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) plans to hold a series of public hearings into the ways large technology companies, such as Google and Facebook, have changed daily life and altered the competitive landscape.

      The FTC said the hearings will be scheduled for later this year and early 2019. The results could determine whether the agency takes or recommends legal action regarding major players.

      The hearings announcement comes in the wake of growing privacy concerns surrounding Facebook and consolidation of media and technology companies. In April, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by Congress after the company revealed Facebook user data had been used in an unauthorized way to target political ads.

      Staying ahead of trends

      FTC Chairman Joe Simons says part of the agency's role is to stay ahead of developing trends to determine how they affect consumers.

      “The FTC has always been committed to self-examination and critical thinking, to ensure that our enforcement and policy efforts keep pace with changes in the economy,” Simons said. “When the FTC periodically engages in serious reflection and evaluation, we are better able to promote competition and innovation, protect consumers, and shape the law, so that free markets continue to thrive.”

      The hearings will be webcast and accessible online, with regulators seeking comments from consumers and experts in hopes of gaining perspective from a broad and diverse range of viewpoints.

      The FTC will also use the hearings to help determine whether legal action is needed, both in the short- and long-term. Before the hearings start, the agency said it will seek public comment on a wide range of related topics.

      Wide ranging topics

      For example, the FTC said it hopes to gain insight into the state of antitrust and consumer protection law and enforcement, and how consumers are affected by communication, information, and media technology networks.

      Other hearing objectives include:

      • The intersection between privacy, big data, and competition

      • What the FTC can legally do to deter unfair and deceptive conduct in privacy and data security matters

      • How corporate acquisitions and mergers are affecting competition

      • How consumers are affected by the use of algorithmic decision tools, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics   

      The FTC says the hearings will begin in September and are expected to continue through January 2019; they will consist of 15 to 20 public sessions.

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) plans to hold a series of public hearings into the ways large technology companies, such as Google and Facebook, have ch...
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      Gaia Ethnobotanical recalls kratom products

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Gaia Ethnobotanical is recalling all kratom (mitragyna speciosa) powder products manufactured, processed, packed, and/or held, from March 18 – 30, 2018.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      The following products, with Lot No.: 0102031800 and Batch No.: 031800, are being recalled:

      LabelSizePackaging
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Bali Gold1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Elephant1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Ganesh MD1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Green Dragon1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Green Horn1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Green Kapuas Hulu1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Green Malay1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Green MD1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Green Thai1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Plantation Green MD1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Plantation Red MD1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Plantation White MD1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Purple 8-11oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Red Bali1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Red Borneo1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Red Dragon1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Red Horn1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Red Kapuas Hulu1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Red MD1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Red Thai1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Super Green Malay1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical White Borneo1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical White Horn1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical White MD1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical White Thai1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Yellow Thai1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag
      Gaia Ethnobotanical Yellow Vietnam1oz, 250g, 1kgPlastic Bag

      The products were distributed via the internet to Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland. Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming.

      What to do

      The company is notifying its customers by e-mail and/or telephone to return the recalled products or immediately discard them.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company 24/7 at (702) 996-8523 or by email at fdarecall@gaiaethnobotanical.com or call 24/7 at 702-996-8523.

      Gaia Ethnobotanical is recalling all kratom (mitragyna speciosa) powder products manufactured, processed, packed, and/or held, from March 18 – 30, 2018....
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      Agri Star Meat And Poultry recalls beef pastrami

      Processing deviations may have led to underprocessing of products

      Agri Star Meat and Poultry of Postville, Iowa, is recalling approximately 3,592 pounds of ready-to-eat beef pastrami.

      Processing deviations may have led to underprocessing of products and resulted in inadequate curing.

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

      The following items, produced April 3 – 4, 2018, are being recalled:

      • 21.6-lb. average case weight of fully cooked pastrami that are vacuum-packed using clear plastic and labeled “Aaron’s BEST Beef French Roast Pastrami WATER & CARRAGEENAN PRODUCT.” Both the product and the shipping box display a sticker indicating “BEST BEFORE 09/10/18.”
      • 23.1-lb. average case weight of fully cooked pastrami that are vacuum-packed using clear plastic and labeled “SHOR HABOR GLATT KOSHER Beef French Roast Pastrami WATER & CARRAGEENAN PRODUCT.” Both the product and the shipping box display a sticker indicating “BEST BEFORE 09/11/2018.”

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 4653A” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to distributors in California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Washington.

      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 Lisa Beatty at (563) 864-7811 or Yaakov Labowitz at (514) 648-8171 ext. 260.

      Agri Star Meat and Poultry of Postville, Iowa, is recalling approximately 3,592 pounds of ready-to-eat beef pastrami.Processing deviations may have led...
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      Now Real Food Zesty Sprouting Mix recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      NOW Health Group of Bloomingdale, Ill., is recalling NOW Real Food Zesty Sprouting Mix.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      Approximately 10,000 units of the following product, sold online and in retail stores nationwide since December 2017, are being recalled:

      UPC CodeDescriptionLot NumberBest By Date

      733739

      072719

      NOW Real Food®

      Zesty Sprouting Mix, 16 oz.

      3031259

      (located on back

      of package)

      12/20

      733739

      072719

      NOW Real Food®

      Zesty Sprouting Mix, 16 oz.

      3038165

      (located on back

      of package)

      01/21

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should stop using it immediately and return it to place of purchase for a full refund. A receipt is not required for refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact NOW’s customer service department at (888) NOW-FOODS (888-669-3663) Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (CT).

      NOW Health Group of Bloomingdale, Ill., is recalling NOW Real Food Zesty Sprouting Mix.The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.No illnesses...
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      General Motors recalls model year 2013 Chevy Volts

      The voltage could drop, causing the vehicle to lose propulsion

      General Motors is recalling 3,233 model year 2013 Chevrolet Volts.

      An update to the Vehicle Interface Control Module (VICM) may have disabled the cell balancing function causing a low-voltage condition.

      If the voltage drops, the vehicle may lose propulsion, increasing the risk of crash.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will reprogram the VICM, free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 18215.

      General Motors is recalling 3,233 model year 2013 Chevrolet Volts.An update to the Vehicle Interface Control Module (VICM) may have disabled the cell b...
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      Texas Natural Meats recalls frozen raw ground beef

      The product be contaminated with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O103

      Texas Natural Meats of Lott, Texas, is recalling approximately 489 pounds of frozen raw, ground beef.

      The product may be contaminated with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O103.

      The following item, produced on August 8, 2017 and shipped to a retailer who sold the product at a farmer’s market in Roger, Texas, is being recalled:

      • 1.00-lb. bags of “Green Field Farms Rogers Texas Ground Beef.” The recalled product comes in bags displaying the “PRODUCTION DATE 08.08.2017, the “EXPIRATION DATE 08.08.2020”

      The package is labeled “COOK USE ONLY,” with the instruction “DO NOT refreeze after defrosting” and bears establishment number “EST. 34449” inside the USDA mark of inspection.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact C.W. Whorton at (254) 584-0115.

      Texas Natural Meats of Lott, Texas, is recalling approximately 489 pounds of frozen raw, ground beef.The product may be contaminated with Shiga toxin-p...
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      Amazon leaked Prime Day 2018 details

      The company accidentally revealed its biggest day of sales

      This morning, Amazon accidentally revealed the date of Prime Day 2018. According to a Prime Day Banner that TechRadar discovered on the Amazon U.K. website, consumers can expect the largest Prime Day to take place mid-day July 16th through July 17th.

      It goes beyond last year’s 30-hour Prime Day, which started the night before at 9 p.m. The reveal of this date also breaks Amazon’s recent pattern of having Prime Day on the second Tuesday in July.

      Amazon started Prime Day in 2015, and the event offers consumers the biggest selection of discounted items -- going above and beyond what’s offered on Black Friday.

      What consumers can expect

      While the dates listed above were for Prime Day in the United Kingdom, the experts at TechRadar believe the times will only be slightly different here in the United States.

      Based on last year’s Prime Day -- which ran from 9 p.m. Eastern and ended at midnight Pacific time, Prime Day 2018 is expected to start midday on July 16th and end on July 17th at midnight, closing out 39 straight hours of sales in the United States.

      Consumers can expect discounts on Prime membership in the days leading up to Prime Day. The discounts offered are only offered to Prime customers, and so Amazon typically promotes the Prime membership as much as possible prior to Prime Day -- at a lower price.

      Customers can also expect deals on Prime Day on Amazon’s most popular products -- the Echo, Echo Dot, Fire TV Stick, Kindles, and tablets. While Amazon does discount these items throughout the year, Prime Day is when consumers see these products at their lowest prices of the year. TechRadar also thinks Amazon will reduce prices of other services like Audible.

      Amazon Marketplace sellers are also expected to be active participants in this year’s Prime Day. Though they’ve been involved in the sales event since its inception in 2015, Marketplace retailers could offer consumers some of the biggest deals and discounts of the sale.

      Marketplace retailers are also featured in nearly every category on Amazon’s website, so users can expect great discounts on everything from beer and wine to TVs, gaming consoles, laptops, baby products, and fashion.

      This morning, Amazon accidentally revealed the date of Prime Day 2018. According to a Prime Day Banner that TechRadar discovered on the Amazon U.K. website...
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      Supreme Court rules states can force online retailers to collect sales tax

      A break for consumers will soon go away

      Consumers who consider making large purchases online to avoid state sales tax may soon not have that option. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that all states can require online retailers to collect sales tax.

      In a 5-4 ruling, the justices replaced a previous ruling, issued more than 20 years ago, that said states could only require an online retailer to collect sales tax if the company had a physical presence within the boundaries of the state.

      In the new ruling, the court declared that having some online merchants collect taxes and others not creates an uneven playing field and allows too many merchants to avoid collecting the tax. The ruling means that consumers will soon pay sales taxes on all online purchases.

      Congress had been considering legislation

      If the court had not issued its ruling, it's possible Congress would have taken up a bill to require it. Earlier this year, President Trump signaled his support for such legislation – the Marketplace Fairness Act.

      Testifying at a Congressional hearing, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the president “feels strongly” that consumers should pay the same sales tax on online purchases that brick and mortar retailers collect.

      Amazon recently started collecting sales tax in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, although it does not always charge tax on purchases from third-party vendors. Under the court's ruling, states are free to require it to do so.

      Major retailers like Walmart, Macy's, and Amazon have been collecting sales tax on online purchases for years, since they have stores and warehouses across the country.

      Small retailers oppose collecting the tax

      Opposition has come mostly from small, independent retailers who complain that having to set up a system to charge sales tax in all 50 states is a hardship that could drive many of them out of business.

      However, the National Retail Federation (NRF) has long supported a uniform collection of sales tax by all retailers. The organization says 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 next step will be for state legislatures to pass laws requiring online retailers to collect the tax when products are sold to consumers in their states.

      Consumers who consider making large purchases online to avoid state sales tax may soon not have that option. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that all stat...
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      Facebook Groups to test a subscription-based model

      Access to exclusive content will run from $4.99 to $29.99 a month

      Facebook announced on Thursday that it’s giving group administrators the option to charge a monthly subscription fee to users looking for exclusive, members-only content. Subscriptions will run from $4.99 up to to $29.99 a month.

      The social network will test the subscription idea with a handful of its larger groups. Those range from those focused on getting parents of high schoolers in tune with the college application process to a meal-oriented group that posts meal plans and shopping lists.

      "We hear from group admins that they’re looking for ways to help them earn money to deepen engagement with their members and continue to support their communities," said Facebook’s Director or Groups, Alex Deve.

      "Subscription groups align with the experience that we made available to support video creators earlier this year, and is part of our overall approach to helping creators and leaders to financially support the work they do to engage their fans and communities," according to Deve.

      The development of Facebook groups has been a major agenda item for the company. Just last year, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg went on record saying rather than continuing to rely on the platform’s mission to "make the world more open and connected," Facebook would set its sights on giving "people the power to build community and bring the world closer together," with Facebook Groups -- and their billion users -- playing a major role.

      A commitment to content

      Administrators of these exclusive groups have their work cut out for them if they want their members to feel good about ponying up a monthly fee.

      A case-in-point is Sarah Mueller, whose Declutter My Home group was created to inspire others to declutter their homes. Before she knew it, there were 42,599 people in her group taking part in moving her notion forward.

      Now, with her new subscription-based group called Organize My Home, Mueller is committed to galvanizing members to work together on projects, organizing group challenges, holding live Q&A sessions, and offering videos and tutorials to make the group’s $14.95 monthly fee worth its while.

      Free groups aren’t going anywhere

      Until the subscription program takes off or proves itself a flop, Facebook’s free groups will still be around.

      "As we learn from this pilot and understand how group members feel about subscription groups, we’ll continue to improve this experience to help admins offer more to their members and continue to invest in their communities," Facebook’s Deve concluded in the company’s blog post.

      Facebook announced on Thursday that it’s giving group administrators the option to charge a monthly subscription fee to users looking for exclusive, member...
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      Instagram introduces new long-form video feature

      The platform is aiming to dethrone competitors like YouTube

      Instagram, a Facebook-owned social media platform, announced Wednesday that it will be rolling out a brand new long-form, vertical video feature. 

      Called IGTV, the videos will currently live within the Instagram app until it gets its own standalone app in the coming days.

      Though all Instagram users will be able to post to IGTV, the more followers you have, the longer the video you can make. Instagrammers with over 10,000 followers can post videos up to one hour long, which is why the company is targeting celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and Selena Gomez to publish content on IGTV.

      Users with under 10,000 followers can post videos up to 10 minutes long. Previously, all users -- regardless of follower count -- were given 60 second Instagram videos.

      As it stands right now, all IGTV videos will be pre-recorded, though a live feature is something the company could develop down the road.

      The future of IGTV

      Instagram has big plans for IGTV, many of which are contingent on how the feature fares with the younger generation. Though the platform currently plans to have two standalone apps, that could very well change should teens adopt it as their go-to social media platform.

      Additionally, users of IGTV can expect the hub to be ad-free -- for now.

      “Ads will not be part of IGTV at launch, but we’ll be exploring and test ways to help creators monetize after launch,” an Instagram spokesperson stated.

      Early comparisons to YouTube

      Right out of the gate, IGTV is being compared to the Google-owned video platform YouTube.

      Prior to the IGTV launch, many Instagram users were linking to long-form YouTube videos in their Instagram stories. This new feature might eliminate the need for that practice.

      “Now, Instagram can keep that in-house, and drive greater engagement and time spent,” said media and technology analyst Rich Greenfield. “I think this is a natural evolution from pictures to video, to stories and now to long-form video to capture as much human attention as possible.”

      Instagram, a Facebook-owned social media platform, announced Wednesday that it will be rolling out a brand new long-form, vertical video feature. Calle...
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      U.S. adults believe 40 percent of the news is false

      Americans are even more likely to believe news found on social media is made up or inaccurate

      A new survey conducted by the Gallup and Knight Foundations finds that Americans believe that 39 percent of the news they see on television, read in newspapers, or hear on the radio is misinformation.

      When taking in news through social media, U.S. adults estimate that nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of what they read is either made up or unable to be verified as accurate.

      The survey of 1,440 randomly recruited Americans found that some demographics were more likely than others to believe that the news they consume is “fake.”

      Demographic differences

      Republicans were found to be more likely than Democrats to perceive news from legacy media outlets as misinformation.

      Half (51 percent) of Republicans and 54 percent of self-described conservatives were likely to perceive misinformation when it comes to legacy media, compared with just 23 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of liberals.

      People with a high school education or less believed that roughly 40 percent of traditional media stories are intentionally wrong on some level.

      “The extent to which Americans perceive misinformation in the news environment and their belief in the effectiveness of methods to counteract it are influenced to a large degree by their political leanings and their opinions of the news media more broadly,” the Knight Foundation said in a summary of the findings.

      Combating misinformation

      Seventy percent or more of respondents said that methods to counteract the spread of misinformation, including giving greater prominence to stories from reputable news sources, could be at least “somewhat effective.”

      “These results underscore how a lack of trust in the news media intertwines with perceptions of misinformation,” the Knight Foundation said.

      “Although Americans continue to see the media as playing a critical role in informing citizens in our democracy, the ability of the institution to effectively fulfill that responsibility is hampered when citizens are not confident that the information they receive is accurate.”

      Earlier this year, Facebook announced that it would be taking steps toward combating the spread of inaccurate news on its site by shrinking the visual prominence of news stories found to be inaccurate by Facebook’s third-party fact checkers.

      Twitter said earlier this year that it would notify nearly 678,000 users that may have inadvertently interacted with accounts believed to have been linked to a Russian propaganda service called the Internet Research Agency (IRA).

      A new survey conducted by the Gallup and Knight Foundations finds that Americans believe that 39 percent of the news they see on television, read in newspa...
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      California lawmakers gut state’s net neutrality bill

      State lawmaker Michael Santiago ‘mutilated’ a bill that was previously hailed as the ‘gold standard’ for state-level net neutrality protections

      A Democratic state lawmaker from California “eviscerated” the text of a bill that would have equipped consumers in the Golden State with the nation’s toughest set of state-level net neutrality protections, according to Sen. Scott Wiener.

      Late Tuesday night, Michael Santiago -- an assemblyman from Los Angeles and chair of the Communications and Conveyance committee -- amended bill SB 822 to allow for loopholes that supposedly benefit the telecommunications industry.

      Members of California’s Communications and Conveyance Committee forced a vote on the amendments before the hearing on Wednesday officially began. The amendments passed 8 - 2.

      "It is, with the amendments, a fake net neutrality bill," said Sen. Scott Wiener from San Francisco, who authored the original bill.

      The move comes two weeks after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to eliminate net neutrality rules. The amendments represent a significant blow to Democratic lawmakers who had hoped that California’s strong net neutrality protections would serve as the “gold standard” to replace the rules that the FCC rolled back.

      Loopholes that undermine consumer choice

      Santiago’s edits would allow ISPs to charge any website a fee for consumers to be able to access it. The amendments also allow for privileged content, meaning some content would eat up cellular data while others wouldn’t.

      Privileged content would likely be created by the network’s parent company. This would mean, for example, that Comcast could make it free for consumers to go to NBC’s website while making them use their data to get news from another site.

      The amendments would also allow ISPs to throttle entire classes of applications. For example, providers could throttle all online gaming or all online voice calls.

      Financial ties to AT&T

      AT&T is Assemblyman Santiago’s fifth-largest campaign donor, according to advocacy group Fight for the Future. However, Santiago maintains that his changes to the bill were not influenced by his financial ties to the telecommunications industry.

      “This is the legislative process at work,” Santiago said in a statement. “Any suggestions of actions taken today somehow being otherwise motivated are irresponsible at best and insulting beyond that.”

      Despite his claims, Santiago’s amendments have sparked allegations of corruption from critics.

      “CA - All it took was $29K to buy #NetNeutrality protections away from you,” tweeted Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

      “The weakening of California’s #NetNeutrality bill shows what the forces we are facing are capable of. Every state deserves gold standard rules. That’s why the House of Reps should pass my CRA resolution immediately to reinstate net neutrality nationally,” said Senator Ed Markey (D - Mass.).

      A Democratic state lawmaker from California “eviscerated” the text of a bill that would have equipped consumers in the Golden State with the nation’s tough...
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      Tesla sues former employee, claiming sabotage

      But the ex-employee says he was simply a whistleblower

      Tesla is suing a former employee it claims hacked company systems and revealed confidential information to outside sources. But the ex-employee, Martin Tripp, says he was simply a whistleblower who was alarmed at how CEO Elon Musk was running the company.

      Tesla has been beset by problems in recent months, and on Monday Musk sent an email to employees that appeared to pin some of the blame on an unnamed employee that the executive accused of sabotage. On Wednesday, Tesla filed suit against Tripp without saying whether he was the unnamed employee mentioned in the email.

      The suit accuses Tripp of writing software to hack into the company's system, transferring reams of data to “outside entities.” Among the information taken from the company, the suit alleges there were "dozens of confidential photographs and a video of Tesla's manufacturing systems."

      The suit further claims that the ex-employee wrote computer code that would send Tesla data to people outside the company, in violation of Tesla policy. Tripp is also accused of making false statements about Tesla to the media – in particular, statements about the condition of batteries in some Tesla Model 3s.

      Tripp denies

      In an interview with the Washington Post, Tripp denied that he tampered with Tesla computer systems but confirmed that he gave information to a reporter for Business Insider because he was seeing “some really scary things” going on at Tesla.

      Tripp said he told reporters that he saw “dangerously punctured batteries” being installed in Model 3s. Tesla has denied that charge.

      The Business Insider article using Tripp as a source cast the company in an unflattering light, claiming it was using “an insane amount” of raw materials to make the Model 3, and still couldn't get it right.

      The article claimed internal company documents it received showed that as much as 40 percent of the raw materials going into batteries and driving units had to be discarded or reworked before going to the company's assembly plant.

      At the time, Tesla told the publication that a higher-than-normal scrap rate is to be expected in early stages of the production process. Tesla has struggled to meet production goals for the Model 3, a car it introduced in 2017, requiring customers to place a $1,000 deposit with their order.

      Revenge?

      Tesla's suit against Tripp claims a revenge motivation. It said the former employee became a problem early in his tenure with the company.

      “Within a few months of Tripp joining Tesla, his managers identified Tripp as having problems with job performance and at times being disruptive and combative with his colleagues,” the suit alleges.

      As a result, Tesla says Tripp was reassigned to a new role last month, after which he expressed anger at the company's action.

      Tesla is suing a former employee it claims hacked company systems and revealed confidential information to outside sources. But the ex-employee, Martin Tri...
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      Nearly a quarter-million Chrysler Pacificas recalled

      The vehicle could roll away striking and injuring a bystander

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 240,242 model year 2017-2018 Chrysler Pacificas.

      The Manual Park Release (MPR) plug may be removed without a tool.

      If the MPR is engaged unintentionally, the vehicle could roll away striking and injuring a bystander or cause a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the MPR plug, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin August 3, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U50.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 240,242 model year 2017-2018 Chrysler Pacificas.The Manual Park Release (MPR) plug may be removed without a tool....
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      Existing home sales fall again in May

      In the first quarter, home affordability was the worst in a decade

      Sales of existing homes fell again in May, dropping 0.4 percent from April, which was lower than March's sales.

      Existing home sales are now down 3.0 percent from May 2017 and have fallen year-over-year for three straight months, according to the latest data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

      NAR's chief economist, Lawrence Yun, says a strong economy and low unemployment rate should translate into robust home sales. Home sales are down, he says, for a number of reasons.

      "Incredibly low supply continues to be the primary impediment to more sales, but there's no question the combination of higher prices and mortgage rates are pinching the budgets of prospective buyers, and ultimately keeping some from reaching the market," Yun said.

      Yun says housing inventory increased slightly in May, but not enough to prevent the median home price from rising 4.9 percent, hitting an all-time high of $264,800.

      Affordability on the decline

      ATTOM Data Solutions, which tracks real estate prices, reports that home prices in the first quarter of 2018 were the least affordable since the third quarter of 2008, just before the market crashed.

      “Slowing home price appreciation in the second quarter was not enough to counteract an 11 percent increase in mortgage rates compared to a year ago, resulting in the worst home affordability we’ve seen in nearly 10 years,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions.

      Meanwhile, Blomquist says home price appreciation continued to outpace wage growth, speeding up the affordability treadmill for prospective homebuyers even without the rise in mortgage rates.

      When the company looked at home prices and wages, it found the median home was unaffordable for average consumers in 75 percent of the measured markets. The least affordable markets in the first quarter were Flint, Mich.; Denver, Santa Fe, and Nashville.

      Another housing crisis?

      Slowing sales and rising prices have prompted some to predict another housing crash, like the one that occurred during the financial crisis. However, economists point out key differences between then and now.

      In the early 2000s, prices were driven higher by easy credit, allowing millions of people who really couldn't afford a home to buy one. Builders stayed busy adding to the inventory.

      When millions of these homeowners defaulted on their loans, it created a wave of foreclosures, resulting in a glut of available homes, causing values to plunge. Economists say that's unlikely to happen now.

      Today, prices are rising because there are not enough homes for everyone who can qualify to buy one, leading to bidding wars in many markets. Inventories of available homes have shrunk because homebuilding is occurring at about half the rate it did before the 2008 housing crash.

      Sales of existing homes fell again in May, dropping 0.4 percent from April, which was lower than March's sales.Existing home sales are now down 3.0 per...
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      GM recalls model year 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1s

      The sensing diagnostic module may not deploy airbags in a crash

      General Motors is recalling 489 model year 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1s.

      Hard braking or acceleration may cause the sensing diagnostic module (SDM) to enter a fault state.

      As a result, the SDM will not provide crash sensing or deploy the necessary air bags in the event of a crash.

      If the air bags do not deploy as designed, the occupants have an increased risk of injury.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will reprogram the SDM with updated software, free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 18195.

      General Motors is recalling 489 model year 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1s.Hard braking or acceleration may cause the sensing diagnostic module (SDM) to e...
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      Chinese investment in the United States has plummeted 92 percent this year

      Mounting tensions and increased regulation are affecting deals for both countries

      Chinese companies have been funneling increasing amounts of money into the United States for years, creating deep ties between the countries.

      However, in the first five months of 2018, Chinese investment totaled just $1.8 billion -- down 92 percent from the same period in 2017. And, according to a report by Rhodium Group -- a research firm that tracks foreign investment -- this is the lowest level of Chinese investment in seven years.

      The dramatic drop in investment comes as the trade wars intensify between Beijing and the Washington, and U.S. regulators increase their scrutiny of Chinese acquisitions.

      “The more confrontational approach of the Trump administration toward economic relations with China has cast some doubt in these companies’ minds about their position here,” said Thilo Hanemann, a director at Rhodium Group and one of the report’s authors.

      The regulatory climate

      Because of recent tensions between the U.S. and China, regulations for Chinese investments in the United States have become much stricter.

      The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is an inter-agency panel chaired by the Treasury Department that vets deals that could give a foreign investor control of a U.S. business for national security risks. Under the Trump administration, the panel has become more aggressive, heavily scrutinizing deals that could give foreign access to technologies or personal data.

      Based on the Rhodium Group report, the CFIUS is believed to have stopped deals worth more than $2 billion since the start of 2018.

      “Not only have Chinese companies invested less, they have also divested assets at an unprecedented pace so far in 2018,” the report stated.

      CFIUS is on pace to get stricter over the course of the year, making it difficult for Chinese investments to rebound in the coming months.

      Recent tensions between the U.S. and China

      One of President Trump’s main priorities so far this year has been cracking down on what he deems China’s “unfair” trade practices.

      He recently imposed a 25 percent tariff on billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods, and indicated that could rise to upwards of $200 billion if China doesn’t comply with U.S. demands.

      “In light of China’s theft of intellectual property and technology and its other unfair trade practices, the United States will implement a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion of goods from China that contain industrially significant technologies,” Trump said in a statement. “This includes goods related to China’s Made in China 2025 strategic plan to dominate the emerging high-technology industries that will drive future economic growth for China, but hurt economic growth for the United States and many other countries.”  

      However, China plans to fight back.

      The country recently made good on its threats to impose tariffs on United States imports. Starting in July, the Chinese government will impose $3 million in tariffs on 128 products ranging from pork, meat, and fruit to steel pipes.

      “If the United States takes unilateral, protectionist measures, harming China’s interests, we will quickly react and take necessary steps to resolutely protect our fair, legitimate rights,” said Geng Shuang, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman.

      Chinese companies have been funneling increasing amounts of money into the United States for years, creating deep ties between the countries.However, i...
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      NHTSA blocks device designed to circumvent safety warnings in Tesla’s Autopilot feature

      Regulators say Autopilot Buddy makes Tesla vehicles less safe

      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has ordered an equipment manufacturer to stop selling a device for Tesla cars that the agency describes as dangerous.

      NHTSA this week issued a cease and desist order to Dolder, Falco and Reese Partners, telling them to stop selling a device called Autopilot Buddy.

      Manufacturers routinely install safety features on all kinds of products to protect users, but some consumers have sought ways to neutralize those safeguards. According to NHTSA, Autopilot Buddy is a tool designed for Tesla owners to do just that.

      Getting around the warning

      Tesla has repeatedly warned drivers that its Autopilot function is only a driver assist tool and not an autonomous driving feature. When the Tesla's system detects that the driver's hands are not on the steering wheel, the system flashes a warning.

      Drivers who insist on letting Autopilot steer the car find these repeated warnings to be a nuisance, so many have purchased an Autopilot Buddy to disable the warning system, the safety agency says.

      In at least two fatal Tesla crashes NHTSA investigated, the agency determined that the car's Autopilot was engaged and the drivers' hands were not on the wheel.

      According to NHTSA deputy administrator Heidi King, a commercial product sold with the intent to circumvent motor vehicle safety and driver attentiveness is unacceptable.

      “By preventing the safety system from warning the driver to return hands to the wheel, this product disables an important safeguard, and could put customers and other road users at risk,” King said in a statement.

      Ordered to stop sales

      Tesla issued a statement, saying it agrees with NHTSA's action. In a letter to the marketers of the device, NHTSA has ordered the company to respond by June 29, 2018. The letter further orders the company to certify to NHTSA that all U.S. marketing, sales, and distribution of the Autopilot Buddy has ended.

      As of today, the company's website still showed promotional material for Autopilot Buddy, which sells for $199.

      The website says the two-piece device restores the use of “Autosteer” on Tesla to an earlier version of the system software. The company also says the device is not intended to allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel.

      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has ordered an equipment manufacturer to stop selling a device for Tesla cars that the agency de...
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      Disney ups its offer for 21st Century Fox assets

      The company is now in a bidding war with Comcast

      The Walt Disney Company has raised its bid for 21st Century Fox's movie and television assets to $71.3 billion, the two companies announced on Wednesday.

      The new deal increases the value of Disney’s original December 2017 offer from $28 a share at $52.4 billion to $38 a share at $71.3 billion, with a new cash component.

      A representative for Fox said this agreement "is superior to the proposal" from Comcast made earlier this month. The new Fox-Disney deal would let Fox shareholders receive their consideration "in the form of cash or stock,” subject to 50/50 proration.

      Bidding war has begun

      Last week, Comcast put in a competing offer to buy the assets at $35 per share for a total of $65 billion in cash. The offer followed the U.S. Justice Department’s approval of AT&T’s merger with Time Warner.

      Disney has now topped Comcast’s offer.

      In a statement on Wednesday, Fox's Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch said a Fox-Disney combination "will create one of the greatest, most innovative companies in the world."

      "We are extremely proud of the businesses we have built at 21st Century Fox, and firmly believe that this combination with Disney will unlock even more value for shareholders as the new Disney continues to set the pace at a dynamic time for our industry."

      "We remain convinced that the combination of [Fox's] iconic assets, brands and franchises with Disney's will create one of the greatest, most innovative companies in the world,” Murdoch added.

      Whichever company ends up winning the bidding war for 21st Century Fox will gain control of Twentieth Century Fox Television and Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Fox 2000 film production studios, and Fox’s 30 percent stake in Hulu.

      Disney CEO Robert Iger Murdoch said in a statement Wednesday that the Fox-Disney combination would allow Disney to create more appealing content, expand its direct-to-consumer offerings, grow its international presence, and "deliver more personalized and compelling entertainment experiences to meet growing consumer demand around the world."

      The Walt Disney Company has raised its bid for 21st Century Fox's movie and television assets to $71.3 billion, the two companies announced on Wednesday. ...
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      Starbucks to close 150 stores

      The chain is targeting stores in mostly densely populated, urban areas

      Starbucks says it is closing 150 underperforming stores in densely populated urban areas, while focusing its growth efforts in the south, where there are fewer Starbucks locations. It also plans to open more stores in China.

      In a release, the company describes the move as “optimizing its U.S. store portfolio at a more rapid pace in FY19, including shifting new company-operated store growth to underpenetrated markets.”

      The company stresses that it nearly always closes underperforming stores each year, but it concedes that there are more stores in that category this year, up from an average of 50 per year.

      The company has faced headwinds in recent months. It apologized after a Philadelphia store manager called the police, who arrested two African American men who said they were waiting in the store to meet a business associate.

      Wall Street investors have soured on the company after its growth slowed and longtime CEO Howard Schultz announced his retirement. Schultz's retirement became official this week, as he was replaced as CEO by Kevin Johnson.

      “While certain demand headwinds are transitory, and some of our cost increases are appropriate investments for the future, our recent performance does not reflect the potential of our exceptional brand and is not acceptable,” Johnson, said. “We must move faster to address the more rapidly changing preferences and needs of our customers.”

      Increasing competition

      It's not that consumers are drinking less coffee, they just have an increasing number of places to get it. McDonald's rebranding of the McCafe has given the chain a strong emphasis on coffee, and its redesigned stores more closely resemble a coffee shop than a fast food restaurant.

      Even convenience store chains have improved the quality of their coffee and offer more choices, usually at a price lower than Starbucks.

      In addition to expanding into areas where there are fewer coffee shops, Johnson said Starbucks will offer new beverage products, including tea, that target consumers' growing preference for healthy food and beverage choices.

      It also plans to expand its digital relationship with new and current customers, saying it added 5 million new digitally registered customers since April and 2 million active Starbucks Rewards members in the last 12 months, growing at a rate of 13 percent.

      Starbucks says it is closing 150 underperforming stores in densely populated urban areas, while focusing its growth efforts in the south, where there are f...
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      Consumers aren't building up savings and aren't too worried about it

      Report finds only 29 percent could cover six months of expenses

      Consumers still aren't doing a very good job of saving money, but they aren't all that worried about it. That's the conclusion of Bankrate.com's annual report on Americans' financial stability.

      According to the report, only 29 percent of consumers have enough money in savings to cover at least six months of expenses – the amount recommended by financial planners.

      That data is in line with a recent report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) that found the savings rate in April dropped to 2.8 percent, the lowest since December, when consumers were spending heavily for the holidays.

      But consumers are remarkably unconcerned about their lack of cash reserves. The report shows 62 percent of respondents described themselves as either “very” or “somewhat” comfortable with their level of emergency savings.

      “The goal should be to have enough emergency savings to cover six months’ expenses – and anything less than that should cause discomfort,” said Greg McBride, Bankrate's chief financial analyst.

      Why worry?

      One reason for the complacency could be the strength of the economy. When times are good, people tend to be more confident that they'll continue to earn more money and stay employed. When the economy sours, consumers tend to be more careful with their spending and save more.

      The authors of the Bankrate report hold out another possibility – that many consumers don't realize how much money they would need should disaster strike. If you haven't done a budget, you might even be unaware of how much money you spend each month.

      In a separate survey, consumers were asked to say how they would pay for an unexpected expense of $1,000. When confronted with that specific problem, only 39 percent believed they could pay it out of savings.

      Going into debt

      The result, presumably, would be needing seek other options, such as putting the expense on a credit card or borrowing from a family member. People who lack either of those options often turn to a payday lender, where it is easy to get caught in a cycle of debt.

      That's why consumer advocates, as well as financial planners, stress the need for savings. America Saves, a partnership between the Consumer Federation of America and American Savings Education Council, offers advice and resources for helping to build savings and reduce debt.

      It says consumers should take the first step by creating a budget, so they know how much money is coming in each month and where it is being spent. By creating a budget line for savings – even a small amount – will guarantee that money is put away each month.

      Consumers still aren't doing a very good job of saving money, but they aren't all that worried about it. That's the conclusion of Bankrate.com's annual rep...
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      Amazon’s ‘Hub’ delivery lockers now available to over 500,000 residents

      The program gives apartment residents another way to receive package deliveries

      On Tuesday, Amazon announced that more apartment dwellers are getting access to its delivery lockers for apartment complexes, called the Hub.

      The Hub is similar to the online retailer’s existing Lockers, which launched in 2011 as an alternative to receiving packages from Amazon at home or work.

      With the Hub, Amazon places a large metal locker in a common area of an apartment complex. When a resident’s order arrives, couriers deliver the package to the on-site Hub where it can be picked up by the resident using an access code.

      Unlike the company’s existing Lockers, residents can have deliveries from any sender sent to the Hub -- orders don’t have to be from Amazon. Residents can pick up their packages 24 hours a day.

      Expanding access

      The e-commerce giant, which quietly launched its Hub program last summer, has announced that the program is now available to over 500,000 residents across the country with “thousands more” gaining access each month.

      The program, “addresses frustrations from property owners, carriers and residents concerning package delivery,” said Patrick Supanc, director, Amazon Worldwide Lockers and Pickup, in a statement.

      The program is intended to eliminate the need for apartment residents to wait for a delivery from building staff or structure their day so that they can be home to receive a package delivery.

      “The Hub simplifies delivery for residents, offering quick and secure access to packages, day or night. For delivery providers, it offers a single, convenient location for package drop-off and gives property managers time and resources back to focus on other priorities,” Supanc said.

      The Hub program is Amazon’s latest effort to combat package theft. Last fall, the company launched Amazon Key, a service that gives delivery personnel access to a consumer’s home. Earlier this year, Amazon expanded its Key service to include in-car deliveries, turning a person’s car into a delivery locker of sorts.

      On Tuesday, Amazon announced that more apartment dwellers are getting access to its delivery lockers for apartment complexes, called the Hub.The Hub is...
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      Model year 2018 Infiniti QX30s recalled

      The right-hand side lower seat belt anchorage may detach in a crash

      Nissan North America is recalling six model year 2018 Infiniti QX30s.

      The bolt securing the right-hand side lower seat belt anchorage may have been incorrectly installed during production. This can result in the lower seat belt anchorage detaching in a crash.

      If the lower seat belt anchorage detaches in a crash, the risk of injury can increase.

      What to do

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will weld in a new retaining plate and secure the seat belt anchorage with a new anchor bolt, free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule. Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-867-7669.

      Nissan North America is recalling six model year 2018 Infiniti QX30s.The bolt securing the right-hand side lower seat belt anchorage may have been inco...
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      General Motors recalls vehicles with fuel pump issue

      The high pressure fuel pump may detach from its mounting flange

      General Motors is recalling 848 model year 2018 Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac ATS, Chevrolet Equinox, Malibu & Colorado, and GMC Terrain, Acadia & Canyon vehicles.

      The high pressure fuel pump may detach from its mounting flange, possibly resulting in the pump damaging the high pressure fuel line, and increasing the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the high pressure fuel pump, and high pressure fuel pipe, free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Buick customer service at 1-800-521-7300, Cadillac customer service at 1-800-458-8006, Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020, or GMC customer service at 1-800-462-8782. GM's number for this recall is 18188.

      General Motors is recalling 848 model year 2018 Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac ATS, Chevrolet Equinox, Malibu & Colorado, and GMC Terrain, Acadia & Canyon vehicl...
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      ACLU speaks out against proposed Sinclair-Tribune merger

      The organization said the deal would grant an unprecedented amount of control over local news to one company

      The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is trying to convince federal regulators to block a controversial proposed merger between Sinclair Broadcasting Group and Tribune Media company, the group said on Tuesday.

      The influential organization could add some muscle to consumer advocates’ otherwise uphill battle in convincing a big business-friendly FCC to block the merger.

      The ACLU and others say that the merger, if allowed to go through, would give one corporation an unprecedented amount of control over local media.

      In a comment it submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday, the ACLU argued that neither Sinclair or the Tribune have proven that joining forces would serve the public interest.

      “This proposed merger, which would create the largest television broadcasting company in history, is anticompetitive to its core, in direct contradiction of the Commission's public interest requirement,” the ACLU’s public comment says.

      “Our opposition to the Sinclair merger has nothing to do with where Sinclair sits on the ideological spectrum,” the ACLU adds in a press release. “The problem is that Sinclair’s attempt to acquire Tribune Media would give it control over some 200 TV stations, virtually guaranteeing less viewpoint diversity in local news.”

      Monopolizing local news

      The Sinclair Broadcasting Group is already enormously powerful, owning an estimated 200 local news channels in 100 markets, or a reach that expands into nearly 40 percent of American households. This control was made abundantly clear to viewers in March, when local anchors across the company were required to film a commercial and read the same script warning viewers about “one-sided, irresponsible news sources plaguing our country.”

      If it merges with Tribune Media, Sinclair would reach an estimated 72 percent of American households. Some analysts predict that the $6 billion deal would allow the company to build a conservative network to rival Fox News.

      The FCC under Trump seems poised to allow the merger to happen. Though federal law says that a single broadcasting corporation cannot control more than 39 percent of the marketplace, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is planning a vote in July to lift that cap, Bloomberg News reported last week.

      “This unprecedented concentration of control, which contradicts the FCC’s own policies about how wide a broadcasting company’s reach can be, would stifle the diversity of views in the press that’s essential for a healthy democracy,” the ACLU said.

      While Americans watch less TV news than they used to, those who do tend to prefer local news, according to the Pew Research Center.

      The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is trying to convince federal regulators to block a controversial proposed merger between Sinclair Broadcasting G...
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      Wegmans ranks as consumers’ favorite grocery store

      A new ranking of America’s favorite grocery stores finds Walmart in last place

      For the third consecutive year, Wegmans is America’s favorite grocery store.

      That’s according to a new study conducted by consumer experience management company Market Force, which polled nearly 13,000 shoppers on their favorite (and least favorite) grocery stores.

      Grocery retailers were ranked using a Composite Loyalty Index, which assigned scores based on how customers rated their satisfaction with their most recent grocery shopping experience, as well as the likelihood that they would recommend that chain to others.

      Although the top three chains had close scores, Wegmans took the top spot with an index score of 77 percent. Publix, a chain that managed to tie with Wegmans last year, had a score of 76 percent in this year’s study.

      Trader Joe’s rounded out the top three with a score of 75 percent, and Aldi and H-E-B took fourth and fifth places, respectively.

      Aldi ascended one spot this year to come in fourth with a score of 70 percent. Meanwhile, Walmart finds itself in last place on the ranking of America’s 22 favorite grocery stores, earning a score of just 34 percent.

      Factors that are important to consumers

      Trader Joe’s earned high marks among consumers for fast checkout and courteous cashiers, according to the survey. Wegmans and Publix both scored well in the areas of cleanliness and availability of items.

      Wegmans ranked number one for its specialty department service, while Publix earned consumers’ praise for ease in finding items.

      Wegmans, which operates 96 locations across the Mid-Atlantic, strives to give customers a pleasant shopping experience by investing in employee training and offering a vast selection of reasonably-priced items at its stores.

      “Wegmans, founded in 1916, is known for its fresh produce, reasonable prices and massive stores,” Market Force said in a statement. “The New York-based chain is expanding steadily and, with a focus on employee training to ensure a great customer experience, it’s created a legion of super-fans eager for a new location to open near their home.”

      The chain originally took the top spot away from Trader Joe’s in 2016 and has ranked number one on the survey for the past three years.

      For the third consecutive year, Wegmans is America’s favorite grocery store. That’s according to a new study conducted by consumer experience managemen...
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      Google to fix Chromecast and Google Home bug that reveals users' locations

      Google plans to fix the issue in July

      In the coming weeks, Google plans to fix a bug in two of its most popular devices -- the Google Home and Chromecast. New research found that websites can run a simple script in the background of the devices that collects precise data location when installed on a user’s private network.

      The Google Home serves as both a smart speaker and a home assistant, while the Chromecast is a small electronic device that streams TV shows, movies, and games to a television or monitor.

      According to Tripwire’s Chris Young, there is an authentication weakness that leaks users’ location information that he found to be incredibly accurate. Young says the attacker will ask Google for a list of nearby wireless networks and then send that list to Google’s geolocation lookup services.

      “An attacker can be completely remote as long as they can get the victim to open a link while connected to the same Wifi or wired network as a Google Chromecast or Home device,” Young said. “The only real limitation is that the link needs to remain open for about a minute before the attacker has the location. The attack content could be contained within malicious advertisements or even a tweet.”

      How an attacker can get your location

      Security reporter Brian Krebs explained how Google’s geolocation services can enable an attacker to seize a user’s location.

      “It is common for websites to keep a record of the numeric Internet Protocol (IP) address of all visitors, and those addresses can be used in combination with online geolocation tools to glean information about each visitor’s hometown or region,” Krebs said.

      Krebs noted this kind of data typically doesn’t produce the most precise results; however, that isn’t the case with Google’s geolocation data, which includes sophisticated maps of wireless networks globally that associates Wifi networks with physical locations.

      “Armed with this data, Google can very often determine a user’s location to within a few feet (particularly in densely populated areas), by triangulating the user between several nearby mapped Wifi access points.”

      When the bug will be fixed

      A developer closed the bug issue shortly after Young found it in May, with it being marked as an “intended behavior.” However, when Krebs told Google he’d be writing a report on the issue, the company agreed to work on a fix.

      The company says the issue should be fixed by sometime in July.

      “The implications of this are quite broad including the possibility for more effective blackmail or extortion campaigns,” Young said. “Threats to release compromising photos or expose some secret to friends and family could use this to lend credibility and increase their odds of success.”

      In the coming weeks, Google plans to fix a bug in two of its most popular devices -- the Google Home and Chromecast. New research found that websites can r...
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      Alexa for Hospitality is a concierge in your hotel room

      Marriott is the first to install the service

      Amazon has expanded its Echo smart speaker to the hospitality industry, with Marriott lining up to be the first hotel chain to make Alexa a permanent resident in rooms at select properties.

      Guests will be able to talk to Alexa, getting hotel information, relaying requests to guest services, and accessing a music playlist, among other things. Amazon says its a new way for guests to access services and amenities during their stay.

      For hotels, Alexa will almost be another staff member, answering questions that might go to a concierge and freeing up human staff members.

      “Customers tell us they love how easy it is to get information, enjoy entertainment, and control connected devices by simply asking Alexa, and we want to offer those experiences everywhere customers want them,” said Daniel Rausch, an Amazon vice president. "Alexa for Hospitality makes your hotel stay a little more like being at home and gives hospitality providers new ways to create memorable stays for their guests.”

      Marriott is installing the service in some Marriott Hotels, Westin Hotels & Resorts, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, Aloft Hotels, and Autograph Collection Hotels, over the course of this summer.

      Customized for specific hotels

      Individual hotels have already incorporated the Echo into their services, using it to allow guests to voice-control the room's temperature. Alexa for Hospitality is actually designed for the hospitality industry and can be customized for a specific property. Guests can tell Alexa to book a massage in the hotel spa or reserve a tee time at the property's golf course.

      Jennifer Hsieh, Vice President Customer Experience Innovation, Marriott International, says being the first to sign up for Alexa for Hospitality wasn't a difficult decision.

      “So many of our guests use voice technology in their home, and we want to extend that convenience to their travel experience,” she said.

      The system will go up first at Charlotte Marriott City Center and Marriott Irvine Spectrum. After that, Hsieh said Marriott will evaluate feedback from hotel guests to expand the skills, features, and functionality to offer through the service.

      Amazon says the system can also be configured by individual hotels to allow guests to control and adjust in-room devices like lights, thermostats, blinds, and TVs. Other features include Alexa skills like checking airport wait times, playing games, providing a guided exercise workout, and playing white noise at bedtime.

      Amazon has expanded its Echo smart speaker to the hospitality industry, with Marriott lining up to be the first hotel chain to make Alexa a permanent resid...
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      Smoking rate in the U.S. at record low

      But other methods of consuming nicotine are on the rise

      Just 13.9 percent of adults in the U.S. smoked cigarettes last year, according to a government report released Tuesday.

      The new figures represent a decrease from previous years and indicate that the American smoking rate has reached “the lowest level ever recorded.”

      In 2016, nearly 16 percent of adults aged 18 and over smoked cigarettes, according to a previous survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 1965, more than 40 percent of U.S. adults smoked cigarettes.

      Experts say public health campaigns have helped to raise awareness of the dangers of the addictive habit, helping to drive down the overall number of smokers in recent decades.

      Twice as many smoke in rural areas

      The first effort to raise awareness about the adverse health effects of smoking cigarettes was made in 1964, when the Surgeon General released the first government report linking smoking with certain diseases.

      However, anti-smoking campaigns like these tend to reach more city-dwellers than rural adults. Just 11 percent of adults in a metro area of one million people or more smoke, compared to nearly 22 percent in rural areas, the CDC report said.

      Adults in rural areas also "had the highest rates of being obese, having experienced serious psychological distress during the past 30 days, or having diagnosed diabetes," according to the report.

      Swapping smoking for vaping

      Vaping is now the most common method of consuming nicotine among both high school and middle school students, according to the CDC. Around 12 percent of high schoolers used e-cigarettes in 2017, compared to about 3 percent of U.S. adults as of 2016.

      Experts say the decrease in the number of cigarette smokers represents a major public health success. However, federal health officials are now facing the challenge of how to regulate e-cigarettes.

      Although e-cigarettes are touted as products to help adults quit cigarettes, health experts are hesitant to promote e-cigarettes as healthier alternatives to traditional cigarettes. Some evidence has shown that e-cigarette use can lead to other forms of tobacco use among youth, and researchers are still trying to gain a clear understanding of the health effects of vaping.

      "Yes, vaping doesn't have the high levels of tar and soot that are the major contributors to the cigarette lung cancer risk," Dr. Adam Lackey, chief of thoracic surgery at Staten Island University Hospital, told HealthDay News.

      "But you are still inhaling heated chemicals into your body. And you are still getting nicotine, which in and of itself is not particularly healthy, aside from the addiction standpoint."

      With the number of young adult vapers on the rise and the health effects of the practice still being studied, the FDA has ramped up its efforts to crack down on youth access to e-cigarettes.

      Just 13.9 percent of adults in the U.S. smoked cigarettes last year, according to a government report released Tuesday. The new figures represent a dec...
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      Google launches YouTube Music and YouTube Premium in more countries

      The ‘reimagined’ music streaming service comes with free and premium tiers

      Following a soft launch to certain users last month, Google has officially launched YouTube Music and YouTube Premium in 17 countries.

      Google’s new music streaming service lets consumers listen to music in several ways. The first is through a free, ad-supported version, which may be a good fit for people who just want to try out the service.

      For $9.99 per month, users can get YouTube Music Premium. In exchange for the monthly fee, users can enjoy an ad-free experience, as well as mobile app background listening (for audio tracks only), downloads, and offline playback.

      For a slightly higher fee of $11.99 per month, consumers can get YouTube Premium. This service encompasses everything YouTube Music offers, as well as background listening for videos and an ad-free experience across all content on YouTube. Consumers who already have a Google Play Music subscription will get access to YouTube Premium as part of their membership.

      Personalized mixes

      YouTube Music comes with a “reimagined mobile app” and a new desktop interface designed specifically for music.

      After opening the app, users can tell YouTube what artists they like to listen to. Google will use these preferences, as well as the user’s YouTube viewing history, to craft “A Station Built For You,” which features “endless personalized music.”

      The service continually offers new recommendations based on the user’s listening history, location, and activity. Thanks to its intelligent search feature, YouTube Music can perform lyrics-based searches. Type a few lyrics into the search box, and YouTube will return the song that features those lyrics.

      YouTube Music has music videos, official albums, singles, remixes, live performances, covers, and “hard-to-find music you can only get on YouTube,” according to the company.

      YouTube Music and YouTube Premium are now available in 17 countries, including the US, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, South Korea, Austria, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

      Consumers can get the new YouTube Music from the Play Store and App Store today, or sign up for YouTube Premium here.

      Following a soft launch to certain users last month, Google has officially launched YouTube Music and YouTube Premium in 17 countries. Google’s new mus...
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      Winter's Sausage recalls poultry, pork and beef products

      The poultry products were slaughtered under religious exemption, which is not declared on the label

      Winter's Sausage Manufacturing Co., of Eastpointe, Mich., is recalling approximately 28,346 pounds of poultry, pork and beef products.

      The poultry products were slaughtered under religious exemption, which is not declared on the product label.

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

      The recalled items, produced from March 9, 2018, through June 4, 2018, are listed here.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “P-10158” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations and distributors in Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

      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 Ron Eckert at (586) 777-9080, ext. 224.

      Winter's Sausage Manufacturing Co., of Eastpointe, Mich., is recalling approximately 28,346 pounds of poultry, pork and beef products.The poultry produ...
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      Model year 2018 Chevrolet Sonics recalled

      The driver's seat back frame joint is improperly welded

      General Motors is recalling 71 model year 2018 Chevrolet Sonics.

      A joint in the driver's seat-back frame may not be properly welded, reducing the strength of the seat-back frame.

      The seat-back may fail in the event of a rear-impact crash, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver's seat-back, free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020. GM's number for this recall is 18178.

      General Motors is recalling 71 model year 2018 Chevrolet Sonics.A joint in the driver's seat-back frame may not be properly welded, reducing the streng...
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      Amazon begins rollout of its Prime Membership price increase

      While some consumers may be turned off, the company hopes improved amenities and add-ons will keep shoppers interested

      Amazon has begun its Prime membership rate hike for its customer base of more than 100+ million. The new rate raises the annual membership by $20 to $119, the program’s first membership price increase in almost four years.

      As is usually the case in situations like this, consumers have to consider the usefulness of the membership program. A new study by EffectiveSpend takes a look at how the new Prime rate will affect consumer shopping behavior.

      In its study, EffectiveSpend surveyed 1,000 Amazon customers whose shopping habits fell into one of three brackets -- Prime Member Loyalists (unlikely to cancel), At-Risk Prime Members (likely to cancel), and Current Non-Prime Members.

      The results? More than half of the respondents -- 54 percent -- felt the value of their membership does not outweigh the cost.

      “This data indicates that customers who drop their Prime membership will be shopping outside of Amazon for more of their higher priced purchases,” said Jared Scott, EffectiveSpends Senior Amazon Strategist.

      “Amazon will still be in their consideration set, but in the absence of their Prime membership benefits, these customers are less incentivized to purchase from Amazon and more inclined to comparison shop on other sites.”

      Scott concluded that despite an “inevitable loss of some of its current Prime members, Amazon is well poised to grow its revenue from its best customers with a better mobile experience and a more sophisticated advertising platform.”

      The consumer’s return on investment from Prime

      Undaunted by a potential loss of Prime members, Amazon head honcho Jeff Bezos appears set on making Prime membership worth every penny. In his recent letter to investors, Bezos glowed about Prime’s growth.

      “In 2017 Amazon shipped more than five billion items with Prime worldwide, and more new members joined Prime than in any previous year,” he said.

      Bezos is hoping that Prime loyalists will love the membership plan’s ever-growing list of perks enough to renew.

      Since its last Prime price increase, the company has added Whole Foods to its business family -- with a host of locations in which the grocery chain will deliver directly to customers -- faster shipping via Prime Free Same-Day and Prime Free One-Day, widespread delivery to 8,000 cities and towns, unlimited cloud photo storage, the video-game streaming site Twitch, a seemingly-endless parade of new content on Prime Video like Prime Originals and Thursday Night Football, Prime Wardrobe, and the recent addition of Prime Book Box for kids.

      Amazon has begun its Prime membership rate hike for its customer base of more than 100+ million. The new rate raises the annual membership by $20 to $119,...
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      Supreme Court delays judgments on two partisan gerrymandering cases

      The decision leaves the status quo in place until next term

      On Monday, the Supreme Court passed up two opportunities this term to rule on when and whether states violate the Constitution by drawing political maps that strongly favor one party over another.

      The Court heard two cases -- one from Maryland and one from Wisconsin -- and justices didn’t provide a clear timeline as to when issues of partisan gerrymandering may go further than the law allows.

      Looking into the cases

      In the Maryland case, the Court said challengers to congressional lines that give Democrats seven of eight seats in the House of Representatives waited six years to bring their claim to court. In doing so, they also hadn’t shown how this would potentially harm the district indefinitely, as the Supreme Court’s decision in this case would not affect any elections this coming fall.

      “In considering the balance of equities among the parties, we think that plaintiffs’ unnecessary, years-long delay in asking for preliminary injunctive relief weighed against their request,” the Court’s unsigned opinion said.

      As for Wisconsin, the case has been ongoing since October. Justices stated that challengers to the construction of 99 state Assembly districts in Wisconsin could not try to change the whole map at one time, but must target specific districts. Like the Maryland case, the Supreme Court didn’t dismiss it, but decided to give the challengers another chance in the lower courts.

      “We lack jurisdiction to decide this case, much less draw speculative and advisory conclusions regarding others,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the Court.

      Effects across the country

      Though the Supreme Court had the opportunity to make a dramatic change in the political landscape, delaying the cases until next term didn’t up-end the status quo.

      This decision now won’t result in any major changes for any other states, including North Carolina, Texas, Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia, where gerrymandering accusations have been levied. Though changes in district lines aren’t necessary this year, by the next election in 2020, it could be up for debate depending on the outcome of these cases in the next term.

      Across the country, both state legislators and members of Congress are typically elected in districts that favor the party that controls state government. This was the driving force behind Wisconsin’s lawsuit, as this act has largely favored Republicans throughout the last decade.

      Those trying to change Wisconsin’s state lines explained to justices in October that the Republican-drawn lines violated their constitutional rights to equal protection. Similarly, in Maryland, the court’s justices said state Democrats had gone too far after redrawing a Congressional district that Republicans had won for 20 years. According to officials, after they redrew the district, the Republican candidate lost in a landslide.

      “Partisan gerrymandering, as this Court has recognized, is ‘incompatible with democratic principles,’” said Justice Elena Kagan. “More effectively every day, that practice enables politicians to entrench themselves in power against the people’s will. And only the courts can do anything to remedy the problem, because gerrymanders benefit those who control the political branches.”

      On Monday, the Supreme Court passed up two opportunities this term to rule on when and whether states violate the Constitution by drawing political maps th...
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      Audi CEO arrested in diesel emissions cheating investigation

      Rupert Stadler was arrested due to his connection to Volkswagen’s ‘dieselgate’ scandal

      Rupert Stadler, the CEO of Volkswagen’s Audi division, was arrested on Monday over “concerns over potential evidence tampering” in the probe of Volkswagen’s diesel-emissions cheating case.

      The arrest comes one week after the executive’s home was raided by authorities, who afterwards named him a suspect in their investigation into fraud and falsifying public documents in relation to the “dieselgate” scandal.

      Last week, Volkswagen also agreed to pay a fine of about $1.16 billion for failing to properly supervise the staff members who came up with the software used to cheat emissions tests.

      Stadler’s is the highest-profile arrest in the ongoing investigation into Volkswagen’s manipulation of emissions controls, which first came to light in 2015.

      “Munich prosecutors said in a statement Monday that Rupert Stadler, who has worked for Audi parent company Volkswagen since 1990, had been detained because of concerns over potential evidence tampering,” CNN Money reports.

      Ongoing case

      Volkswagen admitted in September 2015 to equipping over 11 million of its diesel cars with illegal software to cheat U.S. emissions tests. The scandal has cost the company billions of dollars and has led to the indictment of several top executives.

      "As part of an investigation into diesel affairs and Audi engines, the Munich prosecutor's office executed an arrest warrant against Mr Professor Rupert Stadler on June 18, 2018," the Munich prosecutor's office said in a statement.

      Prosecutors in Munich have ordered that Stadler be detained to prevent him from fleeing, influencing witnesses, or in any way obstructing the investigation.

      A VW spokesperson confirmed to CNN Money that Stadler had been arrested but declined to comment on the investigation. He said the automaker’s board would discuss it later Monday.

      "The principle of the presumption of innocence continues to apply to Mr. Stadler," the spokesperson said in a statement.

      Rupert Stadler, the CEO of Volkswagen’s Audi division, was arrested on Monday over “concerns over potential evidence tampering” in the probe of Volkswagen’...
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      Trump set to name a replacement for Mick Mulvaney at CFPB

      Consumer groups don't seem to like her any better

      For months, consumer advocates have called on the Trump administration to appoint a new director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to replace Mick Mulvaney.

      It calls to mind the admonition, be careful what you wish for.

      President Trump has, in fact, named his intended replacement for Mulvaney, who is also the president's budget director. Mulvaney has been directing the consumer agency as a second job, while angering consumer advocates for allegedly changing the agency's mission.

      The prospective nominee, so far at least, isn't going over that well. She is Kathy Kraninger, Mulvaney's deputy at the Office of Management and Budget. While little is known about Kraninger, consumer groups are assuming she would follow her boss' policies.

      Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform, says the agency needs a director who has a strong record of commitment to protecting consumers when they do business with financial services companies. She claims this nomination aims to keep the CFPB "hobbled."

      Consumer groups have been highly critical of Mulvaney, who as a member of Congress twice voted to abolish the CFPB. In his last appearance before Congress, he urged lawmakers to take direct control of the agency, saying it has too much power and hasn't been held accountable.

      Not returning to original mission

      Consumer groups say that the nomination of Kraninger will likely mean the CFPB won't go back to its original role of aggressively protecting consumers' interests.

      “This is nothing more than a desperate attempt by Mick Mulvaney to maintain his grip on the CFPB, so he can continue undermining its important consumer protection mission on behalf of the powerful Wall Street special interests and predatory lenders that have bankrolled his career,” said Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress.

      Frisch said the Senate should immediately schedule confirmation hearings and reject Kraninger's nomination, claiming she has "no relevant experience."

      According to Bloomberg News, most banking industry lobbyists it consulted had never heard of Kraninger, although she did get an endorsement from Rob Nichols, president of the American Bankers Association.

      The CFPB was established under the 2010 Dodd Frank Act and given a large degree of independence to shield it from political pressure.

      Its creation was proposed by Harvard professor, and now Senator, Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and its first director was Richard Cordray, who aggressively pursued consumer issues as the attorney general of Ohio.

      For months, consumer advocates have called on the Trump administration to appoint a new director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to repl...
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      Tesla is now producing about 3,500 Model 3 cars per week

      Elon Musk says he will be at the factory ‘almost 24/7’ to help employees

      In an email to employees, Tesla CEO Elon Musk gave an update on the company’s plan to produce 5,000 Model 3 cars per week by the end of this month.

      Musk said the company is now producing “about 500” vehicles per day, or about 3,500 per week. He said that some parts of the production system have already reached 700 cars per day and praised staff for their hard work.

      “It’s getting very exciting! All parts of the Model 3 production system are now above 500 and some are almost at 700 cars already. Congratulations to all on making so much progress,” Musk said in the email sent Friday night, obtained by Electrek.

      However, Musk said that there are a few bottlenecks preventing all parts of production from reaching the goal of 700 cars per day. “Radical improvements” are still needed on some parts of the production line, he said.

      To make sure the company hits its quarterly production targets, the CEO told employees that he will be at the Fremont factory “almost 24/7 for the next several days” to make sure the teams that are behind -- which include the paint shop and the end of the general assembly line -- get “as many resources as they can handle.”

      Ramping up production

      Earlier this month, Musk said it is “quite likely” that Tesla will hit a weekly Model 3 production rate of 5,000 cars “by the end of this month.”

      Last week, Musk told staff that employees in non-critical positions would be let go under a broad reorganization effort intended to achieve profitability during the second half of the year. He said the company would be cutting at least 9 percent of its workforce, but employees involved in Model 3 production wouldn’t be let go.

      Tesla originally planned to make 5,000 Model 3 units per week by the end of 2017, but it ended up producing only 2,425 Model 3 cars in the fourth quarter of last year.

      Musk has regularly referred to the early stages of production as “hell.” In April, he revealed that he was sleeping on the factory floor to oversee Model 3 production when the company was trying to increase production by over 2,000 units per week.

      In an email to employees, Tesla CEO Elon Musk gave an update on the company’s plan to produce 5,000 Model 3 cars per week by the end of this month. Mus...
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      HF Food Distributors recalls sliced cooked ham

      The product did not undergo federal inspection

      HF Food Distributors of Orocovis, Puerto Rico, is recalling approximately 142 pounds of sliced cooked ham that did not undergo federal inspection.

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

      The 1-lb., plastic-wrapped packages of “JAMON COCIDO REBANADO” with a sell by date of “May 25, 00” on the label does not bear an establishment number, mark of inspection, or an ingredients statement.

      The recalled item was shipped wholesale to Head Start centers in Puerto Rico.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the 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 Jose Figueroa at (787) 213-7892.

      HF Food Distributors of Orocovis, Puerto Rico, is recalling approximately 142 pounds of sliced cooked ham that did not undergo federal inspection.There...
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      Dave’s Pet Food recalls 95% Premium Beef Canned Dog Food

      The product may contain elevated levels of beef thyroid hormone

      Dave’s Pet Food of Agawam, Mass., is recalling a single lot of Dave’s Dog Food 95% premium beef cans that may contain elevated levels of beef thyroid hormone.

      Dogs consuming high levels of beef thyroid hormone may exhibit symptoms such as increased thirst and urination, weight loss, increased heart rate and restlessness.

      The symptoms may stop when the consumption of these levels is discontinued.

      The Food and Drug Administration analyzed the product after receiving a complaint that four dogs consuming it were found to have low Free T4 (fT4) and Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).

      The recalled product, sold in pet stores and ecommerce sites along the east coast of the U.S., involves a single batch (548 cases) of 13-oz., 95% premium beef dog food with a UPC # of 85038-11167 and a date code of 08/2020.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should stop feeding it to their dogs.

      Consumers who have questions or would like a refund or coupon for replacement product, may call (888) 763-2738, Monday through Friday, between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM (EST).

      Dave’s Pet Food of Agawam, Mass., is recalling a single lot of Dave’s Dog Food 95% premium beef cans that may contain elevated levels of beef thyroid hormo...
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      Model year 2018 Volkswagen Atlas vehicles recalled

      Certain child seats may damage the vehicle's seat belt buckles

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 54,537 model year 2018 Volkswagen Atlas vehicles.

      The owner's manuals provided with the recalled vehicles do not inform customers about the child restraint size limitation/restrictions for the second row center seating position.

      As a result, the center and adjacent outboard seat belt buckles on the second row can become damaged it a child seat base is installed that is wider than 12.6 inches.

      A damaged seat belt buckle can release unexpectedly, increasing the risk of injury in a crash.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the center and left outboard seat belt buckles, and replace them if necessary, free of charge.

      The automaker will also provide an owner's manual supplement addressing child safety and child restraints.

      The recall is expected to begin August 3, 2018.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 69X1.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 54,537 model year 2018 Volkswagen Atlas vehicles.The owner's manuals provided with the recalled vehicles do no...
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      J Bar B Foods recalls beef sausage

      The product contains pork casing, not declared on the label

      J Bar B Foods of Waelder, Texas, is recalling approximately 410,985 pounds of beef brisket smoked sausage.

      The product contains a pork casing, which is not declared on the label.

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

      The following ready-to-eat item, produced from June 21, 2016, to May 29, 2018, is being recalled:

      • 12 oz. vacuum-packed packages of “H-E-B TEXAS HERITAGE SAUSAGE SMOKED WITH NATURAL HARDWOOD BEEF BRISKET.”

      Lot codes, packaging dates and other identifying label information may be found here.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “EST. 7066” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to retail locations in Texas.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the 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 Adam Bosi at (860) 787-7511.

      J Bar B Foods of Waelder, Texas, is recalling approximately 410,985 pounds of beef brisket smoked sausage.The product contains a pork casing, which is...
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      Kentucky sues Walgreens for ‘fueling the opioid epidemic’

      The state’s Attorney General called the rate of opioid prescription in Kentucky ‘alarming’

      Kentucky has sued Walgreens for its role in the opioid epidemic, alleging that the pharmacy has been engaging in deceptive business practices in its large-scale shipment and sale of opioids at its Kentucky pharmacies for the past 10 years.

      In a complaint filed Thursday, the state’s Attorney General Andy Beshear accused Walgreens of dispensing the drugs at “such an alarming rate and volume that there could be no legitimate medical purpose associated to their use.”

      Beshear alleges that Walgreens’ 70 Kentucky pharmacies used “unlawful business practices” to fuel the epidemic in the state of Kentucky.

      Accused of over-dispensing opioids

      The lawsuit claims that for more than a decade, Walgreens filled "massive" and "suspicious" orders of opioids and failed to flag unusual orders or put a stop to the shipments. Beshear accuses the retailer of ignoring the deadly health crisis perpetuated by its practices for the purpose of making a profit.

      Kentucky had 1,404 overdose deaths in 2016 and had the third highest drug overdose rate in 2015 behind West Virginia and New Hampshire, according to the complaint. Kentucky has the sixth-highest rate of opioid deaths in the country, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

      “While Walgreens’ slogan was ‘at the corner of happy and healthy,’ they have significantly harmed the health of our families in fueling the opioid epidemic,” Beshear said in a statement. "While the pain of addiction and loss of a loved one may never heal, I want to make sure these billion dollar companies take responsibility and become a part of the solution."

      Beshear wants Walgreens to stop "over-dispensing opioids" and "filling suspicious orders." The lawsuit also seeks damages and penalties, as well as an injunction.

      Fighting the opioid epidemic

      The lawsuit follows recent efforts made by companies to stem opioid misuse and abuse.

      In January, Walmart introduced a way to safely destroy leftover opioids at home. Last month, the retailer pledged to propose a “solution” to the opioid crisis by implementing a new plan to restrict some opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply with a maximum of 50 milligrams of morphine per day. CVS also started restricting first-time opioid prescriptions at seven days earlier this year.

      Kentucky has sued Walgreens for its role in the opioid epidemic, alleging that the pharmacy has been engaging in deceptive business practices in its large-...
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      Panera Bread to face jury trial for franchise that added peanut butter to allergic child’s sandwich

      A judge has determined that the family’s lawsuit can move forward

      Panera Bread’s grilled cheese sandwiches don’t come with peanut butter, but as a precaution, Elissa Russo says she advised a Massachusetts store that her daughter has a severe peanut allergy -- twice. She was ordering the meal online and had left warnings about her daughter’s allergy throughout the “comments” sections in the delivery portal.  

      After the food arrived, Russo’s six-year-old took one bite into her grilled cheese and said it tasted funny. Her parents opened the sandwich and saw about two tablespoons of peanut butter inside. The girl was hospitalized and suffered post-traumatic stress from her near-death experience, her family said in 2016.

      Now, the lawsuit that the Russos originally filed two years ago is set to head to a jury after a Massachusetts judge on Thursday rejected Panera Bread’s arguments that it should not be responsible for what happens at its franchise locations.

      “A jury could find that a national chain was negligent based on how a franchise served a child with a food allergy,” the family's attorney told the Boston Globe on Friday.

      Confused by order

      The girl's father John Russo had said that the franchise manager initially blamed a confused worker with a language barrier for the mix-up, but Russo was unconvinced, noting that the word for “allergy” in both Spanish and Portuguese is the markedly similar “alergia.”

      However, at a deposition last year, the worker who was reportedly responsible for making the sandwich said, through a Spanish translator, that she was “really confused” by the online order.

      She admitted to putting peanut butter in the sandwich but portrayed it as a genuine mistake.

      The Russo family is suing both the Panera Bread corporate chain and the owner of the franchise, PR Franchise Group, for negligence, assault and battery, and intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress.

      “This ought to be a warning bell to restaurants that it could be considered civil assault and battery to serve an allergen to someone who has a severe allergy,” the family’s attorney added to the Globe.

      Fatal allergic reactions

      Lawsuits accusing restaurants of poisoning patrons with food allergies typically don’t get very far if the judge presiding over the case buys the food industry's arguments that restaurant patrons are responsible for their own health.

      But in several lawsuits in recent years, people suing restaurants have successfully convinced juries that they or their loved ones had taken extra steps to warn restaurant workers about their allergies, only to get burned anyway.

      In Canada, a hunter said he was assured by his waitress that the cheesecake he wanted did not contain any nuts. His resulting allergic reaction cost the waitress and the local Travelodge $25,000 after a jury determined that the waitress hadn’t bothered to check an ingredients list in the kitchen indicating that the cheesecake contained walnuts.

      And in the United Kingdom, a 38-year-old bar manager was found dead in his home, near a food container that had “no peanuts” written on it. The restaurant he ordered take-out from had switched from using almond powder to a cheaper, peanut-based nut mix in its Tikka Masala and did not tell consumers. Restaurant owner Mohammed Zaman was charged with manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison in 2016 for the patron’s death.

      Research has shown that food allergies are on the rise in children. Anecdotally, some parents of children with severe allergies have described facing snarky comments or worse from people who apparently don’t believe that their children’s allergies are real.

      One study in the journal Pediatrics found that “bullying is common in food-allergic children.”

      Panera Bread’s grilled cheese sandwiches don’t come with peanut butter, but as a precaution, Elissa Russo says she advised a Massachusetts store that her d...
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      Uber, Lyft passengers can now purchase insurance for rides

      Riders can purchase accident and death coverage on a per-day basis through an app

      Insurance company Chubb has partnered with a startup called Sure to provide insurance coverage to users of ride-sharing apps Uber and Lyft, the Wall Street Journal reports.

      Ride-sharing passengers in 38 states will be able to buy accident and death coverage on-demand through a smartphone app.

      For $2.40 for a 24-hour period, a rider can get insurance that will cover $10,000 in medical costs and include a $100,000 death benefit for any accident or injuries he or she sustained while in the vehicle.

      Adapting to new transportation trends

      The on-demand insurance, which is being marketed under the name RideSafe, is part of an effort by insurance companies to create products and services for consumers who may be thinking of giving up their car in favor of increasing their use of ride-sharing services.

      The “episodic” insurance aims to fill in any potential gaps in the liability insurance coverage currently provided by ride-hailing companies.

      “There are many people, carriers and insurtech startups thinking of the implications of the ride-hailing world, the potential for gaps in insurance coverage and the opportunity to offer innovative new products,” Michael Halsband, a partner at law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath, told the WSJ.

      The service works by connecting a rider’s Uber or Lyft account to the Sure Insurance app. Initial authorization of the coverage often takes less than 60 seconds, according to the company. Once coverage is authorized, the passenger’s ride is automatically insured.

      Sure says on its website that future versions of its RideSafe offering will include coverage for passengers riding in autonomous cars, bicycles, and electric scooters used for ride-sharing.

      Insurance company Chubb has partnered with a startup called Sure to provide insurance coverage to users of ride-sharing apps Uber and Lyft, the Wall Street...
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      Kellogg's Honey Smacks linked to salmonella outbreak in 31 states

      The outbreak lasted for the better part of two months

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released information on a salmonella outbreak that has affected 31 states. The culprit? Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal. 

      On Thursday, the Kellogg’s company announced it would be voluntarily recalling 15.3 oz and 23 oz boxes of the cereal; it reports that no other cereals were affected by the infection.

      According to the CDC, the illnesses from the outbreak started March 3 and lasted through May 28. Twenty-four people have been hospitalized, though no deaths have been reported. The majority of the outbreaks have occurred in Massachusetts, New York, California, and Pennsylvania.

      Investigation of the outbreak

      To find the source of the outbreak, CDC officials used epidemiological evidence, including patterns in the geographic distribution of illnesses, the time periods when people got sick, past outbreaks involving the same germ, foods or other exposures occurring more often in sick people than expected, and clusters of unrelated sick people who ate at the same restaurant, shopped at the same grocery store, or attended the same event.

      Based on their findings, the Honey Smacks cereal was the likely cause of the infection. The CDC reported that 30 of the 39 people interviewed about the foods they ate in the week before getting sick all ate cold cereal, and 14 specifically reported eating Honey Smacks. Additionally, those who were sick reported eating Honey Smacks cereal more than any other cereal.

      After the CDC and Food & Drug Administration (FDA) contacted Kellogg’s about the outbreak, the company immediately conducted their own investigation with the third-party manufacturer who produces Honey Smacks.

      What to do next

      While this investigation is ongoing and the CDC will provide updates when more information is available, both Kellogg’s and the CDC are encouraging consumers to throw away any boxes of the cereal with the affected UPC codes/dates: 3800039103 or 3800014810 dated from June 14, 2018 through June 14, 2019.

      Kellogg’s also urges customers to contact the company to receive a full refund for the cereal.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released information on a salmonella outbreak that has affected 31 states. The culprit? Kellogg’s Hone...
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      SEC official declares Ether is not a security

      The statement caused the digital coin’s value to surge 9 percent

      An official for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) says the cryptocurrency Ether is not a security, a statement causing the digital coin's value to surge on trading platforms.

      A cryptocurrency that is classified as a security, like stock in a company, would be subject to regulation by the SEC and other governmental bodies. Bitcoin has been labeled as a security, helping drag down its value -- along with most other digital coins -- so far in 2018.

      William Hinman, head of the Division of Corporate Finance for the SEC, took part in the Yahoo All Markets Summit: Crypto conference in San Francisco on Thursday. At one point, he told the gathering that the SEC doesn't "see a lot of value" in categorizing Ether as a security.

      "Ether is a coin that is evolving," Hinman said, pointing to the coin's decentralized and public network. He also noted there is no third party in the mix, expecting to bank a profit.

      Decentralization appears to be a key. When a coin becomes widely held, the SEC is apparently less likely to view it as a security, the way it might view smaller coins, held by fewer investors.

      Music to investors' ears

      Hinman's statement was music to cryptocurrency investors' ears. Ether, backed by the company Ethereum, spiked nearly 9 percent on Hinman's statement, rising to more than $520 on CoinDesk. It's the second-largest cryptocurrency, after Bitcoin, with a market cap of more than $50 billion.

      The coin is a major element of the Ethereum network, one of the emerging blockchain platforms providing both security and transparency in financial transactions.

      After surging to dizzying heights in 2017, the values of all digital currencies have returned to earth this year. Taken together, digital currency values are down about 35 percent.

      The SEC official's statement may give hope to executives at Ripple, who insist their digital coin XRP is not a security. Ripple is working on a network to facilitate faster and more secure transactions among banks and other financial institutions. XRP is used in that process.

      Hinman said the SEC is not prepared to make any blanket assessment of cryptocurrencies in general, but it will review each on an individual basis.

      An official for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) says the cryptocurrency Ether is not a security, a statement causing the digital coin's value...
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      Retail sales on the rise as American spending increases

      It’s more than just Amazon

      On Thursday, the government reported a 0.8 percent increase in retail sales in May -- a figure that was much higher than anticipated. Perhaps even better, retail sales are up nearly six percent since last year.

      The surges were seen at clothing stores, restaurants, and home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowes.

      The increase in spending last month was seen mostly at physical stores, as sales far outpaced what the government calls nonstore retailers -- a category that includes Amazon, catalog retailers, vending machines, newspaper delivery, and other online retailers.

      Why the increase

      Experts immediately pointed to the strong job market and economy as the two main reasons for increased spending. Currently, the unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in almost two decades.

      Though the year started off on a rocky note spending-wise, many believe the rough winter was behind the low spending in the early months of 2018.

      Economists also pointed to the new tax laws playing a role in increased spending. Many Americans were waiting to see how the new tax cuts would play out, and once the cuts were passed, it was the green light to start spending.

      Economic effects

      Because of such strong sales numbers, economists at Barclays increased their forecast for the remainder of the year in terms of consumer spending. They now think the economy will expand at an annual rate of 3.5 percent -- up from their initial estimate of three percent.

      However, it may be unlikely to think Americans will continue to spend at this rate. Though retail rates were up, savings rates were down, as that number dropped to 2.8 percent in April. Consumer spending may be increasing, but it’s increasing far faster than personal income.

      It’s important to note the savings rate has only been below three percent three times since the 2008 financial crisis; one such time was this past November and December, though it quickly went up after the holiday shopping season.

      This may cause retail sales rates to decrease soon, especially considering the Federal Reserve’s intent to continue raising interest rates throughout the year. Credit card rates are expected to be the most affected, followed up by home equity lines of credit, auto loan interest rates, and mortgage rates. The increase is the second of the year, and the seventh since the Fed began “normalizing” rates after years of keeping the discount rate at zero percent.

      Tony Bedikian, head of global markets at Citizens Bank, said increased rates could be a deterrent to shoppers, but consumers may not pull out so quickly if “the Fed doesn’t raise rates too quickly.” Additionally, Bedikian feels that “as long as [people] have jobs and wages are rising,” spending should remain at a steady rate.

      On Thursday, the government reported a 0.8 percent increase in retail sales in May -- a figure that was much higher than anticipated. Perhaps even better,...
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      Kellogg recalls Honey Smacks cereal

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Kellogg Company is recalling 15.3-oz., and 23-oz., packages of Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      Kellogg has been contacted by the Food & Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control regarding reported illnesses.

      The following product, which was distributed in the U.S, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, the Caribbean, Guam, Tahiti and Saipan, is being recalled:

      Description (Retail)UPC CodeSizeBEST If Used By Date
      Honey Smacks (with limited distribution outside the U.S.)380003910315.3 ozJUN 14, 2018 through JUN 14, 2019
      Honey Smacks380001481023 oz JUN 14, 2018 through JUN 14, 2019

      The BEST if Used By Date is on the top of the cereal box, and the UPC code is on the bottom.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should discard it and contact the company for a full refund.

      Consumers seeking more information may contact the company at (800) 962-1413 Monday – Friday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (ET) and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. (ET), or online at kelloggs.com/honeysmacksrecall.

      Kellogg Company is recalling 15.3-oz., and 23-oz., packages of Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal that may be contaminated with Salmonella.Kellogg has been...
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      Model year 2019 Jeep Cherokees with 2.0L engines recalled

      The valve can drop into the engine cylinder causing engine damage

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 24 model year 2019 Jeep Cherokees equipped with 2.0L engines.

      The vehicles' engines may be missing valve stem keepers, which can allow the valve to drop into the engine cylinder causing engine damage.

      The engines may also have a reversed camshaft cap that can damage the camshaft bearing causing camshaft failure.

      Cylinder damage or camshaft failure can cause the engine to stall, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and repair or replace the affected engine components, as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin July 14, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U52.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 24 model year 2019 Jeep Cherokees equipped with 2.0L engines.The vehicles' engines may be missing valve stem keepers...
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      Toyota dealer who alleges cover-up of 'sudden deceleration' problem secures meeting with Senate

      Roger Hogan is asking for a senate investigation into stalling Prius cars

      Southern California Toyota dealer Roger Hogan, who is refusing to sell over $1 million worth of Prius cars he says are unsafe to drive, recently met with federal regulators and a senator in hopes that they will open a new investigation into the auto company and the defect he describes as “sudden deceleration.”

      Toyota in 2014 issued a recall on 800,000 of its Toyota Prius vehicles after consumers reported that the cars had suddenly stalled out on the road, a defect linked to the cars’ inverters burning out. To fix the problem, Toyota instructed dealerships to adjust the software in the cars’ computers.

      But Hogan says that consumers continued to show up at his dealership with complaints that their vehicles suddenly stalled, even after their cars had been “fixed’ with the software adjustment. That’s because Toyota is avoiding replacing the cars’ inverters, the more expensive but correct remedy to repair the defect, as Hogan charges in a $100 million lawsuit he filed against Toyota.

      Preparing for an investigation

      At least one crash has been linked to a Prius that suddenly died on the road and numerous other drivers have come forward with frightening stories about driving on the highway when their cars stopped without warning. Hogan characterizes the problem as a “ticking time bomb.”

      Earlier this month, Hogan met with the general counsel for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan), chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, in hopes of holding “Toyota accountable for a $14 billion consumer safety fraud,” he says.

      “We met with NHTSA and with Senator Moran last week in DC, presented both with physical evidence of post remedy inverter failure that we have seen in our two dealerships in Southern California,” Hogan says in a statement to ConsumerAffairs. “NHTSA said they are in the process of preparing for a full investigation and Senator Moran let us know he is closely looking at hearings with the full Committee.”

      Spokespeople for NHTSA and Moran have not yet returned inquiries about the meeting. Toyota has responded to Hogan’s safety warnings with a lengthy statement accusing him of having a professional grudge against the company.

      Southern California Toyota dealer Roger Hogan, who is refusing to sell over $1 million worth of Prius cars he says are unsafe to drive, recently met with f...
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      Higher vitamin D levels may reduce risk of colorectal cancer

      Researchers found deficient levels increased disease risk by 31 percent

      A new international study suggests that higher than recommended levels of vitamin D could reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer, a disease that kills more than 50,000 people a year. This finding was especially true for women.

      The new study pooled data from 17 previous studies on the subject and involved more than 12,000 participants from Asia, Europe, and the United States. It was conducted by researchers from the American Cancer Society and about 20 other health groups.

      The researchers found that people who had lower levels of vitamin D than recommended had a 31 percent higher risk of colorectal cancer during a follow-up period. On the other hand, participants with vitamin D levels that were above the guidelines currently recommended for bone health had a 22 percent lower risk, the researchers said.

      “Our study shows that having higher levels above bone-health ones are associated with lower colorectal cancer,” said Stephanie Smith-Warner, a Harvard epidemiologist and one of the study’s senior authors.

      Twenty-two percent lower risk

      Although it was an observational study and does not prove cause and effect, the research showed that participants who had vitamin D levels that were higher than the recommended levels had a 22 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer.

      The study authors stressed that consumers shouldn’t go overboard on vitamin D intake in light of the study’s findings, since taking too much vitamin D can cause kidney stones and other adverse health effects. More research is needed to determine whether vitamin D supplements should be used to prevent colorectal cancer.

      In an interview with the Washington Post, JoAnn Manson, chief of the division of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, urged consumers to “err on the side of moderate intake” until more information is available.

      Current dietary guidelines suggest that most adults get at least 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day. Health experts say the best way to get vitamin D is by eating foods and beverages that are rich in the vitamin -- such as fatty fish, milk, and cheese -- since sun exposure raises the risk of skin cancer.

      The study has been published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

      A new international study suggests that higher than recommended levels of vitamin D could reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer, a disease that k...
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      Comcast has disabled its congestion management system

      Heavy internet users will no longer have their internet browsing speed slowed down

      Earlier this week, Comcast announced that it’s ending its practice of throttling heavy internet users that are clogging the network.

      The company’s congestion management system had been in place for a decade prior to the announcement. However, it had been “essentially inactive for more than a year,” Comcast told the Verge.

      “As reflected in a June 11, 2018 update to our Xfinity Internet Broadband Disclosures, the congestion management system that was initially deployed in 2008 has been deactivated,” Comcast said in a statement.

      “As our network technologies and usage of the network continue to evolve, we reserve the right to implement a new congestion management system if necessary in the performance of reasonable network management and in order to maintain a good broadband internet access service experience for our customers, and will provide updates here as well as other locations if a new system is implemented.”

      Throttling no longer necessary

      Comcast says congestion isn’t as burdensome to its servers and modems as it used to be, so it’s no longer necessary to throttle speeds to slow down heavy internet users.

      Users should be aware that although the company has disabled its throttling system, it will still maintain data caps and charges for overages in 27 states.

      Comcast made its announcement the same day net neutrality regulations were officially repealed. Under the new Restoring Internet Freedom Order, companies may have more freedom to block, speed up, or slow down access to specific online services, or offer premium internet speeds at premium cost.

      At the same time net neutrality rules were rolled back, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also updated its transparency rules. Comcast likely made its announcement in an effort to comply with the new rules.

      Earlier this week, Comcast announced that it’s ending its practice of throttling heavy internet users that are clogging the network. The company’s cong...
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      Verizon unveils new, pricier unlimited data plan

      Customers can get even more high-speed data

      On Thursday, Verizon released a pricer, third-tier unlimited data plan entitled “aboveunlimited.” The new plan joins “gounlimited” and “beyondlimited,” both of which vary in terms of what they offer customers.

      Unlimited data plans have experienced a great deal of evolution over the years. Last year, Verizon broke its unlimited plans into two options for customers, and it ultimately comes down to cost. Now, the company has introduced a third plan into the mix.

      “It’s very simple,” said Ronan Dunne, president of Verizon Wireless. “We’re confident people will enjoy the choice.”

      What “aboveunlimited” looks like

      The “aboveunlimited” plan appears to be designed for users who use a ton of data.

      The plan includes unlimited data for high-definition videos for up to 75 GB of data before Verizon intervenes, as well as 20 GB of mobile hotspot data at LTE speeds, five “TravelPasses” that offer one day of international data usage per month, and 500 GB of Verizon Cloud service. Prices range from $60 to $95 per line.

      With an additional unlimited plan, Verizon is now allowing customers to mix and match between three different tiers for different phone lines on family plans. Under the current system, all lines must be on the same plan. Customers are free to switch back and forth between the tiers as they see necessary, and existing customers can also make the change.

      “When I introduced the Verizon unlimited plan back in February of last year, it was a real reset of the market and a game changer,” Dunne said. “And we said at the time we would continue to evolve and expand that portfolio to broaden out the match with customers.”

      According to Dunne, “aboveunlimited” is geared towards “the person who wants it all.”

      With the announcement of the new plan, Verizon also reduced its charge per line for all three tiers of unlimited plans as a customer adds more lines. For example, with the “aboveunlimited” plan, customers will pay $90 per month per line for two lines, $70 with three lines, and $60 with four lines.

      Market trends

      Verizon didn’t enter the unlimited data market until last February, though other carriers had offered customers unlimited data for some time. When first released, Verizon only offered one unlimited plan. It later expanded to a cheaper, though more restrictive, tier in August.

      At the time of the first unlimited plan release, Verizon was struggling with losing customers. Before unlimited data, Verizon lost a net of 398,000 regular monthly phone customers -- the most it had ever lost in a quarter. In adding the unlimited plan, though one that was pricier than competitors like Sprint and T-Mobile, the company regained 109,000 monthly customers.

      However, the release of this latest unlimited plan comes at a better time for the company. Verizon reported having added 260,000 regular monthly subscribers in the first quarter.

      Despite the positive news, Verizon decided to raise prices of this latest unlimited plan at a time when other cell phone providers are looking to keep customers -- for cheaper. Last week, Sprint introduced a plan that would cost just $15 a month -- with a promise to never go up. T-Mobile offers free Netflix and AT&T throws in HBO with an unlimited plan. However, Verizon is steadfast in its belief that customers are paying for a higher quality provider.

      “There’s been a very positive, consistent trend in the performance of Verizon Wireless over the last few quarters,” Dunne said. “I think it’s fair to say objectively based on our performance since some of our competitors changed their offerings, we’ve not seen any increase in our churn... and we’ve continued to see high levels of customer engagement and satisfaction.”

      On Thursday, Verizon released a pricer, third-tier unlimited data plan entitled “aboveunlimited.” The new plan joins “gounlimited” and “beyondlimited,” bot...
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      Instagram announces new shopping feature through stories

      The company is further streamlining the online shopping experience

      Instagram announced that users will now be able to purchase things directly from brands’ stories. The new feature allows companies to add a shopping bag icon to their Instagram stories; when users click on the tagged items, they’ll immediately be brought to the company’s website to make a purchase.

      With over 300 million Instagram users currently taking advantage of the app’s story feature, the ease of the new click-and-shop feature will eliminate having to search for items users see on the platform. With one click, they’ll be able to make a purchase.

      The new feature is free to use, though it is only available to businesses -- not individual sellers -- and companies can’t currently sell through a third-party retailer. Adidas, Louis Vuitton, and Aritizia are expected to be the first brands to use the feature with their customers when it officially launches, with more companies being added into the fold in the coming weeks.

      “Stories are so impactful as a content format for a variety of reasons due to the in-the-moment, ephemeral feel of the content from a consumer’s perspective,” said Kamiu Lee, CEO of the influencer marketing platform Activate. “This format created urgency and exclusivity for would-be shoppers -- a key tactic for brands and retailers alike to increase conversion.”

      Instagram’s rising popularity

      According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, Instagram is the second most popular social media platform among U.S. teens between 13 and 17. Seventy-two percent of respondents say they use Instagram -- behind only YouTube, and more than the 69 percent that used Snapchat.

      However, users of Instagram see the benefits of the app beyond just sharing pictures with friends and family. According to Instagram’s COO Marne Levine, almost 80 percent of users choose to connect with companies and brands so they can shop and gain brand awareness.

      “People are looking to follow businesses on the platform -- there are 200 million Instagrammers who visit a business profile every day,” Levine said. “Two-thirds of those are non-followers, someone who is looking around wanting to learn about new businesses. If businesses are looking for customers, they are here.”

      Recent Instagram shopping experience

      Before this update to the app, companies on Instagram could link to certain items in their stories, but customers couldn’t purchase them directly. Now, Instagram is stepping up its e-commerce participation, and companies will have the most direct route to engage customers in buying their products.

      “Instagram shopping has been an added bonus to our online shopping strategy with no added tech expense,” said Alex Faherty, co-founder of New York City-based clothing line Faherty Brand. “We can leverage Instagram’s organic lifestyle vibe while still offering an easy, highly efficient shopping experience.”

      Instagram announced that users will now be able to purchase things directly from brands’ stories. The new feature allows companies to add a shopping bag ic...
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      Twitter is redesigning its app to highlight breaking news

      Users will soon see more relevant news and events on their timeline

      Twitter announced on Wednesday that it’s rolling out changes to its platform intended to make it easier for users to discover relevant breaking news, events, and stories.

      Users will soon see personalized breaking news and live events at the top of their timelines, eliminating the need to follow hashtags or search for certain accounts in order to get relevant news and stories.

      “We’ve been working to change how you discover all the information around news, events, and stories, and today, we’re sharing a few steps forward,” Twitter said in a blog post. “It’ll be easier to find and follow the big events and stories you care about in your timeline, notifications, and Explore.”

      Personalized news and event notifications

      In the coming weeks, Twitter users will be given the option to receive notifications about breaking news that is relevant to their interests.

      Twitter says it’s experimenting with sending notifications to users based on their interests, which the site will determine based on accounts followed and what a user tweets about. Users who would rather not receive push notifications for personalized breaking news can toggle off these notifications in the recommendations section of Twitter’s settings.

      Redesigned Explore tab

      Additionally, the Explore section of Twitter will soon be organized by topic instead of content type.

      “We heard from you that Explore would be easier to navigate if it was organized by topic instead of content type (video, articles, etc). We’re now experimenting with topic tabs in Explore so it’s easier to see what’s happening in news and entertainment, and what’s most relevant to you,” Twitter said.

      Twitter has also started organizing Moments -- the feature that aggregates world news -- into a vertical display like the Twitter timeline, rather than a horizontal orientation.

      The changes will roll out gradually to iOS and Android users in the U.S. in the coming weeks and months, but Twitter has already launched its change to Moments just in time for World Cup festivities. A specialized version of this feature will be available for sports, which will have video at the top and a live-updating score.

      Twitter announced on Wednesday that it’s rolling out changes to its platform intended to make it easier for users to discover relevant breaking news, event...
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      Comcast makes $65 billion cash offer for Fox

      The offer sets up a probable bidding war with Disney

      Now that a federal judge has cleared the way for AT&T to acquire Time Warner, Comcast is entering the battle to acquire the assets of New Fox.

      Comcast, the parent company of NBC Universal, is offering $65 billion in cash, trumping the $52.4 billion bid from Disney, parent company of ABC. Both traditional media companies are eyeing Fox's assets as a rich source of content, both for over-the-air distribution and streaming.

      “Our draft merger agreement differs from the Disney agreement only to reflect the superior terms described in this letter, to adapt the agreement to reflect an all-cash transaction, including no Comcast shareholder vote, and to provide greater certainty by eliminating the need for any 21CF charter amendments,” Comcast said in a letter to Fox principals.

      Bidding war?

      As in a high-stakes game of poker, it's now up to Disney to decide whether to raise the ante, turning the competition for Fox into a bidding war.

      Like AT&T, Comcast is also an internet service provider (ISP), and is well-positioned to get into over-the-top (OTT) content distribution. The company says there are few regulatory hurdles to its proposed deal, especially since many of the Fox assets in question are located outside the U.S.

      However, there are plenty of U.S.-based assets in play. They include Fox's television and motion picture studios, including the FX channel and Fox Searchlight. Both Comcast and Disney would like to get their hands on Fox's foreign satellite holdings, such as Europe's Sky TV, to broaden their international footprint.

      Fox is also trying to sell its stake in the Netflix competitor Hulu, and the rights to some Marvel superhero characters.

      Existing agreement

      Fox and Disney have already reached a deal for the assets, so selling them to Comcast instead would be a complication. Fox has scheduled a shareholder meeting for next month to finalize the Disney deal, though that could be postponed now that a new deal is on the table.

      The driving force behind this sudden wave of media deals is Netflix, the streaming service that now dominates video entertainment. Even though AT&T, Comcast, and Disney are much larger media companies, Netflix spends nearly four times their respective budgets on creating original content. Acquiring a company with vast entertainment production capability is seen as a way to catch up.

      Tuesday's decision by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon to allow AT&T to acquire Time Warner is viewed as a very big green light for more of these kinds of mergers. The judge rejected the government's argument – and that of some consumer groups – that allowing an ISP to control major sources of content would harm consumers.

      Now that a federal judge has cleared the way for AT&T; to acquire Time Warner, Comcast is entering the battle to acquire the assets of New Fox.Comcast,...
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      Microsoft Office gets a new slimmer, simpler look

      At the forefront of the design refresh is customer input, context, and giving people control over their experience

      More than a 160 million Office 365 and Office.com users around the world woke up to a host of new features in Microsoft Office on Wednesday.

      With its eyes set on being the "go-to place to get stuff done" Microsoft’s slimdown makeover went after cleaning up visual clutter while perking up the feel of the software with new colors and more contrast.

      Word is the first of the Office apps to get a facelift. But, remembering the adverse reaction it suffered when it rolled out a new Office "ribbon" in 2010, Microsoft is being cautious and wants to make sure it takes to heart user feedback and gets all the bugs worked out before going any further with the release of other Office apps.

      The new bells and whistles

      "As we were making these changes, we were focused on three things: Customer input, context, and giving people control over their experience," said Jon Friedman, Chief Designer, Microsoft Office.

      How does that play out?

      • Speed. The new version of Office was built on a modern platform and promises to be faster than it’s ever been.

      • New icons and color. Office users will also see a more contemporary look in the apps’ icons and colors, all built as scalable graphics so no matter whether you’re on a mobile device or a desktop computer, all the buttons will adjust accordingly.

      • Simplified ribbon/toolbar. The updated version of the ribbon was fashioned to help Office users focus on their work and, when the need arises, collaborate naturally with others. If a user would rather have the expanded ribbon like the current version of Office, all they have to do is click and expand it.

      • Search. Microsoft is putting extra effort into search and hoping to give users better access to commands, content, and people. With "zero query search" simply placing your cursor in the search box will bring up recommendations powered by artificial intelligence and the Microsoft Graph.

      "Based on the user’s work patterns, the new search tool makes suggestions on content you may be looking for, actions you can take, and people you might want to connect with. All made to happen using machine learning and Microsoft Artificial Intelligence," explained Friedman.

      What else you can expect

      Context is getting a major push at Microsoft. When the company was put in the position of playing catch-up to Apple’s Siri, it started investing in artificial intelligence by slowly integrating it into its software, such as with the “Designer” feature in PowerPoint.

      How will context play out in the updated Office? In Microsoft’s press release about the new Office, it explained that it wants the ”new designs to understand the context that you are working in so that you can focus on your content. That means both surfacing the most relevant commands based on the work you are doing and making it easy to connect and collaborate with others."

      User feedback is also moving up to top-of-mind status. In the new Office environment, the user becomes an integral part of Office’s new features as they’re being developed. When users have the "Coming Soon" feature turned on, a user can learn about the upcoming changes and offer their feedback so the Office team can update its designs and integrations as necessary.

      After the first wave of features is introduced, Microsoft will roll out the remaining features over the next couple of months with a goal of having everything in place by the end of summer.

      You can find more information on the new Office design by visiting Microsoft’s site here.

      More than a 160 million Office 365 and Office.com users around the world woke up to a host of new features in Microsoft Office on Wednesday.With its ey...
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      Report tracks fastest home sales on record in May

      The typical home spent just 34 days on the market

      Homes sold at the fastest rate on record in May, according to real estate broker Redfin.

      The typical home went under contract in just 34 days, two fewer days than in April, which had set the previous record. Denver was the fastest market, with the average listing spending just six days on the market before going under contract.

      With homes selling that quickly, there was very little bargaining on price. The national median home sale price rose to $305,600, up 6.3 percent from May 2017, across the 174 markets that Redfin tracks.

      More than 27 percent of the homes that sold last month went for more than the list price, but another 25 percent of homes sold after dropping the price, the highest percentage since last September. That suggests some markets are hotter than others. In San Jose, Calif., nearly 84 percent of homes sold above the list price.

      "Prices are still increasing, but not at the same rate we saw earlier in the spring," said Redfin senior economist Taylor Marr. "The record percentage of homes sold above list price is at odds with the higher percentage of price drops in May. This tells us that while it's still very much a seller's market, price growth and rising mortgage rates may be pushing buyers to the limit of what they're able to pay."

      Rising interest rates

      After unexpectedly falling in late May, mortgage rates are rising once again. Freddie Mac reports rates have risen to their second-highest level of the year.

      “The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage climbed eight basis points to 4.62 percent, and the Federal Reserve Board on Wednesday raised the federal funds rate by 25 basis points,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “The good news is that the impact on consumer budgets will be smaller than past rate hike cycles. That is because a much smaller segment of mortgage loans in today’s market are pegged to short-term rate movements.”

      Despite some improvement, home inventory levels continue to pose a challenge to buyers. The number of newly listed homes for sale increased 4.3 percent, compared to May of last year, helping to drive a 3.6 percent increase in home sales.

      However, the overall supply of homes fell 5.4 percent during the same time period. While a six-month supply of homes is considered a balanced housing market, Redfin counted only a 2.5-month supply at the end of May.

      Homes sold at the fastest rate on record in May, according to real estate broker Redfin.The typical home went under contract in just 34 days, two fewer...
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      Chrysler recalls model year 2018 Jeep Wranglers

      The vehicle could suffer a loss of steering control

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 539 model year 2018 Jeep Wranglers.

      The intermediate steering shaft may not have been properly welded causing a split where the external spline is formed.

      If the weld seam splits, the steering wheel may lose center positioning causing a loss of steering responsiveness and increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and, as necessary, replace the intermediate steering shaft, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin July 14, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U48.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 539 model year 2018 Jeep Wranglers.The intermediate steering shaft may not have been properly welded causing a split...
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      Voters to decide if California should be split into three states

      The proposal will be on the November ballot

      This November, Californians will be able to vote on whether the state should be separated into three different states: California, Northern California, and Southern California.

      The idea for three separate states came from venture capitalist Tim Draper, who calls the move Cal 3. The initiative received more than 400,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot -- surpassing what’s required by state law -- though the final decision will come from Congress.

      Why split up the state?

      Draper believes dividing California will ultimately be the most beneficial move for the state’s residents. With three smaller states, regional communities will have the resources to address the state’s most pressing issues, including strained government, deteriorating infrastructure, school systems, and high taxes.

      “The California government isn’t too big to fail, because it is already failing its citizens in so many crucial ways,” said Peggy Grande, spokeswoman for Citizens for Cal 3. “The reality is that for an overmatched, overstretched, and overwrought state-government structure, it is too big to succeed. Californians deserve a better future.”

      “Californians deserve a more effective education system that isn’t failing our families, more reliable infrastructure that isn’t fracturing our communities, and more sensible taxes that aren’t stifling our opportunities,” the Cal 3 website states. “That is the fresh start Cal 3 will deliver.”

      What the split will look like

      With Cal 3, California would be divided into California, Northern California, and Southern California. Draper is confident it would mirror the current way other states are structured in order to be more manageable.

      “It will simply divide the state into smaller, more manageable populations,” the Cal 3 website states. “Think of North California and South California; North Dakota and South Dakota; West Virginia and Virginia -- California is already known for its Northern and Southern identities.”

      Northern California would have 40 counties, including the San Francisco Bay area and the remaining counties of north Sacramento, comprised of 13.3 million people; California would have 12.3 million people in six counties (Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and San Benito); and Southern California would have 13.9 million people in 12 counties: San Diego, San Bernadino, Orange, Riverside, Mono, Madera, Inyo, Tulare, Fresno, Kings, Kern, and Imperial.

      Californians deserve more

      Draper and Cal 3 are confident this plan would have countless benefits for residents of all three new California states.

      Currently, according to U.S. News & World Report and McKinsey’s “Leading States Index,” out of 50 states, California ranked last -- or close to it -- in many leading categories. The state is currently ranked #44 in K-12 education, #46 in low tax burden, #49 in road quality, #50 in urban air quality, #50 in quality of life, #49 in housing affordability, and #48 in cost of living.

      However, Cal 3 has plans to drastically take aim at these problem areas.

      “Rather than being managed remotely -- and ineffectively -- from Sacramento, each state will have the autonomy to make choices based on the most pressing needs and opportunities close to home,” the Cal 3 site states.

      “Cal 3 uses our region’s natural geographic boundaries to emphasize local identity, while retaining existing county lines in order to preserve Californians’ natural pride in our diverse population. The needs of local communities can be brought into the spotlight and communities can elect officials that will best represent them.”

      This November, Californians will be able to vote on whether the state should be separated into three different states: California, Northern California, and...
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      Seattle plans to abandon homeless tax following lobbying from Amazon and Starbucks

      The city’s major employers launched a referendum campaign in response to the proposed tax

      Whoever came up with the phrase “Tacoma Aroma” probably wouldn't have predicted that the Washington town famous for unleashing a stinky, sulphur-like smell on all of its inhabitants would one day have some of the highest rents in the nation.

      In 2017, nearly three decades after New Jersey’s Bruce Springsteen publicly complained that the smell of Tacoma made him sick, Tacoma was found by Trulia to have the highest rent appreciation in the entire nation, or a median rent that rose from $1,650 a month in 2016  to $1795 a month last year.

      The reason? A booming tech sector 32 miles away in Seattle, Washington and a massive uptick in rents there to go with it. Tacoma looked relatively affordable by comparison. (It probably doesn't hurt that Tacoma’s leaders and polluting businesses also worked to eliminate the smell over the past few decades).  

      In Seattle, rents have risen nearly 40 percent over the past five years, driven largely by the presence of major employers like Amazon and Microsoft, sending rents and homeless rates in the city and in neighboring towns soaring.

      To those on the Seattle City Council, Amazon’s record-breaking profits, Jeff Bezos’ enormous net worth, and the area’s unprecedented affordable housing shortage and homeless crisis presented an obvious solution: tax big businesses like Amazon to pay for homeless services.

      The Seattle City Council voted unanimously last month to implement a $275-per-employee tax on Seattle companies that earn $20 million or more in profits. City leaders enthusiastically said that the tax would raise $47 million in revenue.

      But now the measure appears destined to fail. After intensive lobbying from the business community, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and seven of Seattle's nine City Council members announced on Monday that they plan to pass a new law to repeal the tax.

      Their about-face comes after Amazon and Starbucks led a $200,000 signature-gathering referendum campaign to get the law overturned. Amazon also suspended plans to expand its campus, a project that was expected to add 7,000 new jobs to the city, as Seattle began debating homeless tax proposals earlier this year.

      A “backroom betrayal”

      The new announcement on Monday marks a significant departure from mid-May, when all nine of Seattle’s City Council had voted to support the tax.

      “It is clear that the ordinance will lead to a prolonged, expensive political fight over the next five months that will do nothing to tackle our urgent housing and homelessness crisis,” Seattle’s mayor and the majority of City Council members announced in a public statement.

      “We heard you,” they added. “This week, the City Council is moving forward with the consideration of legislation to repeal the current tax on large businesses to address the homelessness crisis.”

      The majority of Seattle’s city council now argues that the tax would hurt businesses and the homeless problem more than it would help, but Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who wants to keep the tax in place, characterised the reversal in an interview with the Seattle Times as a “backroom betrayal.”

      The lobbying campaign and tax fight comes as cities across the continent are offering Amazon tax breaks and other incentives as part of a competition to be the new headquarters of HQ2, the second Amazon campus.

      Rising homeless population

      Though Seattle faces a severe affordable housing shortage, with home price growth more than double that of nearly every other American city, about half of the city’s residents still earn less than $50,000 annually, according to IRS filings.

      Meanwhile, Seattle’s homeless population increased 44 percent in the past two years, and the town and surrounding county have the nation’s third-largest concentration of people sleeping on the streets, according to a count done in 2017.

      In the past, Amazon has agreed to use its resources to open a temporary homeless shelter. When asked by shareholders about the company’s otherwise lack of participation in philanthropy, Bezos responded that "our core business activities are probably the most important thing we do to contribute, as well as our employment in the area."

      Whoever came up with the phrase “Tacoma Aroma” probably wouldn't have predicted that the Washington town famous for unleashing a stinky, sulphur-like smell...
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      One in three adults in the U.S. take medications linked to depression

      Researchers say taking more of these medications increases the risk of the condition

      A new U.S. study shows that more than one-third of American adults take prescription drugs that have the potential to cause depression.

      The researchers found that more than 200 commonly used medications include depression as a possible side effect. The list includes certain proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) used to treat acid reflux, beta blockers, painkillers (including ibuprofen), anti-convulsant drugs, ACE inhibitors used to treat high blood pressure, and anxiety drugs. The risk for depression also increases when taking several of these drugs at the same time.

      “The more of these medications you’re taking, the more likely you are to report depression,” says Mark Olfson, author of the study and professor of psychiatry at Columbia University.

      “It was both surprising and worrisome to see how any medications have depression or suicidal symptoms as a side effect, given the burden of depression and suicide rates in the country, said Dima Mazen Qato, an assistant professor and pharmacist at the University of Illinois at Chicago and lead author of the study.

      A look at the study

      The study was published on Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and featured the results of 26,192 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

      At the time of the survey, all participants listed the medications they were taking and completed a depression screening that measured mood, sleep, and appetite.

      Over one-third of participants were taking medications that had depression as a possible side effect. The goal of the study was to determine whether these individuals were more or less likely to experience depression compared to those who didn’t take any of these medications.

      The study found that not only are individuals on these medications more likely to experience depression, but when taking multiple medications, they are three times more likely to be depressed.

      Fifteen percent of participants who used three or more of these drugs at once were depressed compared to lower rates for those who only used one. Conversely, only five percent of participants who didn’t use any of these medications were depressed.

      Despite the results, the researchers say they didn’t prove the medications cause depression.

      “We didn’t prove that using these medications could cause someone who was otherwise healthy to develop depression or suicidal symptoms. But we see a worrisome dose-response pattern: the more of these medications that have these adverse effects that you’re taking concurrently, the higher the risk of depression,” said Dr. Qato.

      The researchers also accounted for other risk factors that can cause depression when doing the study, including marital status, unemployment, poverty, and medical conditions like chronic pain.

      “The study is an important reminder that all medicines have risks, and most medicines have rare but serious risks -- yet another reason that even commonly used medicines such as beta-blockers or proton pump inhibitors should not be used cavalierly,” said Dr. Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

      What the study means for the future

      The researchers hope that the findings from this study urge people to have important conversations with their healthcare providers when taking medication.

      “People should always be ready to ask, ‘What are the risks and benefits of me taking this medication?’” says Don Mordecai, a psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente. “People who don’t have a history of depression and then, suddenly, start to have symptoms of depression should be concerned that it’s potentially due to a side effect, or potentially, an interaction.”

      “With depression as one of the leading causes of disability and increasing national suicide rates, we need to think innovatively about depression as a public health issue,” Dr. Qato said.

      A new U.S. study shows that more than one-third of American adults take prescription drugs that have the potential to cause depression.The researchers...
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      Facebook allowing users to review businesses

      Businesses that receive enough user complaints could be banned from advertising on the site

      In an effort to crack down on bad businesses that lie to consumers, Facebook has launched a tool that will enable users to review businesses after they make a purchase.

      Facebook said in a blog post on Tuesday that it would ban businesses that receive enough customer complaints from advertising.

      “Bad shopping experiences aren’t good for anyone,” Facebook said. “When items take a long time to arrive or don’t meet your expectations, it can cost you time and money. And if these things happen after purchasing something from a business’ ad on Facebook, it can sour your overall impression of Facebook.”

      Reducing advertising abuse

      Companies that fail to “improve customer satisfaction and better meet customer expectations” after receiving feedback could have their ads banned from the platform.

      “We spoke with people who have purchased things from Facebook advertisers, and the two biggest frustrations we heard were that people don’t like ads that quote inaccurate shipping times or that misrepresent products,” Facebook said.

      The new tool is intended to identify and mitigate these common user frustrations by letting people review businesses, with the ultimate goal of “connecting more people with businesses that meet their expectations.”

      Facebook users can leave feedback for ads they’ve recently viewed under the 'Ads Activity' tab, the company said. From there, users can click on the 'Leave Feedback' button and respond to a brief questionnaire that asks for ratings on various ads.

      'We believe this tool will give people more confidence in the businesses they interact with and help hold businesses more accountable for customer experiences they provide,' Facebook said.

      Follows efforts to fight ‘fake news’

      News of Facebook’s new user review tool follows the company’s announcement that it would begin allowing advertising on Marketplace. The company is aiming to provide users with a better ad model “by strengthening privacy and choice, while giving businesses of all sizes new and better tools to help them grow.”

      The company has also taken several steps to keep false news off its platform, as well as give users greater control over what personal data is shared with the site.

      In an effort to crack down on bad businesses that lie to consumers, Facebook has launched a tool that will enable users to review businesses after they mak...
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      ZTE resumes trading after two-month hiatus

      Shares plunged 40 percent after ZTE agreed to pay $1.4 billion in penalties

      Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE announced that it has resumed trading following a two-month suspension, which ended last week.

      Back in April, ZTE was hit with a seven-year ban on buying U.S. components after it was caught illegally trading with Iran and North Korea. The company said the ban would threaten its survival and likely hurt many U.S. companies.

      As part of a deal to keep the company in business, ZTE agreed to pay up to $1.4 billion in penalties to the U.S. government and $400 million in escrow to cover any future violations. ZTE also agreed to replace its management team within 30 days, open itself up to U.S. inspections of its sites, and improve public disclosure of its supply chain.

      The company said in filings on Tuesday that it would restart business operations “as soon as practicable,” but the sales ban will not be lifted until ZTE pays the fines.

      The company added that it would re-publish its first-quarter financial results after assessing the impact of the seven-year ban and the settlement agreement.

      Shares of ZTE Corp reportedly tumbled 42 percent as it resumed trading in Hong Kong following the two-month trading halt, which began April 17.

      “While the nightmare is now over, ZTE will likely have to deal with many changes,” analysts Edison Lee and Timothy Chau at Jefferies told Bloomberg. “We expect significant near-term selling pressure and a volatile stock price.”

      Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE announced that it has resumed trading following a two-month suspension, which ended last week.Back in Ap...
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      Tesla laying off thousands of employees

      The move is part of a ‘thorough reorganization’ of the company

      As much as 9 percent of Tesla’s workforce is leaving the company as part of a reorganization effort intended to achieve profitability during the second half of the year, CEO Elon Musk announced in a memo to staff.

      "We are a small company in one of the toughest and most competitive industries on Earth," Musk wrote, adding that trimming costs is necessary to turn Tesla into a sustainably profitable company.

      The employees that are being let go are "almost entirely" in salaried positions -- no production associates will be let go, Musk said, noting that the reorganization effort won't impact Tesla's efforts to increase Model 3 production.

      Cutting non-critical positions

      “We made these decisions by evaluating the criticality of each position, whether certain jobs could be done more efficiently and productively, and by assessing the specific skills and abilities of each individual in the company,” the CEO said.

      The electric car maker’s announcement comes a month after Musk announced a plan to flatten management and restructure the company to make it less bureaucratic.

      “To ensure that Tesla is well prepared for the future, we have been undertaking a thorough reorganization of our company,” he wrote. “As part of the reorg, we are flattening the management structure to improve communication, combining functions where sensible and trimming activities that are not vital to the success of our mission.”

      Tesla didn’t say how many employees would be laid off in the restructuring, but current figures peg Tesla’s workforce at over 30,000 employees -- a dramatic increase from 2015, when the company employed 14,000 people. A nine-percent cut means Tesla could let more than 3,000 workers go.

      As much as 9 percent of Tesla’s workforce is leaving the company as part of a reorganization effort intended to achieve profitability during the second hal...
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      Motorists getting early relief from rising gas prices

      A new report predicts more stable oil prices for the rest of 2018

      Consumers who have been squeezed by rapidly rising gasoline prices may soon get some relief.

      A new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts the recent spike in world oil prices is pretty much over, with crude oil prices moderating for the rest of 2018. That could keep gasoline prices from going even higher.

      “Oil prices are unlikely to increase as sharply as they did from mid-2017 onward and thus the dampening effect on demand will be reduced,” the IEA said in its report. “Demand might also receive support from measures under consideration in some countries, e.g. Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Russia and Turkey, to help consumers cope with higher prices.”

      Production is increasing

      The report anticipates increased demand in 2019, but the authors say increased production from non-OPEC countries like the U.S. and Russia should keep demand and supply in balance.

      “As far as supply is concerned, we have revised upwards our estimate for 2018 non-OPEC production growth to 2 million barrels a day, and in 2019 we will also see bumper growth, albeit slightly reduced, of 1.7 million barrels a day,” the authors write. “The United States shows by far the biggest gain.”

      Already, the extra production is paying off for consumers at the gas pump. The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is $2.90 a gallon, down four cents in the last seven days. It's still four cents higher than a month ago, when prices surged ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.

      An extra $69 a month

      Earlier this week, AAA reported that the rise in fuel prices was costing consumers an average of $69 a month more to fill their tanks. The auto club estimates that gasoline expenses are accounting, on average, for 7 percent of the typical consumer’s 2018 annual income.

      The recent easing of fuel prices has come earlier than expected. Normally, prices rise through the Independence Day holiday before beginning to ease. After Labor Day, refineries return to producing winter grade fuel blends, which cost less.

      Hawaii has the highest average gasoline price in the nation, at $3.73 a gallon, but California is a close second, at $3.71. According to AAA, Mono County, Calif., is the costliest place to fill up, with an average gas price of $4.41 per gallon.

      The cheapest fuel in the nation is found in South Carolina, where the statewide average is $2.57 a gallon.

      Consumers who have been squeezed by rapidly rising gasoline prices may soon get some relief.A new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) predi...
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      Supreme Court upholds Ohio's voter purge law

      Democrats challenged the law as voter suppression

      The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to the way Ohio purges its voter registration rolls.

      The justices voted 5-4 that the state's practice of removing voters who do not vote, and then fail to respond to a mailed notice, is constitutionally valid.

      Court observers say the ruling is important because it may prompt other states to adopt measures similar to Ohio's, as a way to keep their voter registration rolls accurate and up to date. The court majority, in its decision, said nearly one in eight voter registrations is “either invalid or significantly inaccurate.”

      In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the court's decision could result in many eligible voters being removed from voter rolls, disproportionately affecting the poor, elderly, and minorities.

      Ohio voter challenged the law

      The case that made its way to the nation's high court stemmed from an Ohio resident who was turned away from his local precinct for a 2015 election because he had been removed from the voter rolls.

      Larry Harmon said he had lived at the same address for 16 years, but state election officials said they removed him from the voter rolls after he didn't vote in 2009 and 2010, then failed to respond to a written notice sent to his home by mail. Harmon said he did not remember receiving the notice and went to court to challenge the state's election law.

      Democrats had criticized Ohio's practice, saying it was a way to suppress voting, and took to social media to denounce the Supreme Court's ruling.

      “Ohio should be working to make voting easier, not harder,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “Instead, today’s decision empowers Ohio to further strip away the right to vote for thousands of Ohioans, threatening the integrity of our state’s election process.”

      Brown notes the Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling last year that found Ohio's system of purging voters from its rolls violated federal election law. Brown is on the Ohio ballot for reelection to the Senate in November.

      Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said federal law specifically allows states to remove voters who don't respond to a notice and who have “not voted or appeared to vote.” In fact, he said federal law not only allows it but makes it mandatory.

      The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to the way Ohio purges its voter registration rolls.The justices voted 5-4 that the state's practice of...
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      Kitchen towels carry pathogens that can lead to food poisoning, study finds

      Researchers say the type and amount of bacteria differs based on a family's size and type of diet

      A new study finds that kitchen towels can harbor harmful pathogens that could potentially lead to food poisoning.

      Researchers from the University of Mauritius tested 100 kitchen towels that had been used for a month and found that 49 percent had bacterial growth.

      Of the 49 towels that carried pathogens, almost three-quarters grew coliform bacteria (a type that may include E. coli); 36.7 percent grew Enterococcus; and 14.3 percent grew staphylococcus aureus, a type of staph that can cause serious infections.

      These findings were presented at the annual meeting for the American Society for Microbiology, which concluded yesterday.

      Risk factors

      The researchers said the amount of bacteria found on towels was influenced by several factors, including family size and the type of food consumed.

      Non-vegetarian diets were found to increase the risk of contamination by bacteria such as E. coli. Towels that were used for multiple purposes -- such as those used for wiping utensils, drying hands, holding hot implements, and cleaning surfaces -- also had a higher risk of contamination.

      Towels that were damp showed higher bacterial counts than dry ones, and S. aureus was more likely to be found on towels from bigger families and those of lower socioeconomic status.

      "The data indicated that unhygienic practices while handling non-vegetarian food could be common in the kitchen," said lead author Dr. Susheela D. Biranjia-Hurdoyal, a senior lecturer in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Mauritius, in a statement.

      Clean kitchen towels regularly

      To keep germs from spreading, health experts recommend washing or changing kitchen towels, sponges, and oven gloves regularly and letting them dry before using them again.

      The USDA also recommends taking several precautions when preparing food in the kitchen in order to prevent the spread of germs that could make you or your family sick. These include:

      • Washing hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food, and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets;

      • Using hot, soapy water and paper towels or clean cloths to wipe up kitchen surfaces or spills;

      • Washing cutting boards, dishes, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item; and

      • Using a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water to sanitize surfaces and utensils.

      A new study finds that kitchen towels can harbor harmful pathogens that could potentially lead to food poisoning. Researchers from the University of Ma...
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      Uber targets millions of new users with launch of lite app

      The rideshare company is looking to reach users with slow or spotty internet connections

      Uber launched Uber Lite today in India, as it works to make its rideshare app more accessible to people with poor internet connections. The company boasts that the app only takes up five megabytes of data on users’ phones -- the equivalent of just three selfies.

      The lite version of the app is currently only available in India, though Uber plans to market it in other countries moving forward. The app is also only available for Android users, which comprises the majority of the Indian marketplace. The company has yet to report if it will eventually branch out into the Apple market, as iPhone sales account for just two percent of smartphone sales in India.

      “At Uber, we believe that anyone, anywhere should be able to get a ride,” the company said in a statement. “And while that’s true for millions of people across more than 600 cities where we operate, ridesharing is used by only a small fraction of the world’s population today.

      “That’s why today we’re introducing Uber Lite: built in India, designed for the world. Uber Lite is a simple version of the rider app that saves space, works on any network, and on any Android phone.”

      Uber Lite features

      The redesigned version of the app allows users to keep storage on their phone for other things, while still being able to catch an Uber ride. The company says its new lite app features a 300-millisecond response time, which it compares to “literally the blink of an eye,” and promises functionality in areas of low connectivity.

      The new app keeps many of Uber’s signature functions, such as sharing trips with friends and family and in-app support. However, it combines those with the new ability to book rides in slower than normal internet speeds and with limited data plans.

      Some other new features include:

      • Guided Pickups: This feature guides users through the request process by detecting their current location, thereby eliminating unnecessary typing. The app will also generate popular pickup points for users to choose from should the phone’s GPS service be spotty or unable to get a reading.

      • Tap over type: The app caches cities’ most popular places, so even if users are offline or have poor cell reception, no network is needed for them to pop up. The app also becomes more intuitive each time you use it, as it will remember places users go most often and show those options to tap on first rather than typing in the same destination repeatedly.

      • Selective use of maps: Maps in Uber Lite are optional, as the company aimed to keep the app as fast as possible. However, maps can always be accessed with a quick tap. Soon, the app will allow users to track a drivers’ progress on a trip should they opt not to have maps displayed.

      Uber plans to roll out updates to the Lite app in the coming months. Users will soon be able to choose the language they prefer for the app during sign in and also request rides when offline.

      Competition overseas

      The decision to roll out the Uber Lite app in India comes as the company works to make its mark overseas.

      Currently, India’s most popular rideshare app is called Ola, and the company has already rolled out a Lite version of its own app. Ola Lite is just one megabyte and garners roughly 45 percent of India’s taxi market, compared to Uber’s 35 percent.

      “We know we’re not just a U.S. company, we’re a global company,” said Peter Deng, Uber’s head of rider experience. “Not only have we built this for the world, it was built in India.”

      Uber launched Uber Lite today in India, as it works to make its rideshare app more accessible to people with poor internet connections. The company boasts...
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      Tesla worker claims he was prevented from organizing a union

      A hearing seeks to determine if Tesla illegally violated workers’ federal rights

      A Tesla employee testified at a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) hearing on Monday and said that he was asked by a supervisor and company security guards to leave the factory after handing out pro-union leaflets to colleagues back in February.

      The hearing sought to determine whether the electric car maker had violated federal safeguards for employee activity.

      If Tesla loses its case with the NLRB, the company could be forced to notify employees that it was found to be committing unfair labor practices. This would involve revoking any disciplinary action taken against employees involved in the unionization efforts.

      Tesla denies allegations

      Tesla has described the allegations as an effort to paint Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk and the company “in a negative light.” Tesla's general counsel Mark Ross asked for a "standing objection" to "any mention of Mr. Musk," but Judge Amita Tracy denied his request.

      In May, Musk tweeted that he had not done anything to prevent workers from unionizing.

      “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted,” Musk tweeted on May 20.

      At the hearing, Ross named about two dozen other allegations against Tesla that were found to be without merit and dismissed.

      “The fact of the matter is that Tesla is a company that values its employees,” Ross said in his opening remarks.

      Potentially affecting workers

      Lawyers representing the union accused the company of violating the federal law that protects organizing activity.

      "What we see is a very heavy-handed, anti-union campaign that's affected all levels of workers’ everyday lives," said Margo Feinberg, attorney with Schwartz, Steinsapir, Dohrmann & Sommers in her opening remarks.

      Michael Sanchez -- a production associate who has been with the company since 2012 but is currently on medical leave and suing Tesla -- said he was handing out pro-union flyers outside the factory on Feb. 10, 2017 when a security guard approached him.

      “He asked me, ‘Are you an employee?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’ve been at Tesla almost five years,’” Sanchez said. “He said, ‘You should leave the premises.’ I said ‘I’m here within my legal rights.’”

      Sanchez said the guard left initially but returned a few minutes later demanding to see his badge. The guard photographed Sanchez’s badge and again told him to leave the facility. A second guard asked if the flyers were for a union.

      “He said, ‘Unions are worthless — you shouldn’t join one.’ I said, ‘That’s your opinion,’” Sanchez recounted.

      The case comes as Tesla struggles to ramp up production of its latest car, the Model 3. The hearing will continue for the rest of the week and resume in late September.

      A Tesla employee testified at a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) hearing on Monday and said that he was asked by a supervisor and company security gua...
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      Millennials’ median income by state

      Massachusetts ranks number one, with an adjusted median income of over $80,000 among millennials

      A recent survey shows that millennials are a financially optimistic bunch, with 53 percent expecting to become a millionaire at some point. However, to achieve that goal, millennials may want to weigh their options carefully when it comes to deciding where to live.

      Using the most recent census data showing median household earnings for the age range that most closely aligns with the millennial generation (ages 25 to 44), CNN Money created a map that shows the median income in every state for the millennial generation along with an adjusted figure for what that money is actually worth in that state.

      The map suggests that young professionals seeking a solid income may want to head north. Eight of the bottom 10 states for millennial earning potential are situated in the southeast, with New Mexico in last place.

      The District of Columbia has the highest median income overall, at more than $87,200. Behind DC were other coastal states like Massachusetts ($86,600), Washington ($74,300), California ($71,900), and New York ($71,200).

      Accounting for the cost of living

      While these states may give millennials a decent shot at earning a solid income, many of them can be expensive to live.

      Using the Bureau of Economic Analysis’s regional price parity calculations, CNN Money factored in the cost of living in each state to come up with an adjusted median income figure.

      DC’s adjusted median dropped to just over $75,000 with its higher cost of living factored in. New York’s adjusted median clocked in at just over $61,000 and California’s median income fell to roughly $63,000 with living expenses factored in.

      “While young workers in some coastal states like Massachusetts and Virginia remain among the best off, those in places like New York and California fall far behind,” CNN Money said. “Meanwhile, young people living in places like the Dakotas and Wyoming — inexpensive areas that have been benefited from a decade-long energy job boom — seem rich by comparison.”

      A recent survey shows that millennials are a financially optimistic bunch, with 53 percent expecting to become a millionaire at some point. However, to ach...
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      Consumer prices rise faster than incomes in May

      The inflation rate for the last 12 months is 2.8 percent

      In case you hadn't noticed, inflation is on the rise.

      The government reports the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for May rose 0.2 percent on the heels of a similar increase in April. Over the last 12 months, the inflation rate is 2.8 percent, with prices rising faster than incomes.

      Costs for gasoline and shelter rose fastest during the month. The gasoline index was up 1.7 percent, even as some other energy costs went down. The overall energy index gained 0.9 percent in May.

      The cost of putting a roof over your head, both through rents and purchase prices, rose 0.3 percent last month. Medical costs were also higher, rising 0.2 percent. The index tracking food prices was unchanged.

      Incomes don't keep up

      Consumers' average hourly earnings posted a small increase in May, rising 0.1 percent. This was mostly due to an increase in the real hourly earnings, combined with an unchanged average work week.

      The costs of some things went down in May, but most are not things consumers purchase every month. For example, household furnishings and used cars and trucks cost less in May. Prices for clothing, recreation, and personal care were the same as April.

      While the food index was unchanged in May, food inflation over the last 12 months is running at 2.7 percent. Consumers got some relief last month when they purchased food to prepare at home -- including, meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, which dropped 0.7 percent.

      Meanwhile, the index for nonalcoholic beverages rose 0.4 percent last month, with cereal and bakery products prices were essentially unchanged.

      The latest inflation numbers come as the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee begins a two-day meeting in Washington, at which it will consider whether to hike the discount rate again. The consensus among economists is a June rate hike is almost a certainty, and that the May inflation numbers have done nothing to change the equation.

      In case you hadn't noticed, inflation is on the rise.The government reports the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for May rose 0.2 percent on the heels of a s...
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      Ford Explorer and Jeep Cherokee rated 'poor' in passenger side crashes

      Six of eight mid-size SUVs rated 'good' or 'acceptable'

      Six of eight mid-size SUVs earned good or acceptable ratings in the latest round of crash tests, but the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee were cited for “major flaws.”

      The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) passenger-side small overlap test measures how well a vehicle performs when just the front corner of the vehicle strikes another vehicle or an object, such as a tree or utility pole.

      IIHS has rated vehicles in driver-side small overlap crashes since 2012 and has noted vast safety improvements in this area in the years since. The organization launched the same test for the passenger side last year.

      Risk to passengers

      "Although some vehicles in this group offer very good protection, in other models, the airbags, safety belts and structure showed serious deficiencies," said David Zuby, IIHS' chief research officer. "In those SUVs, a front-seat passenger would be at risk of injuries to the head, hip or leg in a right-side small overlap front crash."

      IIHS said the Ford Explorer earned a “poor” rating because the crash “seriously compromised” the vehicle's structure. Tests shows that intrusion reached 15 inches at the lower door hinge pillar and 13 inches at the upper door hinge pillar and the dashboard.

      Following the test, the door sill was moved in six inches toward the crash dummy. Post-crash measures showed a passenger had a high likelihood of suffering injuries to the head and right hip.

      IIHS says the Ford also showed poor structural performance on the driver side tests. It said the automaker is redesigning the Explorer and new models will have improved structural integrity on both the driver and passenger sides.

      Jeep Grand Cherokee issues

      As for the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the passenger-side test revealed a maximum intrusion of 10 inches at the lower door hinge pillar. More alarming, the group said, was the impact to the passenger dummy's head.

      The impact caused it to hit the dashboard hard through the front airbag and then, because the side curtain airbag didn’t deploy and the door opened, it moved outside the vehicle during rebound.

      “Measures from the dummy indicated that right leg injuries would be likely in a crash of this severity, and a head injury would be possible,” IIHS concluded.

      The organization expressed some concern about possible head injuries to a passenger in the Honda Pilot, but overall, the vehicle had good structural performance. The GMC Acadia, Kia Sorento, and Volkswagen Atlas all earned “good” ratings. IIHS said the Acadia had maximum intrusion of just two inches on the right side of the toepan.

      The tested vehicles were all 2018 models, except for the Sorento, which IIHS said had been redesigned for 2019 to improve safety performance in both driver and passenger impact tests.

      Six of eight mid-size SUVs earned good or acceptable ratings in the latest round of crash tests, but the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee were cited f...
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      BMW recalls model year 2009-2013 X5 xDrive 35d diesels

      The engine idler pulley bolt may loosen over time and break

      BMW of North America is recalling 33,214 model year 2009-2013 X5 xDrive 35d diesels.

      The engine idler pulley bolt may loosen over time and break.

      As a result, the vehicle may unexpectedly lose power-assisted steering, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      The remedy for this recall is still under development.

      The recall is expected to begin July 13, 2018.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.

      BMW of North America is recalling 33,214 model year 2009-2013 X5 xDrive 35d diesels.The engine idler pulley bolt may loosen over time and break.As...
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      Goodman Food Products recalls fully cooked beef patties

      The product may be contaminated with hard, white plastic

      Goodman Food Products, Texas of Mansfield, Texas, is recalling approximately 34,400 pounds of fully cooked ground beef patties.

      The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials -- specifically hard, white plastic.

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

      The following frozen, fully cooked items, produced on August 2, 2017, are being recalled:

      • 40-lb. cases of “Don Lee Farms FULLY COOKED BEEF PATTY CRUMBLES” with lot code 5886A7214, case code CNG36100 and “Best if used within” date of August 2, 2018.
      • 40-lb. cases of “Don Lee Farms FULLY COOKED HOMESTYLE BEEF PATTY” with lot code 5886A7214, case code CNG38220 and “Best if used within” date of August 2, 2018.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 5886A” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were purchased by USDA Foods for the National School Lunch Program and shipped to institutional locations in Maine and Connecticut.

      What to do

      School nutrition professionals who purchased the recalled products should not prepare or consume them, but discard them or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may contact Donald Goodman at (310) 674-3180.

      Goodman Food Products, Texas of Mansfield, Texas, is recalling approximately 34,400 pounds of fully cooked ground beef patties.The products may be cont...
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      Ferrari expands recall of vehicles with airbag inflator issue

      The passenger-side front airbag inflator may explode

      Ferrari Ferrari North America has expanded an earlier recall of 1,073 model year 2013 California, 458 Italia, 458 Spider, FF, and F12 Berlinetta vehicles sold, or ever registered in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan), and the U.S. Virgin Islands, to include an additional 826 of those vehicles.

      The vehicles are equipped with airbag inflators assembled as part of the passenger front air bag modules used as original or replacement equipment.

      In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the passenger front airbag, these inflators may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to absolute humidity and temperature cycling.

      An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.

      What to do

      Ferrari will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger front airbag assembly, free of charge.

      The recall began March 1, 2018 for the original population. The recall will begin in June 2018 for the expanded population.

      Owners may contact Ferrari customer service at 1-866-551-2828. Ferrari's number for this recall is 63.

      Ferrari Ferrari North America has expanded an earlier recall of 1,073 model year 2013 California, 458 Italia, 458 Spider, FF, and F12 Berlinetta vehicles s...
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      Tyson Foods Recalls chicken tenderloins

      The product may be contaminated with pieces of blue and clear soft plastic

      Tyson Foods of North Little Rock, Ark., is recalling approximately 3,120 pounds of frozen breaded chicken tenderloins.

      The product may be contaminated with extraneous materials -- specifically pieces of blue and clear soft plastic.

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

      The the following frozen, uncooked item, produced on May 17, 2018, is being recalled:

      • 12-lb. box containing 3-lb. plastic bags of “UNCOOKED, BREADED, ORIGINAL CHICKEN TENDERLOINS,” with a lot code of 1378NLR02.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “P-746” on the product package, was shipped to food services establishments, nationwide, and was not available for purchase in retail stores.

      What to do

      Institutions that purchased the recalled products should not serve them, but discard them.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact the Tyson Foods call center at (888) 747-7611.

      Tyson Foods of North Little Rock, Ark., is recalling approximately 3,120 pounds of frozen breaded chicken tenderloins.The product may be contaminated w...
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      Amazon expands Prime discount at Whole Foods to 10 more states

      Prime members will receive 10 percent off hundreds of sale items

      Starting June 13, Amazon will be expanding its Prime discount at Whole Foods to 10 more states, including: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington. Amazon previously stated that it will continue to expand these services throughout the year.

      In addition to receiving 10 percent off on hundreds of sale items, Prime members will also receive exclusive offers on many popular products.

      Some of the offers include:

      • $2/lb on organic yellow nectarines and peaches

      • $3/lb on made in-house pork sausage, no antibiotics

      • $9/lb on wild sustainably caught yellowfin tuna steaks

      • Buy one, get one free Annie’s Natural Macaroni & Cheese

      • 4/$5 Essentia Water, 1.5L bottles

      • Self-serve tea cookies by the pound, 50 percent off

      “We’re excited that Prime savings will be available at nearly half of our Whole Foods Market stores this week, giving more Prime members access to great deals just in time for summer,” said A.C. Gallo, president and CEO of Whole Foods. “Based on the positive customer feedback and successes we’ve seen over the past month, we’re accelerating our timeline to expand these savings to all of our U.S. stores.”

      Prime members can also get these savings at Whole Foods Market 365 stores across the country.

      Making the most of your Prime membership

      Prime members that frequent Whole Foods can get these deals at participating stores across the country (or at Whole Foods Market 365 locations), by looking for yellow discount stickers on eligible items. Consumers can sign into the Whole Foods app with their Prime login information and discounts will be applied to orders at checkout.

      Members who opt to have their groceries delivered through the Whole Foods Market stores on the Prime Now can also receive free two-day delivery on orders over $35. Prime member savings and Prime Now grocery delivery is currently available in Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Francisco.

      Amazon’s new role in Whole Foods

      Last June, Amazon purchased Whole Foods in a deal valued at $13.7 billion. Many were skeptical about what Amazon’s involvement would mean for the future of Whole Foods -- and the evolving world of grocery shopping.

      “Amazon’s brutal vision for retail is one where automation replaces good jobs,” said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. “That is the reality today at Amazon, and it will no doubt become the reality at Whole Foods.”

      However, since acquiring Whole Foods, Amazon has been working diligently to make the upscale food chain more accessible -- and affordable -- to the public, and expanding its Prime discounts is one such way of doing that. Amazon also cut prices at many of Whole Foods’ locations, as they look to change the reputation of Whole Foods being too costly for consumers.

      You can see what consumers think about the changes at Whole Foods and learn more about the chain by clicking here.

      Starting June 13, Amazon will be expanding its Prime discount at Whole Foods to 10 more states, including: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi,...
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      Target expands its pickup, delivery options

      The retailer is more than halfway through rolling out its same-day delivery service to all stores

      Target has announced that it is halfway through the launch of its same-day shipping service and its curbside pickup service, “Drive Up.”

      The company says it’s on track to meet its goal of rolling out the services at the majority of its stores before the holiday season.

      “We set out this year with an ambitious plan to bring Target guests nationwide more ways to shop on their terms,” said John Mulligan, Target’s chief operating officer, in a statement. “Our guests are enjoying the convenience of these new delivery and pickup services as we’re working to redefine the Target Run and make Target America’s easiest place to shop.”

      Competing with Amazon, Walmart

      Same-day shipping will be provided via Shipt, which Target acquired back in December for $550 million. Target says that by the end of June, it will be offering same-day delivery through Shipt in more than 135 markets. The service will offer consumers same-day delivery in “all major product categories” by next year.

      Drive Up will let customers order online and pick up their items right outside of Target “usually within a couple minutes.” A spokesman for Target told CNBC that the retailer sees this service as being “popular among parents of small children for ‘fill-in trips’ to pick up items like diapers.”

      Meanwhile, Target Restock is a delivery option that allows consumers to order everyday essentials -- like dog food, soap, and toilet paper -- and fill up a box with up to roughly 45 pounds of goods.

      Chicago will be the first city to have all four of Target’s expanded delivery and pick-up options -- Shipt, Drive Up, Target Restock, and the fulfillment of online orders from within stores.

      Chicago is “an important and strong market for Target, with 80-plus stores, including a host of small-format stores,” the spokesman told CNBC. “It has a dense, urban population to support ‘from-store’ delivery,” he added. “It’s also a highly competitive market.”

      The company’s expanded pickup and delivery options put the retailer a step ahead in the delivery war against Walmart and Amazon, according to CNBC.

      To utilize Target’s Shipt service, consumers will have to pay $99 each year -- less than the $119 per year cost to purchase an Amazon Prime membership and get free two-day shipping. Walmart is still working on bringing its online grocery delivery service, where shoppers pay a delivery fee of $9.95 and have to fill a basket with at least $30 worth of items, to 100 metro areas.

      Target has announced that it is halfway through the launch of its same-day shipping service and its curbside pickup service, “Drive Up.” The company sa...
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      IHOP to change its name to IHOb

      The restaurant known for breakfast is entering the burger war with a temporary re-branding

      International House of Pancakes has announced it is temporarily changing its iconic IHOP brand to IHOb, choosing to emphasize burgers instead of pancakes.

      The company announced the name change last week, but it didn't explain what the “b” represented, generating speculation on social media. It now says the name change coincides with the roll-out of seven new burger items on its menu.

      “Burgers are a quintessential, American menu item so it makes perfect sense that IHOP, one of the most iconic, all-American comfort-food brands in the world, would go over the top to create a delicious line-up of quality burgers that hit the spot any time of day,” said Nevielle Panthaky, Head of Culinary at IHOb.

      Entering the burger war

      The restaurant chain was founded in 1958, specializing in breakfast. It currently offers 65 different breakfast combinations. However, it has always offered other meal options as well, including hamburgers. The new burger additions are a signal that it now plans to enter the highly competitive burger war.

      In addition to gourmet burger competitors, like Five Guys, it will compete with a newly retooled McDonald's, which recently announced it would install ordering kiosks in 1,000 U.S. restaurants per quarter. Consumers using the ordering kiosks can customize their burgers and have them delivered to their tables.

      The competition in this arena is fierce. When McDonald's announced it was switching to fresh beef in its Quarterpounders, the CEO of Wendy's pointed out that chain has been serving fresh ground beef for a half century.

      Last year, Chipotle Mexican Grill entered the fray, opening Tasty Made, a burger restaurant it hoped would spread as quickly as its Mexican food franchise. However, it soon raised the white flag, closing its only Tasty Made store in late February.

      Against this backdrop, the restaurant best known for its pancakes is rebranding itself, flipping the “p” in its initials, turning it into a “b.” The company says it's doing it to show it is serious about burgers, and that there's no turning back.

      International House of Pancakes has announced it is temporarily changing its iconic IHOP brand to IHOb, choosing to emphasize burgers instead of pancakes....
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      Hack of South Korean exchange wipes out billions in cryptocurrency

      Experts say the news casts doubt on Bitcoin and other commodities

      Investors who use the cryptocurrency exchange Coinrail woke up Monday morning to some monumentally bad news. The platform announced that it suffered a data breach in which hackers stole 30 percent of its virtual currencies, forcing it to temporarily suspend trading while it works with investigators to determine what happened.

      The effect of the hack is up for debate. Some onlookers pinned cryptocurrency’s $42 billion weekend plummet on the Coinrail incursion. Still others blamed the hand-wringing over the Chinese government’s ban on crypto-related platforms.

      Another -- The Signal Expert -- tweeted "Will this impact the market price? It shouldn’t if everyone is aware of the facts. Coinrail ranks 88th in 24hr volume and has a weak reputation in Korea. The only impacts I see may be from govt. regulations and potentially using this as FUD (acronym for fear, uncertainty and doubt)."

      Justifiably, Coinrail wanted to go on the record with its interpretation of the hack.

      "The exact damage of the leaked coin / token is currently being confirmed, which may require some time to be taken with the coin," wrote Coinrail in an announcement on their website. "Also, please understand that all related matters are difficult to share all progress to exclude all possibilities that may interfere with the investigation due to investigation by police agencies."

      Coinrail was quick to point out that only three currencies were hit -- Fundus X (NPXS), Aston (ATX), and Enper (NPER): Freeze -- and that 70 percent of the company’s reserves are safe and have been moved to a cold wallet. Cold wallets are not connected to the internet, leaving them safe from an attack.

      When will the crypto madness end?

      Despite the Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) and other virtual currency players’ efforts, cryptocurrency seems far from finding its groove.

      In the last year alone, ConsumerAffairs has watched Bitcoin’s value soar past that of gold and suffer countless hacks, the outcries of banks, and Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations. However, the currency’s rollercoaster ride seems far from over.

      "In terms of cryptocurrencies, generally, I can say, almost with certainty, that they will come to a bad end," pontificated Warren Buffett in a CNBC interview. Charlie Munger, Buffett’s cohort at Berkshire Hathaway, was a little more blunt and compared cryptocurrencies to "turds."

      From a technology perspective, fellow billionaire club member Bill Gates softened his stance a tad. "There’s some really good technology in terms of sharing databases and verifying transactions," Gates remarked about cryptocurrency’s underlying blockchain technology.

      But, overall, he would bet against Bitcoin itself succeeding, equating it to the "greater fool theory" where the price of an object is determined by irrational beliefs and expectations of market participants rather than its intrinsic value.

      Investors who use the cryptocurrency exchange Coinrail woke up Monday morning to some monumentally bad news. The platform announced that it suffered a data...
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      Multistate outbreak of salmonella linked to pre-cut melon, CDC says

      Consumers in eight affected states are urged to throw out recalled products

      Health officials are investigating a multistate salmonella outbreak linked to pre-cut melon. The outbreak has been linked to 60 illnesses and at least 31 hospitalizations in five states. No deaths have been reported.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Friday that the outbreak affects eight states including Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio.

      The packages of pre-cut watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, and fresh-cut mixed fruit products were produced by Caito Foods in a facility in Indianapolis, Ind. They were sold in clear, plastic containers at Costco, Jay C, Kroger, Payless, Owen’s, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, Walmart, and Whole Foods/Amazon.

      Ongoing investigation

      Officials said people reported contracting salmonella after eating pre-cut melon between April 30 and May 28. Of the 60 cases reported to date, 32 were reported in Michigan.

      In a tweet posted on Sunday, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb urged consumers in the eight affected states to check the “fridge and freezer for recalled pre-cut melon linked to Salmonella outbreak.”

      The FDA said it’s working with the CDC to determine if the recalled products went to additional stores or states.

      “Reports of illnesses linked to these products are under investigation, and Caito Foods is voluntarily recalling the products out of an abundance of caution,” the agency said in a statement, adding that it “has ceased producing and distributing these products as the company and FDA continue their investigation.”

      Health officials are investigating a multistate salmonella outbreak linked to pre-cut melon. The outbreak has been linked to 60 illnesses and at least 31 h...
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      Yahoo Messenger shutting down in July

      The company says it plans to focus on building new communications tools that better fit consumer needs

      After 20 years in operation, Yahoo Messenger will be shutting down on July 17.

      The news -- which was announced by Oath, a Verizon subsidiary that owns both Yahoo and AOL -- comes six months after AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) was shut down.

      Competition from messaging apps built by Skype, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook has made it difficult for Yahoo Messenger to stay relevant. Going forward, Yahoo says it will be “focusing on building and introducing new, exciting communications tools that better fit consumer needs.”

      The company is redirecting users to its new group messaging application, Squirrel.

      “There currently isn’t a replacement product available for Yahoo Messenger. We’re constantly experimenting with new services and apps, one of which is an invite-only group messaging app called Yahoo Squirrel (currently in beta),” Oath said.

      Consumers can request access to the beta version of Squirrel here.

      For the next six months, users can download their chat history from Yahoo Messenger by visiting this website, signing in with their Yahoo account, choosing a verification method, and then entering an email address where the download can be sent.

      After 20 years in operation, Yahoo Messenger will be shutting down on July 17. The news -- which was announced by Oath, a Verizon subsidiary that owns...
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      Model year 2013 Suzuki Kizashis and SX4s recalled

      The Transmission Control Module may fail

      Suzuki Motor of America is recalling 5,786 model year 2013 Suzuki Kizashis and SX4s equipped with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

      The Transmission Control Module (TCM) may fail causing a reduction in speed or reduced vehicle acceleration, which could increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Suzuki will notify owners, and dealers will replace the TCM, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin in June 2018.

      Owners may contact Suzuki customer service at 1-800-934-0934. Suzuki's number for this recall is 4005 to 4008.

      Suzuki Motor of America is recalling 5,786 model year 2013 Suzuki Kizashis and SX4s equipped with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).The Transm...
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      Volkswagen recalls various vehicles with possible regulatory issues

      The vehicles may not comply with all applicable regulatory requirement

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 252 model year 2012-2016 Eos vehicles, model year 2012 Passats, model year 2012-2016 CCs, model year 2015 e-Golfs, model year 2011-2015 Touaregs, model year 2012-2015 Tiguans, model year 2011-2016 Golfs and model year 2011-2013 GTIs.

      Modifications made while the vehicles were in an internal evaluation period may cause them to not comply with all of the applicable regulatory requirements. This could increase the risk of a crash, fire, or injury.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will repair the vehicles to make them fully compliant, or will repurchase them if necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin July 13, 2018.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 252 model year 2012-2016 Eos vehicles, model year 2012 Passats, model year 2012-2016 CCs, model year 2015 e-Golfs,...
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      The Weekly Hack: Genealogy website downplays hack of 92 million users

      MyHeritage says that it found ‘no evidence’ that the stolen data was used

      Services that claim to help consumers discover their ancestry have taken off in recent years, but is it wise to trust an online service with your DNA? The genealogy website MyHeritage admitted on Monday that data from more than 92 million user accounts was accessed.

      MyHeritage is characterizing what happened as a “cyber security incident,” the term that has become the corporate world’s phrasing-of-choice to describe an apparent hack.

      The stolen information included email addresses and encrypted passwords, though MyHeritage is downplaying the impact that the hack could have on consumer privacy. “There has been no evidence that the data in the file was ever used by the perpetrators,” the company said in a statement late Monday.

      “We believe the intrusion is limited to the user email addresses...Other types of sensitive data such as family trees and DNA data are stored by MyHeritage on segregated systems, separate from those that store the email addresses, and they include added layers of security,” the company added.

      The breach took place in October 2017 but was not caught until January 4, according to the company.

      MyHeritage, much like competitors 23andme and Ancestry.com, offers a service in which users can submit a saliva sample for DNA analysis. 

      Whether such services can be trusted with saliva samples and DNA information became a concern after police in California captured the so-called Golden State Killer earlier this year. Suspect Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. was arrested in April thanks in part to the genealogy site GEDMatch, authorities said. Police submitted a DNA sample from a crime scene to the site and said that it had matched the suspect’s DNA that they had already taken.

      Ticketfly

      The online ticketing site Ticketfly announced on Thursday that hackers stole the names, addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers of 27 million customers, though Ticketfly said that users’ credit card information was safe.

      Ticketfly’s site went briefly offline after it detected the hack. But with the site up and running again, the company is requiring all users to change their passwords as a precaution.

      “Upon first learning about this incident we took swift action to secure the data of our clients and fans,” a company spokesperson told Variety.

      Canadian Banks

      Several weeks ago, Mexico’s biggest banks lost millions of dollars to cyber criminals, and now America’s neighbor north of the border is dealing with its own bank hacking woes.

      Canada’s fourth and fifth largest banks have released statements admitting that so-called “fraudsters” stole personal and financial information belonging to bank customers.

      A spokesman for the Bank of Montreal told Reuters that less than 50,000 customers had their data accessed. Simplii Financial, the other bank that was hacked, said that 40,000 clients had “certain personal and account information” accessed. The banks’ handling of the breach is now being scrutinized by lawmakers.

      “When will the Liberals take action to protect Canadian consumers with a digital bill of rights and stop letting these companies off the hook?,” Canadian Member of Parliament Brian Masse said, pointing to a similar measures that currently protects consumers in the European Union.

      The EU’s data protection laws are generally stricter and more consumer-friendly than those implemented in the rest of the world.

      Booking.com

      Travel site Booking.com wasn’t actually hacked, but hackers are telling the site’s partner properties that attempts were being made to steal hotel cash and data on guests.

      Scammers reportedly sent out emails and texts warning that Booking.com had been hacked. The emails directed recipients to change their password by clicking on a link, which actually exposed all information that customers with hotel reservations had submitted through the site.

      ”...in this case, there has been no compromise on Booking.com systems,” a Booking.com spokesman told the Daily Mail. “This property has been targeted by phishing emails sent by cyber criminals and by clicking on those emails, the property compromised its account.”

      Nevertheless, Booking.com promised to compensate affected customers and hotels.

      Cryptocurrency

      The cybersecurity firm Carbon Black has a new report detailing the full scope of cryptocurrency hacks that have become regular news stories.

      According to company’s new research, cybercriminals stole a total of $1.1 billion in cryptocurrency over the past six months. Their method of choice is the “dark web,” or sections of the internet that are untraceable and only accessible via special software and above-average tech skills.

      In an interview with CNBC, a Carbon Black strategist warns that it is “surprisingly easy” for hackers to steal cryptocurrency.  

      Services that claim to help consumers discover their ancestry have taken off in recent years, but is it wise to trust an online service with your DNA? The...
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      Airline fares rise as fuel charges surge

      Domestic flights are set to spike in the coming weeks

      As a result of the highest fuel costs in the last decade, the country’s top airlines are preparing to raise prices on domestic flights, marking the fourth increase in ticket prices this year.

      Major U.S. airlines are planning a $20 surcharge to each roundtrip ticket. The extra charge will be classified as a “fuel surcharge,” meaning consumers won’t see it on the initial posted ticket price whether they check online, over the phone, or through a travel agent.

      “Consumers will pay more because of higher fuel costs,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst and founder of Atmosphere Research Group. “I think it will affect summer travel for people who have not booked their flights.”

      According to a report by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, airline carriers used 1,434 billion gallons of gas in April this year. Though this was a 2.1 percent drop from March, gas prices climbed 4.5 percent to $2.08. Airlines spent nearly $3 billion on fuel this year, a number that rose 2.5 percent.

      What it means for airlines

      Overall earnings for the country’s publicly traded airlines continue to fall, as they’ve dropped 24 percent since the start of 2018. A spokesperson for the lobbying group Airlines for America noted that revenue for airlines has risen seven percent this year, while fuel prices have also gone up by nearly 10 percent.

      Delta shared publicly this week that second-quarter earnings will be no higher than $1.75 per share, lower than the originally projected $2 per share. The move came just weeks after American Airlines, the country’s number one airline, lowered its projected forecast for the remainder of the second quarter.

      This quarter alone, fuel prices rose 12 percent, and Delta noted it could take up to six months for fares to catch up.

      Adam Hackel, an analyst at Imperial Capital, believes other airlines are likely to follow in Delta’s footsteps. “You’ll certainly see over the next week or two some more revisions as they get fuel fully priced in,” he noted.

      Despite concerns, some airlines seem optimistic. While United Airlines boosted the lower end of its full-year earning target by $7, Allegiant Air said more efficient jets are helping them combat rising fuel prices. CEO Maurice Gallagher told shareholders that the airline is getting 44 percent more flight capacity from each gallon of gas.

      “Given the benefit of better fuel metrics and operational reliability, we will be able (and have been so far) to increase our daily utilization, making our fleet more productive,” Gallagher said.

      Southwest Airlines, which anticipated a drop in ticket sales following a fatal accident earlier this year, also reported revenue passenger miles (the industry’s gauge of demand) increased 4.2 percent this May to 11.7 billion. However, the company is still expecting a nearly three percent drop in operating revenue after that fatal accident.

      What consumers should expect

      In addition to higher fares, consumers should also expect fewer seats available per flight. While Delta is still in the early stages of deciding how many seats -- if any -- they’ll cut moving forward, the decision wouldn’t go into effect until after Labor Day. By reducing the number of seats on each flight, airlines are able to raise fares, should the demand remain.

      Airlines won’t cut down on seats during the busy summer months, so consumers can expect things to be different by summer’s end.

      “There’s still enough time for them to look at it after Labor Day, when you really hit a pretty dramatic off-peak period for this industry,” Hackel said. “The industry is still benefiting from strong travel demand.”

      As a result of the highest fuel costs in the last decade, the country’s top airlines are preparing to raise prices on domestic flights, marking the fourth...
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      The gig economy may not be as widespread as expected

      A recent report identified only 10 percent of Americans are gig workers

      On Thursday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released it’s first in-depth look at non-traditional work in the United States since 2005. It found that traditional jobs still reign supreme.

      For years, Americans have taken advantage of the rise of freelance work and the perks that come along with it -- such as a flexible schedule. This caused policymakers to worry that the traditional workplace, and the associated benefits, would disappear. Proponents and critics have continued to argue over the merits of this “gig economy,” despite an apparent lack of data.

      Based on the survey’s results, only around 10 percent of Americans in 2017 were employed by what the government calls “alternative working arrangements.” This revised number is actually a decline from 2005, when 11 percent of workers worked in an occupation that’s part of the gig economy.

      “I think everybody’s narrative got blown up,” said Michael R. Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

      A look inside the survey

      Despite what appears to be a drop off in alternative working arrangements, Strain noted various factors the survey didn’t take into consideration.

      For starters, the government’s numbers don’t include people who do gig or freelance work to supplement traditional work. The survey also doesn’t consider those who participate in income-generating endeavors, such as renting their homes on Airbnb, which wouldn’t necessarily be considered work.

      A survey done by the Federal Reserve in late May found that nearly one-third of Americans are performing some kind of gig work, either exclusively or in addition to traditional work.

      The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ survey also didn’t factor in companies that subcontract work to employees. In those cases, those employees aren’t considered to be alternative workers, but they do earn less and receive smaller benefits.

      “The questions on our standard surveys don’t probe into the nature of these arrangements,” said Katherine G. Abraham, a University of Maryland economist who served as commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics under Bill Clinton. “We’re not asking the right questions, and they’re hard to answer anyway.”

      Abraham noted many employees tend to struggle to classify the work they do. She said that some Uber drivers might consider themselves employees of the company itself, though they are legally identified as independent contractors. However, she also mentioned that if alternative work was really on the rise, it would’ve shown up in this latest survey.

      “The fact that our last data point on this was in 2005 makes it so hard to figure out what’s going on,” said Martha Gimbel, director of economic research for Indeed. “Measurement is important, and this is why it’s important to fund data analysis.”

      The gig economy in recent news

      Despite this latest survey finding a slight decline in alternative workers, a 2016 report from the Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) found that employers spent $729 billion on contract workers in 2015, with 29 percent of all U.S. workers performing some kind of gig work that year.

      Betterment -- a financial services company -- released a survey in May that showed how the gig economy could potentially change the look of retirement for many people.

      Sixteen percent of survey participants said they would continue in the gig economy after a traditional retirement age. Additionally, many of these individuals find that working in the gig economy is a good way to supplement their income to save for retirement.

      “One in five full-time giggers say they’ll continue to pick up incremental work as their main source of income following retirement,” the authors of the survey wrote. “Twelve percent of side-hustlers will keep a side job as their main source of income after retiring from their traditional nine-to-five.”

      Also this May, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Mark Pocan proposed legislation that they say would strengthen the middle class by severely limiting the gig economy. The lawmakers’ goal is to “restore workers’ rights to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.”

      As of right now, the bill is simply an idea for the future; it has garnered much support from various labor unions, but it is opposed by many Republicans.

      On Thursday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released it’s first in-depth look at non-traditional work in the United States since 2005. It found that tradit...
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      Coinbase becomes the first SEC-regulated broker-dealer

      Cryptocurrency takes its first step towards becoming legitimate

      Digital currency exchange Coinbase announced the acquisition of securities dealer Keystone Capital Corp., alternative investment platform Venovate Marketplace, Inc., and financial planning firm Digital Wealth on Thursday.

      In making those moves, Coinbase set itself up to become a federally-regulated broker-dealer. If given the green light by the SEC, it will be the first cryptocurrency company approved to offer blockchain-based securities.

      "Ultimately, we can envision a world where we may even work with regulators to tokenize existing types of securities, bringing to this space the benefits of cryptocurrency-based markets — like 24/7 trading, real-time settlement, and chain-of-title," wrote Asiff Hirji, President and COO of Coinbase.

      "We believe this will democratize access to capital markets for companies and investors alike, lowering costs for all participants and bringing additional transparency and inclusion to the ecosystem."

      Patience pays off

      As far back as 2015, Coinbase has done its best to stay on the straight and narrow of the cryptocurrency path. Over the course of the last three years, the firm has benefitted from the support of digital currency investors in comments to the SEC, gained significant volume along the way, and is now considered the highest-volume cryptocurrency exchange in the United States.

      Keeping on the good side of the SEC and the perception of crypto investors had its challenges, however. Earlier this  year, Coinbase fell prey to some technical glitches, but it was quick to respond to everyone’s satisfaction.

      Fresh on the heels of the SEC’s appointment of a cryptocurrency czar and Congress’ seriousness about legitimizing digital currency, Coinbase’s announcement may be the all-clear signal digital currency proponents were looking for.

      Lots to chew on

      The crypto market is maturing quickly. Over a hundred crypto-focused hedge funds have been created in the last few months, and there’s now more than 800 mainstream and alternative cryptocurrencies for investors to consider.

      As more experienced brokers and traders enter the space, Coinbase will have its hands full; but being the first platform in certainly has its advantages.

      Coinbase certainly has the ways and means to put its money where its mouth is. In 2017, the six-year old company booked $1 billion in revenue and recently valued itself at close to $8 billion when it tendered an offer in a recent acquisition deal.

      Digital currency exchange Coinbase announced the acquisition of securities dealer Keystone Capital Corp., alternative investment platform Venovate Marketpl...
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      Facebook bug changed users’ default privacy settings to public

      About 14 million users had their default sharing settings changed for several days in May

      Facebook has revealed that a bug changed the default sharing settings of about 14 million users to “public” for four days last month.

      The bug occured between May 18 and May 22, while Facebook was testing a new feature. In an official Newsroom post, Facebook said that it is currently notifying those affected and asking them to review the posts that they made between those dates.

      "We recently found a bug that automatically suggested posting publicly when some people were creating their Facebook posts," said Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer.

      "We have fixed this issue and starting today we are letting everyone affected know and asking them to review any posts they made during that time. To be clear, this bug did not impact anything people had posted before -- and they could still choose their audience just as they always have."

      Transparency in handling issues

      After the bug was discovered, Facebook said that it went so far as to change every post made by affected users during that window of time to private -- including posts possibly intended to be shared publicly.

      “The problem has been fixed, and for anyone affected, we changed the audience back to what they’d been using before,” the company said.

      Facebook said that notifying users of the bug is part of its new focus on transparency in the way it handles issues.

      “We’ve heard loud and clear that we need to be more transparent about how we build our products and how those products use your data – including when things go wrong. And that is what we are doing here,” Facebook said.

      Facebook has revealed that a bug changed the default sharing settings of about 14 million users to “public” for four days last month. The bug occured b...
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      U.S. airlines miss the cut for the top 20 best rated international carriers

      Qatar Airways took the top spot in in the AirHelp rankings

      For international travelers, picking the right airlines and passing through the most safe and efficient airports can help determine whether the trip is a success.

      To guide travelers in the right direction, AirHelp, a flight compensatory company, has compiled a ranking of the best airlines and airports around the world, noting that both categories are getting better, mainly due to rising competition for the international travel dollar.

      For 2018, Qatar Airways earns the top spot, followed by Lufthansa and Etihad Airways. Airlines are rated on quality of service, on-time performance, claim processing, and how consumers rate them in online forums.

      Qatar Airways was credited with big improvements in on-time performance and claims the top spot processing, helping it to overtake Singapore Airlines, which dropped to fourth place among 72 airlines for 2018. Worldwide, Lufthansa, Etihad Airways, and South African Airways rounded out the top five.

      U.S. airlines not highly ranked

      No U.S.-based airline made the top 10. In fact, the highest ranking domestic carrier is American Airlines, which only earned 23rd place in the international rankings. United is the next highest, coming in at only 37th on the list.

      AirHelp CEO and co-founder Henrik Zillmer says the rankings show that airlines putting passengers first do best in the annual ranking.

      "For too long airlines have focused on cutting corners and costs without regard to the people they serve,” he said. “We're thrilled to see a positive shift in many airlines who are now putting passengers first, and when things do go wrong these airlines are holding themselves accountable by executing the rightfully owed claims quickly and without hassle."

      Follow the leader

      Zillmer said airlines can improve their rankings by following the example of those at the top of the list, such as Qatar Airways, which he said has held down one of the top three spots since 2015.

      Airports appear to be another matter entirely. While Hamad International Airport, Athens International Airport, and Tokyo Haneda International Airport hold down the top three spots, Zillmer says most airports around have some catching up to do.

      "It is clear there is a need for significant improvement, with overbooked flights and cancellations making national headlines month after month, and the consistent mistreatment of consumers," said Zillmer. "It is no wonder most airlines and airports received poor ratings on the AirHelp Score. It is more important than ever for consumers to fight for their air passenger rights."

      To see how ConsumerAffairs readers rate airlines, click here.

      For international travelers, picking the right airlines and passing through the most safe and efficient airports can help determine whether the trip is a s...
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      Senate Democrats urge Paul Ryan to hold net neutrality vote

      Democrats are pushing for a vote on the House floor ahead of Monday’s end to net neutrality rules

      With net neutrality rules slated to come to an end on Monday, Senate Democrats are urging House Speaker Paul Ryan to schedule a vote on the Congressional Review Act (CRA) that could preserve existing net neutrality rules.

      In the letter, all 49 Senate Democrats called on Ryan to allow the House to vote on the bill.

      "The rules that this resolution would restore were enacted by the FCC in 2015 to prevent broadband providers from blocking, slowing down, prioritizing, or otherwise unfairly discriminating against Internet traffic that flows across their networks," the letter said.

      "Without these protections, broadband providers can decide what content gets through to consumers at what speeds and could use this power to discriminate against their competitors or other content."

      Senate voted to save net neutrality

      Last month, the Senate voted to overturn the FCC’s net neutrality ruling by a vote of 52 to 47. However, the vote in favor of the CRA was mostly symbolic. Both the House, which is comprised of a Republican majority, and President Donald Trump need to sign off on the CRA in order for it to take effect.

      House Democrats will need the support of at least 25 Republicans in order to force a vote and pass the resolution. If passed, President Trump would need to provide final executive approval, which isn’t likely since he has said that he agrees with the FCC’s policy.

      Although it may be a long shot, Democrats are still fighting.

      "More than 170 representatives have already indicated their support for the same resolution in the House," advocacy group Demand Progress said. "Two hundred and eighteen signatures are needed in order to force the [Congressional Review Act] resolution to the floor, increasingly within