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      Hewlett-Packard offers hackers a bounty to break into their printers

      The company is the latest to take a proactive approach in finding bugs

      Hewlett-Packard (HP) is offering hackers a bounty of up to $10,000 if they can find vulnerabilities in the company’s printers.

      CNET is reporting that HP quietly started a hacking bounty program in May. A total of 34 researchers have joined, including one who already earned $10,000 for detecting a flaw.

      Printers are one of many consumer products that are vulnerable to hacking. Like other unexpected hacking targets, they can fall to the wayside when it comes to the attention of security researchers, who may be more interested in protecting webcams and other obvious targets.

      "As we navigate an increasingly complex world of cyber threats, it’s paramount that industry leaders leverage every resource possible to deliver trusted, resilient security from the firmware up," said Shivaun Albright, HP's chief technologist of print security, in a statement.

      Taking a proactive approach

      With nearly every industry proven to be vulnerable to hackers, researchers have said that businesses need to be more proactive in patching security holes.

      As a result, hacking corporate clients in exchange for a “bounty”or fee has grown into a full-time career for some researchers. Recently, the automaker BMW honored the Keen Research group for their findings that hackers could remotely access its cars and wreak terror on drivers.

      Hewlett-Packard (HP) is offering hackers a bounty of up to $10,000 if they can find vulnerabilities in the company’s printers.CNET is reporting that HP...
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      BMW recalls X3 and X4 vehicles

      Braking performance may be reduced

      BMW of North America is recalling 5,594 model year 2018-2019 BMW X3 sDrive30i, X3 xDrive30i, X3 M40i and model year 2019 X4 xDrive30i & X4 M40i vehicles.

      The vehicle's rear brake caliper pistons may have an insufficient coating, potentially reducing rear brake performance, increasing a crash risk.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will bleed the rear brake circuit, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin August 21, 2018.

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

      BMW of North America is recalling 5,594 model year 2018-2019 BMW X3 sDrive30i, X3 xDrive30i, X3 M40i and model year 2019 X4 xDrive30i & X4 M40i vehicles....
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      Model year 2017 Mercedes-Benz G65 AMGs recalled

      The vehicles may have incorrect reverse speed limitation software

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 20 model year 2017 Mercedes-Benz G65 AMGs.

      Thee vehicles may be equipped with the incorrect reverse speed limitation software. While in reverse, any abrupt changes in steering while exceeding 16 MPH may cause the vehicle to become unstable.

      An unstable vehicle in reverse gear can lead to a vehicle rollover, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will update the engine control unit (ECU) software, free of charge.

      The recall was expected to begin July 27, 2018.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-800-367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 20 model year 2017 Mercedes-Benz G65 AMGs.Thee vehicles may be equipped with the incorrect reverse speed limitat...
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      Walmart launches revamped baby section on its website

      The retailer added more than 30,000 nursery and baby-themed items to its website

      Just weeks after the last Babies “R” Us store closed its doors, Walmart is ramping up its assortment of products geared towards new parents.

      Last week, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer updated its website to include a larger selection of baby products.

      Walmart said searches for baby and/or nursery items on its website have increased nearly 40 percent within the past year. In an effort to fill the void left by Babies “R” Us, the company has added more than 30,000 baby-themed items to its website.

      With the help of a new “shop by style” tool, consumers shopping for baby gear on Walmart.com can choose from six curated baby collections: wanderlust, boho chic, mid-century modern, baby boy, baby girl, and gender-neutral nurseries Shoppers can also narrow their search to a specific area or need, such as storage, nursing, or diaper changing.

      "Having to shop for the nursery as a first-time parent can be overwhelming,'' Lauren Uppington, Walmart eCommerce U.S. vice president and general manager for baby, said in a blog post. "That’s why we wanted to make it as easy as possible for new parents to shop for everything they need for their babies’ nurseries.''

      Hitting the summer baby boom

      Uppington said Walmart timed the introduction of these new shopping features for families for mid-summer because it has historically been “when most babies are born.”

      “It also follows efforts to create a new in-store experience in the baby department in more than 2,000 stores across the country,” she said in a statement.

      The retailer’s push into the baby business follows other changes to its online shopping experience. In May, Walmart added high-end items to the fashion section of its website in the hope of becoming a “fashion destination” for shoppers. The company also made changes to the home categories on its site.

      Several other retailers have set out to pick up where Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us left off.

      Earlier this year, Target expanded its private-label brand Cloud Island with more diaper bags and crib sheets. BuyBuy Baby offered to help consumers with Babies R Us gift registries recreate them at its stores.

      Just weeks after the last Babies “R” Us store closed its doors, Walmart is ramping up its assortment of products geared towards new parents. Last week,...
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      MoviePass borrows an emergency $5 million to keep its service alive

      The company continues to add caveats to its all-you-can-watch model

      To spin a line from “The Godfather,” MoviePass’ mantra of “I’m going to make them an offer they can’t refuse” took a turn for the worse over the weekend.

      First, the subscription-based movie ticketing service had to take out a $5 million emergency loan to pay fulfillment partners so customers could keep using the service.

      It seems MoviePass’ parent company, Helios and Matheson Analytics, had failed to pay the companies that are in charge of customers’ payments, so the contractors simply stopped processing the payments which, in turn, left MoviePass customers without a way to buy tickets.

      Ironically, the title of the new Tom Cruise movie -- ‘Mission: Impossible - Fallout’ -- was next on MoviePass’ list of faux pas as customers were prevented from seeing the new flick.

      MoviePass danced around the heart of the matter when it tweeted out its “issues” on Thursday. First it was, “To our subscribers - we are aware an investigating an issue that is preventing users from checking-in to movies this evening. We ask for your patience as we look into this and recommend waiting for further updates before heading to the theater.”

      Then it was, “We are still experiencing technical issues with our card-based check-in process and we are diligently working to resolve the issue.”

      That was later followed up with, “We've determined this issue is not with our card processor partners and will be continuing to work on a fix throughout this evening and night. If you have not headed to the theater yet, we recommend waiting for a resolution or utilizing e-ticketing which is not impacted.”

      So, what’s it going to be, MoviePass?

      The company’s CEO Mitch Lowe did his best to rally MoviePass’ 3 million users, but his comments veered more towards the new demand-based pricing model and away from the $9.95 a month all-you-can-see model.

      “As we continue to evolve the service, certain movies may not always be available in every theater on our platform,” Lowe said in a statement on Friday. “The first of those features, Peak Pricing, has rolled out nationally. Bring-a-Guest and Premium Features will begin rolling out soon.”

      Lowe’s hue and cry about MoviePass trying to “fundamentally change an industry that hasn’t evolved much in years” is a worthy crusade, but are moviegoers willing to work through the subscription’s provisos in order to get a good deal?

      “Don't get me wrong. Between the $5m loans and mission impossible and the surges costing as much as a ticket, moviepass is doomed,” wrote a subscriber on Reddit.

      “But i'm gonna ride it till the end because surge pricing and card outages and stub photos don't affect partner theaters with e-ticketing. And it just so happens that my local e-ticketing theaters have the specific releases I am most interested in. And amc a-list is the better service but amc does not get the movies I like. I will be milking this service until the day it dies.”

      For the movie buff -- particularly those patient enough to work within MoviePass’ rules -- $9.95 a month for all-you-can-watch can still be a pretty good deal -- especially when you compare that to the cost of a single ticket. The National Association of Theater Owners reported that the average ticket price for a movie was $9.16 in the first quarter of 2018 versus the same quarter a year ago at $8.84.

      To spin a line from “The Godfather,” MoviePass’ mantra of “I’m going to make them an offer they can’t refuse” took a turn for the worse over the weekend....
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      YouTube's website now supports vertical videos without black bars

      The company rolled out the update on Friday

      Last Friday, YouTube announced an update that allows users to stream vertical videos on their desktops with no black bars on the side. With the update, the video’s aspect ratio is automatically adjusted to fit a computer’s screen size. YouTube announced the update in its user forums.

      The update had already hit mobile devices on both Android and iOS, swapping the black bars on the side on small videos for an expanded video when possible or white space in other cases.

      “Historically, for non-widescreen videos (not 16:9) like vertical and square videos, we would show black bars alongside the video, making the video really small,” YouTube explained. “This update moves away from the need for black bars. We launched this update on mobile awhile back (both Android and iOS) so this change also aligns the desktop and mobile viewing experience.”

      Videos that will be affected by the update are those in standard 16:9, vertical videos, and the older 4:3 format. The update is intended to make videos outside of the standard 16:9 aspect ratio easier to view, as well as allow YouTube to compete with other platforms that do not display black bars.

      User response to the update

      Though the update is still rather new, YouTube has received some backlash from users, as the response has been mostly unfavorable.

      In the days following the update, users have complained that the videos are even smaller than before, parts of the video are cut off, and the quality of videos has decreased. One user wrote of her experience with a video that was larger than 640 x 480, but with the new update, the video was forced into a 640 x 480 screen. Parts of the video were allegedly cut off, and she noted poor quality.

      “Some YouTube videos just don’t look good when the screen is big,” the user wrote. “Either give us a way to opt out of this, or fix it.”

      Last Friday, YouTube announced an update that allows users to stream vertical videos on their desktops with no black bars on the side. With the update, the...
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      Pending home sales rise in June

      Realtors see it as a sign that the worst of the housing shortage is over

      Pending homes sales, a measure of real estate contracts signed but not yet closed, rose in all four regions of the country in June, suggesting that the housing shortage is getting less severe.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that signed contracts rose a healthy 0.9 percent from May. Year-over-year, however, pending sales are still down 2.5 percent.

      The industry has been well aware of the growing shortage of homes, as builders have cut back on construction and owners of existing homes have hesitated to sell -- in part because of the growing trend among baby boomers to age in place.

      Easier to find a home

      Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist, says an uptick in existing inventory helped lift contract signings in June.

      "After two straight months of pending sales declines, home shoppers in a majority of markets had a little more success finding a home to buy last month," he said.

      Yun believes homes should be selling at a higher rate, but says it's not enough that the economy is growing and hiring has remained steady. Rising home prices and mortgage rates have made the small inventory of homes even smaller for many would-be buyers, since more homes become unaffordable.

      "Even with slightly more homeowners putting their home on the market, inventory is still subpar and not meeting demand," Yun said. "As a result, affordability constraints are pricing out some would-be buyers and keeping overall sales activity below last year's pace."

      That said, Yun is hopeful that the worst of the supply crunch is over. In June, the inventory of existing homes for sale was slightly higher year-over-year for the first time since 2015.

      Hot markets see inventory increases

      The inventory increased in a number of metro areas where the scarcity of homes has sent both home prices and rents skyrocketing. Portland, Ore., increased its home listing by 24 percent, while inventory levels increased 19 percent in Seattle and 17 percent in Nashville. In San Jose, Calif., the most expensive housing market in the country, inventory levels increased 15 percent.

      But nearly all housing experts agree that a significant increase in homebuilding will be required to fully alleviate the housing shortage. The Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank recently reported that home construction per household is at a 60-year low.

      The National Association of Homebuilders projects only 900,000 new homes will be built in the U.S. this year, even though there is demand for 1.2 million or more. As a result, consumers shopping for a home will still need to be ready to act quickly.

      "Home price growth remains swift and listings are still going under contract at a robust pace in most of the country, which indicates that even with rising inventory in many markets, demand still significantly outpaces what's available for sale," Yun said. "However, if this trend of increasing supply continues in the months ahead, prospective buyers will hopefully begin to see more choices and softer price growth."

      Pending homes sales, a measure of real estate contracts signed but not yet closed, rose in all four regions of the country in June, suggesting that the hou...
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      Trek Recalls Bontrager Line Pro bicycle pedals

      The spindle of one or both of the pedals can break

      Trek Bicycle Corporation of Waterloo, Wis., is recalling about 10,200 pairs of Bontrager Line Pro flat bicycle pedals sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The spindle of one or both of the pedals can break, posing a fall hazard.

      The firm has received five reports of broken spindles in the bicycle pedals. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves all Bontrager Line Pro flat bicycle pedals. These aluminum pedals come in orange and black, with “Line Pro” and “Bontrager” printed on the body of the pedal.

      The pedals, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at independent bicycle stores nationwide and online at www.trekbikes.com and other online retailers from April 2016, through June 2018, for about $100.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycle pedals and take them to a Trek retailer for a free repair.

      Consumers may contact Trek at (800) 373-4594 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, or online at www.trekbikes.com and click on Safety & Recalls at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Trek Bicycle Corporation of Waterloo, Wis., is recalling about 10,200 pairs of Bontrager Line Pro flat bicycle pedals sold in the U.S. and Canada.The s...
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      Model year 2015-2018 Volkswagen Golfs and Golf Sportwagens recalled

      The key may be removed from the ignition while the vehicle shift lever is not in "Park"

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 33,168 model year 2015-2018 Volkswagen Golfs and Golf Sportwagens.

      The build of silicate on the shift lever micro switch contacts may enable the key to be removed from the ignition while the vehicle shift lever is not in "Park."

      Removing the key while the shift lever is in a position other than "Park" increases the risk of an unintended vehicle rollaway that may result in personal injury or a crash.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will install an additional switch and circuit board, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin September 8, 2018.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 37L5.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 33,168 model year 2015-2018 Volkswagen Golfs and Golf Sportwagens.The build of silicate on the shift lever mic...
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      Chrysler recalls Mopar Powertrain Control Modules

      The cruise control system may not disengage

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,930 Mopar Stage 1 Kit Performance Packages Powertrain Control Modules (PCM) Part Numbers P5160023, P5160025, and Demon Crate PCM Part Number 68412287AA.

      A defect in the PCMs could prevent the cruise control system from disengaging.

      If, when using cruise control, there is a short circuit within the vehicle's wiring, the driver may not be able to shut off the cruise control either by depressing the brake pedal or manually turning the system off once it has been engaged, resulting in either the vehicle maintaining its current speed or possibly accelerating.

      If the vehicle maintains its speed or accelerates despite attempts to deactivate the cruise control, there would be an increased risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will either perform a software update or replace the PCM, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin August 31, 2018. Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's numbers for this recall are U82 and U83.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,930 Mopar Stage 1 Kit Performance Packages Powertrain Control Modules (PCM) Part Numbers P5160023, P5160025, and Demon...
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      The Weekly Hack: Idaho inmates exploit prison tablets to hack money

      The company says it will shut down almost all services until it gets its money back

      The tablets being provided to inmates in prisons all over the country come with special strings attached. Emails, for instance, can take up to 48 hours to reach their intended destination due to security screenings. The email costs a minimum of 35 cents to send and attaching pictures or exceeding word limits costs extra. Apps and other features designed to appeal to bored inmates all come with their own charges.

      The telecommunications giant JPay in recent years has distributed free tablets to tens of thousands inmates with the anticipation that they will spend enormous amounts of money to access the features to make the tablets worthwhile. In New York alone, JPay has predicted that it will earn $8.8 million within two years by giving free tablets to 52,000 inmates in the state.

      One enterprising group of inmates in Idaho is now facing punishment for hacking a piece of that pie for themselves. JPay and the Idaho Department of Corrections announced Friday that prison inmates found a vulnerability in their tablets and used it to add $225,000 worth of credits to their own JPay accounts. Most inmates loaded $1,000 or less into their accounts, though one took nearly $10,000. In all, a total of 364 inmates allegedly benefited from the scheme, but only briefly.

      After the alleged hack was discovered, JPay announced that it has since recovered $65,000 worth of the credits. Apparently, however, the company needs the inmates’ help to get the rest of its own money back. The firm announced that it is suspending almost all service on the tablets -- everything but email -- until the rest of its money is refunded from the inmates involved in the scheme.

      “This conduct was intentional, not accidental. It required a knowledge of the JPay system and multiple actions by every inmate who exploited the system’s vulnerability to improperly credit their account,” an Idaho Department of Corrections spokesman told the Associated Press.

      Using a fee-based model to bring the comforts of home to prisoners, the jail communications firm JPay is part of an industry that profits enormously off of inmates, or more likely, their families. The firm also handles prison phone calls that used to cost as much as $14 per minute (until the FCC capped prison phone fees under the Obama administration) and commissary accounts in which family members have been charged fees as high as 45 percent of whatever amount they were sending to the inmate.

      JPay also handles many of the debit cards that inmates are given upon release from prison to help pay for getting home. But the money in those cards often becomes inaccessible without explanation or is whittled away by various fees, one lawsuit contends.

      JPay was purchased by Securus several years ago, another jail telecommunications giant that profits from high fees. Securus in recent years has successfully lobbied some counties to replace in-person jail visits with costly video visitation systems. Securus, which reportedly lets cops track phone calls in real time, has also proven to be vulnerable to hackers.

      Even if the money is not returned, JPay will probably come through this theft just fine. Numerous advocacy groups have described the jail communications industry as one that benefits from having a monopoly in whatever facility in which they are operating.

      Jail communications “often do not result in stronger lines of communication at all,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation has said. “Many communications services are offered under unfair terms and with artificially inflated fees that are only possible because the services operate monopolies at each prison or jail.”

      Voting machine vendor admits vulnerability

      In other hacking news, the nation’s largest provider of electronic voting machines recently admitted in a letter to a Senator that it installed remote-access software on some of its machines. Experts agree that such software is known to be widely vulnerable to hacking.

      Voting machines in particular were expected to be completely disconnected from the internet or any remote internet activity.

      What’s more, the firm, called Election Systems and Software, previously denied using such technology. The company reportedly now claims that it stopped using the remote software in 2007.  

      The tablets being provided to inmates in prisons all over the country come with special strings attached. Emails, for instance, can take up to 48 hours to...
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      DOJ investigating Sinclair, Tribune over ad sales practices

      The Justice Department is looking into whether TV stations coordinated efforts in a way that raised prices

      The Justice Department is investigating whether local TV station owners including Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Company violated antitrust laws in the way their ad sales teams communicated with one another about their performance, according to The Wall Street Journal.

      The coordinated efforts between the ad sales teams might have led to higher rates for TV commercials, the Journal said, citing sources familiar with the matter. The probe was launched following an examination of Sinclair’s proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune by the Antitrust Division.

      “It is our policy not to comment on a potential investigation. It is our understanding that this is not specific to Sinclair, but focuses on the larger broadcast industry,” a Sinclair spokesperson told the Journal.

      FCC opposes

      The proposed merger between Sinclair and Tribute would create a broadcast television station with more than 200 stations.

      In their application to the FCC, the two media companies said they would reach 72 percent of American households under the deal. The combined companies would own and operate the largest number of broadcast television stations of any station group.

      Last week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai expressed “serious concerns” about the plans, particularly the proposed “sidecar agreements” that would allow Sinclair to retain control of stations without owning them.

      The FCC voted unanimously to send the merger to an administrative law judge for review -- a move that Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly called a “de facto merger death sentence.”

      On Thursday, President Trump voiced his displeasure over the FCC’s opposition to the Sinclair-Tribune merger.

      "So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn't approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune," the president said in his tweet. "This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People. Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!"

      The Justice Department is investigating whether local TV station owners including Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Company violated antitrust laws in t...
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      Court strikes a blow for California retail workers

      Time spent opening and closing stores must be compensated

      The California Supreme Court has ruled that the way in which nearly every retail store operates violates wage and hour laws.

      In most businesses, employees who arrive on the job early to open the store, and those who stay a few minutes after they clock out to close the business are not compensated for those extra minutes on the job.

      The California court, in a unanimous decision, has ruled that employees must be paid for that time. The case was brought by a shift supervisor at a Starbucks, who said he should be paid for the time spent after work closing the business and walking other employees to their cars.

      Plaintiff Douglas Troester filed the original complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of himself and all non-managerial California Starbucks employees who performed store closing tasks from mid-2009 to October 2010.

      Starbucks had the case moved to federal court and asked for a summary judgment, arguing Troester’s uncompensated time was so minimal that the company was not required to compensate him. A federal district court ruled in Starbucks' favor but Troester appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which asked the California Supreme Court to clarify state law before it proceeded with Troester's class action suit.

      Can't be required to perform tasks without pay

      "California law does, in short, make some allowances based on considerations of practicality and reasonableness," the court ruled. "It does not, however, permit an employer to require an employee to regularly work for nontrivial periods of time without providing compensation."

      The court established that over the 17-month period of his employment, Troester’s unpaid time totaled approximately 12 hours and 50 minutes. At the then-applicable minimum wage of $8 per hour, this unpaid time added up to $102.67.

      The effect of the ruling outside California isn't clear. However, it may cause some national retailers to reexamine their policies for employees who routinely open and close facilities and who are not compensated for that time.

      National chains like Starbucks might be affected most. A Starbucks spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times the company is disappointed with the ruling and "will await further disposition of the case before the 9th Circuit as the appeal process continues.”

      The California Supreme Court has ruled that the way in which nearly every retail store operates violates wage and hour laws.In most businesses, employe...
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      Gas prices hold steady over the last week

      Fluctuation in oil supplies has had little effect at the pump

      Consumers found fairly stable gas prices over the last week, even as the oil industry reported a significant drop in U.S. supplies.

      For the week ending on July 20, U.S. crude oil inventories fell by 6.2 million barrels, giving up the gain of nearly the same amount in the previous week. The rise and fall of oil stockpiles barely phased refiners and gasoline wholesalers.

      "The tightened domestic crude supply amid robust global gasoline demand and high global crude demand will likely sustain the more expensive crude oil prices seen this year into the foreseeable future," AAA said in an analysis. "This trend will keep gas prices high throughout the remainder of the summer and possibly into fall."

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the average price of regular gasoline is $2.85 a gallon, the same as last Friday and nearly the same as a month ago. However, it's up about 57 cents a gallon more than this time a year ago.

      Today's average price of premium gasoline is $3.39 a gallon, a penny less than last week. The average price of diesel fuel is $3.15, also a penny lower than last week.

      "If demand and supply stay consistent, prices have the potential to stabilize, barring any major events – geopolitical or natural disasters,” said AAA spokesperson Jeanette Casselano.

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      The following states have the most expensive regular gas prices on average, according to AAA.

      • Hawaii ($3.78)

      • California ($3.62)

      • Washington ($3.40)

      • Alaska ($3.38)

      • Oregon ($3.28)

      • Nevada ($3.19)

      • Idaho ($3.11)

      • Utah ($3.09)

      • Connecticut ($3.06)

      • Pennsylvania ($3.02)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The following states currently have the cheapest regular gas prices, according to AAA's analysis.

      • South Carolina ($2.54)

      • Alabama ($2.54)

      • Mississippi ($2.55)

      • Arkansas ($2.58)

      • Louisiana ($2.58)

      • Virginia ($2.60)

      • Tennessee ($2.60)

      • Oklahoma ($2.62)

      • Missouri ($2.62)

      • Texas ($2.63)

      Consumers found fairly stable gas prices over the last week, even as the oil industry reported a significant drop in U.S. supplies.For the week ending...
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      Model year 2018 BMW X3 xDrive30i and X3 M40i vehicles recalled

      The rear turn signals may malfunction

      BMW of North America is recalling five model year 2018 BMW X3 xDrive30i and X3 M40i vehicles.

      The rear turn signals on the outboard side panel will illuminate red, while the inboard turn signals simultaneously illuminate amber.

      Turn signals that flash multiple colors may confuse other drivers, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the rear turn signal lights, and replace if necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin August 13, 2018.

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

      BMW of North America is recalling five model year 2018 BMW X3 xDrive30i and X3 M40i vehicles.The rear turn signals on the outboard side panel will illu...
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      Pinnacle Foods recalls Hungry Man chicken wings

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Pinnacle Foods of Fayetteville, Ark., is recalling Hungry Man Chipotle BBQSauced Boneless Chicken Wings.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella from whey powder that has been recalled by the producer of the ingredient.

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

      The following product is being recalled:

      • 15.25-oz. individual frozen microwavable dinners with “HUNGRY MAN CHIPOTLE BBQ SAUCED BONELESS CHICKEN WYNGZ” printed on the label and bearing a best buy date of 9/6/19.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “EST. P138” or “P-138” on the side of the carton, was shipped to retail locations in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

      What to do

      Consumers with questions may contact Pinnacle Foods consumer care at 1-888-257-1057.

      Pinnacle Foods of Fayetteville, Ark., is recalling Hungry Man Chipotle BBQSauced Boneless Chicken Wings.The product may be contaminated with Salmonella...
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      Southwest’s fatal accident cost it $100 million

      The company said it expects the financial impact on bookings to abate in the third quarter

      Southwest airlines is still feeling the financial impact of a deadly accident that happened back in April.

      The Dallas-based carrier reported a strong second-quarter profit, but it revealed that the accident that claimed the life of passenger Jennifer Riordan cost the airline $100 million worth of business.

      Debris from a failed engine on Flight 1380 from New York to Dallas partially blew out a window on the plane, pulling Riordan -- a mother of two -- through the opening. Several passengers pulled her back in, but she died from her injuries at the hospital later.

      "I am especially proud of the heroic efforts of our people to address and overcome the challenges resulting from the accident," Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in a statement.

      The airline pulled advertising in the wake of the April 17 accident and said at the time that it was bracing for a financial impact on bookings as a result of the incident.

      Kelly said he expects the financial repercussions of the fatal accident to ease up in the third quarter. Revenue for each seat flown is poised to increase as much as 1 percent in the next three months. It had tumbled by 3 percent following the incident.

      "We are encouraged by the solid rebound in demand," Kelly said in the statement.

      Southwest shares have fallen 20 percent this year.

      Southwest airlines is still feeling the financial impact of a deadly accident that happened back in April.The Dallas-based carrier reported a strong se...
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      Do college students need renters insurance?

      Risks have increased, but the need depends on a number of factors

      If you've started your first job and moved into your first apartment, chances are you'll shop for renters insurance.

      But what if you're still in college and living in a dormitory? College Parents of America, which offers a number of college-related insurance products, suggests renters insurance should be on most college students' back-to-school shopping list.

      The group cites recent data which shows the number of fires that occurred in on-campus student housing facilities was up 6.7 percent in 2016, from 1,916 in 2015.

      Renters insurance also covers break-ins and thefts, something the group says is occurring with greater frequency on campus. It says the number of reported criminal offenses on campus increased by almost 3 percent in 2016.

      At the same time, the typical college student now has more valuable belongings than in the past, including computers, TV sets, and bicycles.

      Disruptive events

      "We recommend families consider renters insurance because college students and their parents are often caught unprepared, and these unexpected incidents can also disrupt a students' education," said Bob Soza, President of College Parents of America: "In fact, a majority of state insurance commissioners recommend college students consider renters’ insurance.”

      According to ConsumerAffairs' Insurance Contributing Editor Matthew Brodsky, renters are often exposed because a landlord's insurance will not cover their loss. He says renters' policies are usually very affordable, in comparison to homeowner insurance.

      Nearly every major insurance company offers renters insurance coverage. You'll find ConsumerAffairs reviews of top renters' insurance policies here.

      Especially important for off-campus housing

      The National Association of Insurance Commissioners recommends renters insurance for college students, but it may be most important for those living off campus.

      "Even if a student is a dependent under his or her parent's insurance, the student's personal property, in many cases, is not covered if the student lives off campus," the group advises. "Parents should check their policy or contact their insurance agent to see if renters insurance is right for their son or daughter who is away at school."

      If a student is living in a dorm, the college may provide some coverage, but it will vary from institution to institution. Also, if a college student is under 26 years old, enrolled in classes, and living in on-campus housing, the student may be covered under his or her parents’ homeowners or renters insurance policy.

      If you've started your first job and moved into your first apartment, chances are you'll shop for renters insurance.But what if you're still in college...
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      Model year 2016-2018 Cadillac CT6s recalled

      A child seat may not attach correctly to the anchorage bar

      General Motors is recalling 22,043 model year 2016-2018 Cadillac CT6s.

      The inboard child seat anchorage bars may have had excess structural adhesive applied during assembly, which can interfere with the installation of a child seat.

      If the child seat cannot be attached correctly to the anchorage bar, there is an increased the risk of injury.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will inspect, remove any excess adhesive, and apply anti-corrosion primer to the inboard child seat anchorage bars, free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Cadillac customer service at 1-800-458-8006. GM's number for this recall is 18228.

      General Motors is recalling 22,043 model year 2016-2018 Cadillac CT6s.The inboard child seat anchorage bars may have had excess structural adhesive app...
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      Pepperidge Farm recalls four varieties of Goldfish crackers

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Pepperidge Farm is recalling four varieties of Goldfish crackers that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported.

      The following products, distributed throughout the U.S., are being recalled:

      UPC ImpactedDescriptionSell By Dates
      1410008548Pepperidge Farm ® Goldfish ® Flavor Blasted ® Xtra Cheddar Crackers, 6.6 oz. BagWO 11/25/18
      WO 12/2/18
      WO 12/9/18
      WO 12/16/18
      WO 12/30/18 
      WO 1/20/19
      RU 12/30/18
      1410009658Pepperidge Farm ® Goldfish ® Flavor Blasted ® Xtra Cheddar Crackers, 30 oz. CartonWO 3/10/2019
      WO 3/17/19
      WO 4/7/19
      WO 4/14/19
      RU 4/14/19
      RU 4/21/19
      1410009654Pepperidge Farm ® Goldfish ® Flavor Blasted ® Xtra Cheddar Crackers, 8.1 oz. Multi-pack Tray, 9-count 
      0.9 oz. Snack Packs
      WO 12/9/18
      WO 12/23/18
      1410004424Pepperidge Farm ® Goldfish ® Flavor Blasted ® Xtra Cheddar Crackers, 11 oz. Re-sealable BagWO 11/25/18
      WO 12/2/18
      WO 12/9/18
      WO 12/16/18
      WO 12/23/18
      1410004963Pepperidge Farm ® Goldfish ® Flavor Blasted ® Xtra Cheddar Crackers, 8 oz. Re-sealable BagWO 1/6/19
      1410004654Pepperidge Farm ® Goldfish ® Baked with Whole Grain Xtra Cheddar Crackers, 6 oz. BagWO 11/25/18
      1410009480Pepperidge Farm ® Goldfish ® Flavor Blasted ® Slammin' Sour Cream & Onion Crackers, 6.6 oz. BagRU 12/30/18
      1410008609Pepperidge Farm ® Goldfish ® Flavor Blasted ® Xtra Cheddar Crackers, 10.8 oz. Multi-pack Tray, 12- count 0.9 oz. Single-Serve Snack PacksWO 12/16/18
      WO 12/30/18
      WO 1/13/19
      1410004917Pepperidge Farm ® Goldfish ® Mix Xtra Cheddar 
      + Pretzel Crackers, 6.6 oz. Bag
      WO 11/25/18
      WO 12/16/18
      1410004720Pepperidge Farm ® Goldfish ® Variety Pack Box, 20-count Snack PacksWO 12/23/18
      WO 12/30/18
      WO 1/13/19
      1410004684Pepperidge Farm ® Goldfish ® Mix Flavor Blasted ® Xtra Cheddar + Pretzel Crackers, 34 oz. CartonWO 3/31/19
      WO 4/7/19
      1410004728Pepperidge Farm ®WO 1/6/19
      WO 1/13/19
      Goldfish ® Variety PackWO 1/20/19
      Crackers, 44.9 oz. Box, 45-WO 1/27/19
      count Snack PacksWO 2/3/19
      WO 2/10/19
      1410004713Pepperidge Farm ® Goldfish ® Bold Mix Crackers, 29.4 oz. Variety Pack Box, 30-count Snack PacksWO 12/9/18
      WO 12/23/18
      WO 1/6/19
      1410004555Pepperidge Farm ® Goldfish ® Flavor Blasted ® Xtra Cheddar Crackers, 2.45 ozWO 12/30/18
      WO 1/6/19
      WO 1/20/19
      1410004731Pepperidge Farm ® Goldfish ® Sweet & Savory Crackers, 46 oz. Variety Pack Box, 45-count Single- Serve Snack PacksWO 1/13/19
      WO 2/10/19
      WO 2/3/19
      1410004921Pepperidge Farm ® Goldfish ® Mix Xtra Cheddar 
      + Pretzel Crackers, 11.5 oz. Resealable Bag
      WO 12/16/18
      1410004638Pepperidge Farm ® Goldfish ® 40CT GF ECOMM VARIETY PACKWO 12/23/18
      1410018663Pepperidge Farm ® Goldfish ® Mix Xtra Cheddar 
      + Pretzel Crackers, 1.5 OZ (Vending)
      WO 12/30/18
      WO 1/6/19

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not eat them, but discard them or return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (800) 679-1791, Monday – Friday, 9AM – 7PM (EST), or online at www.pepperidgefarm.com/GoldfishUpdate.

      Pepperidge Farm is recalling four varieties of Goldfish crackers that may be contaminated with Salmonella.No illnesses have been reported.The follo...
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      Apple scurries to fix issues in new MacBooks

      Overheating and excessive throttling have been impacting product performance

      Apple is in serious damage control over the new MacBook Pros that the company released last week -- the models the company pitched as "70 percent faster" and "ideal for manipulating large data sets, performing complex simulations, creating multi-track audio projects or doing advanced image processing or film editing."

      As reviewers put the new machines to the test, one critic found an issue that caused the machines to unduly throttle when in those "advanced" situations like exporting video.

      YouTube reviewer Dave Lee discovered that the new MacBook overheats when it’s operating at full speed for a certain period of time. According to Lee, performing a video export in Adobe Premiere took longer on a new MacBook equipped with the latest Intel CPU than it did on a 2017 MacBook using an older version of Intel.

      "Power throttling and thermal throttling isn’t anything new -- we’ve seen them in MacBooks for years," Lee said. "We’ve seen it in lots of devices, including Windows, but this degree of thermal throttling is not acceptable."

      Once Lee uncovered the problem, other reviewers and testers put the new MacBook through its paces and many replicated the throttling problem.

      To Apple’s credit, it didn’t sit still when it heard about the problem. On Tuesday, the company released an update (macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 Supplemental Update for MacBook Pro) for its system software, one that the company hopes will address the bug once and for all.

      An Apple spokesperson told CNET that a missing digital key which affects the laptop's thermal management systems was to blame for the issue.

      So, buy or hold off?

      While the issue raises concerns, it doesn’t appear to be something a typical user would encounter.

      John Poole, Founder of Primate Labs, put the new MacBook through a "stress test" and offered his recommendation for the device. "If your work doesn’t involve long-running tasks that are CPU- and GPU-intensive (such as Premiere) then the new MacBook Pro should provide a considerable increase in performance," he said.

      There don’t seem to be any other issues lurking for the new MacBooks. Apple went to great lengths to make sure the last bugaboos -- which included keyboard and battery issues -- were taken care of in the new models.

      While Apple offered gratis fixes for those issues, getting a free repair isn’t a given. As most anything related to technology is wont to do, consumers are wise to consider extended warranties, especially if they plan on holding onto a unit for more than three years.

      Apple is in serious damage control over the new MacBook Pros that the company released last week -- the models the company pitched as "70 percent faster" a...
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      An Uber driver in St. Louis secretly livestreamed passengers on nearly 700 of his rides

      Uber and Lyft cut ties with a driver who secretly filmed and broadcast his interactions with passengers to thousands of viewers

      The women who stepped into Jason Gargac's Chevy had no idea that strangers were publicly rating their appearance from behind the comfort of a computer screen.

      Gargac, an aspiring police officer in St. Louis, said he initially took a job driving for Uber to make ends meet. But not long after, he became a television host of sorts.

      On Twitch, a live streaming platform, Gargac played to the camera between rides, thanking people for tuning in and sharing his own critiques of his passengers’ looks. The passengers, on the other hand, appeared to have no idea that they were being recorded as they stepped into his car and began talking.

      In the approximately 700 rides that Gargac filmed, his passengers often embarrassed themselves -- or worse. The passengers would reveal their last names, addresses, crushes, family problems, and gripes with bosses, all while strangers mocked them online.

      Uber and Lyft eventually cut ties with driver

      Uber and Lyft initially downplayed the news that one of their drivers was making entertainment out of peoples lower moments, a discovery that was revealed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper.

      Gargac admitted to the newspaper that he purposely worked weekend nights because passengers were more likely to be intoxicated then.

      Passengers who discovered that they had been filmed and complained to Uber about it said they were only offered a $5 credit and a promise to not be paired with Gargac again.

      Both companies initially told the Post-Dispatch that Gargac was not breaking any laws because Missouri is a one-party consent state when it comes to recordings.

      But after the local newspaper published an investigative report about Gargac’s livestream channel this past weekend, both companies changed course and said that they had cut ties with him completely.

      Gargac, whom the Post reported did not want his own last name printed in their newspaper, was also kicked off Twitch. Until his channel went offline, it had amassed over four thousand followers, a figure that made Gargac feel “forever grateful,” according to a Tweet he sent out to his fans in June.

      Meanwhile, passengers interviewed by the paper said they they felt deeply violated.

      Recordings all too common

      Ethics aside, secret recordings in Uber and Lyft cars are legally murky territory because it’s unclear whether they count as a private space, experts say.

      But common sense dictates that passengers and drivers alike should expect to be filmed, as many Uber and Lyft users film rides for their own protection.

      Still, drivers typically don’t air the footage unless the passengers become violent, as the infamous Miami doctor Anjali Ramkissoon did two years ago. Nearly three million people reveled in footage showing Ramkissoon attempting to hit her Uber driver and throw his possessions out of the window.

      The footage elevated Ramkissoon, a neurologist, to the status of internet celebrity that the public loved to hate. Ramkissoon was fired shortly after the incident and said that she had to change her cell phone number because strangers would not stop calling to yell at her.

      Drivers and passengers have also been captured engaging in sex acts in the car, using racist language, or simply behaving rudely. Uber’s own former CEO Travis Kalanick even proved that he wasn’t immune to the trap.

      Last year, an Uber driver who realized he was transporting the company’s then-CEO confronted Kalanick about low wages and other problems that Uber drivers face. Kalanick dismissed the concerns as people not taking responsibility “for their own shit.”

      Like other passengers caught in embarrassing moments, Kalanick later said he was ashamed of his behavior.

      The women who stepped into Jason Gargac's Chevy had no idea that strangers were publicly rating their appearance from behind the comfort of a computer scre...
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      Report finds consumers dropping pay TV at a record pace

      Research projects the number of cord-cutters will rise 32.8 percent this year

      The news just keeps getting worse for your local cable company.

      A new report from eMarketer shows consumers have stepped up their pace of “cord-cutting” by cancelling pay TV subscriptions and using streaming services instead.

      The report projects the number of adults who have cancelled a cable or satellite TV service and will continue without it will rise 32.8 percent this year, to a total of 33 million.

      A year ago, the number of cord-cutters was expected to grow by only 22 percent. The new forecast leaves pay TV services with about 186.7 million subscribers this year, down 3.8 percent from 2017.

      Pay TV-OTT partnerships

      To stop the hemorrhaging, Christopher Bendtsen, eMarketer's senior forecasting analyst, says most pay TV providers found ways to integrate the most popular over-the-top (OTT) streaming service, Netflix, into their systems.

      “These partnerships are still in the early stages, so we don’t foresee them having a significant impact reducing churn this year,” Bendtsen said. “With more pay TV and OTT partnerships expected in the future, combined with other strategies, providers could eventually slow—but not stop—the losses.”

      Meanwhile, the eMarketer analysis shows OTT streaming services are growing just as fast as pay TV is losing customers. It says viewership increases for YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are being fueled by increases in original video content.

      Increasingly, OTT services have found ways to provide live TV channels, so that consumers can pair a couple of these streaming services together and have all the TV they want to watch, at much less cost than subscribing to cable.

      For example, while the typical mid-tier pay TV package is normally around $100 a month or more, OTT subscriptions are typically between $10 and $15 a month. A consumer subscribing to two or three services can put together a customized viewing package at a huge savings – if they cut the cord.

      Losing track of subscription costs

      But consumers who continue to subscribe to pay TV, while adding OTT subscriptions to supplement their viewing choices, are adding to their monthly budget. A new report suggests many consumers are blissfully unaware of how much extra they are spending.

      Researchers at Waterstone, a management consulting firm, asked consumers to estimate how much they spend each month on subscription services, including OTT video streaming services like Netflix.

      They found the average consumer underestimates the total costs of monthly subscriptions by 197 percent.

      “Clearly, most Americans are unaware of how much they spend on subscription services,” the authors write. “When pressed for a quick answer, they dramatically underestimate the amount.”

      Since so many industries have moved to a subscription business model, the report concludes it makes it harder for consumers to keep track of their subscription costs, which tend to be small amounts but, added together, take a big bite out of the typical household budget

      The news just keeps getting worse for your local cable company.A new report from emarketer shows consumers have stepped up their pace of “cord-cutting,...
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      Amazon Prime Now from Whole Foods launches in more cities

      The grocery delivery service is now available in select areas of New York City and Florida

      Amazon announced on Tuesday that it’s expanding its Whole Foods grocery delivery service to consumers in parts of New York City, as well as three cities in Florida.

      The service is now available to Prime members in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Palm Beach, Long Island, lower Manhattan, and Brooklyn. Additional New York City neighborhoods and cities across the U.S. will be added throughout 2018, Amazon said.

      The service was initially launched in February of this year. In June, the service was rolled out to major cities including Boston, Chicago, Baltimore, San Antonio, Houston, and Minneapolis. It’s now available to shoppers in two dozen cities. You can find out if the service is available in your city here.

      Amazon’s Prime Now program lets shoppers order items from Whole Foods -- including fresh produce, bakery items, dairy, meat and seafood, flowers, everyday staples, and select alcohol -- and have them delivered within two hours. Each two-hour delivery is free with a minimum order of $35, and a one-hour delivery costs an additional $7.99. Prime Now delivery is available from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

      This delivery option is a result of Amazon’s $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods in June of last year. As part of its integration with Whole Foods, Amazon has started offering discounts to Prime members who shop at the grocery chain.

      Last month, the company announced that Prime members across the country can receive 10 percent off certain sale items, as well as other discounts, at Whole Foods stores.

      Amazon announced on Tuesday that it’s expanding its Whole Foods grocery delivery service to consumers in parts of New York City, as well as three cities in...
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      Ross Stores recalls bistro chairs

      The chair’s frame can break, posing a fall hazard

      Ross Procurement of Dublin, Calif., is recalling about 2,300 bistro chairs.

      The chair’s frame can break, posing a fall hazard.

      The company has received two reports of the chair frames breaking, with two reports of minor injuries.

      This recall involves Bronze Hammered bistro chairs measuring 37 inches tall with a round seat and a heart-shaped backrest.

      SKU number 400167187741 can be found on a tag attached to the chair or on a sticker on the underside of the seat.

      The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Ross stores nationwide between March 2018, and May 2018, for about $25.

      What to do

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

      Consumers may contact Ross toll-free at (877) 455-7677 anytime or online at www.rossstores.com and click on “Recalled Products & Legal Notices” on the bottom of the page for more information.

      Ross Procurement of Dublin, Calif., is recalling about 2,300 bistro chairs.The chair’s frame can break, posing a fall hazard.The company has receiv...
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      Model year 2013-2015 Audi S8s and A8s recalled

      The fuel supply line may leak

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 6,633 model year 2013-2015 Audi S8s and A8s.

      The fuel supply line for the high pressure fuel pump may become porous over time, resulting in a fuel leak.

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

      What to do

      Audi will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel line free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin August 21, 2018.

      Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 20AV.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 6,633 model year 2013-2015 Audi S8s and A8s.The fuel supply line for the high pressure fuel pump may become po...
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      Existing home sales sink again in June

      A new report shows why it's getting harder to buy a home

      Sales of existing homes fell for a third straight month in June, and Realtors say there is one overriding reason: there aren't enough homes to meet demand.

      Completed sales in June fell 0.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.38 million units. Over the last 12 months, sales are down 2.2 percent, according to the latest report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

      "There continues to be a mismatch since the spring between the growing level of homebuyer demand in most of the country in relation to the actual pace of home sales, which are declining," said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist. "The root cause is without a doubt the severe housing shortage that is not releasing its grip on the nation's housing market.”

      It might be easy to look at the declining sales numbers and conclude the housing market is in serious trouble. But Yun says homes coming on the market are going under contract very fast and in many cases, are drawing multiple offers.

      Elevated home prices

      “This dynamic is keeping home price growth elevated, pricing out would-be buyers and ultimately slowing sales," he said.

      The problem facing the housing market is one of supply and demand. There are more buyers than sellers, and as a result, the price of available homes is going up much faster than incomes.

      That means many people who would like to buy a home, have jobs and stable income, are getting priced out of the market, or can't afford the home of their choice.

      The median existing-home price for all houses, including condos and townhomes, was $276,900, surpassing May as the new all-time high. It's up 5.2 percent from June 2017. The year-over-year median prices has now increased for 76 consecutive months.

      Modest increase in inventory

      There was one bit of good news in the June sales report. Total housing inventory increased 4.3 percent over May and posted the first year-over-year increase since 2015. But Yun said the modest increase isn't nearly enough to help buyers.

      "Furthermore, it remains to be seen if this modest increase will stick, given the fact that the robust economy is bringing more interested buyers into the market, and new home construction is failing to keep up," he said.

      The takeaway for prospective homebuyers is to be prepared to move quickly. In June the average home stayed on the market only 26 days before going under contract. Fifty-eight percent of homes sold in June were on the market for less than a month.

      Sales of existing homes fell for a third straight month in June, and Realtors say there is one overriding reason: there aren't enough homes to meet demand....
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      Volkswagen recalls Audi A, S & R series vehicles

      The passenger front airbag inflator may explode

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 237,947 model year 2005-2008 Audi A4 Sedans, A4 Avants, S4 Avants & S4 Sedans, model year 2007-2008 RS4 Sedans, model year 2004 RS4 Cabriolets, model year 2007-2009 A4 Cabriolets & S4 Cabriolets, model year 2005-2011 A6 Sedans, model year 2006-2011 A6 Avants, and model year 2007-2011 S6 Sedans.

      The vehicles have certain airbag inflators assembled as part of the passenger front airbag modules used as original equipment 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

      Audi has notified owners, and dealers will replace the passenger front airbag with an alternate remedy part, free of charge.

      The recall began June 29, 2018.

      Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 69R7.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 237,947 model year 2005-2008 Audi A4 Sedans, A4 Avants, S4 Avants & S4 Sedans, model year 2007-2008 RS4 Sedans, mo...
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      Achieva recalls Innova Ultra Runner tires

      Tire strength does not meet federal standards

      Achieva Rubber is recalling 284 Innova Ultra Runner tires sizes 5.30-12-in., 6-ply & 4.80-12-in 4-ply with the date code rage of 0114 through 3917.

      The tires fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 119, "New Pneumatic Tires - Other Than Passenger Cars."

      Tires that fail to meet the strength test requirements may fail, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Achieva will notify owners, and dealers will replace the affected tires with new tires, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin August 6, 2018.

      Owners may contact Achieva customer service at 1-310-328-8868.

      Achieva Rubber is recalling 284 Innova Ultra Runner tires sizes 5.30-12-in., 6-ply & 4.80-12-in 4-ply with the date code rage of 0114 through 3917.The...
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      Ford recalls a-half million Escapes and Fusions

      The vehicles could roll away due to a detached shift cable

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 504,182 model year 2013-2014 Ford Escapes and model year 2013-2016 Ford Fusions equipped with six-speed automatic transmissions.

      The bushing that attaches the transmission shifter cable to the transmission may degrade over time and cause the bushing to detach from the transmission.

      The condition could allow the driver to move the shift lever to Park and remove the ignition key, while the transmission may not be in Park, with no warning message or audible chime.

      If the vehicle is exited without the transmission being in Park and without the parking brake applied it may move unexpectedly, increasing the risk of a crash.

      Owners should use the parking brake until the recall remedy repairs can be made.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the shifter cable bushing, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin July 30, 2018.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 18S20.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 504,182 model year 2013-2014 Ford Escapes and model year 2013-2016 Ford Fusions equipped with six-speed automatic transmiss...
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      Facebook suspends another data analytics firm over fears of data misuse

      The social media platform appears to be cracking down on user privacy

      Facebook has suspended the Boston-based analytics firm Crimson Hexagon after reports indicated that the company’s contracts with other countries -- including the United States and Russia -- violated Facebook’s surveillance rules.

      “We don’t allow developers to build surveillance tools using information from Twitter or Facebook or Instagram,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We take these allegations seriously, and we have suspended these apps while we investigate.”

      Though no evidence has been found thus far indicating that any user data has been obtained, Facebook plans to investigate “whether the analytic firm’s contracts with the U.S. government and a Russian nonprofit tied to the Kremlin violate the platform’s policies.” Crimson Hexagon has also completed work for the Turkish government.

      Though it isn’t against Facebook policy to use data from users for general insights, according to BBC,  “where Crimson would fall foul of Facebook’s rules is if the data was used to create tools for surveillance, though Facebook has never clarified how its policy works in practice.”

      According to Crimson Hexagon’s Chief Technology Officer Chris Bingham, the company “only collects publicly available social media data that anyone can access” and “does not collect private social media data.”

      Trying to right the ship

      Facebook received a ton of backlash following news of the Cambridge Analytica scandal in March. The company is now being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Justice Department, and the FBI for its treatment of the scandal.

      Questioning in the investigation is focused primarily on how much Facebook knew in 2015 -- when it initially learned that Cambridge Analytica had improperly accessed the data of tens of millions of users. At the time, Facebook did not alert any shareholders or any of its users.

      In an effort to prove to users that their privacy and security is of the utmost importance, Facebook then launched a series of privacy updates. The company has not only audited thousands of apps that had access to users’ data, but it also suspended 200 apps in the process. Facebook also drastically upgraded users’ privacy settings, putting control back in the hands of social media users.  

      Facebook has suspended the Boston-based analytics firm Crimson Hexagon after reports indicated that the company’s contracts with other countries -- includi...
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      New airport scanners could put an end to liquid restrictions

      London’s Heathrow airport is testing CT scanners that show a detailed image of a bag’s contents from every angle

      A small number of security lanes at London's Heathrow Airport are currently using new scanners which could one day lead to the removal of liquid restrictions, as well as keep passengers from having to remove items from their baggage before passing through security.

      The computed tomography (CT) scanners allow airport security staff to see a detailed, three-dimensional, X-ray image of objects inside people’s luggage from every angle. The new technology is being tested over the next six to 12 months.

      “We continue to look at new technologies that can both improve the passenger experience and strengthen our security,” a spokesperson for Heathrow said in a statement.

      The UK’s Department for Transport (DFT) said the technology can also detect hidden explosives.

      “If successful, this could lead in future to passengers no longer needing to remove items from hand luggage for screening,” the agency said in a statement.

      Could end the liquid ban

      During the trial period, some passengers at Heathrow will not have to remove their laptops or liquids from their luggage. However, the DFT stressed that the "rules remain the same -- passengers should expect to remove items if requested during the screening purposes."

      If successful, the trial could possibly lead to the end of restrictions on how much liquid passengers can bring on board. Passengers were banned from traveling with liquids in their carry-on baggage in August 2006 following the discovery of a ‘liquid bomb’ plot, in which terrorists traveling from the UK allegedly tried to blow up 10 airliners using explosive material hidden in soft drink bottles.

      Currently, passengers are allowed to take liquids in containers under 100 milliliters carried in a separate, transparent, resealable bag. The restrictions on liquid could be softened even further if the trials are determined to be a success and the technology is rolled out to more airports.

      “It is the beginning of the end of the liquid ban, and it’s long overdue,” said Philip Baum of Aviation Security International magazine.

      Similar scanners have also been tested at JFK Airport in New York and at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

      A small number of security lanes at London's Heathrow Airport are currently using new scanners which could one day lead to the removal of liquid restrictio...
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      H-E-B recalls Creamy Creations ice creams and sherbets

      The products may contain pieces of metal

      H-E-B is recalling two variety packs of Creamy Creations ice cream and sherbets in 3-oz., cups.

      Broken metal was found in processing equipment during routine maintenance.

      There have been no injuries reported to date due to this incident.

      The following products, distributed to H-E-B stores in Texas, are being recalled:

      UPC
      Number
      ProductSizeCode Date

      41220

      81930

      Creamy
      Creations
      Orange Lime
      Sherbert Cup
      12CT/3OZ

      12CT/

      3OZ

      12/09/2018

      41220

      81931

      Creamy
      Creations
      Vanilla
      Chocolate Cup
      12CT/3OZ

      12CT/

      3OZ

      12/10/2018

      The product code dates can be found on the back of the packaging.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled items should stop eating them and return them to the store where purchased for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions or concerns may contact H-E-B customer service at (855) 432-4438 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. (CST).

      H-E-B is recalling two variety packs of Creamy Creations ice cream and sherbets in 3-oz., cups.Broken metal was found in processing equipment during ro...
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      Wells Fargo may be preparing more customer refunds

      Customers who paid for pet insurance and legal services could get their money back

      More Wells Fargo customers may be in line for refunds.

      The bank, which was hit with huge fines in 2016 after it opened checking and credit card accounts for customers without their knowledge, has spent the last three years auditing the bank's marketing of add-on services.

      The investigation has centered around credit monitoring and identity theft protection services some customers said they paid for but never received.

      The Wall Street Journal, citing sources familiar with the issue, reports many customers who paid for pet insurance and other add-on services will receive tens of millions of dollars in refunds.

      The matter is reportedly under investigation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which is trying to determine whether customers were deceived or knew how to cancel the products, for which they paid a monthly fee.

      Under review

      Wells Fargo told The Journal it is still “reviewing add-on products sold to consumers by the bank or its service providers and if issues are found during this review, we will make things right with customers in the form of refunds or remediation.”

      A bank spokeswoman told the newspaper the bank is cooperating with regulators in an ongoing review.

      This is just the latest challenge for Wells Fargo, which in 2016 was slapped with a $185 million fine from federal and state regulators for the unauthorized checking and credit card accounts, opened for 3.5 million unsuspecting customers.

      The following year it was revealed that some Wells Fargo customers unknowingly purchased auto insurance they didn't need. The bank said the additional costs may have led to 20,000 defaults and car repossessions.

      Financial advisors under scrutiny

      Earlier this year, a whistleblower charged that the bank's financial advisor unit often made decisions with an eye toward compensation rather than what was best for the client.

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

      According to the SEC, the bank was able to charge huge fees by encouraging its retail customers to actively trade the products, even though they are designed to be held until they mature.

      The SEC found 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.

      More Wells Fargo customers may be in line for refunds.The bank, which was hit with huge fines in 2016 after it opened checking and credit card accounts...
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      FCC gives the final thumbs-down to the Sinclair-Tribune merger

      The outcry over too much influence in too many places was loud and clear

      In an unanimous vote likely to quash the deal, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted against approval of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s purchase of Tribune Media Company.

      In a nutshell, the FCC thought Sinclair’s plan was fraught with too many ifs, ands, or buts. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s disapproval of the merger is centered around the structure of the acquisition. Pai says Sinclair's plans for divested stations would violate the law and recommended a “hearing designation order” (HDO) which would require Sinclair to appear before an administrative law judge and explain its offenses, a move that could kill the deal completely.

      "When the FCC confronts disputed issues like these, the Communications Act does not allow it to approve a transaction,” Pai said. “Instead, the law requires the FCC to designate the transaction for a hearing in order to get to the bottom of those disputed issues.”

      The proposed merger between Sinclair and Tribune Media was quite a can of worms. In essence, all of Tribune's 42 TV stations would move to Sinclair, raising Sinclair’s total ownership to 215 stations. In their application to the FCC, the combined companies said the new arrangement would reach 72 percent of U.S. television households and would own and operate the largest number of broadcast television stations of any station group.

      Too much influence?

      Naysayers had been lining up in opposition to the merger. The ACLU, American Cable Association, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Free Press, Newsmax Media, and the Communications Workers of America all submitted thunderous objections.

      “Our opposition to the Sinclair merger has nothing to do with where Sinclair sits on the ideological spectrum,” the ACLU wrote 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.”

      The public wasn’t shy about its issues with the deal, either.

      At a public protest outside Sinclair’s Hunt Valley MD headquarters where it was holding its annual meeting, Max Obuszewski of Baltimore held a sign that read “enough is enough.”

      “I’m against the merger of bringing so many stations together, and I’d be opposed even if it was a more progressive diet of news,” Obuszewski told The Baltimore Sun. “Nobody should have so much concentration of the media. … And you have political messages disguised as news. I’m very offended by that.”

      In an unanimous vote likely to quash the deal, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted against approval of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s purchas...
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      U.S. oil production surge sends gas prices lower

      Prices had been rising until late in the week

      Motorists will get an unexpected break at the gas pump this weekend as gasoline prices have declined three cents a gallon in the last few days.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey puts the national average price of regular gas at $2.85 a gallon, down from $2.88 just five days ago. The national average price of premium is $3.40 a gallon and the price of diesel is $3.16.

      Prices softened at midweek when the Energy Information Administration reported a jump in U.S. oil production to 11 million barrels a day, spurred in large part by the recent run-up in oil prices. However, the news of increased domestic production sent oil prices lower.

      At the same time, U.S. oil stockpiles also rose. Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, says he expects the increase in supply to be a one-off event, without a lasting impact on prices.

      "It appears that a high level of imports, combined with refineries processing slightly less crude oil last week, were main factors," DeHaan told ConsumerAffairs. "I think the imports number is a bit high and isn't likely to be high next week."

      Until the last day or two, AAA had noted an increase in gasoline prices in just about every state. At the beginning of the week, some states were paying a dime a gallon more since July 4, including Delaware, Florida, and Michigan.

      Today, drivers in Michigan are enjoying one of the biggest one-week drops in gas prices in the nation, with a statewide average of $2.93 a gallon, down from $3.03 a week earlier.

      States with the most expensive gas

      Here are the states with the most expensive average gas prices, according to AAA:

      • Hawaii ($3.78)

      • California ($3.63)

      • Washington ($3.42)

      • Alaska ($3.39)

      • Oregon ($3.30)

      • Nevada ($3.21)

      • Idaho ($3.12)

      • Utah ($3.11)

      • Connecticut ($3.07)

      • Pennsylvania ($3.04)

      States with the cheapest gas

      Here are the states that currently have the lowest average gas prices:

      • Alabama ($2.55)

      • Mississippi ($2.55)

      • South Carolina ($2.55)

      • Arkansas ($2.59)

      • Louisiana ($2.59)

      • Virginia ($2.61)

      • Tennessee ($2.62)

      • Oklahoma ($2.62)

      • Texas ($2.62)

      • Missouri ($2.63)

      Motorists will get an unexpected break at the gas pump this weekend as gasoline prices have declined three cents a gallon in the last few days.The AAA...
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      Win Opportunity Knocks recalls fresh and frozen, raw ground beef

      The products may be contaminated with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O45, O103 and O145

      Win Opportunity Knocks, doing business as Ottomanelli Wholesale Meats of St. Petersburg, Fla., is recalling approximately 6,020 pounds of fresh and frozen, raw ground beef.

      The products may be contaminated with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O45, O103 and O145.

      The following fresh and frozen, raw ground beef products were produced from June 18, 2018, through July 11, 2018, are being recalled:

      • 5-lb boxes of (20/4oz.) frozen, raw “Packers Plus Patties” with “Approved JUN 18 2018” through “Approved JUL 11 2018”
      • 10-lb. boxes of (8-oz.) frozen, raw “Debren Foods Inc. BEEF PATTIES” with “Approved JUN 18 2018” through “Approved JUL 11 2018”
      • 10-lb. boxes of (40/4-oz.) frozen, raw “Nu Vista Foods Group Inc. BEEF PATTIES” with “Approved JUN 18 2018” through “Approved JUL 11 2018”
      • 10-lb. boxes of (40/4-oz, 30/5-oz, 28/6-oz) of frozen, raw “Ottomanelli Beef Patties” with “Approved JUN 18 2018” through “Approved JUL 11 2018”
      • 10 lb. bulk bag of fresh raw “Beef Patty Mix Ottomanelli Wholesale Meats Inc.” with “Approved JUN 18 2018” through “Approved JUL 11 2018”

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 11167” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were distributed for institutional use in Florida.

      What to do

      Institutions that purchased the recalled products should not serve or sell them, but discard them or return them to the place of purchase.

      Institutions with questions may contact Tommy Dietch at (727) 328-7020 or by email at Ottomanelliwholesale@gmail.com.

      Win Opportunity Knocks, doing business as Ottomanelli Wholesale Meats of St. Petersburg, Fla., is recalling approximately 6,020 pounds of fresh and frozen,...
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      Hy-Vee recalls Spring Pasta Salad

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Hy-Vee of West Des Moines, Iowa, is recalling its Hy-Vee Spring Pasta Salad.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      Approximately 20 illnesses in Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa are potentially linked to customers consuming the salad.

      The recall product includes Hy-Vee Spring Pasta Salads in both 1-pound (16-oz.) and 3-pound (48-oz.) containers produced between June 1, 2018, and July 13, 2018, and available from the deli service case.

      The pasta salad, which comes in a plastic container with a plastic lid and an expiration date range between June 22, 2018, and Aug. 3, 2018, on the side of the container, was distributed to all Hy-Vee’s 244 grocery stores in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should dispose of it or return it to their local Hy-Vee store for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Hy-Vee customer care at (800) 772-4098 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

      Hy-Vee of West Des Moines, Iowa, is recalling its Hy-Vee Spring Pasta Salad.The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.Approximately 20 illnes...
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      Consumer groups warn lawsuit threatens Obamacare protections

      Coverage for consumers with preexisting conditions could be at risk

      A lawsuit filed by 20 states could have a huge impact on the millions of consumers who still have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.

      While Congress has been unsuccessful in its attempts to repeal the law, the Trump administration has taken steps to dismantle parts of it.

      The tax cut passed by Congress in December removed the fine associated with the individual mandate, the requirement that everyone have health insurance. That led to the lawsuit, currently making its way through the courts.

      The states claim that ACA is now unconstitutional, since the Supreme Court upheld the law only because it said the individual mandate penalty was a tax. Now that the penalty is not being imposed, the states say the individual mandate -- forcing consumers to purchase something the might or might not want -- is unconstitutional.

      But the government estimates nearly 9 million consumers are covered by an ACA policy, even though the law has been weakened and insurance premiums have skyrocketed.

      In many cases, policyholders can't get insurance through their employers or couldn't afford health insurance before ACA was passed.

      Preexisting condition protection at stake

      Many who could afford policies were denied coverage because they had preexisting conditions. Under ACA, insurance companies can't deny coverage because of a preexisting condition, but public health advocates now worry that protection is in the crosshairs.

      The National Patient Advocate Foundation (NPAF) says the Trump Administration's support of the states' lawsuit is worrisome.

      "The Administration's decision to oppose existing federal law imperils millions of patients nationwide," said the group's CEO, Alan Balch. "Not only does it bring back uncertainty to individuals' lives, it also destabilizes the entire marketplace, driving up costs for everyone."

      Balch says if the states win in their court battle to overturn the ACA, consumers will return to the time when health insurance was unaffordable -- and for millions of people with a preexisting condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, unattainable.

      Back to the past

      "By allowing insurers to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions, the Administration will thrust millions of Americans back into that life," Balch said.

      As the states' lawsuit awaits action by the courts, the Trump administration continues to whittle away at the law, which it has vowed to abolish. This month it all but eliminated advertising to encourage enrollment. It also cut funding for "navigators," people to help consumers select the right policy, by 40 percent.

      It also cut $10 billion in "risk adjustment" payments to health insurance companies that provide policies to the sickest customers.

      A lawsuit filed by 20 states could have a huge impact on the millions of consumers who still have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), als...
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      Comcast drops its bid for Fox

      The move clears the way for Disney to acquire 21st Century Fox and its film and television assets

      This morning, Comcast announced it will no longer be in the mix to acquire 21st Century Fox and its film and television assets. Instead, the company will focus on the acquisition of the European satellite provider Sky. The decision is likely to clear the way for Disney, who recently upped its bid to $71.3 billion -- split between cash and stock.

      “Comcast does not intend to pursue further the acquisition of the Twenty-First Century Fox assets, and, instead, will focus on our recommended offer for Sky,” the company said in a statement.

      Brian L. Roberts, Chairman and CEO of Comcast, said, “I’d like to congratulate Bob Iger and the team at Disney and commend the Murdoch family and Fox for creating such a desirable and respected company.”

      Fox has currently set a shareholder meeting for July 27 to vote on the deal with Disney. If either Comcast or Fox’s acquisition of Sky has yet to be completed by that date, Disney would be forced to bid £14 a share for the 61 percent of Sky that Fox doesn’t own -- which is less than the £14.75 a share that Comcast offered last week.

      History with Disney

      Last December, Fox and Disney agreed to a $54.2 billion deal that would include control over many of Fox’s assets, including: the FX and Nat Geo cable channels, the 20th Century Fox film studio, and Fox’s stake in Hulu.

      Then, just last month, Comcast came onto the scene with an “unsolicited” $65 billion offer.

      That prompted Disney to raise its bid to $71.3 billion in late June. The new deal increases the value of Disney’s original offer from $28 a share at $52.4 billion to $38 a share at $71.3 billion -- plus a new cash component. At the time of the bid’s announcement, a Fox representative said the offer was “superior to the proposal” from Comcast.

      Fox’s Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch said a Disney-Fox merger “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,” Murdoch said.

      Comcast and Sky

      Now out of the bidding war for Fox, Comcast is looking to focus its efforts on acquiring Sky Network.

      Early last month, 21st Century Fox was given the green light to proceed in negotiations for Sky Network, in an entirely different bidding war involving both Disney and Comcast. Initially, U.K. Culture Minister Matt Hancock was skeptical of the United Kingdom’s media losing its independence based on the Murdoch family’s influence. However, both Sky and Fox were pleased with the decision.

      Comcast made a $29 million offer for the British broadcasting network, and acquiring the company would be a huge win. Sky currently has 23 million subscribers across five countries, and owns broadcasting rights that are particularly valuable in today’s market, such as English Premier League games, Formula One races, and other sporting events.

      This morning, Comcast announced it will no longer be in the mix to acquire 21st Century Fox and its film and television assets. Instead, the company will f...
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      Instagram is testing a feature that would allow public accounts to remove followers

      Instead of going private or blocking users, the new option would simply remove them

      In an effort to give more control over followers lists, Instagram is in the testing stages of a new feature that would allow users to easily remove followers without a notification.

      Users with public accounts can’t stop anyone from checking out the updates on their feeds. However, users with private accounts always have the option to remove followers. Before this new feature, public accounts either had to block the user and then unblock them (a practice known as “soft blocking), block them completely, or set their accounts to private.

      However, where blocking users is concerned, the person on the receiving end currently knows when they are being blocked. With the new “remove follower” feature, the follower in question will have no way of knowing they’re being removed.

      The feature is only in the testing phases -- and solely for Android users -- as of right now. For users eager to see if they’ve been chosen to test out this new feature, they can head to their followers list and look for an icon with three vertical dots to the far right of a user’s name. If you tap on the icon, it will prompt the user to remove the follower.

      A string of updates

      Instagram has been releasing similar updates recently in an effort to give users the utmost control and privacy over their accounts.

      In May, the platform introduced the “Mute” feature. Users that mute a follower’s account no longer see the posts in their feed, but they can still visit the account profile to see everything they’ve missed. Similar to the new “remove follower” function, the user that has been muted is not notified of the decision, and the option is always available to users to “un-mute” said follower.

      Earlier this month, Instagram also began testing a new “Do not Disturb” feature. The update was designed to give users more freedom over when they received notifications from the app, as well as its sister companies -- WhatsApp and Facebook. On Facebook, the “Do not Disturb” feature can be activated for a set period of time, or until the user decides to manually turn it off.

      The overarching theme is that Instagram wants to give its users complete control over their accounts, and ensure that it’s not driving users away -- whether from too many notifications or harassment from fellow users.

      In an effort to give more control over followers lists, Instagram is in the testing stages of a new feature that would allow users to easily remove followe...
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      Republican House member supports restoring net neutrality

      Rep. Mike Coffman crosses the aisle to side with Democrats

      The first Republican House member has joined Democrats to support a rollback of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) dismantling of net neutrality.

      Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) has said he will support a measure to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn an FCC vote last December to change the policy, formalized in 2015 under the Obama administration.

      In an op-ed piece, Coffman notes that the policy of barring internet service providers (ISP) from favoring one type of content over another was a longstanding practice before it was codified as official policy, and that it has Republican roots, from the George W. Bush administration.

      “The Republican-controlled FCC unanimously adopted much of FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s 'four Internet freedoms,'” Coffman writes. “These four items broadly supported competition and the freedom of consumers to access all lawful online content.”

      Coffman said the FCC under Obama took steps in 2010 and 2015 to “further solidify these net neutrality principles.” The FCC action under the Trump administration, he says, was a complete reversal.

      At the same time, the Colorado Republican has introduced legislation that contains many of the net neutrality protections contained in the 2015 FCC regulation.

      Lonely voice

      At the moment, Coffman may be a lonely voice within his party, as most Republican lawmakers have not supported net neutrality. But among advocacy groups hoping to overturn the FCC's most recent action, Coffman's defection is a hopeful sign.

      “The dam is breaking, as it should,” said Faiz Shakir, national political director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Rep. Coffman’s support to undo FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s repeal of net neutrality shows that public pressure is continuing to build on this issue and cannot be ignored this November.”

      Shakir and others note that net neutrality has been observed from the beginning of the internet. Because internet connections used telephone lines, the same principles regulating telephone companies were applied to the internet.

      Common carriers

      Because they are deemed “common carriers,” telephone companies are required to treat all traffic the same. The FCC's 2015 regulation essentially classified the internet as a common carrier as well, applying those same restrictions.

      Opponents of net neutrality point out that very little internet traffic moves over telephone lines these days and that companies investing in wireless and cable infrastructure should be free to control their networks.

      Earlier this year, the Senate approved a Congressional Review Act measure to overturn the FCC's abolition of net neutrality. Even supporters acknowledge the challenges of getting the provision through the House, where Republicans hold a comfortable majority.

      The first Republican House member has joined Democrats to support a rollback of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) dismantling of net neutrality...
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      Is Walmart throwing its hat into the video streaming ring?

      The big box retailer has options, but does it have enough moxie to take on Netflix and others?

      Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Apple, Sony Crackle, Google Play… and now, Walmart might be jumping into the video streaming game.

      As if it’s not crowded enough as it is, Walmart seems primed to try and carve out a share of the 55 percent of American households that subscribe to at least one video streaming service, spending a whopping $2.1 billion a month.

      According to The Information, Walmart sees an opportunity in the sub-$8 a month market, a price point that could sap competitors’ more price-conscious subscribers. Walmart is said to be considering an ad-supported free service as well.

      “Discussions are still ongoing, and the retailer may eventually decide against offering a service,” The Information reported.

      “But Walmart executives believe their customers, particularly in the middle of America, would be interested in a lower-cost option than what is currently available, the person said. Netflix and Amazon are seen as more popular with people on the East and West Coasts of the U.S., one of the people said.”

      Research shows that there’s probably enough room for Walmart to enter the fray if it can find and offer enough original content.

      In a recent research study, financial advisory service Deloitte found consumers seek out original, high-quality content, and are less willing to pay for packages containing programming they’ll never watch. Netflix reigns supreme in the original content field and its investment is paying off handily.

      Deloitte’s study also found that video consumers demand the ability to watch content wherever they are -- mobile, phone, or on their computer. Furthermore, if a streaming service can’t make the consumers’ wishes come true, it’s likely to lose their business.

      How bad does Walmart want this segment?

      Walmart has to decide how bad it wants the video streaming consumer and how it can create a unique enough niche to sway consumers away from competitors.

      Creating original content isn’t cheap. It’s estimated that Netflix ponies up as much as $4 billion a year to produce shows like ‘The Crown’ and ‘House of Cards.’ And, if Deloitte’s research is correct, Walmart will have to step up if it wants to play with the big boys.

      The retailer certainly has the cash coming in. Walmart rings up sales totaling $36 million every single minute. Lately, however, the company has been shuttering both Sam’s Club and its own underperforming stores. To stay ahead of the pack, the retailer has little choice but to maintain Sam Walton’s business model of providing low prices for its customer base while preserving narrow margins on costs.

      Unbeknownst to most consumers, Walmart began wading into the video streaming pool in 2010 when it spent $100 million to acquire Vudu, a movie rental service consumers have probably seen pop up as a channel when surfing through content on their smart TVs or PlayStations.

      Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Apple, Sony Crackle, Google Play… and now Walmart might be jumping into the video streaming game.As if it’s not crowded enough a...
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      Housing starts plunge in June by 12.3 percent

      Buyers are finding fewer homes and at higher prices

      Homebuilders cut back sharply on construction last month, a bad sign for the U.S. housing market, which is already struggling with record-low inventories of available homes.

      The Commerce Department reports homebuilding activity fell to a nine-month low in June, while building permits – an indicator of future construction – fell for a third straight month.

      The report showed housing starts plunged 12.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.173 million units, the lowest level since last September. The size of the decline was the largest since December 2016.

      Making matters worse, May housing data was revised downward, showing slightly fewer starts than first reported. In June, housing starts were down in all four regions of the country.

      Fewer building permits issued

      There are also fewer homes in the pipeline, as the number of building permits issued fell 2.2 percent in June, also the lowest level since last September.

      Declining homebuilding numbers are nothing new, they've been occurring regularly since the housing crash of 2008. During the housing bubble that preceded the crash, an annual rate of nearly two million units broke ground. Since the crash, housing starts have been at about half that rate.

      The lack of new homes coming on the market has put more pressure on the existing home market. There are more potential buyers than available homes, often leading to bidding wars in particularly hot real estate markets.

      Even though homes sell quickly, the overall number of homes being purchased is steadily declining. In partially explaining why pending home sales dropped a half percent in May, National Association of Realtors Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said there just aren't enough properties for sale.

      Stalling sales

      “Realtors in most of the country continue to describe their markets as highly competitive and fast moving, but without enough new and existing inventory for sale, activity has essentially stalled,” Yun said, noting the drop in May's pending sales was the fifth straight month of declines.

      If there is a pent-up demand for new homes, why aren't builders providing them? Industry analysts give a number of reasons.

      Building costs have gone up since the housing boom a decade ago. Skilled labor is harder to find and more expensive. Land prices have also risen sharply in the last decade.

      That makes it less profitable for builders to offer entry level homes – the kind that are most needed. Instead, much of the residential construction that is taking place is providing more expensive homes, normally out of reach of a first-time buyer.

      Homebuilders cut back sharply on construction last month, a bad sign for the U.S. housing market, which is already struggling with record-low inventories o...
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      New Seasons Market recalls ready-to-eat sesame noodle chicken salad

      The product contains peanuts, an allergen not declared on the label

      New Seasons Market of Portland, Ore., is recalling an undetermined amount of ready-to-eat sesame noodle chicken salad.

      The product contains peanuts, an allergen not declared on the label.

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

      The following item, produced on July 13, 2018, is being recalled:

      • 24-oz clear clamshell plastic containers with “NEW SEASONS SESAME NOODLE CHICKEN SALAD,” with a “BEST BY” date of “07/18/2018” on the label.

      The company operates a kitchen exempt from USDA inspection and the products produced there do not bear a USDA establishment number on the packaging.

      The recalled product was shipped to retail locations in Oregon and Washington.

      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 about the recall may email New Seasons Market at talktous@newseasonsmarket.com.

      New Seasons Market of Portland, Ore., is recalling an undetermined amount of ready-to-eat sesame noodle chicken salad.The product contains peanuts, an...
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      Europe's Best brand Field Berry Mixes recalled

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Hain Celestial Canada is recalling Europe's Best brand Field Berry Mixes.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products.

      The following products, sold in retail stores throughout Canada, are being recalled:

      Brand NameCommon NameSizeCode(s) on ProductUPC
      Europe's Best

      Field Berry

      Mix

      600 g2020MA03
      2020MA04
      2020MA10
      2020MA11

      8 71454

      03618 7

      Europe's Best

      4-Field

      Berry Mix

      2 kg2020MA02

      8 71454

      00200 7

      What to do

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

      Consumer with questions may contact the company at (800) 249-4614 or online at www.europesbest.ca/en/contact/.

      Hain Celestial Canada is recalling Europe's Best brand Field Berry Mixes.The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.There have been no report...
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      Apple releases new MacBook Pro models

      The new models include a possible fix for the problem of dirt getting stuck under keys

      Apple MacBook lovers are enjoying Christmas in July as the tech giant’s new 13-inch and 15-inch models are out and Apple is hoping consumers find the new models better than ever.

      The company touts seven upgrades to its MacBook line, including the ability to crunch code faster, adjust the color of the display to match a room’s ambient lightning, and the addition of a fingerprint ID sensor.

      “The latest generation MacBook Pro is the fastest and most powerful notebook we’ve ever made,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing.

      “Now with 8th-generation 6-core processors, up to 32GB of system memory, up to 4TB of super fast SSD storage, new True Tone technology in its Retina display and Touch Bar, the Apple T2 chip for enhanced security and a third-generation quieter keyboard packed into its thin and light aluminum design with all-day battery life, it’s the best notebook for pro users.”

      Will this make Mac users happy?

      While iPhones are Apple’s bread and butter by a longshot, MacBooks account for 80 percent of all the 100 million Mac computers out in the world.

      MacBook users are a zealous bunch, but will the new models create lines around Apple stores waiting to get their hands on one?

      Having “Siri” on board to answer users’ questions is likely to bring a smile. However, some Pro users might have to bite their tongue when it comes to the ports on the computers. MacBook Pros are devoid of HDMI and USB ports, and SD card slots which will probably frustrate those already equipped with those connections and sting a little more when they have to buy more dongles to recreate those connections.

      The new True Tone technology is generating some buzz. With 500 nits of brightness (a nit is a unit of measurement of luminance), the new models are slightly brighter than an iPhone, but not as bright as, say, the newest TV screens. The new True Tone technology takes into account the color temperature of an environment and adjusts accordingly to created a more natural appearance.

      While those enhancements might make some Mac aficionados happy, there are those who are unimpressed.

      "I like the improvements to the new MacBooks, but they don’t fundamentally add any new black and white features prior Macs didn’t have," Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy told ConsumerAffairs. 

      "What would have been most interesting would have been the addition of touch screen or even LTE for a fully mobile experience," he added. "These features are reserved for the iPad Pro, which is more strategic to Apple than the Macs."

      About that keyboard

      It was only last month when ConsumerAffairs reported that Apple had fessed up to issues with MacBook keyboards, offering free service to repair the issue on customers’ devices.

      Apple seems to have taken great strides to make sure those issues don’t rear their ugly heads again. On the new MacBook Pro keyboards, iFixit discovered that Apple has built a silicone barrier under each key.

      While the silicone muffles some of the clicking sound when a key is pressed, “This flexible enclosure is quite obviously an ingress-proofing measure to cover up the mechanism from the daily onslaught of microscopic dust. Not—to our eyes—a silencing measure,” reported iFixIt.

      “In fact, Apple has a patent for this exact tech designed to “prevent and/or alleviate contaminant ingress.” but may also prevent dust and debris from getting underneath the keys and blocking the key mechanism.”

      And the battery issues?

      In April, ConsumerAffairs reported that a component in some of the 13-inch MacBook Pro laptops might fail and cause the computer’s built-in battery to expand. At the time of the finding, the company said that this was not a safety issue and offered to replace any affected batteries free of charge.

      ConsumerAffairs reached out to Apple to find out if any improvements to the MacBook batteries were made in the new models, but as of press time, has not received a response.

      Looking for a deal?

      Along with the two new MacBook models, Apple is also offering a Back to School discount to students, parents, and teachers that includes a pair of Beats headphones and education pricing.

      Apple MacBook lovers are enjoying Christmas in July as the tech giant’s new 13-inch and 15-inch models are out and Apple is hoping consumers find the new m...
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      Median black renter could afford 16 percent of available units last year

      New research from Zillow shows how income determines where and how you live

      Rents have surged in recent years, along with the price of homes. But the skyrocketing rents don't fall on consumers equally.

      A new report from real estate marketplace Zillow shows the median African American family could only afford 16.2 percent of available rental properties last year. That was less than a third of the rental options for median white and Asian households.

      Rent affordability is measured by the percentage of household income it takes to pay the rent each month. Economists generally agree that having to pay more than 30 percent of pre-tax income toward housing costs makes a home or apartment unaffordable.

      Using median black household income of nearly $40,000 a year, an African American family would have to spend 45 percent of their income to afford 42 percent of available rentals.

      Erodes financial freedom

      The more a family pays in rent, the less financial freedom it has. The more a household is stretched to make the monthly rent, the harder it is to put aside money for savings on a monthly basis. Needless to say, it makes saving for a down payment to purchase a home that much harder.

      "Perhaps more so than any other factor, income determines where and how we live in the United States today,” said Zillow Senior Economist Aaron Terrazas. "Income disparities across racial and ethnic groups in the United States have remained stubbornly persistent, and as a result, black and Hispanic families encounter far fewer affordable rental options than white and Asian families."

      Terrazas says that can have a ripple effect. Households struggling to pay rent usually make sacrifices elsewhere, including healthcare.

      “The desire to own a home is similar across all races, but the difference in homeownership rates between races is wide – a lasting legacy of the historical income gap," Terrazas said.

      Supply and demand

      Rents have risen in the last decade for the same reason home prices have – supply and demand. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, fewer consumers could purchase homes because of much tougher mortgage underwriting standards. That meant more people had to continue renting, competing for the limited number of rentals.

      In the years since, apartment construction has increased, but not at the rate needed to meet the demand. Meanwhile, the rate of homebuilding is about half of what it was before the market crash, increasing the price of available housing.

      Hispanic renters are also feeling the squeeze, with far fewer rental options than white or Asian consumers. Renters earning the median Hispanic household income of $48,210 could afford 27.3 percent of rentals last year, according to the Zillow research.

      Rents have surged in recent years, along with the price of homes. But the skyrocketing rents don't fall on consumers equally.A new report from real est...
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      Adidas will only use recycled plastics by 2024

      The global sportswear company is joining the fight against plastic

      Adidas reported on Monday that it will be committing to only using recycled plastics by 2024.

      The company pledged to stop using “virgin” plastic in all of its stores, warehouses, offices, distribution centers, and retail outlets, saving an estimated 40 tons of plastic per year starting this year. Eliminating “virgin” plastic also includes polyester, a material popular in tons of Adidas products -- everything from sports bras to t-shirts -- because it absorbs sweat.

      Adidas also reported that its spring and summer 2019 apparel lines will contain over 40 percent recycled polyester. Additionally, the company is expecting an uptick in its Parley shoes -- shoes made out of plastic waste that’s been saved from ending up in the ocean. Despite representing only a small portion of global sales (with only one million pairs sold in 2017), the company is expecting sales to jump to five million pairs this year.

      Adidas continues the fight for sustainability

      The decision to use strictly recycled plastics shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to consumers, as last month Adidas made strides in the sustainability arena with the launch of its Parley Z.N.E. hoodie.

      “Parley is a global network where creators, thinkers, and leaders come together to raise awareness for the beauty and fragility of the oceans and collaborate on projects that can end their destruction,” the company wrote in a statement last month.

      “Adidas and Parley joined forces in 2015 and among the many activities supporting the implementation of the Parley AIR strategy, the two work together to transform plastic intercepted from beaches and in coastal environments into high-performance sportswear. Collectively, they spin the problem of marine plastic pollution into a solution, the threat into thread.”

      The fight against plastic

      Adidas is the latest company joining the global fight to reduce plastic waste.

      Earlier this month, Starbucks announced it would be eliminating plastic straws entirely by 2020. The coffee chain will begin phasing plastic straws out of all of its stores, with the transition expected to be complete by 2020. The initiative will eliminate more than one billion plastic straws per year.

      Instead of straws, the company will be using strawless lids for many of its cold beverages. While some beverages --including  many blended drinks -- will have dome lids, customers will be able to use straws made out of paper or compostable plastic, but only upon request.

      “Plastic straws that end up in our oceans have a devastating effect on species,” said Erin Simon, director of sustainability research & development and material science at World Wildlife Fund. “We hope others will follow in [Starbucks’] footsteps.”

      Additionally, McDonald’s will be eliminating plastic straws from its U.K. and Ireland stores by next year. Earlier this year, the fast food chain announced it would be using paper straws at many of its U.K. and Ireland locations.

      The company said it would begin moving straws behind the counter and only offering them to customers upon request. The fast food giant has also set a goal to source 100 percent of its food packaging from renewable or recycled sources in all of its locations by 2025.

      Adidas reported on Monday that it will be committing to only using recycled plastics by 2024.The company pledged to stop using “virgin” plastic in all...
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      Beautiful Pig recalls ready-to-eat and raw pork and beef products

      The products did not undergo federal inspection

      The Beautiful Pig of Longview, Wash., is recalling an undetermined amount of ready-to-eat and raw pork and beef products.

      The products were produced, packed and distributed without undergoing inspection and were also under U.S. retention when shipped without approval.

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

      The recalled items, produced from June 2, 2017, through July 8, 2018, can be found here.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 1098” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were distributed to retail locations in Oregon and Washington. The product labels do not include any identifying lot codes or use by dates.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should consume them, but discard them or return them to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Christopher Leach by email at TheBeautifulPig11@gmail.com.

      The Beautiful Pig of Longview, Wash., is recalling an undetermined amount of ready-to-eat and raw pork and beef products. The products were produced, pa...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls GLA250s and GLA250 4Matics

      A child seat may not be able to be properly installed in the center rear seat position

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 399 model year 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLA250s and GLA250 4Matics.

      The child seat top tether anchorage point on the center position of the rear seat may not have been installed.

      If the anchorage point is missing, a child seat will not be able to be properly installed in the center rear seat position, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the rear seat backrest, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin August 3, 2018.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-800-367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 399 model year 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLA250s and GLA250 4Matics.The child seat top tether anchorage point on the ce...
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      United flight attendants to start hawking the airline's credit card

      Travelers may soon be subjected to a credit card sales pitch at 30,000 feet

      On the ground, most of us are subjected to relentless sales pitches every day, from robocalls to pop-up ads on the internet.

      But if you think taking an airline flight will give you a couple of hours of peace from the endless selling, you could be wrong. At least two major airlines are enlisting flight attendants to pitch the airline's credit card to a captive audience, buckled in at 30,000 feet.

      United is the latest airline to turn its flight attendants into sales personnel. Beginning September 1, it will require flight attendants to offer a sales message to domestic and international passengers on the benefits of carrying the airline's credit card.

      “We are introducing a new training program for our co-branded credit card that is especially designed for flight attendants, as this work group has the most engagement with our customers,” the airline said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “Our inflight crew are effective ambassadors, who can best communicate to our customers in the moment the benefits of the United Explorer card."

      Lucrative for the airlines

      United joins American as carriers that will use the cabin crew to pitch credit cards to passengers, offering financial incentives for each sale. For the airline, co-branded credit cards can be lucrative.

      The banks that manage airline travel cards usually buy miles from the airline that are, in turn, used to reward cardholders who spend a certain amount using the card.

      While travel rewards cards are not a good fit for most consumers, those who travel a lot may find them highly beneficial. An airline cardholder may get special perks, such as preferred seating, early check-in, and free checked bags, which could easily pay for the annual fee over a year of heavy travel.

      VIP lounge access

      Carrying an airline co-branded credit card may also give travelers access to the airline's VIP lounge, with more relaxing surroundings than an airline terminal gate and an offering of complementary food and beverages.

      Not all are the same, however. Forbes and The Points Guy recently rated the top four airline credit cards for their access to airport amenities.

      They include The Platinum Card from American Express; Citi /AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard; Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express; United MileagePlus Club Card.

      All four cards carry hefty annual fees of between $450 and $550, so the cards would probably only pay off for high-frequency air travelers.

      On the ground, most of us are subjected to relentless sales pitches every day, from robocalls to pop-up ads on the internet.But if you think taking an...
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      Cell phone bills increase for first time in nearly two years

      Customers are seeing fewer and fewer promotions from wireless companies

      Over the past two years, consumers have been benefiting from competition between wireless companies, as cell phone providers have been rolling out unlimited data usage and lower bills as a means of securing customers.

      Now, with new consumer-price data, the continued hype over promotions seems to be fading out. According to the Labor Department, the consumer-price index -- an indicator of current offers from wireless providers -- showed a 0.3 percent increase in June from last year.

      “In terms of promotional intensity, things have cooled quite a bit,” said Jeffrey Moore, lead researcher at Wave7 Research.

      CTIA -- a telecommunications trade group -- reported that 95 percent of American adults now own cell phones. In all, they used 15.7 trillion megabytes in mobile data in 2017 -- up from 4.1 trillion in 2014. These numbers complicate the work of wireless providers that need to spend money to keep up with the ever-increasing demands of the industry, and also try to keep and win new customers.

      Cutting back on discounts

      Back in February, executives at Sprint and T-Mobile -- two companies that have been most aggressive in cutting prices -- revealed they would be cutting back on discounts for the remainder of the year. Though T-Mobile made a bid to acquire Sprint in April, the deal raised eyebrows in the Senate, as many Senators feared it would decrease competition for consumers and, ultimately, raise prices.

      Former Sprint executive Matt Carter reported that both Sprint and T-Mobile have been leading the charge among wireless providers when it comes to offering discounted pricing plans in an effort to gain subscribers. However, doing so leaves the companies with less money to not only pay their debt, but also invest in network upgrades.

      “At some point in time, you have to have some stabilization around your pricing plans to be able to meet all the various needs they have,” Carter said. He also noted that when Sprint and T-Mobile cut back on price discounts, it allowed “AT&T and Verizon to hold steady” on their pricing plans.

      The fine print in wireless plans

      Sprint recently announced a new wireless plan, offering customers a tiered plan that replaced its previous five lines for $100 option. Sprint’s new top tier plan with five lines will cost customers $22 per line per month -- a $20 increase from the previous promotion.

      Like other wireless companies, Sprint is also offering customers plans with a choice of the video-streaming service Hulu and the music-streaming service Tidal, as well as a more basic unlimited plan.

      “Including that kind of content is becoming important,” said Dow Draper, Sprint chief commercial officer. Draper also noted that customers’ bills are likely lower than before when factoring in the additional benefits of the new plans.

      Similarly, AT&T has been offering customers subscriptions to DirecTV and HBO, while T-Mobile began offering access to Netflix with wireless plans.

      Last month, Verizon unveiled a new -- but also pricier -- unlimited data plan entitled “aboveunlimited.” The new plan allows customers to select different tiers of unlimited data plans within one single plan. Despite the raise in price, Verizon executives are confident with the new plan, as it gives customers the opportunity to choose the plan that best suits their needs for every person in the family.

      “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,” said Ronan Dunne, president of Verizon Wireless. “We’ve continued to see high levels of customer engagement and satisfaction.”

      Over the past two years, consumers have been benefiting from competition between wireless companies, as cell phone providers have been rolling out unlimite...
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      Millennials not buying homes at same rate as previous generations

      A new report from the Urban Institute looks at the reasons why

      Since the Great Recession, homeownership rates for millennials have been lower than previous generations at the same stage in life, and a new report from the Urban Institute suggests several reasons why.

      Millennials are getting married later, and while single people do buy houses, it is more common for couples to make that purchase together. Various studies have shown that fewer millennials are getting married -- and when they do tie the knot, they are older than previous generations.

      The Urban Institute research suggests that is one of the main reasons homeownership among this group lags behind baby boomers and generation X.

      Both of those generations had a 45 percent homeownership rate when they were between the ages of 25 and 34. The homeownership rate among millennials currently in this age bracket is 37 percent.

      Fewer children

      A growing family was also a reason for a couple to buy a home, but today couples are waiting longer to have children, if they even have them at all. The research shows the percentage of young married couples with children fell to 25 percent in 2015, from 37 percent in 1990.

      The Institute reports the presence of a child in a household increases the chance of owning a home by 6 percent.

      However, that's not to say millennials aren't buying houses. As the nation's largest generation, they made up the largest share of homebuyers in the National Association of Realtors' 2015 Generational Study.

      It is only when compared to other generations, when they were in the same age bracket, that the disparity is evident. And the Urban Institute report suggests millennials face economic headwinds other generations did not.

      Student loans

      When baby boomers went to college, student loans were a rarity. The cost of a college education did not put students and their families in debt.

      Since the turn of the century, many college students graduate with a student loan debt the size of a small mortgage. That makes it more difficult to qualify for a loan to purchase a home, a process that is already more difficult than it was for previous generations.

      After the housing crash, mortgage lenders implemented highly restrictive standards for qualifying for a mortgage. As a result, fewer people who would like to purchase a home are able to do so.

      Since the housing crash, homebuilders have produced new homes at about half the rate that they did before the crash. As a result, there is a growing housing shortage that has pushed up home prices, especially in urban areas – which is where millennials prefer to live.

      Why it matters

      Why does it matter? According to the Urban Institute, homeownership is highly beneficial to most families. It not only offers a stable place to live, but it provides a hedge against inflation and a pathway to building wealth.

      The evidence can be found in a comparison of household wealth. The net worth of the average household that owns a home is $231,420, compared with the average renter’s $5,200.

      Because of that, the report's authors say their findings should be of “great concern."

      Since the Great Recession, homeownership rates for millennials have been lower than previous generations at the same stage in life, and a new report from t...
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      U.S. lifts ban on China’s ZTE

      The telecom equipment maker has reportedly followed through with the terms of a deal it reached with the Trump administration

      On Friday, the U.S. Department of Commerce lifted its ban preventing China’s ZTE from receiving goods from U.S. companies. The Commerce Department prev..

      SEC to investigate if Facebook properly warned investors of data issue

      How much did Facebook know about Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of data?

      Facebook is currently under investigation from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Justice Department, and the FBI, as authorities from these agencies are working to uncover how much the social media giant knew about the misuse and improper gathering of users’ data during last March’s Cambridge Analytica scandal. Specifically, the investigation is focusing on whether Facebook gave investors enough advance notice of what was going on.

      Questioning is primarily focused on what Facebook knew in 2015 -- when it initially learned that Cambridge Analytica had improperly accessed the data of tens of millions of Facebook users -- and why the company didn’t share that information with its users or investors at the time. The news didn’t become public until March 2018. Investigators will also look into the words and actions from Facebook executives -- including CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

      Facebook confirmed having received questions from federal agencies and reported that the company and its representatives will be cooperating with the investigation.

      “We are cooperating with officials in the U.S., U.K., and beyond,” said Facebook spokesperson Matt Steinfeld. “We’ve provided public testimony, answered questions, and pledged to continue our assistance as their work continues.”

      Facebook’s recent scandal

      The Cambridge Analytica data breach first became public last March, when it was revealed that a professor used Facebook login credentials to ask users to sign up for what was said to be a personality analytics tool that would be used for academic research.

      According to Facebook, the professor then violated the terms of service by selling the data of millions of Facebook users to the political marketing company Cambridge Analytica -- a company using the data to target potential voters.

      In the U.K., the company allegedly targeted Facebook users inclined to vote for Britain leaving the European Union, whereas in the U.S., it was targeting users to support the Trump campaign.

      Facebook reportedly removed the app -- called “This is Your Digital Life” -- as soon as the company became aware of the data breach, though it learned that not all of the data was deleted, as was required. Facebook then moved to suspend Cambridge Analytica’s account.

      “We are constantly working to improve the safety and experience of everyone on Facebook,” Facebook said in a statement. “In the past five years, we have made significant improvements in our ability to detect and prevent violations by app developers.”

      Changes in privacy

      Since the scandal, Facebook has taken measures to protect users’ privacy moving forward.

      The platform has audited thousands of apps that had access to users’ data, and it has suspended 200 apps in the process. The company has also restricted access to data for all developers using Facebook and Instagram.

      The social media platform also drastically changed its privacy settings, condensing much of the settings into one easy to navigate screen.

      “People have also told us that information about privacy, security, and ads should be much easier to find,” said Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer. “Instead of having settings spread across nearly 20 different screens, they’re now accessible from a single place.”

      Facebook also modified the way users see and access advertisements, as they gave users more control over the ads they view.

      Facebook is currently under investigation from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Justice Department, and the FBI, as authorities from these...
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      Seven fast food chains to end ‘no poach’ deals

      The practice will no longer keep low-wage workers restricted to one store

      Seven major fast food chains have agreed to cease using employee contracts that include “no poach” clauses. The restaurants include: Arby’s, Carl’s Jr., McDonald’s, Jimmy Johns, Auntie Anne’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Cinnabon.

      These deals often kept low-wage workers confined to specific franchise stores, without the freedom of mobility to accept higher-paying jobs at different stores. However, the provisions didn’t stop workers from switching franchises entirely. For example, workers at McDonald’s would be prohibited from switching between McDonald’s locations but could freely move from McDonald’s to Jimmy Johns.

      Now, under a new agreement with Washington State, these clauses will be removed from contracts with these franchises. In addition to Washington, the seven chains involved will be enforcing the end of the no poach deals nationwide, as the clauses will not be added to new or renewed contracts.

      “My goal is to eliminate these provisions in all fast-food contracts in my state,” said Bob Ferguson, Washington state’s attorney general.

      The effects of the clause  

      Because most fast food chains are independently owned and operated, no-poach provisions are typically buried within the contracts between the chains and the franchisees. Workers tend to not even know the limitations of these clauses until they look to switch jobs.

      From the perspective of the franchise owner, the clause helps protect the time and money spent training new employees. However, under the clause, employees are often unable to explore new -- and potentially more lucrative -- opportunities.

      Based on research from Princeton economists Alan Krueger and Orley Ashenfelter, no-poach clauses affect nearly 70,000 individual restaurants in the United States, which is more than a quarter of fast food stores.

      “I’m pleased that the research that Professor Ashenfelter and I did has shined attention on this issue,” Professor Krueger said. “I hope that either through judicial action or legislation or voluntary decision by the franchise chains, that these noncompetitive practices are dropped.”

      The professors research showed that the no-poach clauses mainly limit turnover and competition in fast food chains, while also keeping wages low.

      Recent investigation

      Though Washington has now banned the no-poach clause, attorneys general from 11 states are currently investigating the practice as it pertains to all fast food chains.

      “Non-poach agreements unfairly limit the freedom of fast-food and other low-wage workers to seek promotions and earn a better living,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

      The attorneys general will be investigating Arby’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Little Caesars, Panera Bread, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, and Wendy’s. The states are demanding to see the franchises’ non-poaching provisions and other paperwork by August 6th.

      Seven major fast food chains have agreed to cease using employee contracts that include “no poach” clauses. The restaurants include: Arby’s, Carl’s Jr., Mc...
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      Despite oil's rise, gas prices are up just two cents in the last week

      But falling oil supplies could signal higher prices to come

      The price of gasoline has remained stable over the last week, even as oil prices have remained volatile.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular is $2.88 a gallon, up just two cents in the last seven days. Today's price is three cents cheaper than it was a month ago.

      The national average price of premium, required by a growing number of high-performance engines, is $3.42 a gallon. The average price of diesel fuel is $3.17 a gallon.

      Some of the most volatile gas prices can be found in Ohio, where the statewide average gained seven cents overnight, to $2.81 a gallon. That's still two cents lower than the price seven days ago.

      While gasoline prices tend to drift lower toward the end of the summer driving season, AAA warns that this year could be different. The Energy Information Administration this week reported a huge drop in oil stockpiles -- the largest since October 2016.

      According to the report, U.S. oil stockpiles are roughly 90 million barrels lower than they were at this time last year. At the same time, the government reports U.S. exports of oil and gasoline rose in the last week, even as domestic demand increased. Refineries are operating at 96.7 percent of capacity.

      Heading into the weekend, motorists may find the lowest gas prices of the summer, as market forces may put upward pressure on prices, precisely at the time they have historically declined.

      The states with the highest gasoline prices

      • Hawaii ($3.76)
      • California ($3.66)
      • Washington ($3.43)
      • Alaska ($3.40)
      • Oregon ($3.31)
      • Nevada ($3.24)
      • Idaho ($3.14)
      • Utah ($3.13)
      • Connecticut ($3.08)
      • Pennsylvania ($3.05)

      The states with the lowest gasoline prices

      • Alabama ($2.55)
      • Mississippi ($2.57)
      • South Carolina ($2.57)
      • Louisiana ($2.60)
      • Arkansas ($2.61)
      • Virginia ($2.62)
      • Tennessee ($2.63)
      • Missouri ($2.65)
      • Texas ($2.65)
      • Oklahoma ($2.65)
      The price of gasoline has remained stable over the last week, even as oil prices have remained volatile.The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national av...
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      MyNicNaxs recalls various dietary supplements

      The products contain active pharmaceutical ingredients not declared on the label

      MyNicNaxs of Deltona, Fla., is recalling all lots of various dietary supplements that were distributed nationwide.

      The products contain active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) Sildenafil, Sibutramine, Diclofenac and/or Phenolphthalein not declared on the label.

      The presence of these APIs render the products unapproved drugs for which safety and efficacy have not been established.

      The following products, sold from January 2013, to December 2017, though the company website http://www.mynicnaxs.com, are being recalled:

      Product DescriptionAPI Found in FDA Lab Results
      Platinum Maximum Strength Blue Pill Version; 
      30 capsules; 500mg each
      Sibutramine and Phenolphthalein
      Platinum Maximum Strength Blue Pill Version; 
      30 capsules; 500mg each
      Sibutramine and Phenolphthalein
      Slimming Plus Advanced Weight Loss; 30 
      capsules; 500mg each
      Sibutramine and Phenolphthalein
      African Viagra - sexual performance
      enhancement product; 4500mg x 2
      Sildenafil
      GINSENG - sexual performance enhancement 
      product; 300mg/tablet x 10 tablets
      Sildenafi
      African Superman - sexual performance 
      enhancement product; 2900mg x 8 tablets per 
      blister pack
      Sildenafil
      Old Chinese - sexual performance enhancement 
      product; 19800mg x 10 capsules
      Sildenafil
      Lean Extreme Max; 30 capsules; 400mg eachSibutramine
      X-treme Beauty Slim; 30 capsules; 350mg eachSibutramine
      African Superman - Top-Class Permanence 
      Tablet; 2900mg x 8 tablets
      Sildenafil
      Slim Evolution - 100% Natural Ingredients; 30 
      capsules; 350mg each
      Diclofenac
      Meizitang Strong Version capsules packed in a
      non-flexible clear bottle with a green screw-on
      top
      Sibutramine
      Magic Slim capsules packed in a non-flexible
      white bottle with a white screw-on top
      Sibutramine
      Slim Xtreme capsules packed in a non-flexible
      white bottle with a white screw-on top
      Sibutramine
      Meizi Evolution capsules were packed in a non-
      flexible clear bottle with a blue screw-on top
      Sibutramine
      SlimEasy Herbs capsules packed in blister
      packaging and placed in a white box with black 
      labeling
      Sibutramine
      Hokkaido - capsules packed in blister packaging
      in pink box with black labeling
      Phenolphthalein
      Super Fat Burning Bomb capsules in blister
      packs, packaged in a red box with black labeling
      Sibutramine and Phenolphthalein
      FRUTA Bio blister packs, packaged in a
      yellow/green box with green labeling
      Sibutramine and Phenolphthalein
      JIANFEIJINDAN Activity Girl - blister packs,
      packaged in a white/pink box with pink labeling
      Sibutramine
      Reduce Weight FRUTA PLANTA blister packs,
      packaged in a yellow/green box with green 
      labeling
      Phenolphthalein
      Fat Loss Slimming Beauty – 30 capsules in
      blister packs packaged in yellow/black box -500
      mg
      Sibutramine and Phenolphthalein
      Fruta Planta -blister packs packaged in
      yellow/green box with green labeling
      Sibutramine and Phenolphthalein
      Botanical Slimming - 100% Natural Soft gel; 30 soft gels; 650mg each packaged in a green bag with yellow and white lettering
      Slim Body - Dietary Supplement;100% Herbal Slimming Formula; 30 capsules; 6x5x300mg blister packs, packaged in blue and red box

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them and discontinue use of the products immediately.

      Consumers with questions may contact Mike Banner at (407) 791-3597 or Chevonne Torres ate (386) 337-8142, Monday – Friday, 9:00am – 5:00 pm, (ET).

      MyNicNaxs of Deltona, Fla., is recalling all lots of various dietary supplements that were distributed nationwide.The products contain active pharmaceu...
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      GM recalls model year 2016-2018 Chevrolet Malibus

      The front passenger airbag may not deploy properly

      General Motors is recalling 66 model year 2016-2018 Chevrolet Malibus.

      During servicing, a Passenger Presence System (PPS) may have been installed that was not correctly calibrated to the vehicle's seat type.

      As a result, the PPS may not properly identify an adult passenger from a child passenger in the front passenger seat, potentially causing the airbag to not deploy when it should, or to deploy when it shouldn't.

      In the event of a crash, improper airbag deployment can increase the risk of injury.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger PPS seat service kit, 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 18208.

      General Motors is recalling 66 model year 2016-2018 Chevrolet Malibus.During servicing, a Passenger Presence System (PPS) may have been installed that...
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      California way ahead of schedule for cutting greenhouse gas emissions

      The state has already hit its goal for 2020

      California, the most populous state in the nation, has hit its 2020 target for cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions.

      The California Air Resources Board released data this week that showed greenhouse gas emissions dropped to 424.9 million metric tons in 2016 -- below the target of 431 million metric tons for 2020. In 2015, the total was 441.4 million metric tons throughout the state. The greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 2.7 percent in 2016 and is on the right track to meet its goal of 40 percent reduction by 2030.

      These numbers are less than the 431 million metric tons the state produced in 1990. When California’s greenhouse gas emissions levels peaked in 2004, regulators passed a law requiring  the state’s emissions to return to 1990 levels by 2020. Since the peak in 2004, emissions have dropped 13 percent.

      “California set the toughest emissions targets in the nation, tracked progress, and delivered results,” said Governor Jerry Brown.

      Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the law in 2006 that committed California to setting such rigorous goals for 2020.

      “Surpassing our 2020 emissions goal ahead of schedule while our economy grows by a nation-leading 4.9 percent and our unemployment rate is at a historic low should send a message to politicians all over the country: you don’t have to reinvent the wheel -- just copy us,” Schwarzenegger said.

      How California did it

      When looking at the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, the data has been broken up into seven different categories: transportation, industrial, agriculture, electric power, high GWP, commercial and residential, and recycling and waste.

      Industrial and electrical power dropped the most since the state enacted its green initiative. The combination of an uptick in solar electricity and hydroelectric power led to a 15 percent decrease in using natural gas for electricity.

      However, despite the positive steps, some categories continued to rise. Greenhouse gas emissions increased from passenger vehicles. Drivers in California are buying more gas-powered cars, despite the benefits and incentives of buying electric-powered vehicles, which is likely due to the higher prices of electric-powered vehicles.

      Regulators say the report shows that states are capable of pursuing their own paths towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In order for California to reach its 2030 goal, greenhouse gas emissions must continue to drop as much as they did in both 2015 and 2016.

      California, the most populous state in the nation, has hit its 2020 target for cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions.The California Air Resources Bo...
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      Uber has terminated its self-driving car operators in Pittsburgh

      Nearly 100 workers are affected by the decision

      Uber has laid off its self-driving car operators in Pittsburgh, as the company continues to work on fine-tuning its autonomous vehicle program.

      The company informed close to 100 autonomous vehicle operators that they’d be losing their jobs, though it is encouraging those employees to apply for other positions within the company.

      Vehicle operators typically monitor Uber’s self-driving cars, and though the position will no longer exist, the company will be replacing these jobs with 55 “mission specialists.” According to Quartz, the specialists will provide more technical feedback to self-driving car developers and train in both on-road and advanced test-track operations.

      “Our team remains committed to building safe self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the coming months,” Uber said in a statement.

      Recent troubles with self-driving vehicles

      The decision to terminate these positions comes after a fatal accident in Tempe, Arizona where one of Uber’s autonomous vehicles struck and killed a woman. The car had a human driver but was in autonomous mode at the time of the accident.

      Following the accident, Uber shut down its self-driving vehicle operations in Arizona. At the time of that decision, the company laid off 300 employees across the state and began to focus its attention on self-driving car operations in other cities -- San Francisco, Toronto, and Pittsburgh.

      The move to shut things down in Pittsburgh is especially significant because it is not only where Uber’s Advanced Technology Group is headquartered, but it’s also where testing began in September 2016.

      Uber’s Arizona facility was the company’s largest testing ground, and similar to Pittsburgh, vehicle operators were the most affected by the shutdown.

      Uber has laid off its self-driving car operators in Pittsburgh, as the company continues to work on fine-tuning its autonomous vehicle program.The comp...
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      Delta cutting back on flights as fuel bills skyrocket

      Airlines look to the international market in hopes of new growth

      Delta Air Lines has decided to pull back on its flight schedule starting this fall thanks to rising fuel costs.

      In the wake of a $2 billion bump in its 2018 fuel bill and a $183 million dip from the June 2017 quarter, the company is hoping its short-term cuts will have a healthier impact long-term.

      “We have seen early success in addressing the fuel cost increase and offset two-thirds of the impact in the June quarter,” said Ed Bastian, Delta’s Chief Executive Officer.  “With strong revenue momentum, an improving cost trajectory, and a reduction of 50-100 bps (base points) of underperforming capacity from our fall schedule, we have positioned Delta to return to margin expansion by year end.”

      “Accelerating the recapture of the recent fuel price increases is the number one focus for our commercial team,” added Delta President Glen Hauenstein.

      Mother Nature also played a hand in Delta’s revenue plunge when the January 2018 Nor’easter forced the airline to cancel more than 400 of its flights.

      How does an airline turn something like this around?

      No one’s saying whether Delta will try and recoup some of its losses by raising airfare, but fliers shouldn’t be surprised if it does.

      Airlines have other course correction options, too. For example, an airline could establish routes to places where higher fares are a given and cut back on the smaller income-producing routes.

      That may be Delta’s play here if its plans for global expansion are kept intact. The company began its global inroads in May when it launched a joint venture with Korean Air and instantly found its way into more than 50 Korean Air-operated markets.

      The company also has plans in place for new service from Los Angeles to Paris and Amsterdam, Indianapolis to Paris, and Atlanta to Lisbon. Nonstop service between the United States and Mumbai, India; Osaka, Japan; and Seoul, South Korea are also penciled in for 2019.

      The global market is a smart play as the middle class continues to grow in emerging economies like India and China, giving rise to an upswing in the number of fliers.

      “It is believed that the global aviation industry will reach up to 33.8 billion US dollars in profits in 2018, up from only 8.3 billion US dollars in 2011,” wrote Statista.com in its review of airline profits. “Between 2017 and 2036, the number of airline passengers is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.7 percent.”

      Delta Air Lines has decided to pull back on its flight schedule starting this fall thanks to rising fuel costs.In the wake of a $2 billion bump in its...
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      Elon Musk pledges to fix Flint water contamination

      Tesla’s founder says he will cover the cost of adding filters to houses that still have contaminated water

      Tech billionaire Elon Musk has pledged to fund the securing of clean water for any homes in Flint, Michigan that still have contaminated water.

      “Please consider this a commitment that I will fund fixing the water in any house in Flint that has water contamination,” the Tesla and SpaceX CEO said in a tweet Wednesday. “No kidding.”

      Musk followed up with another tweet acknowledging that many homes in Flint have safe water; however he said he would organize an effort to add filters to houses that are still dealing with foul water.

      “Most houses in Flint have safe water, but they’ve lost faith in govt test results,” he said. “Some houses are still outliers. Will organize a weekend in Flint to add filters to those houses with issues & hopefully fix perception of those that are actually good.”

      The Flint water crisis

      Musk called on Flint residents to reply to his tweet with test results showing contamination above the recommended limits. "Creating email flint@x.com, but I'm in China so that won't be working until tomorrow," he added.

      The Flint water scandal unfolded four years ago when lead leached from old pipes after the city began using the Flint River without adding corrosion-control chemicals.

      Earlier this month, Musk supported a program to give bicycles to children in Flint. Musk’s latest effort to help residents of Flint with lead-tainted water comes days after his attempt to help a Thai youth soccer team that was trapped in a cave.

      On Thursday morning, Musk tweeted that he will call Flint’s mayor on Friday to discuss the city’s specific needs.

      Tech billionaire Elon Musk has pledged to fund the securing of clean water for any homes in Flint, Michigan that still have contaminated water. “Please...
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      Shopping experts offer Prime Day tips

      Amazon's big shopping day kicks off on Monday

      Millions of Amazon Prime members are preparing for the retailer’s annual Prime Day, which has turned into one of the major shopping days of the year.

      Things get started on Monday, July 16 at noon PT, running through July 17. In addition to the deals from Amazon, Prime members can also find savings on food products at Whole Foods.

      Kimberly Palmer, NerdWallet's personal finance expert, says Amazon counts on the shopping day to build Prime membership as much as it does to sell things. For that reason, she says savvy shoppers may find some loss-leaders among the items being offered. But she says there are a few things consumers should keep in mind.

      "Shoppers must have Amazon Prime, which costs $119 a year and is also available as a 30-day free trial, to get the deals," Palmer said in an email. "Returns to Amazon often require you to pay shipping, so be aware of this cost when ordering items you aren’t sure about."

      Better deals than Black Friday

      BestBlackFriday.com mostly focuses on the holiday shopping season, but company principal Phil Dengler says it also pays close attention to Prime Day, since there are so many deals available.

      Dengler says the company's analysis shows that last year, 76 percent of Prime Day prices were better than those on Black Friday. In 2016, 77 percent of Prime Day offerings had lower prices than on the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season.

      Dengler also says Amazon will use Prime Day 2018 to heavily promote its own line of electronic devices and smart speakers. In particular, he points to the Echo Show, Amazon's video smart speaker, which regularly sells for $229.99 but is on sale now through Prime Day at $129.99.

      Predictions

      Dengler also predicts shoppers will be able to purchase the second generation of the Echo for $69.99, instead of $99.99; and the Fire 10 tablet for $89.99, down from $149.99.

      "In addition to the above-predicted prices, Amazon is likely to package many of these items together for further discounts," Dengler writes in a company blog. "You are also likely to see bulk discounts when purchasing two or more of select items."

      To take advantage of Prime Day, Dengler advises members to make sure their account is in good standing. Also, make sure the account has accurate personal information and current payment information.

      "Every second counts on Prime Day, and running around the house looking for your credit card could cause you to miss a deal," he said.

      Palmer, meanwhile, says consumers should not overlook Amazon's competitors next week.

      "As in previous years, we expect to see other big retailers, including Target, Walmart, and Best Buy, offer similar 'Black Friday in July' sales to compete with Prime Day," she said. "Consumers will be able to score deals on items ranging from electronics to clothing."

      Millions of Amazon Prime members are preparing for the retailer’s annual Prime Day, which has turned into one of the major shopping days of the year.Th...
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      Afandina Halal recalls raw chicken products

      The products did not undergo federal inspection

      Afandina Halal of Long Island City, N.Y., is recalling an undetermined amount of raw poultry products that did not undergo federal inspection.

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

      The following raw chicken items, produced and packaged from May 14 through June 22, 2018, are being recalled:

      • 40-lb. bulk boxes containing “Afandina, Halal Wholesale Chicken, Boneless Leg Meat”
      • 40-lb. bulk boxes containing “Afandina, Halal Chicken, Whole chicken Legs”
      • 40-lb. bulk boxes containing “Afandina, Halal Chicken, Chicken Cutlets”

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “P-51183” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations in New York City.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Saeed Hassanein at (718) 433-4402.

      Afandina Halal of Long Island City, N.Y., is recalling an undetermined amount of raw poultry products that did not undergo federal inspection.There hav...
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      Model year 2018 Dodge Journeys and RAM 1500s, 2500s and 3500s recalled

      The backup camera may experience a loss of image display

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,837 model year 2018 Dodge Journeys and RAM 1500s, 2500s and 3500s.

      The backup camera may experience a loss of image display while backing up, increasing the increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the rearview mirror, 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 U56.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,837 model year 2018 Dodge Journeys and RAM 1500s, 2500s and 3500s.The backup camera may experience a loss of image...
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      Former Apple engineer charged with corporate espionage

      The company claims he stole data from its autonomous car project

      The FBI has arrested a former engineer at Apple on charges of stealing company secrets on behalf of a Chinese start up.

      A complaint, filed in federal district court in California, says Xiaolang Zhang, who worked on Apple's autonomous car project for two and a half years, was taken into custody over the weekend as he attempted to board a plane for China.

      The complaint charges that Zhang downloaded proprietary data before resigning in May, telling Apple he was returning to China to care for a family member. At the same time, he disclosed to his former employer that he planned to take a job with Xiaopeng Motors, a new electric car company affiliated with Alibaba, China's counterpart to Amazon.

      “Apple takes confidentiality and the protection of our intellectual property very seriously,” the company said in a statement.

      Downloading sensitive information

      Apple said it is cooperating with federal prosecutors and will do all it can to make sure anyone found guilty of stealing trade secrets is held accountable for their actions. The company said Zhang's job at the company involved designing and testing circuit boards for Apple's autonomous car project.

      The complaint notes that Apple became suspicious after Zhang told his superiors about his plans. When he appeared evasive during questioning, the complaint says, he was asked to turn over his work-related electronic devices.

      The company says a forensic examination revealed that Zhang's network activity surged in the days before his resignation, including “bulk searches and targeted downloading copious pages of information.”

      Surprise revelation

      While the incident may play into the current hot topic of the trade war, and the Trump administration's charge that China routinely steals intellectual property from U.S. firms, CNBC said it found an even more significant take away.

      The business news network said that buried deep within the complaint is the fact that more than 5,000 Apple employees are currently working on the company's autonomous vehicle project, many more than previously thought.

      The complaint reveals that about 3.7 percent of Apple's 135,000 employees are working on the top secret project. That suggests Apple's autonomous car project is much larger than first thought.

      Earlier this year, when tech site ZDNet ranked the top autonomous car projects, it placed General Motors at the top of the list, followed by Waymo. Apple did not crack the top 10.

      The FBI has arrested a former engineer at Apple on charges of stealing company secrets on behalf of a Chinese start up.A complaint, filed in federal di...
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      Walmart's Jet.com to bring same-day grocery delivery to New York

      The retail giant is finally making its entrance into the Big Apple

      Walmart, the country’s largest retailer, has long been absent from the country’s largest city -- New York. The chain has not had one retail location within the city’s five boroughs -- but that’s all about to change.

      The company’s Jet.com subsidiary will be moving to the Bronx this fall in an effort to start a grocery delivery service in the Big Apple.

      “We are excited to bring hundreds of jobs to the greater New York City area through the opening of the Bronx Fulfillment Center this fall,” said Simon Belsham, president of Jet.com. “This is a key building block that is part of Jet’s strategy focused on urban centers.”

      With Jet.com’s headquarters across the river in Hoboken, New Jersey, this is the company’s first big push to make its way to New York City. Set to open later this year, the facility will be designed to deliver fresh grocery items, consumable goods (toothpaste and paper towels), and other merchandise to NYC addresses with either same-day or next-day delivery. The warehouse will only stock items sold on Jet.

      Walmart’s quest to compete

      Walmart acquired Jet.com in 2016 for $3.3 billion, as the company sought to reach a younger demographic. Since then, the retailer has expanded its digital sales, with an increase of 33 percent last quarter. Additionally, the company has been able to reach shoppers in bigger, wealthier cities -- a market base where Walmart has statistically had a limited presence.

      To deliver groceries under this new service, Jet will use Parcel -- a last-mile delivery service that Walmart bought last year at an undisclosed price. Acquiring Parcel allowed Walmart to compete with the likes of Amazon Prime and Amazon Prime Now -- services that offer customers same-day and next-day delivery.

      According to Business Insider, the “last-mile” problem -- figuring out how to deliver packages to consumers who don’t have porches or doormen -- is a recurring problem for online retailers -- particularly in cities like New York. However, Parcel’s vans read: “No doorman? No Problem,” a sign to consumers that it’s addressing this issue.

      As grocery shopping continues to evolve, consumers are flocking to services that deliver their orders straight to their doors -- and all but instantaneously. This move by Walmart signals an effort to compete in this new arena with fellow retailers like Amazon (which acquired Whole Foods and offers competitive delivery options), InstaCart, MaxDelivery, FreshDirect, and most recently, Target.

      Walmart, the country’s largest retailer, has long been absent from the country’s largest city -- New York. The chain has not had one retail location within...
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      Could rising gas prices bring on a recession?

      Economists are beginning to express concern

      As any motorist will tell you, gasoline prices have hit their highest point in years, cutting into many consumers' budgets.

      Because of that, some economists have begun to worry that the economic expansion, which began at the end of the Great Recession in June 2009, may be close to an end.

      The Wall Street Journal reports that, at this point at least, consumers have been able to weather the price rise without too much difficulty. But should prices climb even more in the months ahead, all bets may be off.

      Airlines have already adapted to higher fuel costs by raising ticket prices. Over time, other industries might be affected, and respond by slowing hiring. According to the Journal report, 3M and Whirlpool have cited higher costs affecting corporate profits.

      Gas prices just one factor

      Economist Joel Naroff, of Naroff Economic Advisers, doesn't think higher gasoline prices alone will be enough to throw the economy into recession. But there is no question that they can add to inflation and raise interest rates, both of which increase consumer costs.

      “Worse, they come as the impacts of the tariffs are starting to hit, also raising both business and consumer costs,” Naroff told ConsumerAffairs. “While tax cuts have added to household income, the rising expenses are offsetting those positive effects.”

      As gasoline costs rise, they may also negate the benefits lower and middle income consumers received from what Naroff sees as fairly modest tax cuts.

      “Put simply, the rise in gasoline prices and the impacts of tariffs are negating the tax cuts for many households, slowing growth,” he said.

      It's happened before

      Those with long memories may recall that oil speculators bid up the price of oil in 2008 to well over $100 a barrel, causing gasoline prices to exceed $4 a gallon. The explanation was that worldwide economic growth was fueling the price rise, not speculation.

      However, the world was actually in a recession at the time, culminating with the financial crisis in September 2008. Almost immediately afterward, the price of gasoline plunged to below $2 a gallon.

      Today, the national average price of regular gasoline, according to AAA, is $2.87 a gallon, 61 cents a gallon more than at this time last year. Consumers purchasing 25 gallons in a typical fill-up are paying $15 more per fill up than they did last year.

      But some consumers are paying a lot more than that, since $2.87 is just the national average. Drivers in western states are paying a lot more.

      In California, the statewide average is $3.66 a gallon. It's $3.43 a gallon in Washington.

      As any motorist will tell you, gasoline prices have hit their highest point in years, cutting into many consumers' budgets.Because of that, some econom...
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      Americans are quitting their jobs at fastest rate since 2001

      Here’s what the trend means for job searchers

      In May, Americans quit their jobs at the fastest rate in almost two decades. According to MarketWatch, the shift shows a growing confidence in the economy, as many people are choosing to leave one company for another.

      Based on government statistics, 2.7 percent of employees in the private sector willingly left their jobs -- up from 2.5 percent -- while the quit rate is up to 2.4 percent -- up from 2.3 percent. Both of these numbers are the highest they’ve been since 2001.

      Despite job openings dropping from 6.84 million to 6.64 million, the boom in the economy is most likely to be the driving force behind many Americans feeling comfortable enough to leave their jobs. Additionally, many people who leave their jobs by choice end up with better pay and better benefits in their new positions.

      It’s also important to note that hirings were up in May, peaking at 5.75 million hires. That figure is up by 170,000 people from April and is also the highest it’s been in 17 months.

      A look to the future

      According to the Department of Labor’s report, nearly 5.5 million people lost their jobs in May. However, the majority of the decline was seen in the Northeast, where the population tends to be higher than in other areas. Additionally, job openings dropped in areas like arts and entertainment, media, and public relations.

      However, because of the incredibly low unemployment rate, companies are hiring new employees to try and keep up with the demands of the surging economy.

      The rising quit rate shows employees’ general confidence in acquiring new jobs with higher wages. According to MarketWatch, this could lead companies to raise wages faster in hopes of holding onto their best employees -- and attracting new ones.

      While this trend appears to be heading in the right direction for the general public, it could raise some eyebrows at the Federal Reserve, which is keeping a close eye on inflation.

      “The rise in the job quits rate points to wage growth accelerating to three percent by the end of the year,” said Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

      In May, Americans quit their jobs at the fastest rate in almost two decades. According to MarketWatch, the shift shows a growing confidence in the economy,...
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      Producer prices jump in June

      Last month's increase was the largest in seven years

      The government's Producer Price Index (PPI), a measure of inflation for goods and services at the wholesale level, rose 0.3 percent in June after rising 0.5 percent in May.

      On a year-over-year basis, costs at the production level are up 3.5 percent, the highest since 2011. Price increases at the production level are usually passed on to consumers in the form of higher retail prices.

      The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports most of the June increase came in the form of higher costs for services.

      Prices for services rose 0.4 percent in June, the largest gain since a 0.5 percent rise in January. In June, half of the broad-based increase in the index for services took the form of trade services, where acute labor shortages have recently been reported.

      Higher oil costs a main driver

      Not surprisingly, more than 40 percent of the price increase in services can be traced to a 21.8 percent jump in fuels and lubricants. With the steady rise in oil prices over the last couple of months, refiners have faced higher costs in producing gasoline and diesel fuel.

      But inflation wasn't limited to energy. The June Index shows rising prices for hospital outpatient care; health, beauty, and optical goods retailing; truck transportation of freight; automobiles and automobile parts retailing; and food retailing.

      However, there were some notable price declines last month at the production level for apparel, footwear, and accessories retailing. The indexes for inpatient care and airline passenger services also decreased last month.

      The producer prices for actual goods barely moved higher last month. The biggest increase came in the wholesale price of motor fuels. But that was largely offset by a large drop in the cost of food products, which fell 1.1 percent.

      Costs at the production level usually get passed on to consumers, but not always. In competitive areas, like food and apparel, some wholesalers absorb small price increases if they think consumers will be unwilling or unable to pay them.

      The government's Producer Price Index (PPI), a measure of inflation for goods and services at the wholesale level, rose 0.3 percent in June after rising 0....
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      Ford Edge and Lincoln MKZ vehicles recalled

      The vehicles may lose the ability to move, increasing the risk of a crash

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 25 model year 2017-2018 Ford Edges and model year 2017 Lincoln MKZs.

      On vehicles with 2.0L gas engines and six-speed automatic transmissions, the torque converter weld studs may have been inadequately welded.

      If the torque converter weld studs fail, the torque converter will not be connected to the engine flexplate and the vehicle will lose the ability to move, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the torque converters, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin in July 2018. Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 17S16 (S2).

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 25 model year 2017-2018 Ford Edges and model year 2017 Lincoln MKZs.On vehicles with 2.0L gas engines and six-speed aut...
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      Researchers find a flaw in Apple’s new security feature

      The new restrictions can be tricked with a $39 device that Apple sells in its own store

      On the day of its official release, technology security gurus are raising a red flag over Apple’s new security feature, USB Restricted Mode.

      The feature was designed to shield iPhone users against passcode-cracking devices used by law enforcement, essentially immobilizing any attempts at accessing the device after it’s been in locked mode for an hour.

      Computer security forensics firm ElcomSoft has found a $39 device -- one Apple sells on its on website -- that runs contrary to Apple’s instructions, fooling the restricted mode and giving access to anyone using the device.

      “What we discovered is that iOS will reset the USB Restrictive Mode countdown timer even if one connects the iPhone to an untrusted USB accessory, one that has never been paired to the iPhone before (well, in fact the accessories do not require pairing at all),” wrote ElcomSoft’s Oleg Afonin in a blog post.

      “In other words, once the police officer seizes an iPhone, he or she would need to immediately connect that iPhone to a compatible USB accessory to prevent USB Restricted Mode lock after one hour. Importantly, this only helps if the iPhone has still not entered USB Restricted Mode,” Afonin commented.

      Making sure its research is as inclusive and objective as possible, ElcomSoft says it plans to test as many USB adapters as possible and found that one, the Apple Lightning to 3.5mm jack adapter ($9), does not work to defeat USB restrictions.

      The reaction

      The Twittersphere was bristling with news of the workaround with tech watchers like Mashable agreeing that Apple’s new security feature was “painfully easy to hack.” Another site tweeted a step-by-step on how to trick the feature.

      Needless to say, the issue raises a number of questions.

      Why is Apple’s USB Restricted so easily fooled? Can Apple patch its own security hole? The answers are uncertain, but critics are making it clear that Apple has an issue with its Lightning communication protocol.

      “The ability to postpone USB Restricted Mode by connecting the iPhone to an untrusted USB accessory is probably nothing more than an oversight,” summed up Afonin.

      “We don’t know if this behavior is here to stay, or if Apple will change it in near future. According to our tests, both iOS 11.4.1 and iOS 12 beta 2 exhibit similar behavior; however, this can change in subsequent versions of iOS.”

      In a statement to ConsumerAffairs, Vladimir Katalov -- CEO, co-owner, and co-founder of ElcomSoft -- added that a small adjustment on Apple's part could go a long way towards making some consumers more comfortable.

      "What we want to see is more granular control over what can and what cannot trigger the USB Restricted Mode. There are people who'd prefer unlocking their phones every time someone connects an accessory to the Lightning port instead of being subjected to the flawed restrictions. Apple already took care of the people who don’t want the new feature, so we’d like to see some love for those of us who just can’t have too much security," he said.

      On the day of its official release, technology security gurus are raising a red flag over Apple’s new security feature, USB Restricted Mode.The feature...
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      Whole Foods announces Prime Day deal

      Prime members will get extra savings leading up to one of the biggest sales days of the year

      Whole Foods, the Amazon-owned grocery store, announced today that it will be offering customers a $10 credit to use during Prime Day. Customers will receive the credit after spending $10 or more at Whole Foods from July 11 through July 17.

      Whole Foods will also be offering additional deals to customers. From July 14 through July 17, Amazon Prime Rewards Visa cardholders will see their cash back bonus double from five percent to 10 percent. First-time Amazon Prime Now delivery customers will not only receive $10 off their first orders, but an additional $10 off for a future order.

      Prime members will also see discounts on frequently purchased grocery items leading up to Prime Day. From July 11 through July 17, boneless chicken and self-serve cookies are 40 percent off and Honey Nut Cheerios and Allegro bagged coffee will be buy-one get-one free.

      Customer benefits

      Since Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods last June, customers have been reaping the benefits of the merger. What started as a slow progression has now led to a nationwide rollout of Amazon Prime members receiving Whole Foods discounts in stores.

      Since the merger, Amazon has been looking for ways to attract loyal Whole Foods customers to its Prime membership. Incorporating these deals in advance of Prime Day is one such way of doing that. Amazon is hoping the discounts and special offers on delivery will entice Whole Foods customers to purchase the $119/year Prime membership.

      “Amazon has a relationship with [about 60 million households] in the U.S., and [these people] are definitely big consumers,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush. “Why not drive that traffic into Whole Foods?”

      Prime Day 2018

      Amazon accidentally leaked the date of this year’s Prime Day in late June after a banner was found on Amazon’s U.K. site.

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

      This year, Prime Day 2018 will start midday on July 16th and run through midnight on July 17th. This will be the first Prime Day that Amazon incorporates Whole Foods into its day of discounts.

      Whole Foods, the Amazon-owned grocery store, announced today that it will be offering customers a $10 credit to use during Prime Day. Customers will receiv...
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      Fast food franchises under investigation for limiting workers to a single store

      Non-poach agreements can prevent longtime workers from getting promotions, labor groups say

      Attorney generals from 11 states are investigating the fast food industry’s practice of barring employees from switching jobs within a franchise.

      So-called “non-poach” clauses have been used by the fast food industry for years, preventing a worker at one McDonald’s in Florida, for instance, from even being considered for a better-paying job at a different McDonald’s.

      While employers have claimed that non-poach or no-hire policies are necessary to retain the investment that they made in training and hiring new people, workers’ groups and attorneys say that workers typically aren’t even told of such policies until they try to apply for a better job within the same company.

      Workers say that they instead find themselves trapped in the original store where they were hired, unable to move-up within the company or change locations.

      ‘‘Non-poach agreements unfairly limit the freedom of fast-food and other low-wage workers to seek promotions and earn a better living,’ Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who is leading the probe, said in a statement.

      Barring promotions and upward mobility

      The attorney generals announced on Monday that they would be investigating eight fast-food chains -- Arby’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Little Caesars, Panera Bread, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, and Wendy’s. The states are demanding to see the companies’ non-poaching provisions and other paperwork by August 6.

      The use of non-poach agreements is extremely common, with more than half of major franchises now requiring them of workers. Looking strictly at the fast food industry, that figure reaches 80 percent, according to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

      While such agreements may prevent upward mobility within a single company, some industries have tried to take the practice a step further.

      Several years ago, Jimmy John’s was forced to eliminate a contract provision that banned former workers from taking jobs from any business considered to be a competitor of the chain. But the company ditched the non-compete agreement for departing workers after New York’s then-Attorney General publicly warned that he considered the practice to be illegal.

      It’s not just fast food or retail workers that may find themselves limited by anti-competitive agreements. One survey conducted by economic researchers in 2014 found that one in five employees in the entire country was bound by non-compete clauses. And employment lawyers say that lawsuits related to workers who didn’t honor their non-compete clauses have tripled since 2000.

      “Companies of all sorts use them for people at all levels,” an employment attorney told the New York Times last year.

      Attorney generals from 11 states are investigating the fast food industry’s practice of barring employees from switching jobs within a franchise.So-cal...
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      Southwest Airlines will stop serving free peanuts Aug. 1

      The airline says it's acting out of consideration for passengers with allergies

      Once upon a time, airline passengers almost always got a free meal with their flight. Then came cost-cutting, and food options were literally reduced to peanuts.

      But starting August 1, you won't get peanuts on Southwest Airlines flights. The carrier announced on Twitter that it will stop handing out packets of peanuts, out of consideration for passengers who might have severe peanut allergies.

      While other airlines added peanuts to their snack packs when they phased out meals, peanuts have a long history with Southwest. In its earlier days as an airline that only flew between Texas cities, Southwest had associated itself with peanuts, advertising its low “peanuts fares.”

      Pretzels still available

      Southwest says its passengers won't go hungry while in the air. The airline will continue to hand out free packages of pretzels. On longer flights, the carrier says passengers will have a few more snack options, including cookies.

      Southwest is not the first airline to discontinue peanuts. Some other carriers took that step to avoid a situation in which a passenger suffers a life-threatening allergic reaction at 30-thousand feet. Potential allergens remain a hot-button topic for many.

      Last year, the nonprofit advocacy group Food Allergy Research and Education filed a lawsuit against American Airlines to obtain pre-boarding privileges for fliers with food allergies. The suit said it is important that these travelers board early to ensure that their seating area is clean and free of allergens.

      At the time, Dr. James Baker, CEO and chief medical officer of the group, stressed that the suit did not seek to stop American from serving peanuts; it simply wanted to remove the pre-boarding restriction for people with food allergies.

      Other airlines' policies

      According to TravelSort.com, some airlines are better about dealing with food allergies than others. It says Delta will not serve any peanut products on your flight if you notify the airline beforehand of your food allergy.

      Air Canada and JetBlue do not serve peanuts but, as of 2017, JetBlue did serve snacks containing tree nuts. JetBlue says it does not include any kinds of nuts in its free snacks.

      It says if passengers with allergies notify the airline in advance, they will be seated two rows away from any passenger who is consuming nuts.

      Once upon a time, airline passengers almost always got a free meal with their flight. Then came cost-cutting, and food options were literally reduced to pe...
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      AT&T plans big changes for HBO

      The cable network is being told it needs to produce more content

      If you subscribe to HBO, get ready for some changes. AT&T, the new owner, has served notice that the premium content provider, acquired in the Time Warner merger, is going to have to contribute more to the bottom line.

      The New York Times, which obtained a recording of a town hall meeting with HBO employees, reports John Stankey, now heading AT&T's new Warner Media division, is setting an ambitious goal of producing more content and attracting more viewers.

      “It’s going to be a tough year,” Stankey said. “It’s going to be a lot of work to alter and change direction a little bit.”

      Lately, HBO has been known for producing a limited amount of quality programming, like Game of Thrones and Westworld. HBO is most often marketed to cable and satellite TV customers as a premium tier.

      Fighting for smartphone viewers

      Going forward, Stankey told employees the network will have to change, producing more content to compete with providers that distribute through smartphone apps.

      The AT&T executive set out the twin goals of expanding HBO's subscriber base and increasing the number of hours consumers watch HBO content.

      “We need hours a day,” Stankey said during the presentation. “It’s not hours a week, and it’s not hours a month. We need hours a day. You are competing with devices that sit in people’s hands that capture their attention every 15 minutes.”

      HBO currently spends about $2 billion a year on content, much of it critically acclaimed. Since there has yet to be any discussion of increasing HBO's budget – AT&T went significantly into debt to purchase Time Warner – the assumption is the network must do more with its current budget.

      Could lead to a dip in quality

      Both Stankey and HBO CEO Richard Plepler, who hosted the session, admitted that increasing the amount of content the network produces could lead to a dip in quality. But Stankey said producing more content is a key strategy in attracting more subscribers and convincing them to watch longer.

      Stankey said HBO needs to change from being a boutique network, with an emphasis on its Sunday night line up, to “something bigger, broader.” He didn't say “like Netflix,” but there is little doubt that's what he meant.

      Netflix has become the dominant streaming service with a massive increase in original content, not all of it award-winning. However, it spends more to produce it than other content providers.

      In the session, Stankey signaled AT&T's willingness to invest more in HBO to help it compete in the ever-shifting media landscape.

      If you subscribe to HBO, get ready for some changes. AT&T;, the new owner, has served notice that the premium content provider, acquired in the Time Warner...
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      YouTube releases plan to fight back against misinformation videos

      The video sharing platform is taking action against users trying to spread propaganda

      In an effort to prevent users from uploading and spreading false information in times of crisis, YouTube is rolling out a new plan to help the public get accurate information.

      Recently, whenever there’s a breaking news story, a slew of videos full of misinformation start circling around YouTube. While many individuals are just looking for the news, these misleading videos leave many misinformed and confused. However, the trend is set to end soon.

      “We’re making changes to put more authoritative content in front of people,” said YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan.

      Changes ahead

      Moving forward, YouTube is striving to show users the importance of being an ally to news reporters. The platform has outlined a number of new investments and improvements that it will be implementing.

      According to Mohan, YouTube’s recommendation engine has been altered to allow news-related videos from reputable outlets to appear first. He referenced a recent issue of conspiracy theory videos cropping up on the website following incidents like school shootings and other tragedies.

      “It’s very easy to quickly produce and upload low-quality videos spreading misinformation around a developing news event,” Mohan said.

      Mohan also noted that it’s harder to produce accurate videos in that short a timeframe. To combat this issue, YouTube will be releasing a “new information panel.” This will appear at the top of the search results and show developing news stories. Mohan said this new feature will “be activated in the immediate aftermath of the event.”

      To make sure users are getting the most accurate information, YouTube’s new algorithm won’t show a video first. Instead, users will first be directed to a news article sourced by Google News. The results will also feature a banner informing users that the story is still in the developing stages and that information is “subject to change.”

      The new feature is currently available in 17 countries, and Mohan said that YouTube is looking to expand, as the company hopes to “double that number” in the coming months.

      Staying connected

      As Google is YouTube’s parent company, these changes come as part of a three-year, $300 million Google News initiative. According to YouTube, $25 million will go to “innovation funding” grants for news organization, as well as for more support staff.

      According to Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s Chief Business Officer, the efforts are designed to set up “long-term sustainable skills” for web videos. Additionally, Kyncl discussed YouTube’s new “working group” for executives and representatives of news outlets to “help shape the future of news on YouTube.”

      In an effort to prevent users from uploading and spreading false information in times of crisis, YouTube is rolling out a new plan to help the public get a...
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      Ford recalls model year 2018 Ford Expeditions, F-150s, and Lincoln Navigators

      The vehicles could suffer an oil or fuel leak

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 5,645 model year 2018 Ford Expeditions, F-150s, and Lincoln Navigators equipped with 3.5L GTDI V6 engines.

      The vehicles have high pressure fuel pump assemblies with welds that can fracture, which may cause an oil or fuel leak.

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

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the high pressure fuel pump and associated components, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin July 16, 2018.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 18S17.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 5,645 model year 2018 Ford Expeditions, F-150s, and Lincoln Navigators equipped with 3.5L GTDI V6 engines.The vehicles...
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      Radagast Pet Food recalls Rad Cat Raw Diet cat food

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes or Shiga Toxin

      Radagast Pet Food of Portland, Ore., is recalling three lots of Rad Cat Raw Diet Free-Range Chicken Recipe that maybe contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      Also being recalled is one lot of Rad Cat Raw Diet Pasture-Raised Venison Recipe that may be contaminated with Shiga Toxin producing E. coli O121.

      No pet or human illnesses have been reported.

      The following three lots of Rad Cat Raw Diet Free-Range Chicken Recipe, shipped to distributors nationwide in May and June 2018, are being recalled:

      • Lot Code 63057, Best By Date: 10/9/2019
      • Lot Code 63069, Best By Date: 10/23/2019*
      • Lot Code 63076, Best By Date: 10/31/2019*

      (8-oz. UPC 8 51536 00103 6, 16-oz. UPC 8 51536 00104 3, 24-oz. UPC 8 51536 00105 0)

      *These two lots were shipped to one distributor in Vancouver, BC, Canada in addition to U.S. distributors in May and June, 2018.

      The following single lot of Rad Cat Raw Diet Pasture-Raised Venison Recipe, shipped to distributors nationwide only in May and June, is being recalled:

      • Lot Code 63063, Best By Date: 10/15/2019

      (8-oz. UPC 8 51536 00121 0, 16-oz. UPC 8 51536 00122 7, 24-oz. UPC 8 51536 00123 4 and 1-oz. Samples)

      What to do

      Customers should check the lot codes printed on the bottom of the plastic containers and return any recalled products to the specialty retailer where purchased for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Radagast Pet Food at (503) 736-4649 Monday – Friday, 9:00am – 5:00pm (PT) or online at www.RadFood.com.

      Radagast Pet Food of Portland, Ore., is recalling three lots of Rad Cat Raw Diet Free-Range Chicken Recipe that maybe contaminated with Listeria monocytoge...
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      Trump administration freezes Obamacare funds

      Risk-adjustment payments were designed to stabilize the market

      The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has suspended payments to health insurers with a large number of sick Obamacare clients.

      The agency said it had no choice after a U.S. District Court in New Mexico said the payments are invalid, due to the formula used to make them.

      The risk-adjustment payments – from insurance companies with a majority of healthy clients to those companies insuring people with chronic illnesses – were written into the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a way to stabilize the system. Companies that end up insuring a large number of people who require ongoing care tend to be less profitable than those insuring mostly healthy people.

      Insurance is normally based on risk, with premiums costing more for clients who are expected to require more healthcare services. However, under Obamacare, insurance companies cannot charge higher premiums, or even deny coverage, to clients with pre-existing conditions.

      February court ruling

      CMS cites the late February court ruling in deciding to place a freeze on the $10.4 billion which it collected last year, and which ordinarily would be dispersed among high-risk insurers. The agency says the court ruling also prevents it from collecting additional risk-adjustment funds until the issue is resolved.

      Without the funds, insurance companies insuring a large number of sick clients may be forced to raise premiums on all clients.

      “We were disappointed by the court’s recent ruling,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “As a result of this litigation, billions of dollars in risk adjustment payments and collections are now on hold.”

      Verma says CMS has asked the court to reconsider its ruling, and is hoping for a speedy resolution that allows CMS to “prevent more adverse impacts on Americans who receive their insurance in the individual and small group markets.”

      Hostile to Obamacare

      The Trump administration has made no secret of its hostility to the healthcare program, enacted in 2010. The White House supported two attempts in Congress last year to repeal the program, which insures about 20 million Americans.

      Since then, it has taken administrative steps to weaken the law, including the removal of the individual mandate – which required everyone to purchase health insurance.

      Earlier this year, Republican officials in 20 states filed a suit claiming that the healthcare law is unconstitutional.

      Republicans made this argument once before, claiming that the individual mandate for consumers to buy health insurance is unconstitutional. But the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law, finding that the fine consumers faced for not buying insurance was actually a tax.

      But since the Trump Administration removed the fine for not buying health insurance, Republicans argue that the removal of the threat of that "tax" now makes the law unconstitutional.

      The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has suspended payments to health insurers with a large number of sick Obamacare clients.The agency...
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      Starbucks to eliminate plastic straws by 2020

      The coffee chain joins other companies that are seeking to curb plastic pollution

      Starbucks announced on Monday that it intends to phase out plastic straws at all of its stores. The transition from straws to recyclable plastic lids with a raised lip is expected to be completed by 2020.

      The initiative will eliminate more than one billion plastic straws per year, the company said.

      "For our partners and customers, this is a significant milestone to achieve our global aspiration of sustainable coffee, served to our customers in more sustainable ways," said Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson.

      Strawless lids

      A strawless lid, designed and manufactured by the company, will take the place of plastic straws in all of the coffee giant’s iced beverages. The new lids -- which have drawn comparisons to “adult sippy cups” -- will be introduced to stores in Seattle and Vancouver this fall; they will be rolled out gradually to additional locations in the U.S. and Canada next year.  

      The chain’s Frappuccino beverages will still come with dome lids, but with straws made from more environmentally friendly materials. Straws made of paper or compostable plastic will be available to customers who need or prefer one, but only upon request.

      Seattle, where Starbucks is headquartered, recently banned plastic straws and utensils at all of its bars and restaurants. Starbucks said it has poured more than $10 million into developing recyclable, compostable cups for its hot beverages.

      Earlier this year, McDonald’s announced that it would start phasing out straws in 1,300 of its U.K. restaurants and replacing them with paper straws. The company announced in June that it plans to test the use of paper straws at select U.S. locations later this year.

      The initiatives come amid expert predictions that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

      "Plastic straws that end up in our oceans have a devastating effect on species," said Erin Simon, director of sustainability research & development and material science at World Wildlife Fund, US, in a statement. "We hope others will follow in [Starbucks'] footsteps."

      Starbucks announced on Monday that it intends to phase out plastic straws at all of its stores. The transition from straws to recyclable plastic lids with...
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      Alzheimer's drug yields positive results

      The same drug disappointed during clinical trials in December

      After a series of disappointments, a major drug company has reported promising clinical trial results from its drug to treat Alzheimer's disease.

      Massachusetts-based Biogen and its Japanese partner Eisai jointly announced positive topline results from the Phase II study with BAN2401, an anti-amyloid drug. The buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain is thought to be a key contributor to Alzheimer's.

      The study was a large one, involving 856 patients in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. The study achieved “statistical significance” in its effectiveness at 18 months, slowing the progression of the disease.

      Researchers were encouraged because BAN2401 is the same drug that produced disappointing results back in December. The difference, they say, is the drug was only monitored for 12 months. In the second trial, the extra six months produced an improvement.

      Mild to moderate side effects

      This time, the researchers said BAN2401 showed an acceptable tolerability profile through 18 months of treatment. There were some side effects, but they were characterized as mild to moderate in severity.

      All in all, researchers in the field of Alzheimer's disease treatment and study expressed new hope at the results.

      “The 18-month results of the BAN2401 trial are impressive and provide important support for the amyloid hypothesis,” said Jeff Cummings, M.D., founding director, Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. “I look forward to seeing the full data set shared with the broader Alzheimer’s community as we advance against this devastating disease.”

      Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Eventually, the disease is fatal.

      Not a normal part of aging

      Aging is a major risk factor, but the Alzheimer's Association points out that the disease is not a normal part of aging. Currently, an estimated 5.5 million people who are 65 or older have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. About 200,000 people under age 65 have what is called younger-onset Alzheimer's.

      “The prospect of being able to offer meaningful disease-modifying therapies to individuals suffering from this terrible disease is both exciting and humbling,” said Dr. Alfred Sandrock, executive vice president and chief medical officer at Biogen. “These BAN2401 18-month data offer important insights in the investigation of potential treatment options for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and underscores that neurodegenerative diseases may not be as intractable as they once seemed.”

      In an interview with CNBC, Biogen chairman Stelios Papadopoulos called the results an encouraging first step, but he believes further progress is possible. He said a best case estimate for when BAN 2401 could be available to treat patients would be in two to three years.

      After a series of disappointments, a major drug company has reported promising clinical trial results from its drug to treat Alzheimer's disease.Massac...
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      Tillamook Country Smoker recalls ready-to-eat beef jerky

      The product may contain monosodium glutamate, which is not declared on the label

      Tillamook Country Smoker of Bay City, Ore., is recalling approximately 102 pounds of ready-to-eat beef jerky.

      The product may contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is not declared on the label.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      The the following ready-to-eat teriyaki beef jerky item, packaged and produced on June 7, 2018, is being recalled:

      • 0.48 lbs. tray packages containing “Tillamook Country Smoker Teriyaki Beef Jerky” with lot code 11588 and best by unopened-date 03/09/19.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “9295” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to distribution centers in Utah and North Carolina.

      What to do

      Customers with questions about the recall may contact Ashley Brandt at (763) 656-9014.

      Tillamook Country Smoker of Bay City, Ore., is recalling approximately 102 pounds of ready-to-eat beef jerky.The product may contain monosodium glutama...
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      The Weekly Hack: Former Microsoft employee lets consumers track their own hacks

      An unofficial database promises to alert consumers if any of their data was stolen

      Businesses and government agencies across the world now suffer data breaches on a weekly basis, but they often leave out specific details about the scope of the hack, or, in some cases, fail to alert consumers about the hack at all.

      In comes HaveIBeenPwned, a website developed by former Microsoft employee Troy Hunt. The service, which has actually been around since 2013 but has proven to be more useful as hacks grow more common in recent years, invites consumers to submit their email addresses into an online database, which then promises to uncover any data breaches linked  to the account in question.

      Travel booking sites, flush with credit card information and other consumer data, have proven to be popular targets to hackers, and HaveIBeenPwned is now reporting that one such site appears to have been a major target.

      Over five million accounts on Yatra, a travel-booking site based in India and available across the globe, had user data compromised, according to the service.

      HaveIBeenPwned tweeted on Wednesday that the breach dates back to 2013 and includes phone numbers, passwords and PIN numbers. But Yatra never disclosed the apparent breach to consumers, according to the Huffington Post.

      In a recent interview, Hunt explained that consumers are growing used to data breaches as a normal part of online life and that they are more concerned with how companies handle such breaches rather than whether or not they simply occurred. It would seem, then, that Yatra joins the ranks of Equifax and others accused of failing this important litmus test.

      A single computer in Alaska

      A state agency in rural Alaska says that 500 people may have had their data exposed in a hack that was possibly linked to Russian cyber criminals.

      The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced that a computer in northern Alaska was found to be infected with a virus. That same computer also had unauthorized software installed onto it, and according to the state’s investigation, had accessed websites in Russia.

      It’s unknown how or why that computer was targeted, but according to the agency, it contained documents “including information on pregnancy status, death status, incarceration status, Medicaid/Medicare billing codes, criminal justice, health billing, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, first and last names, birthdates, phone numbers, and other confidential data.”

      Alaskans are invited to call the agency to see if they were affected.

      Businesses and government agencies across the world now suffer data breaches on a weekly basis, but they often leave out specific details about the scope o...
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      California lawmakers restore tougher net neutrality provisions

      A committee removed the loopholes that it added to the original bill

      California's tough net neutrality bill, stripped of much of its enforcement powers by a legislative committee, is tough once again.

      The bill's author, State Senator Scott Weiner, says the General Assembly's Communications Committee has restored most of the original provisions, which were written to mirror the national policy put in place under the Obama Administration.

      The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), under President Trump, began the process of repealing the national policy last December.

      “After Donald Trump’s FCC obliterated net neutrality, we stepped in to protect California residents and businesses and to ensure an open internet,” Wiener said. “For months, we have worked with a broad coalition to pass strong and enforceable net neutrality protections. As internet service providers and media companies like AT&T and Time Warner consolidate, net neutrality is more important than ever."

      Committee gutted the bill

      Net neutrality supporters were outraged two weeks ago when the chairman of a key legislative committee amended the bill. At the time, Weiner said the watered down measure allowed for massive loopholes sought by major telecommunications companies.

      For example, the amended bill would have allowed internet service providers (ISP) to charge websites a fee for consumers to access it. The amended bill also allowed ISPs to classify some content as "privileged," meaning it would not count against a consumer's allotted data, while other content would.

      Critics were also unhappy that the amended bill would allow ISPs to throttle entire classes of applications. For example, providers could slow all online gaming or all online voice calls.

      It prompted Weiner to call the amended version a "fake net neutrality bill." But after working with the chairman of the committee and other key lawmakers, Weiner says everyone has agreed to a version that closely resembles the original bill and reflects the FCC policy under the Obama administration.

      States that pass strict net neutrality rules could pose a problem for ISPs and large telecom companies, which will have to abide by different sets of rules in different states.

      What the bill does

      Weiner said the revised net neutrality bill will prohibit the blocking of websites, the speeding up or slowing down of websites or whole classes of applications such as video, and the practice of charging websites for access to an ISP’s subscribers or for fast lanes to those subscribers.

      The bill also bars ISPs from circumventing these protections at the point where data enters their networks, and from charging access fees to reach ISP customers.

      It would also prevent companies like AT&T, which is both an ISP and a content provider, from not counting the content and websites they own against subscribers’ data caps.

      Weiner said he is confident the revised package of net neutrality measures has the votes needed for passage. The California legislature has until August 31 to vote on it.

      California's tough net neutrality bill, stripped of much of its enforcement powers by a legislative committee, is tough once again.The bill's author, S...
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      MoviePass changes its subscription plan once again

      Subscribers say they’re tired of the ‘bait and switch’

      Remember the old adage “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is?” That’s what MoviePass’ three million users might be thinking after the company added a kicker called “summer surge pricing” to its existing subscription plan.

      Couched as an “evolution of our product,” the company’s Peak Pricing addendum “goes into effect when there’s high demand for a movie or showtime,” according to an email to MoviePass’ subscribers.

      “You may be asked to pay a small additional fee depending on the level of demand. You can avoid the surcharge by selecting a different showtime or movie. Over the coming weeks we’ll also be introducing Peak Pass, which will allow you to waive one peak fee per month,” the company wrote to its customers.

      The long and winding road

      The monthly subscription service’s path to success has been long and winding. Since launching in 2011, MoviePass has bounced through several pricing configurations ranging from plans based on market size and the number of movies a subscriber could view in a month to monthly fees ranging from $30 down to the current $9.95.

      The $9.95 plan proved to be the pivot point the company was hoping for, and its membership skyrocketed from there.

      “After years of studying and analysis, we found that people want to go to the movies more often, but the pricing keeps going up, and that prevents them from going more. We're making it more affordable for people," MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe said at the time of the $9.95/month relaunch.

      The fine print

      The company’s frequent changes to its terms of use and changes in subscription prices have created confusion and frustration with its subscriber base. However, MoviePass is putting the responsibility of staying clued in on the consumer.

      “MoviePass reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to change, modify, add or remove portions of these Terms of Use, at any time, without prior notice,” reads its latest terms of use dated July 5, 2018.

      “IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO CHECK THESE TERMS OF USE, AND THE MOVIEPASS APP PERIODICALLY FOR CHANGES. YOUR CONTINUED USE OF THE SERVICE AND THE SITE FOLLOWING THE POSTING OF CHANGES WILL MEAN THAT YOU ACCEPT AND AGREE TO THE CHANGES,” the company emphasized.

      To long-term subscribers, this is more than a tempest in a teapot.  “MoviePass CEO trying to convince shareholders that surge pricing, company merchandise, changing the Terms of Service twice a month and manipulating audience scores for their own movies will somehow save the company,” posted one Twitter user.

      On Facebook, another subscriber threw up her hands and simply quit: “We just cancelled!! So sick of the bait and switch!!! DONE!!!”

      Is there an alternative?

      Movie lovers are no longer stuck with MoviePass alone. Since the company’s rise, two new players have come in ready to give solace to MoviePass’ ex-pats.

      The nation’s largest theatre chain -- AMC -- just rolled out “AMC Stubs A-List” and offers three tickets per week for the monthly price of $19.95. Members collect points from concession purchases and have access to premium formats like IMAX and 3D. The only real downside is that you are limited to AMC theatres, whereas MoviePass has deals with a variety of movie chains.

      Another entry in the movie subscription game is Sinemia. Its price tier runs from $4.99 per month for 1 standard movie ticket up to $14.99 per month for 3 of any movie ticket (3D, 4D, IMAX included).

      Both AMC and Sinemia offer subscribers the option to watch a movie more than one time versus MoviePass’ one-and-done restriction.

      Remember the old adage “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is?” That’s what MoviePass’ three million users might be thinking after the company ad...
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      Netflix will remove user reviews from its website next month

      Written reviews are going the way of five-star ratings by the end of July

      Starting July 31st, Netflix users will no longer be able to leave written reviews for movies or TV shows on the company’s website. According to an email Netflix sent to users that had recently left written reviews, the change is being attributed to declining usage of the feature.

      Early last year, Netflix removed its five-star rating system and changed it to a thumbs up or thumbs down feature. Netflix was criticized for the move, as many thought it was overly simplistic, but the company is adamant that it’s received more ratings since implementing the new rating feature.

      Written reviews on Netflix were only featured on the company’s website -- not its apps. Additionally, a Netflix spokeswoman noted that written reviews didn’t affect the way the platform recommended shows to users. Users will still be able to use the thumbs up/thumbs down feature when written reviews become obsolete.

      “This feature is only offered on the website and has seen declining in usage over time,” said Netflix spokesperson Smita Saran.

      Reasons for the change

      Though the news comes when Netflix is seemingly at its peak with over 125 million worldwide subscribers, many believe the removal of written reviews is seen as a way for Netflix to maintain its image.

      According to a report by Engadget, Netflix is spending billions of dollars on original content, and may want to limit the potential to be publicly disparaged. As such, users will no longer be able to comment on third-party content that has been removed. The platform will not release information regarding the popularity of its shows -- whether original content or not -- and the written reviews served as a forum for subscribers to voice their opinions on shows and movies they both liked and disliked.

      The Engadget report also notes that Netflix has had an issue in the past with users bombarding the review section with negative comments simply because they disagree with the content of certain movies or shows. Just before Netflix removed the five-star rating feature last year, comedian Amy Schumer’s Netflix special tanked in ratings because of individuals who allegedly disagreed with her views. Other recent releases -- like The Last Jedi -- revealed similar trends.

      While users will no longer be able to submit reviews after July 30, reviews will still be available on the website through mid-August.

      Starting July 31st, Netflix users will no longer be able to leave written reviews for movies or TV shows on the company’s website. According to an email Ne...
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      Volatile oil prices keep gas prices moving in both directions

      Prices at the pump have been going up and down all year

      If you've noticed that the prices at your local gas stations have been going up and down like a yoyo lately, you can blame it on the fickle price of oil.

      The price went up when OPEC decided to cut production last year. It went down when U.S. shale producers started pumping more, taking advantage of the higher price. But it went up again when an improving economy boosted demand and supplies began to get smaller.

      Now, oil prices are slipping a bit, mainly because of concerns that a trade war will slow economies around the world. President Trump has also been busy tweeting his irritation at OPEC, saying the cartel is not doing enough to keep oil prices in check.

      After all, the more oil goes up in price, the more expensive gasoline gets. Consumers tend to measure how well they are doing financially by how much they pay at the pump.

      Oil prices are falling again

      U.S. crude oil is trading on the futures market today for about $73.52 a barrel, down about $1 from the previous session. International Brent crude slipped below $77 on world markets.

      While trade concerns may be partly responsible for the decline, the industry was surprised to learn this week that oil stockpiles in the U.S. are getting larger, not smaller.

      The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports inventories rose by 1.3 million barrels last week, the first increase in three weeks.

      "The surprise build in total crude stocks gave market observers pause amid a slew of other factors influencing the oil market, including increasing geopolitical factors – in Iran, Libya, and Venezuela – potentially destabilizing global supply and high crude exports from the U.S.," AAA said in a statement.

      Volatile gas prices

      Those other factors have not only driven up oil prices this year, they've also increased gasoline prices.

      Refineries purchase oil on the futures market for production, and what they pay influences what gasoline distributors pay and what retail gas stations charge consumers.

      According to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey, the national average price of gasoline is $2.86 a gallon, just a penny more than last week but eight cents less than a month ago. As usual, where you happen to be driving determines how much you pay.

      Motorists in California are currently paying an average of $3.66 a gallon for regular and $3.92 for premium. But drivers in South Carolina are filling their tanks with regular for $2.53 a gallon.

      If you've noticed that the prices at your local gas stations have been going up and down like a yoyo lately, you can blame it on the fickle price of oil....
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      Unemployment rate rises to 4 percent in June

      The Labor Department reports more people looked for jobs last month

      More people found jobs last month, but even more were looking for one, so the nation's unemployment rate rose to 4 percent, from 3.8 percent in May. The economy added 213,000 jobs.

      There was an increase in the number of jobs created in professional and business services, manufacturing, and health care, while retail trade lost jobs.

      Black unemployment, which fell to a record low in May, rose in June to 6.5 percent.

      "Incorporating revisions for April and May, which increased nonfarm payroll employment by 37,000, monthly job gains have averaged 211,000 over the past 3 months," said William Wiatrowski, Acting Commissioner Bureau of Labor Statistics.

      The overall unemployment rate rose because more people were looking for jobs last month. Economists see it as an encouraging sign because it suggests people who had stopped looking for a job are trying to reenter the labor force.

      More than 2 million reentered the workforce

      The number of people who re-entered the workforce increased to 2,184,000 last month, an increase from 1,933,000 in May.

      The number of unemployed Americans increased in June by nearly 500,000, to 6.6 million. That's down from 7 million in June 2017.

      Job creation might have been greater if employers had been able to find qualified applicants. In a June survey by the ManpowerGroup, employers complained of a talent shortage, especially in the area of skilled tradesmen. 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.

      Despite what appears to be a tightening labor market, average hourly earnings increased by only 6 cents, from $22.52 in April to $22.58. Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 5 cents to $26.98.

      On a year-over-year basis, average hourly earnings have increased by 72 cents, or 2.7 percent.

      Job growth continues at the fastest rate in the professional and business services sector, which added 50,000 positions in June and has grown by 521,000 so far in 2018. Manufacturing added 36,000 jobs, mostly at factories making durable goods.

      Retailers, meanwhile, eliminated 22,000 jobs in June, largely offsetting the 25,000 they added in May.

      More people found jobs last month, but even more were looking for one, so the nation's unemployment rate rose to 4 percent, from 3.8 percent in May. The ec...
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      The Butcher's Blend recalls ground beef

      The products may be contaminated with E. coli O157

      The Butcher's Blend is recalling extra lean ground beef products sold in Ontario, Canada, that may be contaminated with E. coli O157.

      There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products.

      The following products are being recalled:

      Brand NameCommon NameSizeCode(s) on ProductUPC
      NoneExtra Lean Ground BeefApprox. 1lbNone – Sold by The Butcher's Blend at the Western Fair District Farmer's Market on June 16, 2018None
      Mitchell's Butcher's Blend / Old East Village GrocerExtra Lean Ground BeefApprox. 1lbBest Before JUN 23/18Starts with 0 200150
      Mitchell's Butcher's Blend / Old East Village GrocerExtra Lean Ground BeefApprox. .5lbBest Before JUN 23/18Starts with 0 200150

      What to do

      If you think you became sick from consuming a recalled product, call your doctor.

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

      The Butcher's Blend is recalling extra lean ground beef products sold in Ontario, Canada, that may be contaminated with E. coli O157.There have been no...
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      Google fends off reports that app developers have access to a users’ Gmail accounts

      The company says app developers are scrutinized and users have a say in what is shared

      Fresh off the rollout of a new version of Gmail, Google is now trying to quell a potential storm over reports that it gives developers access to read and analyze the contents of Gmail users’ messages.

      The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported two apps -- Edison Mail and Return Path -- gained access to Gmail content, but with user permission.

      Edison Mail claims its app "extract[s] meaningful, actionable data directly from mailboxes to simplify your users and understand how their preferences are changing in real‑time — from the way they travel to the brands they enjoy most."

      Return Path claims its platform connects marketers with nearly 70 percent of the email inboxes worldwide, describing itself as "help[ing] marketers take their email programs to the next level by driving more response and increasing revenue."

      In response to the report, Google went on the defensive and outlined exactly what it allows developers to view in a person’s Gmail account.

      "We make it possible for applications from other developers to integrate with Gmail—like email clients, trip planners and customer relationship management (CRM) systems—so that you have options around how you access and use your email," wrote Suzanne Frey, Google Cloud’s Director, Security, Trust, & Privacy.

      "We continuously work to vet developers and their apps that integrate with Gmail before we open them for general access, and we give both enterprise admins and individual consumers transparency and control over how their data is used," Frey added.

      Automatic processing and strict standards

      Google vows that while it shows ads in the consumer version of Gmail, those ads are not based on the content of a users’ emails. However, to head off spam and phishing emails from reaching inboxes and to make features like Smart Reply more productive, Google says it conducts "automatic processing" of emails -- a practice that is supposedly common across the industry.

      Making sure it doesn’t walk into the same quicksand Facebook did over user privacy, Google wants it known that the company is not compensated by developers for API (application programming interface) access and any developer that wants to create a Gmail-related app has to toe the line and meet two key requirements:

      • Accurately represent themselves: Apps should not misrepresent their identity and must be clear about how they are using your data. Apps cannot pose as one thing and do another, and must have clear and prominent privacy disclosures.

      • Only request relevant data: Apps should ask only for the data they need for their specific function—nothing more—and be clear about how they are using it.

      User privacy remains on high alert

      Even though the WSJ report failed to peg Google with any privacy trespassing, it reminds everyone -- developer, provider, and user alike -- that the world is watching when it comes to data privacy, thanks to Facebook’s privacy negligence. And while it may seem a little undiplomatic, Google puts the onus directly on the end-user in saying "You control your data."

      "Before a non-Google app is able to access your data, we show a permissions screen that clearly shows the types of data the app can access and how it can use that data," wrote Frey in her blog post. "We strongly encourage you to review the permissions screen before granting access to any non-Google application."

      Take a Google privacy checkup

      If you’re one of the 1.2 billion consumers with a Gmail account, there are steps you can take to tighten up your privacy settings. Those include:

      • Adjusting your ad settings.

      • Taking a "security checkup." That will show any non-Google app that’s been granted access to your data. It will also highlight any potentially risky apps you have given permission to but may want to turn off going forward.

      Gmail users can also view and control permissions within myaccount.google.com under "Apps with account access."

      Fresh off the rollout of a new version of Gmail, Google is now trying to quell a potential storm over reports that it gives developers access to read and a...
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      Amazon to open a second cashier-less Go store this fall

      The store is coming to Seattle in just a few months

      Amazon’s cashier-less stores -- Amazon Go -- will be opening a second location this fall in Seattle.

      The first store in Amazon’s homebase of Seattle opened this past January after the company spent more than a year perfecting it. Customers will be able to find the second location of Amazon Go in the new Madison Centre office tower.

      “We are excited to bring Amazon Go to 920 5th Ave in Seattle,” the company said in a statement. “The store will open in Fall 2018.”

      The new second location will be almost two times the size of the first store, topping out at approximately 3,000 square feet, versus the original store’s 1,800 square feet.

      GeekWire first discovered that Amazon would be expanding its Go stores based on a number of clues around the city. In addition to a permit filing for an “Amazon retail” project at the building, passersby have been able to peek through the gaps in the window coverings from the sidewalk. Moreover, Amazon Go’s slogan -- “No lines. No checkout. (No, seriously.)” -- is also visible thanks to a gap at the top of the window.

      Amazon Go

      Amazon’s Go stores are another example of the company’s efforts to continually advance the technological landscape.

      At Amazon Go stores, customers don’t have to wait in checkout lines -- there are no lines and no cashiers. Consumers can go through the aisles, picking up what they need. When they’re done, they simply leave the store.

      Cameras and sensors throughout the store track what customers are taking home with them, and their credit cards are charged accordingly. Customers must have the Amazon Go app downloaded to their phones, as a unique QR code from the app must be scanned before leaving the store.

      At the time of the first store’s opening, the company compared the technology used in its store to the technology in autonomous vehicles.

      “Our Just Walk Out technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart,” Amazon said. “When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we’ll charge your card and send you a receipt.”

      Continued expansion

      Following the success of the first Amazon Go store, the company got the green light to continue expanding to other locations.

      This second Seattle location has been discussed for some time, but Amazon Go has plans to soon unveil stores in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. Earlier this year, Recode reported that as many as six new Amazon Go storefronts could be popping up before the end of 2018.

      Amazon’s cashier-less stores -- Amazon Go -- will be opening a second location this fall in Seattle.The first store in Amazon’s homebase of Seattle ope...
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      Human rights and internet groups sue to overturn law that is kicking sex trade offline

      The groups want to stop a crackdown on online businesses that are accused of online sex trafficking

      A coalition of advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit against the federal government and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an attempt to stop enforcement of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), a law that won bipartisan support and the president’s signature last spring.

      While sex trafficking is already a crime, regulators who championed FOSTA claimed that their new legislation would prevent pimps from prostituting women against their will by also holding any online service that they used to commit the crime liable.

      For the first time in over two decades, entities ranging from Backpage.com, a classifieds website that is known to profit from prostitution ads, to CloudFlare, an internet content delivery network that simply counted a social networking site for sex workers among its clients, may risk criminal prosecution or lawsuits based on users’ third-party content

      (The United States government is already prosecuting Backpage on pimping and money laundering charges, but the case was brought against them before FOSTA went into effect).

      A “vaguely defined” law

      Critics who fear widespread internet censorship note that FOSTA fundamentally changed the Communications Decency Act, the law partly credited for allowing the internet to thrive. Under FOSTA, any website or online service that authorities determine to have helped “facilitate” sex trafficking could be included in a sex-trafficking sting or vulnerable to lawsuits.

      Sex workers, even those who work in legal industries like pornography, saw many of the online services that they had depended on for their safety and income disappear overnight. Community workers said that FOSTA would do little to deter prostitution and instead would send more sex workers to the streets and into unsafe situations.

      Human Rights Watch, which includes sex worker safety and internet free speech among the many issues it champions, is now included in the group suing the feds to stop what they describe as a “vaguely defined” law.

      “FOSTA says third parties can’t post content that promotes or facilitates prostitution but doesn’t define what it means by ‘promote’ or ‘facilitate,’” Human Rights Watch explains. “Fear of prosecution may prompt websites not to share our research findings, or individuals not to share our advocacy on social media.”

      Joining Human Rights Watch in their legal effort is the Woodhull Freedom Foundation -- which is another human rights’ group -- the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Internet Archive, which both promote internet freedom-of-speech issues. A sex workers’ activist, a massage therapist, and a law firm that often litigates First Amendment cases are also joining the effort. (The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the law firm are representing the plaintiffs as their attorneys but are not parties to the suit themselves).

      The lawsuit reflects “a cross-section of concerns” held by internet and free speech activists and sex workers, one community organizer told RollingStone.

      The lawsuit is asking for a preliminary injunction, which would prevent authorities from criminally prosecuting or suing online businesses under FOSTA should a judge rule in the plaintiffs’ favor.

      A coalition of advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit against the federal government and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an attempt to stop enforcement of...
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      Study finds one app secretly recorded screen activities

      Researchers say the app sent screenshots of user activity to a third party

      Many smartphone users are paranoid that their phone is secretly listening to their conversations in order to serve up targeted ads. To find out whether that popular theory is true, researchers at Northeastern University recently conducted a study of more than 17,000 apps to find out if any of them actively overhear or record user activity.

      The researchers found no instance of any app unexpectedly activating the microphone or dispatching audio files without a user’s permission. Of the 17,260 Android apps included in the year-long study, over 9,000 had permission to access the camera and microphone. The researchers used an automated program to interact with each app and then analyzed the traffic generated.

      Although the researchers did not find any evidence of apps secretly recording their user to serve up targeted ads, the team found at least one instance in which an app sent screen recordings and screenshots to a third-party mobile analytics company.

      Recorded what users were doing within the app

      The researchers found that a popular food delivery app called GoPuff recorded and sent screen recordings to a mobile analytics company called AppSee. The app recorded footage of a screen where users had to enter their zip code.

      After being contacted by the researchers, GoPuff added disclosure of this policy to its privacy policy and removed the AppSee SDK. AppSee also claims it deleted the recordings it had obtained.

      “In this case it appears that Appsee’s technology was misused by the customer and that our Terms of Service were violated,” AppSee's CEO told Gizmodo. “Once this issue was brought to our attention we’ve immediately disabled tracking capabilities for the mentioned app and purged all recordings data from our servers.”

      The researchers didn’t definitively conclude that smartphones never record users without permission. They only said that they did not find find any evidence of the practice in their study. The study had its limitations, including the fact that the automated systems might have missed some audio files processed locally on the device.

      Many smartphone users are paranoid that their phone is secretly listening to their conversations in order to serve up targeted ads. To find out whether tha...
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      Facebook to shut down three apps due to low usage

      The company says it wants to streamline its app offerings

      Facebook has announced that it’s shutting down three of its apps due to low usage. The apps that will be shut down include Hello, tbh, and Moves.

      In a blog post, the company said it’s axing the apps to keep the company from getting stretched too thin.

      “We regularly review our apps to assess which ones people value most,” Facebook said. “Sometimes this means closing an app and its accompanying APIs. We know some people are still using these apps and will be disappointed -- and we’d like to take this opportunity to thank them for their support. But we need to prioritize our work so we don’t spread ourselves too thin. And it’s only by trial and error that we’ll create great social experiences for people.”

      Shutting down apps

      Hello is an Android-only address book app, which Facebook launched in 2015. The app allowed users to combine their Facebook information with their phone’s contact information.

      Tbh (which stands for the acronym “to be honest”) is an anonymous social media app aimed at high school students, which Facebook acquired just eight months ago. The app allowed teens to share opinions via anonymous polls, as well as give positive feedback to friends. It was downloaded over 5 million times in a matter of weeks after it was launched, but that momentum didn’t continue.

      "[For tbh] it seems like after an initial burst of downloads, that usage was too low," Thomas Husson, vice president at research firm Forrester, told CNN Money.

      The third app that will be shutting down is Moves, a fitness tracker which Facebook bought in 2014. Moves was relatively popular, having even once earned an “Editors Choice” recognition from Apple. Nonetheless, Facebook has still decided to shut down the app and its API at the end of July. Users have the option of downloading their data before the app closes.

      Facebook will delete the user data from all three of these apps within 90 days.

      Facebook has announced that it’s shutting down three of its apps due to low usage. The apps that will be shut down include Hello, tbh, and Moves.In a b...
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      U.S. authorities temporarily lift ZTE ban

      A temporary reprieve will allow the company to support existing networks and phones

      The U.S. Commerce Department is allowing China’s ZTE to partially resume business operations while regulators mull over whether its seven-year ban should be lifted.

      From July 2 through August 1, the company’s restrictions will be temporarily eased so that ZTE can provide support for telecom networks and ZTE phones that were available to the public on or before April 15, when the company was initially banned from receiving crucial parts from U.S.-based suppliers.

      It’s not clear whether a permanent order will follow, but ZTE is expected to be in full compliance with U.S. demands by Aug. 1, Bloomberg reports.

      The telecom giant was hit with the ban almost three months ago after it failed to follow through with penalties it received for exporting sensitive technology to Iran and North Korea. It was forced to shut down operations and has been largely inactive since then.

      In May, President Trump said he was considering lifting penalties on ZTE as a favor to Chinese President Xi Jinping. The Trump administration and ZTE settled on a deal that required the company to pay another $1 billion in fines, replace its management team, and hire U.S. compliance officers.

      Last week, ZTE followed through with the terms by firing its executive team and appointing a new chairman. The company has reportedly lost at least $3 billion since it was forced to cease major operations in April.

      Last month, the Senate voted unanimously to reinstate the ban on ZTE citing national security concerns.

      The U.S. Commerce Department is allowing China’s ZTE to partially resume business operations while regulators mull over whether its seven-year ban should b...
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      Volkswagen recalls Atlas and Tiguan vehicles

      The passenger front air bag may not properly unfold during deployment

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 821 model year 2018 Volkswagen Atlas and Tiguan vehicles.

      The passenger front airbag may tear or not properly unfold during deployment in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger front airbag, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin August 3, 2018.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298. Volkswagen's numbers for this recall are 69W8, and 69W9.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 821 model year 2018 Volkswagen Atlas and Tiguan vehicles.The passenger front airbag may tear or not properly u...
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      Samsung phones reported to randomly send out photos and messages

      The snag is apparently related to the Samsung Messages app

      Samsung users are grumbling about their Galaxy S9 and Note 8 phones randomly sending out photos and texts to people in their contact list. The glitch reportedly leaves no record of anything ever being sent.

      News of the problem started showing up in Samsung’s community support forums and spread quickly across the techsphere. While Samsung hasn’t released an official explanation, people who’ve experienced the mishap report the fault rests with Samsung Messages, Galaxy devices’ default messaging app.

      "S9+ sent my entire photo gallery to my girlfriend last night, wrote one Galaxy S9 owner on Samsung’s support forum. "Last night around 2:30 am, my phone sent her my entire photo gallery over text but there was no record of it on my messages app. However, there was record of it on tmobile logs. Why would this happen?" As hard as he tried to find an answer, the user said no one in the comments section of the forum could figure out why it happened.

      However, there are plenty of theories elsewhere as to why this is happening. Some of the complainers say they’re T-Mobile customers, which led techies to question if the issue was related to one of T-Mobile’s RCS (Rich Communication Services) updates. When ConsumerAffairs asked T-Mobile for comment, a company spokesperson referred us to Samsung.

      Another hypothesis is that the problem affects only shared plans because some customers report the photos had been sent only to partners or family members.

      Is there a fix?

      In a statement to ConsumerAffairs, Samsung said that it will be continuing to monitor the issue.

      "Samsung has reviewed this matter thoroughly these past few days; however, there were no hardware or software issues found to be relevant to this particular case. While there have been no known similar customer reports globally, we will continue to investigate this issue further. We encourage any customers who may have questions or concerns to contact their local Customer Service center at 1-800-SAMSUNG," a company representative said

      While Samsung has yet to report a definitive fix, but TechCrunch reported two possible fixes for those concerned about their Galaxy S9 and Note 8 phones.

      The first solution involves going into the phone’s "app settings" and turning off Samsung Message’s ability to access your storage. The upside is that taking that step will prevent the phone from sending anything -- including photos -- that’s stored on your phone. The downside is that you’ll have to turn permissions on again if you want to send photos or files through the Samsung Messages app.

      The second solution is to stop using Samsung Messages until the company says the issue has been resolved and switch to a third-party messaging app instead.

      Samsung users are grumbling about their Galaxy S9 and Note 8 phones randomly sending out photos and texts to people in their contact list. The glitch repor...
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