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      Walmart is looking to replace Toys 'R' Us

      The chain is gearing up for the first holiday season without its toy giant competitor

      With Toys “R” Us having permanently closed its doors nationwide, the market for toys is certainly any retailers’ game.

      However, Walmart is hoping to become shoppers’ go-to location for all things toys, especially as the holiday season approaches -- the first without Toys “R” Us in many years.

      The world’s largest retailer will be ramping up its toy selection both online and in stores in preparation for the holidays. The toy selection in stores will be increased by 30 percent, while the toy selection online will increase by 40 percent.

      Consumers can expect hands-on demos of toys in-store, in addition to hundreds of new brands that will soon be available both in stores and online. Moreover, Walmart will soon be partnering with young YouTube star Ryan (“Ryan’s World”) to produce a line of toys that he recommends.

      It’s not just toys. Walmart will soon be expanding its retail options for babies, as the nursery page on its website is undergoing a redesign, and the options for car seats and strollers are being upgraded.

      “We are making even bigger investments in the category to ensure we have the widest selection,” said Anne Marie Kehoe, Walmart’s vice president of toys.

      Competitors with similar ideas

      Walmart isn’t the only company looking to up its game in the wake of Toys “R” Us’ demise.

      Both JCPenney and Kohl’s have announced additions to their baby and toy offerings in recent weeks, while Party City plans to open nearly 50 toy pop up shops.

      “It is likely that the Toys ‘R’ Us news has kept toys top-of-mind for parents and grandparents when shopping for kids,” said Juli Lennett, a senior vice president and industry advisor for toys at NPD Group.

      Experts in the field think Walmart has a good shot at capitalizing on Toys “R” Us’ mistakes, as studies have shown that Walmart and Target shoppers have the most overlap with former Toys “R” Us shoppers.

      Target has taken a similar path as Walmart by increasing its toy options in stores, with the company reporting double-digit sales growth just in toys.

      “Given the strong affinity between families with young children and our brand, both toys and [baby] are key categories for us,” said Target CEO Brian Cornell.

      Toys “R” Us’ decline

      Back in January, Toys “R” Us announced it would be closing 180 of its stores in an effort to reorganize the business under bankruptcy protection. The toy chain filed for bankruptcy in September of 2017, as it needed to restructure $5 billion worth of debt.

      The pressure came from retailers like Amazon and Walmart, who were more competitive to consumers -- particularly in online offerings.

      By March, the company announced all of its U.S. stores would be closing. Toys “R” Us was unable to find a buyer or restructure its debt. The company was confident that the 2017 holiday season would help it return to profitability, as it announced the hiring of thousands of seasonal employees. However, sales came in way under expectations, thus prompting the initial closing of stores in January of 2018.

      With Toys “R” Us having permanently closed its doors nationwide, the market for toys is certainly any retailers’ game.However, Walmart is hoping to bec...
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      Google reportedly monitors credit card usage

      The search giant reportedly links searches to actual purchases

      Google and Mastercard reportedly have a deal that allows the search giant to link online searches to in-store purchases.

      Bloomberg News cites four unnamed sources who confirm the deal, three of whom are said to have directly worked on the project. Bloomberg reports the relationship has never been publicly disclosed.

      According to a spokeswoman for Google, a high level of encryption prevents anyone from viewing personally identifiable information about consumers.

      “We do not have access to any personal information from our partners’ credit and debit cards, nor do we share any personal information with our partners,” the company said in a statement.

      Being able to determine whether a consumer who searched for a product using Google then went to a store and purchased that product is an extremely valuable tool. It allows Google to demonstrate to an advertiser just how effective the ad campaign was. It's an advantage over traditional advertising mediums and may be one reason these other forms of advertising are in decline.

      Growing mistrust

      In the wake of Facebook's privacy issues, it could lead to further scrutiny of large technology companies, already the subject of growing mistrust.

      In March, Facebook revealed that data on millions of its users was obtained by a political marketing firm that used it to target ads during the 2016 presidential campaign. The company, Cambridge Analytica, was not authorized to receive the information, but it didn't lessen the public outrage directed at the social media company.

      But living in an online world often means giving up a great degree of privacy. In an interview with the Harvard Gazette last year, cybersecurity expert and Berkman Klein fellow Bruce Schneier said surveillance has become the business model of the internet.

      'Constant surveillance'

      "Everyone is under constant surveillance by many companies, ranging from social networks like Facebook to cell phone providers," Schneier told the newspaper. "This data is collected, compiled, analyzed, and used to try to sell us stuff. Personalized advertising is how these companies make money, and is why so much of the internet is free to users. We’re the product, not the customer."

      Privacy issues aside, any kind of undisclosed sharing of credit card data has been a sensitive area for both consumers and policymakers in the past. Before it was outlawed, businesses often sold access to customers' credit cards to third party marketers.

      These deals resulted in widespread abuse when these third party marketers charged consumers' credit cards for things they had not knowingly agreed to purchase.

      Google and Mastercard reportedly have a deal that allows the search giant to link online searches to in-store purchases.Bloomberg News cites four unnam...
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      California legislature pledges to bar fossil fuels by 2045

      The measure is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk

      California has followed Hawaii in pledging to stop using all forms of fossil fuel in the state by 2045. The California legislature has passed a bill to that effect and sent it to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk to be enacted into law.

      The bill would require all electricity sold to consumers to be generated by solar, wind and other renewable energy sources within three decades. The measure passed over the protests of California utility companies, which told lawmakers the goal isn't practical.

      According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) fossil fuels generated more than 62 percent of U.S. electricity in 2017 while nuclear energy contributed 20 percent. Renewable energy provided just over 17 percent of U.S. electricity.

      The EIA reports California currently gets about a third of its energy needs from renewable sources. Natural gas provides nearly half the state's energy and it gets 9 percent from nuclear.

      '100 percent clean energy'

      “When it comes to fighting climate change and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, California won’t back down, ” said State Senator Kevin de León, who sponsored the measure. “We have taken another great stride toward a 100 percent clean energy future.”

      California lawmakers approved the measure after statewide polls showed widespread support for phasing out fossil fuels. One poll showed 72 percent of state residents were in favor.

      The measure passed the legislature on a 43 to 32 vote. Opponents warned supporters of the economic consequences.

      "We pass all these goals for renewables, but at the same time our families back home will pay the cost with an increase in the electric bills every year as we try to achieve this,” said Assemblyman Devon Mathis, who cast one of the no votes.

      Scientific debate

      Scientists have long debated whether it is feasible to produce all of the nation's energy needs from renewable sources.

      Writing in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, researcher Benjamin Heard and colleagues cast doubt on the ability to produce all needed energy from renewable sources, citing extreme weather events with low sun and low wind.

      Scientists supporting the idea counter that it will be possible, arguing there are technical solutions to all of the drawbacks Heard and his colleagues raised.

      California has followed Hawaii in pledging to stop using all forms of fossil fuel in the state by 2045. The California legislature has passed a bill to tha...
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      BSN Sports recalls rubber critter toys

      The toys violate the federal lead paint ban

      BSN Sports of Farmers Branch, Texas, is recalling about 31,200 rubber critter toys.

      The orange and yellow surface paint on the toys contains levels of lead that exceed the federal lead paint ban. Lead is toxic if ingested by young children and can cause adverse health issues.

      No incidents or injuries are reported.

      This recall involves all rubber critter toys sold in various colors and animal shapes including octopus, alligators, chickens, frogs, pigs, penguins and cows.

      The toys are primarily used to play physical education tossing games. They were sold individually and in sets ranging from two to 24 rubber critters.

      The rubber critter toys, manufactured in China, were sold by BSN Sports and US Games catalogs, and online at www.amazon.com, www.athleticconnection.com, www.bsnsports.com, www.esportsonline.com and www.usgames.com from February 2017, through June 2018, for about $10 for an individual rubber critter and up to $145 for a set.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately take the recalled rubber critter toys away from children and contact BSN Sports for a merchandise credit. The company is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact BSN Sports toll free at (888) 847-8816 Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. (CT) or online at www.bsnsports.com, www.usgames.com, www.athleticconnection.com and www.esportsonline.com and click on the product recall link at the bottom of the page or at www.recallrtr.com/rubbercritters for more information.

      BSN Sports of Farmers Branch, Texas, is recalling about 31,200 rubber critter toys.The orange and yellow surface paint on the toys contains levels of l...
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      Gas prices drift higher ahead of Labor Day

      The shift to cheaper winter grade blends begins soon

      Even though gasoline prices have been rock steady in the latter half of the summer, motorists on the road for the Labor Day weekend will face the highest prices at the pump since 2014.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is $2.83 a gallon, up a penny from last Friday. However, prices are 43 cents higher than last Labor Day weekend.

      The average price of premium gas is also little changed from last week, at $3.38 per gallon. The average price of diesel fuel is $3.15 per gallon, a penny higher than seven days ago.

      “With Labor Day approaching, motorists could see a small swing towards higher gas prices, but any jump should not last past the holiday weekend,” said Jeanette Casselano, AAA's spokesperson.

      Last year, gas prices spiked immediately after Labor Day, but that was because of Hurricane Harvey, which battered refining facilities along the Gulf Coast and interrupted supply.

      As gas stations begin selling winter grade fuel blends, prices should ease a bit, so long as oil prices remain steady. In its latest report, the Energy Information Administration reports stockpiles of both crude oil and gasoline went down unexpectedly last week, which could prevent prices of both from going down very much.

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

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

      • Hawaii ($3.77)
      • California ($3.60)
      • Washington ($3.37)
      • Alaska ($3.34)
      • Idaho ($3.25)
      • Oregon ($3.24)
      • Nevada ($3.19)
      • Utah ($3.19)
      • Connecticut ($3.03)
      • Pennsylvania ($3.03)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      These states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas, the survey found.

      • South Carolina ($2.53)
      • Alabama ($2.53)
      • Mississippi ($2.55)
      • Arkansas ($2.56)
      • Virginia ($2.59)
      • Louisiana ($2.59)
      • Tennessee ($2.59)
      • Texas ($2.59)
      • Missouri ($2.61)
      • Oklahoma ($2.62)
      Even though gasoline prices have been rock steady in the latter half of the summer, motorists on the road for the Labor Day weekend will face the highest p...
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      The airline industry continues shifting its revenue stream toward ancillary income

      Airlines churn out billions in gravy as fliers are asked to pay for things like seat assignments and baggage

      What’s included in the fares consumers pay for airline tickets has become a can of worms over the last few years. What presents itself to the consumer as a $100 fare can easily wind up as $140 by the time "additional fees and taxes" are tagged on.

      Then, if you want a certain seat, to carry on a bag, or board the plane in the first group, you could easily run that $140 charge up to $200 or more.

      There’s no doubt that the ecosystem of running an airline is complex. There’s fuel, regulations, maintenance, ticketing, and layers upon layers of people trying to make customers happy and the planes get from point A to point B.

      There’s also picking out the routes that will create the most return on investment (ROI) and making sure the airline has the deal everyone wants.

      What airline has the most add-on fees?

      In its annual ancillary revenue rankings, the IdeaWorksCompany found the top 10 most expensive carriers based on average fees charged per passenger were as follows:

      1. Spirit: $51 per passenger

      2. WOW Air: $49 per passenger

      3. Allegiant: $49 per passenger

      4. Frontier: $48 per passenger

      5. Jet2.com: $43 per passenger

      6. Qantas Airways: $43 per passenger

      7. United: $39 per passenger

      8. AirAsia X: $33 per passenger

      9. HK Express: $33 per passenger

      10. Wizz Air: $31 per passenger

      Scanning that list, you probably noticed that most of those airlines are small, regional, no-frills types.

      "Consumers in the US enjoy far lower fares courtesy of the presence of Spirit, Frontier, and Sun Country,” Jay Sorensen, President of Product, Partnership and Marketing Practice for IdeaWorksCompany told ConsumerAffairs.

      "These low fare airlines rely upon two revenue streams - fares and ancillary revenue. Now to be certain, the latter must be provided using transparent and fair methods. There have certainly been abuses in terms of transparency and fairness by LCCs. But I confess, if you complete the booking process at the Spirit Airlines website and are surprised by bag fees being charged at the airport for large carry-ons… well, you are intellectually challenged."

      So, ancillary revenue is a good thing?

      IdeaWorksCompany further defines ancillary revenue using these categories: 1) a la carte features, 2) commission-based products, 3) frequent flyer activities, 4) miscellaneous sources such as advertising, and 5) the a la carte components associated with a fare or product bundle.

      If you take a close look at IdeaWorks report, your eyes might widen when you see that United, Delta, and American all took in more than $5 billion in ancillary revenue last year in the way of a la carte features, commission-based products, and frequent flyer activities.

      But, in the long run, that extra revenue stream can be a good thing for the customer.

      If an airline can keep its fares competitive and pick up enough money from its side hustles -- baggage fees, seat assignments, and the like -- then it’s on the consumer to decide how much the perks are worth and if they really need that extra four inches of legroom.

      Do the homework

      When looking for a fare, think about what you want versus what you need. Is it a free checked bag? If so, then Southwest may be your answer. Need a seat toward the front of the plane? United has a new plan you may want to try out.

      "If you can survive with a smaller bag as a carry-on -- you can save that expense," said Sorensen. "Ditto for seat assignments. Consumers are usually best served by applying for the carrier's co-branded credit card and relying on the customary offer of a free checked bag."

      Is the government on the consumer’s side?

      Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called on Congress in 2017 to pass legislation to ground exorbitant airline fees in light of a newly-released Government Accountability Office (GAO) report confirming that many airlines do not consider the costs of the services provided when pricing their airline fees.

      "This report confirms what countless passengers across the country already know to be true – that airlines are nickel and diming captive passengers to line their pockets, not to cover the costs of the services provided," said Senator Markey.

      "GAO’s findings show that many airlines are actually emboldened to increase their fees to match their competitors and actively seek to deceive passengers by offering artificially low fares and then charging exorbitant fees on the back end. It’s time to put a stop to this fee gouging and restore sanity to the skies. It’s time to pass the FAIR Fees Act."

      Unless Markey and Blumenthal can get their bill all the way through and signed, there’s not much hope. While the Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration take their jobs seriously in protecting the safety of fliers, those agencies have decided to stay out of the ring when it comes to things like ticket prices and baggage fees.

      Before the Obama administration left office, it proposed a requirement that airlines list their baggage fees at the start of the booking process, a measure intended to make shopping for tickets easier and more transparent for consumers. However, when Donald Trump moved into the Oval Office, he scrapped that proposal.

      What’s included in the fares consumers pay for airline tickets has become a can of worms over the last few years. What presents itself to the consumer as a...
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      Dark web hackers sold data of 130 million users for eight Bitcoin

      A China-based cybersecurity group speculated that the data was leaked

      Hotel guests at a well-known Chinese hotel chain are now victims of a security breach.

      Despite China’s efforts to crack down on cybersecurity, a hacker is now selling the data of 130 million hotel guests for eight Bitcoin ($56,000) on a Chinese Dark Web forum. Chinese media reported the data breach after several cybersecurity groups saw the forum’s ads.

      The hacker noted that he got the data from Huazhu Hotels Group Ltd. As one of China’s largest hotel chains, the company operates 13 hotel brands across 5,162 hotels in 1,119 Chinese cities.

      “Those who commit illegal acts, including theft, trading, and exchange of residents’ personal data will be heavily punished,” the Shanghai police said in a statement. “We are resolute in protecting people’s interest and ensuring information safety.”

      The hack

      Based on the hacker’s description in the ads, the stolen data totals 240 million records -- which is information on approximately 130 million hotel guests -- and is 141.5 GB worth of data.

      The following information is what the hacker has sold online: check-in registration information (customer name, ID card number, home address, and birthday), booking information (name, card number, mobile phone number, check-in time, departure time, room number, and hotel ID number), and official website registration information (mobile phone number, email address, login password, and ID card number).

      According to the breach, customers at any of Huazhu’s chains were affected by the hack, including: Orange, All Season, Hanting Hotel, Ibis, Manxin, CitiGo, Mercure, Grand Mercure, Haiyou, Starway, Novotel, Joye, and Elan.

      A China-based cybersecurity group -- Zibao -- believes the breach occurred when Huazhu developers or programmers uploaded portions of the company’s server to Github earlier this month. The hotel chain has yet to comment on the specifics of the incident, but it has already started an internal investigation and the authorities have been contacted.

      Similar problems in China

      China has been working to eradicate countless issues regarding cryptocurrency and the buying and selling of items on the dark web. However, the issue continues to plague the country.

      The dark web is not indexed by search engines, and sites are able to sell counterfeit money and drugs, among other things -- like people’s personal data.

      According to Yin Ran, a Shanghai-based investor in the information technology arena, data breaches are a serious threat to China’s continued digitalisation efforts and are also becoming more and more frequent.

      “Strangers would approach us for trading of personal data owned by our portfolio firms,” Ran said. “The potential risks are huge and such illegal behavior must be eradicated to pave the way for further development of digitalised business.”

      Chinese artist Deng Yufeng bought the personal data of 340,000 residents in Wuhan on the black market back in April and then displayed them in an art gallery. The authorities promptly put an end to that.

      Hotel guests at a well-known Chinese hotel chain are now victims of a security breach.Despite China’s efforts to crack down on cybersecurity, a hacker...
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      Consumer spending and inflation both up in July

      A government report suggests the economy is still growing

      On the heels of the Conference Board's finding that consumer confidence is at an 18-year high, the government reports consumers increased their spending again in July.

      The Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reports consumer spending rose 0.4 percent in July, matching June's increase. As a result, government economists say it put upward pressure on prices. The underlying inflation rate hit 2 percent in July, which is right where the Federal Reserve wants it.

      Economists say the strong spending number suggests the economy is still expanding in the third quarter, after the government this week reported second quarter gross domestic product (GDP) rose 4.2 percent.

      The numbers are likely to keep the Federal Reserve on its path of slowly raising interest rates, a policy recently criticized by President Trump as potentially harmful to the economy. But Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has defended the policy, saying the economy is growing to the point that it no longer needs cheap money.

      Two headwinds

      Economists say the economy is doing well in spite of two headwinds – the impact of the trade war and a slowdown in the housing market. In terms of the latter, Economist Joel Naroff says the slowdown may have a silver lining for people looking for a home.

      “With housing sales ebbing, it should not be surprising that the surge in prices is fading as well,” Naroff wrote in his blog. “The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller national home price index rose modestly in June. Over the year, prices are still going up solidly, but it looks like the rate of gain may have peaked.”

      But houses may be the only thing that isn't getting more expensive. The BEA data shows a rising trend in the personal consumption index (PCE) in July, double the increase from June.

      The year-over-year increase of the core PCE price index, which excludes food costs, rose slightly from June and hit the Fed's 2 percent target for the second month this year.

      Incomes lagging

      Consumers may be spending more, but they aren't earning that much more. July's personal income rose 0.3 percent in July, slightly lower than June's gain. The savings rate declined from 6.8 percent to 6.7 percent.

      That suggests much of the increase in July consumer spending was done with credit cards, which isn't a problem as long as consumers can pay it back.

      In one troubling note, however, a new study by NerdWallet suggests consumers were having a difficult time paying for last year's holiday purchases. According to the study, credit card delinquencies totaled $23 billion in the first quarter of the year.

      On the heels of the Conference Board's finding that consumer confidence is at an 18-year high, the government reports consumers increased their spending ag...
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      Toyota recalls model year 2012 Avalons

      The airbag system may not deploy properly in a crash

      Toyota Motor North America is recalling about 19,400 model year 2012 Avalons.

      Because of a service part manufacturing error, some vehicles may have had a front seat belt inner buckle replaced with one that does not correctly identify if the seat belt is buckled.

      This could affect how the airbag system determines the appropriate airbag deployment method in a crash, and could increase the risk of injury to the occupant where the front seat belt inner buckle was replaced.

      As many as 97 of the recalled vehicles may have had a front seat belt inner buckle replaced by a dealer (or possibly a non-Toyota service provider) with an involved service part.

      What to do

      Toyota dealers will inspect the front seat belt inner buckle(s) and if necessary, replace it with a new one(s) at no cost to customers.

      The recall is set to begin in mid-September.

      Owners may call Toyota at (800) 331.4331.

      Toyota Motor North America is recalling about 19,400 model year 2012 Avalons.Because of a service part manufacturing error, some vehicles may have had...
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      Yahoo Mail reportedly scans commercial emails to help advertisers

      Almost 200 million Yahoo inboxes are scanned for data to help advertisers learn users’ buying habits

      Yahoo Mail is still scanning the inboxes of its users for commercial emails in order to help advertisers target ads based on users’ interests, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

      The emails that are scanned typically include order confirmations and other messages from online retailers. Oath, Yahoo’s owner, uses the information to put users into interest groups. Advertisers then show ads based on those interests.

      Oath uses algorithms to identify commercial emails, then scans those emails for keywords that could provide insights into a user’s purchasing habits.

      “Yahoo mined users’ emails in part to discover products they bought through receipts from e-commerce companies such as Amazon.com,” said the Journal. “In 2015, Amazon stopped including full itemized receipts in the emails it sends customers, partly because the company didn’t want Yahoo and others gathering that data for their own use.”

      The company allows users to opt out of receiving targeted ads based on email scanning, but the page through which users can do so is difficult to find. Users have to navigate into the Ad Interest Manager and select “opt out” under both 'Your Advertising Choices' and the 'On Yahoo' tabs.

      Yahoo’s rivals don’t scan emails

      Users first noticed that Oath gave itself permission to read users’ emails when it updated its privacy policy back in April. However, the fact that the company is still pitching this ability to advertisers goes against the policies of most of its competitors.

      Last year, Google confirmed that it would stop scanning users’ consumer email accounts in order to serve up targeted ads. Microsoft says it has never engaged in the practice, nor has Apple.

      Oath says that scanning retail emails is part of the trade-off consumers make in exchange for free online services.

      "Email is an expensive system. I think it's reasonable and ethical to expect the value exchange, if you've got this mail service and there is advertising going on," Doug Sharp, Oath's Vice President of Data, Measurements & Insights, told the Journal.

      Yahoo Mail is still scanning the inboxes of its users for commercial emails in order to help advertisers target ads based on users’ interests, the Wall Str...
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      Robocall campaign aims to derail California's net neutrality efforts

      But no one will own up to the campaign

      California is considering regulations to impose its own version of net neutrality, but a robocall campaign is underway to negate that effort.

      Supporters of California's proposed net neutrality rules report instances of senior citizens receiving robocalls claiming the state's proposal to enact its own net neutrality rules will result in higher mobile phone bills and slower internet speeds.

      According to consumer groups in the state and net neutrality supporters in the legislature, the robocalls offer no evidence that net neutrality will have any kind of negative impact on consumers. They say the state's proposed regulations mirror the national regulations that were on the books until the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rolled them back in December.

      'Misinformation campaign'

      “We’re now dealing with a straight-up misinformation campaign on our #NetNeutrality bill, #SB822: industry robo-calls to seniors falsely telling them that protecting net neutrality will increase their phone bills by $30,” State Senator Scott Wiener said in a tweet. “Scaring seniors with lies about their financial security? Gross.”

      The consumer groups say the robocalls being made to California seniors are coming from a group called the Civil Justice Association of California and the Congress of California Seniors. The whole project, consumer groups charge, is being bankrolled by AT&T and Verizon.

      However, both AT&T and Verizon deny any connection to efforts to block California's efforts to impose net neutrality rules and both say they have nothing to do with the phone calls California seniors are receiving.

      Status of the bill

      After initially gutting many of the protections in California's net neutrality bill, a key legislative committee restored provisions of the measure to require internet service providers to treat all internet traffic the same.

      Wiener, the author of the legislation, ultimately reached an agreement with Communications Committee Chairman Miguel Santiago to restore the bill to its stronger form and bring it back for a vote. The bill cleared the committee with all key protections intact.

      Though it won committee approval, the measure to restore net neutrality in California has yet to be brought up for a floor vote. Sponsors say they think they are close to a vote and expect strong opposition from large telecom and cable companies.

      California is considering regulations to impose its own version of net neutrality, but a robocall campaign is underway to negate that effort.Supporters...
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      Facebook ramps up its greenhouse gas reduction goals

      The tech giant has new greenhouse gas reduction targets and a 100 percent renewable energy goal

      On Tuesday, Facebook announced that it’s committing to slashing its greenhouse emissions by 75 percent and powering global operations with 100 percent renewable energy by the end of 2020.

      The company had previously set a goal of having 25 percent of its power sourced from renewable energy in 2015 and then 50 percent by 2018. The latter target was hit in 2017, when Facebook reached 51 percent clean and renewable energy.

      Facebook said in a statement that it is “on track to be one of the largest corporate purchasers of renewable energy.” The tech giant revealed that it has signed contracts for more than three gigawatts of solar and wind energy, all on the same grid as its data centers.

      Combating climate change

      Facebook’s new pledge is part of its ongoing effort to fight climate change. Last year, the company supported the Paris Agreement through the We Are Still In initiative.

      The social networking platform joins other tech giants who have made commitments on renewable energy. Earlier this year, Apple announced that 100 percent of its global operations are powered by renewable energy. Google achieved the same milestone last year.

      Facebook's new commitment was praised by environmental campaigners, including Greenpeace.

      "CEO Mark Zuckerberg has reaffirmed Facebook's place among business leaders in the race to be coal-free and 100 percent renewable-powered," Gary Cook, senior corporate campaigner at Greenpeace, said in a statement.

      "If we are to stay within the 1.5-degree threshold that scientists say is crucial to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need many more companies stepping up to adopt aggressive renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals," Cook added.

      On Tuesday, Facebook announced that it’s committing to slashing its greenhouse emissions by 75 percent and powering global operations with 100 percent rene...
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      Consumer confidence at an 18-year high

      Conference Board says consumers are optimistic about the present and the future

      Consumer Confidence, as measured by the Conference Board, surged this month, rising sharply from the month before. The confidence index rose from 127.9 last month to 133.4 in August.

      There were similar large gains in the Present Situation Index and the Expectations Index, which measures how consumers feel about the future. The index is constructed from polling conducted by Nielsen.

      Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board, says confidence is at its highest level in 18 years, when the index hit 135.8 in October 2000. Franco says August is part of a positive trend she has seen throughout 2018.

      "Consumers' assessment of current business and labor market conditions improved further,” Franco said. “Expectations, which had declined in June and July, bounced back in August and continue to suggest solid economic growth for the remainder of 2018.”

      Confidence is a closely-watched economic indicator because consumer behavior has such a large impact on whether businesses do well.

      Consumers likely to keep spending

      "Overall, these historically high confidence levels should continue to support healthy consumer spending in the near-term," Franco said.

      Consumer spending can be a double-edged sword. If consumers suddenly stop buying things, the economy can slip into a recession. But if they continue to increase spending, it can sometimes lead to inflation. If they put that spending on plastic, it can build up dangerous levels of debt.

      The Conference Board's monthly survey also takes consumers' pulse on the job market. In August, the outlook is mixed.

      The percentage of consumers who expect more jobs in the months ahead fell from 22.6 percent to 21.7 percent, while those anticipating fewer jobs also decreased, from 15.2 percent to 14.1 percent.

      Even though wage growth has been slow in 2018, a number of consumers are hopeful that's about to change, The percentage of consumers expecting their income to improve rose from 20.4 percent to 25.5 percent, while the proportion expecting a decrease declined, from 9.4 percent to 7.0 percent.

      Consumer Confidence, as measured by the Conference Board, surged this month, rising sharply from the month before. The confidence index rose from 127.9 las...
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      Polaris recalls RZR XP Turbo S ROVs

      The vehicle’s rollover protection structure can fracture

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 1,300 model year 2018 RZR XP Turbo S recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).

      In the event of a high-speed rollover, the rollover protection structure (ROPS) can fracture, providing inadequate protection during a rollover.

      The firm has received six reports of rollover protection structures fracturing during rollovers. Polaris also has received one report of an injury but does not attribute it to ROPS fractures.

      This recall involves model year 2018 RZR XP Turbo S recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs) sold in red and blue.

      The recalled vehicles have “POLARIS” printed on the front grille, “POLARIS” printed beneath the doors, and “RZR” printed on the rear fenders.

      The vehicle identification number (VIN) and model number can be found on a label affixed to the vehicle frame in the left front wheel well.

      Polaris Model Year 2018 RZR XP Turbo S

      Year

      Model Number

      Model/Color

      2018

      Z18VEL92BR

      RZR XP TURBO S WITH RIDE CMD AND LV INDY RED

      2018

      Z18VEL92BK

      RZR XP TURBO S WITH RIDE CMD AND LV POL BLUE

      The ROVs, manufactured in Mexico, were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide from January 2018, through August 2018, for about $27,500.

      What to do

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

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

      In addition, consumers should check their vehicle identification number (VIN) on the “Product Safety Recalls” page to see if their vehicle is included in any recalls.

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 1,300 model year 2018 RZR XP Turbo S recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).In the event of a...
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      American Landmaster recalls off-road utility vehicles

      Gas can leak from the gas tank, posing fire and burn hazards

      American Landmaster of Columbia City, Ind., is recalling about 1,500 off-road utility vehicles.

      Gas can leak from the gas tank, posing fire and burn hazards.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves model year 2018 gasoline-powered Landstar, Crossroad and Trailwagon models of American Landmaster four-wheel off-road utility vehicles.

      The recalled vehicles were sold in a variety of colors.

      The model name and number are printed on the hood of each front fender.

      The American Landmaster logo is printed on the center of the hood of the vehicle. The VIN is located behind the pedals and below the steering wheel.

      Model Number

      VIN range start

      VIN range end

      CR350, LS350, LS350DL

      A4PUTYFB1JBA00023

      A4PUTYFB9JBA00304

      A4PUTYFB1JBA00751

      A4PUTYFB7JBA00754

      LS450

      A4PUTYJC4JBA00422

      A4PUTYJC6JBA00499

      A4PUTYJC3JBA00749

      A4PUTYJCXJBA01512

      TW450

      A4PUTYJCXJBA00358

      A4PUTYJC0JBA00496

      A4PUTYJC2JBA00760

      A4PUTYJC2JBA01147

      TW750

      A4PUTYPD0JBA00014

      A4PUTYPD8JBB00149

      LS477

      A4PUVTKD7JBB00003

      A4PUVTKD9JBB00049

      LS550

      A4PUTVKD9JBA00003

      A4PUTVKD9JBA00308

      LS670, 677EFI, 677EPS

      A4PUTYPD6JBB00005

      A4PUTYPD7JBB00224

      Crew2, Crew4, Crew4X

      A4PUFYPD0JBA00005

      A4PUFYPD5JBA00078

      The vehicles, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Atwood Distributing, Tractor Supply Company, Orscheln Farm and Home stores and other distributors nationwide from January 2018, through July 2018, for between $4,300 and $10,300.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled vehicles and contact American Landmaster for a free repair.

      Consumers may contact American Landmaster at (800) 643-7332 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at recall@AmericanLandmaster.com or online at www.AmericanLandmaster.com or www.AmericanLandmaster.com/recall for more information.

      American Landmaster of Columbia City, Ind., is recalling about 1,500 off-road utility vehicles.Gas can leak from the gas tank, posing fire and burn haz...
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      Amazon launches Prime Book Box subscription service

      The children’s book subscription service is now available to all Prime members in the U.S.

      Today, Amazon publicly launched its children’s book subscription service “Prime Book Box.” The service was initially introduced in May, but at the time it was only available to customers with an invitation.

      For $22.99 per box, Prime members can receive either four board books for children two years old and younger or two picture books or novels for older children every one, two, or three months (with the option to skip a box at any time).

      The selection of books that Prime members receive are curated by Amazon Books editors, who handpick books for the selected age range. The books range from classics to “hidden gems,” and are tailored to the reader’s age range of “Baby-2,” “3-5,” “6-8,” or “9-12.”

      Amazon says it even makes sure not to send titles that the subscriber already has at home that were purchased through Amazon. Parents can also preview the selection of books and swap out certain books for others by logging on to the Book Box site.

      Up to 35 percent off list price

      “As a mom who’s spent over 20 years reading and reviewing children’s books, the best part of my job is sharing a love of reading with kids and their families,” said Seira Wilson, Senior Editor, Amazon Books, in a statement.

      “Over the past few months, it’s been both exciting and rewarding to hear that Prime Book Box is encouraging kids to spend more time reading. Now that Prime Book Box is available to all U.S. Prime members, I hope we can inspire even more children to discover a love of reading that will last a lifetime.”

      The $23 price tag for the service is about 35 percent less than the price of buying children’s books at normal price, says Amazon.

      The service is available to all Prime members in the U.S. starting today.

      Today, Amazon publicly launched its children’s book subscription service “Prime Book Box.” The service was initially introduced in May, but at the time it...
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      Manhattan Toy recalls toy planes

      The rubber tires can separate from the wheels, posing a choking hazard

      The Manhattan Toy Company of Minneapolis, Minn., is recalling about 6,000 Pull-Back Speedy Jets sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The rubber tires can separate from the wheels, posing a choking hazard for young children.

      The company has received two reports of the rubber tires separating from the wheels. No injuries have been reported.

      The Pull-Back Speedy Jet is a wooden toy airplane with a blue painted body, natural wood wings and plastic wheels with black rubber tires. The toy has a pull-back feature that propels the plane forward.

      The model number and lot code are printed on the bottom of the plane. The recall includes only those toy planes with lot code 155400 EJ.

      The toy planes, manufactured in China, were sold at small independent stores from August 2017, through June 2018, for about $8.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately take the recalled toy away from children and return it to the store where purchased or contact Manhattan Toy for a full refund.

      Consumers may contact Manhattan Toy Company at (800) 541-1345 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. (CT) on Friday, or online at www.manhattantoy.com and click on “Recall Information” at the bottom of the homepage for more information.

      The Manhattan Toy Company of Minneapolis, Minn., is recalling about 6,000 Pull-Back Speedy Jets sold in the U.S. and Canada.The rubber tires can separa...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls GLE and GLSW series vehicles

      The vehicles may experience reduced braking performance

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 9,044 model year 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLE350 4Matics, GLE350s, GLS450 4Matics, GLS550 4matics, GLE43 AMG 4Matics, GLE63 AMG 4Matics, GLE63S AMG 4Matics, and GLS63 AMG 4Matics.

      The rear brake caliper pistons may not have been correctly coated, causing gas to become temporarily released into the rear brake hydraulic circuit, reducing braking performance and increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will bleed the rear axle brake system, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin in early September 2018.

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

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 9,044 model year 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLE350 4Matics, GLE350s, GLS450 4Matics, GLS550 4matics, GLE43 AMG 4Matics, GLE6...
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      Yamaha recalls SRVenture DX snowmobiles

      The passenger handgrips can come loose during operation

      Yamaha Motor Corporation U.S.A., of Cypress, Calif., is recalling about 120 SRVenture DX snowmobiles.

      The passenger handgrips can come loose during operation, increasing the risk that a passenger could lose balance and fall, resulting in severe injury.

      No incidents or injuries are reported.

      This recall involves 2018 model SRVenture DX (SRT1NJ) snowmobiles.

      The recalled snowmobiles were sold in a gray and blue color and have a vehicle identification number (VIN) between 4UF8MU107JT000101 and 4UF8MU106JT000364. The model name can be found on the left and right sides of the front cowling.

      The vehicle identification number (VIN) and the model name/code are stamped on the frame (tunnel) near the right foot well of the snowmobile.

      The snowmobiles, manufactured in the U.S., were sold exclusively at Yamaha snowmobile dealers nationwide from October 2017, through June 2018, for about $14,600.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled snowmobiles and contact a Yamaha snowmobile dealer to schedule a free repair. Yamaha is contacting all registered owners directly.

      Consumers may contact Yamaha at (800) 962-7926 anytime or online at www.yamahamotorsports.com and click on the “Product Recalls” tab at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Yamaha Motor Corporation U.S.A., of Cypress, Calif., is recalling about 120 SRVenture DX snowmobiles.The passenger handgrips can come loose during oper...
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      North Country Premium recalls Bavarian Smokies

      The products contain mustard and milk, allergens not declared on the label

      North Country Premium Sausage Co., is recalling various North Country Premium brand Bavarian smokies.

      The products contain mustard and milk, allergens not declared on the label.

      The following products, distributed throughout Ontario, Canada, are being recalled:

      Brand NameCommon NameSizeCode(s) on ProductUPC
      North Country PremiumBavarian Smokies - Cheese400 gAll codes where mustard and milk are not declared on the labelNone
      North Country PremiumBavarian Smokies1 kgAll codes where mustard is not declared on the labelNone
      North Country PremiumBavarian Smokies - Jalapeno and Cheese1 kgAll codes where mustard and milk are not declared on the labelNone
      North Country PremiumBavarian Smokies - Mild400 gAll codes where mustard is not declared on the labelNone
      North Country PremiumBavarian Smokies - Hot400 gAll codes where mustard is not declared on the labelNone
      North Country PremiumBavarian Smokies - Cheese1 kgAll codes where mustard and milk are not declared on the labelNone
      North Country PremiumBavarian Smokies5 lbsAll codes where mustard is not declared on the labelNone
      North Country PremiumBavarian Smokies - Jalapeno and Cheese400 gAll codes where mustard and milk are not declared on the labelNone
      North Country PremiumBavarian Smokies - Hot1 kgAll codes where mustard is not declared on the labelNone

      What to do

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (807 475-3665 Monday – Saturday from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sunday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., or by email at kevin@northcountrymeats.com.

      North Country Premium Sausage Co., is recalling various North Country Premium brand Bavarian smokies.The products contain mustard and milk, allergens n...
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      Amazon opens its second Amazon Go convenience store

      The second cashier-less store will only be open on weekdays

      In January, Amazon opened its first cashier-less convenience store -- Amazon Go -- in the company’s hometown of Seattle, Washington. Today, the second Amazon Go store opened its doors.

      Seattle residents can now visit the store -- located downtown at 5th and Marion, near the Seattle Central Library -- Monday through Friday from 7AM - 7PM, as Amazon is looking to cater to the office worker crowd. The new store is 1,450 square feet, which is slightly smaller than the original store’s 1,800 square feet. Despite the size difference, customers are expected to gain almost an identical experience at both stores.

      The store will feature a variety of ready-to-eat meal and snack options, as well as Amazon’s Meal Kits. Amazon chefs and local eateries and bakeries will be making all the food options, and customers can expect locally made chocolates, chips, granola bars, and candy, as well as lunch options like wraps, sandwiches, and salads. Amazon’s Meal Kits offer customers all of the ingredients needed to prepare a meal for two in 30 minutes.

      This second Amazon Go store does stock less than the flagship store, which offers customers beer, wine, grocery items, and Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value brand products.

      According to the Seattle Times -- which toured the facility prior to its grand opening -- there is no kitchen on premises. All of the prepared food will come from Amazon’s kitchen, which is also located in Seattle.

      Amazon Go technology

      The second Amazon Go store is set up in a nearly identical fashion as the original store.

      In an effort to continually advance technology, Amazon’s Go stores have no lines and no cashiers -- and customers don’t have to wait to checkout. Consumers go through the aisles picking up what they need, and simply leave the store when they’re done.

      Amazon has cameras and sensors strategically placed throughout the store to track what customers are taking home with them, and their credit cards -- which are stored on file through the Amazon Go app -- are charged accordingly. Customers must have the app downloaded to their smartphones, as they are required to scan a unique QR code at the store’s exit before leaving.

      “Our Just Walk Out technology automatically detects when products are taken from or return 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.”

      The future of Amazon Go

      Not long after Amazon opened its first Amazon Go store back in January, reports indicated that the company was preparing to open an additional six storefronts expected this year. At the time, many expected the second store to open in Los Angeles.

      Since those early reports, Amazon has yet to publicly discuss its plans for the future. Back in May, Amazon posted job listings that led many to believe the next stores would be opening in Chicago and San Francisco, but Amazon only confirmed that plans were in the works -- not what the plans are.

      In January, Amazon opened its first cashier-less convenience store -- Amazon Go -- in the company’s hometown of Seattle, Washington. Today, the second Amaz...
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      JetBlue increases fees for checked baggage

      The new fees take effect today

      Starting today, JetBlue passengers will have to pay $30 to check their first bag and $40 to check their second.

      Previously, the airline charged $25 and $35 for first and second bag checks, which is what other major airlines also charge. Travelers will have to pay $150 to check a third bag, up from $100.

      The price increase comes amid rising airline fuel prices. To help offset rising fuel costs, several airlines have announced efforts to boost revenue by paring down expenses.

      Last week, American Airlines announced that it’s eliminating some of its money-losing flights to China. Southwest Airlines announced that it’s increasing the price of its EarlyBird boarding fee from a flat $15 to $15, $20, or $25 per one-way route starting on August 29, 2018. United Airlines will soon start charging for certain economy seat assignments.

      On a conference call with reporters in July, JetBlue executives announced that the airline intends to boost “ancillary revenue” through a series of initiatives. JetBlue said it is trying to cut costs by up to $300 million a year by 2020. Earlier this summer, it underwent a company restructuring by “eliminating a number of positions” through layoffs, buyouts, and attrition.

      JetBlue’s new fees for checked baggage are listed on its website.

      Starting today, JetBlue passengers will have to pay $30 to check their first bag and $40 to check their second. Previously, the airline charged $25 and...
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      Confer Plastics recalls pool step systems

      Children’s limbs can become entrapped in the systems' side openings

      Confer Plastics of North Tonawanda, N.Y., is recalling about 102,100 curve in-pool step systems sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      Children’s limbs can become entrapped in the side openings of the step systems, posing a drowning hazard.

      The firm has received two reports of children’s arms becoming entrapped in the side panel openings of the step systems, including reports of minor abrasions. No drownings have been reported.

      This recall involves three models of in-pool step systems with curved steps for in-ground and above-ground pools. The steps and handrails are made of gray and beige plastic.

      The manufacturing/date code is located on the side walls of each step.

      Model

      Product Description

      Manufacturing/Date Code Range

      #CCX-AG

      Confer Curve base (staircase) 4-step for aboveground pool

      All 2013-2018

      #CCX-IG

      Confer Curve base (staircase) 3-step for in-ground pool

      All 2013-2018

      #CCX-ADD

      Curve add-on unit for either in-ground or aboveground stairs

      All 2013-2018

      The pool step systems, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Champion Pool Distributors, Cinderella, EMSCO Distributors, Leisure Living, Leslie's, Superior Pool Products, Water Warehouse stores and other stores nationwide and online at www.conferplastics.com from January 2013, through July 2018, for between $200 and $400.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled pool step systems and contact Confer Plastics for a free repair kit. The repair kit will include additional panels to prevent entrapment and installation instructions.

      Consumers may contact Confer Plastics at (800) 635-3213 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at www.conferplastics.com and click on “Curve Recall” at the top of the page for more information.

      Confer Plastics of North Tonawanda, N.Y., is recalling about 102,100 curve in-pool step systems sold in the U.S. and Canada.Children’s limbs can become...
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      Daimler Vans USA recalls Mercedes-Benz Metris vehicles

      The vehicle's driveshaft bolts may loosen

      Daimler Vans USA (DVUSA) is recalling six model year 2017-2018 Mercedes-Benz Metris vehicles.

      The drive shaft securing bolts may loosen at the automatic transmission flange.

      If the bolts loosen and fall out, the driveshaft may separate causing a loss of drive, thereby increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      DVUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the transmission flange, securing bolts, and clean the shaft seal, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin September 28, 2018.

      Owners may contact DVUSA customer service at 1-877-762-8267.

      Daimler Vans USA (DVUSA) is recalling six model year 2017-2018 Mercedes-Benz Metris vehicles.The drive shaft securing bolts may loosen at the automatic...
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      McDonald’s shuts down New York restaurant following food poisoning outbreak

      Customers reported getting sick after eating breakfast sandwiches from a location in Jamestown, New York

      McDonald’s has shut down one of its locations in Jamestown, New York after 22 individuals reported becoming ill with common symptoms of food poisoning.

      The customers who became ill said they had eaten various breakfast sandwiches from the establishment between August 4 and August 21, the New York Department of Health said on Thursday. Symptoms reported included nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

      "McDonald's is fully cooperating with this investigation and is readily following all recommendations of the State and County Health Departments while this investigation continues," the agency said in a statement.

      Closed for cleaning and sanitation

      The owner of the franchise has temporarily closed the Jamestown, New York location to clean the food preparation area, review the food preparation process, and obtain a fresh supply of ingredients. Breakfast sandwiches from the restaurant, as well as patient samples, are en route to New York State's Public Health Laboratory in Albany for testing.

      Before the location reopens, there will be a follow-up meeting with the Chautauqua County Health Department "to ensure all recommendations [are] appropriately met."

      The fast food chain was recently hit with another major food poisoning outbreak linked to its salads. Consumers in 15 states reported becoming ill after eating salads from McDonald’s; at least 16 people have been hospitalized for their symptoms.

      In response to the incident, McDonald’s pulled salads from the 3,000 locations. The company has since found a new lettuce-blend supplier for those restaurants.

      McDonald’s has shut down one of its locations in Jamestown, New York after 22 individuals reported becoming ill with common symptoms of food poisoning....
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      California’s net neutrality bill is moving ahead to the Assembly

      The bill was restored after being gutted in June

      On Wednesday, a California state net neutrality bill that would provide the toughest set of net neutrality protections in the nation was approved by a key legislative committee.

      SB 822 was approved 9-3 by the state Assembly’s Communications and Conveyance Committee, with all nine votes in favor of the bill coming from Democrats. Next week, the bill will advance to the Assembly floor for a final vote.

      The bill was passed by the state Senate in May. Then in June, it was gutted by the same committee that voted to pass it on Wednesday under pressure from broadband providers like AT&T.

      The bill’s author, Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), ultimately reached an agreement with Communications Committee Chairman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) to restore the bill to its stronger form and bring it back for a vote. The bill was approved with “all key protections intact,” Wiener said in a statement.

      "Today's committee action sending SB 822 to the floor is a big step forward, but we continue to face a huge fight, as the big telecom and cable companies will stop at nothing to kill the bill," Wiener said.

      "Yet, we have momentum and the support of a broad and diverse coalition that understands the importance of a free and open internet for everyone. I look forward to working with our supporters and everyday Californians to get this vital piece of legislation to the governor's desk."

      “Gold standard” for state-level net neutrality protections

      SB 822 prohibits internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or throttling lawful traffic. It also bars the practice of charging websites for access to an ISP’s subscribers or for fast lanes to those subscribers.

      Additionally, the bill prevents ISPs from getting around these protections at the point where data enters their networks and from charging access fees to reach ISP customers. The bill also prevents 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.

      Opponents of the bill include AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, chambers of commerce, and others. Its supporters include former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, advocacy groups, and others.

      On Wednesday, a California state net neutrality bill that would provide the toughest set of net neutrality protections in the nation was approved by a key...
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      Starbucks will let employees split their time at a nonprofit

      Workers will be paid to spend half the week volunteering

      Points Light -- a non-profit volunteering group -- has chosen 36 Starbucks Service Fellows in 13 cities to test out a new pilot program that will allow employees to spend half their workweek at a non-profit organization. The workers will spend six months working 20 hours a week at Starbucks and 20 hours a week at local non-profits.

      The organizations involved are those that share Starbucks’ values. Employees will be working with organizations that help to support refugees, veterans and military families, and youth through protecting the environment, offering disaster relief, and eliminating hunger.

      Virginia Tenpenny, vice president of Global Social Impact at Starbucks and the executive director of the Starbucks Foundation, believes the program will boost morale among employees. Because the program will be spread across stores, Tenpenny is hopeful that those who volunteer will spread the good word among their coworkers.

      “Starbucks partners consistently share with us their passion for service both in and out of their stores,” Tenpenny said. “The Service Fellows program powers that passion through philanthropy and partnerships to have the greatest impact. Our Service Fellows program is an innovative approach that combines work, service, and partnerships, a model that will inform how we catalyze our partners and grantees to create enduring change in our communities.”

      The program so far  

      Points of Light launched the program last week and had 200 initial applicants. The Starbucks Foundation not only provides money for the nonprofits’ programs but also for Points of Light to pay the Starbucks’ employees for their time.

      Tenpenny is hoping the program will be so successful that the company will be able to expand it to beyond just 36 people; there will reportedly be a new cohort selected for the fall of 2019. The fellows selected for this year are hourly Starbucks employees that are eligible for health benefits.

      The Starbucks Foundation will also be taking recommendations from employees on where to allocate the funds. The Foundation will be donating $1.3 million in grants to several programs through its Opportunity for All initiative.

      “I’ve always been very involved in community work and my store manager told me I could not miss this opportunity,” said Katharine Ospina, a Starbucks shift supervisor from Florida who will be working on hurricane preparedness and relief with HandsOn Broward. “I can already see the impact we’re going to make as we become more aware of the issues our communities are facing.”

      Points Light -- a nonprofit volunteering group -- chose 36 Starbucks Service Fellows in 13 cities to test out a new pilot program that will allow employees...
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      Fed chairman defends interest rate policy

      Jerome Powell says raising rates in growing economy is justified

      Wall Street tends to obsess over whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates, but most consumers pay little attention. Rates are still low by any historical measure.

      But lately President Trump has entered the conversation, criticizing Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, a man he appointed, for continuing to raise the federal funds rate, which is now fluctuating between 1.75 and 2 percent.

      In a speech today at the Fed's retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyo., Powell suggested the policymakers would stick to their schedule of slowly raising the key interest rate. The reason, he said, is simple. The economy is strong and the Fed must walk a tight line between not snuffing out growth and not allowing an overheated economy to produce runaway inflation.

      “Over the course of a long recovery, the U.S. economy has strengthened substantially,” Powell said. “The unemployment rate has declined steadily for almost nine years and, at 3.9 percent, is now near a 20-year low. Most people who want jobs can find them. Inflation has moved up and is now near the Federal Open Market Committee's (FOMC) objective of 2 percent after running generally below that level for six years.”

      Good times should continue

      Powell says the Fed expects those positive economic trends to continue, especially with the added stimulus of last December's big tax cut.

      There are troubling issues facing the economy, however. Powell notes that wage growth has lagged behind the rest of the economy. He also expressed concern about the growing federal deficit, especially now that so many baby boomers are drawing Social Security and Medicare.

      While it might seem odd that there is debate over whether a 2 percent interest rate is too high, it should be remembered that the key rate spent years at zero percent following the financial crisis. The Fed has raised the rate seven times since late 2015 and is projected to raise it again two more times this year.

      Dissenting view

      Not all of Powell's Fed colleagues are on board with his policy of continuing to boost the federal funds rate. In an interview with CNBC, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said he thinks there should be no more rate hikes for the remainder of this year.

      "I just don't see much inflation pressure,” Bullard said. “I'm an inflation hawk, but I just don't see that developing.”

      Even so, Fed watchers fully expect another quarter-point hike in the federal funds rate at the September meeting.

      Wall Street tends to obsess over whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates, but most consumers pay little attention. Rates are still low by any...
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      T-Mobile experienced a data breach on August 20

      The carrier said an ‘unauthorized capture of data’ occurred this week

      On Thursday, T-Mobile announced that it was hit with a data breach on August 20 that may have allowed hackers to gain access to the personal information of around 2 million of its customers.

      “Out of an abundance of caution, we wanted to let you know about an incident that we recently handled that may have impacted some of your personal information,” T-Mobile said in a statement disclosing the breach.

      T-Mobile said its cyber-security team “discovered and shut down an unauthorized access to certain information, including yours, and we promptly reported it to authorities.”

      Information comprised included the name, billing zip code, phone number, email address, account number, and account type (prepaid or postpaid) of users.

      Financial data not compromised

      “None of your financial data (including credit card information) or social security numbers were involved, and no passwords were compromised,” T-Mobile said.

      The company said anyone whose data has been stolen has been or will shortly be contacted via text message.

      T-Mobile didn’t say how many customers were affected by the breach. However, a T-Mobile spokesperson noted in a statement to Motherboard that the breach affected “about” or “slightly less than” 3 percent of the carrier’s 77 million customers, which would be around 2 million users.

      T-Mobile says consumers with questions or concerns about the incident can contact Customer Care.

      “If you are a T-Mobile customer, you can dial 611, use two-way messaging on MyT-Mobile.com, the T-Mobile App, or iMessage through Apple Business Chat,” the carrier said. “You can also request a call back or schedule a time for your Team of Experts to call you through both the T-Mobile App and MyT-Mobile.com. If you are a T-Mobile For Business or Metro PCS customer, just dial 611 from your mobile phone.”

      On Thursday, T-Mobile announced that it was hit with a data breach on August 20 that may have allowed hackers to gain access to the personal information of...
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      Just ahead of Labor Day, motorists catch a break at the gas pump

      Prices have dropped two cents in the last week

      With the summer driving season about to draw to a close, consumers paid less for gasoline this week, helped by a big drop in demand.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey reports the national average price of regular gasoline is $2.53 a gallon, down two cents a gallon from last Friday and about the same as a month ago.

      The average price of premium gas is $3.38 a gallon, a penny lower in the last seven days. The average price of diesel fuel is $3.14, down a penny in the last week.

      Consumer demand for motor fuel fell by 60,000 barrels from the previous week, according to the Energy Information Administration. Demand is 176,000 barrels a day lower than at this time last year.

      The drop in demand has taken pressure off of supplies, giving gasoline wholesalers and Wall Street traders less leverage to bid up the price. In its weekly assessment, AAA says the tepid demand, combined with growing gasoline stockpiles, could cause another drop in pump prices next week in the run-up to Labor Day.

      Prices may dip some more

      “Compared to July, consumer demand for gasoline is waning and prices are following suit,” said AAA spokesperson Jeanette Casselano. “The national average is expected to keep moving lower, especially with the switch-over to lower grade gasoline in September.”

      Next month, U.S. gas stations will start selling winter-blend gasoline which is cheaper to produce. It contains a fuel that evaporates at low temperatures for vehicle engines to operate properly, especially when the engine is cold.

      While motorists in most states continue to see very small fluctuations in price, there are exceptions. The average price in Utah jumped five cents a gallon in the last week. But drivers in Ohio caught the biggest break, with the statewide average plunging 12 cents a gallon this week.

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

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

      • Hawaii ($3.77)
      • California ($3.59)
      • Washington ($3.37)
      • Alaska ($3.33)
      • Oregon ($3.24)
      • Nevada ($3.18)
      • Idaho ($3.25)
      • Utah ($3.19)
      • Connecticut ($3.04)
      • Pennsylvania ($3.03)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      These states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas, the survey found.

      • South Carolina ($2.52)
      • Alabama ($2.53)
      • Mississippi ($2.55)
      • Arkansas ($2.56)
      • Missouri ($2.56)
      • Virginia ($2.59)
      • Oklahoma ($2.59)
      • Louisiana ($2.59)
      • Tennessee ($2.59)
      • Texas ($2.60)
      With the summer driving season about to draw to a close, consumers paid less for gasoline this week, helped by a big drop in demand.The AAA Fuel Gauge...
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      Cargill Meat Solutions recalls ground beef

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

      Cargill Meat Solutions of Fort Morgan, Colo., is recalling approximately 25,288 pounds of ground beef.

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

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

      The item, produced on August 16, 2018, is being recalled:

      • 10-lb. chubs of “EXCEL 93/7 FINE GRIND GROUND BEEF” with “Use/Frz. By Sep 05” on the chub label and a “PACK DATE 08/16/2018” on the box label.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “EST. 86R” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to warehouses in California and Colorado.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions about the recall may call (844) 419-1574.

      Cargill Meat Solutions of Fort Morgan, Colo., is recalling approximately 25,288 pounds of ground beef.The product may be contaminated with E. coli O157...
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      SEC rejects Bitcoin ETFs

      The agency is concerned about fraud and the manipulation of Bitcoin markets

      The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has blocked another round of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) backed by Bitcoin. The agency is conce..

      Apple launching donation program to support National Parks

      The company says its goal is to ‘leave the world better than we found it’

      Starting August 24 and continuing through August 31, Apple customers will be able to support America’s National Parks by making a purchase using Apple Pay on apple.com, through the Apple Store app, or at the company’s retail locations in the United States.

      For every purchase made, Apple is donating $1 to the National Park Foundation. Proceeds will support the National Park Foundation's mission to protect national parks through projects like habitat restoration and historic preservation, as well as with support programs like Open OutDoors for Kids, according to Apple.

      “America's national parks are treasures everyone should experience, and we're proud to support them again this month by donating a dollar for every purchase made with Apple Pay at one of our stores,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a statement.

      “These awe-inspiring places are our national inheritance, and Apple is doing our part to pass them on to future generations — just as extraordinary, beautiful and wild as we found them.”

      Apple Watch activity challenge

      Apple is also introducing a National Park-themed fitness challenge, which will start on September 1.

      Apple Watch users who either walk, run, or do a wheelchair workout of 50 minutes or more will earn an Activity app award and stickers that are inspired by national parks. The challenge is in celebration of Redwood National Park’s 50th anniversary.

      The App Store also plans to highlight apps designed to help users navigate and explore national parks. Apple ran similar initiatives last year.

      Starting August 24 and continuing through August 31, Apple customers will be able to support America’s National Parks by making a purchase using Apple Pay...
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      Kroger to eliminate plastic bags by 2025

      America’s largest grocer will be phasing out plastic bags to become a fully sustainable business

      Kroger announced today that it will begin gradually phasing out plastic bags and transitioning to reusable bags at its nearly 2,800 locations. Doing so will eliminate 123 million pounds of garbage that’s sent to landfills every year and will quadruple the amount of plastic the company currently recycles.

      “We’re the first major retailer in the U.S. to do this,” said Jessica Adelman, Kroger’s vice president of corporate affairs.

      The company is the country’s largest grocer, as it owns a number of supermarket chains, including Ralphs, Harris Teeter, and Fred Meyer. QFC, a Seattle-based supermarket that Kroger owns, will be the first store to eliminate plastic bags, and they’ll be gone by 2019.

      “As America’s largest grocer, we realize we have a responsibility to cut down on unnecessary plastic waste that contributes to litter, harms the environment, and in some cases, endangers wildlife,” Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen wrote in an editorial.

      “Collectively, we use 100 billion plastic bags a year in the U.S. That’s a lot for something that’s almost always used once before being tossed into a landfill. You could take all those bags and fill three Houston Astrodomes from top to bottom, year after year, with nothing but plastic bags.”

      Reusable bags

      Kroger currently sells reusable bags in its stores for $1 each; under the new plan, Kroger will begin ramping up the availability of those bags. As it stands right now, shoppers will still have the option to ask for plastic bags.

      “There are less wasteful ways to ensure shoppers can safely and conveniently transport items back to their homes, and Kroger is committed to presenting better options to our customs,” McMullen wrote. “Our ultimate goal is to shift completely over to reusable bags.”

      McMullen also noted this change cannot happen overnight.

      “More than nine million people walk through our doors every day, and what works for one person will not necessarily work for another,” he wrote. “That’s why we’re giving our customers plenty of time to adapt to a new way of shopping.”

      Company-wide policies

      Kroger’s long-term goal is to be a completely sustainable company.

      To help it achieve that mission, the company plans to implement new training procedures for employees who are responsible for bagging in an effort to reduce the need for bags. Additionally, stores will continue to have recycling services for plastic bags and other plastic films, so customers can be active participants in the company’s recycling efforts.

      “We want to be a trusted recycling partner for our customers, but we recognize merely offering such services is not enough,” McMullen wrote. “Kroger is committed to making a difference that cannot be measured.”

      Kroger announced today that it will begin gradually phasing out plastic bags and transitioning to reusable bags at its nearly 2,800 locations. Doing so wil...
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      Sears says it is closing 46 more stores

      A once dominant department store chain continues to shrink

      Sears Holdings says it will close an additional 46 Sears and Kmart stores by November. Sears has shuttered about 400 U.S. locations in the last 15 months as it continues efforts to stem a rising tide of red ink.

      In May, Sears announced the closing of 63 stores and hinted that more closings could be announced later this year. That hint became a reality today.

      "We continue to evaluate our network of stores, which is a critical component to our integrated retail transformation, and will make further adjustments as needed," the company said in a statement.

      Sears served notice in January that it was in dire financial straits. It identified 150 unprofitable stores targeted for possible closing. So far, 99 have either closed or are among those that will close by November.

      In a way, Sears is a victim of consumers' growing reliance on Amazon, but that doesn't fully explain it. In the last two weeks, both Walmart and Target have reported robust earnings, demonstrating that traditional brick and mortar stores can make themselves more appealing to consumers and compete with the online retail giant.

      CNBC reports that Sears is considering a hedge fund proposal to purchase the Kenmore appliance brand in an effort to pump new cash into the business. The retailer previously spun off its Craftsman Tool division.

      Stores that are closing

      Here is the list of the latest Sears and Kmart stores targeted for closing:

      • Kmart 935 Sweetwater Road Spring Valley Calif.

      • Kmart 1075 Shaw Avenue Clovis Calif.

      • Kmart 3625 East 18th Street Antioch Calif.

      • Kmart 6310 W 3rd Street Los Angeles Calif.

      • Kmart 589 Bridgeport Avenue Milford Conn.

      • Kmart 301 College Square Newark Del.

      • Kmart 3231 Chicago Road Steger Ill.

      • Kmart 11 South Kings HWY 61 Cape Girardeau Mo.

      • Kmart 2308 Highway 45 N Columbus Miss.

      • Kmart 605 Old Country Road Riverhead N.Y.

      • Kmart 440 NW Burnside Road Gresham Ore.

      • Kmart 101 Great Teays Blvd Scott Depot Wva.

      • Kmart 2150 South Douglas HWY Gillette Wyo.

      • Sears Flagstaff Mall, 4800 N US HWY 89 Flagstaff Ariz.

      • Sears Capitola Mall, 4015 Capitola Road Santa Cruz Calif.

      • Sears 2424 Highway 6 And 50 Grand Junction Colo.

      • Sears 2266 University Square Mall Tampa - University Fla.

      • Sears 1625 NW 107th Avenue Doral / Miami Fla.

      • Sears Coastland Ctr, 2000 9th Street N Naples Fla.

      • Sears Oglethorpe Mall, 7810 Abercorn St Savannah Ga.

      • Sears 2860 Cumberland Mall Atlanta Ga.

      • Sears 100 Mall Blvd Ste 300 Brunswick Ga.

      • Sears 1631 E Empire Street Bloomington Ill.

      • Sears 4201 Coldwater Road Fort Wayne Ind.

      • Sears 3000 Mall Road Florence Ky.

      • Sears 1914 Hammond Square Drive Hammond La.

      • Sears 50 Holyoke Street Holyoke Mass.

      • Sears Silver City Galleria Taunton Mass.

      • Sears 1250 Jackson Xing I-94 Jackson Mich.

      • Sears 4601 Glenwood Avenue Raleigh - Crabtree N.C.

      • Sears 77 Rockingham Park Boulevard Salem N.H.

      • Sears 1500 South Willow Street Manchester N.H.

      • Sears 4409 Black Horse Pike Mays Landing N.J.

      • Sears 200 Eastview Mall Victor N.Y.

      • Sears 578 Aviation Road Queensbury / Glen Falls N.Y.

      • Sears 1400 Union Turnpike New Hyde Park N.Y.

      • Sears 2700 Miamisburg Centerville Road Dayton Ohio

      • Sears 9505 Colerain Avenue Cincinnati - Northgate Ohio

      • Sears 11800 SE 82nd Avenue Happy Valley / Portland Ore.

      • Sears 400 Memorial City Way Houston - Memorial Tex.

      • Sears Post Oak Mall College Station - Bryan Tex.

      • Sears 7453 S Plaza Center Drive West Jordan Utah

      • Sears 12000 Fair Oaks Mall Fairfax Va.

      • Sears 8800 NE Vancouver Mall Drive Vancouver Wash.

      • Sears 4720 Golf Road Eau Claire Wisc.

      • Sears Valley View Mall, 4200 US HWY 16 La Crosse Wisc.

      Sears Holdings says it will close an additional 46 Sears and Kmart stores by November. Sears has shuttered about 400 U.S. locations in the last 15 months a...
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      Polaris recalls ACE 150 and Ranger 150 ROVs

      The front suspension lower ball joint can separate over time

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 5,900 Model year 2017-2018 Polaris ACE 150 and model year 2018 Polaris Ranger 150 recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).

      The front suspension lower ball joint can separate over time, posing a crash hazard.

      The company has received 10 reports of joints separating. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves model year 2017-2018 Polaris ACE 150 and model year 2018 Polaris Ranger 150 recreational off-highway vehicles. The recalled vehicles were sold in red and white.

      The recalled ACE 150 vehicles have “POLARIS” stamped on the front grille, a “POLARIS” decal on the bottom of the cab frame and an “ACE” decal on the rear fender. The VIN is located on the vehicle frame in the left rear wheel well and the model number is printed on the emissions label on the frame in the left front wheel well.

      The recalled Ranger 150 vehicles have “POLARIS” stamped on the front grille, a “150” decal on the front fender and a “RANGER” decal on the rear fender. The VIN is located on the vehicle frame in the left rear wheel well and the model number is printed on the emissions label on the frame in the right front wheel well.

      Polaris Model Year 2017 - 2018 ACE & Ranger 150

      Year

      Model Number

      Model/Color

      2017

      A17HAA15A7

      ACE 150 EFI INDY RED

      2017

      A17HAA15B7

      ACE 150 EFI INDY RED (CA)

      2018

      A18HAA15B2

      ACE 150 EFI, BRIGHT WHITE, LE

      2018

      A18HZA15B4

      RANGER® 150 EFI SOLAR RED

      2018

      A18HAA15B7

      ACE 150 EFI, INDY RED

      The ROVs, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide from December 2016, through July 2018, for between $3,800 and $5,000.

      What to do

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

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

      In addition, consumers should check their vehicle identification number (VIN) on the “Product Safety Recalls” page to see if their vehicle is included in any recalls.

      Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 5,900 Model year 2017-2018 Polaris ACE 150 and model year 2018 Polaris Ranger 150 recreational off-...
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      Lipari Foods recalls Premo brand turkey & cheese wedge sandwiches

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Lipari Foods is recalling Premo brand turkey and cheese wedge sandwiches produced and packaged by sister company JLM.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

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

      Premo brand's turkey and cheese wedge sandwiches, produced on August 8, 2018, and distributed to food service and retail stores throughout Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin and West Virginia, are being recalled:

      Product #Enjoy By DateLot #UPC
      91551608/31/201808201808612510002018

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may call customer service at (800) 729- 3354, 8:15 am – 4:30 pm (EST) Monday through Friday.

      Lipari Foods is recalling Premo brand turkey and cheese wedge sandwiches produced and packaged by sister company JLM.The product may be contaminated wi...
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      Chrysler recalls Dodge Grand Caravans, Journeys, and Jeep Cherokees & Compass vehicles

      The rear brakes may not perform properly

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 154,335 model year 2018-2019 Dodge Grand Caravan and Jeep Compass, model year 2018 Dodge Journey, and model year model year 2019 Jeep Cherokee vehicles.

      The rear brake caliper pistons on these vehicles may have an insufficient coating causing gas pockets to form, potentially reducing rear brake performance, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will bleed the vehicle's brake system, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin September 28, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U86.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 154,335 model year 2018-2019 Dodge Grand Caravan and Jeep Compass, model year 2018 Dodge Journey, and model year model y...
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      Radagast Pet Food expands cat food recall

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Radagast Pet Food of Portland, Ore., is expanding its earlier recall to include an additional quantity of Rad Cat Raw Diet across all varieties with Best By dates of 10/19/18 through 12/3/19.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No pet or human illnesses caused by consumption of or exposure to the recalled products have been reported to date.

      The following products, which were shipped to distributors in the U.S. and Canada between May 10, 2017, and August 9, 2018, are being recalled:

      • Rad Cat Raw Diet Grass-Fed Beef Recipe (1oz sample, 8oz, 16oz, 24oz)
      • Rad Cat Raw Diet Free-Range Chicken Recipe (1oz sample, 8oz, 16oz, 24oz)
      • Rad Cat Raw Diet Pasture-Raised Lamb Recipe (1oz sample, 8oz, 16oz, 24oz)
      • Rad Cat Raw Diet Natural Pork Recipe (1oz sample, 8oz, 16oz, 24oz)
      • Rad Cat Raw Diet Free-Range Turkey Recipe (1oz sample, 8oz, 16oz, 24oz)
      • Rad Cat Raw Diet Pasture-Raised Venison Recipe (1oz sample, 8oz, 16oz, 24oz)

      The recall includes products starting with and including lot number 62763, through and including lot number 63101. The Lot Number and BB Date can be found on the bottom of each container.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should check the lot codes on their containers and return them to the specialty retailer where purchased for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Radagast Pet Food (877) 567-3001 Monday - Friday from 9:00am - 5:00pm (PT).

      Radagast Pet Food of Portland, Ore., is expanding its earlier recall to include an additional quantity of Rad Cat Raw Diet across all varieties with Best B...
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      New EPA coal rules could lead to 1,400 more deaths per year

      Officials at the EPA say that rules governing pollution can help to reduce those numbers

      The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a 289-page report yesterday detailing the impact of President Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule.

      The new rule effectively reverses President Obama’s efforts to cut power plant carbon pollution under the proposed Clean Power Plan. The Obama administration was working to instate federal regulations to cut carbon dioxide emissions and use less coal in favor of clean energy sources. The Clean Power Plan was blocked by court battles in 2016, as many Republican attorneys general thought the federal government was overstepping its power.

      While the Trump administration touts ACE as a way to create new jobs and eliminate government regulations, the EPA has found that it could lead to 1,400 premature deaths every year by 2030, in addition to up to 15,000 new cases of upper respiratory problems, a rise in bronchitis, and tens of thousands of missed school days.

      The agency also noted that the new regulations would “increase emissions of carbon dioxide” and “increase the level of emissions of certain pollutants in the atmosphere that adversely affect human health.”

      By contrast, the EPA previously reported that the Clean Power Plan would have helped avoid up to 300,000 missed school and work days, 3,600 premature deaths, and 90,000 child asthma attacks by the year 2030.  

      The Affordable Clean Energy rule

      Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed ACE into effect earlier this week and reported that the rule allows each state to make its own regulations regarding their emission standards for coal-fired plants. One of the main goals is to have less involvement from the federal government. According to Wheeler, ACE would allow “the states and regulated community the certainty they need to continue environmental progress while fulfilling President Trump’s goal of energy dominance.”

      Critics were quick to comment on the rule, as many see it as a step backwards in the fight to tame global warming.

      “The Trump administration sees political value in this rollback, but our health and the economic promise of clean energy is at stake,” said former Vice President Al Gore.

      In the report, the EPA did not address the numbers previously reported regarding the Clean Power Plan. Instead, it focused on comparisons to today’s levels -- which are in a downward trend.

      “Compared to the world as it stands now, the ACE rule will result in dramatic reductions in emissions, including CO2, mercury, and fine particulate matter precursors, as well as any resulting mortality and morbidity effects (like asthma hospitalizations),” the statement said.

      The plan

      In the ACE proposal, the Trump administration has detailed several different ways states can go about regulating coal-fired power plants, as well as what the health-related consequences would look like in each scenario.

      It is in the situation the agency considers most likely to occur where the premature death toll would increase, as would heart and lung disease and chronic problems like asthma and bronchitis. The Trump administration’s analysis found that 48,000 new cases of what it describes as “exacerbated asthma” would occur each year by 2030.

      According to Mr. Wehrum, a former coal industry attorney, there would be “collateral effects” on pollutants compared to the Obama administration’s proposed plan.

      “We have abundant legal authority to deal with those other pollutants directly, and we have aggressive programs in place that directly target emissions of those pollutants,” Wehrum said.

      The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a 289-page report yesterday detailing the impact of President Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule...
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      Woman sues Cabela’s for a crossbow lesson that ended with weapon recoiling into her eye

      A Texas woman claims she was not given proper instructions before shooting a crossbow for the first time

      A Texas woman’s first attempt to shoot a crossbow went horribly wrong, according to a lawsuit she filed against the retail chain Cabela’s, where she had her botched lesson.

      Tonya Kuykendall says in her lawsuit that she visited Cabela’s, the hunting and fishing store owned by Bass Pro Shops, in 2016 and asked to test out a crossbow equipped with a scope.

      The employee at the Waco, TX location where she visited, identified in the suit only as “Austin,” took her to the store’s shooting range. Kuykendall says she told him that it would be her first lesson.

      “In the range, as Ms. Kuykendall shot the bow for the first time, the bow recoiled and the equipped scope hit her left eye, causing her to scream in pain,” says the lawsuit, filed in the 74th State District Court in Texas and obtained by the Waco Tribune-Herald newspaper.  

      The suit alleges that Austin ignored Kuykendall as she screamed in pain.

      “In response to Ms. Kuykendall’s screams, ‘Austin’ began to laugh and asked if Ms. Kuykendall would like to shoot the bow again,” it says.

      “Virtually no recoil”

      Kuykendall says the injury required serious medical attention. She received a black eye, she alleges, and later needed to visit the emergency room to undergo a brain MRI and neurological exams. In addition to the eye injury, she says she also sustained nausea, headaches, and blurry vision, all symptoms of a concussion.

      The lawsuit says that Cabela's employees did not provide proper training and failed to render medical aid after the accident. Store managers told the Tribune-Herald that they could not comment and deferred the paper to corporate headquarters.

      The Bass Pro media line has not yet returned messages left by ConsumerAffairs.

      Crossbows are often portrayed as the safer alternative to hunting with rifles. Recoil, or when a weapon is forced backward after firing off at a target, can potentially injure the shooter if they are not properly trained. But recoil is typically thought of something that only happens with certain firearms, not crossbows.

      An owners manual put out by Cabela’s for one crossbow product claims that hunters should use the scope without worrying at all about any recoil.

      “For optimum accuracy, follow through your shot by aiming and watching the arrow hit your target through your scope,” the owner’s manual says. “There is virtually no recoil in a crossbow, so relax and hold the crossbow comfortably.”

      A Texas woman’s first attempt to shoot a crossbow went horribly wrong, according to a lawsuit she filed against the retail chain Cabela’s, where she had he...
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      Verizon blames employee error for firefighters' data interruption during California fires

      During California’s biggest wildfire on record, a fire department vehicle’s service was compromised

      When a fire department vehicle’s wireless service was interrupted in the midst of California’s biggest wildfire, the wireless provider -- Verizon -- pointed its fingers at a customer service error.

      In a court filing this week, the Santa Clara Fire Department said one of its crews had its service significantly affected as it was fighting a wildfire at the Mendocino Complex.

      “County Fire has experienced throttling by its ISP, Verizon,” Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote in the filing. “This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services. Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire’s ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services.”

      Recent issues with Verizon

      The fire department paid for an unlimited plan with Verizon but allegedly experienced a great deal of throttling until the plan was upgraded.

      “The internet has become an essential tool in providing fire and emergency response, particularly for events like large fires which require the rapid deployment and organization of thousands of personnel and hundreds of fire engines, aircraft, and bulldozers,” Bowden wrote.

      Bowden noted that Verizon’s throttling affected “OES 5262” -- a control and command that aids in tracking and deploying resources for firefighters wherever the need is greatest around the state and country.

      “In the midst of our response to the Mendocino Complex Fire, County Fire discovered the data connection for OES 5262 was being throttled by Verizon, and data rates had been reduced to 1/200, or less, than the previous speeds,” Bowden wrote. “These reduced speeds severely interfered with OES 5262’s ability to function effectively.”

      After communicating with Verizon about the throttling, Bowden said the wireless provider’s representatives said the issue wouldn’t be resolved until the fire department switched to a new plan -- at double the cost.

      Verizon released a statement earlier this week, admitting to being at fault for throttling the services. It labeled the issue as a miscommunication.

      “Like all customers, fire departments choose service plans that are best for them. This customer purchased a government contract plan for a high-speed wireless data allotment set at a monthly cost. Under this plan, users get an unlimited amount of data but speeds are reduced when they exceed their allotment until the next billing cycle. Regardless of the plan emergency responders choose, we have a practice to remove data speed restrictions when contacted in emergency situations,” Verizon said.

      “We have done that many times, including for emergency personnel responding to these tragic fires. In this situation, we should have lifted the speed restriction when our customer reached out to us. This was a customer support mistake. We are reviewing the situation and we will fix any issues going forward.”

      Net neutrality

      Earlier this week, 22 state attorneys general filed a brief asking the appeals court to reinstate the net neutrality laws that were founded under the Obama administration. Bowden’s declaration was submitted as an addendum to the brief that was filed with the states, the District of Columbia, Santa Clara County, Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District, and the California Public Utilities Commission.

      There was much speculation that Verizon’s service interference was a product of net neutrality regulations, as opposed to what they are calling a customer service error. The beginnings of Verizon’s service throttling was documented in fire department emails on June 29 -- just weeks after the repeal of net neutrality.

      All major carriers implemented some form of network throttling -- even when net neutrality laws were in place -- when customers went over their data threshold on unlimited plans. While such instances were limited to times of network congestion, the Santa Clara Fire Department reported throttling at all times once going over their allotted 25GB a month.

      When a fire department vehicle’s wireless service was interrupted in the midst of California’s biggest wildfire, the wireless provider -- Verizon -- pointe...
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      Southwest and JetBlue Airlines both up passenger fees

      Rising costs for fuel and operational costs shoulder some of the blame

      Both Southwest and JetBlue are following United’s announcement on fee bumps with ones of their own.

      First, Southwest said sayonara to its much-loved peanuts. Now, the airline will be moving from its flat $15 for Early Bird Check-In to $15, $20, or $25 per one-way route starting on August 29, 2018. What the flier pays is based on the length of the flight and what Southwest considers the popularity of that flight’s Early Bird Check-In.

      According to its website, Southwest warns that while its Early Bird option "doesn't guarantee an A boarding position, it improves your seat selection options to help you get your favorite seat."

      Travel+Leisure reported that Southwest raked in more than $350 million in 2017 off of Early Bird Check-In fees alone. By bumping the flat $15 fee to as much as $25, the airline has the potential to make another $100 million or two.

      JetBlue’s fees rise across-the-board

      JetBlue fliers might also be raising some eyebrows due to changing baggage, pet, change, and cancel fees, which are all likely to change sometime before September, 2018. These fees don’t stem from greed, however. JetBlue is trying to cut costs by $300 million a year and has braced its employees for layoffs and buyouts.

      "If you have upcoming travel with JetBlue that you might need to change or cancel, it could be a good idea to do so before the end of the month when these new fees are likely to take effect," advises ThePointsGuy.

      While fee changes haven’t been updated at JetBlue’s website, the Points Guy reports the increases should roll out over the next several weeks.

      Playing the airline game can’t be much fun

      Despite passenger air travel projected to continue its upswing through 2030, airlines are taking hits from rising fuel prices and the major carriers are taking a beating from low-cost carriers and regional airlines that have set the industry on its ear with inventive low-fare business prototypes.

      "Notwithstanding the fact that airlines such as Easyjet and Ryanair have steadily eaten into the market share of major transportation companies," wrote Statista in its analysis of global air traffic passenger demand.

      "Aviation demand is set to be fueled by the rising affluence of the middle classes in emerging markets. Consequently, the air traffic industry is forecast to grow most significantly in Latin America and Africa."

      While not a fee increase, American Airlines announced on Tuesday that it’s cutting back on some of its money-losing flights to China. However, the company will also be adding flights to its more profitable European routes.

      Both Southwest and JetBlue are following United’s announcement on fee bumps with ones of their own.First, Southwest said sayonara to its much-loved pea...
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      Facebook deletes another 652 pages and accounts

      The company said it removed accounts that were engaging in "coordinated inauthentic behavior"

      Facebook says it has removed 652 pages and accounts from its platform after determining their owners aren’t real, but groups based in Russian and Iran.

      The purpose of the posts on those pages, Facebook said, was to spread misinformation and sow discord ahead of the U.S. midterm elections. The company said the owners of the accounts were engaging in "coordinated inauthentic behavior."

      The company said the owners of the accounts were carrying out distinct campaigns and so far, it has not established any kind of direct link between the groups. But it was clear they were using the same or similar tactics and were trying to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing.

      Determined and well-funded

      "We ban this kind of behavior because we want people to be able to trust the connections they make on Facebook," the company said in a blog post. "And while we’re making progress rooting out this abuse, as we’ve said before, it’s an ongoing challenge because the people responsible are determined and well funded."

      Facebook said it is investing in people and technology and working more closely with law enforcement. It announced those steps earlier this year when it revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a political marketing firm, made unauthorized use of Facebook data to target ads during the 2016 presidential election.

      Facebook said it received a tip last month from FireEye, a cybersecurity firm, warning that it identified a group called Liberty Front Press as a potential bad actor. Facebook says a subsequent investigation was able to link the account to Iranian state media through publicly available website registration information, as well as the use of related IP addresses and Facebook Pages sharing the same administrators.

      One part of the network, a Facebook group called Quest 4 Truth, identified itself as an independent Iranian media organization. But Facebook said its investigation showed it was connected to Press TV, an English-language news network affiliated with Iranian state media.

      Not who they say they are

      The overarching theme, says Facebook, is that the account owners portray themselves as independent media organizations when they are not.

      Earlier this week Microsoft reported that it had taken control of six domains owned by the Russian hacker group APT28, which was using the domains to spoof government and conservative websites.

      Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says his company has moved from a reactive stance to a proactive one. In a conference call with reporters, Zuckerberg said it's the only way to stay one step ahead of groups trying to use social media platforms to spread discord among Americans.

      Facebook says it has removed 652 pages and accounts from its platform after determining their owners aren’t real, but groups based in Russian and Iran....
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      BMW recalls model year 2018 BMW M5s

      The fuel gauge may read higher than the actual level

      BMW of North America is recalling 1,645 model year 2018 BMW M5s.

      The fuel level sensor in the fuel tank may become stuck against an in-tank fuel line, causing the fuel gauge to display an inaccurate and possibly larger amount of fuel than is actually available.

      An incorrect fuel reading may lead to the vehicle stalling and increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will secure the in-tank fuel line to keep the fuel line from contacting the fuel level sensor, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin September 10, 2018.

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

      BMW of North America is recalling 1,645 model year 2018 BMW M5s.The fuel level sensor in the fuel tank may become stuck against an in-tank fuel line, c...
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      Torrent Pharmaceuticals recalls Valsartan/Amlodipine/HCTZ tablets

      Trace Amounts of N-Nitrosodimethylamine impurity were found in an active pharmaceutical ingredient

      Torrent Pharmaceuticals Limited is recalling 14 lots of Valsartan/Amlodipine/HCTZ tablets.

      Trace Amounts of N-Nitrosodimethylamine impurity were found in an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API).

      NDMA is classified as a probable human carcinogen (a substance that could cause cancer).

      The company has not received any reports of adverse events to date related to this recall.

      Valsartan is used to control high blood pressure and for the treatment of heart failure. In combination with amlodipine plus hydrochlorothiazide, it is used to control high blood pressure.

      The following products, packaged in bottles and distributed nationwide, are being recalled:

      NDCProduct DescriptionLot/BatchExpiration Date
      NDC 13668-325-30Amlodipine, Valsartan and Hydrochlorothiazide Tablets, USP 10mg/320mg/25mg, 30 TabletsBBX2D025Nov-2019
      NDC 13668-325-30Amlodipine, Valsartan and Hydrochlorothiazide Tablets, USP 10mg/320mg/25mg, 30 TabletsBBX2D026Nov-2019
      NDC 13668-325-30Amlodipine, Valsartan and Hydrochlorothiazide Tablets, USP 10mg/320mg/25mg, 30 TabletsBBX2E001Jan-2020
      NDC 13668-325-30Amlodipine, Valsartan and Hydrochlorothiazide Tablets, USP 10mg/320mg/25mg, 30 TabletsBBX2E002Jan-2020
      NDC 13668-325-30Amlodipine, Valsartan and Hydrochlorothiazide Tablets, USP 10mg/320mg/25mg, 30 TabletsBBX2E003Jan-2020
      NDC 13668-325-30Amlodipine, Valsartan and Hydrochlorothiazide Tablets, USP 10mg/320mg/25mg, 30 TabletsBBX2E004Jan-2020
      NDC 13668-325-30Amlodipine, Valsartan and Hydrochlorothiazide Tablets, USP 10mg/320mg/25mg, 30 TabletsBBX2E005Jan-2020
      NDC 13668-328-30Amlodipine, Valsartan and Hydrochlorothiazide Tablets, USP 10mg/160mg/25mg, 30 TabletsBBX9D004Nov-2019
      NDC 13668-328-30Amlodipine, Valsartan and Hydrochlorothiazide Tablets, USP 10mg/160mg/25mg, 30 TabletsBBX9E001Jan-2020
      NDC 13668-326-30Amlodipine, Valsartan and Hydrochlorothiazide Tablets, USP 5mg/160mg/12.5mg, 30 TabletsBBY1E001Dec-2019
      NDC 13668-326-30Amlodipine, Valsartan and Hydrochlorothiazide Tablets, USP 5mg/160mg/12.5mg, 30 TabletsBBY1E003Mar-2020
      NDC 13668-327-30Amlodipine, Valsartan and Hydrochlorothiazide Tablets, USP 10mg/160mg/12.5mg, 30 TabletsBBY2E001Mar-2020
      NDC 13668-329-30Amlodipine, Valsartan and Hydrochlorothiazide Tablets, USP 5mg/160mg/25mg, 30 TabletsBBY4D004Nov-2019
      NDC 13668-329-30Amlodipine, Valsartan and Hydrochlorothiazide Tablets, USP 5mg/160mg/25mg, 30 TabletsBBY4E001Jan-2020

      The products can be identified by checking the product name, manufacturer details and batch or lot number on the bottle.

      What to do

      The company is arranging for return of all recalled products to Qualanex LLC, with instructions for returning recalled products given in a recall letter being sent out.

      Consumers with questions regarding this recall or reporting an adverse event may contact Torrent at (800) 912-9561 from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm, or by email at Medinfo.Torrent@apcerls.com.

      For general questions regarding the return of the recalled products, contact Qualanex at (800) 505-9291 from 8 am -5:30 pm (ET).

      Torrent Pharmaceuticals Limited is recalling 14 lots of Valsartan/Amlodipine/HCTZ tablets.Trace Amounts of N-Nitrosodimethylamine impurity were found i...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls GLE350s, GLE350 4Matics, and GLE43 AMGs

      The panoramic sunroof may detach

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling four model year 2018 GLE350s, GLE350 4Matics, and GLE43 AMGs.

      During manufacturing, components of the panoramic sunroof may have been installed with a bonding primer that was incorrectly made, possibly affecting the long-term adhesion to the vehicle.

      If the front cover and/or rear fixed glass are not properly adhered, they may detach, creating a road hazard and increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the panoramic sunroof, replace it if necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin September 30, 2018.

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

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling four model year 2018 GLE350s, GLE350 4Matics, and GLE43 AMGs.During manufacturing, components of the panoramic s...
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      United Airlines to start charging for seats near the front of its planes

      No frills are included, but there’s serious money to be made

      Following the lead of American and Delta, United Airlines is placing a premium price on select reserve seats near the front of its airplanes.

      However, unlike its competitors, passengers won’t get anything special like roomier legroom that comes with United’s "Economy Plus" option -- they’re just seats near the front that give fliers the advantage of not having to walk so far to their seat and departing sooner when the flight lands.

      On a typical flight on one of United’s 737 planes, those seats would start behind the eight rows of Economy Plus seats. According to reports, elite-level frequent fliers and some of United’s corporate clients can reserve these seats for free as part of a new corporate perks program that the company announced last week.

      Do I have a choice?

      On its face, the move simply looks like another way for United to beef up its bottom line.

      In its second-quarter 2018 financial results, United reported that its consolidated total revenue per available seat mile (TRASM) increased 2.8 percent year-over-year. In the dog-eat-dog airline business, every positive percentage point can go a long way, especially when you consider that the profit margin for the major carriers is only around 9 percent.

      Paying for seats is always the customer’s choice. For example, Delta’s reservation FAQs state that "You will get a seat assignment for free after you check in for a flight via delta.com, a Delta airport kiosk or with a Gate Agent within 24 hours of departure."

      Of course, certain seats are made available to travelers who require extra room, a child traveling alone, or a flier who has a disability.

      "We're happy to assist our customers with disabilities in securing a comfortable seat that best fits their needs in the same class of service. We highly encourage customers to submit their request more than 24 hours in advance of the scheduled flight," United said.

      Following the lead of American and Delta, United Airlines is placing a premium price on select reserve seats near the front of its airplanes.However, u...
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      Netflix announces new changes to its platform

      It’s the end of user reviews and the beginning of promo videos

      Over the last few days, Netflix announced two new changes that will alter users’ experience moving forward.

      For starters, the platform stated months ago that it would be doing away with user reviews, and that time has finally come. Additionally, though just in the testing phases as of right now, the company has started showing short promo videos of Netflix shows in between episodes of other Netflix shows.

      Consumers have been exceptionally vocal -- particularly regarding the second issue -- as the updates have the potential to change the familiar Netflix experience.

      User reviews

      Netflix announced in early July that it would doing away with user reviews on its website come the end of the month.

      In an email to users that had recently left reviews, the company said that the feature was being eliminated due to lack of use in recent months. Many speculated that Netflix didn’t want to give subscribers the power to publicly disparage shows or movies. The company has also reported issues with users who bombard the comments sections because they disagree with the content of certain movies or shows.

      Earlier this year, Netflix removed it’s five-star rating system and changed it to a simple thumbs up or thumbs down, and this option remains available to users.

      Backlash over ads

      There have been rumors flying around online that Netflix was going to start showing commercials in the middle of shows.

      The company began showing commercials between shows and movies -- strictly as a test -- and users were able to skip them with a quick click. The ads were only during shows Netflix produced -- not during shows produced by outside production companies. Users were less than pleased with this test, but Netflix was quick to dispel the rumors and provide insight.

      “We are testing whether surfacing recommendations between episodes helps members discover stories they will enjoy faster,” a Netflix spokesperson said. “It is important to note that a member is able to skip a video preview at anytime if they are not interested.”

      Reddit quickly became a popular forum for users to share their frustrations.

      “If I get ads shoved in my face on Netflix then I fully expect the service to be free without paying anything for it,” one user wrote. “Plenty other sites that deliver quality content without pushing ads in the customers face.”

      This same discussion saw many users touting Hulu for their transparency in offering customers both ad-free and ad-supported options.

      Netflix attempts to quash concerns

      Some users took to Twitter to express their concerns, with some users who weren’t affected by the testing threatening to leave the streaming service.

      “I’ll be one of the millions to say it,” one user tweeted. “If you introduce any ads to your service that we pay for, I am cancelling my subscription that I had for years and move on somewhere else.”

      Netflix did rebut, though. On top of informing users that this feature is strictly in the testing phases and does not affect all users, the company also released an official statement. “A couple of years ago, we introduced video previews to the TV experience, because we saw that it significantly cut the time members spend browsing and helping them find something they would enjoy watching even faster,” the company said.

      To opt out of future Netflix testing, users can go to netflix.com/donottest at any time and provide information to avoid promotional materials.

      Over the last few days, Netflix announced two new changes that will alter users’ experience moving forward.For starters, the platform stated months ago...
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      Walmart removing some paint remover products from store shelves

      Products containing methylene chloride are suspected of toxicity

      Walmart says it is phasing out paint removal products long criticized by environmentalists as being toxic to humans.

      Even though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies the products as legal, Walmart says it will stop selling paint-stripping products with the chemicals methylene chloride and N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP) at U.S. stores, as well as stores in Canada, Mexico, and Central America.

      Walmart joins Lowe's, Home Depot, and Sherwin-Williams in taking that step. Walmart says all such products will be removed by February 2019.

      The retailer said it is reacting to customers' expectations and notes the company has worked with suppliers and industry groups in other areas of sustainability. Nearly a decade ago it stopped selling plastic children's products containing Bisphenol A (BPA).

      Zach Freeze, senior director of strategic initiatives for sustainability at Walmart, says the company has consistently gone "above and beyond" what's legal when it comes to sustainability, a practice that gained the notice of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

      Environmental groups praise

      “Walmart’s action to save lives by no longer selling dangerous paint strippers is a significant step forward in protecting public health," said Sujatha Bergen, Policy Specialist with NRDC. "We now live in a nation where retailers like Walmart are acting more quickly to protect public health from these toxics than the EPA."

      Walmart's move also won praise from the Environmental Defense Fund, which cited the retailer for being a leader in promoting sustainability in chemical products.

      "We applaud this recent step to expand that area of focus and to remove paint strippers with methylene chloride and NMP from store shelves," said Boma Brown-West, senior manager of consumer health at EDF.

      Methylene chloride is clear and colorless liquid that emits highly toxic fumes of phosgene when heated to decomposition, according to the National Library of Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It's assessment of the chemical is that it's a "possible mutagen and is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."

      Walmart says it is phasing out paint removal products long criticized by environmentalists as being toxic to humans.Even though the Environmental Prote...
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      Google facing lawsuit over its location tracking feature

      The suit alleges the company tracks users’ location regardless of their privacy settings

      Google has been hit with a lawsuit over claims that it monitors the whereabouts of iPhone and Android users despite their “Location History” settings being turned off.

      “Google represented that a user ‘can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.’ This simply was not true,” the complaint, filed late Friday in San Francisco federal court, said.

      The lawsuit accuses the tech giant of violating the privacy of its users and cites a report last week that found these claims to be accurate.

      As part of an investigation by the Associated Press, computer science researchers at Princeton University were able to create a visual map of the movements of the study’s subject as he moved around with his Android phone that had Location History toggled off.

      The map included the subject’s “train commute on two trips to New York and visits to the High Line park, Chelsea Market, Hell’s Kitchen, Central Park, and Harlem. To protect his privacy, The AP didn’t plot the most telling and frequent marker -- his home address.”

      Google updates location history language

      After the report was released, Google altered the help section of its website to clarify that turning location history off “does not affect other location services on your device, like Google Location Services and Find My Device.” The company noted that location data may also be tracked for use in other services such as maps or search.

      Previously, the page had indicated that turning location history off ensured that places visited were not logged by Google.

      “We have been updating the explanatory language about Location History to make it more consistent and clear across our platforms and help centers,” Google said in a statement to the Associated Press.  

      Violation of privacy

      The plaintiff, Napoleon Patacsil of San Diego, is seeking unspecified damages, as well as class-action status on behalf of all U.S. iPhone or Android users who turned off the location history feature with the belief that it would grant them privacy.

      The suit alleges that Google is in violation of California's Invasion of Privacy Act.

      "Google expressly represented to users of its operating system and apps that the activation of certain settings will prevent the tracking of users' geolocations," the lawsuit said. "This representation was false."

      Google has been hit with a lawsuit over claims that it monitors the whereabouts of iPhone and Android users despite their “Location History” settings being...
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      Zakah Life recalls various Kratom products

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Zakah Life of Ankeny, Iowa, is recalling a variety of Kratom products that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

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

      The following products, distributed nationwide in retail stores and through mail orders, are being recalled:

      Product NameQuantity and Dosage FormPackagingLot #
      Super Green Maeng Da Premium Kratom Powder100 g4 oz. black and clear organic rice paper bag containing 100g of kratom

      BSG01

      0118

      Powerful Red Vein Bali Premium Kratom Powder100 g4 oz. black and clear organic rice paper bag containing 100g of kratom

      BPR01

      0118

      Super Green Maeng Da Premium Kratom Capsules90 capsules275 cc plastic bottlesSG050118
      Powerful Red Vein Bali Premium Kratom Capsules90 capsules275 cc plastic bottlesPR050118

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (877) MY-ZAKAH Monday through Friday, 9 am – 5 pm (CT).

      Zakah Life of Ankeny, Iowa, is recalling a variety of Kratom products that may be contaminated with Salmonella.No illnesses have been reported to date...
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      Netflix tries to shut down rumors about it adding commercials

      The streaming service is testing out video promotions between episodes and movies, but they can be skipped by the viewer

      Netflix hopes that binge-worthy, not cringe-worthy, will remain the name of its game after the movie platform suffered through a beta test of running what appeared to be commercials between episodes and movies.

      The move created a serious backlash from subscribers even though they could “skip” the message with the click of a button.

      "We are testing whether surfacing recommendations between episodes helps members discover stories they will enjoy faster," a spokesperson for Netflix said. "It is important to note that a member is able to skip a video preview at anytime if they are not interested."

      Netflix users voiced their frustration on a Reddit discussion.

      “If I get ads shoved in my face on Netflix then I fully expect the service to be free without paying anything for it. Plenty other sites that deliver quality content without pushing ads in the customers face,” wrote one embittered subscriber. Others went as far as suggesting that people pirate Netflix’ content.

      In the same discussion, disgruntled users applauded Hulu’s transparency for offering both ad-supported and ad-free tiers to its service. “Scummy of Netflix to just slip it into their sub with no warning,” wrote one user in the Reddit conversation.

      In response to the public outcry, Netflix stated that the new promotional materials were simply all part of its normal process.

      "At Netflix, we conduct hundreds of tests every year so we can better understand what helps members more easily find something great to watch. A couple of years ago, we introduced video previews to the TV experience, because we saw that it significantly cut the time members spend browsing and helped them find something they would enjoy watching even faster," a company representative told ConsumerAffairs.

      "Since then, we have been experimenting even more with video based on personalized recommendations for shows and movies on the service or coming shortly, and continue to learn from our members."

      A tempest in a teapot?

      It’s hard to gauge how this dust-up will affect Netflix, but the company seems to be determined to create a new revenue stream off the backs of its enormous audience -- estimated by Statista at over 130 million.

      Close to a year ago, the streaming service boosted rates on two service plans which had the potential of lining its pockets with an extra $100 million a month. ConsumerAffairs also reported that Netflix appeared to be testing a new tier called “Netflix Ultra” in European markets with a price point of approximately $16.99 a month.

      Watch up or hush up?

      Netflix has pulled back when it comes to consumer comments lately. First, in July, it removed reviews from its website. In the recent Reddit discussion about the inclusion of ads, Netflix put the kibosh on the discussion and locked the thread so only Netflix moderators could manage the posts.

      If Netflix is looking in its rearview mirror, it has to be seeing other services -- especially Hulu -- gaining ground. Thanks to exclusive shows like ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ Hulu now has more than 20 million subscribers, an 18 percent increase since the fourth quarter of 2017. In a recent survey, 23 percent of respondents stated that they had an active Hulu Plus subscription, with the service being a favorite amongst millennials.

      Hulu also has a leg up on Netflix and is edging closer to becoming a "real" network by offering live TV in addition to streaming, including content from Disney, NBC, and Fox -- all of which are Hulu shareholders.

      Netflix hopes that binge-worthy, not cringe-worthy, will remain the name of its game after the movie platform suffered through a beta test of running what...
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      Gmail introduces 'Confidential Mode' for sensitive mobile messages

      ​But privacy advocates question how secure it really is

      Google's redesigned Gmail platform has a confidentiality mode feature that is now available on mobile versions.

      Using it, a sender can place restrictions on sent messages. The recipient of an email with Gmail Confidentiality Mode activated won't be able to print or forward the message.

      The sender can also place an expiration date on the message that will automatically remove it from the recipient's inbox on a certain date. It may even require two-step security system in which the recipient must enter a code, received via text message, before the email can be opened.

      Google said it developed Confidential Mode to help organizations protect sensitive information from unauthorized or accidental access. But the company admits there are some limitations.

      "Although confidential mode helps prevent the recipients from accidentally sharing your email, it doesn't prevent recipients from taking screenshots or photos of your messages or attachments," the company said in a support message. "Recipients who have malicious programs on their computer may still be able to copy or download your messages or attachments. This feature isn't available for G Suite customers at this time."

      Privacy group express doubts

      The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a privacy advocate, says the new email feature isn't quite as secure as it might seem. In a recent review, EFF points out that the message isn't encrypted from end-to-end, so Google could read the contents. The authors of the analysis also say the expiration date won't affect Google -- the message will reside on Google servers indefinitely.

      The authors conclude that the only totally secure email system would rely on robust technologies, such as end-to-end encryption "which provide actual mathematical assurances of confidentiality." They say the term "Confidential Mode," under these circumstances, could be misleading.

      However, the new Gmail feature provides a layer of security currently lacking in the standard system and in some other email platforms. To try it out, Google provides these instructions.

      Google's redesigned Gmail platform has a confidentiality mode feature that is now available on mobile versions.Using it, a sender can place restriction...
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      Amazon is looking to buy a chain of movie theaters

      Movie theaters could be Amazon’s next big venture

      Amazon is currently in the running to buy Landmark Theaters -- a private movie theater chain with 56 locations across the country that specializes in independent and foreign films. Currently, the company is run by Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner’s company 2929 Entertainment.

      According to Bloomberg, which first broke the story last week, talks could still fall apart, as Amazon is one among several other interested parties at this point. Amazon, 2929 Entertainment, and Landmark have yet to comment on the proceedings.

      “This is probably a move to get broader distribution of film content,” said Leo Kulp, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets LLC. “Netflix had been discussed as a potential buyer of Landmark for a similar reason.”

      Why Amazon would move to the movies

      While many are scratching their heads as to why Amazon’s next big thing would be movie theaters, several analysts see it as a smart next move for the company.

      Though known primarily as an internet shopping service, the company has since branched out to include Whole Foods under its umbrella, and it has never shied away from expansion opportunities.

      “For the first 25 years of the internet we’ve seen the world in two competing domains: digital and physical,” said Gene Munster, managing partner with venture capital firm Loup Ventures. “Amazon clearly believes the future of the internet lies in the convergence of digital and physical offerings to meet customer needs.”

      Jonathan Kuntz, a film historian and lecturer at the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television believes acquiring Landmark could help bolster Amazon’s reputation in a new arena.

      “Amazon is buying a little bit of prestige -- the quality end of the market,” Kuntz said.

      The Landmark deal could also bring new users to Amazon’s Prime platform. According to Eric Wold, an analyst at B. Riley FBR, regular theatergoers may not currently be Prime members -- the subscription service needed to stream Amazon Prime Video content. The theaters could serve as a physical space to screen Amazon’s content, while also encouraging theatergoers to subscribe to Prime.

      Bloomberg predicts the price for Landmark would be small, but Amazon is likely to get a huge buzz for entering the physical consumer world in a new realm.

      “I don’t know the dollar values involved here, but they are not betting the whole company on the Landmark deal,” Kuntz said.

      Amazon is currently in the running to buy Landmark Theaters -- a private movie theater chain with 56 locations across the country that specializes in indep...
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      YouTube is a source of misinformation on plastic surgery

      Researchers conducted the first study that evaluates videos on facial plastic surgery

      In a new study done by Rutgers University, researchers evaluated YouTube selection of facial plastic surgery videos. The study shows that not only are most of the videos misleading to the public, but many are nothing more than marketing attempts posted by individuals not in the medical field.

      Boris Paskhover, an assistant professor at Rutgers Medical School’s department of otolaryngology who specializes in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, was the lead author of the study, and worked with a team of medical students to evaluate over 240 YouTube videos. The videos had a combined 160 million views and were found after searching keywords including “ear surgery,” “rhinoplasty,” “nose job,” “lip fillers,” “dermal fillers,” “face fillers,” “face lift,” “lip augmentation,” and “blepharoplasty.”

      Paskhover emphasized that millions of people turn to YouTube for answers, but consumers should be warned that the site does not include the potential risk factors or alternative options to surgery.

      “Videos on facial plastic surgery may be mainly marketing campaigns and may not fully be intended as educational,” Paskhover said.

      The study

      When evaluating the videos, the researchers used DISCERN criteria, which is “a valid and reliable way of assessing the quality of written information on treatment choices for a health problem.” The criteria includes a discussion of non-surgical options, risks, and the validity of the information that’s presented. Additionally, the researchers noted if the people posting the videos were healthcare professionals or third parties.

      The results showed that the majority of videos did not include qualified professionals who were explaining the procedure. In 94 of the videos evaluated, no medical professional was present at all. Contrastly, 72 videos included board-certified surgeons, provided valuable information, and came out with high DISCERN scores.

      “However, even videos posted by legitimate board-certified surgeons may be marketing tools made to look like educational videos,” Paskhover said.

      “Patients and physicians who use YouTube for educational purposes should be aware that these videos can present biased information, be unbalanced when evaluating risks versus benefits, and be unclear about the qualifications of the practitioner,” Paskhover continued. “YouTube is for marketing. The majority of the people who post these videos are trying to sell you something.”

      YouTube’s plan to fight misinformation

      Last month, YouTube rolled out a new plan to prevent users from uploading and spreading false information in times of crisis. The initiative was designed to help the public get accurate information.

      The platform found that it would often become inundated with videos -- many of which were full of misinformation -- following an intense or explosive news cycle. Many people were just looking for the news, but the videos left them confused and misinformed.

      “We’re making changes to put more authoritative content in front of people,” said Neal Mohan, YouTube’s chief product officer.

      With the changes, YouTube’s recommendation engine has been altered to show news-related videos from reputable outlets to appear first.

      “It’s very easy to quickly produce and upload low-quality videos spreading misinformation around a developing news event,” Mohan said.

      In a new study done by Rutgers University, researchers evaluated YouTube selection of facial plastic surgery videos. The study shows that not only are most...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls CLA250s, CLA250 4Matics, and CLA45 AMG 4Matics

      The front passenger airbag may not be deactivated if a child seat is in the front

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 86 model yearn 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA250s, CLA250 4Matics, and CLA45 AMG 4Matics.

      The Occupant Classification System (OCS) may not be properly calibrated, resulting in the front passenger airbag not being deactivated if a child seat is in the front seat.

      If a child seat is in the front seat and the passenger air bag is not deactivated in the event of a crash, the risk of injury can increase.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger seat cushion, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 3, 2018.

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

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 86 model yearn 2018 Mercedes-Benz CLA250s, CLA250 4Matics, and CLA45 AMG 4Matics.The Occupant Classification Sys...
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      The Weekly Hack: Forget Bitcoin. The real financial disruptors are virtual bank robbers

      Shortly after the FBI warned that banks across the world are vulnerable to a hacking attack, one happened

      Cryptocurrency boosters love to characterize Bitcoin and others as “disruptive” to the established financial sector, but when it comes to robberies and heists, the two industries are starting to look more similar to each other.

      Hackers have increasingly used vulnerabilities in the blockchain to steal other people’s hard-earned fake money, and one investor is pointing his finger at his cell phone provider.

      A cryptocurrency investor named Michael Terpin filed a $224 million federal lawsuit against AT&T on Wednesday for what he describes as the “digital identity theft” of his cell phone account.

      According to Terpin’s complaint, thieves convinced AT&T to forward his calls and messages to a SIM card belonging to a cyber criminal ring. The thieves then used the information they obtained about their target to steal $23.8 million worth of tokens from his account.

      The remaining $200 million that Terpin is demanding from AT&T is for punitive damages. He says that AT&T failed to protect his account even after he reported unusual activity and got law enforcement involved.

      An AT&T spokesman told Reuters that they are looking forward to fighting the allegations in court.

      This isn’t the first time that SIM-swap scams on AT&T accounts have been linked to cryptocurrency theft. So-called SIM-swap scams work because they are relatively easy. Experts say it takes minimal effort to trick phone company employees into giving criminals what they need: a link between another person’s account and a new SIM card belonging to the criminal ring.  

      With access to another person’s phone number, hackers can access messages and other sensitive information intended for the victim. Cryptocurrency investors have been an especially popular target of this scam.

      One such scammer in Florida was arrested last week for allegedly leading a criminal ring that used SIM-swaps to steal money from people across the country.

      ATM heist

      In a confidential alert last Friday, the FBI reportedly released an unusual warning. International banking giants faced an imminent threat that cyber criminals would target their ATM machines, the FBI said.

      One day later, that exact heist happened to a banking giant based in India. Hackers infected bank servers with malware, giving them the ability to approve their own transactions. They then used fake cards to withdraw money from 14,00 ATM machines across 28 countries. All of the ATM machines belong to the Cosmos Bank chain.

      The corporation said that no consumer accounts were impacted, likely part of an effort to discourage people from cashing out on their entire bank accounts.

      "We appeal customers to remain calm and not to get panic as savings, term deposits, recurring accounts of all the stakeholders are fully safe,” the Cosmos Bank chairman MIlind Kale told local media.

      Cosmos doesn’t have ATMs in the United States, but money heists targeting traditional banks are also hitting increasingly closer to home. Bank giants in Canada and Mexico have both reported falling victim to hackers in recent months.

      Cryptocurrency boosters love to characterize Bitcoin and others as “disruptive” to the established financial sector, but when it comes to robberies and hei...
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      FCC chief tells Congress he knew DDoS claim was false

      But Ajit Pai says an investigation prevented him from revealing it

      The somewhat strange claim that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was hit by a denial of service attack (DDoS), when it really wasn't, just got a little more strange.

      FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says he knew the claim was false for more than six months, but was unable to speak out because an internal investigation was underway.

      Originally, the FCC cited the alleged DDoS attack as the reason that many comments filed in relation to the FCC's rollback of net neutrality rules could not be recorded.

      But last week the FCC Inspector General issued an extraordinary report finding that the agency lied about the attack that temporarily prevented net neutrality supporters from filing comments opposing Pai's plan to kill net neutrality rules.

      The report concluded that the false claims were made primarily by former chief information officer David Bray, and Bray's false statements were sent to Congress in attachments to letters that Pai wrote to lawmakers.

      Why he had to stay silent

      At a Senate hearing this week, Pai told lawmakers he wanted to set the record straight, but couldn't.

      "On January 23 of 2018, I was informed by my chief of staff, who had been informed by the Office of Inspector General, that they had suspicions that the former chief information officer's statements to us and to Congress were inaccurate," Pai told the committee. "The OIG then requested, because they had referred this matter for potential criminal prosecution to the Department of Justice, 'do not say anything to anyone.'"

      Pai said the OIG's report cleared him of any wrongdoing because it found that the FCC's false statements were made by the CIO rather than by his office. Pai told the committee that he wanted to tell Congress earlier but was prevented in doing so by the OIG's request for secrecy.

      The FCC rolled back the Obama-era net neutrality rules in December, though a few states have taken steps to enact their own internet protections.

      The somewhat strange claim that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was hit by a denial of service attack (DDoS), when it really wasn't, just got a...
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      Scientists sequence wheat genome to produce heartier wheat and combat food shortages

      The accomplishment was once deemed impossible by scientists

      The International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) published a study in the Journal of Science describing the genome of bread wheat.

      Through a 13-year collaboration involving scientists from around the world, the group was able to achieve a task -- sequencing the wheat genome -- that many scientists considered to be impossible for years.

      “Wheat is one of the major sources of food for much of the world. However, because bread wheat’s genome is a large hybrid mix of three separate subgenomes, it has been difficult to produce a high-quality reference sequence,” the scientists wrote.

      “Using recent advances in sequencing, the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium presents an annotated reference genome with a detailed analysis of gene content among subgenomes and the structural organization for all the chromosomes.”

      What this means for consumers

      An organism’s genome is a detailed roadmap containing all the information needed to build and maintain it. Scientists and farmers are now privy to the genes and factors responsible for traits including grain quality, wheat yield, tolerance to environmental stress, and resistance to fungal diseases. With this information, they will be able to create stronger wheat varieties.

      This goal of sequencing the wheat genome was of particular importance because of food security. Wheat is the most widely-grown crop around the world, and with recent heat waves in northern Europe, Asia, and Canada, the wheat production for 2018 will be compromised. Additionally, pests, climate change, and salinity have been known to destroy crops.

      “It was ambitious but it was important for me that wheat wasn’t seen as being the poor cousin in the area of genome sequencing,” said Professor Rudi Appels, Agriculture Victoria honorary research fellow and IWGSC contributor. “I was always hopeful it could be done.

      “I thought wheat deserved to be as well-defined as the human genome and then the technology really developed enormously. Suddenly, what was once literally impossible looked achievable, and I wanted to be there and capture new technologies as they came through. Things that used to take years can now be done overnight.”

      Appels also noted that this advancement could eventually be used to help treat and diagnose wheat-related allergies and diseases. It could also produce wheat crops that contain lower levels of the proteins known to make people sick.

      “I am really thrilled, because after 13 years of efforts with the whole wheat community we have reached our major milestone,” said Dr. Catherine Feuillet, co-author of the article and chief scientist at Inari Agriculture. “The vision we had is now becoming concrete, we have a high-quality reference sequence that can be used to accelerate wheat research and breeding.”

      The International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) published a study in the Journal of Science describing the genome of bread wheat.Through a...
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      Gas prices fall a penny a gallon in the last week

      Ample oil supplies have been a stabilizing factor

      Motorists are benefiting from rising oil stockpiles, keeping refining costs stable. The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gasoline is $2.85 a gallon, a penny less than last week.

      The average price of premium, used in an increasing number of high-performance cars, held steady at $3.40 a gallon. The average price of diesel fuel also remained the same as last week, at $3.15 a gallon.

      Prices at the pump have virtually flatlined in the final third of the summer driving season, helped by ample supplies. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported Thursday that U.S. crude oil stockpiles surged by 6.8 million barrels in the last week, an exceptionally large increase during periods of peak demand.

      U.S. oil supplies are still significantly below where they were a year ago, but last summer gasoline prices were about 50 cents a gallon lower than they are now. But while prices are higher than they were last summer, they've also been remarkably stable.

      “With a flat national average, U.S. gasoline supply and demand suggest they are balancing,” said Jeanette Casselano, a spokesperson for AAA. “But that’s not to say that we could not see spikes in demand closer to Labor Day as motorists squeeze in those final road trips.”

      Even though the national average has been stable, some individual states have seen price swings of five to 10 cents a gallon in the last week. Michigan motorists saw a price drop that averaged nine cents a gallon.

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

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

      • Hawaii ($3.77)

      • California ($3.59)

      • Washington ($3.38)

      • Alaska ($3.35)

      • Oregon ($3.26)

      • Nevada ($3.18)

      • Idaho ($3.23)

      • Utah ($3.14)

      • Connecticut ($3.05)

      • Pennsylvania ($3.05)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      These states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas, the survey found.

      • Alabama ($2.55)

      • South Carolina ($2.55)

      • Mississippi ($2.56)

      • Arkansas ($2.58)

      • Missouri ($2.58)

      • Texas ($2.60)

      • Virginia ($2.61)

      • Oklahoma ($2.61)

      • Louisiana ($2.62)

      • Tennessee ($2.62)

      Motorists are benefiting from rising oil stockpiles, keeping refining costs stable. The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular g...
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      Two minivans earn IIHS Top Safety Pick ratings

      But a third, the Toyota Sienna, falls short

      Consumers shopping for a minivan often have safety in mind since these vehicles are mostly used by young families.

      With that in mind, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) put three popular minivans through the paces and gave the Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Pacifica its Top Safety Pick rating, but the third vehicle, the Toyota Sienna, fell short of the rating's standard.

      The Odyssey did best in the side overlap crash tests with what the judges called a "strong" performance. The Pacifica squeaked by with an "acceptable" rating. But the Sienna's performance was characterized as "marginal."

      When just the front corner of a vehicle strikes another car or object, that's considered a small overlap crash. They're fairly common and were responsible for many deaths and serious injuries before automakers focused their efforts on making these parts of the vehicle more sturdy and secure.

      The video below, produced by IIHS, illustrates it very well.

      Significant improvements

      IIHS has tested vehicles for how they protect front seat occupants since 2012 and says carmakers have made significant improvements. Getting at least an acceptable rating on overlap crash tests is a requirement for any vehicle to earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating.

      "In our latest passenger-side tests, we didn't find any performance issues with safety belts or airbags like we did when we evaluated small and midsize SUVs earlier this year and midsize cars last year," said David Zuby, IIHS' chief research officer. "Instead, we saw some structural deficiencies on the right side that still need addressing."

      IIHS says Toyota began making changes to the Sienna's structure in 2015, resulting in improved protection for the driver side. However, it didn't make the same modifications on the passenger side.

      Problems on the passenger side

      As a result, IIHS says the Sienna's structure rates poor in the passenger-side test.

      "A safety cage must be strong enough to resist intrusion in a crash to protect the people inside, no matter where they sit in the vehicle," Zuby said.

      In the case of the Sienna, the IIHS tests found objects hitting the passenger side intruded as much as 20 inches into the lower occupant compartment and more than 16 inches at the dashboard.

      IIHS says the Pacifica also had issues on the front passenger side but that sensors from the crash dummies suggested a low risk of injury, helping to offset its less than perfect structural rating.

      Consumers shopping for a minivan often have safety in mind since these vehicles are mostly used by young families.With that in mind, the Insurance Inst...
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      Salt & Straw recalls Chocolate Gooey Brownie ice cream

      The product may contain peanuts, an allergen not declared on the label

      Salt & Straw Ice Cream is recalling a limited number of its Chocolate Gooey Brownie ice cream pints.

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

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

      The following product, sold in Salt & Straw ice cream shops in California, Oregon & Washington, and through www.saltandstraw.com between from July 17, 2018, and August 13, 2018. Is being recalled:

      Plant Codewith affected lot code
      41-40418201, 18203, 18212, 18213, 18214, 18219, 18221, 18223
      06-1626F18217, 18219, 18221

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product and have a sensitivity or allergy to peanuts, should discard it or return it to the store when purchased for a full refund.

      Online customers should email human@saltandstraw.com for a refund.

      Consumers with questions may call (833) 971-2828.

      www.saltandstraw.com

      Salt & Straw Ice Cream is recalling Chocolate Gooey Brownie ice cream pints that may contain peanuts, an allergen not declared on the label.

      Salt & Straw Ice Cream is recalling a limited number of its Chocolate Gooey Brownie ice cream pints.The product may contain peanuts, an allergen not de...
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      Mercedes-Benz USA recalls vehicles with front passenger airbag issue

      The airbag may not be deactivated if a child seat is in the front

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 345 model year 2018 Mercedes-Benz E300, E300 4Matic, E43 AMG 4Matic, E400 4Matic, E63S AMG 4Matic+, and model year 2019 CLS450 4Matic vehicles.

      The Occupant Classification System (OCS) may not be properly calibrated, resulting in the front passenger airbag not being deactivated if a child seat is in the front seat.

      If a child seat is in the front seat and the passenger airbag is not deactivated, the risk of injury can increase.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger seat cushion, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 3, 2018.

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

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 345 model year 2018 Mercedes-Benz E300, E300 4Matic, E43 AMG 4Matic, E400 4Matic, E63S AMG 4Matic+, and model year 2...
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      Coming to L.A. mass transit, a TSA contractor capable of ‘virtual pat-downs’

      The Los Angeles Metro is the first mass transit system in the nation to adopt TSA technology

      An international defense contractor that hopes to expand into the United States just landed an important new customer: the public transit system in  the second largest city in the country.

      In a press conference on Monday, the Los Angeles Metro announced that it will be the first public transit agency to use body scanners operated by a firm called ThruVision.

      L.A. Metro was encouraged by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to buy the machines.

      “TSA applauds the leadership of L.A. Metro for its proactive efforts to evaluate, procure, and use state-of-the-art technology designed to detect potential threats to the transit system,” the TSA said in an announcement.  

      Different from other TSA machines, officials claim

      Despite the TSA’s involvement, L.A. public transit officials assured riders that the machines will have little in common with the controversial body scanners (operated by a different TSA contractor) that have become ubiquitous at every airport in the United States.

      L.A. Metro officials claim that ThruVision’s devices, which are portable and can be used remotely, can screen 2,000 people at a time without revealing anatomical details. The machines also do not emit any radiation, officials say.

      “When an object is hidden in clothing or strapped to a person, these waves are blocked and detected by the system’s software,” Los Angeles Metro said in a news release.

      Above the belt or under the pocket

      The technology is capable of detecting any objects that are hidden underneath clothes, Kevin Gramer, the company’s Vice President of Operations in the Americas, tells ConsumerAffairs.

      Gramer says that only objects hidden in waistbands or underneath pant pockets would be likely to attract attention from mass transit officers.

      "If there's something unique, it may present some kind of questioning from an officer,” Gramer tells ConsumerAffairs.

      For instance, "if you decided to carry your iPad in your waistband...we would see the iPad, and the iPad, I would say, would cause somebody concern.”

      “But people generally don't carry their iPads in that area,” Gramer adds.

      ThruVision also has corporate and border agency clients that use the technology to screen people for cash, drugs, or stolen retail, among other items. But L..A. Metro says that the technology in this case will only be used to search for terror threats.

      "This particular technology is specifically screening for objects that potentially create mass casualty,” L.A. Metro spokesman David Sotero tells ConsumerAffairs. “So it screens for metallic and non-metallic objects that are strapped to a person.”

      Who is ThruVision?

      ThruVision began promoting portable devices with the ability to see through clothes without revealing anatomical details nearly a decade ago. The company promised that its “passive object detection” software would eventually be less intrusive and much faster than the traditional scanners used at airport security.

      Rather than inspecting each person passing through security individually, an officer using the software can remotely screen numerous people at the same time, according to the company’s promotional material.

      ThruVision’s former parent company, a British firm called Digital Barriers, has described itself as a leader in the facial recognition market. That company claims to be the first to have invented body cameras for police officers that have facial recognition capabilities.

      Still, Digital Barriers said that sales were disappointing in 2017, so it decided to separate into two companies.

      From anti-terror to catching theft

      Its “people-screening business,” as the company characterized the ThruVision division, began to show promise outside of the anti-terrorism market last year.

      In its 2017 annual report, Digital Barriers described how ThruVision machines could also be used to find cash, drugs, or stolen retail. Such capabilities meant that ThruVision could market its machines for other purposes besides combating terrorism.

      “ThruVision was originally developed for the counter-terrorism market but has now also demonstrated applicability in other markets, namely customs applications (to prevent cash and narcotics smuggling) and loss-prevention (to prevent theft from warehouses),” the company’s annual report from last year said.

      That marketing strategy appeared to be a success. This year, the company says it has turned things around. In its 2018 annual report, ThruVision announced that it sold a record amount of scanners -- thanks to the TSA’s help.

      ThruVision recently passed a round of TSA tests, the firm said, helping it land business in Saudi Arabia.

      “By volume, our biggest sales came from a new customer in Saudi Arabia, attracted by TSA publicity,” ThruVision said.

      The machines sell for roughly $100,000 each, Gramer tells ConsumerAffairs. He declined to say how many ThruVision machines were sold to L.A. Metro.  

      In the private sector, ThruVision now claims that its technology has cut employee theft by as much as 80 percent. It now counts Sony and JD Sport among private clients that use the scanners to look for stolen inventory hidden on employees.

      "We call that a virtual pat-down,” Gramer says of the anti-theft technology.

      Firm says tech will be used differently in subway stations

      As for mass transit, the scanners are also currently getting tested by the New York City MTA, though that agency has not yet indicated whether it will purchase the technology.

      In Los Angeles, riders have already voiced concerns online that the machines would lead to profiling or arrests of people for non-violent claims.

      However, Gramer says the “pocket clutter” that the company’s private sector clients look for is unlikely to interest police officers working at subway stations.

      As far as subway stations go, "anything that's above the waist or below the pocket clutter is going to cause concern for an officer to look at,” Gramer says.

      L.A. Metro has not yet disclosed when the technology will officially roll out. A local CBS news report only indicates that it will happen sometime in the coming months.

      Sotero, the L.A. Metro spokesman, tells ConsumerAffairs that passengers will not miss their trains or be stopped in order for the technology to work.

      "They won't be delayed in catching their transit service,” Sotero says.

      And as for concerns that the technology could be used to combat low-level crimes like petty theft, Sotero says that "what you’re describing is not what this technology is intended to be used for.”

      An international defense contractor that hopes to expand into the United States just landed an important new customer: the public transit system in  the se...
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      SEC reportedly subpoenas Tesla over Elon Musk tweets

      A second former employee has stepped forward with quality and safety complaints

      The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has reportedly issued a subpoena to Tesla, suggesting the company is under official investigation by the regulator.

      The subpoena was reported by Fox Business and the New York Times; the outlets say the subpoena concerns CEO Elon Musk's assertion in a tweet that he was considering taking the company private, buying out public shareholders at $420 a share, and that funding is "secured."

      The Times cites sources familiar with the matter, but the SEC has declined to comment.

      Musk has been in a months-long Twitter war with investors who have "shorted" Tesla, betting that the stock price will fall. They make money if it does but they lose money if the stock price goes up.

      Aug. 7 tweet

      Musk's Aug. 7 tweet, sent while the market was open for business, caused the stock price to surge by 11 percent, meaning short-sellers took a hit. However, Musk has been unable to provide any evidence that he had secured funding at the time the tweet was sent and Tesla board members appeared to be in the dark about the entire matter.

      Musk subsequently said he left a meeting with Saudi investors convinced that they would provide the needed capital for the buyout, but as former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt has pointed out, that is not the same as having a legally enforceable agreement, which the law requires when public statements of this sort are made.

      Second whistleblower?

      At the same time, a second former Tesla employee has come forward, claiming the company silenced her and her team members when they brought up what they said were important safety and quality issues. Cristina Balan has told Business Insider that she was pushed out at Tesla in 2014 after she and her design team alerted company executives about what they described as poor part quality and waste.

      Her story comes on the heels of former Tesla employee Martin Tripp's assertions which follow the same lines. Tesla has sued Tripp and charged him with breaking into the company's computer network. Tripp has counter sued and has sought whistleblower status with the SEC.

      Linette Lopez, the Business Insider reporter who broke Tripp's story, is also the author of the story airing Balan's claims. She writes that her requests to Tesla for comment went unanswered.

      Meanwhile, Tripp has tweeted out photos and documents that he says show a damaged battery module used in Model 3 cars. Technology site Engadget has published the text of Tripp's tweets, including a list of Vehicle Identification Numbers of affected cars.

      The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has reportedly issued a subpoena to Tesla, suggesting the company is under official investigation by the regul...
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      Compared to the rest of the world, America is way behind in paid time off

      Millennials among the worst at taking advantage of vacation time

      In an apples-to-apples comparison of paid time off, the United States trails the rest of the world by a vast margin. Truth is, the U.S. is the only major nation that doesn’t guarantee workers any paid vacation time.

      The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a group focused on promoting policies to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world, found that employees in most countries are entitled to a minimum of 20 days off a year outside of public holidays, which ratchets that number up to 30-35 when they’re included.

      The United Kingdom (UK) rules the roost in this department, with 37 total days of paid time off between the 28 days for annual leave and the 9 days for public holidays. France and Spain came in close behind by allowing 36 total days off, with Germany, Chili, and South Korea all doling out 30+ days a year to their workers. Another six notches down, at #12, is where you’ll find the U.S. earning the title of the “no vacation nation.”

      “Relying on businesses to voluntarily provide paid leave just hasn’t worked. It’s a national embarrassment that 28 million Americans -- 1 in 4 private sector workers -- don’t get any paid vacation or paid holidays,” said John Schmitt, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and co-author of the Center’s on-going analysis of the subject.

      The Center’s study also notes that a good number of foreign countries offer added time off for younger and older workers, shift workers, and those performing community service.

      Vacation shame

      According to research from Alamo Rent A Car, the bulk of working Millennials feel shamed for taking time off work. “Vacation shame” is an all too familiar feeling for nearly half of U.S. workers, but the Millennial demographic is the group most likely to harbor that feeling.

      “We all want job security and don’t want to be seen as easily replaceable,” is the Millennials take, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

      “We think we have to suffer through our burnout and ‘do our time.’ We tell ourselves that going to the tropics and sipping margaritas is not the responsible thing to do. That’s why colleagues planning vacations are met with the onslaught of snarky ‘must be nice’ comments.”

      Productivity is a double-edged sword. Getting one’s job done is praiseworthy, but taking time off has shown to have positive benefits for both workers and their employers.

      “Although it seems counter-intuitive, workers who use their vacation time are more productive and return from vacations more creative and with better ideas,” wrote Jenna Kressler in a post for Canada’s Occupational Safety Group.

      662 million unused vacation days

      According to a report by Project Time Off, American workers leave a considerable number of vacation days unused -- 662 million in fact.

      The folks in Idaho top that list of most unused vacation, with 78 percent of workers passing up the chance to take their time off. Hoisting the banner of good work ethic, more than 30 percent of the Idahoan workers surveyed said they were concerned about showing “complete dedication to their job,” which dampened their desire to taking time away.

      On the flip side, only 38 percent of Maine workers left vacation days on the table, with more than half of those surveyed revealing that their company encourages time off.

      In an apples-to-apples comparison of paid time off, the United States trails the rest of the world by a vast margin. Truth is, the U.S. is the only major n...
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      California may backtrack on cancer warning labels on coffee

      The ruling made in March could be rolled back

      This past March, a Los Angeles judge ruled in favor of a consumer group that demanded coffee companies in the state of California post cancer warnings to customers because of the chemical acrylamide that is used in the roasting process.

      Today, a public hearing will take place in Sacramento, and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has proposed reversing the judge’s ruling on the coffee warning labels.

      Sam Delson, the spokesman for OEHHA, said he expects the hearing to be very well-attended, as representatives from both sides of the case have already requested extra time to speak.

      “Coffee is an extremely well-studied mixture of chemicals,” Delson said. “It’s the first time we’ve ruled on a complex mixture.”

      The judge’s ruling

      The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, a nonprofit group, filed the initial lawsuit against nearly 100 coffee companies -- including Starbucks. The group claimed the coffee companies were violating a California law that requires warnings on a wide range of chemicals that can cause cancer -- in this case acrylamide, which is classified as a carcinogen.

      At the time of the ruling, coffee companies fought back, arguing that the extent that the chemical exists in coffee isn’t enough to be harmful. They claimed that not only is coffee considered to be a relatively healthy drink, but Proposition 65 -- The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act -- was not designed to regulate chemicals in such small amounts.

      “Coffee has been shown, over and over again, to be a healthy beverage,” said National Coffee Association CEO Bill Murray. “This lawsuit has made a mockery of Prop 65, has confused consumers, and does nothing to improve public health.”

      Recent developments

      In June, the OEHHA argued that consuming levels of acrylamide that are present in coffee poses “no significant cancer risk” based on the latest research. The proposed regulations would keep the warning labels off of coffee served throughout the state.

      “The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) -- the only Proposition 65 authoritative body to have evaluated coffee -- concluded that coffee consumption is not classifiable as to its overall carcinogenicity and is associated with reduced risk of certain cancers in humans,” the OEHHA said.

      This past March, a Los Angeles judge ruled in favor of a consumer group that demanded coffee companies in the state of California post cancer warnings to c...
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      Aldi announces push toward fresh, organic food

      The grocery chain will be adding more fresh, organic, and easy-to-prepare items to meet changing consumer demands

      Discount grocer Aldi has announced that it’s adding new products to its aisles, with an emphasis on natural foods.

      Existing Aldi stores -- which are typically about 12,000 square feet -- will also be expanded to allow for bigger aisles, less-cluttered shelves, and more refrigeration space. The changes are part of a $1.9 billion effort to give the stores “a modern market feel and a little more space.”

      “The continued success of our store expansion and remodel initiatives has given us the opportunity to carefully select and introduce new products that satisfy our customers’ increasing preferences for fresh items, including organic meats, salad bowls, sliced fruits and gourmet cheeses,” said Jason Hart, CEO of ALDI U.S.

      “We know people lead busy lives, so we’re making it even easier for them to purchase everything on their shopping list at ALDI, while still saving money,” Hart said.

      Product expansion

      Aldi said it plans to increase its selection of natural, fresh, and organic foods by 40 percent. The items being added generally fall under one of three categories: fresh and healthy, convenient, and must-have items.

      New products will include more fresh meats, an expanded produce selection, and a new line of vegan and vegetarian options, as well as more baked goods and alternative milks. Consumers will also find more easy-to-prepare meal starters, including quinoa bowls and premium pasta sauces.

      Once Aldi’s expansion is complete, 20 percent of products in every Aldi will be new compared to last year. The German-owned chain said it plans to have 2,500 locations nationwide by the end of 2022 -- up from 1,800 currently.

      Aldi’s push toward fresh and organic items may help it compete with high-end retailers. Diane Sheehan, an analyst with Kantar Consulting, says focusing on premium shoppers could backfire on pricier grocery stores like Whole Foods.

      In today's competitive grocery landscape, everyone "expects good deals on quality products,” Sheehan told CNN Money. "Those retailers continue to be underestimating Aldi and are doing it to their own detriment.”  

      Discount grocer Aldi has announced that it’s adding new products to its aisles, with an emphasis on natural foods.Existing Aldi stores -- which are typ...
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      Sen. Elizabeth Warren unveils new bill to reshape capitalism

      The bill would redistribute wealth and give more power to workers

      Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is proposing a new bill -- the Accountable Capitalism Act -- in an effort to reshape capitalism, reign in big corporations, and give local communities and workers a greater say.

      Warren introduced the bill in an article in The Wall Street Journal and said she was looking to reverse “a fundamental change in business practices” that have long made corporations focus on profits, rather than bettering wages for workers or local investments.

      “The obsession with maximizing shareholder returns effectively means America’s biggest companies have dedicated themselves to making the rich even richer,” Warren wrote in the article.

      The bill

      Under the Accountable Capitalism Act, corporations that bring in over $1 billion in annual revenue would be required to get a charter from the federal government. The charter would come from a new office Warren wants to create -- the Office of United States Corporations within the Department of Commerce -- and would require companies consider interests outside of shareholders.

      The new department would also be able to revoke charters based on requests from state attorneys general, or if the department finds that the company has a history of repeated illegal conduct and has failed to correct it.

      Businesses would have to take the interests of customers, workers, and the towns and cities where they operate into consideration. Should shareholders feel that corporate directors aren’t meeting their obligations, they are permitted to sue.

      Additionally, employees at these corporations would be able to elect 40 percent of the boards of directors. Based on Warren’s research, nearly 3,500 public companies -- and hundreds of other private companies -- would be covered under the legislation.

      “Real wages have stagnated even as productivity has to continued to rise,” Warren wrote. “Workers aren’t getting what they’ve earned. Companies are also setting themselves up to fail.”

      Under the legislation, 75 percent of directors and shareholders are required to approve any corporation’s political expenditures.

      Public response

      Public opinion has been mixed since Warren introduced the bill. While some see it as governmental control, others are endorsing Warren’s creative thinking.

      “The last thing I want is Elizabeth Warren telling companies what they can or cannot do,” said Kevin Kelley, CEO of Benchmark Investments. “The private market will reward those that take care of their shareholders.”

      Steve Forbes, chairman of Forbes Media, believes the bill will lead to “stagnation.”

      “What she’s talking about is freezing the economy as it is, keeping things as they are,” Forbes said. “That’s just not going to work.”

      However, a group of academics studying the history of corporations and economics see the positives in Warren’s proposed legislation.

      “We believe legislation along these lines to be long overdue,” the group, led by Cornell law professor Robert Hockett, wrote. “While some of us would like to go even further than the Act does, we all agree that [the] legislation takes the critical first steps in realigning our regime of incorporation with its original purposes.”

      Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is proposing a new bill -- the Accountable Capitalism Act -- in an effort to reshape capitalism, reign in big corpor...
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      Survey shows half of consumers don't want self-driving cars

      Ford sees that as a signal to slow its testing

      ​The auto industry is spending billions of dollars to develop self-driving cars but a new survey from Cox Automotive shows nearly half of consumers don't want them.

      The 2018 Cox Automotive Evolution of Mobility Study did show that consumers have a strong interest in automated safety features, such as automatic braking. But 49 percent said they would not want a fully autonomous vehicle, up from 30 percent from two years ago.

      "As awareness around the development of autonomous technology increases, we're seeing some dramatic shifts in consumer sentiment," said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book. "People now have a deeper understanding of the complexities involved when creating a self-driving car, and that has them reconsidering their comfort level when it comes to handing over control."

      Ford's approach

      That consumer sentiment apparently counts for very little, as the auto industry is racing to put fully autonomous cars on the nation's roadways. Ford, however, is tapping on the brakes.

      In a lengthy report to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Detroit automaker explained how it plans to safely and carefully test its self-driving vehicles on public roads. In the report, Ford said it is vital to earn the public's trust before fully launching the new technology.

      In the report, Ford went into detail about how it would train safety drivers to prevent mishaps, including system failures and even hacking. The vehicles will all be equipped with "black box" recorders that would provide insight into any accident. The company said its underlying strategy is to reduce the risk of failure but to protect people in case something goes wrong.

      Recent accidents a concern

      The Cox Automotive report attributes some of the public's growing skepticism of self-driving cars with some recent accidents, but it says there may be more to the equation. The report notes that survey subjects who were unaware of these accidents, including a March pedestrian death in Arizona, were just as likely to want to drive their own vehicle as someone who knew about the accidents.

      And while most consumers agreed that fully autonomous vehicles need real world testing, 54 percent want the testing to take place in another town or city from where they live.

      Consumers seem to be telling automakers they should build more cars with automated safety features, but leave the drivers with their hands on the wheel. Joe George, Cox Automotive Mobility Solutions Group president, says that might be a critical step in creating a customer base that one day might accept cars driven by computers.

      ​The auto industry is spending billions of dollars to develop self-driving cars but a new survey from Cox Automotive shows nearly half of consumers don't w...
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      T-Mobile launches ‘Team of Experts’ to provide better customer service

      Postpaid customers can access customer care employees directly instead of having to deal with a phone menu

      T-Mobile has launched a new customer service initiative called Team of Experts, which gives its postpaid customers in different regions across the U.S. their own “dedicated” group of customer care representatives.

      The service team can be reached by dialing 611 or messaging straight from the T-Mobile app or iMessage using Apple Business Chat.

      “‘Your call is important to us’ are the six emptiest words ever robo-spoken,” said John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile. “People are fed up with horrible customer service that puts cost control ahead of customer happiness.”

      Cutting down on customer frustration

      T-Mobile’s new service gets customers in touch with real customer service representatives quickly, without having to listen to a robot voice or push a series of buttons on a phone menu.

      “While other brands mechanize customer service, we’re going the other way – no bots, no bouncing, no BS. With Team of Experts, we’re tearing up the traditional playbook, killing the phone menu and putting people at the center of customer care, like they should be. Because at T-Mobile, our customers have always been rock stars to us,” Legere said.

      The carrier also promises to shrink call times by offering more callbacks, 24/7 support, and “asynchronous” messaging help to help solve the problem fast. If a customer has to contact T-Mobile again regarding the same issue, the same team will still be there.

      “They’re going to make sure that it is solved and that you’re happy with the resolution,” said Callie Field, T-Mobile’s executive VP of customer care.

      However, Field acknowledged that “Team of Experts” may not completely eliminate wait times

      “Sometimes there’s some things you can’t avoid — like wait times. Because let’s face it, sometimes your team’s just busy,” Field said. “The difference is that when we’re busy, we’ll promise to you that we’ll handle you in a way that puts your time first. Our default option is that when you call, instead of waiting for us, schedule a time and we’ll call you back. So it’s your time — not our time — that matters.”

      Music-related announcements

      To mark the beginning of the initiative’s launch, T-Mobile is giving customers one year of free Pandora Plus streaming. Users will be able to get a code to unlock their free Pandora Plus subscription in the T-Mobile Tuesdays iOS and Android app on August 28.

      T-Mobile also announced that it’s partnering with Live Nation to give its customers access to last-minute reserved tickets to otherwise sold-out shows "at first day prices." On Live Nation’s website, users will be able to look for a T-Mobile Reserved Seats icon starting 30 days before select shows, confirm their T-Mobile account, and get access to the event.

      T-Mobile has launched a new customer service initiative called Team of Experts, which gives its postpaid customers in different regions across the U.S. the...
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      General Motors recalls Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vehicles

      The Tire Pressure Monitoring System may be calibrated incorrectly

      General Motors is recalling 94 model year 2018 Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vehicles with certain combinations of front-tire and gross-vehicle-weight option codes.

      The Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) may be incorrectly calibrated, causing the TPMS warning lamp to illuminate when tire pressure reaches 37 PSI, not 41 PSI.

      If the low tire pressure telltale is not illuminated at the correct tire pressure, the driver may have less time to react to a low-tire-pressure situation, which could affect the driver's ability to control the vehicle in certain situations and could increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will check the PSI information on the remote control door lock receiver (RCDLR) and tire placard match, and if the information is different the RCDLR will be reprogrammed. This repair will be done free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule. Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at 1-800-222-1020, or GMC customer service at 1-800-462-8782. GM's number for this recall is 18255.

      General Motors is recalling 94 model year 2018 Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vehicles with certain combinations of front-tire and gross-vehicle-weight o...
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      Uber reveals new plans following NYC ridesharing cap

      The company is plotting ways to grow despite the current limitations

      Last week, the New York City Council passed multiple bills that will temporarily pause the granting of new licenses for any Uber or Lyft cars. The pause will last for one year, while the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) spends that time studying the effects of ridesharing companies on the current industry. Mayor Bill DeBlasio is expected to sign the legislation in the coming days, making it effective immediately.

      Companies like Uber now have to work within the limitations set by these new laws.

      “We take the Speaker at his word that the pause is not intended to reduce service for New Yorkers and we trust that he will hold the TLC accountable, ensuring that no New Yorker is left stranded,” said Uber spokesperson Danielle Filson.

      “In the meantime, Uber will do whatever it takes to keep up with growing demand and we will not stop working with the city and state leaders, including Speaker Johnson, to pass real solutions like comprehensive congestion pricing.”

      Creative measures

      Because Uber is restricted to its existing vehicles, the company is committed to finding innovative ways to grow moving forward.

      A spokesperson told Business Insider that Uber is “ready to use creative measures to get around the language of the bills.” The spokesperson noted the important distinction that the pause is on the number of new vehicles -- not a limit on the number of new drivers. It is this fine line that has sparked Uber to think about reaching out to drivers who spend two or three days a week off the app to see if they’d allow new drivers to use their already-registered vehicles.

      The company has estimated roughly 120,000 industry drivers in the city, and there are at least 35,000 existing licensed vehicles in the system that aren’t being utilized. Uber is also planning to pitch employment opportunities to existing black car and yellow taxi drivers in NYC.

      Uber, however, is not planning on fighting one measure of the new bill -- the new minimum pay-rate for drivers. An Uber spokesperson reported that the company is “supportive” of a minimum wage for its drivers.

      Differing viewpoints

      When the news of the cap was revealed, it left New Yorkers divided.

      “The Uber business model is flood the market with as many cars and drivers as possible, gain more market share, and to hell with what happens to those drivers or anybody else involved,” said Mayor DeBlasio. “And in the end what that has created is the kind of race to the bottom that has literally driven down wages below minimum wage level for a lot of Uber drivers and even for other drivers.”

      The city’s taxi drivers -- part of the New York Taxi Worker Association -- had a similar reaction.

      “Our activism created the momentum to regulate app-dispatch companies for the very first time,” the group said. “What happened didn’t just set a precedent for New York City, it set a precedent for the entire world as app companies like Uber and Lyft uses technological innovation to return us to a time of sweated labor, destroying lives and livelihoods across the planet.”

      However, many New Yorkers are less than pleased with the cap. Millennials -- who make up a large portion of the rideshare market -- took to social media to vent their frustrations. African Americans in the city particularly didn’t see the decision as a good move. The demographic has long complained that taxi drivers are less likely to stop for them than for a white passenger.

      “In NYC’s legislation capping the number of Uber and Lyft cars on the road, are there any new penalties or enforcement mechanisms for when yellow cabs refuse to pick up Black people?” one user asked in a tweet.

      The city is also being criticized for putting limitations on one of the few reliable transportation options for New Yorkers.

      Last week, the New York City Council passed multiple bills that will temporarily pause the granting of new licenses for any Uber or Lyft cars. The pause wi...
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      Lawmakers want to know when Ajit Pai knew FCC’s cyberattack claim was false

      Democratic lawmakers want to know why the agency didn’t inform consumers of the falsity of its claim sooner

      A group of House democrats want to know when FCC Chairman Ajit Pai knew that the agency’s claims of a DDoS attack were false.

      Last week, the FCC’s Office of Inspector General released a report that found no evidence to support the claims of DDoS attacks in May of 2017.

      The agency had previously blamed multiple DDoS attacks for temporarily taking down a comment section of its website following a segment of Last Week Tonight, in which comedian John Oliver asked viewers to submit comments to the FCC and speak out in support of net neutrality.

      However, viewers were unable to voice their opinion on the proposed rollback of net neutrality because the comment submission section wasn’t available at the time.

      Now that it has come to light that the agency’s claims of a DDoS attack were false, a handful of Democratic lawmakers want to know when Pai became aware that there was no DDoS attack and why the agency didn’t correct its public statements alleging a DDoS attack before now.

      Misrepresented facts

      “We want to know when you and your staff first learned that the information the Commission shared about the alleged cyberattack was false,” Democratic lawmakers wrote in a letter to Pai.

      "It is troubling that you allowed the public myth created by the FCC to persist and your misrepresentations to remain uncorrected for over a year,” they wrote. The letter was signed by Representatives Frank Pallone Jr. (NJ), Mike Doyle (PA), Jerry McNerney (CA) and Debbie Dingell (MI).

      The results of the investigation concluded that FCC officials deliberately misrepresented facts in responses to Congressional inquiries.

      "Given the significant media, public and Congressional attention this alleged cyberattack received for over a year, it is hard to believe that the release of the IG's report was the first time that you and your staff realized that no cyberattack occurred," wrote the lawmakers.

      "Such ignorance would signify a dereliction of your duty as the head of the FCC, particularly due to the severity of the allegations and the blatant lack of evidence."

      The Democratic lawmakers have asked Pai for complete written responses to their questions by August 28. Pai is also scheduled to appear before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee oversight hearing on Thursday where he is expected to face questions about the results of the investigation.

      A group of House democrats want to know when FCC Chairman Ajit Pai knew that the agency’s claims of a DDoS attack were false.Last week, the FCC’s Offic...
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      MoviePass confesses to $126 million quarterly loss and faces a lawsuit from investors

      Debt and disgruntled subscribers continue to mount for the beleaguered ticketing service

      To borrow a line from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail,’ it may be time to “bring out your dead.”

      MoviePass, the subscription ticketing service, can retort with “I’m not dead” all it wants, but it may be soon.

      Helios and Matheson, MoviePass’ parent company, posted a humiliating quarterly earnings report on Tuesday, disclosing that the company’s operating losses have mushroomed from less than $3 million in the second quarter of 2017 to $126.6 million in the second quarter of 2018.

      MoviePass has tried every trick in the book to reframe its model, but time is running out. At the rate it’s going through the money in its bank account -- approximately $73 million a month -- the service could well be belly-up by October.

      Investors cry foul

      As if losing millions isn’t enough of a bad day at the box office, the folks at MoviePass are also facing a lawsuit. On Monday, Helios and Matheson Analytics Inc. investors filed a class action suit alleging that the company pulled the wool over the public’s eyes regarding the profitability of MoviePass before the stock tanked, according to a filing submitted in New York federal court on Monday.

      "Helios was touting MoviePass’ valuation and path to profitability even though there was no reasonable basis to even imply that the MoviePass business model could lead to profitability for Helios," reads the filing by shareholder Jeffrey Braxton.

      "MoviePass’ business model was not sustainable because there was no reasonable basis to believe that MoviePass could monetize the model to a degree that could be maintained before being too buried in debt to survive."

      The class action group might be getting some love from MoviePass’ competition. The group’s Twitter account, @MoviePassLaw, claims that “AMC has contacted us, before our Moviepass case is presented to the Supreme Court they are hoping to provide each victim a one-year subscription to AMC Stubs A-List. Fantastic! Moviepass has failed us and we will show them!”

      To borrow a line from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail,’ it may be time to “bring out your dead.”MoviePass, the subscription ticketing service, can ret...
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      A new Instagram hack locks users out of their accounts

      Furious consumers say the platform isn’t giving them any real help

      Instagram users have taken to Twitter to complain about a new hack on the social media site that locks them out of their accounts and then changes the username, image, and email address on the account.

      Mashable first broke the news yesterday after spotting various tweets from Instagram users. There are “two of hundreds of Instagram users who have reported similar attacks since the beginning of the month,” Mashable reported. “According to data from analytics platform Talkwalker, there have been more than 5,000 tweets from 899 accounts mentioning Instagram hacks in just the last seven days.”

      Instagram users are reporting that they can no longer sign into their accounts because the login details have changed. Some accounts have been deleted entirely, while others have the profile pictures changed to animated images from Disney or Pixar films. Other users had their email addresses changed to emails with Russia’s .ru domain.

      Instagram’s response

      The company addressed the issue on its blog yesterday, saying it will be conducting an investigation into the hack.

      Many users have taken to Twitter to complain that the platform hasn’t done enough to help them during this process. Users’ login information has been changed, and so they can’t recover their accounts.

      One user tweeted: “hey instagram -- another victim of account hacking here and I can’t find any way to report it! Absolutely livid and lack of official response is awful -- please help or release a statement on action for those affected! #instagramhacked”

      “We are aware that some people are having difficulty access their Instagram accounts,” Instagram wrote in a blog post. The company also gave users directions on how to recover accounts and advised that people should cut off access to any suspicious third-party apps and activate two-step authentication.

      An Instagram spokeswoman said in a statement that the company’s top priority is safety for users.

      “When we become aware of an account that has been compromised, we shut off access to the account and the people who’ve been affected are put through a remediation process so they can reset their password and take other necessary steps to secure their account,” she said.

      Instagram users have taken to Twitter to complain about a new hack on the social media site that locks them out of their accounts and then changes the user...
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      CDC monitoring a measles outbreak

      More than 100 people in 21 states have reported contracting the virus this year

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Tuesday that it is monitoring a measles outbreak.

      Between Jan. 1, 2018 and July 14, 2018, 107 people in 21 states reported contracting the virus. The majority of people who got measles were unvaccinated.

      The states with confirmed cases include North Carolina, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.

      Airborne virus

      Last year, there were 118 cases of measles in 15 states and the District of Columbia. That was up from only 86 cases in 2016.

      The last outbreak occurred in 2015 when 188 people contracted measles. Although no source was ultimately identified, the outbreak in 2015 was thought to be traced to a traveler from overseas who brought the highly contagious disease to an amusement park in California.

      The measles are common in Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa and can spread easily to people in the U.S. who have not been vaccinated. The virus is spread through coughs and sneezes.

      Symptoms show up within 10-14 days of exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, and sore throat. After that, a red or reddish-brown rash appears, first on the face at the hairline then on the rest of the body.

      Health officials say some people may suffer from severe complications, such as pneumonia and brain swelling, which could result in hospitalization or death.

      The CDC says measles can be prevented with the MMR vaccine, which children usually get between 12 and 15 months of age. A second dose is usually given between the ages of 4 and 6.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Tuesday that it is monitoring a measles outbreak.Between Jan. 1, 2018 and July 14, 2018, 1...
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      Consumer credit scores rise as changes at credit reporting agencies take effect

      An overhaul resulted in an average increase of 11 percent, a new study finds

      Millions of U.S. consumers are seeing a boost in their credit score as a result of an overhaul in the way major credit reporting firms handle negative credit information.

      Under a new agreement with state regulators, non-loan items that went to collection firms -- such as old gym memberships or traffic tickets -- will be removed from consumers’ files.

      Consumers who had at least one collections account erased from their files saw an average gain of 11 percent in their credit scores, according to a new study by the New York Federal Reserve.

      Changes imposed

      The credit boost some consumers are seeing is the result of a 2015 settlement between 31 state attorneys general and Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, who together created the National Consumer Assistance Plan. The plan -- which went into effect in the second half of 2017 -- was designed to limit credit reporting errors that negatively impact scores.

      The New York Fed report found that the number of people with a collections account on their credit report dropped from 33 million to 25 million between June 2017 and June 2018. The report was based on a sample of millions of anonymous credit reports from credit reporting firm Equifax.

      The report found that the population that was impacted by the change had lower credit scores to begin with. One third had a delinquency of some kind in their credit accounts compared to 8 percent of everyone else.

      The average increase in credit score was 11 points, the study found. Eighteen percent of the sample saw gains of at least 30 points, but those who saw bigger boosts typically still had bad credit afterwards.

      “These borrowers will certainly benefit in the long run from the cleanup of their credit reports, since higher scores are associated with better access to credit, to the job market, and even to the rental housing market,” the New York Fed said.

      “But the immediate impact of the removal of collections will be muted if the beneficiary’s credit record continues to be tarnished with other negative information.”

      Millions of U.S. consumers are seeing a boost in their credit score as a result of an overhaul in the way major credit reporting firms handle negative cred...
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      Hyundai recalls model year 2018 Genesis G80s

      The front passenger airbag may not function properly

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 3,305 model year 2018 Genesis G80s.

      The Occupant Classification System (OCS) may incorrectly detect that an adult is in the passenger seat, even if the seat is unoccupied.

      In the event of a crash, if a child or infant is in the seat, the front passenger air bag may deploy instead of being deactivated, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will reprogram the OCS, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin August 24, 2018.

      Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-371-9460. Hyundai's number for this recall is 002G.

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 3,305 model year 2018 Genesis G80s.The Occupant Classification System (OCS) may incorrectly detect that an adult is...
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      Camber Pharmaceuticals recalls Valsartan tablets

      Trace Amounts of N-Nitrosodimethylamine impurity were found in an active pharmaceutical ingredient

      Camber Pharmaceuticals is recalling Valsartan tablets, USP, in 40-mg, 80-mg, 160-mg and 320-mg doses.

      Trace Amounts of N-Nitrosodimethylamine impurity were found in an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API).

      NDMA is classified as a probable human carcinogen (a substance that could cause cancer).

      The company has not received any reports of adverse events to date related to this recall.

      Valsartan, which was distributed nationwide by Qualanex LLC, is a prescription medication used to treat high blood pressure and congestive heart failure, and is packaged in 30-ct & 90-ct bottles

      The following lot numbers and expiration dates are being recalled:.

      Product Descr.NDC NumberBatchesExp.

      Valsartan Tablets

      USP, 40mg

      31722-

      745-30

      All lots

      07/2018

      - 06/2020

      Valsartan Tablets

      USP, 80mg

      31722-

      746-90

      All lots

      07/2018

      - 06/2020

      Valsartan Tablets

      USP, 160mg

      31722-

      747-90

      All lots

      07/2018

      - 06/2020

      Valsartan Tablets

      USP, 320mg

      31722-

      748-90

      All lots

      07/2018

      - 06/2020

      What to do

      Consumers should contact their doctor for further guidance and potential change of treatment before they stop taking this product.

      Consumers with questions regarding this recall may contact Qualanex at (800) 505-9291 Monday to Friday between 9am – 5pm (CT) or by email at recall@qualanex.com.

      Camber Pharmaceuticals is recalling Valsartan tablets, USP, in 40-mg, 80-mg, 160-mg and 320-mg doses.Trace Amounts of N-Nitrosodimethylamine impurity w...
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      Model year 2018 Chrysler Pacificas recalled

      The vehicle may suffer a loss of drive or move while in the "Park" position

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 61 model year 2018 Chrysler Pacificas.

      The front axle halfshafts may have been incorrectly assembled, preventing the shaft from being properly secured to the constant-velocity (CV) joint.

      If the axle shaft disengages from the CV joint, the vehicle will have a loss of drive or allow the vehicle to move while in the "Park" position. Either condition may increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the left or right halfshaft assembly, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin September 14, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U80.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 61 model year 2018 Chrysler Pacificas.The front axle halfshafts may have been incorrectly assembled, preventing the...
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      FBI warns about potential ATM hacking scheme

      By disabling fraud controls, hackers can withdraw large sums of money

      The FBI has started warning banks and financial institutions that hackers could be looking to compromise their ATM systems.

      Krebs on Security -- a blog run by cybersecurity expert Brian Krebs -- first broke the story on Sunday. Krebs reported that “cybercriminals are preparing to carry out a highly choreographed, global fraud scheme known as an ‘ATM cash-out.’” The scheme involves a hacker breaking into a bank or payment card processor and using stolen information to withdraw large sums of money.

      The FBI sent an alert to banks on Friday warning of this potential threat.

      “The FBI has obtained unspecified reporting indicating cyber criminals are planning to conduct a global Automated Teller Machine (ATM) cash-out scheme in the coming days, likely associated with an unknown card issuer breach and commonly referred to as an ‘unlimited’ operation,” said the FBI’s notice to banks.

      What the hack looks like  

      Hackers typically gain access to a bank’s system by phishing. From there, they’ll not only alter account balances, but they’ll also change settings to disable transaction limits and maximum ATM withdrawal amounts. This allows them to use fake bank cards -- made from stolen information -- and take out large sums of money in one foul swoop.

      The FBI has yet to comment specifically on this specific potential attack, though a spokesperson did speak to CNN.

      “In furtherance of public-private partnerships, the FBI routinely advises private industry of various cyber threat indicators observed during the course of our investigations,” the spokesperson said. “This data is provided in order to help systems administrators guard against the actions of persistent cyber criminals.”

      Last month, Krebs on Security reported two successful cash-out schemes, in which the hackers stole close to $2.4 million from The National Bank of Blacksburg in 2016 and 2017.

      The FBI is encouraging banks to implement tighter security measures -- such as two-step authentication, tighter network monitoring, and stronger password requirements.

      The FBI has started warning banks and financial institutions that hackers could be looking to compromise their ATM systems.Krebs on Security -- a blog...
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      Wells Fargo considering lending to students with government debt

      The bank is seeking to improve its reputation while building relationships with college-aged consumers

      Wells Fargo is reportedly considering bolstering its shrinking student lending business by offering loans that let customers retire their government-backed student debt, Bloomberg reports.

      Wells Fargo wants to extend its current offerings to include federal student loan refinancing. Previously, the bank offered only private student loan consolidation, in which a borrower with multiple Wells Fargo private student loans could consolidate them into a single loan or refinance any one of them.

      “We continue to assess the needs of our customers on refinancing of federal loans into private,” Well Fargo’s Head of Personal Lending John Rasmussen told Bloomberg. “We’re sizing what that should look like, how we’d do that in a real customer-focused way.”

      Building relationships with students

      The move would help boost the lender’s student-loan portfolio, which was down to $11.5 billion at the end of June from $12.2 billion last year. Rasmussen cited numerous consumer scandals and accelerated loan repayments due to an improving economy as reasons for the smaller portfolio.

      Although no final decision has been made yet, refinancing federal student loans could help Wells Fargo attract more college-aged consumers as customers and improve its reputation.

      Earlier this month, Wells Fargo admitted to having wrongly foreclosed on hundreds of homes in the period between April 2010 and October 2015 due to a computing error caused by a mortgage underwriting tool. The bank said it put aside $8 million to repay the affected customers.

      Wells Fargo is reportedly considering bolstering its shrinking student lending business by offering loans that let customers retire their government-backed...
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      Scientists propose a new lead for Alzheimer's research

      A new study by scientists at the University of Adelaide may have some answers

      In a study published in the journal Frontiers of Neuroscience, a team of scientists at the University of Adelaide theorize that there could be a potential link between iron in our cells and rare genetic mutations that cause Alzheimer’s disease. The theory could provide areas for further research moving forward.

      “For 20 years most scientists have believed that a small protein fragment, amyloid beta, causes Alzheimer’s disease,” said Michael Lardelli, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Adelaide. “Clearing out amyloid beta from the brains of people who are developing Alzheimer’s disease can slow their rate of cognitive decline. But, so far, nothing has been able to stop the relentless progression of the disease.”

      Lardelli joined forces with Dr. Amanda Lumsden of South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute and Dr. Morgan of the University of Adelaide. The Adelaide researchers focus on the study of the genes that cause Alzheimer’s upon mutation, while Dr. Lumsden has studied the biology of how cells use iron, the group’s background thus paving the way for the future of this study.

      The theory

      The core of the researchers’ theory lies in how neurons in our bodies handle iron, with deficiencies potentially causing the disease to flourish.

      “Cells need iron to survive. In particular, iron is essential for the tiny powerhouses of all cells -- the mitochondria -- to generate most of the energy that keeps cells functioning,” said Lardelli. “The genes mutated in inherited Alzheimer’s disease seem likely to affect how iron enters neurons, how it is recycled within neurons, and how it is exported from neurons.

      “Since neurons have such huge energy needs, disturbing the way they handle iron can have serious, long-term consequences. Furthermore, iron is a key player in inflammation and in the production of damaging molecules named ‘reactive oxygen species,’ and both occur at high levels in brains with Alzheimer’s disease.”

      As the researchers’ theory only deals with the way cells handle iron -- not how much iron is in a person’s body -- they are urging people not to make any diet changes or take any supplements based on this theory.

      Despite the findings from the study, more research is required to better understand how mutations related to Alzheimer’s affect cellular iron.

      In a study published in the journal Frontiers of Neuroscience, a team of scientists at the University of Adelaide theorize that there could be a potential...
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      McDonald’s investing $6 billion on modernization of its restaurants

      The fast food chain’s upgrades are slated to run throughout 2018 and 2019

      McDonald's and its franchisees are investing $6 billion on transforming most of its restaurants across the United States to reflect a more modern look, both inside and outside. The changes will include:

      • Remodeled counters to allow for new table service

      • Modernized dining rooms with new furniture and refreshed exterior designs

      • Digital self-order kiosks

      • New designated parking spots for curbside pickup for those who order on mobile

      • Digital menu boards inside and at the drive-thru

      • Expanded McCafé counters and larger display cases

      • Partnering with Uber Eats for "McDelivery" at 5,000 locations

      Hundreds of McDonald's restaurants in every state will see these changes implemented, if they haven’t already. California will see the most restaurants upgraded with an estimated $390 million being invested in that state.

      Staying relevant

      McDonald's says it serves 25 million customers worldwide every day. However, while many of its classic menu items are still popular, consumers in the U.S. are increasingly seeking out healthier fare.

      As a result, the company is struggling to stay relevant. To meet changing consumer preferences, McDonald’s has added kale to its salad and fresh beef has replaced frozen beef patties in Quarter Pounders.

      Some stores have also introduced digital and on-demand conveniences, such as ordering kiosks, food delivery, and barista-style cafes. Although the modernization effort includes the roll-out of self-order kiosks, the changes will not result in job losses, the company said.

      “There will be no loss of employment and potentially an increase” in jobs, said Clay Paschen III, a franchisee who owns 16 McDonald’s restaurants in Ventura County, Calif. and employs nearly 1,000 people.

      Paschen told the Los Angeles Times that there will be some shifts in duties because “we’re bringing the employees from behind the counter out front to engage, in a more personal way, with our customers.”

      McDonald's and its franchisees are investing $6 billion on transforming most of its restaurants across the United States to reflect a more modern look, bot...
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      Researchers find security flaws in most tracker apps

      The devices’ unencrypted data is apparently easily accessible

      That tracker app you installed on your family members' smartphones may be providing more information than you think, and not just to you.

      German researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute analyzed 19 legal tracker apps available in the Google Play Store. The researchers closely examined how the apps collect information and how they protect highly sensitive user data.

      They concluded that all 19 apps revealed 37 major vulnerabilities, with none of the apps programmed with default security features in place.

      The research team stresses that tracker apps have legitimate uses. Parents often use them to monitor their children's location and to see messages and pictures they post online. They're perfectly legal so long as the person being monitored is aware of it and agrees to it.

      Data stored in plain text

      The researchers take issue with these apps' security features, or rather the lack of them. They found that most apps store highly sensitive data on a server in plain text, without any type of encryption.

      "We only had to open up a certain website and guess or enter a user name into the URL to retrieve an individual's movement profile," said Siegfried Rasthofer, who headed the project.

      The researchers said they were able to read out complete movement profiles for all app users, not just the ones being monitored. They suggest this security flaw could allow thousands of people to be tracked in real time.

      "It enables total surveillance," said Stephan Huber, a member of the research team.

      Lack of proper encryption

      The researchers said they were also able to read the app users' login information because the developers either used improper encryption or no encryption at all. In one app, the team was able to easily access 1.7 million login credentials.

      The Fraunhofer researchers said they informed the app developers and the Google Play Store team of their findings. They say Google has removed 12 of the 19 apps from its store.

      That tracker app you installed on your family members' smartphones may be providing more information than you think, and not just to you.German researc...
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      FDA approves marketing of first ‘digital birth control’ app

      Trials suggest that the Natural Cycles app is around 98 percent effective with perfect use

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the marketing of the first app to prevent pregnancy. The app, called Natural Cycles, tracks a user’s body temperature and menstrual cycle to determine which days the user is likely to be fertile.

      To use it, women take their body temperature using a basal thermometer immediately when waking up in the morning and enter it into the app. Natural Cycles uses this information to create a log to flag fertile days.

      "Consumers are increasingly using digital health technologies to inform their everyday health decisions, and this new app can provide an effective method of contraception if it's used carefully and correctly," Terri Cornelison, assistant director for the health of women at the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement.

      "Perfect use" failure rate of 1.8 percent

      However, the agency added, “women should know that no form of contraception works perfectly, so an unplanned pregnancy could still result from correct usage of this device.”

      The FDA said in a press release that during clinical studies of 15,570 women who used the app for an average of eight months, the app had a “perfect use” failure rate of 1.8 percent. That means 1.8 in 100 women who use the app for one year will become pregnant.

      The company said the app had a "typical use" failure rate of 6.5 percent, which accounted for women sometimes not using the app correctly. On its website, Natural Cycles says that typical use contraceptive failure could be due to reasons such as the app mistakenly saying a fertile day was a non-fertile day or a user having unprotected sex on a fertile day.

      Reports of unplanned pregnancies

      The app was approved last year by the European Medicines Agency, the European equivalent of the FDA. Its approval by the U.S. FDA comes with some controversy.

      Last year, a hospital in Sweden reported the app to the country’s regulatory agency after finding that 37 women who became pregnant and obtained abortions from September to December had been using the Natural Cycles app as their main form of contraception.

      Natural Cycles responded that these unplanned pregnancies should be seen as an example of the small failure rate expected with typical use. The company stressed that no form of birth control is considered to be 100 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.

      More than 600,000 people subscribe to the app, which costs $10 per month or $80 per year. A yearly subscription comes with a high-sensitivity basal thermometer.

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the marketing of the first app to prevent pregnancy. The app, called Natural Cycles, tracks a user’s bo...
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      Chrysler recalls Jeep Cherokees and Chrysler Pacifica non-hybrids

      The transmission may not transmit engine power to the wheels

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling five model year 2019 Jeep Cherokees and model year 2018 Chrysler Pacifica non-hybrids.

      A component in the transmission may not have been welded properly, possibly causing the transmission to not transmit engine power to the wheels.

      If the transmission weld fails, the vehicle will stop moving, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

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

      The recall is expected to begin September 14, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U85.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling five model year 2019 Jeep Cherokees and model year 2018 Chrysler Pacifica non-hybrids.A component in the transmissio...
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      SEC issues warning about self-directed IRA fraud

      Included is a special cautions about the promise of cryptocurrency investments

      As hand-wringing over dwindling pension trust funds and economic security continues to grow, many people are looking for ways to pump up their nest eggs. One investment angle that many consumers are working are self-directed Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs).

      However, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is raising red flags about the risk vs. reward of that and other investment paths.

      A self-directed IRA is an IRA held by a custodian that allows investment in a broader set of assets than permitted by most IRA custodians. There’s a danger zone in that scheme because custodians for self-directed IRAs can abandon most duties to investors, and they may allow investors to invest retirement funds in “alternative assets” such as real estate, promissory notes, tax lien certificates, and private placement securities.

      In a new investor alert, the SEC advises that investments like self-funded IRAs have unique risks that should be taken into account. Topping that list are the lack of disclosure, heightened chances of fraud, and issues with liquidity.

      “While a broader set of investment options may have appeal, investors should be mindful that investments in self-directed IRAs raise risks including fraudulent schemes, high fees, and volatile performance,” the SEC warned.

      “Fraudsters may be more likely to exploit self-directed IRAs because custodians or trustees of these accounts may offer only limited protections. Custodians and trustees typically have only limited duties to investigate the assets or the background of the promoter.”

      What to be on the lookout for

      The SEC laid out the tricks fraudsters use to pull off a self-directed IRA fraud scheme. Some of those include:

      • Fraudsters may misrepresent the duties of self-directed IRA custodians to hoodwink investors into believing their investments are lawful or protected against losses. For example, fraudsters might maintain that self-directed IRA custodians investigate and validate any investment in a self-directed IRA. In reality, self-directed IRA custodians are responsible only for holding and administering the assets in a self-directed IRA.

      • It’s typical that self-directed IRA custodians don’t examine the quality or legitimacy of any investment in the self-directed IRA or the people that are promoting those investments. When someone signs off on a self-directed IRA, odds are the fine print states that the self-directed IRA custodian has no responsibility for investment performance.

      • Self-directed IRAs usually carry a penalty for withdrawing money before a certain age. Having the prospect of that penalty hanging over an investor’s head often leads the investor to take a passive approach to managing the account which, in turn, can open up the possibility of the fraudster’s game lingering on indefinitely.

      • Certain self-directed IRAs permit investment in “digital assets,” which include cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings (ICOs). In a study of the “Best Bitcoin IRA Companies,” ConsumerAffairs talked to Jamie Hopkins, Associate Professor at The American College of Financial Services, who said that while digital currencies are here to stay, there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to investing.

      Ask questions!

      “Practice “M.O.M.” -- “My Own Money” -- when it comes to investments,” urged Evan Thurmond, Director of Portfolio Management at Lifetime Wealth Strategies in comments to ConsumerAffairs. “Don’t invest with someone who’s not willing to do the same with their own money.”

      The investment landscape is littered with bad actors. Many of them pull the “friendship” con and prey on people close to retirement age.

      One of the most recent cases of self-directed IRA fraud reported in Indiana is the case of Randell Morrison, who bilked 15 investors in Indiana out of $1.4 million.

      “Randell Morrison preyed on those who considered him a friend. He didn’t just gamble with their life savings, he squandered their life savings,” said Charlie White, Indiana’s Secretary of State. Many of Morrison’s victims lost their entire retirement account and life savings, not to mention emotional and even physical distress thanks to the fraud.

      The SEC has a publication called “Ask Questions” that lays out questions investors should ask of anyone who wants them to make an investment, including about the background and history of the promoter.

      However, if you’re someone who thinks you’ve been taken on an investment joyride, be it a brokerage firm, investment adviser, or any other market participant, there are some possible remedies. To file a complaint, start by visiting the SEC’s complaint portal and reviewing what help is available.

      As hand-wringing over dwindling pension trust funds and economic security continues to grow, many people are looking for ways to pump up their nest eggs. O...
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      MoviePass now limiting subscribers to two movie choices per day

      The company says its policy change was made in an effort to stay financially stable

      Earlier this month, MoviePass announced that it would be dropping its all-you-can-watch for $9.95 per month plan and replacing it with a plan that allows three movies for $9.95 a month.

      Now, the movie subscription service is forcing moviegoers to choose between just two movies a day, the New York Post reports.

      On Friday, hours before the app crashed, consumers had to choose between “Slenderman” and “Mission Impossible: Fallout.” However, those not interested in seeing the horror film with less-than-stellar reviews didn’t have very good odds of securing the showtime they wanted.

      At an AMC location in Times Square, Mission Impossible was only available at two showtimes for those using MoviePass: one in the mid-afternoon and the other at around 10:45 pm.

      Maintaining financial stability

      MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe confirmed the change in an interview with The Post and implied that the policy was only temporary and intended to stem its financial loss during the time before it moves to its three-movies-a-month plan in September.

      “Unfortunately, in order to stay financially stable we’ve had to curtail the service,” Lowe said. “We had to right the ship as far as the amount of money we were burning.”

      Lowe suggested that, over the next few weeks, subscribers may see the movie selection change throughout the day. He insisted that MoviePass wasn’t intentionally offering inconvenient showtimes.

      “This has been a challenging time for us and our customers. We’re just trying to save our service to be able to be available long term,” he said.

      The CEO said that investors were confident in the company’s new pricing plan but are waiting to see what percentage of customers were willing to continue to use the service under the new three-movies-per-month plan.

      Consumers not interested in continuing to use MoviePass under the new policy have alternatives, including AMC’s $20-per-month service which lets users see three movies a week. Another option is Sinemia, which lets subscribers see three movies per month for $14.99 and requires a $19.95 initiation fee.

      Earlier this month, MoviePass announced that it would be dropping its all-you-can-watch for $9.95 per month plan and replacing it with a plan that allows t...
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      Facebook pushes back on report it told news publishers it would let them die

      The social media giant is saying the comments were taken out of context

      According to multiple news sites, Facebook news executive Campbell Brown reportedly had a message for publishers that didn’t want to work with the company: “I’ll be holding your hands with your dying business like a hospice.”

      A Facebook spokesperson told CNBC that the comments were “taken out of context.”

      “These quotes are simply not accurate and don’t reflect the discussion we had in the meeting,” Brown said in a statement. “We know there’s much more to do, but our goal at Facebook -- what the team works on everyday with publishers and reporters around the world -- is to help journalism succeed and thrive, both on our platform and off. That means a new focus on building sustainable business models, and that’s what this discussion was about.”

      The Australian was the first news source to publish the story. Several news outlets have since picked up the quotes and confirmed them.

      According to Nieman Lab, Brown was also quoted as saying, “We are not interested in talking to you about your traffic and referrals any more. That is the old world there is no going back.”

      Nieman Lab reports this is perhaps the biggest reversal, as traffic and referrals made up the majority of what Facebook offered to publishers in recent years.

      History with Brown

      Brown is a former CNN prime-time host and NBC News Correspondent.

      Back in February, she sat down with Recode and made similar statements. In the interview, Brown says “the nature of what Facebook is [means] news traffic will inherently fluctuate,” according to CNBC. Due to the site’s algorithm change at the end of last year and beginning of this year, many publishers have reported a significant drop in referral traffic from Facebook.

      CNBC reported that Facebook has created several new initiatives and tools designed specifically for publishers in recent months. The goal is to help build a stronger subscriber base, as well as rid the site of the spread of misinformation and clickbait by prioritizing credible news sites.

      According to multiple news sites, Facebook news executive Campbell Brown reportedly had a message for publishers that didn’t want to work with the company:...
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      Google stores users' location regardless of privacy settings

      A new investigation revealed Google’s tracking habits

      A new investigation from the Associated Press (AP) revealed that many Google services on both iPhones and Androids store users’ location data even if the privacy settings are set to prevent it from doing so. After the AP requested a confirmation of these findings, computer-science researchers at Princeton found them to be accurate.

      Many of Google’s apps and services require permission for users’ location information. For example, Google Maps requires users’ location in order to start navigating. Google Maps then stores users’ location history in a “timeline” feature that maps out users’ daily movements, should users grant the app permission to record their locations over time.

      However, Google also allows location history to be “paused,” as the setting poses a number of privacy risks. According to Google’s support page, “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

      Effect on users  

      These privacy issues are affecting nearly two billion Android users and hundreds of millions of iPhone users who utilize Google for search or maps.

      “If you’re going to allow users to turn off something called ‘Location History,’ then all the places where you maintain location history should be turned off,” said Jonathan Mayer, a Princeton computer scientist and former chief technologist for the Federal Communications Commission’s enforcement bureau. “That seems like a pretty straightforward position to have.”

      However, Google is confident that its settings are clear for its users.

      “There are a number of different ways that Google may use location to improve people’s experience, including: Location History, Web and App Activity, and through device-level Location Services,” said a Google spokesperson. “We provide clear descriptions of these tools, and robust controls so people can turn them on or off, and delete their histories at any time.”

      Google’s Web and Activity App setting -- which is enabled by default on all devices -- stores users’ information to users’ Google apps and websites to Google accounts. Users can toggle the setting to be turned off, and that stops Google from saving location markers.

      However, users that just turn off the Location History setting (and leave the Web and Activity App setting running) will only prevent Google from storing movements to a user’s “timeline.” This does not stop Google from collecting other location markers.

      AP’s investigation

      The AP’s investigation worked to uncover just how powerful Google’s other location markers can be for users. Princeton postdoctoral researcher Gunes Acar was the subject of the study, and the AP created a visual map of his movements as he moved around with his Android phone that had Location history turned off. Acar shared the record of his Google account.

      According to The AP, “The map includes Acar’s train commute on two trips to New York and visits the High Line park, Chelsea Market, Hell’s Kitchen, Central Park, and Harlem. To protect his privacy, The AP didn’t plot the most telling and frequent marker -- his home address.”

      Sean O’Brien, a Yale Privacy Lab researcher who received the findings from the investigation, believes it is “disingenuous” for Google to continuously record users’ locations -- even when users’ Location History is turned off.

      “To me, it’s something that people should know,” he said.

      A new investigation from the Associated Press (AP) revealed that many Google services on both iPhones and Androids store users’ location data even if the p...
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      Researchers say security vulnerabilities lurk in most fax machines

      It may be old technology but these devices can infect your network with the latest malware

      If you're still using a fax machine, you're not only old fashioned, you're probably vulnerable to cyber attacks.

      Researchers at Check Point, a cyber security firm, have uncovered vulnerabilities in the communication protocols used in tens of millions of fax devices. If the attacker has the fax number, that’s all they need to exploit the flaws and potentially seize control of a computer network.

      Specifically, the Check Point researchers focused on the vulnerabilities in the popular HP Officejet Pro All-in-One fax printers. Its protocols are also used by other manufacturers' faxes and multi-function printers.

      Check Point says the protocols are also employed in online fax services such as fax2email, and researchers say it is likely that these are also vulnerable to attack by the same method.

      HP has already issued a patch

      Once informed of the findings, Check Point says HP quickly developed a software patch for its printers, which is available here.

      There are a reported 45 million fax machines still in use, both in homes and offices. The '80s technology is especially prevalent in healthcare, law offices, banking, and real estate, and these networks often contain vast amounts of sensitive data.

      “Many companies may not even be aware they have a fax machine connected to their network, but fax capability is built into many multi-function office and home printers,” said Yaniv Balmas, Group Manager, Security Research at Check Point. “This groundbreaking research shows how these overlooked devices can be targeted by criminals and used to take over networks to breach data or disrupt operations."

      Here's how it works

      It's a fairly simple hack. Once the attacker obtains a fax number, they send an image file to the machine. Embedded within the image is a code that the machine recognizes, decodes, and uploads into its memory.

      Check Point says this process gives the attacker the ability to break into any device that is connected to the fax's computer network.

      Dom Chorafakis, founder of the cyber security consultancy Akouto, says the simplicity of the attack is what makes it so dangerous.

      "The malware is embedded within a specially crafted [message] and delivered over the phone line via standard fax, so there are no defensive measures like firewalls or antivirus that can be put into place to prevent this attack," Chorafakis told ConsumerAffairs. "End users have to rely on equipment vendors to check their firmware and provide updates.

      While these attacks can be hard to stop, there are a couple of ways to protect yourself before being targeted. First, check your machine's manufacturer for available firmware updates and apply them.

      For businesses and organizations, the fax machine should be on a secure network segment separated from applications and servers that carry sensitive information. That will limit the ability of malware to spread across networks.

      If you're still using a fax machine, you're not only old fashioned, you're probably vulnerable to cyber attacks.Researchers at Check Point, a cyber sec...
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      Spotify testing feature that would allow free users to skip ads

      The new feature would allow Spotify, as well as advertisers, to glean more insight into a user’s tastes

      Spotify users without a paid subscription could soon have the ability to skip audio and video advertisements. The music streaming service has quietly rolled out the new feature, dubbed “Active Media,” to users of its free, ad-supported version in Australia.

      Currently, only premium users have the ability to skip ads. The new feature would enable free users to choose whether they want to see or hear the ad or skip it entirely. Advertisers would only pay for completed views or listens and would benefit from knowing more about user preferences.

      Spotify says its Active Media feature is the "first of its kind globally."

      Ads tailored to users’ tastes

      In an interview with Advertising Age, Danielle Lee, Spotify’s head of partner solutions, said the company believes users will only skip ads that are not of interest to them, which would allow Spotify to deliver only ads that consumers want to see or hear.

      "Our hypothesis is if we can use this to fuel our streaming intelligence, and deliver a more personalized experience and a more engaging audience to our advertisers, it will improve the outcomes that we can deliver for brands," Lee said.

      "Just as we create these personalized experiences like Discover Weekly, and the magic that brings to our consumers, we want to inject that concept into the advertising experience."

      The company hasn’t said if or when the feature will be launched in markets beyond Australia.

      In July, Spotify reported that it finished out the second quarter of the year with 180 million monthly active users -- a figure that represents an increase of 30 percent year-over-year. The company now has over 101 million ad-supported users in 65 markets globally. Its total ad revenue has reached $158 million, up 20 percent.

      Spotify users without a paid subscription could soon have the ability to skip audio and video advertisements. The music streaming service has quietly rolle...
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      Chrysler recalls model year 2018 Jeep Cherokee all-wheel-drive vehicles

      The vehicle could suffer a loss of drive or move while in the "Park" position

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 702 model year 2018 Jeep Cherokee all-wheel-drive vehicles.

      The bearing cage for the right front halfshaft assembly may not have been properly heat treated, possibly resulting in the bearing cage breaking and a potential halfshaft assembly failure.

      If the halfshaft bearing cage breaks, the halfshaft may not be able to transmit engine power, causing a loss of drive or it can allow the vehicle to move while in the "Park" position. Either condition may increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front right halfshaft assemblies, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin September 14, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is U78.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 702 model year 2018 Jeep Cherokee all-wheel-drive vehicles.The bearing cage for the right front halfshaft assembly m...
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      Noble Grill recalls Premium brand Pork Tenderloin Supreme Pepper

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

      Les Viandes du Breton is recalling Noble Grill Premium brand Pork Tenderloin Supreme Pepper.

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

      No reported reactions associated with the consumption of this product have been reported.

      Noble Grill Premium, sold in Quebec, Canada, is being recalled:

      Common NameSizeUPCAdditional Info
      Pork Tenderloin Supreme PepperApprox. 400 gVariableBest Before
      18AU28

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product and have an allergy to mustard should not consume the recalled product, but discard it or return it to the store where purchased.

      Consumers with questions may call Julie Lamontagne at (418) 551-1328.

      Les Viandes du Breton is recalling Noble Grill Premium brand Pork Tenderloin Supreme Pepper.The product contains mustard, an allergen not declared on t...
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      Locals and activists fight to stop a Louisiana pipeline that the operator insists most people want

      The Bayou Bridge pipeline is partially financed by the same company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline

      Protesters in Louisiana are locking themselves to construction equipment and sitting in trees in a last-ditch effort to stop the construction of a new crude oil pipeline.

      The Bayou Bridge pipeline, a 163-mile project meant to link Texas refineries to Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, is nearly complete, despite numerous open legal challenges being waged against it in court.

      The protest camp, a small, decentralized group calling themselves, “L'eau est la vie” (French for “water is life,”) has shared footage online that documents how activists are kayaking through swamps to block equipment, among other drastic steps to stall construction.

      "I think the direct actions are holding the place” for the pending lawsuits, says Cherri Foytlin, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network and the protest camp’s Indigenous Women’s Council.

      The L’eau est la vie group, a collection of environmentalists from indigenous, black, and rural white communities, says that its efforts have “successfully shut down construction” of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, if only temporarily.

      On Thursday, L’eau est la vie announced that three protesters kayaking through a swamp near construction were “abducted” by private security contractors and later arrested by the Iberville Sheriff’s Department, which has yet to return a message left by ConsumerAffairs. And last week, the group said that an armed worker threatened that someone could get “hurt” if protests continued.

      Cold drinks and support

      Foytlin, the organizer, tells ConsumerAffairs that the instances are relatively isolated. She describes the majority of workers as either apathetic or quietly supportive of the cause.

      "There's been occasions where the workers will bring us something to drink. They don't hate us as much as the companies would like people to think,” says Foytlin, who is based in Rayne, Louisiana and has family who works in the oil industry.

      The industry has such a strong hold on the community, she says, that even workers who would otherwise be opposed to construction don’t have much of a choice if they want to put food on the table.

      Annual meeting ends in arrests

      The camp dates back to April of last year, and Foytlin counts a total of 80 civil disobedience-style “actions” that protesters have taken. Direct actions to physically block the pipeline’s construction began in July, according to Unicorn Riot, a nonprofit news outlet that sent its reporters to the protest encampments.

      Several weeks later, the oil and gas pipeline magante Energy Transfer Partners acknowledged that tree-sitters were staging protests in the pipeline's path. “We have notified local law enforcement [that] anyone in a tree sit is trespassing on our right-of-way,” the company said.

      When Foytlin talked to ConsumerAffairs on Wednesday, she was on her way to bail a protester out of jail who, along with others, had crashed the annual American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting in New Orleans.

      ALEC, a nonprofit backed by corporations in the energy sector and other industries, has a well-documented history of drafting legislation to suit members’ business interests.

      For pipeline protesters, the ALEC meeting in New Orleans this week was especially personal. In Louisiana, a recent report by the non-profit Common Cause says that ALEC ghost-wrote a new state law that criminalizes oil and gas pipeline protests.

      Under HB 727, people in Louisiana accused of “conspiring” to trespass on a pipeline easement or damaging construction equipment in the easement now face anywhere from one to 20 years behind bars if they are prosecuted. The law went into effect just last week.

      The L'eau est la vie camp has since adjusted their strategies to avoid violating the new legislation, Foytlin says. In one parish, a single tree-sitter has picked a location that is outside of the pipeline easement. However, should workers continue cutting other trees in the path, the tree-sitter is close enough that he could be killed, Foytlin says.

      Ties to DAPL

      The pipeline project is owned 60 percent by Energy Transfer Partners, the same company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Phillips 66 owns the other 40 percent.

      Through a page called Bayou Bridge Pipeline Facts, the firms defend their project and distance themselves from the controversial project in the midwest. They claim in one post that the Bayou Bridge pipeline “bears no relation to the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

      The Bayou Bridge website points to a poll conducted by Louisiana’s local oil and gas association, claiming that 74 percent of people in the state support new oil pipeline projects.

      At the same time, the firms have also released numerous statements to defend their project against “what is falsely being said by those who oppose the project.”

      “If there are persons currently in any of the tree sits, we encourage them to come down and leave the area,” the firms said in July.

      How another pipeline came to "Cancer Alley"

      The United States Army Corps of Engineers ruled in December that the project would have “no significant impact" on the local environment. The pipeline also got the green light from Louisiana's Department of Natural Resources and from the 11 parishes that it crosses through.

      That includes St. James Parish, a town 50 miles west of New Orleans that received the nickname “Cancer Alley” due to anecdotal reports describing high rates of cancer among the town’s 22,000 residents.

      Researchers, officials, and industry leaders disagree about whether there is, in fact, a cancer cluster. But there’s no disputing that the town is already home to numerous petrochemical plants and petroleum refineries.

      “Almost all of the industry is in the poorer black neighborhoods,” says City Councilman Clyde Cooper.

      That factor appeared to affect how the pipeline won local approval. In the St. James Parish last year, the City Council members voted along racial lines, with the white council members who were supportive of the pipeline project narrowly defeating the black opponents in a 4-3 vote.

      Nonetheless, locals are still attempting to stop the project. A group of St. James residents, represented by attorneys who work in the environmental clinic in Tulane University’s law school, recently sued the state’s Department of Natural Resources for permitting the project without requiring an evacuation plan in the event of a fire or other catastrophe.

      The residents won a surprise legal victory in May, when a state judge sided in their favor, ruling that the Bayou Bridge pipeline was operating under an illegal permit. But the Department of Natural Resources declined to halt construction, explaining that it doesn’t agree with opponents’ interpretations of the permitting laws.

      Why an evacuation route is necessary

      The town’s poor and industrial neighborhoods are only accessible via a single access road, something that Councilman Clyde Cooper says already puts residents at risk.

      In a recent newspaper editorial, Cooper described how paramedics were unable to take a woman suffering a heart attack to the hospital for nearly an hour because their helicopter landing spot was locked behind private industry property.

      “There is no dedicated evacuation route in the event of an industrial spill, explosion, chemical release, fire or other emergency,” Cooper wrote.

      In an interview, Cooper tells ConsumerAffairs that he and other local lawmakers are trying to obtain commitments from the many companies that do business in the area, including Energy Transfer Partners, to develop an emergency evacuation plan so that residents who depend on the access road to leave town won’t get trapped.

      The oil and gas and petrochemical industries have control “over a lot of jurisdictions,” Cooper says. “Hopefully we can bring that voice down or bring that voice to a compromise.”

      The Bayou Bridge Pipeline website contends that “our construction activities have been and will continue to adhere to the stipulations of our permits.”

      Eminent Domain disputed

      Federal law allows utility companies to build through private property and seize it if necessary via eminent domain, advantages that oil and gas pipeline operators like Energy Transfer Partners have often used in recent years.

      Last month, a Virginia resident sued the Bayou Bridge firms, saying that the companies began construction on his family’s property in Louisiana without bothering to follow through on the eminent domain process.

      The lawsuit claims that after his family rejected Bayou Bridge’s initial financial offer in exchange for a partial easement, workers began clearing trees and digging trenches through the family property without a court order.

      The lawsuit echoes similar concerns voiced by landowners in Texas, who have described feeling steamrolled by construction work that began prematurely in yet another pipeline project financed by Energy Transfer Partners.

      Legal process favors pipeline operators

      Even the agencies that cleared the project have acknowledged that some of the the work is not going completely smoothly.

      In March, the United States Army Corps of Engineers said that they were investigating concerns that Bayou Bridge had violated various conditions of its federal permit regarding construction practices.

      In response, the state of Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources acknowledged three instances in which Bayou Bridge was found to be “out of compliance” during the construction process.

      And earlier this year, a federal judge ordered pipeline construction to be halted, siding with arguments made by environmental NGOs that the Corps of Engineers did not adequately consider the pipeline’s impact on wetlands. But an Appeals court later overturned the ruling.

      Despite the unsettled legal issues, pipeline construction is nearly complete thanks to a regulatory system that allows energy companies to get expedited approval for oil and gas pipelines, an apparatus that was put in place under the Obama administration.

      Foytlin, the organizer, argues that opponents have made strong legal cases in the courts, though the protest camp is not involved with the lawsuits. In the meantime, she says that she is proud of the work that protesters on-the-ground have done.

      “Over the past month we have carried out four lock-down actions that shut down horizontal drill sites for the Bayou Bridge Pipeline,” L'eau est la vie organizers wrote in a post last week.

      Protesters in Louisiana are locking themselves to construction equipment and sitting in trees in a last-ditch effort to stop the construction of a new crud...
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      Buffalo Wild Wings may put sports betting on the menu

      The chain says it's currently studying the idea

      Sports bar chain Buffalo Wild Wings says it is exploring the possibility of offering legal sports betting at its restaurants. A patron could order a beer, a plate of nachos, and put $10 on the Patriots to cover the spread.

      A spokesperson for the company told ESPN the May Supreme Court ruling allowing states to legalize betting on sporting events has presented new opportunities to a restaurant where patrons often go to watch games on TV.

      "As the largest sports bar in America, we believe Buffalo Wild Wings is uniquely positioned to leverage sports gaming to enhance the restaurant experience for our guests," the company told ESPN. "We are actively exploring opportunities, including potential partners, as we evaluate the next steps for our brand."

      Supreme Court ruling a game changer

      The 6-3 Supreme Court ruling overturned a 1992 federal law called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). That law blocked states from sponsoring, operating, advertising, promoting, licensing, or authorizing sports gambling.

      The court held that Congress can regulate sports gambling activity if it chooses to, but if it doesn't, then each state is free to act on its own. New Jersey brought the case because the state wants to legalize sports gaming to help revive Atlantic City.

      It isn't clear how many other states will ultimately choose to legalize gambling, meaning Buffalo Wild Wings would only be able to offer gaming at its restaurants in states that allow it.

      According to ESPN, a logical way to deal with that issue would be for the restaurant chain to partner with a national gaming operator.

      Enthusiastic reaction

      Buffalo Wild Wings says it will study the possibility and won't comment further until it has reached some sort of conclusion, but ESPN hosts were ecstatic at the idea.

      "More power to them, jump on the train," said host Mike Golic, as he delivered the news. "You're either jumping on the train, or you're watching the train go by, or you're standing in front of the train."

      Gaming could also help spur sales at Buffalo Wild Wings, whose business has slumped in recent years as younger consumers have been less enthusiastic about the sports bar scene. The restaurant chain was acquired by Roark Capital, parent company of Arby’s, in February.

      According to gaming industry sources, as many as 32 states are considering laws to legalize and regulate sports betting within their borders.

      Sports bar chain Buffalo Wild Wings says it is exploring the possibility of offering legal sports betting at its restaurants. A patron could order a beer,...
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      The Weekly Hack: Golf nonprofit can’t access its own logos until it pays hackers in Bitcoin

      The non-profit that runs the PGA Championship is at the mercy of a cryptocurrency hacker

      Staffers at the nonprofit PGA of America are locked out of their own computer servers and unable to access critical files that they were planning to use for the upcoming Ryder Cup in France, GolfWeek is reporting.

      On Tuesday morning, staffers received a message on their computers and were unable to access their own files. “Your network has been penetrated. All files on each host in the network have been encrypted with a strong algorithm,” the message read.

      The files, which include promotional banners, logos, and signage, will be destroyed if employees attempt to go around the hackers to get them back, the message warned.

      Instead, the hackers have invited employees to use a decryption software that they claim has been made “exclusively” for PGA. That, of course, will cost money.

      The message also includes a Bitcoin wallet number but no specific amount requested. Officials told GolfWeek that they have no intention of paying the ransom. The magazine reports that many of the files were created over a year ago and “cannot be easily replicated.”

      Hacks tied to demands for a ransom paid in cryptocurrency have become increasingly common, affecting random people whose data had been stolen in previous hacks or the city of Atlanta, to name a few instances.

      PGA of America is a nonprofit that is separate entity from PGA tours. In addition to the Ryder Cup, it also operates events that include the PGA Championship.

      Healthcare

      As medical records move online, it’s becoming clear that healthcare workers are in over their heads when it comes to data security. According to industry publications, hospitals and clinics have been suffering a record number of data breaches this year.

      From April to June, the industry reported 142 data breach incidents affecting 3.14 million patient records. The figures are “nearly three times the number reported in the first part of the year,” Health IT News is reporting.

      In July, another 860,000 patient records were compromised, according to an analysis of government data conducted by Healthcare Analytics News.

      The attacks come following a report last year which found that 70 percent of healthcare workers lack cybersecurity awareness.

      WhatsApp

      The messaging app that has taken off with world travelers, people who work in tourism, or others who want a data-free method to contact overseas numbers could get users in major trouble.

      Security researchers say that they have have warned WhatsApp about a flaw they discovered in the site that allows attackers to impersonate users and alter their text messages. The attackers can do so by taking advantage of the “quote” feature used in group chats.

      “We believe these vulnerabilities to be of the utmost importance and require attention,” Checkpoint Research said. WhatsApp has not made clear whether it is working to fix the flaw.

      “We encourage you to think before sharing messages that were forwarded,” the company said in a blogpost. “As a reminder, you can report spam or block a contact in one tap and can always reach out to WhatsApp directly for help.”

      Airplanes

      A security researcher says that he was able to use weaknesses in satellite equipment to hack commercial aircraft. Ruben Santamarta recently told Forbes that he was able to view the workings of hundreds of passenger and commercial aircraft and says he is the first person make the discovery.

      Vulnerable airlines included Southwest, which says it already fixed the issue in December after being notified by a government agency. Other airlines that were named by Santamarta either didn’t respond or claimed that they had also already fixed the issue as well, Forbes reports.

      Staffers at the nonprofit PGA of America are locked out of their own computer servers and unable to access critical files that they were planning to use fo...
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      Ryanair cancels 400 flights as pilots strike

      Some of the company’s biggest markets were affected by the cancellations

      In the midst of a pilot strike, Ryanair was forced to cancel nearly 400 flights in some of its biggest markets. The strike is the largest the airline has seen its 34-year history, affecting over 70,000 passengers who had their flights canceled today.

      “The airline says that 250 flights to and from Germany have been cancelled, along with 104 flights serving Belgium, 22 services to and from Sweden, and 20 between Ireland and Britain,” according to The Independent.

      German pilots and crew members are striking for better pay and working conditions. “Ryanair alone is responsible for the escalation that has now occurred. VC regrets the impact on affected passengers, cabin crew, and ground crew,” union representatives of Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) said. However, the company responded to that assertion in a tweet.

      “Despite the regrettable and unjustified strike action taking place in five of our 37 markets, over 2,000 Ryanair flights will operate as normal, carrying almost 400,000 passengers across Europe. We ask the striking unions to continue negotiations instead of calling any more unjustified strikes,” the company said.

      “Ryanair has a long way to go before it can be considered a fair employer,” the International Transport Workers’ Federation, coordinators of the strikes across Europe, shot back. “Calls for industrial action will continue until the company makes good collective bargaining agreements with unions.”  

      Recent issues

      In late 2017, a pilot shortage and the imminence of a holiday strike forced Ryanair to reverse a decades-long policy and finally recognize unions for the first time.

      Despite now recognizing the labor unions, Ryanair still has not signed any labor contracts and “has responded to worker demands with its characteristically pugnacious approach,” according to CNN.

      Because of continued pilot strikes in Dublin, Ryanair announced last month that its Dublin fleet would be smaller by 20 percent come the winter. The company also warned 300 of its employees -- 100 pilots and 200 crew members -- that their jobs aren’t safe, while also posting pilots’ earnings on the company website to show just how much Ryanair pays them.

      According to Kenny Jacobs, the chief marketing officer at Ryanair, the company is “not prepared to concede to unreasonable demands that will compromise either our low fares or our highly efficient model.”

      CNN sees the issues between Ryanair and the unions could be enough to remove CEO Michael O’Leary from his position at the company. O’Leary has been at the helm of Ryanair since 1994 and is under contract until late next year.

      In the midst of a pilot strike, Ryanair was forced to cancel nearly 400 flights in some of its biggest markets. The strike is the largest the airline has s...
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      McDonald's new McGold Card contest offers winners free food for life

      The contest is aimed at boosting online sales

      McDonald’s is hosting a new contest that will reward lucky winners with the McGold Card. The card is valued at $52,350 and entitles the winner to two free meals per week for 50 years. The contest starts today (August 10th) and runs through August 24th.

      To enter the contest, consumers must use McDonald’s mobile ordering system. According to the contest website, users place their order on the McDonald’s app, pay using any major credit card, and once the meal has been picked up at McDonald’s, customers are automatically entered into the drawing.

      Those who want to bypass the app can send an email entry to entry@amoeentry.com with the subject as the date the email is sent, and the entrant’s first and last name in the body of the email. The limit is one entry per day -- regardless of method of entry.

      “One potential winner will be selected from among all eligible Entries received for the entire Entry period, in a random prize drawing on or about August 29, 2018, conducted by an independent organization selected by Sponsor. The odds of winning a prize will be determined by the number of eligible Entries received,” the contest’s official rules read.

      The winner not only wins the McGold card but will also receive a custom gold-plated phone case.

      Public response

      Despite the contest’s intention to bring more traffic to McDonald’s mobile app, there are some that think it will end up being nothing more than a failed marketing tactic for the fast food chain.

      “This is going to cost them less than one corporate Christmas party,” said Rob Frankel, a Los Angeles-based branding strategy expert. “I don’t think it’s going to do anything to encourage the app usage. You have a much better chance of winning a state lottery than picking something like this up.”

      Frankel also thinks that choosing only one winner makes McDonald’s look “incredibly cheap and chintzy.”

      Similar deals

      Despite that criticism, McDonald’s appears to be following in the footsteps of similar contests run by both Starbucks and Taco Bell.

      Starbucks recently ran a contest -- Starbucks for Life -- that ended in January. Five winners in the United States won the grand prize, which was worth $56,675 each. The winners were entitled to one free beverage or food item of their choice every day for 30 years.

      Back in 2014, Taco Bell ran the Eleven Everlasting Dollars challenge, which gave customers a 1 in 2.4 billion chance of ever winning. However, 11 winners won the prize that was worth roughly $11,000 each.

      McDonald’s is hosting a new contest that will reward lucky winners with the McGold Card. The card is valued at $52,350 and entitles the winner to two free...
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      J.C. Penney to open 500 baby shops in stores

      The retailer will start selling baby items that it previously sold only on its website

      Starting Aug. 30, consumers can stop by J.C. Penney to pick up cribs, high chairs, and other baby products in 500 locations.

      The department store chain is the latest retailer to start stocking baby products in the wake of Babies “R” Us’ demise. It already offered baby supplies online, but it will soon start opening baby shops at its physical locations.

      Walmart and Party City previously announced that they would start selling items to decorate children’s nurseries, toys, gifts for birthday parties, and other items that used to be sold at Babies “R” Us and its sister chain Toys “R” Us.

      Most J.C. Penney locations that are slated to start selling baby items were chosen because they are near a Babies “R” Us location that went out of business in June.

      Improving the in-store experience

      "The baby care business is expected to reach over $13 billion by 2021 and we are seizing this opportunity to pursue available market share and aggressively go after the baby customer with these new shops," James Starke, senior vice president and head of merchandising for J.C. Penney, said in a statement.

      “We’ve strategically chosen these 500 JCPenney locations because the majority of the stores are near a specialty baby retailer that has recently closed its doors,” Starke said.

      At the department store chain’s forthcoming baby shops, shoppers can search for baby products both large and small from brands like Graco, Halo, Avent, and Fisher Price. Some stores will have to ship cribs and mattresses to customers’ homes because certain display items are not in stock, but most products will be available in-store.

      Some furniture items, such as gliders, will continue to be offered online only. The retailer is also increasing its selection of baby clothing that is available to purchase in-store.

      "Our competition is underestimating the importance of a physical in-store baby shop,'' Starke said in the statement. "That is where J.C. Penney is going to differentiate."

      Starting Aug. 30, consumers can stop by J.C. Penney to pick up cribs, high chairs, and other baby products in 500 locations. The department store chain...
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      How a great credit score saves you money

      Consumers with the best credit get the best interest rates

      You've probably been told that you need a good credit score to get the best rate on a mortgage. It's true, but a new report from LendingTree underscores that truth in dollars and cents.

      LendingTree is a platform where consumers can shop for loans from different lenders. It keeps track of the loan offers made on its platform, and in particular the interest rates that are offered.

      In July, the average mortgage interest rate offered to consumers in the top 5 percent of credit scores was 4.31 percent, down from 4.34 percent the month before. That’s pretty good in this environment.

      For consumers with excellent credit scores of 760 and above, making up the top 35 percent of credit profiles, the average rate was 4.84 percent -- still pretty good.

      Small difference can add up

      But consumers with credit scores between 680 and 719 were offered loans with an average rate of 5.13 percent. The 29 basis point difference might not sound that significant, but it can make a difference in your monthly payment that really adds up over the life of the loan.

      A consumer obtaining a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage of $150,000 at 4.84 percent would have a principal and interest payment each month of $791 a month.

      The same mortgage at 5.13 percent would cost $817. Again, it doesn't sound like a big difference, but the spread gets larger if you borrow more money.

      According to LendingTree, the difference between the two credit scores totals $15,000 on a 30-year mortgage of $232,000. The difference in monthly payment is $41 for the same house.

      Tangible impact

      "Our report demonstrates how a credit score can impact a borrower in very tangible terms," said Tendayi Kapfidze, LendingTree's chief economist and report author. "As much as people obsess over credit scores, many think of its importance in the binary ‘approve/decline’ paradigm. Few borrowers actually know how their credit score impacts the cost of financial products, and we hope this report increases consumer education."

      There isn't a big secret to improving a credit score. The most effective way to do it is actually the easiest -- simply pay all of your bills on time.

      Some consumers have a low credit score because they don't have access to credit. Applying for a credit card can help, as long as you don't go into debt. Making one or two purchases each billing cycle, then paying the balance in full each month, will help raise your credit score.

      You've probably been told that you need a good credit score to get the best rate on a mortgage. It's true, but a new report from LendingTree underscores th...
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      Gasoline prices remain stable amid surprising drop in demand

      Still, consumers are paying the highest August gas prices in four years

      Gasoline prices were remarkably stable over the last seven days, considering the fluctuations in petroleum supply and demand. Still, motorists are paying the highest August gasoline prices since 2014.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey puts the national average price of regular gas at $2.87 a gallon, just a fraction of a cent lower than this time last week. It's the same price as a month ago, but more than 50 cents higher than at this time last year.

      The average price of premium is $3.40 a gallon, down a penny from last week. The price of diesel fuel is $3.15, the same as last Friday.

      Despite this being the middle of one of the busiest summer vacation months, the government reports consumer demand for gasoline fell in the last week. The latest numbers from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) show gasoline demand went from a near-record high to a decline of more than 530,000 barrels a day. However, the drop is not expected to affect prices at the pump.

      Slight downturn ahead?

      "Despite the week-over-week drop, demand is still strong, which – along with tighter supplies – have helped keep pump prices high this summer," AAA said in a consumer advisory. "Should demand figures trend lower in coming weeks, pump prices could be poised for a slight downturn."

      It also helps that oil prices dropped unexpectedly in the last week on oversupply concerns.

      Despite the stable prices nationally, drivers in some individual states saw some sharp increases during the week. In Michigan, the statewide average is back up to $3.03 a gallon, a gain of eight cents in the last seven days.

      Statewide averages are up seven cents a gallon in Idaho, up six cents in Pennsylvania, and up a nickel in Utah.

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      The following states have the most expensive regular fuel prices, according to AAA.

      • Hawaii ($3.77)

      • California ($3.61)

      • Washington ($3.39)

      • Alaska ($3.38)

      • Oregon ($3.27)

      • Nevada ($3.19)

      • Idaho ($3.19)

      • Utah ($3.12)

      • Connecticut ($3.08)

      • Pennsylvania ($3.08)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The following states have the cheapest regular fuel prices on average, AAA found.

      • Alabama ($2.57)

      • Mississippi ($2.57)

      • South Carolina ($2.58)

      • Arkansas