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Current Events in August 2018

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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...

    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...

      Microsoft faces investigation over its business practices in Hungary

      Potential kickbacks, middlemen, and jacked-up prices are all raising questions

      The U.S. Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are putting Microsoft under a magnifying glass to examine how the tech giant is conducting business in Hungary.

      According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), U.S. authorities are taking a hard look at whether Microsoft used bribery or corruption in software sales in Hungary going back to 2013-14. Specifically, regulators are attempting to find out if Microsoft purportedly sold its Excel and Word software at a deep discount to middleman countries, then turned around and sold the same software to the Hungarian government at a 30-40 percent higher price.

      Engaging in corrupt acts like bribery in foreign countries is illegal in the U.S. and would be treated as a violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

      "A huge suicidal act"

      The genesis of this potential wrongdoing goes back to 2016. According to 24.hu, Hungarian authorities found documents discovered at the offices of Microsoft’s Hungarian arm that were connected to nine former Romanian ministers. The discovery led to prison sentences as long as six years and 17 million euros in reparations.

      Prior to that, Microsoft Hungary had not sold its products directly; it merely acted as a management and marketing company. The culprit in this brouhaha was Microsoft’s "large account resellers" (LAR) according to Daily News Hungary.

      "They were only acting as a marketing and management company. It was their LAR partners’ business to trade with the government — with a high level of independence — and they transferred the orders to Microsoft’s center in Ireland," according to the Daily News report.

      "They have cancelled the selling rights of their software and other products from their LAR partners out of the blue, referring to ethical reasons. It was a huge suicidal act coming from Microsoft," the report said.

      Microsoft told the WSJ that it's working with the Justice Department and the SEC as well as performing its own internal investigation. "We're committed to ethical business practices and won't compromise these standards,' said Microsoft’s deputy general counsel David Howard in a statement.

      Microsoft’s Hungarian roots

      When Microsoft signed its strategic partnership agreement with the Hungarian government, the sky seemed the limit for both parties.

      At the time of the signing, Hungary’s State Secretary for Foreign Affairs and External Economic Relations Péter Szíjjártó said that the deal would add thousands of jobs and raise the bar for digital public education.

      The money side of the ledger looked promising as well with Microsoft committing to paying nearly $2 million in taxes on top of the millions the deal would create in salaries.

      This type of fracas isn’t Microsoft’s first. In 2013, the company was called on the regulatory carpet over similar claims in China, Italy, and Romania. The Wall Street Journal points out that partners in Russia and Pakistan may have bribed government buyers as well. It's unclear if the U.S. is continuing to investigate Microsoft's activity in these other countries at this time.

      The U.S. Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are putting Microsoft under a magnifying glass to examine how the tech giant is co...

      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...

      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...

      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...

      For air travelers, now's the best time to get the lowest fare

      But it won't last, as fares will rise again in mid-September

      Summer airfares are some of the highest of the year, but travelers can find some great deals as fares start to fall over the next few weeks..

      After reviewing historical data and trends, online travel site CheapOair (an Authorized Partner) predicts average airfares to popular U.S. destinations will drop 9 percent in the next few weeks. The average international fare should be about 7 percent lower.

      As travel begins to taper off, the airlines will have to lower fares to keep planes full. The formula they use is likely complicated, but for consumers the equation is fairly simple – hit the airlines' window of vulnerability and travel is cheaper.

      Four-week window

      CheapOair (an Authorized Partner) projects airfare will be at its lowest point for a four-week period beginning now and lasting through the middle of September. After that, hold onto your wallet because fares will begin to steadily rise until they reach their peak before Thanksgiving.

      "Over the past several weeks our team of data scientists completed a thorough analysis of flight trends from every angle possible,” said Sam Jain, CheapOair's (an Authorized Partner) founder and CEO. “Data shows that prices will only go upwards starting around the end of September, so for those who already know they'll be traveling in November and December, don't wait on starting your search for airfare bookings."

      The lower fares may come at an opportune time, since several airlines have raised the cost of flying over the summer. Southwest has raised the price of its Early Bird Check-In while JetBlue is adjusting several of its fees, ranging from checked bags to ticket changes.

      Both airlines say they are reacting to higher fuel costs. But while the fees may be going up, the fares are going down, at least temporarily.

      Popular destination will see the lowest fares

      Fares will be lowest on flights to places where the airlines fly to the most. Because there are so many existing flights to destinations like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Denver, the airlines will have to cut fares to fill those seats.

      With the average domestic round trip airfare between $200 to $300 over the summer, CheapOair is predicting savvy travelers will find those fares to the aforementioned destinations “drastically” lower if they book before mid September.

      There are more money-saving tips on ConsumerAffairs' travel guide.

      Summer airfares are some of the highest of the year, but travelers can find some great deals as fares start to fall over the next few weeks..After revi...

      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...

      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...

      Vornado reannounces electric space heater recall

      The appliance can overheat when in use, posing fire and burn hazards.

      Vornado Air of Andover, Kan., is reannouncing its April 2018 recall of about350,000 VH101 Personal Vortex electric space heaters.

      The electric space heater can overheat when in use, posing fire and burn hazards.

      In December 2017, a 90-year-old man in Chanhassen, Minn., died as a result of a fire involving the recalled heater. Vornado has received a total of 19 reports of the heaters catching fire.

      This recall involves Vornado VH101 Personal Vortex electric space heaters sold in black, coral orange, grayed jade, cinnamon, fig, ice white and red.

      The heaters measure about 7.2 inches long by 7.8 inches wide by 7.10 inches high and have two heat settings (low and high) and a fan only/no heat setting. “Vornado” with a “V” behind it is printed on the front of the unit.

      The model/type “VH101,” serial number and ETL mark are printed on a silver rating label on the bottom of the unit.

      The heaters, manufactured in China, were sold at Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Depot, Menards, Orchard Supply, Target and other stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com, Target.com, Vornado.com and other websites from August 2009, through March 2018, for about $30.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled heaters and contact Vornado for instructions on how to receive a full refund or a free replacement unit.

      Consumers may contact Vornado toll-free at (855) 215-5131 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.vornado.com and click on “Recalls” in the lower right corner of the homepage or www.vornado.com/recalls and click on the VH101 Personal Heater recall button for more information.

      Vornado Air of Andover, Kan., is reannouncing its April 2018 recall of about350,000 VH101 Personal Vortex electric space heaters.The electric space hea...

      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 concerned about prices, as well as the potential for manipulation, and because of this it has blocked ETFs from ProShares, GraniteShares, and Direxion.

      The SEC’s primary concerns were about fraud and the vulnerability of the Bitcoin market. The agency said that NYSE Arca -- the company that filed the ProShares application -- failed to meet its requirement “that a national securities exchange’s rules be designed to prevent fraudulent and manipulative acts and practices. Among other things, the Exchange has offered no record of evidence to demonstrate that Bitcoin futures markets are ‘markets of significant size.’”

      “The commission emphasizes that its disapproval does not rest on an evaluation of whether Bitcoin, or blockchain technology more generally, has utility or value as an innovation or an investment,” the regulator wrote. The agency disapproved because “the exchange has not met its burden.”

      Resistance affects Bitcoin prices

      Earlier this month, Bitcoin prices fell because of the SEC’s decision to delay a ruling on a proposed Bitcoin ETF.

      The price of Bitcoin -- at just under $6,500 -- was the lowest it’s been since July 16. The decision was delayed until September 30, at which point the price of Bitcoin could surge should the request -- submitted by VanEck and SolidX -- be approved.

      “As of August 6, 2018, the Commission has received more than 1,300 comments on the proposed rule change” said SEC Assistant Secretary Eduardo Aleman in a statement. “The Commission finds that it is appropriate to designate a longer period within which to take action on the proposed rule change so it has sufficient time to consider the proposed rule change.”

      “A green light for the bitcoin ETF would fire the starting gun on a race among institutional investors to cash-in on this new product, so the market is rightly frustrated by the delay to the decision,” Matthew Newton, an analyst at the investment platform eToro, told The Independent.

      Bitcoin prices also saw a hit earlier this summer when two Texas academics released a paper that revealed 2017’s high Bitcoin prices were nothing more than the result of artificial market manipulation.

      The authors found that Tether -- a cryptocurrency token claimed by its creators to be backed by one U.S. dollar for each token issued -- was “used to provide price support and manipulate cryptocurrency prices.”

      The news caused Bitcoin prices to drop below $7,000.

      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...

      Apple kicks Facebook’s Onavo out of its app store

      Try as it may, Facebook’s privacy uses continue to cause concern

      Facebook took another uppercut to its jaw on Wednesday when Apple removed the Facebook-owned virtual private network (VPN) app from its App Store. The reason? Simply that Onavo failed to comply with the App Store’s privacy guidelines.

      Facebook may only have itself to blame. In June of this year, Apple updated its App Store guidelines to explicitly ban "[collecting] information about which other apps are installed on a user’s device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/marketing."

      Exactly what is Onavo?

      Onavo was a tech darling at one time. The company received first prize at the Mobile Beat 2011 conference and the award for most innovative app at the 2011 International Startup Festival.

      But in 2013, Facebook acquired the company and things changed. First off, the company introduced Onavo Insights, a mobile analytics platform which traced market share and app usage.

      A few years later, The Wall Street Journal reported that since Facebook acquired Onavo, the social platform had used the app’s data to monitor competitors such as Snapchat and WhatsApp, as well as startups that are performing "unusually well".

      Operating under the guise of “Onavo's mobile apps (to) take the worry out of using smartphones and tablets,” it was anything but.

      In a nutshell, Onavo gave permission to Facebook to run market research on app users and their phones ad nauseum. Some might go as far as saying it was spyware with lipstick, made to look as Facebook-like as possible.

      Onavo’s broadstroke listing on the Google Play store touts that it can do everything from adding an extra layer of security and data encryption to serving as a free, fast, and secure VPN to help protect personal information.

      The app came clean as to its ownership by Facebook, but it buried this caveat within its description: “Because we're part of Facebook, we also use this info to improve Facebook products and services, gain insights into the products and services people value, and build better experiences.”

      How sneaky was Facebook being?

      While Facebook has undergone a reboot in how it handles its users’ data, its trustworthiness is still an issue -- both with the government and the consumer.

      “Users rate Facebook’s privacy protection as the worst in social media, its ads as the most intrusive, its navigation and video speed poor, and its content stale,” David VanAmburg, Managing Director at the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) commented to ConsumerAffairs regarding ACSI’s recent data privacy survey.

      In Onavo’s situation, its privacy policy hasn’t changed since 2013. Furthermore, Onavo’s privacy policy does not contain a conspicuous disclosure that the company is owned by Facebook.

      “We may retain information regarding you and your use of the Services, including personally identifying information, for as long as needed to provide you with the Services and the uses described in this Privacy Policy,” says Onavo’s privacy policy. “This often means that we will keep information for the duration of your account.”

      Onavo goes a step further and puts the onus of stopping the data collection on the consumer. “If you stop using the Services, you can request that we remove the personally identifying information that we collected from you through the Services.”

      If consumers don’t want the Onavo app mining their personal info, Facebook offers a step-by-step guide on how to remove it from your phone.

      Don’t mess with Apple

      Apple is watching Facebook and privacy like a hawk. "We work hard to protect user privacy and data security throughout the Apple ecosystem," an Apple spokesperson said in an email to CNBC on Wednesday.

      "With the latest update to our guidelines, we made it explicitly clear that apps should not collect information about which other apps are installed on a user's device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/marketing and must make it clear what user data will be collected and how it will be used."

      When it comes to iffy apps and user privacy, Apple has been on a tear this year. In June, the company announced that it was removing cryptocurrency apps from its store. Earlier this month, Apple told lawmakers iPhones are not listening in on consumers.

      Where is all of this going to end up?

      Data privacy seems to be more of a mountain than a molehill for Facebook. Cook said Apple has worried for years that something like the recent Facebook data leak might happen.

      "Unfortunately that prediction has come true more than once. I think that this certain situation is so dire and has become so large that probably some well-crafted regulation is necessary,” he said.

      Facebook took another uppercut to its jaw on Wednesday when Apple removed the Facebook-owned virtual private network (VPN) app from its App Store. The reas...

      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...