Current Events in November 2018

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    Southeast Toyota Distributors recalls Toyota 4Runners

    The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating on the certification label may be incorrect

    Southeast Toyota Distributors (SET) is recalling 1,295 model year 2017-2019 Toyota 4Runners that it modified to be equipped with a TRD wheel package.

    The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) on the certification label may be incorrect, possibly resulting in the vehicle being overloaded.

    An overloaded vehicle can increase the risk of a crash.

    What to do

    SET will notify owners and mail them corrected certification labels, free of charge.

    The recall is expected to begin December 24, 2018.

    Owners may contact SET customer service at 1-866-405-4226. SET's number for this recall is SET18A.

    Southeast Toyota Distributors (SET) is recalling 1,295 model year 2017-2019 Toyota 4Runners that it modified to be equipped with a TRD wheel package.Th...

    Many consumers found to be lax when it comes to protecting their data

    It’s important for consumers to take more responsibility for their personal information

    If someone asked you how often you reuse passwords and PINs (personal identification numbers), odds are you might confess to using the same ones whether it’s as a passcode on your computer, phone, or bank account.

    International Fraud Awareness Week begins November 11, and according to results from the just-released Shred-it’s Consumer Fraud Awareness Survey, consumers are putting themselves squarely behind the data security 8-ball.

    The survey results show that more than 50 percent of U.S. consumers admit to using the same security credentials across several platforms, and almost all of those guilty parties admit their security habits make them vulnerable to identity theft, exposure, or worse yet, scams that could sap their bank accounts.

    How secure are you?

    The Shred-It survey ferrets out the fact that consumers lack the confidence necessary to determine if they were a fraud victim and, if they were duped, don’t understand how to report and remediate fraud/identity theft.

    Do your personal security habits put you in the same basket as these findings?

    • More than one-third of consumers have been a victim of fraud or identity theft.

    • Almost three in 10 consumers concede that they don’t know how to find out if they've become a victim of fraud or identity theft.

    • While the majority of consumers think they could determine if an email or phone call they receive is part of a scam, 16 percent say they wouldn’t have a clue.

    • Baby boomers are the least likely to believe they could determine if an email or phone call they receive is part of a fraudulent scam or not, compared to Gen Z’s (72 percent) and Millennials (74 percent).

    • Women are less likely than men to know how to report and remediate fraud or identity theft.

    • When it comes to physical information security, nearly 3 in 10 consumers do not shred paper or physical documents containing sensitive information before throwing them in the trash.

    How well do you know how to protect your identity?

    The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners is asking consumers to test how well they know the fraudster’s game. If you don’t know the difference between phishing, shoulder surfing, social engineering, or lapping, it might be a good idea to take the quiz.

    Consumers aren’t in this alone. Credit card companies and financial institutions continue to step up efforts to beef up fraud protection. However, some consumers say their bank doesn't side with them when they're the victims of fraud. Others say their banks go so far to protect against fraud that it becomes an inconvenience.

    "Bank of America's Fraud Department has locked my card at maybe 6 times in my few years of using BofA," wrote one ConsumerAffairs reviewer.

    "They have inconvenienced me with this largely, as I have to sit on hold for up to an hour just to ask them to unlock the card. They lock it for buying things I commonly buy. However they didn't catch the time that someone bought Tacos at a place over 100 miles away from me, in a city I've never visited. The fraud department is useless at best, and an inconvenience at worst.”

    Shred-It’s survey was conducted in October, 2018, researching 1,200 U.S. respondents age 18+, and qualified respondents with containing the following screener question: "Do you understand what information fraud and identity theft is?"

    What can you do to bolster your protection?

    Monu Kalsi, VP of Marketing at Shred-It, says that there are plenty of things that consumers can do to better protect their information. He points out that consumers’ lax security habits can often increase their risk of becoming a victim of fraud or identity theft.

    Kalsi says the top two things you can do today to take control of your information security are:

    1. Be smart with your digital information. “Simply put, don’t reuse passwords across your accounts. Whether it’s social media, email, bank accounts, health apps and more, varying your passwords across all accounts ensures that in the event one account IS breached, the likelihood of bad actors being able to seize more of your information from other accounts will be limited,” Kalsi said.

    2. Secure your physical information. “Whether at home or at work, physical paper documents containing sensitive information should be stored in a locked console or cabinet. From medical records, tax documents, bank/credit card statements, mortgage and insurance information and more, all of these documents contain a trove of information and would be considered a gold mine if they got into the hands of a fraudster.”

    If someone asked you how often you reuse passwords and PINs (personal identification numbers), odds are you might confess to using the same ones whether it...

    Wells Fargo reveals more erroneous foreclosures

    The bank reports additional mortgage customers were wrongly denied a modification

    Wells Fargo still hasn't completely put its bad news behind it. The bank has acknowledged that it didn't offer mortgage modifications to hundreds more borrowers who could have qualified for them. Many of those customers eventually lost their homes to foreclosure.

    The bank thought it had put the issue to rest in August when it revealed that it miscalculated fees in its formula to determine whether borrowers were eligible for mortgage modifications. At the time, it determined that it wrongly denied modifications to more than 600 mortgage customers and that 400 of them eventually saw their homes go into foreclosure.

    In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission this week, Wells Fargo admitted that an additional 870 mortgage customers were wrongly denied modifications for the same reason. As a result, it said 545 borrowers eventually lost their homes -- more than the number in the initial revelation.

    Wells Fargo said the discrepancy is due to the fact that it initially reviewed homes in the foreclosure process between April 2010 and October 2015. The higher numbers resulted from extending the review period.

    Affected consumers to be compensated

    The bank has said that it has set aside money to compensate those customers who were wrongly denied mortgage modifications, but it is unclear so far how it will be done.

    “Our plan is to work with each customer to arrive at a resolution that addresses their particular situation,” a Wells Fargo spokesman said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “Every customer situation is different. As a result, we don’t have any details on the amount we expect to pay out in remediation.”

    Wells Fargo's troubles began in late 2016 when it reported that employees had opened millions of checking and credit card accounts for customers without their permission or knowledge. As a result, the CEO took early retirement and 5,000 bank employees were fired. Wells Fargo also paid a large fine.

    Since then Wells Fargo has revealed that it sold thousands of insurance policies to auto loan customers who didn't need the coverage. It also reported that it accessed improper fees on some mortgage loans.

    Wells Fargo still hasn't completely put its bad news behind it. The bank has acknowledged that it didn't offer mortgage modifications to hundreds more borr...

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      CVS plans to expand health services following Aetna acquisition

      After the deal is finalized, the combined company will focus on opening concept stores

      Following its acquisition of health insurer Aetna, CVS Health plans to debut its first concept stores with improved health services and lower medical costs early next year, CNBC reports.

      The pharmacy chain’s CEO Larry Merlo said Tuesday that the company expects its $69 billion acquisition of Aetna to be finalized prior to Thanksgiving. Once the deal closes, the combined company will set its sights on the goal of opening concept stores focused on health outcomes and services.

      “We’re making the consumer experience, which will be an increasingly important competitive differentiator, and we are hard at work creating a plan to differentiate CVS Health in these patient journeys with the goal of making them simpler and more personalized while making care more accessible,” Merlo told CNBC.

      Managing costs

      The concept stores will focus on the management of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease. The company may also look to add more services at its MinuteClinics to help identify and manage chronic diseases.

      The retailer is planning to manage costs in several ways, including optimizing and extending primary care. To cut down on avoidable readmissions, the company may combine Aetna's clinical programs with CVS stores to help patients after discharge.

      Word of the company’s planned concept stores comes as CVS is testing a program in the Boston area called CarePass, in which customers get free delivery on most prescriptions and online purchases.

      Following its acquisition of health insurer Aetna, CVS Health plans to debut its first concept stores with improved health services and lower medical costs...

      Amazon to start mailing out its first-ever printed holiday toy catalog

      With its retro-looking toy catalog, the e-commerce giant is hoping to fill a void left by Toys ‘R’ Us

      This month, Amazon started sending out its first printed holiday shopping catalog. The move follows the demise of Toys “R” Us and marks the latest in a series steps taken by the online shopping giant to compete with traditional retailers.

      The toy catalog, titled “A Holiday of Play,” doesn’t include prices, but it does include QR codes so readers can easily scan and pull up links to products. Customers can also scan the product images in the catalog with their Amazon App to bring up more information and add items to their shopping cart.

      Toys “R” Us, which permanently closed earlier this year, used to send out a 100-page “Big Book” toy catalog near the end of October as a way to help kids create a wishlist before December. Amazon said in a statement that it’s “excited to offer a new way for customers to shop for toys this holiday season” through the distribution of its new 70-page toy catalog.

      Amazon prepares for the holiday season

      Amazon acquired Whole Foods in 2017 and has made other moves to expand its brick-and-mortar presence, including opening convenience stores and bookstores.

      Ahead of the holiday shopping season, the tech giant also announced this week that it would be doing away with the $25 minimum purchase requirements on “hundreds of millions of items.”

      Amazon’s holiday toy catalog, which can be viewed here, will also be distributed at Amazon’s bookstores and 4-star locations.

      This month, Amazon started sending out its first printed holiday shopping catalog. The move follows the demise of Toys “R” Us and marks the latest in a ser...

      FTC halts alleged health insurance marketing scam

      The agency says consumers paid $100 million but got no insurance

      Exit polls from Tuesday's election show health care was the number one issue for voters, suggesting that consumers are still finding coverage to be expensive and hard to get.

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns consumers that scammers may try to take advantage of that. The agency says it has secured a court order temporarily shutting down a Florida-based operation that it claims sold consumers more than $100 million in worthless policies.

      A federal judge has suspended the operations of Simple Health Plans LLC, its owner, and five other entities until the case can be heard. The FTC is seeking to permanently shut down the company.

      An attorney for Simple Health Plans owner Steven Dorfman told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that his client "vigorously denies the allegations of misconduct made by the Federal Trade Commission,” and he “looks forward to having an opportunity to defend himself in the appropriate forum.”

      In its complaint, the FTC alleges the health insurance marketers used various websites to entice consumers in search of health insurance coverage. The FTC says consumers were told they were buying comprehensive health insurance that would cover pre-existing medical conditions, prescription drugs, primary and specialty care treatment, inpatient and emergency hospital care, surgical procedures, and medical and laboratory testing.

      Not a health insurance policy

      It was all the more appealing because the cost was $500 or less a month, and thousands signed up. But they soon discovered they had not purchased health insurance, but a medical discount program. According to the FTC, these consumers were left uninsured and exposed to high medical bills.

      “Many consumers were misled into thinking they had purchased comprehensive health insurance, but when they needed to rely on that insurance, they learned they had none of the promised benefits,” said Andrew Smith, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The plans defendants were selling are not health insurance and they aren’t a substitute for health insurance. Get the details in writing and take your time before signing up for any of these plans.”

      According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, there are legitimate medical discount plans, but consumers shouldn't confuse them with health insurance policies. These discount plans carry a monthly fee and provide members access to a pool of health providers. The members pay for the services out-of-pocket but at a slightly reduced price.

      Some medical discount programs are legitimate

      "Many discount medical cards offer legitimate, money-saving benefits. But many cards lie about benefits that don't exist, grossly inflate the potential discounts, and impose hidden fees that can wipe out your savings," the group warns on its website. "The system is rife with fraudulent or misleading discount card providers."

      According to the FTC, Simple Health used a series of websites that featured logos of AARP and insurance companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, even though the company had no affiliation with any of those entities.

      Once consumers showed interest by submitting their contact information, the FTC says they were contacted by telemarketers who misrepresented themselves as licensed insurance agents in the consumer's state.

      Exit polls from Tuesday's election show health care was the number one issue for voters, suggesting that consumers are still finding coverage to be expensi...

      Verizon drops price of unlimited data plan

      Customers who set up Auto Pay can get $5 off the price of certain Prepaid plans

      Verizon announced on Tuesday that it is lowering the price of its Prepaid plan, which gives customers unlimited talk, text, and data with no annual contract required. The newly lowered prices are available to customers who use Auto Pay.

      The carrier offers several different plans on Prepaid: $65 for Unlimited, $45 for 8 GB, $35 for 3 GB, and $30 for 500 MB. Consumers who set up Auto Pay get $5 per month off the price of the three more expensive plans.

      Additionally, customers can have up to 10 lines on their account instead of five. There’s also the ability to add both tablets and mobile hotspots to an account for the same prices as required to add smartphone lines.

      “With Verizon Prepaid, you can now also have up to 10 lines (up from five) on your account, and for the first time, add tablets and Jetpacks for the same monthly price as smartphones. All of our smartphone plans include unlimited U.S. talk & text and international text to more than 200 destinations,” the company said on its website.

      In April, Verizon made its initial announcement about the unlimited Prepaid plan. At the time, the plan cost $80. The price has come down since then, most recently in response to competition from T-Mobile's Metro unlimited options.

      Ahead of the holiday season, Sprint also recently announced that it will launch a “multifaceted advertising and marketing campaign” that will focus on the improvements the company has made to its LTE network.

      Verizon announced on Tuesday that it is lowering the price of its Prepaid plan, which gives customers unlimited talk, text, and data with no annual contrac...

      Drinking coffee linked to reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

      The popular beverage was found to have some surprising health benefits

      Millions of people reach for the coffee pot first thing in the morning -- and continue to do so throughout the day -- to get a jolt of caffeine. While researchers have gone back and forth on whether the beverage is healthy or unhealthy, a new study could have consumers reaching for another cup.

      Researchers at the Krembil Brain Institute found that drinking coffee could help to protect consumers from developing both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

      “Coffee consumption does seem to have some correlation to a decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease,” said Dr. Donald Weaver. “But we wanted to investigate why that is -- which compounds are involved and how they may impact age-related cognitive decline.”

      Beyond caffeine

      Dr. Weaver and his team began by testing the effects different blends of coffee -- dark roast, light roast, and decaffeinated dark roast -- have on the brain.

      The researchers found the strength of the coffee to be the same across all three blends, so they ruled out caffeine as the component behind the health benefits.

      Digging deeper into the chemical makeup of the beverage, the researchers discovered the properties of the compound phenylindane are what could be protecting coffee-drinkers from developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Produced during the roasting process, the compound was found to prevent beta amyloid and tau -- two proteins that are linked to the cognitive diseases -- from spreading.

      “It’s the first time anybody’s investigated how phenylindanes interact with the proteins that are responsible for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” said Dr. Ross Mancini. “The next step would be to investigate how beneficial these compounds are, and whether they have the ability to enter the bloodstream, or cross the blood-brain barrier.”

      Though the study’s findings were significant in showing that coffee can do more than just wake consumers up in the morning, the researchers did note that more research is required in this area, and coffee is certainly not a cure for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

      The ongoing coffee conflict

      For years, researchers have been searching for answers as to whether coffee is beneficial or detrimental to consumers’ health. The debate continues on, as the evidence seems to be ever-changing.

      Earlier this year, a consumer group -- the Council for Education and Research on Toxics -- sued the state of California for failing to warn consumers that the chemicals found in coffee should classify the beverage as a carcinogen.

      Though a judge initially ruled in favor of the consumer group in March, officials were changing their tunes by June. California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) ruled that the acrylamide found in coffee -- the carcinogenic chemical -- was not enough to pose any harm to consumers. The agency was petitioning for California to reverse the initial ruling.

      On the opposite end of the spectrum, researchers found that coffee can improve heart health, help consumers live longer, and reduce the risk of death.  

      While keeping up with the risks and benefits associated with drinking coffee can get overwhelming amidst many conflicting reports, ConsumerAffairs has logged findings on the subject here.

      Millions of people reach for the coffee pot first thing in the morning -- and continue to do so throughout the day -- to get a jolt of caffeine. While rese...

      Barcelona Nut Company recalls pistachios

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Barcelona Nut Company of Baltimore, Md., is recalling 239 cases of roasted and salted in-shell pistachios.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The following items, packaged in red, white and blue window plastic film are being recalled:

      • 2.75 oz., UPC 030239130001 with expiration date 9/18/2019
      • 2.25 oz., UPC 030239149034 with expiration date 9/17/2019 and 10/9/2019
      • 1.50 oz., UPC 030239591154 with expiration date 10/9/2019 and 9/17/2019
      • 1.25 oz., UPC 030239991060 with expiration date 10/8/2019
      • 1 oz. Green plastic film package pictured UPC 030239510148 with expiration dates 10/4/2019 and 10/10/2019.

      The recalled products were distributed through retail stores and direct delivery in Washington D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, California, Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey and Georgia.

      What to do

      Consumers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but contact Michelle Ocheltree at michelleo@barcelonanut.com or (443) 552-5366 or (443) 552.5364 to receive a paid postage envelope to return the products for a full refund.

      Barcelona Nut Company of Baltimore, Md., is recalling 239 cases of roasted and salted in-shell pistachios.The products may be contaminated with Salmone...

      CFMOTO recalls ROVs

      The throttle pedal can be pushed past the throttle stop and not return to the idle position

      CFMOTO Powersports of Plymouth, Minn., is recalling about 1,800 recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).

      The throttle pedal can be pushed past the throttle stop and not return to the idle position, posing a crash hazard.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves model year 2018 ZFORCE 500 Trail, 2018 ZFORCE 800 Trail and ZFORCE 1000 SSV CFMOTO recreational off-highway vehicles with 500cc to 1000cc, 4-cycle engines.

      The recalled ZFORCE vehicles have “CFMOTO” stamped on the front grille, a “CFMOTO” decal on the bottom of the cab frame and a “ZFORCE” decal located on each side of rear box compartment.

      CFMOTO ZFORCE vehicles were sold in orange, blue, red and gray. The vehicle identification number (VIN) is located on the right-side frame rail just forward of the right rear tire.

      The ROVs, manufactured in China, were sold at CFMOTO dealers nationwide from January 2018, through July 2018, for between $9,000 and $14,000.

      What to do

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

      Consumers may contact CFMOTO toll-free at (888) 823-6686 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, by email at info@cfmotousa.com or online at www.cfmotousa.com and click on “Customer Care” at the top of the page and then “Vehicle Recall” for more information.

      CFMOTO Powersports of Plymouth, Minn., is recalling about 1,800 recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).The throttle pedal can be pushed past the thro...

      BMW recalls vehicles with Exhaust Gas Recirculation module

      The intake manifold may smolder and melt

      BMW of North America is recalling 44,368 model year 2013-2018 BMW 328ds and 328d xDrives, model year 2014-2018 328d Sports Wagons and 328d xDrive Sports Wagons, model year 2014-2016 535ds and 535d xDrives, model year 2015 740Ld xDrives, model year 2015-2017 X3 xDrive28d SAVs and model year 2014-2017 X5 xDrive35d SAVs equipped with an Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) module with an integrated cooler.

      If the EGR cooler leaks internally, the coolant can mix with diesel engine soot. The high EGR temperatures may result in these particles possibly smoldering and melting the intake manifold, increasing the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and replace the EGR cooler as necessary. If a leak has already occurred, the engine intake manifold will also be replaced. These repairs will be made free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin December 17, 2018.

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

      BMW of North America is recalling 44,368 model year 2013-2018 BMW 328ds and 328d xDrives, model year 2014-2018 328d Sports Wagons and 328d xDrive Sports Wa...

      Facebook pulls more accounts hours before midterms

      The accounts were linked to ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior'

      On the eve of U.S. midterm election day, Facebook pulled 30 user accounts and 85 instagram accounts that engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

      Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher revealed in a blog post on Monday night that the company was alerted to the suspicious behavior by U.S. authorities.

      “On Sunday evening, U.S. law enforcement contacted us about online activity that they recently discovered and which they believe may be linked to foreign entities,” said Gleicher. “We immediately blocked these accounts and are now investigating them in more detail.”

      “Almost all the Facebook Pages associated with these accounts appear to be in the French or Russian languages, while the Instagram accounts seem to have mostly been in English — some were focused on celebrities, others political debate,” he said.

      Gleicher added that typically Facebook would hold off on announcing its account removal actions until it had gathered more information, but the timing ahead of the election necessitated prompt disclosure to the public.

      “Given that we are only one day away from important elections in the US, we wanted to let people know about the action we’ve taken and the facts as we know them today,” he said. "Once we know more – including whether these accounts are linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency or other foreign entities – we will update this post."

      Combating election interference

      Social media companies have been stepping up their efforts to crack down on suspicious behavior in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, in which foreign influence efforts were detected. On Monday, federal authorities said political meddling is still a problem that Americans should be aware of.

      "Americans should be aware that foreign actors, and Russia in particular, continue to try to influence public sentiment and voter perceptions through actions intended to sow discord," the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI said in a joint statement.

      "They can do this by spreading false information about political processes and candidates, lying about their own interference activities, disseminating propaganda on social media, and through other tactics.”

      On the eve of U.S. midterm election day, Facebook pulled 30 user accounts and 85 instagram accounts that engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”...

      Supreme Court declines to consider challenge to decision upholding net neutrality rules

      The ruling allows a previous court decision to stand, which may be used later as a precedent

      The Supreme Court decided on Monday that it will not consider a series of challenges from telecom companies to Obama-era net neutrality rules designed to bar internet service providers from manipulating loading speeds for specific websites or apps.

      The ruling is significant because it allows a previous ruling upholding the constitutionality of the regulations to stand, which may be used as a precedent in the future by another administration.

      For proponents of net neutrality, Monday’s Supreme Court decision represents a victory. It means that the D.C. Circuit court’s 2016 decision to uphold “both the FCC's classification of broadband as a telecommunications service, and its rules prohibiting broadband providers from blocking or degrading Internet content, remains in place," senior counsel John Bergmayer of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge said.

      "Much of the current FCC’s argument [against net neutrality] depends on ignoring or contradicting the DC Circuit’s earlier findings, but now that these are firmly established as binding law, the Pai FCC’s case is on even weaker ground than before," Bergmayer said.

      Two justices recused themselves

      Two conservative justices -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh -- "took no part in the consideration or decision of these petitions," the court announced.

      Amy Howe of SCOTUSBlog explained that Kavanaugh was “expected to recuse himself from voting on the petitions because he had participated in the cases while on the D.C. Circuit, and he did. But Chief Justice John Roberts also recused himself – presumably (although there is no way to know for sure) because he owns stock in one of the companies challenging the rules."

      By a 4-3 ruling, the Supreme Court denied petitions brought by AT&T and broadband lobby groups NCTA, CTIA, USTelecom, and the American Cable Association.

      The Trump administration overturned net neutrality regulations last year. They have not been in effect since June.

      Jessica Rosenworcel, the Federal Communication Commission’s only Democratic Commissioner, noted that the FCC had argued that because the Trump-era FCC had repealed the 2015 rules, the 2016 decision was moot and should be wiped from the books.

      “It wasn't enough for this @FCC to roll back #NetNeutrality. It actually petitioned the Supreme Court to erase history and wipe out an earlier court decision upholding open internet policies. But today the Supreme Court refused to do so,” Rosenworcel tweeted.

      “Let's call this interesting,” she added.

      The Supreme Court decided on Monday that it will not consider a series of challenges from telecom companies to Obama-era net neutrality rules designed to b...

      The company behind the dockless bike and scooter craze is now testing cars

      Lime is planning a ride-sharing program with small electric cars

      Lime, one of the most flush firms behind the dockless bike share and dockless electric scooter craze, has often touted that its products help take cars off the road. But that may not be for long.

      The company is now trying to implement a ride-sharing program using small electric vehicles, according to an application filed with city officials in Seattle and viewed by the Information news site.

      While Seattle officials have declined to let Lime bring its electric scooters to city streets, the company’s dockless bikes are reportedly a major hit in the city -- despite some complaints nationwide over the years that Lime hasn’t taken enough effort to clean up misplaced inventory. Rideshare services are also enormously popular in Seattle.

      Lime’s fleet would be made up of the Fiat 500e and the Renault Twizy, both of which are micro-sized electric vehicles. The news comes six months after Fiat Chrysler's late former CEO Sergio Marchionne announced that his company would invest $9 billion in building cars with electric motors and have 30 models available by 2022.

      If the rideshare program takes off, it would mark another partnership between the automotive industry and Silicon Valley. The car and tech industries are also currently lobbying together in support of the AV Start Act, federal legislation that would allow the testing of self-driving cars to rapidly expand with little regulatory oversight.

      Lime, one of the most flush firms behind the dockless bike share and dockless electric scooter craze, has often touted that its products help take cars off...

      Facebook to set up shop inside Macy’s stores

      It’s a win for everyone involved: more exposure, more traffic, more goodwill

      Macy’s and Facebook are going into business together.

      Nope, they’re not selling user data. Their partnership revolves around 100 e-commerce brands that will be sold under a shopping umbrella called "The Market @ Macy’s."

      The new entity represents a mixture of both emerging and established brands that are being given a unique opportunity to strut their stuff to new audiences in a high traffic, holiday shopping-centered space.

      "The Market @ Macy's, a marketplace in select stores across the country where customers will find a rotating selection of unique items in apparel, accessories, beauty, entertainment, experiences, decorative home, stationery, technology, and gifts" is how Macy’s describes the co-venture.

      These pop-up shops will be spread across nine Macy’s stores located in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Atlanta. They will be open from November through February 2, 2019.

      "All over the world people are running businesses, big and small, that have inspiring stories and we want to help them succeed," said Michelle Klein, Director of North America Marketing, Facebook.

      "Macy’s shoppers will have the chance to meet businesses such as Love Your Melon that sells hats and apparel to help in the fight against pediatric cancer, or Charleston Gourmet Burger Company that started from a backyard barbecue and has expanded to reach customers in all 50 states."

      Macy’s appears to like the pop-up angle

      Macy’s dipped its toe in the pop-up water earlier this year, trying its luck out in partnerships with Sony Pictures, Bear Mattress, and others.

      "Overwhelmingly, what we think makes this so attractive for Macy's and our customers is it continues to drive customers to stores by giving a constant break of discovery," said Marc Mastronardi, EVP of new business development and innovation at Macy's, in a statement to CNBC.

      "We have not [before] had a model in which we have provided [Macy's retail service] to a really diverse set of categories coming into our space," Mastronardi commented.

      The win-win-win

      For a burgeoning brand or even one that doesn’t have its own brick-and-mortar space, Macy’s pop-up concept is a win for both the brand and the store.

      For the brand, it’s a chance to be recognized by a new audience; for Macy’s, it offers added insight to consumer preferences, not to mention added foot traffic, and a savings in personnel costs since the brand picks up the tab for paying its helpers.

      And the win for Facebook?

      While Facebook won’t make a dime off this deal, the good deed for the digital-native brands it’s including in the partnership may pay off in ad dollars spent on Facebook. And while Facebook appears to be all about the number of eyeballs it attracts, at the end of the day the almighty ad dollar is what drives the social media titan.

      "Facebook has been a core partner in our growth," commented pop-up’er Bradford Manning of Two Blind Brothers. "For Two Blind Brothers and the majority of businesses participating, the experience will allow consumers to experience our brands and quality in a physical store for the first time ever."

      Macy’s and Facebook are going into business together.Nope, they’re not selling user data. Their partnership revolves around 100 e-commerce brands that...

      FCC chairman demands solution to robocalls

      The agency’s head has ordered telecoms to find a way to stop 'spoofing'

      Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai is ordering the telecom industry to come up with a solution to the growing number of robocalls that are annoying – and in some cases threatening – consumers.

      Pai said he wants the industry to find a way to authenticate incoming calls so that scammers can't “spoof” other phone numbers to disguise where the call is originating. Pai has named stopping illegal robocalls as the agency's top consumer priority.

      “That’s why we need call authentication to become a reality—it’s the best way to ensure that consumers can answer their phones with confidence,” Pai said.

      Before the end of 2019, the FCC chairman said he expects all cell phone carriers to have a call authentication system in place. The companies that have made little progress, he says, need to catch up. In some areas, he says the entire industry needs to work together on this.

      Companies told to cooperate

      “Greater participation will ensure the system works for consumers, who expect real progress in combating malicious spoofing and scam robocalls,” Pai said. “If it does not appear that this system is on track to get up and running next year, then we will take action to make sure that it does.”

      Robocalls are calls generated by automation equipment which can generate hundreds of calls at the same time. If the line is answered, the equipment plays a recorded message to entice the recipient to stay on the line or to press a number to speak to a live person.

      Besides being annoying, these calls can be dangerous to vulnerable persons because the robocall has become the delivery tool of choice for scammers, and the problem is getting worse.

      Consumers received nearly 5 billion robocalls in the first quarter of 2018, according to a report by Hiya, a company that makes a call-screen app. The company's analysis of calls made to mobile numbers has identified three major types of robocalls.

      More than a quarter of the calls are scams

      The largest number, at over 38 percent, was classified as general spam. The second-largest group, at 27.2 percent, was identified as scam calls, in which criminals tried to steal money or personal information from consumers. The third major group of calls came from traditional telemarketers.

      The pace only gained speed throughout the year. YouMail, another call-screening app, recently reported that consumers received a staggering 4.2 billion robocalls in August alone.

      Pai has sent letters to all cell phone providers asking those that have not yet established a plan to protect their customers using the “Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs (SHAKEN)” as well as the Secure Telephone Identity Revisited (STIR) standards get started on it immediately.

      Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai is ordering the telecom industry to come up with a solution to the growing number of robocalls th...