Current Events in November 2018

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    Starbucks plans to open over 2,000 more stores in 2019

    The coffee chain reported better-than-expected earnings for the fiscal fourth quarter

    In its fourth-quarter earnings report, Starbucks said it’s planning to open 2,100 new stores next year. President and CEO Kevin Johnson says the company plans to focus on long-term growth markets in the U.S. and China.

    The Seattle-based coffee giant said its revenue grew to more than six billion dollars in July, August, and September of this year -- up 11 percent from the same time last year.

    The chain attributed its strong performance to an increase in afternoon sales and consumer enthusiasm for cold drinks (including iced beverages and Refreshers), as well as certain streamlining actions to decrease the amount of time employees spend on administrative tasks so they can spend more time working with customers.

    “More recently, we’ve taken steps to simplify work in our stores by automating inventory tracking and replenishment, which is enabling us to redirect more store partner time toward serving our customers,” Johnson told the media. “Business simplification is creating value through a more focused and more efficient operation.”

    Starbucks Chief Operating Officer Rosalind Brewer added that a social media effort for the chain’s popular Pumpkin Spice Latte also played a role in their fiscal fourth quarter success.

    "It did a nice job for us in the quarter," Brewer said.

    Adding more stores

    In the most recent quarter, Starbucks added about 600 new stores to its 29,300 restaurants overall. Last year, the company opened nearly 2,300 stores. In May, Starbucks announced that it intends to build 3,000 new stores in China over the next several years.

    “Starbucks record Q4 performance reflected meaningful improvement in virtually every critical operating metric compared to Q3,” Johnson said in a statement. “As we enter fiscal 2019, we are executing against a clear growth agenda, with a focus on our long-term growth markets of the U.S. and China.”

    The company’s shares rose 10 percent shortly after the markets opened Friday.

    In its fourth-quarter earnings report, Starbucks said it’s planning to open 2,100 new stores next year. President and CEO Kevin Johnson says the company pl...

    FTC proposes free credit monitoring for active military

    Prohibited would be any advertising or marketing for a free service without proper disclosure

    Earlier this year, Congress passed the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act. The legislation was designed to improve consumer access to mortgage credit, protect consumer access to credit, and build in protections for veterans, consumers, homeowners, and students.

    Now, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wants to take that protection a step further by adding a rule to that existing law. It would mandate that all U.S. consumer reporting agencies provide free electronic credit monitoring services for active duty military consumers.

    The FTC’s proposed rule would require the nationwide consumer reporting agencies -- Experian, Equifax, TransUnion, Innovis, et al --  to provide consumers free electronic credit monitoring that would “notify active duty military members within 24 hours of any material additions or modifications to their credit files.

    And affected military need to prove they are who they say they are, too.

    “It states that contact information, appropriate proof that the consumer is an active duty member of the military, and proof of the consumer’s identity may be required to take advantage of this service,” the FTC said in its news release about the rule change.

    But, first, the FTC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) wants to know what the consumer thinks about the proposed change. Until January 7, 2019, the NPRM is seeking comment on the following:

    • Are the restrictions on secondary uses and disclosures of information collected from an active duty military consumer requesting the credit monitoring service necessary?

    • Are the methods used to verify appropriate proof of active duty military status adequate?

    • Does the definition of “material additions or modifications” adequately cover the changes to a consumer’s file that should require notification?

    • Is the proposed ban on marketing until after an active duty military consumer who has indicated an interest in obtaining the free credit monitoring service has been enrolled in that service necessary? Does it impose undue burdens on the CRAs?

    Interested parties can comment on the proposal here.

    What happens if the rule passes?

    If the proposal gets all the way through, the rule would:

    • Restrict nationwide consumer reporting agencies’ ability to use and disclose the information they collect from consumers in order to provide the required electronic credit monitoring service.

    • Impose limits on communications surrounding enrollment in an electronic credit monitoring service. Prohibited communications would include any advertising or marketing for a free service, without clearly and prominently disclosing that consumers must cancel the service to avoid being charged.

    • Prohibit asking or requiring an active duty military consumer to agree to terms or conditions in connection with obtaining a free electronic credit monitoring service.

    The ball’s already rolling

    In October, ConsumerAffairs reported that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was changing how the bureau monitors lenders and how lenders honor the Military Lending Act, a law safeguarding military personnel from abusive lending practices.

    “We have a fundamental responsibility to protect those who bravely protect us,” New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in response to the CFPB’s action.

    “Servicemembers and their families should not have to worry about being deceived by predatory lenders, and the CFPB must do its job and continue protecting them from potential financial harm.”

    Earlier this year, Congress passed the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act. The legislation was designed to improve consumer ac...

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      Affordable Care Act enrollment season begins

      The sixth sign-up season brings several changes, including the availability of short-term plans

      The six-week-long Affordable Care Act enrollment season kicked off on Thursday, and this year consumers will find more choices and stabilizing premiums.

      “From a consumer perspective, the experience should be pretty good,” Kelley Turek, a policy specialist at America’s Health Insurance Plans, told Axios.

      Here’s what’s new in the ACA’s sixth signup season:

      • Short-term plans, which are typically cheaper, will be available for consumers to purchase as an alternative to comprehensive ACA plans;

      • Nationally, average premiums are going up only by low single-digit percentages for 2019;

      • Insurance brokers are expanding their participation this year because President Trump has cut funding for healthcare navigators -- people who get federal money to help customers compare their options and sign up for health coverage; and

      • There won’t be a penalty for not buying health insurance, a change that takes effect in January.

      Alternative coverage

      Administration officials view the availability of short-term health plans and “association health plans” as a means of expanding lower-cost options for consumers. Premiums for short-term plans are around 54 percent lower than they are for comprehensive policies, according to a new study from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

      However, some say the additional options could lead to consumers buying less coverage than they need. Turek noted that they could also be a practical option for individuals who can’t afford ACA coverage, but consumers should be sure they know what they’re signing up for because short-term plans can have big gaps in coverage.

      Consumers can enroll for health care coverage under the ACA by visiting www.HealthCare.gov. Enrollment for 2019 ends on December 15.

      The six-week-long Affordable Care Act enrollment season kicked off on Thursday, and this year consumers will find more choices and stabilizing premiums....

      Dewayne Johnson accepts reduced punitive award in Monsanto trial

      Bayer says it will appeal the decision regardless

      Cancer victim Dewayne Johnson, a former school groundskeeper who regularly used Monsanto’s weed-killer product Roundup, has agreed to accept a reduced award of about $78 million in combined damages.

      In August, a jury had awarded Johnson -- who is dying of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma -- $250 million in punitive damages and about $39 million in compensatory damages after determining that the products were responsible for causing his cancer. The jury said the company had failed to warn him and other consumers about the risks of the product.

      Monsanto asked Judge Suzanne Bolanos to overrule the jury’s award for punitive damages, and she almost did on the basis that the plaintiff "presented no clear and convincing evidence of malice or oppression to support an award of punitive damages."

      However, Bolanos changed course last month and decided to deny Monsanto’s request to scrap the award. While the move was a victory for Johnson in that the jury’s verdict was ultimately upheld, Bolanos ended up reducing the punitive damages to about $39 million, cutting down the total award amount by around $211 million.

      Reduced punitive award

      Bolanos said she reduced the punitive award because it was too high and needed to be more in line with Johnson’s $39 million compensatory award.

      "In enforcing due process limits, the court does not sit as a replacement for the jury but only as a check on arbitrary awards," Bolanos wrote in her written ruling. "The punitive damages award must be constitutionally reduced to the maximum allowed by due process in this case -- $39,253,209.35 -- equal to the amount of compensatory damages awarded by the jury based on its findings of harm to the plaintiff."

      Bolanos gave Johnson until December 7 to accept the reduced award or request a new trial. Johnson’s attorneys told the court on Friday he "will accept the reduction of punitive damages to the amount of $39,253,209.35" in order "to avoid the further burden of a new trial or appeal,” according to CNN.

      Bayer to appeal

      Monsanto’s parent company, Bayer, says it will appeal the decision.

      "The court's decision to reduce the punitive damage award by more than $200 million is a step in the right direction, but we continue to believe that the liability verdict and damage awards are not supported by the evidence at trial or the law and plan to file an appeal with the California Court of Appeal," Bayer said.

      The company maintains that hundreds of studies have indicated that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, doesn’t cause cancer when used as directed.

      Bayer is currently facing about 8,000 more lawsuits in relation to its products.

      Cancer victim Dewayne Johnson, a former school groundskeeper who regularly used Monsanto’s weed-killer product Roundup, has agreed to accept a reduced awar...

      Top Uber drivers to get free college tuition

      UberPro is a program to encourage the best drivers to spend more time behind the wheel

      To incentivize its drivers, Uber is offering a package of benefits, including free college tuition, to drivers who qualify for its new UberPro status.

      The company says the new classification will reward drivers and help them excel on and off the road. To achieve UberPro status drivers must maintain a minimum 4.85-star rating and a low cancellation rate.

      Drivers also earn points on every trip during fixed three-month periods and the points help them reach and maintain their elite status. That suggests the new program is a tool to persuade drivers to spend more time behind the wheel since racking up points will be key to earning and keeping benefits.

      Once obtaining UberPro status a driver might get more rides since consumers using the Uber app will be able to see a driver's UberPro status when they request a ride.

      Online degree from Arizona State

      The big advantage of UberPro status is paid college tuition for online courses at Arizona State University, a benefit valued at more than $12,000 a year. A qualifying driver can enroll in more than 80 undergraduate degree programs, eight different English language courses tailored to their skill level, or get certified in entrepreneurship. The driver may also transfer the benefit to a spouse, child, or domestic partner.

      Other benefits include up to 25 percent off standard car maintenance at 20,000 auto service shops around the country. UberPro drivers can also get up to 5 percent cash back at any gas station is they pay with the Uber Visa Debit Card. Additional benefits include faster airport pickups and free dent repair.

      "Whether it’s higher earnings, discounts that help drivers get the most from their time on the road, or a fully-funded higher education that helps them and their families get ahead, we’re committed to helping our most committed partners make progress toward their goals一on and off the road," the company said in a press release.

      Beta test

      Uber says the new program will be limited to drivers in eight U.S. cities to start but will be rolled out to drivers in more cities in the months ahead.

      The eight beta markets where the program will first be available are Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans, Phoenix, Orlando, Tampa, Denver, and New Jersey.

      Uber drivers can find out more about UberPro in the drivers' app.

      To incentivize its drivers, Uber is offering a package of benefits, including free college tuition, to drivers who qualify for its new UberPro status.T...

      Economy adds a quarter of a million jobs in October

      Workers also saw their paychecks get bigger

      The government reports that the economy added 250,000 jobs in October, and workers took home more money in their paychecks.

      The October employment report shows all sectors of the economy reported healthy job gains and none of them reduced employment. The unemployment rate remained steady at 3.7 percent.

      But for consumers, the wage number might be the most important aspect. Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 5 cents to $27.30. On a yearly basis, earnings have risen 83 cents, or 3.1 percent -- the largest hike in incomes since the Great Recession.

      Construction workers saw the largest one-month gain in wages, followed by trade, transportation, and utility workers.

      While the stock market doesn't like the idea that wages are growing -- an inflationary signal that could lead to still higher interest rates -- most economists agree that growing wages for consumers are needed to boost economic growth.

      Where the jobs are

      The health care sector led the field in adding jobs last month, expanding payrolls by 36,000. Hospitals added 13,000 jobs while positions in nursing and residential care facilities rose by 8,000. Over the past 12 months, healthcare employment grew by 323,000.

      Manufacturing added 32,000 jobs in October," said William Wiatrowski, acting commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). "Most of this increase occurred in the durable goods component with a gain of 10,000 jobs in transportation equipment. Over the past 12 months, manufacturing added 296,000 jobs, the bulk of which were in durable goods."

      Construction added 30,000 jobs, while transportation and warehousing added 25,000 and professional and business services added 35,000.

      More people joined the labor force last month. The labor participation rate rose 0.2 percent to 62.9 percent after remaining flat during much of 2018.

      But the number of people employed part-time for economic reasons, sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers, hardly changed from September.

      The October report points to a stable employment environment with hiring taking place in all sectors of the economy.

      The government reports that the economy added 250,000 jobs in October, and workers took home more money in their paychecks.The October employment repor...

      Falling oil prices are keeping gas prices in check

      U.S. oil supplies are growing ahead of next week's Iran sanctions

      A big drop in oil prices in the latter half of October is making gasoline cheaper for motorists as November gets underway.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gasoline is $2.78 a gallon, down from $2.83 a gallon last week. However, it's still 30 cents a gallon more than a year ago.

      The average price of premium gas is $3.35, down four cents a gallon from last Friday. The average price of diesel fuel is $3.28, just a penny cheaper than a week ago.

      Prices normally drift lower late in the year, but the recent drop has been aided by a significant drop in the price of oil, as global demand is slowing and U.S. stockpiles are growing.

      In its weekly report, the Energy Information Administration reported oil inventories increased last week for the sixth straight week with American suppliers adding 3.2 million barrels to their tanks. It's the highest level of U.S. oil supplies since mid-June.

      But in its weekly market update, AAA cautions that supplies could dip as early as next week when new Iranian economic sanctions take effect and Iranian oil will be withheld from the market.

      In the last week, prices varied widely state to state. Some states in the West saw a small bit of relief, as the statewide average fell four cents a gallon in California. States in the Southeast saw the biggest price drops as a handful of states saw prices go down five cents or more.

      Prices went up in some Great Lakes states, but GasBuddy petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan advised on Twitter that drivers there should be patient.

      "Do not be in a rush to fill up, wait if you can," he wrote. "Looks like average prices could go even lower in the next week or so than they were earlier this week."

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      These states currently have the highest prices for regular gas, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey:

      • Hawaii ($3.90)
      • California ($3.77)
      • Washington ($3.52)
      • Alaska ($3.39)
      • Oregon ($3.35)
      • Nevada ($3.28)
      • Idaho ($3.12)
      • Utah ($3.02)
      • Montana ($2.98)
      • Connecticut ($2.97)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

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

      • South Carolina ($2.48)
      • Missouri ($2.49)
      • Texas ($2.51)
      • Mississippi ($2.52)
      • Alabama ($2.52)
      • Louisiana ($2.52)
      • Oklahoma ($2.53)
      • Arkansas ($2.54)
      • Virginia ($2.55)
      • Tennessee ($2.57)

      A big drop in oil prices in the latter half of October is making gasoline cheaper for motorists as November gets underway.The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey sho...

      Model year 2019 Jeep Cherokees recalled

      Improper transmission calibration may result in a stall

      Chrysler(FCA US LLC) is recalling 86,053 model year 2019 Jeep Cherokees with 2.4L engines.

      Improper transmission calibration may result in a stall, which can increase the risk of crash.

      What to do

      Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will re-flash the transmission controller with a new calibration, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin December 08, 2018.

      Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is UA9.

      Chrysler(FCA US LLC) is recalling 86,053 model year 2019 Jeep Cherokees with 2.4L engines.Improper transmission calibration may result in a stall, whic...

      Fit & Active Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwiches recalled

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella

      J&J Snack Foods Handheld of Holly Ridge, N.C., is recalling two lots of Fit & Active Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwiches.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The following products, which have Julian code production dates 20027230003106:15 and 20027235003115:13, are being recalled:

      UPC CodeBrand / LabelProduct DescriptionBest By Dates
      0 4149815117 1Fit & Active

      Southwest Veggie

      Stuffed Sandwiches

      FEB 09 2019 &
      FEB 14 2019

      The recalled products were distributed between from August 22, 2017, - September 20, 2017, to Aldi retail stores in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Vermont and West Virginia.

      They were also available for purchase to Aldi customers in the Atlanta area through the company's partnership with Instacart, a grocery delivery service.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may call (856) 532-9064 Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. (ET).

      J&J; Snack Foods Handheld of Holly Ridge, N.C., is recalling two lots of Fit & Active Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwiches.The products may be contamina...

      Toyota recalls model year 2018-2019 Tundras

      The load capacity modification label may contain inaccurate information

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 508 model year 2018-2019 Tundras.

      The accessory all-weather floormats may have been counted twice when creating the load carrying capacity modification label, resulting in the capacity modification label incorrectly overstating the additional weight by 10 pounds.

      Since the incorrect label is not within 1% of the additional weight, the vehicles are not compliant with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard number 110.

      What to do

      All vehicle owners will be sent a corrected label.

      The recall is expected to begin November 9, 2018.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-888-270-9371. Toyota's number for this recall is J0Z.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 508 model year 2018-2019 Tundras.The accessory all-weather floormats may have been counted twice...

      Apple will be able to throttle iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X

      This week’s release of iOS 12.1 includes the tech giant’s ‘performance management feature’

      Apple has added iPhone 8 and iPhone X models to its lineup of phones it may one day throttle to prolong battery life, despite having told U.S. senators in February that the controversial feature isn’t as necessary for these models.

      In an update to its support page, first reported by The Verge, the company said the feature -- which Apple says is meant to prevent unexpected shutdowns -- has been expanded to 2017's iPhone X, iPhone 8, and iPhone 8 Plus.

      “Additionally, users can see if the performance management feature that dynamically manages maximum performance to prevent unexpected shutdowns is on and can choose to turn it off,” Apple said.

      “This feature applies to iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone SE, iPhone 7, and iPhone 7 Plus. Starting with iOS 12.1, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X include this feature, but performance management may be less noticeable due to their more advanced hardware and software design.”

      Can be disabled

      Last year, Apple faced a great deal of backlash for not being upfront with consumers about the presence of the feature. In response to user discontent over its performance management feature, the tech giant introduced a cheaper battery replacement program.

      The company was just recently hit with a $5.7 million fine from an Italian watchdog group for failing to tell consumers about the “essential” characteristics of the lithium-ion batteries in its phones.

      Earlier this year, Apple told Congress that these newer iPhone models had “hardware updates” that would make throttling less necessary.

      "iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X models include hardware updates that allow a more advanced performance-management system that more precisely allows iOS to anticipate and avoid an unexpected shutdown," Apple said at the time.

      The feature did end up making it into the models after all, but it can be toggled off by entering the Battery Health section of Settings and disabling the Peak Performance Capability feature.

      Apple has added iPhone 8 and iPhone X models to its lineup of phones it may one day throttle to prolong battery life, despite having told U.S. senators in...

      T-Mobile shareholders approve merger with Sprint

      But government regulators will have the final say

      T-Mobile shareholders have voted in favor of the company's merger with Sprint, a deal that would reduce the "big four" wireless carriers down to three.

      The companies have said their union is necessary for the two smaller telecoms to develop the needed infrastructure to offer a robust 5G network to compete with Verizon and AT&T.

      “This is another step forward in creating the new T-Mobile, so we can deliver on our promise to bring robust competition to the 5G era, giving consumers more for less and creating jobs,” said John Legere, T-Mobile's CEO.

      Legere proudly points to his company's record of disrupting the wireless industry and says joining forces with Sprint will make the wireless landscape even more competitive. Both Verizon and AT&T are moving ahead with 5G deployment, offering the upgraded service in a handful of markets before the end of the year.

      The bulk of T-Mobile shareholder approval of the deal came from Deutsche Telekom Holding B.V., holder of approximately 63.5 percent of T-Mobile common stock. But that was the easy part.

      Regulators still considering the deal

      The deal must still clear the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Justice Department. The FCC is studying the engineering aspects of combining T-Mobile and Sprint. The Justice Department is examining the competitive aspects.

      Consumer advocates have already come out against the merger and several Democratic senators have expressed concern that combining the two wireless providers could result in higher prices for consumers, particularly those who purchase the companies' low-cost prepaid wireless plans.

      In May, the lawmakers sent a letter to the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division and the FCC to express their thoughts on the areas of the merger they considered problematic.

      “As more than three-quarters of American adults now own smartphones, including many who depend on these devices for their primary connection to the internet, an anticompetitive acquisition in the wireless market could result in higher prices for American consumers or force some people to forego their internet connection altogether,” the lawmakers wrote.

      New York reportedly questions the deal

      In recent days, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood has reportedly opened an investigation into the proposed deal over similar concerns.

      According to a report in the New York Post, Underwood’s staff already views T-Mobile’s MetroPCS service and Sprint’s Boost and Virgin Mobile services as aggressive and has asked executives at both companies for clarification on how pricing would be affected.

      Legere, meanwhile, is expressing confidence the deal will clear every regulatory hurdle, telling Bloomberg News that discussions with regulators have gone well and "we feel pretty good about our chances."

      T-Mobile shareholders have voted in favor of the company's merger with Sprint, a deal that would reduce the "big four" wireless carriers down to three....

      Tesla owners will soon be able to control their car from their phone

      An upgrade to Tesla’s Summon feature will be rolled out to all Tesla cars made in the past two years

      Tesla chief executive Elon Musk says Tesla owners will be able to control their cars from their phones in less than six weeks, thanks to forthcoming upgrades to the electric automaker’s self-parking Summon feature.

      “Tesla advanced Summon ready in ~6 weeks! Just an over-the-air software upgrade, so will work on all cars made in past 2 years (Autopilot hardware V2+),” Musk said in a tweet last night.

      "Car will drive to your phone location & follow you like a pet if you hold down summon button on Tesla app," he added.

      ‘Like RC Cars’

      Currently, Tesla’s Summon feature scopes out potential parking spots for Model S drivers, then moves the vehicle into the chosen spot.

      The new features, which will come via an over-the-air software update, will let Tesla owners drive their car from their phone “remotely like a big RC car if in line of sight,” Musk said. He added that the feature could work from long distances, but users are required to keep it in their line of sight for safety reasons.

      The new updates, dubbed Advanced Summon, will imbue Tesla vehicles with the ability to drive around a parking lot, select a spot, and read parking signs without driver assistance, Musk said.

      Tesla chief executive Elon Musk says Tesla owners will be able to control their cars from their phones in less than six weeks, thanks to forthcoming upgrad...

      Google gives more privacy power to the consumer

      A search settings upgrade will allow consumers to control the ads they see

      Personal data privacy has never been at a higher pitch. Just ask Facebook. Or Yahoo. Or the U.S. Supreme Court.

      Google, for one, has gotten the message and is handing the privacy keys back to the consumer. Beginning Wednesday, Google is doing its best to make decisions about your data as easy as humanly possible.

      Starting with Google Search, users can take a look-see at what they’ve searched for, delete what they want, and change what they consider important and eyes-off in their Google account.

      And when all the tech world seems to be full of data mongers, Google seems comfortable with the end-user having control. “You ... decide what information Google saves to your account and uses to make Search and other Google services faster, smarter and more useful,” the company said in an announcement of the changes.

      One of the new privacy bonuses consumers should love is the ability to set controls on the ads the user sees when they search.

      While Google wants to make its service “faster, smarter, and more useful,” it’s also giving consumers access to Activity Controls so they can decide what information Google saves to their account and uses for the searcher’s benefit.

      When, where, and how?

      Consumers won’t have to wait for these changes to go into effect. Eric Miraglia, Google’s Director of Product Management, Privacy and Data Protection, said that the company was “launching this improvement on desktop and mobile web today, and in the Google app for iOS and Android in the coming weeks.”

      “Next year, we’ll expand this to Maps, followed by many other Google products. Having access to relevant and actionable privacy controls directly from the Google products you use every day is just one way that we are continuously working to build privacy that works for everyone,” Miraglia said.

      To get your privacy settings ball rolling, Google suggests starting with your personal settings page -- including payments, storage, and apps that are linked to you -- or try this step-by-step guide. The company has also produced this quick video overview.

      Personal data privacy has never been at a higher pitch. Just ask Facebook. Or Yahoo. Or the U.S. Supreme Court.Google, for one, has gotten the message...

      Amazon opens its Black Friday Deals Store

      The online retailer joins the race for holiday shoppers

      With the turn of the calendar, the countdown to Black Friday is underway.

      Amazon is one of the first retailers out of the gate, announcing today that its Black Friday Deals Store is open for business. As part of its promotion, it is introducing new ways for customers to shop and outlining exclusive entertainment options.

      The deals store will feature four gift guides this year, along with a toy catalog delivered to consumer's Kindle. The ebook, "A Holiday of Play," provides a rundown on the top toy picks for kids.

      As for entertainment, Amazon has secured the rights to stream the Frank Capra classic, "It's a Wonderful Life" on Prime Video. For a number of years, the film was in the public domain and shown constantly on broadcast television during the holidays. The film is once again under copyright and has been subject to limited showings ever since.

      More same-day delivery options

      Amazon says it's increasing the number of items Prime members can get the same day they order. This year, Prime members can select from more than three million items with free same-day delivery.

      At the same time, two-hour delivery from local Whole Foods Market stores is now available in more than 60 cities. And Alexa will instruct holiday chefs on the best way to prepare a Butterball turkey.

      Amazon will even deliver real Christmas trees this year. Shoppers can select from 10- to 14-inch Charlie Brown Christmas Trees, which are available now, to the six to seven-foot Fraser firs, balsam firs, and Black Hills spruces. If the tree costs over $25, shipping is free.

      Amazon joins Walmart and Target, rivals that recently outlined their offerings for holiday shoppers. This week, Walmart announced it would deploy roving checkout cashiers throughout the store so customers wouldn't have to stand in line.

      Last week, Target announced it is offering same-day delivery through Shipt in hundreds of markets in 46 states while expanding its Drive Up service to nearly 1,000 stores.

      With the turn of the calendar, the countdown to Black Friday is underway.Amazon is one of the first retailers out of the gate, announcing today that it...

      Supreme Court split on Google privacy settlement

      Under the current settlement, Google users would receive no money

      On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case that stemmed from an $8.5 million settlement between Google and class-action lawyers who said the tech giant had violated its users’ privacy rights.

      Under the settlement, Google promised to make contributions to charitable organizations with plans to improve user privacy, including centers at Harvard, Stanford, the Chicago-Kent College of Law, and AARP, the group once known as the American Association of Retired Persons.

      However, Google users would receive no individual payouts under the settlement -- a point that prompted division among the court’s justices.

      Court appears split

      Lawyer Theodore Frank objected to the fact that Google users affected by the alleged breach of privacy would get no money. Some of his constituents agreed with him, while others did not.

      Conservative Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. asked how it’s a “sensible system” that the money would go to institutions that some plaintiffs might not like.

      “How can you say that it makes any sense?” Justice Alito asked a lawyer for the members of the class. “The attorneys get money, and a lot of it. The class members get no money whatsoever. And money is given to organizations that they may or may not like and that may or may not ever do anything that is of even indirect benefit to them.”

      Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts called it “fishy that the money goes to a charity or a 501(c)(3) organization that Google had contributed to in the past.”

      ‘Indirect benefit’

      Some of the liberal justices pointed out that settlements of this nature -- known as “cy pres” -- can lead to money being put to good use since each Google user would ultimately receive “a paltry 4 cents in recovery” due to the large number of plaintiffs.

      Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told Frank that at least the millions of affected Google users would get an “indirect benefit” from the settlement.

      “Practically, the class members would get nothing, nothing at all, and here at least they get an indirect benefit,” she said.

      During the oral arguments, justices on both sides considered the question of whether the plaintiffs had suffered true harm when Google shared their internet search terms with third parties without their consent, meaning the justices could end up sending the lawsuit back to federal court (where it originated) for re-examination before the Supreme Court can make a ruling on the settlement.

      Regarding the question of whether users can be harmed through having their internet searches shared, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh said he thought "common sense" says that Google users don't want their search terms to be turned over to third parties.

      "I don't think anyone would want the disclosure of everything they searched for disclosed to other people," Kavanaugh said. "That seems a harm."

      On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case that stemmed from an $8.5 million settlement between Google and class-action lawyers who said the tech gi...

      Capital One, Discover tighten credit for some consumers

      Is this a warning sign for the economy?

      Capital One is taking steps to reduce some cardholders' credit limits while closing out inactive accounts. Should we be reading into that?

      Credit card companies are generally happy when you spend during good economic times, but they turn cautious when they detect weakness in the economy. Lowering credit limits and closing inactive accounts are two ways to limit a company's exposure.

      Capital One CEO Richard Fairbank, speaking on the company's recent earnings call, made clear this isn't a sudden move.

      “We’ve been talking caution for really probably two and a half years at this point relative to credit lines,” Fairbank told analysts. "But within the last year or so, we’ve even kind of further dialed back on initial lines.”

      Fairbank said there's nothing troubling in Capital One's lending portfolio, but the company is taking this step now "more out of this just kind of intuitive concern about the marketplace.”

      Similar move by Discover

      Capital One isn't alone on this issue. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Discover CEO Roger Hochschild said his company is also taking steps to reduce exposure. It too is canceling inactive cards, but it is also cutting back on balance transfer offers to consumers who fall into the subprime category.

      In fact, Both Capital One and Discover appear to be moving to limit their exposure to subprime consumers, who often serve as the canary in the coal mine when the economy heads south. One need only recall the 2008 housing bust, caused by a wave of subprime foreclosures that turned a garden-variety recession into the Great Recession.

      As the recession deepened, most credit card lenders began unilaterally closing accounts, even those in good standing. The reason was simple. Credit card debt is unsecured. If a cardholder defaults, the lender holds no collateral to limits its losses.

      Damaging to credit scores

      While a lender's action might be understandable from a business standpoint, it's a big problem for affected cardholders. Not only do they have access to less credit, but that reduced access -- especially if an account is closed -- reduces the consumer's credit score.

      If you have a Discover or Capital One card you haven't used in a year or more, it would be wise to immediately make a small purchase and pay off the balance. That way you could argue the account is not inactive.

      The economy still appears to be strong and the job market good for consumers, but Capital One and Discover, which tend to have more credit-challenged consumers as customers, is definitely flashing a caution signal.

      Capital One is taking steps to reduce some cardholders' credit limits while closing out inactive accounts. Should we be reading into that?Credit card c...