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    New York Attorney General to investigate how Apple is handling the FaceTime bug

    The probe will center on the company’s slow response to the privacy flaw

    New York state Attorney General Letitia James announced on Wednesday the launch of a probe into the recently discovered FaceTime bug.

    The bug -- which was discovered by iPhone users and not security researchers -- enabled callers to hear the person on the other line before they had agreed to accept the call. If the recipient tried to block the call or turn off the device, their video camera automatically began recording. That video would then be sent back to the caller.

    “The damage potential here is real. You can listen in to soundbites of any iPhone user’s ongoing conversation without them ever knowing that you could hear them,” 9to5Mac wrote on Monday. “Until Apple fixes the bug, it’s not clear how to defend yourself against this attack either aside from disabling FaceTime altogether.”

    Slow response to the issue

    Apple disabled the offending feature after it became public on Monday, but questions regarding the timeline for the deployment of the fix have lingered.

    In its investigation, the Attorney General’s office will be focusing on Apple’s slow response to the FaceTime bug. A consumer first reported the bug to Apple more than a week before it was shared widely in the media.

    “We’re launching an investigation into Apple’s failure to warn consumers about the FaceTime privacy breach & their slow response to addressing the issue,” James said. “New Yorkers shouldn't have to choose between their private communications & their privacy rights.”

    The Attorney General’s office will be evaluating Apple’s actions in relation to the laws set forth by the State of New York, James noted.

    “We must use every tool at our disposal to ensure that consumers are always protected,” she added.

    New York state Attorney General Letitia James announced on Wednesday the launch of a probe into the recently discovered FaceTime bug.The bug -- which w...
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      Google+ users have until April 2 to download their data, photos, and videos

      The social media platform meets the same fate as Google’s other attempts to grab social media prominence

      Sayonara, Google+.

      The consumer version of the 7-year-old social media platform bids its final farewell on April 2, 2019. If you’re one of its 100+ million users, your Google+ account and pages will become inaccessible on that date and the company will begin the removal of photos and videos from the platform’s Album Archives.

      Google cites “low usage and challenges involved in maintaining a successful product that meets consumers’ expectations” as Plus’ downfall. Those so-called challenges may well have been the recently discovered bug that affected over 50 million users and the private user data of 500,000 Google+’ers that had been exposed over a three-year period -- an intrusion that the Wall Street Journal reported Google decided to keep hush on.

      No biggie -- at least not to Google

      And for the “low usage” justification, it’s typical Google being Google.

      Over the course of its life as a digital colossus, the company has shuttered close to 20 products it thought were either innovative (like Google Glass) or something that could be competitive with a similar product -- examples being Orkut, Google Buzz, and Google Wave, Google’s social media notions designed to take some steam out of Facebook.

      Google+ had a good life, but seeing the platform’s metrics fall from a one-time high of 300 million active monthly users down to a little more than 100 million had to be a buzzkill for the company.

      And the users? The sunsetting of Plus isn’t going to upset too many onliners. The truth is that 90 percent of its user sessions are less than five seconds, according to Ben Smith, Google Fellow and Vice President of Engineering. A study by digital marketing firm Stone Temple only confirmed Google+ ghost town status, reporting that less than 1 percent of the Google-wide 2 billion users ever did any real interaction with the platform.

      The money-making version of Plus stays alive

      One important clarification: it’s the consumer version of Google+ that’s going away. Google will still keep the lights on for the enterprise, revenue-generating version.

      “Our review showed that Google+ is better suited as an enterprise product where co-workers can engage in internal discussions on a secure corporate social network,” Smith said. “Enterprise customers can set common access rules, and use central controls, for their entire organization. We’ve decided to focus on our enterprise efforts and will be launching new features purpose-built for businesses.”

      Downloading your data

      ConsumerAffairs found two methods Google+ users can deploy to retrieve their posts and content from their Google+ account.

      One is Google’s own data exporter -- which, by the way, you can use to manage or archive any Google-housed content you have. The other is the Google+ Exporter, a third-party desktop app that allows you download up to 3,000 Google+ posts for free.

      Sayonara, Google+.The consumer version of the 7-year-old social media platform bids its final farewell on April 2, 2019. If you’re one of its 100+ mill...
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      Teens' social media use does not affect depression, study finds

      Researchers say teenage girls turn to social media in times of depression

      Much research has been done recently that shows the relationship between teens’ social media use and the likelihood of a depression diagnosis.

      Now, researchers are turning that notion on its head, finding that there is no conclusive evidence that shows the correlation between social media use and depression for teenagers.

      “You have to follow the same people over in time in order to draw the conclusion that social media use predicts greater depressive symptoms,” said lead researcher Taylor Heffer. “By using two large longitudinal samples, we were able to empirically test that assumption.”

      The findings

      The researchers followed sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students for two years, having them answer questions about their social media use and time spent in front of screens. The team used the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale to measure depression symptoms.

      Additionally, the researchers had undergraduate students report their own social media and screen time use, as well as depressive symptoms, over the course of six years. The results were broken down by gender and age to get the most precise picture of whether or not social media is affecting the rate of depression.

      The researchers found that spending time on social media was not an indication of developing depression later on, though teen girls were found to seek solace in social media after experiencing depressive symptoms.

      “There may be different groups of people who use social media for different reasons,” said Heffer. “For example, there may be a group of people who use social media to make social comparisons or turn to it when they are feeling down, while another group of people may use it for more positive reasons, such as keeping in contact with friends.”

      With these findings, the researchers hope parents gain a greater understanding of what their children are going through, and don’t jump to conclusions if their teens are spending a lot of time on their phones.

      “When parents read headlines such as ‘Facebook Depression,’ there is an inherent assumption that social media leads to depression,” Heffer said. “Policymakers also have recently been debating ways to tackle the effects of social media use on mental health.”

      Contradicting research

      While people of all ages are being diagnosed with depression at higher rates, many researchers are pointing their fingers at more time being spent on electronic devices -- which young people struggle with the most.

      With suicide rates among young girls at an all-time high, researchers from Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center are also placing the blame on social media.

      According to the researchers, social media can fuel the fire for the need to be perfect at all times, which can have damaging effects on mental health.

      “There continues to be a lot of pressure on young women to be perfect,” said Melissa O’Neill, LCSW, director of the program at Timberline Knolls. “This is definitely increased due to social media and the perception that everyone has the perfect clothes, body, relationship, grades, and life.”

      Much research has been done recently that shows the relationship between teens’ social media use and the likelihood of a depression diagnosis.Now, rese...
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      Facebook pays users to give it access to their cell phone data

      The company denies it tried to hide the program

      Facebook is defending an app that allows it to access user’s smartphone data, saying people were paid for that access and that none of the data was shared.

      A report by technology site TechCrunch says Facebook pays users between the ages of 13 and 35 up to $20 a month to install the app, called Facebook Research. The report said the app is similar to the social media giant’s Onavo Protect app that was discontinued in August after Apple declared it violated its privacy policy.

      The TechCrunch report maintains that the app gives Facebook a massive amount of information about the participating users’ online lives, including social media messages, emails, and what they looked at online.

      Facebook has not issued a formal statement, but it has defended the program and declared it was not trying to keep it a secret in various comments to media outlets. The company says it invites people to take part in research so that it can do things better.

      “Since this research is aimed at helping Facebook understand how people use their mobile devices, we’ve provided extensive information about the type of data we collect and how they can participate,” a spokesperson told CNBC.

      No longer available on the iPhone

      Because of potential issues with Apple’s privacy policy, Facebook is withdrawing the app from iOS phones, but it will continue to be available for Android users.

      Privacy has been a thorn in Facebook’s side for the last 10 months. In March, the government opened an investigation into Facebook privacy issues after the company revealed that a political marketing firm, Cambridge Analytica, had gained unauthorized access to Facebook user data and used it for political advertising in 2016.

      That revelation highlighted the issue of what data big tech collects and how it is used, and it garnered the attention of both U.S. and European regulators.

      In May, Europe enacted stringent privacy protections, called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and Facebook was among the early U.S. tech companies that announced plans to comply with the new set of privacy rules.

      Facebook is defending an app that allows it to access user’s smartphone data, saying people were paid for that access and that none of the data was shared....
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      Apple Music soon to be free for American Airlines passengers

      Travelers will soon have full access to the service’s songs and music videos

      Apple Music and American Airlines (AA) have reached a deal that will give passengers on any AA flight in the U.S. the ability to stream more than 50 million songs for free via in-flight wifi. Previously, travelers had to pay for in-flight internet service or download music before the flight.

      Under the new deal, passengers who don't have Apple Music can also sign up for a free three-month trial during the flight.

      “For most travelers, having music to listen to on the plane is just as important as anything they pack in their suitcases,” Oliver Schusser, vice president of Apple Music, said in a statement. “With the addition of Apple Music on American flights, we are excited that customers can now enjoy their music in even more places. Subscribers can stream all their favorite songs and artists in the air, and continue to listen to their personal library offline, giving them everything they need to truly sit back, relax and enjoy their flight.”

      The free in-flight Apple Music offer will be available to passengers on all of the airline’s domestic flights beginning February 1.

      Improving in-flight entertainment

      The new deal with Apple is part of American’s larger goal to roll out more in-flight entertainment options to passengers, the company said.

      American has added new shows, movies, and free live TV (which includes Sunday’s Super Bowl). The airline is also equipping its planes with high-speed internet and power outlets at passenger seats.

      “Our guests want to make the most of their time when flying us. That’s why we’re investing in faster Wi-Fi, a variety of entertainment options, and why we’re so excited to introduce Apple Music to more of our customers,” said Janelle Anderson, American’s VP of Global Marketing.

      “Providing customers with more ways to stay connected throughout each flight is one way to show we value their business and the time they spend with us.”

      Apple Music and American Airlines (AA) have reached a deal that will give passengers on any AA flight in the U.S. the ability to stream more than 50 millio...
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      Public transportation could affect obesity rates

      Utilizing buses and trains requires consumers to be more active in their day-to-day lives

      Public transportation is a part of many consumers’ daily routine, serving as a convenient way to get from place to place. However, many consumers probably never considered the health implications of utilizing public transportation.

      Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Georgia Tech recently conducted a study and found that when more people utilize public transportation, obesity rates are lowered.

      “Opting for mass transit over driving creates opportunities for exercise that may otherwise not exist,” said researcher Sheldon H. Jacobson. “Instead of just stepping out of the house and into his car, riders need to walk from their home to a bus stop and from their stop to a destination.”

      More exercise

      To see how public transportation affects consumers’ health, the researchers utilized census, transportation, and health records from over 220 counties across 45 states from 2001 through 2009.

      To get the most accurate results, the researchers accounted for certain factors, including public transit funding, household income, healthcare coverage, and leisure-time exercise. The researchers’ biggest takeaway was that obesity rates go down when more people are using public transit instead of driving.

      The study showed that obesity rates went down nearly 0.5 percent when public transit riders increased by just one percentage point. The researchers do note some limitations to their study, including the results reflecting counties rather than individual people.

      “The results indicate that when more people opt to use public transit, the county-level obesity rate tends to drop, though it does not necessarily imply that any one particular person is less likely to be obese if they ride transit frequently,” Jacobson said.

      Additionally, because the data was taken from ten to 20 years ago, there was no way for the researchers to factor in how rideshare services like Uber or Lyft would affect consumers’ health. However, the researchers are interested to see how technology will continue to shape how we get around and how it affects our bodies.

      “Our research suggests that investing in public transit can provide more efficient transportation options that not only help the environment, but may also offer public health benefits,” said Jacobson.

      Consistent findings

      The researchers based their work off of a previous study, in which they found that increasing the use of mass transit could reduce obesity by 0.2 percent.

      “The new work takes a longitudinal approach, meaning that we examined differences between 2001 and 2009, allowing us to better control for factors that could otherwise influence the analysis,” said researcher Douglas M. King. “For example, factors like weather or physical geography that can influence the obesity rate of a county in both 2009 and 2011 are controlled since their impact is present in both time periods.”

      Public transportation is a part of many consumers’ daily routine, serving as a convenient way to get from place to place. However, many consumers probably...
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      Researchers call for more sustainable materials in protective clothing

      The study reveals the harm behind fluorochemicals

      Researchers from the University of Leeds are calling for dangerous fluorochemicals to be phased out of consumers’ waterproof and protective clothing.

      According to the researchers, more eco-friendly options are available, especially for waterproofing purposes. However, clothing worn by emergency personnel and paramedics needs to be protected by more than just water.

      “Environmentally-friendly and biodegradable solutions are available, but are being resisted by some manufacturers and retailers,” said Dr. Richard Blackburn, head of the Sustainable Materials Research Group at the University of Leeds’ School of Design.

      “Non-fluorinated alternatives are a viable option in all cases where stain repellency is not an essential function. These alternatives provide excellent rain protection, and there are long-term ecological benefits from phasing out the highly fluorinated chemicals.”

      Finding what works

      While the researchers’ work showed that the majority of consumers are only looking for their clothes to be waterproof -- and not stain resistant -- making it possible to switch to more eco-friendly choices, medical professionals and military personnel rely on the fluorochemical repellents to stay free of stains, infections, and chemicals.

      In an effort to be more innovative with sustainable alternatives, researcher Philippa Hill created a new testing method that allowed her to test various waterproof finishes and their effectiveness in protecting wearers against various liquids and stains.

      “Currently, only non-fluorinated chemicals can provide the high levels of protection needed from other types of liquids, such as oils, chemicals, and bodily fluids, so there is a major opportunity for future innovation in that area,” Hill said.

      The researchers tested regular household items -- like orange juice, water, olive oil, and red wine -- and then moved on to more field-specific items, like cough medicine, synthetic gastric fluid, and blood.

      The experiment showed that non-fluorinated repellents didn’t work for gastric fluids or any oil-based stains, but they showed some promise with the cough medicine and blood and were very successful with the red wine and orange juice.

      The researchers want the clothing and textile industry to understand how harmful fluorochemicals are to the environment, as they are major contributors to pollution, and strive to utilize sustainable materials in the future.

      “We want to help textile producers and retailers to develop better garments that also have minimal environmental impact,” said researcher Ian Cousins. “It is important to look into the necessary functionality and durability, otherwise people won’t buy the greener alternatives.”

      Money could be at stake

      While many corporations have decided to go green with various sustainable initiatives, a recent study found that not going green could affect some companies’ bottom lines down the road.

      Researchers found that if companies -- particularly those that produce the highest levels of carbon emissions -- don’t try to reduce their carbon footprint, the stock market could start to dip in less than 10 years.

      “It is of the best interest of the companies in the financial, insurance, and pension industries to price this carbon risk correctly in their asset allocations,” said researcher Tony Wirjanto. “Companies have to take climate change into consideration to build an optimal and sustainable portfolio in the long run under the climate change risk.”

      Researchers from the University of Leeds are calling for dangerous fluorochemicals to be phased out of consumers’ waterproof and protective clothing.Ac...
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      Crisp & Delicious brand chicken breast nuggets recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Sofina Foods is recalling Crisp & Delicious brand Chicken Breast Nuggets that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      An outbreak of human illness is currently under investigation.

      The following product, sold in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and possibly throughout Canada, is being recalled:

      Affected products
      Brand nameCommon nameSizeCode(s) on productUPC
      Crisp & DeliciousChicken Breast Nuggets – Uncooked Seasoned Breaded Chicken Cutlettes1.6 kg2019 JL 190 69299 11703 5

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact Sofina Foods at (855) 763-4621.

      Sofina Foods is recalling Crisp & Delicious brand Chicken Breast Nuggets that may be contaminated with Salmonella.An outbreak of human illness is curre...
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      Tyson Foods recalls chicken nuggets

      The products may be contaminated with pieces of rubber

      Tyson Foods of Sedalia, Mo., is recalling approximately 36,420 pounds of chicken nuggets.

      The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials -- specifically pieces of rubber.

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

      The following item, produced on November 26, 2018, is being recalled:

      • 5-lb. plastic packages of “Tyson WHITE MEAT PANKO CHICKEN NUGGETS” with a “BEST IF USED BY” date of “NOV 26 2019,” case code “3308SDL03” and time stamps 23:00 through 01:59 (inclusive).

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “P-13556” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to retail locations nationwide.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Tyson consumer relations at (888) 747-7611.

      Tyson Foods of Sedalia, Mo., is recalling approximately 36,420 pounds of chicken nuggets.The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials --...
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      Facebook turns 'Data Privacy Day' into an opportunity to improve its perception

      The social media platform has a long way to go, but it plans on making 2019 the best it can be

      Not that Hallmark has made a big deal out of it -- and your office probably didn’t throw a party to celebrate -- but Monday was “Data Privacy Day,” a real thing powered by the National Cyber Security Alliance.

      Out of the digital deliverers that participated, Facebook took the greatest advantage of the opportunity by putting its game face on and unveiling a new Privacy and Data Use Business Hub.

      If you collect it, protect it

      The new hub is built around resources businesses can use to guarantee that whatever they do on the Facebook platform is up to snuff and protects users’ privacy.

      Taking a cue from the Security Alliance’s mantras, Facebook gets as granular as possible in the transparency of its new self-imposed guidelines, all the way down to the code used in a macro process like when a business’ app is launched.

      “We believe that when people see an ad on Facebook it should be clear who it’s coming from,” the company wrote in its overview of the new hub.

      And trying to avoid gaffes like the one it made with Cambridge Analytica, Facebook says that ads related to politics will have to go through a stringent process before they are approved.

      “Before we authorize advertisers to run ads related to politics they must complete ad authorization and provide proof of ID and residency. Confirming the identity and residency of each person who creates ads that relate to politics helps us ensure authentic advertising and prevent foreign election interference,” the platform said.

      Time to double-check your privacy settings

      In addition to a reset of how Facebook’s advertisers need to honor users’ privacy settings, the company also sent out invitations to its flock to take part in a Privacy Checkup.

      It appears Facebook wants its members to know they can’t just assume their personal data is safe and is asking them to take an active role in what’s shared or collected.

      For example, did you know you can change your audience each time you post? That you may have made things like your hometown or birth date available to the whole world? Or that Facebook keeps tabs on how you may have logged into its platform through other websites, like ESPN?

      Yes to all of those -- and more -- all under the consumer’s control and reviewable in the privacy checkup.

      2019 is going to be interesting

      While “data privacy” and “Facebook” haven’t exactly been a matched pair in the last year, the company seems attentive to turn that around in 2019. It’s likely banking on its advertiser base to do its part by following the new guidelines.

      “Facebook is setting a higher bar for transparency of advertising related to politics and issues of national importance. We've already imposed new labeling and disclaimer requirements in the U.S., U.K., Brazil, and India, and we'll continue to roll out these changes globally through 2019,” the company said.

      The consumer is part of Facebook’s annual plan, too. “This year we’ll do more to explain how Facebook uses people’s data and provide people with more transparency and control,” wrote Erin Egan, Chief Privacy Officer, Policy, in a blog post. “In the coming months we will launch Clear History, a new control to let you see the information we get about your activity on other apps and websites, and disconnect that information from your account.”

      Also high on Facebook’s 2019 to-do list has to be getting compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

      Both of those new safeguards give consumers enormous control over their personal data, and getting out of line can cost a company some serious money. Google recently found out just how serious when the French privacy watchdog CNIL (Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés) fined the company 50 million Euro for violating the GDPR.

      Apple’s unfortunately timed privacy snafu

      The United States doesn’t have a data privacy law that blankets the entire country… yet. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, is shouting from the rooftops about the crisis of data collection, and he is on record saying Apple would fully support the introduction of a “comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States.”

      However, Data Privacy Day threw the kind of surprise party Apple would like to forget. Just as Cook tweeted “On this #DataPrivacyDay let us all insist on action and reform for vital privacy protections,” reports surfaced that Apple iPhones were causing the company some unexpected anxiety. When users make calls on the FaceTime app, they can hear the person on the other line before the recipient has agreed to accept the call.

      You can imagine that Apple was anything but pleased with the news. As consumers began sounding alarms about the eavesdropping bug, an Apple spokesman told reporters that “we’re aware of this issue and we have identified a fix that will be released in a software update later this week.”

      Not that Hallmark has made a big deal out of it -- and your office probably didn’t throw a party to celebrate -- but Monday was “Data Privacy Day,” a real...
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      Apple promises to fix eavesdropping FaceTime bug sometime later this week

      A bug in the app allows callers to hear and see people who did not accept calls

      People who own iPhones have noticed a disturbing phenomenon. When they make calls on the FaceTime app, they can hear the person on the other line before the recipient has agreed to accept the call.

      And if the recipient tries to block the call or turn off the device, their video camera automatically turns on, unbeknownst to the person being recorded.  A video is then sent back to the caller.

      The discovery wasn’t made by a security research firm, but by iPhone users who caught the flaw and posted videos on social media to demonstrate how it works. The Apple news site 9to5mac.com then successfully recreated the bug using two iPhones that run on Apple’s 12.1 operating systems.

      “The damage potential here is real. You can listen in to soundbites of any iPhone user’s ongoing conversation without them ever knowing that you could hear them,” the publication wrote on Monday. “Until Apple fixes the bug, it’s not clear how to defend yourself against this attack either aside from disabling FaceTime altogether.”

      Issues surfaces on Data Privacy Day

      The discovery came on January 28, the same date as Data Privacy Day, a holiday created by tech industry giants to celebrate privacy. Or the idea of privacy, anyway.  

      “On this #DataPrivacyDay let us all insist on action and reform for vital privacy protections,” Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted on Monday, in celebration of the holiday.

      In practice, Apple seems not particularly excited about tackling this privacy issue. As consumers began sounding alarms about the eavesdropping bug, an Apple spokesman told reporters that “we’re aware of this issue and we have identified a fix that will be released in a software update later this week.”

      With no specific date provided by Apple as to when the problem will be fixed, Apple experts and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have urged people to disable their FaceTime app to avoid being unknowingly recorded by people on the other line.

      "The FaceTime bug is an egregious breach of privacy that puts New Yorkers at risk," Cuomo said in a statement.

      As of Monday evening, Apple appeared to disable the group chatting feature on FaceTime.

      People who own iPhones have noticed a disturbing phenomenon. When they make calls on the FaceTime app, they can hear the person on the other line before th...
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      U.S. House Committees to hold hearing to discuss T-Mobile/Sprint merger

      Both of the companies’ CEOs are set to testify at a joint hearing in February

      On Wednesday, February 13, two U.S. House panels will hold a joint hearing to discuss the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint.

      The hearing will “examine the merger’s potential impacts on consumers, workers and the wireless industry,” the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Judiciary Committee said in a press release.  

      T-Mobile CEO John Legere and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure are both set to testify at the hearing.

      “A merger between T-Mobile and Sprint would combine two of the four largest wireless carriers and the carriers with the largest numbers of low-income customers,” the Committees said in a joint statement.

      “As the Committees with oversight of the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice, we must hold this hearing to examine the effects on important issues like jobs, costs to consumers, innovation and competition,” said Pallone, Nadler, Doyle and Cicilline.  “We look forward to examining this merger from the perspective of what is in the best interest of consumers and hardworking people.”

      Despite approval, opposition remains

      Last month, the Sprint and T-Mobile merger was granted approval from U.S. national security officials. The news came just days after a number of parties announced their opposition to the merger.

      Critics of the deal say it would reduce competition, cost thousands of jobs, and lead to higher prices for consumers. T-Mobile and Sprint have argued that joining forces is necessary to introduce 5G services.

      “I am looking forward to sharing the benefits of the T-Mobile / Sprint merger with the House Commerce and Judiciary Committees on 2/13,” T-Mobile CEO John Legere said. “It’s a great opportunity to explain why it’s good for consumers, good for competition and good for the country.”

      Before T-Mobile’s $26 million takeover of Sprint can take place, the deal must be approved by the FCC and DOJ.

      On Wednesday, February 13, two U.S. House panels will hold a joint hearing to discuss the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint.The hearing will “exam...
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      AAP calls for stronger laws to restrict youth access to e-cigarettes

      The group says the rise in teen vaping ‘threatens five decades of public health gains’

      The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has called for the creation and implementation of new federal regulations that could help lower the rate of vaping among minors.

      Citing its own data, the AAP pointed out that e-cigarette use among teens has jumped 75 percent since 2017. The group said that 20 percent of high school students and 5 percent of middle school students used e-cigarettes last year.  

      “E-cigarettes are marketed to youths by promoting the products’ sweet and fruity flavors via media channels and advertising strategies used successfully by the tobacco industry to market conventional tobacco products to youths,” the AAP said in a new policy statement.

      Combating the rise in teen vaping

      To address what the FDA has declared an “epidemic” affecting young people, the AAP called for action on the part of federal regulators. On Monday, the organization called for new federal regulations, including:

      • Setting a minimum age of 21 to buy the products;

      • Banning online sales and youth-targeted marketing; and

      • Stopping production of certain flavored e-cigarette products.

      "Nicotine is highly addictive, and we know that the earlier that someone uses nicotine products in childhood, the more difficult it is to quit later," said Dr. Brian Jenssen, lead author of the new policy statement.

      Earlier this month, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb expressed similar concerns regarding the rise in teen vaping. Gottlieb warned that if e-cigarette makers fail to take sufficient measures to counter the teen vaping epidemic, e-cigarette products could be wiped from the market entirely.

      “I still believe e-cigs offer an opportunity for currently addicted adult smokers to transition off cigarettes and onto products that may not have the same level of risks,” Gottlieb said. “But if youth use continues to rise, the entire category faces an existential threat.”

      The AAP warned in its latest policy statement that the increasing use of e-cigarettes among minors “threatens five decades of public health gains.”

      The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has called for the creation and implementation of new federal regulations that could help lower the rate of vaping...
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      Perdue Foods recalls Fun Shapes Chicken Breast Nuggets

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

      Perdue Foods of Bridgewater, Va., is recalling approximately 16,011 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken nuggets.

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

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

      The following item, produced on January 10, 2019, is being recalled:

      • 12-oz. packages of “PERDUE Fun Shapes Chicken Breast Nuggets” with a “USE BY” date of “MAR 11 2019” and lot codes 17009010 – 19009010.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “P-369” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to retail locations in Connecticut, Delaware, Washington, DC, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

      What to do

      Consumers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but discard it or returned it the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Perdue consumer care at (866) 866-3703.

      Perdue Foods of Bridgewater, Va., is recalling approximately 16,011 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken nuggets.The product contains milk, an allergen not d...
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      Mrs. Grissom’s Salads recalls Old Fashioned Pimento Cheese

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

      Mrs. Grissom’s Salads is recalling a single days production of Mrs. Grissom’s Old Fashioned Pimento Cheese dated MAR 13 2019.

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

      While the correct Pimento Cheese label was on top lid, there may be a Mrs. Grissom’s SELECT Cranberry Pecan Chicken Salad label on the container.

      There have been no reports of allergic reactions or illness associated with this product.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product and are allergic to milk, or who are unsure they are allergic to milk, should not consume it.

      Consumers requesting a refund or with questions may contact Mrs. Grissom’s consumer services at (615) 255-4137

      Mrs. Grissom’s Salads is recalling a single days production of Mrs. Grissom’s Old Fashioned Pimento Cheese dated MAR 13 2019.The product may contain mi...
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      Thrive Market brand nut butters recalled

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Thrive Market is recalling unexpired lots of various Thrive Market-branded nut butters.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      The following products, sold nationwide via Thrive Market’s ecommerce subscription service to its members, as well as other online retailers, are being recalled:


      Product Name
      SizeSKU/UPCLot Numbers
      Thrive Market Organic Creamy 
      Almond Butter
      16 oz671635704757All unexpired 
      Lots
      Thrive Market Non-GMO 
      Creamy Almond Butter
      16 oz671635704733All unexpired 
      Lots
      Thrive Market Organic Crunchy 
      Almond Butter
      16 oz671635704764All unexpired 
      Lots
      Thrive Market Non-GMO 
      Crunchy Almond Butter
      16 oz.671635704740All unexpired 
      Lots
      Thrive Market Organic Crunchy 
      Peanut Butter
      16 oz.671635704788All unexpired 
      Lots
      Thrive Market Organic Creamy 
      Peanut Butter
      16 oz.671635704771All unexpired 
      Lots
      Thrive Market Sesame Tahini16 oz.671635704795All unexpired 
      Lots
      Thrive Market Creamy Cashew 
      Butter
      16 oz.671635704801All unexpired 
      Lots
      Thrive Market Organic Coconut 
      Butter
      16 oz.671635704818All unexpired 
      Lots
      Thrive Market Sunflower Butter16 oz.671635704825All unexpired 
      Lots

      The “Best By” date and lot code can be found on the jar above or below the label.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should discard them.

      Consumers with questions may visit the firm's Recall Information FAQ webpage or contact the member services team by email at help@thrivemarket.com\.

      Thrive Market is recalling unexpired lots of various Thrive Market-branded nut butters.The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes....
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      Jac. Vandenberg recalls fresh peaches, nectarines and plums

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Jac. Vandenberg, Inc., of Yonkers, N.Y., is recalling 1,727 cartons of fresh peaches, 1,207 cartons of fresh nectarines and 365 cartons of fresh plums.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The following products, sold through small retail establishments and select retail stores, are being recalled:

      Retail StoresStatesProduct
      ALDIAlabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, VirginiaNectarines, Peaches, Plums
      CostcoCaliforniaNectarines
      Fairway MarketNew YorkNectarines, Peaches
      HannafordMainePeaches
      Market BasketMassachusettsNectarines, Peaches
      WalmartKentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West VirginiaNectarines (MD, NJ, NY, PA, VA, WV), Peaches (KY, NJ, NY, OH, PA, WV)

      The peaches and nectarines are sold as a bulk retail produce item with PLU sticker (PLU# 4044, 3035, 4378) showing Chile as the country of origin. The peaches, nectarines and plums sold at ALDI are packaged in a 2-lb., bag with the brand Rio Duero, EAN# 7804650090281, 7804650090298, 7804650090304. The nectarines sold at Costco are packaged in a 4-lb., plastic clamshell with the brand Rio Duero, EAN# 7804650090212.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (914) 964-5900 or by email ast compliance@jacvandenberg.com.

      Jac. Vandenberg, Inc., of Yonkers, N.Y., is recalling 1,727 cartons of fresh peaches, 1,207 cartons of fresh nectarines and 365 cartons of fresh plums....
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      Whole Foods recalls foods containing baby spinach

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Whole Foods Market is recalling various prepared foods items in eight states containing baby spinach following an earlier recall by Satur Farms.

      The products, which were sold through January 23, 2019, may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported at this time.

      The following products, labeled with a Whole Foods Market scale label, are being recalled:

      Product

      Product Code 

      begins with)

      Sell by

      Affected

      States

      Chicken

      Florentine

      Panini

      02652491.26.19

      CT, MA

      ME, NH, RI

      Golden Beet

      & Tangerine Salad

      02766511.26.19

      CT, MA

      ME, NH, RI

      Locavore Cheese

      Steak Wrap

      02888331.26.19

      CT, MA

      ME, NH, RI

      Mediterranean

      Stuffed Salmon

      02766401.26.19

      CT, MA

      ME, NH, RI

      Quinoa with Dark

      Leafy Greens

      02766521.26.19

      CT, MA

      ME, NH, RI

      Roasted

      Vegetables

      Panini

      02866681.26.19

      CT, MA

      ME, NH, RI

      Salad Spring

      Berry Power

      02617021.26.19

      CT, MA

      ME, NH, RI

      Smoked Turkey with

      Apple & Cheddar

      Sandwich

      02894361.26.19

      CT, MA

      ME, NH, RI

      Spinach and Vegetable

      Quinoa Salad

      02874101.26.19

      CT, MA

      ME, NH, RI

      Spinach Ravioli Salad with

      Lemon, Tomato

      and Parmesan CC

      02622161.26.19

      CT, MA

      ME, NH, RI

      Strawberry Balsamic

      Quinoa CC

      02262151.26.19

      CT, MA

      ME, NH, RI

      Tofu Shawarma

      Wrap

      02259381/26/2019

      CT, MA

      ME, NH, RI

      Turkey Avocado Sandwich

      (Turkado Sandwich)

      02685061.26.19

      CT, MA

      ME, NH, RI

      Turkey with Spinach

      & Feta Sandwich

      02781311.26.19

      CT, MA

      ME, NH, RI

      Vegan Spinach Almond

      Ricotta Pizza

      02899271.26.19

      CT, MA

      ME, NH, RI

      Chicken Cordon

      Blue Panini

      02364891.26.19

      CT

      NJ, NY

      New England Cranberry

      Turkey Sandwich

      02365431.26.19

      CT

      NJ, NY

      Paleo Mediterranean

      Tuna Salad

      02787861.26.19

      CT

      NJ, NY

      Spinach, Sauteed

      with Garlic CC

      02622081.26.19

      CT

      NJ, NY

      Avocado Dragon

      Ball Bowl

      02399991.26.19FL

      Bistro Pasta

      Salad

      02702651.26.19FL

      Breakfast Sandwich

      Platter

      02890621.26.19FL

      Chicken Enchiladas

      Dinner

      02680151.26.19FL

      Cilantro & Lime

      Chicken Burrito

      02708781.26.19FL

      Coconut Kiwi

      Butter Bowl

      02514131.26.19FL

      Egg White &

      Spinach Breakfast

      02769831.26.19FL

      Egg White

      Burrito

      02768291.26.19FL

      Eggplant

      Rolantini

      02708711.26.19FL

      Focaccia Vegetable

      Pesto Sandwich

      02606461.26.19FL

      Goat Cheese Salad With

      Mandarin Orange &

      Candied Cashews

      02726811.26.19FL

      I Yam What

      I Yam Bowl

      02519861.26.19FL

      Large Brasserie

      Cheese Goat Salad

      02726801.26.19FL

      Large Goat

      Cheese Green Salad

      02891431.26.19FL

      Large Spinach

      & Mushroom Salad

      02720611.26.19FL

      Maple Glazed

      Acorn Squash

      02840711.26.19FL

      Mesclun Mix With

      Candied Pecans

      & Sun Dried Cranberries

      02720931.26.19FL

      Mesclun Mix With

      Candied Pecans

      & SunDried Cranberries

      02727881.26.19FL

      Mustard

      Crusted

      Salmon

      02713281.28.19FL

      My Big Fat

      Greek Pizza

      02706631.26.19FL

      Orange Lentil V

      egetable Egg Bowl

      02516251.27.19FL

      Pizza Il

      Mediterraneo 

      02292501.24.19FL

      Salad Golden

      Beets Tangerine 

      02710781.26.19FL

      Sandwich Baguette

      Chicken Saltimbocca

      02379291.26.19FL

      Sandwich Baguette

      Turkey Brie 

      02379331.26.19FL

      Sandwich Ham

      Olive Sliced 

      02363981.27.19FL

      Serbian Ajvar

      Vegetable Club

      02200411.26.19FL

      Small Spinach

      & Mushroom Salad

      02727931.27.19FL

      Smoked

      Mozzarella

      Pasta

      02250811.28.19FL

      Spinach Artichoke

      Bleus Pizza

      02713881.26.19FL

      Spinach

      Gorgonzola Salad

      02679821.26.19FL

      Spinach Strawberry

      Goat Cheese Salad

      02601361.28.19FL

      Spinach Walnut

      Bleus Pizza

      02713311.26.19FL

      Vegetable Pesto

      Focaccia

      02449521.26.19FL

      Vegetable Pesto

      Focaccia Sandwich

      02449531.27.19FL

      Watermelon Garbanzo

      Vegetable Bowl

      02519681.27.19FL

      The recalled products were sold at stores in Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should discard them and bring a valid receipt into stores for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may call (844) 936-8255 between from 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. (CST) Monday through Friday, or 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

      Whole Foods Market is recalling various prepared foods items in eight states containing baby spinach following an earlier recall by Satur Farms.The pro...
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      Aviation unions express alarm at effect of the government shutdown

      Joint statement warns air safety ‘deteriorating by the day’

      Without taking sides in the standoff, the unions representing various parts of the commercial aviation industry have called on the White House and Congressional Democrats to end the government shutdown, warning that safety in the air is “deteriorating by the day.”

      In a joint statement to leaders in Washington and the traveling public, the unions warned that the human and economic consequences of the government shutdown are increasing and causing greater harm.

      The statement was released by the unions representing air traffic controllers, pilots, and flight attendants. It noted that the impact of the shutdown is being felt most severely within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

      “Most of the FAA staff who certify the safety of aircraft have been furloughed and safety reporting and oversight systems have been suspended,” the union leaders wrote. “This is critical to resolving identified issues.”

      Previous statements from the groups also pointed out that air traffic controller training has been suspended, slowing the integration of new employees into the system. Meanwhile, the current staff of air traffic controllers are performing vital and highly-sensitive safety functions without pay.

      Training suspended

      Training has also been suspended for new pilots, and the FAA is also unable to issue certifications required for current pilots to upgrade their status.

      The union leaders are also concerned about the impact on security, noting that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents aren’t being paid, prompting some to look for other jobs.

      “The situation is changing at a rapid pace. Major airports are already seeing security checkpoint closures, with many more potentially to follow. Safety inspectors and federal cybersecurity staff are not back on the job at pre-shutdown levels, and those not on furlough are working without pay.

      In a sobering statement, the union leaders say that can’t even calculate the level of risk currently at play, “nor predict the point at which the entire system will break.”

      Economic impact

      In addition to safety concerns, the government is also having an economic impact on the nation’s airlines that depend on government employee and contractor travel, both of which have been suspended during the shutdown.

      Earlier this month, Delta Airlines predicted that the loss of government business would reduce revenue by at least $25 million during January. This week Southwest Airlines reported that the ongoing shutdown has cost an estimated $10 million to $15 million in lost revenue during  January.

      Southwest executives also confirmed that plans to expand service to Hawaii are on hold due to a lack of available FAA personnel. The Dallas-based airline had planned to start Hawaii service early this year.

      Without taking sides in the standoff, the unions representing various parts of the commercial aviation industry have called on the White House and Congress...
      Read lessRead more

      Another year, another go for MoviePass

      The company is attempting to go back to its original model to win back subscribers

      Here we go again…

      MoviePass is attempting to revitalize itself for the umpteenth time. Since ConsumerAffairs started writing about the subscription service’s woes, we’ve seen a myriad of changes ranging from subscription plans to a fraud investigation to taking out a $5 million emergency loan to keep the wolf away from its door.

      On Thursday, the company decided to return to the core of its original model.

      Here’s the deal

      Through all its ups and downs, the company firmly believes that it’s found a way to, at minimum, break even. And breaking even is a lot better that throwing in the towel, so -- for now -- here’s MoviePass’ new 3-tiered subscription plans:

      • Select: Choose from a selection of available 2D movies in the app. The available movies are published weekly. See up to three movies per month. Prices vary by zip code -- ConsumerAffairs saw a range from $9.95 to $14.95 per month.

      • All-Access: Choose from ALL 2D movies in MoviePass’ theater network. See up to three movies a month. Prices vary by zip code -- ConsumerAffairs saw a range from $14.95 to $19.95 per month.

      • Red Carpet: Choose from ALL movies in MoviePass’ theater network -- with IMAX and REAL D 3D movies included. See up to three movies per month. Prices vary by zip code -- ConsumerAffairs saw a range of $19.95 to $24.95 per month.

      MoviePass claims that it’s beginning to win back subscribers and is feeling a much better vibe than it had in the last year.

      “I feel like we’re turning a corner,” Khalid Itum, executive VP of MoviePass, told Variety. Itum also let the cat out of the bag that, coming next week, there’s “some sort of unlimited program” that will give subscribers the clearance to see all the movies they want.

      Here we go again…MoviePass is attempting to revitalize itself for the umpteenth time. Since ConsumerAffairs started writing about the subscription serv...
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      Millions of loan, mortgage documents exposed online

      A security researcher discovered two troves of leaking data

      Earlier this month, independent security researcher Bob Diachenko discovered that more than 24 million loan and mortgage documents had been exposed in a data breach involving Ascension, a Texas-based data and analytics company.

      The documents came from major financial institutions such as Citigroup, HSBC, Wells Fargo, and Capital One, as well as the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

      “These documents contained highly sensitive data, such as social security numbers, names, phones, addresses, credit history, and other details which are usually part of a mortgage or credit report,” Diachenko said.

      He described the exposed information as “a gold mine for cyber criminals who would have everything they need to steal identities, file false tax returns, get loans or credit cards.”

      Second leak

      Just days after the initial discovery, Diachenko revealed that he found another cluster of data in a separate exposed Amazon S3 storage server, according to a TechCrunch report. Neither trove of data was protected with a password.

      The security researcher told reporters that he was “very surprised” to find the server. Diachenko said the discovery was particularly alarming since Amazon storage servers are set to private by default, meaning someone had to make its permissions public.

      A spokesperson for Ascension’s parent company, Rocktop Partners, said its systems were not impacted and confirmed that the database was shut down on January 15. The company said one of its vendors, New York-based OpticsML, had mishandled the data and was to blame for the data leak.

      “We are working with the appropriate authorities and a forensic team to analyze the full extent of the situation regarding the exposed Elasticsearch server,” said OpticsML chief technology officer John Brozena. “As part of this investigation we learned that 21 documents used for testing were made identifiable by the previously discussed Elasticsearch leak. These documents were taken offline promptly.”

      OpticsML is “working to notify all affected parties,” Brozenza said.

      Diachenko noted that it’s still not known how long the bucket was open and why it was set to public in the first place.

      Earlier this month, independent security researcher Bob Diachenko discovered that more than 24 million loan and mortgage documents had been exposed in a da...
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      Gasoline prices have begun to creep higher

      But a surge in supply may keep further price increases in check

      As predicted, gasoline prices have begun to rise. However, they remain lower than they were a month ago and are considerably cheaper than a year ago.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gasoline is $2.27 a gallon, up three cents from last Friday. That price is 29 cents less than at this time in 2018. The average price of premium gas is $2.85 a gallon, two cents higher than a week ago. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.92, the same as last week.

      Prices may continue climbing in the weeks ahead, but the rise may turn out to be slower than usual. The latest report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows gasoline demand rose by 200,000 barrels in the last week. While that would normally push prices higher, the same report shows U.S. stockpiles of gasoline actually grew during the week.

      In fact, gasoline supplies swelled by 4 million barrels, the biggest increase since EIA began keeping records in 1990.

      “Increased levels of gasoline stocks could help to meet rising demand, which means the impact to pump prices could be modest,” AAA said in its latest market update.

      Lower oil prices

      Also helping consumers is the fear of a global economic slowdown, which has weighed down oil prices. Refineries don’t have to pay as much for crude oil, and that tends to keep prices lower.

      As we saw last week, prices continue to slide in the states with the most expensive gas, but they are rising in states where fuel is normally the cheapest. Only two states, Hawaii and California, have average gas prices above $3 a gallon.

      Ohio, meanwhile, fell out of the top 10 states with the cheapest gas with an 18 cent a gallon one week surge in its statewide average price.

      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 ($3.26)

      • California ($3.26)

      • Washington ($2.93)

      • Alaska ($2.90)

      • Nevada ($2.87)

      • Oregon ($2.82)

      • Arizona ($2.53)

      • Connecticut ($2.52)

      • New York ($2.52)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.49)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The survey found these states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas:

      • Missouri ($1.90)

      • Oklahoma ($1.95)

      • Mississippi ($1.97)

      • Alabama ($1.98)

      • Kansas ($1.98)

      • Texas ($1.99)

      • Louisiana ($1.99)

      • South Carolina ($2.00)

      • Virginia ($2.06)

      • Tennessee ($2.06)

      As predicted, gasoline prices have begun to rise. However, they remain lower than they were a month ago and are considerably cheaper than a year ago.Th...
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      Kubota recalls zero turn mowers, compact tractors and ride on mowers

      The coolant reserve tank cap may be blocked

      Kubota Tractor Corporation of Grapevine, Texas, is recalling about 121,000 model year 2014 to 2018 Kubota ZD, ZG, BX, GR diesel and gasoline powered zero turn mowers, compact tractors and ride on mowers.

      The coolant reserve tank cap may be blocked; in the event of an overheat condition coolant can be expelled.

      The company has received two reports (with a possible third) of if injuries from expelled coolant.

      The recalled units come in orange and black, with the model number on the side of the unit and on the data plate on the side of the unit. The serial number is also on the data plate. 

      The lawn equipment, manufactured in the U.S., was sold at authorized Kubota dealers nationwide from 2014 – 2018 for between approximately $5,000 and $35,000.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled units. Customers will be sent a replacement cap and may in the interim take the unit to an authorized dealer for a repair of the cap at no charge.

      Consumers may contact Kubota at (888) 4KUBOTA from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. (CT), Monday through Friday or by email at https://www.kubotausa.com/contact/form.

      Kubota Tractor Corporation of Grapevine, Texas, is recalling about 121,000 model year 2014 to 2018 Kubota ZD, ZG, BX, GR diesel and gasoline powered zero t...
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      Satur Farms recalls Baby Spinach and Mesclun

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Satur Farms of Cutchogue, N.Y., is recalling Baby Spinach and Mesclun that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There have been no reported illnesses.

      The following product lot numbers, sold at retail stores in New York and Florida, are being recalled:

      • Spinach Lot #18494
      • Spinach Lot #18513
      • Mesclun Lot #18520

      The retail product is packed in plastic 5-oz., 10- oz., and 16-oz. plastic clamshell containers with the Satur Farms brand name.

      The Food service product is packed in 2-1/2 lbs, 3#, 4#, 4 x 2.5#, 4 x 3# sealed poly bags.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact Paulette Satur at (631) 734-4219.

      Satur Farms of Cutchogue, N.Y., is recalling Baby Spinach and Mesclun that may be contaminated with Salmonella.There have been no reported illnesses....
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      Partial government shutdown affecting Southwest Airlines

      Furloughed federal workers have caused revenue loss for airlines

      The partial government shutdown, which began December 22, has taken a financial toll on Southwest Airlines. The company revealed on Thursday that the ongoing shutdown has cost an estimated $10 million to $15 million in lost revenue during the month of January.

      Southwest executives confirmed that the process of expanding service to Hawaii is on hold due to the fact that Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) workers that oversee the process of approving Hawaii service expansion were furloughed during the shutdown.

      The Dallas-based airline had planned to start Hawaii service early this year.

      “Our remaining work is currently suspended until the government reopens and the FAA is allowed to resume normal certification activities,” Southwest said in its earnings release. "We are anxious for the government to resolve this shutdown so we can bring low fares and a boost to Hawaii's travel and tourism industry.”

      Impact on airline industry

      The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said the rate of worker absences hit 10 percent on Sunday. On the same Sunday last year, the rate was just 3.1 percent.

      "Many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations,” the TSA stated. In a CNBC interview, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly warned that the shutdown is having a big impact on aviation workers.

      "In our business, at least, we deal with the government in a very intimate way... my hat is off to all the federal workers that are showing up. They are heroic. They shouldn't have to put up with this," Kelly said.

      Southwest’s estimated revenue loss is lower than estimates put out by Delta Air Lines. Last week, Delta said it has likely lost about $25 million during the month of January.

      The partial government shutdown, which began December 22, has taken a financial toll on Southwest Airlines. The company revealed on Thursday that the ongoi...
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      Walmart sweetens the pot for its truck drivers

      The mega-retailer is hiring hundreds of new truck drivers thanks to its best sales in a decade

      On average, truck drivers take home a nice check. In 2017, truck drivers in the United States earned 56 cents a mile, $21.97 an hour, or $44,500 a year, significantly better than recent minimum wage initiatives.

      If a truck driver is lucky enough to be one of the 8,000 that carry loads for Walmart, they’re taking home a wow-worthy $86,000 in his or her first year. Now, Walmart’s truckers’ deal is about to get a lot sweeter.

      On Wednesday, Walmart announced that its fleet drivers will get a penny more a mile plus an extra $1 each time they drop off their trailer at a designated location. Drivers in the Northeast are on tap to get a 5 percent raise on both mileage and other trucking activities.

      If you’re scoffing at that penny raise, don’t; that’s because it adds up to about an extra $1,500 a year. And, while you’re at it, tack on perks of 21 days of paid time off and quarterly bonuses.

      Walmart can afford this

      One thing you have to keep in mind is that Walmart is upping its investment in self-driving trucks which, if successful, could save the company millions. CleanTechnica reported that fuel savings for Walmart’s self-driving trucks could be as much as $200,000 for every million miles traveled.

      With the company enjoying its biggest sales results in a decade, Walmart is putting the hammer down to fill hundreds of job openings fueled by that growth.

      “These hiring events are both improving the skill level of our candidates and enriching their onboarding experience,” said Lori Furnell, Walmart’s director of driver talent acquisition. “We’re leaning heavily on the expertise of our Walmart road team and our certified driver trainers to grow our skilled fleet of professional drivers.”

      Fancy yourself a truck driver?

      To qualify for Walmart’s onboarding, drivers have to have 30 months of experience in the past three years under their belt and a clean safety record to boot.

      “Walmart’s fleet has a reputation for high standards and that can be intimidating,” Faller said. “But you see people getting emotional after the process they go through here, and I think that’s largely because they can sense that we’re here in it with them and we’re committed to their success. I don’t think you get that elsewhere in the industry.”

      On average, truck drivers take home a nice check. In 2017, truck drivers in the United States earned 56 cents a mile, $21.97 an hour, or $44,500 a year, si...
      Read lessRead more

      Amazon testing delivery robots

      Cooler-sized, self-driving delivery robots are currently being tested in Washington

      On Wednesday, Amazon deployed six of its self-driving package delivery robots in a neighborhood of Snohomish County, Washington.

      The e-commerce giant said the six-wheeled device, dubbed Amazon Scout, was developed at its research and development lab in Seattle. The autonomous package delivery vehicles are roughly “the size of a small cooler, and roll along sidewalks at a walking pace,” Sean Scott, an Amazon executive in charge of Scout, said in a blog post.

      The Seattle-based online retailer said each Scout device has the ability to “safely and efficiently navigate around pets, pedestrians and anything else in their path.”

      During the trial, however, each device will be accompanied by an Amazon employee, even though Scouts have the ability to navigate by themselves. Scouts will also only run Monday through Friday during daylight hours during the trial.

      “Customers in Snohomish County order just as they normally would and their Amazon packages will be delivered either by one of our trusted partner carriers or by Amazon Scout,” Scott said.

      Wired pointed out that the autonomous package delivery devices could face certain challenges.

      “A delivery robot can’t open gates without hands, and it can’t climb steps to get right to your door,” Wired noted. “And if the robot requires the customer to enter a PIN to get the package out, how can the robot leave the package if you’re not home?”

      The trial in Washington will determine whether Amazon Scouts will be deployed in other areas.

      On Wednesday, Amazon deployed six of its self-driving package delivery robots in a neighborhood of Snohomish County, Washington. The e-commerce giant s...
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      Veg-Pak recalls Hot Peppers Red Thai and Hot Red Thai Chili Peppers

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Veg-Pak is recalling its own brand of Hot Peppers Red Thai and Longo's brand Hot Red Thai Chili Peppers.

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses are reported associated with the consumption of these products.

      The following products, sold in Ontario, Canada, are being recalled:

      Veg-Pak

      • Common Name: Hot Peppers
        Red Thai
      • Size: 75 g
      • SizeCode(s) on Product:
        • B2401801 015
        • C2401801 016
        • D2407801 017
        • D2401801 017
        • E2407801 018
        • E2401801 018
      • UPC: 0 59559 00021 4

      Longo's

      • Common Name: Hot Red Thai Chili Peppers
      • Size: Variable
      • Code(s) on Product:
        • 017 2401801
        • 017 2407801
      • UPC: Starts with 0200175 60

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact Mustafa M. Ali at , (416) 255-7400 Ext. 331, or by email at qa@vegpakproduce.com, and Dan Carnevale at (416) 255-7400 Ext. 321 or by email at danny@vegpakproduce.com.

      Veg-Pak is recalling its own brand of Hot Peppers Red Thai and Longo's brand Hot Red Thai Chili Peppers.The products may be contaminated with Salmonell...
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      Gold Medal Unbleached Flour recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      General Mills is recalling five-pound bags of Gold Medal Unbleached Flour with a better if used by date of April 20, 2020.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There have been no direct consumer reports of confirmed illnesses related to this product.

      The following product, sold in grocery stores nationwide, is being recalled:

      Gold Medal Unbleached All Purpose 5LB Flour

      Package UPC: 000-16000-19610-0

      Recalled Better if Used by Date: 20APR2020KC

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should dispose of it and contact General Mills consumer relations at (800) 230-8103 or online at www.generalmills.com/flour.

      General Mills is recalling five-pound bags of Gold Medal Unbleached Flour with a better if used by date of April 20, 2020.The product may be contaminat...
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      Government employee union warns of further tax refund delays

      Whether it’s silent protest or financial hardship, the number of government employees staying home continues to mount

      The dance the Trump administration has been doing with Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees may have blown up in its face.

      Despite the White House calling 30,000 furloughed IRS employees back into work to process tax refunds, many of those who were recalled are reportedly skipping work, which could exasperate things even further.

      The Washington Post’s account of the situation says that hundreds of IRS employees have asked for -- and have been granted -- time off from work thanks to the financial hardship the shutdown is having on them. Add to that the backing of their union, which sounded a warning that an organized protest could result in even more workers staying away from work.

      President Tony Reardon of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) -- which represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments --  called out the the government to find a way out of the mess.

      “We’ve said all along that it is grossly unfair that federal employees are the pawns in someone else’s fight, and now the situation is dire,” Reardon said in a statement. “Take our nation’s civil servants out of the crossfire and pay them, period.”

      Don’t hold your breath

      If you use the 2013 government shutdown as a measuring stick in regards to tax refunds, 2019 is not a pretty picture. The 2013 shutdown lasted 16 days and resulted in delays of more than $2 billion in tax refunds, which means that we’re well over the $4 billion mark already for this year’s shutdown.

      If your tax return has already been filed, the IRS is tied to the hip to the shutdown and doesn’t have a good idea of when those refunds might get processed. With IRS employees demonstrating some defiance on top of the agency being closed, it may be a while -- much longer than the typical 21 days -- before those refunds are distributed.

      If you haven’t done your taxes yet, don’t think you’ll get a break however. The IRS reminds taxpayers that the underlying tax laws remain in effect during the shutdown, so all taxpayers should continue to meet their tax obligations as they normally would.

      The dance the Trump administration has been doing with Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees may have blown up in its face.Despite the White House c...
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      YouTube TV expands to subscribers nationwide

      Google’s service for cord-cutters will soon cover a total of 195 regions

      As of today, YouTube TV is available to consumers nationwide. On Wednesday, Google said that its TV streaming service will reach 98 percent of U.S. households; the remaining two percent will be reached “shortly thereafter.”

      Prior to today’s announcement, YouTube TV was available in the “top 100” markets in the U.S. The service has now been launched in another 95 markets.

      “Just in time for the Big Game, you can now bring together some tasty game day snacks with the full experience of YouTube TV,” the company said in a blog post. “That’s exciting news for living rooms, cord-cutters, and cord-nevers in neighborhoods far and wide, from Bozeman to Gainesville, Anchorage to Yuma, and Erie to Topeka.”

      More than 60 live channels

      The $40-a-month service, which launched in 2017, includes live-streaming from over 60 networks like CNN, ABC and FOX. It also includes local affiliate coverage, premium networks like STARZ for an additional monthly charge, and cloud DVR recording with no storage space limits. To see what channels are available in your area, simply enter your zip code on the company’s website.

      YouTube TV saw its subscriber count grow between January 2018 and July 2018, from 300,000 at the start of the year to 800,000 by mid-summer. The company has not shared an update on how many YouTube TV subscribers there currently are.

      The expansion puts the service in a position to compete with live-TV streaming rivals such as Sling TV and AT&T’s DirecTV Now, which now have 2.5 million and 1.8 million subscribers, respectively.

      As of today, YouTube TV is available to consumers nationwide. On Wednesday, Google said that its TV streaming service will reach 98 percent of U.S. househo...
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      Researcher patents cloaking technology to hide your location from apps

      Unfortunately, none of the mobile providers are offering it to their customers

      You check your phone for the weather forecast. You search for a good Thai restaurant. When you do, you give up small pieces of data about your location. It’s data that helps the apps give you the requested information, but it is also collected by the apps and sold to marketers.

      Consumers who make repeated use of apps are giving up a lot of information warns Ying Cai, an associate professor of computer science at Iowa State University. He’s been thinking about the issue for years, noting that it’s only gotten worse with time.

      Many of these apps are useful tools, but is the price of using them giving up even more of our privacy? Cai doesn’t think so; he has developed a cloaking technology that he says will allow consumers to continue using these popular apps without providing so much data.

      Working through his university, Cai has received two patents for his location-cloaking technology. He says the technology will let consumers use mobile apps and stay relatively anonymous.

      Not yet available to consumers

      So far, cellular providers haven’t offered the technology to their customers, but Cai is hoping consumer demand will lead to his first sale as privacy becomes a growing concern.

      “Privacy is a big issue. We can all agree on this,” Cai said. “If customers ask about cloaking technology and service providers realize location privacy is critical to customers, providers may see the value and offer this service.”

      Here’s how it works: the technology walks that fine line between providing a location to the app that is as precise as possible, but just short of being too precise. For example, the app won’t know you are at the intersection of 3rd and Main Street, only that you’re in a big box store in the 300 block of Main.

      Cai says the size or traffic of a particular revealed location will vary based on the user’s comfort level. He compares it to being treated by a doctor and selecting a pain threshold on a scale of one to five.

      Making it difficult to track you

      The big box store has a certain traffic volume that makes it difficult to track a single individual at any given time. Whenever a user wants to report their location, their service provider will select  an appropriate region to report.

      “That way, every time you report your location, you make sure it cannot be linked to people who were there at the time when the location was reported,” Cai said. “This gives you protection from the time dimension, which is important.”

      It’s not as cloak-and-dagger as it sounds. When you repeatedly use current location-tracking apps, you’re giving the apps a trajectory that makes it possible to identify you as an individual.

      That’s a problem, Cai says, because it allows people you don’t know to learn too much about you -- not just your location, but what your location says about you.

      You check your phone for the weather forecast. You search for a good Thai restaurant. When you do, you give up small pieces of data about your location. It...
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      Existing home sales plunge in December

      The market has been showing weakness for months

      The housing market experienced a sharp drop in December as sales of existing homes fell 6.4 percent, the largest one-month decline in three years. On a year-over-year basis, sales fell more than 10 percent.

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports sales were down in all regions of the country last month. The sharp drop put an exclamation point on a housing market that has shown increasing signs of weakness as both mortgage rates and home prices have risen, pushing up the average monthly payment.

      “The housing market is obviously very sensitive to mortgage rates,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “Softer sales in December reflected consumer search processes and contract signing activity in previous months when mortgage rates were higher than today. Now, with mortgage rates lower, some revival in home sales is expected going into spring.”

      But the drop in sales didn’t really affect the price buyers were willing to pay for a home. The median sale price of all existing homes increased 2.9 percent over December 2017. In fact, the median home price has now risen for 82 consecutive months.

      Supply and demand

      One logical reason for the rise in home prices is the supply of available homes. Total housing inventory continued to fall in December, with 200,000 fewer homes on the market than the previous month.

      David Berson, chief economist at Nationwide, told CNBC that he links the sales decline to rising interest rates. Not only does it affect affordability for first-time buyers, but people who already own homes and are paying a much lower interest rate are less inclined to sell their home and buy another because they want to avoid taking on a mortgage at a higher rate.

      With fewer consumers purchasing homes, mortgage companies are making fewer loans, which is cutting into profits. In response, The Wall Street Journal reports lenders are loosening underwriting standards on some loans to make it easier for some consumers to qualify for a mortgage.

      Deja vu

      If that sounds familiar, it was a widely accepted practice during the housing bubble and blamed by some for the collapse of the housing market when many of those loans defaulted. The Journal report says there are similarities and differences to those previous undocumented loans.

      While traditional mortgages still require at least two years of employment in the same industry and pay records to prove it, the new “non-traditional loans” allow a loan applicant to document income with bank statements and letters from clients.

      The Journal cites data from Inside Mortgage Finance, an industry research group, showing that mortgage companies wrote up $34 billion in these non-traditional loans in the first nine months of 2018. That’s a small segment of the overall mortgage market, but it’s a 24 percent increase over the first nine months of 2017.

      The housing market experienced a sharp drop in December as sales of existing homes fell 6.4 percent, the largest one-month decline in three years. On a yea...
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      Canada Herb Red Chili recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Canada Herb is recalling Canada Herb brand Red Chili.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There are no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of this product.

      Canada Herb, sold at retail stores in Ontario, Canada, is being recalled:

      • Common name: Red Chili
      • Size: Variable weight
      • Code(s) on product: None – all packages sold up to and including January 20, 2019

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (647) 627-4173 or by email at canadaherb141@yahoo.ca.

      Canada Herb is recalling Canada Herb brand Red Chili.The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.There are no reported illnesses associated wit...
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      Amazon Prime users say free two-day shipping is still the main drawing point of the service

      However, other retailers are catching up to the online behemoth

      Media researchers at The Diffusion Group (TDG) have uncorked a new study that finds 79 percent of Amazon Prime consumers love its unlimited two-day free shipping more than any of the other Prime perks -- Prime Music, Prime Pantry, Prime Book Box, etc. -- with Prime Video lagging far behind at a meager 11 percent.

      Two-day shipping is an easy task for Amazon given its warehouse empire of more than 75 fulfillment centers and 25 sortation centers dotted across North America. And Amazon’s treasure trove of anything and everything provides an endless loop for the online shopper.

      However, the other big players in the online shopping world are putting Amazon on notice. WalMart stood up to Amazon by extending free shipping to third-party sellers' products and simplifying the return process, and Target upped the ante with the launch of its same-day shipping service and its curbside pickup service, “Drive Up.”

      Kroger and CVS are all-in for the delivery game as well and looking for their own piece of Amazon’s action, not to mention some of its 100 million members.

      “Amazon Prime has become synonymous with free shipping,” Michael Greeson, President of TDG, told ConsumerAffairs “and this has been critical to its rapid growth. Competitors have long been aware of this fact, but have failed to match Amazon or, when they have adopted the free-shipping model, to effectively communicate its availability, thus allowing Amazon to dominate the messaging. Wal-Mart, Target, and others need to put free shipping front in center in their branding efforts, versus positioning it as value-add.”

      The long tail

      How this dance for online shipping supremacy will shake out will be interesting to watch.

      “While Amazon Prime is building robust audiences in video, music, and gaming, Prime is first and foremost about developing more and broader retail relationships, and free shipping is key to that mission. That is where the real value of Prime lies,” noted Greeson.

      And the long tail of Amazon Prime -- lumping in video, music, books, and food into the Prime-available family -- is a bonus.

      From Greeson’s purview, Amazon has made the right moves to draw in new subscribers by focusing on providing the right high-quality digital assets.

      “Once they begin to buy more merchandise, however, service value appears to shift from media to free shipping. This is not to diminish the value that digital media services add to the Prime equation, but it puts it into perspective relative to retail,” he added.

      Media researchers at The Diffusion Group (TDG) have uncorked a new study that finds 79 percent of Amazon Prime consumers love its unlimited two-day free sh...
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      Government shutdown causes increase in TSA worker absences

      Many employees say ‘financial limitations’ are preventing them from working

      The partial government shutdown, now in its fifth week, has caused a spike in the rate of unscheduled absences among Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers.

      In a Monday press release, the TSA said the rate of worker absences hit 10 percent on Sunday. On the same Sunday last year, the rate was just 3.1 percent.

      "Yesterday's complete figures show that TSA experienced a national rate of 10 percent of unscheduled absences compared to a 3.1 percent rate one year ago on the same day, Jan. 20, 2018," the TSA said. "Many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations."

      Surge in absences

      Most passengers who passed through U.S. airports on Sunday experienced waits of less than 30 minutes, which is “within normal TSA times,” according to the agency. However, “some airports experienced longer than usual wait times” due to the increase in worker call-outs.

      Over the weekend, one security checkpoint at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport had to be closed due to “excessive callouts.” The TSA announced on Saturday that it would be “exercising a contingency plan” at the airport.

      “Checkpoint A will be closing at 5:35pm,” the agency tweeted. “Passengers should arrive early for evening flights. Contact airport & airlines for updates.”

      The TSA urges those who will be boarding a flight amid the ongoing government shutdown to seek current airline and airport information and allow enough time to get through the airport.

      Backlash from federal employees

      Earlier this month, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) filed a lawsuit in United States District Court on behalf of its members who haven’t been paid since December 28.

      "Every moment of every hour of every day, the skies of the United States are overseen by the hardworking employees of the United States Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA")," the association wrote in its complaint. "Each day, the FAA's Air Traffic Controllers are responsible for ensuring the safe routing of tens of thousands of flights, often working lengthy, grueling overtime shifts to do so. In fact, plaintiffs' job is so demanding and requires such rare skills that the FAA struggles to maintain a full complement of certified Air Traffic Controllers, even under normal circumstances.”

      Once the shutdown ends, workers will likely receive back pay. However, it still appears as though there’s no end in sight.

      President Trump recently proposed to offer temporary protections for young immigrants, known as Dreamers, in exchange for the $5.7 billion he has demanded for a border wall. Democrats have said that they find the proposal unacceptable. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the plan equated to “more hostage taking.”

      The partial government shutdown, now in its fifth week, has caused a spike in the rate of unscheduled absences among Transportation Security Administration...
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      Custom Made Meals recalls chicken skewers

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

      Custom Made Meals of Denver, Colo., is recalling approximately 7,954 pounds of chicken skewers.

      The product contains coconut, a tree nut allergen not declared on the label.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      The following item, produced from September 27, 2018, through January 10, 2019, is being recalled:

      • 9.11-lbs. cases containing four plastic packages of “Red Chili Orange Chicken Skewers” with case code 79073, and various Use By dates between Oct. 15, 2018 and Jan. 28, 2019.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “P-4121A” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to retail locations in Illinois and Wisconsin and donated to organizations in Denver.

      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 contact John Birdsall at (303) 204-7475.

      Custom Made Meals of Denver, Colo., is recalling approximately 7,954 pounds of chicken skewers.The product contains coconut, a tree nut allergen not de...
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      Prinston Pharmaceutical recalls Irbesartan and Irbesartan HCTZ tablets

      The products contain a trace amount of NDEA

      Prinston Pharmaceutical, doing business as Solco Healthcare, is recalling one lot of Irbesartan and seven lots of Irbesartan HCTZ tablets.

      The products contain a trace amount of N- nitrosodiethylamine (NDEA) above the acceptable daily intake levels released by the FDA. NDEA has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

      Prinston Pharmaceutical has not received any reports of adverse events related to this recall to date.

      The following products, used to control high blood pressure and for the treatment of heart failure, are being recalled:

      ProductNDC CodeLot NumberExpiry DatesDistribution Date
      IRBESARTAN TABLETS 300MG 90CT43547-376-09331B1800902/20218/9/2018
      IRBESARTAN / HCTZ
      300MG / 12.5MG 30CT TABLETS
      43547-331-03327A1800103/20217/10/2018
      IRBESARTAN / HCTZ
      300MG / 12.5MG 30 CT TABLETS
      43547-331-03327A1800203/20217/10/2018
      IRBESARTAN / HCTZ 300MG / 12.5MG 90CT
      TABLETS
      43547-331-09327B1800803/20217/10/2018
      IRBESARTAN / HCTZ 300MG / 12.5MG 90CT
      TABLETS
      43547-331-09327B1800903/20217/10/2018
      IRBESARTAN/HCTZ 150MG / 12.5MG 30CT43547-330-03325D1800403/20217/10/2018
      IRBESARTAN / HCTZ
      150MG/12.5MG 90CT TABLETS
      43547-330-09325B1800403/20218/24/2018
      IRBESARTAN / HCTZ 150MG / 12.5MG 30CT
      TABLETS
      43547-330-03325D1800503/20217/10/2018

      The recalled product, which can be identified by checking the product name, manufacturer details and batch or lot number on the bottle, were distributed nationwide.

      What to do

      Patients should contact their pharmacist or physician who can advise them about an alternative treatment prior to returning their medication. Patients who are on Irbesartan should continue taking their medication, until their pharmacist provides a replacement, or their doctor prescribes a different medication that treats the same condition. The risk of harm to a patient’s health may be higher if the treatment is stopped immediately without any alternative treatment.

      For a return label, consumers may contact the company at (609) 451-1000 or by email at customerservice@solcohealthcare.com.

      Prinston Pharmaceutical, doing business as Solco Healthcare, is recalling one lot of Irbesartan and seven lots of Irbesartan HCTZ tablets.The products...
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      Treasury Department lays out final rules on 20 percent tax deduction for businesses

      Small and medium-sized business are the big winners, but there’s lots of clarifications yet to be made

      In the midst of all of the Trump administration’s tugs-of-war that have consumed 2019 so far, the White House has released the final rules for a new business tax deduction -- one it’s had in the works for nearly two years.

      The final regulations were a key component of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act -- one which allows owners of sole proprietorships, partnerships, trusts, and S corporations to deduct up to 20 percent of their qualified business income.

      The Treasury crows that “the final regulations ensure that this historic tax cut will be available to the broadest spectrum of American businesses,” but as tax plans go, there are always winners and losers.

      On the winning side of the new plan are rental real estate owners, assisted living facilities, and employment staffing companies. On the losing side are real-estate settlement agents, major league sports team owners, physical therapists, and writers -- all given the thumbs-down from the Treasury Department.

      But the big winner are small and medium-size business owners who will enjoy a new 20 percent tax deduction plum. Administration officials said the new rules give the green light to millions of businesses to file their 2018 taxes with the confidence they’re eligible for the break.

      “Small and mid-size businesses are the engines of growth for the U.S. economy,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “The pass-through deduction will drive more investment in U.S. companies and higher wages for American workers. This provision will reduce pass-through business tax rates to their lowest rate in more than 80 years.”

      17-40 million will enjoy the deduction

      The Treasury Department estimates that the number of U.S. business owners lucky enough to get the 20 percent break runs somewhere between 17 and 40 million. As things stand now, the deduction is available to small business owners with income below $315,000 for married couples filing jointly and $157,500 for single filers without limitations.

      For business owners above those income thresholds, the regulations are a bit tighter. However, the architects of the plan have built in some flexibility for those who can “provide certainty and flexibility by clarifying the definitions of ‘specified service trade or business’ and ‘unadjusted basis immediately after acquisition’ of qualified property, and by including ‘aggregation rules’ for filers with pass-through income from multiple sources.”

      That’s a mouthful -- and a confusing one at that. ConsumerAffairs asked Nicole Kaeding, director of federal projects at the Tax Foundation, for an easier-to-understand version.

      “Because the deduction is so generous, the Treasury is simply putting ‘guardrails’ on them so individuals don’t abuse the privilege,” Keading said.

      How those “guardrails” shake out could be a problem, though. Keading told the New York Times that the regulations would likely lead to lawsuits that force courts to determine whether many individual businesses qualify.

      In the midst of all of the Trump administration’s tugs-of-war that have consumed 2019 so far, the White House has released the final rules for a new busine...
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      Prices continue to fall for new homes

      But the average new home still costs more than an existing one

      Housing affordability remains a concern for many would-be home buyers, especially now that mortgage rates are going up. But a new report from real estate marketplace Zillow suggests one segment of the housing market is losing pricing power.

      A Zillow analysis found that home builders lowered the price on their new inventory at a faster rate in the fourth quarter of 2018 than in the first quarter. The report found a quarter of new homes on the market in the last three months of the year had at least one price reduction. In the first quarter, only 19 percent had a price cut.

      The same trend is also showing up in existing homes, though the statistics may appear misleading. Overall existing home values continue to rise, albeit at a slower rate.

      Starter homes getting more expensive

      When broken down by price range, entry-level starter homes continue to go up in value while more expensive homes have experienced more price cuts, just as new homes have. That’s because there are a lot more consumers who can only afford an entry-level home, while there is a limited number for sale.

      New construction must compete with more expensive existing homes, for which there are fewer buyers. With the law of supply and demand asserting itself, prices have to come down.

      Prices have risen since the housing recovery in large part because of tight inventories. As the economy improved and more people wanted to buy homes, they found a declining number of homes in the entry-level, moderately-priced segment while there were plenty of expensive homes.

      Housing shortage continues

      Home builders are producing only about half as many new homes as they did before the housing crash, and those tend to be large and expensive. As we reported in 2017, home building activity wasn’t alleviating the housing shortage because most first-time home buyers couldn’t afford them.

      Homebuilders have cited higher costs for materials, labor, and land to explain their focus on more expensive homes. While homebuilders no doubt could easily sell small homes priced under $200,000, builders say they wouldn’t be profitable.

      “Facing high and rising construction costs, builders have few options but to target upmarket while homebuyers are increasingly squeezed by tight affordability and rising interest rates,” said Zillow Senior Economist Aaron Terrazas.

      But Terrazas says the price cutting trend might not last. He says builders appear content to build fewer new homes and charge more for them. With fewer new homes in the pipeline, the price cuts may not last.

      Housing affordability remains a concern for many would-be home buyers, especially now that mortgage rates are going up. But a new report from real estate m...
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      Netflix price increases have consumers considering canceling their subscription

      Nearly one-fourth of subscribers said they ‘might cancel’ the service due to rising costs

      Netflix, which last week raised its monthly subscription prices for all 58 million of its U.S. subscribers, may see a slight drop in its subscriber count in response to price increases, a new study suggests.

      News site Streaming Observer recently partnered with Mindnet Analytics to "gauge [subscribers'] reaction to the latest round of price increases."

      Of the 607 adult subscribers who participated in the survey, nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of respondents said they "might cancel" Netflix over the higher prices. Three percent said they would “definitely cancel" their subscription.

      However, most subscribers (71 percent) said they would keep their Netflix subscription despite the latest round of price increases.

      Interest in ad-supported model

      Ten percent of those who responded to the online survey said they planned to downgrade to a lower-priced plan. Two-thirds (65 percent) said they would consider a lower-priced or free version of Netflix with advertisements, which is a change from past survey results.

      “In the past, many Netflix users were adamant they would never tolerate ads on the streaming service," the site's founder and editor-in-chief Chris Brantner said in the survey results. The new prices have most subscribers “reconsidering” whether they’d still subscribe to Netflix if ads were included, he added.

      In response to whether they would consider a discounted, ad-supported version of Netflix, 35 percent of respondents said "No discount is enough" to have to sit through advertising. The rest of those polled had different ideas on how much of a discount they would require if commercials were thrown into the mix.

      Fifteen percent said they would want the service for free, 8 percent said that would require a 75 percent discount, 29 percent wanted the service to be half-price, and 13 percent would require 25 percent off to watch ads while using the service.

      Price increases largely tolerated

      Netflix’s new monthly prices will cause consumers’ bills go up anywhere from 13 percent to 18 percent -- the biggest price jump in Netflix’s history. Existing customers will see the price increases reflected on their bills “over the next few months.” New subscribers will already see the new pricing on the company’s website.

      Netflix said it changes pricing on occasion to financially bolster its efforts to provide “great entertainment” and “improve the overall Netflix experience.”

      Streaming Observer noted that Netflix’s previous price increases haven’t taken much of a toll on its overall subscriber count, even when large numbers of subscribers said they might cancel the service over the change.

      “In the past when Netflix has raised prices and subscribers have threatened to cancel in large numbers, analysts predicted only a very small percentage, roughly 3%-4%, of subscribers would actually do so. In that case, the price increase would still prove to be quite profitable overall for Netflix,” the report said.

      Netflix, which last week raised its monthly subscription prices for all 58 million of its U.S. subscribers, may see a slight drop in its subscriber count i...
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      Johnsonville recalls raw ground frozen pork patties

      The products may be contaminated with pieces of black rubber

      Johnsonville of Sheboygan Falls, Wis., is recalling approximately 48,371 pounds of raw ground pork patties.

      The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials -- specifically pieces of black rubber.

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

      The following items, produced and packaged on September 27, 2018, and October 17 – 18, 2018, are being recalled:

      • 24-oz. (1.5 lbs.) plastic bag in a carton of frozen “Johnsonville Grillers CHEDDAR CHEESE & BACON FLAVOR” with “Best Flavor By: 7/24/2019” represented on the label.
      • 24-oz. (1.5 lbs.) plastic bag in a carton of frozen “Johnsonville Grillers CHEDDAR CHEESE & BACON FLAVOR” with “Best Flavor By: 8/13/2019” represented on the label.
      • 24-oz. (1.5 lbs.) plastic bag in a carton of frozen “Johnsonville Grillers CHEDDAR CHEESE & BACON FLAVOR” with “Best Flavor By: 8/14/2019” represented on the label.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact Johnsonville consumer relations at (888) 556-2728.

      Johnsonville of Sheboygan Falls, Wis., is recalling approximately 48,371 pounds of raw ground pork patties.The products may be contaminated with extran...
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      Perdue Foods recalls SimplySmart Organics Gluten Free Chicken Nuggets

      The product may contain pieces of wood

      Perdue Foods of Perry, Ga., is recalling approximately 68,244 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken nuggets.

      The product may be contaminated with extraneous materials -- specifically pieces of wood.

      There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions.

      The following ready-to-eat item, produced on October 25, 2018, is being recalled:

      • 22-oz. plastic bag packages of frozen “PERDUE SimplySmart ORGANICS BREADED CHICKEN BREAST NUGGETS GLUTEN FREE” with “Best By: Date 10/25/19” and UPC Bar Code “72745-80656” represented on the label.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “P-33944” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to retail locations nationwide.

      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 contact Perdue consumer care at (877) 727-3447.

      Perdue Foods of Perry, Ga., is recalling approximately 68,244 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken nuggets. The product may be contaminated with extraneo...
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      Sears’ unsecured creditors object to deal with Eddie Lampert-headed hedge fund

      Creditors claim Lampert is to blame for the retailer’s demise

      If the television networks ever run out of material for soap operas, maybe they can just televise the Sears bankruptcy saga, which has so far been filled with plot twists.

      Former Sears Holdings CEO Eddie Lampert and the hedge fund he controls, ESL Investments, finally prevailed with a $5 billion offer to take over what’s left of the company and keep 400 Sears and Kmart stores open.

      But not everyone is happy. The unsecured creditors who are still owed money have filed a motion in bankruptcy court, asking for an open hearing where they plan to air their grievances. The creditors claim Sears’ downfall was precipitated by Lampert’s and ESL Investment’s mismanagement of the company over the last few years.

      "This is a matter of significant public interest and should be heard entirely in open court," the creditors said in their motion.

      Ignoring the objection

      ESL Investments is moving forward, essentially ignoring the objection from the unsecured creditors. A spokesman for the hedge fund said the company is confident Sears Holdings will successfully emerge from bankruptcy, saving one of the most famous names in American retail.

      “Subject to its approval by the court, our going concern proposal will deliver a total consideration in excess of $5.2 billion and save tens of thousands of jobs,” the spokesman said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “It will also fund certain severance costs incurred by Sears during bankruptcy and reinstate severance benefits for eligible employees in a new company.”

      The spokesman said the takeover agreement will also honor commitments to customers who purchased products with extended warranties and support affected vendors.

      “At every stage in this process, ESL has worked tirelessly to help Sears re-emerge from bankruptcy, including by enhancing our offer several times, because we believe Sears has a future as a profitable company that can succeed in today's competitive retail landscape,” the spokesman said.

      Hearing early next month

      The bankruptcy judge has scheduled a hearing for February 1, at which time the creditors’ objections will be heard.

      In particular, the unsecured creditors have been highly critical of some of the financial transactions Lampert made while running the company. The deals include the spinning off of Lands’ End in 2014 and other spin-offs of some real estate.

      After extensive negotiations, ESL reached agreement with Sears Holdings this week to acquire 425 Sears stores and other company assets for $5.2 billion.

      If the television networks ever run out of material for soap operas, maybe they can just televise the Sears bankruptcy saga, which has so far been filled w...
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      Audi officials indicted for diesel cheating scandal

      They face up to twenty years in prison

      A federal grand jury in Detroit indicted four former German Audi officials on Thursday over the diesel emissions scandal, court documents reveal.

      The executives -- Richard Bauder, Axel Eiser, Stefan Knirsch, and Carsten Nagel -- were charged with multiple counts of violating the Clean Air Act, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and wire fraud. If convicted, each charge carries up to 20 years in prison.

      None of the four men are currently in United States custody. Reuters reports that they are believed to be in Germany and do not yet appear to have American attorneys on the case.

      During their employment, the four allegedly helped design and test “defeat devices” for Audi cars that were used to help the brand cheat Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions tests, the criminal cases alleges.

      The Audi officials are just the latest to face criminal charges over their parent company Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scandal, in which Volkswagen admitting to rigging the engines on their “clean diesel” cars.

      Volkswagen and Audi agreed to stop selling cars with diesel engines after getting caught in 2015. The diesel engines emitted as much 40 times the legally allowable limit of smog when they were on the road from 2008 through 2015.

      A federal grand jury in Detroit indicted four former German Audi officials on Thursday over the diesel emissions scandal, court documents reveal.The ex...
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      Court rejects FCC request to postpone net neutrality hearing

      Oral arguments will take place on February 1, as previously scheduled

      A federal appeals court has rejected the Federal Communications Commission’s request to delay a court hearing regarding its decision to repeal net neutrality rules.

      Earlier this week, the agency requested that oral arguments be postponed due to the ongoing government shutdown. The FCC argued that the shutdown has translated to a lack of sufficient time and resources for lawyers to prepare for the hearing.

      “Due to the recent lapse in funding for the FCC and the relevant component of the Department of Justice, the Commission believes that, in an abundance of caution, it should move for an extension to ensure that attorneys may fully prepare for argument," FCC attorneys said in a motion.

      But on Thursday, a three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the request. The court is still scheduled to hear arguments on February 1.

      Net neutrality advocates to speak out

      At the hearing, a coalition of groups opposing the FCC’s December 2017 repeal of net neutrality regulations will argue that the rules are necessary to prevent broadband providers from engaging in censorship and harming competitors.

      “In a case where consumer protections are at stake, we are glad to see the hearing proceed as planned,” said Amy Keating, Mozilla Corporation’s general counsel. “We are looking forward to appearing on Feb 1.”

      Another group challenging the FCC’s order, the trade group Incompas, said the agency’s “misguided and unlawful repeal of the network neutrality rules” has put consumers “at risk of substantial harm from Internet Service Providers (‘ISPs’), which may now interfere with access to lawful Internet content without the restraint of the net neutrality rules.”

      “There is a need for a timely decision in this important matter,” Incompas wrote in papers filed this week.

      A federal appeals court has rejected the Federal Communications Commission’s request to delay a court hearing regarding its decision to repeal net neutrali...
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      Gas prices bottom and could be headed higher

      Prices rose this week in states with the lowest prices

      Motorists have enjoyed relatively low prices at the pump for the last six weeks, but this may be as good as it gets. There are signs that prices could be headed higher in February.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is $2.24 a gallon, a penny more than last Friday. Prices continued to fall in the western states with the most expensive gas, but in the states with the cheapest fuel, prices went up in the last seven days.

      The average price of premium gas is also up a penny a gallon to $2.83 while the price of diesel fuel is two cents lower at $2.92 a gallon.

      One sign that prices may have bottomed, at least for the time being, is price action in the various states. Prices are still going down in the western states where gas prices are highest. However, prices have begun to rise in southeastern states, where gas prices are lowest.

      Supply and demand

      While gas prices usually begin to creep higher in late winter, consumers should be spared any dramatic rise thanks to the laws of supply and demand. The Energy Information Administration reports U.S. gasoline supplies grew by 7.5 million barrels in the previous week because consumers aren’t using as much gasoline.

      “If demand remains seasonally low amid continued growth in gasoline stocks across the country, American motorists may see pump prices remain low for the remainder of winter,” AAA said in its latest market update. “However, increasing crude prices could push pump prices higher.”

      But so far there’s no sign of that happening. A big increase in U.S. oil production is keeping U.S. oil prices below $55 a barrel.

      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 ($3.27)

      • California ($3.26)

      • Washington ($2.96)

      • Alaska ($2.95)

      • Oregon ($2.85)

      • Nevada ($2.89)

      • Arizona ($2.56)

      • Connecticut ($2.53)

      • New York ($2.53)

      • Utah ($2.46)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The survey found these states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas:

      • Missouri ($1.89)

      • Alabama ($1.93)

      • Oklahoma ($1.93)

      • Texas ($1.93)

      • Mississippi ($1.94)

      • South Carolina ($1.96)

      • Louisiana ($1.97)

      • Kansas ($1.97)

      • Ohio ($1.97)

      • Tennessee ($2.00)

      Motorists have enjoyed relatively low prices at the pump for the last six weeks, but this may be as good as it gets. There are signs that prices could be h...
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      SRAM recalls three-speed internal gear hub with coaster brake

      The brake can fail, posing a crash or fall hazard to the rider.

      SRAM is recalling about 700 three-speed internal gear hubs with a coaster brake.

      The brake can fail, posing a crash or fall hazard to the rider.

      The company has received no reports of incidents or injuries in Canada. In the U.S., there have been four 4 reports of crashes or falls, and one report of a knee and ankle injury from a fall.

      ThE SRAM i-Motion 3, three-speed internal gear hub with coaster brake, UPC 710845662782, was installed on the following models of bicycles (with no redundant braking system -- for example no front brake):

      • Electra Cruiser Custom 3i
      • Electra Coaster 3i
      • Electra Hawaii 3i
      • Electra Hawaii 3i (24")
      • Electra Straight 8

      The gear hubs, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold in Canada from February 2014, to January 2018.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled hub and contact SRAM for reimbursement of the affected bicycle. SRAM will repurchase the affected bikes at a fair market, depreciated value, based on the Bicycle Blue Book.

      Consumers with questions may can contact SRAM’s Canadian distributor HLC at (888) 522-2453 between 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. (EST) Monday through Friday, or online at https://www.sram.com/.

      SRAM is recalling about 700 three-speed internal gear hubs with a coaster brake.The brake can fail, posing a crash or fall hazard to the rider.The...
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      HP expands notebook computer and mobile workstation battery recall

      These batteries can overheat, posing a fire and burn hazard

      HP is expanding an earlier recall and replacement program for certain notebook computer and mobile workstation batteries.

      The batteries can overheat, posing a fire and burn hazard.

      The recalled batteries may have been shipped with specific HP products or sold as accessories or provided as replacements from December 2015 through December 2018 through HP or an authorized HP Service Provider -- including certain HP Mobile Thin Client products.

      Many of the batteries are internal to the system, which means they are not customer replaceable, so HP is providing battery replacement services by an authorized technician at no cost.

      The company is also releasing an update to the BIOS that places the battery in "Battery Safety Mode" so the notebook or workstation can be safely used without the battery by connecting to an HP power adaptor. These batteries should immediately be put into "Battery Safety Mode".

      The following products may have been shipped with batteries that are being recalled:

      ProBookHP Probook 640 G2HP ProBook 640 G3
      HP ProBook 645 G2HP ProBook 645 G3
      HP ProBook 650 G2HP ProBook 650 G3
      HP ProBook 655 G2HP ProBook 655 G3
      HP ProBook 430 G4HP ProBook 440 G4
      HP ProBook 450 G4HP ProBook 455 G4
      HP ProBook 470 G4
      ZBookHP ZBook 17 G3HP ZBook 17 G4
      HP ZBook Studio G3
      x360HP x360 310 G2
      PavilionHP Pavilion x360
      ENVYHP ENVY m6
      HP 11HP 11 Notebook PC

      The following products are compatible with, but were not shipped with, affected batteries. Customers

      may have purchased a battery as an accessory or received a replacement battery through services that is affected by the recall.

      ProBookHP ProBook 430 G5HP ProBook 440 G5
      HP ProBook 450 G5HP ProBook 455 G5
      HP ProBook 470 G5
      ZBookHP ZBook Studio G4
      ENVYHP ENVY 15
      Mobile Thin ClientHP mt20HP mt21
      HP mt31

      What to do

      Owners should recheck their battery using the HP Battery Program Validation Utility, even if they did so previously and were informed that it was not affected. Anyone who received a replacement battery is not affected by this expansion.

      Consumers may contact HP at (866) 671-7362 or by email at batteryprogram687.ext.hp.com/en-US/Home/ContactEmail.

      HP is expanding an earlier recall and replacement program for certain notebook computer and mobile workstation batteries.The batteries can overheat, po...
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      Hyundai recalls Sonatas and Santa Fe SUVs

      The automaker will inspect the reinstallation of fuel tubes in replaced engines

      Hyundai is recalling approximately 100,000 model year 2011-2014 Sonatas and model year 2013-2014 Santa Fe Sport vehicles.

      The company will inspect inspect and confirm proper reinstallation of the fuel tube to the high-pressure fuel pump of vehicles whose engines were replaced under two previous recalls.

      In addition, Hyundai has developed a new engine monitoring technology called a knock sensor detection system that uses software innovations to continuously monitor for symptoms that may precede an engine failure

      This technology will be installed through a free software update performed by Hyundai dealers to approximately 2 million Hyundai vehicles, including all model year 2011-2018 Sonatas and 2013-2018 Santa Fe Sport vehicles with engines produced in the U.S.

      What to do

      Owners with questions may contact Hyundai at (800) 633-5151 or by email at consumeraffairs@hmausa.com.

      To find out whether a vehicle is eligible for the software update, enter the vehicle's VIN at Hyundai's campaign website www.hyundaiusa.com/campaignhome.

      Hyundai recalling approximately 100,000 model year 2011-2014 Sonatas and model year 2013-2014 Santa Fe Sport vehicles.The company will inspect inspect...
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      Consumer data privacy gets its own nation-wide bill

      The U.S. still has a long way to go to catch up with Europe

      The American Data Dissemination (ADD) Act -- legislation intended to create a law that “protects both consumers and the innovative capabilities of the internet economy” -- was introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Wednesday.

      “Your data is incredibly valuable, and for the most part, it is not even yours. But use of your personal data is governed by antiquated laws that do not work in the modern economy.  The time has come for Congress to address consumer data privacy in a candid, responsible and modern manner,” wrote Rubio in an op-ed piece for TheHill.

      The bill rides on the back of the Privacy Act of 1974, a law designed to balance the government’s need to keep records about citizens with the rights of those citizens to be guarded against unnecessary violation of their data privacy -- in other words, back in the day when our computers were typewriters and our personal data was probably kept in a manila folder on some government worker’s desk.

      Fast forward 45 years to the present when a consumer’s data is not only for sale, but a target of foreign countries. In Rubio’s perfect world, ADD would give consumers shelter from indefensible intrusions from “sophisticated actors in the private industry.”

      “There has been a growing consensus that Congress must take action to address consumer data privacy,” Rubio said. “However, I believe that any efforts to address consumer privacy must also balance the need to protect the innovative capabilities of the digital economy that have enabled new entrants and small businesses to succeed in the marketplace.”

      “It is critical that we do not create a regulatory environment that entrenches big tech corporations. Congress must act, but it is even more important that Congress act responsibly to create a transparent, digital environment that maximizes consumer welfare over corporate welfare.”

      But don’t we already have a privacy law?

      There are 11 states that do have their own consumer privacy laws, including Illinois and California. However, there’s nothing from sea to shining sea that regulates the collection and use of personal data.

      The goal of ADD is to provide straightforward protections that consumers can understand and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can enforce.

      To accomplish that goal, the bill does the following:  

      • No later than 180 days after enactment of the ADD Act, the FTC will have to submit detailed recommendations for privacy requirements that Congress, in turn, can impose on covered providers.  

      • No earlier than a year-and-a-half after the bill’s enactment, the FTC will publish and submit to the appropriate committees of Congress proposed regulations to impose privacy requirements on covered providers.

      It’s a new day

      The United States lags far behind Europe in protecting personal data. The European Union’s GDPR -- General Data Protection Regulation -- already gives control to individuals over their personal data and simplifies the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU.

      “Our country is ready for reforms to our national privacy law designed for the privacy challenges of today and tomorrow,” Rubio said.

      “Changes that provide consumers with basic rights and increased transparency, but also ensures small businesses can continue to thrive. Tech industry leaders should encourage responsible legislation that provides clear rules for companies to operate under and prevents future scandals. While we may not have a consensus in Congress, we must begin to offer solutions. Because this is the only way we can regain the public’s trust.”

      The American Data Dissemination (ADD) Act -- legislation intended to create a law that “protects both consumers and the innovative capabilities of the inte...
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      FCC seeks delay in net neutrality court case, citing government shutdown

      The appeals court is still scheduled to hear arguments February 1

      The government shutdown has not affected the operations of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, although the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) apparently wishes it would.

      The FCC has filed a motion with the court seeking a delay in oral arguments in a case that could potentially restore net neutrality. Oral arguments in a case, brought by a number of industry groups, are scheduled for February 1.

      The plaintiffs are seeking to reverse the FCC’s action in overturning Obama administration rules that codified net neutrality, meaning ISPs must treat all internet traffic the same. While the government shutdown has not affected the court’s operations, it has impacted the FCC.

      “Due to the recent lapse in funding for the FCC and the relevant component of the Department of Justice, the Commission believes that, in an abundance of caution, it should move for an extension to ensure that attorneys may fully prepare for argument," FCC attorneys said in a motion.

      The FCC said the Justice Department has advised federal agencies to request delays in active civil cases until government funding has been restored. The FCC asked the court to rule quickly on its motion so that FCC attorneys can adequately prepare if oral arguments take place as scheduled.

      Plaintiffs oppose any delay

      One of the industry groups suing to restore net neutrality is also opposing the FCC’s bid to postpone the proceedings. The group INCOMPAS filed a counter motion saying the issue is too important to delay.

      “The repeal of the rules also threatens edge providers, as they are facing the risk of blocking, throttling, and other practices by ISPs,” the group said in its motion.

      INCOMPAS represents streaming companies, edge providers and broadband network builders who say they will be harmed by the end of net neutrality. The group points out there is legal precedent during previous government shutdowns for moving forward with scheduled court actions. A delay, the group contends, holds risks to consumers and the streaming revolution.

      “Over 80 percent of Americans oppose the FCC action to end strong net neutrality policies that gave rise to the streaming revolution and brought stronger open internet freedoms,” the group said in a statement. It’s time for net neutrality to have its day in court, so consumers, streamers and internet dreamers can have the threat of ISP gatekeeper fees, paid prioritization and blocking behavior removed from the equation.”

      The government shutdown has not affected the operations of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, although the Federal Communications Comm...
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      Apple CEO says consumers should be able to ‘delete their data on demand’

      Tim Cook wants the FTC to introduce tools to give consumers full control over their personal information

      In a Time magazine op-ed published on Wednesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook called on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to form a “data-broker clearinghouse” that would enable consumers to “delete their data on demand, freely, easily and online, once and for all.”

      Cook previously expressed concern over the issue of data privacy at a conference in Brussels last October. During an impassioned speech, Cook said consumers’ personal information is being “weaponized against us with military efficiency.”

      Now, Cook said he and others are calling on Congress to pass “comprehensive federal privacy legislation” that gives consumers full control over the data companies hold on them.

      “We believe the Federal Trade Commission should establish a data-broker clearinghouse, requiring all data brokers to register, enabling consumers to track the transactions that have bundled and sold their data from place to place, and giving users the power to delete their data on demand, freely, easily and online, once and for all,” Cook wrote.

      “Technology has the potential to keep changing the world for the better, but it will never achieve that potential without the full faith and confidence of the people who use it,” he added.

      Calling for greater user privacy

      Cook’s growing concern over the issue of data privacy follows a string of major data breaches in the tech industry, such as Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal. The social media giant was ultimately found to have allowed the consultancy firm to gain access to the information of 87 million users.

      The scandal, and others like it, sparked concern over the way social media companies are handling user data.

      “Consumers shouldn’t have to tolerate another year of companies irresponsibly amassing huge user profiles, data breaches that seem out of control and the vanishing ability to control our own digital lives,” writes Cook. “This problem is solvable — it isn’t too big, too challenging or too late.”

      The publication of Cook’s op-ed happened on the same day that Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced legislation intended to create a law that “protects both consumers and the innovative capabilities of the internet economy.”

      “The time has come for Congress to address consumer data privacy in a candid, responsible and modern manner,” Rubio wrote in an op-ed for The Hill.

      In a Time magazine op-ed published on Wednesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook called on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to form a “data-broker clearinghouse”...
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      Being surrounded by the smell of fattening foods could help fight cravings

      Researchers discovered exactly how long consumers should be taking a whiff of their favorite foods

      With the start of the new year, many consumers take the time to rededicate themselves to following a health diet. However well-intentioned these plans are, there’s always the temptation to swap a salad for a cheeseburger.

      To help combat fattening food cravings, researchers from the University of South Florida recently conducted a study that found that surrounding yourself with the smells of fattening foods for at least two minutes is a great way for consumers to steer clear of the extra calories.

      “Ambient scent can be a powerful tool to resist cravings for indulgent foods,” said lead researcher Dipayan Biswas, PhD. “In fact, subtle sensory stimuli like scents can be more effective in influencing children’s and adults’ food choices than restrictive policies.”

      Every minute counts

      Biswas and his team set out to discover how scent would effectively curb cravings, and they learned that the amount of time consumers are exposed to the smells is what matters most.

      The researchers conducted the first part of their experiment in a middle school cafeteria, where they injected scents of either pizza or apples through nebulizers that couldn’t be directly seen. The scents were filtered on alternating days, and the researchers took note of the students’ subsequent purchasing options depending on what scent was in the air.

      On days when the apple scent permeated the cafeteria, students were more likely to purchase unhealthy food and drinks, whereas on days when they smelled the pizza, they made healthier lunch choices.

      The researchers then replicated the study in a lab setting, switching the scents to filter either cookies or strawberries. After participants were exposed to the smells, they were asked which food they’d prefer: cookies or strawberries.

      Similar to their cafeteria test, the smell of the cookies helped participants make healthier choices, and the time they spent surrounded by the smell of the cookies mattered.

      When participants had inhaled the cookie smell for two minutes or more, they were more likely to make healthier choices. When they spent less than 30 seconds with the cookie scent, they were more likely to choose the cookie. The researchers believe this works because the scent is tricking the brain into being satisfied by the food without the participants ever having to consume it.

      Fighting cravings

      Biswas and his team join several other researchers of late who have looked into the best ways for consumers to fight their food cravings.

      A study at the end of last year looked at nearly 30 scientific studies to produce a comprehensive list of effective ways to kick cravings.

      Researchers found that losing weight can decrease cravings, while frequent exercise can increase cravings. Moreover, cutting out foods from your diet was found to work better than portion control, while certain prescription drugs were also found to help fight cravings.

      Additionally, a separate study found that withdrawal from junk food is similar to what addicts experience when they stop using drugs.

      For those whose diets consisted primarily of junk food, the symptoms were particularly strong, and many reported feeling fatigued, sad, and irritable. However, if consumers can get past the first five days, the symptoms reportedly decreased.

      With the start of the new year, many consumers take the time to rededicate themselves to following a health diet. However well-intentioned these plans are,...
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      Survey finds most consumers who take vitamins don’t need them

      Only 24 percent of consumers who take supplements have a nutritional deficiency

      If you take a vitamin supplement, stop and ask yourself if you really need it. Chances are you don’t.

      When the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) hired The Harris Poll to survey consumers, researchers found that more than four out of five people take vitamins or a dietary supplement. However, the organization says just 24 percent of those consumers have a nutritional deficiency.

      Dr. Mike Vardshavski, an osteopathic family physician, says most people don’t have a health condition that requires them to take vitamins. Those people, he says, are wasting money and could even be harming their health.

      "Numerous investigations show the alleged benefits are unproven and in the worst cases, vitamins and supplements can be harmful," Varshavski said. "In particular, I advise patients that this industry is highly unregulated, so it's important to research manufacturers to ensure their products actually contain the nutritional supplements advertised."

      Independent analysis

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has responsibility for regulating supplements, but it uses a different set of rules than used for drug regulation. Dr. Tod Cooperman, founder of an independent testing lab called ConsumerLab, addressed a recent NIH symposium and outlined the results of the latest supplement analysis.

      “One out of every five supplements we tested has been found to be of poor quality,” Cooperman said. “Herbals had the highest failure rate at 39 percent. Twenty percent of vitamins and minerals also failed.”

      The survey asked consumers how they decided which vitamins or supplements to take. Just over half said they got a recommendation from a doctor, which would seem to be the safest source. Thirty-nine percent said they did their own research and 22 percent said they got advice from a friend or family member.

      Be skeptical of gummy vitamins

      "Obviously, there is a great need for real education on this topic, even among health care professionals," said Varshavski. "Consumers are also cautioned to avoid trends, such as vaping supplements, until the research is conclusive, and to be skeptical of gummy vitamins—which are basically sugar tablets."

      The AOA has called for legislation requiring dietary supplements to undergo pre-market safety and efficacy evaluation by the FDA, just as drugs do. The organization also says the FDA should monitor all products marketed for human consumption, including nutritional supplements.

      If you think you really need to take a supplement, Varshavski recommends choosing one that carries a certification or approval from a trusted, independent organization. That won’t guarantee the product will be effective, only that it contains the correct ingredients and in the correct amounts.

      If you take a vitamin supplement, stop and ask yourself if you really need it. Chances are you don’t.When the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) hi...
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      Specialized-branded bicycles with steerer tube collars recalled

      The steerer tube collar may crack if exposed to corrosion

      Specialized Bicycle Components Canada is recalling about 4,900 Roubaix, Ruby, Diverge, and Sirrus bicycles with with steerer tube collars.

      The steerer tube collar may crack if exposed to corrosion which may cause the rider to loose control, posing fall and injury hazards.

      No injuries have been reported.

      The following products, manufactured in Taiwan, are being recalled:

      2017ROUBAIXRUBY
      S-WORKSXX
      PROXX
      EXPERTXX
      COMPXX
      ELITEXX
      2018ROUBAIXRUBYDIVERGESIRRUS
      S-WORKSXXX
      PROXX
      EXPERTXXXX
      COMPXXX
      E5 COMPX
      SPORTXXX
      ELITEXX
      BASEXX
      2019ROUBAIXRUBYDIVERGESIRRUS
      S-WORKSXXX
      PROXX
      EXPERTXXXX
      COMPXXXX
      E5-COMPX
      SPORTXXX
      BASEXXX

      The product names are printed on the bicycle frame.

      The recalled products were sold in Canada between September 2016, and December 2018.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should immediately stop using them and contact an authorized retailer for a free repair of the steerer tube collars.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (800) 465-8887 from 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at https://www.specialized.com/ca/en/.

      Specialized Bicycle Components Canada is recalling about 4,900 Roubaix, Ruby, Diverge, and Sirrus bicycles with with steerer tube collars.The steerer t...
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      Ford recalls model year 2019 Lincoln Nautilus vehicles

      The vehicles may not adequately detect if a driver has his or her hands off the steering wheel

      Ford Motor Company is recalling about 2,700 model year 2019 Lincoln Nautilus vehicles equipped with lane-centering assist and adaptive front steering.

      These vehicles may not adequately detect if a driver has his or her hands off the steering wheel.

      Failure of the hands on/off detection system may not alert the driver to place his or her hands back on the steering wheel, which could increase the risk of a crash.

      Ford is not aware of any accidents or injuries resulting from this condition.

      What to do

      Dealers will update the power steering control module software in affected vehicles. Ford's reference number for the recall is 19S02.

      Owners may contact Ford at (866) 436-7332

      Ford Motor Company is recalling about 2,700 model year 2019 Lincoln Nautilus vehicles equipped with lane-centering assist and adaptive front steering.T...
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      Sears gets a reprieve and a $5 billion check at the last minute

      Plenty of questions remain about how the company will scale to operate in today’s online world

      At the eleventh hour, Sears has found someone to keep 400 of the company’s stores open and the lights on.

      On Wednesday, Eddie Lampert, the chairman of Sears Holdings, struck a $5 billion deal to save the 126-year-old chain. The deal was struck after days of closed door push-and-pull over the number of jobs that would be saved, how Sears’ creditors would be paid, and what components -- like Sears Home Services -- would be kept alive.

      As late as Tuesday night, the bid from Lampert’s hedge fund, ESL Investments, seemed doomed. Bloomberg News reported that people familiar with the situation said that the $5 billion final bid was $150 million over its previous offer.

      Who is this Lampert fellow?

      Lampert is well-known around Sears. The billionaire constructed Kmart’s $11 billion acquisition of Sears back in 2005 and, through his ESL hedge fund, is Sears’ largest shareholder. According to the Chicago Tribune, he’s provided Sears with more than $2.4 billion in loans and other financing over the last few years.

      Previously, Lampert was a director at AutoNation and AutoZone.

      Can Sears compete in the digital world?

      Sears, Toys “R” Us, and other big box stores have felt the pinch of consumers moving toward online shopping. Now that it has a reprieve, Sears is faced with the task of re-inventing its business model like WalMart and Target have to make themselves viable.

      Sears, under Lampert’s direction, was actually an early adopter of online shopping. In his 2011 shareholder’s letter, he bragged that Sears Holdings was named “Overall Best-in-Class" for its mobile efforts and ranked second for its online consumer experience, even going as far as comparing Sears’ strategy to Microsoft and Apple.

      However, Lampert’s best laid plans for online prosperity didn’t succeed. Left with few choices, he opted to shave off $1 billion in expenses by selling off Craftsman tools and spinning off Land’s End. He also put a lot of the company’s retail footprints up on the real estate market in hopes of companies like Whole Foods taking over the left-behind space.

      Still, some say the company has a lot more to pare down.

      “Scale, which is critical to competing in retail today, will be lacking and its core customer proposition still remains in question,’’ said Moody’s Corp. Vice President Christina Boni. “Sears had been shrinking its store base and reducing costs in recent years, but improvement in sales trends and profitability remained elusive.’’

      At the eleventh hour, Sears has found someone to keep 400 of the company’s stores open and the lights on.On Wednesday, Eddie Lampert, the chairman of S...
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      Shermag recalls convertible 4-in-1 crib

      The hardware on the crib can become loose and detach

      Shermag is recalling about 2,956 Shermag Harrison convertible 4-in-1 cribs.

      The hardware on the cribs can become loose and detach, allowing the sides of the crib to widen, creating a hazardous gap in which infants and toddlers can become wedged or trapped, posing risks of suffocation and strangulation.

      Hardware failures can also lead to the crib to collapse as sides may detach.

      No injuries have been reported.

      The following product, sold exclusively at Toys’ R Us Canada from January 2015, to September 2016, is being recalled:

      Model NameModel NumberUPC
      Shermag Harrison274348-02773378730489

      What to do


      Customers who purchased the recalled product should immediately stop using it and contact Shermag to receive a refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Shermag at (800) 567-3419, Monday – Friday from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (ET).

      Shermag is recalling about 2,956 Shermag Harrison convertible 4-in-1 cribs.The hardware on the cribs can become loose and detach, allowing the sides of...
      Read lessRead more

      Consumer confidence dips to start 2019

      A Bankrate survey finds more than half don’t expect their finances to improve

      A new survey of consumers shows a declining level of confidence in their short-term financial outlook.

      According to Bankrate’s Financial Outlook Survey, 55 percent of consumers who were questioned don’t expect their financial situation to improve in 2019. This includes 12 percent who think their situation will be worse and 44 percent who think it will stay the same.

      It follows a December Bankrate survey that found six in 10 employees received neither a raise in their current job nor a better paying job last year, a sizable increase from 2017.

      The survey was taken during the time of the current government shutdown, which could have some effect on the outcome. Mark Hamrick, Bankrate’s senior financial analyst, says a shutdown of the federal government can have a big impact on consumer confidence.

      “If you think about, first of all, just that in general, the erosion of confidence in institutions and then you think about essential developments in recent years with respect to government shutdowns, the divisive nature of national politics and the lack of the ability on the part of elected leaders to forge productive and constructive solutions to major problems — it is understandable why people may feel that way,” Hamrick said.

      The current government shutdown is now the longest on record. President Trump is demanding that legislation funding the government include some money for starting construction of a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. Democrats in Congress have refused to consider such a proposal.

      Not the only factor

      But the stalemate in Washington is not the only factor that appears to be providing a drag on confidence. While employment prospects remain positive, consumers say the rise in interest rates is causing economic hardship, suggesting that many are carrying credit card balances that get more expensive every time the Fed raises interest rates.

      But it turns out not everyone is pessimistic about the economic future. Millennials are markedly more optimistic about the economy.

      Nearly 60 percent of young adults in the millennial generation predict their financial fortunes will improve in 2019. Economists say that’s surprising considering how much student loan debt this generation is carrying.

      Millennials are not the only ones going into the new year with an increased degree of optimism. Nearly half -- 44 percent -- of survey respondents think 2019 will be a better year financially. More than half think they’ll earn more money this year and nearly 40 percent think they can reduce their debt.

      A new survey of consumers shows a declining level of confidence in their short-term financial outlook.According to Bankrate’s Financial Outlook Survey,...
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      NBCUniversal to launch its own streaming service in 2020

      The service will be free for traditional pay-TV subscribers

      NBC has announced that it plans to launch a free, ad-supported streaming service for customers who pay for cable in early 2020.

      The service will include 1,500 hours of NBC-TV shows, such as Saturday Night Live, Parks and Recreation, and “hundreds of hours” of Universal movies, the company announced Monday. For those who don’t subscribe to a pay-TV service, the service will cost $12 each month as an ad-free, standalone service.

      The launch of NBC’s streaming service is “contingent on striking deals with the largest pay-TV providers, which it hasn’t yet done,” CNBC reported, citing a source with knowledge of the company’s plans.

      “Still, the product will be free for customers of those providers, so NBC doesn’t plan on any challenges when it comes to inking those agreements,” the news outlet said.

      Banking on ad revenue

      The service will be free to Comcast Cable and Sky pay-TV subscribers. However, NBC will air between three and five minutes of ads per hour, said NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke.

      “We think we can get around $5 a month from people who would use a free service,” Burke told the Hollywood Reporter.

      “One of the interesting things about this that makes it different and innovative is that we’ll have a big emphasis on free-to-consumer,” Burke said. “We want to create a platform that has significant scale and can scale quickly. The best way to do that, is make it free to consumers and leverage the fact that NBCUniversal’s sister company is a cable company and now owns Sky.”

      Prior to the announcement, Disney and AT&T’s Warner Media both said they will launch video-streaming services of their own at the end of 2019. CBS already offers ad-supported streaming for sports and news, as well as a subscription streaming service called CBS All Access. Fox News launched its Fox Nation subscription service toward the end of last year.

      NBC has announced that it plans to launch a free, ad-supported streaming service for customers who pay for cable in early 2020. The service will includ...
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      Bio Busti brand Pecorino Stagionato cheese recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      La Cie d'Investissements Côté Inc. is recalling Bio Busti brand Pecorino Stagionato cheese.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There are no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of this product.

      The following product, sold from Marchés Tau locations described below, is being recalled:

      • Brand Name: Bio Busti
      • Common Name: Pecorino Stagionato cheese- with raw milk
      • Size: Various
      • Code(s) on Product: L18180540 0203046
      • UPC: None
      • Additional Info: Sold from Marchés Tau located at:
        • 1325 Boul. Michèle-Bohec, Blainville, Quebec from January 4 to January 14, 2019, inclusive.
        • 7373 Boul. Langelier, Saint-Léonard, Quebec from January 8 to January 14, 2019, inclusive.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should discard it or return it to the store where purchased.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company by email at reception@marchestau.com.

      La Cie d'Investissements Côté Inc. is recalling Bio Busti brand Pecorino Stagionato cheese. The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytog...
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      Walmart is adding 2,000 high-tech workers in 2019

      The company plans to use technology to improve online and in-store shopping experiences

      Walmart has given another hint that it plans to increase its competition with Amazon in e-commerce and in technology in general. The world’s largest brick and mortar retailer says it will staff up in 2019 to improve its technology, not just online but also in stores.

      In an interview with Bloomberg Television, Walmart Chief Technology Officer Jeremy King revealed that the company plans to hire 2,000 people to join the retail technology group. That group currently employs about 7,500 people.

      The new employees will work in areas such as design, software engineering, and data collection and analysis. They’ll join about 1,700 new Walmart employees in that group who joined the company last year.

      The increase in hiring in this area shouldn’t come as a surprise since Walmart spent much of 2018 deploying robots in its stores to help with maintenance and inventory control. Someone, after all, has to oversee the electronic workers.

      Other new employees will work on developing algorithms that will help employees fill online orders faster by outlining the best routes to take when moving through the aisles. Walmart offers curbside grocery pickup in more than 2,000 stores in the U.S. and hopes to add it to as many as 1,000 more this year.

      Competing with Amazon for talent

      The new employees will work in high-tech centers both in the U.S. and Asia as Walmart appears to be ready to compete with Amazon to sign the best technology talent.

      The new technology group employees won’t be working on a system to replace cashiers, such as Amazon’s cashierless stores. King says that is not currently practical for Walmart.

      “We’re talking about a huge scale,” King told Bloomberg. “Those sort of 7-Eleven-size stores [that Amazon operates] are one thing but when you talk about a Walmart Supercenter, it’s going to be some time before we can go completely cashierless.”

      But King did say that the company is continuing to work on expanding the number of ways customers can check out without standing in line.

      Walmart has given another hint that it plans to increase its competition with Amazon in e-commerce and in technology in general. The world’s largest brick...
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      Toyota recalls Corolla Hatchbacks

      The torque converter in the Continuously Variable Transmission could fail

      Toyota is recalling about 3,400 model year 2019 Corolla Hatchbacks.

      The torque converter in the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) could fail, resulting in a loss of motive power increasing the risk of crash.

      What to do

      Toyota is currently obtaining parts to replace the Direct Shift-CVT with a new one containing a new torque converter not affected by this issue at no cost to customers. Owners of all recalled vehicles will will be notified by first-class mail.

      The recall is expected to begin in mid-February.

      Owners may contact Toyota at (800) 331-4331

      Toyota is recalling about 3,400 model year 2019 Corolla Hatchbacks.The torque converter in the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) could fail, res...
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      The Weekly Hack: An annoyed man who lives with his parents is behind one of Germany’s biggest hacks

      Hackers are raiding cryptocurrencies again

      A 20-year-old German man targeted lawmakers, including Chancellor Angela Merkel and celebrities, because he was annoyed, according to a confession he gave law enforcement.

      The hacker, a student who lives with his parents, stressed that he wouldn't have been able to to carry out the attack if the public officials and celebrities used better passwords.

      “Bad passwords were one of the reasons he had it so easy,” an official told the Guardian newspaper. “I was shocked at how simple most passwords were: ‘ILoveYou’, ‘1,2,3’. A whole array of really simple things.”

      The hacker was arrested on Sunday, and he confessed the following day. Officials said that he did not appear to understand the severity of the hack, which is among the worst in Germany’s history. Almost 1,000 public figures were affected by the breach. The man was released from custody on the condition that he not leave his parent’s house.

      Cell phone carriers selling location data

      AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon are facing unwelcome scrutiny from Congress over their practice of selling cell phone location data to bounty hunters.

      The revelation comes courtesy of Motherboard reporter Joseph Cox, who paid $300 to a bounty hunter with the challenge of tracking down his T-Mobile cell phone. It didn’t take the bounty hunter long to find it.

      The reporting implicates all major cell phone carriers for selling individual location data to third parties. The data can then be re-sold to other third parties, transactions that eventually result in bounty hunters, stalkers, or others obtaining location data for several hundred dollars.

      California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris and other lawmakers, as well as FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, are now calling for an investigation into the major carriers.

      Perhaps in an attempt to avoid some of the scrutiny, AT&T on Thursday announced that it will stop selling consumer location data to third parties.

      Ethereum coins

      Hackers stole over $1 million worth of Ethereum coins this week in a complicated hack called a 51 percent attack. Luckily for traders, no individuals saw their crypto-savings stolen from their wallets. Instead, the attackers targeted Ethereum Classic, a popular blockchain where Ethereum classic is traded.

      Attacks on cryptocurrency were common last year and may become even  more so as the value of blockchain-traded currency plummets.

      A 20-year-old German man targeted lawmakers, including Chancellor Angela Merkel and celebrities, because he was annoyed, according to a confession he gave...
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      Monday’s auction will determine fate of Sears and Kmart employees

      Sears’ former CEO will bid to keep stores operating but will have to compete with others who only want its assets

      It’s likely to be an anxious weekend for as many as 68,000 Sears and Kmart employees as their jobs continue to hang in the balance. But late week events make their prospects appear a little brighter.

      After all, at mid-week, their company Sears Holdings petitioned a bankruptcy judge to let it close its remaining stores and liquidate its assets, saying former CEO Eddie Lampert’s $4.4 billion offer to buy the remaining assets wasn’t good enough.

      But Lampert has raised his bid to $5 billion, and the judge said the former executive can bid for the assets in Monday’s bankruptcy audition. In a filing, Lampert’s hedge fund, ESL Investments, said it has formed a new company called Transform Holdco LLC that will make a new offer to buy the company’s assets and operate its most profitable retail stores.

      Still enthusiastic

      In the filing, Lampert said he is still enthusiastic about the deal and about Sears’ future in the retail space. Whether the new company’s offer is sufficient will be determined at Monday’s auction.

      Lampert’s new company appears to be the only bidder that wants to keep Sears intact, and thus preserve most of the existing jobs. It will have to compete with others bidding for pieces of the firm.

      At stake is the legacy of a retailer that began in the late 19th century, as well as the fate of as Sears and Kmart employees who would lose their jobs if the company eventually liquidates.

      In recent years, the company operating Sears and Kmart stores has been dragged lower both by falling sales and rising debt. The company borrowed heavily in the last decade to shore up its business, but most of those investments failed to bear fruit.

      Strong counter-trends

      Its efforts at a turnaround have encountered two strong counter-trends. On one hand, more retail sales have moved to online channels in the last decade. Even as Sears’ brick and mortar competitors established effective e-commerce operations, Sears -- a pioneer in catalog sales -- failed to do so.

      It has also been a victim of the decline of shopping malls. While competitors such as Walmart and Target usually operate stand-alone stores, Sears has usually been an anchor in shopping malls, which have seen dramatic declines in customer traffic.

      It’s likely to be an anxious weekend for as many as 68,000 Sears and Kmart employees as their jobs continue to hang in the balance. But late week events ma...
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      Amazon may tap empty Sears stores for possible Whole Foods expansion

      The company has plenty of things to weigh, including competition, market need, and affordability of space

      Sears is as close as a company can be to teetering on the brink of liquidating its assets, and if it doesn’t make it past its 11th-hour reprieve, it’s possible that its empty stores may become expansion space for Whole Foods.

      In a report by Yahoo! Finance, sources said that the Amazon-owned food chain has already taken a look-see at a former K-Mart site in Utah. K-Mart is one of Sears’ sister acts, and it was caught in Sears' massive closing of stores when it filed for bankruptcy last year.

      Whole Foods’ marching orders

      At a recent market forecast event, Jim Sud, Whole Foods’ executive VP of growth and business development, said that Amazon wants him to put the pedal to the metal.

      “In the two years prior to the merger, because of competitive pressures and because of a slowdown in our comparable store sales, we slowed our growth,” Sud said.

      “At one time, I think we had 93 stores in development, and we stopped signing leases and stopped opening stores. But when Amazon acquired us, they sort of said: ‘You’re on. Start growing again.’”

      The conundrum

      One thing Sud’s team has to look closely at is the competition and what niches are still open. Competition in the grocery market can be brutal. Sud went as far as saying it’s retail’s most competitive sector.

      Kroger, for one, is quickly establishing new benchmarks by moving to a “scan-and-go” approach, partnering with Walgreens for space inside the pharmacy’s stores, and launching a fleet of driverless delivery vehicles.

      Then, there’s the question of how to best expand into Sears’ leave-behinds, or potentially take over the entire space of a Sears’ shell. Both would be a herculean task for Whole Foods.

      How many of the 300 Sears and K-Mart stores that have been shuttered does Whole Foods really need and can make profitable? Except for the eight states where it doesn’t have a store, Whole Foods has every major market covered.

      If Whole Foods did move into a vacant Sears store, it would also face the daunting task of filling out a lot of empty space. On average, a Whole Foods store has about 38,000 square feet, whereas many Sears’ stores were quadruple that.

      Let’s make a deal

      Still, malls love food stores, and mall landlords might be open to cutting a deal with Whole Foods just for the foot traffic alone.

      “There are lots of vacant retail space that they can take advantage of, and that gives them access to reasonable retail locations, but I also think they want to secure good real estate deals by filling voids, and getting good rental levels from landlords,” Neil Saunders, managing director of retail at GlobalData, told Yahoo Finance.

      “If that’s an existing center -- second generation space -- that meets all of our criteria…we’ll jump all over it,” Sud commented.

      Sears is as close as a company can be to teetering on the brink of liquidating its assets, and if it doesn’t make it past its 11th-hour reprieve, it’s poss...
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      Amazon, IMDb launch free streaming service

      IMDb Freedive lets users watch films or TV shows without a subscription

      Amazon and IMDb, a site the online retailer has owned since 1998, have officially launched a free streaming video channel that will be available in the U.S. on the IMDb website and Amazon Fire TV devices.

      IMDb Freedive currently offers a selection af around 130 movies and 29 TV titles, but Amazon plans to continually expand the selection and rotate out content. IMDb said the service will soon be “available more widely, including on IMDb’s leading mobile apps.”

      "Customers already rely on IMDb to discover movies and TV shows and decide what to watch," IMDb CEO Col Needham said in a statement. "We will continue to enhance IMDb Freedive based on customer feedback and will soon make it available more widely, including on IMDb's leading mobile apps."

      A few movies users can watch for free through the platform include "Awakenings," "Monster," "The Illusionist," "The Last Samurai" and "True Romance." Some of the TV shows currently available include "The Bachelor," "Fringe," "Heroes" and "Without a Trace."

      Since the service is ad-supported, it doesn’t require a subscription. Freedive joins other ad-supported video on-demand services, including The Roku Channel, Tubi, Vudu, YouTube, and PopcornFlix.

      The addition of IMDb Freedive to the growing lineup of streaming options comes on the heels of a recent IAB study showing that 73 percent of adults who typically watch streaming over-the-top (OTT) video say they watch ad-supported OTT video.

      Amazon and IMDb, a site the online retailer has owned since 1998, have officially launched a free streaming video channel that will be available in the U.S...
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      Gas prices still falling but at a much slower rate

      California replaces Hawaii as the most expensive state to fill up

      Consumers continue to enjoy lower gasoline prices, but the rate of decline has slowed from the last couple of weeks and appears to have stalled.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is $2.24 a gallon, just a penny lower than last Friday. It’s 27 cents cheaper than a year ago. The average price of premium is $2.83 a gallon, down two cents from last week. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.94, four cents less than seven days ago.

      The week’s biggest declines came in states with the highest prices at the pump. California replaced Hawaii as the state with the highest statewide average gas price. At the same time, some of the states with the lowest prices saw their statewide averages actually go up. Prices in Oklahoma and South Carolina are both up a penny per gallon over last week.

      Ordinarily, that might signal prices have reached a bottom, but a report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) raises the possibility that prices could slide further in the weeks ahead.

      The report shows U.S. supplies of gasoline surged by 8.1 million barrels last week, meaning the U.S. has nearly 11 million barrels more of motor fuel than at this time last year. According to AAA, consumers are buying less gas than forecasted. If that trend continues, AAA predicts motorists could see even lower prices at the pump throughout the winter.

      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:

      • California ($3.29)
      • Hawaii ($3.28)
      • Washington ($3.01)
      • Alaska ($2.98)
      • Oregon ($2.89)
      • Nevada ($2.91)
      • Arizona ($2.61)
      • Connecticut ($2.56)
      • New York ($2.56)
      • Utah ($2.52)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The survey found these states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas:

      • Missouri ($1.86)
      • Alabama ($1.90)
      • Oklahoma ($1.92)
      • Mississippi ($1.92)
      • Texas ($1.92)
      • Louisiana ($1.92)
      • South Carolina ($1.93)
      • Kansas ($1.96)
      • Tennessee ($1.97)
      • Ohio ($1.97)
      Consumers continue to enjoy lower gasoline prices, but the rate of decline has slowed from the last couple of weeks and appears to have stalled.The AAA...
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      Janes Pub Style Chicken Strips recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Sofina Foods is recalling Janes brand Pub Style Chicken Strips.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      Canada's Public Health Agency is investigating an outbreak of human illness.

      Janes, sold throughout Canada, is being recalled:

      Common NameSizeCode(s) on ProductUPC
      Pub Style Chicken Strips – Uncooked Breaded Chicken Cutlettes800 gOuter package: 2019 MA 11
      Inner package: 1318M
      0 69299 12489 7

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may call Janes Food at (905) 673-7145.

      Sofina Foods is recalling Janes brand Pub Style Chicken Strips.The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.Canada's Public Health Agency is inv...
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      Chrysler recalls more than 1.4 million vehicles

      Passenger-side airbag inflators may rupture

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling an estimated 1.4 million vehicles in the U.S.

      Due to a defect linked to temperature cycling, humidity and time, passenger-side airbag inflators may -- on deployment -- send shrapnel into the vehicle cabin.

      To date, the automaker has replaced more than 4 million Takata inflators. However, its inventory of replacement parts has outpaced demand for service.

      The following vehicles are being recalled:

      • model year 2010 Ram 3500 pickup
      • model year 2010 Ram 4500/5500 chassis cab
      • model year 2010-2011 Dodge Dakota pickup
      • model year 2010-2014 Dodge Challenger sport coupe
      • model year 2011-2015 Dodge Charger sedan
      • model year 2010-2015 Chrysler 300 sedan and
      • model year 2010-2016 Jeep Wrangler SUV

      Vehicles of the same type will be recalled in Canada (est. 88,830), Mexico (12,821) and markets outside the NAFTA region (118,084).

      What to do

      Chrysler will advise owners of the recalled vehicles when they may schedule service.

      Owners with questions or concerns may call the Chrysler recall information center at (800) 853-1403.

      Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling an estimated 1.4 million vehicles in the U.S.Due to a defect linked to temperature cycling, humidity and time, passe...
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      Instagram adds ability to post to multiple accounts at the same time

      The new feature is intended to make sharing easier for those managing multiple feeds

      Instagram is giving users with multiple accounts the ability share the same post to any or all of their accounts simultaneously. The new “self-regram” function will become available to all iOS users, and some users may see it as an option now.

      "We are rolling out this feature to provide a better experience for people who often post to multiple accounts," a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.

      To utilize the new feature, users can simply flip the toggle next to the accounts they want to publish to when they’re composing a post. The option is called “Post to Other Accounts,” and it’s located under the options to tag other users and location.

      Previously, users had to either manually repost the content on another account or use a third-party repost app.

      TechCrunch pointed out that one possible downside of the new feature is that it could cause users’ feeds to become somewhat monotonous, ”with different audiences of different accounts seeing the same shots and captions.”

      Last year, Instagram gave Stories users the ability to regram public feed posts to their Story. The photo sharing platform is also testing an Android shortcut for importing photos from Google Photos.

      “You have been able to share to feed from Google photos on Android before, but the ability to do so was hidden behind a couple of different steps, so we’re up-leveling that ability to make it easier,” the company said.

      Instagram hasn’t said when (or if) its new “self-regram” feature will become available to Android users, nor has it provided a timeline for the completion of the feature’s rollout to iOS users.

      Instagram is giving users with multiple accounts the ability share the same post to any or all of their accounts simultaneously. The new “self-regram” func...
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      Abound Chicken and Brown Rice dog food recalled

      The products may contain elevated levels of Vitamin D

      King Soopers is recalling Abound Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe dog food produced by Sunshine Mills, Inc.

      The products have the potential to contain an elevated level of Vitamin D, which may cause renal failure.

      No reports of illness or injury have been reported to date.

      The following products, sold in King Soopers and City Market stores in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming, are being recalled:

      ProductUPCBest by DatesSize

      Abound Chicken and

      Brown Rice Recipe Dog Food

      11110-83556

      11/1/18

      11/16/18

      4 LB

      Abound Chicken and

      Brown Rice Recipe Dog Food

      11110-8357311/1/18

      11/16/18
      14 LB

      Abound Chicken and

      Brown Rice Recipe Dog Food

      11110-8907611/1/18

      11/16/18
      24 LB

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not allow their pet to consume them, and should return them to the store where purchased for a full refund or replacement.

      Consumers with questions may contact Sunshine Mills. customer service at (800) 705-2111 from 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. (CST) Monday through Friday, or by email at customer.service@sunshinemills.com.

      King Soopers is recalling Abound Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe dog food produced by Sunshine Mills, Inc.The products have the potential to contain an ele...
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      J. H. Routh Packing recalls pork sausages

      The products may be contaminated with pieces of rubber

      J. H. Routh Packing Co., of Sandusky, Ohio, is recalling about 1,719 pounds of raw pork sausage products that may be contaminated with extraneous materials -- specifically pieces of rubber.

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

      The following raw ground pork bulk and link sausage items, produced from January 1 – 4, 2019, are being recalled:

      • 5-lb. plastic packages containing loose, bulk “Daisyfield Brand FRESH PORK SAUSAGE” with production dates “010119” or “010219” or “010319” or “010419” on the label.
      • 5-lb. paper-lined cardboard packages containing large link “Daisyfield Brand FRESH PORK SAUSAGE” with production dates “010119” or “010219” or “010319” or “010419” on the label.
      • 5-lb. paper-lined cardboard packages containing country-style rope “Daisyfield Brand FRESH PORK SAUSAGE” with production dates “010119” or “010219” or “010319” or “010419” on the label.
      • 5-lb. paper-lined cardboard packages containing small, breakfast-style link “Daisyfield Brand FRESH PORK SAUSAGE” with production dates “010119” or “010219” or “010319” or “010419” on the label.
      • 5-lb. plastic packages containing loose, bulk “Daisyfield Brand ITALIAN SAUSAGE” with production dates “010119” or “010219” or “010319” or “010419” on the label.
      • 5-lb. paper-lined cardboard packages containing large link “Daisyfield Brand ITALIAN SAUSAGE” links with production dates “010119” or “010219” or “010319” or “010419” on the label.
      • 5-lb. paper-lined cardboard packages containing country-style rope “Daisyfield Brand ITALIAN SAUSAGE” links with production dates “010119” or “010219” or “010319” or “010419” on the label.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 818” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations in Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Tony Stearns at (419) 626-2251.

      J. H. Routh Packing Co., of Sandusky, Ohio, is recalling about 1,719 pounds of raw pork sausage products that may be contaminated with extraneous materials...
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      Toyota recalls additional 1.3 million Toyota and Lexus models

      A defective airbag inflator may rupture

      Toyota is adding approximately 1.3 million vehicles to the series of recalls it has been conducting in connection with Takata airbag inflators.

      The recalled vehicles are equipped with front passenger airbag inflators containing a non-desiccated, phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate propellant. A defect related to motor vehicle safety may arise in the inflators due to propellant degradation occurring after prolonged exposure to high absolute humidity, high temperatures, and high temperature cycling.

      Activation of a non-desiccated ammonium nitrate inflator with degraded propellant may result in an airbag inflator rupture. If a defective airbag inflator ruptures, it may cause sharp metal fragments to pass through the airbag and spray directly at the driver and passengers, increasing the risk of serious injury or death.

      The following vehicles are being recalled:

      • model year 2010-2016 4Runners
      • model year 2010-2013 Corollas
      • model year 2010-2013 Matrixes
      • model year 2011-2014 Siennas,
      • model year 2010-2015 Scion XBs,
      • model year 2010-2012 Lexus ES 350s
      • model year 2010-2017 Lexus GX 460s
      • model year 2010-2015 Lexus IS 250Cs
      • model year 2010-2015 Lexus IS 350Cs
      • model year 2010-2013 Lexus IS 250s
      • model year 2010-2013 Lexus IS 350s and
      • model year 2010-2014 Lexus IS-Fs.

      What to do

      Depending on the vehicle model, Toyota and Lexus dealers will replace either the front passenger airbag inflator or airbag assembly at no cost to owners.

      Owners of all involved vehicles will receive direct notification starting in late January 2019.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at (800) 331-4331and Lexus customer service at (800) 255-3987.

      Toyota is adding approximately 1.3 million vehicles to the series of recalls it has been conducting in connection with Takata airbag inflators.The reca...
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      Judge gives Sears an 11th-hour reprieve

      The company’s former CEO will get one last chance to save the company

      Sears, the 126-year-old bankrupt retailer, isn’t dead after all.

      After hearing both sides, a bankruptcy judge has decided to postpone Sears’ requested liquidation to allow former Sears CEO Eddie Lampert one final chance to take over the company and its remaining 425 Sears and Kmart stores.

      Lampert, through his hedge fund ESL, bid $4.4 billion for the company’s assets, but the total fell short of what the Sears board said was necessary. The judge ruled that if ESL comes up with $120 million by 4:00 p.m. ET today to keep the stores open, he can compete for the company’s assets at an auction on Monday.

      At stake is the legacy of a retailer that began in the late 19th century, as well as the fate of as many as 68,000 Sears and Kmart employees who would lose their jobs if the company eventually liquidates.

      The company has been dragged lower both by falling sales and rising debt. The company borrowed heavily in the last decade to shore up its business, but most of those investments failed to bear fruit.

      Slow collapse

      Sears and Kmart have been undergoing a slow collapse over the last decade as more retail sales have moved to online channels. Even as Sears’ brick and mortar competitors established effective e-commerce operations Sears -- a pioneer in catalog sales -- failed to do so.

      The hemorrhaging picked up speed in the third quarter of 2016 when the company reported a net loss of $748 million, almost double what it lost in the same quarter a year earlier. The company responded by closing unprofitable stores.

      The only problem was, there were a lot of them. At one point the following year, it opened one new store but closed 20 others. Store closings continued throughout 2017 and 2018, with Sears Holdings declaring bankruptcy in mid-October 2018.

      Reuters reports the negotiations between Lampert and the company broke down over the structure of his bid, as well as the former CEO’s request to not be held liable for actions he took while servicing as the company’s chief executive.

      Sears, Roebuck, and Company began as a mail order retail company, the late 19th century’s version of Amazon.com. It began opening retail stores in 1925.

      Sears, the 126-year-old bankrupt retailer, isn’t dead after all.After hearing both sides, a bankruptcy judge has decided to postpone Sears’ requested l...
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      Amazon lures customers with freebies

      Privacy concerns have been raised, but the charges have yet to be proven

      Amazon threw down another gauntlet to its competitors on Tuesday when it announced that it’s now going to be sending free product samples to customers.

      Consumers don’t have to pay for a single thing -- no buy one/get one, no tax, no shipping charge. Amazon customers will just open their mailbox one day and find samples that Amazon thinks will be enjoyable and thoughtful.

      To work that “enjoyable and thoughtful” angle, Amazon will use users’ order history and profile information.

      The samples you can expect to get

      In laying out the blueprint of Amazon’s new initiative, the company pointed to food samples for pet lovers, personal care products, health and wellness samples, household products that say, a brand like OxiClean might be rolling out, and healthy food products for grocery shoppers -- possibly to bolster its stake in Whole Foods

      This is not a one-and-done deal, either. The company says that there’s no limit to the number of samples a consumer might receive. A recipient does not necessarily have to be a Prime member either.

      “Anyone with an active Amazon.com account is eligible to receive free samples. If you are selected to receive a sample, the sample will be sent to your default address. If you’d like to receive samples at a different address, you need to change the default address in Your Account > Your Addresses,” the company wrote in the promotion’s FAQs.

      Does that mean Amazon will be mining my data?

      Consumers might be leery about whether Amazon will be delving into their private data in order to send out samples.

      Given the amount of private data users have unknowingly given or had pilfered from their profile across the digital landscape, they may have a right to be concerned. The recent announcement that an app was masquerading as an Amazon Echo app only raises the privacy eyebrow higher.

      Even though Amazon is upfront about using a customer’s order history and profile information as it relates to this idea, critics are quick to raise a flag.

      Axios opined that “Customers are getting items that Amazon’s vast trove of customer data predicts they'll want to buy. But some customers could feel violated when something they haven't ordered shows up unexpectedly on their doorstep.” CNBC also pulled the curtain back on the promotion and agreed that it sounds like a good deal, “but below the surface it raises some privacy concerns in the age of data mining and detailed digital user profiles.”

      Only time will tell if Axios’ or CNBC’s crystal balls are correct. Until then, Amazon wants consumers to know that “If you would like to opt out of receiving samples from this program, you may do so” by going to the program’s preferences page.

      Amazon threw down another gauntlet to its competitors on Tuesday when it announced that it’s now going to be sending free product samples to customers....
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      Proposed bill would curb use of paper receipts in California

      The measure would enforce the use of electronic receipts

      New legislation proposed on Tuesday would make California the first state to require businesses to offer electronic receipts unless customers specifically request paper copies.

      The push to begin phasing out printed receipts in the Golden State has already begun, according to Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco, who introduced the bill. However, the proposed measure (Assembly Bill 161) would ensure that consumers are fully aware of the health and environmental impact of paper receipts.

      For example, most paper receipts aren’t recyclable, are coated with chemicals that aren’t allowed in baby bottles, and can contaminate other recycled paper because of the chemicals known as Bisphenol-A (BPA) and Bisphenol-S (BPS), Ting said.

      Transitioning to e-receipts

      Under the bill, businesses would be required to provide proof of purchase receipts electronically starting in 2022 unless a customer asks for a printed copy.

      “There’s a negative impact on the environment with these receipts and the inability to recycle them,” Ting said. He also cited studies by the Environmental Working Group and the CDC showing that retail workers have higher concentrations of BPA or BPS than those who do not have regular contact with receipts.

      If passed, the measure would be similar to another recently enacted piece of legislation in California -- one which requires restaurants to provide straws only at customers’ request. Similar to the straw bill, infractions would be subject to two written warnings followed by a fine of $25 a day for subsequent violations, with an annual $300 cap.

      Privacy concerns

      While phasing out paper receipts would undoubtedly have environmental benefits, some say the use of electronic receipts raises privacy concerns. Businesses would “have your email, then they'll be marketing to you or selling your information or it can get into privacy issues," noted Republican Assemblyman Brian Dahle.

      But Ting countered by saying that consumers can still ask for paper receipts if they’re worried about giving out their email addresses. An additional benefit of the proposed bill would be its potential to save businesses money.

      But at its core, the bill is intended to cut down on the environmental burden of paper receipts. The advocacy group Green America estimates that millions of trees and billions of gallons of water are used annually to make paper receipts in the United States.

      New legislation proposed on Tuesday would make California the first state to require businesses to offer electronic receipts unless customers specifically...
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      Grand Strand Sandwich recalls various Lunchbox sandwich products

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Grand Strand Sandwich is recalling Lunch Box Italian Subs, Lunch Box Ham & Swiss Croissants and Lunch Box Ham & Cheese Frozen Wedges.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The following products, packaged in clear plastic, are being recalled:

      ProductSizeUPCJulian Dates
      Italian Subs7 oz package0 67068 12222 835218
      Ham & Swiss Croissants5 oz package0 67068 21217 234618
      Ham & Cheese4.5oz package0 67068 12110 834618

      The products were sold between December 17, 2018, through January 4, 2019, primarily in convenience stores and vending machines in North Carolina and South Carolina.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact Kirk McCumbee at (843) 399-2999 Monday – Thursday, 8AM - 4PM, and Friday from 8AM - 3PM (EST).

      Grand Strand Sandwich is recalling Lunch Box Italian Subs, Lunch Box Ham & Swiss Croissants and Lunch Box Ham & Cheese Frozen Wedges.The products may b...
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      Volkswagen recalls model year 2018 Volkswagen Golf R vehicles

      The fuel hose quick connector may detach from the fuel supply line

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 516 model year 2018 Volkswagen Golf R vehicles.

      The fuel hose quick connector may detach from the fuel supply line in the engine bay, resulting in a fuel leak.

      A fuel leak in the engine compartment can increase the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will secure the fuel line connection, as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall was expected to begin December 20, 2018.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 20Bi.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 516 model year 2018 Volkswagen Golf R vehicles.The fuel hose quick connector may detach from the fuel supply l...
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