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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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    Good samaritan buys hotel rooms for Chicago’s homeless during polar vortex

    The city confiscated propane tanks from dozens of homeless people camped in the cold

    The Salvation Army says that a good samaritan is paying for 70 homeless people in Chicago to stay in hotels for the rest of the week.

    The group of homeless had been camped outside in the record-breaking cold, using portable propane tanks to stay warm. At around noon yesterday, one of the tanks exploded. The fire was already extinguished by the time crews arrived, but officials said that the large concentration of tanks posed a fire risk and confiscated the rest. However, that left the group with no source of heat.

    "With that many cylinders, that's like a bomb going off,” the city's Fire Chief told the Chicago Tribune. The city was reportedly working with the Salvation Army to get the homeless people sent to a “warming center” run by the non-profit.

    But as they were making preparations, the Salvation Army got a call from a stranger, saying that the group could stay at a hotel instead.

    "Some wonderful citizen is going to put all of them up at a hotel for the rest of the week,” a Salvation Army spokeswoman told the paper.

    The Salvation Army says that a good samaritan is paying for 70 homeless people in Chicago to stay in hotels for the rest of the week.The group of homel...
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      Exercise found to improve thinking skills

      Researchers suggest aerobic exercise could benefit people as young as 20 years old

      While there is no shortage of health benefits that come along with exercise, a new study found that it could also help cognitive function.

      Researchers from the American Academy of Neurology found that thinking skills could improve for people who engage in aerobic exercise, such as climbing stairs, walking, or cycling on a regular basis.

      “As people age, there can be a decline in thinking skills, however our study shows that getting regular exercise may help slow or even prevent such decline,” said researcher Yaakov Stern, PhD. “We found that all participants who exercised not only showed improvements in executive function but also increased the thickness in an area of the outer layer their brain.”

      Benefits of fitness

      The researchers had over 130 participants involved in the study, all of whom did not exercise regularly at the start of the study and were between the ages of 20 and 67.

      Both prior to and after the study, the participants’ cognitive skills were evaluated and their heart rates were monitored with wearable devices while they exercised.

      One group focused on stretching and toning exercises, while the other group chose from aerobic exercises that included using an elliptical machine, cycling, or walking on a treadmill. The participants were tested over the course of six months, and the researchers used an ergometer to measure how intensely each participant was working out.

      At the end of the six months, the participants in the aerobic exercise group improved their scores on the thinking and memory tests by an average of 0.5 points -- an amount that the researchers deemed significant. Additionally, the older participants were found to have better scores on the test than their younger counterparts.

      “Since a difference of 0.5 standard deviations is equivalent to 20 years of age-related difference in performance on these tests, the people who exercised were testing as if they were about 10 years younger at age 40 and about 20 years younger at age 60,” said Stern.

      “Since thinking skills at the start of the study were poorer for participants who were older, our findings suggest that aerobic exercise is more likely to improve age-related declines in thinking skills rather than improve performance in those without a decline,” he added.

      Importance of staying active

      As important as it is to stay physically active, recent studies have shown that exercising gets tossed to the back burner by many consumers -- though that comes with consequences.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported last summer that only 23 percent of adults across the country are meeting exercise recommendations, while just one in three children are hitting their daily activity targets. This statistic is particularly troublesome for children, who, researchers found, could carry sedentary habits into adulthood.

      To try and help kids stay on track with physical activity, Fitbit released a new kid-oriented health tracker -- Fitbit Ace. The new smartwatch is ideal for young children -- and families -- as users can set up family accounts where parents can monitor their children’s activity.

      “As childhood obesity rates continue to rise, it’s more important than ever to empower the entire family to embrace a healthy and more active lifestyle,” said Fitbit co-founder and CEO James Park. “It can be hard to start and stick to good habits, and we know from our community that network effects are key to getting and keeping people motivated. By bringing that experience to families, it can make healthier habits feel more achievable by making it fun and engaging.”

      While there is no shortage of health benefits that come along with exercise, a new study found that it could also help cognitive function.Researchers f...
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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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      Blue Apron altering its game plan to achieve profitability

      The meal kit maker said its partnership with Weight Watchers has had a positive effect on sales

      In its fourth-quarter earnings release, meal kit maker Blue Apron said it’s on track to achieve profitability in the first quarter in large part due to “favorable consumer response” to its new partnership with WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers).

      The new partnership, which launched in late December, has resulted in "higher-than-expected demand to date,” the company said on Thursday.

      In a conference call with analysts, Blue Apron outlined a number of steps it plans to take as part of its effort to nail down a sustainable, profitable business strategy. The company said it will launch a new, lighter version of its meal kits on Friday with Walmart's Jet.com. The two companies originally announced their partnership back in October.

      Called “Knick Knacks,” each $8 kit comes with sauces, spices, grains, dairy and recipe for a two-person meal. Meat and produce aren’t included in the kits, which makes them more customizable for consumers while also extending the product’s shelf life.

      Targeting health-conscious consumers

      Going forward, Blue Apron said it will also be focusing on improving its meal kit offerings to appeal more to customers interested in health and wellness.

      “We are entering 2019 with confidence in our strategic direction. We believe our newest product innovations and new strategic partnerships with WW and Jet have great potential as we enter the year with a deliberate focus on expanding our offerings to strategically and thoughtfully serve a strong base of loyal customers and attract new, high affinity consumers, as well as continuing to prioritize operational optimization and expense management,” Blue Apron CEO Brad Dickerson said in a statement.

      Blue Apron’s subscriber numbers had been declining since it went public in 2017, but its fourth-quarter earnings report reflected an overall improvement in sales.

      Other meal kit companies have also been experimenting with new ways of reaching consumers and hedging off competition. Last summer, HelloFresh announced that it would start selling meal kits at Giant Food and Stop & Shop stores.

      Plated announced in April 2018 that it would begin selling its meal kits at Albertson’s, and Walmart has expanded the in-store availability of its own line of meal kits in an effort to compete with Amazon’s Whole Foods delivery service and other meal kit companies.

      In its fourth-quarter earnings release, meal kit maker Blue Apron said it’s on track to achieve profitability in the first quarter in large part due to “fa...
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      Federal Reserve declines to raise interest rates

      But the change in tone from policymakers may be the best news for consumers

      The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (OMC) wrapped up a two-day meeting in Washington Wednesday by announcing that it was not raising interest rates. But that wasn’t the real news.

      In a press conference after the meeting, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell took pains to signal to the markets that the Fed would not aggressively raise interest rates. Instead, he said the agency would wait to see what direction the economy was taking.

      That was music to Wall Street’s ears, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average soared more than 400 points.

      Just six weeks earlier, the Fed had spooked markets with language suggesting that it was intent on “normalizing” interest rates -- held at zero for nearly a decade -- no matter what. But in comments following the Fed meeting, Powell signaled a significant reversal. He used the word “patient” eight times as he said policymakers would closely watch the economy before taking action.

      The Fed’s federal funds rate remains between 2.25 percent and 2.50 percent. Hardly anyone expected the rate to go higher at this month’s meeting, though the Fed is on record as suggesting that it could raise rates at least two times in 2019. Now, many analysts think that’s off the table.

      Watching and waiting

      Wednesday’s comments from the Fed chairman did indeed suggest the OMC was on a less rigid course. Powell said policymakers would closely watch economic indicators before making any moves.

      What’s changed since the Fed’s December meeting? Quite a bit. Fourth-quarter earnings reports from major corporations have mostly disappointed, and first quarter guidance has been lower than expected. Whether it’s the impact of the trade war or a cyclical slowdown, U.S. companies appear to be retreating from the rapid growth pace they experienced in the first half of 2018.

      "In light of global economic and financial developments and muted inflation pressures, the Committee will be patient as it determines what future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate may be appropriate to support these outcomes," the OMC said in a statement.

      Good news for consumers

      If the Fed puts rate hikes on hold for the first half of 2019, which many analysts now think is almost certain, it will be good news for consumers carrying large credit card balances. Credit card interest rates are based on the Fed’s federal funds rate, so every time the rate goes up, credit card interest rates also go up.

      The federal funds rate is also tied to most revolving lines of credit, including home equity lines and auto loans.

      While a break from interest rate hikes is welcome news, it could signal trouble in the U.S. economy. The OMC changed its language describing economic growth from “strong” to “solid” and noted that inflation doesn’t appear to be the threat it was a few months earlier.

      The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (OMC) wrapped up a two-day meeting in Washington Wednesday by announcing that it was not raising interest rates....
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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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      It’s tax season and the scammers are out in full force

      The IRS reminds consumers that it never asks for financial information via email, text messages, or social media

      Here we are in the first week of tax return season. While Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees are trying to catch up on things curtailed by the government shutdown, the minions in scam land have already reared their ugly heads.

      The Kentucky Attorney General’s office reports that his office recently worked with a Clark County (KY) resident who sent $9,900 to an IRS scammer in the form of Google Play cards -- a ploy that made news over the 2018 holiday.

      The scammer was so heavy-handed in this situation that they resorted to arrest threats if the victim didn’t cough up the ransom. Nine thousand dollars lighter, the victim is now working with Beshear’s office, and has signed-up for Scam Alerts to avoid future victimization.

      “Tax season last year was the busiest time for staff in my office who handle scam reports, and this year I want to ensure Kentuckians are prepared for the barrage of scam calls that may not slow down until April,” Beshear said. “It is not only IRS scams that increase during tax season, but con artists also try to take advantage of Kentuckians’ interactions with other local, state and federal agencies.”

      Old dog, but new tricks

      ConsumerAffairs sees these swindles year after year. Typically, scammers masquerade as an IRS agent and claim they need to verify the target’s personal and financial information over the phone. Another variant involves the scammer claiming that the victim owes back taxes.

      The newest scam is the Form W-2 scam, a niche-driven heist where someone posing as a debt collector calls the taxpayer, tells them a refund was mistakenly deposited into their bank account, and then asks that the money be forwarded to the so-called debt collector.

      Another scam newbie is a twist where, “instead of targeting individuals, these scammers are targeting tax preparers themselves,” Darrell Laffoon, chief technology officer of security firms EZShield + IdentityForce (an Authorized Partner) told MarketWatch.

      “File taxes today to prevent scams, and keep an eye out for your return. Many of these scams rely on you not having filed your tax return yet,” Laffoon said -- meaning that if an email pops up in your inbox asking you to file your taxes after you already have, it’s a dead ringer for a hoax.

      “It is a race to between you and a criminal,” in Laffoon’s opinion. “And if they win, they end up with your money.”

      The IRS is your friend

      While it may be hard to swallow, the IRS really is on the taxpayer’s side.

      Both the agency and the taxpayer have plenty to learn with the Treasury Department’s new tax deduction rules, but common sense will often keep consumers from being scammed.

      “The IRS doesn't initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information,” reminds the IRS. “This includes requests for PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.”

      The agency has prepared a quick video (shown below) that describes what consumers should be on the lookout for. However, if there’s anything that seems fishy, the IRS is a phone call away at 800-908-4490 and provides a complete set of scam-related FAQs -- including its “Dirty Dozen” list -- online.

      Here we are in the first week of tax return season. While Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees are trying to catch up on things curtailed by the govern...
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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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      Judge denies plaintiffs’ motion for Yahoo data breach settlement

      A California judge wants more answers from the tech giant

      For Yahoo, it’s back to square one. A motion to settle a lawsuit stemming from its series of data breaches has been swatted down by a California judge.

      The plaintiffs in the case, who sued Yahoo after they said their personal data was stolen from Yahoo servers and sold on the dark web, had reached agreement with the tech giant on terms of a settlement.

      But U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh rejected the agreement because she said it didn’t resolve the underlying issues. She complained that Yahoo had not committed to spend more money on security and charged the company with a lack of transparency in the wake of the incidents.

      A spokesman for Verizon, Yahoo’s parent company, declined on comment on pending legal matters.

      One billion user accounts

      In December 2016 Yahoo confirmed that more than 1 billion user accounts had been compromised, a significant increase from the 500 million it disclosed three months earlier. It also said that it believed the first breach occurred as early as 2013.

      Affected accounts contained names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, hashed passwords, and security questions and answers. At the time Yahoo said it believed the breach was carried out with “forged cookies,” small files are generally used to store small amounts of data about specific clients or websites. In this case, hackers used forged versions to access users’ account data without needing a password.

      In 2017, Judge Koh ruled that a class action suit against Yahoo could move forward. Last March she ruled that Yahoo users could sue the company.

      The case centers around users’ charges that Yahoo took too long to report the data breaches. In her March ruling Koh said customers may have “taken measures to protect themselves” against identity theft and fraud had they known about the breaches sooner.

      Critical of Yahoo

      In rejecting the motion for a settlement, Koh was highly critical of Yahoo’s handling of the breaches and questioned its commitment to making things right.

      “Yahoo has only committed to the $50 million in settlement funds and hides the total settlement fund amount,” she wrote.

      Koh, who has presided over the case from the start, also said Yahoo has been vague about what steps it has taken to secure its network systems in the aftermath of the breaches.

      For Yahoo, it’s back to square one. A motion to settle a lawsuit stemming from its series of data breaches has been swatted down by a California judge....
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      Price of ‘Forever’ stamp rises to 55 cents

      The USPS is trying to pull in extra revenue to atone for years of financial losses

      The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has raised the rate of the “Forever” stamp to 55 cents, an increase of five cents. A book of Forever stamps will now cost $11. The agency has also raised the prices for flat rate boxes. The cost of a small flat rate box is now $7.90 -- up from $7.20.

      The added costs are part of the agency’s plan to pull in “needed revenue” following a net loss of $3.9 billion in 2018. That figure represented an increase of one billion compared to the year before.

      The price increases follow criticism from President Trump, who has suggested that the Postal Service is “losing a fortune” by not imposing higher shipping rates for online retailers such as Amazon.

      “Why is the United States Post Office, which is losing many billions of dollars a year, while charging Amazon and others so little to deliver their packages, making Amazon richer and the Post Office dumber and poorer? Should be charging MUCH MORE!” Trump quipped.

      Contending with a decrease in mail volume

      Although the price increases are nominal, the USPS' board of governors say the new rates will keep the Postal Service competitive. The agency noted that the primary cause of its current financial instability is the fact that consumers aren’t sending as many letters as they used to.

      ”The secular mail volume trends continue largely due to electronic diversion and transaction alternatives. We compete for business in every product line, every day from the first mile to last mile,” Postmaster General and CEO Megan J. Brennan said in a statement.

      “We are aggressively managing our business and continuing to focus on serving our customers and communities. However, the flawed business model imposed by law continues to be the root cause of our financial instability. We are seeking reforms that would allow the organization to reduce costs, grow revenue, compete more effectively, and function with greater flexibility to adapt to the marketplace and to invest in our future,” Brennan said.

      While the price of the “Forever” stamp will go up, the cost of a postcard will stay the same at 35 cents, and the cost per additional letter ounce will actually decrease from 21 cents to 15 cents.

      The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has raised the rate of the “Forever” stamp to 55 cents, an increase of five cents. A book of Forever stamps will now cost $1...
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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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      Flu cases picking up momentum in January

      But this flu season hasn’t been especially severe so far

      As expected, cases of the flu increased in January. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports Influenza A(H1N1)pdm09, influenza A(H3N2), and influenza B viruses continue to co-circulate. 

      The percentage of specimens testing positive for flu viruses in the nation’s clinical labors rose for the week ending January 19. So far, the CDC says influenza A viruses have made the most people sick since the beginning of the flu season in October.

      Breaking it down, the CDC says influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses have dominated in most areas of the country; however, influenza A(H3) viruses have been most common in the southeastern U.S. All 10 regions for the U.S. report elevated flu activity.

      The good news is nearly all the viruses respond to some drug. Most show susceptibility to oseltamivir and peramivir. All influenza viruses tested showed susceptibility to zanamivir.

      Walgreens flu monitor

      Walgreens is also monitoring flu cases and reports outbreaks in January have been centered in Texas and Kentucky. The Walgreens Flu Index is an unofficial gauge, but it is compiled using the drugstore chain’s weekly retail prescription data for antiviral medications used to treat the illness.

      Based on that data, Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska led the nation in flu prescriptions in the middle of January, followed by Louisville, Ky., and Tyler-Longview, El Paso, and Dallas, Texas.

      Walgreens also tracks increases in flu medication prescriptions to give health authorities a heads-up on where an outbreak is gaining traction. In mid-January, cases were on the rise in Kentucky, Nebraska, Mississippi, Montana, and Idaho.

      Spreading quickly in 36 states

      According to the CDC, the flu was spreading quickly in 36 states, suggesting this flu season is somewhat severe. The hospitalization rate is not particularly high, at 14.8 per 100,000 people. The highest rate, as it is most years, is among adults 65 and older, one of the most vulnerable population groups.

      At the same time, the CDC says the proportion of deaths linked to pneumonia and the flu registered above the system-specific epidemic threshold in the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) Mortality Surveillance System during the middle of January.

      Arkansas reports at least 17 deaths so far this flu season. State health officials say influenza A is by far the most common type.

      As expected, cases of the flu increased in January. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports Influenza A(H1N1)pdm09, influenza A(H3N2),...
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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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