Follow us:
  1. Home
  2. News
  3. 2019
  4. August

News in August 2019

Browse by year

2019

Browse by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Senators request more information on Amazon’s safety efforts

    A group of senators are calling on Jeff Bezos to launch a ‘sweeping internal investigation’ into the issue of unsafe listings

    On the heels of a recent Wall Street Journal investigation which found that Amazon had more than 4,000 listings for items that had been declared unsafe by federal regulators, three U.S. senators are calling on Jeff Bezos to launch an internal investigation into the issue. 

    “Unquestionably, Amazon is falling short of its commitment to keeping safe those consumers who use its massive platform,” wrote Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sen. Bob Menendez, (D-N.J.), and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass) in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezo.

    “We call on you to immediately remove from the platform all the problematic products examined in the recent WSJ report; explain how you are going about this process; conduct a sweeping internal investigation of your enforcement and consumer safety policies; and institute changes that will continue to keep unsafe products off your platform.”

    Senators want answers from Amazon

    Last week, the Journal found that thousands of items listed on Amazon’s marketplace had either been “declared unsafe” or outright banned by federal agencies. About half of these items were toys or medications without proper risk warnings; at least 157 items were items Amazon had said it banned; and some items were even labeled as “Amazon’s choice.” 

    Earlier this month, Menendez and Blumenthal sent a separate letter to Bezos asking for more information about the “Amazon’s Choice” program. Specifically, the senators wanted to find out if consumers are being duped into buying “products of inferior quality.” 

    “We are concerned the badge is assigned in an arbitrary manner, or worse, based on fraudulent product reviews,” Menendez and Blumenthal said in the letter.

    In their most recent letter, the two senators -- joined by Ed Markey -- asked Amazon to shed light on why its current safety protocols allowed numerous unsafe products to slip through the cracks and end up for sale on the site. Additionally, the senators want to know what Amazon plans to do to keep problematic listings from infiltrating the marketplace in the future.

    Amazon says ‘safety is a top priority’

    Following the WSJ report, Amazon quickly removed or changed the wording of more than half of the listings in question. 

    “Safety is a top priority at Amazon,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “When a concern arises, we move quickly to protect customers and work directly with sellers, brands and government agencies.”

    "Amazon offers customers hundreds of millions of items, and we have developed, and continuously refine and improve our tools that prevent suspicious, unsafe, or noncompliant products from being listed in our store," the company said in a blog post

    In the post, the e-commerce giant didn’t mention anything about changing its existing safety policies to address the problem. The senators have given Bezos a deadline of September 29 to respond to their inquiries. 

    On the heels of a recent Wall Street Journal investigation which found that Amazon had more than 4,000 listings for items that had been declared unsafe by...
    Read lessRead more

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      Hundreds of dental offices hit with ransomware attack

      Officials say they’re still in the process of restoring the impacted systems

      The online service portals for hundreds of dental offices were hit with a ransomware attack earlier this week. The attack left many providers without a way to access patient data, x-rays, and schedules, CNN reports. 

      PerCSoft and Digital Dental Record were targeted by the attack. The latter said the ransomware affected a “cloud management system” related to DDS Safe, a medical records retention and backup solution for dental offices.

      "We worked feverishly with the software company to shut it down and remove the threat, but many of you were hit in the process prior to them removing it and locking down the system," Digital Dental Record said on Facebook.

      ZDNet claims ransoms were requested by the attackers -- and paid by the companies -- to unlock the accounts. About 100 of the 400 systems affected by the attack have been restored since Monday, when the virus was first noticed. 

      "Essentially the restorations are ongoing," Brenna Sadler, a spokeswoman for Digital Dental Record, told CNN. "It's a very difficult, lengthy, methodical process. So it's taking some time."

      Officials noted that this was a virus attack not a data hack, meaning no client data was accessed or moved. Dental practices have simply been unable to access system data due to the infection. 

      The online service portals for hundreds of dental offices were hit with a ransomware attack earlier this week. The attack left many providers without a way...
      Read lessRead more

      FTC reportedly investigating e-cigarette maker Juul

      The agency is trying to determine whether the product has targeted minors

      A published report claims the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is investigating Juul, the manufacturer of a popular e-cigarette product, to determine whether it has aimed its marketing efforts at minors.

      The Wall Street Journal reports the regulator’s wide-ranging investigation is also focused on the company’s past use of paid influencers to help promote the product.

      The Journal quotes a company spokesman as saying Juul used paid influencers in a “small, short-lived pilot” program that ended last year. Juul says it paid influencers less than $10,000 to post positive reviews about the e-cigarettes.

      Juul is also under investigation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A year ago the FDA seized more than a thousand pages of documents from Juul during an unannounced inspection of the company’s headquarters in San Francisco.

      Then-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called the growing use of e-cigarettes among teens an “epidemic” and said easy access to the products was only fueling the trend.

      “E-cigs have become an almost ubiquitous ‒ and dangerous ‒ trend among teens," Gottlieb said last year. "The FDA won't tolerate a whole generation of young people becoming addicted to nicotine as a tradeoff for enabling adults to have unfettered access to these same products."

      At the time, the FDA expressed concern that e-cigarette manufacturers, including Juul. were offering flavored products that appealed to teens. Since then, manufacturers have taken steps to discourage the use of their products by under-age consumers.

      Smokers only

      Juul has said that its products are for use by cigarette smokers to help them stop smoking. In an interview with CBS News Juul CEO Kevin Burns said people who don’t have a pre-existing  relationship with nicotine should not use his company’s products.

      “Don't vape. Don't use Juul," Juul CEO Kevin Burns told the network. "Don't start using nicotine if you don't have a preexisting relationship with nicotine. Don't use the product. You're not our target consumer."

      While Juul appears to be a favorite product of teens, the company says it never wanted to tap into that market. It recently introduced a bluetooth-enabled e-cigarette that requires consumers to submit a photo ID before the product can be used.

      A published report claims the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is investigating Juul, the manufacturer of a popular e-cigarette product, to determine whether...
      Read lessRead more

      Falling gas prices may spur Labor Day weekend road trips

      Gas prices are 25 cents a gallon less than last Labor Day weekend

      In spite of continued strong fuel demand, consumers hitting the road over the Labor Day weekend can expect to find the lowest gasoline prices in three years.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is $2.58 a gallon, two cents lower than last Friday. A year ago the price of gas averaged $2.83 a gallon. The average price of premium is $3.17 a gallon, two cents less than a week ago. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.93 a gallon, a penny less than last week.

      Gasoline prices continue to benefit from lower oil prices, with concerns about a slowing global economy keeping crude prices low. The price of oil is around $57 a barrel, and though it’s up for the week, it’s expected to go lower in the weeks ahead.

      With the U.S. economy still humming -- the latest reading on economic growth is 2 percent -- motorists haven’t cut back on their fuel purchases. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports gasoline demand last week nearly hit 10 million barrels a day, up sharply from the previous week. Supplies of gasoline fell by more than two million barrels.

      “While demand chips away at supply, it’s not at a high enough rate to significantly impact gas prices,” AAA said in its latest market update. “In fact, the national average is cheaper week-over-week by three-cents.”

      Most states saw small declines in the price of gasoline during the week. Arizona was an exception, as prices at the pump jumped by five cents a gallon within that state. 

      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 ($3.66)

      • California ($3.57)

      • Washington ($3.20)

      • Nevada ($3.12)

      • Oregon ($3.04)

      • Alaska ($3.01)

      • Utah ($2.83)

      • Idaho ($2.81)

      • Arizona ($2.82)

      • New York ($2.78)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

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

      • Louisiana ($2.19)

      • Mississippi ($2.20)

      • South Carolina ($2.23)

      • Alabama ($2.22)

      • Arkansas ($2.26)

      • Oklahoma ($2.29)

      • Tennessee ($2.28)

      • Texas ($2.30)

      • Missouri ($2.39)

      • Virginia ($2.32)

      In spite of continued strong fuel demand, consumers hitting the road over the Labor Day weekend can expect to find the lowest gasoline prices in three year...
      Read lessRead more

      Mercedes-Benz recalls model year 2019 S450

      The side curtain airbags may not deploy properly

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling one model year 2019 S450.

      The A, B, and C pillar covers may have been improperly installed, possibly affecting the deployment of the side curtain airbags and allowing the covers to detach in the event of a crash.

      If a side curtain airbag does not deploy as intended, or the pillar covers detach during a crash, there is an increased risk of injury.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify the owner, and a dealer will inspect the pillar covers, reinstalling them as necessary free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 8, 2019.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at (800) 367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling one model year 2019 S450.The A, B, and C pillar covers may have been improperly installed, possibly affecting th...
      Read lessRead more

      Marriott eliminating single-use toiletry bottles

      Like other hotel chains, Marriott is aiming to reduce its plastic waste

      In a move intended to cut down on plastic waste, Marriott International has announced that it will no longer be stocking its rooms with travel-sized toiletries. 

      The hotel chain said on Wednesday that tiny bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and bath gel will be replaced with larger, pump-topped bottles or wall-mounted dispensers. 

      Marriott said it tested the swap in some of its North American locations last year. Now, the company says most of its 7,000 locations across the globe will see the change implemented by December 2020. 

      With wider implementation, the chain expects to reduce its plastic disposal by 30 percent. Almost two million pounds of plastic will be diverted from landfills as a result of the change, according to Marriott.

      "Our guests are looking to us to make changes that will create a meaningful difference for the environment while not sacrificing the quality service and experience they expect from our hotels," Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said in a statement.

      Others in the industry have also announced efforts to minimize their impact on the environment. Last month, IHG (which owns Holiday Inn) said it planned to eliminate tiny tubes of toiletries and replace them with larger-sized bottles. The Walt Disney Co. has also said it’s in the process of eliminating individual toiletries from its hotel rooms.  

      In a move intended to cut down on plastic waste, Marriott International has announced that it will no longer be stocking its rooms with travel-sized toilet...
      Read lessRead more

      Juul announces strict age-verification system to combat teen vaping

      The company says it has ‘no higher priority than combating youth use’

      Juul Labs, which has been accused of fueling the teen vaping epidemic through its marketing campaign, has announced a new POS age-verification system that it hopes will reduce youth use of its products. 

      “Today, we are implementing a series of new measures to combat the serious problem of youth access, appeal, and use of vapor products,” Juul said in a statement.

      Juul says it’s partnering with retailers to implement the Retail Access Control Standards program (or RACS) -- “the strictest age-verification system ever required for age-restricted products,” said CEO Kevin Burns.

      Under the new set of guidelines: 

      • ID scanning to verify age is required

      • Bulk purchasing is blocked to prevent social sourcing 

      • Clerks can’t override the system manually 

      Retailers who sell Juul must implement the new system by May 2021. More than 50 chains (totaling about 40,000 stores) have pledged to make the switch so far, and more than half of those outlets say they will comply with the system before the end of this year. 

      Taking steps to curb youth use

      Juul’s new plan to prevent youth use of its products comes about a month after CEO Kevin Burns apologized to parents whose children are addicted to the company’s e-cigarettes. 

      “First of all, I’d tell them that I’m sorry that their child’s using the product,” Burns said in a documentary called “Vaporized: America’s E-cigarette Addiction.” 

      “It’s not intended for them. I hope there was nothing that we did that made it appealing to them. As a parent of a 16-year-old, I’m sorry for them, and I have empathy for them, in terms of what the challenges they’re going through,” Burns said. 

      In the RACS release, Juul said it’s aware that youth vaping in the U.S. has become a “serious and urgent problem” over the past few years. “At JUUL Labs, we have no higher priority than combating youth use,” the company said. 

      Juul Labs, which has been accused of fueling the teen vaping epidemic through its marketing campaign, has announced a new POS age-verification system that...
      Read lessRead more

      Cybersecurity firm discloses security incident

      A major firewall services provider said an unauthorized party gained access to sensitive user information

      Imperva, one of the biggest firewall services providers in the industry, informed its customers on Tuesday that it suffered a data breach. 

      The cybersecurity firm said it learned on August 20 that a third party improperly accessed the email addresses, hashed passwords, API keys, and SSL certificates of a “subset of customers” who had accounts through September 15, 2017.

      “We want to be very clear that this data exposure is limited to our Cloud WAF (Web Application Firewall) product,” wrote Heli Erickson, director of analyst relations at Imperva. 

      “While the situation remains under investigation, what we know today is that elements of our Incapsula customer database from 2017, including email addresses and hashed and salted passwords, and, for a subset of the Incapsula customers from 2017, API keys and customer-provided SSL certificates, were exposed.”

      Potential data exposure

      The breach could impact the security of customer data in several ways, according to Rich Mogull, founder and vice president of product at cloud security firm DisruptOps. 

      “Attackers could whitelist themselves and begin attacking the site without the WAF’s protection,” Mogull told KrebsOnSecurity. “They could modify any of the security Incapsula security settings, and if they got [the target’s SSL] certificate, that can potentially expose traffic.” 

      Acknowledging the irony in a security breach affecting a security service provider, Mogull added that “this is the kind of mistake that’s up there with their worst nightmare.”

      Imperva said it has forced a reset of all passwords that haven’t been used for 90 days and is in the process of contacting impacted customers. The firm has urged all of its customers to update their passwords as a precaution. 

      “We profoundly regret that this incident occurred and will continue to share updates going forward,” Imperva said in a statement. “In addition, we will share learnings and new best practices that may come from our investigation and enhanced security measures with the broader industry. Imperva will not let up on our efforts to provide the very best tools and services to keep our customers and their customers safe.” 

      Imperva, one of the biggest firewall services providers in the industry, informed its customers on Tuesday that it suffered a data breach. The cybersec...
      Read lessRead more

      New teachers are finding it hard to rent a home

      A study shows that entry-level educators must spend more than half their income on rent in many markets

      It isn’t just the price of homes that is going up -- rents are getting more expensive too, creating hardships for people just beginning a career.

      If that career involves teaching, then the burden is even heavier. A new survey from real estate marketplace Zillow shows new teachers are having to spend more than half of their salaries to rent a home in 19 of the nation’s 50 largest metro areas. That’s a huge problem because personal finance experts advise consumers not to allocate more than 30 percent of their income to pay rent or a mortgage.

      A new teacher in San Francisco or San Jose -- two of the nation’s most expensive housing markets -- are simply out of luck. Rents there would take 100 percent of their salary, the Zillow study says. Even relatively affordable markets like Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, and Raleigh are hard on new teachers. To rent an apartment in those markets, it would take half of a new teacher’s pay.

      Roommate?

      Zillow’s advice to new teachers? Get a roommate or move in with Mom and Dad. Other than that, finding a job in Pittsburgh might be an answer since that city is the only one in the top 50 that a starting teacher can afford.

      "Most acknowledge that building more homes is required to address the root cause of eroding housing affordability,”said Skylar Olsen, Zillow's director of economic research. 

      “Without that new influx to take the pressure off rent and aggressive home value growth, it's the public servants, like teachers, firefighters, and nurses – the professions that keep us safe, our kids smart, and our families healthy – that often feel the pinch most."

      Not enough new homes

      Homebuilding is about half what it was a decade ago before the housing crash. Today’s major homebuilders -- many of them publicly traded companies -- have focused on more expensive homes that fewer and fewer consumers can afford because profit margins are higher.

      Zillow says teachers who are somehow able to purchase a home are in better shape financially. The company reports that new teachers pay less than 27 percent of their income for the typical mortgage payment nationally. They spend less than 30 percent of their income on housing in 31 of the 50 largest housing markets.

      It isn’t just the price of homes that is going up -- rents are getting more expensive too, creating hardships for people just beginning a career.If tha...
      Read lessRead more

      United Airlines removes mileage expiration for loyalty members

      Members of the carrier’s MileagePlus program can now use their miles indefinitely

      United Airlines has announced that it will no longer bar members of its MileagePlus program from using their frequent flyer miles after 18 months of account inactivity. 

      In an announcement, the carrier said it’s done away with mileage expiration in an effort to show its “long-haul” commitment to customers. The change is taking place effective immediately. 

      "We want to demonstrate to our members that we are committing to them for the long-haul and giving customers a lifetime to use miles is an exceptionally meaningful benefit," said United's vice president of loyalty, Luc Bondar. 

      "Our MileagePlus program provides customers more ways to earn and use miles than any other US airline. More customers used miles to book award trips in 2018 than in any year before, and we expect with today's announcement that even more will use miles to travel the world in the years to come."

      Delta put an end to its policy of letting miles expire after 18 months back in 2011. JetBlue has also chosen not to place an expiration date on its members’ frequent flyer miles.

      American Airlines’ AAdvantage members must still redeem their miles before 18 months of account inactivity have been detected. Southwest Airlines’ frequent flyer points expire after two years of account inactivity. 

      United Airlines has announced that it will no longer bar members of its MileagePlus program from using their frequent flyer miles after 18 months of accoun...
      Read lessRead more

      Happy Plugs recalls wireless headphones

      The headphones to overheat, posing a burn hazard

      Happy Plugs of New York is recalling about 9,400 Happy Plugs Bluetooth Wireless II Headphones sold in the U.S. and Canada.

      The micro-USB charging cable packaged with the headphones can cause the headphones to overheat, posing a burn hazard.

      The firm has received one report of the headphones overheating while plugged into their micro-USB charging cables. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Happy Plugs Wireless II Bluetooth Headphones sold with an external micro-USB charging cable.

      The micro-USB charging cable is a black cable about 20 inches in length with a USB 2.0 port on one end and a micro-USB port on the other.

      The UPC is printed on the back of the product packaging in the lower right corner and the item number is printed on the bottom of the product packaging.

      The following headphones are included in this recall:

      Item #

      Color

      UPC

      Item # 7620 Happy Plugs Wireless II

      Black Gold

      811613031059

      Item # 7621 Happy Plugs Wireless II

      Black

      811613031066

      Item # 7622‎ Happy Plugs Wireless II

      White

      811613031073

      Item # 7623‎ Happy Plugs Wireless II

      Pink Gold

      811613031080

      Item # 7624‎ Happy Plugs Wireless II

      Matte Gold

      811613031097

      Item # 7625‎ Happy Plugs Wireless II

      Space Gray

      811613031103

      Item # 7626‎ Happy Plugs Wireless II

      White Marble

      811613031110‎

      Item # 7627‎ Happy Plugs Wireless II

      Botanica Exotica

      811613031127

      Item # 7629‎ Happy Plugs Wireless II

      Pink Marble

      811613032056

      Item # 7630‎ Happy Plugs Wireless II

      Leopard

      811613032063

      The headphones, manufactured in China, were sold at Macy’s stores nationwide and online at happyplugs.com from January 2019, through May 2019, for between $10 and $40.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled headphones and charging cable, and return them to the place of purchase or contact Happy Plugs to receive free replacement headphones and charging cable.

      Consumers may contact Happy Plugs at (800) 419-2988 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday, by email at customerservice@happyplugs.com and include “Recall” in the subject line, or online at https://happyplugs.com and click on “Support,” at the bottom of the page, then “Warranty and Returns,” then click on “Voluntary Recall and Exchange Program.”

      The direct link to the recall page can be found at https://happyplugs.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360024787134-Voluntary-Recall-and-Exchange-Program.

      Happy Plugs of New York is recalling about 9,400 Happy Plugs Bluetooth Wireless II Headphones sold in the U.S. and Canada.The micro-USB charging cable...
      Read lessRead more

      Olympia Meats recalls ready-to-eat pork sausage

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

      Olympia Meats of Portland, Ore., is recalling approximately 198 pounds of ready-to-eat pork sausage.

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

      Additionally, the product is labeled as “Mortadella Classica” but contains Mortadella Pistachio sausage.

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

      The following item, produced on July 29, 2019, is being recalled: 

      • Varying weights of vacuum packed “OLYMPIA PROVISIONS MORTADELLA CLASSICA WITH GARLIC AND SPICES” with a best by date of l2-30-2019.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “Est. 39928” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to retail locations in California, Oregon and Washington.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact Alexis Heimlich, at (503) 894-8275 or by email at alexis@olympiaprovisions.com.

      Olympia Meats of Portland, Ore., is recalling approximately 198 pounds of ready-to-eat pork sausage.The product contains pistachios, an allergen not de...
      Read lessRead more

      Mercedes-Benz recalling C300 and C43 class vehicles

      The battery may shift, possibly disconnecting the terminals in a crash

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 26,584 model year 2018-2019 C300s, C300 4MATICs, and C43 AMG 4MATICs.

      The mounting bracket for the 12-volt battery may not be secured, allowing the battery to shift, possibly disconnecting the terminals in the event of a crash.

      Loss of power from the battery can impair post-crash functions, such as communicating with emergency services and activating hazard lights. The battery may also detach and become a road hazard. Either can increase the risk of injury.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the battery mounting bracket free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 8, 2019.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at (800) 367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 26,584 model year 2018-2019 C300s, C300 4MATICs, and C43 AMG 4MATICs.The mounting bracket for the 12-volt batter...
      Read lessRead more

      Apple scraps technology that would allow users to text off the grid

      Apple Watch lovers will still have a version of the app

      Reports surfaced on Tuesday that Apple has paused the rollout of technology that would allow people to send text messages to other iPhones (not other platforms like Android, though) when those users are off-the-grid -- meaning without cell service. 

      For people who find themselves in remote locations like ski slopes or hiking in the mountains, the upsides of the technology could have been a game-changer in locating someone who’s lost or needs help.

      According to The Information, Apple and Intel were collaborating on the technology, with plans to integrate Intel’s chips into future iPhones. The original patent Apple applied for details technology that functions something like a walkie-talkie in which the messaging between the phones would be transmitted via a 900MHz radio spectrum. 

      There was no reason -- like a security flaw -- given as to why the project was scrapped. However, The Information said that the person at Apple who was championing the technology had left the company. It’s also possible that Apple’s recent squabble with Qualcomm could have been a factor.

      Apple Watch wearers who like the watch’s version of the walkie-talkie feature will be happy to know that that version isn’t going away. However, it does require a Wi-Fi or cellular connection, which the scrapped version didn’t.

      Reports surfaced on Tuesday that Apple has paused the rollout of technology that would allow people to send text messages to other iPhones (not other platf...
      Read lessRead more

      Apple patches iOS jailbreaking vulnerability

      The move comes after a vulnerability thought to have been fixed in a previous update was accidentally reverted

      Apple has released an iOS update which features a fix for a vulnerability that opened devices to jailbreaks. 

      Last week, security researcher Pwn20wnd found that devices running iOS version 12.4 could be jailbroken. The flaw had been previously discovered and was believed to have been addressed in a May update. However, Apple mistakenly unpatched the bug in version 12.4. 

      The company has now released iOS 12.4.1, which again patches the vulnerability. 

      “A malicious application may be able to execute arbitrary code with system privileges,” the company said in an advisory on Monday. “A use after free issue was addressed with improved memory management.”

      “We would like to acknowledge @Pwn20wnd for their assistance,” Apple added.

      iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch users are urged to update to iOS 12.4, which Apple says “provides important security and stability updates.” Users can update their device by navigating to Settings > General > Software Update, and then tapping “Download and Install.” It’s recommended that users back up their device before installing the update.

      Apple has released an iOS update which features a fix for a vulnerability that opened devices to jailbreaks. Last week, security researcher Pwn20wnd fo...
      Read lessRead more

      BMW recalls model year 2020 BMW 745e xDrives

      The audible warning signal for an unbelted driver to fasten the seat belt may be disabled

      BMW of North America (BMW) is recalling 173 model year 2020 BMW 745e xDrives.

      A software error in the electronic control unit (ECU) may disable the audible warning signal for an unbelted driver to fasten the seat belt.

      Without an audible warning, the driver may forget to buckle the seat belt, increasing the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will update the ECU software free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 4, 2019.

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

      BMW of North America (BMW) is recalling 173 model year 2020 BMW 745e xDrives.A software error in the electronic control unit (ECU) may disable the audi...
      Read lessRead more

      BRP recalls Ski-Doo snowmobiles

      The vehicle can have a leak at the fuel injector

      BRP U.S. of Sturtevant, Wis., is recalling about 2,900 model year 2019 Ski-Doo snowmobiles equipped with an 850 E-TEC engine.

      The vehicle can have a leak at the fuel injector, posing a fire hazard.

      The firm has received 17 reports of broken/missing injector bolts, one report of fuel leaks and two reports of fires. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves model year 2019 Ski-Doo Backcountry, Freeride, MXZ, Renegade and Summit snowmobiles equipped with an 850 E-TEC engine.

      The vehicles are sold in a variety of colors. Ski-Doo and the model name are printed on the side panels of the vehicles. The vehicle identification number (VIN) is on the decal located on the right hand side of tunnel.

      Consumers can contact BRP or an authorized dealer to verify if their VIN number is included in the recall.

      The following models are included in the recall:

      Models

      Colors

      BACKCOUNTRY 850 E-TEC

      Black; White/Black

      BACKCOUNTRY X 850 E-TEC

      Black; White/Black

      BACKCOUNTRY XRS 850 E-TEC

      Black; White/Black

      FREERIDE 850 E-TEC

      Blue

      MXZ BLIZZARD 850 E-ETC

      Black/Yellow

      MXZ TNT 850 E-TEC

      White/Black; Black

      MXZ X 850 E-TEC

      Black; Yellow; Yellow/Silver

      MXZ XRS 850 E-TEC

      Black; Yellow/Silver

      RENEGADE ADRENALINE 850 E-TEC

      White

      RENEGADE X 850 E-TEC

      Black; Red

      RENEGADE XRS 850 E-TEC

      Orange/Silver

      SUMMIT SP 850 E-TEC

      Black; Black/Blue

      SUMMIT X 850 E-TEC

      Black; Black/Blue

      The snowmobiles, manufactured in Canada, were sold at Ski-Doo dealers nationwide from June 2018, through July 2019, for between $12,600 and $16,200.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled vehicles and contact a BRP Snowmobile dealer for a free repair. BRP is contacting all known purchasers directly.

      Consumers may contact BRP toll-free at (888) 272-9222 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET) Monday through Sunday or online at https://www.ski-doo.com and click on “Community” at the top of the page and then “Safety” for more information.

      BRP U.S. of Sturtevant, Wis., is recalling about 2,900 model year 2019 Ski-Doo snowmobiles equipped with an 850 E-TEC engine.The vehicle can have a lea...
      Read lessRead more

      Mercedes-Benz recalls model year 2018-2019 GLA250s and GLA250 4MATICs

      The seatbelt for a passenger in the rear middle position might not be properly secured,

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 3,435 model year 2018-2019 GLA250s and GLA250 4MATICs.

      The left anchor plate of the rear middle seatbelt may be loose.

      The seatbelt for a passenger seated in the rear middle seating position might not be properly secured, which could increase the risk of an injury in the event of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the left anchor plate of the rear middle seatbelt, correcting its installation as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 8, 2019.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at (800) 367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 3,435 model year 2018-2019 GLA250s and GLA250 4MATICs.The left anchor plate of the rear middle seatbelt may be l...
      Read lessRead more

      New and existing homes: a tale of two housing markets

      The latest sales figures show the market has too many homes consumers can’t afford

      New and existing home sales went in opposite directions last month, but a closer examination reveals what they had in common. Many homes -- both new and existing -- are now simply out of reach for first-time homebuyers.

      On the other hand, falling mortgage interest rates could help those buyers on the margins qualify for a home purchase and spur sales.

      The government reports that sales of new homes plunged 13 percent in July, but the slowdown might not be as severe as it seems. June’s new home sales were revised sharply higher, so some of July’s sales might have been pushed back to the previous month.

      Robert Frick, corporate economist for Navy Federal Credit Union, says falling mortgage rates could breath new life into a slumping housing market. 

      “But the numbers reflected the core problem holding the home sales market from regaining momentum: the average sales price for a new home was $388,000, and half of home buyers are looking for a sub $300,000 home,” Frick said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “Until more, less expensive homes and condos come to market, millions of Americans will be shut out of homeownership.”

      Same issue with existing homes

      That fact seemed to jump out of last week’s existing home sales report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Sales rose 2.5 percent from the month before, but the inventory of entry-level homes -- those priced around $200,000 or less -- remains very tight. The lack of supply has had the effect of pushing up the price of those formerly low-priced homes.

      "Clearly, the inventory of moderately-priced homes is inadequate and more home building is needed," NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said last week.

      Why aren’t builders responding?

      Following World War II, Levitt & Sons builders responded to a severe housing shortage by developing a huge parcel in Nassau County, N.Y. into a planned community of small, affordable homes for returning servicemen and their families. Levittown was duplicated across the country, giving birth to suburbia and alleviating the housing shortage. So why hasn’t something like that happened today?

      There could be a number of reasons, but builders blame rising costs for their emphasis on high-end luxury homes. After paying for land, materials, and labor, the profit margin is much higher on a home that costs $300,000 than one selling for $200,000. 

      The problem, however, is that the market is running out of people who can afford to pay $300,000 or more for a home.

      New and existing home sales went in opposite directions last month, but a closer examination reveals what they had in common. Many homes -- both new and ex...
      Read lessRead more

      Model year 2020 Mercedes Benz GLE350s, GLE350 4MATICs, and GLE450 4MATICs recalled

      Water may drain from the air conditioner into the passenger compartment

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 17,755 model year 2020 GLE350s, GLE350 4MATICs, and GLE450 4MATICs.

      The air conditioner drain hoses may have been incorrectly installed, causing water to drain from the air conditioner into the passenger compartment.

      If a significant volume of water enters the driver and passenger side foot wells, it might cause corrosion and/or short circuits to the electrical components in the area, increasing the risk of fire.

      In addition, the emergency call (eCall) feature may be disabled; the vehicle may not be able to be unlocked and/or started; and the engine limp-home mode might be activated during driving. These features increase the risk of an injury or crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and correct the air conditioner drain hoses, as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 8, 2019.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at (800) 367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 17,755 model year 2020 GLE350s, GLE350 4MATICs, and GLE450 4MATICs.The air conditioner drain hoses may have been...
      Read lessRead more

      Volkswagen recalls GTIs, Golfs, Beetles, Beetle Convertible, Golf SportWagens and Jettas

      The key may removed from the ignition when the transmission shift lever is not in "Park."

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 679,027 model year 2015-2019 GTIs, model year 2015-2016 & 2018-2019 Golfs, model year 2012-2019 Beetles & Beetle Convertibles, model year 2017-2019 Golf SportWagens and model year 2011-2018 Jettas with an automatic transmission, manual handbrake and keyless entry.

      A build-up of silicate on the shift lever micro switch contacts may enable the key to be removed from the ignition when the transmission shift lever is not in "Park."

      Removing the key while the shift lever is in a position other than "Park" increases the risk of an unintended vehicle rollaway that may result in personal injury or a crash.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will install an additional switch and circuit board free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 11, 2019.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 37M2.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 679,027 model year 2015-2019 GTIs, model year 2015-2016 & 2018-2019 Golfs, model year 2012-2019 Beetles & Beetle C...
      Read lessRead more

      Numerous Amazon items declared unsafe by federal regulators

      An investigation indicates that thousands of items on the site were either banned or declared unsafe by federal agencies

      Thousands of items allowed to be listed on Amazon’s marketplace did not receive passing safety marks from federal regulators, according to an investigation from The Wall Street Journal

      The Journal found that about 4,100 items on Amazon’s site had been “declared unsafe” or outright banned by federal agencies. About half of these items were toys or medications without proper risk warnings, at least 157 items were items Amazon had said it banned, and some items were even labeled as “Amazon’s choice.” 

      In response to the investigation, Amazon removed or altered the wording of more than half of the listings in question. 

      “Safety is a top priority at Amazon,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “When a concern arises, we move quickly to protect customers and work directly with sellers, brands and government agencies.”

      In a blog post on Friday, Amazon highlighted its use of tools and programs to make sure products are "safe, compliant and authentic."

      "Amazon offers customers hundreds of millions of items, and we have developed, and continuously refine and improve our tools that prevent suspicious, unsafe, or noncompliant products from being listed in our store," the company said. "In 2018, our teams and technologies proactively blocked more than 3 billion suspect listings for various forms of abuse, including noncompliance, before they were published to our store."

      Difficulty policing large number of third-party sellers 

      As Amazon has grown in scale, the site has faced challenges in policing its third-party sellers. 

      Earlier this year, an investigation by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson found that school supplies and children’s jewelry sold on the digital marketplace had unsafe levels of toxic metals. On the heels of the discovery, Amazon quickly changed its quality control standards for these categories of products. 

      Counterfeit listings have also been a problem for Amazon. Just last month, the e-commerce giant warned customers who previously purchased Align Probiotic nutritional supplements on its site that the supplements were most likely fake and should be tossed. 

      Thousands of items allowed to be listed on Amazon’s marketplace did not receive passing safety marks from federal regulators, according to an investigation...
      Read lessRead more

      Google proposes new privacy standards for browsers and advertisers

      The company says it wants to restrict tracking technology

      Google has proposed a new set of standards, called the “Privacy Sandbox,” that would strike a balance between protecting consumers’ privacy and allowing advertisers to continue showing targeted ads. 

      In a blog post published Thursday, Justin Schuh, a director of Chrome engineering focused on security matters, described the privacy sandbox as "a secure environment for personalization that also protects user privacy.” 

      The company said its goal is to create a set of standards that is “more consistent with users' expectations of privacy.” Personalized ads would still exist, but users wouldn’t be required to disclose individually identifying information in order to be served relevant ads. 

      Minimizing privacy-violating practices 

      Google says it’s looking into technology that would enable it to limit user data shared with websites and advertisers by “anonymously aggregating user information, and keeping much more user information on-device only.” In other words, data shared by one person couldn’t be traced back to that individual because their data would form part of a larger group. 

      Additionally, Google wants to introduce a "privacy budget" that would limit how much personal information a website can access, which would help stop web fingerprinting.

      The success of the plan, as it pertains to boosting users’ privacy, would of course depend on whether or not advertisers, publishers, and other browser developers adopt the standards. Google is currently seeking feedback on its proposal from these groups, as well as privacy advocates. 

      Google argues that its proposed standards are a step above Apple’s plan to protect Safari users’ privacy by blocking cookies, which can have consequences for advertisers. 

      “Blocking cookies without another way to deliver relevant ads significantly reduces publishers’ primary means of funding, which jeopardizes the future of the vibrant web,” the company said, noting that irrelevant ads served without cookies leads to a roughly 52 percent drop in funding for publishers. 

      Google acknowledged that implementing new standards requires “significant thought, debate, and input from many stakeholders, and generally take multiple years.” If Google is ultimately cleared to move forward with its plan, it will likely be a while before Chrome users see the features included in the proposal. 

      Google has proposed a new set of standards, called the “Privacy Sandbox,” that would strike a balance between protecting consumers’ privacy and allowing ad...
      Read lessRead more

      AAA predicts a big drop in gasoline prices

      The national average price drops another three cents a gallon in the last week

      The price of gasoline continues to fall, and AAA predicts that we aren’t even close to the bottom. The organization has stated that prices could fall an average of 25 cents a gallon before the end of the year.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular is $2.59 a gallon, three cents below last Friday’s price. It’s down 23 cents a gallon from a year ago. The average price of premium is $3.19, down three cents from last week. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.94, a penny less than last week.

      “AAA predicts that fall gasoline prices will be significantly less expensive than this summer with motorists finding savings in every market across the country,” said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. “Many factors are driving this decrease, but the low price of crude oil is chief among them.”

      Because of falling oil prices, driven by a slowdown in the global economy, AAA predicts the average price will drop another 25 cents a gallon before it reaches a bottom. The economic consequences could be significant since lower fuel prices are likely to promote travel and more consumer spending.

      AAA forecasts crude prices to range between $50 and $60 per barrel this fall. That, along with a healthy refinery utilization rate, should keep downward pressure on prices at the pump through the end of the year.

      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 ($3.66)

      • California ($3.58)

      • Washington ($3.22)

      • Nevada ($3.14)

      • Oregon ($3.06)

      • Alaska ($3.02)

      • Utah ($2.87)

      • Idaho ($2.83)

      • New York ($2.80)

      • Connecticut ($2.78)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

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

      • Louisiana ($2.22)

      • Mississippi ($2.23)

      • South Carolina ($2.25)

      • Alabama ($2.25)

      • Arkansas ($2.28)

      • Oklahoma ($2.30)

      • Tennessee ($2.31)

      • Texas ($2.34)

      • Missouri ($2.32)

      • Virginia ($2.35)

      The price of gasoline continues to fall, and AAA predicts that we aren’t even close to the bottom. The organization has stated that prices could fall an av...
      Read lessRead more

      Agropur Cooperative recalls Iceberg and Originale Augustin ice cream sandwiches

      The products may contain fine metal particles

      Agropur Cooperative is recalling Iceberg and Originale Augustin brands of ice cream sandwiches.

      The products may contain fine metal particles.

      There are no reported injuries associated with the consumption of these products.

      The following products, sold throughout Canada, are being recalled:

      Brand NameCommon NameSizeUPCCode(s) on Product
      IcebergMega Sandwiches Vanilla Ice Cream8 × 190 mL74276 118162021 MA 29 19149
      Originale AugustinMega Sandwich Vanilla Ice Cream30 × 190 mL74276 1188519134 BB/MA 2020MA14
      19135 BB/MA 2020MA15
      19141 BB/MA 2020MA21
      19142 BB/MA 2020MA22
      19147 BB/MA 2020MA27
      19148 BB/MA 2020MA28
      19168 BB/MA 2020JN17
      19170 BB/MA 2020JN19
      19176 BB/MA 2020JN25
      19177 BB/MA 2020JN26

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may call 800-442-2342 (Canada and U.S.).

      Agropur Cooperative is recalling Iceberg and Originale Augustin brands of ice cream sandwiches.The products may contain fine metal particles.There...
      Read lessRead more

      Reuven International recalls diced and shredded chicken meat

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Reuven International is recalling Reuven International brand Natural Proportion Cooked Chicken Meat (Diced) and Sysco brand Natural Proportions Cooked Shredded Chicken.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

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

      The following items (size: 4.54 kg), sold in Canada's Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Possibly National, Quebec and Saskatchewan provinces, are being recalled:

      Brand NameCommon NameUPCPack Date
      Reuven International LtdNatural Proportion Cooked
      Chicken Meat (Diced) 
      (#15307)
      907 63572 15307 1 01/21/19
      Reuven International LtdNatural Proportion Cooked
      Chicken Meat (Diced) 
      (#15807)
      907 63572 15807 6 01/21/19
      SyscoNatural Proportions Cooked
      Shredded Chicken 
      (#15885)
      007 34730 21450 4 01/21/19

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact the firm at (416) 929-1496.

      Reuven International is recalling Reuven International brand Natural Proportion Cooked Chicken Meat (Diced) and Sysco brand Natural Proportions Cooked Shre...
      Read lessRead more

      Apple expected to announce camera-focused iPhones at annual press event

      A report suggests two ‘Pro’ phones are on the way

      Two of the three iPhones Apple is expected to debut next month will be “Pro” phones, featuring an emphasis on the device’s camera performance, according to a Bloomberg report. 

      The phones will boast a new triple-lens camera system, which combines wide angle, telephoto, and ultra-wide lenses. The publication says the upcoming “Pro” models will take the place of the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. 

      The iPhone 11 Pro software will enable it to take three images at once and merge them into higher-resolution pictures “rivaling some traditional cameras.” The device’s low-light camera performance will also be enhanced.  

      Upgraded functions

      In addition to the new “Pro” models, the tech giant will reportedly unveil a successor to last year’s iPhone XR. A second rear camera will be added to the device, which will equip it with the ability to shoot in enhanced portrait mode and zoom in further without the quality of the shot being impacted. A change to Face ID, “multi angle” sensor hardware, is also expected to be announced in a few weeks. 

      “The phones will include a new multi-angle Face ID sensor that captures a wider field of view so that users can unlock the handsets more easily – even when the devices are flat on a table,” Bloomberg reported. 

      Aesthetically, Bloomberg says “at least some colors” of the devices will feature a new matte finish. The devices will also be more durable, thanks to enhanced shatter protection and water resistance. The publication also claims Apple is likely to release new AirPods and a smaller, less expensive HomePod smart speaker as early as next year. 

      Apple’s annual iPhone announcement event, which has been held in September for the past four years, is expected to take place on Tuesday, September 10 this year.

      Two of the three iPhones Apple is expected to debut next month will be “Pro” phones, featuring an emphasis on the device’s camera performance, according to...
      Read lessRead more

      MoviePass security breach may have exposed nearly 60,000 customer records

      For several months, a key server wasn’t protected with a password

      A MoviePass database that was left unsecured may have exposed the credit card and customer card information of nearly 60,000 of the movie subscription service’s customers, TechCrunch reported this week. 

      Security researcher Mossab Hussein discovered the trove of unsecured records, which included names, email addresses, card expiration dates, and home addresses of some users. Hussein said the information may have been publicly accessible and vulnerable to misuse by cybercriminals for several months. 

      MoviePass confirms the incident 

      In a statement on Wednesday, MoviePass said it immediately secured the unprotected server once the vulnerability was discovered. The company said affected customers will be notified after it conducts its own research into how many customer records were exposed. 

      “MoviePass recently discovered a security vulnerability that may have exposed customer records. After discovering the vulnerability, we immediately secured our systems to prevent further exposure and to mitigate the potential impact of this incident,” said MoviePass chief executive Mitch Lowe. 

      “MoviePass takes this incident seriously and is dedicated to protecting our customers’ information. We are working diligently to investigate the scope of this incident and its potential impact on our customers. Once we gain a full understanding of the incident, we will promptly notify any affected subscribers and the appropriate regulators or law enforcement.”

      Profitability challenges

      The movie ticketing service, which had more than 3 million customers as of June 2018, has faced financial struggles as a result of its unsustainable business model and growing user base. 

      Last month, MoviePass announced that it would be shutting down for several weeks to make “improvements” and work on a new version of its app. MoviePass now claims on its website that “service has been restored to a substantial number of our current subscribers and we are hoping to take steps to restore service to all our current subscribers.” 

      For the time being, MoviePass isn’t letting new customers sign up.

      A MoviePass database that was left unsecured may have exposed the credit card and customer card information of nearly 60,000 of the movie subscription serv...
      Read lessRead more

      Google gives Play Store a ‘visual refresh’

      The Play Store has been given a cleaner appearance

      Google has given its Play Store a new look in an effort to “improve the overall store experience.” 

      In a blog post, Google said it has moved the navigation bar to the bottom of the app on Android phones and shifted the navigation on tablets and Chrome OS devices to the left.

      Within the new navigation bar, users will find two main tabs for apps and games. Google says adding the distinction between apps and games is intended to help “better serve users the right kind of content.”

      "Once users find the right app or game, the updated store listing page layout surfaces richer app information at the top of each page as well as a more prominent call-to-action button. This makes it easier for users to see the important details and make a decision to install your app," wrote Boris Valusek, design lead of Google Play.

      Visually, Google’s Play Store is now predominantly white, which mirrors the aesthetic of its all-white homepage. Users will also see more rounded-edge icons, similar to the ones Apple has on iOS. 

      A “Recommended for you” section has been added to enable users to discover other apps they might enjoy. 

      Finally, Google has moved the “Music” tab. Music can still be found in the search bar at the top of the screen. Relocating the Music tab suggests the company is gearing up to implement its plan of replacing Google Play Music with YouTube Music. 

      Google has given its Play Store a new look in an effort to “improve the overall store experience.” In a blog post, Google said it has moved the navigat...
      Read lessRead more

      Existing home sales make a healthy jump in July

      But a severe shortage of entry-level homes is keeping many consumers on the sidelines

      The sputtering real estate market showed new signs of life in July as sales of existing homes rose 2.5 percent from the month before. Year-over-year sales also increased but less dramatically, rising 0.6 percent from July 2018.

      Home sales slowed down in the first half of 2019 as mortgage rates increased last year and home prices kept rising, pricing a growing number of would-be buyers out of the market. But  Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist, says conditions for buyers have improved.

      "Falling mortgage rates are improving housing affordability and nudging buyers into the market," Yun said.

      But there are still obstacles for first-time buyers. The inventory of entry-level homes -- those priced around $200,000 or less -- remains very tight. The lack of supply has had the effect of pushing up the price of those formerly low-priced homes.

      Cheaper homes getting more expensive

      A NAR analysis of homes purchased in 2012 and sold again last year makes that point. During that six-year period, 50 percent of the homes -- those in the lower half price-wise -- doubled in value in markets like Atlanta, Denver, Miami, and Tampa. Homes in the more expensive half of those markets increased in value at a much lower rate.

      "Clearly, the inventory of moderately-priced homes is inadequate and more home building is needed," said Yun. "Some new apartments could be converted into condominiums thereby helping with the supply, especially in light of new federal rules permitting a wider use of Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgages to buy condo properties."

      Eighty-nine months of price increases

      The median existing-home price for all housing types in July was $280,800, up 4.3 percent from July 2018. July's price increase marks the 89th straight month of year-over-year gains.

      As affordability becomes an issue for more prospective buyers, The Wall Street Journal reports that mortgage lenders are beginning to loosen mortgage underwriting standards and making loans to more risky borrowers. Many lenders have already resumed the approval of loans for 100 percent of the value of the property.

      Both practices were abandoned a decade ago in the wake of the housing market crash. Making loans to buyers with little or no credit led to a wave of foreclosures. Loans for 100 percent of the home’s value trapped millions of otherwise solvent homeowners “underwater” when home values went down, and they could neither sell or refinance their homes.

      The sputtering real estate market showed new signs of life in July as sales of existing homes rose 2.5 percent from the month before. Year-over-year sales...
      Read lessRead more

      Mercedes-Benz recalls GLE350 4MATICs and GLE450 4MATICs

      The fuel tank may have been improperly welded, allowing a leak

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 128 model year 2020 GLE350 4MATICs and GLE450 4MATICs.

      The connection between the fuel filler pipe and the fuel tank may have been improperly welded, allowing a fuel leak.

      A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source increases the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel tank free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 1, 2019.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at (800) 367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 128 model year 2020 GLE350 4MATICs and GLE450 4MATICs.The connection between the fuel filler pipe and the fuel t...
      Read lessRead more

      YouTube may stop serving targeted ads on videos aimed at children

      The site is trying to appease regulators following the FTC’s privacy violation charge

      YouTube is considering putting an end to its practice of allowing “targeted” ads on videos that are more likely to be viewed by children, Bloomberg reports, citing people “familiar with the discussion.”

      The video streaming platform was recently hit with a multimillion dollar fine after the FTC found that it had violated children’s privacy laws by collecting data on children under the age of 13. It’s not clear if YouTube’s changes -- which, at this point, may or may not be implemented -- are a direct result of the settlement, Bloomberg noted. 

      Doing away with targeted ads on videos aimed at children could have a significant impact on YouTube’s ad revenues. An industry analyst cited in the report said the platform could lose as much as 10 percent of its overall intake from kids’ videos, which works out to about $50 million annually. 

      However, this solution would be much smaller in scale than other proposed ways of complying with regulators. Last year, a coalition of advocacy groups suggested that the FTC require YouTube to migrate all of its kids’ content to its YouTube Kids app. FTC chairman Joseph Simons has suggested the possibility of disabling ads on videos likely to be watched by children. 

      Tracking still an issue

      Google hasn’t commented on YouTube’s reported decision to stop serving targeted ads on kids’ videos, and it’s still unclear how YouTube would determine which videos would count as kids’ videos. 

      Complainants have argued that the move would be hard to enforce. Josh Golin, from the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, noted that shutting off the ad-targeting feature for select kids’ videos doesn’t mean YouTube will stop tracking their web habits. 

      “Is Google still going to be collecting all the data and creating marketing profiles?” he asked Bloomberg. “That wouldn’t be satisfactory either.”

      YouTube is considering putting an end to its practice of allowing “targeted” ads on videos that are more likely to be viewed by children, Bloomberg reports...
      Read lessRead more

      The Apple Card is now open to all iPhone owners

      After trial roll out Apple is signing up as many of its customers as it can

      The Apple Card, the company’s entry into the credit card market, is now open for all iPhone users. Over the last 10 days, it has only been available to select customers.

      Apple says its customers can quickly apply for the new credit card through the Wallet app on iPhone and start using it right away. Apple announced the card earlier this year, partnering with Goldman Sachs, saying it wanted to help consumers better manage their money.

      “We’re thrilled with the overwhelming interest in Apple Card and its positive reception,” said Jennifer Bailey, Apple’s vice president of Apple Pay. “Customers have told us they love Apple Card’s simplicity and how it gives them a better view of their spending.”

      The Apple Card is like many regular credit cards. It doesn’t have an annual fee and it offers 3 percent cash back on Apple purchases and 1 percent on all other purchases. 

      The card has gotten a rather lukewarm reception from personal finance experts who note that most cards now don’t charge an annual fee and offer rewards as generous or more than what the Apple Card pays.

      Other cards may have better benefits

      “The only people who should consider applying for the Apple Card are those who pay their bills in full every month and spend a lot via Apple Pay,” WalletHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou told us earlier this month. “Everyone else is better off with one of the best rewards credit cards or one of the best 0% APR credit cards.”

      The Apple Card, after all, is still a credit card that charges credit card interest. When the company announced the product in the spring, it said its rates would be lower than most credit cards. They are, but not that much lower -- topping out at around 24 percent APR. The average credit card rate is around 15 percent.

      Papadimitrious points out that the Apple Card doesn’t offer 0 percent introductory rates, and its lowest interest rate -- the one offered to customers with the best credit -- is 12.99 percent.

      Added utility

      That said, loyal Apple customers may find added utility with the card. It’s extending 3 percent Daily Cash to more merchants and apps. And from now on customers will receive 3 percent Daily Cash when they use Apple Card with Apple Pay for Uber and Uber Eats.

      There could be an additional advantage. If you own an iPhone and have been turned down by other credit card companies, the Apple Card might be your best bet. CNBC reported last week that consumers with subprime credit scores are being approved for the Apple Card. 

      Apple reportedly sought a banking partner willing to approve as many of its U.S.-based iPhone users as possible, within the bounds of responsible lending. One iPhone user approved for the Apple Card told the network he was “shocked” that he was approved because his credit score is 620.

      The Apple Card, the company’s entry into the credit card market, is now open for all iPhone users. Over the last 10 days, it has only been available to sel...
      Read lessRead more

      Mercedes-Benz recalls model year 2018-2019 vehicles with airbag issue

      The seam in the front passenger airbag may tear during deployment.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 457 model year 2018 SL65 AMGs, model year 2019 SL63 AMGs and model year 2018-2019 SL450s and SL550s.

      The front passenger airbag may have been improperly sewn, allowing the seam to tear during deployment.

      A tear in the airbag may decrease performance and increase the risk of injury.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger airbag free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 1, 2019.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at (800) 367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 457 model year 2018 SL65 AMGs, model year 2019 SL63 AMGs and model year 2018-2019 SL450s and SL550s.The front pa...
      Read lessRead more

      Tip Top Poultry recalls fully-cooked diced chicken

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Tip Top Poultry of Rockmart, Ga., is recalling approximately 135,810 pounds of fully-cooked diced chicken.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      Canadian public health and food safety partners -- including the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency -- have been investigating an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes.

      A list of the frozen, diced and mechanically separated ready to eat chicken, produced on January 21, 2019 with “PACK DATE 01/21/19” on the labels, can be found here.

      The recalled product, bearing establishment number “P-17453” inside the USDA mark of inspection or on the case, was shipped to hotels, restaurants and institutions nationwide.

      What to do

      Institutions that purchased the recalled product should not serve it, but discard or return it to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Terry Bruce at (770) 973-8070.

      Tip Top Poultry of Rockmart, Ga., is recalling approximately 135,810 pounds of fully-cooked diced chicken.The product may be contaminated with Listeria...
      Read lessRead more

      Gaia Garden Herbal recalls Gaia Balancing Tea

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Gaia Garden Herbals is recalling Gaia Garden Herbal Dispensary brand Gaia Balancing Tea.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

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

      The recalled product, which contains no UPC or product codes, was sold in Canada's British Columbia province from June 12, 2019, though July 22, 2019.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may call Gaia Garden Herbals at (604) 734-4372

      Gaia Garden Herbals is recalling Gaia Garden Herbal Dispensary brand Gaia Balancing Tea.The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.There have...
      Read lessRead more

      Boeing 737 MAX panel will reportedly call for changes in FAA plane certification process

      The panel will likely recommend ways to ‘address deficiencies’ in the process

      A panel created in the wake of the two deadly Boeing 737 MAX crashes is expected to recommend that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) change the way it certifies new planes, CNN reports. 

      The international panel, called the Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR), is in the "final stages of completing their work,” sources tell CNN. The team, which consists of both U.S. officials and representatives from aviation agencies from nine other countries, is expected to issue its report on the matter as early as next week. 

      Preventing future problems

      Since the crashes, officials have been examining the FAA's processes with the goal of ensuring that problems similar to the one that caused two Boeing 737 aircraft to crash within a five month period don’t happen again. 

      All Boeing 737 MAX aircraft were grounded in March following the crashes, which were later linked to a flaw in the MCAS automated stabilization system

      Prior to being cleared to fly, the jets hadn’t undergone the full certification process for a new plane because Boeing had argued that the plane was simply an updated version of an existing aircraft. 

      Now, the JATR team is preparing to make “several recommendations that will be presented to the FAA,” CNN reported. “It is not clear if the agency plans to accept or publicly release the recommendations.” 

      In a statement, the FAA said reviews of its processes are still taking place. 

      "The FAA's certification of the Boeing 737 MAX is the subject of several independent reviews and investigations that will examine all aspects of the five-year effort. While the agency's certification processes are well-established and have consistently produced safe aircraft designs, we welcome the scrutiny from these experts and look forward to their findings. We will carefully review all recommendations and will incorporate any changes that would improve our certification activities."

      A panel created in the wake of the two deadly Boeing 737 MAX crashes is expected to recommend that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) change the way...
      Read lessRead more

      Spotify to launch ‘long-requested’ parental controls for Family Plan

      Parents will be able to filter out explicit content on their kids’ accounts

      Spotify has announced that it will be launching a new Premium Family plan with parental controls -- a feature it says has been “long-requested” on community boards. 

      Parents will soon be able to exclude songs with swearing, violence, and other explicit content by toggling on the parental control setting. Deactivating the feature will require the parent’s passcode, so kids won’t be able to switch off the feature themselves. 

      “At a time where parents are trying to reduce screen time for both themselves and their family, we’re creating more ways for families to bond over music together, while still celebrating individual tastes and giving parents more control if they want it," Spotify's chief premium business officer Alex Norstrom said in a press release.

      The music streaming giant has also added a “Family Mix” feature, which gives all family members using the account access to the same personalized playlists. Parents will be able to “control who is in each session” to personalize the playlist, which can help ensure that the playlist won’t be dominated by tunes favored by one family member. 

      The new parental control feature was launched in Ireland on Monday and will roll out more widely “soon.” Spotify’s Premium Family plan costs $15 a month for up to six people who live in the same household. 

      Spotify has announced that it will be launching a new Premium Family plan with parental controls -- a feature it says has been “long-requested” on communit...
      Read lessRead more

      Amazon wins tax showdown with IRS

      Appeals court ruling saves retailer as much as $1.5 billion

      Politicians are sometimes quick to criticize Amazon, claiming the retail giant pays little in the way of federal taxes.

      Thanks to a federal court ruling, the company just avoided a very big tax bullet.

      The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with Amazon in its dispute with the IRS over the way some of the company’s intangible assets, transferred to one of its European subsidiaries more than a decade ago, should be taxed.

      Thanks to the court’s ruling, Amazon says it won’t have to pay a significantly higher tax, said to be in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion. It all came down to how these assets, such as customer lists, software, and intellectual property, are classified. The IRS insisted on a broader definition which would have meant Amazon had to pay more tax.

      The assets are held by Amazon Europe Holding Technologies SCS, based in Luxembourg. Amazon said it chose that location for its European headquarters in part because of its favorable corporate tax rate.

      Fought a local tax

      Amazon has worked hard to keep its taxes low. Last year, when it appeared Seattle was about to impose a surtax on local large corporations the retailer teamed with Starbucks to fund a signature-gathering campaign to defeat it.

      Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been a fierce critic of Amazon’s pay and working conditions. Last year he took note of Amazon’s rock-bottom tax bill, contrasting it with the plight of the homeless population.

      But tax experts say Amazon has historically plowed all or most of its profits back into the company to expand operations. Now that it is earning profits, they say Amazon’s tax bill will go up.

      In Amazon’s dispute with the IRS, the court ruled that the law allows companies to transfer taxable assets to foreign subsidiaries without incurring a penalty, so long as the subsidiaries actually paid a portion of the development costs.

      Politicians are sometimes quick to criticize Amazon, claiming the retail giant pays little in the way of federal taxes.Thanks to a federal court ruling...
      Read lessRead more

      Ryki brand Gouda Cheese Slices recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Polish Trade Center is recalling Ryki brand Gouda Cheese Slices.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There have been no reported illnesses to date.

      The following item, sold in Canada's Ontario province, is being recalled:

      • Ryki Gouda Cheese Slices, 4.76 oz. package, UPC 5 902208 000859, product code: C29N / 290351

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (+48) 81 865 15 07 or by email at sekretariat@smryki.pl

      Polish Trade Center is recalling Ryki brand Gouda Cheese Slices.The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.There have been no repo...
      Read lessRead more

      More than 300,000 people still use log-in credentials that have been compromised

      A report shows that many consumers need to step up their cybersecurity practices

      Following up on the release of its Password Checkup extension for Chrome, Google reports there’s some good news and some bad.

      The good news is that, since its launch, over 650,000 people have used Password Checkup, allowing Google to scan 21 million usernames and passwords. The bad news is twofold: a) 316,000 -- or approximately 1.5 percent -- of web users are still using log-in credentials that Google considers “unsafe;” and b) users ignored 25.7 percent (or 81,368) or all warnings sent their way.

      Google’s report was released last week at the USENIX Security Symposium in Santa Clara, California.

      “Our research shows that users opt to reset 26 percent of the unsafe passwords flagged by the Password Checkup extension,” the company said. “Even better, 60 percent of new passwords are secure against guessing attacks -- meaning it would take an attacker over a hundred million guesses before identifying the new password.”

      Recklessly reusing passwords

      Data breaches have become an almost everyday occurrence. And it’s a safe bet that many web surfers use the same usernames and passwords on several accounts. Hackers are betting on that and trying out every credential they have on a person to try and crack their way in.

      “Based on anonymous telemetry reported by the Password Checkup extension, we found that users reused breached, unsafe credentials for some of their most sensitive financial, government, and email accounts,” Google stated. 

      “This risk was even more prevalent on shopping sites (where users may save credit card details), news, and entertainment sites. In fact, outside the most popular web sites, users are 2.5X more likely to reuse vulnerable passwords, putting their account at risk of hijacking.”

      Improving your protection is important

      In ConsumerAffairs recent story about the 23 million-deep CafePress hack, HaveIBeenPwned’s Troy Hunt reminded consumers that guarding personal data with a variety of log-ins is much easier these days thanks to password management apps and sites.

      Google’s Password Checkup is a definite move in that direction, too -- even going as far as making itself more available to the end-user via a “quick comment box” where users can report any issues they’re experiencing.

      For those who are more concerned about Big Brother looking over their shoulder, Google is also handing back some of the keys to the user, including a way to opt-out of Password Checkup’s “anonymous telemetry.”. 

      “By design, the Password Checkup extension ensures that Google never learns your username or password, regardless of whether you enable telemetry, but we still want to provide this option if users would prefer not to share this information,” the company said.

      Following up on the release of its Password Checkup extension for Chrome, Google reports there’s some good news and some bad.The good news is that, sin...
      Read lessRead more

      Tesla relaunches solar panel business

      Consumers can now rent panels for a monthly fee

      In a series of tweets over the weekend, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that his company is relaunching its solar power program and giving consumers the ability to rent panels. 

      Consumers in a half dozen states (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Mexico) will be able to rent solar power systems on a monthly basis. 

      Prices for a small array of panels will start at $50 a month, or $65 in California. Tesla won’t be implementing a long-term contract, so consumers can cancel anytime. However, the company’s website notes that there is a $1,500 charge to remove panels. 

      Decline in solar business

      Tesla fueled its solar power business plan through the $2.6 billion purchase of SolarCity in 2016, but installations have declined in recent quarters and the electric automaker stopped selling the systems in Home Depot stores. 

      Rebooting the program and adding rental offerings could boost sales by appealing to homeowners who are wary of the idea of a long-term contract. 

      Musk says solar panels can cut costs so much that it's "like having a money printer on your roof." The initial cost includes panel installation, hardware, and ongoing maintenance.

      Last month, Musk said he’s aiming to manufacture about 1,000 solar rooftops a week by the end of 2019.

      In a series of tweets over the weekend, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that his company is relaunching its solar power program and giving consumers the abil...
      Read lessRead more

      Judge questions SEC suit against Volkswagen over diesel emissions scandal

      The court wants to know why the agency waited two years to act

      Volkswagen got caught cooking the books on its diesel emissions. Since then, the company has paid millions of dollars in fines and announced a major electric car initiative. A federal judge says it’s time to move on.

      Federal Judge Charles Breyer is asking why the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) waited two years to sue the automaker after the company had settled with other U.S. regulators. Last week he said he was putting off the SEC’s suit while he urged both parties to reach a settlement.

      “I want you to spend the next month or so seeing if you can resolve this case,” Breyer told the two parties.

      Breyer said he is putting a halt to proceedings until early October to give both sides time to work out a settlement.

      “Whatever you work out today would be less expensive to everybody than what you would work out in the future,” Breyer said.

      Suit filed in March

      In March, the SEC sued Volkswagen and its former chief executive Martin Winterkorn, charging them with defrauding U.S. bond investors by not informing them of the scope of its diesel emissions scheme sooner.

      "Volkswagen hid its decade long emissions scheme while it was selling billions of dollars of its bonds to investors at inflated prices," Stephanie Avakian, the co-director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement, said earlier this year.

      Timing appeared to be a significant influence on Breyer’s request. He said he was “mystified” why the SEC waited so long to take action.

      The “Dieselgate” scandal, in which the German automaker was found to have used illegal software to cheat U.S. pollution tests, first came to light in 2015. The SEC says Volkswagen issued more than $13 billion in bonds between April 2014 to May 2015.

      The agency claims that senior executives at Volkswagen knew that more than a half million vehicles in the United States grossly exceeded legal vehicle emissions limits, exposing the company to massive financial and reputational harm.

      Volkswagen got caught cooking the books on its diesel emissions. Since then, the company has paid millions of dollars in fines and announced a major electr...
      Read lessRead more

      Dog Goods USA recalls Chef Toby Pig Ears Treats

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Dog Goods USA is recalling Chef Toby Pig Ears Treats.

      The Food and Drug Administration , the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and State partners are investigating a suspected link between pig ear pet treats and human cases of salmonellosis.

      No illnesses have been linked to the products to date.

      The lot codes of the non-irradiated bulk and packaged pig ears branded Chef Toby Pig Ears are:

      • 428590, 278989, 087148, 224208, 1168723, 428590, 222999, 074599, 1124053, 226884, 578867, 224897, 1234750, 444525, 1106709, 215812, 230273, 224970, 585246, 327901, 052248, 210393, 217664, 331199, 225399, 867680, 050273, 881224, 424223, 225979, 431724, 226340, 880207, 334498

      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 call (786) 401 -6533 ex:8000 from 9am through 5pm (EST).

      Dog Goods USA is recalling Chef Toby Pig Ears Treats.The Food and Drug Administration , the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and State partne...
      Read lessRead more

      Rosemount brand cooked diced chicken meat recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Rosemount Sales and Marketing is recalling Rosemount brand cooked diced chicken meat.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

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

      The following product, sold in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario and possibly nationwide, is being recalled:

      • Rosemong cooked diced chicken meat, 4.54 kg, UPC: 2 06 20263 12454 7, PACKDATE: 01/21/19

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may call (800) 442-2342 (Canada and U.S.)

      Rosemount Sales and Marketing is recalling Rosemount brand cooked diced chicken meat.The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.Th...
      Read lessRead more

      J.C. Penney announces partnership with secondhand retailer ThredUp

      As part of its effort to boost sales and foot traffic, J.C. Penney will add ThredUp shops to some of its stores

      J.C. Penney, which has been forced to close many of its stores due to disappointing sales in recent years, reported smaller losses in the second quarter, as well as a new partnership with secondhand retailer ThredUp.

      The retailer reported a loss of $48 million in the second quarter compared to a loss of $101 million a year earlier, according to Refinitiv. However, revenue was lower than analysts’ expectations of $2.69 billion -- $2.62 billion compared to $2.8 billion a year earlier. 

      J.C. Penney and other struggling retailers have been changing their business plans in an attempt to increase foot traffic, which has declined under a sharp increase in online shopping. 

      Earlier this year, J.C. Penney announced it would be ceasing sales of appliances and furniture and closing 24 stores as part of its course-correction plan. The decision to free up space in stores by removing appliances and furniture was intended to help it "better meet customer expectations, improve financial performance and drive profitable growth."

      Now, the retailer will be carving out space for ThredUp shops at 30 of its stores, which may draw in younger consumers with an interest in sustainable fashion. 

      A new in-store experience

      “With the rise of online resale markets, there’s no doubt that demand for great value on quality brands is at an all-time high,” said J.C. Penney EVP and chief merchant Michelle Wlazlo during a second quarter conference call. “We’re excited about the prospect of creating a new in-store experience that makes high-end brands attainable, as well as catering to eco-minded consumers who want more sustainable options in their wardrobe.”

      J.C. Penney CEO Jill Soltau said she feels “more confident than ever” that the changes the company is undergoing will “reinvigorate and rejuvenate this great company to sustainable, profitable growth."

      “We are not simply running a business; we are rebuilding a business,” Soltau said. “The journey we are on will restore health back to our company.”

      Macy’s also announced this week that it’s teaming up with ThredUp to offer secondhand women’s clothing and handbags at some of its stores.

      J.C. Penney, which has been forced to close many of its stores due to disappointing sales in recent years, reported smaller losses in the second quarter, a...
      Read lessRead more

      Gas prices still giving motorists a break at the pump

      The national average price is down another five cents this week

      The price of gasoline continues to fall across most the the U.S. as growing supplies create more competition.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gasoline has fallen to $2.63 a gallon, five cents lower than last Friday. It’s down 16 cents in the last month. The average price of premium gras is $3.22 a gallon, down four cents in the last week. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.95, two cents lower in the last week.

      Prices fell last week despite a huge increase in demand, suggesting motorists are driving more as the vacation season winds down. The latest report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows demand for gasoline hit a new all-time high of 9.93 million barrels a day for the week ending August 9.

      In fact, demand grew by nearly 300,000 barrels a day to hit the highest level recorded by EIA since it began recording that data in 1991. Demand is nearly 400,000 barrels a day higher than at this time last year.

      “If demand increases amid falling stock levels in the week ahead, American motorists could see pump prices increase moderately ahead of Labor Day,” AAA said in its latest market update.

      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 ($3.65)

      • California ($3.60)

      • Washington ($3.24)

      • Nevada ($3.18)

      • Oregon ($3.09)

      • Alaska ($3.06)

      • Utah ($2.90)

      • Idaho ($2.86)

      • New York ($2.83)

      • Illinois ($2.82)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

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

      • Louisiana ($2.25)

      • Mississippi ($2.27)

      • South Carolina ($2.29)

      • Alabama ($2.30)

      • Arkansas ($2.30)

      • Oklahoma ($2.34)

      • Tennessee ($2.35)

      • Texas ($2.37)

      • Missouri ($2.37)

      • Kansas ($2.39)

      The price of gasoline continues to fall across most the the U.S. as growing supplies create more competition.The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the nation...
      Read lessRead more

      Toyota recalls model year 2019 Camrys

      The front passenger airbag and knee airbag may not deploy properly

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 680 model year 2019 Camrys.

      The Occupant Classification System (OCS) may have been improperly calibrated, which may prevent the proper deployment of the front passenger airbag and knee airbag in the event of a crash.

      In the event of a crash, if

      Failure of the airbags to deploy as designed can increase the risk of an injury to the front seat passenger.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will recalibrate the OCS free of charge.

      The recall was expected to begin August 15, 2019.

      Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-888-270-9371. Toyota's number for this recall is K0M.

      Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 680 model year 2019 Camrys.The Occupant Classification System (OCS) may have been improperly cali...
      Read lessRead more

      Tyson Foods recalls Weaver brand ready-to-eat chicken patties

      The products may be contaminated with extraneous materials

      Tyson Foods of Pine Bluff, Ark., is recalling approximately 39,078 pounds of Weaver brand frozen chicken patties that may be contaminated with extraneous materials.

      The following frozen, fully cooked chicken items, produced on January 31, 2019, are being recalled:

      • 26-oz. resealable plastic bags containing “Weaver CHICKEN BREAST PATTIES BREADED CHICKEN BREAST PATTIES WITH RIB MEAT” with a best if used by date of “Jan312020” and lot code 0319PBF0617, 0319PBF0618, 0319PBF0619, 0319PBF0620, 0319PBF0621, 0319PBF0622, 0319PBF0623, or 0319PBF0600 represented on the label.

      The recalled products, bearing establishment number “P-13456” printed on the back of the resealable plastic bag, were shipped to retail locations nationwide.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions about the recall may call or text the firm's hotline at (855) 382-3101.

      Tyson Foods of Pine Bluff, Ark., is recalling approximately 39,078 pounds of Weaver brand frozen chicken patties that may be contaminated with extraneous m...
      Read lessRead more

      British Airways e-ticketing bug may have exposed data on 2.5 million passengers

      Short of augmenting their mobile security, the consumer’s power to control situations like this is limited

      A bug has been detected in British Airways e-ticketing system which could expose a passenger’s personal data.

      Researchers at Wandera, a mobile security firm, uncovered the bug below the surface of emailed check-in links sent by British Airways to passengers. Wandera’s team told Threatpost that they calculate 2.5 million connections were made to affected British Airways domains over the past six months, calling the potential impact “significant.”

      British Airways’ intentions were good; the company hoped to streamline the user experience. But the researchers say the company left links in its emails unencrypted, which means that passengers’ booking reference numbers, phone numbers, and email addresses could be looted by a cyber criminal. 

      “Someone snooping on the same public Wi-Fi network can easily intercept the link request, which includes the booking reference and surname and use these details to gain access to the passenger’s online itinerary in order to steal even more information or manipulate the booking information,” wrote Wandera’s Liarna La Porta in her analysis of the issue.

      In total, La Porta claims there were 11 pieces of personal data potentially exposed:

      • Email Address

      • Telephone Number

      • British Airways Membership Numbers

      • First Name

      • Last Name

      • Booking Reference

      • Itinerary

      • Flight Number

      • Flight Times

      • Seat Number

      • Baggage Allowance

      Wandera claims that it discovered a similar check-in link vulnerability earlier this year with eight other major airlines: Southwest, KLM, Air France, Jetstar, Thomas Cook, Vueling, Air Europa, and Transavia. The firm says it notified each airline and urged them to “take action to secure the check-in links.”

      British Airways responds

      In a statement to ConsumerAffairs, British Airways said that Wandera's finding could be driven by business interests.

      “Wandera sells security solutions to corporate clients. Their research is created to drive revenue,” a company representative said.

      The company reiterated that no passport or payment information was accessed as part of the breach, and that it has multiple systems in place to protect its customers.

      Anything a consumer can do?

      There’s not much an airline passenger can do in scenarios like this. Most of the burden is really on the airlines since the issues are technical.

      The one thing Wandera says a consumer should consider is installing an active mobile security app to monitor and block data leaks and phishing attacks.

      A bug has been detected in British Airways e-ticketing system which could expose a passenger’s personal data.Researchers at Wandera, a mobile security...
      Read lessRead more

      Amazon to start sending unsold inventory to charities

      The company is aiming to ‘reduce the number of products sent to landfills’

      Amazon has announced that it will soon launch a program that will send unsold products from third-party sellers to charities instead of the dump. 

      Under the new Fulfilled by Amazon Donations program, hundreds of thousands of unwanted products in Amazon’s warehouses in the U.S. and U.K. will go to nonprofits and charities, CNBC reported.

      “We know getting products into the hands of those who need them transforms lives and strengthens local communities,” said Alice Shobe, director of Amazon’s charitable donations branch, Amazon in the Community, in a statement. “We are delighted to extend this program to sellers who use our fulfillment services.”

      Starts next month

      The program is set to begin September 1. At that time, it will become the default method of handling unsold inventory. Sellers will have the option of opting out of the program. 

      Items in the U.S. will be funneled through Good360, which will distribute them to a network of nonprofits. In the U.K., charities like Barnardo’s, Newlife, and the Salvation Army will receive the unsold products. 

      Amazon says the new program is intended to reduce waste and ensure that products go directly to reputable nonprofits and charities. 

      “This program will reduce the number of products sent to landfills and instead help those in need,” the company said.

      Amazon has set out to mitigate its environmental impact in other ways as well, such as by introducing new fines for sellers who ship products in oversized boxes and pledging to make half its shipments carbon neutral by 2030. 

      Amazon has announced that it will soon launch a program that will send unsold products from third-party sellers to charities instead of the dump. Under...
      Read lessRead more

      Vaping industry group seeks to delay review of e-cigarettes

      A lawsuit claims the FDA’s review will put many vaping companies out of business

      The Vapor Technology Association, an industry group representing 800 vaping companies, has filed a lawsuit seeking to delay the FDA’s upcoming review of e-cigarettes.

      The FDA originally set a 2022 deadline for submitting applications for e-cigarette approval, but it advanced it to May 2020 in response to a dramatic rise in teen vaping and pressure from anti-tobacco groups. In June, a judge ruled in favor of the new 2020 deadline, which prompted the vaping group to sue.

      The lawsuit filed Wednesday claims the FDA’s new deadline will put many smaller vaping companies out of business. 

      “It is time for FDA to stop moving the goalposts and changing the rules in the middle of the game to the detriment of our manufacturers and small businesses,” VTA executive director Tony Abboud said in a statement.

      Health concerns

      E-cigarette manufacturers have stressed that their products are intended to help adult smokers quit, but teens have gravitated toward them at a rate that has generated concern among health officials. 

      Last month, the CEO of Juul -- which is among the members of the vaping association seeking to delay the government’s review of e-cigarettes -- issued a public apology to parents of children addicted to vaping products. 

      “It’s not intended for them,” said Juul CEO Kevin Burns. “I hope there was nothing that we did that made it appealing to them. As a parent of a 16-year-old, I’m sorry for them, and I have empathy for them, in terms of what the challenges they’re going through.”

      Researchers are still trying to get a clear picture of the health effects associated with e-cigarettes. The FDA is currently investigating nearly 130 reports of seizures in e-cigarette users, and regulators have expressed concern that the rise in e-cigarette threatens undo progress in reducing rates of tobacco use among minors.

      The Vapor Technology Association, an industry group representing 800 vaping companies, has filed a lawsuit seeking to delay the FDA’s upcoming review of e-...
      Read lessRead more

      Mortgage applications surge over 20 percent in a week

      Refinancing accounted for most of the increase

      The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reports that home mortgage applications surged 21.7 percent last week from the week before. Refinancing made up a large portion of the increase.

      MBA’s Refinance Index increased 37 percent from the previous week to its highest level in three years as existing homeowners rushed to take advantage of falling interest rates.

      "The 2019 refinance wave continued, as homeowners last week responded to extraordinarily low mortgage rates,” said Joel Kan, MBA's associate vice president of Economic and Industry Forecasting.

      Trade war fears have pushed yields on U.S. Treasury bonds to below 2 percent, and it’s those yields that influence mortgage rates. When yields fall, so do interest rates on mortgages.

      Lowest since November 2016

      MBA reports that the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate fell eight basis points last week to 3.93 percent -- the lowest level since November 2016 -- and has now dropped more than 80 basis points this year.

      "In just the last two weeks, rates have decreased 15 basis points and the refinance index has increased more than 50 percent, reaching its highest level since July 2016,” Kan said. “The government refinance index, driven by a 25 percent increase in VA refinance applications, is now at its highest level since May 2013."

      Lucky and smart

      Holden Lewis, NerdWallet’s home expert, says refinancing almost tripled compared to a year ago, and consumers who grasp the opportunity are both lucky and smart.

      “Lucky because the recent Fed rate cut reminded homeowners to check current mortgage rates — which happened to be at three-year lows last week. Smart because those homeowners didn't wait for rates to fall further; they pounced and applied to refinance instead of timing the market,” Lewis said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. 

      “Mortgage rates have rebounded a bit in the last week, but even so, millions of homeowners could save money by refinancing. That includes most people who bought homes in 2018. Seriously, even if you bought your home last year, you could save money by refinancing right now.”

      In addition to reducing their monthly mortgage payment, many consumers took out equity in their homes to use for other purposes, something that could have a stimulative effect on the economy as an inverted yield curve this week flashed a recession warning.

      The MBA weekly report shows the refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 61.4 percent of total applications from 53.9 percent the previous week.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reports that home mortgage applications surged 21.7 percent last week from the week before. Refinancing made up a la...
      Read lessRead more

      Celebrate brand frozen profiteroles and eclairs recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Associated Grocers is recalling Celebrate brand frozen profiteroles and eclairs that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      Canada's Public Health Agency investigated an outbreak of Salmonella infections associated with these products.

      The outbreak appears to be over, and the investigation has been closed.

      The following products, sold in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, are being recalled:

      • Celebrate Mini Chocolate Eclairs -- UPC 8 858762 720047
      • Celebrate Classical Profiteroles / Classic Profiteroles -- UPC 8 858762 720009
      • Celebrate Egg Nog Profiteroles -- UPC 8 858762 720016

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may call (800) 442-2342 (Canada and U.S.)

      Associated Grocers is recalling Celebrate brand frozen profiteroles and eclairs that may be contaminated with Salmonella.Canada's Public Health Agency...
      Read lessRead more

      Facebook let private contractors review users’ Messenger recordings

      The company says it’s no longer letting humans listen to users’ audio recordings

      Facebook has paid hundreds of its contractors to transcribe users’ messages, according to a Bloomberg report

      Sources familiar with the matter, who opted to remain anonymous, told the publication that Facebook’s contractors were unaware where the audio recordings were coming from and weren’t given a reason for why they had to transcribe them. 

      “The work has rattled the contract employees, who are not told where the audio was recorded or how it was obtained -- only to transcribe it,” the report said. “They're hearing Facebook users' conversations, sometimes with vulgar content, but do not know why Facebook needs them transcribed, the people said.” 

      Users of Facebook’s Messenger app, meanwhile, were never informed that their conversations would be reviewed by human beings. Affected users did, however, select the option to have their voice chats transcribed and gave Facebook permission to access their microphone, the company said. 

      Facebook added that its contractors had been tasked with reviewing the recordings in order to verify that its artificial intelligence tools had correctly interpreted the messages.

      Privacy concerns

      Amazon, Google, and Apple have also recently been exposed for putting employees in charge of reviewing audio recordings created by their respective user bases. In response to media reports of these privacy concerns, Facebook has now confirmed that it will no longer let its staffers review anonymized user conversations. 

      “Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” the company said Tuesday. 

      Earlier this month, Apple temporarily suspended a program that let its employees listen to Siri voice recordings. The practice was called “grading,” and it was intended to help boost Siri’s speech recognition accuracy and quality. Apple said an upcoming software update will give users the ability to opt out of participating in its grading program. 

      Facebook has paid hundreds of its contractors to transcribe users’ messages, according to a Bloomberg report. Sources familiar with the matter, who opt...
      Read lessRead more

      FCC circulates draft order to approve T-Mobile/Sprint merger

      Ajit Pai believes the deal will ‘bring fast 5G wireless service to many more Americans’

      On Wednesday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai made his approval of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger official. 

      Although critics have argued that allowing the two carriers to join forces would reduce competition in the industry, Pai contends that the deal would help promote competition, expedite the nationwide deployment of 5G, and help shrink the digital divide. 

      “After one of the most exhaustive merger reviews in Commission history, the evidence conclusively demonstrates that this transaction will bring fast 5G wireless service to many more Americans and help close the digital divide in rural areas,” Pai said in a statement. 

      The conditions included in the FCC’s draft order would “promote robust competition in mobile broadband, put critical mid-band spectrum to use, and bring new competition to the fixed broadband market,” the Republican commissioner added.

      “I thank our transaction team for the thorough and careful analysis reflected in this draft Order and hope that my colleagues will vote to approve it,” he continued. 

      Help with 5G deployment

      Pai, who signaled his intention to approve the deal back in May, believes that if T-Mobile and Sprint become one company, the combined entity will be in a better position to compete with rivals in the effort to launch 5G. 

      “Consumers will directly benefit from improvements in network quality and coverage, which in turn will foster innovation in a wide variety of sectors and services (itself creating significant public interest benefits),” the FCC said in a statement. “Moreover, the transaction will help to close the digital divide by bringing robust 5G deep into rural areas, with enforceable conditions in the draft Order requiring coverage of at least 99% of Americans within six years.”

      Following months of skepticism over the merger, the Department of Justice (DOJ) gave its approval of the $26.5 billion deal last month on the condition that Sprint sell its prepaid assets to Dish network. The DOJ said the new agreement will "enable a viable facilities-based competitor to enter the market.” 

      The merger is still opposed by more than a dozen state attorneys general. These officials argue that the merger will harm competition and raise prices for consumers. Democratic FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel also said she’s still “not convinced that removing a competitor will lead to better outcomes for consumers.” 

      “But what I am convinced of is that before the FCC votes on this new deal negotiated by Washington, the public should have the opportunity to weigh in and comment. Too much here has been done behind closed doors,” she said in a statement regarding the FCC’s draft order.

      On Wednesday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai made his approval of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger official. Although critics have...
      Read lessRead more

      CBS and Viacom plan to merge once again

      The two media giants hope their marriage is better the second time again

      CBS and Viacom, two entertainment companies that once were one company, are joining forces once again. The two entertainment companies have announced an all-stock merger that will form a new company called ViacomCBS Inc.

      Should the deal close as expected, CBS’ broadcast network will be part of an entertainment package that will include Viacom's MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, as well as its Paramount film and TV studio and CBS’ showtime cable network.

      Bob Bakish, who heads Viacom, will become CEO of the new company. He’s confident the merged operation can shake things up in the industry.

      “Our unique ability to produce premium and popular content for global audiences at scale – for our own platforms and for our partners around the world – will enable us to maximize our business for today, while positioning us to lead for years to come,” Bakish said. 

      Not unexpected

      Wall Street had been pushing for months for the former partners to patch things up and get back together. The announcement was hardly a surprise to investors who say both companies will be much stronger under one roof.

      Industry analysts say the combined company will own a number of powerful consumer brands, as well as one of the largest libraries of valuable intellectual property. The collection includes more than 140,000 TV episodes and more than 3,600 film titles.

      The two companies have spent more than $13 billion on content in the last 12 months and that level of investment is expected to continue. The combined company will own the lucrative Star Trek and Mission Impossible franchises.

      Broadcast and cable

      The combined company will also have one foot in broadcasting and another in cable. While its stations cover key U.S. markets, its cable operations will reach more than 4.3 billion cumulative TV subscribers worldwide. Internationally, it will own broadcast networks in the UK, Argentina and Australia, as well as pay-TV networks across more than 180 countries. 

      It will also have significant global production capabilities across five continents – creating content in 45 languages.

      CBS and Viacom merged for the first time in 1999, only to split apart in 2005. But as other media mergers took place around them the two companies found themselves much smaller than their rivals and at a competitive disadvantage.

      CBS and Viacom, two entertainment companies that once were one company, are joining forces once again. The two entertainment companies have announced an al...
      Read lessRead more

      Home values reach their highest level in 12 years

      However, the amount that consumers owe on their homes also continues to rise

      Quicken Loans, which gauges home values based on appraisal data, reports that the average home value increased 0.6 percent in July, rising at a 4.75 percent annual rate.

      The Quicken Loans Home Value Index (HVI) for July hit its highest point since January 2007. Eighteen months later, home values crashed to kick off a financial crisis and the Great Recession.

      Home values rose in every region last month, with the Northeast getting the biggest bump -- a 1.34 percent increase. Homes in the South only increased by 0.04 percent.

      "The fact that July had the highest Quicken Loans Home Value Index since January 2007 has to be encouraging, especially to those who were deeply underwater during the worst of the recession," said Bill Banfield, Quicken Loans’ executive vice president of Capital Markets. "The 1 percent drop in interest rates so far this year will help address affordability but the strength of the economy and a lack of new homes being built will also play a big role."

      Mortgage debt rising

      While appraised home values are rising, so is mortgage debt. U.S. mortgage debt has hit a record high, according to the New York Federal Reserve Bank’s report on household debt. The amount consumers owe on their homes now exceeds the previous record set in 2008, just before the housing market crash.

      Mortgage balances, the biggest part of household debt, rose by $162 billion in the second quarter to $9.4 trillion. The previous high was $9.3 trillion in the third quarter of 2008. 

      An analysis of the report by The Wall Street Journal suggests that one reason for the surge in mortgage debt is a wave of refinancing, in which homeowners are taking cash out of their homes to use for other purposes -- a trend that also occurred just before the 2008 housing market crash.

      Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase, told The Journal that the amount of mortgage debt isn’t necessarily a sign of trouble because incomes have been rising at a rate to support it.

      Lending standards are tighter than they were in 2008, with lenders closely documenting income and employment stability. At the same time, banks have begun offering more 100 percent financing packages, part of the reason so many homeowners were trapped “underwater” 11 years ago when home values plunged.

      Quicken Loans, which gauges home values based on appraisal data, reports that the average home value increased 0.6 percent in July, rising at a 4.75 percen...
      Read lessRead more

      Western Family Original Wild Sockeye Smoked Salmon Nuggets recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Delta Pacific Seafood is recalling Western Family brand Original Wild Sockeye Smoked Salmon Nuggets.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses associated with the consumption of the recalled product have been reported.

      More information about the recalled product can be found on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's site here.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may call (800) 442-2342 (Canada and U.S.)

      Delta Pacific Seafood is recalling Western Family brand Original Wild Sockeye Smoked Salmon Nuggets.The product may be contaminated with Listeria monoc...
      Read lessRead more

      SEC investigating possible exposure of more than 800 million mortgage documents

      The agency is seeking to find out if securities laws were violated

      The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is currently investigating California-based real estate title insurance company First American, according to a report from security researcher Brian Krebs. 

      In May, Washington real estate developer Ben Shoval alerted Krebs to the fact that roughly 885 million personal and mortgage-related records held by the company could have been exposed. Shoval said he had discovered a security loophole after visiting a link to his own documents. 

      Now, the SEC has asked Shoval to provide documentation related to the data leak by August 21. The agency’s enforcement division is seeking to determine if First American violated federal securities laws.

      “This investigation is a non-public, fact-finding inquiry,” the SEC said in the letter. “The investigation does not mean that we have concluded that anyone has violated the law.”

      Facing legal action

      After being made aware of the security issue, First American said it investigated the matter and ultimately identified just 32 consumers whose personal information was accessed without authorization. 

      “These 32 consumers have been notified and offered complimentary credit monitoring services,” the company said in July.

      First American is already being investigated by New York’s Department of Financial Services, which recently implemented a new cybersecurity rule that requires financial firms to periodically audit and disclose how they protect sensitive user data. A class action lawsuit alleges that First American “failed to implement even rudimentary security measures.”

      The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is currently investigating California-based real estate title insurance company First American, according...
      Read lessRead more

      Senators ask Amazon CEO for answers about Amazon’s Choice

      Mystery surrounds the ways some products earn that designation

      Two U.S. Senators have called on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to shed more light on the company’s “Amazon’s Choice” badge program. In particular, the lawmakers want to know if  consumers are deceived into purchasing “products of inferior quality.”

      “We are concerned the badge is assigned in an arbitrary manner, or worse, based on fraudulent product reviews,” Sen. Bob Menendez ()D-N.J.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in the letter to Bezos.

      The lawmakers have asked Amazon for an explanation of the process used to select Amazon products for the promotion, pressing to see how reliant Amazon is on artificial intelligence. The senators also want to know if human beings personally review the products.

      The public query appears to be the latest pressure Washington is directing at large technology companies. Last month, the Justice Department announced it is investigating some tech companies on antitrust grounds to make sure they haven’t squashed competitors.

      Questions

      The Amazon’s Choice designation has produced questions long before now, with several articles in the last year by various publications seeking to explain it. A year ago, CNET reported that Amazon has been reluctant to discuss it.

      In a nutshell, the Amazon’s Choice badge pops up on items that a number of consumers have purchased and been pleased enough to post positive reviews. Amazon has said they are products that are “highly rated, well-priced products available to ship immediately." But that leads to more questions.

      “Is it a designation for which manufacturers can apply -- or maybe even pay?” CNET asked in a March 2018 article. “And who, exactly, is making the ‘Choice’: Is it bestowed from a bunch of in-house Amazon experts, or -- like fellow technology behemoths Google and Facebook -- does Amazon just deploy yet another algorithm, wherein a "good deal" is something that's in stock that you have a higher chance of buying, based on your purchase history?”

      Now more than a year later, the two lawmakers are asking many of the same questions. According to AMZ Advisors, the badge is based in part on products that are only available through Amazon Echo. But the site says it’s not clear how sellers get the Amazon’s Choice badge.

      “Amazon is keeping mum about how it selects products for inclusion in Amazon’s Choice list,” the site’s editors write. “We don’t know very much about which products Echo is likely to recommend or which brand it will tend to offer.”

      What remains to be seen is whether pressure from Congress provides some answers.

      Two U.S. Senators have called on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to shed more light on the company’s “Amazon’s Choice” badge program. In particular, the lawmakers wa...
      Read lessRead more

      Inflation rose in July, but rates are still below the Fed’s desired levels

      Gasoline and housing led the increase

      Inflation picked up its pace in July but is still relatively low, according to the latest report from the Labor Department.

      The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.3 percent in July after going up just 0.1 percent in June. Over the last 12 months, the inflation rate is 1.8 percent, just below the Federal Reserve’s desired inflation rate of 2 percent.

      July prices rose mainly on the basis of more expensive housing and gasoline, though gas prices have dropped in August and are expected to keep falling. The index for food was unchanged for the second month in a row. It cost less to prepare meals at home last month, but the cost of visiting restaurants went up.

      “The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.3 in July, the same increase as in June,” the Labor Department said in its release. "The July rise was broad-based, with increases in the indexes for shelter, medical care, airline fares, household furnishings and operations, apparel, and personal care all contributing to the increase. The index for new

      vehicles was one of the few to decline in July.”

      More expensive fruit and vegetables

      Consumers paid more last month for fresh fruits and vegetables, with the prices of those items rising 0.3 percent. The cost of cereals and bakery products increased by the same amount, with the price of meats, poultry, fish, and eggs going up 0.1 percent.

      But three of the major grocery store food group indexes declined last month. The cost of nonalcoholic beverages fell for the second straight month, declining 0.4 percent. The index for dairy and related products fell 0.3 percent after rising in each of the previous five months.

      The report may have an uncertain impact on the Fed’s decision to cut interest rates or leave them at present levels. Prices rose, but not by that much. Another interest rate cut could push the inflation rate to 2 percent, the Fed’s desired target.

      Inflation picked up its pace in July but is still relatively low, according to the latest report from the Labor Department.The Consumer Price Index (CP...
      Read lessRead more

      Mountain Rose Herbs recalls Fennel Seed Whole

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Mountain Rose Herbs (MRH) of Eugene, Ore., is recalling all sizes ranging from 4-oz. to 50-lbs. of its Fennel Seed Whole.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The recalled product, which comes in a clear plastic or poly-woven bag marked with lot # 25031, which is located on the principal display panel on the lower left of the label, was sold directly to customers who ordered from mountainroseherbs.com, purchased at the company’s retail shop in Eugene, Ore., or placed mail orders by phone or fax.

      It was also distributed between April 2019, and up to July 18, 2019, to vitamin and health food stores in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and to one consignee in Canada.

      It is possible MRH customers also resold the Fennel Seed Whole to their own clientele.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact Mountain Rose Herbs at (800) 879-3337.

      Mountain Rose Herbs (MRH) of Eugene, Ore., is recalling all sizes ranging from 4-oz. to 50-lbs. of its Fennel Seed Whole.The product may be contaminate...
      Read lessRead more

      Agropur Cooperative Idéale, Iceberg Premium and Originale Augustin cream and frozen yogurt

      The products may contain pieces of metal

      Agropur Cooperative is recalling Idéale brand, Iceberg Premium brand and Originale Augustin brand ice cream and frozen yogurt.

      The products may contain pieces of metal.

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

      The following products, sold in Canada's Ontario and Quebec provinces, are being recalled:

      Brand NameCommon NameUPCCode(s) on Product
      IdéaleVanilla Ice Cream74276 12707Lot: 19136
      Lot: 19137
      Lot: 19143
      Lot: 19144
      IdéaleChocolate Chips Ice Cream74276 12725Lot: 19136
      IdéaleStrawberry Ice Cream74276 12711Lot: 19184
      IdéaleChocolate Ice Cream74276 12708Lot: 19172
      Lot: 19137
      IdéaleButterscotch Ice Cream74276 12709Lot: 19137
      IdéaleGreen Tea Ice Cream74276 12730Lot: 19143
      IdéaleFrench Vanilla Ice Cream74276 12723Lot: 19137
      IdéaleMango Ice Cream74276 12729Lot: 19164
      Iceberg PremiumVanilla Ice Cream74276 13300Lot: 19164
      Lot: 19171
      Lot: 19136
      Lot: 19143
      Originale AugustinFrozen Yogurt Slices74276 13503Lot: 19186

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (222) 333-4444.

      Agropur Cooperative is recalling Idéale brand, Iceberg Premium brand and Originale Augustin brand ice cream and frozen yogurt.The products may contain...
      Read lessRead more

      BMW recalls vehicles with seatback issue

      The seatback may unexpectedly fold forward or rearward.

      BMW of North America is recalling 20 model year 2018-2019 X3 sDrive30i, xDrive30i & M40i, and model year 2019 X4 xDrive30i and M40i vehicles.

      The front seatback frames may have been improperly welded, allowing the seatback to unexpectedly fold forward or rearward.

      In the event of a crash, there is an increased risk of injury if the seatback folds forward or rearward.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front seats free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin September 23, 2019. Owners may contact BMW customer service (800) 525-7417.

      BMW of North America is recalling 20 model year 2018-2019 X3 sDrive30i, xDrive30i & M40i, and model year 2019 X4 xDrive30i and M40i vehicles.The front...
      Read lessRead more

      Rycki Edam cheese slices recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Polish Trade Center Ltd. is recalling Ryki brand Rycki Edam Cheese Slices.

      The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      There have been no reported illnesses connected to consumption of the recalled products.

      The following products, sold throughout Canada's Ontario province, are being recalled:

      Brand NameCommon NameSizeUPCCode(s) on Product
      RykiRycki Edam Cheese Slices4.76 oz5 902208 000811D30N / 300454
      RykiRycki Edam Smoked Cheese Slices4.76 oz5 902208 000828D30N / 300469

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may call (800) 442-2342 (Canada and U.S.)

      Polish Trade Center Ltd. is recalling Ryki brand Rycki Edam Cheese Slices.The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.There have b...
      Read lessRead more

      Researchers find security vulnerability in DSLR cameras

      Canon has advised its customers to take several precautions in light of the discovery

      Security researchers at Check Point Software Technologies have discovered a security vulnerability on Canon digital cameras. In a report issued Monday, researcher Eyal Itkin demonstrated how he was able to install malware on a Canon E0S 80D camera connected to Wi-Fi. 

      Itkin and his team chose to use a Canon camera for the simulation in part because Canon is the largest DSLR maker, controlling more than 50 percent of the market. The company’s EOS 80D device was also chosen because it supports both USB and WiFi.

      The researchers used the standardized Picture Transfer Protocol to sow malware on personal photos in a way that wouldn’t allow users to access their photos unless they paid a ransom. 

      “Our research shows how an attacker in close proximity (WiFi), or an attacker who already hijacked our PC (USB), can also propagate to and infect our beloved cameras with malware,” Check Point wrote. “Imagine how would you respond if attackers inject ransomware into both your computer and the camera, causing them to hold all of your pictures hostage unless you pay ransom.” 

      Bad actors could theoretically “place a rogue WiFi access point at a tourist attraction to infect your camera,” the report noted. 

      A patch has been in the works since March, when the team initially disclosed the security flaw to Canon. Last week, Canon issued an advisory encouraging consumers to avoid using unsecured Wi-Fi networks, turn off the camera’s network functions when it isn’t in use, and install a new security patch. 

      Canon noted that as of this week, “there have been no confirmed cases of these vulnerabilities being exploited to cause harm.” Iktin told The Verge that other devices could be vulnerable as well, due to the complexity of the Picture Transfer Protocol. 

      Security researchers at Check Point Software Technologies have discovered a security vulnerability on Canon digital cameras. In a report issued Monday, res...
      Read lessRead more

      Millions of Windows 10 users hit with yet another major system warning

      Vendors are rushing to get patches in place, but there’s uncertainty about when the problem will be fixed completely

      Windows 10 users are facing another critical warning -- one which could potentially impact millions of users.

      As part of a presentation at hacker clambake DEF CON, researchers from technology security firm Eclypsium revealed the issue, saying it applies "to all modern versions of Microsoft Windows.” 

      The issue is rather complex, but the basic idea is that system drivers -- computer programs that operate a device attached to a computer (such as a printer) -- can be attacked by hackers and allow them access to a device’s Windows 10 system software.

      What’s impacted

      The total number of impacted hardware drivers the Eclypsium researchers found added up to 20, and that includes a gamut of drivers responsible for everything from booting up the computer to operating a USB mouse. According to a Forbes investigation of the matter, the drivers are all Microsoft-sanctioned drivers and from trusted vendors such as Intel and Toshiba.

      "Bad drivers can be immensely dangerous,” the researchers claimed in their presentation. “Drivers that provide access to system BIOS or system components for the purposes of updating firmware, running diagnostics, or customizing options on the component can allow attackers to turn the very tools used to manage a system into powerful threats that can escalate privileges and persist invisibly on the host."

      Help is already on the way

      Before you pull the rest of your hair out over the recent parade of Windows 10 gaffes, this one is already being fixed from the vendor level. Mickey Shkatov, Principal Researcher at Eclypsium, told ZDNet that “vendors, like Intel and Huawei, have already issued updates.”

      Shkatov blames the issues he discovered on a “common software design anti-pattern” from the developer end, mostly out of a desire to “perform arbitrary actions on behalf of userspace.” 

      "It's easier to develop software by structuring drivers and applications this way, but it opens the system up for exploitation,” he said.

      In ConsumerAffairs’ check of Microsoft’s support site, we found no update regarding the issue or possible fixes. However, Eclypsium’s presentation included these comments and suggestions from Microsoft, which consumers can employ to further guard themselves:

      • Microsoft has a strong commitment to security and a demonstrated track record of investigating and proactively updating impacted devices as soon as possible. For the best protection, we recommend using Windows 10 and the Microsoft Edge browser.

      • In order to exploit vulnerable drivers, an attacker would need to have already compromised the computer. To help mitigate this class of issues, Microsoft recommends that customers use Windows Defender Application Control to block known vulnerable software and drivers.

      • Customers can further protect themselves by turning on memory integrity for capable devices in Windows Security. 

      Windows 10 users are facing another critical warning -- one which could potentially impact millions of users.As part of a presentation at hacker clamba...
      Read lessRead more

      Dole Fresh Vegetables recalls baby spinach

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Dole Fresh Vegetables is recalling a limited number of cases of baby spinach.

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      No illnesses have been reported.

      The following products, with lot code and use-by date on the upper right corner of the bag or on the top label of the clamshell, and the UPC code on the bottom left corner of the back of the bag or on the bottom label of the clamshell, are being recalled:.

      • 6-oz., Dole Baby Spinach bag, Lot code W20308A (UPC code 0-71430-00964-2), use-by date 08-05-2019
      • 10-oz., Dole Baby Spinach clamshell, Lot code W203010 (UPC code 0-71430-00016-8), use-by date 08-05-2019

      The recalled products were distributed in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard them.

      Consumers with questions may call the company at (800) 356-3111, 24 hours a day.

      Dole Fresh Vegetables is recalling a limited number of cases of baby spinach.The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.No illnesses have been...
      Read lessRead more

      Honda recalls model year 2019 CR-Vs

      The vehicle may leak fuel

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 134 model year 2019 CR-Vs.

      The joint weld between the fuel tank and the vapor return line may have been insufficiently welded, causing the weld to fail.

      The failed weld may allow fuel to leak, increasing the risk of a fire in the presence of an ignition source.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel tank free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin September 16, 2019.

      Owners may contact Honda customer service at (888) 234-2138. Honda's number for this recall is A5I.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 134 model year 2019 CR-Vs.The joint weld between the fuel tank and the vapor return line may have been insufficie...
      Read lessRead more

      Select Apple customers are now signing up for the Apple Card

      Initially, many experts aren’t that impressed

      The Apple Card, Apple’s branded credit card announced earlier this year, began to roll out this week. 

      Some iPhone owners were able to apply for the card this week, and it will be open to everyone else by the end of the month. This week, consumers and financial services experts got their first look at the card’s details.

      “The only people who should consider applying for the Apple Card are those who pay their bills in full every month and spend a lot via Apple Pay,” said WalletHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou. “Everyone else is better off with one of the best rewards credit cards or one of the best 0% APR credit cards.”

      That’s because the Apple Card is still a credit card. When the company announced the product in the spring, it said its rates would be lower than most credit cards. They are, but not that much lower -- topping out at around 24 percent APR. The average credit card rate is around 15 percent.

      Papadimitrious points out that the Apple Card doesn’t offer 0 percent introductory rates, and its lowest interest rate -- the one offered to customers with the best credit -- is 12.99 percent.

      CNBC reports that many consumers with subprime credit scores are currently qualifying for the Apple Card. The network reports that Goldman Sachs, Apple’s partner, is bowing to pressure from Apple to approve as many of its customers as possible -- even those with less-than-stellar credit.

      ‘Didn’t reinvent the wheel’

      "As with all Apple products, the team behind the Apple Card has created an attractive-looking product, but they didn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to credit cards,” said Sara Rathner, credit card expert at NerdWallet. “Consumers owe it to themselves to shop around when choosing a new credit card and select one that rewards them the most where they spend most often.”

      As an alternative, Rathner suggests taking a look at the Citi Double Cash rewards card, which pays 2 percent back on all purchases. Its interest rate range is not much higher than the Apple Card’s -- 16.24 percent to 26.24 percent.

      Of course, as CNBC’s reporting shows, some people can qualify for the Apple Card who can’t get a card designed for people with good to excellent credit.

      Apple’s rewards

      Apple saves its most generous rewards for the purchase of Apple products. It will pay 3 percent cash back on any Apple transaction, including iCloud storage. It pays 2 percent on any Apple Pay transaction and 1 percent on purchases made with the physical card or virtual card number.

      “Unless the bulk of your budget goes toward buying new Apple products, there are a variety of cards on the market that may be a better fit," said Rathner.

      Apple says its new card has some advantages that other cards don’t have. It doesn’t charge late fees and there is no annual fee. It also waives foreign transaction fees.

      The Apple Card, Apple’s branded credit card announced earlier this year, began to roll out this week. Some iPhone owners were able to apply for the car...
      Read lessRead more

      FDA orders four companies to stop selling e-cigarette products

      The agency said 44 e-cigarette and hookah products did not have authorization to be sold in the U.S.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent warning letters to four companies to demand that they stop selling certain flavored e-cigarette and hookah products.

      The agency says that a combined 44 products distributed by the four companies -- Mighty Vapors LLC, Liquid Labs USA LLC, V8P Juice International LLC, and Hookah Imports Inc. -- were not authorized to be legally sold in the U.S. The move comes shortly after a rule took effect that placed tobacco products under the jurisdiction of the FDA. 

      “Today’s actions make clear that we will continue to keep a close watch on whether companies are breaking the law and will take swift steps when violations are found. Our work in this area has already resulted in a number of companies removing products from the market,” said Dr. Ned Sharpless, the FDA’s acting commissioner. 

      The companies will have 15 days to respond to the FDA’s warning. If they fail to do so, the agency says it may have to take further action.

      Addressing the youth vaping epidemic

      The FDA’s decision follows several months in which regulators have sought to address the teen vaping crisis. Reports indicate that millions of teens currently use e-cigarettes, and regulators believe those high numbers may translate to future tobacco use. 

      “The marketing of illegal tobacco products is particularly concerning given the epidemic of youth vaping that we’re facing, which we know has resulted in part from irresponsible practices from manufacturers importers and retailers who have targeted kids in their marketing of these products,” said Sharpless. 

      “It is critical that we remain vigilant in our efforts to stem the increase in use and nicotine addiction in children driven by e-cigarettes, which threatens to erase the years of progress we’ve made combatting tobacco use among kids.”

      In addition to its legal efforts, the FDA has launched its Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan to counter the teen vaping threat. It has also launched a new TV ad campaign designed to educate young people on the dangers of vaping.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent warning letters to four companies to demand that they stop selling certain flavored e-cigarette and ho...
      Read lessRead more

      Gasoline prices are down another five cents a gallon

      Oil continues to get cheaper, and that makes filling up less painful

      A steep drop in world oil prices is putting downward pressure on gasoline prices, giving motorists cheaper fuel prices as the summer driving season winds down.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular has dropped to $2.67 a gallon, five cents lower than last Friday. That’s 19 cents less than a year ago.

      The average price of premium is $3.26  a gallon, three cents less than a week ago. The average price of diesel fuel, which has remained stable throughout the summer, is $2.97, a penny lower than last week.

      In the short term, growing supplies of gasoline appear to be applying the most influence on gasoline prices. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) revealed that gasoline stocks grew by an astonishing 4.4 million barrels last week, as demand increased only slightly.

      Going forward, Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, says falling oil prices are linked to the continuing U.S.-China trade battle. If trade tensions slow world economies, that will be felt at the gas pump.

      “With such a slowdown, oil demand will also likely cave to the pressure, and that's why oil has plummeted,” DeHaan told ConsumerAffairs. “I think we're in store for the national average gas price to drop to its lowest of the summer in just a few days time, with more substantial relief in the weeks ahead and into the fall as gasoline demand drops further and we switch back to cheaper winter gasoline.”

      DeHaan said it’s possible that the national average could be 50 cents per gallon lower than the summer peak of $2.81 by Thanksgiving if the trade standoff goes on. Most states saw slight declines in gasoline prices over the last seven days. The drop in Illinois was among the largest, at 10 cents a gallon.

      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 ($3.65)

      • Hawaii ($3.65)

      • Washington ($3.27)

      • Nevada ($3.21)

      • Oregon ($3.12)

      • Alaska ($3.12)

      • Utah ($2.92)

      • Idaho ($2.88)

      • Illinois ($2.86)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.86)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

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

      • Louisiana ($2.31)

      • Mississippi ($2.32)

      • Alabama ($2.34)

      • Arkansas ($2.35)

      • South Carolina ($2.35)

      • Oklahoma ($2.40)

      • Tennessee ($2.41)

      • Texas ($2.42)

      • Missouri ($2.43)

      • Virginia ($2.44)

      A steep drop in world oil prices is putting downward pressure on gasoline prices, giving motorists cheaper fuel prices as the summer driving season winds d...
      Read lessRead more

      Senators voice concerns over Facebook’s Messenger Kids app

      The lawmakers want to know what Facebook is doing to protect children’s privacy

      Two U.S. senators have sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over what they say is a disturbing privacy issue related to its Messenger Kids app. 

      Sen. Edward Markey (D - Mass.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D - Conn.) cite recent problems that came to light within the app that allowed children to enter group chats that contained other users that had not been approved by parents.

      “While software bugs are a common occurrence, the need to protect children who use Messenger Kids and Facebook’s promises to parents set a higher for privacy and online safety,” the lawmakers wrote. 

      “We write seeking more transparency regarding the nature of the Messenger Kids flaw and answers on what Facebook is doing to ensure that the product meets the expectations of parents and its obligations under the law.”

      Demanding answers

      The senators cited previous instances in which lawmakers questioned Facebook about the Messenger Kids app, saying that a “worrying pattern of lax privacy protections for kids on the Messenger Kids platform” has emerged.

      The senators are asking Zuckerberg to respond to a number of questions they pose in the letter by August 27. Some of the queries involve technical information on how long the flaw existed within the Messenger Kids app before reports of the problem came to light. Others focus on what Facebook intends to do in the future to protect its youngest users.

      “Children’s privacy and safety online should be Messenger Kids’ top priority. Your company has a responsibility to meet its promise to parents that children are not exposed to unapproved contacts, a promise that it appears that Facebook has not fulfilled,” the lawmakers said. 

      Two U.S. senators have sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over what they say is a disturbing privacy issue related to its Messenger Kids app....
      Read lessRead more

      Mercedes-Benz recalls various vehicles with braking issue

      The Active Brake Assist may malfunction

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 1,957 of the following vehicles:

      • Model year 2019 C300 Cabrios, C300A Cabrio 4MATICs, C300 Coupes, C300 Coupe 4MATICs, C300s, C300 4MATICs, C43 AMG Cabrio 4MATICs, C43 AMG Coupe 4MATICs, C43 AMG 4MATICs, C63 AMG Cabrios, C63S AMG Cabrios, C63 AMG Coupes, C63S AMG Coupes, C63 AMGs, C63S AMGs, CLS450s, CLS450 4MATICs, CLS53 AMG 4MATICs, E300s, E300 4MATICs, E450 Cabrios, E450 Cabrio 4MATICs, E450 Coupes, E450 Coupe 4MATICs, E450 Wagon 4MATICs, E450 4MATICs, E53 AMG Cabrio 4MATICs, E53 AMG Coupe 4MATICs, E53 AMG 4MATICs, E63S AMG 4MATICs, E63S AMG Wagon 4MATICs, S450s, S450 4MATICs, S560 Cabrios, S560 Coupe 4MATICs, S560s, S560 4MATICs, S560 4MATIC Maybachs, S63 AMG Cabrio 4MATICs, S63 AMG Coupe 4MATICs, S63 AMG 4MATICs, S65 AMG Cabrios, S65 AMGs & AMG GT53 Coupe 4MATICs, and
      • Model year 2020 GLC300 Coupe 4MATICs, GLE350 4MATICs, & GLE450 4MATICs.

      All of the recalled vehicles are equipped with the Driver Assistance Package.

      A software error in the radar sensor control unit may impair the functionality of the Active Brake Assist.

      An impaired Active Brake Assist may not automatically apply partial or full braking as expected, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will update the radar sensor control unit software free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin September 17, 2019.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at 1-800-367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 1,957 of the following vehicles: Model year 2019 C300 Cabrios, C300A Cabrio 4MATICs, C300 Coupes, C300 Coupe 4...
      Read lessRead more

      BMW X5 xDrive50i and X7 xDrive40i vehicles recalled

      The left side wheel bolts may loosen over time.

      BMW of North America is recalling five model year 2019 X5 xDrive50i and X7 xDrive40i vehicles.

      The left side wheel bolts may have been insufficiently tightened and may loosen over time, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace and tighten the left side wheel bolts free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin September 16, 2019.

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

      BMW of North America is recalling five model year 2019 X5 xDrive50i and X7 xDrive40i vehicles.The left side wheel bolts may have been insufficiently ti...
      Read lessRead more

      Ford Explorers and Lincoln Aviators recalled

      The federally required manual park release cover may be missing

      Ford Motor Company is recalling about 14,000 model year 2020 Ford Explorers and Lincoln Aviators.

      Federal law requires the manual park release cover be in place and only removable with a tool.

      If the cover is not installed, the manual park release lever may be inadvertently activated, which could result in unintended vehicle movement if the electronic park brake is not applied, increasing the risk of crash

      In addition, the instrument cluster may be in factory mode, which disables warning alerts and chimes, and does not display the PRNDL gear positions and which gear is selected. 

      The majority of affected vehicles are in dealer inventory and the issue will be remedied prior to delivery to customers.

      The automaker says it is aware of one report of an accident occurring during vehicle transport within the production process.

      This action affects 13,896 vehicles in the United States and 239 in Canada. The majority of affected vehicles are in dealer inventory. The issue will be remedied prior to delivery to customers.

      What to do

      Ford will notify owners and dealers will inspect for the manual park release cover and install one -- if necessary-- and will also verify the instrument cluster is out of factory mode and clear any diagnostic codes.

      Owners may contact Ford at (866) 436-7332

      Ford's reference number for this recall is 19C06.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling about 14,000 model year 2020 Ford Explorers and Lincoln Aviators.Federal law requires the manual park release cover be...
      Read lessRead more

      FedEx ends ground-shipping contract with Amazon

      The online retail giant will need to rely more on its own infrastructure to get packages to consumers

      FedEx has announced that it is severing ties with Amazon and will no longer be using its fleet of delivery trucks to ship the company’s packages to consumers. 

      The move follows a separate action taken in June that ended a contract between the two companies when it came to shipping packages by air with FedEx Express. The latest news creates a new rivalry between Amazon and FedEx, which will both be vying for consumers attention to fulfill their shipping needs. 

      “This change is consistent with our strategy to focus on the broader e-commerce market, which the recent announcements related to our FedEx ground network have us positioned extraordinarily well to do,” FedEx said in a statement. 

      Amazon becomes more self-reliant

      The change indicates that Amazon may have to rely more on its own network to deliver packages to consumers. However, that network isn’t starting off at ground zero; the company has been working for some time to create its own delivery fleet

      An Amazon representative said that the move is a natural development as the company continues to grow. 

      “We are constantly innovating to improve the carrier experience and sometimes that means reevaluating our carrier relationshipos. FedEx has been a great partner over the years and we appreciate all their work delivering packages to our customers,” they said. 

      FedEx has announced that it is severing ties with Amazon and will no longer be using its fleet of delivery trucks to ship the company’s packages to consume...
      Read lessRead more

      Cord-cutting is becoming the norm for many consumers

      Researchers say pay TV services aren’t doing enough to keep their customers

      If you’ve cancelled your cable TV subscription and are relying on video streaming services for your entertainment, you are no longer just a trend-setter. You may soon be in the majority.

      A new forecast from eMarketer predicts that the number of pay TV households in the U.S. will drop by 4 percent by the end of the year to around 86.5 million homes. It further expects the freefall to continue, with pay TV subscriptions falling below 80 million by 2021.

      In fact, eMarketer researchers say it won’t be long before there will be as many households going without a pay TV subscription as there are subscribers. The company suggests the industry has arrived at a tipping point, with more consumers preferring to subscribe to services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu that cost little more than $10 a month.

      That space is about to get even more crowded as Disney, WarnerMedia, and Apple get ready to launch streaming services of their own. And then there’s YouTube, which costs nothing.

      Follow the money

      According to eMarketer, money may have a lot to do with the wave of cord-cutting. The researchers say pay TV providers have responded to their loss of business by trying to increase profit margins. 

      They often offer an attractive introductory price that surges once that limited time period ends. Subscribers often drop the service once the price goes up. There is also little flexibility if a subscriber asks for a lower price in return for not cancelling.

      While pay TV services are losing customers, they are also facing higher costs -- which is putting many companies in an increasingly difficult position.

      "Their answer has been to raise prices across the board, and it seems that they are willing to lose customers rather than retain them with unprofitable deals," the authors wrote.

      Previous research

      eMarketer’s research is in line with previous reporting on the subject. Earlier this year, the Convergence Research Group projected that 34 percent of American cable and satellite TV subscribers would cut the cord by the end of 2019.

      These consumers sometimes opt for personal bundling of services like Hulu or Sling, where they subscribe to specialty channels they have a particular interest in, like the SEC Sports Network.

      Live programming, it seems, is the main thing keeping consumers paying more to subscribe to pay TV services. Sports fans depend on ESPN to see games, and political junkies are hooked on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News.

      Local news, of course, is still available for free over the air. Viewers may need an external antenna, but they can receive it in HD over a regular TV set if they live near a TV station.

      If you’ve cancelled your cable TV subscription and are relying on video streaming services for your entertainment, you are no longer just a trend-setter. Y...
      Read lessRead more

      Audi recalls vehicles with airbag issue

      The passenger airbag may be inadvertently disabled

      Audi is recalling 144,092 model year 2018 S5 Cabriolets, S5 Sportbacks, S5 Coupes, S4 Sedans, A5 Cabriolets, A5 Sportbacsk & A5 Coupes, and model year 2017-2018 A4 Sedans & A4 Allroads.

      Oxidation on the Passenger Occupant Detection System (PODS) connecting cable may cause the software to misdiagnose a malfunction and disable the passenger airbag.

      A disabled passenger airbag increases the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

      What to do

      Audi will notify owners, and dealers will update the airbag control unit software free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin September 15, 2019.

      Owners may contact customer service at (800) 893-5298. Audi's number for this recall is 74D9.

      Audi is recalling 144,092 model year 2018 S5 Cabriolets, S5 Sportbacks, S5 Coupes, S4 Sedans, A5 Cabriolets, A5 Sportbacsk & A5 Coupes, and model year 2017...
      Read lessRead more

      Toyota recalls RAV4/RAV4 hybrids

      The back-up camera system may not activate

      Toyota is recalling about 18,000 model year 2019 RAV4s and RAV4 hybrids.

      There is a possibility that a damaged connector in the back-up camera system's audio display unit is causing the system not to activate.

      If the driver reverses the vehicle without checking his or her surroundings when the vehicle has this condition, there can be an increased risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Toyota will notify owners and dealers will replace any inoperative system with a new one at no cost to customers.

      The recall is expected to begin early October 2019.

      Owners may contact Toyota at (800) 331.4331.

      Toyota is recalling about 18,000 model year 2019 RAV4s and RAV4 hybrids.There is a possibility that a damaged connector in the back-up camera system's...
      Read lessRead more

      Hyundai recalls Genesis G80s and G90s

      Oil may leak onto the exhaust manifold

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 8,059 model year 2018 Genesis G80s and model year 2017-2018 Genesis G90s equipped with 3.3 liter turbocharged engines.

      The turbocharger oil supply pipe may have a loose seal, causing oil to leak onto the exhaust manifold.

      Oil leaking onto the exhaust manifold increases the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will replace the turbocharger oil supply pipe free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin September 6, 2019.

      Owners may contact Hyundai customer service at (855) 371-9460. Hyundai's number for this recall is 003G.

      Hyundai Motor America is recalling 8,059 model year 2018 Genesis G80s and model year 2017-2018 Genesis G90s equipped with 3.3 liter turbocharged engines....
      Read lessRead more

      Industry report finds home affordability is improving

      Combination of falling interest rates and slowing home price increases works in buyers’ favor

      Consumers hoping to buy their first home, or perhaps move up, have been plagued by numerous headwinds over the last year, but those winds may be shifting.

      In the last 18 months, mortgage interest rates have risen. Home inventory levels have fallen, which not only gives buyers fewer homes to choose from but puts upward pressure on prices. It’s enough to almost make you want to go on renting -- except that rents are also going up.

      But here’s some welcome good news: that script is in the process of being flipped.

      The Data & Analytics division of Black Knight, Inc.has released its latest Mortgage Monitor Report, which shows home affordability conditions have improved markedly. The rapid home appreciation growth of recent months has essentially flatlined. Even better, mortgage rates have begun to fall. Black Knight Data & Analytics President Ben Graboske says that combination has produced the best home affordability in 18 months.

      "For much of the past year and a half, affordability pressures have put a damper on home price appreciation," said Graboske. "Indeed, the rate of annual home price growth has declined for 15 consecutive months.”

      Improved affordability

      Declining prices suggest that homes are staying on the market a little longer and are attracting fewer competing buyers, meaning fewer bidding wars.

      “In November 2018 -- when rising interest rates hit a seven-year high and home price growth fell by half a percent in a single month -- it took 23.3 percent of the median household income to make the principal and interest payments when purchasing the average-priced home,” he said.  

      The recent drop of 30-year mortgage rates to 3.75 percent means improved affordability for millions of would-be buyers. But how, exactly?

      "Whereas nine states were less affordable than their long-term norms back in November -- a key driver behind the subsequent deceleration in home prices -- only California and Hawaii remained so as of July,” Graboske said.

      Lower monthly payment

      Even though the average home price has risen by more than $12,000 since November, lower interest rates more than make up the difference, meaning the average monthly payment is $108 lower when the buyer puts down 20 percent.

      “Lower rates have also increased the buying power for prospective homebuyers looking to purchase the average-priced home by the equivalent of 15 percent, meaning that they could effectively buy $45,000 'more house' while still keeping their payments the same as they would have been last fall,” Graboske said.

      National home prices have been skewed higher in recent years by huge increases in home prices on the West Coast. That price escalation has finally dissipated a bit, especially in California.

      While prices nationally have leveled off, buyers should keep in mind that they may still be rising in some secondary markets that are only now beginning to heat up.

      Consumers hoping to buy their first home, or perhaps move up, have been plagued by numerous headwinds over the last year, but those winds may be shifting....
      Read lessRead more

      Google pledges to use only recycled materials in all hardware products

      The promise extends to all ‘Made by Google’ products

      Google has become the latest company to promise that it will be improving its sustainability efforts in the coming years. 

      In a blog post on Monday, the tech giant announced that it will be using all recycled materials to create its hardware products by 2022. The pledge extends to all “Made by Google” products, including Pixel smartphones, Google Nest, Google Home speakers, and other gadgets and accessories. 

      “We’re always working to do more, faster. But today we’re laying the foundation for what we believe will be a way of doing business that commits to building better products better,” said Anna Meegan, Google’s head of sustainability and consumer hardware.

      Focusing on sustainability

      In addition to making its “Made by Google” products from only recycled materials, Google says that it will ensure that all of its shipments going to or from customers will be carbon neutral by 2020. 

      Officials say that the move is inspired by the idea that all of the company’s products eventually be designed so that they can last as long as possible while simultaneously being easier to recycle at the end of their life cycle. In an interview with Fast Company, Google hardware design team head Ivy Ross explains how sustainability came to the forefront of the design process.

      “Some people think design is about making things look pretty or look good,” she said. “And really design is about solving problems for humanity...I said to the team, wait a minute, [sustainability] is just another problem and is probably the most important problem of our lifetime. Won’t we feel great as designers if we are taking that on?”

      This isn’t the first hint that Google has been leaning towards sustainable practices. Meegan points out that the company was able to reduce its carbon emissions by 40 percent from 2017 to 2018. It’s also currently looking to provide Nest thermostats to 1 million “consumers in need” in hopes of reducing energy costs.

      Google has become the latest company to promise that it will be improving its sustainability efforts in the coming years. In a blog post on Monday, the...
      Read lessRead more

      Job market remains strong despite recession worries

      Consumers hunting for jobs are still finding plenty of positions available

      A growing number of economists worry that a recession could be ahead, but the job market has yet to suggest it.

      Last week’s July employment report shows that the economy produced 164,000 jobs last month, and the unemployment rate remains near a record low of 3.7 percent. As in previous months, there were sizable job gains in professional and technical services, health care, social assistance, and financial activities.

      At the same time, wages also continue to slowly rise. In July, average hourly earnings rose by another eight cents to $27.98, an increase of 3.2 percent over the last 12 months. In its analysis The Conference Board suggests that the latest report means the hiring pace should continue for a while. 

      “We should expect more of the same in the U.S. labor market: moderate employment growth, labor market tightening, intensifying recruiting and retention difficulties, and higher labor cost growth which will continue to draw more people into the labor force, the Board said in a statement. 

      One significant consequence of the report, the organization says, is that further Federal Reserve rate cuts may be less likely.

      Tech weakness

      While the technology sector continued to produce jobs, an analysis by CompTIA, a technology industry association, shows the telecom industry lost 5,100 jobs last month. That reduced the net jobs gain for technology to 11,400.

      "Despite the telecom losses and some softness in job posting data, it was a reasonably solid month for tech," said Tim Herbert, executive vice president for research and market intelligence at CompTIA. "Digital transformation is an ongoing process, where the mix of investment, skills requirements and business alignment are never static."

      Boost to housing

      The impact of the report may also be felt outside the job market. Holden Lewis, NerdWallet’s home expert, says the strong jobs report, coupled with lower mortgage rates, could mean the lagging housing market is about to see more would-be buyers pour in.

      “But many will be disappointed with what they find,” Lewis said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “More buyers often lead to more bidding wars for homes, and with mortgage rates remaining relatively steady since June, getting into a home won't be any easier now than a few months ago.”

      A growing number of economists worry that a recession could be ahead, but the job market has yet to suggest it.Last week’s July employment report shows...
      Read lessRead more

      Williams Foods Recalls taco seasonings

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Williams Foods is recalling the following two varieties of taco seasonings:

      Item number

      Product

      Name

      Package SizeProduct UPC

      Product

      dates

      56482

      9444

      Great Value

      Mild Taco

      Seasoning Mix

      1 oz0 78742 24572 0

      Best if

      used by

      07/08/21
      Best if

      used by 07/09/21

      050215

      HEB Taco

      Seasoning

      Mix Reduced Sodium

      1.25 oz0 41220 79609 0Better by 07/10/21
      Better by 07/11/21
      Better by 07/15/21

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      There are no consumer complaints or reported illnesses to date.

      The recalled products, with "Best By" date information on the top part of the back side of the package, was sold in retail grocery stores in Washington, D.C., Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Wyoming.

      What to do

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

      Consumers with questions may contact the firm's customer service center at (800) 847-5608 from 8am – 5pm (CST) Monday – Friday or by e-mail at customerservice@chg.com for more information.

      Williams Foods is recalling the following two varieties of taco seasonings: Item number Product Name Package Size Product UP...
      Read lessRead more

      Volkswagen recalls model year 2015-2016 Tiguans and CCs

      The airbags may be deactivated or deploy inadvertently

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 27,822 model year 2015-2016 Tiguans and CCs.

      The airbag Electronic Control Unit (ECU) may have a defective power supply capacitor that can result in airbag deactivation or inadvertent deployment.

      Deactivated airbags increase the risk of injury. Inadvertent deployment of the airbags increases the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will install new software and replace the air bag ECU as necessary free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin September 13, 2019.

      Volkswagen's number for this recall is 69Z5.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 27,822 model year 2015-2016 Tiguans and CCs.The airbag Electronic Control Unit (ECU) may have a defective powe...
      Read lessRead more

      Apple suspends program that let contractors listen to Siri conversations

      In response to privacy concerns, the company has temporarily suspended its ‘grading’ program

      Apple has temporarily pulled the plug on a program that let its employees listen to Siri voice recordings. The practice was called “grading,” and it was intended to help boost Siri’s speech recognition accuracy and quality. 

      Apple said it listened to less than one percent of Siri voice conversations and that the recordings were anonymous. Nonetheless, the tech giant has decided to suspend the program in the wake of a recent Guardian report which found that Apple contractors “regularly hear confidential details” on Siri recordings. 

      Apple told the publication that its goal in letting staffers listen to some conversations was to “help Siri and dictation … understand you better and recognize what you say.” The article sparked a wave of criticism, which has now resulted in Apple suspending the program while it decides how to proceed. 

      “We are committed to delivering a great Siri experience while protecting user privacy. While we conduct a thorough review, we are suspending Siri grading globally,” an Apple spokesperson told TechCrunch

      In an upcoming software update, Apple will give users the ability to opt out of participating in the company’s grading program. 

      Apple has temporarily pulled the plug on a program that let its employees listen to Siri voice recordings. The practice was called “grading,” and it was in...
      Read lessRead more

      Inconsistency at the heart of the Paris Climate Agreement struggles

      Experts call for greater transparency among the countries involved

      In a new study, researchers deconstructed the struggles many nations are facing in trying to gain ground when it comes to meeting the tenants of the Paris Climate Agreement. 

      The agreement involves individual countries creating pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs); however, it’s a lack of consistency in the formatting of those pledges that creates the biggest stumbling blocks for progress, experts say. 

      “The Paris Climate Agreement was a step in the right direction for international climate policy,” said researcher Lewis King. “But in its current form, it is at best inadequate and at worst grossly ineffective. Our study highlights significant issues around transparency and consistency in the agreement’s pledges, which may be a contributory factor towards the lack of ambition in the pledges from parties.” 

      Getting inside the pledges

      The researchers analyzed the various pledges by breaking them down into four categories: emission intensity reductions, absolute emission reduction targets, “business as usual” (BAU) reduction, and pledges that didn’t include emissions targets. 

      The biggest issue has been clarity. Because the individual countries have so many options when it comes to formatting the pledges, it’s difficult for experts to understand how effective the pledges are in completing what they set out to, which is why there have been so many discrepancies.  

      Though the goal of all countries is to reduce emissions, the various formatting options leave many pledges with ambiguous language. Though experts work to put all pledges on the same playing field, some countries end up with emissions increases by 2030, as opposed to decreases. 

      “Not only does this make associated pledges difficult to interpret and compare to other pledges without detailed analysis, but may produce a psychological effect of reducing ambition level due to framing the pledge as a percentage reduction even though emissions actually increase,” said researcher Jeroen van den Bergh. 

      According to the researchers, absolute emission reduction targets are typically the most effective, as this requires countries to set goals for reducing emissions by a specific percentage, based on a baseline from years’ past -- typically between 1990 and 2014 -- with a target year in mind to reach the goal. Some countries are ambitious enough to shoot for 2025, though the majority are set on 2030. 

      “We found that authentic absolute reduction pledges had the highest ambition in terms of tangible emission reduction,” said King. “By contrast, pledges in the other three categories tend to produce low ambitions with significant emissions increases of 29-53 percent at a global level.” 

      The researchers hope that countries involved in the Paris Climate Agreement can work to create uniform pledges, so as to minimize confusion, streamline the process, and make it easier for nations to reach their goals and feel good about doing so. 

      “Society has the right to be able to clearly understand and compare climate change commitments by countries, including whether they are fair, ambitious, and add up to international climate goals,” said King. “We also know that providing consistent and easily comparable information about national climate goals helps with public acceptance.” 

      The fight against climate change

      As pollution continues to get worse in the United States, and new studies consistently report on how dangerous it can be to consumers’ health, there are some forces working to fight climate change. 

      Companies like Facebook and Lyft have become dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while a group of young Americans have taken up a lawsuit against the Trump administration because of an alleged lack of concern regarding climate change. 

      The group, going by the name Youth, believes that the Trump administration has violated consumers’ constitutional rights in not doing more to fight against climate change. 

      In a new study, researchers deconstructed the struggles many nations are facing in trying to gain ground when it comes to meeting the tenants of the Paris...
      Read lessRead more

      Falling oil prices provide consumers with a break at the gas pump

      The national average price falls another three cents a gallon

      Gasoline prices drifted lower during the week for the final stretch of the vacation and summer driving seasons.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the average price of regular gas is $2.72 a gallon, nearly three cents less than last week but the same as a month ago. Gas is 15 cents a gallon cheaper than at this time in 2018. The average price of premium gas is $3.29 a gallon, down from $3.32 last Friday. The price of diesel fuel is $2.98, a penny less than a week ago.

      Gas prices are giving way under the pressure of falling oil prices. At the same time, consumers aren’t buying as much fuel, keeping supplies plentiful. The  Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports gasoline demand fell last week to 9.55 million barrels a day.

      “Alongside a decline in gasoline demand, a cheaper crude price — ranging between $12-15 per barrel less when compared to last year — has helped American motorists to see lower pump prices this summer,” AAA said in its latest market update.

      GasBuddy’s Patrick DeHaan predicts gasoline prices will continue to fall. In a tweet, DeHaan said falling oil prices will likely lead to lower gasoline prices in most of the country as summer draws to a close.

      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 ($3.68)

      • Hawaii ($3.65)

      • Washington ($3.28)

      • Nevada ($3.24)

      • Oregon ($3.14)

      • Alaska ($3.13)

      • Illinois ($2.96)

      • Idaho ($2.90)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.89)

      • Connecticut ($2.87)

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

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

      • Mississippi ($2.35)

      • Louisiana ($2.35)

      • Alabama ($2.36)

      • Arkansas ($2.38)

      • South Carolina ($2.39)

      • Oklahoma ($2.44)

      • Tennessee ($2.45)

      • Texas ($2.46)

      • Virginia ($2.47)

      • Missouri ($2.47)

      Gasoline prices drifted lower during the week for the final stretch of the vacation and summer driving seasons.The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the aver...
      Read lessRead more

      Dorel Juvenile Group USA recalls inclined sleepers

      Infant fatalities have been reported involving other inclined sleep products

      Dorel Juvenile Group USA of Foxboro, Mass., is recalling about 24,000 Eddie Bauer Slumber and Soothe Rock Bassinets; Disney Baby Doze and Dream Bassinets.

      Infant fatalities have been reported involving other inclined sleep products, after the infants rolled from their back to their stomach or side while unrestrained, or under other circumstances.

      Dorel has received no reports of incidents or injuries.

      This recall involves the Eddie Bauer Slumber and Soothe Bassinet with model number BT055CSY and the Disney Baby Doze and Dream Bassinet with model number BT071DHS. The model numbers are located on a label on the underneath side of the fabric of the inclined sleeper pad.

      The inclined sleepers are rectangular shaped with a soft bottom, cushioned fabric, stand approximately two feet off the floor and are designed for sleeping or napping infants from birth to six months of age.

      The Eddie Bauer Slumber and Sooth Bassinet is beige. The Disney Baby Doze and Dream Bassinet is purple.

      The inclined sleepers, manufactured in China, were sold at Target, Kmart, Ross, Marshalls, TJ Maxx and juvenile product stores nationwide from November 2014, through February 2017, for about $60.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately stop using the inclined sleepers and contact Dorel for a refund in the form of a $60 voucher.

      Consumers may contact Call Dorel toll-free at (877) 657-9546 or text Dorel at (812) 373-6673 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at inclinesleeperrecall@djgusa.com, or online at www.safety1st.com at and click on “Safety Notices” for more information.

      Dorel Juvenile Group USA of Foxboro, Mass., is recalling about 24,000 Eddie Bauer Slumber and Soothe Rock Bassinets; Disney Baby Doze and Dream Bassinets....
      Read lessRead more

      Lennox Intl recalls Natural Pig Ears

      The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Lennox Intl of Edison N.J., is recalling Natural Pig Ears that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      The firm says it is aware of two cases in which pig ears caused dog illnesses.

      The recalled product comes in an 8 PK branded pouch under UPC 742174 995163, 742174994166 or packaged individually shrinked wrapped under UPC 0385384810, and 742174P35107. UPC codes are on the front label of the package.

      It was shipped to distributors and/or retail stores nationwide from May 1 – July 3, 2019.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product and have proper receipt may return to the place of purchase.

      Consumers may contact the company at (800) 5388980 Monday – Friday from 9AM – 5 PM or by email at usaoffice@lennoxpets.com for refund and additional information.

      Lennox Intl of Edison N.J., is recalling Natural Pig Ears that may be contaminated with Salmonella.The firm says it is aware of two cases in which pig...
      Read lessRead more

      Amazon announces deadline for sellers to make packaging smaller

      The company is aiming to cut down on cardboard waste

      Amazon will soon introduce new package guidelines for sellers as part of a larger effort to curb its environmental impact and maximize efficiency. 

      Starting September 3, sellers who ship items in oversized packages will be fined $1.99, the Wall Street Journal reports. As further incentive to stick to the standards, Amazon will give sellers a $1 credit for each package that meets its guidelines. 

      Amazon says it created its package guidelines with the goal of giving customers "minimal, protective and functional packaging.” The company hopes to reduce waste as well as shipping costs through the implementation of the standards. 

      However, the Journal notes that the cost element of making packaging smaller means Amazon increases its profitability while sellers’ businesses take a hit. But Amazon says vendors that adhere to the guidelines will benefit from lower shipping costs.

      “It does cause some pain, but I think the benefit is there,” Mike Kuebler, technical director and packaging specialist at Smithers Pira, told the Journal.

      Amazon will soon introduce new package guidelines for sellers as part of a larger effort to curb its environmental impact and maximize efficiency. Star...
      Read lessRead more

      States still working to block T-Mobile/Sprint merger

      Several state attorneys general argue that the start date of the merger trial should be pushed back

      Last week, the $26.5 billion merger of T-Mobile and Sprint gained approval from the Department of Justice. However, the deal -- which hasn’t yet closed -- still faces opposition from close to a dozen state attorneys general.

      A lawsuit filed by these officials argues that the merger will harm competition and raise prices for consumers. Following news that the deal had received DOJ approval, New York AG Letitia James reiterated her concerns on Twitter. 

      “I remain deeply concerned about the T-Mobile/Sprint megamerger & the irreparable harm it will cause to millions across the country,” she wrote. “Despite approval from the DOJ, the deal is bad for consumers, innovation, and workers.” 

      “This deal is based on speculative promises & will increase prices for consumers & greatly reduce competition. The American people deserve access to affordable, reliable wireless service & this deal is not the answer.”

      At a status hearing on Thursday, the states involved in the suit aiming to block the deal plan to ask for the October 7 start date of the merger trial to be pushed back to December 9. State AGs argue that they are owed more time to prepare since T-Mobile and Sprint didn’t provide all the details of their settlement with the DOJ by the deadline of June 28. 

      EFF also opposes the deal 

      Separately, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) chimed in on Tuesday to express its opposition to the merger. In a statement, the organization raised the concern that “5G hype” could have clouded the DOJ’s judgement when choosing to green-light the deal. 

      “The Sprint-T-Mobile merger has been the subject of a lot of 5G hype,” EFF said. “EFF has called attention to the political leveraging of 5G before, and this merger is the perfect example of how it can be weaponized to blow holes in consumer protection laws.” 

      “From the outset, Sprint and T-Mobile repeatedly over-represented, claiming the merger would bring 5G wireless services to all Americans. The companies’ argument is that Americans must accept fewer choices at higher prices if they want to see these new services. This is just untrue.” 

      Like the state attorneys general involved in the effort to block the merger, EFF argues that the deal is anticompetitive. The group says 5G could still reach all U.S. consumers through “government-regulated licenses” that promote competition.

      “Those licenses can be modified with new policies to promote competition and access. In particular, instead of approving anti-competitive mergers, the government could simply change the terms of the licenses it gives companies for their use of spectrum, the radio frequencies used to transmit services,” the group said. 

      Last week, the $26.5 billion merger of T-Mobile and Sprint gained approval from the Department of Justice. However, the deal -- which hasn’t yet closed --...
      Read lessRead more

      Shale natural gas development hampers consumer outdoor activities, study finds

      Previously protected areas used for hiking and camping are now being threatened by gas development operations

      While countless efforts are being made by consumers to reduce their carbon footprints, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of New Hampshire suggests that shale natural gas development are taking away areas consumers commonly enjoy for outdoor recreation.

      According to the researchers, outdoor activities like hiking and camping have become severely impacted due to shale natural gas development (SGD) efforts. 

      “What most people don’t realize is that a lot of the shale natural gas energy development is happening within or adjacent to public parks and protected areas,” said researcher Michael Ferguson. “So those who love playing in the great outdoors are often encountering anything from heavy duty truck traffic congestion to actual construction and drilling operations while recreating on public lands.” 

      What this looks like

      The researchers were inspired to start this research project after learning how the Trump administration had given the green light for SGD efforts on land that was previously protected from such projects. 

      Areas that have been commonly used by consumers to hike or camp are instead being used for exploration of oil and natural gas, and these digs are impeding the ways that consumers can engage in outdoor activities. The researchers focused their study on recreationists in Pennsylvania, as the state is home to natural gas deposits, as well as countless outdoor options for residents. 

      Perhaps the most important finding from this study was that consumers no longer had the freedom of traversing the outdoors. The researchers say many consumers had to switch up their plans or activities because areas they frequented were no longer protected from SGD. 

      More specifically, nearly 24 percent of Pennsylvanians surveyed for the study reported a direct impact due to SGD, whether it was encountering SGD workers, well sites, or pipelines along their route, or experiencing heavier than usual truck traffic while out. 

      Ultimately, around 14 percent of those surveyed were affected in ways that directly impacted their activities, some so much so that it prevented future trips to Pennsylvania for such excursions; others were forced to avoid certain areas because of SGD activity. 

      The researchers point out that outdoor activities provide a huge influx of income to the U.S. government, and interfering with such activities will start to interfere with those profits. Moreover, they explained that SGD efforts can do more than just push recreationists off once-protected land, as these efforts can also do permanent damage to the environment. 

      “The outdoor recreation industry has quietly positioned itself as a massive economic sector in the United States,” said Ferguson. “As SGD grows in the United States, the number of affected recreationists could increase and current numbers of those impacted could rise. It is important for lawmakers, natural resource managers, and industry representatives to recognize that outdoor recreation is an increasingly critical component of the economy and should have a seat at the table when looking at responsible SGD.” 

      Staying safe

      As detrimental as SGD can be to outdoor activities, recent incidents have also proven how dangerous the natural gas can be. Late last year, a pipeline in Pennsylvania’s Beaver County exploded, damaging homes and cars up to 500 feet away, and creating a landslide near the site of the landslide. 

      Earlier this year, still feeling the effects of the explosion, Pennsylvania suspended the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, from getting new state permits, as the company was unable to properly stabilize the areas affected by the explosion. 

      “There has been a failure by Energy Transfer and its subsidiaries to respect our laws and our communities,” Governor Tom Wolf said. “This is not how we strive to do business in Pennsylvania, and it will not be tolerated.”

      While countless efforts are being made by consumers to reduce their carbon footprints, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of New Hamp...
      Read lessRead more

      Hyundai is making Rear Occupant Alert standard equipment

      The voluntary move is aimed at preventing ‘hot car’ deaths

      Hyundai said it will install rear seat reminder systems as standard equipment on most new models by 2022, a move aimed at preventing children from being ac..