website utilities

People before Profit

Follow alonovo.com on:

The Consumerist

What Information Is Available When Someone Scans My Driver’s License?

Mon, 2015-04-27 23:51

(Taro the Shiba Inu)

(Taro the Shiba Inu)

There’s a lot of information about you on the back of your state-issued driver’s license or non-driver ID card, but does scanning your license or making a copy of it give potential identity thieves key information about you? It’s not easy to find out what data is encoded in the barcodes on the back of your ID cards, and your state’s motor vehicles department may not want you to know.

We use driver’s licenses as photo ID for everything from buying cold medicine or booze to boarding a plane, in addition to using them as proof that we’re legally permitted to drive. Yet people often wonder what information is embedded in those barcodes, and consumer problem-solving columnist Karin Price Mueller of the Star-Ledger decided to find out. Lots of extensive reporting got her…well, she found out what one of the barcodes means, but what the other one contains is a mystery that mere mortals are not allowed to understand.

What the MVC, New Jersey’s motor vehicle agency, could tell her was that some of the data embedded on the back of your license is the same information that’s on the front of your license. There’s your name, birthdate, address, height, and weight. That’s to prevent people from altering the front of their license–say, the year of their birth. The other barcodes, though? We can’t know what information is encoded there for security reasons.

Bamboozled: What the bar codes on your driver’s license reveal about you, and why it matters [Newark Star-Ledger]

Senate Investigating For-Profit Foster Care Industry

Mon, 2015-04-27 23:42

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

The federal government provides around $7 billion each year in funding for foster care providers around the country, but leaves much of the oversight of these operations up to the states and local governments. These entities may then contract out foster care to private, for-profit providers. Recent reports have raised questions about the safety of the children placed into the care of some of these privatized foster networks, and now the U.S. Senate is beginning to ask questions.

In February, a BuzzFeed News investigative report looked into allegations of sexual abuse and deaths involving the country’s largest for-profit foster care provider, National Mentor, which tends to some 3,800 minors in 15 states. The company now trades on the NYSE as Civitas Solutions Inc. and reports more than $1 billion in annual revenue.

Earlier this month, the company decided to stop offering its services in Illinois. In a press release, Civitas makes no mention of state investigators’ findings that the company has placed two pre-teen girls in a house with a foster mother who had previously committed fraud by adopting two children then sending them to live with a relative while still saying they were caring for the kids.

“Rather than ensuring their actions were in the best interest of the children and the families they are enlisted to serve, agency staff cultivated a culture of incompetence and lack of forthrightness,” reads the investigators’ report. ”The absence of good faith demonstrated by the private agency undermined any faith the Department or the public would be able to place in the organization.”

The report concludes by recommending that the state “cease contracting” with Civitas, though a rep for the company told BuzzFeed that its decision to exit Illinois was unrelated to this report.

In response to the BuzzFeed investigations, the Senate Finance Committee recently sent letters [PDF] to the governors of each of the 50 states.

“When children are removed from the custody of their parents due to abuse or neglect, as lawmakers, we have an obligation to ensure their safety and well-being,” begins the letter, which describes the way the foster system operates as “a complex structure consisting of overlapping, Federal, State, County and Tribal laws and practices carried out by a mix of public and private entities.”

This tangled structure can lead to “finger pointing and confusion” when something goes wrong, note the senators.

“We are aware that states are increasingly contracting with private entities or organizations to administer some or all of their foster care programs. However, the extent and structure of these arrangements are less clear,” continues the letter, which then asks each state to provide detailed information about their foster care programs, including:

• Proportion of children placed by private agencies;

• Names of private agencies and whether they are for-profit or non-profit;

• Accreditation requirements, if any, for private foster care providers;

• Detailed descriptions of the selection process for private foster care contractors;

• Detailed descriptions for safety inspections at foster care providers, and if those inspections are different depending on whether the provider ir private, public, non-profit, or for-profit;

• Statistics on substantiated instances of abuse.

The governors have until May 29 to provide the committee with this information.

[via BuzzFeed]

Takata Airbag Defect Now Linked To 105 Injuries, Six Deaths

Mon, 2015-04-27 23:04
(I Am Rob)

(I Am Rob)

The number of injuries and deaths associated with Takata-produced airbags that have been found to spew pieces of shrapnel at passengers and drivers upon deployment increased once again, now totaling 105 injuries and six deaths, according to data received from the parts manufacturer.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson revealed the higher numbers during a statement on the Senate floor Monday afternoon.

“These are the airbags that when they explode in order to save life, is either maiming life or ending life,” he said. “The number of vehicles recalled is going to be in the record books as one of the largest in American history.”

Nelson said during his statement that the new injury and death figures, which were provided by Takata, are accurate as of the end of January. Previously, Takata provided Nelson and the Senate Commerce Committee with data that included 64 injuries and 5 deaths related to the defect.

Seventeen of the new injuries were reported in Florida – which Nelson calls the “epicenter” of the issue – bringing the state’s total to 35 injuries and one death.

“Now these injuries have been very, very serious,” Nelson said. “This is not a minor little nick. This includes incidents of facial fractures, blindness, and even quadriplegia.”

Nelson warned members of the Senate that the number of injuries and deaths associated with the Takata airbag defect will likely continue to grow, citing a report from Reuters earlier this month that linked another rupture occurred last month.

“We need to get to the root cause of the problem and we need to make sure we know why these defective airbag inflators are failing,” he said.

While Takata has said that it would double its production of replacement airbags over the next six months after being criticized its slow output, Nelson said that it is more important regulators and the company ensure that the products are “actually safe instead of just producing more of the same, potentially defective inflators.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into the issue in June 2014 after five automakers – Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mazda and Chrysler – began recalling millions of vehicles.

In all, the defective Takata airbags have resulted in automakers recalling nearly 25 million vehicles.

In February, the agency began fining the company $14,000 per day for failing to turn over documents and answer questions. Investigators said the fine was a result Takata’s slow pace in working with the agency.

“We have concluded that Takata is neither being forthcoming with the information that is it legally obligated to supply, nor is it being cooperative in aiding NHTSA’s ongoing investigation of a potentially serious safety defect,” the agency said at the time.

Just a week later, NHTSA upgraded its probe to an engineering analysis. The regulators said the formal step intensifies the investigation and could help determine whether the company’s failure to quickly notify the agency of possible defects violated federal law or regulations.

Additionally, the company was issued an order requiring it to preserve airbag inflators for use as evidence in the agency’s probe and any subsequent lawsuits.

In March, Mark Rosekind, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told a panel at the Consumer Federation of America Assembly in D.C. that Takata was being more forthcoming with information related to the agency’s investigation.

Time Warner Cable Says It’s Not Seeking Rebound Romance With Cox

Mon, 2015-04-27 22:54

(Lyman Green)

(Lyman Green)

It’s only been a few days since Comcast and Time Warner Cable got tired of waiting for the inevitable regulatory objections to their wedding and called off the whole $45 billion marriage. While Comcast can enjoy the single life for a bit before deciding what to do next, TWC is already being linked to multiple suitors. First there was news that Charter, who was originally rejected in favor of Comcast’s bigger, sexier proposal, was once again standing outside TWC’s window with a boombox over its head. Now come rumors that TWC may be trying to make some merger magic happen with Cox.

The potential union of Cox and TWC comes from the Wall Street Journal, which reports that it was TWC that called the privately held Georgia-based Cox.

Cox is the third-largest cable provider in the U.S., following Comcast and TWC. A merger of the two would have put TWC closer to Comcast’s size in terms of customer base.

Alas, both companies deny that there is any wedded bliss in their future.

A Cox rep told the Journal that “we’ve been clear we’re not for sale.”

Meanwhile, a rep for TWC tells Reuters that no such call to Cox ever occurred.

“It’s simply not true,” said the spokesperson. “We have not engaged in any discussions with Cox.”

Considering that both the FCC and the Justice Department were poised to put up roadblocks to the Comcast/TWC deal, any merger of two top-tier cable/broadband providers is likely to be an uphill battle.

Success is more likely for two companies with complementary products to merge. AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV has drawn significantly less criticism and appears to be headed toward approval by regulators because AT&T doesn’t offer satellite TV and DirecTV doesn’t sell wireless phone service or broadband. The only overlap is the pay-TV market, though AT&T’s U-Verse customer base is only about one-fourth the size of DirecTV’s, and only a small fraction of AT&T’s overall business.

McDonald’s Employee Caught On Camera Knocking Out Unruly Customer

Mon, 2015-04-27 22:13

An apparent attempt to remove an unruly customer from a Michigan McDonald’s resulted in a knockout punch from an employee at the fast food chain.

The above video was shot in the early hours of the morning last week at a McDonald’s in East Lansing, MI.

The man who shot the video tells Mlive.com that there was a belligerent, possibly drunk customer, spit on the counter and knocked over a “Caution: Wet Floor” sign.

In the video, you can’t initially see that customer because he’s hidden in the darkness by the door, but you can see a McDonald’s employee and another man attempting to talk to him.

Then a second McDonald’s worker comes into the picture and appears to pick the man up. There looks to be some resistance from the customer and this second employee then punches him once, knocking him to the floor, and apparently rendering him unconscious.

The customer “definitely instigated it,” says the man who shot the video. “But, it got taken too far. He didn’t have to get punched, he could have got pushed out and told not to come back.”

We All Somehow Survived The 5-Hour Starbucks Register Outage

Mon, 2015-04-27 21:38

(jojoling)

(jojoling)

On Friday, people across the United States and Canada banded together to get through a crisis. Payment systems at corporate-owned Starbucks stores across the U.S. and Canada went down, leaving about 8,000 stores unable to collect money in exchange for food and beverages. While the crisis only lasted for one afternoon and evening, Starbucks managed to thrill customers by giving food and drinks away instead…and raised a lot of questions about the flaws in modern payment systems.

While some stores closed early to deal with the problem, others stayed open and gave food away instead. “Imagine all the customers we’ve surprised and delighted – those customer will be loyal to Starbucks,” one employee explained to unofficial fan blogger StarbucksMelody. That’s true, but Melody also points out that much of the food given away would have been donated or thrown away if the stores had simply closed their doors for the rest of the day instead.

About 60% of stores were part of the outage, as well as a few Teavana tea bars. Teavana mall stores use a different register system and weren’t affected. Computerized point-of-sale systems are essential in the modern food business: they don’t just validate credit cards and keep track of customers’ loyalty points, but they collect data about what’s currently selling in a given geographic location at a given time of day.

This outage shows how vulnerable a chain can be to glitches in the system, though: while Starbucks might have bought some customer goodwill with free drinks and snacks at some locations, they also lost what must have been millions of dollars in revenue.

Starbucks breakdown shows how registers have evolved [Associated Press]

Facebook Messenger Adds Video Calling, Because Why Not

Mon, 2015-04-27 21:30

web-messenger-video-callOver the past several months, Facebook has retooled its messenger app to do a lot more than just send one-liners to your friends – from allowing real-time customer service chats to a payment feature. The company’s latest update to the app aims to take conversations to the next level with video calling.

Mashable reports that Facebook Messenger’s latest update will allow iOS and Android users to chat face-to-face with their Facebook friends.

The free feature, which will rollout in 18 markets today and others in the coming months, works with a 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi connection simply by tapping the video camera icon inside the messenger app.

Video calling in Messenger is available for calls made from a mobile phone to another mobile phone, even if one person is on iOS and the other person is on an Android device.

Stan Chudnovky, Facebook Messenger’s head of product, tells Mashable that the company’s foray into video calling was an easy decision.

The company says the video calling feature creates a “fast, reliable and high-quality” Messenger experience.

The video calling feature for Messenger comes just a week after Facebook launched a new app called “Hello” that effectively uses all the info Facebook has about its users to help you decide whether to answer/ignore/block incoming calls.

Facebook Messenger gets in your face, rolls out video chat [Mashable]

Using Times New Roman On Your Résumé Is Like “Putting On Sweatpants For A Job Interview”

Mon, 2015-04-27 21:26

(Scott Lynch)

(Scott Lynch)

Once upon a time, you actually had to type your résumé on real paper. If you wanted it to look special, you needed to find a letterpress shop to rework it into something special. But now we have a world of typographic options at our fingertips… and yet, when it comes time to apply for a job, so many of us still choose good ol’ Times New Roman.

Bloomberg spoke to a bunch of font freaks about the best and worst typefaces to use when putting together your curriculum vitae, and while some didn’t have any real problem with Times New Roman, its ubiquity — being the default font on many a word processor — may send the wrong message to a prospective employer.

“It’s telegraphing that you didn’t put any thought into the typeface that you selected,” designer Brian Hoff explains. “It’s like putting on sweatpants.”

A better option, if you insist on a serif font, may be Didot, which adds a bit of flair but is still legible. Though one designer cautions it may be too much for employers.

“It’s like wearing the black dress to the ball,” says Matt Luckhurst. “Do you wear a tuxedo to your job interview?”

Many of the designers preferred the clean lines of Helvetica or the classic feel of Garamond. Avoid script-like fonts because they’re just too hard to read and only use comic sans “if you’re applying to clown college.”

Police Seek Man Who Ran Out Of Kohl’s Store With Sneakers Stuffed Down Pants

Mon, 2015-04-27 21:04

(C x 2)

(C x 2)

Here at Consumerist, we’re fascinated with the various things that shoplifters have removed from stores by shoving them down their pants. We’ve seen people accused of using this method to steal meat, seafood, puppies, more meat, more seafood, and a chainsaw. Police in New Jersey seek a man who shoved three pair of women’s sneakers down his pants at a Kohl’s store. [NJ.com]

Your New Apple Watch Might Look Nice, But Will It Get Scratched?

Mon, 2015-04-27 20:47

applewatchscratchHow many of us are toting around smartphones with cracked and scratched screens? No need to raise your hand; we can’t actually see you. Now imagine that your phone screen was continuous exposed to the elements in a position on your body where it can easily get scratched, and you’ve imagined the life of an Apple Watch. So can the pricey accessory take a licking and keep on… well, not ticking exactly, but you get the idea.

Our colleagues at Consumer Reports purchased some Apple Watches (both the aluminum Apple Watch Sport and the more expensive stainless steel version; but not the $10,000 gold watch) last week and took them right into the labs to put the new devices through its paces.

The Sport uses hardened “Ion-X” glass for its watch face. Ion-X appears to be similar to Corning Gorilla Glass, which you’ll find on a lot of smartphones.

The stainless steel Apple Watch actually uses a super-hard sapphire-crystal face favored by high-end companies like Rolex (not to be confused with Ronex, a brand you can buy from a street vendor for less than the cost of a Whopper).

To test scratch resistance on the watches, CR turned to the old Mohs hardness scale that you hopefully remember from middle school science. You remember, gypsum can scratch talc, quartz can scratch gypsum, topaz can scratch quartz, and diamonds are forever, at least according to Shirley Bassey.

Just like the Batcave, the CR labs happen to have a Mohs hardness kit that applies pressure using picks of varying hardness to determine where a material falls on the scale.

“The Mohs scale uses common materials, so it’s easy to understand,” explains James A. Harrington, a professor of materials science and engineering at Rutgers University. “When it comes to their structure, glasses and crystals are as different as apples and oranges.”

While glass is a generic term that can mean a lot of things, sapphire is a mineral with a Mohs rating of 9/10, just below diamonds. And as you’d expect, the sapphire crystal watch face went unscratched even up to a 9 on the Mohs kit.

The Ion-X glass face was almost as impressive, only scratching when tested with a level-8 pick on the Mohs kit.

For a non-scientific test of the Sport, CR also tried to scratch the glass with a steel key but to no avail.

In response to people who have pointed out that some sandpaper can scratch the Apple Watch face, CR points out that corundum, with its Mohs score of 9, is commonly used in sandpaper.

“So it’s not that suprising that sandpaper would scratch the glass of the Apple Watch Sport,” writes CR’s Glenn Derene. “The lesson: Keep your belt sander away from your Apple Watch Sport, and keep your diamond rings away from your Apple Watch.”

Students Affected By Corinthian Colleges Closures Have Some Relief Options

Mon, 2015-04-27 20:36
(C x 2)

(C x 2)

Although many of us saw the final collapse of Corinthian Colleges Inc. on the horizon since last summer, for the nearly 16,000 students who were currently enrolled at the company’s 28 remaining Everest University, Heald College and WyoTech campuses news that they no longer have a school to attend was no doubt jarring, opening a door to questions about their future education and the debt burden they now carry.

Consumer groups and the Department of Education are trying to quickly address former Corinthian College students’ concerns, but most answers will come with time.

“Many students will be panicked and upset,” Robyn Smith, an attorney working with the National Consumer Law Center, tells Consumerist. “It’s super important that they understand, that while this is a difficult time, they are in the best position, in terms of getting both federal and private loan relief.”

Such was the case for one current CCI student who emailed Consumerist. The woman, who attended Everest University online, says she found about about the school’s closure when trying to login for class today.

“I have been trying to get a hold of my school to figure out what I need to do, but no one will respond to my calls or emails,” she says. “I do not think it is right to just spring this on students and teachers, and I believe that they should of informed us of this before so that we could have been better prepared.”

This student’s ordeal is similar to the situation that thousands of CCI students found themselves in last year when the company announced it would close or sell nearly 100 campuses across the country as part of a deal with the Department of Education.

At the time, Consumerist compiled a list of what students might expect as a result of their campus being closed or sold. While many of those options – such as teach-out programs – are no longer viable for CCI students, most will now benefit from the closed school discharge.

Students attending a school slated for closure, or if that student withdrew within 120 days of the school closing, would be entitled to a closed school discharge, meaning they would have no further obligation to repay their Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans (which include Stafford and PLUS loans), or Perkins Loans.

Although a closed school discharge does not generally cover private student loan debt, students who attended CCI campuses in California – with the exception of Heald College – may be eligible for relief under the state’s Student Tuition Recovery Fund.

The fund, which is administered by the California Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, provides tuition reimbursement to eligible students enrolled at the time of school closure or within 60 days of the school’s closure.

In a statement [PDF] released Monday, the Bureau announced it would be at CCI’s 13 Everest College and WyoTech campus locations in California Tuesday and Wednesday, April 28 & 29, to advise students about their options.

“The Bureau had anticipated such a development and prepared, and will now execute,a massive effort to assist the more than 4,000 Everest and WyoTech students in California,” the Bureau said in a statement. “About one-third of the Bureau’s staff will travel to the 13 campus locations to provide students with applications for the Student Tuition Recovery Fund (STRF) and information about getting federal student loans discharged, and to help students obtain their transcripts, financial aid documents and other important records.”

Several other states – including Arizona, Ohio, Oregon and New York – have similar tuition recovery programs available to eligible students. Information about those programs, as well as legal contacts, can be found on the Student Loan Borrower Assistance website.

Smith tells Consumerist that the California attorney general’s website will soon act as a landing page for many student affected by the CCI closure. Legal services organizations and other groups are expected to provide contact information and dates for school closure discharge clinics on the site.

Additionally, students from CCI campuses in California can click on their exact location to see which organizations they should contact with questions.

While students who attended CCI are likely trying to grapple with their new-found situation, Smith warns students not to jump into a new relationship with other colleges.

“They need to watch out,” she tells Consumerist. “What happens when a for-profit closes is that another swoops in on students and starts to market their programs. We caution students to be smart on their next education choice, sometimes local community colleges are better, more affordable and have better programs.”

Sen. Al Franken: Still Not Enough Competition For Cable & Internet Access

Mon, 2015-04-27 19:52

This is what fixed-line broadband competition (or lack thereof) looks like in Minneapolis.

This is what fixed-line broadband competition (or lack thereof) looks like in Minneapolis.

While many opponents of the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger were setting off fireworks last Friday to celebrate the defeat of this deal that would have concentrated nearly 60% of the nation’s high-speed broadband accounts under one company, realists among us are pointing out that the end of that ill-fated engagement does nothing to change the already dismal competition landscape in many markets.

Last year we used maps to show how little competition there is for cable and broadband customers in many U.S. markets where consumers often have one choice for affordable high-speed Internet access.

A subsequent FCC report confirmed that only 36% of the country has two or more choices for broadband, and fewer than 10% have three or more options.

And as we showed with the case of one Washington state homeowner, sometimes the government data shows that you have multiple options for wired broadband when in fact you have none.

The end of the Comcast/TWC merger doesn’t make the broadband market more competitive. Even if you were to break Comcast up into the companies it acquired over the years to get to its current size, competition would still be effectively nonexistent. That’s because most cable providers have exclusivity deals in the areas they operate. So even if you were to shatter Comcast into 100 smaller operators, each would likely still be the sole broadband choice for consumers in their respective market.

In an op-ed piece for Time.com, Sen. Al Franken from Minnesota — one of the few federal lawmakers openly opposed to the merger — reviews the lessons learned from the Comcast/TWC failure, including that “there is far too little competition in the cable and broadband markets.”

Given the lack of localized competition, and the fact that Comcast is still the dominant provider of broadband for U.S. consumers, Franken contends that there is “Not exactly an incentive for the company to provide first-class service, as many Comcast customers can attest.”

The senator says that over the last year, as the merger made its way through the regulatory review process, “other companies who did business with Comcast told me they were afraid go public with their opposition because they feared retribution.”

Comcast had maintained throughout the process that the savings from the TWC acquisition would allow it to innovate but Franken counters that “Innovation… comes from competition. And in important sectors of our economy, there still isn’t nearly enough competition.”

Supreme Court To Decide If You Can Sue When Data Aggregators Are Wrong

Mon, 2015-04-27 19:49

(BenBalter)

(BenBalter)


There’s a true 21st-century case a-brewing at the Supreme Court, one of those unsexy legal questions with enormous potential repercussions. At heart of the matter is personal data. There’s an insane amount of it out there, on each and every one of us, and it’s all for trade, barter, and sale. But that doesn’t mean it’s all correct or true. So if some website or service goes around saying you’re someone you’re not, do you have the right to sue?

The answer is already “yes” if the misinformation causes actual harm you can point to in court. So, for example, if you’re erroneously listed in a criminal database despite having a squeaky-clean record, and that causes you to lose job offers during the background check, that’s a clear harm you can obviously sue over. But in the general sea of information, when you can’t point to a specific harm, is it still wrong of services to publish (or share) incorrect information?

That’s what the Supreme Court is now poised to decide when it hears Spokeo v. Robins in its next term.

Spokeo is, basically, a records aggregator. Anyone can use it to look up the address, phone number, email address, and social media presence of anyone else. It’s a powerful tool, not only for general research and contact but also unfortunately often used to bad ends when internet hate mobs want to chase down and harass or threaten a particular target.

The highlights of what information Spokeo promises to return on basically anyone.

The highlights of what information Spokeo promises to return on basically anyone.

Worse: its aggregated results are also often wrong, wrong, wrong. Spokeo makes no claim that all its data is valid; it merely aggregates data from other sources, after all, and can claim that the fault is in the original. And so their listings often contain incorrect data, sometimes conflating different people with the same name into a single search result.

One man, Thomas Robins, sued Spokeo after finding his own profile was wrong in a whole bunch of ways. According to the AP, Robins’s profile “incorrectly stated his age, that he had a graduate degree, was employed and married with children. In fact, Robins was unemployed and looking for work.” Robins sued Spokeo under the Fair Credit Reporting act, claiming that the incorrect information erroneously matched to him damaged his job prospects.

The first court found that Robins had no right to sue because he had no actual harms he could point to the errors causing. On appeal, the ruling was reversed, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that no actually, by publishing incorrect data Spokeo did violate the FCRA and Robins had the right to sue. And that brings us to Spokeo appealing right back, this time to the Supreme Court.

As SCOTUSblog explains, the Constitutional issue that brings this into the Court’s purview is a question of “whether an individual can sue based on a simple claim that a right created by federal law has been violated, without proof of an additional injury growing out of that violation.”

If Robins wins and the class action suit he’s pursuing is verified, Spokeo could face damages of $1000 per violation. Given how many millions of people the company aggregates records on, and how many potential errors are in every profile, that could easily be millions or billions of dollars. So it’s easy to see why Spokeo would want to fight this all the way to the Supreme Court.

But in our data-driven economy, where we the collective consumers are more often than not also the product being traded and sold, the case also has repercussions far beyond Spokeo.

Tech giants are closely watching the case. Facebook and Google between them are probably the two biggest personal data collectors and traders in the world, and nearly all of us interact with one or both several times daily. If they and others are going to have liability for making sure every piece of personal data they move is accurate, that would be a huge shift for them.

The case also points to basically the existential question of the 21st century economy: what are the legal, moral, and ethical rules around our data and our privacy? What burden do individuals bear? What burden do companies bear to make sure that information is entirely accurate? And where in the chain does that burden fall — on the first collector? On the resellers? On an aggregator like Spokeo?

It will be good news for consumers if businesses that trade our data need to make sure it’s right before they can sell it. But that’s just the first of many likely future challenges to face consumers and businesses in the personal-data-driven app-era market.

High Court to Consider Lawsuits Over Personal Data [Associated Press]

Nylabone Recalls Puppy Starter Kits For Possible Salmonella Contamination

Mon, 2015-04-27 19:26

ucm444562Puppies chew everything: fingers, toes, shoes, furniture…well, anything else within their reach. Nylabone offers a kit with a few different types of durable bone for your puppy to try in order to redirect their chewing urge toward something more that’s cheaper than shoes and healthier for their teeth. That seems like a good idea…unless the bones they’re chewing are contaminated with salmonella bacteria.

Salmonella can affect dogs and humans alike. It’s a more severe illness for people, causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever. Infection can also have rare complications that can be fatal. Dogs can experience diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, but they can also be carriers and transmit Salmonella to humans who haven’t touched the contaminated food item…or dog toy, in this case.

Here’s how to identify packages that might be affected: they’re labeled with lot number 21935. The UPC is 0-18214-81291-3, and they have an expiration date of 3/22/18. All of these will be printed at the bottom of the back of the package.

If you have the kit, you should return any unchewed portion to the store where you purchased it for a refund. If you have any questions about the recall, bark at Nylabone at 1-877-273-7527.

TFH Publications, Inc./Nylabone Products Recalls Puppy Starter Kit Due To Possible Salmonella Health Risk [FDA]

Petition Calls For Loan Relief For Corinthian College Students

Mon, 2015-04-27 19:18
(thisisbossi)

(thisisbossi)

Ever since for-profit education chain Corinthian Colleges began its downward spiral last summer, consumer groups, students and legislators have urged the Department of Education to provide current and former students relief from student loans they took out to finance an education based on deceptive recruitment practices. Now that CCI has closed its remaining Everest University, Heald College and WyoTech campuses, consumer advocates say discharging federal student loans held by these students – and protecting students of other for-profit institutions – should be of immediate concern for the Department.

The National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project started a petition that aims to ensure consumers receive the relief they deserve and that the Dept. of Education holds CCI and other for-profit colleges accountable for their use of misleading and deceptive efforts to enroll students and entice them to take out thousands of dollars in costly private and federal loans.

According to the petition [PDF], the Dept. of Education ignored its duty to protect Corinthian students despite multiple audits and government and state investigations having revealed widespread deception throughout CCI’s recruitment system, including the use of inflated job placement rates and graduation rates.

“The Department facilitated Corinthian’s sophisticated scheme to bilk thousands of low-income students of their dreams, while leaving taxpayers to foot the bill,” the petition states. “Now, the Department relentlessly pursues Corinthian borrowers for repayment of their federal loans. It has unjustly shifted the financial harm caused by its own mistakes onto the backs of students who are not at fault and who were deceived into taking out federal loans.”

For these reasons, the Department should provide immediate relief to all Corinthian students, the petition states.

Robyn Smith, an attorney working with the National Consumer Law Center, tells Consumerist that although many students who attended the CCI campuses that closed on Monday will be covered by closed school discharges, the petition aims to provide relief for all CCI students, even those who were enrolled or previously dropped out of the schools but were subject to the same deceptive practices.

While the “Corinthian 100″ – hundreds of students who are refusing to pay their federal student loans in protest of the government’s support of the crumbling for-profit college chain – along with nine attorneys general and several legislators have asked the Dept. of Education to provide students relief from federal loans through a defenses to repayment mechanism, the NCLC’s petition instead urges an across the board relief system for affected students.

Under the defense of repayment option, the Department would provide loan relief to students on a case-by-case basis. However, that system could take a significant amount of time before students see any help, and that’s time they simply don’t have.

“We are asking the Department to set up a system to work with the attorneys general to provide widespread relief to all students throughout the country harmed by CCI,” Smith says.

The system would provide an automatic discharge of student loans without the student actually having to apply for the relief if that student’s school was part of state attorneys general investigations that found the campus engaged in deceptive recruitment practices.

Students that aren’t covered by evidence in current investigations wouldn’t be out of luck either. Smith says the petition suggests a simplified procedure to provide student relief, such as sending students a form that lists the deceptive practices that CCI relied on. If a student can testify under oath that those practices happened to them, they would receive the discharge.

Smith says a simplified, across-the-board system is more appropriate than the current case-by-case determination because most students don’t realize they might even qualify for relief.

“This is important because by requiring students to apply, many students don’t understand their rights or don’t get contacted,” she says. “Only six to seven percent of students have contacted the Department bout discharges in the past.

“We’re urging the Department not to implement heavy standards,” she says. “They shouldn’t be erecting barriers, but should be liberally providing relief.”

While the petition’s timing coincides perfectly with thousands of students left with large student loan bills after attending CCI schools, Smith says the NCLC’s mission is to help all students.

“The importance of this petition goes beyond Corinthian,” Smith says. “Corinthian isn’t the only college that has engaged in these deceptive practices.”

And so, the petition includes a section urging the Department to provide relief for students of any for-profit higher education institutions if state and federal investigations find violations.

“The Department should take aggressive and timely appropriate action when it knows that a school is violating state and federal laws,” Smith says. “The petition is important looking both at relief for Corinthian students and fixing some of the brokenness we have in the oversight relief systems.”

The petition from NCLC – which is collecting signatures from both individuals and organizations – will be presented to the Department of Education in early May.

GM Ignition Death Toll Rises Again, Now At 90

Mon, 2015-04-27 19:04

(paul bica)

(paul bica)

For more than a decade, General Motors staffers and federal regulators ignored signs of defective ignition switches in various GM vehicles. Meanwhile, hundreds of people were being hurt or killed because the car company failed to acknowledge its error.

The latest report from the compensation fund set up to review claims of injury and death related to the defect now puts the number of approved death claims at 90, nearly seven times as many victims as the car company originally acknowledged.

Another 163 injury claims have been approved by the fund, which doesn’t disclose amounts offered to victims or their families.

A claimant isn’t required to accept an offer from the compensation fund, but if an offer is accepted, that claimant gives up their right to pursue any further related legal action.

The AP reports that 118 offers have been made, and all but five of them have been accepted.

Though the fund stopped accepting claim applications months ago, nearly one-quarter of those 4,324 claims are still under review. In some cases, this is due to incomplete documentation.

A bankruptcy court recently ruled that GM could not face certain civil claims related to the recall. As part of the company’s 2009 bankruptcy restructuring, the “New GM” could not be held liable for all the bad behavior of the pre-bankruptcy “Old GM.”

Even though the recall didn’t occur until 2014, the court disagreed with plaintiffs who alleged that there had been a cover up by New GM executives and that they should be held accountable for their alleged fraud.

Verizon FiOS Sued Over No-ESPN-Included “Custom TV” Cable Packages

Mon, 2015-04-27 18:04

 Bart)

(photo: Bart)

Just about every basic cable package in the U.S. includes ESPN whether you want it or not. This is because the popular sports network’s contract generally forbids pay-TV providers from putting ESPN on a separate sports tier. But Verizon FiOS recently introduced “Custom TV,” a programming package that doesn’t necessarily include ESPN, and now the telecom giant is being sued by the sports network for breach of contract.

This is according to a summons [PDF] for Verizon to appear in a New York state court in Manhattan.

We attempted to get a copy of the actual complaint filed with the court, but the document won’t be made public by the court until after certain confidential information about the contract between Verizon and ESPN has been redacted.

ESPN is alleging breach of contract and is asking the court to issue an injunction preventing FiOS from offering a base channel package that would not include ESPN. The suit also seeks unspecified damages of at least $500,000.

A statement from the network explains that “ESPN is at the forefront of embracing innovative ways to deliver high-quality content and value to consumers on multiple platforms, but that must be done in compliance with our agreements. We simply ask that Verizon abide by the terms of our contracts.”

At the heart of this dispute between Verizon and ESPN is the recently launched Custom TV option for FiOS. This pricing model offers a selection of base channels (which does not include ESPN) to which the subscriber can then add on separate niche-targeted bundles of 10-17 channels each. The $55/month starting price includes two of these add-on bundles at no extra charge, but each additional bundle is $10/month.

Because ESPN is included in a sports bundle and not part of the core base for all customers, the network believes that Verizon is in violation of its contract with the network. In advance of the lawsuit, ESPN’s parent company Disney stopped airing certain FiOS commercials on ESPN and other Disney-owned channels.

In response to the news, a rep for Verizon tells Consumerist:

“Consumers have spoken loud and clear that they want choice, and the industry should be focused on giving consumers what they want. We are well within our rights under our agreements to offer our customers these choices.”

A recent poll of Consumerist readers found that 85% of them believe that ESPN should not be included in basic cable packages but should be included in a separate tier where customers have the option of paying for it.

HBO CEO Brushes Off Idea Of Simultaneously Releasing All Episodes Of A Show

Mon, 2015-04-27 17:07

gotlittlefingerWhile Netflix and Amazon may be catering to binge-watchers by releasing all episodes of their original shows online at once — and even though HBO’s online library allows users to plow through entire series of older shows — don’t expect the network to dump an entire new season of Game of Thrones or True Detective onto HBO Go or HBO Now.

Speaking at a Washington Post event last Friday, HBO CEO Richard Plepler explained to reporter Cecelia Kang that he’s “not such a reflexive proponent of binge-watching.”

Plepler points to the recent success of The Jinx, the six-episode documentary series about the multiple murder allegations made against wealthy Manhattan real estate scion Robert Durst.

“I don’t think it would have been a great thing for HBO or our brand if that had been gobbled up in the first week,” explained Plepler. “I think it was very exciting for the viewer to have that mystery held out for an extended period of time.”

The CEO added that there’s a benefit to stringing a show out over a few months.

“There’s something very powerful about having a conversation in the culture occurring for 10 weeks, 12 weeks, 13 weeks, about your programming,” Plepler told Kang. “Occupying social media during that time, expanding the conversation about your brand for 12 weeks. You put on a show and binge it — that happens to be one way to watch it, but then it’s exhausted… I also think people enjoy the treat of waiting for the next episode.

Plepler also accused the media of trying to be too “reductive… binary” in describing HBO Now.

“You’re either Netflix and you’re direct to consumer or you’re stuck in the old ecosystem,” he said of this misconception. “It’s not true.”

To him, HBO Now is “an extension of our distribution system… It is not in any way mutually exclusive.” It’s a way for current and new partners to reach millions of consumers who aren’t currently paying for HBO.

In terms of demographics, Plepler acknowledged that HBO Go used skewed younger, but said he expects digital usage to grow among all consumers as they get their hands on it.

“It is a very appealing product for so-called cord-cutters or cord-nevers,” said the CEO, “but our hope is: Get people into your ecosystem with a product that’s as compelling as ours and then move them into video platform.”

Plepler didn’t provide specific numbers but did say that the launch of HBO Now “exceeded even our expectations.”

Taco Bell Fritos-Shell Tacos Spotted In The Wild

Mon, 2015-04-27 17:00

<img src="https://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/taco-bell-fritos-taco.jpg&quot; alt="(Taco Bell via Brand Eating)” width=”640″ height=”404″ class=”size-full wp-image-10202786″ /> (Taco Bell via Brand Eating)Back in December, fans of snack chip-flavored taco shells got an enticing hint in a presentation to shareholders in Taco Bell parent company Yum! Brands. As part of a slide showing planned innovations, a taco in a small Fritos bag was shown under the words “Revolutionizing the taco.” A Fritos-shell taco? What madness was this? The crunchy corn shells have become reality, and Taco Bell is beginning to test them.

You’re out of luck, Fritos fans, unless you live in Memphis, Tennessee. If you do, then you can get one for $1.49, or as part of a combo box with a beverage, a Doritos Locos taco (of course), and a Burrito Supreme.

Considering the crunchy success of Doritos Locos Tacos, it could work…and

Take Our Poll (function(d,c,j){if(!d.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src='http://s1.wp.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/shortcodes/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js';s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);} else if(typeof jQuery !=='undefined')jQuery(d.body).trigger('pd-script-load');}(document,'script','pd-polldaddy-loader'));

Ford Recalls 400,000 Vehicles Under Investigation By NHTSA For Door Latch Issues

Mon, 2015-04-27 16:25

(saguarosally)

Nearly seven months after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration first opened an investigation into thousands of Ford vehicles that may contain malfunctioning door latches, the car manufacturer has issued a recall of nearly 400,000 sedans.

Ford announced that it would recall 389,585 model year 2012-2014 Ford Fiesta, model year 2013-2014 Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ vehicles that contain door latches that may inadvertently open while the car is in motion, increasing the risk of injury.

The recall comes less than two months after NHTSA upgraded its investigation into the malfunctioning latches to include the Fusion and Lincoln MKZ vehicles. In addition to increasing the scope of the investigation, regulators upgraded the probe to an engineering analysis – a step that can sometimes lead to a recall.

According to Ford’s recall notice, the door latch in these vehicles may experience a broken pawl spring tab, which typically results in a condition where the door will not latch.

The manufacturer says it is aware of allegations of soreness resulting from an unlatched door bouncing back when the customer attempted to close it, and one accident where an unlatched door swung open and struck an adjacent vehicle as the driver was pulling into a parking space.

Prior to Ford’s recall of the vehicles, NTHSA said [PDF] it had received 207 reports related to improperly latching doors. Sixty-five of those reports claimed that the door or doors opened inadvertently while the vehicle was in motion.

When NHTSA originally launched an investigation into the Fiesta models last September, the agency had accumulated 61 reports of potential door latch failures, of which 12 allegedly occurred while the vehicle was in motion.

Since then, Ford has provided the agency with 451 additional reports and 1,079 warranty claims related to door latch failures.

Ford previously said it did not believe that a latched door experiencing this condition would inadvertently unlatch and that there are many overt warnings associated with a door that does not latch.

Still, regulators said back in March that the “rate of occurrence for this failure is comparable to other door latch failure investigations” and that the agency “questions the effectiveness of warning signals given the number of complainants alleging that the door(s) opened while the vehicle was in motion.”

Ford Motor Company issues safety recall in North America for door latch issue on Ford Fiesta and Fusion, Lincoln MKZ [Ford]

Pages