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The Consumerist

Fiat Chrysler Loses Bid For New Trial In Wrongful Death Case Involving Jeep Fire

53 min 35 sec ago
(David Renteria)

(David Renteria)

Fiat Chrysler’s woes related to millions of Jeeps that could catch fire after being rear-ended continued today as a judge rejected the company’s request for a new a trial in the wrongful death case of a four-year-old boy.

A Georgia judge denied the car maker’s motion to retry the case in which a jury earlier this year ordered the company to pay $150 million to the boy’s family after ruling that Chrysler acted with reckless disregard for human life by selling the family a 1999 Jeep with a gas tank mounted behind the rear axle.

Superior Court Judge J. Kevin Chason wrote in his decision [PDF] to deny the motion that the evidence against FCA was “overwhelming” in the original case.

In the original lawsuit, the family argued that the fire was a direct result of the gas tank’s poor position, as it was located in a “crush zone” behind the rear axle and knew the location was dangerous.

In March 2012, a pickup truck slammed into the rear-end of a Jeep carrying the young boy. According the suit, the collision caused a fuel leak and the Jeep caught fire, killing the boy.

Fiat Chrysler [FCA] argued in its motion for the retrial that jurors ignored the court’s directions and that they were given outside guidance with regard to the amount the company should be required to pay.

“This Court finds no merit in FCA’s assertion that the jury acted from ‘passion’ or ‘prejudice’,” the judge wrote in his ruling. “The Court observed the jurors throughout the trial, as they delivered their verdict, and as the Court polled them. This Court saw nothing to indicate, nor has it been presented with persuasive evidence or argument to suggest, that the jurors were ‘inflamed’ or ‘irrational.'”

The automaker had also argued that cross-examination by the family’s attorneys was improper.

“The Court notes that with respect to many of the items of which FCA is now critical, either no objection was made at trial at all, or the object was not timely or proper,” the judge ruled. “FCA may not now claim error as to such items. This Court listened carefully to the entirety of the trial, including those examinations, statements, and arguments now criticized by FCA, and has reviewed the trial transcript, and finds that FCA’s criticisms are unfounded.”

While the company lost its bid for a new trial, the judge did reduce the amount Fiat Chrysler must pay the family to $40 million. The automaker must still agree to the reduction, CBS News reports.

“The reduction in the damage awards does not cure the many errors that tainted this verdict and denied FCA US a fair trial. We are considering our legal options.” Fiat spokesman Michael Palese said in a statement to CBS News.

Wednesday’s decision comes just days after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it has imposed a $105 million fine against Fiat Chrysler for failing to adequately address 23 safety recalls, including the 2013 Jeep recall.

Fiat Chrysler denied retrial in boy’s Jeep fire death [CBS News]

Walmart And Kroger Pull Cilantro From Stores

1 hour 38 min ago

cilantroAfter the Food and Drug Administration announced a seasonal ban on cilantro imports from a specific region of Mexico, Walmart and Kroger are pulling cilantro grown in that region from store shelves as a precaution. Evidence points to the cilantro as a culprit in outbreaks of cyclosporiasis, a gastrointestinal illness, and an FDA investigation turned up evidence of sanitation problems in the fields where cilantro is grown.

A Walmart representative explained to Bloomberg News that stores already had cilantro from that region of Mexico, but not necessarily from the affected supplier, on its shelves. “In an abundance of caution, we decided to withdraw and prohibit sourcing any cilantro from this region,” a chain representative said in a statement.

Don’t worry: neither chain anticipates a nationwide cilantro shortage crisis as a result of this recall or the import ban. Other grocery chains told Bloomberg News that they know their cilantro doesn’t come from the affected region, so the FDA’s partial ban doesn’t affect their products.

Cyclosporiasis is a parasitic illness that can be transmitted through human feces; it can cause vomiting and “explosive bowel movements.” Inspectors found evidence of poor sanitation and human feces and toilet paper in cilantro fields, as well as poor sanitation in processing facilities.

Wal-Mart, Kroger Pulling Some Cilantro Over Human-Feces Concerns [Bloomberg]

College President Explains Why He Moonlights As Uber Driver

1 hour 47 min ago

(afagen)

(afagen)

Imagine you’re a student at tiny Oglethorpe University in Atlanta and you’re in need of a lift home because you’re in no shape to drive. So you pull out your smartphone and request an Uber car. When your ride arrives, your driver looks awfully familiar… probably because he’s the school’s president.

In a first-person story for the Washington Post, Oglethorpe U. President Lawrence Schall explains why he decided to spend some of his free time as an Uber driver — and what he’s learned from the experience.

“I signed up because I wanted to broaden my perspective on today’s ‘sharing economy,'” he writes. “Since the 2008 recession, many Americans have been pushed into or chosen to join the freelance marketplace, taking jobs with no regular hours, no benefits and no office.”

And so Schall went online, registered his Volvo with Uber and recently began picking up passengers in need of a lift. Considering his already hefty workload as the head of a small liberal arts college, his driving hours are limited mostly to weekends.

When he began working as a driver, his “coach” told Schall he could earn upwards of $300 in a night if he knew which parts of town to patrol at the right time. But so far, the results have been underwhelming.

“My biggest one-day take thus far has been $29,” he admits. “Even with my limited schedule, I thought I’d do a bit better than that. Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t leave my day job.”

That’s also not great news for the Oglethorpe scholarship fund, to which Schall has pledged to contribute all his Uber earnings.

Schall’s preconceptions about the types of riders he would pick up proved misguided. He’d thought his car would be filled with college students, but aside from his very first passenger (who happened to be an Oglethorpe student), most of his fares have people going been to and from the MARTA train station.

“Instead of getting a glimpse into the new economy, I was getting full exposure to the burdens of the old economy — specifically, how hard it is for regular working people to make it from their home or apartment to a job every day,” he notes.

His work has also taken him to some of the Atlanta suburbs populated by large numbers of lower-income, minority residents who need to get back and forth to the city but who lack proper public transportation.

“[I]f I hadn’t started this little experiment, my path would probably never have crossed the lives of any of these people whose life stories continuously surprise me,” concludes Schall. “After three weeks, my earnings are approaching $100, but I sure feel richer for the experience.”

And now, just because we can’t get it out of our head, here’s Harry Chapin singing about being a taxi driver:

Surprise Birthday Party Includes Surprise Scissors Baked Inside Cake

2 hours 42 min ago

(CBS DFW)

(CBS DFW)

When it comes to celebrating birthdays, there are good surprises and bad ones. A good surprise could be a special gift, a card containing a large amount of cash, or a surprise party. A bad surprise would be diving face-first into a cake that has a pair of scissors baked into it. That last example is not a theoretical one.

A family near Dallas paid $60 for a cake from a local supermarket when they had a surprise birthday party for the family matriarch. Fortunately, it was before the guest of honor plunged her face into the cake at the urging of the guests (a Latino birthday tradition) that someone noticed a pair of scissors sticking out of the cake.

The scissors weren’t pointing up, and she probably wouldn’t have been hurt, but that doesn’t change the fact that cakes aren’t supposed to have scissors in them. The woman’s daughter, posted a video of the scissors sitting inside the cake and shared it on Facebook.

The local El Rancho Market where they bought the cake referred the family and media requests to their corporate office, and corporate offered them a replacement cake. They quite understandably don’t want another cake from El Rancho Market, and you can’t re-throw a surprise birthday party.

What they want is assurance that bakery employees will be trained on how to not leave office supplies in cake pans, and that this won’t happen again. That’s it.

Surprise Cut Short By Scissors In Birthday Cake [CBS Dallas]

Bill Aims To Stop Employers From Incorrectly Classifying Employees As Independent Contractors

3 hours 8 min ago

(Alex Behrens)

(Alex Behrens)

In general, an independent contractor or freelancer is a worker who runs their own business but is hired by others for specific purposes and projects. But a growing number of employers have been using the independent contractor label on what had long been considered employees, often with the goal of shedding the cost of contributing to insurance and retirement benefits. A new piece of legislation seeks to make sure that businesses aren’t mislabeling employees as contractors.

The Payroll Fraud Prevention Act of 2015 [PDF], introduced by Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania and Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to require that workers understand whether they are being classified as an employee or a non-employee contractor, and what the implications are for non-employees in terms of benefits, and legal protections generally afforded to employees.

Workers would also be made aware of their rights to file grievances about their classification, while employers could face penalties for misclassifying workers, or for taking actions against those workers who challenge their status. Misclassified employees would be allowed to seek lost wages and possibly damages.

There are already 50 million American workers classified as non-employee contractors, freelancers, or temporary workers, and the number is expected to grow to 60 million before 2020, meaning nearly 40% of the U.S. workforce would be without access to protections like unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and retirement benefits.

The senators sponsoring the bill allege that when companies shift their employee base to “contractors,” they’re forcing the hands of competing businesses to do the same in order to keep their costs down too.

A 2009 report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said that the tax revenue lost by misclassified employees is “markedly higher than $1.6 billion.”

“We owe workers a fair shot at good jobs where they can receive basic workplace protections,” says Sen. Casey in a statement. “Too many workers are classified as independent contractors when it’s clear that they are employees.”

Adds Franken, “These workers often don’t qualify for things like minimum wage, overtime pay, workers’ compensation insurance, and retirement benefits. Our legislation would crack down on payroll fraud, a practice that is hurting our workers, costing taxpayers, and putting businesses that play by the rules at a competitive disadvantage.”

Yahoo Introduces Livetext, A Video Messaging App Without Any Audio

3 hours 26 min ago

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 2.03.06 PMSkype, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Viber, and Facebook Messenger are just a few of the many messaging services available to consumers. That list grew by one today with the unveiling of Livetext from Yahoo.

The company announced its foray into the messaging services realm with its new service that let users communicate via audioless video and text messages.

“We see video as a way to make your conversations more authentic, and we see text as a way to connect that’s quick and non-intrusive,” Arjun Sethi, Senior Director of Product Management, said in the announcement.

At first glance, Livetext appears to heavily resemble Snapchat – with full-sized photos and overlaid text – minus the option to include audio in videos and the self-destructive messages.

Livetext, which the company tested in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Ireland earlier this year, will be live in the U.S., Canada, Germany, U.K. and France starting tomorrow.

People can download the app for devices using both iOS and Android systems.

Yahoo Livetext – A New Way to Connect [Yahoo]

GM Loses Fight To Keep Ignition-Defect Documents From Going Public

4 hours 16 min ago

(paul bica)

(paul bica)

General Motors, which has acknowledged being responsible for more than 100 deaths because of its failure to recall vehicles with a known defect in the ignition switch, doesn’t want the public to see documents turned up as part of an ongoing lawsuit. But a federal court recently ruled against the car maker, which could be embarrassing for GM.

For those who have been in a coma for the last couple of years, starting in 2001, General Motors began production on a number of vehicles — most notably the Chevy Cobalt — that used an ignition switch that could be inadvertently turned off while the car was in operation, disabling the airbags and other important safety functions.

In spite of the fact that some at the car company knew of the issue before the first affected vehicles even hit the road, it was several years before engineers quietly fixed the switch — without issuing a recall and without changing the part number. Thus, defective cars remained on the road, resulting in numerous collisions and fatalities. It wasn’t until 2014 that GM got around to issuing a recall on these cars, by which point hundreds of people had been harmed as a result.

Several of those victims are currently suing GM, and a number of those cases have been grouped into a single multi-district lawsuit. In order to expedite discovery in that case, GM was allowed to designate large swaths of documents as “confidential” or “highly confidential.” The plaintiffs’ lead counsel can challenge the confidentiality of these items, but GM claims the opposing lawyers have gone too far in their requests and their statements to the public.

The car company says the plaintiffs’ attorney has made inflammatory comments about GM and its lawyers, and has released the identities of present and former GM executives who are to be deposed in the case. GM accuses the opposition of turning “pre-trial discovery into a mockery designed to garner sensational press coverage, rather than preparing for a trial on the merits.”

And so GM asked the court to expand confidentiality protection to cover everything — documents, testimony, and any other data or information turned up during discovery — so that it can only be used for the lawsuit and not be shared publicly without the court’s approval.

In denying GM’s request, the court acknowledged that much of what’s turned up during the discovery process are documents that aren’t publicly accessible and may not end up being used at trial.

“Nevertheless, just because the public is not presumed to have access to pretrial discovery materials, it does not follow that parties should be — or are — barred from sharing them publicly,” explains the court [PDF], pointing to legal precedent declaring that in the absence of a protective order, parties to a lawsuit may disseminate materials obtained during discovery “as they see fit.”

GM claims that the plaintiffs’ airing of these items is part of a “deliberate strategy to publicly and selectively disclose materials damaging to New GM and thus deprive it of a fair trial.” Additionally, the depositions and documents involved in this discovery process are “interwoven with sensitive or potentially embarrassing information about third parties, as well as otherwise privileged information provided under special protections and orders.”

But the court concluded that there are more important countervailing interests involved.

“First, the public interest in this case weighs heavily against an order as broad as that sought by New GM here,” writes the court. “Although… the public may not have a presumptive right to discovery materials produced during this litigation, its interest in access to documents — and certainly non-confidential ones — is properly considered in determining whether to enter a protective order, particularly a ‘blanket’ protective order.”

GM had tried to argue that the high level of public interest in this case is a justification for keeping a tighter lid on discovery documents, but the court notes that this pre-existing public interest “cuts in favor of allowing public access… not against it.”

The court did, however, apply Rule 3.6 of the New York State Rules of Professional Conduct, which can penalize a lawyer for making certain statements that have a “substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter.”

The car maker also raised the issue of privacy regarding deposed individuals who are not party to the lawsuit, but the court countered that “The privacy interests of a few, however, do not justify the wholesale bar on release of all discovery materials that New GM seeks here. Instead, they justify a more limited protective order restricting the dissemination or disclosure of, for example, certain deposition testimony or information contained in personnel files — information that could be used to embarrass, harass, or violate the privacy interests of third parties to this litigation.”

Since the plaintiffs’ lead counsel, Bob Hilliard, doesn’t entirely object to some sort of narrow protective order, the court directed them to meet with GM to hash out what that might look like.

In response to the court’s order, Hilliard issued a statement teasing the content that could now be made public.

“The disturbing documents that now are allowed to be shared will speak for themselves — clearly, unequivocally and loudly,” the Texas-based attorney told Bloomberg.

Subway Launches New Mobile Payment, Ordering Options

4 hours 27 min ago
(Mandy Jansen)

(Mandy Jansen)

Now that nearly every American has a smartphone permanently fixed to their hand, a long list of restaurants including Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Taco Bell and Dominos have upped their mobile presence by way of ordering and payment apps, and now one of the largest chains in the country is joining the ever-growing list: Subway.

The company announced today that it is working with PayPal to create new mobile order and checkout capabilities across its 27,000 U.S. locations.

The new app, which will use PayPal’s One Touch technology, allows customers to build their sandwiches from the comfort of their phones, pay ahead of time and then pick up their meal when they arrive at their designated location.

The inclusion of One Touch gives consumers the option to securely pay in a single touch on their phones or laptops without having to type in any payment credentials, usernames or passwords.

“Our customers are at the center of everything we do, and we know mobile is playing a key role in all of their lives,” said Valencia Johnson, a Subway restaurant manager in Los Angeles, California, says in a statement. “The new Subway app makes ordering on-the-go that much easier.”

Subway Restaurants Introduces New App and Remote Ordering Capabilities [Subway]

Southwest Airlines Has No Plans To Start Charging For Checked Bags

5 hours 28 min ago
(Douglas Muth)

(Douglas Muth)

Less than a month after JetBlue said goodbye to free checked bags, Southwest Airlines has made it clear it won’t be going down the same path.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said during a business travel conference that it makes more financial sense for the carrier to retain its “bags fly free” policy, even if checked-baggage fees are a revenue booster, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Kelly suggested that if the airline – which is the only major carrier to not charge for checked bags – changed its policy, it would likely lose passengers to other airlines.

“Who wouldn’t want to be the only competitor doing a certain thing?” he said.

Airline checked bag fees, which range from $15 to more than $25, have become an important source of revenue for many carriers. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the first three months of 2015 saw airlines collecting more than $864 million in revenue from the fees.

Despite those proceeds, Southwest isn’t doing so bad without the added fees, the L.A. Times reports. The company’s net income increased nearly $143 million over the past year.

Of course, hefty fees for checked bags could soon be a thing of the past, as legislators recently introduced the Baggage Fee Fairness Act of 2015 that would limit checked-baggage charges to just $4.50/bag.

Southwest Airlines will keep its ‘bags fly free’ policy [The Los Angeles Times]

Walmart Advises Manufacturers Against Misleading Packaging

5 hours 35 min ago

(Ben Schumin)

(Ben Schumin)

In apparent response to increased scrutiny on retail overcharging and manufacturers who are trying to hide the fact that customers are getting less than they used to, Walmart has asked its suppliers to make sure that their packaging isn’t misleading to customers.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Walmart recently sent out notices to companies like Heinz and Nestle telling them to be mindful of labeling laws and to make sure that there’s no discrepancy between what’s on the outside of a package and what’s inside.

“This is a reminder to our suppliers to make sure their labeling matches what’s in the product,” a company rep explains. “We want our customers to know they can have faith in the products they buy.”

In addition to advising manufacturers about legal requirements for packaging and labeling, Walmart explains in the note that if products don’t comply with the rules, it’s the suppliers that will be held responsible, and not the nation’s largest retailer or its Sam’s Club warehouse club subsidiary.

The notice appears to be a reaction to a number of high-profile packaging and pricing gaffes involving big-name brands and stores.

For instance, last year CVS had to pay $225,000 in California regarding misleading packages for a dozen store-brand products. The items were each packed in boxes that gave shoppers the impression that they were going to get much more than was actually included.

Similarly, Procter & Gamble recently settled with California over allegations of using oversized packaging to sell its moisturizer products.

And let’s not forget out McCormick, the pantry powerhouse that’s being sued by a competitor after it reduced the amount of black pepper in its containers without reducing the size of the container.

Earlier this month, Whole Foods admitted to “unintentional” overcharging on some of its pre-packaged fresh foods after being investigated by regulators in both California and New York.

European Union Investigates Claims Disneyland Paris Charges Different Prices According To Where Customer Lives

5 hours 58 min ago
(Sean MacEntee)

(Sean MacEntee)

In European Union member states, consumers aren’t supposed to be charged differently for products or services depending on where they live. Yet visitors to the happiest place accessible by Paris commuter rail, Disneyland Paris, have complained to the European Commission that the resort charges people differently according to where they’re from.

The items in question are vacation packages, not just regular old tickets to the park itself. The Financial Times provided the example of a premium package, for which travelers from other parts of France were charged €1,346, but people from the United Kingdom had to pay €1,870, and someone from Germany would be charged €2,447.

Disneyland disagrees with the allegations, pointing out that visitors from different places need different services, and that travelers from more distant parts of Europe must book their travel farther in advance, which raises the prices. The company’s vice president explained to AFP that “an English (visitor) will reserve a holiday six months to a year in advance, while with the French it’s four to six months ahead.” The site doesn’t detect where visitors are and show them different prices accordingly, he claims.

While people traveling from different places might see different prices on the website, they are welcome to call in and request the price available to a French tourist: they’d just be responsible for getting themselves to the park using railroads or a car, instead of having transportation charges included in their package price.

Does this explanation make sense? Since the alleged discriminatory pricing happened in France, French investigators are now in charge of the case and will check out consumers’ claims.

Disneyland Paris rejects price discrimination claim [AFP]
Taking the Mickey? Disneyland Paris accused of overcharging foreign visitors [Guardian]

Nearly 80% Of Americans Hold Some Form Of Debt, But It Isn’t Always Bad

6 hours 18 min ago
(Alan Cleaver)

(Alan Cleaver)

When most people think of debt, they probably conjure up a vision of consumers struggling to make ends meet after making unwise financial decisions. But that actually isn’t the case for most Americans. In fact, like other things, debt in moderation is actually a good thing.

That’s according to a new report [PDF] from Pew Charitable Trusts that found debt is a routine but complicated aspect of U.S. households’ with nearly 80% of Americans holding at least some form of debt.

The report, titled “The Complex Story of American Debt,” examines how four generations of consumers’ hold debt and their views toward it.

Of the 80% of consumers holding debt, most is connected to mortgages. The median amount of debt for consumers across all generations was $67,900.

Unsurprisingly, the divide in the amount of debt held by consumers finds that middle-aged consumers have the most, while those entering the later stages of life and those just entering adulthood have the least.

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 11.04.49 AMMembers of the silent generation – those born between 1928 and 1945 – hold just $30,000 in total debt, while Gen Xers – those born between 1965 and 1980 – have an average of $103,800 in debt.

Much like consumers indebtedness varies by generation, so do their feelings about debt.

For the most part, a majority of Americans — seven in 10 — view debt as a necessity in their lives, even though they would prefer not to have it.

Similarly, most consumers, about 68%, believe that loans and credit cards have expanded their opportunities by allowing them to make purchases or investments that their income and savings alone could not support.

Still, the report found that debt is more often than not seen as a negative mark in consumers’ lives, with 79% of consumers believing that other people use debt irresponsibly.

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 11.05.45 AMConsumers’ attitudes on debt varied significantly depending on their stage in life. For example, members of the silent generation say that the availability of credit cards and loans afforded them more opportunities, while members of the Millennial generation – those born between 1981 and 1997 – see those products as a potentially harmful to their finances.

“Overall, Gen Xers’ and Millennials’ aversion to debt may reflect their greater debt burdens at an earlier stage in life than previous generations, as well as having experienced the Great Recession when they were just beginning school, entering the workforce, and purchasing their first homes,” the report states.

The report found that each new generation is significantly influenced by the generation before them.

That trend can certainly be seen when it comes to consumers’ debt related to education. It appears that while many consumers say they would change the way they paid for college, they haven’t exactly passed that knowledge to younger generations.

Many Gen Xers that are still paying off their student loans are now gearing up to send their own children to college.

Nearly 93% of Gen X parents say their oldest child will go to college, with about 83% saying they plan to help pay for the costs. However, a majority have only set aside $4,000 in dedicated college savings accounts, believing that their child will receive grants and scholarships to pay for a majority of their college expenses.

“In reality, far fewer students receive grants or scholarships, and more depend on loans,” the report states. “The college-bound teenagers of Gen Xers are poised to take on as much or more debt than their parents.”

Consumers’ financial health and sense of security related to debt also varies depending on age.

For older Americans, lower levels of debt indicate greater financial security, while consumers of working age who have higher amounts of debt have healthier balance sheets, according to the report.

When comparing low- and high-debt retirees, the report found those who paid off their debts earlier in life were more likely to have accumulated more assets and net worth.

As for the younger Americans accumulating more debt – for homes or education purposes – their current financial situation is similar to those of the silent generation who now feel more secure.

Overall, the report suggests that while the long-term effects of debt for young Americans is still to be determined, their financial futures may be on the same path as older generations.

“Sustainable debt can be a positive force for the economic mobility and financial security of young Americans and their families,” the report states.

Hackers Can Now Remotely Attack A Gun, Change Its Target, And Lock The Owner Out

6 hours 41 min ago

(jayRaz)

(Not the gun that was hacked. Photo: jayRaz)


Over the past few years we’ve heard a lot about the smart, connected devices that make up the internet of things. From ceiling fans to cars and cameras, they’re everywhere. Unfortunately, anything that can connect to the internet can be hacked through the internet… and now, it seems, that includes guns.

Wired has reported today on a husband and wife security team that will be presenting their newest hack at a security conference in August. Their project? They’ve spent the last year hacking a pair of sniper rifles.

The TrackingPoint self-aiming rifles come with a fully-computerized, Linux-powered scope that allows the user to designate a target, then set variables like wind, temperature, and ammunition type. When the shooter pulls the trigger, the computer takes over and chooses the specific moment to fire, only activating when the gun is perfectly aimed, Wired explains. The weapon “can allow even a gun novice to reliably hit targets from as far as a mile away.”

That is, as long as nobody’s come along on wifi and stuck their fingers in the gun’s code.

The weapon’s wifi is turned off by default, which is the good news. The bad news is, as soon as it’s turned on, it’s vulnerable. The rifle uses a default password that allows anyone in range to communicate with it. Once connected, a hacker can access the weapon’s APIs to muck around with its targeting application and other features.

(Why does a gun have wifi at all, you may ask? “So you can do things like stream a video of your shot to a laptop or iPad,” Wired explains.)

The researchers demonstrated to Wired the range of control they had remotely over the gun. By assigning new values to variables the scope tracks, they were able to completely change its targets or even to disable the gun entirely. They were also able to interfere with the gun’s security, altering the PIN a user can set to limit others’ access to lock out the owner.

Happily, they were not able to fire the rifle remotely — doing that still requires manually pulling the trigger.

The risks from this particular hack, of this particular rifle, are low. Researchers had to acquire and dismantle one of the rifles in order to discover the full extent of its vulnerabilities. The guns are luxury items that go for $13,000 apiece, Wired reports, and about a thousand have been sold. They are far from the most common firearms being purchased and carried today.

But the potential pitfalls in the category of “smart gun” are something that buyers will have to be keenly aware of going forward. Using technology to increase security features on firearms isn’t itself a bad idea — but providing insecure internet connections opens it up to a whole world of problems.

In the same way that very few people thought about the network security of their cars until last week, very few people are thinking about the default password and exploitable wifi code embedded in firearms today. The problem is larger than one gun, one phone, one printer, one car, or one camera. It’s a whole world of default passwords and poor security that consumers don’t usually even know they need to change.

Hackers Can Disable a Sniper Rifle—Or Change Its Target [Wired]

The Pros & Cons Of Windows 10 Sharing Your WiFi Passwords With Your Contacts

6 hours 47 min ago

(Roland Tanglao)

(Roland Tanglao)

All around the world today, Windows users are updating their operating systems to Windows 10, better known as Microsoft’s attempt to atone for the sins of Windows 8. However, the newest version of Windows has a feature that is either — depending on who you speak to — a huge privacy concern, or maybe not that big a deal.

The feature, dubbed Wi-Fi Sense, shares an encrypted version of a user’s WiFi network password with their Skype, Outlook, and possibly Facebook contacts.

The sharing with Skype and Outlook contact is by default, while the user must opt in to share with Facebook contacts. The contacts never actually see the password, which is stored remotely on a Microsoft server, but if they ever come within reach of your WiFi network, they’ll be able to log on.

If that doesn’t sound like a good idea to you, you’re not alone in thinking so.

Cybersecurity expert and journalist Brian Krebs is skeptical about the safeguards that Microsoft has claimed to build into the Wi-Fi sense.

“The company says your contacts will only be able to share your network access, and that Wi-Fi Sense will block those users from accessing any other shared resources on your network, including computers, file shares or other devices,” he writes. “But these words of assurance probably ring hollow for anyone who’s been paying attention to security trends over the past few years: Given the myriad ways in which social networks and associated applications share and intertwine personal connections and contacts, it’s doubtful that most people are aware of who exactly all of their social network followers really are from one day to the next.”

After all, hackers with a goal are not easily deterred by roadblocks put in their way. Just look at the Home Depot payment terminal breach. The hackers in that case used phishing e-mails to access the credentials of a third-party air-conditioning contractor for the retailer. What’s to stop someone from deceiving a user into adding them to their contacts?

Microsoft’s argument is that Wi-Fi Sense is actually safer than simply giving your friends your WiFi password whenever they come to visit. The idea is that it’s more secure to grant contacts access to the network without ever having to give them the password than it is to explicitly share your password with them.

Once someone has the actual password, it can be shared with others or possibly used to figure out other passwords for websites and services. Microsoft claims that your Wi-Fi Sense contacts have no way to pass your passwords on to others.

Microsoft also says that Wi-Fi Sense will not share passwords for networks secured with authentication protocols like 802.1x EAP, meaning most corporate networks would not be included. But if your business uses a more simple wireless network that’s similar to what you’d find in a typical home environment, Wi-Fi Sense is probably not a good idea.

Over at Forbes.com, Amit Chowdry acknowledged the concerns of Wi-Fi Sense but said he believes the benefits outweigh the risks.

“This feature lets your friends access your Wi-Fi network without having to actually tell them your password. Sometimes people use the same password for their e-mail and Wi-Fi network, which could be a major privacy risk if their friends are nosy,” he writes. “Wi-Fi Sense also makes connecting to your Wi-Fi network less of a hassle if your password is extra long with a variety of letters, numbers and symbols. And Wi-Fi Sense does not actually show your Wi-Fi password at all.”

But that seems to bring up the concern about the fact that all these network passwords are going to be stored by Microsoft. That has to be a tempting target for hackers hoping to access all that information.

“Depending on Microsoft’s infosec protocols, this is either completely fine and dandy, or a potential goldmine for wardriving hackers,” writes Ars Technica’s Sebastian Anthony. “Again, as long as you don’t share the passkey from your workplace’s Wi-Fi network, the potential security risk is low.”

So how do you opt out?

People wanting to avoid having anything to do with Wi-Fi Sense can do two things: Opt out of the feature on Windows 10, and change the name of their wireless router.

The first is the easiest. Simply go to “Change Wi-Fi settings” on your computer, then click “Manage Wi-Fi settings,” where you can turn the feature off.

To keep anyone from using Wi-Fi Sense to access your home network, change the SSID of your network by adding “_optout” to the end. So if your network name is “ChrisIsAwesome,” you’d change it to “ChrisIsAwesome_optout.”

Google Slaps Air Pollution Monitoring Systems On Street View Cars In San Francisco

7 hours 42 min ago
(Matt McGee)

(Matt McGee)

The next time you see a Google Street View car cruising down your block, it might be doing more than just snapping photos — it could be tracking air pollution.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google has teamed up with Aclima, a San Francisco-Based air quality tech company, to equip three Street View cars with air quality monitoring stations.

The cars, which should hit the streets of San Francisco this fall, will collect data on the levels of carbon monoxide, methane, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds polluting the air.

Aclima says that the roving pollution detectors will be able to help researchers and scientists better manage and improve air quality.

While the Environmental Protection Agency already has air quality sensors spread throughout the city, Aclima says the new mobile monitoring capabilities will fill in the gaps where fine-scale changes in pollution levels are often missed.

“The monitoring network is designed for air quality regulation, but does not give a detailed picture of a community or urban area such that people can get a real sense of what air pollution is around their immediate surroundings,” Melissa Lunden, Director of Research for Aclima, says. “Mobile air quality sensing gives us a picture of the variability. It fills in those missing pixels.”

The two companies previously teamed up to run a test of the system in Denver last year, resulting in a dataset that shows when the air quality is best or worst in certain areas of the city.

Pollution tech company equips Google cars to deliver hyper-local air quality data [The Washington Post]

Verizon Makes HBO Now Available To FiOS Customers

8 hours 1 min ago

hbonowverizonSince the spring launch of HBO Now, the streaming service that allows you to get HBO content without having to pay for a cable TV package, New York-based Cablevision was the only pay-TV/broadband provider selling subscriptions directly to its customers. Now the folks at Verizon have seen that there’s money to be made from people who want TV but don’t want cable, and is making HBO Now available for its FiOS and other broadband customers.

Just like the other sellers of HBO Now, Verizon is offering a 30-day free trial, after which the cost is $15/month.

After months of exclusivity on Apple devices, HBO Now recently opened up access to phones and other devices running the Android operating system. But even as the service has expanded its availability, no HBO Now sellers have offered it at a lower price or tried to bundle it together with other products.

Compare that to the recently released Showtime standalone streaming service, which retails of $11/month, but which is being discounted to $9/month on platforms like Hulu and PlayStation Plus.

Verizon says in its announcement that HBO Now will be a part of its upcoming mobile video offering, Go90.

Judge Backtracks On Walmart Shoplifter’s Lifetime Ban From All U.S. Stores

8 hours 16 min ago
(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

Earlier this week a Walmart shoplifter said she likely wouldn’t follow a court order barring her from stepping inside any of the retailer’s thousands of locations. Turns out, that might not have been such a brazen statement after all, as the judge who handed down the lifetime ban clarified that he didn’t really mean to prevent the woman from entering all stores.

NJ.com reports that Mount Olive Municipal Judge Brian Levine revised his ruling, saying that he never intended to include a nationwide ban as part of his sentence for the 64-year-old woman, who admitted to shoplifting $78 worth of vitamins last December.

The original ruling, which included one year of probation, a $268 fine and 15 days of community service, stated that the woman was barred from all Walmart stores in New Jersey or elsewhere.

“In essence what I should have said was that I found as a matter of fact that she did enter into an agreement with Walmart not to go to Walmart in Mount Olive or any other place in New Jersey or the United States,” the judge said. “So to the extent that I sentenced her or ordered her by court order not to go to Walmart in any place … I am vacating that portion of the order.”

A couple of former prosecutors previously shared their doubts on the judge’s ability to actually ban the woman from all Walmart stores in the country, saying the order appeared to be outside the purview of sentencing provisions.

Still, the court order revision doesn’t necessarily mean the woman can step foot in a Walmart again, as she once singed an agreement with the retailer to stay away from stores.

The public defender who represented the woman tells NJ.com that when she signed the agreement with the company she believed it pertained only to one location and not others.

“It’s been explained to [her] that the document is for all Walmart stores, not just for that one,” he said.

Judge: I didn’t mean to ban shoplifter from every Walmart in America [NJ.com]

ATM-Refilling Crew Leaves Bag Of Cash Behind, Then It Disappears

9 hours 8 min ago

(earth2kim)

(earth2kim)

Sure, all humans make mistakes, and sometimes we even make mistakes at work. However, you have to feel really sorry for the ATM company employees in New Jersey who left a bag containing $141,000 outside of a building where they were working…and accidentally left the bag behind. Local police say that the employee responsible for leaving the bag had to be transported to the hospital when he learned that it had been stolen. We hope that he’s okay, but there’s something very weird about this incident.

It turns out that a bag containing $141,000 in tens and twenties isn’t very big, and it doesn’t have a huge dollar sign printed on the side like in cartoons. Police say that the ATM-filling crew was only about seven miles away from the site when they realized that a bag was missing, and someone had already walked off with it.

How does that happen? Did they know what was in the bag? Police don’t know the identity of the person who picked up the bag and Someone driving past in a van noticed the unmarked bag, and was caught on surveillance camera picking it up.

Police are urging the person to come forward, since the rule of “finders keepers” doesn’t really apply to a bag sitting on the lawn on private property. “Anytime you find property that’s discarded on the side of the road, it’s not just fair game for you to pick it up and say, ‘Well, you left it, I found it,'” as a police spokesperson said. Indeed.

Mahwah Police Searching For Van After Man Grabs Bag With $141K Left Behind By ATM Worker [WCBS]

10 Things We Learned About Who Really Made Your Subaru

Tue, 2015-07-28 23:56

(Shawn Toohey)

(Shawn Toohey)

The carmaker Subaru is having a great decade so far: their sales have doubled in the United States and they’re having trouble keeping up with the demand. While that’s great news for Subaru, an in-depth investigation from Reuters shows that Subaru and its suppliers have turned to some questionable but legal labor practices to keep the Foresters coming down the line.

You should check out the entire investigation from Reuters, which includes a diagram of which parts of a Forester come from which suppliers, and video interviews with workers.

  1. Subaru’s sales have doubled in the United States since 2011: its Forester SUV crossover is especially popular here. Its marketing features loving families, cute dogs, and exceptionally long-lasting cars, all with the slightly baffling tagline, “Love. It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru.”
  2. Subaru’s manufacturing center is in the city of Ota, Japan, north of Tokyo. While some vehicles sold in the U.S. are assembled in a plant in Indiana, parts come from Subaru and its suppliers in Ota.
  3. Subaru and its suppliers hire workers from the developing world, some of whom are in Japan to apply for asylum. Reuters talked to workers who came from 22 different countries in Asia and Africa.
  4. Workers also come to Subaru’s suppliers through labor brokers, the same kind used in the clothing and textile industries, and up to a third of their pay goes to the brokers.
  5. Some workers come to Subaru through traineeship programs, where the ostensible goal is for the trainee to learn skills and bring them back to their home country. The problem is that trainees can’t switch employers once they get to Japan, and the United Nations and U.S. State Department say that conditions for trainees can be like forced labor.
  6. Chinese trainees whose pay stubs Reuters reviewed earned about half what a Japanese temp worker would have earned for the same job.
  7. Japan is unique in that it has needs workers but also limits immigration, which is why Subaru apparently depends heavily on guest workers and trainees. Reuters estimates that 30% of the labor force in the plants in Ota are foreigners.
  8. Factories that make parts for Subaru also make parts for other Japanese automakers, including Honda, Toyota, and Nissan.
  9. Subaru makes about 80% of its cars in Japan, and its increase in sales coincided with a change to the law that lets foreigners seeking asylum work on renewable six-month permits.
  10. Subaru says that its suppliers must obey the law in their hiring and treatment of their workers, and that the company isn’t equipped to check the labor practices of all of its suppliers.

Subaru’s secret: Marginalized foreign workers power a Japanese export boom [Reuters]

Bill Would Allow Consumers To Sue When Bankrupt Debt Isn’t Removed From Credit Reports

Tue, 2015-07-28 23:02
(Chris Blakeley)

(Chris Blakeley)

Under federal law, when someone erases a debt in bankruptcy, their bank is required to update their credit reports to indicate the debt is no longer owed. To ensure this happens, legislators have introduced a new bill that would give credit card borrowers with inaccurate credit reports the power to sue their bank or a third-party debt buyer for damages if they continue to send so-called zombie debt to credit reporting agencies.

The Consumer Reporting Fairness Act of 2015 — introduced by Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown — aims to make it easier for consumers who discharge credit card debt through bankruptcy to fix errors and obtain accurate credit reports.

Under the bill [PDF], creditors and debt collection agencies would be required to notify credit reporting agencies (CRAs) when a consumer’s debt is canceled by bankruptcy. If notification doesn’t occur and reports continue to include inaccuracies, consumers could then sue for damages and fees.

As the Wall Street Journal points out the proposed bill would clear up confusion when it comes to large banks selling debt to third-party debt collectors, as current laws do not provide an explicit requirement that these entities notify credit reporting firms of a debt’s discharged status.

Brown contends that debts prior to bankruptcy may be double counted, further marring consumers’ credit reports.

The proposed bill comes at a time after several consumers filed lawsuits accusing banks of letting endangering their financial status by leaving discharged debt on their credit reports, the WSJ reports.

In some cases, the borrowers say the inaccurate data made it more difficult to obtain a job, find an apartment or acquire lines of credit, because the mark was seen as a “delinquent debt” on their credit report, the WSJ reports.

These issues were only magnified because in some instanced the original creditor sold the debt to a third-party debt collector.

Such was the case for Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, which agreed in May to remove debt consumers eliminated during bankruptcy proceedings from their credit reports to resolve several consumer lawsuits.

The financial companies allegedly ignored the discharges in order to make money by selling off the debt to collectors, who then refused to correct issues unless borrowers paid the debts that were already cleared.

More recently, JPMorgan Chase agreed to pay $136 million and revamp its debt sales after state and federal authorities found the company sold zombie debts to third-party buyers — those debts included accounts that were inaccurate.

Federal Lawmakers Propose Credit Reporting Changes [The Wall Street Journal]

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