website utilities

People before Profit

Follow alonovo.com on:

The Consumerist

Sprint Reportedly Offers $32 Billion To Buy T-Mobile

Thu, 2014-06-05 18:05

sprint tmobileThree years after T-Mobile was left at the altar by AT&T, the wireless company looks to have another suitor – Sprint Corp. According to a report by Reuters, company insiders say Sprint has agreed to pay $40 per share, or $32 billion, for T-Mobile.

If the deal, which still must gain the approval of U.S. regulators, goes through it would combine the third- and fourth-largest U.S. mobile network operators and create a formidable opponent for Verizon Wireless and AT&T.

Gaining the approval of the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice may be difficult for the two companies. Analysts tell Reuters that the agencies have expressed a desire to have at least two network operators competing against Verizon and AT&T.

The companies need to iron out a number of issues before the deal can move forward, including agreeing on an executive to run the combined company and settling on a termination fee if the proposed deal goes south.

According to Bloomberg, T-Mobile CEO John Legere is the leading candidate for the top spot, while Sprint CEO Dan Hesse has expressed that not being at the head of the table wouldn’t bother him.

Officials close to the deal tell Bloomberg that Japanese telecom giant SoftBank Corp., which owns 80% of Sprint, is seeking a $1 billion termination fee, while Deutsche Telekom, which owns 67% of T-Mobile is seeking closer to $3 billion.

Securing a high termination fee would be one way T-Mobile could protect itself if the deal takes the same unsuccessful path as the 2011 proposed AT&T merger.

In that failed deal, AT&T agreed to buy T-Mobile for $39 billion. However, AT&T withdrew from the deal after the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust called for regulators to block the merger, because it “because the deal would “likely cause substantial harm to competition and consumers.” And the FCC and DOJ did just that, saying they would both fight the merger.

This past January, the DOJ’s antitrust chief said the decision to block the merger in 2011 has only helped wireless customers, “competition in the wireless sector has flourished and consumers have benefitted.”

So, would the new proposed deal between Sprint and T-Mobile only serve to reverse the progress the DOJ touted? It’s a likely possibility.

Back in February, Consumerist broke down just why a merger between the two wireless companies might be logical but still bad for consumers.

T-Mobile and Sprint networks are not compatible, meaning that customers with single-band phones would not enjoy the benefits of a combined network, and that the company would need to spend even more to make this change.

So for any merger between the two companies would need to offer deep discounts and make large capital improvements in its network to be successful.

However, just last month Sprint chairman Masayoshi Son gave a speech that implied regulators should be happy to bless such a merger between the two companies, because it would mean valid competition for internet-controlling Comcast should that company acquire Time Warner Cable.

If Sprint does buy T-Mobile, the company would have more reach and resources with which to improve its network. However, that still wouldn’t be enough leverage to make mobile data a meaningful replacement solution for most consumers, since mobile broadband is known to be inconsistent and too slow for a reliable replacement.

Bloomberg reports that a deal could be announced in June or July.

Sprint, T-Mobile Said Near Price, Termination Fee Accord [Bloomberg]

Sprint agrees to pay about $32 billion to buy T-Mobile: source [Reuters]

Beastie Boys Want $2M From Monster For Copyright Infringement, Unauthorized Use Of Band’s Coolness

Thu, 2014-06-05 18:00

(sacco1989)

(sacco1989)

Listen, when someone’s got their own cool, it’s very bad manners to try to use some of that cool without asking permission first. Because clearly, we all own our personal coolness. Or at least we should, and that’s part of the reason the Beastie Boys are asking for $2 million from Monster for trying to benefit from that without permission.

The Beasties have been in court since last week claiming that Monster’s use of their music in its promotional materials constitutes copyright infringement, which they’ve now put a price tag on, reports Reuters. The band filed its lawsuit against Monster back in 2012.

The band’s lawyer said in closing arguments yesterday that the unauthorized use of the music in the 2012 video was “absolutely egregious,” and that Monster had hoped to benefit from how “cool” the band had become without their permission.

“They didn’t care if their employees were stealing from the Beastie Boys,” he said.

Monster has admitted infringement, but has claimed that it was all a big mistake, because an employee thought the company had permission to use the music. Ah, the old “It wasn’t me” defense.

despite that, Monster says the $2 million in damages and the argument that Monster made it seem like the Beastie Boys endorsed its drink were “contrary to common sense.”

“The plaintiffs try to take the undisputed evidence and spin some tale of an insidious corporate conspiracy,” Monster’s lawyer said, asking for jurors to hand down no more than $125,000 in damages.

This “theft of coolness” idea is surely going to set some kind of legal precedent, right? Because I’ve got some people on my list. You know who you are.

Beastie Boys seek $2 million from Monster for copyright infringement [Reuters]

Stephen Colbert Upset That Stephen Colbert Books Are Hard To Buy On Amazon

Thu, 2014-06-05 17:57

TV personality Stephen Colbert usually prides himself on unbiased reporting and sticking to the facts (at least the ones that matter to him), but now he’s taken the rare step of putting himself in the middle of the fight between Amazon and publishing biggie Hachette Book Group… mostly because it means his books sales are being affected.

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,The Colbert Report on Facebook,Video Archive

On last night’s show, Colbert said that he generally loves Amazon — “The only place you can get shopping done in your underwear, at least since they closed Circuit City” — but that he’s now “Mad Prime” because the ongoing battle between the e-commerce giant and Hachette means that his books are unavailable or delayed.

“I just found out they are deterring customers from buying books by Stephen Colbert, and as any longtime viewer of this show knows, that’s me,” he explained.

“This is a big blow to my bottom line, because Amazon controls around 50% of all book sales — that’s right: 30 books a year!”

He also described the three-to-four week delays for shipments on many Hachette titles as “cruel.”

“If you ordered Hachette’s 21-Day Weight Loss, by the time it arrives, you’re still fat,” said Colbert.

As for Amazon’s suggestion to readers that they buy used books from the site’s third-party sellers, Colbert point out that this doesn’t do him any good because he gets no royalties from the sale of used books.

“Plus, you don’t want them,” he said. “Used books are the sluts of the literary world. Passed around from person to person, spreading their pages for anyone, getting cheaper and cheaper until eventually they end up in prison.”

Colbert also packed up a special parcel he’s sending to Amazon on behalf of himself, fellow Hachette authors JK Rowling and Malcolm “Explaino The Clown” Gladwell — containing two of his protruding middle fingers.

Actor Behind One Of Kia’s Dancing Hamsters Accused Of Working While Collecting Disability Payments

Thu, 2014-06-05 17:00

The alleged hamster scammer. Scamster?

The alleged hamster scammer. Scamster?

For the state of California, a man dancing around with the head of a hamster in a Kia commercial is an unbelievable thing. Not because hamsters don’t drive cars or have the bodies of humans, but because if you’re claiming disability pay, you shouldn’t be able to be a dancing hamster and get paid for it.

The California Department of Insurance has accused one of the dancing hamster actors from those car commercials with fraud, claiming he was paid for work — including shooting at least one of those commercials — while he was collecting disability payments, reports the Los Angeles Times.

He also allegedly worked as backup dancer for various pop stars while raking in state workers’ compensation benefits, a spokeswoman for the agency said.

Back in June 2010 the hamster man said he was hit and hurt by a piece of ceiling that fell on him while he was dancing for a theatrical production company, and collected $51,000 over a year period as a result.

And there’s the rub — if you’re injured and collecting money for it, dancing like a hamster is out of the question. If you’re getting paid for it, of course.

“Fraudulently collecting disability benefits is not only illegal, it disrespects legitimately injured Californians who are unable to work,” said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.

It’s unclear how his partner in hamster dancing feels about the situation.

Kia dancing hamster accused of disability fraud [Los Angeles Times]

Spammers Take Advantage Of eBay Breach, Invade Etsy

Thu, 2014-06-05 16:48
(Dev.Arka)

(Dev.Arka)

When the usernames and passwords of a big, popular site like eBay are compromised, consequences can spread beyond the original site that was attacked. It’s possible that users of selling platforms Etsy and eBay use the same usernames and passwords on both sites, since security staff at Etsy say that they’ve noticed an uptick in spam and account hijackings since the recent eBay breach.

As far as the company knows, the main problem with hijacked accounts has been spammy messages sent to random users through Etsy’s internal messaging or “conversation” system. I received a series of these and flagged them as suspect immediately: on a site for handmade items, craft supplies, and vintage items, usually people don’t send ten links to the same weight loss supplement within a few minutes. Usually.

“We recognize that some Etsy members use the same usernames and passwords across multiple sites, and that they may have been victims of the recent attacks aimed at other websites,” Etsy explains in a blog post. “We currently believe that the uptick in convo spam that we are seeing is a direct result of usernames and passwords stolen in other attacks being used to sign in to some Etsy members’ accounts.”

Etsy’s advice to users is pretty much the same as every other site’s advice to us, before a breach or after one. Change your other passwords after a site that you use is breached. Use two-factor authentication when it’s available. Use complex passwords. Don’t use the same password on every site. Don’t click directly on links in messages from people you don’t recognize.

Security Update: Protecting Your Etsy Account [Etsy] (via eCommerceBytes)

New York City Back In Court Trying To Reinstate Ban On Big Sodas

Thu, 2014-06-05 16:01

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

It seems like only yesterday that New Yorkers were living under the unsweetened thumb of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, because although there’s a new mayor in town, the old fight over restricting the sizes of soda and other sugary drinks continues onward.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has taken up the Bloomie torch and yesterday urged New York’s highest court in Albany to reinstate the proposed ban on large sugary drinks (in servings over 16 ounces) served in restaurants and other public venues.

Bloomberg and gang pledged to continue the fight last October and yesterday de Blasio renewed that fight, saying he hopes the court will respect the city’s authority and expertise when it comes to fighting obesity, reports the Wall Street Journal.

“The city’s proposal to cap the size of sugary drinks responds to the alarming obesity and diabetes crisis” affecting the city’s minority groups, he said.

It sounds like it’s still anybody’s fight, with six of the seven judges asking both sides plenty of questions over 40 minutes, while one judge recused herself.

“Couldn’t you ban hamburgers altogether from New York City?” Jonthan Lippman, the court’s chief judge, asked.

The chief of the appeals division for the city said that slippery slope situation is hypothetical, but finally replied that the city would “take an appropriate step” if there was scientific evidence to back such a thing.

“Where do you draw the line?” Judge Lippman asked.

He replied that the proposed ban doesn’t outright do away with sugary drinks but instead is just about portion control. The smaller size is like “a warning label,” he said. “It’s designed to prompt a conscious choice by the consumer.”

The chief judge then took to questioning the opponents’ legal counsel, asking: “Why isn’t this within the scope of their power and why isn’t it reasonable?”

That attorney said laws like this should come from elected officials and not an appointed panel like the NYC Board of Health.

“What we didn’t have was the will of the people,” he said. “They can’t tell us how many cheeseburgers or French fries we can have,” he said.

It should take about four to six weeks for a decision to come down, but that timetable is just what typically happens. We could still be hearing about this ban for a good chunk of time… again.

New York City Soda-Ban Fate Weighed [Wall Street Journal]

GM Admits Incompetence In Ignition Debacle, Denies Cover-Up

Thu, 2014-06-05 15:42

GM CEO Mary Barra testifying before Congress earlier this year.

GM CEO Mary Barra testifying before Congress earlier this year.

This morning, General Motors CEO Mary Barra discussed the findings of the car maker’s internal report on an ignition switch defect that went without a recall for more than a decade and has resulted in at least 13 deaths. The company’s findings claim that while GM screwed up big-time, there was no attempt by executives to cover the problem up.

In a speech before GM employees at the company’s Tech Center in Warren, MI, on Thursday morning, Barra described the investigator’s report as “brutally tough” and “troubling” and confessed that there was a fundamental failure to meet customers’ needs.

Barra, who had been with GM for three decades before being elevated to the CEO position earlier this year, said that there were certain employees involved who exhibited a “pattern of incompetence and neglect” by failing to disclose relevant information, allowing the defect to go without a recall even after it was fixed in 2007.

“Experienced engineers, with responsibility for safety, didn’t understand that the airbags would not deploy if the ignition switch changed position,” said Barra.

However, the report claims that there was no conspiracy or cover-up orchestrated by GM executives that kept the recall of millions of vehicles from happening. Barra says that those with knowledge of the defect and the subsequent botched fix — which failed to update the part number, resulting in safe and defective ignition switches commingling in the GM inventory — made no effort to alert top GM officials of the problem.

As a result, 15 people have been fired from the car company.

“Some were removed because of what we consider misconduct or incompetence,” explained Barra. “Others have been relieved because they simply didn’t do enough: They didn’t take responsibility; didn’t act with any sense of urgency.”

Five other employees have been disciplined but not fired for their role in the debacle.

“With these moves, I feel we have addressed the personnel issues in this matter,” said the CEO.

The car company is launching a compensation program for those who were injured — and the families of those killed — in the crashes tied to the ignition defect. More details on that here.

“This is not just another business crisis for GM,” admitted Barra. “We aren’t simply going to fix this and move on. We are going to fix the failures in our system – that I promise… And we are going to do the right thing for the affected parties.”

Things At Fab.com Are Not So Fab Lately

Wed, 2014-06-04 23:57

lilfabFab.com began its existence as a social networking site for gay men, but evolved into a a curated flash sale site for home goods, art, and accessories. There just aren’t as many cut-rate luxury goods around as there used to be, though, and the company has culled off 70% of its employees. Now some customers report that no one is picking up the phone.

Customer service is important when you’re in the selling-things-to-customers business, which is why it’s notable that Fab has stopped answering calls to customer service, though they are still answering e-mails. Our semi-estranged former sibling publication Valleywag has declared that the company will probably die sometime this year.

“We are testing different service level models, alongside merchandising and pricing strategies,” a spokesperson told Code/Red. It looks like the flash-sale trend is over, with only Woot and Zulily surviving. Maybe Fab could go back to that social network thing.

We’re all haters, though. Hateful purveyors of nonsense rumors. Fab’s CEO counters that the company is not doomed, and things are just awesome with the company.

Bullshit hateful rumors of @fab shutting down are just that. Bullshit hate. We’ve got years of money & a sound plan. Proof in time.—
Jason Goldberg (@betashop) June 04, 2014

Yes, because non-doomed companies shut down their entire customer service phone operation all the time. Fab has invested in designing and manufacturing its own furniture: it’s possible that $150 beanbag chairs will be Fab’s salvation after all.

Fab.com Is Probably Dead This Year [Valleywag]
Code/red: Fab Operators No Longer Standing By [Re/Code]

Oh Look, A Countertop Ice Cream Sandwich Machine

Wed, 2014-06-04 23:23

Here at Consumerist, we enjoy bringing you the very latest in useless appliances that are glorified toasters or waffle makers. Cupcakes? Pies? Dog treats? Pretzels? Hot dogs? If you’re really into any of these products, you can find a dedicated electric countertop cooker for them. Should you? We don’t know, but now there’s an electric ice cream sandwich maker that you can set on your counter as well.

ice_cream_sandwich_maker_1

If you’re so into ice cream sandwiches that you need a dedicated appliance for them, we are somewhat concerned on your behalf. Come to think of it, this monotasker makes even less sense than the pretzel machine or the cake pop machine, since you still have to go to the effort of combining the cookies and the ice cream into a sandwich-like object.

We must be wrong, though, because Amazon reviews for this product declare it to be “great for kids.”

Nostalgia Electrics ICS-100 Electric Ice Cream Sandwich Maker [Amazon]
ATTENTION: This is a Real-Life Ice Cream Sandwich Maker [Foodbeast]

Mexican Restaurant’s Alcohol Menu Divided By Gender Because Obviously Ladies Like Weak, Sweet Drinks

Wed, 2014-06-04 23:06

Not drinks from the restaurant. Just sort of ladylike? (Karen_Chappell)

Not drinks from the restaurant. Just sort of ladylike? (Karen_Chappell)

While there’s no reason you can’t order whatever you want off a given menu — unless you are trying to order a kids’ meal and aren’t an actual child, in which case you could run into some issues — one Brooklyn Mexican restaurant has a helpful guide for those who might not know which part of the menu you should be looking at. Namely, there are the drink categories “For Everyone,” “For Kids,” “For Men” and “For Ladies.”

Yes, a cocktail menu organized by gender, as DNAInfo reports (h/t Eater), because as everyone wearing their sarcasm hat knows, women don’t like overly boozy drinks. Also, sweet stuff!

Ladies, you’ll pay less for your “light alcohol” drinks with wine and Alize (16-20% alcohol, respectively) at $7 a pop, while those hard-swilling menfolk will have to reach deep and plunk down $10 for their Tequilla Cadillacs with 80 proof Grand Marnier.

Now before everyone gets totally cranky about what would appear to be a blatant stereotype (wait — is it too late for that?), the manager says it’s just supposed to be funny.

“The idea was to make people laugh,” he explained. “People get excited about the menu and have fun with it.”

But the bartender adds that the inspiration for the categories comes from his experience with the fairer sex, who are incredibly dainty and get all kinds of giggly after even just a sip of that devil water, I do declare.

Where was I? Yes, the bartender: “A lot of times ladies don’t like to have the strong stuff so this menu is for them,” he said. “The drinks for women are sweeter with less alcohol.”

Apparently your gender won’t dictate whether or not you like mojitos and Mai Tais, because those have a spot in the “For Everyone.”

But again, “Anyone can order anything,” the bartender explained. Thank goodness.

Is it hot in here or is my sarcasm hat just a bit too thick for this warm June weather we’ve been having?

Brooklyn Restaurant Has Separate, Less Boozy Drinks Menu ‘For Ladies’ [DNAInfo]

Amazon Teaser Video Is Either Selling 3D Phone Or Amazing Sex Toy

Wed, 2014-06-04 22:35

Amazon is trying — perhaps a little too hard — to interest consumers in the mysterious device it will unveil later this month. It’s probably a 3D smartphone, but if you just listen to the things said in the video, your mind might wander to less family-friendly notions.

In the above video, handsome millennials stare crotchward — sometimes while swiveling their torsos — and exclaim:

“Oh whoa!”

“It moved with me!”

“It’s very real life and uncomparable (sic) to anything I’ve seen”

“That’s pretty damn intuitive”

“I would use that a lot”

“Do I have to give this back?”

And our favorite reaction:

“Huh.”

Here are some outtakes from the teaser ad that we unearthed…

Magic Car Scratch Repair Pens Aren’t So Magical After All

Wed, 2014-06-04 22:30

scratchyCar-scratch repair pens are not magic. They might help you patch up light scratches on your car, sure, but they aren’t magic. What our gently buffed colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports discovered when they tested some popular pens advertised for quick scratch repair. One problem with the products: a paint with no color can’t replace colored paint that has been scratched away.

That’s not a problem when you just have a fine scratch on the clear coat of your vehicle. That’s the kind of damage that pens like the DuPont Pro Fusion Color or the Turtle Wax Scratch Repair Pen are supposed to fix. The problem, CR notes, is that the pens are advertised as working on “all colors” of car paint, and you can’t blame consumers who don’t know better for assuming that this means it will fix all scratches. Even scratches that go down below the colored pain.

Once a scratch is severe enough, you’ll be stuck patching up the paint, adding your own clear coat, and then sanding it down to a smooth finish. Or you could just leave it. Spending $10 or so on one of these pens when it isn’t going to cover the real damage to the paint, though, isn’t worth your time.

Car scratch repair pens [Consumer Reports]

Data Geniuses Will Find The Perfect House Before You Can

Wed, 2014-06-04 21:46

(Dealloc.me)

(Dealloc.me)

There are some people out there who are just better at certain things than you are, which is why one couple is going to find the completely perfect house that suits each and every one of their needs. Because they managed to manipulate data and bend it to that exact purpose, and the rest of us probably don’t know how to do that.

When Justin and his wife first moved to Portland, OR, he writes on his blog (h/t FlowingData.com), they had everything a childless couple might need — access to the grocery store, living in the “center of it all” and being nearby transit to get around their new home.

But seven years and one kid later, the couple needed something new from a home, including an actual house instead of an apartment, with outdoor space for their kid to play and be generally loud and kid-like. Many real estate listings he checked didn’t have that kind of information. So how’s a person supposed to find that in a city like Portland without paying astronomical prices?

The answer, as it turns out, is by figuring out how to use open data to your own advantage, for which you’ll need considerable knowledge to get worthwhile results.

He started by using a simple list of criteria for the location where he’d want to live, and work in other factors after he’d narrowed down Portland to “target zones” that met those requirements. The two he started with — walking distance to a grocery store and a rail stop.

Here’s where it gets into the meat of the data manipulation, using three open data sets: Open Streetmap polygons, Trimet rail stops and Portland building footprint.

I won’t claim to understand a lot (or most… okay all) of the technical language involved in the next steps of the process where he makes his own database so you should really check it out for yourself if you’re interested, but the fact remains that he was able to come up with a map that will probably let him find his perfect house before all the rest of you Portlandians can get it.

Finding the perfect house using open data [Dealloc.me]

GSK To Pay $105 Million To Settle Advair, Paxil, Wellbutrin Disputes

Wed, 2014-06-04 21:42

(Fujoshi Bijou)

(Fujoshi Bijou)

Drug biggie GlaxoSmithKline has been slapped with another huge settlement for its questionable marketing tactics. This time, the pharma company has agreed to pay $105 million to resolve claims made by attorneys general from 45 states regarding the selling of asthma drug Advair and antidepressants Paxil and Wellbutrin.

The states had accused GSK of illegally marketing these drugs for off-label uses and misrepresenting their qualities.

For example, Advair was allegedly marketed to people suffering from mild asthma in spite of the fact that the FDA has not approved it for that use. Likewise the FDA had not approved claims that Paxil and Wellbutrin are safe and effective for children and teens, but that apparently didn’t stop GSK from pushing it that way.

Additionally, the company allegedly paid its sales reps incentives for promoting these off-label uses.

In addition to paying the $105 million to the 45 states involved, GSK must continue its Patient First Program — which reduces financial incentives for sales reps to engage in improper marketing — through March 2019.

The five states that won’t share in the pot of Paxil gold are Alaska, Louisiana, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia.

Late last year, GSK announced that it would stop the longstanding practice of paying doctors to prescribe its drugs over competitors’ medications.

GSK has already paid $90 million to a group of states for its marketing of Avandia. Shortly before that, the company was slapped with a massive $3 billion settlement to settle federal fraud investigations.

Need A Home Cooling Solution That Can Outsmart You? Try This Big Ass Robotic Ceiling Fan.

Wed, 2014-06-04 21:10

Big Ass robotic self-managing ceiling fan, via the company's product listing.

Big Ass robotic self-managing ceiling fan, via the company’s product listing.


The future is slowly becoming something out of a Ray Bradbury story, as houses and everything in them get more interconnected. Devices become “smart,” able to foresee your needs and accommodate them before you even knew you needed a thing. But it’s not all self-driving Google cars and iPad-ready smoke detectors. New to the fray? A big ass ceiling fan that takes care of your room for you… whether you tell it to do so or not.

The description is literal; the company is, in fact, called Big Ass Fans. And, as GigaOm reports, their new home product is, well, basically a robot.

Robots, GigaOm explains, are devices that can make autonomous decisions. So a homeowner setting a thermostat to cool the house to 74 degrees at 8 a.m. is just telling a program to run, but a cooling system that, unprompted, analyzes the time of day, sunlight, indoor and outdoor temperatures, and decides to set the house to 74 degrees is robotic.

That’s what the Big Ass fans are supposed to do. As you use it more and more, it “learns” what you like and then starts pre-emptively acting accordingly. Do you tend to get cold and turn the fans off at a certain temperature or time of day? In theory, this fan will start doing that for you.

Company CEO Carey Smith told GigaOm that sure, a user can use the related app and “teach” the fan to do certain things. But, Smith added, that’s not really what it’s about — nor, he thinks, what people really want.

“We don’t think in general you want to play around with apps,” Smith told GigaOm. “And we think that 100 years from now people will think it’s amusing that you even ever thought about these things. It’s a waste of personal energy to have to think about that.”

Of course, robot brains aren’t cheap. A standard home ceiling fan tends to run somewhere in the $35 – $300 range. So how does the Big Ass fan compare?

At launch, the lineup of robot fans will start at $895, Smith told GigaOm. Ouch. The future where our rooms will predictively self-cool may be coming, but given the price tag, most folks will probably choose to take a few seconds to flick a switch for some years yet.

Big Ass Fans’ new ceiling fan is really a robot [GigaOm]

Before You Eat That, Check The FDA Flickr Account For Warnings About Recalled Products

Wed, 2014-06-04 20:50

(FDA Flickr)

(FDA Flickr)

With this that and the other thing getting recalled on what feels like a daily basis, maybe you feel like you don’t have the time to stay abreast of what foods aren’t safe to eat. That’s why the Food and Drug Administration has started its very own Flickr account to alert consumers when products are recalled. The more you know, the less you end up clinging to the bathroom floor for deal life in extreme gastrointestinal distress. H/T to The Verge [FDA Recalled Products 2014 on Flickr]

Netflix Tests Passive-Aggressive Buffering Messages To Call Out Slow ISPs

Wed, 2014-06-04 20:33

verizonfuWhen your streaming video of Charles In Charge comes in pixelated and is regularly interrupted by pauses for buffering, is it the streaming service or your ISP? New messages being tested by Netflix attempt to point the finger straight at the other guy.

Vox Media’s Yuri Victor Tweeted the above screengrab of his Netflix feed, complete with a message that “The Verizon network is crowded right now,” a not-at-all-subtle jab at Verizon, which has spent the better part of a year allowing Netflix data to bottleneck before reaching the end-user.

To which Netflix’s Jonathan Friedland replied, “we’re always testing new ways to keep members informed.”

Starting last summer, downstream speeds for Netflix customers began to slow for users with Internet service from Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T; going from acceptable to barely functional as these companies refused to open up more connections at the points where Netflix’s bandwidth providers — the ones who do the actual heavy lifting of carrying the streams from the servers toward the users — meet the ISPs’ networks, which only carry that data for the last mile to the end-user.

netflixmay

Comcast was the first to agree to a paid-peering deal with Netflix, allowing the streaming video company more direct access to its network for an undisclosed amount of money. The improvements in speed were almost instantaneous, though Netflix has continued to gripe about these arrangement and has called on the FCC to consider the issue of peering and interconnectivity in its discussion of net neutrality.

Then at the end of April, Netflix and Verizon came to a similar accord. It’s too soon to say whether the rebound in speeds will be as immediate, but the decision to employ this finger-pointing messaging makes one wonder how well these two are getting along.

Is Yelp Holding Positive Reviews Hostage When Restaurants Don’t Advertise?

Wed, 2014-06-04 20:16

(jdong)

(jdong)

For more than five years now, we’ve reported on business owners’ allegations that review site Yelp makes shakedown calls, threatening to hide negative reviews if businesses pay up for advertising, and promising to hide positive ones if they do. A Toronto restaurant is just the latest business to make such claims, and took the allegations to that city’s subreddit.

(jdong)

(jdong)

No one has ever produced credible proof that these calls have occurred. (Consumerist’s idea: someone start a fake restaurant called “The Honey Pot” and wait for Yelp to call with a tape recorder hooked to the phone 24/7.) Plenty of business owners have filed lawsuits and complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, but there’s still no evidence that such phone calls are really happening.

Reporting on the case, The Daily Dot went straight to the source: they asked Yelp about the Toronto restaurant owner’s allegations. Some of the hidden positive reviews for that restaurant, a Yelp spokesperson explained,
In an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit last year, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said that sales staff do not have the power to filter reviews in order to win sales–that’s only up to the all-powerful algorithm.

There has never been any amount of money you could pay us to manipulate reviews. We do have an algorithm that highlights the most useful and reliable reviews on our site which is about 75% of contributed content. I started Yelp to solve my own need of finding a great doctor, obviously we needed to protect consumer against fake reviews and spam to make sure the site is actually helpful (anyone remember CitySearch?). That’s why we pioneered the development of a review filter, a technology that other competitors like Google have since tried to mimic.

Yelp claims that this is why they can’t give many details of how their algorithm works: competitors want to steal it.

New York’s Attorney General did find that 19 companies in that state had posted or hired outsiders to post positive reviews for their own businesses, but, again, that doesn’t implicate Yelp.

Yelp defends itself against angry Reddit mob [Daily Dot]

You Could Be The Person Who Builds Sarcasm Detection Software For The Secret Service… No, Really

Wed, 2014-06-04 20:08

(vincentverdult)

(vincentverdult)

You might want to sit down because we’ve come across a bit of shocking news: It seems the United States Secret Service needs help understanding sarcasm in social media. I know, we’re all shocked as well. But as laid out in a request for proposal from the agency, it’s looking for someone to build sarcasm detection software. Or as I shall call it, SSSS (Secret Service Sarcasm Software).

In an RFP posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website (h/t to NextGov.com), the agency outlines exactly what it’s looking for and it sounds like a really easy, totally obtainable goal*.

The tool will ideally collect things from the emotions of Internet users to old Twitter messages, with functions including “sentiment analysis,” “influencer identification,” “access to historical Twitter data,” “ability to detect sarcasm,” and “heat maps” or graphics showing user trends by color intensity.

Basically, the Secret Service would love it if someone would explain the Internet so it doesn’t go around arresting sarcastic people with itchy social media trigger fingers.

Another thing that sounds a bit weird? The software will have the “functionality to send notifications to users.”

Because that wouldn’t freak someone out to get a popup window from the Secret Service just being like, “Hey, did you mean that like, for real? Or are you being sarcastic? Thanks, juuust checking in!”

*THAT WAS A TEST, Secret Service.

Computer Based Annual Social Media Analytics Subscription [FBO.gov]
SECRET SERVICE SOFTWARE WILL ‘DETECT SARCASM’ IN SOCIAL MEDIA USERS [NextGov.com]

This Is One Of The Scammiest Payday Loans We’ve Ever Seen

Wed, 2014-06-04 19:57

paydaytilaMany payday loans have confusing terms and questionable fees that end up costing the borrower a lot more than they’d planned on when they took out the short-term loan. But it’s mind-boggling how one predatory lender managed to squeeze money from borrowers through an automatic opt-in renewal program that turns a $300 loan into $975 worth of payments in only a few months.

In a U.S. District Court order [PDF] in a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit against payday lender AMG Services, there is an example of how the company deceives borrowers — many of whom have little to no experience with the fine print involved in financial transactions — into believing they can easily repay the loan in one payment, when they are actually being opted into an auto-renewal program that will cost them several times the amount of the original loan.

At the top of this post is the Truth In Lending Act info from an AMG payday loan for $300. What’s presented in the large boxes seems to indicate that the borrower will have to pay a $90 fee for a short-term $300 loan. That’s a supersized chunk of a fee, but it’s not outside the norm for payday lenders.

But then, in the fine print underneath those boxes, it reads:

“Your Payment Schedule will be: 1 payment of $390.00 due on 2010-09-24, if you decline* the option of renewing your loan. If your pay date falls on a weekend or holiday and you have direct deposit, your account will be debited on the business day prior to your normal pay date. If renewal is accepted you will pay the finance charge of $90.00 only, on 2010-09-24. You will accrue new finance charges with every renewal of your loan. On the due date resulting from a fourth renewal and every renewal due date thereafter, your loan must be paid down by $50.00. This means your Account will be debited the finance charge plus $50.00 on the due date. This will continue until your loan is paid in full. *To decline this option of renewal, you must select your payment options using the Account Summary link sent to your email at least three business days before your loan is due.”

To break that block of text down, this says your payment schedule is the single payment, but only if you opt out of the renewal program. Otherwise, you will start making $90 weekly payments for four weeks, none of which will go to pay down the loan balance. After the four payments, you then have to start paying an additional $50 that finally goes against the principal.

As the below chart shows, within 10 weeks, a $300 loan results in a total of $975 of payments, more than three times the amount originally borrowed:

paydaytable

The District Court judge in this case recently agreed with an earlier magistrate court ruling that AMG’s disclosures were misleading and deceptive.

Additionally, internal AMG documents obtained by the FTC show that employees were instructed to not make it clear to borrowers that they were being automatically added to the renewal program.

After a sales rep expressed concern that the language of the loans was not clear to borrowers, a training manager responded that this was on purpose.

“When we are trying to sell it I think we should leave out terms like renew and pay down,” reads the e-mail presented in the FTC case. “We don’t want to complicate things if we are trying to get them to get a loan. I have heard many times customers ask to withdraw the loan after the explanation and I believe that a lot of it has to do with the way it is explained.”

The judge wrote that these records indicate that “employees were instructed to conceal how the loan repayment plans worked in order to keep potential borrowers in the dark.”

AMG has been in a legal battle with the FTC for two years, when it tried to block a 2012 lawsuit filed by the regulators by claiming tribal affiliation.

In March of this year, the court shot down that notion, ruling that lenders can not shield themselves from U.S. law merely by operating from a base on tribal lands.

Pages