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The Consumerist

Evidence Shows That Nearly All U.S. Home Depots May Have Been Hit By Data Breach

Wed, 2014-09-03 20:35

(Steve)

(Steve)

While Home Depot has yet to confirm or deny whether it was indeed hit by a massive breach of its payment system, a look at the data for a huge batch of stolen credit cards that recently went up for sale on the black market seems to indicate that the hack could have hit nearly all Home Depot stores in the U.S.

Cybersecurity reporter Brian Krebs, who first broke the news of a possible Home Depot breach, has since looked at the location info (city, state, ZIP code) available for this cache of stolen card numbers and compared them to a list of address info for Home Depot stores.

“A comparison of the ZIP code data between the unique ZIPs represented on [the black market site], and those of the Home Depot stores shows a staggering 99.4 percent overlap,” writes Krebs.

To make sure that this wasn’t just a coincidence — after all, Home Depot is a national chain — he then spoke with Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute and at the University California, Berkeley, who explained that, “A 99+ percent overlap in ZIP codes strongly suggests that this source is from Home Depot.”

Of the approximately 2,200 Home Depot stores in the U.S., Krebs only found 127 who were not represented in the ZIP code data. However, since the cards for sale likely only represent a fraction of the total number that were stolen, it’s possible those stores were hit but were just not included in this batch.

For those that want to test his work, Krebs is making the source data available. Here are the ZIP codes for the stolen cards currently available on the black market; here are the ZIP codes for Home Depot stores in the U.S.

Bank sources are saying this breach could have begun as early as April or May of this year. Given the sheer number of Home Depot stores and the many months during which the theft might have been ongoing, this could end up being significantly larger than the Target breach from last holiday season, which only lasted a few weeks (though they were the busiest shopping weeks of the year).

Earlier today, Home Depot said it was still investigating the possibility of a breach but reminded customers that they would not be held liable for any fraudulent charges made to their cards.

Pumpkin Spice Watch: Yogurt, Cookies, Ice Cream

Wed, 2014-09-03 20:14

Baskin-Robbins September Flavor Of The MonthAmerica has not yet reached peak Pumpkin Spice. We apparently haven’t decided on the next fall flavor yet: it could be pecan, or maybe candy apple. If you can’t get enough of the pumpkin-like flavor, we’ve learned about some new pumpkin spice products on the market: you can learn all about them or clutch your taste buds in terror. Whatever works for you.

First up: pumpkin cheesecake is the flavor of the month at Baskin-Robbins for the month. They’ll turn it into a milkshake instead, if that’s what you’re into.

Pumpkin spice Milano cookies exist, but Adam over at The Impulsive Buy reports that they’re not so great. They smell wonderful, but the pumpkin flavor fades into the background and tastes artificial.

(The Impulsive Buy)

(The Impulsive Buy)

Sure, we know that most flavorings are not pure pumpkin purée, but that doesn’t mean they have to taste fake. This was also what we found this morning during a very unofficial Consumerist test of the Dunkin’ Donuts Creme Brulee Latte: lots of coffee and caramel sweetness, but the pumpkin sort of fades into the background.

promo_pumpkin-spice-yogurt

Finally, for your slightly healthier pumpkin spice breakfast needs, Chobani has introduced it as a Greek yogurt flavor. Of course.

Driver Learns A Cardboard License Plate Drawn With Markers Won’t Pass Muster With Cops

Wed, 2014-09-03 20:01

BUT WHICH ONE IS REAL?!?(Massachusetts State Police)

BUT WHICH ONE IS REAL?!?(Massachusetts State Police)

We know, we know, going to the Department of Motor Vehicles is such a drag… all those lines and tickets and forms to fill out and grumpy people — ugh. But though it might be mighty convenient to draw up your own license plate instead of getting a new one the right way, you’re not about to fool any cops out there on the road.

Especially if you use cardboard and colored markers to draw up your own version in a homemade craft project, as police in Massachusetts say one driver recently did.

According to MassLive.com, a state police trooper pulled over a 20-year-old driver on the interstate this week, after spotting the weird license plate on the back of her car. As in, it’s not a license plate, it’s a drawing.

It did include the words “Massachusetts” and “The Spirit of America” drawn in blue pen, because if you’re going to make a fake license plate, why go with another state than your own, right?

Alas, “That’s a big no-no,” said one state trooper.

The driver wasn’t arrested but will have to show in court for charges of driving with a suspended license and attaching false plates.

Massachusetts State Police not fooled by fake license plate during Chicopee traffic stop [MassLive.com]

FCC: Verizon To Pay $7.4M To Settle Consumer Privacy Investigation

Wed, 2014-09-03 19:48

(Eric Hauser)

(Eric Hauser)

Verizon is the now the owner of a title it probably would rather not have: the largest settlement related to the privacy of telephone customers’ personal information in Federal Communications Commission history. The not-so-great distinction comes as the company agreed to pay $7.4 million to settle allegations that it failed to notify millions of customers of their privacy rights before marketing services to them.

According to the FCC, an investigation by the Enforcement Bureau found that for nearly six years Verizon failed to notify approximately two million new customers of their right to opt out of having their personal information used in marketing campaigns.

Under the Communications Act, phone companies are generally prohibited from accessing or using consumers’ personal information except in limited circumstances, such as marketing. However, customers must give their approval for such uses through either opt-in or opt-out processes.

For many customers Verizon has used an opt-out process; generally sending notices to customers either as a message in their first bill or in a welcome letter. But the investigation uncovered that for several years beginning in 2006, the company wasn’t actually sending the notice.

“It is plainly unacceptable for any phone company to use its customers’ personal information for thousands of marketing campaigns without even giving them the choice to opt out,” Travis LeBlanc, acting Chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, said in a news release.

To make matters worse, the investigation found that Verizon personnel failed to notify the FCC of the issue for more than 126 days after first discovering the problem in September 2012. Companies are required, under the Communications Act, to notify the FCC of issues in the opt-out or opt-in process within five days of discovery.

A spokesperson for Verizon confirmed to Bloomberg Businessweek that the company inadvertently omitted the required notice before sending wireline customers marketing materials for other Verizon services, but that no information was ever shared with third parties.

In addition to paying $7.4 million to the U.S. Treasury, Verizon agreed to include opt-out notices on every customer bill for the next three years.

Additionally, the company will put systems in place to monitor and test its billing systems and opt-out process to sensor that customers are receiving proper notice of their privacy rights.

Verizon To Pay $7.4 Million To Settle Consumer Privacy Investigation [Federal Communications Commission]

Spammy Creeps Mimicking Real Instagram Users’ Accounts Using Their Own Photos

Wed, 2014-09-03 18:51

It's a mirror, get it? (bnilsen)

It’s a mirror, get it? (bnilsen)

How many online versions of you are there out there? While it might be relatively easy to crack down on a spammer trying to use your email address or hack into your social media accounts, there could be multiple versions of you on Instagram without any hint that they exist — until they start tagging your friends.

The Verge reports that users — including one of its own staffers — have found their own photos copied into what appear to be spambot accounts, complete with profile pic and even those that have real life friends tagged in them.

That re-tagging of a friend in the spambot’s account might be the only way a user is alerted to the mimicry, which was the case for The Verge’s video director.

These spammy accounts usually follow thousands of accounts but only have a few followers themselves, if any, so it’s not like they’re trying be popular or pretend to be a celebrity. These are just normal people’s accounts they’re targeting.

So what does someone have to gain by mirroring your Instagram account? It seems the fake accounts can then be sold on the social media black market to anyone who needs Instagram followers and likes, effectively getting around Instagram’s protections against spammy accounts not linked to real people.

“To limit the spam you see on our service, we prohibit the creation of fraudulent accounts and use a set of systems that work to flag and block suspicious accounts used for spam,” an Instagram spokesperson told The Verge. “You can also report these accounts using the report links we provide in our apps and on our site.”

When you do report an impersonator, be ready to send Instagram a photo of a government ID to provide proof that you say who you say you are.

And if you’re concerned about someone mimicking your account, especially since they might not tip you off by tagging your pals, you can always set your profile to “Private,” thus only allowing approved followers access to your photos.

It’s your face. It’s your photos. Meet the creepiest kind of Instagram spambot [The Verge]

AT&T: Municipal Broadband Should Be Banned Anywhere Private Companies Might Want To Do Business Later

Wed, 2014-09-03 18:46

(So Cal Metro)

(So Cal Metro)


It’s no secret that AT&T and other big ISPs are no fans of municipal broadband projects. There are laws on the books in many states that block the expansion of municipal networks, but the FCC is considering using its authority to override those laws and let communities build networks if they wish. AT&T is also no fan of this proposal. In fact, says AT&T, not only should public networks be barred anywhere there is already a private option, but also they should be barred in any place there might possibly be a plan to build a private option in the future.

First, a quick recap of the situation: Approximately 400 communities nationwide offer some kind of publicly-owned or -operated cable or fiber broadband network to residents. Traditional ISPs — Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon, and so on — feel deeply threatened by this competition, and have sponsored or lobbied for states to pass bills heavily restricting or prohibiting such networks. About twenty states have such laws on the books.

North Carolina and Tennessee are among the states that have passed laws in that vein. Two communities with municipal networks, Wilson, NC and Chattanooga, TN, have petitioned the FCC to preempt the state laws so that they can expand their service.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has spoken in favor of preemption, and since then members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate have gotten involved on both sides.

The FCC has been accepting public comments on the two petitions, as it does with most of its processes. AT&T has thrown in their two cents and, as you might guess, they think the status quo is juuuuuuuuust fine as is.

In their comment (PDF), AT&T says that not only should government-owned networks be outlawed anyplace a private solution has already been put into place, but also they should stay out of any place a private company might eventually get around to putting a network in place.

Specifically, AT&T says, public networks “should be used, if at all, only in areas where advanced telecommunications infrastructure has not been, and is not likely to be, deployed on a reasonable and timely basis.”

After spending a few paragraphs saying that public entities are terrible at ever getting anything built anyway, the company says that deploying public networks outside of areas that are 100% unserved by private entities will “provide less benefit, pose[] greater risk of stranded investment of taxpayer funds, and potentially harm consumers by discouraging private sector investment.”

That comes with something of a threat, as AT&T continues, “Certainly, any commercial entity will be concerned about further investment in an area in which it would be forced to operate at a competitive disadvantage, including with regard to access to and rates for rights of way, and the use of taxpayer funds to subsidize a competing service.”

In other words: if there’s a publicly-owned system available in your area, we (and other companies) will refuse to come to town because we will have to compete with it.

AT&T champions the fact that ISPs (like noble paragon of community and investment AT&T) spend more money per consumer in the United States than in other nations as if it were an unalloyed good. But the flip side is that American consumers also spend much more on much slower and less reliable service than many of our global counterparts.

In order to prevent the supposed harm that consumers will suffer from facing an actual abundance of offered services, AT&T suggests, the FCC should make sure that all communities are subject to certain specific conditions. Among these are assertions that private companies should have “right of first refusal” to build communities’ broadband networks for them, before governments are permitted to consider public options, along with a demand that public networks should “not receive any preferential tax treatment” — but “tax incentives or exemptions should be provided … to private sector firms to induce them to expand broadband deployment.” Got that? Spending taxpayer money on public projects = bad. Spending taxpayer money to get private companies to come in and charge you more money = good.

AT&T insists that without legal protection from the big bad threat that individual cities and counties pose to international business, they would be in trouble. And if AT&T is in trouble then clearly consumer harm follows. “Without these protections,” they write, “there is a real risk that the deployment of GONs will harm competition and consumers by deterring private sector investment that otherwise would occur.”

Of course, there is no mention of what consumers are supposed to do, other than perhaps idly twiddle their thumbs, while waiting for a private company like AT&T to find their community worth the effort to run wires to.

This is a consistent position for AT&T: when an AT&T executive was challenged at a Senate hearing earlier this year, he responded that communities should only be able to roll out broadband when there’s “been no private solution,” and added, “we don’t believe that private companies should actually compete against public-taxpayer cost to capital in that market.”

When consumers have options, incumbent companies have to improve service, add new lines, and lower rates in order to attract and retain subscribers. And all of those things cost money. So it’s easy to see why they prefer as competition-free an environment as they can legally muster.

Most consumers still don’t have many (or any) options for broadband service, though. And if the existing big ISPs get their way, consumers never will.

[via Ars Technica]

Charging Fewer Fees Doesn’t Mean Banks Aren’t Making Billions Of Dollars From Customers

Wed, 2014-09-03 18:31

(FastFords)

(FastFords)

Despite the fact that consumers pay more than $32 billion dollars annually in overdraft fees alone, a new report found that the amount of money banks make off customer-account fees declined for the first time in seven decades.

The Wall Street Journal reports that bank fees – once a sure-fire way for the institutions to make a quick buck – now account for far less of a bank’s profits than ever before.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. reports that bank fees have declined nearly 21% in the past four years, from $41.1 billion in 2009 to $32.5 billion last year. That decline in fees has led banks to make a smaller profit off consumers. Fees now make up just 14.1% of bank’s noninterest income, down from the 17% average from 2000 to 2009.

Awareness Is The Key To Fewer Fees
So just what contributed to the first decline in banks’ fee profit since 1942? The WSJ reports it was a mixture of stricter federal regulations and consumers’ growing reliance on technology.

Banks’ largest fee bonanza – including the biggest money makers overdraft and bounced-check fees – ended back in 2010 when the Federal Reserve implemented new regulations regarding overdraft charges for debit cards. Under the new rules, banks could only charge the fees if consumers had explicitly opted-in for overdraft coverage.

The CFPB reported earlier this year that consumers who didn’t opt-in for the coverage paid just $35 in annual fees to banks. With more consumers aware of the overdraft programs and their ability to forgo them, the opt-in requirement likely significantly contributed to the decline in bank fee income.

Additionally, consumers’ reliance on all things technology played a part in banks’ fee income decline.

The popularity of mobile banking – and the ability to check accounts just about anywhere – means customers are more aware of their spending habits. A Fed survey released earlier this year that found the most common use for banking apps was to check account balances and tracking transactions.

Still Increasing The Bottom Line
While banks may be making less money off customer account fees, they aren’t exactly hurting.

The WSJ reports that bank earnings have risen significantly since the recession. In fact, U.S. banks reported a record net income of $40.3 billion last year.

The influx of income comes as banks have boosted new-loan volume, benefited from lower expenses for loan losses and charged customers for other services.

Bank of America has perhaps faced the largest decline when it comes to fees; the banks fee income went from a peak of $10.9 billion in 2008 to just $5.25 billion last year. One reason the fees declined so significantly is the company’s new policy not to allow customers to opt-in to overdraft programs on debit-card and certain ATM transactions.

Still, the bank has found other ways to raise the bottom line such as persuading customers to maintain more of their finances at the bank and its units.

Additionally, the bank has been able to cut call-center costs – officials estimate that two-thirds of the center’s calls were once related to questions about fees and balances – because with fewer overdrafters there are fewer questions.

Another example of banks finding profit in other areas of service comes from First Tennessee Bank in Memphis. The bank now charges for checking accounts and works to persuade customers to purchase stocks, mutual funds and other investment products.

Officials with the bank say revenue from wealth-management services is up about 25%, nearing $80 million a year in revenue.

Are Fewer Fees Hurting Customers?
But even with banks changing their focus away from fee income, some industry groups still defend the often costly fees, arguing that regulations are misguided and only work at the cost of consumers’ financial security.

“These rules hurt the consumer more than the banks,” said Richard Hunt, president and CEO of the Consumer Bankers Association in Washington, an industry lobbying group, tells the WSJ. “We’re always upfront with the consumer and we’re completely transparent. Because of this jobless recovery people live paycheck to paycheck and this can be a real service.”

Banks’ Fee Bonanza Dries Up [The Wall Street Journal]

Perdue Stops Using Antibiotics In Chicken Hatcheries

Wed, 2014-09-03 18:24

(Mark Turnauckas)

(Mark Turnauckas)

There’s some good news for a change for those concerned about the rampant use of antibiotics in animal feed. Perdue, the nation’s most well-known chicken producer claims that 95% of its chickens will now be antibiotic-free (sort of) after removing all antibiotics from chicken hatcheries.

For decades, antibiotics have been used in animal feed not because they prevent disease, but because they promote growth in the animals consuming the drugs. Unfortunately, the over-use of these antibiotics has helped to give rise to new, drug-resistant pathogens.

Perdue says it stopped using antibiotics for growth promotion in 2007, and that it has been working for five years to remove antibiotics from its hatcheries. However, Perdue does still employ an antibiotic for prevention of an intestinal parasite, but says the drug is one that is only used in animals.

So that “95%” number is really referring to the 95% of chickens that will not receive antibiotics that are also used on humans. There will still be the occasional use of those drugs for treatment and control of disease, which is why the number is not 100%.

Even so, the Perdue policy — if accurate — is significantly more stringent than the weak-kneed, non-binding guidance that the FDA gave to the drug industry last December. That guidance only asks that drug makers — who sell 80% of their antibiotics in the U.S. to livestock farmers — pretty please stop selling antibiotics for non-medical use. Most companies have agreed to this guidance, but there is little to stop farmers from merely changing the reason they want to buy a drug from “it helps my pigs get big” to “it helps my pigs stay healthy.”

The folks at Keeping Antibiotics Working say Perdue’s announcement is an important step in the right direction.

“The action in the hatcheries is particularly important as antibiotic use there has been clearly linked to resistance in the treated birds and to resistance in sick humans,” reads a statement from the group which has advocated for restrictions on non-medical use of antibiotics.

One way that Perdue can improve its policy even further is by being transparent about the actual amount of drugs being provided to its birds going forth.

“We strongly encourage Perdue to publicly report on the amount and type of antibiotics used in its poultry as a concrete measure of the impact of the policy,” writes KAW. “We also strongly encourage other companies to adopt a similar policy to reduce antibiotic use on their farms.”

Man Fatally Stabs Homeless Dog At Petsmart Adoption Clinic

Wed, 2014-09-03 18:10

clara_pibble“A Petsmart adoption clinic ended in tragedy” is a sentence that I never expected to write. That’s what happened after a terrible altercation at a Petsmart store in Georgia, where a customer stabbed a homeless pit bull, claiming that she attacked his own dog.

Clara the pit bull had spent almost half of her life looking for a new home and in foster care at a boarding kennel. She wasn’t great with other dogs, and the Newnan-Coweta Humane Society, the group caring for her, was looking for a home where she would be the only dog. The problem with pet adoption clinics, especially clinics at pet stores, is that people who are there tend to already have a pet. They started a Facebook page, where she attracted thousands of fans, but no adopters. Clara hadn’t done well at clinics in the past, so it’s not clear why she was there on Sunday.

Who started the altercation at the Petsmart? It isn’t clear, but the Newnan Times-Herald pieced together what happened from eyewitness accounts and reports from the rescue.

Everyone agrees that the man who stabbed Clara had his own small dog, a West Highland Terrier, and may have been visiting the Banfield vet clinic. The terrier and the pit bull may have exchanged barks earlier, and weren’t friendly. Some witnesses say that the stabbing suspect was complaining about the pit bull’s existence even before it encountered his dog, saying things like, “If you bring that f***ing pit bull near me I’m going to stab it.”

The pit bull broke loose from her handler while outside for a bathroom break, and ran back inside the door. Witnesses agree that the dog took hold of the smaller dog’s ear with her mouth, but the question is whether she thought it was a fun game or was out to injure the smaller dog.

While volunteers tried to separate the two dogs, the man got out a pocketknife and stabbed the pit bull multiple times. Fortunately, there was a vet clinic only steps away, but Clara’s injuries were too severe, and she was euthanized.

The rescue volunteer who cared for Clara wrote a tribute to her, describing the dog as a “joyful, loving girl.”

She taught me how to enjoy the moment, appreciate a cool shady spot on a hot summer day and gave unconditional love. She was the world’s happiest homeless dog and she will always live in my heart.

Clicks for Clara [Facebook]
Update: Stabbed Dog Had Broken Away From Handler [Newnan Times-Herald]

Court: Domino’s Not Responsible For Sexual Harassment Of 16-Year-Old Employee

Wed, 2014-09-03 17:44

(Brandy Lee)

(Brandy Lee)

When a worker at a fast food franchise acts like an a-hole, it’s obviously his boss’s immediate responsibility to investigate and discipline that employee if necessary. But does the corporate office share any liability when things go wrong at the franchisee level? What about when people from company HQ are involved in the decision of whether or not to dismiss an employee? According to California’s highest court, the buck stops at the franchisee’s door.

Last week, a divided California Supreme Court ruled that Domino’s HQ can’t be held responsible for the alleged sexual harassment of a former teenage employee by a co-worker, explaining that the company’s franchise agreement puts all staffing decisions in the hands of the franchisee.

The plaintiff in the case was 16 when she began working at a Domino’s in Ventura County, CA, in Nov. 2008. She claims she an assistant manager harassed her by groping her and making lewd comments. After two weeks of being hassled, she complained to the franchisee.

The franchisee began an investigation and suspended the assistant manager, but says he didn’t need to fire the alleged harasser because he just stopped showing up to work.

Meanwhile, the plaintiff alleges that her hours were cut after she complained to the franchisee about the assistant manager. She subsequently quit, and the franchisee ultimately went bankrupt.

Her lawyers had argued that Domino’s HQ should be treated as a joint employer with the franchisee, as correspondence between a corporate “area manager” and th franchisee showed they had discussed the situation. The plaintiff claims that the the corporate rep directed the franchisee to dismiss the assistant manager.

In legal proceedings, that corporate rep said she was only making a non-binding suggestion to the franchisee. But the franchisee said he followed instructions from corporate out of fear of losing his business.

An appeals court had ruled that the plaintiff could bring her claim against Domino’s corporate office, but a majority of the California Supremes disagreed.

In writing for the majority, Justice Marvin Baxter states that while the franchise agreement allows franchisees to use the company’s name and products, and gives the corporate office the ability to occasionally check in on the franchise, it ultimately leaves all personnel matters in the hands of the business owner.

“There are sound and legitimate reasons for business format contracts like the present one to allocate local personnel issues almost exclusively to the franchisee,” wrote Baxter.

But not all of the justices saw it that way. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar contends that a jury should have been given the chance to decide whether or not Domino’s was a joint employer along with the franchisee. She says the court should be more concerned with maintaining “a workplace free of the pernicious influence of sexism” than it is with reinforcing the franchisor/franchisee business model.

Not surprisingly, Domino’s lawyer labeled the decision “a great victory for the franchise industry.”

This decision comes during an ongoing legal debate over the long-established buffer between franchisees and their corporate overlords. Earlier this summer, the National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel held that McDonald’s could be considered a joint employer in labor complaints involving franchisees. The fast food chain and industry groups have said they will fight this decision.

Court: Domino’s not responsible for harassment at franchise [SFgate.com]

Malaysia Airlines Realizes “Ultimate Bucket List” Ticket Promotion Wasn’t The Best Idea

Wed, 2014-09-03 17:13

malaysialogocontestWhile one might think that the floors of Malaysia Airlines HQ are covered in egg shells right about now after hundreds of its passengers lost their lives in two tragic incidents this year, the company is under fire now for promoting an “Ultimate Bucket List” contest in New Zealand and Australia.

For those unfamiliar with the idea of a so-called “bucket list,” it’s a list one makes of things you want to do, places you’d like to visit or milestones you want to accomplish before you die, or kick the bucket.

The “My Ultimate Bucket List” contest asked customers to list which destinations were on their bucket list, with the most creative answers going into a lottery. Twelve winners were then picked to win round-trip economy tickets.

Considering the major loss of life on two Malaysia Airlines flights this year — when flight MH370 disappeared in March and when flight MH17 was believed to be shot down over Ukraine in July — many saw positioning a contest as something to do before you die is pretty insensitive.

The company has now pulled the name of the contest after customer uproar, changing it “Win an iPad or Malaysia Airlines flight to Malaysia,” reports The Guardian.

“Malaysia Airlines has withdrawn the title of a recent competition running in Australia and New Zealand, as it is found to be inappropriate at this point in time,” Malaysia Airlines said in a statement today. “The competition had been earlier approved as it was themed around a common phrase that is used in both countries. The airline appreciates and respects the sentiments of the public and in no way did it intend to offend any parties.”

Malaysia Airlines renames ‘bucket list’ offer after MH370 and MH17 disasters [The Guardian]

Snobby Store Employees Only Make Us Want To Spend More

Wed, 2014-09-03 16:37

(nathanmac87)

(nathanmac87)

Is being sneered at an important part of the luxury shopping experience? Maybe. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that high-end retailers take advantage of our human need to belong and seek approval in order to vacuum more money out of our non-designer purses.

How do you simulate disapproval? Study participants took part in a simulated car-shopping experience for a Toyota vehicle. Some participants began their shopping experience with being looked up and down in a disapproving way by an actor posing as a dealership employee.

Did this experience turn potential customers away from the brand? Nope. They ended up even more willing to make a purchase of the imaginary car, offering on average $7,000 more for it than members of the control group did.

While this car-buying example used a mid-range brand, Toyota, the higher-priced and more aspirational the brand that rejects a person, the more willing they were to spend money to prove the perceived slight wrong.

However, researchers also found that consumers weren’t as responsive to rejection from a downmarket brand: it’s when rejection goes against the way we wish to see ourselves that we pull out our credit cards out of spite.

Eyeing that pricey handbag? Prepare to be insulted [NBC]
October 2014 [Journal of Consumer Research]

Thousands Of Jars Of Parmesan Cheese Recalled Because No One Wants Salmonella With Their Spaghetti

Wed, 2014-09-03 16:18

cheeseIf you were thinking of making a batch of spaghetti for dinner, complete with a heaping helping of 4C-branded Parmesan cheese, you might get more than you bargained for – salmonella.

The Food and Drug Administration announced the recall of 3,500 6-ounce jars of 4C Food Corp. Grated Cheese HomeStyle Parmesan cheese for possible salmonella contamination.

While no illnesses have been reported involving the cheese, salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal injuries especially in young children, elderly people, and otherwise with weakened immune systems.

The recall was initiated after the FDA found the potential salmonella risk during routine testing of 4C products.

Affected cheese jars were distributed in Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The containers will contain code dates BEST BY JUL 21 2016 and JUL 22 2016 near the bottom of the back of the jar.

The FDA urges consumers who have purchased the cheese to dispose of it and its container and to contact 4C Foods at 1-718-272-7800 for a replacement or full refund.

4C Foods Corp. Voluntarily Recalls 4C Grated Cheese Homestyle Parmesan Because of Salmonella Contamination [Food and Drug Administration]

4chan Introduces DMCA Takedown Policy After Posting Of Nude Celeb Pics

Wed, 2014-09-03 16:16

4chan has introduced a formal takedown request policy in line with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. [via TorrentFreak]

4chan has introduced a formal takedown request policy in line with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. [via TorrentFreak]

While most Internet-savvy people are at least casually familiar with 4chan — the online forum where a lot of the Web’s most popular content gets it start — the site has been pushed into the spotlight in recent days because of users who posted stolen nude and personal photos of several female celebrities. After years of relying on its self-erasing format that automatically removes old content, 4chan has now instituted a formal policy for people to request removal of copyrighted content.

For those unfamiliar with 4chan, the site’s various boards are set up so that older content expires. In some of the more active boards, threads can vanish after only a very short time. Some argue that this automated pruning process is actually more efficient than established procedures under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for ridding the site of content that may violate copyright laws. After all, by the time a DMCA takedown notice is received and acted upon, the allegedly offending content may have already been pruned.

But the folks at TorrentFreak noticed that 4chan added an official DMCA takedown policy on Tuesday, days after the FBI said it was looking into the theft and publishing of personal photos stored on Apple’s iCloud.

It’s possible that the introduction of a DMCA policy on 4chan has nothing to do with the stolen photos. Regardless, the addition of a formal takedown policy in addition to the auto-pruning allows 4chan’s operators to distance themselves from the content posted by their users. The DMCA process could be used to remove content that has not yet expired or which is being persistently reposted to keep it from being devoured by the auto-pruning software.

Groupon Now Offering Time-Based Restaurant Deals That Require A Reservation

Wed, 2014-09-03 15:47

(tjean314)

(tjean314)

Part of the hassle Groupon customers traditionally have faced is presenting that printed or mobile deal voucher to redeem it when the time comes. And that time wasn’t always ideal for businesses, either, with owners complaining of floods of customers wielding vouchers and overwhelming them. In an attempt to allay both stressful situations, Groupon’s new foray into the deal world for restaurants that take reservations comes with a time limit, with no voucher presentation involved.

The time-based deal option is starting first with local restaurants that accept reservations, and will spread to other things like salons, exercise classes and businesses that take appointments, Groupon announced today in a press release.

Here’s how it works: Groupon customers make a reservation when they purchase the deal, with a limited set of times that they can book that visit. Once you’ve paid and set your reservation, all you have to do is show up — sans voucher.

This is helpful for restaurants, too — as Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill merrily chirps in the press release. Before time-based deals, restaurants could see an avalanche of customers all trying to redeem their deals, who perhaps aren’t likely to turn into repeat customers.

“They’re making it really easy for us to fill tables during off-peak times, which generates more revenue for the restaurant and gives us more opportunities to attract new customers and turn them into lifelong fans,” Bayless says.

It could also be a boon to those forgetful customers too, who might purchase a deal and then end up never using it before it expires. This way, if you book an appointment or confirm a reservation, you’re probably more likely to go and not waste that money.

CVS Yanks Tobacco Products From Its Shelves A Month Earlier Than Planned

Wed, 2014-09-03 15:19

(afagen)

(afagen)

Earlier this year, CVS Caremark announced it would stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in its drugstores across the country by October 1. It’s not October yet, but CVS has decided to pull those items early. As in, today. And it’s got another change in the pipeline, too — it’s new corporate name is CVS Health.

All of its 7,700 retail stores are done with tobacco starting today, a month sooner than the original deadline, reports USA Today. Back in February, CVS said selling cigarettes and the like was “inconsistent” with the company’s purpose.

In addition to the end of the tobacco era in its stores, CVS’ is switching its name to CVS Health, with retail stores still going by CVS/Pharmacy. The emphasis here being on health, now that it’s ditched tobacco. It’ll also have a new smoking-cessation program to help users quit.

“We’re doing more and more to extend the front lines of health care,” CEO Larry Merlo said, adding that the company moved up the quit date because it got ready for the move sooner than planned, reports the Associated Press.

While some smaller independent chains have dropped tobacco products, and lawmakers have repeatedly called on major drugstore chains to do so, CVS will be the first large chain going tobacco-less — and is losing out on about $2 billion a year in tobacco sales by doing so.

“CVS’ announcement to stop selling tobacco products fully a month early sends a resounding message to the entire retail industry and to its customers that pharmacies should not be in the business of selling tobacco,” Matthew Myers, president of the Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids told USA Today. “This is truly an example of a corporation leading and setting a new standard.”

CVS’ chief medical officer says the company research points to 65,000 fewer deaths a year if all other pharmacies stopped selling cigarettes as well.

While it’s unclear how much of a wave this will make in the pool of smokers and tobacco buyers, health advocates hope that other major chains will do the same. Who knows if that will happen, however — in February, Walgreens announced it was “evaluating its tobacco line,” and hasn’t made any major announcements regarding tobacco since.

CVS stops selling tobacco, offers quit-smoking programs [USA Today]

What Happens When One Mall Has Two Different Minimum Wages?

Wed, 2014-09-03 00:19

(Kat N.L.M.)

(Kat N.L.M.)

Normally, it wouldn’t be a huge deal to have one mall that sits on the border between two cities. There might be some small differences in laws or sales tax, but at the Westfield Valley Fair Mall in California, there’s a huge difference. It sits on the border between the cities of San Jose and Santa Clara, and San Jose recently raised the citywide minimum wage by $2.

Yes, the minimum wage law does apply to the mall, and management knows exactly where the border between stores is. For example, it runs down the middle of the mall’s Gap store. One pretzel store with multiple locations in the mall rotates employees through its two stores, which are in different cities within the mall. As NPR’s Planet Money team learned, it gets complicated.

Managers find that the best candidates for jobs tend to accept positions on the San Jose side, where the minimum wage is $8 per hour. This problem isn’t very complicated. Store owners really have two choices: on the Santa Clara side, they could pay their employees more than the minimum wage to start. Maybe they could even match the $10 per hour minimum wage on the San Jose side. Instead of doing that, store owners simply keep starting pay to the local minimum and deal with the consequences.

“We get the bottom of the barrel here,” the manager of one shoe store told NPR, presumably confident that his employees aren’t big public radio listeners.

A Mall With Two Minimum Wages [NPR]
Episode 562: A Mall Divided [NPR]

Tractor-Trailer Tips Over, Spills Beer Across Freeway

Tue, 2014-09-02 23:20

beer_spillEarly this morning in Houston, an 18-wheeler and a sedan collided on a freeway. Both vehicles spun out, and the 18-wheeler tipped over, severely injuring the driver and spilling the trailer’s contents on the road. What was inside? Beer. Dozens and dozens of cases of beer. The beer spilled across the highway, and the driver remains in serious condition in the hospital. [KPRC]

Now Let’s All Address Stacks Of Thanksgiving Cards

Tue, 2014-09-02 22:49

Okay, Consumerists, did you get your Halloween cards addressed two weeks ago like marketers wanted you to? Good! Put those aside for the next seven weeks or so, because it’s time for your next occasion that requires cards: Thanksgiving.

cvs_thanksgiving

“But Consumerist, Thanksgiving isn’t for another three months! I haven’t even bought all of my decorations!” you say. It’s not marketers’ problem that you’re behind. Get with the program, imaginary person.

Reader Randy spotted these cards at CVS, and the chain’s card section comes from Hallmark.

These cards do have a real purpose, other than forcing us to spend $2 for a piece of cardstock and some glitter. Sending a card might make you feel more connected to distant loved ones, especially if you’re living far away and want to feel closer to that person.

Nah, it’s probably just the thing where they want us to spend $2.

IRS Turning Its Baleful Gaze At Company Cafeterias That Churn Out Free Food

Tue, 2014-09-02 22:39
(toonbobo)

Google cafeteria forking over free food. (toonbobo)

Do you hear that noise? It’s thousands of forks clattering in the hands of Silicon Valley employees currently enjoying a free lunch. The Internal Revenue Service is taking a closer look at the trend of company cafeterias shoveling free food onto employees’ plates, saying that smorgasbord is a taxable fringe benefit.

Free food is a no-brainer for companies like Google, Yahoo!, Facebook and Twitter — if you don’t ever have to leave the office to eat, you can keep working longer hours.

But as the Wall Street Journal reports, the IRS is paying attention to these freebie fests, by way of routine audits at some companies, according to tax lawyers.

If an employer hasn’t withheld taxes for those meals, the IRS might try to collect back taxes, most likely from the company and not the worker, though in theory, it could do so.

It’s also listing “employer-provided meals” on its annual list with the U.S. Treasury Department top tax priorities for the fiscal year ending in June 2015, with “new guidance” for companies.

“I suspect this is going to be guidance on these free cafeterias, that the benefit has got to be included in income,” one employment-tax attorney tells the WSJ.

It’s a tricky gray area — meals provided by your company that aren’t a lunch or dinner here and there are considered a taxable fringe benefit, like using the company car.

But meals don’t have to be taxed if workers get them for a “noncompensatory” reason for the “convenience of the employer.”

So your boss has to provide meals if you work say, in a desert outpost with no other options around, or if the nature of your job makes it impractical to leave the premises.

As such, many of those free-meal programs could fit under the convenience test, argue some lawyers, saying it saves time for workers, and can provide healthier options as well. Plus, one points out,”maybe you don’t want your employees running around in other eateries talking business.”

Those free meals aren’t going anywhere just yet, however, as experts believe the issue will be battled out in the courts.

Silicon Valley Cafeterias Whet Appetite of IRS [Wall Street Journal]

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