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The Consumerist

Samsung Gives Up On Plan To Create One Remote To Rule All Content

Wed, 2015-08-05 22:14

(HerArt She Loves)

(HerArt She Loves)

A lot of us no longer just watch traditional TV on our television sets. If you’ve seen this episode of House Hunters, maybe you’ll fire up your Amazon Fire Box, or Apple TV, or Roku to see what’s streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, Hulu — all different services each with different interfaces and content listings. Samsung was hoping to introduce a remote control device that would put all of this info at your fingertips without having to switch around between apps, but that dream appears to have died.

Variety reports that Samsung’s Perfect Experience (or “PX”) project appears to have been scuttled, with the company letting go of several members of the team tasked with building the device.

PX was supposed to be a tablet-like device that allowed users to scan through content listings and descriptions from multiple service providers. So instead of having to go on to your TV, scroll through Netflix until you find something to watch, only to decide you’d rather rent something from Amazon Prime, the process would be more seamless.

Samsung had put the team from Boxee — the streaming device company purchased by Samsung in 2013 — on the PX case, but Variety says that dozens of employees from this team, including former Boxee CEO Avner Ronen, are no longer with Samsung now that the company has apparently given up on the PX dream.

The company was apparently once keen on launching PX this year and packaging it with new high-end Samsung TVs, but the remote’s debut was repeatedly pushed back.

According to Variety, a big hurdle facing PX was getting multiple content providers to agree to being on some sort of shared interface. Given how much time and money each of these companies sinks into their individual user experiences, it’s not surprising that Samsung had trouble getting the services to say yes to having their content listings placed side-by-side in a manner they didn’t have control over.

Another problem with PX may have been with Samsung itself. The project was being developed in the U.S., which apparently displeased some in Samsung’s Korea-based leadership team.

For now, the dream of a single device with multiple content listings on one screen is still a fantasy.

YouTube’s Video Views Counter Will No Longer Get Stuck At 301+

Wed, 2015-08-05 21:32



Gone are the days of the baffling “301+” views on popular YouTube videos: the company says it’s rolling out an updated view counter, and will no longer strand videos with rapidly climbing views to the 301 limbo.

YouTube announced the change on Twitter, saying that videos will now have more up-to-date info on views:

We're saying goodbye to 301+ and hello to more up-to-date video views.

— YouTube Creators (@YTCreators) August 5, 2015

The reason YouTube used to only show that figure? When a video gets a sudden boost in views, the public counter would stop at the mysterious 301+ while the platform investigated and made sure those views were legit, and not the work of some kind of bot designed to falsely bump views.

Once things calmed down and the views were verified, they were added to the public counter so everyone can see just how many hits yet another cover of “Let It Go” from Frozen can get (a lot).

Farewell, 301+. May your counter always be stuck, wherever it is outdated technology goes to die.

Facebook Launches Feature That Lets Users And Businesses Message Each Other

Wed, 2015-08-05 20:58

Everlane is one of two brands that Facebook tested Messenger capabilities with; now other businesses will have the option, too.

Everlane is one of two brands that Facebook tested Messenger capabilities with; now other businesses will have the option, too.

After Facebook announced in March that it’d be launching a pilot program with a few brands that would let customers and companies communicate privately, the social media network said Wednesday that it’s expanding the rollout of Messenger for businesses.

This means customers will be able to send messages to companies or brands with customer service requests, including questions about orders, receive order confirmations or get responses to quick questions.

Businesses can include a “send message” button in their ads on Newsfeed, reports Reuters, allowing users to click a button and send a private message. And if a user posts on a business’ Facebook page, the company will be able to privately message that person as well. Users can choose to block those businesses from private messages, however.

Because another form of contact is no guarantee that companies will be obliged to reply quickly, Facebook is awarding “very responsive messages” badges to businesses who do react promptly, respond to 90% of messages and reply on average within five minutes.

Facebook will also include a note on Pages that have messaging enabled (as it’s an optional function), telling visitors how often it usually takes them to respond.

“Our ultimate goal is to facilitate communication between consumers and businesses in the way they prefer most,” Benji Shomair, director of Pages product marketing at Facebook told CNET. “When people message the page, they have expectation for a response in a timely fashion,” he added.

Facebook launches feature to allow businesses to privately message users [Reuters]
Facebook aims to make it easier for companies to message you [CNET]

Google Fiber Officially Coming To San Antonio

Wed, 2015-08-05 20:41

sanantonThe worst kept secret in broadband has been confirmed today with Google’s announcement that the next city to get Google Fiber Internet/TV/phone service will be the Texas town of San Antonio.

“San Antonio has developed a thriving tech landscape,” explains a blog post from Google. “Hundreds of startups have found their home in the Alamo City through collaborative workspaces and accelerators… Moreover, San Antonio’s recent selection for President Obama’s Tech Hire and Connect Home initiatives will help create a pipeline of tech jobs and narrow the digital divide.”

Google hasn’t announced pricing or a launch timeline for San Antonio, but is letting area residents sign up to be notified about service updates.

In the three markets (Kansas City, Austin, and Provo) where Google Fiber is up and running, it charges the same rates: $70/month for broadband; $130/month for broadband and TV; and a $0/month (after a $300 installation fee) offer for slower (5Mbps) Internet access. It’s expected that San Antonio and the other in-development Fiber markets will follow this blueprint.

This makes San Antonio the sixth market from Google Fiber’s first wave of expansion. Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Nashville, and the North Carolina markets of Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, were already approved.

That leaves Phoenix, Portland (the one in Oregon), and Silicon Valley’s own San Jose as the remaining “potential” cities for Google Fiber expansion.

Some telecom companies are fighting back against Google’s encroachment in what had long been near-monopolies for cable TV service. In Tempe, Arizona — part of the possible Phoenix expansion — the city council has been accused by Cox Communications of violating state and federal law in giving their approval to the idea of Google Fiber.


Lexus Will Experiment With No-Haggle Car Pricing

Wed, 2015-08-05 20:15

(Eric Smith)

(Eric Smith)

Would no-haggle car pricing make the car-buying process more pleasant, and make you feel more warm and cuddly toward car dealers and toward the brand? Lexus apparently hopes so, and they plan to test this kind of pricing at a dozen of their dealerships.

The general manager for Lexus U.S.A. announced the experiment today at a Center for Automotive Research event. “While negotiation-free pricing is not revolutionary, we strongly believe the concept will further elevate transaction transparency and customer care,” he told his audience of people in the industry.

Automotive News points out that this is one way for Lexus to differentiate itself in the luxury car market, where German automaker BMW has outsold Lexus in recent years. The pricing model doesn’t work unless customers believe that sticker prices are fair, and it may not work in a situation where a minority of dealerships (12 out of 236, in this case) are part of the program.

Of course, customers who do want to haggle could just drive down the street to a dealership that’s not part of the program. Simple.

American car-buyers may associate the no-haggle model more with Saturn, a now-defunct General Motors brand that used the model to differentiate itself from other car brands we well as from its cousins within GM. However, this model hasn’t died out. Electric car maker Tesla also doesn’t negotiate prices with customers.

The no-haggle model isn’t isn’t even new to Toyota: the company’s Scion brand also offers no-haggle pricing, or “Pure Price.” The cost of accessories and add-ons might be negotiable, but the prices for vehicles themselves are fixed.

Take Our Poll (function(d,c,j){if(!d.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;;pd.src='';s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);} else if(typeof jQuery !=='undefined')jQuery(d.body).trigger('pd-script-load');}(document,'script','pd-polldaddy-loader'));

Lexus experiments with no-haggle dealer pilot, Bracken says [Automotive News]

Yankees, Rockies Fans Can Now Be Fingerprinted For Faster Entry Into Stadium

Wed, 2015-08-05 20:13



Last year, the San Francisco Giants became the first Major League Baseball team to integrate a TSA-like express security lane for pre-checked visitors (who also paid $179 for the privilege). Starting this week, Yankee Stadium will also get this sort of access, though it won’t cost anything for people who just want speedy access to a baseball game.

The service is run by a company called Clear that operates a trusted-traveler vetting service used at a dozen airports.

Bloomberg reports that people who register and provide their fingerprints at an on-site tent at Yankee Stadium won’t have to pay the $179/year charge if they’re only planning to use it for baseball games. If they want to upgrade to use Clear for travel, then the yearly fee kicks in.

As anyone who has been to Yankee Stadium since 2001 can attest, it’s one of the more high-security sporting venues in the country, especially for baseball. So the appeal of speeding up entry is understandable.

The Colorado Rockies also launched Clear access this week at Coors Field. Like the Yankee Stadium offer, there is currently no fee for fans who sign up for baseball-only access.

Awesome Or Terrifying?: “Highway To The Danger Zone” Playing On The Plane PA During Takeoff

Wed, 2015-08-05 20:02

Flying with Mav. Cool or scary?

Flying with Mav. Cool or scary?

For some folks, taking off in an airplane can be a bit scary. After all, you’re in a metal tube hurtling along the ground that somehow launches itself into the air like a huge, manmade bird. That same experience can be a rush for other travelers, who some may envy for their ability to enjoy facing their mortality with a blast of turbojets. Either way, your emotions may be heightened if the plane’s crew plays the theme to Top Gun over the PA system during takeoff.

In a YouTube video from a recent Southwest Airlines flight, a flight attendant plays the Goose to Top Gun‘s Maverick, while the movie’s theme, “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins streams from the PA. Amusing? Perhaps. Terrifying? Maybe. Depends on who you ask.

The thing is, going on a “highway to a danger zone” might not be a fun thought to have on the brain for those people who already quake at the idea of boarding these metal skyships, which kind of take off on a highway type thing.

Or heck, maybe the humor of the situation could ease those worried souls. You never know. Flight attendants don’t normally act so wacky, providing a welcome distraction from any flying fears.

On the other hand, if you’re the kind of person who thrills to the sensation of getting airborne, and happens to love Tom Cruise, jamming along to thoughts of Top Gun could be a pretty awesome way to fly.

You watch, and then you decide in our poll.

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Frontier Airlines Offering Packages That Bundle A La Carte Extras For One Price

Wed, 2015-08-05 18:57

(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

Though Frontier Airlines might be known for unbundled flight fares, instead choosing to offer a la carte options like checked and carry-on bags and seats with more legroom as add-ons, the airline is jumping back into the bundling arena with a new option that charges a flat fee for certain extras.

Frontier’s new package is called the “WORKS”, and charges anywhere between an additional $49 and $69 each way: Customers who choose this option will get the power to receive a full refund on tickets canceled 24 hours prior to departure; no change fees (usually $99 each change); seat selection power, including Stretch and Exit Row options; one carry-on bag (typically up to $60); one checked bag (runs up to $30 normally) and priority boarding.

If there’s no room for your carry-on bag on the plane (which would be tough if you board in the first group as you should), there’s also a money-back guarantee.

“There are a lot of people that love the unbundled model, but there are still a lot of people that don’t understand it,” Frontier Airlines president Barry Biffle told USAToday. “Instead of trying to tell everybody, ‘This is good for you, you’re saving money and the fare is cheaper than before,’ the new [bundled] package gives us the option of bringing back the works.”

The a la carte options do add up, which makes the WORKS an attractive deal for people who want the little frills in a travel experience. As an example, a trip from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Denver on Frontier with nonstop flights both ways between Sept. 18-20 costs a base fare of $268 (non-club price), but when the WORKS is added, it comes to $384. In that case, the per-way fee for extras would be $58.

Going a la carte, choosing a Stretch seat each way ($90 roundtrip), a checked bag and a carry-on bag both ways ($110 total), a traveler’s fare would come to $418 for that same flight. And if something came up, that ticket wouldn’t be refundable, or change fees would be applied for any last-minute switches.

Video Shows Checkers Employee Wiping Burger Bun On Kitchen Floor

Wed, 2015-08-05 18:49

A video showing what appears to be an employee at fast food chain Checkers dropping, then wiping, a burger bun on a kitchen floor is disgusting diners around the world this morning.

The quick clip takes place at an unknown Checkers location, and appears to show the employee deliberately dropping the bun to the floor. She then, while laughing and being goaded on by the person shooting the footage, quickly rubs the bread around on the floor before picking it up and putting some fixings on it.

We have no idea if this bun was actually served to a customer. It could have been a prank for the camera (like the Taco Bell taco-licker incident of 2013), or a joke (a sickening one) played on a fellow employee.

Of course it doesn’t help that Checkers has thus far refused to release a statement or respond to the numerous comments from people on social media about the incident. We are reaching out to the company and will update if we hear back.

Why Didn’t Dept. Of Education Find Problems With Loan Servicer Fined $100M?

Wed, 2015-08-05 18:30
(Hammerin Man)

(Hammerin Man)

Last May, investigations by the Department of Justice and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation into student loans servicing resulted in a $100 million fine against government-contracted servicer Navient for allegedly violating federal laws limiting the amount of interest that can be charged on servicemember student loans. Following those investigations, the Department of Education undertook a review that found its four servicers – including Navient – weren’t cheating military personnel. With such conflicting reports, members of Congress are now getting involved, calling for an investigation into the Dept. of Education’s review process.

The group of senators sent a letter [PDF] to Inspector General Kathleen Tighe today raising concerns that the Dept. of Education’s probe into its student loans servicers’ compliance with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) was riddled with problems.

Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Patty Murray of Washington and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, say that their own analysis of the Department’s review “raises doubts regarding whether ED officials adequately reported the results of these review to the public.”

The Dept. of Education’s review, which was released in May, found that less than 1% of servicemember files serviced by Navient, Great Lakes, Nelnet and American Education Services contained violations of SCRA, including a provision the limits the amount of interest on military personnel student loans to no more than 6%.

Those findings were in contrast with the DOJ and FDIC investigation last year that found Navient charged higher interest rates on nearly 78,000 serviemember loans.

The Dept. of Education’s review was based on a random sampling of about 600 borrowers across all four federally contracted servicers, the Washington Post reports.

The senators contend that their own analysis of the review found the Department had only conducted detailed reviews of 14 cases where eligible borrowers requested and qualified for but were denied SCRA interest rate caps.

“The small number of cases reviewed is quite extraordinary, considering the newly released data from a recent DOJ and FDIC investigation concluding that Navient along denied appropriate SCRA relief to more than 75,000 federal and private loan borrowers,” the senators say. “In other words, the Department of Education based its conclusion on an examination of a tiny fraction of relevant cases.”

Additionally, the senators claim that the Dept. of Education’s review found at least one student loan servicer in error in almost 30% of the cases in which borrowers requested rate caps, finding that deserving borrowers were denied caps in 8% of reviewed cases.

“Given the numerous problems identified with these reviews, and the deeply flawed descriptions that ED offices used to present their findings, we request that you conduct your own independent assessment of the adequacy and accuracy of the review process,” the senators write.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education tells the Post that the Dept. shares the senators’ concerns regarding the treatment of servicemembers and that it will review the report.

Still, she says that the data used for the review had a different standard than the Justice Department’s investigation based on regulations and contractual requirements for student loan servicers.

Following the Navient settlement, the Post reports the Dept. of Education did make changes, streamlining the process for servicemembers to adjust interest rates when they were called to active duty. So far, it says more than 141,000 members of the military have benefited from the changes.

Elizabeth Warren wants the Education Dept.’s ‘flawed’ review of student loan contractors investigated [The Washington Post]

U.S. Companies Must Reveal How Much CEOs Earn Compared To Workers

Wed, 2015-08-05 18:06



Five years ago, the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation directed the Securities and Exchange Commission to come up with rules requiring American companies to calculate and report the ratio between a CEO’s pay and that of the company’s typical employee. After repeated delays and claims from big business that the math was too complicated, the SEC has finally voted to approve these rules.

Section 953(b) of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act [PDF] adds a requirement that companies disclose “the median of the annual total compensation of
all employees of the issuer, except the chief executive officer (or any equivalent position) of the issuer; the annual total compensation of the chief executive officer… and the ratio of the amount.”

But the act provides no explanation of exactly how this ratio is to be calculated, resulting in years of delays as lawmakers, consumer and investor advocates, regulators, and big business groups debated the feasibility and utility of this information.

After receiving hundreds of thousands of comments from the public on this issue, the SEC finally voted to approve the rule and provide details on how it addresses concerns raised about the complexity and costs associated with the requirement.

Rather than prescribe a specific format for companies to calculate the CEO-worker pay ratio, the SEC has built in flexibility that gives employers the ability to use any “reasonable method” that “works best for their own facts and circumstances.”

Thus, a company with many thousands of employees spread around the nation can use sampling and estimates to calculate its ratio. However, businesses must describe and detail their methodologies for obtaining their final figures.

Additionally, rather than requiring companies to run the numbers every year, they will only be made to disclose the ratio every three years — except in cases where there have been significant changes to employee numbers or pay structure.

Companies with non-U.S. employees get a bit of a reprieve. Those with a small number of workers outside the country may not have to include their income. Likewise, those companies who claim that disclosing foreign employees’ earnings will violate foreign nation’s privacy laws may not have to include this pay in their ratios.

One area in which the final rule is not giving flexibility to companies is the definition of “employee.” Rather than simply calculating full-time workers, the ratio must also include part-time and seasonal staff.

As expected, the vote on the pay ratio rule was divide along party lines, with the Commission’s two conservative commissioners voting against the version presented today.

Commissioner Michael Gallagher has long been critical of the pay-ratio rule, calling it “maybe the most useless of all our Dodd-Frank mandates” which warranted the “caboose treatment,” referring to the years-long delay in approving the rule.

Gallagher questioned the usefulness of the rule, which is presented as being beneficial to investors who can use it to determine whether CEOs are being paid properly. Instead, he joined those opponents who believe the rule’s purpose is simply to embarrass and shame companies.

That said, Gallagher today acknowledged that Section 953(b) is the law of the land and that it’s the SEC’s job to draft the rule. However, he said the only way in which he would have supported such a rule was if it only applied to the pay for full-time employees in the U.S.

Poll: Americans Want Eleanor Roosevelt’s Face On New $10 Bill

Wed, 2015-08-05 18:02

(Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie)

(Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie)

Although we won’t find out which historic woman the U.S. Treasury Department will choose for a new $10 bill until later this year, a new poll says Americans already know who they want sharing face time with Alexander Hamilton: The nation’s longest-serving first lady, as well as an activist, diplomat and politician, Eleanor Roosevelt.

While the Treasury is currently seeking input from citizens on who should grace the new bills, slated for release in 2020, a new poll from McClatchy-Marist says 27% of registered voters who participated chose Roosevelt.

Other contenders included abolitionist Harriet Tubman (who was also the top suggestion in a previous campaign for a $20 bill featuring a woman) with 20% of the vote, Native American guide Sacagawea with 13%, pilot Amelia Earhart and suffragette Susan B. Anthony, each with 11% of the vote. Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female justice of the Supreme Court, received 4% — but even if she was the top choice, the Treasury has stipulated that no living woman can appear on the redesigned $10 bill.

“They had a lot to do with building this country, as much as the men did. And still do,” said one man from Georgia who took the poll.

The new bill will mark the first time in more than 100 years that a female face has appeared on paper currency in the U.S.: previously, Martha Washington and Pocahontas both appeared on bills in the 1800s, while Anthony and Sacagawea have been featured on the $1 coin in the past.

The Treasury chose 2020 for the release of the new bill, to mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

What Can You Do If Your Mobile Carrier Sends You An Update That Breaks Your Phone?

Wed, 2015-08-05 17:58



When you buy a new phone or tablet, you’re not just buying it as-is in its current state. Software is dynamic, and constantly updated. In a sense, then, you’re also making a bet that your device will keep working into the future, after countless rounds of mandatory system updates. And usually, it does! But every once in a while, something goes wrong. And for that small handful of consumers, that’s where the real trouble begins.

Phones can be subject to a lot of failure. We load them up with a thousand competing apps, we stuff them with photos and videos and files, we carry them in our pockets and bags with us everywhere, and at a certain point it becomes inevitable that something, somewhere, will go wrong.

Physical damage is no fun, but at least is pretty straightforward. If you drop your phone in the toilet, run it over with your bike, or find your dog working those incisors on the screen, that’s on you. Every company sells an extended warranty option — basically, an insurance gamble. If you make it to upgrade time without incident, extended warranties are a waste. But if you skip one and have trouble, the penalty is paying out of pocket for a new device. So it goes.

But what about the damage outside of your control?

Nearly all devices are subject to system updates that your wireless carrier or device manufacturer pushes to you over the air. You can usually delay on installing them, but you can’t generally put it off forever. In general, those updates patch security flaws or improve and update functionality.

Sometimes, though, they break things instead. Readers write to us every so often with complaints about system updates disrupting major functions of their devices. Rarely, an update even bricks a device entirely, and someone is left with an expensive electronic paperweight. And so, readers have asked us, is there anything to be done other than dumping a few hundred dollars into a replacement for a broken item that was someone else’s fault?

The problem is lopsided, and affects Android users most heavily. Apple’s control-freak attitude toward every single element of the iOS chain is an advantage when it comes to pushing updates or fixes: everyone gets them, and you know where there’s an Apple Store near you to go to if it doesn’t work. They’re the ones responsible for a problem, and because they go to such lengths to operate a standard, uniform platform, major problems are more rare.

But the Android picture is more complicated. Users have three layers above them. There’s Google, who makes the core operating system; the device manufacturer, who makes the phone and may add an additional layer of Android modifications; and the wireless carrier (who, again, may add more software to the phone).

Among those three, it is the carrier who has responsibility for pushing updates to the end user — and who, in theory, needs to shoulder responsibility if those updates go awry.

We’ve seen some big examples of that responsibility recently. Samsung had a patch available within a few days when researchers announced a keyboard vulnerability that left 600 million Galaxy device owners vulnerable. Google also had an update ready within a few days for a security flaw that affected nearly a billion Android users. But neither Google nor Samsung is responsible for sending those updates out wirelessly to owners. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint (among others) are, and they do it (or don’t) in their own time and in their own ways.

So if an over-the-air (OTA) update from your carrier does have an adverse effect on your phone, what can you do? It depends on what kind of device you’ve got and how old it is.

If your device is wi-fi only, and does not go through a wireless carrier, you will need to contact the manufacturer directly. Google can’t replace or repair your tablet, but the manufacturer might. If your tablet is less than a year old, it’s still under warranty and customer service should be mostly amenable.

If it’s more than a year old, you might need to push gently. One reader wrote to Consumerist about a 2013 Asus Nexus 7 tablet that bricked after the Android 5 update this year; after “a polite email to Asus,” he told us, he escalated within customer service and was able to have his tablet repaired as if still under warranty.

If your mobile/3G/4G/LTE device is under a year old, it’s still under warranty. Although the warranty usually specifies physical defects, customer service for your carrier — either by phone or in a store — should be able to help you. The major carriers have their warranty and replacement programs, plus applicable customer service numbers, on their websites. Here’s the info for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

If your device is over a year old, unfortunately, you may be up a proverbial creek. The policies for almost every device and every carrier we checked stipulate a one-year warranty very clearly, after which you are basically on your own. (There are a very small handful of products with two-year warranties.)

We asked all four national carriers to clarify their policies about how they would help a customer if an update they pushed were to brick a device more than 12 months old. Neither AT&T, Sprint, nor Verizon provided responses.

T-Mobile, however, did. They told Consumerist that they work very closely with device manufacturers to develop and test updates before rolling them out to make sure that such cases are rare. They added that if an OTA update they pushed caused device performance issues, they would work closely with the customer to replace the device under the terms of the original purchase warranty.

Iowa Taco Bell Closed For Decontamination Due To Meth Lab In Utility Room

Wed, 2015-08-05 17:58

(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

At least one Taco Bell employee may have been planning to cook more than Quesaritos inside the restaurant, according to local police in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Police say that two men were responsible for the “active meth-making ingredients” found in a utility room at the restaurant, but don’t know for sure whether the men actually cooked any methamphetamine in their makeshift lab.

What do you do when a restaurant is found to be the site of a potential meth lab? Taco Bell will first have an outside company that does specialized cleanups remove any traces of hazardous chemicals from the building. After that, the local health department will have to perform its own inspection before the restaurant is allowed to re-open to the public.

How contaminated a building is by a meth lab depends on how long manufacturing had been going on, and how much of various components were in the building. The chemicals used in drug manufacture can stick around in building materials like floor and ceiling tiles. Police are trying to figure out how long the men could have been set up in the utility room, and how much meth, if any, they could have made.

Police don’t think that customers or employees at this Taco Bell were ever in danger, but are investigating the situation. The health department will not allow the restaurant to reopen unless they’re sure that customers and employees will be safe and that nothing is contaminated.

The two men were arrested and charged with conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine. One of them (police won’t identify which man) was an employee of the restaurant, and has been fired.

Health officials: No timeline on when Taco Bell will reopen after possible meth lab found [KWWL]

Target Testing System That Sends Customers Notifications On Deals While They Shop

Wed, 2015-08-05 17:46

Beacon-HeaderTarget wants to track your every move while shopping at its stores. Or at least that seems to be the gist behind the retailers’ new test of transmitters – known as beacons – that link to shoppers’ smartphones through the company’s app, sending coupons, deals, product recommendations and recipes based on their location inside the big box store.

Target announced today that it has launched a test what it’s calling “Target Run” in 50 stores, marking it the retailer’s latest attempt to integrate smartphones into the shopping experience. The company already operates the separate Cartwheel app that provides discounts on certain products.

In each of the chosen stores – located in Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, New York City, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle – Target has placed between 20 and 50 beacons on the top of shelves that transmit signals to customers’ phones. For now, the test will only work for Bluetooth-enabled iPhones operating on iOS 7 or higher.

To showcase the new system’s capabilities, Target provided The Star Tribune with a demonstration at a downtown Minneapolis store.

While walking through the women’s apparel department, the system sent a $10-off coupon for clothes to the top of what Target describes as a social network-like newsfeed on the Target app.

When the demonstrators moved to the baby section of the store, the newsfeed updated with a link of the top items picked by third-party site

Finally, while perusing the grocery department, the system notified shoppers of a recipe for a smoothie, listing all the ingredients needed to create the breakfast meal.

“It’s a matter of creating relevant, convenient and inspiring moments while you’re shopping,” said Eddie Baeb, a Target spokesman tells the Tribune. “It starts moving us toward that smart store of the future.”

In order to ensure that customers aren’t bombarded by annoying notifications, the system is, for now, limited to just two push notifications per shopping trip. However, if a user leaves the app open or continually sneaks a peek, they’ll see more than two deals or recommendations from the system.

Additionally, Target makes it clear that customers who don’t want to be tracked during their shopping trips, don’t have to be.

In fact, the company required users to opt-in to the system three times before they start receiving notifications.

The company tells the Tribune that if all goes well with the initial tests, it could rollout the system to other stores later this year.

In the future, the retailer says it hopes to integrate other capabilities into the system, such as providing the ability for shoppers to page an employee for help or send them reminders based on their shopping lists.

Target testing beacons to provide in-store shoppers coupons, recommendations [The Star Tribune]

Jeep Cherokee Owners File Lawsuit Against Fiat Chrysler, Harman After Hackers Wirelessly Hijack Vehicle

Wed, 2015-08-05 16:57

(Scott Nesham)

(Scott Nesham)

It was inevitable: A few weeks after hackers showed that a Jeep Cherokee could be hijacked remotely, three car owners have filed a lawsuit seeking class-action status against Fiat Chrylser Automobiles and Harman International, the maker of the Uconnect onboard infotainment system.

The three Jeep Cherokee owners who filed a complaint against FCA and Harman on Tuesday [PDF] accuse FCA and Harman of fraud, negligence, unjust enrichment and breach of warranty.

Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, the security researchers who hacked the Jeep while a reporter was driving it, exploited a security flaw in Uconnect that gave them the entry point to wirelessly take control of the vehicle. The plaintiffs point out that hackers had alerted FCA to the fact that there were architectural vulnerabilities in Jeep Cherokees in a paper back in 2014.

At that time, Miller and Valasek noted that there are connections between the internet-enabled Uconnect and the vehicle’s CAN Bus, which notes is the network that controls critical driving features like the steering and brakes. Having those connections between the system that plays streaming music and the system that controls your brakes is a serious defect in vehicles FCA and Harman sold to customers, the plaintiffs argue.

“The [affected] Vehicles are defectively designed in that essential engine and safety functionality is connected to the unsecure Uconnect system through the CAN bus,” thee complaint reads. “Uconnect should be segregated from these other critical systems. There is no good reason for this current design. The risks associated with coupling these systems far outweigh any conceivable benefit.”

The plaintiff’s lawyer tells that the suit also seeks an injunction against the two companies that would force Chrysler to stage another recall to address those architectural security claims.

Though FCA had issued a software patch for the Uconnect issue a week before Wired’s story, after working with Miller and Valasek on it in early 2015, the lawsuit argues that neither the patch nor the subsequent recall (issued under pressure from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration) fixes the problem.

“As long as the Uconnect system is physically connected to the vehicles’ CAN bus, the potential for vulnerability exists,” the complaint reads. “The overarching defect is a design and system architecture problem in that non-secured systems are coupled with essential engine and safety controls. This is not a software issue.”

The lawsuit argues that the plaintiffs suffered from fraud, because their defective vehicles aren’t worth as much as they thought, as they’re vehicles that are “known to be subject to the unreasonable risk of catastrophic accident because of defects.”

The complaint adds that “plaintiffs and Class members are subjected to a continuing increased risk of severe injury or death but for the Defendants’ failure to disclose or remedy the defect.”

It’s unclear what total damages the lawsuit might seek, but if the lawsuit is certified as class-action, it could potentially include millions of drivers with vulnerable Uconnect systems in their vehicles. And though this might be the first lawsuit filed regarding Uconnect and FCA, there could always be more.

“It’s way too early to have any idea what kind of damages the class has suffered,” the attorney for the three plaintiffs told Wired. “Right now we’re just focusing on trying to make these vehicles safe.”

Chrysler and Harman Hit With a Class Action Complaint After Jeep Hack []

Student Loan Debt Causing Millennials To Delay Marriage, Kids, Home-Buying

Wed, 2015-08-05 16:46

bankrate2We’ve written before about the idea of a “debt backpack,” this notion that young adults are graduating from college already burdened by debt. The more burdensome that backpack, the less able and likely they may be to not only make major financial investments — like a home, or a new car — but also might be putting off important personal milestones, including marriage and kids. The results of a new survey back up this theory and show the delaying effect that student loan debt has on Millennials.

According to a survey from Bankrate, nearly half (45%) of all adult Americans who took out student loans ended up delay some major financial or personal milestone. The effect is most notable among student loan borrowers in the 18-29 age range, where 56% say that this debt has put them off of investing or starting a family.

Home-buying is often the easiest can to kick down the road, since one can always rent. You can’t (or at least shouldn’t; please don’t) rent a spouse or child.

So it’s of little surprise that homeownership is the most frequently delayed milestone among Millennials with student loan debt. Buying a car was a close second in this age group, which makes some sense as it’s often cheaper to keep driving and fixing your old vehicle than it is to sink money into a new one. In both cases, around 30% of 18-29 year-olds put off these important purchases.

The next oldest age range (30-49) had similar results, though the overall impact of student debt was slightly less, with 53% saying they had delayed these milestones.

Millennial borrowers are more likely to say they were not provided sufficient information about the potential risks of taking out student loans. A full two-thirds of this age group believe they were not provided enough info. Compare that to 59% for those in the 30-49 group, and only 44% in the 50-64 bracket.


Facebook Patent Would Allow Lenders To Determine Creditworthiness By Looking At Your ‘Friends’

Wed, 2015-08-05 16:09


Earlier this year Facebook announced it would dip its toes into the pool of mobile payments by launching a system that allowed users to send money to friends via the Messenger app. Now it appears the company may take things a bit farther after receiving approval for a patent this week that would allow creditors to determine whether or not someone is worthy of a loan based on their circle of friends on the social networking site.

The patent — which was actually applied for by Facebook back in August 2012 — is for a system of authorization and authentication based on an individual’s social network. It could have several uses, including filtering out spam email and offensive content, and improving searches on the site.

However, it’s the use related to approving or denying a loan request based on the friends you keep that is a bit worrisome.

“When an individual applies for a loan, the lender examines the credit ratings of members of the individual’s social network who are connected to the individual through authorized nodes (connections),” the patent states. “If the average credit rating of these members is at least a minimum credit score, the lender continues to process the loan application. Otherwise, the loan application is rejected.”

According to the patent, the lender would be able to access a potential borrower’s social circle by submitting a request for information from Facebook’s databases. They would then receive a series of lists – grey, black and white – that would be used to determine the average credit score for the would-be borrower’s friends.

The process for Facebook loan approval. [Click To Enlarge]

The process for Facebook loan approval. [Click To Enlarge]

While the recently patented process seems pretty straightforward, the practical implications raise several questions and concerns.

For one thing, just because you’re ‘friends’ on Facebook doesn’t mean that person has any impact on your everyday life or influence over your financial habits.

The patent doesn’t detail how a lender would weed out potential social network connections that might not have a significant influence on the borrower – like that long-lost high school classmate you haven’t actually seen in 10 years.

Additionally, the patent doesn’t provide a clear explanation for what the data provided related to connections includes. If it’s just a credit score without a report that lists debts or defaults, how is one to know that the consumer hasn’t been unfairly penalized for things like medical debt.

But perhaps the biggest concern is the fact that numerous studies have found information culled online to create credit profiles for consumers are often inaccurate.

Last year, the National Consumer Law Center published a report that found that most credit reports generated by data brokers using information found online were riddled with errors.

Seven of the 15 consumer reports generated by eBureau, a company that touts advanced big data models, contained errors in estimated income. The reports nearly doubled the salary of one participant and halved the salary of another. Additionally, 11 of the 15 reports incorrectly stated the consumer’s education level.

Despite these concerns, it possible that the new patent won’t even see the light of day – just because a patent is granted doesn’t mean a company has the intention to actually use it.

And, as CNN points out, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act strictly regulates what criteria – income, expenses, debts and credit history – creditors can use when deciding if a consumer is worthy of a loan.

“It’s nothing to lose sleep over for people with decent credit history, but it could potentially affect those who are borderline to begin with,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for, tells CNN.

[via CNN]

Guy Who Chucked Winning Lottery Tickets Saved From Eternal Regret By Convenience Store Worker

Wed, 2015-08-05 15:44

(Lisa Brewster)

(Lisa Brewster)

We’ve all had that moment: something you need is suddenly missing — a receipt, a paycheck, your kid’s birth certificate — and a horrible thought strikes you — “Did I throw it out?!?” A Georgia man had the weight of certain lifelong regret sitting on his shoulders when he realized he’d chucked two lottery tickets worth $10,000, thinking they weren’t winners.

The man is a regular at his local convenience store, and had purchased new lottery tickets on Saturday, reports the Rome News-Tribune. Not realizing he’d played the winning numbers, he asked the cashier to throw the old tickets he had away.

Cut to later that day, when it dawned on him that he’d tossed $10,000 in the trash. He went back to the store and explained the situation, and the staff went through the trash at the counter to look for his tickets. Nothing.

“I had to go inside the dumpster cause I thought that I had thrown them away for real,” the customer said.

After he’d left, the cashier who’d tossed the tickets for him remembered that he had dumped the counter trash into another trash can inside the store, and hadn’t taken it out after all. He found the tickets and tracked down the customer with the good news.

“It was a blessing from God,” said the winner, who cashed his winnings this week and then went back to the convenience store to try his luck with some scratch-off tickets.

As for the clerk, he says there was no way he wouldn’t have tried to find the customer.

“If I had kept them it would have been like stealing,” the cashier said.

$10,000 in lottery tickets recovered from Rome store’s trash [Rome News-Tribune]

Electronic Mortgage Documents Easier To Understand, Provide More Benefits For Consumers

Wed, 2015-08-05 15:39

IMG_0422If you’ve ever bought a house, you’re more than familiar with the mountain of paperwork you have to deal with at closing, not all of which are easy to understand.  But a study claims that homeowners who utilize a newer electronic method for reviewing closing documents may better comprehend what they’re signing.

This is according to research [PDF] from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that found electronic mortgage closings – technology for borrowers to view and sign closing documents electronically – can be a benefit for consumers, helping them navigate the mortgage process.

The report – the latest in the Bureau’s “Know Before You Owe” initiative aimed at improving the home buying experience – found that those who closed their mortgages using an electronic platform generally have a better understanding of terms and feel more empowered than borrowers who used paper forms.

The CFPB study found that consumers felt better about the mortgage closing process when given electronic documents.

The CFPB study found that consumers felt better about the mortgage closing process when given electronic documents.

The Bureau’s research on the effectiveness on eClosings was initiated after a 2014 report found that consumers felt like they didn’t have enough time to review documents and were overwhelmed by the stack of paperwork provided during the closing process.

Following that report, the CFPB identified eClosings as an option to alleviate some of consumers’ apprehension with the mortgage lending process.

An eClosing pilot program, administered by the CFPB for the study, took place over a four-month period involving seven lenders, more than 3,000 consumers, four technology companies and several settlement agents and real estate professionals.

While some consumers in the pilot used traditional paper documents, others used a complete eClosing process, and others used a combination of the two.

After the closing process was completed, borrowers provided the Bureau with a survey about their feelings on their given method.

When it came to having a better understanding of terms and fees, consumers who used eClosing were about 7% more likely to believe they understood the contracts compared to borrowers who used paper documents.

Asked about their perceptions of the process’s overall efficiency, the study found a 17% positive difference in scores for borrowers using eClosings.

Additionally, the study found that consumers were 15% more likely to feel empowered by having more time to review documents, ask questions and flag concerns during the closing process.

“The CFPB finds the results of this study encouraging for industry participants that are currently completing eClosings, working toward eClosing implementation, or are still in early discussions on eClosing,” the report states.

Still, the Bureau believes the study shouldn’t be used as a final verdict on the potential of eClosing, because of constraints in the data used and consumers reported mixed feeling on some of the technology-focused processes, specifically when it came to refinancing options.

“Given these constraints and results, we instead view this study as confirmation of growing interest in eClosing as an option for consumers and as a platform to spur further research,” the Bureau states.

Today’s report comes just two months before the CFPB’s “Know Before You Owe” mortgage disclosure rule takes effect.

The new rules requires two redesigned, easier-to-use mortgage disclosure forms that clearly lay out the terms of the loan for a homebuyer.

The first form is the Loan Estimate, which provides a summary of the key loan terms and estimated loan and closing costs. This form will be provided to consumers within three business days after they submit a loan application.

The second form is the Closing Disclosure, which offers a detailed accounting of the transaction. The rule requires the delivery of the Closing Disclosure three days before closing.