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The Consumerist

3 Million Comments And Counting: The Final Public Comment Period On Net Neutrality Ends Tonight

Mon, 2014-09-15 21:43

2014.05.15-FCC-protestThe chance for the public — individuals, consumer advocates, and businesses alike — to have their say on the FCC’s proposed net neutrality rule is finally coming to an end. In the four months of the various comment periods being open, the FCC has received over 3 million comments so far, with more pouring in by the minute. But the finish line is near: the deadline on the reply period ends, for real, at midnight tonight.

In the first round of comments, ISPs cheered for fast lanes, because they stand to make money from businesses and consumers alike. Consumer advocacy groups, meanwhile, called for the FCC to enact actual non-discrimination rules without giant loophole exceptions available to the highest bidders.

Well over 1 million comments were submitted, of which a scant 4300 dropped the f-bomb. That’s not too bad, considering comedian John Oliver’s monologue inspired such a large audience to go comment that the FCC’s comment system became completely overwhelmed and keeled over dead.

The comments from the first round overwhelmingly were in favor of true net neutrality regulation, and against the idea of fast lanes.

In the second round, internet businesses and advocacy groups fought hard with a protest, calling for consumers to ask the FCC to regulate broadband under Title II as a common carrier. Over half of the 3 million comments the FCC has received have come in since the day of protest on September 10.

Of course, giant companies also get their second say. AT&T is suggesting that users should be able to designate their own preferred “fast lane” content on request. Comcast, meanwhile, is continuing to explain (PDF) why they think everyone else is totally jumping the gun to call for Title II classification which, from Comcast’s point of view, will break everything forever.

We are now into “speak now or forever hold your peace” territory. If you want to tell the FCC your thoughts, this is the time.

Verizon Allowing Some Early Upgrades During iPhone 6 Frenzy

Mon, 2014-09-15 21:28

iphone6Verizon is trying to sweeten the pot in its bid to retain customers looking to upgrade to one of the new iPhones. The nation’s wireless company has confirmed that it will allow customers who are on the precipice of upgrade eligibility to take advantage a couple months earlier than their contracts allow.

GigaOm reports that it has confirmed with Verizon that customers who are eligible for an upgrade between now an Nov. 15 (so those between 22 and 24 months into their contracts) can upgrade now if they want. The deal isn’t just for the iPhone, but the timing is obviously intended to take advantage of the large number of customers looking to change up to the new device.

Verizon, like other providers, used to be less strict about customers only being allowed to upgrade every 24 months, but it changed that policy in recent years because the majority of customers had already upgraded their plans from voice/text to include data, so there was no incentive for Verizon to provide discounted phones to customers any earlier than they were contractually obligated to.

But now some competitors are offering to pay early termination fees for customers willing to jump ship, so Verizon has a good reason to ease its upgrade restriction and allow some customers to upgrade a couple months early.

Of course, you’ll still need to pay an upgrade fee, regardless of whether or not you’re in contract.

Didn’t Want That U2 Album On Your iPhone? Now You Can Remove It

Mon, 2014-09-15 20:58

u2appleaMore bad news for U2. Not only did the band find out that it can’t make the Billboard charts by having Apple put it on every iPhone user’s iTunes account, but it turns out that a bunch of people aren’t U2 fans and don’t want their new album even if it’s free. After hearing from a few of these folks Apple has decided that maybe you should have a way to remove the tunes from your account.

Recode.net points us to a newly posted Apple.com page with instructions on how to delete Songs of Innocence from your iTunes account:

1. Go to http://itunes.com/soi-remove.
2. Click Remove Album to confirm you’d like to remove the album from your account.
3. Sign in with the Apple ID and password you use to buy from the iTunes Store.
4. You’ll see a confirmation message that the album has been removed from your account.

Those who actually downloaded the album will need to manually remove the songs from your device or computer, just like that playlist your ex made for you but now you can’t listen to because it reminds you of — never mind.

NHTSA Probes Ford Fiestas Because Car Doors Shouldn’t Magically Open While Driving

Mon, 2014-09-15 20:49

(Michael Klaus)

(Michael Klaus)

As a general rule of thumb I make sure to never drive with my door open: it’s not safe for me, my passengers or other drivers. But for some 60-odd drivers of Ford Fiestas, closing the door didn’t mean it would actually stay shut, and that issue opened the door (horrible pun) for a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation.

NHTSA announced that it opened a preliminary investigation into model year 2011 to 2013 Ford Fiesta’s after receiving 61 reports concerning door latch failures.

According to documents [PDF] filed by NHTSA, most consumers reported that the “door ajar” warning light would simply appear on the dashboard despite the door being shut.

However, in 12 cases the vehicle owner reported the door or doors opened after being shut and the vehicle was in motion.

“Closed rear passenger door after putting a bag in the car. Started to back out of parking spot when dash display said “door open.” Pulled the door closed..same thing. Got out, door latch had completely failed. I now have my door bungied closed for three weeks.”

“The rear passenger door failed to close due to the cheap plastic door latch malfunctioning. I got it fixed. Literally two days later, the front passenger door latch broke and failed after my friend entered the vehicle. We did not realize the door latch failed until after I began driving. The first corner I took, the door flew open and he was nearly executed from the vehicle.”

NHTSA reports the issue has so far resulted in one injury. Officials with Ford tell Reuters they are cooperating with the investigation.

Ford Fiestas Probed for Doors That Might Open While Being Driven [Reuters]

Report: Four Million Workers Had Wages Garnished In 2013

Mon, 2014-09-15 20:29

(Steve Depolo)

(Steve Depolo)

For most Americans every penny counts when it comes to their paycheck, but for some workers nearly a quarter of their wages are taken to pay for past debts in a process known as garnishment. The prevalence of this type of pay seizure grew significantly in the last few years leaving more consumers struggling financially.

A new report [PDF], commissioned by ProPublica and compiled by payroll provider ADP, found that more than 1-in-10 (around 7%) of all employees between the ages of 35 and 44 had their wages garnished last year.

With debt associated with student loans, credit cards, and medical bills rising, experts say they have seen a shift in the types of debts being garnished.

Unpaid child support was the most frequently given reason for garnishing wages, accounting for 41.5% of all seizures. Around 35.4% were made for student loan and court-ordered consumer debt repayments on things like credit cards and medical bills. Additionally, 18.3% of garnishments were deducted for tax levies and 4.9% for bankruptcy.

When the statistic is expand beyond the 13 million employees in the study to the nation’s entire population it reveals that about 3% or 4 million workers had wages garnished for consumer debts.

Who’s Being Garnished?

Consumers aged 35 to 44 were far more likely to have wages seized for debts than those in other age groups.

Consumers aged 35 to 44 were far more likely to have wages seized for debts than those in other age groups.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the report found that wage seizures were most common among middle-aged, blue-collar workers and lower-income employees. Nearly 5% of American’s earning between $25,000 and $40,000 per year have a portion of their wages deducted to pay for consumer debt.

The analysis found that the manufacturing sector had the highest rate of companies that had to garnish employees’ wages (48%), compared to the education and health services sector, where only 23% of companies garnished workers’ wages

Blue-Collar workers were more likely to have wages garnished than those in other sectors of employment.

Blue-Collar workers were more likely to have wages garnished than those in other sectors of employment.

Varying Laws, Varying Impacts Of Garnishments
Laws regarding garnishment varies significantly from state to state, which means some regions were more affected by the wage deductions than others.

The Midwest recorded the highest rate of garnishments with more than 6% of employees, or one in 16, who earned $25,000 to $40,000 having had their wages seized for consumer debt in 2013.

The high figure in the Midwest, may be a result of the relatively creditor-friendly laws in some states. Missouri, for example, creditors are allowed to seize 25% of an employee’s after-tax paycheck and can continue to charge high interest rates even after judgement is awarded.

Garnishments varied significantly in each section of the United States because each state’s laws regarding pay seizures are different.

Kevin, of Springfield, MO, found his paycheck was 25% lighter after Capital One began garnishments for his $15,000 in credit card debt leftover from the recession. While the 58-year-old has paid more than $6,000 toward the debt through the garnishment, he still owes more than $10,000 because the high interest rate allowed in Missouri.

Other states, such as Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and South Carolina, largely prohibit wage garnishment for consumer debts.

How Garnishments Start

Although state law governing the amount and frequency of garnishment varies, the process to commence deductions begins much the same way, with creditors filing suit against the debtor in local courts.

A review by ProPublica of court records in eight states found that the bulk of suits are filed by major credit card lenders, medical debt collectors, payday and installment loan lenders and debt buyers – those companies that purchase unpaid credit card bills.

While most creditors and collectors are represented by lawyers, debtors – who are usually in tough financial situations or unfamiliar with the court system – generally aren’t. That means the debtors often don’t show up and the creditor or collector asks for a default judgement which paves the way for pay seizures.

And once the judgement has been handed down, collectors and creditors have the ability to pursue garnishment for the life of the debt; meaning that even judgements from years ago can be pursued if the debt is still owed.

An associate circuit court judge in St. Louis tells ProPublica that the court system is designed to give debtors a chance to dispute allegations, but most don’t take the opportunity.

He says this is because most debtors don’t think they have a reason to attend since they owe the debt or they think that handling the case without an attorney is “beyond their sophistication.”

So most cases end with the debtor losing significant chunks of their paychecks each pay period.

A Last Resort
Still, collectors and creditors tell ProPublica that pursing a lawsuit against a debtor is always the last recourse used.

“Litigation is a very high-cost mechanism for trying to collect a debt,” Rob Foehl, general counsel at the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, tells ProPublica. “It’s really only a small percentage of outstanding debts that go through the process.”

ADP reports that employers can often assist workers in avoiding costly garnishments by offering financial counseling, budget education and preventative financial wellness training.

Additionally, consumer advocates tell ProPublica that more needs to be done to protect already vulnerable consumers.

“States and the federal government should look on reforming our wage garnishment laws with some urgency,” Carolyn Carter of the National Consumer Law Center tells ProPublica, calling the level of wage garnishment identified by the report “alarming.”

Unseen Toll: Wages of Millions Seized to Pay Past Debts [ProPublica]

Macy’s, Bloomingdales To Offer Same-Day Delivery In 8 Markets

Mon, 2014-09-15 20:06

(Phillip)

(Phillip)

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em… Even better yet, join ‘em and then do it faster. That seems to be the idea behind Macy’s announcement today that it and its upscale cousin Bloomingdale’s will be launching same-day delivery service in eight markets later this fall.

In an effort to compete with speedy delivery being offered by online retailers, the websites and mobile shopping apps for Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s will soon start offering the option for same-day delivery to customers in the following markets: Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

It also lists “New Jersey” as a market, but doesn’t specify whether it’s the entire state or just certain parts of the state. Curiously, neither of the two major markets that bracket the Garden State — NYC and Philadelphia — are included in the same-day delivery list.

The delivery service is being contracted out to a company called Deliv. No specifics were provided on launch dates or pricing.

The stores also announced today that they have finished rolling out their Buy Online Pickup in Store (BOPS) program to stores nationwide, so even if you can’t get same-day delivery, at least you can save time by not having to scour the racks and shelves looking for what you want to buy.

Tech Expert Makes Point About (Bad) Security In The Internet Of Things By Hacking A Printer To Run Doom

Mon, 2014-09-15 19:44

(Andrew Albosta)

(Andrew Albosta)

The more appliances and devices there are out there with internet connections, the more hackers will be able to find security vulnerabilities in those appliances. One security expert found a particular hole that let him remotely install any software onto a whole line of popular printers. How to make a true point about what someone can accomplish with remote access to your devices? Make it run full-fledged video games.

A security expert named Michael Jordon in the UK found a vulnerability on the Canon Pixma printer, the BBC reports. And when he found that vulnerability, he realized the processor capacity, available memory, and screen resolution on the printer were sufficient to run older PC software. And so he did what anyone with a few months to spare wrangling the trickier bits of code might do: he hacked a printer to run Doom.

Like many modern devices, the printers in question have an interface that can be accessed remotely via a web connection. So if you’re upstairs and the printer is downstairs, or if you’re at work and the printer is giving someone else at home some grief, you can look into it. Very convenient. But also very accessible by anyone at all if not properly secured.

And it wasn’t. “The web interface has no username or password on it,” Jordon told the BBC, let alone any stronger encryption. And from there, he discovered that users could use the web interface to remotely update a printer’s firmware.

The firmware was encrypted, but easy to crack, and so Jordon had the idea of replacing it with Doom. The coding was the difficult part, Jordon said; it took him four months to get it working properly. He finished just in time do give a presentation on it at 44Con, a hacker conference in the UK. He also shared the full details of the hack in a blog post.

A scan conducted by the security group found thousands of potentially vulnerable printers connected to the web worldwide.

In a statement, Canon thanked the hacker team for bringing the vulnerability to their attention and said, “we take any potential security vulnerability very seriously. … We intend to provide a fix as quickly as is feasible. All PIXMA products launching from now onwards will have a username/password added to the PIXMA web interface, and models launched from the second half of 2013 onwards will also receive this update, models launched prior to this time are unaffected. This action will resolve the issue.”

Running a video game on a printer is an attention-grabbing way to make an important point: the more we move toward the “internet of things,” the more we need to watch out for security on those things. When your car, printer, ceiling fan, drinkware, thermostat, and kitchen appliances all phone home for your convenience, a whole new layer of home security suddenly comes into play. And it’s one that locking your doors can’t really do a thing about.

Canon printer hacked to run Doom video game [BBC News via Business Insider]

Report Shows Farmers’ Indiscriminate Use Of Antibiotics In Chicken Feed

Mon, 2014-09-15 19:29

(Fuzzy Gerdes)

(Fuzzy Gerdes)

While the medical community and public health advocates continue to call on the FDA to better regulate the widespread use of antibiotics in animal feed, farmers and pharmaceutical companies try to claim that these drugs are primarily being used for disease prevention and that their use doesn’t cross over into humans. But a new investigative report from Reuters calls into question a number of statements made by the nation’s largest poultry farmers.

Reuters was able to review data from more than 320 “feed tickets” — documents issued to chicken farmers by the mills that produce feed to poultry companies’ specifications — for six of the country’s largest chicken producers.

These tickets identify any active drug ingredients in the feed by name and list the grams per ton of each drug included in the feed. These tickets also call out the FDA-approved purpose for each drug.

According to Reuters, tickets for Arkansas-based George’s Inc, showed that chickens at one of its farms were being fed the antibiotics tylosin and virginiamycin, and that these drugs were administered solely for “increased rate of weight gain.”

Both of these drugs belong to classes of antibiotics that are considered important to human medicine, with tylosin listed as “critically important” by the FDA.

The concern with the over-use of low doses of such drugs is that it can lead to the creation of drug-resistant strains of dangerous bacteria. If those resistant pathogens cross over into the human population, the drugs will be less effective, or possibly ineffective.

Tickets for farmers raising chickens for Tyson showed that the feed included the antibiotic bacitracin, which is not considered medically important to humans, but which is still frequently used to treat skin infections in humans. It also works to promote growth in poultry, though Tyson claims that this is not why it includes the drug in its feed.

Reuters inspection of feed tickets from Chicago-based chicken supplier Koch Foods, which provides birds for KFC, showed that as recently as July the company was feeding low-dose amounts of five different types of antibiotics. Among these drugs was virginiamycin, part of a class of drugs considered “highly important” to fighting infections in humans.

Additionally, 34 of the 55 Koch feed tickets examined by Reuters listed drugs as being used “for increased rate of weight gain,” “improved feed efficiency,” or both.

This information contradicts statements that had been on the Koch Foods website until late August. According to Reuters, the site had made claims that the company does “not administer antibiotics at growth promotion doses,” and that “No antibiotics of human significance are used to treat our birds.”

Those statements were removed after Reuters contacted Koch Foods about its report. The company maintains that the growth-promotion notations on the feed tickets are only there because the government requires that they be included if growth promotion is a known effect of a drug.

Perdue recently announced that it had stopped using gentamicin, a drug in the “highly important” to humans class, at its hatcheries. The company now says that 95% of its chickens are raised without being fed any antibiotics that are also used on humans.

The Reuters report found that none of the drugs listed on the Perdue feed tickets are currently considered medically important for humans. The company does still use one antibiotic, narasin, and certain antimicrobials, but none that the FDA classifies as an antibiotic.

For all the industry’s talk about preventing disease, one Perdue farmer tells Reuters that all those drugs don’t appear to be making much of a difference.

The farmer says that in the past two years he’s raised 12 flocks for Perdue — 5 antibiotic-free flocks, and 7 flocks that were fed narasin. The mortality rates for each of the flocks was nearly identical, says the farmer.

What’s more, he says that whether or not the birds received antibiotics, all of them made the Perdue target weight of 4.25 pounds.

So if the drugs aren’t keeping birds alive, and the chickens are still making weight whether or not they’re fed a bunch of antibiotics, there doesn’t seem to be much point in continuing to risk human lives, right?

Treatment of drug-resistant infections costs anywhere from $21 billion to $34 billion a year in the United States alone, according to the World Health Organization.

And the Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 2 million people in America become ill with drug-resistant infections every year, about 430,000 of them from food-borne bacteria.

“That’s the number we are certain of. The actual number is higher,” explains Steve Solomon, director of the CDC’s Office of Antimicrobial Resistance.

The recent outbreak of salmonella tied to chickens from mega-producer Foster Farms only highlights the risk we’re taking by pumping our farm animals full of medically unnecessary drugs.

A review of 68 of the salmonella cases linked to Foster Farms found that two-thirds of the bacteria were resistant to at least one antibiotic, and half of these pathogens were resistant to drugs in at least three different classes of antibiotics.

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter from NY, the only microbiologist in Congress, and an outspoken critic of the over-use of antibiotics in farm animals, says the Reuters report is a much-needed wake-up call.

“Since 1999, I have been calling for an end to the overuse of antibiotics on the farm,” Rep. Slaughter said in a statement. “Industry has kept data showing the rampant, dangerous use of antibiotics hidden from the public for one reason: to protect corporate profits at the expense of public health. It is unconscionable but not surprising that the agribusiness and pharmaceutical companies are still calling the shots. Worse yet, federal agencies have been helpless because they are afraid of litigation. Agencies charged with protecting Americans’ health should not have to wait for the opinion of a judge before fulfilling their obligations.”

The House Energy & Commerce Committee will be holding a hearing this Friday called, “21st Century Cures: Examining Ways to Combat Antibiotic Resistance and Foster New Drug Development” where Slaughter and others will question the industry on why it continues to deny the growing mountain of evidence against the non-medical use of antibiotics.

We Have Seen The Future, And It Serves Strawberry Dr Pepper

Mon, 2014-09-15 19:18

spirecropLast year, we brought you news that Pepsi finally had its answer to the Coke Freestyle super-fountain, and it was called the Pepsi Touch Tower. Over a year later, these machines finally made their way out into the wild, and have been renamed the Pepsi Spire. There aren’t many in operation: only 76 in the United States as of this writing. We were fortunate enough to encounter one while grabbing a slice of pizza.

Sure, there are other videos of the Spire in action, but those are generally earlier versions, with a public relations staffer or the Pepsi CEO looking over a reporter’s shoulder (warning: auto-play video at that link). How are these machines working out in the wild?

I’ve used the Coke Freestyle before, and was mostly surprised at how small the Spire setup is. It really feels like a tablet with a spout underneath. That’s it. Unlike the Freestyle, there’s no built-in ice machine, which makes it more compact. On the other hand, you then need a separate ice machine for customers who prefer ice.

It was very simple to make a strawberry Dr Pepper, then later a beverage that was 1/3 raspberry Sierra Mist and 2/3 club soda. Here’s a terrible video of the process, but if you’ve ever used a touchscreen tablet, you’ll get the idea. Tap, tap, beverage. Yes, I needed at least one more hand to do this.

Pepsi Spire from Laura Northrup on Vimeo.

One possible problem with the Spire: it’s not set up like a traditional soda fountain. Yeah, that’s part of the appeal, but that leads to a problem I wouldn’t have anticipated. Customers are used to soda fountains with a row of spouts and an ice machine in the center. More importantly, there’s a big drain at the bottom, which the Spire in use at this pizzeria doesn’t have. If a customer doesn’t like their concoction, they’re in the habit of tossing it into the drain. If there’s no drain, then they’re just throwing the soda back on the counter.

That’s why there’s a handwritten note in this video that you won’t see in Pepsi’s own promos. It instructs customers to “please dump unwanted drinks in the ice machine.”

PREVIOUSLY:
Vanilla Mountain Dew, Strawberry Pepsi Made Possible By New Soda Fountains

Woman Attacked For Keeping Taco Bell Customer From Getting Breakfast

Mon, 2014-09-15 18:13

(Misfit Photographer)

(Misfit Photographer)

If you show up at a Taco Bell with only a few minutes to go before the deadline for placing breakfast orders, don’t get mad if a delay in front of you prevents you from getting the food you crave. And, more importantly, don’t pursue and then assault the customer you blame for preventing you from ordering breakfast.

KGUN-TV in Tucson reports that a local woman recently went through the Taco Bell drive-thru. All seemed fine, though it did take about 10 minutes for her order to come out.

Problem is, during those 10 minutes the Bell had switched from making breakfast to the lunch menu. This is not what a customer behind this woman wanted to hear, but rather than blame himself or just suck it up and order lunch like a grown-up, he apparently set out in pursuit of the customer who had done nothing but order food slightly earlier than he did.

The woman tells KGUN that shortly after she pulled out of the Bell, she noticed the SUV that was behind her in line was now following her, honking the horn with the people inside yelling “‘You f-ing b****” at her as they pulled up next to her.

She says she pulled off to a side street and called 9-1-1, but the SUV followed. That’s when the man picked up a rock and smashed her car window.

“He then used that rock and hit me on the left side of my head by my ear and punched me in my mouth and nose,” the woman, who received a broken nose and teeth as a result, tells KGUN.

“The only thing that keeps running through my mind is that this person is just an absolute monster because no sane person in their right mind would do that to anybody,” she explains.

The assault came only weeks before the woman’s wedding. In spite of her injuries, and her concerns that her attackers are still on the loose, she says she’s still moving ahead with the nuptials as planned.

Limited Re-Release Of Coca-Cola’s Surge Sells Out Within Hours On Amazon

Mon, 2014-09-15 18:06

Get your daily recommended dose of carbos. And caffeine.

Get your daily recommended dose of carbos. And caffeine.

Do you remember Surge? Caffeine addicts of a certain age will know exactly what we’re referring to, but younger readers may only know the product’s name from online campaigns to bring it back. Now that the product’s biggest fans are young adults with disposable income and credit cards, Coca-Cola has brought the beverage back into production, sold exclusively on Amazon. The first batch sold out within hours.

Yes, before you ask, here’s the Amazon link to buy Surge. Now then: let’s go back in high-fructose history. Surge began its life as a Norwegian competitor to Mountain Dew, which was called Urge. The product was even referred to as “MDK,” which stood for “Mountain Dew Killer,” internally at Coca-Cola. The product was popular when it was introduced in 1996, but waned and was off the market by 2002. A similar Coca-Cola product, Vault, went on and off the market last decade: Vault was effectively Surge with 50% more caffeine.

For now, Coca-Cola says that the return of Surge to refrigerators nationwide is a limited-time thing. Of course, if customers continue to buy cases of the stuff from Amazon, that will indicate to Coke that they can bring the stuff back to regular stores and soda fountains. They’d have to rethink the marketing, though: Americans aren’t so much into “carbos” anymore.

Coca-Cola credits a Facebook page, Surge Movement, with inspiring them to bring back the product. The dedicated people behind that page went to amusing lengths to prove their love of Surge, even tapping a decade-old, technically expired box of Surge syrup and selling it to fans to promote their advertising efforts.

We also learned this weekend that Zima, the first sort of sweet, clear “beer alternative” beverage to hit the market in 1993, never really went away, but lives on in Japan, where it is inexplicably popular among men in their twenties. You can even buy it in bars. It was still in production in the United States until 2008.

If we’re going to bring back products from the ’90s, can we talk about crystal Pepsi?

(Paxton Holley)

(Paxton Holley)

I remember liking it, but in 1992 I may have been too young to know any better. That may be the case for people who are clamoring to buy cases of Surge now, too.

Coca-Cola Is Bringing Surge Back [Buzzfeed]

GM Confirms At Least 19 Deaths Now Tied To Ignition Switch Defect

Mon, 2014-09-15 17:52

(paul bica)

(paul bica)

Despite receiving more than 100 death claims tied to General Motor’s deadly ignition switch defect, officials tasked with investigating the claims on behalf of the company’s Ignition Switch Compensation Fund say only 19 deaths claims have been approved to receive payments; that’s just six more than the company originally identified and far fewer than other reports have tied to the issue.

The New York Times reports that Ken Feinberg, the lawyer hired by GM to compensate victims for accidents caused by the ignition switch issue, has found 19 death claims to be eligible for the estimated million-dollar payments.

The program, which began accepting claims on August 1 and will continue until December 31, aims to provide relief for the victims and families affected by ignition switch issues that resulted in the recall of 2.6 million vehicles and a number of federal probes related to the company’s 13-year delay in acknowledging the problem.

On Monday, Feinberg released statistics for the program that reveals the submission of 125 death claims, 58 series injury claims and 262 claims for less serious injuries.

The Times reports that so far the program has found four claims of serious injury – which include injuries resulting in quadriplegia, paraplegia, double amputation, permanent brain damage or pervasive burns – eligible for compensation. Eight of the less serious injury claims have been approved; those injuries are described as requiring hospitalization or outpatient treatment within 48 hours of the accident.

According to the program, claims that have not been accepted are still under review or awaiting additional evidence.

The new statistics did not reveal the identities of the victims involved in the approved death claims, making it unclear whether the new figure includes any or all of the 13 deaths originally tied to the defect by GM.

The compensation plan, which was unveiled in late June, does not put a cap on the payment amount victims could receive. Instead those affected by the faulty switch could receive anywhere from $20,000 to double-digit millions depending a number of factors including loss of wages, severity of injuries and more.

According to the plan’s formula, families of those who died are entitled to at least $1 million, plus the calculation of lifetime earning lost, and $300,000 for a spouse and for each dependent.

Consumers who suffered life-altering injuries could receive even more when the cost of lifetime medical care, lost earnings power and other factors are considered.

The plan also addresses consumers who faced less-severe injuries. Those who were treated at a hospital or an outpatient medical facility within 48 hours of the accident are eligible for a claim.

The formula for that claim is $20,000 for one night in the hospital; $70,000 for two to seven overnights, $170,000 for eight to 15 overnights, with a maximum of $500,000 for 32 or more overnights. Those treated on an outpatient basis could receive a maximum of $20,000.

Additionally, the plan provides for payout for accidents that have yet to occur. The protocol will cover crashes that happen through December 31, 2014.

The compensation program covers approximately 1.6 million model-year 2003-2007 recalled vehicles manufactured with an ignition switch defect and approximately 1 million model year 2008-2011 recalled vehicles that may have been repaired with a recalled ignition switch.

While GM officials are hopeful the compensation program will deter victims from seeking relief through the courts, they say filing a complaint doesn’t necessarily mean consumers forfeit their right to sue.

Feinberg said in June that victims only waive their right to sue if they accept the payment from GM.

Number of Victims Eligible for G.M. Payouts Reaches 19 [The New York Times]

Urban Outfitters Sorry You Were Offended By “Blood-Spattered” Kent State Sweatshirt

Mon, 2014-09-15 17:22

(via @paleofuture)

(via @paleofuture)

Last night, Urban Outfitters took a lot of heat for selling a “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt” on its website that looked like it was splattered in blood. To some, this seemed like a disturbing, reference to the infamous 1970 incident at the Ohio school in which National Guard members fired on unarmed protesters, killing four. But according to the retailer this is all a big misunderstanding.

In a statement posted to Twitter, Urban writes:

Urban Outfitters sincerely apologizes for any offense our Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt may have caused. It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such. The one-of-a-kind item was purchased as part of our sun-faded vintage collection. There is no blood on this shirt nor has this item been altered in any way. The red stains are discoloration from the original shade of the shirt and the holes are from natural wear and fray. Again, we deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively and we have removed it immediately from our website to avoid further upset.

Around the same time as UO was apologizing, the leadership at Kent State were declaring their disgust.

“We take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit,” reads a statement from the school. “This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.”

Urban has removed the shirt from its website, but at least one person claimed to be selling it on eBay, though that listing has since been removed.

Nearly 1,100 Authors Say Amazon Feud With Publisher Has Hurt Sales By Up To 90%

Mon, 2014-09-15 17:00

(Chris Yunker)

(Chris Yunker)

A month after more than 900 authors signed a letter sent to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos asking him to resolve his company’s ongoing contract dispute with book publisher Hachette, an even larger group of writers has written to Bezos and members of the Amazon board of directors to explain how this standoff has hurt authors.

For those coming to this story late, Amazon and Hachette Book Group, one of the nation’s largest publishers, have been unable to agree on wholesale pricing terms, most notably on e-books.

Amazon is attempting to pressure Hachette into making a deal by refusing to take pre-orders on new Hachette titles. Shipping on the publisher’s in-stock titles is often delayed, and books from other publishers are receiving more attractive discounts.

“These sanctions have driven down Hachette authors’ sales at Amazon.com by at least 50 percent and in some cases as much as 90 percent,” reads the letter from Authors United, which currently has around 1,070 names attached. “Because of Amazon’s immense market share and its proprietary Kindle platform, other retailers have not made up the difference. Several thousand Hachette authors have watched their readership decline, or, in the case of new authors, have seen their books sink out of sight without finding an adequate readership. These men and women are deeply concerned about what this means for their future careers.”

Amazon has yet to post a response on its ReadersUnited.com site to this latest letter from the authors, but in the reply to the August letter, the e-tail giant pointed out that it had made a number of offers to Hachette that it claims would have minimized any damage to authors.

“We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute,” wrote Amazon at the time. “Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.”

[via GigaOm]

Woman Sues McDonald’s After Chowing Down On Nametag Instead Of French Fries

Mon, 2014-09-15 16:58

(Morton Fox)

(Morton Fox)

It’s nearly impossible to resist the urge to grab a handful of french fries after making your way through the McDonald’s drive-thru on your way home. But as one woman found out recently, patience is indeed a virtue, and it might stop you from munching on a plastic nametag instead of a french fry.

According to the Staten Island Advance, a New York woman filed a lawsuit last week claiming she inadvertently bit into an employee’s nametag that was mixed in with her order of french fries.

The woman alleges that she was injured by the tag’s pin and suffered serious mental and emotional injuries from the ordeal that happened in November 2013.

According to her lawyer, the woman, who was pregnant at the time of the event, suffered emotionally after “realizing that food isn’t always safe to eat.”

The suit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages from McDonald’s Corporation, alleges that the fast food restaurant failed to properly train workers, operated the restaurant in a “careless, reckless and negligent manner” and failed to safeguard against potential hazards.

The woman’s lawyer said he tried to resolve the issue with McDonald’s before filing the suit with the New York Supreme Court, but had no success.

“Although our client was injured by the negligence of McDonald’s and its employees, McDonald’s has so far been completely silent about this incident,” the lawyer told the Staten Island Advance. “They could have easily avoided a lawsuit if they were willing to discuss the matter with us. Unfortunately, McDonald’s callous behavior has only exacerbated the situation.”

A manager for the McDonald’s location in question says she was unaware of the incident and directed questions to the company’s headquarters, which did not reply to the Advance.

Lawsuit: Woman bit McDonald’s worker’s nametag in her spuds [Staten Island Advance]

Man Goes To 7-Eleven For Some Milk, Creates Drive-Thru

Mon, 2014-09-15 16:23

(e.teel)

(e.teel)

Drive-thru convenience stores exist. They are not popular, which is sort of surprising. Would the American public really resist a way to become even lazier? The 7-Eleven in Lombard, Illinois doesn’t have a drive-thru, but somehow acquired one yesterday when a man drove through a wall while stopping at the store to get some milk. He says that his brake pedal was stuck.

When police arrived at the store, they found a running car between the checkout and rack of chips, but no driver. The local sheriff’s department says that the suspect fled the scene, probably because he didn’t have a current driver’s license. Police did track him down, though, since he wasn’t able to get far on foot.

Police charged him with driving without a current license, leaving the scene of an accident, and failure to give information to the owner of the building that you just smashed into. Fortunately for everyone involved, no people were injured in this crash. Buildings and cars, sure, but those are both much easier to repair.

You probably want to see surveillance camera footage, but that apparently hasn’t been released to local media yet.

Car crashes through DuPage 7-Eleven, man charged [Chicago Tribune]

Microsoft Buys Minecraft Maker For $2.5 Billion

Mon, 2014-09-15 16:23

xboxminecraftIt’s official — Microsoft has decided it wants to play a lot of Minecraft, and it’s willing to pay $2.5 billion for the right to do so. The company announced today that it reached a deal to purchase Swedish Minecraft developer Mojang.

Microsoft believes the deal will be completed by the end of the calendar year, putting Mojang and its 100 million or so downloads of Minecraft — and all the users that come with those downloads — under its umbrella.

The game was already one of the most popular computer and mobile games ever when a console version of Minecraft finally launched on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in 2012. Since then, Microsoft claims that players have spent a total of 2 billion hours on the game just on that console alone.

The game has subsequently been made available on the Xbox One as well as both the PlayStation 3 and 4 from Sony.

Some games owned by Microsoft, most notably the Halo series, are held back from competing platforms, but in spite of the Microsoft acquisition, the company says Minecraft will continue to be made available on all its current platforms.

One of the most important aspects of the Mojang acquisition is the loyalty of Minecraft users. Microsoft says that around 90% of paying Minecraft players on the PC have played the game within the past 12 months.

“‘Minecraft’ is one of the most popular franchises of all time,” said Phil Spencer, head of Xbox. “We are going to maintain ‘Minecraft’ and its community in all the ways people love today, with a commitment to nurture and grow it long into the future.”

Comcast Decides Anyone Using Ultra-Private Browser Is Probably A Criminal, Threatens To Kill Their Connections

Mon, 2014-09-15 16:00

(Consumerist's own Chris Morran)

(Consumerist’s own Chris Morran)


Tor is a specialized web browser: its target audience is the very security-minded user, someone who wants to stay private and anonymous. That includes all kinds of folks, from tech writers to, well, some people who have a strong and vested interest in law enforcement not knowing what they’re up to. The browser boasts over a million users now, but Comcast seems to be of the opinion that it knows what every one of those people are up to, that they are up to no good, and that Comcast has the right to cut off their web service for using it.

Business Insider reports that Comcast is identifying Tor users as participating in “illegal activity,” and threatening to cut off their internet service.

According to DeepDotWeb, one Tor user was told by a Comcast representative, “Users who try to use anonymity, or cover themselves up on the internet, are usually doing things that aren’t so-to-speak legal. We have the right to terminate, fine, or suspend your account at anytime due to you violating the rules.”

Tor is popular with the criminal element, it’s true. But it’s also popular with highly tech-savvy, security-minded users. Last we checked, preferring privacy and anonymity online were far from illegal on their own.

Comcast is basically claiming psychic powers, to know what evil lurks in the hearts of men who prefer private browsing. And they’re saying that anyone who doesn’t want to be spied on is doing something against the rules.

Users, of course, probably have no alternative service to use. So Comcast is getting to decide what they do with their service, and what level of privacy they’re entitled to.

Call it another reason that letting Comcast take over more of the nation’s broadband connections is a bad idea.

Comcast Is Threatening To Cut Off Customers Who Use Tor, The Web Browser For Criminals [Business Insider via Yahoo News]

Forget Mints On The Pillow: Marriott Leaves Envelopes So You Can Tip The Maid

Mon, 2014-09-15 15:48

(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

If you’re staying at a Marriott-branded hotel this week you may notice a new addition to your guest room: An envelope encouraging you to tip the housekeeper. The gesture is part of a new initiative at the hotels to recognize the work that housekeepers often do behind the scenes.

The Washington Post reports the new measure, called “The Envelope Please” is a partnership with the nonprofit organization A Woman’s Nation. The organization’s founder, Maria Shriver, approached Marriott after speaking with housekeepers and hotel guests from around the country.

“I was talking to room attendants, who were overwhelmingly women, and they would tell me that people were pretty sophisticated about tipping the bellman or concierge, but they hadn’t been educated that they could leave a tip for a room attendant,” Shriver says in an interview with the Post. “There didn’t seem to be a general awareness that you could, or should, tip a room attendant.”

The American Hotel and Lodging Association tells the Post that it suggests tipping housekeepers between $1 and $5 per night. It also recommends tipping daily rather than at the end of an extended stay to make sure the tip goes to the person who cleans the room each day.

Marriott currently employs more than 20,000 housekeepers at it 18 branded hotels including the Marriott, Gaylord, Ritz-Carlton and Renaissance hotels.

Those employees are often paid by the hour with varying schedules based on the level of hotel occupancy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, housekeepers and maids earn a median salary of $19,780 – or $9.51 per hour.

Marriott president Arne Sorenson tells the Post that the initiative is a step in the right direction and recognizes one of the hotel’s most valuable employees.

“In a hotel, obviously we tip the bellman or wait staff,” he says. “But often we don’t see our housekeepers. We don’t have that personal interaction, so we just don’t think about it.”

Marriott to urge guests to tip their housekeepers as part of new campaign [The Washington Post]

AB InBev Getting Drunk On Idea Of Buying SABMiller For $122 Billion

Mon, 2014-09-15 15:43

(Scott Lynch)

(Scott Lynch)

It’s late at night and Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller are the only two beer companies left in the bar… mostly because these two have merged with everyone else in town. So what’s the harm in a couple of acquisition-tipsy beer biggies getting together? That’s why AB InBev has reportedly been texting its banking buddies for advice on hooking up with Miller.

This is according to the Wall Street Journal, which reports that AB InBev — the Brazilian-Belgian beer giant that owns everything from Budweiser to Beck’s to Bass to Blue Point — has been talking to banks about how to finance a merger with London-based SABMiller, which is also runs several non-beer bottling operations for other beverage companies, including Coca-Cola.

The amount of money being discussed is around $122 billion. That’s more than double the cost of the $52 billion 2008 merger of Anheuser-Busch and InBev that formed AB InBev.

The Journal’s sources say that there are no active discussions between the two companies, so this might all be a bit of wishful third-beer thinking on AB InBev’s part.

If AB InBev and SABMiller were someday able to work out a deal, the combined company would account for around 30% of the worldwide beer market. Any merger would likely face substantial opposition from parties concerned about one company having that much leverage. Both companies would probably have to sell or spin off operations to appease regulators.

Meanwhile, SABMiller has its eyes on Heineken, but its most recent offer to the Dutch beer company was rejected over the weekend.

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