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Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Fri, 2014-10-31 14:30

Here are six of the best photos that readers added to the Consumerist Flickr Pool in the last week, picked for usability in a Consumerist post or for just plain neatness.

(Spencer Hughes)

(Spencer Hughes)

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

(John Hanley)

(John Hanley)

(Derelict Compositions)

(Derelict Compositions)

(Karen Chappell)

(Karen Chappell)

(Joachim Rayos)

(Joachim Rayos)

(Tom Richardson)

(Tom Richardson)

Our Flickr Pool is the place where Consumerist readers upload photos for possible use in future Consumerist posts. Want to see your pictures on our site? Just be a registered Flickr user, go here, and click “Join Group?” up on the top right. Choose your best photos, then click “send to group” on the individual images you want to add to the pool.

‘The Daily Show’ Rewrites Koch Industries Commercial That Runs During Show

Fri, 2014-10-31 00:01

koch_commercialObservant viewers of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” may have noticed that the Comedy Central program has a new advertiser. No, not a video game or even a new flavor of Bud Light: a family-owned outfit out of Kansas is buying ad time during the influential comedy-news program. That company: Koch Industries.

You may have heard of Koch Industries when they were nominated for the initial rounds of the 2014 Worst Company in America tournament, defeating student-loan megalith Sallie Mae, but ultimately losing in the second round to Time Warner Cable. Or you may have heard of them because of the generous political donations that the brothers who control the company have given in recent years. Their political activities are very controversial, for reasons that are outside the scope of this blog post.

It’s clear that Koch Industries wants to present itself as a cuddly, ethnically diverse company that wants to make Americans’ lives better. “Wow, that’s the kind of ad that a company usually makes when it turns out a byproduct of their manufacturing process is giving young pubescent males talking nipples,” Jon Stewart observed after showing a shortened version of the ad. Yet they also don’t really offer any consumer-facing products, with the exception of some disposable paper items that their Georgia-Pacific division sells. Why advertise directly to consumers? Stewart knows.

“Clearly the Koch brothers are trying to say to our audience of not-yet-dying-off voters, ‘even though you’ve heard certain things about the Koch brothers, how bad could they be? If they were evil, would a baby agree to appear in their advertisements?'” he pointed out in a segment intended to welcome the new advertiser to the Daily Show family.

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This clip raises many questions. Will Koch Industries fire back? Will they keep running their ad, even though it’s sure to give many regular viewers giggle fits now? Did Comedy Central and its corporate parent Viacom know ahead of time that one of its most popular programs was about to bite one of the many hands that fund it?

According to a Washington Post article about this new ad campaign, this is the first time the company has ever advertised itself nationwide. Brands like Angel Soft toilet paper, maybe, but never Koch Industries itself.

One finance professor near the company’s Wichita home speculates that the real point of the commercials is recruitment: that’s why you see the company’s “careers” site publicized prominently in these ads. Backlash against the Koch Brothers’ political work and donations could be affecting the company’s hiring efforts, if the best and most accomplished young people aren’t interested in going to work for a company with an infamous name.

A Koch Industries spokesman denied this explanation for the ad to the Post, saying that the ads are simply an effort to get the company’s name out there in a context that doesn’t mention its owners’ political activities.

Hmm. They probably won’t want to air that free rewrite that “The Daily Show” wrote and edited for them, then.

Democalypse 2014 – South by South Mess: Ad of Brothers [Comedy Central] (Warning: auto-play video)
Koch Industries adopts new public posture to neutralize opponents, recast image [Washington Post]

After You Take Off Your Sexy Ebola Containment Costume, Donate A Real One

Thu, 2014-10-30 23:05

ebola_costumeSure, Ebola containment suits are apparently a popular Halloween costume this year. We get it: the costume is easy to put together, timely, and some people find it amusing. Yet when they take off their fake hazmat suits (or their incredibly fake sexy hazmat suits) will any of the people wearing this costume think about the health care workers in western Africa whose lives depend on the real versions of these suits?

Doctors of the World, an aid organization founded by one of the founders of Doctors Without Borders, is taking advantage of this costume trend in the most helpful way possible. In a slick ad campaign produced by slick ad agency Publicis, the group makes the argument that “Here, it’s a costume. There, it saves lives.”

Don’t send your old costume to Liberia, since that’s a very inefficient way to send aid, even if your costume were a real hazmat suit. However, if you have $80 to spend on a containment suit costume, perhaps you can match that amount with a donation that would buy an apron, booties, and a mask for a real health-care worker. You can even spend an extra eleven bucks and get them gloves and a pair of goggles.

If you want to buy a real hazmat suit, that will set you back $250. A protective hood costs $500.

This was a great idea: instead of just complaining about the trend, the group is turning a silly current-events costume into a fundraising campaign. The donations won’t be used to literally buy the amount of each supply that donors pick out, but instead the e-commerce style site shows what items their donations could buy if and when it’s needed.

Wearing a Fake Ebola Hazmat Suit for Halloween? Donate a Real One Instead [AdWeek]
More Than a Costume [Doctors of the World]

Ohio Jury Finds Whirlpool Not Liable For Moldy Front-Loading Washers

Thu, 2014-10-30 22:29



For the last six years, appliance-maker Whirlpool has fought the prospect of class action lawsuits filed by the owners of early front-loading high-efficiency washing machines. When the Supreme Court declined to hear Whirlpool’s case for the second time earlier this year, actual suits could go forward. The case on behalf of Whirlpool washer owners in Ohio went to trial this month, and a jury found the company not liable.


The trial lasted for three weeks, and the jury found that the appliance-maker wasn’t liable for defective product design or breach of implied warranty. If Whirlpool and other companies continue to fight the lawsuits instead of settling out of court, there will be dozens more trials like this in federal courts across the country.

One of the attorneys representing the Ohio plaintiffs says that they will not give in. “Until Whirlpool takes responsibility for selling defective washers, the fight will continue,” he told Reuters.

Whirlpool has fought these particular lawsuits for years. The legal question was whether these particular customers have the right to band together as a class and sue in a class action, or whether their cases are so different that they should be required to each file separate lawsuits against the appliance manufacturers. (These questions also affected similar class actions against Sears and Bosch.)

Whirlpool wins first trial over ‘moldy’ washers [Reuters]
Original complaint from 2008 [PDF]
Verdict Sheet [PDF]

That “Wild Gulf Shrimp” You Bought Might Actually Be Farmed Whiteleg Shrimp

Thu, 2014-10-30 21:49

(Photos in the Sunset)

(Photos in the Sunset)

Just because you spent an hour searching the grocery store for the perfect bag of Wild Gulf Shrimp doesn’t mean you’re actually getting wild shrimp caught in the Gulf of Mexico.. In fact a new study released Thursday found that nearly a third of the shrimp products being sold in U.S. stores and restaurants aren’t what they seem to be.

The study from international environmental advocacy group, Oceana, analyzed 143 shrimp products from 111 grocery stores and restaurants in New York City, Washington, D.C., Portland, OR, and the Gulf of Mexico region.

DNA testing revealed that 30% of the products contained some kind of misrepresentation including products where one species was swapped for another; product sold as Gulf/wild shrimp were actually farmed; or bags included a mix of different species.

According to the report, the most common misrepresentation was the labeling of farmed whiteleg shrimp as “wild” or “Gulf” shrimp. However, none of the shrimp labeled as farmed were misrepresented.

And in one of the more disturbing findings, the group discovered that a frozen bag of salad-sized shrimp included an aquarium pet – a banded coral shrimp – not meant for consumption.

“Despite its popularity, U.S. consumers are routinely given little to no information about the shrimp they purchase,” Beth Lowell, senior campaign director at Oceana, says in a statement. “While shrimp is the most commonly consumed seafood in the U.S., and the most highly traded seafood in the world, its high demand has led to conservation concerns as well as a bait and switch on consumers.”

While Oceana found misrepresented shrimp in all regions that were tested, the most came from New York City where 43% of the products were mislabeled.

Products in Washington, D.C. didn’t fare much better, with 33% of products found to be mislabeled.

One might assume that shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico region would have the least amount of mislabeling, but you’d be wrong. The area was found to have about 30% of products mislabeled.

In fact, Portland had the fewest products mislabeled, with just 5% containing misrepresentations.

Overall, Oceana reports that 35% of the 111 vendors selling the tested products sold misrepresented shrimp.

While a majority of the 70 restaurants visited for the study did not include information about the types of scrimp, nearly 31% of those who did provide information sold misrepresented shrimp.

Of the 41 grocery stores included in the study, 41% sold misrepresented products.

“Until traceability is the status quo, consumers should ask more questions about the seafood they purchase, including what kind it is, if it is wild or farm-raised, and where and how it was caught,” Lowell says in the statement.

Oceana is urging the government task force responsible for combating seafood fraud to take a comprehensive approach to addressing issues of traceability to ensure that products sold in the U.S. are safe, legally caught, and properly labeled.

Oceana Study Reveals Misrepresentation of America’s Favorite Seafood [Oceana]

Study Finds Internet Congestion Really Is About Business, Not Technology

Thu, 2014-10-30 21:43



Various enormous corporations have this year been at each other’s throats over how well or how poorly internet traffic travels through their systems. A new report indicates that some of the mud-slinging this year is true: interconnection, or peering, between ISPs is why end-users are getting terrible internet traffic. But, they say, it’s business, and not technology, that’s making your Netflix buffer.

DSL Reports points the way to the study, from an internet research organization called M-Lab. M-Lab studied how traffic does (or doesn’t) make it to you through the peering connections it travels through.

Peering has come up a lot this year, most notably around Netflix. The streaming-video behemoth contended that major ISPs — particularly but not solely Comcast and Verizon — were deliberately letting Netflix traffic clog up.

The congestion was happening at interconnection points, the places where the transit ISPs Netflix partnered with — companies like Level 3 and Cogent — met up with the access ISPs (the “last mile” providers) that home users use. To alleviate the congestion and avoid hemorrhaging customers who couldn’t use the service they paid for, Netflix eventually paid Comcast, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable for direct access to their networks, bypassing those interconnection points entirely.

But even though Netflix moves a lot of data, they’re hardly the only internet traffic moving around out there. Massive amounts of information pass through transit ISPs and peering connections every moment of every day. So where are the problems in the system?

M-Lab sat down and did a long-term study measuring how internet traffic moves through all those different transit tributaries, so to speak. The full report (a href=””>PDF) delves into some of the technicalities of measuring and quantifying interconnection and is kind of a hefty read. There are, however, some clear key take-aways.

From a high level, you see some of the patterns you’d expect. For example, there’s a lot less network congestion at 3 o’clock in the morning then there is at prime-time, between 7 and 11 p.m.

But beyond that, one pattern began clearly to emerge. The network congestion M-Lab was seeing, they write, doesn’t appear to be connected to the technical limitations of ISPs or the connection points themselves. Instead, it seems, “business relationships between ISPs, and not major technical problems, are at the root of the problems we observed.”

M-Lab is very careful to remind readers that they have data proving correlations, but insufficient information to assign blame. “While we feel safe pinpointing the interconnection relationship … as a factor in performance degradation,” M-Lab writes, “it is important to not that we cannot determine which actors or actions are ‘responsible’ for observed degradation. We cannot tell whether any particular ISP between the user and a measurement point is ‘at fault,’ what the contractual agreement between ISPs did or did not dictate vis-a-vis interconnection, or whether specific network modification was done to alleviate or magnify a given incident.”

But the evidence does look worse for some companies than for others. M-Lab used New York City as one of their case studies. They found that in 2013, internet traffic delivered to Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast via Cogent took a dramatic hit before rebounding equally dramatically roughly 10 months later:
via the Measurement Lab Interconnection Study

via the Measurement Lab Interconnection Study

Since all three ISPs took a hit at roughly the same time, it seems easy to look for a common link. In this case, that link would be Cogent. Perhaps the trouble was on their end, instead of at three different companies?

Not so, says M-Lab. The next graph demonstrates that during the same period of time, in the same city, Cablevision’s traffic through Cogent moved smoothly and quickly without taking the same precipitous plunge as the other three providers’.

So that says Cogent was up and running. So perhaps TWC, Comcast, and Verizon all suffered a freak simultaneous set of outages? M-Lab couldn’t rule that out, but they also measured the connections all four last-mile ISPs had to another transit provider, Internap, during the same time period. Those connections did not see any significant degradation.

Although they are once again careful not to assign blame, M-Lab points out that the data “strongly suggests that the issues seen are not isolated to the consumer-facing, edge networks of impacted Access ISPs, but rather relate to the interconnections traversed between Cogent and the three impacted Access ISPs – Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon.”

Whether the last-mile providers are doing it to squeeze more money out of video companies or simply having contractual disagreements with Cogent doesn’t really matter to consumers who, once again, are stuck in the middle without the chance to flee to the competition.

M-Lab: Streaming Issues Were Conscious ISP Business Decision [DSL Reports]

Starz Also Looking At Online-Only Streaming Service

Thu, 2014-10-30 21:20

sparctacusIn the wake of HBO’s still-vague announcement that it will soon be launching a streaming video service that doesn’t require a pay-TV subscription, Starz — the nudity and violence-loving competitor to HBO — says it is also looking into the possibility.

Starz CEO Chris Albrecht — taking a break from ensuring that all of his original programming maintains the proper nipple-to-decaptitation ratio that its viewers have come to expect — recently told reporters that his company is already planning an on-demand streaming service for international markets.

The premium network already offers a streaming service to subscribers in the U.S., but just like HBO Go, you need to first pay for TV service through a cable or satellite provider.

But Albrecht indicated that Starz is looking at options for an online-only service here in the U.S., which he views as an inevitability.

“This is a tide that has to turn,” he explained, saying that the value of a paid premium channel is constrained by the current business model.

“I don’t think it cannibalizes the existing business,” says Albrecht of skeptics’ claims that you can’t succeed in offering both a pay-TV service and an over-the-top online-only service. “It is a way to innovate and create real value.”

He explains that it’s important to attract those consumers who have either given up on pay-TV or have never given it a chance because there are plenty of non-cable entertainment options available.

“Let’s get them in the tent,” says Albrecht. “Let’s give them what they want.”

One statement from the CEO seems to indicate that, as we suggested in a previous story about the impending HBO service, that cable companies could benefit by continuing to do the billing for over-the-top services.

“The distributors have to decide they want to not just sell [cord-cutters] broadband but they want them to be video customers as well,” he explained. “To us this is a no-brainer.”

[via Variety]

Sale Of Motorola Mobility From Google To Lenovo Is Finalized

Thu, 2014-10-30 20:47

(Louis Abate)

(Louis Abate)

Earlier this year, Google sold Motorola Mobility to Lenovo for $2.91 billion in cash and stock. Just three years ago, Google bought the company for $12.5 billion, but this isn’t as terrible a business deal as it might appear: while Lenovo gets the phone business, Google gets to keep the company’s valuable library of patents.

Google spent $12.5 billion on the company, maker of many well-respected handsets that run Google’s Android phone and tablet operating system. Motorola Mobility doesn’t turn a profit, but Lenovo now has a reputation for buying brands with a lot of potential and nurturing them into a bigger business. There are even rumors that the company may be looking to purchase Blackberry, an even more troubled smartphone maker. and has been focusing on lower-end smartphones for developing markets.

Lenovo is now the top computer manufacturer in the world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that consumers want to buy a smartphone from them. The company plans to keep Motorola Mobility’s headquarters in Chicago, and keep the Motorola brand. That’s smart, since the brand has 8% of the market.

It’s official: Motorola Mobility now belongs to Lenovo [CNET]

5 Things We Learned About The Single Mom That Made Tupperware Parties Famous

Thu, 2014-10-30 20:40

Brownie Wise, the force behind Tupperware's sales party technique, would toss sealed bowls full of liquid to demonstrate the product.

Brownie Wise, the force behind Tupperware’s sales party technique, would toss sealed bowls full of liquid to demonstrate the product.

Whether you’ve ever sat through a sales “party” for some sort of product — whether it’s cleaning products, makeup, weight-loss treatments or marital aids — the mere existence of this type of social soft sell owes a lot to one woman, Brownie Wise, who didn’t just have a made-for-TV name, but who came out of nowhere to make Tupperware a household name before being left with little to show for her efforts.

Over at Mental Floss, writer Jen Doll takes an in-depth look at Brownie’s fascinating life that is definitely worth a read. But if you’re too busy planning your own sales party for this weekend, here are some of the things we learned about this retail revolutionary:

1. Before getting into sales, she penned a women’s advice column

In the 1940s, while working as a secretary at Bendix Aviation in Michigan, Brownie also penned an advice column for the Detroit News under the pseudonym of “Hibiscus,” a well-heeled housewife who lived with her family in a fictional home dubbed “Lovehaven,” even though Brownie herself was a divorced mom living a very different life from the one she described on paper.

2. Tupperware wasn’t her first stab at throwing sales parties

After being less than impressed by a Stanley Home Products door-to-door salesman, Brownie decided to try her hand at a side job selling Stanley items using the company’s experimental program of hosting parties to demonstrate their products.

She was soon earning enough money to do full-time sales and even reached management level at Stanley before being told by the head of the company that she’d never reach become an executive because the halls of Stanley were “no place for a woman.”

3. She discovered the alluring power of being put on a waiting list

Much like a nightclub can give off the impression of being exclusive and popular by having a long line of people waiting to get inside, a good salesperson knows the value of using scarcity to make a product — even something like Tupperware — more desirable. She would take orders from customers regardless of whether the product was in stock because she knew that putting customers on that waiting list made them more eager to buy.

4. She used a glob of raw polyethylene as a good luck totem

The original Tupperware product was born out of surplus polyethylene that Tupper had procured from the military after the end of World War II.

After Brownie joined the company and showed that her sales technique worked, company founder Earl Tupper showed his graciousness by presenting her with a piece of the material. She named the blob of plastic “Poly” and considered it a prized possession that she told her sellers to touch for good luck.

“Just get your fingers on it, wish for what you want,” she’d tell them. “Know it’s going to come true, and then get out and work like everything… and it will!”

5. She was the first woman on the cover of Business Week

By 1954, Wise’s rapidly growing, mostly female army of sellers was bringing in $25 million a year to a company that could barely get off the ground before she came on board. But when she landed on the cover of Business Week magazine that year, and received much of the credit for the company’s success in the accompanying article, Earl Tupper wasn’t thrilled that she might be overshadowing his creation.

Following the publication of the Business Week piece, he left Brownie a note about the piece that read, “good executive as you are, I still like best the pictures … with TUPPERWARE!”

6. Her name was soon expunged from Tupperware history and her books were buried

The final years of her decade with Tupperware were filled with tension, as Mr. Tupper believed her extravagant events and the rewards she handed out were costing him money. He also got to thinking that Tupperware had just become a way for Brownie to market herself to the public.

So in advance of the sale of Tupperware to the Rexall Drug in 1958, Tupper fired Brownie and eventually ordered that her name be removed from the official company history. He also ordered that the remaining copies of her self-help book be buried in a pit near the Tupperware HQ in Florida.

After a legal battle, Brownie, who held no stock in the company she helped to bring to the fore of American kitchen culture, was awarded one year’s salary, around $30,000.

In spite of her meteoric rise, Brownie would never again achieve the same level of success. She passed away in 1992 at her home in Kissimmee, FL, not far from the company that tried to erase her from its memory decades earlier.

Walmart Might Begin Price-Matching Amazon, Other Online Retailers

Thu, 2014-10-30 20:34


It’s not uncommon for consumers view items at a store and then purchase them for a lower price online. One of the nation’s largest retailers is apparently tired of losing those customers and may begin price-matching its online competition this holiday season; a trend retail analysts predicted less than a month ago.

The Wall Street Journal reports that executives at Walmart are discussing whether or not now is a good time to expand its current price-matching program to include online retailers like Amazon.

The decision reportedly balances on determining how much the company stands to lose if the program were to go nationwide.

A spokesperson for Walmart tells the WSJ that the company has previously given store managers the discretion of whether or not to match certain online prices on a case-by-case basis.

The expanded program would be in addition to Walmart’s “Savings Catcher” program – which has produced mixed results – that allows shoppers to scan in their receipts and have Walmart determine if the customer could have paid less elsewhere – with the exception of online retailers.

If the program comes to fruition, Walmart would be joining the likes of Best Buy and Target, which previously implemented online price-matching programs to keep customers from browsing items in their stores, only to make purchases online from competitors like Amazon.

Industry officials say that by expanding to an online price-matching program, Walmart could regain its reputation as a low-price leader at physical stores.

According to the WSJ, Walmart’s online store has already begun closing the gap with competitors such as Amazon. A Wells Fargo report found that in August, the company’s prices were nearly 10% lower than those of Amazon.

While offering price-matching might bring more customers into Walmart stores, it could prove costly to the company’s bottom-line.

Shortly after Best Buy began its online price-matching program, the company reported a hit to its margins. However, officials with the company say the cost of price-matching will eventually come down as prices between stores and online merchants become more even.

Additionally, an industry analyst says companies that allow online price-matching often reap the benefits when it comes to their reputation, as consumers begin to see them as a serious competitor with online retailers.

If Walmart decides to go ahead with the program, it might need to do so quickly, as the holiday shopping season is apparently already underway.

Online shopping is expected to take an even bigger piece of the holiday pie this year, with 44% of consumers planning to do their shopping on the web, an increase from 31% five years ago, the WSJ reports.

Last holiday season, Walmart announced a program in which they would match any competitor’s holiday sale price, including those on Black Friday. However, the promotion still did not include online retailers.

Wal-Mart Weighs Matching Online Prices [The Wall Street Journal]

Who Has It Worse: Victims Of This Scary “Living” Poster, Or The Guy Stuck Inside?

Thu, 2014-10-30 19:07

If you want a viral advertising gimmick, there are few more reliable methods than just scaring the fecal matter out of innocent people. But after looking at this video about one amusement park’s terrifying “living” poster, we’re not sure if we feel worse for the people who soil their jeans from fright or the poor guy who is stuck inside the poster all day.

The folks at Gröna Lund Scare park in Sweden should probably not have posted the above behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the poster, which features a white display with only a few words and a QR code for people to scan with their phones.

Scanning that code triggers a horrific screaming sound from inside the display, all while some sort of ghoulish creature tries to claw its way through the white poster, which honestly has to be a pretty scary event for those not expecting it.

But as the behind-the-scenes video shows, that movement isn’t achieved through some sort of Disney-ish animatronics, but through the old-fashioned way — some poor sucker who has to stand in the display all day waiting for people to scan the QR code.

Live The Dream: Hand Out Candy Canes To Trick-Or-Treaters

Thu, 2014-10-30 19:03

Most people have bought their Halloween candy, which leaves lots of empty retail space. What’s a smart store manager to do? Fill that space up with merchandise for the next holiday. This makes retail sense, but results in horrified Consumerist readers when they see a huge display of candy canes two days before Halloween.


Liz spotted this display at a Wegmans store in upstate New York. “We can’t even enjoy Halloween anymore!” she wrote, perhaps overlooking that giving out candy canes to children on Halloween would be a fantastic way to enjoy the holiday. It might be problematic for families that celebrate Halloween but not Christmas, though, so maybe it isn’t such a good idea.

Chrysler Recalls 33,000 Trucks, SUVs, And Minivans For Tire Pressure Problems

Thu, 2014-10-30 18:41

(Realph Krawczyk Jr)

(Realph Krawczyk Jr)

Chrysler continues its recall roll this week, issuing two more notices calling back more than 33,000 vehicles for issues related to tire pressure monitoring systems.

The car manufacturer announced the recall of 10,390 model year 2014 Jeep Wranglers, Dodge Grand Caravans and Chrysler Town & Country minivans because of false warnings from the tire pressure monitor (TPM) system.

Officials with the company say recall was initiated to reconfigure a TPM module to disable a test mode that was inadvertently left on following shipment of the vehicles.

The TPM module in the recalled vehicles may not get accurate tire-pressure readings, which can result in a false warning.

The second recall, which involves 23,053 model year 2014 Ram ProMaster full-size vans, concerns a needed software upgrade in the TPM system.

According to Chrysler, the vans contain TPM sensors that lack the capability to recognize which tire the pressure data is coming from. The issue can create false signals of low tire pressure.

Additionally, if the light is already activated, the system may not properly alert vehicle occupants if tire pressure actually becomes low.

Owners of vehicles covered by both recalls will be notified next month and advised of when they can schedule service.

Today’s recalls mark the third and fourth for Chrysler this week. Yesterday, the company issued two separate recalls involving more than 566,000 trucks and SUVs that may have fuel leaks and stability control issues.

On Monday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it was opening an inquiry into Chrysler’s Dodge brand for poor communication and delays in remedying a 2013 recall of the 972,000 model year 2003-2012 light and heavy-duty Ram trucks that contain a defect in the left tie rod assembly that if fractured could cause the vehicle to lose steering control.

Statement: Tire Pressure Monitors [Chrysler]

Yet Another City Moves To Block Comcast From Taking Over Their TWC Service

Thu, 2014-10-30 18:35



Comcast’s plans to buy Time Warner Cable are obviously heavily under review at the federal level, and states are reviewing the merger plans with a gimlet eye as well. But thanks to the quirks of the way cable agreements developed, the cities that cable companies serve have the power to allow or block new companies from coming in and taking over. And a city in Kentucky this week became the latest potentially to throw a wrench in the grand Comcast/Time Warner Cable/Charter plan by doing just that.

The central Kentucky city of Danville this week took action to prevent the transfer of their cable from TWC to Comcast, according to local media.

On Monday, the Danville City Commission voted unanimously to approve the first reading of two ordinances related to the merger. The first would deny the transfer of the city’s service from TWC to Comcast. The second would deny the transfer from Comcast to Charter. The City Commission could pass the ordinances as soon as November 10.

Under Kentucky law (as in most states), cable companies must obtain a franchise agreement from a city in order to operate there. As the Advocate-Messenger explains, Danville last issued a franchise agreement in 2003, to Adelphia. Time Warner Cable purchased Adelphia in 2009, but continued to provide service under the terms of the earlier contract.

Because the franchise agreement is expired, city officials had an opportunity to address existing issues in negotiating a new agreement with TWC — one that would then be transferred to Comcast.

But TWC has apparently not been amenable to the city’s requests. The Danville City Attorney told the Advocate-Messenger that there are “serious non-compliancy issues” with the existing, expired franchise agreement. “We had been in discussion with representatives of Time Warner Cable for a long period of time,” he added, “however, we have been unsuccessful in negotiating the outstanding non-compliance issues.”

Among the issues in the negotiation between TWC and Danville were the retention of a local office in Danville, a fiber connection to the city hall, continued service of the local public access channel, and free service to local civic buildings and schools. A lawyer retained by the city also pointed to Comcast’s customer service record as a contributing factor.

A Danville city comissioner told the Advocate-Messenger, “I think the things we are asking for are very reasonable and very important for the public. We have a lot of people that rely on the public access channel for several things — people who can’t go out to church and a lot of people who watch broadcasts of City Commission meetings … It’s not a lot to ask of a company for the business we generate.”

Danville joins another Kentucky city, Lexington, as well as the central Massachusetts city of Worcester in taking steps to prevent Comcast from taking over the local cable franchise license.

In Worcester’s case, the city is currently served by Charter and would be spun off to Comcast as part of the “no, no, we’re not a monopoly, see?” customer swap the companies have arranged. Lexington, like Danville, is currently served by TWC but would be transferred eventually through Comcast to Charter as part of the same shuffle.

Danville moves to deny Time Warner Cable transfer of agreement to Comcast [The Advocate-Messenger]

Comcast Does Something Not-Awful, Teams Up With UPS Store For Easier Equipment Returns

Thu, 2014-10-30 18:21

(Andrew Petro)

(Andrew Petro)

From stories of waiting hours in line at a local cable office just to hand back your old cable box to tales of being billed hundreds of dollars for equipment that get “lost” in shipping even though you have tracking info showing they were sent back, one of the most frequent complaints we hear about cable companies is that it’s a huge pain in the derriere to return equipment. Comcast, in its bid to do things that aren’t always horrible and anti-consumer, announced today that its customers can now go the UPS store to return their Comcast stuff.

Comcast currently only operates around 500 Xfinity stores, but there are more than 4,400 UPS Stores around the country that should now be willing to accept your returned equipment — free of charge — and provide you a a receipt and tracking information.

Additionally, returns to UPS stores don’t require the customer to provide any packaging, says Comcast. So no need to find a shipping box and bubble wrap.

It’s a smart move for Comcast, which not only needs whatever PR wins it can muster, but which benefits from shorter lines at Xfinity stores. And since many people who return equipment are people who no longer want anything to do with Comcast, it gives those disenchanted consumers a non-Comcast place to go (and keeps them from riling up customers at Xfinity stores).

As we’ve pointed out before, while Comcast brags about its improved customer service scores, it still ranks near the bottom, if not dead-last, in many major customer satisfaction surveys of cable and Internet service providers. The UPS Store partnership allows it to deal with the industry-wide problem of equipment returns without having to invest in new retail locations (and the staff needed to run them).

It still remains to be seen whether or not this arrangement will indeed speed things up at Xfinity stores and reduce lost-equipment complaints from consumers, but it’s a rare pro-consumer move on Comcast’s part, so we’ll take what we can get.

FTC Sues Gerber For False Advertising Over Claims Its Formula Can Prevent Allergies

Thu, 2014-10-30 17:52

050000216673Parents typically choose baby food based on the idea that it’s nutritious and good for their child. So it makes sense that consumers might look for formulas that can prevent illness or even allergies. But those claims aren’t always truthful according to the Federal Trade Commission, which is suing Gerber Products Co. for falsely advertising its Good Start Gentle.

The FTC announced that it has charged Gerber, also doing business as Nestle Nutrition, with deceptive advertising related to its claim that Good Start Gentle formula prevents or reduces the risk of children developing allergies.

According to the complaint, the New Jersey-based company misled consumers by claiming that feeding Good Start Gentle formula to infants with a family history of allergies prevents or reduces the risk that the child will develop said allergies.

In its advertisements, Gerber claims that feeding babies Good Start Gentle formula, which is made with partially hydrolyzed whey proteins, instead of formula made with inapt cow’s milk proteins would prevent or reduce the risk of a child developing allergies.

Ads included pitches such as: “You want your baby to have your imagination…Your smile…Your eyes…Not your allergies.”

A sticker on packages of the formula also reiterated its claims, “1st & ONLY Routine Formula TO REDUCE THE RISK OF DEVELOPING ALLERGIES.”

The FTC’s complaint charges that Gerber lacked the scientific substantiation to make these general allergy-prevention claims.

Additionally, the FTC alleges that Gerber falsely advertised that Good Start Gentle’s health claims were FDA-approved.

According to the FTC, back in 2011 Gerber did petition the FDA for permission to make claims connecting its whey protein with a reduced risk of one type of allergy – atopic dermatitis – in infants.

The FDA allowed Gerber to make the narrow claim only if the company carefully qualified its statement to make it clear that there was “little scientific evidence” for the relationship.

However, the FTC claims ads and packages of the formula featured a gold badge stating that Good Start Gentle is the “1st and Only” formula that “Meets FDA Qualified Health Claim.”

Officials with Gerber released a statement Thursday defending its use of the claims and reiterating that the formula can help prevent baby eczema, the Associated Press reports.

“Gerber always has and will continue to treat its mission of delivering nutrition and benefits to infants as its top priority,” Kevin Goldberg, vice president and general counsel for the company wrote in the statement. “We believe the information conveyed in our marketing is important for parents who have children at risk for atopic dermatitis, the most common allergy in infancy.”

FTC Charges Gerber with Falsely Advertising Its Good Start Gentle Formula Protects Infants from Developing Allergies [FTC]

FTC Sues Gerber Over Claims on Infant Formula [The Associated Press]

“Technology & Stuff” Chevy Rep Gives Recently Recalled Truck To World Series MVP

Thu, 2014-10-30 17:47

Forget Madison Bumgarner’s historic heroics in last night’s Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, the true Most Valuable Player of this postseason is Rikk Wilde, a regional Chevy executive who was thrust into the spotlight after Wednesday’s game and unwittingly turned himself into an Internet icon, while also handing out a recently recalled truck.

A bewildered Wilde, a zone manager for Chevy in the Kansas City area, was the one selected to present Bumgarner with his reward for being named the Series MVP — a new Chevy Colorado.

Obviously flustered, and armed only with a handful of note cards that he kept trying to reference, Wilde eventually gave up trying to tout the specific features of the truck, merely saying it featured all sorts of “technology and stuff.”

What Wilde failed to mention is that — like just about everything else GM has touched in the past decade — the 2015 Colorado was recently recalled before it even made its way to most dealers.

Earlier this month, the carmaker told Chevy dealers that had the trucks to put a stop-sale on the 2015 Colorado and GMC Canyon trucks over airbag concerns. Most of the affected vehicles were either still in the manufacturer’s hands or had not been sold by dealers when the recall was announced, so we’re hoping that MadBum didn’t get a bum truck that he’s going to have to bring in for a free repair when he should be out celebrating.

Speaking of bum deals, as a Phillies fan, I’d like to congratulate former Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence on his second Series title in three years. He should send Ruben Amaro Junior a rather big bouquet of thank-you flowers for trading him away.

Rule Aims To Hold For-Profit Schools Accountable For Grads’ Success, But May Fall Short

Thu, 2014-10-30 17:14
(Sapurah Lashari)

(Sapurah Lashari)

The Dept. of Education has been trying for years to craft a “gainful employment” rule that would penalize schools — mostly for-profit career training programs — by taking away access to federal funds if they fail to provide the adequate tools for their students to find work. Two years after failing to enact a heavily compromised version of these rules, the Ed. Dept. folks have unveiled the latest version with stricter guidelines, but which some consumer groups say don’t do enough to protect students at these schools.

The finalized regulations [PDF] create an oversight group and set standards for career colleges – those schools that offer specialized training programs in recognized occupations – to do a better job of preparing students for gainful employment, or risk losing access to taxpayer-funded federal student aid.

Under the new rules, for-profit colleges will be at risk of losing their federal aid should a typical graduate’s annual loan repayments exceed 20% of their discretionary income, or 8% of their total earnings.

[Click to Enlarge]

[Click to Enlarge]

Discretionary income is defined as above 150% of the poverty line and applies to what can be put towards non-necessities.

So for example, say the typical recent graduate of a career education program earns $25,000. That student would need to average annual student loan payments less than $2,000, or the school would be at risk for losing federal financial aid.

Currently, schools risk losing financial aid if a students’ annual loan repayment exceeds 30% of their discretionary income, or 12% of total earnings.

The Dept. says that based on available data, about 1,400 programs serving more than 840,000 students would not pass the new accountability standards set forth in the finalized rules.

For-profit colleges, which receive about 90% of their funding from student aid, have continually come under scrutiny for failing to demonstrate that students could find gainful employment in the fields in which they had been trained.

The schools have been criticized for failing to provide sufficient education and guidance to students who are then stuck without jobs and without the ability to pay back student loans. In fact, a 2012 Dept. of Education report found that more than 1-in-5 for-profit college graduates default on their student loans.

The rule also requires higher education institutions to provide information to prospective students about their programs, such as what former students are earning, the success rates at graduation, and the amount of debt accumulated.

Programs that do not currently meet the new standards will have the opportunity to make immediate changes to avoid sanctions, officials with the Dept. of Education say in a statement.

To ensure that colleges are held accountable under the new regulations, the Dept. of Education will lead an effort to formalize an interagency task force.

To do so, the Department and other federal and state agencies will coordinate their activities and promote information sharing to protect students from unfair, deceptive, and abusive policies and practices.

A similar watchdog group was proposed by a group of senators earlier this year. That group, which would be established through legislation, improve the coordination between federal agencies that oversee the industry, while providing student with a list of unsavory schools.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says in a statement that the finalized rules are “a necessary step to ensure that colleges accepting federal funds protect students, cut costs and improve outcomes.”

When the rules go into effect next July, it will being an end to a nearly five-year battle to rein in for-profit education institutions.

In 2011, Dept. of Education issued a similar rule that required colleges to show they actually prepares students for gainful employment or risk losing money. However, just a year later, a federal judge blocked major provisions of that rule, forcing the department to start over.

While the finalized rule strengthens previous standards, some consumer groups say they don’t go far enough in ensuring students are protected.

Pauline Abernathy, vice president of The Institute for College Access & Success, says in a statement [PDF] that the new rules fail to address programs where 99% of students drop out with heavy debts that they can’t pay down could still pass the proposed standards, and schools could still enroll students in programs that lack the accreditation needed for employment in the state where the students reside.

And while the Dept. of Education deserves praise for their work, it’s job is far from over.

“It can and must do much more to protect students and taxpayers from well-documented abuses,” she says.

Future Dept. work should include: curbing the manipulation of college cohort default rates and ‘90-10’ rates; stopping colleges from misrepresenting their job placement rates and other key information; enforcing statutory financial responsibility requirements; warning the public when colleges appear to be violating federal law; and ensuring that states and accreditors fulfill their responsibilities under the Higher Education Act.

Obama Administration Announces Final Rules to Protect Students from Poor-Performing Career College Programs [Department of Education]

Most People Don’t Really Want Gift Cards This Holiday Season

Thu, 2014-10-30 16:43

(Patrick Carlson)

(Patrick Carlson)

Every year, the super-consultants at Deloitte LLP ask people whether they’re interested in receiving and giving any gift cards this holiday season. We used to love the concept: Back in 2007, 69% of people said that they were interested in receiving the plastic cash replacers. This year, that number is down to 37%.

Results of different surveys differ, which indicates that maybe small surveys aren’t accurate for this kind of thing, or that the answers really depend on how a sample is selected, and on how questions are worded. What we can say conclusively is that not everyone wants a gift card.

No matter how they feel about receiving gift cards, surveys still show that more than half of people plan to buy gift cards for someone this holiday season, a number which would probably go up considerably if you polled people on the way home from work on the day before they see the person they’re buying a gift for. 43% of people in the Deloitte survey said that they plan to buy some gift cards this year.

Most of Us Don’t Want a Gift Card This Year [Wall Street Journal]

United Passenger Arrested For Groping, Kissing, Putting Headlock On Flight Attendants

Thu, 2014-10-30 16:40

(David Transier)

(David Transier)

A United Airlines passenger on board a flight from Atlanta to Denver apparently didn’t get the memo that the days of people looking the other way while you sexually harass a flight attendant are far in the past. Furthermore, if you double-up on your creepy actions by messing with two (2) attendants — and you put one of them in a headlock while trying to kiss her — you’re going to be arrested when that plane lands.

According to an FBI affidavit [PDF], on the Oct. 27 flight, two flight attendants say they were attacked by the same passenger, a 42-year-old Ukrainian man seated in first class.

The first attendant, who says she served two drinks to the passenger, told the FBI that the man confronted her in the forward galley and “stood behind her, making full body contact with her.”

He then, according to the affidavit, “put his lips on her neck and later touched her back and then moved his hand to her buttocks.”

He later sat down in the seat next to her, and allegedly “put his hand on her thigh, and then started to move his hand up and under her dress,” in spite of the attendant’s repeated directions to stop touching her. She estimates that the passenger touched her body somewhere between seven to ten times.

“She described his touch as ‘squeeze and hold’ and stated he used his strength to intimidate her,” reds the affidavit. “As a result of his behavior, she could not fulfill all of her duties because she felt afraid of him and threatened and intimidated by him.”

A second flight attendant came to the first class cabin after it became clear that her co-worker needed help dealing with the passenger’s lewd and unsolicited actions.

That’s when the passenger allegedly told this second attendant that “he liked her and made a hand gesture like he wanted to have sex with her. This gesture involved him pointing to her, pointing to himself, and slamming his closed fist sideways into his open hand as if to ‘slam her.'”

The attendant says the passenger touched her on her lower back and then dropped his hand to her buttocks.

And if that weren’t enough, both the second attendant and a witness told the FBI that the passenger later placed this attendant in a headlock while pulling him toward her and trying to kiss her.

“She described his touching as predatory and stated she thought he would have raped her,” reads the affidavit.

The passenger was detained when the plane landed at Denver International and subsequently charged with Interference with Flight Crew Members, a federal offense punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and a $250,000 fine.