website utilities

People before Profit

Follow alonovo.com on:

The Consumerist

Some States Move To Ban Powdered Alcohol Before It Ever Hits Shelves

Wed, 2014-12-17 15:57

itsbackRemember Palcohol, the powdered alcohol that when, mixed with water, is supposed to be the equivalent of one drink or shot of booze? Palcohol can’t even see store shelves from where the product is standing at this point, after first being an approved product and then having that approval yanked by regulators. But if and when it finds its way to the public, some states are preparing to keep it from shelves before it ever gets the chance to hit them.

Colorado is the latest state to join those considering banning Palcohol out of concerns it could increase underage drinking, reports the Associated Press.

“I think being proactive and jumping out in front of the problem is probably the right thing to do,” said Chris Johnson, executive director of the County Sheriffs of Colorado. “It really doesn’t have any place in our society, powdered alcohol. We have enough problems with the liquid kind.”

He says he’s worried the powdered rum or vodka will be tempting for kids to “sprinkle it on top of their Wheaties for breakfast.”

A state representative is sponsoring a bill to ban powdered alcohol in Colorado during the legislative session that begins next month.

One thing is for sure, you won’t see it in Alaska, Delaware, Louisiana, South Carolina and Vermont, as all those states have already banned powdered alcohol, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Minnesota, Ohio, and New York also are considering bans.

The company behind Palcohol says it won’t be available to buy until spring 2015 at the earliest, as there are still kinks to be worked out and labels to be approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

So is it going to be a reality? It sounds like it at this point, unless you live in a state that bans it: The Food and Drug Administration won’t be stepping up against it, as it says it doesn’t have the legal basis to block it after checking out the non-alcoholic ingredients in the powder.

The creators of the powder say it’s just meant to be convenient for things like long hikes, airplane rides or anywhere you need alcohol but don’t want to carry liquid. Palcohol’s director of communications says states should be working on controlling the product and how it’s sold instead of banning it outright.

“We believe it should be regulated and taxed,” she said in an email.

Previously: Palcohol Creator: You Won’t Get Drunk Faster Snorting Powdered Alcohol

Colorado considers pre-emptive ban on powdered alcohol [Associated Press]

Banks Report That Park-N-Fly Payment Information May Have Been Breached

Wed, 2014-12-17 00:12

(edward.valio)

(edward.valio)

Park-N-Fly, as you may be able to guess from the name, is a company that provides parking and shuttle services at airports. Customers can make parking reservations and pay online before their flights, which is very convenient. However, the company may have been the latest victim of a payment information breach, according to reports from card-issuing banks.

When Krebs on Security, often the first site to report on breaches like this, contacted Park-N-Fly, the company issued a statement explaining that it has investigated the same claims of possible breaches from banks. Park-N-Fly says that they have not yet found any breaches in their payment systems. “Like any reputable company involved in e-commerce today we recognize that we must be constantly vigilant and research every claim to root out any vulnerabilities or potential gaps,” the company said in its response.

Why do banks find out about these breaches first? They’re the companies that see fraudulent transactions first, and also may discover when their own cardholders’ data is for sale on the not-so-secret underground card number markets. Banks are able to view which of their customers’ cards are for sale online, and combine that information with customer data to figure out whether breached cards had been used in any of the same places. In this case, cards in a certain batch were all used at Park-N-Fly.

This isn’t even the first potential breach at a major parking company this month: a few weeks ago, SP+ announced that its payment systems at 17 garages had been compromised, with card numbers intercepted from the card readers.

Banks: Park-n-Fly Online Card Breach [Krebs on Security]

Florida Lawmakers Want To Punish People Who Use Fake Service Dogs

Tue, 2014-12-16 23:19

(Morton Fox)

(Morton Fox)

While there are many Americans with legitimate needs for service animals, and who are legally allowed to take those animals into restaurants and stores where they would normally be banned, there are some people who exploit the service animal label without any bona fide medical or therapeutic need. Now some Florida legislators are looking to penalize these fakers with fines and possible jail time.

Florida HB 71 [PDF], introduced earlier this month, would amend the existing state law, which currently defines an individual with a disability as someone who is “deaf, hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, or otherwise physically disabled.”

The proposed bill opens up this definition to be more in line with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act define a disabled individual as one with “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” And “major life activities” would include “caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.”

It also expands on the definition of service animal to include work like “alerting an individual to the presence of allergens, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to an individual with a mobility disability, helping an individual with a psychiatric or neurological disability by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors, reminding an individual with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming an individual with post-traumatic stress disorder during an anxiety attack, or doing other specific work.”

At the same time, the bill contains new restrictions that aren’t in the current statute, like the requirement for the animal to be leashed, harnessed or otherwise controlled by the handler.

And then there is the penalty for pretending that your furry friend is a service animal.

“A person who knowingly and willfully misrepresents herself or himself, through conduct or verbal or written notice, as using a service animal and being qualified to use a service animal or as a trainer of a service animal commits a misdemeanor of the second degree,” and could be punished with fines, community service, or even jail time.

WPBF-TV in West Palm Beach spoke to a local woman with cerebral palsy who uses a service animal and applauds the move to outlaw fakers.

“It is a prevalent problem,” she explains. “It makes it that much harder for us to travel or go into businesses with our legitimate service dogs when we’re constantly questioned.”

One roadblock to actually enforcing the law is actually contained within its text — and can’t really be changed as it’s in keeping with the rules set out in the ADA.

“Documentation that the service animal is trained is not a precondition for providing service to an individual accompanied by a service animal,” reads the bill. “A public accommodation may not ask about the nature or extent of an individual’s disability.”

An accommodation can ask if the animal is required because of a disability and what tasks that animal is trained to perform.

So if you’re a restaurant manager and a customer comes in with what he claims is a service animal but which you think is just a pet, you can’t simply ask him to leave or remove the dog (unless it is misbehaving or out of control).

And if the customer says the dog is trained to assist him with an unseen medical need — for example, detecting potential allergens — you can’t ask him to demonstrate the dog’s training or show some sort of documentation.

Thus, it may be difficult for operators of places like restaurants and stores to call out fakers who do a good job of pretending. Landlord and hotel/time-share operators would presumably have more time to determine if a person is faking to use a service animal. In any case, the police would ultimately need to be involved before any charges are filed, and some people won’t be willing to go that far to bust someone for pretending that their puppy provides a legitimate service.

[via Eater]

Seller Hit By Amazon Glitch Reportedly Threatens Buyers With Debt Collection If They Don’t Pay Full Price

Tue, 2014-12-16 23:11

(Neff Connor)

(Neff Connor)

Following a major software glitch that allowed consumers to purchase hundreds of items on the Amazon UK marketplace for mere pennies, it appears that some retailers are trying to recoup their lost income from customers, even going as far as to threaten debt collection if purchasers don’t pay full price.

Bitter Wallet reports that one third-party seller sent a message to customers early this week asking them to pay the difference between the bargain price and the regular retail cost of products purchased during the glitch.

A reader says they received an email from the store that claims Amazon urged retailers affected by the pricing fiasco to contact customers for full payments, despite the fact that the discount charges have already been processed and the goods dispatched by Amazon.

The company, which says it could face liquidation as a result of Friday’s events, writes that it plans to recharge customers’ credit cards for the goods. And if customers don’t go along with the request, the company is threatening serious financial consequences.

“We understand that you think you may have grabbed a great bargain, but we have instructed amazon to revert the prices to our usual prices and recharge your card with the correct amount owed,” the email states. “We would like to offer customers a grace period of 7 days to create a return request and return any stock incorrect priced and dispatched. If this action isn’t carried out, we will seek to recover sums owed:
1. By recharging your credit/debit card
2. If funds are not available, passing to a debt collection agency
3. Informing Experian and getting your address added to the mail order black list.”

While Amazon has yet to respond to Consumerist’s request for comment regarding the matter, a representative did reply to a UK customer’s query about the seller’s request.

The rep assured the customer that Amazon will not be charging customers any extra than what has already been paid for the goods.

“Further, Please understand that the payments for these orders are through Amazon and there is no need to return the item which you have received,” the rep says in the email.

Friday’s hour-long buying free-for-all reportedly occurred when software used by third-party sellers to ensure their products are cheapest on the UK Amazon marketplace malfunctioned and reduced prices drastically, in some cases to just a few cents.

Officials with Amazon said at the time, that they had no choice but to fulfill orders in which consumers were already charged.

Being chased for full payment after 1p Amazon cock-up? [Bitter Wallet]

American Apparel Officially Fires Founder Dov Charney After 6-Month Suspension

Tue, 2014-12-16 22:54

(Spidra Webster)

(Spidra Webster)

After removing CEO Dov Charney from his post back in June, American Apparel says it’s officially finished with the company founder. After investigating Charney for “alleged misconduct and violations of company policy,” the company said “it would not be appropriate for Mr. Charney to be reinstated as CEO or an officer or employee.”

American Apparel had allowed Charney to stay on in a consultant capacity after its board suspended him on June 18 as the company’s president and CEO, but it’s all over now, according to a press release from the company:

Mr. Charney was suspended as president and CEO by the Board on June 18 for alleged misconduct and violations of company policy. Under terms of an agreement signed by Mr. Charney on July 9, a special committee of the Board oversaw an internal investigation conducted by FTI Consulting into the allegations against Mr. Charney. Based on this investigation, the special committee determined that it would not be appropriate for Mr. Charney to be reinstated as CEO or an officer or employee of the Company. While under suspension as CEO, Mr. Charney had been serving as a consultant to the Company. This relationship has now been terminated.

Back in June when Charney was first ousted, the company clarified that he was fired for allowing employees to be publicly shamed and for just being a jerk in general. Soon after he got the boot, a video hit the Internet that purportedly shows Charney dancing around naked in front of employees.

He’s being replaced by Paula Schneider, who starts her CEO gig effective Jan. 5, 2015.

“We’re pleased that what we set out to do last spring – namely, to ensure that American Apparel had the right leadership – has been accomplished,” said Allan Mayer, Co-Chairman of the Board. “We are confident that Paula Schneider has the skills and background to lead the company to long-term success.”

Amazon’s ‘Make An Offer’ Button Could Do More Than Sell A Few Collectibles

Tue, 2014-12-16 22:53

make an offerEarlier this year, Amazon began offering one of the very few categories of items not already available from the mega-retailer: collectibles, including the famous Saddle Ridge Hoard of rare gold coins. This may or may not catch on with Amazon shoppers, but raises an interesting question: what if you could easily make an offer on any item on Amazon, or even any item for sale online?

Bloomberg Businessweek sees the “Make an Offer” button as America’s first tentative steps out into maybe taking up haggling to the same extent as other countries. Here, there are only a few transactions in life where most people negotiate on prices: real estate and cars. Most of us find those processes extremely stressful, and it’s the same with negotiating a salary when we start a new job. Maybe if we did it more, Allison Schrager argues, these experiences wouldn’t be so stressful.

There’s a downside, of course: Negotiating every little purpose can be incredibly time-consuming. Even the Amazon process for collectibles could be tedious, requiring a three-day wait to find out whether the seller accepts your offer. Still, more haggling could be good for the economy as a whole, helping supply and demand meet more efficiently. That would probably be a net win for consumers.

Amazon’s Bargain Button Could Actually Be Good for the Economy [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Medical Marijuana Suddenly A Whole Lot Less Illegal Nationwide

Tue, 2014-12-16 22:50

(DEARTH!)

(DEARTH!)

Congress passed a massive omnibus government spending bill over the weekend. And while most of the attention is on the fact that lawmakers have managed to avoid the mess of another government shutdown, the 1600-page, $1.1 trillion bill has a lot in it. Particularly of note? After many long years, the federal government has effectively lifted its prohibition on medical marijuana nationwide.

As the Los Angeles Times explains, the bill makes the federal government’s implicit policy of the past year into its explicit policy, and marks the first time Congress has taken a significant national move toward legalization.

Marijuana has been illegal for both medical and recreational use at the federal level for decades, despite a spate of state-level laws approving its use. Since the 1990s, 32 states and D.C. have passed approving the use of medical marijuana. But even in those states where medical use is legal, federal agencies have been able to raid and shut down marijuana buying, selling, and growing operations.

Last year, the Obama administration instructed federal prosecutors to stop enforcing federal-level marijuana laws that contradicted state policies. Now, that policy is law — or at least will be once President Obama signs the bill sometime this week.

Marijuana legalization advocates have been hailing the measure as a major win. “By approving this measure, Congress is siding with the vast majority of Americans who are calling for change in how we enforce our federal marijuana laws,” said Mike Liszewski, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access.

Of course, Congress is still standing in the way of some other pot laws. D.C. voters overwhelmingly passed a measure in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana in the District, but legislators have tacked on an amendment to the very same bill that would prevent that change from moving forward.

Congress quietly ends federal government’s ban on medical marijuana [LA Times]

New York Makes It Illegal To Tattoo Or Pierce Pets

Tue, 2014-12-16 21:59

(D. Martone)

(D. Martone)

If you live in New York, your pet’s body is no longer allowed to be your canvas under the steely eyes of the law. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law that goes into effect in 120 days, making it illegal to pierce or tattoos animals for cosmetic purposes. Yes, that includes tattooing Mr. Grobblesworth Wrinklefoot with your name in a heart pierced by a rose’s thorns.

“This is animal abuse, pure and simple,” Cuomo said, according to Reuters. “I’m proud to sign this common-sense legislation and end these cruel and unacceptable practices in New York once and for all.”

Pennsylvania enacted similar legislation to clarify the rules on tattoos and piercings soon after the 2011 case of a Pennsylvania woman who body-pierced kittens to make them more “goth.” Assembly member Linda Rosenthal sponsored New York’s legislation around that time, her chief of staff says.

“It’s simply cruel,” said Rosenthal, according to the Associated Press, noting that people have the choice to undergo the pain of a tattoo or piercing, while pets don’t have that option.

Exceptions to the rules include markings that are done under a veterinarian’s watch for medical reasons (like marking that a cat has been spayed by using a little green dot) or for identification. If it’s for ID purposes, the inkings can only include numbers and letters used for a tattoo identification registry.

People who break the law will face up to 15 days in jail and fines as high as $250.

Does this mean it’s legal in all other states to pierce your cat or tattoo your dog? Probably not — an animal care and control specialist for PETA told the AP that piercing and tattooing violates existing animal cruelty laws in all 50 states.

New York state bans pet tattooing, piercing [Reuters]
New York Bans Cosmetic Pet Tattoos, Piercings [Associated Press]

Why Are Americans Losing Interest In Orange Juice?

Tue, 2014-12-16 21:31

(Katie Vorwald)

(Katie Vorwald)

Why aren’t Americans as into orange juice as we used to be? It’s not just the Duke brothers asking that question: citrus growers and juice sellers all want to know why consumption of what used to be a staple breakfast food is down. Are carb-conscious consumers no longer interested in fruit juice?

Total orange juice consumption is the lowest that it’s been in the last 18 years, and research shows that bottled water is now a bigger seller than all fruit juices put together.

Not that we should cry too hard for the orange juice industry: remember that the country’s two biggest brands, Tropicana and Minute Maid, are owned by Coke and Pepsi respectively. As we move on and find other things to drink, those are the companies that sell those other things to us.

Still, orange growers still have an interest in keeping us drinking OJ. Right now, droughts in the OJ-exporting country of Brazil and greening disease in Florida are affecting global orange output, but growers don’t want us to kick the juice habit in the meantime.

The Florida Department of Citrus recently sent their comic-book mascot, Captain Citrus, over to Marvel Comics for a makeover, and the deal will result in a million free comic books distributed in schools where Captain Citrus hangs out with the Avengers. Will kids be convinced?

Take Our Poll (function(d,c,j){if(!d.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src='http://s1.wp.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/shortcodes/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js';s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);} else if(typeof jQuery !=='undefined')jQuery(d.body).trigger('pd-script-load');}(document,'script','pd-polldaddy-loader'));

Orange-Juice Drinkers Vanish in Sign U.S. Rout Not Over [Bloomberg News]

RELATED:
Your Morning OJ Is The Result Of A Complicated Algorithm Designed For Maximum Tastiness

FCC Reportedly Planning To Fine Sprint $105M For Wireless Bill-Cramming

Tue, 2014-12-16 21:31
(Misfit Photographer)

(Misfit Photographer)

Just two months after the Federal Communications Commission imposed its largest fine on AT&T for overcharging consumers using a practice known as “bill-cramming,” the regulator is reportedly poised to saddle Sprint with the same $105 million fine for similar practices.

Citing unnamed officials with the FCC, The National Journal reports that the agency is in the process of finalizing an enforcement action that would penalize Sprint for knowingly charging customers for third-party services they did not approve.

Like previous cramming allegations against T-Mobile and AT&T, the charges Sprint allegedly tacked on to bills were for unasked-for and unauthorized subscriptions for things like ringtones and text messages containing love tips, horoscopes, and “fun facts.”

While it’s currently unclear just how much was added to Sprint customers’ tabs, previous carriers were found to have billed consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in charges for third-party companies.

The National Journal reports that all five FCC commissioners are reviewing the proposed fine, but have not voted to take action yet. It is unclear whether or not Sprint and the FCC are still engaged in settlement talks.

The FCC declined to comment on this story.

If the FCC moves forward with the speculated $105 million fine, it would mark the third time this year a major wireless carrier has faced action regarding bill-cramming.

In October, AT&T entered into a deal with the Federal Trade Commission, FCC and attorneys general from 50 states and the District of Columbia to pay $105 million to settle allegations that it profited off of bill-cramming.

The FTC claimed that AT&T kept about 35% of all the fees it took in from these charges; in some cases, the company earned upwards of 40% of the revenue from the third-party charges.

While it’s believed that all wireless providers have allowed bill-cramming of some sort, the settlement with AT&T was the first regulators had reached with any of the country’s mobile phone carriers.

Back in July, the FTC sued T-Mobile for similar practices, accusing the company of making hundreds of millions of dollars off of premium text-messaging premium.

T-Mobile’s response to that lawsuit was to claim that it shouldn’t be sued because it stopped allowing these illegal charges.

The FTC alleged that T-Mobile received anywhere from 35-40% of the total amount charged to consumers for subscriptions (mostly $9.99/month) for things like “flirting tips, horoscope information or celebrity gossip.”

Continued allegations and action against carriers regarding bill-cramming may not come as much surprise after a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation report released in July found that wireless providers often turned a blind eye to cramming because it resulted in billions of dollars in revenue for carriers.

FCC Plans Massive Fine of Sprint for Bogus Charges [The National Journal]

Southwest Baggage Handlers Say Too Many Flights + More Passengers + Not Enough Planes = Delays

Tue, 2014-12-16 21:28

(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

At more than a dozen airports around the country today, baggage handlers and other ground crew workers for Southwest Airlines are protesting their employer, claiming that the carrier is too focused on cramming as many people into the fewest planes possible.

Southwest has been criticized in recent months for its sagging on-time performance stats, and the unions representing the protesting workers say that these delays are the result of decisions that maximize a plane’s efficiency but leave little room for hiccups.

“Southwest Airlines now flies larger planes with more checked luggage than ever before but hasn’t given most baggage handlers a raise in the last four years,” reads a statement on the website for Transport Workers Union Local 555, which represents Southwest ground workers. “More suitcases, larger planes, unreasonably tight schedules with more connections and overworked and undervalued ground crews means delays for all Southwest customers.”

The president of TWU Local 555 tells the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the union is “not proud” of the airline’s recent decline in on-time arrivals and departures.

“In the past, Southwest has been a successful company for all stakeholders because of a culture that valued workers and put a premium on industry-leading customer service,” he explains, adding that he believes the current leadership at the airline has devalued both customers and employees.

In a statement to the Detroit Free Press, a rep for Southwest says today’s protests are just par the course when negotiating a union contract.

“Informational picketing is a common practice during negotiations and will not impact our operations,” says the Southwest rep. “We have always supported, and will continue to support, our Employees’ right to express their opinions. We continue to share the Unions sense of urgency to secure a fair agreement. Reaching the right deal for both Employees and the Company remains a top priority; and it must be one that is fair to all Employees, enables the Company to grow, and protects our position as a low-cost leader in the industry.”

Ex-Employees Sue Sony Pictures, Claiming Company Failed To Protect Workers’ Personal Info From Hack

Tue, 2014-12-16 21:13

sonypictureshacksueIn the wake of the major hack over at Sony Pictures Entertainment earlier this month, two former employees are suing the company, claiming that Sony Pictures didn’t do enough to protect their personal information from hackers.

The ex-workers — one left in 2007 and the other hasn’t worked for Sony since 2002 — claim in a federal lawsuit that it’s Sony Pictures’ fault that employees’ social security numbers, salary details and other personal info was reportedly stolen, according to the Associated Press, citing a figure of nearly 50,000 affected past and current workers.

The lawsuit claims that Sony Pictures dropped the ball in securing its computer systems despite “weaknesses that it has known about for years,” but that the company decided to take on that risk as a business decision.

The plaintiffs point to past hack attacks against Sony Pictures and Sony in general, including one from 2011 that exposed millions of user accounts in Sony’s PlayStation network.

Those incidents should’ve been enough to prepare the company, making the latest breaches “surprising and egregious,” the lawsuit claims.

The former workers allege that there are emails and other information published by the hackers showing that Sony’s IT department and its head legal person knew the security system was vulnerable to an attack, but no one did anything about it.

The workers want compensation for money they’ve spent on credit monitoring since the hack as well as other costs and damages, while the lawsuit also seeks class-action status.

Ex-employees sue Sony Pictures over hacked personal details [Associated Press]

Please Do Not Donate Your Cremated Loved Ones To Goodwill

Tue, 2014-12-16 20:52

(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

After someone dies, it’s normal to box up all of their stuff and take it to the nearest thrift store. However, it’s probably a good idea to give some of that stuff a cursory check first. Not just because you might be inadvertently giving away some serious valuables, but because the earthly remains of your relatives have a poor resale value at Goodwill.

This is a thing that actually happened at a Goodwill store in Lafayette, Indiana. A batch of donations included a box with a velvet pouch inside, which in turn contained two white boxes filled with cremains. The store called the police, not being sure what the laws are regarding what should happen when someone accidentally donates human remains to a secondhand store.

Fortunately for everyone involved, the Goodwill store was able to track down the family that had donated the original box in the first place: there were names and dates written on the boxes full of cremains.

Still, on behalf of order-sorters everywhere, please check your boxes full of junk for things that thrift stores really don’t need and would prefer not to dispose of.

Cremated remains donated to Goodwill [Journal & Courier]

Jury: Apple iTunes, iPod Restrictions Don’t Constitute Monopoly

Tue, 2014-12-16 20:33
(Chris Harrison)

(Chris Harrison)

A long-running court battle over alleged antitrust issues involving Apple’s iPod and iTunes store came to an end today after a jury determined that the company did not act improperly when it restricted music purchases starting in 2006.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that the billion-dollar class-action lawsuit was put to rest when an eight person jury rejected plaintiffs’ claims that Apple sidelined competitors and hiked prices during the glory days of the iPod.

Plaintiffs in the case, which covered nearly 8 million individuals and businesses that purchased iPods from September 2006 to March 2009, argued that Apple orchestrated a digital music monopoly by restricting music downloads on the iPod to those made through the iTunes store.

Specifically, the group pointed to the fact that the iTunes 7.0 update blocked RealNetwork’s Harmony, a program that previously let users download music to their iPods.

By blocking RealNetwork and similar programs, the plaintiffs argued that Apple discouraged iPod users from buying competing devices when it came time to upgrade.

For its part, Apple tried to undercut accusations of a monopoly by pointing out that prices for music on iTunes fell during the time period covered by the case.

The company also contended that changes found in iTunes 7.0 constituted general product improvement by providing users many key features, such as enhanced security, games, and movies.

After just two hours of deliberation the jury unanimously decided that iTunes 7.0 was a meaningful improvement over previous versions of the software, and not a ploy to weaken rival music software companies, the Mercury News reports.

The case, which began December 2 in Oakland federal court, could have cost Apple upwards of $1 billion had the jury sided with plaintiffs. While plaintiffs only sought $351 million, under antitrust laws that figure would have been tripled.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs tells The Verge that an appeal has already planned.

According to Mercury News, the case featured several spectacles, including the vacating of lead plaintiffs after it was revealed those representatives did not actually buy iPods covered by the case’s time frame. A new lead plaintiff was not appointed until just before closing arguments.

Additionally, Apple used testimony from several high-ranking company officials, including a taped deposition of late CEO Steve Jobs.

Jury sides with Apple in iPod antitrust case [The San Jose Mercury News]
Jury finds Apple not guilty of harming consumers in iTunes DRM case [The Verge]

Judge Rules That Artist’s Lawsuit Over “Angry Birds” Plush Pet Toys Can Move Forward

Tue, 2014-12-16 20:11

(steakpinball)

(steakpinball)

A Seattle artist suing a pet company for allegedly cutting her out of a deal to license a line of plush “Angry Birds” pet toys to Rovio, creators of the popular video game, has won a battle in her legal war. A federal judge has refused to dismiss her lawsuit, saying she’s made a case for her claim that she retained intellectual property rights in the “Angry Birds” trademark.

You can click the link above for the full story, but in short — the artist claims she’s been cheated out of millions of dollars in merchandise profits after pet toy company Hartz stopped making her Angry Birds design as a line of toys and instead, licensed the trademark to Rovio and made a deal to make toys for that company, instead.

Hartz wanted the court to dismiss the case, reports the Associated Press, saying that because of its contract with the artist, it owned the trademark for Angry Birds pet toys and thus could use it however it wanted.

But U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik didn’t agree, instead saying the artist had made a plausible case to support her claim to intellectual property rights.

“They had an obligation to treat [her] fairly and not throw her off for someone else,” the artist’s attorney said.

To be clear — she’s not claiming that the entire Angry Birds kingdom belongs to her, or that the video game is based off her design, at least, not so far. Her attorney has said there are similarities in the two versions, however. He says he’s in touch with Rovio, which has thus far not commented on the lawsuit as it’s not named in it.

Artist’s ‘Angry Birds’ lawsuit goes forward [Associated Press]

AMC Theatres To Test Monthly Subscription Packages To Lure Moviegoers

Tue, 2014-12-16 19:47

moviepssWe first told you about MoviePass — a subscription service that gives you access to a movie a day for a set monthly rate — more than three years ago. And while the service has managed to evolve and stick around, it hasn’t been able to convince the major theater chains to partner with it. But now MoviePass and AMC, the country’s second-largest theater operator, have announced a plan to test the service to see if people are willing to pay $35-45/month for regular trips to the cinema.

The NY Times reports that the tests will start out at AMC venues in Denver and Boston starting in January, with plans to roll it out to other markets.

Currently, MoviePass works in a somewhat awkward multistep process. You need to first get the MoviePass card, which is effectively a debit card. Then you use the service’s app to choose the film you want to see. MoviePass puts the appropriate ticket price on the card, which is then used to pay for the ticket at the box office or at a kiosk.

Since it is paying full price for tickets, MoviePass is banking on the idea that its users will regularly opt to skip the theater, letting their subscription go largely unused.

“Some overuse; a lot underuse,” the company’s CEO explains to the Times.

AMC is obviously hoping that enough people will be interested to get butts in seats — and more importantly to get those butts in line at the concession stand, where the theater stands to make most of its money.

MoviePass users are typically in that prime 18-34 age group that theaters want to attract, but who are increasingly realizing they can just wait to see a movie on their huge TV screens without having to plunk down a ton of cash at the theater. The company also claims that its users are big spenders at the concession stands.

So how often would you need to go to the theater to make a $35 subscription worth it?

The typical AMC ticket is now about $9.50, so a night at the movies for two people will cost you $19. Two movie dates in a month puts you at $38.

But MoviePass isn’t transferrable and you can’t reserve more than one ticket at a time using the app. So you would personally need to average a movie a week to see the value of one subscription.

During this time of year, when multiple Oscar-worthy title comes out on a weekly basis, that might be tempting. But think about the dog days of February through May, when theaters are full up with sequels to movies you never saw in the first place.

Show Your Loved Ones That You Care With Blood Pressure Monitors

Tue, 2014-12-16 19:44

Not for feline use. (Mark Turnauckas)

Not for feline use. (Mark Turnauckas)

This holiday season, give the people you care about a gift that combines portable consumer electronics with genuine concern for their well-being. Our colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports say that you can get a well-rated home blood pressure monitor for as little as $40. What’s a more thoughtful gift than wanting to make sure someone stays alive for longer? [Consumer Reports]

Kmart Ruins Christmas By Canceling Layaway Orders, Holding Onto Refunds

Tue, 2014-12-16 19:05
(Thomas Hawk)

(Thomas Hawk)

There’s an unhappy wind blowing toward Kmart right now, and it’s coming from the direction of disgruntled customers who say that after the retailer notified them of a Dec. 12 deadline to pay off layaway balances in order to have their items delivered by Christmas, the retailer has been canceling orders left and right, saying items are “out of stock.” Not only that, but some shoppers say they’ve been told their refunds won’t arrive until after it’s too late to buy new Christmas presents to replace the canceled layaway items.

We got an email from a Consumerist reader tipping us off to check out Kmart’s Facebook page, where indeed, the rage over canceled Christmas layaway items is in full effect.

Customers want to know, among other things, why items weren’t placed on hold when they they were put on layaway? And how does Kmart expect people to pull the money out of thin air — money they already paid to Kmart’s layaway program — to replace those gifts that won’t be coming? Shoppers have reported hearing anywhere from 3-5 days for their money back, or even up to 14 days in some cases.

Here’s one example:

What a joke this company is, sold products out from under our layaway contract. I even paid it off early before the deadline for Christmas and after I complained 2X they sent me a canceled layaway email, a week after I paid the layaway off! I talked to customer service and after they patronized me and talked to me like I was stupid they said it would take 7-14 business days to get my money back. That is way after Christmas, how does that help my child not having the gifts?

And another:

Shame on you, Kmart! You seriously need to re-vamp your online layaway program. What kind of company lets you put in your layaway online in mid November, pay it off online at the first of December, and then sends you an email a week AFTER you’ve paid it off to inform you that the items are ‘out of stock’, will not be delivered AND it will take 3-5 business days to refund your money? Good luck finding that item somewhere else before Christmas, eh?

Not over yet:

You guys are the absolute worst. I will no longer be shopping at Kmart, and Sears. I had 2 layaway orders, both placed early last month. Finish paying them, excited to get my son’s Christmas shopping done earlier than normal, only to be told all the items I’ve purchased are out of stock. How very professional of you. When I have items on layaway at another store, like Walmart, they take those items and put them back to prevent this sort of thing from happening. How absolutely ridiculous of your company. You’ve lost my business and the business of family, friends, and anyone else willing to listen to my complaint. Seeing as I now only have 10 days to find all these items for my son, my FULL refunds better be in my account very, very soon.

People are already using the “L” word:

To whomever is organizing the class action lawsuit regarding Kmart layaway – Please add me to the contact list, as I too have been duped. Notified of cancellation 9 days before Christmas, no refund in sight and no idea what to do about it. Way to ruin the holiday Kmart!

There’s been a generic reply so far, but it doesn’t seem to be going over too well:

“We are very disappointed to hear that you had to go through this experience with your layaway order. Please let us know if you do not see your refund within 5-7 business days,” Kmart responded to some posts.

But that doesn’t seem to be enough for many:

We don’t want to hear that you are sorry or let you know if there is any problem receiving a refund. You are avoiding our questions…. I want to know how this can happen????? How do you have something on layaway and pay on it and hold your customers money without holding the product also? I expect an answer. Not your generic reply that you have replied to all of us.

There are also all these other people: Not happy here, others ready to call the local news and there are even thsoe who haven’t even used layaway who are ticked off.

We’ve reached out to Kmart to get more information from their end on how this kind of thing could happen, and see how widespread it is. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.

In the meantime — did this happen to you? What kind of items did you purchase — toys, electronics, clothing? Send us your stories and emails from Kmart to tips@consumerist.com with the subject line KMART LAYAWAY.

T-Mobile “Data Stash” Will Let Some Customers Roll Over Unused 4G LTE Data

Tue, 2014-12-16 18:49

This guy is maybe a little too excited about Data Stash.

This guy is maybe a little too excited about Data Stash.

Here’s the latest piece of evidence showing that data is dirt cheap and we’re paying too much for it. T-Mobile announced today that it will start letting subscribers with plans of at least 3GB/month (1GB/month for tablet plans) begin rolling over any of their unused 4G LTE allotments into what it’s dubbed the “Data Stash.”

From everything we can tell, it’s effectively no different from rollover minutes that wireless companies used to advertise before everyone stopped talking on the phone.

Beginning in January, subscribers in Simple Choice plans starting with 4G LTE allotments of at least 3GB/month will start seeing any unused high-speed data added to their next month’s allowance, where it will remain until you use it up or until a year passes.

The 3GB/month minimum for smartphones not only eliminates the rollover option for 1GB/month customers, it also means that anyone who signed up for the pretty decent 4-for-$100 plan (4 lines at 2.5GB each) are not eligible for the Stash.

For those with tablet data plans from T-Mobile, the minimum plan for inclusion in Data Stash is 1GB/month.

While we applaud the fact that T-Mobile isn’t throwing customers’ data away and taking their money, we wonder if it will ultimately have any effect on how T-Mo subscribers use their data.

Assume that your average 3GB/month subscriber is only using 2GB each month. If that doesn’t change after the implementation of Data Stash, that user will have more access to more than a dozen gigabytes of LTE service come next holiday season. The user would presumably continue to maintain at that same level of unused data so long as Data Stash exists.

For some people whose data use can occasionally get near their monthly limit, there may be real value in a rollover plan like this, but for users who aren’t streaming video over LTE to their devices, it may be no different that AT&T and Sprint dangling the data carrot that will never be eaten.

FedEx Truck Rollover Spills Packages On New Jersey Highway

Tue, 2014-12-16 18:25

fedex_crashYesterday was the busiest shipping day of the entire year for the U.S. Postal Service and for FedEx, which could have made a tractor-trailer accident that happened early on Monday morning in New Jersey even more disastrous. While the driver sustained only minor injuries, the accident spilled packages across the highway and affected traffic for the rest of the morning.

The road, an exit ramp for I-287, remained closed for more than seven hours. As you can see in the screen grab above, FedEx employees were on the scene loading packages from the tandem trailer to other company vehicles. Yes, that’s a double load of packages at a crucial time of year for “The safety and security of our customers’ shipments, especially during this time of year, is a top priority,” a FedEx spokesperson told NorthJersey.com. Yes, it’s hard not to picture your own precious package there in the massive pile, but FedEx says that their workers grabbed the packages in order to “avoid” delays, so customers may not notice any problems at all.

The driver claims that he swerved to avoid a tire in the road. Police issued him two summonses for careless driving and for failure to maintain his lane.

Route 287 reopened after FedEx tractor trailer overturns in Mahwah, dumps packages [NorthJersey.com]

Pages