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FBI Director Wants To Change Law To Allow Easier Snooping On Smartphones

Fri, 2014-10-17 16:25

James-Comey-Official-Portrait-High-ResLast month, FBI Director James Comey expressed vague concerns that new privacy measures on iOS and Android smartphones might allow criminals to do bad things. Now Comey is saying it’s time to change the law to make sure that law enforcement doesn’t have to figure out your phone’s password.

Thanks to the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the police have relatively easy access for warranted monitoring of telephone and Internet communication, by requiring that providers build in a way for authorities to tap into these connections.

But recent changes to Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems throw a wrench in CALEA because they give users a way to secure the data on their devices in a way that doesn’t allow either company to remotely unlock them.

So while police can get a warrant and listen to your calls, access cloud-stored data, possibly see your texts and e-mails, they would ultimately need to figure out a device’s passcode to access information that is stored only on your phone.

This worries Comey, and outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, both of whom have claimed that this additional layer of privacy protection would allow criminals to do criminal things.

Now Comey is arguing that it’s time to change CALEA to compel companies not currently covered by the law to build in a “front door” for law enforcement access.

“Thousands of companies provide some form of communication service, and most are not required by statute to provide lawful intercept capabilities to law enforcement,” the Director said on Thursday during a speech at the Brookings Institution. “What this means is that an order from a judge to monitor a suspect’s communication may amount to nothing more than a piece of paper.”

Comey directly addressed the security updates recently announced by Apple and Google, saying, “Both companies are run by good people, responding to what they perceive is a market demand. But the place they are leading us is one we shouldn’t go to without careful thought and debate as a country.”

Then, in an effort to use metaphor to bolster his point, Comey inadvertently shoots his argument in the foot.

He says that encryption is “a closet that can’t be opened. A safe that can’t be cracked.”

Exactly. Locked closets and safes have been around for centuries, but the police don’t have master keys so that they may easily gain entry just because they think something bad is hidden therein.

Similarly, people have been using encryption and passcode protection on personal and business computers for decades but it’s been up to law enforcement to try to get around that protection when performing a search.

So why should the police have any sort of special access to smartphones? Just because it is both a telecommunications device and a computer that stores information?

As we’ve repeatedly stated in recent weeks: Neither consumers nor electronics manufacturers have an obligation to make it easier for law enforcement to do their jobs. And just because you don’t want authorities looking at the photos stored on your phone doesn’t mean you have anything to hide.

“When we accept the premise that full access to everyone’s communications is required, there will be no end to access government can demand to your smart home, smart car, and so on,” cautions lawyer Albert Gidari Jr., to the Washington Post, “just because a bad guy somewhere might use such a device in furtherance of a crime.”

Comcast Sued By Customer Who Says Cable Company Had Him Fired From Job

Fri, 2014-10-17 06:10

Last week, we brought you the story of former Comcast customer Conal O’Rourke, who lost his job at renowned accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers after someone from Comcast called his employer with details of Mr. O’Rourke’s numerous — and valid — complaints about his cable service. Comcast has subsequently apologized for the myriad billing and service problems but maintains it did not intend to have O’Rourke fired, but that has not satisfied Conal, who has filed a lawsuit against the nation’s largest cable company, alleging violations of, among other claims, a federal law prohibiting cable companies from sharing personal information without customers’ consent.

The complaint [PDF], filed in a U.S. District Court in San Jose, CA, on Thursday, accuses Comcast of violating the Cable Communications Policy Act, defamation, breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and unfair business practices.

“Mr. O’Rourke’s story is both simple and chilling,” reads the complaint.

For those coming late to this story, here’s the brief rundown.

In early 2013, Conal became a customer of Comcast. From the start, he claims the company failed to provide service at the promised promotional price. Multiple promises to resolve the over-billing resulted in only continued inaccurate invoices, even after meeting with Comcast staff in person and presenting them with detailed breakdowns of every charge and credit associated with his account.

It eventually got so bad that Conal says Comcast sent and billed him for $1,820 worth of equipment he never requested and did not need.

Exasperated with Comcast’s non-responsive customer service, Conal eventually contacted the office of the Comcast Controller, Lawrence Salva, and expressed his opinion that should perhaps be investigated by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), a private-sector oversight operation.

After this discussion with Mr. Salva’s office, the controller himself — who had not actually spoken with O’Rourke — contacted Conal’s employer, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which earns a significant amount of revenue (at least $30 million annually, according to the complaint) as a consultant to Comcast.

There is little debate about the above points. Where Conal and Comcast differ is their respective accounts of his call to Mr. Salva’s office.

Comcast claims that Conal mentioned that he was employed by PwC and attempted to use it as leverage to get better service.

“Mr. O’Rourke believes that the Controller’s office performed an online search after Mr. O’Rourke stated that Comcast should be investigated by the PCAOB, and learned that Mr. O’Rourke worked for PwC,” contends the complaint.

The call from Mr. Salva — who is also named as a defendant in the suit — to a PwC executive resulted in Conal being subjected to an ethics investigation, which Conal claims consisted solely of a 20-minute phone interview.

Conal says he has made repeated requests for recordings of the call where he is purported to have name-dropped PwC, but in spite of Comcast’s claims that it exists, the recording has not materialized. Additionally, neither Comcast nor PwC will provide details on exactly what Mr. Salva told PwC.

“Defendant Salva either directly asked for Mr. O’Rourke’s termination, or implicitly requested and caused it by making the knowingly false, defamatory, and malicious accusation that Mr. O’Rourke had violated accounting ethics rules by attempting to use his employment with PWC as leverage in his ‘negotiations’ with Comcast,” contends the lawsuit.

Section 551(c) of the Cable Communications Policy Act forbids cable companies from disclosing “personally identifiable information concerning any subscriber without the prior written or electronic consent of the subscriber concerned.” And since Comcast has yet to argue in any of its statements that it obtained this permission, Conal believes the company has violated this statute.

Additionally, Section 551(f) of the same law allows victims of such violations to seek actual and punitive damages, along with legal costs.

The lawsuit also alleges breach of contract, as Comcast has admitted publicly that it failed to live up to its obligation to provide the service that Conal ordered and paid for.

“Comcast breached the Agreement when it engaged in… overcharging Mr. O’Rourke, failing to show up for service appointments, sending Mr. O’Rourke to collections, and failing to repair his internet service,” reads the complaint.

Finally, Conal accuses the defendants of engaging in “unfair, unlawful and fraudulent business practices” in violation of California Business & Professions Code, by “violating his privacy, defaming him to his employer, unfairly and persistently overcharging him, and retaliating against him for questioning the legality and propriety of its billing and collections practices.”

The suit ultimately seeks damages and legal costs in excess of $1 million, an injunction barring Comcast from: providing subscribers’ personal information to third parties without consent; defaming customers to third parties; over-billing customers; and retaliating against customers who complain.

We’re reaching out to Comcast for comment, but as it’s after midnight here in Philadelphia, we probably won’t hear anything until the morning, if at all.

Starbucks Holiday Promo: Free Drinks For Life, Or At Most 30 Years

Thu, 2014-10-16 23:47



Starbucks doesn’t want your cash. It doesn’t want your credit or debit card, either. The chain coffeeteria wants its customers to pay using Starbucks gift cards or mobile apps, so they can keep track of what you, personally order, and send you promotions and coupons accordingly. That’s the unstated reason why Starbucks will have a promotion this holiday season: a chance to win “Free Starbucks for Life.”

There will be a total of ten winners, and the promotion will last from December 2 until Christmas. It may be debatable how long your life would be with a daily dose of espresso, but “life” in this case is capped at thirty years. The prize isn’t unlimited, but allows the recipient to receive one food or beverage item for free for thirty years. Presumably, single drinks made in vases, coolers, and jugs will not be permitted. Assuming that beverage prices don’t rise too much in the next thirty years, the total cost of could be under a million dollars.

If the promotion is intended to sell more Starbucks gift cards as holiday gifts, those gift-givers will need to hurry: the promotion ends at Christmas. Instead, Starbucks is giving customers an incentive to visit Starbucks stores, but more importantly an incentive to pay using Starbucks currency: the company’s own gift cards, reloadable stored-value cards, and mobile apps.

CEO Howard Schultz told the Wall Street Journal that people actually ask him whether it is possible to gift someone a lifetime supply of Starbucks drinks. The people who ask him this are celebrities and fellow CEOs, he claims.

Starbucks Unveils Reimagined In-Store and Digital Innovations for Holiday 2014 and Beyond [Starbucks]
Starbucks to Offer Customers a Chance to Win Free Drinks for Life [Wall Street Journal]

Uber Imposes Surge Pricing After Train Fatality: Is That Profiting From Death?

Thu, 2014-10-16 23:06

uberlogookayWhen there is a lot of demand for rides, the car-summoning app Uber imposes “surge” pricing, multiplying the standard fare. This serves to entice more drivers out onto the roads, and also to make some people looking for rides say, “eh, I’ll walk instead.” In the past, the company had promised not to raise prices excessively during emergencies that create high demand for rides, but not all situations that create intense demand are “emergencies.”

At 5:40 PM yesterday, a man was hit by a train and killed in Palo Alto. Authorities needed to investigate, and trains were delayed for an hour or more. People with somewhere to be tried to summon an Uber driver, only to find that the train delays had increased demand, and the increased demand raised prices for a ride. That led some commuters and PandoDaily to wonder: does that mean Uber and its drivers were profiting directly from a man’s death?

Depending on your point of view, surge pricing is either capitalism at work or price-gouging. When prices increased to seven or eight times the normal rate during a snowstorm in the Northeast, users accused Uber of price-gouging.

Earlier this year, Uber promised to cap surge pricing during states of emergency and natural disasters, donating its portion of the higher fares to the American Red Cross. This situation in Palo Alto wouldn’t count as a natural disaster, though. Neither would a baseball game or a concert, which could cause intense, temporary traffic snarls.

Uber seeing deja vu as riders complain of rate gouging following Caltrain fatality [PandoDaily]

Get Ready To Show That Ink, Baristas: Starbucks Changes Policy To Allow Some Visible Tattoos

Thu, 2014-10-16 23:03


Things are about to get a bit more graphic behind the Starbucks counter. And by graphic we mean in the illustrated sense, now that the coffee company has revised its tattoo policy, allowing employees to show off their ink – albeit with a few caveats.

Starbucks announced on its website today that beginning October 20, its partners (better known as employees) can sport visible tattoos as long as they aren’t offensive and don’t appear on the face or neck.

Starbucks’ revised dress code policy. [Click to enlarge]

“We want customers to focus on you, not your body art,” a new retail dress code guideline handout reads. “Tattoos are allowed, but not on your face or throat. Treat tattoos as you treat speech – you can’t swear, make hateful comments or lewd jokes in the workplace, neither can your tattoos.”

While the previous dress code policy didn’t exactly forbid employees from having tattoos, they were required to keep them covered up while working.

In addition to allowing some visible tattoos, Starbucks also announced that colored ties and neck scarves and black denim would now be allowed.

The official change comes less than a month after Starbucks Chief Operating Officer Troy Alstead sent an internal e-mail saying the company would revisit its “dress code, including the tattoo policy.”

Talk of a revised dress code and tattoo policy began earlier this year when CEO Howard Schultz launched a campaign seeking feedback from employees on how the company could improve its workers’ careers.

There was also significant discussion online among employees about ways the company could allow tattoos while continuing to project a professional atmosphere.

An online petition on gathered more than 25,000 people – 14,000 signatures from Starbucks employees – around the world who believed the company’s policy to cover up tattoos should be revised.

After Thursday’s announcement the Starbucks barista who began the petition tells that she was “thrilled that Starbucks listened to feedback from employees like me and has updated its policy.”

Starbucks Announces New Partner Experience Investments [Starbucks]

FCC Filing: “At Least One” ISP Violating Net Neutrality By Blocking Encrypted Traffic

Thu, 2014-10-16 22:27

(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

Broadband and mobile companies are happy to claim that we don’t need new rules to protect net neutrality, because even without rules in place, they’ve never blocked traffic in any harmful way and don’t particularly want to in the future either. However, one internet business says they have proof it happens — and the way the ISPs are doing it can have a huge effect not only on the quality of internet traffic, but on the safety of it, too.

A company called Golden Frog Tech points to the issues in a filing with the FCC (PDF), as tech news site TechDirt first noticed. In the filing, the company cites “two recent examples that show that users are not receiving the open, neutral, and uninterrupted service to which the Commission says they are entitled.”

Golden Frog’s secure VPN is the service a frustrated FiOS customer used back in July to demonstrate and prove how Verizon was deliberately allowing Netflix traffic to bottleneck. And that Netflix customer is Golden Frog’s first example.

His experiences and similar experiences from other users, Golden Frog concludes, proves “Internet access providers are “mismanaging” their networks to their own users’ detriment.”

The second example the company raises, however, downright scary. Golden Frog claims that “a wireless broadband Internet access provider” (they do not name the company) is directly interfering with a common e-mail encryption technology.

“This broadband provider,” Golden Frog explains, “is overwriting the content of users’ communications and actively blocking STARTTLS encryption. This is a man-in-the-middle attack that prevents customers from using the applications of their choosing and directly prevents users from protecting their privacy.”

Golden Frog’s comment describes the technical nature of the interference at length, but summarizes for laymen:
The practice in issue and in use by this provider is conceptually similar to the way that Comcast used packet reset headers to block the use of BitTorrent in 2007. The result is that wireless Internet users that wish to protect their email communications with basic encryption protocols cannot do so when on this particular wireless provider’s network.

Golden Frog and TechDirt frame the issue as one of net neutrality. All traffic, they argue, is not being treated equally, and the unequal way in which it is being handled is causing harm to consumers. Internet users are “not just losing their right to use the applications and services of their choosing,” Golden Frog says, “but also their privacy.”

Encrypting your e-mail and seeking higher levels of privacy not only aren’t illegal, but also are sometimes a very good idea. It’s hard to see how a carrier could justify intentionally interfering with such traffic as commercially reasonable discrimination.

Golden Frog also points out that no current or previously existing rule prevents wireless broadband companies from interfering with the traffic they carry in this way, because mobile companies have not been subject to the same open internet regulations as wired broadband carriers. Therefore, they say, we need better rules — and they need to apply to wireless and wireless carriers equally.

The frequent claim that “rules banning blocking and unreasonable discrimination are solutions in search of a problem is flatly wrong,” Golden Frog concludes. “There have been problems in the past and there are problems now.”

Revealed: ISPs Already Violating Net Neutrality To Block Encryption And Make Everyone Less Safe Online [TechDirt via BGR]

Teen Allegedly Steals Mini Tour Bus, Picks Up Passengers During Joyride

Thu, 2014-10-16 22:19

Authorities in Nashville say a teen stole a tour bus and took it for a joyride picking up passengers along the way.

Authorities in Nashville say a teen stole a tour bus and took it for a joyride picking up passengers along the way.

Earlier this week a disgruntled mining company employee allegedly stole and crashed his employer’s train. While that was obviously a very dangerous situation, the train was more or less confined to the actual railroad. Know what’s not contained to a single road? The Nashville tour bus allegedly commandeered and taken for a joyride by a 19-year-old.

WKRN-TV reports the teen allegedly broke into a local tour bus company’s parking lot, stole the minibus, tore down a fence on the property and drove around town picking up passengers.

According to an affidavit, the teen says he picked up several passengers and dropped them off at different locations around the city.

Authorities report that when the parked bus was located some two hours later, the teen was asleep behind the wheel. At that time he was allegedly in possession of a 40-ounce beer bottle, had slurred speech and could barely walk.

The teen told police he took the bus to get warm and that he had no other place to stay, the affidavit states.

The vice president of the transportation company that owns the minibus says the teen was able to drive away with the bus because the door was left unlocked with the keys inside. The company plans to review its safety protocol policy to prevent any similar incidents.

WKRN reports that the teen’s escapade caused several thousand dollars worth of damage to the company’s property.

Police say the teen remains in jail on charges of burglary, driving without a license, driving under the influence and vandalism.

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Police: Man steals tour bus, goes on joyride [WKRN-TV]

Comcast Sat By As ID Thieves Set Up Multiple Accounts, Ran Up Thousands In Charges

Thu, 2014-10-16 22:08

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A local news report in Nashville about a local man whose ID was stolen and used to open up two bogus Comcast accounts hundreds of miles away in Louisiana has uncovered numerous additional complaints from consumers in the area who say they have also been sent to collections for fake Comcast accounts opened in the same city.

News 2 in Nashville first had the story of a Tennessee man who couldn’t understand why he was suddenly receiving collections notices over his Comcast bill, which he’d always paid in full.

What’s more, the outstanding Comcast charges totaled $1,300, so this couldn’t have been a case of a single missed payment.

“Comcast basically said the name and Social matches what we have on record so this is your account,” the man tells News 2. “You need to pay the money and we’re not going to pull it back from collections.”

When he checked his credit report, he saw that someone in Shreveport, Louisiana — a city he had no ties to before this incident — had used his personal info to set up not one, but two bogus Comcast accounts in his name.

While Comcast didn’t seem to care much about his problem initially, it jumped right onto his complaint after News 2 aired his story. He says the company is now promising to remove the bogus debt, but he’s waiting until he gets that in writing.

The report also brought out other area residents who had been fighting Comcast and collections agencies over fake accounts that were also set up in Shreveport.

One woman tells News 2 she received a collections notice in April for $100 in allegedly overdue Comcast bills. Comcast assured her that her account was in good standing, but the collection attempts continued. Eventually, she learned that her name and SSN had been used to open an account in, you guessed it, Shreveport.

Another customer says he was billed for $1,100 in Comcast service for an unauthorized account in Shreveport, where apparently no one actually pays for cable. He initially got the matter cleared up through Comcast, but he’s still getting letters from a debt collector for the illegal account.

Comcast explained in a letter to some customers that earlier this year, it learned from Shreveport police that “a small group of individuals employed by a third-party vendor and a former Comcast employee were engaged in identity theft and theft of Comcast services. These individuals may have used your information, including your name and/or Social Security number, for these unauthorized purposes.”

Comcast is, as always taking “this matter very seriously.”

“We have no evidence that this was an online system breach or that any additional personal information was obtained or used for any other purpose,” reads a statement from a company rep to News 2. “We are continuing to cooperate with law enforcement and are conducting our own internal investigation. The individuals involved in this are no longer working on our behalf, and we have reinforced our privacy and security policies with employees and third-party vendors.”

We repeat the question we’ve asked so many times in the last few months: Why does Comcast think it deserves to buy another 10 million customers when it can’t handle the ones it already has?

Thanks to Karen for the tip!

Lululemon Tries To Inspire Buffalo Sports Fans, Enrages Them Instead

Thu, 2014-10-16 21:54

( David Horesh ‏@dhoresh)

(David Horesh)

What does it take to get the attention of an athleticwear company that has offended an entire region? A Twitter campaign, perhaps along with a slow news week. Lululemon installed what they thought was an inspiring mosaic at the entrance to their store in Buffalo, NY. Instead, they learned that dredging up near misses is actually quite upsetting to sports fans.

What does “Wide Right/No Goal” mean, anyway? They’re two separate phrases. “Wide Right” refers to the missed field goal that kept the Buffalo Bills from winning the 1991 Super Bowl. “No goal” refers to the game-winning goal in triple overtime during Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup, which many Buffalo Sabres fans believe was a bad call and shouldn’t have been allowed.

There is more overlap between football and hockey fans and yoga enthusiasts than one might think. Also, there are multiple ways to read both phrases: they could remind athletes to stay focused, even in the face of bad luck or unfairness. The mosaic sat there peacefully until a Bills fan living in North Carolina learned about it. She was not pleased, whipping up a Twitter furor.

#BillsMafia and #Sabres fans!! Retweet and #BanLuluLemonInBuffalo @waldengalleria this is in the their entrance!

— Nunie (@arkandove) October 15, 2014

This is where it’s worth noting that the Lululemon store at this mall has been open since May 2014, and the mosaic has been there that entire time. In fact, the photo at the top of this post was taken in May. Maybe people no longer shop at malls, or no one found the mosaic noteworthy enough to complain to Lululemon about it. Maybe the chain received a few individual complaints, and it took a Twitter furor for the company to realize that maybe this was not such a good idea for a decoration. Then again, if the complainers weren’t Lululemon customers or didn’t live in Buffalo, do their opinions matter?

The store manager explained to the Buffalo News that the company had actually done two years’ worth of market research on Buffalo before building a store there, and these phrases seemed to be a “rallying cry,” something that athletes might find inspiring. “It was meant to capture our passion and our spirit as a proud, sports-crazy town,” she explained.

The manager also posted a statement on the store’s Facebook page explaining that the mosaic will be removed.

Hello fellow Buffalonians, yogis, athletes and friends,

My name is Pam and I am the store manager for lululemon athletica in the Walden Galleria. I want to speak on behalf of myself, my team and our company by saying we have heard your feedback and we are sorry. We strive to make our stores a welcoming place for the entire community and our goal was and is to represent Buffalo as the proud and passionate sports town that we are. We get that our entrance floor mosaic didn’t land well, and we are going to make it right. We have covered up the mosaic and are having it removed. You continue to inspire us and we look forward to sweating and sharing with you everyday. We are One Buffalo.

with (buffa)love, the lululemon athletica Walden Galleria team

Overreaction? Maybe. If you visit the store today, the offending mosaic is covered with a rug.

Lululemon has covered the offending tile mural

— Samantha Christmann (@DiscountDivaSam) October 15, 2014

Buffalonians cry foul over Lululemon’s ‘wide right, ‘no goal’ mosaic [Buffalo News]

Lottery Winner Wears A Bright Yellow Bear Costume To Collect $85M Reward, As One Does

Thu, 2014-10-16 20:56

lotterybearLook around at all the lottery winners you’ve seen on TV in the United States — a smiling person, human in features, not covered in bright fur. We are tamer than tame when compared with the tradition of dressing up in crazy costumes to claim lottery winnings in China, like a guy who just wore a huge, bright yellow bear costume to pick up his check for $85 million.

The 520 million yuan won in the province’s lottery is the third largest jackpot ever handed out in the country, reports Shanghaist, and it didn’t come free, either: The winner says he (and we do know he’s a he, at least) spent the equivalent of $3,200 to $4,900 every year playing.

His outfit is clearly designed to keep his identity a secret, because there’s nothing worse for someone who’s suddenly come into a large sum of money than letting everyone who ever knew him and who could need a little quick cash to come running.

As winners are usually broadcast on TV in China, the best way to get around this for many, including Mr. Bear, is to hide in a costume: Mickey Mouse scored $62 million in August and a panda won $92 million in 2011.

Look: Lottery winner picks up his lottery winnings in hilarious bear costume [Shanghaist]

Homer Laughlin Still Makes Your Grandmother’s Fiestaware In West Virginia

Thu, 2014-10-16 20:45

(Trish P.)

(Trish P.)

Homer Laughlin was a real person who started a pottery company in Ohio in 1873. The factory moved to West Virginia about twenty years later, but has stayed in the same town since, now employing about 1,000 people to make a line of dishware that you may recognize: Fiesta.

NPR recently visited the Homer Laughlin factory in Newell, West Virginia, including some neat animated GIFs making and glazing dishes in an infinite loop. You’ve probably eaten in a restaurant or private home that uses Fiesta before. It’s known for its durability, variety of colors, and how some of those colors used to be slightly radioactive. Newer Fiesta dishes are uranium-free, but they’re still using decades-old equipment, in the same factory where the first dishes were created back in the 1920s. The company also makes durable dishes for restaurants and hotels, in addition to the Fiesta Rainbow.

The company isn’t flashy or trend-driven, but has been turning out 36,000 pieces of dishware during every shift for years. Factory workers make decent money, too. “They’re good jobs and they’re making a living, being able to buy a home and raise a family and retire with some dignity,” the head of the union told NPR.

W.Va. Pottery Company Keeps Popular Fiesta Line Thriving [NPR]

Lodge Manufacturing Still Makes Your Grandmother’s Cast Iron Skillet

The Costco Effect: Science Says We Choose Less Variety When Buying In Bulk

Thu, 2014-10-16 20:31

(a lauts)

(a lauts)

When you go to a convenience store to grab a few cold drinks and some snacks, you’re probably going to make different shopping choices than you would at the supermarket or warehouse store. And a new study claims that we tend to go for more variety when we’re not buying in bulk — even if the bulk packages offer variety.

A new study [PDF] from an international group of researchers published in the Journal of Consumer Research looks at consumers’ desire to opt for variety when purchasing single products versus purchasing them in bundles.

The first experiment divided test subjects into two groups. The first group was twice asked to choose between Coke or Sprite. Thus, the subject could choose a Coke followed by a Sprite; or a Sprite then a Coke; or make two consecutive choices of the same beverage.

The second group was given one decision to make: Choose between bundles of two sodas — either two Cokes, two Sprites, or a variety pack of one of each.

According to the study, 62.1% of subjects asked to make two separate choices opted to go with one of each drink. Meanwhile, only 34.2% of those presented with the bundled options chose a Sprite/Coke combination.

The researchers also asked subjects if they had a preference for either of these brands and rate their preference on a scale of 0 (for no preference) to 6 (for the highest level of brand preference).

As you’d probably expect, subjects in the bundled-pair group who expressed a preference of 3 or higher always chose their favorite soda. But that brand loyalty didn’t hold true for the other group, where around 25% of people with a strong preference for one soda still opted for variety in their selections.

“[T]he impact of performing two choice acts on variety seeking was such that many participants in the single offering condition chose two different items despite acknowledging on the liking rating scale a much stronger preference for one soft drink over the other,” reads the study. “Therefore, it seems that it is the single offering frame that pushes choosers to seek variety.”

This hypothesis was backed up by a second experiment involving the same setup, but replacing Coke/Sprite with Snickers and Twix candy bars. In this case, 73.6% of participants who made two individual choices selected both snacks, while 50% of those forced to choose a bundle opted for variety.

The candy bar experiment added another consideration. This time, the candy-selecting subjects gave feedback on the thoughts they made when making their choice. Then third-party participants were asked to review those answers and guess whether the participant had chosen two different items or chosen two of the same item.

Regardless of whether the subject made two individual choices or one bundled choice, it was quite easy to correctly determine that they had selected two of the same items. The guessing participants correctly identified 79.4% of cases where subjects doubled up on their candy bar choice. This is likely because subjects gave feedback expressing a particular affection for one brand over the other, or because of a dislike of ingredients in one snack.

The guessers also correctly identified 72.4% of those subjects who chose mixed bundles. Researchers says it’s because they used statements like “I really like both of them so I want one of each” and “I don’t want two of the same.”

But those subjects who opted for variety when faced with two separate choices were significantly more difficult to suss out. The guessers only correctly identified 17.9% of these people.

The confusion lies in statements like “I don’t care for Snickers,” or “I like Twix better than I like Snickers,” which seem to indicate a strong preference, but were actually given by people who chose both candy bars.

“In short, many single offering choosers may have been pushed into seeking variety, and as a result they found it very difficult to explain their choices in hindsight,” reads the study. “They instead just reported their preference for one candy bar over the other. Still another pattern of responses in this condition showed that some participants just focused on the product attributes that crossed their minds, which naturally would leave an outsider puzzled about what they had chosen.”

A third experiment attempted to take away any brand favoritism or issues of hunger/satiation by looking at what subjects would choose to do when presented with varieties in floral bouquets.

In this test, one group was presented with an array of different colored roses and told to put together a bouquet. There were enough of any one kind that the subjects could make monochrome bouquets or choose variety.

Another group was asked to choose between a selection of pre-made bouquets, some monochrome and some with a variety of roses.

And as in the two previous experiments, the majority of people (69.6%) allowed to build their bundle chose variety while a minority (48.3%) of those choosing from pre-made bundles opted for variety.

“The question that emerges then is this: Will consumers still be incorrigible variety seekers if they are asked instead to choose multiple items from bundled offerings?” asks the study. “[W]hen consumers seek variety, perhaps they are driven by the choice process (i.e., the mechanics of choosing) as much as they are by the choice outcome (i.e., the items they end up with).”

The researchers believe that their findings have implications for how retailers manage their businesses.

For example, while many bundles are discounted in order to entice customers to clear out inventory by paying a lower unit price, the researchers believe that bundles could also be used to simply entice people to buy more of the same product even if there is no price incentive.

The results also imply that consumers who shop at smaller markets, where things are less likely to be bundled together, are more likely to choose variety than those who patronize warehouse stores and other retailers where buying in bulk is the norm.

“If this conjecture is correct, then it should be easier, other things being equal, for new competitors to gain a foothold in small rather than in large retail outlets,” conclude the researchers.

Lawsuit Alleges Chipotle Required Workers To Perform Duties Without Pay

Thu, 2014-10-16 20:30

(Kerry Lannert)

(Kerry Lannert)

The door may be locked and the lights may have dimmed, but there’s still plenty of work to be done after closing for many restaurant employees. While working after hours isn’t uncommon, those who perform those duties probably expect to continue being paid. But a former employee claims that wasn’t happening at Chipotle, and now he’s suing the fast-casual restaurant.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports the former employee filed a federal lawsuit last week accusing Chipotle of not paying workers for duties performed after clocking out.

The 29-year-old former employee claims that Chipotle would conduct training, meetings and other activities in which employees are “required to attend, but for which they are not allowed to punch in.”

Additionally, the suit, which seeks class action status, alleges that the company encouraged managers “to require that work be performed off the clock” after 12:30 a.m. and that systems were put in place for “reward and punishment” of supervisors who either stayed within or exceeded their payroll budgets.

After beginning work at the Chipotle in 2011, the employee says he was required to punch out at the end of his shift but continue to clean the restaurant and attend night meetings.

When the employee complained about the issue, he says managers scheduled him for fewer hours and said he was not being a “team player.”

The suit alleges the employee accumulated between 10 to 15 hours a week of off-the-clock work. The plaintiff seeks unpaid wages, unspecified damages and legal fees.

Officials with Chipotle tell the Star Tribune that they do not comment on pending litigation. So far, no response has been filed by the company.

According to the Star Tribune, the suit marks the second federal case making allegations of wage theft against Minnesota Chipotle restaurants. The first suit was filed on behalf of four employees and remains active.

Minnesota suit: Chipotle makes workers stay late ‘off the clock’ without pay [Minneapolis Star Tribune]

New iPads Go On Sale Tomorrow; Shipping Next Week

Thu, 2014-10-16 20:09

ipadair2As predicted — and leaked by Apple — the company’s big announcement today was for the next generation of its iPad tablets.

“We’ve got a few more things to share with you before we close out the year,” declared Apple CEO Tim Cook at the opening of today’s press event.

After about 45 minutes of showing off things that most people don’t care about, he finally got to the reason everyone showed up.

Calling the iPad a “simple and magical device,” that has sold some 225 million units over the last four years, Cook unveiled the iPad Air 2.

Claiming it’s the world’s thinnest tablet, the Air 2 will be 6.1mm, that’s 18% thinner than iPad Air. In fact, you can stack up two Air 2 tablets on top of each other and still not be as thick as the original iPad.

The new display includes an anti-reflective coating that reduces reflection by 56%, so you won’t be as bothered with occasionally staring at your reflected face in the screen during a dark scene of some Netflix movie you’re watching.

The Air 2’s A8X chip, an iPad-specific chip based on the A8 that debuted in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, improves CPU performance by 40% and provides graphics processing that is more than twice as fast as the iPad Air.

The Air 2 boasts 10-hour battery life for those who can’t plug in. And the Touch ID fingerprint lock is now included in the iPad Air 2.

The improved 8MP rear-facing camera shoots 1080p HD video and for the first time offers burst-mode shooting, time-lapse and slo-motion (120fps at 720p). The Air 2 also includes dual microphones for better audio performance

Many of these features will also be included in the iPad Mini 3, which is launching at the same time.

So when are these going on sale?

Both the Air 2 and the Mini 3 will be available in three colors — silver, space gray and gold.

The Air 2 will start at $499 for 16GB, $599 for 64GB, and $699 for 128GB. LTE-ready models will add $120 to each of those prices (so, $629, $729, and $829).

The iPad mini 3 will begin at $399 for 16GB, $499 for 64GB, and $599 for 128GB. Again, add $120 to each price level for LTE-compatible mini 3 tablets.

In spite of reports that demand for the iPhone 6 was delaying iPad production, Apple will begin taking pre-orders for new tablets tomorrow, Oct. 17, and plans on shipping them to customers next week.

Apple is also dropping prices on older models of the iPad:

Family Getting Texts From Dead Grandma Is Ticked Phone Company Sold Her Number

Thu, 2014-10-16 20:07



Sure, the urge to talk to your loved ones after they’ve passed away is natural. But when one family start ed getting replies to texts sent to the mother and grandmother who died three years ago at age 58, they weren’t so happy to be hearing from beyond the grave.

The family had buried her with her mobile phone because she’d loved texting her family with nice messages, reports the Daily Mirror. Her son said he called up the phone company, O2, and asked that her number be canceled end never used again. He says the company agreed, and the family continued to text her when they felt like being close to her again.

But then her granddaughter got a reply: “I’m watching over you, and it’s all going to get better. Just push through.”

Shocked, as one would be, to hear from her dead grandmother, she worried that the worst had happened.

“Then I started getting horrible visions that someone might have dug up her grave and taken her phone, my mind was full of all sorts of really unpleasant possibilities,” she said.

As it turns out, O2 had given the number to a new customer, who’d been using it for a few weeks. He thought his friends were joking with him at first, so he replied, until he realized maybe that wasn’t the nicest thing to do, either.

The family says they called him up and he was apologetic about the situation, but now things can never be the same.

“We are a big family of texters, if we ever fell out or had something to say, we’d always just send a message, that’s why we buried her with her phone,” her son explained. “So to think someone else now has our mam’s number is just awful, we can’t believe 02 has done this.”

In the meantime, they’re trying to get the number deleted for good, but O2 says it sold it off to another phone company, complicating things.

A spokeswoman from 02 said: “We’ve been in touch with [the other company] and they have left their customer messages on e-mail. At the moment it’s a waiting game until he gets back in touch. Meanwhile we have spoken to [the woman's son]. He understands what’s happening and is appreciative that we’re trying to get the number back.”

Family who sent texts to mobile buried with late gran get replies ‘from beyond grave’ [Daily Mirror]

Dollar Tree Racked Up $866K In Fines Over Last 12 Months For Workplace-Safety Violations

Thu, 2014-10-16 19:04


Discount retailer Dollar Tree has earned itself the not so great distinction of raking in perhaps more workplace-safety violations in one year than any other business has managed to accumulate: In the last 12 months, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued 48 violations to Dollar Tree, charging it $866,000 in fines.

Was there an epic case of exploding boxes of soda or something? The answer is probably a lot simpler and more dangerous in an everyday way, say regulators, saying that problems like precariously balanced boxes, tanks of gas placed willy nilly and blocked electrical outlets are to blame for the rash of violations, reports the Wall Street Journal.

One store in Texas just received $262,500 in fines on Wednesday, OSHA said, it’s fourth fine of more than $100,000 since May.

This run of violations and fines could be the highest ever doled out to a retail chain, says OSHA head David Michaels.

“We see a problem in stores across the country,” he said. “Each of these stores has some serious hazards.”

In comparison — though Dollar General and Family Dollar are both larger chains, each only run up fines of less than $50,000 over the same period.

Dollar Tree says in response to the news that it’s “committed to maintaining a safe workplace environment for each of our associates. We are currently in the process of contesting recent OSHA citations.”

The pressure to move as much cheap merchandise as possible and make a profit often leads to stores cutting down on staff, with sometimes only two employees working in a store at once. That’s a lot of ground to cover, especially when stores are between 7,000 and 10,000 square feet.

So what happens when a worker is unloading one of the thousands of boxes delivered to the stores each week when a customer needs help? She might leave that pile to assist, abandoning boxes in the aisle that could block emergency exits, trip customers with clutter or otherwise prove unsafe.

At one store, OSHA found boxes blocking an exit route, with containers piled precariously in stacks reaching 12 to 15 feet. That store also had unsecured helium cylinders that could’ve fallen on employees or customers and electrical panels blocked with merchandise, which could’ve caused burn and electrical shock injuries, OSHA said.

OSHA inspections were prompted mostly by complaints from employees and managers, bringing in inspectors almost 80 times in the past five years.

Employees injured at Dollar Tree stores recall cartons stacked carelessly with empty boxes lying around, ready to cause even more damage. Others said managers were blasé about the whole workplace safety thing.

“Things are tumbling on you because the space in the storage room is so small,” said one 57-year old former Dollar Tree worker who quite after a box of cans fell on her head. “We were always complaining to the manager, but she doesn’t do anything.”

Dollar Tree Racks Up Safety Violations [Wall Street Journal]

Fake Travel Agent Allegedly Scammed Customers Out Of $130,000

Thu, 2014-10-16 18:53

(Daniel Hedrick)

(Daniel Hedrick)

People instinctively trust others more if we have something in common with them, and that instinct led some people of Fijian origin who live near Modesto, California to a scammer. A man who was originally from Fiji set himself up as a travel agent and accepted money to book flights, then gave customers phony paperwork without making reservations, or canceling return tickets while travelers were out of the country.

It’s unlikely that the phony travel agent’s victims will get any of their money back, though. He’s accused of scamming about 50 travelers out of $130,000, but local police knew that he would be in a certain place at a certain time, and took advantage of that to arrest him. Where was that? Federal bankruptcy court, for his scheduled bankruptcy hearing.

One traveler says that he spent $5,000 on tickets for a trip to Fiji, later learning that the tickets weren’t even real. Other customers received authentic-looking flight itineraries, but the flight numbers they received weren’t even real. According to local police, fake or canceled plane tickets stranded five customers overseas, since they thought they had flight reservations.

There were some warning signs: the travel agency had poor online reviews, and an F rating with the Better Business Bureau.

Travelers Allegedly Swindled By Phony Modesto Travel Agent May Never See Their Money Returned [CBS Sacramento]

FedEx Delivery Mistake Leads To Huge Drug Bust

Thu, 2014-10-16 18:16

(David Transier)

(David Transier)

If my neighbor accidentally gets my FedEx or UPS package, the worst that could happen is they find out about my pedestrian reading tastes or that I might order too many video games. Then again, no one is shipping me parcels full of illegal drugs.

Of course, neither was the Houston-area resident who notified police after FedEx mis-delivered a package containing cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin that was intended for a nearby address.

Police tracked down the rightful recipients of the parcel and found a trio of adults with around $100,000 worth of drugs (including marijuana, prescription painkillers, cocaine, morphine, LSD, hash, steroids, black tar heroin, codeine, and drugs normally prescribed to cancer patients), a variety of weapons and thousands of dollars in cash.

Oh, and a 5-year-old who slept in the room next to where its mom smoked meth, reports the Houston Chronicle.

While FedEx dumb-lucked into aiding law enforcement in this case, the company is currently in hot water with the federal government for its alleged involvement with illegal drug shipments.

In July, a federal grand jury indicted FedEx on multiple charges, including Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substances, Distribution of Controlled Substances, Conspiracy to Distribute Misbranded Drugs and Misbranding Drugs, because it allegedly turned a blind eye to shipments from operators of illegal pharmacies.

The shipping company denies any wrongdoing.

Cop Guesses Woman’s iPad Password, Uses Find My iPhone App To Locate Woman Missing After Car Crash

Thu, 2014-10-16 17:58



In possibly one of the only instances where you might be lucky to have chosen an easily guessed password, a woman stuck for 13 hours after her car flipped over was finally located after a police officer was able to get into her iPad and activate the woman’s Find My iPhone app.

A 28-year-old woman near San Jose spent hours facedown in a ravine after her car fell hundreds of feet down an embankment, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

And while her vehicle’s OnStar system alerted police that she’d been involved in a rollover accident in an are a few miles from her home, cops couldn’t find her car after two hours of searching.

The location the OnStar system had marked wasn’t right, officers realized, after having the system make the car honk repeatedly, to no avail.

From there, police contacted the woman’s cell phone company to get a pin on her location within a 7-mile radius of downtown San Jose, which still didn’t help them find her.

It wasn’t until the woman’s stepmother filed a missing person’s report, saying they lived together and she hadn’t heard from her. A police officer who met with the stepmother asked if the woman had the Find My iPhone app, which she did, on her iPad.

But once the iPad was located, there was still the matter of gaining access to it.

“So I made an educated guess, based on a series of common numbers people use for passwords,” the police officer explained. He’s a SWAT team member and accident reconstruction specialist but also says he’s known around the department as “kind of a tech geek.”

He guessed right, after only three to four tries, officials said, and was able to use the same passcode to unlock the app. Once he activated it, a map of the location where the missing woman’s phone was popped up.

Rescuers found her injured but conscious, face down in a ravine about 500 yards off an embankment. The car was on its roof, and the victim was outside. She only had 12% battery left on her phone by the time she was found.

“You think about it. If we didn’t have that specific location I would hate to think what the outcome would be without him logging into that account,” a captain with the police department said.

She was airlifted to a nearby medical center with major injuries, but is expected to survive.

Find My iPhone app helps save woman in South Bay ravine [San Francisco Chronicle]

Chrysler Recalls 747,000 Jeep And Dodge Vehicles For Electrical, Alternator Issues

Thu, 2014-10-16 17:58

(Consumerist Dot Com)

(Consumerist Dot Com)

By some standards the Chrysler Group’s recall of nearly 764,000 vehicles in the last three weeks is just a drop in the bucket. That changed today when the group issued two notices calling back an additional 747,000 vehicles for electrical and alternator issues.

According to a notice [PDF] from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the first recall concerns 434,581 model year 2011 to 2014 Chrysler 300, Charger, Challenger, Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles with an alternator issue.

Chrysler reports that the alternator in the vehicles may suddenly fail, which could lead to an engine stall.

Depending on the failure mode and timing, the system voltage may drop to critical levels disabling systems such as antilock brakes and electronic stability control, documents [PDF] provided to NHTSA state.

Officials with Chrysler tell NHTSA that as of August 25, the company is aware of one accident that may be related to the issue.

Although a remedy has not been announced, Chrysler will begin notifying owners of affected vehicles in November.

Chrysler’s second recall of the day concerns 313,236 model year 2011 to 2013 Jeep Wrangler SUVs that may have an electrical short.

According to the NHTSA notice [PDF], corrosion in the exterior heated power mirror electrical connector may result in an electrical short that increases the risk of a fire.

Officials with Chrysler say the issue may be the result of water dripping on the door trim panel, traveling along the mirror wiring harness and into the electoral connector.

So far, Chrysler says there have been no accidents or injuries related to the issue.

Owners of affected vehicles will be notified of the issue in December and dealers have been instructed to move the mirror power feed to a separate connector away from the path of water.

In the past three weeks, Chrysler has recalled 764,000 vehicles, including many Durango and Jeep models, for fuel pump delays, inadvertent ignition switch movement and airbag deployment issues.