European Union Investigates Claims Disneyland Paris Charges Different Prices According To Where Customer Lives
In European Union member states, consumers aren’t supposed to be charged differently for products or services depending on where they live. Yet visitors to the happiest place accessible by Paris commuter rail, Disneyland Paris, have complained to the European Commission that the resort charges people differently according to where they’re from.
The items in question are vacation packages, not just regular old tickets to the park itself. The Financial Times provided the example of a premium package, for which travelers from other parts of France were charged €1,346, but people from the United Kingdom had to pay €1,870, and someone from Germany would be charged €2,447.
Disneyland disagrees with the allegations, pointing out that visitors from different places need different services, and that travelers from more distant parts of Europe must book their travel farther in advance, which raises the prices. The company’s vice president explained to AFP that “an English (visitor) will reserve a holiday six months to a year in advance, while with the French it’s four to six months ahead.” The site doesn’t detect where visitors are and show them different prices accordingly, he claims.
While people traveling from different places might see different prices on the website, they are welcome to call in and request the price available to a French tourist: they’d just be responsible for getting themselves to the park using railroads or a car, instead of having transportation charges included in their package price.
Does this explanation make sense? Since the alleged discriminatory pricing happened in France, French investigators are now in charge of the case and will check out consumers’ claims.
When most people think of debt, they probably conjure up a vision of consumers struggling to make ends meet after making unwise financial decisions. But that actually isn’t the case for most Americans. In fact, like other things, debt in moderation is actually a good thing.
That’s according to a new report [PDF] from Pew Charitable Trusts that found debt is a routine but complicated aspect of U.S. households’ with nearly 80% of Americans holding at least some form of debt.
The report, titled “The Complex Story of American Debt,” examines how four generations of consumers’ hold debt and their views toward it.
Of the 80% of consumers holding debt, most is connected to mortgages. The median amount of debt for consumers across all generations was $67,900.
Unsurprisingly, the divide in the amount of debt held by consumers finds that middle-aged consumers have the most, while those entering the later stages of life and those just entering adulthood have the least.
Much like consumers indebtedness varies by generation, so do their feelings about debt.
For the most part, a majority of Americans — seven in 10 — view debt as a necessity in their lives, even though they would prefer not to have it.
Similarly, most consumers, about 68%, believe that loans and credit cards have expanded their opportunities by allowing them to make purchases or investments that their income and savings alone could not support.
Still, the report found that debt is more often than not seen as a negative mark in consumers’ lives, with 79% of consumers believing that other people use debt irresponsibly.
Consumers’ attitudes on debt varied significantly depending on their stage in life. For example, members of the silent generation say that the availability of credit cards and loans afforded them more opportunities, while members of the Millennial generation – those born between 1981 and 1997 – see those products as a potentially harmful to their finances.
“Overall, Gen Xers’ and Millennials’ aversion to debt may reflect their greater debt burdens at an earlier stage in life than previous generations, as well as having experienced the Great Recession when they were just beginning school, entering the workforce, and purchasing their first homes,” the report states.
The report found that each new generation is significantly influenced by the generation before them.
That trend can certainly be seen when it comes to consumers’ debt related to education. It appears that while many consumers say they would change the way they paid for college, they haven’t exactly passed that knowledge to younger generations.
Many Gen Xers that are still paying off their student loans are now gearing up to send their own children to college.
Nearly 93% of Gen X parents say their oldest child will go to college, with about 83% saying they plan to help pay for the costs. However, a majority have only set aside $4,000 in dedicated college savings accounts, believing that their child will receive grants and scholarships to pay for a majority of their college expenses.
“In reality, far fewer students receive grants or scholarships, and more depend on loans,” the report states. “The college-bound teenagers of Gen Xers are poised to take on as much or more debt than their parents.”
Consumers’ financial health and sense of security related to debt also varies depending on age.
For older Americans, lower levels of debt indicate greater financial security, while consumers of working age who have higher amounts of debt have healthier balance sheets, according to the report.
When comparing low- and high-debt retirees, the report found those who paid off their debts earlier in life were more likely to have accumulated more assets and net worth.
As for the younger Americans accumulating more debt – for homes or education purposes – their current financial situation is similar to those of the silent generation who now feel more secure.
Overall, the report suggests that while the long-term effects of debt for young Americans is still to be determined, their financial futures may be on the same path as older generations.
“Sustainable debt can be a positive force for the economic mobility and financial security of young Americans and their families,” the report states.
Over the past few years we’ve heard a lot about the smart, connected devices that make up the internet of things. From ceiling fans to cars and cameras, they’re everywhere. Unfortunately, anything that can connect to the internet can be hacked through the internet… and now, it seems, that includes guns.
Wired has reported today on a husband and wife security team that will be presenting their newest hack at a security conference in August. Their project? They’ve spent the last year hacking a pair of sniper rifles.
The TrackingPoint self-aiming rifles come with a fully-computerized, Linux-powered scope that allows the user to designate a target, then set variables like wind, temperature, and ammunition type. When the shooter pulls the trigger, the computer takes over and chooses the specific moment to fire, only activating when the gun is perfectly aimed, Wired explains. The weapon “can allow even a gun novice to reliably hit targets from as far as a mile away.”
That is, as long as nobody’s come along on wifi and stuck their fingers in the gun’s code.
The weapon’s wifi is turned off by default, which is the good news. The bad news is, as soon as it’s turned on, it’s vulnerable. The rifle uses a default password that allows anyone in range to communicate with it. Once connected, a hacker can access the weapon’s APIs to muck around with its targeting application and other features.
(Why does a gun have wifi at all, you may ask? “So you can do things like stream a video of your shot to a laptop or iPad,” Wired explains.)
The researchers demonstrated to Wired the range of control they had remotely over the gun. By assigning new values to variables the scope tracks, they were able to completely change its targets or even to disable the gun entirely. They were also able to interfere with the gun’s security, altering the PIN a user can set to limit others’ access to lock out the owner.
Happily, they were not able to fire the rifle remotely — doing that still requires manually pulling the trigger.
The risks from this particular hack, of this particular rifle, are low. Researchers had to acquire and dismantle one of the rifles in order to discover the full extent of its vulnerabilities. The guns are luxury items that go for $13,000 apiece, Wired reports, and about a thousand have been sold. They are far from the most common firearms being purchased and carried today.
But the potential pitfalls in the category of “smart gun” are something that buyers will have to be keenly aware of going forward. Using technology to increase security features on firearms isn’t itself a bad idea — but providing insecure internet connections opens it up to a whole world of problems.
In the same way that very few people thought about the network security of their cars until last week, very few people are thinking about the default password and exploitable wifi code embedded in firearms today. The problem is larger than one gun, one phone, one printer, one car, or one camera. It’s a whole world of default passwords and poor security that consumers don’t usually even know they need to change.
The feature, dubbed Wi-Fi Sense, shares an encrypted version of a user’s WiFi network password with their Skype, Outlook, and possibly Facebook contacts.
The sharing with Skype and Outlook contact is by default, while the user must opt in to share with Facebook contacts. The contacts never actually see the password, which is stored remotely on a Microsoft server, but if they ever come within reach of your WiFi network, they’ll be able to log on.
If that doesn’t sound like a good idea to you, you’re not alone in thinking so.
“The company says your contacts will only be able to share your network access, and that Wi-Fi Sense will block those users from accessing any other shared resources on your network, including computers, file shares or other devices,” he writes. “But these words of assurance probably ring hollow for anyone who’s been paying attention to security trends over the past few years: Given the myriad ways in which social networks and associated applications share and intertwine personal connections and contacts, it’s doubtful that most people are aware of who exactly all of their social network followers really are from one day to the next.”
After all, hackers with a goal are not easily deterred by roadblocks put in their way. Just look at the Home Depot payment terminal breach. The hackers in that case used phishing e-mails to access the credentials of a third-party air-conditioning contractor for the retailer. What’s to stop someone from deceiving a user into adding them to their contacts?
Microsoft’s argument is that Wi-Fi Sense is actually safer than simply giving your friends your WiFi password whenever they come to visit. The idea is that it’s more secure to grant contacts access to the network without ever having to give them the password than it is to explicitly share your password with them.
Once someone has the actual password, it can be shared with others or possibly used to figure out other passwords for websites and services. Microsoft claims that your Wi-Fi Sense contacts have no way to pass your passwords on to others.
Microsoft also says that Wi-Fi Sense will not share passwords for networks secured with authentication protocols like 802.1x EAP, meaning most corporate networks would not be included. But if your business uses a more simple wireless network that’s similar to what you’d find in a typical home environment, Wi-Fi Sense is probably not a good idea.
Over at Forbes.com, Amit Chowdry acknowledged the concerns of Wi-Fi Sense but said he believes the benefits outweigh the risks.
“This feature lets your friends access your Wi-Fi network without having to actually tell them your password. Sometimes people use the same password for their e-mail and Wi-Fi network, which could be a major privacy risk if their friends are nosy,” he writes. “Wi-Fi Sense also makes connecting to your Wi-Fi network less of a hassle if your password is extra long with a variety of letters, numbers and symbols. And Wi-Fi Sense does not actually show your Wi-Fi password at all.”
But that seems to bring up the concern about the fact that all these network passwords are going to be stored by Microsoft. That has to be a tempting target for hackers hoping to access all that information.
“Depending on Microsoft’s infosec protocols, this is either completely fine and dandy, or a potential goldmine for wardriving hackers,” writes Ars Technica’s Sebastian Anthony. “Again, as long as you don’t share the passkey from your workplace’s Wi-Fi network, the potential security risk is low.”
So how do you opt out?
People wanting to avoid having anything to do with Wi-Fi Sense can do two things: Opt out of the feature on Windows 10, and change the name of their wireless router.
The first is the easiest. Simply go to “Change Wi-Fi settings” on your computer, then click “Manage Wi-Fi settings,” where you can turn the feature off.
To keep anyone from using Wi-Fi Sense to access your home network, change the SSID of your network by adding “_optout” to the end. So if your network name is “ChrisIsAwesome,” you’d change it to “ChrisIsAwesome_optout.”
The next time you see a Google Street View car cruising down your block, it might be doing more than just snapping photos — it could be tracking air pollution.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Google has teamed up with Aclima, a San Francisco-Based air quality tech company, to equip three Street View cars with air quality monitoring stations.
The cars, which should hit the streets of San Francisco this fall, will collect data on the levels of carbon monoxide, methane, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds polluting the air.
Aclima says that the roving pollution detectors will be able to help researchers and scientists better manage and improve air quality.
While the Environmental Protection Agency already has air quality sensors spread throughout the city, Aclima says the new mobile monitoring capabilities will fill in the gaps where fine-scale changes in pollution levels are often missed.
“The monitoring network is designed for air quality regulation, but does not give a detailed picture of a community or urban area such that people can get a real sense of what air pollution is around their immediate surroundings,” Melissa Lunden, Director of Research for Aclima, says. “Mobile air quality sensing gives us a picture of the variability. It fills in those missing pixels.”
The two companies previously teamed up to run a test of the system in Denver last year, resulting in a dataset that shows when the air quality is best or worst in certain areas of the city.
Pollution tech company equips Google cars to deliver hyper-local air quality data [The Washington Post]
Since the spring launch of HBO Now, the streaming service that allows you to get HBO content without having to pay for a cable TV package, New York-based Cablevision was the only pay-TV/broadband provider selling subscriptions directly to its customers. Now the folks at Verizon have seen that there’s money to be made from people who want TV but don’t want cable, and is making HBO Now available for its FiOS and other broadband customers.
Just like the other sellers of HBO Now, Verizon is offering a 30-day free trial, after which the cost is $15/month.
After months of exclusivity on Apple devices, HBO Now recently opened up access to phones and other devices running the Android operating system. But even as the service has expanded its availability, no HBO Now sellers have offered it at a lower price or tried to bundle it together with other products.
Compare that to the recently released Showtime standalone streaming service, which retails of $11/month, but which is being discounted to $9/month on platforms like Hulu and PlayStation Plus.
Verizon says in its announcement that HBO Now will be a part of its upcoming mobile video offering, Go90.
Earlier this week a Walmart shoplifter said she likely wouldn’t follow a court order barring her from stepping inside any of the retailer’s thousands of locations. Turns out, that might not have been such a brazen statement after all, as the judge who handed down the lifetime ban clarified that he didn’t really mean to prevent the woman from entering all stores.
NJ.com reports that Mount Olive Municipal Judge Brian Levine revised his ruling, saying that he never intended to include a nationwide ban as part of his sentence for the 64-year-old woman, who admitted to shoplifting $78 worth of vitamins last December.
The original ruling, which included one year of probation, a $268 fine and 15 days of community service, stated that the woman was barred from all Walmart stores in New Jersey or elsewhere.
“In essence what I should have said was that I found as a matter of fact that she did enter into an agreement with Walmart not to go to Walmart in Mount Olive or any other place in New Jersey or the United States,” the judge said. “So to the extent that I sentenced her or ordered her by court order not to go to Walmart in any place … I am vacating that portion of the order.”
A couple of former prosecutors previously shared their doubts on the judge’s ability to actually ban the woman from all Walmart stores in the country, saying the order appeared to be outside the purview of sentencing provisions.
Still, the court order revision doesn’t necessarily mean the woman can step foot in a Walmart again, as she once singed an agreement with the retailer to stay away from stores.
The public defender who represented the woman tells NJ.com that when she signed the agreement with the company she believed it pertained only to one location and not others.
“It’s been explained to [her] that the document is for all Walmart stores, not just for that one,” he said.
Sure, all humans make mistakes, and sometimes we even make mistakes at work. However, you have to feel really sorry for the ATM company employees in New Jersey who left a bag containing $141,000 outside of a building where they were working…and accidentally left the bag behind. Local police say that the employee responsible for leaving the bag had to be transported to the hospital when he learned that it had been stolen. We hope that he’s okay, but there’s something very weird about this incident.
It turns out that a bag containing $141,000 in tens and twenties isn’t very big, and it doesn’t have a huge dollar sign printed on the side like in cartoons. Police say that the ATM-filling crew was only about seven miles away from the site when they realized that a bag was missing, and someone had already walked off with it.
How does that happen? Did they know what was in the bag? Police don’t know the identity of the person who picked up the bag and Someone driving past in a van noticed the unmarked bag, and was caught on surveillance camera picking it up.
Police are urging the person to come forward, since the rule of “finders keepers” doesn’t really apply to a bag sitting on the lawn on private property. “Anytime you find property that’s discarded on the side of the road, it’s not just fair game for you to pick it up and say, ‘Well, you left it, I found it,'” as a police spokesperson said. Indeed.
The carmaker Subaru is having a great decade so far: their sales have doubled in the United States and they’re having trouble keeping up with the demand. While that’s great news for Subaru, an in-depth investigation from Reuters shows that Subaru and its suppliers have turned to some questionable but legal labor practices to keep the Foresters coming down the line.
You should check out the entire investigation from Reuters, which includes a diagram of which parts of a Forester come from which suppliers, and video interviews with workers.
- Subaru’s sales have doubled in the United States since 2011: its Forester SUV crossover is especially popular here. Its marketing features loving families, cute dogs, and exceptionally long-lasting cars, all with the slightly baffling tagline, “Love. It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru.”
- Subaru’s manufacturing center is in the city of Ota, Japan, north of Tokyo. While some vehicles sold in the U.S. are assembled in a plant in Indiana, parts come from Subaru and its suppliers in Ota.
- Subaru and its suppliers hire workers from the developing world, some of whom are in Japan to apply for asylum. Reuters talked to workers who came from 22 different countries in Asia and Africa.
- Workers also come to Subaru’s suppliers through labor brokers, the same kind used in the clothing and textile industries, and up to a third of their pay goes to the brokers.
- Some workers come to Subaru through traineeship programs, where the ostensible goal is for the trainee to learn skills and bring them back to their home country. The problem is that trainees can’t switch employers once they get to Japan, and the United Nations and U.S. State Department say that conditions for trainees can be like forced labor.
- Chinese trainees whose pay stubs Reuters reviewed earned about half what a Japanese temp worker would have earned for the same job.
- Japan is unique in that it has needs workers but also limits immigration, which is why Subaru apparently depends heavily on guest workers and trainees. Reuters estimates that 30% of the labor force in the plants in Ota are foreigners.
- Factories that make parts for Subaru also make parts for other Japanese automakers, including Honda, Toyota, and Nissan.
- Subaru makes about 80% of its cars in Japan, and its increase in sales coincided with a change to the law that lets foreigners seeking asylum work on renewable six-month permits.
- Subaru says that its suppliers must obey the law in their hiring and treatment of their workers, and that the company isn’t equipped to check the labor practices of all of its suppliers.
Under federal law, when someone erases a debt in bankruptcy, their bank is required to update their credit reports to indicate the debt is no longer owed. To ensure this happens, legislators have introduced a new bill that would give credit card borrowers with inaccurate credit reports the power to sue their bank or a third-party debt buyer for damages if they continue to send so-called zombie debt to credit reporting agencies.
The Consumer Reporting Fairness Act of 2015 — introduced by Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown — aims to make it easier for consumers who discharge credit card debt through bankruptcy to fix errors and obtain accurate credit reports.
Under the bill [PDF], creditors and debt collection agencies would be required to notify credit reporting agencies (CRAs) when a consumer’s debt is canceled by bankruptcy. If notification doesn’t occur and reports continue to include inaccuracies, consumers could then sue for damages and fees.
As the Wall Street Journal points out the proposed bill would clear up confusion when it comes to large banks selling debt to third-party debt collectors, as current laws do not provide an explicit requirement that these entities notify credit reporting firms of a debt’s discharged status.
Brown contends that debts prior to bankruptcy may be double counted, further marring consumers’ credit reports.
The proposed bill comes at a time after several consumers filed lawsuits accusing banks of letting endangering their financial status by leaving discharged debt on their credit reports, the WSJ reports.
In some cases, the borrowers say the inaccurate data made it more difficult to obtain a job, find an apartment or acquire lines of credit, because the mark was seen as a “delinquent debt” on their credit report, the WSJ reports.
These issues were only magnified because in some instanced the original creditor sold the debt to a third-party debt collector.
Such was the case for Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, which agreed in May to remove debt consumers eliminated during bankruptcy proceedings from their credit reports to resolve several consumer lawsuits.
The financial companies allegedly ignored the discharges in order to make money by selling off the debt to collectors, who then refused to correct issues unless borrowers paid the debts that were already cleared.
More recently, JPMorgan Chase agreed to pay $136 million and revamp its debt sales after state and federal authorities found the company sold zombie debts to third-party buyers — those debts included accounts that were inaccurate.
Federal Lawmakers Propose Credit Reporting Changes [The Wall Street Journal]
Fortune magazine interviewed new CEO Federica Marchionni, who explained that she didn’t see much that looked appealing for her when she went to pick up her son’s school uniform. That’s bad: even fashion executives wear lounge pants and wool coats sometimes, don’t they?
Her plans involve expanding into more countries, and creating a women’s line that is “fitted and modern” among the chinos and floral cashmere cardigans. She also has very concrete plans like marketing their swimsuits more aggressively year-round in temperate areas of the country where people go swimming year-round.
The company’s future is still tied up with that of Sears: 235 of its stores are still mini-stores inside of the local Sears. So far, they only have 14 standalone Lands’ End stores in the U.S. It’s hard to build a brand identity separate from Sears when you are still physically located inside Sears and using Sears cash registers.
Waiting in line is often an annoying, but unavoidable aspect of everyday life: grabbing lunch, picking up a prescription, cashing a check, just to name a few. Now instead of just telling you how much time it will take to drive from one place to the other, Google has used its skills (all that data it collects) to create a new feature that gives a little more insight on just how busy the coffee shop is at 8 a.m. (busy).
The new mobile search feature, unveiled in a Google+ post today, aims to help consumers save time by showing them the busiest times of day at millions of businesses around the world.
To utilize the feature – which doesn’t really have a name – people just enter the business they’re looking for in Google’s search box. The generated results will now not only include the store’s phone number, address, and hours, but also a scrollable bar graph that shows the fluctuations of foot-traffic for all days of the week at the location.
The example provided by Google in its announcement shows the changing traffic at a local coffee shop. The resulting graph depicts the busiest hours of day at the location, but doesn’t explicitly tell you how long you should expect to wait.
While it’s likely that this new feature will be helpful when trying to determine when might be the best time to sneak out of the office for lunch or head to the post office, the results aren’t foolproof.
Don’t count on using the information to see when that amazing hole-in-the-wall store is busy, as a spokesperson for Google tells TechCrunch that results generally only appear for places where users are “commonly curious about how busy it typically gets.”
Last year, T-Mobile added a benefit for their customers that no other mobile provider had tried: data used for music streaming services doesn’t count against their data allowance. Since the launch, Big Magenta has taken suggestions from their users for new services to add, and now they’re up to a total of 33 services that are part of the program.
The latest, of course, is Apple Music, though its corporate cousins iTunes Radio was already part of the program. In their statement announcing the addition of Apple Music to the program, T-Mobile says that their customers stream a total of 131 million songs per day, or an average of 2.2 songs per person across their entire customer base.
T-Mobile offers theoretically unlimited but throttled data: if you use your entire quota for the month, your connection speed will slow to a crawl for the rest of the month. However, the exceptions for music services means that even if Instagram becomes unusable, you can still stream music at regular LTE speed.
Notably, the music service exemptions aren’t sponsored data: T-Mobile isn’t asking Apple or Spotify to pay them directly for the mobile data that their customers gobble while streaming music, which is similar to an idea that AT&T keeps revisiting.
According to CBS Detroit, a group of scammers tricked a Metro PCS store into buying what appeared to be iPhones in factory-sealed boxes, but which turned out to contain worthless lumps of Play-Doh and clay.
So the store owner decided to con the con artists. He called them and asked if he could purchase additional iPhones from the men, who obliged.
The three men didn’t realize that maybe someone was onto their clever ruse until they got to the store for the second transaction. While waiting to be paid for their expensive crafting supplies, the men had second thoughts and fled the store.
Police were able to track the four men down. Searching their rental car turned up more clay-filled iPhone boxes and $500 in cash.
Three suspects, including a minor, were charged with larceny by false pretenses and attempted larceny by false pretenses. All entered pleas of not guilty, and we really wish we could be there to hear an explanation if this ever goes to trial.
If you’ve bought any Kroger-brand seasonings (and/or fake bacon bits) recently, listen up: The nation’s second-largest supermarket chain has issued a recall affecting four different products that may be tainted with salmonella.
FDA testing of Kroger Garlic Powder from a store in Georgia turned up salmonella contamination, so the retailer is recalling that product along with three others — Kroger Ground Cinnamon, Kroger Garlic Powder, Kroger Coarse Ground Black Pepper, and Kroger Bac’n Buds — that are made using the same equipment at the same facility and therefore at risk for possible contamination.
The products were sold at Kroger stores nationwide, along with these other supermarket brands operated by the company: Ralphs, Food 4 Less, Foods Co., Fred Meyer, Fry’s, King Soopers, City Market, Smith’s, Dillons, Baker’s, Gerbes, Jay C, Ruler Foods, Pay Less, Owen’s, and Scott’s.
Kroger claims that there are no illnesses tied to the recalled products. Given the potential seriousness of salmonellosis, the company is using register receipts to alert customers to the recall. It is also calling some customers.
A mortgage payment company owned by Western Union has agreed to return $33.4 million to consumers following allegations that it misled customers into thinking they could save thousands of dollars on their home loans.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced today that Paymap Inc, a unit of Western Union Co, and loan servicer LoanCare LCC agreed to pay a total of $38.5 million to resolve charges they deceptively lured consumers into signing up for a program advertised to help pay off mortgages faster, while also saving on interest payments.
According to the CFPB consent orders against Colorado-based processing company Paymap [PDF] and Virgina-based LoanCare [PDF], the companies marketed and provided the “Equity Accelerator Program” as a way for consumers to make automatic mortgage payments via electronic debts from their bank accounts.
Advertisements for the program included promises that “the average customer will achieve over $33,000 in interest savings.” However, the CFPB contends that Paymap had no factual basis to support such a claim.
As a result of the unsubstantiated claim, since 2011 nearly 125,000 consumers signed up for the program, paying an enrollment fee of $295 and a transaction fee of $2.50 for each automatic withdrawal made from their bank accounts. In all, the CFPB estimates that the program collected $33.4 million in fees for Paymap.
Starting in 2012, Paymap and LoanCare teamed up to advertise the program as having a new, biweekly payoff schedule that would lead to significant interest savings because of the more frequent payments.
In reality, the CFPB claims the even though Paymap made more frequent withdrawals from consumers’ accounts, it did not actually make more frequent payments to consumers’ mortgages.
Instead, the company held the collected payments in custodial accounts and then paid the mortgages on the same monthly schedule. By increasing the number of withdrawals made against a consumers’ account, Paymap was collecting additional $2.50 fee.
Under its settlement with the CFPB, Paymap has agreed to return $33.4 million to approximately 125,000 consumers who enrolled in the Equity Accelerator Program since July 21, 2011. The company must also pay a $5 million civil penalty to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.
For its part, LoanCare must pay a $100,000 fine to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund. Additionally, both companies have agreed to cease advertisements of the programs benefits without provide credible supporting evidence or implying that they could change payment schedules.
Ordinary consumers aren’t really the customers of social media sites like Facebook and Pinterest: we’re their products, there to have our personal data and preferences sold to advertisers. Still, people will flee a site if they don’t like it, making it important for social media platforms to keep users on the site longer in order to please their real customers. That’s why the American Customer Satisfaction Index has tracked our happiness with these sites since 2010.
The big news story from this year’s results is the improvement of Facebook: they zoomed from a below-average to an above-average satisfaction score since last year. In 2014, Facebook and LinkedIn tied for the lowest score in the sector.
What accounts for the huge improvement–almost 12 points on a scale of 0 to 100–that Facebook has undergone in the last year? Mobile. Even your grandma is using Facebook from her iPad now when she clicks “like” on every single thing that you post to the social network, and customers seem to prefer the mobile experience.
LinkedIn, meanwhile, is still at the bottom of the pack. It’s probably not a coincidence that the company announced today, the same day that the ratings came out, that they’re going to dial back the amount of e-mail that they send to customers.
Paced by Facebook, Customer Satisfaction Up for Social-Media Sites [Wall Street Journal]
According to AT&T’s official response [PDF], the FCC’s proposal “flouts the most basic principles of fairness, due process, and responsible enforcement.”
The Commission accused AT&T of violating the so-called Transparency Rule, which requires broadband providers to publicly disclose sufficient and accurate information about their network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of their services.
The FCC’s problem wasn’t necessarily that AT&T was throttling data speeds of certain unlimited users who gobbled up the most data each month. Instead, the Commission contends that AT&T failed to advise these users on the extent to which their data speeds would be slowed if they were in that throttled group. An investigation found that some were having their speeds cut by 80-90%, effectively rendering their plans useless until the throttling ended.
But in its response, AT&T says the FCC “must rewrite the terms of the [Transparency] Rule, disavow the Commission’s own prior statements, and ignore the broad reach and detailed content of AT&T’s multiple, customer-friendly disclosures,” if if wants these allegations to stick. The company labels the FCC’s actions, both unprecedented and indefensible.”
The wireless giant claims the FCC is ignoring similar practices by other companies that have “employed the same congestion management practices and disclosed less,” but “have not been subjected to any similar enforcement action.”
It’s worth noting that while there haven’t yet been any similar enforcement actions, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler has indeed questioned throttling practices at other providers, and that he’s not terribly impressed with the “but other people are doing it” argument.
“The Commission’s findings that consumers and competition were harmed are devoid of factual support and wholly implausible,” continues the response from AT&T, who maintains that the FCC lacks statutory authority to levy the potential $100 million fine, which it dubs “an unseemly effort to coerce settlement.”
AT&T also alleges that the FCC has made up its mind about the matter, “abandoning any pretext that the Commission remains an impartial arbiter of the case.”
With regard to the FCC’s proposed sanctions — like getting affected users out of AT&T contracts without early termination fees, putting an end to use of the term “unlimited,” and publicly acknowledging violation of the Transparency Rule — AT&T says they are all “independently unlawful.”
“The Commission cannot alter the terms of AT&T’s private contracts to allow customers to evade early termination fees because, as the D.C. Circuit has held, ‘the Commission lacks authority to invalidate licensees’ contracts with third parties,'” writes the company. “Moreover, ordering that sanction here would constitute an unlawful ‘damages’ order beyond the Commission’s authority and would raise grave Takings Clause issues.”
AT&T says the FCC lacks any authority to issue a cease-and-desist on its use of “unlimited” and contends that forcing to the company to wear a “scarlet letter” and inform its customers that it violated the Transparency Rule would violate the First Amendment.
While the $100 million was bandied around as a definitive figure when the FCC notice was made public, it’s only a vague estimate. AT&T’s response is part of the process of determining the specific financial penalty and any other sanctions, which the company believes it could successfully challenge in a court of law.
Which is a fancy way of saying that this situation is far from being resolved.
The makers of Happy Birthday, a movie about the classic song, have sued Warner/Chappell Music to get back the $1,500 they had to pay to use the song in the film. They are also hoping to represent a class of others who have paid what they contend is a bogus royalty on the “Happy Birthday” song.
In a recent filing [PDF] with the federal court hearing the case, the filmmakers claim they can show “conclusively that Happy Birthday has been in the public domain since no later than 1922.”
Warner/Chappell’s copyright claim is based on a 1935 version credited to writers Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R.R. Forman, rather than Patty and Mildred Hill, the sisters who actually wrote it decades earlier.
But the filmmakers and others have argued that this copyright is only for a particular piano arrangement of the song, and that the new evidence shows the Hills’ version of the song had already been given over to the public domain by 1922.
According to the plaintiffs, they recently received 500 pages of documents from Warner/Chappell as part of the discovery process. Included in that cluster of documents was the 15th edition of The Everyday Song Book from 1927, which they claim is the “proverbial smoking-gun.”
Included in the songbook is “Good Morning and Birthday Song,” which uses Patty Hill’s words for “Happy Birthday” and the very similar “Good Morning” with sister Mildred Hill’s music.
And while there is a line of text below this song that reads “Special permission through courtesy of The Clayton F. Summy Co.,” there is no specific copyright claimed. However, the filmmakers note that every other individual song in the book has an explicit declaration of copyright.
They were able to obtain a revised Fourth Edition of the songbook from 1922, and again the song contains the permission notice but no copyright claim. This, argue the filmmakers, “is fully consistent with Plaintiffs’ position that the Happy Birthday lyrics had been dedicated to the public many years before then.”
As Ars Technica’s Joe Mullin points out, the lack of an explicit copyright notice in the 1922 songbook is “critical, because under the 1909 Copyright Act which was then in force, a published work had to include the word ‘Copyright,’ the abbreviation ‘Copr.,’ or the ‘©’ symbol, or ‘the published work was interjected irrevocably into the public domain.'”
Additionally, even if the court holds that the “permission” line constitutes a valid copyright in 1922, the laws in place at the time would have put the song into the public domain by 1949. And, even if that copyright had been renewed, it would ultimately have expired at the end of 1997.
The filing from the filmmakers came only days before a scheduled hearing on the copyright issue, so there may be an update coming later this week.
From books to mini-tanks, Amazon might be a one-stop-online-shop for just about anything consumers could desire, and with the unveiling of its new platform, Launchpad, the e-tailer is now gunning to be the one-stop-marketing-and-distribution center for startups.
The e-commerce giant announced today that it would wade into the world of startups by partnering with more than 25 crowd-funding platforms and venture capital firms to offer up-and-coming sellers a place to showcase their unique products, like a all-in-one home security devices or toddler snack packs.
According to Amazon, Launchpad was created as a way to help startups successfully launch their innovations and share their stories, while allowing consumers to try out new products.
As part of the system, Amazon will manage inventory, fulfill orders using its own distribution network and provide customer service for some of the startup’s sales. In the future, the company will help the selected startups reach a global audience.
“With Amazon Launchpad, startups can overcome many of the challenges associated with launching new products by using Amazon’s retail expertise and infrastructure to create awareness and drive sales,” the company says.
“As the pace of innovation continues to increase within the startup community, we want to help customers discover these unique products and learn the inspiration behind them,” Jim Adkins, vice president of Amazon, says in a statement. “We also know from talking to startups that bringing a new product to market successfully can be just as challenging as building it.”
Missing from Amazon’s lineup of partners — which includes Indiegogo — is Kickstarter, the most prominent name in the crowd-funding arena.