website utilities

People before Profit

Follow on:

The Consumerist

At Hallmark, Get Halloween Ornaments For Your Halloween Tree

Tue, 2014-10-21 18:19

Here at Consumerist, we pretend to hate holiday mashups while secretly loving them. Still, we have to admit that we were a little confused when we saw that Hallmark now has Halloween ornaments. Yes, it’s a long-established fact that the gift chain puts its Christmas ornament collection out during the summer, but we thought they were just that. Christmas tree ornaments. Not so.

happy_halloweenHere’s the rather blurry photo that tipster Beth sent us of the display at her local Hallmark store. The ornament label is hard to read, but the one with the pumpkin is called “Happy Halloween.”

That raises many questions. “Is this a Halloween-themed ornament for Christmas, or a Christmas-style ornament for Halloween?” Beth asked. We were confused, too, so we took her question to Hallmark.

A Hallmark spokesperson explained that the ornaments are “intended for Halloween decorating.” Wait, Halloween trees are a thing other than at Hobby Lobby? Yes. Yes, they are. Hallmark sells Halloween ornaments, which make sense when you see them in context with the rest of the collection. Maybe not so much when they’re stuck in a display among Christmas ornaments.


Their spokesperson explained:

Halloween is second to Christmas in holiday decorating, so we hear a lot from our consumers that they want this type of product. Some people like to decorate with “Halloween trees.” There may be some consumers who carry the Halloween ornaments over to Christmas, but the intent is for celebrating Halloween. Of course, people can use the ornaments however they’d like, and people do tend to get creative!

Well, we can’t disagree with that. People are entitled to use ornaments however they like. The pumpkin ornament makes sense in this context, and is adorable either way. That doesn’t mean I’m putting up a Halloween tree, though.

NHTSA Urges Owners Of Vehicles With Defective Airbags To Get Them Fixed, Even Though No Parts Are Available

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:42


Federal safety regulators are asking millions of vehicle owners to immediately fix their defective airbags, but it may do little to actually remedy the problem. With more than 14 million cars equipped with faulty Takata airbags, car manufacturers say they don’t have enough replacement parts on hand, meaning consumers consumers will have to wait and decide for themselves whether they want to keep driving affected vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released an urgent consumer advisory Monday to the owners of certain Toyota, Honda, Mazda, BMW, Nissan, and General Motors vehicles to act immediately on recall notices to replace defective Takata airbags.

The advisory singled out owners of vehicles in high humidity regions including Florida, Puerto Rico, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, Virgin Islands and Hawaii.

David J. Friedman, deputy administrator for NHTSA, tells the New York Times that the agency issued the unusual advisory to make sure everyone is engaged and getting their vehicles fixed to protect themselves and their families.

While the warning may serve that purpose, it also may prove confusing for some consumers who have found their vehicle’s manufacturer isn’t prepared to fix the issue.

The New York Times reports that many of the car manufacturers listed on the NHTSA notice don’t have parts available to service the vehicles.

Honda officials have said they did not have enough parts to fix the 2.8 million recalled cars immediately and that there was no firm idea of when the fixes would be completed.

Instead, the company is sending out recall notifications only as they become available, with priority being reserved for areas of high humidity, where the airbags are though to be more susceptible to exploding.

Of the 11 manufacturers with vehicles recalled because of the Takata issue, Honda has perhaps been the hardest hit.

At least three deaths have been linked to defective airbags in Honda vehicles and the company recently announcing it would begin an audit of potential inaccuracies in providing information about early warning issues to regulators.

A consumer safety group said last week that those possible inaccuracies have hampered regulators ability to spot safety defects, which in turn can leave potentially dangerous vehicles on the roadways.

Officials with Toyota, which expanded its recall of vehicles with Takata airbags yesterday, say the company would in some cases disable the air bags, leaving a note not to ride in the front passenger seat.

The company has urged owners of about 247,000 vehicles in high humidity areas to make special efforts to get their cars fixed.

Officials with NHTSA tell the Times they plan to continually update Monday’s consumer advisory to include additional manufacturers and vehicles equipped with the defective safety devices.

It Looked Like a Stabbing, but Takata Air Bag Was the Killer [The New York Times]

Company Has Created Actual Hoverboard, In Time For Marty McFly’s 2015 Visit

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:35

hendograbOne year from today, a young man named Marty McFly from Hill Valley will arrive from 30 years in the past in a time machine powered by garbage, and he will marvel at new technology like self-lacing shoes and those hoverboards that every kid rides around the town square on. That is, if the kid happens to have $10,000 in his piggy bank and uses it to back a Kickstarter campaign promising to deliver the floating device by this time next year.

A company called Arx Parx has launched a campaign to raise $250,000 for its Hendo hoverboard, which uses a magnetic field to do its hovering (and which also means you have to be floating over a conductive surface, like the copper-covered demo floor the company has been using to show off the Hendo to certain members of the press.

Right now, the Hendo is kind of a hulking monster, but the plan is to reduce its size in the coming year. The makers say the board supports up to 300 pounds and should soon be able to carry upwards of 500 pounds, meaning the hover technology has applications well beyond just ticking off the descendants of Biff Tannen.

That’s why the Arx Parx folks are also planning to release a developer’s kit that will hopefully inspire people to put the Hendo hover engine to practical use. Suddenly all those sci-fi movies and TV shows where warehouse workers of the future are pushing around floating pallets may be an everyday scene.

While the Hendo might be in the offing, it’s worth noting that it currently only hovers about 3/4″ off the ground. Increasing that to 1.5″ would require significantly more energy, say the inventors.

For now, let’s just watch the prototype in action. Warning: This video is incredibly loud and sounds like someone is doing something awful to a cat, so turn your speakers down:

Uber Driver Accused Of Pulling Passenger From Car, Smashing Her Phone After Fight Over Directions

Tue, 2014-10-21 17:26

(CBS San Francisco)

(CBS San Francisco)

In the latest report of Uber driver versus passenger, police in San Francisco have cited an UberX driver with three misdemeanors for allegedly pulling a passenger out of his car and smashing her smartphone while she tried to record the showdown.

Police tells CBS San Francisco that the driver is suspected of forcibly removing the woman after the two got into an argument about the address of her destination.

She told him the cross streets of where she was going, but didn’t provide an exact address, which apparently started things in motion.

“His exact words were, ‘I need address for GPS,’” she said in an interview. “I put my head down and was texting, and the next think I know we’re stopped and he’s running to my side of the car cussing, telling me to get the f out of his car. He grabs my arm, I take that hand and I hold it up with my phone to take a picture. He lets go, grabs the phone and throws it down the street,” she added.

She was able to retrieve her phone and keep the name and photo of the driver, and contacted Uber about the incident. But she claims it took someone from Uber 20 hours to call her.

Despite the wait, the company refunded her trip, is replacing her phone and suspended the driver, pending an investigation. He was cited with misdemeanors for battery, malicious mischief, and vandalism.

Thanks for the tip, J.V.!

Previously in Uber vs. Passenger news: Uber Customer Claims She Was Briefly Kidnapped During 2-Hour Ride, Company Calls It An “Inefficient Route”; Uber Driver Says Female Passenger Was Asking To Be Groped By Wearing A Tank Top; Should Uber Be Responsible If A Driver Attacks A Passenger?

San Francisco Uber Driver Accused Of Forcibly Pulling Rider From Car, Smashing Her Phone In Dispute Over Directions [CBS San Francisco]

Sears Inventory Clerk Accused Of Stealing $2.6 Million In Merchandise

Tue, 2014-10-21 16:40

Pete Kraynak

(Pete Kraynak)

If Sears wants to lose slightly less money in the last quarter of 2014, maybe the company needs to check its employees’ metaphorical pockets. For example, there was the employee in a New Jersey distribution center who was recently arrested and accused of stealing merchandise worth $2.3 million, with a retail value of $3.7 million, and selling or bartering the merchandise to people in multiple states.

How could someone have done this? Police say that the inventory clerk would create fake orders for pricey items with resale value, like electronics, high-end bedding, and appliances.

What isn’t clear is whether she created the phony orders and then Sears itself shipped them directly to the recipients, or the fake “orders” simply removed the items from warehouse inventory so she could slip them out of the building. That’s easy enough to do with a small item like a camera, but more difficult with, say, a dishwasher.

Police say that she distributed the items to her “network” all over the greater New York metropolitan area, and that she surely had accomplices in selling the merchandise. She’s currently at the county jail on $50,000 bail.

New Jersey woman steals $3.7 million in goods from Sears warehouse [NY Daily News]

Report: Despite Lower Fuel Costs And Ebola Fears, Many Airlines Just Raised Base Fares

Tue, 2014-10-21 16:36



The good news for airlines — fuel prices are down for once. But while that’s all well and great, that doesn’t mean consumers are going to have those savings passed down by way of cheaper air fares. Instead, many of the major airlines have recently raised their base fares by a few dollars across the board, according to a new report. Just in time for the holidays, of course.

Even as people stateside watch the Ebola outbreak unfold in West Africa and read the news about its effects here, it seems airlines aren’t worried that there will be fewer people booking travel: According to a report by the Associated Press, Delta Air Lines hiked its fares on many domestic routes by $4 per round trip last week, prompting others to match them.

Citing CEO Rick Seaney and JPMorgan analyst Jamie Baker, the AP says that a few airlines bumped things by $6 and $10, but most hovered around $4.

While Delta didn’t respond to the AP’s request for comment, and neither did American and Southwest — both which reportedly raised prices — United Airlines did confirm it matched Delta’s $4 bump.

The good news? Just because base fares are higher doesn’t always mean you’ll pay more, due to frequent sales airlines often run, and adjustments made depending on customer demand.

These upticks show that any fear of Ebola isn’t tamping the urge to fly, as well as that airlines aren’t passing on savings to customers from those decreased fuel prices, Seaney told the AP.

Holiday travel just got pricier as airlines raise fares on U.S. flights [Associated Press]

Dish Network Loses CNN, Cartoon Network

Tue, 2014-10-21 16:33

adventuretimeBecause pay-TV providers and content networks can’t negotiate anything without resorting to blackouts to try to prove who has the bigger dishes, the contract stalemate between Turner Broadcasting and Dish Network has left millions of satellite customers without a large slate of popular channels, including CNN, HLN, truTV and — most importantly — Cartoon Network.

Neither TBS or TNT were affected by the blackout, so Dish subscribers can continue not watching these cable channels.

Dish is positioning itself as the representative for consumers, even going so far as to launch a website ( arguing its side of the story.

Warren Schlichting, the satellite company’s senior vice president of Programming, says that Dish has had a “productive relationship with Turner Networks for many years… We regret the service disruption to our customers, and remain committed to reaching an agreement that promptly returns this content to DISH’s programming lineup.”

Meanwhile, Turner is pointing a finger back at Dish with its own ridiculously titled website (, claiming that it’s working on the side of the righteous.

“Turner has worked diligently for months to come to a fair agreement including multiple extensions and compromises,” the company said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that Dish is once again operating in a disruptive manner that takes away networks and programming from their customers.”

Both sides seem to agree that a deal will ultimately be reached, meaning that Dish subscribers will ultimately pay more for service, which makes us wonder: Why go through the hassle and bad publicity of a blackout if you’re just going to hike rates in the end anyway?

Homeowner Loses Condo Because City Messed Up Address On $95 Tax Bill

Tue, 2014-10-21 16:12

returntosenderFor the last few years, a woman in Georgia has been living in her condo and paying her local tax bills — except for one $94.85 city tax bill she never received because the address on the notices was incorrect. But that error didn’t stop the city from auctioning off her home.

The woman, who lives in the condo with her 4-year-old kid, tells WSB-TV in Atlanta that she never received the 2011 tax bill from the city of Norcross, GA, or any of the warning notices that followed because an incomplete address on the letters meant they were all returned to the city without being delivered.

“No street, no name. How can I receive the letter?” she asks.

WSB confirmed that the homeowner has paid all of her other taxes aside from this one small bill that she didn’t know about until receiving a letter last week telling her that her home had been sold by the city at auction and that she has until Nov. 25 to vacate the property.

Making matters more complicated, the buyer from the auction has already sold the condo to another buyer.

“Where are we going to go?” asks the mom. “I have nowhere. This is my house. Why do I need to move out?”

The Norcross City Manager told WSB that the city is looking into how this mess occurred, and said “will try to work something out.”

Meanwhile, the homeowner is looking for legal representation to help her keep her condo.

“Someone can rob your house? Rob your property?” she asks.

Golden Corral Customer Claims His Chili Came With A Free Rat

Tue, 2014-10-21 16:05



Warning: If you want to make sure your breakfast/any food you’ve eaten recently stays put, you probably won’t want to click over and watch any videos that I’m about to link to. Because I already had to go through that for you, and don’t want you to suffer. To that end, a guy in Florida says he found a rat head in his chili at a Golden Corral restaurant.

And not just any rodent cranium — a snaggletoothed rat that in a very sad way reminds me of Splinter from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies (talking 1990 here, not 2014).

According to WFTX, the man says he went for the chili because it’s on the healthier side. No more chili after this meal.

“The first bite I took out of it was a crunch, and at the time I was like, maybe you know sometimes you get a hard bean inside of chili,” he said.

He says he spat out what he thinks is a rat and oh gross oh gross. So he reacted.

“When I saw it, I just went into the bathroom and threw up,” he said. “I was like ‘ugh.’ I just couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth.”

His friends called the server, and when she called the manager, he confirmed that yup, he thought it was a rat. The customer says the manager took photos of it at different angles, horrified, and comped his party’s meal.

The diner said he felt queasy the next day and went to the emergency room, and was treated for gastroenteritis and prescribed medications for nausea and muscle spasms.

So far, the restaurant has reportedly confirmed that a customer had a problem and that it hasn’t been able to confirm the incident, but is looking into it.

“Normally you get cases like this, people take food somewhere else, open it up and something happens,” said the customer’s lawyer. “This happened right in the restaurant where there’s no question what happened. The manager is right there.”

FL man claims to find rat head in restaurant’s chili [WFTX]

Staples Latest National Retailer Investigating Possible Data Breach

Tue, 2014-10-21 15:46

(Jim Chambers)

(Jim Chambers)

Office supply store Staples may be joining the likes of Dairy Queen, Jimmy Johns and Home Depot as the latest national retailer to be hit with a cyberattack.

Reuters reports that Staples announced late Monday evening that it was investigating a possible breach of customers’ payment card data.

“Staples is in the process of investigating a potential issue involving credit card data and has contacted law enforcement,” company spokesman Mark Cautela said in a statement.

The retailer announced the data breach investigation after security reporter Brian Krebs reported that several banks had identified a pattern of security fraud and tied those issues to several Staples stores in the northeastern United States.

Officials with Staples said in a statement that they are working to resolve the situation and if an issue is uncovered that customers would not be responsible for any fraudulent activity on their credit cards.

Data breaches have become the unwelcome norm this year, with companies such as P.F. Chang’s, UPS, Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, ACME, Shaw’s, Neiman Marcus and Michael’s craft stores falling victim.

Two of the largest hacks in last 12 months occurred at major retailers Target and Home Depot with a reported 106 million Americans affected.

Unfortunately, as Consumerist reported earlier this month, the trend of data hacks probably won’t be ending anytime soon, and there’s really nothing you can do about it– except to never shop again.

Which might just be the case this holiday season as a new report released this week found nearly half of America was thinking long and hard about doing their holiday shopping at a store that fell victim to a cyber attack this year.

Staples Is Investigating A Possible Payment Card Data Breach [Reuters]

Parent Notices Meth-Toting “Breaking Bad” Action Figures At Toys ‘R’ Us, Complains

Tue, 2014-10-21 00:33

heisenbergShould a toy store sell only toys for children? Toys ‘R’ Us is our last nationwide toy retailer, and one parent was horrified to see that the chain sells toy versions of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, the antiheroes of the cable drama “Breaking Bad.” They are wonderfully detailed, down to their accessories: beakers, chili powder, a gun, and…oh, yeah, a tiny bag of blue crystal meth.

A Florida mom tells WFTX that she liked the TV program “Breaking Bad,” but doesn’t think that action figures of the main characters belong on the shelves of a toy store, because children could follow their example. The toys come with some meth-making equipment, dressed in hazmat suits. “Kids mimic their action figures, if you will. Do you want your child in an orange jumpsuit?” she asked viewers rhetorically.

One thing that series did not do was glamorize the drug trade, or provide a happy ending for any of its characters. Still, the woman who started this campaign isn’t alone: an online petition asking Toys ‘R’ Us to remove the figures has more than 3,600 signatures.

This news didn’t come to our attention until series star Bryan Cranston tweeted about it, which is how we prefer to get all of our news.

"Florida mom petitions against Toys 'R Us over Breaking Bad action figures." I'm so mad, I'm burning my Florida Mom action figure in protest

— Bryan Cranston (@BryanCranston) October 20, 2014

“The Walking Dead” is not wholesome family entertainment, yet its action figures are also available from Toys ‘R’ Us.

This may be true: for example, I have Wallace and Gromit action figures, and my dog outsmarts me all of the time. There are endless jokes to be made on that theme, but the core question isn’t whether action figures are role models. It’s really about whose toys should be available in a toy store.

In a statement, Toys ‘R’ Us told the TV station:

The products you reference are carried in very limited quantities and the product packaging clearly notes that the items are intended for ages 15 and up. Items from this TV series are located in the adult action figure area of our stores.

Yet the figures mysteriously and abruptly disappeared from the Toys ‘R’ Us site this afternoon. Personally, I’m holding out for the Gale Boetticher action figure with push-button karaoke action, but we wrote to Toys ‘R’ Us to find out whether they’ve pulled the figures from their real-life and virtual shelves after all, or perhaps the figures sold out and will never be restocked.

Pizza Hut Introduces Sausage-Stuffed Crust, Is Probably Just Messing With Us Now

Mon, 2014-10-20 23:27

hotdogSince it first began marketing stuffed-crust pizza, the flavor wizards oer at Pizza Hut have found some very strange things to stuff in there. Marmite? Sure. Fish eggs? Yum. Apple turnovers? Sounds great! Most of the more interesting variations have come out of Pizza Hut’s international branches, and maybe it’s no coincidence that these are doing better. Here’s another example: a pizza surrounded by dough-wrapped fancy sausages, available in Luxembourg.

Brand Eating reports that the sausage is called mettwurst, and is a smoked and cured pork sausage with origins in Germany. The pizza comes with mustard for dipping, presumably after you tear the part that looks like pigs in blankets off the rest of the crust. The mustard is also a regional specialty.

Pizza Hut has produced crusts stuffed with hot dogs, but with the hot dogs rolled up inside the crust lengthwise. This looks more like a combination pizza and appetizer tray, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

This Pizza Hut Pizza is Stuffed with Fancy Sausage [Brand Eating]

You May Soon Need Less Of A Down-Payment To Buy A Home

Mon, 2014-10-20 23:20

(Robert Fairchild)

(Robert Fairchild)

One of the biggest hurdle’s to buying a home is coming up with a down-payment. In order to get a mortgage backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you generally need to come up with at least 5% of the total cost. But the federal regulator overseeing Fannie and Freddie says it has reached a deal that would lower that minimum back down to 3% for some borrowers.

In prepared remarks for a speech at the Mortgage Bankers Association Annual Convention in Las Vegas on Monday, Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Melvin Watt said his agency had reached an agreement in principle with Fannie and Freddie that would develop “sensible and responsible” guidelines for mortgage borrowers with as little as 3% to use as a down-payment.

Fannie and Freddie buy mortgages from lenders and then bundle them up, turn them into securities and sell those securities off to investors.

During the heyday of the housing bubble, a number of lenders misled Fannie and Freddie into believing they were buying mortgages that were not high-risk. However, many loans were given to people who could never have afforded to repay and so the market soon collapsed, dragging the entire economy into a sinkhole with it.

Fannie and Freddie were eventually bailed out by the federal government and subsequently forced several lenders to buy back billions of dollars in worthless mortgages.

Since then, lenders have been wary of issuing mortgages to applicants with subprime credit or little money to use for a down-payment. The banks were concerned that they could once again be compelled to buy back these loans if they turned sour after a few years, even if the lender had done its due diligence in reviewing the loan application.

While the details are still to be fully revealed, the deal between the FHFA and Fannie and Freddie is intended to clarify exactly under what conditions a lender could be forced to buy back a bad loan.

For example, for Fannie or Freddie to claim that a lender has a pattern of misrepresenting the quality of its loans, it would have to show that a certain number of the loans were bad or inaccurate.

There will also be what Watt dubbed a “significance” requirement for demonstrating that a loan should be repurchased.

According to Watt, the significance test would require that Fannie or Freddie demonstrate “that the loan would have been ineligible for purchase initially if the loan information had been accurately reported.”

So if a lender makes a loan that goes bad because the borrower lost her job and her kids got sick with some expensive disease, Fannie or Freddie is stuck with that loan. But if the lender approves a loan knowing, for example, that the borrower is a freelancer with spotty consulting work that may dry up, Fannie or Freddie might have an argument if she defaults.

“We have started to move mortgage finance back to a responsible state of normalcy,” explained Watt, “one that encourages responsible lending to creditworthy borrowers while maintaining safety and soundness.”

Of course, even if Fannie and Freddie agree to a framework that once again allows them to purchase loans made to borrowers with lower down-payments, it doesn’t mean that the banks have to make those loans.

GM Ignition Switch Death Claims Inch Higher Again; 29 Deaths Now Tied To Decade-Old Defect

Mon, 2014-10-20 22:44



Slowly but surely the General Motors victim compensation plan continues to add new death claims linked to defective ignition switches. This week, as with several previous weeks, the total number of innocent lives lost as a result of the defect increased by two, bringing the new total to 29.

Reuters reports that since the program began accepting claims on August 1 it has received 1,517 claims for deaths and injuries related to the decades-long ignition switch defect.

Of those claims 56 have been deemed eligible for compensation so far; 29 related to deaths and 27 for injuries.

According to the weekly report submitted by Ken Feinberg, the lawyer tasked with heading the plan, the number of claims received for injuries and deaths was up about 11% from one week ago. In the last week, six additional death claims and 132 additional injury claims were submitted.

Claims will continue to be accepted and investigated until December 31.

GM’s initial tally of 13 deaths, which was officially doubled by the number of approved claims last week, only included drivers and front-seat passengers who were killed when their airbags failed to deploy because the ignition had inadvertently been turned off.

Feinberg, who has been given free rein to set eligibility for compensation has said that backseat passengers, as well as passengers in other cars and pedestrians who were harmed by an out-of-control GM vehicle may also submit claims for consideration.

When the fund was launched over the summer, GM said there would be no cap to the claims, but that compensation would be tied to the level of injury and loss experienced. An approved death claim is expected to result in an offer of compensation for at least $1 million, plus payments of $300,000 to surviving family members.

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

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

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

The claimants are not obligated to accept the compensation, but if they do take the money they give up their rights to pursue legal action against GM with regard to the ignition defect.

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

Deaths linked to GM ignition-switch defect rise to 29 [Reuters]

Google Fights Piracy (And Makes A Buck) With Ads For Legal Downloads In Search Results

Mon, 2014-10-20 22:19

Have you been wanting to catch up on Game of Thrones but don’t have HBO (or a friend who will share her HBO Go login info)? People who search for things like “Game of Thrones Download” on Google are now being greeted by ads from services offering legal ways to pay for the content you’re after.

These sorts of ads began popping up on Google over the summer, but the company refused to acknowledge at the time that they were an anti-piracy effort, only saying the ads showed up for “various searches.”

Google finally confirmed the anti-piracy motive late last week in its latest “How Google Fights Piracy” report.

So now the Google search engine has two variations on how it serves up legitimate sources (who also happened to have paid Google for ad placement) for obtaining content legally.

The first is the Game of Thrones example seen above. The ads for Vudu and Amazon likely won’t show up (they didn’t for us) if you’re just searching for “Game of Thrones.” But if you enter “Game of Thrones download,” you’ll get these top-placed ads targeted at people who are the most likely to be hunting for a free ride to Westeros (or Essos).

“When users search with the intention to consume media, we may show new ad formats on those queries directing users to legitimate sources,” explains Google.

So having the name of some movie, song, or TV show with other search terms like “download,” or “torrent” will bring up these ads for legal alternatives.

There is another type of anti-piracy ad that Google is rolling out that brings up legal suggestions in the box to the right of the search results. This one seems to be more focused on music artists and can be triggered just by searching for an artist’s name.

So typing in simply “Justin Timberlake” brings up the below module with some free-ish suggestions for how to listen to his music:

This is all similar to a plan that Comcast was reportedly working on that would identify when content was possibly being shared illegally and then present the customer with a legitimate way to buy that content.

While the entertainment industry always loves a way to push a purchase over a freeload, some are not so thrilled that only those services that are willing to pay for ad space on Google are getting recommended.

In the UK, music industry group BPI, tells BBC News that “There should be no cost when it comes to serving consumers with results for legal services,” saying that Google should use available industry data that lists all services licensed for streaming music in the UK.

At the same time as Google is promoting sources for legal purchases, it says it is going further in demoting the search results for “notorious” sources of illegally shared content.

“We’ve now refined the signal in ways we expect to visibly affect the rankings of some of the most notorious sites. This update will roll out globally starting next week,” says Katherine Oyama, Google’s Copyright Policy Counsel, according to

That said, the Google report downplays the search engine’s usefulness to people looking for pirated content.

“Google Search is not how music, movie, and TV fans intent on pirating media find pirate sites,” reads the report, which claims that only 16% of traffic to sites like The Pirate Bay come through search engines. “In fact, several notorious sites have said publicly that they don’t need search engines, as their users find them through social networks, word of mouth, and other mechanisms.”

Colorado Health Officials Pushing To Ban Most Forms Of Edible Marijuana

Mon, 2014-10-20 22:16



With Halloween coming up, law enforcement officals Colorado have been warning parents about pot-laced candies or treats that might find their way into kids’ bags this year, now that recreational marijuana is legal in the state. And in order to decrease the likelihood of pot product confusion in the future, health officials are now pushing the state to ban most edible forms of pot, including brownies, cookies, cakes and most candies.

The only remaining edibles would be lozenges and some liquids if the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment gets its way, reports the Associated Press.

Officials told state marijuana drug regulators that many pot products “are naturally attractive to children” and violate the law’s “requirement to prevent the marketing of marijuana products to children.”

The recommendation from the department was seen by the AP, ahead of a third meeting today that would lay out rules for what kinds of markers or colors edible products would need to have, to keep people from confusing them with regular foods. The final decision will be made by the Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division.

It’s not just the packaging the treats come in — lawmakers have told state pot regulators that they want food and drinks that have marijuana in them to look very different from regular items when they’re out of their packages as well.

As one might expect, the marijuana industry in the state doesn’t want to get rid of almost all edible products, saying the rules are overreaching and might not even be effective.

“Labeling and packaging are the best and only way to deal with accidental ingestion,” said a spokesman for Dixie Elixirs, a company that sells edible pot products. Taking those legal products off the shelves will only result in people seeking them on the black market, which could be dangerous.

APNewsBreak: Colorado seeks ban on most edible pot [Associated Press]

FCC: 911 Outage Affected 11 Million People, Could Have Been Prevented

Mon, 2014-10-20 21:46

(Adam Reker)

(Adam Reker)

In the software used in a call routing center in Englewood, Colorado, there was a programming error in a single piece of software. Sounds minor, but this error could have had horrible implications: it knocked out 911 service to 11 million people in Washington state, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, California, Minnesota, and Florida for six hours in April. More than 5,600 calls in affected areas didn’t go through. How did this happen, and can we prevent it from happening again?

The outage started around midnight Pacific time. Calls routed through the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) in Colorado that couldn’t be routed were supposed to go through a PSAP in Miami instead, but a coding error meant that the system in Colorado had no idea that there was a problem. Instead of going to Miami, thousands of call went nowhere.

If you’re interested in the technical reasons for the outage, you can read up about it in the FCC’s full report, but the reasons for the outage are problems with the phone system as a whole. We really have two different 911 systems operating right now: the legacy systems that have run phone and emergency services for years tended to be located near their customers, not across the country. Now that telecoms are switching to an Internet Protocol-based phone system, emergency systems are switching as well.

April 2014 Multistate 911 Outage: Cause and Impact [FCC]
A preventable coding error knocked out 911 service for millions [The Verge]

Craft Brewer Admits He’s The Guy Responsible For Town’s Mysterious Count Chocula Shortage

Mon, 2014-10-20 21:40

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

Just in time for the spooky season, the city of Fort Collins, CO had a crunchy mystery on its hands: Someone had bought up all the boxes of Count Chocula cereal from two local grocery stores, prompting confusion and hunger in at least a few shoppers. Enough of a mystery to make the news, at least.

A puzzled shopper who says she usually eats vegetarian and organic food for most of the year wrote to The Coloradoan saying she splurges around Halloween on her favorite cereal.

“Every year I greatly look forward to the month of October when I can purchase a few boxes of this delicious chococlatey (sic) goodness,” she wrote, an effort that was stymied when both Albertson’s stores she went to were completely out of the stuff.

As it turns out, the general manager of Black Bottle, a craft brewing company, had plundered shelves in order to brew beer for the brewery’s Cerealiously beer series. Previous variations include Golden Grahams, Reese’s Puffs and Cinnamon Toast Crunch moonlighting as milk stouts, and this time it’s the Count’s turn.

“We put the cereal into a hop back so it doesn’t get into the beer,” the manager explained. “We did it as a joke at first, but the beer turned out well.”

As for the frustrated shopper, she could be in luck.

“I have a couple extra [boxes of Count Chocula]. I might have to award her a box,” he said.

It’s only right.

Missing Count Chocula found drowned in beer [The Coloradoan]

Banks Can Stop Wasting Stamps; Can Post Privacy Disclosures Online Instead

Mon, 2014-10-20 20:43


Customers of some banks may be receiving one less communication by mail following the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s finalization of a rule to promote more effective privacy disclosures. Translation: some banks can post their privacy notices online rather than slapping a stamp on them.

The rule [PDF], which was first proposed in May, allows financial institutions that limit their consumer data-sharing and meet other requirements –– such as not sharing data in ways that would trigger consumers’ opt-out rights –– to post their annual privacy notices prominently online.

Banks and nonbanks that are within the CFPB’s jurisdiction under the Gramm-Leach-Billet Act are eligible to use the new privacy notification method.

If an institution chooses to use the new method they must employ the model disclosure form [PDF] developed by federal regulatory agencies in 2009.

The company would also be required to inform consumers annually about the availability of the online disclosures. However, instead of sending a separate notice the institution could include an insert in regular consumer correspondence such as a monthly bill. Consumers would have the ability to request a paper notice by calling a toll-free number.

Currently, banking institutions are required under the GLBA to mail annual privacy notices describing whether or how the institution shares consumers’ nonpublic personal information. Institutions that share consumers’ nonpublic information must notify customers of their right to opt-out of the sharing and how to do so.

Officials with the CFPB say the new rule provides consumers with constant access to privacy policies, limits data sharing and provides additional education for consumers.

The rule will become effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Finalizes Rule To Promote More Effective Privacy Disclosures [CFPB]

Maker Of Giant Plush Microbes Sells Its Entire Stock Of Ebola Virus Toys

Mon, 2014-10-20 20:28



There’s nothing like a bunch of panicky people freaked out about a global health issue to give your business a boost. That is, if you happen to be in the niche industry of selling giant, plush toy microbes. The company behind fuzzy Black Death and adorable Listeria has been doing gangbusters business with its Ebola toys, now that everyone is convinced we’re all getting Ebola (we are not).

Giantmicrobes Inc. has sold out of all three of its Ebola offerings, including the original plush toy as well as the gigantic Ebola Virus and the Ebola Petri Dish selections.

The company promotes the toys as “uniquely contagious,” as part of its roster of gag gifts that it says also serve an educational purpose.

“Since its discovery in 1976, Ebola has become the T. Rex of microbes,” the company says on the Ebola listing, reiterating that you do not want to get real Ebola. The toy, sure. But not the virus that has killed thousands of people in the latest outbreak, mostly in West Africa.

“You do not want to get Ebola,” warns the website. “A short incubation period of 2 to 21 days presages symptoms which include fever, aches, sore throat, and weakness, followed by diarrhea, stomach pain, vomiting, and both internal and external bleeding. And then, for between 50-90 percent of victims, death.”

There’s always Cholera or Norovirus to cuddle up with at night.