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The Consumerist

Walmart Stores Once Again Asking Employees To Donate Food To Co-Workers In Need

Thu, 2014-11-20 19:33

The group Making Change at Walmart says this donation box has been placed in an Oklahoma store asking employees to donate food for their co-workers in need.

The group Making Change at Walmart says this donation box has been placed in an Oklahoma store asking employees to donate food for their co-workers in need.

Almost exactly a year ago, a Walmart in Ohio made headlines for an employee food drive intended to help support their fellow Walmart workers. Now come reports of additional stores rolling out the donation bins, showing that the retailers employees try to take care of one another while also spotlighting the question of whether or not Walmart is paying its associates sufficient wages.

The latest bin, seen above, was posted to the Facebook page of Making Change at Walmart, a union-supported group seeking higher wages for workers at the nation’s largest retailer.

According to the group, this box was placed in an Oklahoma Walmart. Assuming the “3430″ written on the box is the store’s number, then it appears to be for a Walmart Supercenter in Oklahoma City.

On the one hand, it’s always good to see workers looking out for their colleagues, especially during the holiday months that can be particularly tough on those without sufficient resources.

At the same time, Walmart critics will point to the food drive as evidence that the store isn’t paying its own staff enough to afford the basics for a holiday meal.

The company’s CEO recently stated that it is considering its support for an increase in the federal minimum wage, acknowledging that it would boost the income of many of the people that shop at its stores.

He also pledged to eventually increase the wages of its lowest-paid workers, but at the same time the store has taken away health care benefits for 30,000 employees, and several Walmart staffers have complained to Consumerist that workers’ hours are being cut. Thus, even if the hourly wage remains the same — or even increases slightly — the employees could be earning less than or the same as they were before.

“My co-workers and I don’t want food bins,” says an Ohio Walmart worker and member of pro-union organization OUR Walmart, which has been increasingly critical of the Walton family, which still owns more than half of the business started by Sam Walton more than 60 years ago. “We want Walmart and the Waltons to improve pay and hours so that we can buy our own groceries.”

Another employee at a Walmart in Indiana says her store has begun holding bake sales — organized by the store, but funded by employees — to support its neediest associates.

“We are all in need, but we feel a sort of obligation to take care of our co-workers who are also struggling,” says the Indiana worker. “The cycle is crazy. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Takata “Deeply Sorry” To Those Affected By Defective Airbags, Still Reluctant On Nationwide Recall

Thu, 2014-11-20 19:13

Hiroshi Shimizu, enior Vice President, Global Quality Assurance Takata Corporation, answered questions during a Senate committee hearing regarding defective airbags.

Hiroshi Shimizu, enior Vice President, Global Quality Assurance Takata Corporation, answered questions during a Senate committee hearing regarding defective airbags.

In September 2013, Stephanie Erdman’s life changed forever when her 2002 Honda Civic collided with another vehicle on the way to a local grocery store in Florida. While Erdman’s passenger suffered only scrapes and bruises, she’s undergone a number of surgeries – with more to come – after being struck by shrapnel from her vehicle’s ruptured Takata airbag. Erdman’s story, and the graphic photos of her accident and injuries, took center stage Thursday morning during a Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation hearing addressing the airbag defects that have now been linked to at least five deaths.

Erdman opened the hearing by urging Takata, car manufacturers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to take the necessary steps to prevent future accidents involving the defective airbags.

When Stephanie Erdman's 2002 Honda Civic was invovled in an accident, shrapnel from her Takata airbag caused her significant injuries.

When Stephanie Erdman’s 2002 Honda Civic was invovled in an accident, shrapnel from her Takata airbag caused her significant injuries.

“I know I have physical scars from this tragedy, but my family does too, you just can’t see them,” she said. “I believed it is necessary to tap the attention of those who have the ability to do something.”

The crux of Thursday’s hearing dealt with Takata and car manufacturer’s lack of immediate action after learning of a possible defect with the safety devices, and their apparent unsatisfactory notification practices meant to alert consumers of potential dangers in their vehicles.

Erdman told the Committee that Honda reportedly told all certified dealers to examine vehicles brought in for service to see if they contained the airbag defect. She says she brought her vehicle to the Honda dealer where it was purchased, but was never warned of what could happen if her airbag ruptured.

Additionally, she says the manufacturer attempted to send her a letter regarding the recall in 2010, but it was returned to the company as undeliverable. No further notification attempts were conducted.

Rick Schostek, executive vice president of Honda North America, apologized to Erdman, saying the company failed her.

While Erdman’s testimony provided a clear example of the severity of the airbag defects, the bulk of the hearing’s questions went to Takata senior executive Hiroshi Shimizu.

Shimizu’s appearance at the hearing is the first time that Takata has answered questions posed by members of Congress related to the defects.

“We are deeply sorry,” Shimizu says about the consumers who were injured or killed as a result of the defective devices. “Any failure of an airbag to perform as designed in an automobile accident is incompatible with Takata’s standards of high assurance.”

The company is currently devoting “extraordinary resources” to produce quality and secure replacements to fulfill automakers demands, Shimizu says.

When asked by senators if the company would heed NHTSA’s urging earlier this week to implement a national recall of vehicles containing Takata airbags, Shimizu says tests have not revealed the airbags’ inflator ruptures outside high-humidity areas.

Currently, most recalls of affected vehicles have been limited to Florida, Hawaii, areas along the Gulf Coast, as well as Puerto Rico and some other U.S. territories.

“Our best current information supports that these regions must be the priority for the replacements,” he testified.

Schostek, the Honda executive, and Scott Kunselman, senior vice president of vehicle safety and regulatory compliance for Chrysler, were both reluctant to voice their company’s support for an expanded national recall.

“As to a national recall, we have not refused, we are actively considering it,” Schostek says.

Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, both members of the Committee, pressured the auto executives to answer questions about the slow-pace related to replacing defective airbags and the failure to expand the scope of the recall.

“It strikes me that these airbags failed, but the system failed equally if not more,” Blumenthal says. “I want to join Sen. Markey in his calling for a national recall of all cars with these airbags in passenger and driver’s side. I am also calling on Secretary of Transportation to immediately accelerate the replacement process going forward.”

Shimizu says the parts manufacturer understands that they need to speed up the production of replacement parts.

“We are discussion with automakers any other options we can take to speed up replacement,” he says.

Blumenthal estimated that at the current rate of production – about 300,000 airbags per month – there was no way Takata could produce enough airbags to provide swift fixes for the nearly 8 million cars recalled regionally in the United States.

As for the automakers, Schostek with Honda contends that the company has enough replacement parts on hand to fix its recalled cars. The statement is a drastic change from reports last month that the automaker didn’t have enough parts to fix 2.8 million vehicles that had been recalled by mid-October.

Senators also pressured the auto executives to provide loan vehicles for consumers who are waiting to have their vehicles repaired. Both Schostek and Kunselman say their companies provide such a service.

However, hearing chairman Senator Bill Nelson of Florida says he had heard from consumers that this wasn’t provided.

“The first thing that needs to be done, is to take care of consumers,” Nelson commented. “Auto makers need to get a replacement part so airbags can be replaced…people are driving around with defective airbag in their steering wheel and dashboard.”

Best Buy Is Actually Managing This Whole ‘Turnaround’ Thing

Thu, 2014-11-20 18:56

(Ron Dauphin)

(Ron Dauphin)

We haven’t featured very many reader complaints about Best Buy on this site in the last year or so. Is that because people aren’t shopping at Best Buy at all anymore? Surprisingly, no. Best Buy is doing great, thank you very much, having convinced enough customers to quit showrooming and actually buy things there.

Best Buy is doing surprisingly well, with a $107 million profit in the third quarter of the 2014. Maybe CEO Hubert Joly’s turnaround plan is really turning things around, but executives say that better discounting, the construction of branded mini-stores within their stores, and the introduction of two new iPhones that have been metaphorically flying off store shelves. Best Buy has also been trying to build a greater inventory of items that cost under $100: maybe customers will buy more phone cases and earbuds, and not necessarily an entire home theater setup. And that’s okay.

Best Buy Sales Bounce Back Ahead of Holidays [Dow Jones Business News]
Best Buy tells Amazon: Take that! [CNN] (Warning: auto-play video)

RELATED:
Best Buy Is Just Daring You To Use Their Stores As Amazon Showrooms
After A Year On The Job, How’s Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly Doing?

Judge: $30K Penalty For Pirating Movies Is “Excessive Punishment”

Thu, 2014-11-20 18:50

The producers of Elf-Man sought default judgements of $30,000 against each defendant accused of pirating the movie.

The producers of Elf-Man sought default judgements of $30,000 against each defendant accused of pirating the movie.

If police catch you racing down the highway at 25 mph over the speed limit, you’ll probably have to pay a ticket in the low three-figure range, even though you were putting your life and the lives of others at risk. But get accused of illegally downloading a movie and you should have to pay $30,000? Not according to a federal judge in Washington state.

The judge recently ruled on pair of cases in which producers of two independent films sought substantial penalties against individuals alleged to have pirated their movies.

Most piracy suits never make it to a courtroom, as the accused tend to settle for significantly less money than the copyright holders seek. When the alleged pirates don’t respond to a complaint, the rights holder will often seek a default judgement for the full amount.

In these cases, the producers were seeking $30,000 from each defendant, except for one couple, which it charitably divided into two penalties of $15,000 each. But rather than rubber-stamp these judgements, the court asked for evidence to support the request for these damages.

“At the default judgment stage, well-pleaded factual allegations are considered admitted and are sufficient to establish a defendant’s liability,” writes the judge, “but allegations regarding the amount of damages must be proven… The court must ensure that the amount of damages is reasonable and demonstrated by the evidence.”

And while the judge found that the evidence presented by the plaintiffs “strongly suggests each Defendant knowingly and intentionally, as opposed to inadvertently or accidentally, downloaded files off BitTorrent, the evidence is insufficient to prove that each Defendant willfully violated copyright infringement laws,” explaining that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the defendants knew they were infringing or that their actions were the result of “reckless disregard” for, or “willful blindness” to, the copyright holder’s rights.

More importantly, with regard to the $30,000 penalties, the court took issue with just how much damage had been done to the merit that amount.

According to the court, the evidence showed that the defendants merely downloaded and shared online a movie that could be purchased or rented for less than $20. This was not an issue commercial resale, where the defendants would profit on the backs of the copyright holders.

This evidence, writes the judge, “does not support a $30,000 penalty for each Defendant.”

Among the considerations involved in calculating the damages, explains the judge, are the amount of money requested in relation to the seriousness of the defendant’s conduct, whether large sums of money are involved, and whether “the recovery sought is proportional to the harm caused by defendant’s conduct.”

“This Court finds an award of $30,000 for each defendant would be an excessive punishment considering the seriousness of each Defendant’s conduct and the sum of money at issue,” reads the ruling, which discounts the producers’ claims that there was much more damage done than merely the loss of a few DVD and download sales, and that piracy ultimately scrapped plans for a sequel to one movie.

“Instead, this Court finds Plaintiff has not made a showing justifying damages in excess of the statutory minimum” of $750 plus legal fees, which would bring the total for each defendant to a few thousand dollars.

COURT: $30,000 FOR SHARING A PIRATED MOVIE IS EXCESSIVE PUNISHMENT (TorrentFreak)

Federal Judge: High statutory damages for copyright infringement violate the Eighth Amendment (Fight Copyright Trolls)

Massachusetts Town Decides Against Banning Tobacco Sales After Outcry

Thu, 2014-11-20 18:45

(AmateurX)

(AmateurX)

After floating the idea of possibly banning all tobacco sales within city limits, a Massachusetts town’s Board of Health has decided to give up the proposal after some residents protested the effort, saying they should be able to buy cigarettes and other products in their own town.

The writing appeared to be on the wall after a public hearing in Westminster, MA last week on the idea had to be shut down early due to the large amount of people who showed up. Then last night, the Board of Health voted last night 2-1 in favor of dumping the proposed regulation.

“The whole idea was to get everybody’s input, and we messed up,” the board member who moved to remove the idea from consideration explained of the hearing told the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise. “Somehow the hearing got away from us.”

“The town is not in favor of the proposal, and therefore I am not in favor of the proposal,” he added.

One store owner who protested the ban said he was ready for the motion before things even started, saying he saw one of the members coming into the room in a “chipper” manner.

“After going to the last meeting, it was very clear the majority was against it,” he said. “Any practical person would have lifted the ban.”

Tobacco sales ban tossed [Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise]

Hungry Buffalo Residents Steal Chips Off Doritos Truck Abandoned In The Snow

Thu, 2014-11-20 17:46

Just like a lovely sea creature perched upon the rocky shoreline, a Doritos truck abandoned in several feet of the snow that’s currently blanketing the Buffalo, NY area proved too tempting to resist for some hungry residents. After its driver apparently left it behind when Mother Nature dumped six feet of snow on it this week, people were spotted brazenly boosting chips from the back of the rig for their own eating pleasure.

As Syracuse.com points out, several people on social media reported seeing the alleged plundering of the Doritos truck late on Tuesday night, including this guy on Twitter who snapped a pic of the abandoned truck:

I just saw several men stealing chips from inside this abandoned Doritos truck. #BuffaloSnow #nywx pic.twitter.com/PlDsEl8H2V

— Jeremy Cohn (@JeremyGlobalTV) November 19, 2014

And a woman on Facebook who captured photographic evidence of what could be a looting in progress.

“Just some people casually robbing the Doritos truck on Seneca Street. How typical,” she writes.

Reminder: Just because there’s no one driving a truck/vehicle doesn’t mean that whatever is inside it is for you to take. Stealing is stealing, folks.

Thus far, Doritos and Frito-Lay haven’t made a comment regarding the powdery pilferings.

There were up to 150 vehicles stranded on the New York State Thruway this week, as snow has covered the region with more than five feet of November flakes. Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in the area, but “emergency” never translates to, “steal all the Doritos you can if no one is around.”

If You Own Any Of These Types Of Products, Change The Default Password Now

Thu, 2014-11-20 17:41

(Andrew Albosta)

(Andrew Albosta)

We told you the other day how several electronics manufacturers were shipping products with default username and password combinations that many people never think to change, leaving them open to being compromised by hackers and pranksters. To help those consumers who may not want to get into the gritty details of that story, here’s a quick guide to a number of popular types of products that people may not know they need to change the password to.

If you have any of the following devices in your home, make sure to secure them. For any given item, the best way to find instructions telling you how to change the password and improve security is by starting at the manufacturer’s website and/or googling its specific make and model (for example, not just router but Asus RT-N65U router).

Here are some of the items to watch out for in your home:

  • Routers: The wifi router in your home — the gateway to your entire home network and everything on it — probably comes with remote access enabled and set up to respond to a default username and password.

    This one is critical, because most of us have a wifi network at home. There are video and text tutorials galore online that will show you how to get to the place you can change the settings. The default password and username are easy to find by searching for [your router] default password or by checking a database.

  • Appliances: Any “smart” appliance, from ceiling fans to refrigerators, that can be accessed or controlled through a mobile app or website.
  • Cameras: Any digital cameras designed to send information over a network — nanny cams, video baby monitors, home security systems, and the like — that can have their feeds accessed remotely (like checking in on your nanny cam from work).
  • Printers: Any network-enabled printer that you can print from without physically plugging your computer into it.
  • “Smart” home solutions: Any smart home controller like Insteon, Homey, Wink Hub, or any other system that lets you control your lights, heat, garage door, etc. from afar.
  • Smoke detectors: Any wifi-accessible smoke detector, like products from Honeywell and Nest.
  • Televisions: Not all brands of wifi-connected televisions allow the user to change the access password, but if yours does, do.
  • Thermostats: Nest is the best-known brand, but not the only one. Any remote-access thermostat is one to secure.

Other than routers, many of us still have homes filled with older and predominantly disconnected devices. But even if you’re in the clear this year, don’t get too complacent.

Companion apps and remote access are now starting to pop up in everything from coffeemakers to washing machines. As you replace things in your home over time, more and more of them will come with network connections.

Even if you personally never use the app, and never connect remotely to any of your things, make sure to set up strong security. Because just because you don’t, doesn’t mean nobody else will.

Arizona Sues GM For $3B, Claiming Auto Maker Defrauded Consumers

Thu, 2014-11-20 17:38
(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

So far this year General Motors has been party to a slew of lawsuits related to its massive ignition switch recall involving millions of vehicles with the potentially deadly defect. The latest case against GM was filed Wednesday by the State of Arizona, which alleges that the carmaker defrauded consumers out of an estimated $3 billion by knowingly selling defective vehicles.

The New York Times reports that the suit [PDF] is the first major legal action by a state against GM over its record number of recalls issued so far in 2014.

In the complaint, Arizona Attorney General Thomas C. Horne suggests that “New GM” (i.e., GM after its 2009 bankruptcy restructuring) intentionally misled consumers through its advertising, website and public statements, and that some of its top leaders were complicit in the alleged misconduct.

Horne contends that post-bankruptcy GM found success in Arizona by selling the story that it had changed its “processes and culture ” and was building “the best vehicles in the world.”

“Sales of all New GM models went up, including in Arizona, and New GM became profitable,” the complaint states. “As far as the public knew, a new General Motors was born, and the GM brand once again stood strong in the eyes of consumers.”

However, that was all an illusion given the company’s failure to disclose ignition switch defects and a plethora of other safety defects in GM-branded vehicles, the complaint claims.

“New GM concealed the existence of many known safety defects plaguing many models and years of GM-branded vehicles, and hid the fact that New GM valued cost-cutting over safety,” the complaint states.

In filing the suit, Horne broke away from a group of 48 state attorneys general that had been pursuing a multistate investigation into the auto manufacturer for its handling of the deadly ignition-switch defect.

“We’re proceeding with our own suit because it’s the best way to protect the citizens of Arizona,” Horne tells the Times. “General Motors represented that it was taking care of the safety of its cars, and in fact there were serious defects that it did not disclose to the public for years.”

An official with GM tells the Times that the company has not had time to review the complaint.

While the suit, which seeks civil penalties rather than consumer restitution, includes the ignition-switch defect that resulted in the largest number of vehicles recalled by the company, it also addresses smaller recalls that included defects with seat belts, brakes lights, airbags, transmission cables and headlights.

The Arizona consumer penalty statute stipulates a charge of $10,000 per violation. With nearly 300,000 of the GM vehicles recalled this year registered in Arizona, GM could face a payout of about $3 billion if the suit is successful.

Like past suits, the complaint contends that consumers lost great value in their vehicles because of the on-going safety defects and issues GM has been involved with this year.

“New GM intentionally enticed Arizona consumers to buy or lease new or used GM-branded vehicles that have now diminished in value as the truth about the New GM brand has come out and a stigma has attached to all GM-branded vehicles,” the complaint states.

Horne estimates that consumers have lost thousands of dollars in vehicle value because of GM’s actions. For example, he says the 2010 and 2011 models of the Chevrolet Camaro lost $2,000 in value, while the 2009 Pontiac Solstice lost about $2,900 in value.

“[GM] manufactured and sold millions of vehicles that were not safe, including hundreds of thousands in Arizona, and it failed to remedy serious defects in millions of older G.M.-branded vehicles,” the complaint states.

The complaint also rejects GM’s claims that some of the longstanding defects that led to recalls this year had been known only to low-level engineers, citing information that GM CEO Mary Barra had been informed about a defect in the electronic power steering of some models.

“Despite 4,800 consumer complaints and more than 30,000 warranty repairs, G.M. waited until 2014 to disclose this defect,” the complaint states.

According to the Times, the complaint cites complaints filed with federal regulators as evidence that the automaker was aware of issues, but failed to act or offer sufficient remedies.

In regards to the ignition-switch defect, the suit suggests that “multiple-in-house attorneys” were aware of the problem, including GM’s general counsel Michael Milliken.

“This quest to keep the ignition-switch defect secret delayed its public disclosure and contributed to increased death and injury as a result of the ignition-switch defect,” the complaint states.

GM currently faces a number of investigations by federal regulators in the Unites states and Canada related to the company’s vehicle safety procedures.

Arizona Sues G.M. for $3 Billion Over Recalls [The New York Times]

Charter Ready To Woo Time Warner Cable Again If Comcast Fails

Thu, 2014-11-20 17:20

timecharterlogoNot even a year ago, Time Warner Cable was spurning the romantic advances of Charter Communications and its $37.3 billion offer of wedded bliss, all because it knew that Comcast was waiting in the wings with a more expensive proposal. But in case the Comcast/TWC marriage fails to get the blessing of federal regulators, Charter’s billionaire backer says he’s ready to be Time Warner Cable’s rebound relationship.

John Malone, Chairman of Liberty Media, which owns and controls a sizable chunk of Charter and who was the driving force behind the bid to acquire TWC, told investors earlier this week that he’d be ready to take another go at the cable operator if Comcast fails.

That said, Malone says that he’s “happy with the deal” that is currently on the table between Comcast and TWC, as it involves Charter getting around 4 million new customers and partial ownership of a new company called GreatLand Connections, with several million customers of its own.

Malone says that this arrangement is “in many ways from our point of view… a better deal.”

But because most cable companies operate with local monopolies and don’t compete for customers, the only way for a company like Charter to expand its reach is to acquire other pay-TV operators. So, whether it’s Comcast or Charter or some other candidate with a gleam for acquisition in its eye, TWC will be bought at some point in the coming years and competition will remain virtually nonexistent in most markets.

[via WSJ.com]

Walmart Closes Now-Infamous Online Price-Matching Loophole

Thu, 2014-11-20 17:07

(Patrick)

(Patrick)

It was fabulous news for bargain-hunters when Walmart announced a change to its price-matching policy, allowing shoppers to bring in listings from popular online retailers as long as the items are identical. When some shoppers formulated an evil-genius plan to use fake third-party seller Amazon listings to buy PlayStation 4s for less than 25% of the sticker price, the wording of the original policy technically allowed this to happen. Walmart has responded by changing their policy.

(Kotaku)

(Kotaku)

Anyone who read the original policy probably could have predicted that this change would need to be made, and it was a glorious few days while it lasted for the tricksters who managed to talk a Walmart store into accepting the fake listings. It probably wasn’t such a great idea for them to boast on social media about their new toys. In a statement to the media about the console-buying scheme, Walmart said that “we can’t tolerate fraud or attempts to trick our cashiers.”

In future, if you want to get a price match at Walmart, it will have to be on items sold by Amazon, not just items sold on Amazon.

Here’s the full statement from a Walmart spokesman.

We launched online price matching because it’s the right thing for our customers. It’s making a meaningful difference for people who want to feel confident they’re getting the best price, and we’re committed to matching online prices going forward.

At the same time, we can’t tolerate fraud or attempts to trick our cashiers. This kind of activity is unfair to the millions of customers who count on us every day for honest value. With this in mind, we’ve updated our policy to clarify that we will match prices from Walmart.com and 30 major online retailers, but we won’t honor prices from marketplace vendors, third-party sellers, auction sites or sites requiring memberships.

We will continue to listen to feedback from our customers and our cashiers to make sure our online price match policy is working. Customers with questions can read the updated policy by searching ‘online price match’ at Walmart.com.

British TGI Fridays Deploying “Mistletoe Drones” Because Romance Should Involve Mozzarella Sticks

Thu, 2014-11-20 16:51

mistledroneBecause drones ones are the cool new thing all the kids want to play with now at work — Amazon’s doing it, Google wants in, heck, even icefishers like’em — one TGI Friday’s in the UK is taking advantage of the drone craze to get diners in the mood over mozzarella sticks and potato skins this holiday season.

The pilot project will take off at a Manchester TGI Fridays this holiday season, reports the Manchester Evening News, before it hits the air at selected locations around England.

As for what makes these drones holidayish, no, they’re not buzzing customers with shots of eggnog or tooting out seasonal tunes — the drones will be carrying pieces of mistletoe and hovering over diners with a built-in kiss cam to capture all those romantic moments over appetizer combo platters and cheeseburgers. Delicious.

“Everyone loves a good Christmas party, but we all know things can be a bit awkward until someone breaks the ice,” a spokeswoman explains, adding that Fridays is all about celebrating, so why not amp up Christmas and get shy diners some lovin’.

“Our mistletoe drones are the perfect way to do this. Not only are they great fun for the entire restaurant, but they help people get a little closer at this time of the year,” she said, adding, “Who knows — maybe we’ll have had our first mistletoe drone wedding by this time next year.”

This sounds like the perfect set-up for a perfectly awful romantic comedy and I want in.

Here’s the promo footage with all the perfectly groomed people and servers giggling:

Love is in the air as Manchester restaurant launches Christmas mistletoe drones [Manchester Evening News]

Hotel To Refund $157 Fine To Couple Who Posted Negative Review

Thu, 2014-11-20 16:41

hotelgrabA couple visiting the English seaside town of Blackpool only paid about $57 for their one-night hotel stay, but when they slammed the place with a TripAdvisor review that called it a “rotten, stinking hovel,” the hotel hit back with a $157 fine.

The hotel guests tell the BBC that the £100 penalty popped up on their credit card account a couple days after posting the decidedly not-positive writeup.

The hotel claimed the couple had violated its non-disparagement policy, saying it “felt extremely upset by their actions and insulting comments towards our staff.”

The Blackpool hotel’s policy stated that, “For every bad review left on any website, the group organiser will be charged a maximum £100 per review.”

Management tells the BBC that it put the clause in place because “We have found that customers will threaten us with bad reviews simply to gain a discount.”

However, after being told by local authorities that it may be illegal, the hotel has ended the policy.

A number of businesses on both sides of the Atlantic have been trying to use these restrictive policies to prevent customers from complaining online and punish those that do.

California recently passed a law specifically outlawing non-disparagement clauses and there is similar pending legislation at the federal level.

Apple No Longer Labeling Apps As “Free” In The App Store, Though They’re Still Free

Thu, 2014-11-20 16:09

freeappsnopeA successful marketer knows that part of the big sell to customers is all in the language — and it seems Apple doesn’t want to use that dirty “F” word in its App Store to push apps anymore. Customers started noticing recently that on most applications that don’t cost a penny, the button to download them has changed from “FREE” to “GET.”

The Verge pointed this out, noting that the GET button shows up in different sections of the mobile and desktop versions of the App Store, and is added without regard to whether that application allows in-app purchases or not.

However, a difference Consumerist found is that apps that are made by Apple that you may not have installed on your phone already, iMovie, for example, still come with the “FREE” button.

It could be that Apple is following the trend of other mobile platforms who have tweaked their stores in the last year under pressure from the European Union and the Federal Trade Commission. The EU recommended taking out the word “free” back in September in proposed guidelines, but no one knew then if Apple or Google would choose to adopt those changes here.

The Google Play Store still uses the “Free” label in its store as of today.

Apps are no longer labeled as ‘Free’ in the App Store [The Verge]

FTC Shuts Down Two Tech Support Schemes That Bilked $120M From Consumers

Thu, 2014-11-20 16:04

(Michael Saechang)

(Michael Saechang)

Sometimes when you can’t fix your computer yourself you turn to the experts. Unfortunately, some of those tech wizards are only out to help themselves. That appears to be the case for two Florida-based companies that allegedly conned tens of thousands of consumers – many of whom were senior citizens – out of $120 million by deceptively marketing computer software and tech support.

The Federal Trade Commission and the State of Florida received two court orders to temporarily shut down and freeze the assets of two massive telemarketing operations this week.

According to the FTC complaints [PDF] [PDF], since at least 2012, both companies used software designed to trick consumers into thinking there was a problem with their computers. The companies then pressured consumers into purchasing tech support products and services to fix the non-existent issues.

Each company’s scam started with computer software that purports to enhance the security or performance of consumers’ computers.

Typically, consumers download a free trial version of the soft wear that runs a computer system scan. However, the defendant’s software allegedly identifies numerous errors on consumers’ computers, regardless of whether the computer has any performance problems.

The FTC alleges that the defendants pitching the software designed these deceptive scans to identify hundreds or even thousands of “errors” that have nothing to do with a computer’s performance or security.

Once the scan is complete, consumers were then notified that to fix the identified errors they would have to pay between $29 and $49 to purchase the paid version of the software.

After the purchase was complete, consumers were directed to call an activation number which connected them to a telemarketer that pitched additional services.

According to the FTC, these telemarketers told consumers that in order activate the software they would need remote access to their computer. The employees then found additional issues by showing consumers various screens on their computers, such as the Windows Event Viewer, and falsely claiming these screens show signed that the computer had significant damage.

The employee would then pitch security software and tech support that cost as much as $500.

The first suit involves the defendants selling software under the names: PC Cleaner Inc.; Netcom3 Global Inc.; Netcom3 Inc., also doing business as Netcom3 Software Inc.; and Cashier Myricks, Jr. The telemarketing defendants include Inbound Call Experts LLC; Advanced Tech Supportco. LLC; PC Vitalware LLC; Super PC Support LLC; Robert D. Deignan, Paul M. Herdsman, and Justin M. Wright.

In the second case, the defendants selling software included: Boost Software Inc. and Amit Mehta, and the telemarketing defendants include Vast Tech Support LLC, also doing business as OMG Tech Help, OMG Total Protection, OMG Back Up, downloadsoftware.com, and softwaresupport.com; OMG Tech Help LLC; Success Capital LLC; Jon Paul Holdings LLC; Elliot Loewenstern; Jon-Paul Vasta; and Mark Donahue.

FTC Obtains Court Orders Temporarily Shutting Down Massive Tech Support Scams [FTC]

Drunk Cyclist Visits Taco Bell Drive-Thru At 3 A.M., Is Turned Away

Thu, 2014-11-20 00:08

(blurrymystr)

(blurrymystr)

Here is the saddest fast food story you will read today: a man in Florida pulled up to the drive-thru around closing time at Taco Bell, but the restaurant wouldn’t serve him. Why? Well, there was a combination of problems: he was intoxicated. And on a bicycle. When he refused to leave the drive-thru, Taco Bell employees called the police.

From there, things got worse. As he sat on his bike at the speakerphone, forlorn and taco-less, the police asked him to leave. They saw a Swiss Army knife on his belt, and the man resisted when a cop tried to take the “weapon.” From there, police tackled him to the ground and has been charged with resisting arrest with violence.

Remember, kids: whether it’s a bicycle, a horse, or a mobility scooter, don’t try any of this alternative vehicle nonsense in the fast food drive-thru. If you’re too drunk to drive, you’ll have to settle for the frozen burrito that you’ve been saving for an emergency exactly like this.

Police: Drunken bicyclist arrested at Taco Bell drive-through after tussle with cops [WFTV] (via Gawker – with the world’s saddest mug shot)

Mattel Apologizes, Says Incompetent Engineer Barbie ‘Doesn’t Reflect The Brand’s Vision’

Wed, 2014-11-19 23:32

networkedagentEarlier today, we wondered why the communications people over at Mattel hadn’t answered our (or any other news outlets’) questions about the book starring Barbie as a computer engineer featuring sexist tropes and a very inaccurate representation of what computer engineers do. Good news: Steven and Brian managed to get the virus off PR Barbie’s computer, and the book’s author has spoken up as well.

Susan Marenco has written lots of stories about established characters, especially for Disney. According to her personal website, she wrote the dialogue for all of the Barbie “I Can Be” books, including the problematic title about Computer Engineer Barbie. She told ABC News that the issue may have been a miscommunication between her and her editors: she claims that she was told to write a book about Barbie as a “designer,” and Barbie in the book does design a cute puppy game.

Yet Marenco admitted that she sees how this book is problematic. It’s not that she’s never worked with engineers: she is a technical editor, and spent twenty years working for Microsoft as an editor and usability designer.

“If I was on deadline, it’s possible stuff slipped out or I quietly abided by Mattel without questioning it,” she told ABC. “Maybe I should have pushed back, and I usually I do, but I didn’t this time.” Mattel hasn’t confirmed this account with ABC yet. She could have easily made one of the engineer characters in the book female.

That’s a problem not just in feminism, but in life in general: the need to get an assignment done so you can go to sleep or out to dinner or to your third job, balanced with the need to fight back against putting potentially harmful messages in a book for little girls. She may not even have realized how harmful the messages were, given that her assignment wasn’t to write a book about an “engineer.”

For its part, Mattel is sorry, too. They sent a statement to ABC News attributed to Lori Pantel, vice president of Barbie’s global brand marketing, explaining that the

Since that time, we have reworked our Barbie books. The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for. We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls’ imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.

That’s not to say that a woman who likes cute casual games and pink puppies, or who needs help to remove a virus from her computer, isn’t empowered in other areas of her life. It’s just that to women who work with technology, this book read a little bit like a story about Barbie as a doctor who runs to a male colleague for help when she gets a paper cut.

Don’t sweat it, though, Mattel: Over at the site Feminist Hacker Barbie, a whole team of helpful volunteers are rewriting the book for you.

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We Guess Public Relations Barbie Can’t Use Email Any Better Than Computer Engineer Barbie
Computer Engineer Barbie Needs Men To Write Code, Can’t Reboot Computer

CFPB Orders ‘Buy-Here, Pay-Here’ Auto Dealer DriveTime To Pay $8M Penalty For Unfair Debt Collection Practices

Wed, 2014-11-19 22:54

(Misfit Photographer)

(Misfit Photographer)

For the first time in its existence the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took action against a so-called “buy-here, pay-here” vehicle dealer, ordering the company to pay $8 million and fix its egregious ways.

The CFPB announced today that it has charged DriveTime Automotive Group Inc., an Arizona-based company that sells vehicles as well as originates and services auto loans, with harming customers by making harassing debt collection calls and providing inaccurate credit information to credit reporting agencies.

DriveTime and its finance company, DT Acceptance Corporation, make up one of the largest buy-here, pay-here car companies in the U.S., operating 117 dealerships in 20 states and holding more than 150,000 outstanding auto installment contracts.

“Buy-here, pay-here” dealers typically target economically vulnerable subprime borrowers, offering high-interest loans and aggressive repossession tactics.

In DriveTime’s case the average customer has an annual income of $37,000 to $50,000 and a FICO score between 461 and 554.

According to the CFPB, at least 45% of DriveTime’s auto installment contracts were delinquent at any given time, with approximately 69,000 installment contracts past due at the end of 2013.

When customers fell behind on their installment payments, DriveTime’s extensive collections operation – made up of at least 290 collection employees in two domestic call centers and 80 contractors in Barbados – allegedly began placing tens of thousands of collection calls each weekday.

The CFPB alleges that often the collection calls and practices utilized by DriveTime were in violation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which establishes that companies’ practices can be found unfair if consumers cannot reasonably avoid being harmed.

Harmful consumer debt collection practices allegedly employed by DriveTime included:

Harassing borrowers at work: The CFPB found that DriveTime collectors often called borrowers at work, and DriveTime management encouraged these calls. Several consumers tell the CFPB they requested DriveTime not to call them at work, but the company continued anyway.

Harassing borrowers references: Customers to DriveTime were required to provide the names and phone numbers of at least four reference when they applied for financing. When customers fell behind on payments, the company allegedly called those references repeatedly.

Making excessive, repeated calls to wrong numbers: In DriveTime’s effort to reach consumers who fell behind on payments, the company regularly used third-party databases to find contact information. Often these databases provided the wrong numbers. The CFPB found that upon receiving DriveTime’s calls, numerous consumers told the company they had the wrong number, but calls continued.

Providing inaccurate repossession information to credit reporting agencies: In some cases, DriveTime gave the three major consumer reporting agencies inaccurate information on the timing or repossession and dates of delinquencies. This action made it appear on consumers’ credit reports that consumers’ vehicles had been repossessed more recently than the actual repossession.

Failing to properly handle credit information furnishing disputes: In the event that incorrect information was submitted to reporting agencies, DriveTime often mishandled the resulting consumer complaints. In several instances, consumers disputed the same account information several times without the inaccurate information being corrected. In other cases, DriveTime informed the consumers in writing that the information had been corrected, when it had not been.

Failing to implement reasonable procedures to ensure the accuracy of consumers’ credit information: The CFPB found that DriveTime failed to establish and implement reasonable written policies and procedures regarding the accuracy and integrity of the information it furnished to credit reporting agencies. The policies and procedures put in place by DriveTime were not appropriate to the nature, size, complexity, and scope of its furnishing activities.

In addition the paying an $8 million penalty to the CFPB Civil Penalty Fund, DriveTime and its related companies must end unfair calling practices, disclose collection options to consumers, cease furnishing inaccurate repossession information, correct credit reporting information, provide credit reports to harmed consumers and implement an audit program.

CFPB Takes First Action Against ‘Buy-Here, Pay-Here’ Auto Dealer [CFPB]

Apple Reportedly Pushing Beats Music App To Everyone’s iPhone, iPad With Next iOS Update

Wed, 2014-11-19 22:07

(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

Apple’s first big move after purchasing Beats earlier this year – aside from firing people and removing competing products from its stores – reportedly involves pushing the subscription music service to all iPhones and iPads during an iOS update early next year.

Financial Times reports that Apple’s move to capitalize on its $3 billion investment into Beats’ hardware and streaming music service could happen as early as March.

This isn’t Apple’s first time forcing bloatware on consumers. Earlier this year it pushed out its iBooks app with the iOS 8 update. And just a few months ago the company outraged users when it sneakily installed U2′s new album onto devices without getting permission from consumers. The company later apologized and created a website that made it possible for consumers to remove the album.

Pre-installing or pushing apps through system updates is often seen as a speedy way to reach new customers, without them having to search for the service in the App Store.

And that could certainly happen for Beats Music, which is estimated to have just 110,000 subscribers, while Apple’s iTunes has nearly 200 million active users.

However, the ploy had a decidedly bleak outcome when Apple pre-installed iTunes Radio with iOS 7. The service has seen rather lackluster usage, Financial Times reports.

The inclusion of the Beats subscription service is part of Apple’s new three-pronged approach to music, which already includes iTunes downloads and iTunes Radio.

Apple first announced it would purchase Beats in May, marking the largest acquisition for the company to date. The deal included Beats’ iconic headphones and streaming music service.

Apple plans to push Beats to every iPhone [Financial Times]

Someone Sent $270K Worth Of Pot To The Wrong Clothing Store

Wed, 2014-11-19 22:03

Here are the two blocks of pot delivered Monday. A third 30 lb. block was delivered to the same store on Tuesday.

Here are the two blocks of pot delivered Monday. A third 30 lb. block was delivered to the same store on Tuesday.

I’ve never mailed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of marijuana to anyone, but if I were going to do it, I’d at least make sure that it was properly addressed. But that’s apparently not the case for whomever sent 90 pounds of pot to one Philly-area clothing store over the course of two days.

The Philadelphia Daily News reports that the dopey deliveries began Monday, when the manager of a clothing store received two boxes, each weighing about 30 pounds.

The packages were addressed to the store, but what they contained was nothing intended for the retailer’s shelf. Both packages were packed solid with marijuana, which the police said has a street value of about $3,000 per pound.

The manager contacted the police who confiscated the parcels and began investigating.

But they just had to come back the next day when a third box, also full to the brim with 30 pounds of pot, arrived at the store. That means someone has basically thrown away $270,000 worth of pot in just two days.

At this point, we expect that several people are seeing the possibility of green in every box that arrives at the store.

This is just the latest story in drug-deliveries gone wrong.

Just a few weeks ago, a FedEx driver delivered a box full of pot, painkillers, cocaine, morphine, LSD, hash, steroids, black tar heroin, codeine, and other drugs to the wrong person, who notified police, resulting in a substantial bust of the intended recipients.

In 2013, a box containing 11 pounds of marijuana landed on a California man’s doorstep because whoever sent the package had used his address as the return address.

Then there was the lawsuit in Massachusetts filed by a woman who received a box full o’ drugs intended for someone else, only to have the rightful recipient show up at her door because FedEx had given them her home address so they could pick up their parcel.

Poll Results: Most Americans Don’t Shop On Thanksgiving Or Black Friday

Wed, 2014-11-19 21:54

(Michael Holden)

(Michael Holden)

Whether stores plan to open to shoppers on Thanksgiving Day or not, there would be no American Shopping Frenzy Long Weekend at all if people weren’t going to head out there and shop. Yet who are the people who have clamored to go out and shop on Thanksgiving Day? How many Americans are really going to hit the stores at the end of next week? The results of two polls can give us some insight.

Last year, Consumerist asked our statistics-crunching colleagues down the hall at the Consumer Reports National Research Center to include some questions about Thanksgiving shopping behaviors in their annual nationally representative holiday poll. We were curious about what Americans’ real habits were. Obviously, someone shopped on Thanksgiving Day, because the practice is expanding.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center poll took place in December last year, so respondents’ answers reflect their shopping habits in 2013. Many stores and malls were open on Thanksgiving 2013, but 86% said that they didn’t shop on the holiday. 61% of people polled said that non-essential stores should not have opened on Thanksgiving. 42% of people who did go out and shop on Thanksgiving Day said that they “strongly agreed” that stores shouldn’t have opened.

Meanwhile, over at Bankrate, they were curious about shoppers’ plans for the day after Thanksgiving this year. Despite giving their article about the results the provocative title “Is Black Friday Dead?” they proved that Black Friday is definitely not dead. Their survey of 1,000 adults showed that 28% of them planned to go shopping at some point on Black Friday, which is probably all that the average mall parking lot can hold.

The Consumer Reports Holiday Poll, designed by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, is a nationally representative survey of more than 1,500 randomly selected adult U.S. residents who said they plan to shop for the holidays. It was conducted in December 2013.

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