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The Consumerist

General Mills Thinks You’re Stupid, But Decides To Not Take Customers’ Legal Rights Away After All

Mon, 2014-04-21 00:51

(Paxton Holley)

(Paxton Holley)

While all sorts of big-name financial, tech, e-commerce, and telecom companies have been trying to take away consumers’ right to sue by inserting forced-arbitration clauses in their contracts and terms of service, it seemed ridiculous to think that the makers of cereal would resort to such deviousness, or how they would even be able to do it. But last week, General Mills tried, adding language to its website that stripped certain customers of their access to legal redress against the company. Realizing that maybe this might tick off an awful lot of people, the company has backed off this policy change.

Last week, people noticed that the General Mills site now included a notice at the top which stated the company had “new Legal Terms which require all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration.”

If that weren’t enough, the language in the actual Legal Terms stated that consumers were agreeing to these terms (whether they knew it or not) “by using our websites, joining our sites as a member, joining our online community, subscribing to our email newsletters, downloading or printing a digital coupon, entering a sweepstakes or contest, redeeming a promotional offer, or otherwise participating in any other General Mills offering.”

Seems pretty cut-and-dry. Evil and anti-consumer, but cut-and-dry.

But apparently, we’re all stupid, at least in the eyes of General Mills, and we just didn’t understand that the company was trying to help us out.

In a blog post yesterday on the General Mills website, a company mouthpiece, claims that these words were “widely misread.”

“[A]rbitration would have simply streamlined how complaints are handled,” continues the utter nonsense from the General Mills spokesperson. “Many companies do the same, and we felt it would be helpful.”

The most baldfaced misinformation provided in the General Mills statement is the assertion that “arbitration clauses don’t cause anyone to waive a valid legal claim.”

Let’s just pause for a moment to contemplate what utter and complete bullcheerios that is.

Arbitration clauses force every individual consumer to give up his or her right to a lawsuit and enter into a process that is proven to be unbalanced in favor of the businesses with massive legal teams at their beckon call.

But most lawyers won’t get involved on the consumers’ side of an arbitration dispute both because of this unbalance and because damages are severely limited.

Likewise, one consumer on her own may have a good case, but the cost of making that case far outweighs any damages she might receive. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that this is not a reason to invalidate a forced-arbitration clause.

So the harmed consumer would either need to go deeply into debt or seek massive amounts of donations just to prove her case. And each harmed consumer would have to do this on his or her own. Thus, a company can get away with harming consumers so long as it is too expensive for any of the individual plaintiffs to make the case against the company.

To us, this very much seems like cases in which arbitration causes someone “to waive a valid legal claim.”

While General Mills thinks we’re all stupid for not understanding the supposed benefit (to General Mills) of forced arbitration, this is one of the more boneheaded attempts to shove one of these policies down consumers’ throats.

Unlike terms of service for wireless service or credit cards, which are both standard in their respective industries apply to very specific products and conditions, consumers have no expectation of or history with the notion of applying terms of service to a packaged food product. Even if one blindly agrees to legal terms on a coupon or sweepstakes, the notion that those legal terms would apply to the actual food product is bizarre and like something out of a 1950s sci-fi novel.

Great Moments In Badvertising History: Save Wives From Working, Doc Loves His Camels & Babies Guzzle Soda

Sat, 2014-04-19 17:30

badvertisingapril19As we’ve told you before: Anyone looking through old magazine ads could only conclude that the past was pretty darn terrible… At least if that past includes a mission to save your wife from having a job outside the home, doctors that smoked like chimneys, and babies drinking soda like it’s the nectar of life itself.

In our latest installment of Badvertising History Lessons, we find out how insurance can save a man’s family life and then on the health front, take stock of some life choices we can’t imagine any doctor recommending these days.

We’ve got some of the funniest friends of Consumerist on the job and they’re not letting the past rest on its terrible laurels, no siree.

Scroll on down and click on any ad caption to enlarge and read the full text in all its sexist glory — and send your own examples of why the past was terrible to tips@consumerist.com with the subject line TERRIBLE PAST.

TRAVELERS INSURANCE:
travelersad copy
Mark M., the next contestant on The Price Is Right:: I’m kind of impressed that an ad from 1963 acknowledged that being a stay-at-home mom is a full-time job. I also think that little girl in the striped shirt is in major trouble. The whole family is staring at her, including the little blonde girl, who, is clearly the milkman’s child.

Matt R., the guy with all the best Internet links: Traveler’s Insurance, keeping women in their place since 1864.

Laura Lane, comedian, writer and journalist with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge:: How is that baby looking right at me? It’s like the Mona Lisa of babies.

Lauren D., awesome friend whose calls you actually want to pick up: Wife work? Little Bobby looks old enough to start pulling his weight to me.

Mike Lawrie, photographer/editor extraordinaire: Kid in background: “Mom, I know it’s hard with dad gone, but you haven’t put a shirt on me in three weeks. Get it together.”

CAMEL:
camelvintage
Mark: The doctor himself doesn’t exactly look like the picture of health. What you don’t see in this ad is that he actually shares a bed with an oxygen tank.

Jeff Bercovici, Forbes media guru: This would be a good place to note that doctors also have some of the highest rates of suicide and addiction. Doctors: Do as they say, not as they do.

Mike: Doctor: He’s dying? I’ll be right there!
Caller: No, you misheard me, I’ll be right there, this IS Death. You have lung cancer.

7-UP:
7upad
Mark: This is a disgrace! At least pour the 7-Up into a baby bottle before feeding it to him.

Laura: This child later became executive producer of The Biggest Loser.

Jeff: Technically, 7-Up doesn’t rot your teeth if you don’t have teeth yet.

Lauren: First drink is free, Jimmy. You know where to find me when you want more.

Matt: And after the kid is done, he’ll have a fun toy to play with – a glass bottle.

Jeff Cronin, Director of Communications, Center for Science In the Public Interest:
I’ve seen this ad before, but I don’t think I actually read the copy and realized that besides promoting 7-Up for babies straight up, they were promoting 7-UP for babies as a mixer for milk (“… add 7-Up to the milk in equal parts, gently pouring the 7-UP over the milk…”). That had to have been pretty gross, even by 1950s standards.

We have the obvious, surface-level creepiness (“he isn’t our youngest customer by any means”) but the closer one looks some strange things reveal themselves. We have this random plug for Soldier of Fortune (!), for instance — that’s the fine print on the right. We have a neglected lamb plushy toy, bravely forcing a smile. And there’s something not quite right about the angle of the “mom’s” approach vis-a-vis the soda bottle. Does anyone offer anyone else a drink like that. baby or otherwise? The whole effect is downright terrifying. A cry for help from a tortured Madison Avenue psychopath.

Lululemon’s Sheer Pants Lawsuit Nightmare Is Over

Fri, 2014-04-18 22:40

(ronnyg)

(ronnyg)

Our long translucent-hindquarters nightmare is over. Earlier today, the judge in a federal class-action lawsuit brought by Lululemon shareholders released her final opinion, which dismisses both lawsuits brought against the company and its executives for allowing see-through pants to be sold in stores, not warning shareholders about the issue, and also not telling shareholders about the imminent firing of the company’s CEO over the issue.

It wasn’t just the lawsuit that earned the Canadian company a derision, legal trouble, customer ire, and even a spot in our 2014 Worst Company in America tournament. The company’s handling of the problem was problematic, from the top officers down to the lowliest salespeople. It turns out that women who have just dropped more than a hundred bucks on a single pair of pants don’t appreciate being told that a flaw in the product is their own fault for buying the wrong size, or maybe just having big thighs.

There’s been a lot of carnage at Lululemon over this issue: the company’s founder, CEO, and product chief have all left the company in the wake of the scandal and ensuing very pricey recall.

Lululemon yoga pants lawsuits in U.S. win final dismissals [Chicago Tribune]

Kill Time Before Easter Weekend With This Video Of Cadbury Creme Eggs Being Made

Fri, 2014-04-18 21:32

Not all of us — and certainly not all of you — will be celebrating Easter this weekend. But it is a spring Friday afternoon and just about everyone likes chocolate. So what better way to get through the end of the work week than to plug in your headphones (or turn down the volume on your computer) and waste a few minutes watching Cadbury Creme Eggs be brought into this world?

Sadly, there is no clucking bunny (that’s not a euphemism; though it should be) dropping fondant-filled chocolate eggs into waiting foil wrappers. The reality is exactly what you’d expect — chocolate goes into half-egg mold; white and yellow fondant is squirted into chocolate shells; halves of shells are book-molded together to form the Easter treat that introduced many a young child to the term “sugar shock.”

Gooey Goodness: Inside Cadbury’s Creme Egg Factory [Bloomberg]

White House Updates Privacy Policy So Everyone Understands Their Comments Are Public

Fri, 2014-04-18 20:58

(Harrell 99)

(Harrell 99)

Want to complain about the government on the White House website, Twitter account, or Facebook page? A privacy policy update released by the Obama administration makes it clear your comments are public information, while trying to ease American’s concerns over government surveillance programs. However, some privacy advocates say the revisions aren’t nearly enough.

The new privacy policy makes clear how the government will track and use data from online visitors to the WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites, Boston.com reports.

“Our old privacy policy was just that – old,” officials with the White House blogged on Friday.

While the update doesn’t make any actual practical changes, it strips the legal jargon to make the policy easier to read, so that users understand just what information the White House will store. Data being collected includes the date, time and duration of online visits, the originating Internet Protocol address and how much data users transmit from WhiteHouse.gov to their computers.

Since coming into office, the Obama administration has added new interactive features to the White House website, including a petition platform, live online chats and pages on popular social media network. The administration promised not to sell the data of online visitors, but makes no guarantees to visitors on third-party White House pages on social media networks. Additionally, the administration does not give third parties, including the U.S. National Security Agency, access to visitor emails.

“Within the White House, we restrict access to personally identifiable information to employees, contractors, and vendors subject to non-disclosure requirements who require access to this information in order to perform their official duties and exercise controls to limit what data they can view based on the specific needs of their position,” the policy says.

As for use of comments deemed to be in the public domain, the policy allows the White House to use those messages for public advocacy purposes. The administration may also take it upon themselves to direct queries to the proper department.

Privacy advocates have expressed mixed reaction to the policy changes. While some say the policy doesn’t offer enough information, others say the changes are a nice reflection of consumer concerns.

Jeramie Scott, national security counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the biggest problem involves third-party sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

“Interacting with the White House and its different sites is inherently political, and that type of thing shouldn’t be used for commercial gain,” he tells Boston.com.

“This seems to be one of the better policies, a model perhaps for others,” John Simpson, director for Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project.

White House updating online privacy policy [Boston.com]

Walmart’s Description Of This Air Mattress Is A Little Off

Fri, 2014-04-18 20:55

mattressStandard mattress sizes are confusing and hard to remember. Do you know the size in inches of a queen-size bed off the top of your head? Adrienne doesn’t, but she did notice that this air mattress at Walmart is doll-sized, not human-sized.

Don’t get us wrong. Scale models of camping equipment like tents are super-useful in a retail environment. However, there’s no context other than “Barbie camping trip” in which this product makes sense as described.

mattress

Here are those dimensions, in case you’re reading this on a phone:

Length: 14.5″
Width: 11.8″
Height: 4.7″
Weight: 9.55 lbs.

Uh huh. “So, the bed is only slightly bigger than 1ft x 1ft,” Adrienne noted in her e-mail to Consumerist. “Even if they messed up the difference between feet and inches it still doesn’t make sense.” Nope. She compared it to Fuzzy Math, which we mostly spot at Target.

One reviewer on Walmart’s site notes that the size isn’t as described, but not in the way you’d think: it’s more like a full-size bed than a queen. At least a human fits on it, though?

Why Won’t Those Jerks At Sprint Unlock My iPhone? They Can’t

Fri, 2014-04-18 20:30

(Consumerist)

(Consumerist)

You might remember that late last year, American wireless carriers adopted some voluntary standards for the unlocking of devices so they can be used on other carriers. Yet Sprint and Virgin Mobile customers have complained to us that their carriers won’t unlock their devices, even when they’re off contract or the customer is moving abroad. What’s the deal here?

Here’s the thing: Sprint and other carriers that use the Sprint network use a different band, CDMA. Some of their devices are capable of being used on foreign GSM networks and even the domestic ones, AT&T and T-Mobile. However, a Sprint representative explained t us, older devices sold for use on the Sprint network didn’t work on GSM networks or have a slot to add a SIM, so it wasn’t possible to unlock them.

This leads to a lot of confusion. One reader wrote to us railing against Sprint for refusing to unlock his iPhone 4, even though the 4 lacks the physical capability to accept a SIM. “I contacted Sprint and the script of excuses and lies began,” he wrote to Consumerist. “I implore you to do what you can to get the story of Sprint’s lone holdout stance known.” Sprint can only unlock the iPhone 4 when they develop time travel. Maybe that will come with the CDMA version of the iPhone 6?

So what about that CTIA thing? While some devices are physically able to be unlocked, it’s not an option for every phone that Sprint and Virgin sell. The thing is, while carriers have finally agreed to some voluntary standards for unlocking devices, those standards don’t go into effect until February 2015. That means that the phone you bought a couple of years ago wasn’t designed or marketed with the capability for unlocking in mind. “We have to develop our new devices to comply with the commitment,” explained Crystal Davis, who works on policy issues for Sprint, explained to Consumerist.

Aereo CEO: Don’t Blame Us Because We Built A Better Antenna

Fri, 2014-04-18 20:24

aereoNext Tuesday, lawyers for the nation’s broadcast networks and streaming video startup Aereo will square off in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in a case where a victory by either side carries with it potentially huge implications for everything from over-the-air TV to all cloud-based technology. Since he won’t be the one talking to the Supremes, AEREO CEO Chet Kanojia has been making the interview rounds to make his case to the public.

For those still unfamiliar with Aereo, it’s a service that takes freely available over-the-air broadcast signals and sends them to paying subscribers over the Internet. The broadcasters say this is a violation of copyright, alleging that Aereo is retransmitting their content without permission and without paying the hefty retransmission fees that cable and satellite companies pay.

Aereo’s defense lies in the nature of its system, which uses arrays of very tiny antennae to pick up these broadcast feeds. Each antenna within an array is dedicated to one single end-user. So Aereo contends that this is nothing more than a new version of a rooftop antenna one might install to improve TV reception; it just happens to be connected over the Internet.

Executives at News Corp (owner of the FOX channels), CBS and others have outright accused Aereo of stealing. In an interview earlier this week with Katie Couric on Yahoo News, Kanojia says he understands why the broadcasters are aggravated, but says Aereo shouldn’t be blamed for the networks’ lack of foresight.

“I think [News Corp COO Chase Carey is] absolutely right they have a right to be fairly compensated,” says Kanojia. “If somebody’s come out with a smarter antenna, a clever, different antenna, and you don’t like that evolution is happening, that suddenly more people might use antennas, well I’m sorry about that…I just don’t find that rhetoric to have any credibility.”

Speaking to the AP, Kanojia spoke in more detail about this evolution and the impact that the Web is having on all forms of media.

“[T]he Internet is happening to everybody, whether you like it or not,” he explains. “It happened to books, news people, it happened to music people, it happened to Blockbuster. There is nothing in our Constitution that says there is a sacred set of companies that will never be affected by new technology.”

As for some broadcasters’ ultimatum that they will pull their signals from the air if Aereo succeeds and go cable-only, the CEO is skeptical.

“They can do whatever they want. I think the question becomes on an overall reach basis you’re giving up 60 million eyeballs,” says Kanojia. “That’s how many people use antenna in some way, shape or form, which kind of correlates to about 18 percent of the household basis.”

He expands further on this in an interview with GigaOm, saying, “I don’t think they can [pull their OTA signals and go cable-only]. Just to put it in context, ESPN has Monday night football, and the performance is a fraction of what the broadcasters get.”

If Aereo prevails before the Supremes, Kanojia says his company will expand to all 50 states, but is realistic about any immediate impact an Aereo victory might have on the industry.

“I don’t think anything is going to change anywhere because of Aereo,” he explains to the AP. “What is happening is the entire market base is changing with access to alternatives, whether it’s Netflix or iTunes or things like that. Aereo is simply providing a piece of the puzzle. After we win, it’s not that a sea change is going to happen overnight. It is just going to be that we will be allowed to continue to fit that missing piece in a consumer’s life as they’re evolving. These things take decades to play out.”

We think he might be underestimating the impact a ruling in favor of Aereo might have. It may not lead to a rush in dozens of millions of consumers cutting their cable cords and switching to Aereo, but it will almost certainly result in companies like DirecTV pushing forward with development of Aereo-like technology that would allow them to provide customers with local network channels without having to pay the billions in retrans fees that are a huge drain on cable and satellite companies’ coffers every year.

Regardless, while an Aereo victory could take a while to have a dramatic impact on the market, a ruling against Aereo would force the company to shut down or completely change its business model.

“We don’t have a Plan B” admits Kanojia, “To me, if we optimize for loss or a potential loss, we give up optimizing for a win. If you believe your position, the only thing you should do is play to win. We’ve never been dishonest with our investors. Everybody knows what the risks are.”

National Animal Cracker Day & 15 Other Food “Holidays” That Have No Need To Exist

Fri, 2014-04-18 19:32

(Eric Spiegel)

(Eric Spiegel)

I found out yesterday that today, April 18, is apparently National Animal Cracker Day. Those who follow we writers of Consumerist on Twitter may have already heard of my reaction upon discovering this news. At the time, I was convinced that we’d finally located the least-important food “holiday” of the year, but a bit of research now has me doubting that conviction.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve nothing against animal crackers. I just haven’t eaten one since I was old enough to spell my name, and I’m not alone in having outgrown the novelty of biting off the heads of vaguely sweet, vaguely animal-shaped snack crackers.

In fact, the mammoth jug-o-animal-crackers we bought at Costco last summer to do this story on the warehouse store’s lack of childproofing on its detergent packaging has not even been opened, even though every visitor to the Consumerist Cave has been greeted with “Welcome… have some animal crackers, please.”

Animal crackers are a part of our history and yes, I guess they make a fine thing to shove in the mouth of a complaining, hungry kid, but giving them their own day — presumably at the behest of Big Animal Cracker and its allies at Big Milk — seems like giving out a “Not-Bad Attendance” award or a honoring a .215 hitter in baseball for simply being above the Mendoza line.

And yet, National Animal Cracker Day may not represent the nadir on the food holiday curve. As this calendar on Food.com shows, there are food-themed holidays basically every single darn day of the year, and the following are just some of the so-called holidays that have no need to exist:

January 10: Bittersweet Chocolate Day
On which we celebrate the chocolate you accidentally buy when not paying attention to the label.

January 22: Blonde Brownie Day
In honor of a dessert that would go well after a meal of jumbo shrimp and chicken cheesesteaks.

February 18: Crab-Stuffed Flounder Day
A celebration of a food that apparently some people somewhere eat.

March 6: Frozen Food Day
In remembrance of all the pizza rolls, frozen peas, and other foods that gave their lives to freezer burn.

April 24: Pigs In A Blanket Day
Because regular size hot dogs get all the glory…

May 6: Beverage Day
For those who have forgotten to consume liquids.

June: National Iced Tea Month
An entire month to ruminate on the wonders of taking a hot beverage and serving it cold.

July 1: Creative Ice Cream Flavor Day
Don’t you dare try to pass off a carton of neapolitan at this party; you’d just look like a fool.

July 15: Gummy Worm Day
An entire day just for one particular form of gelatin-based candies.

August: National Panini Month
Four weeks during which to celebrate every aspect and variation on sticking a sandwich between two hot pieces of metal.

August 31: Trail Mix Day
Here’s a day for that one jerk on your block who taints your Halloween loot with granola.

September 6: Coffee Ice Cream Day
Not so long ago, this might have been able to fall under the July 1 Creative Ice Cream Day celebration, but now coffee ice cream requires its own day apart from all others.

October 24: Bologna Day
This holiday has a first name; it’s “P-O-I-N-T.” This holiday has a second name; it’s “L-E-S-S.”

November 18: Vichyssoise Day
Gather the kids! It’s time to honor everyone’s favorite cold, potato-and-leek-based soup with a funny name.

December 30: Bicarbonate of Soda Day
If you can think of a better way to coast out the end of the year than spending an entire day celebrating baking soda, I’d say you’re delusional.

Detergent Pods Shouldn’t Be This Hard To Figure Out

Fri, 2014-04-18 19:17

tidepodsgrabLauren is upset with Procter & Gamble, the makers of Tide. While detergent pods are a boon to been laundromat customers and people who dislike measuring things. Some people have had trouble with the pods, though. Detergent isn’t supposed to stain your laundry. It’s supposed to do the exact opposite of that. Yet customers say that it’s discrepancies in the instructions that cause problems for pod people.

We know that some small children have been injured or killed after putting the pods in their mouths, which is scary and tragic. Parents, manufacturers, and even governments are working to put a stop to pod-eating. The pods are intended as laundry detergents, and are not intended as snacks, so what’s going wrong here?

Reader Lauren reports that the pods stained her clothing. ‘When I contacted tide I got a response back indicating entirely different usage directions then what is on their packaging,” she tells Consumerist. Here’s that response, alongside the instructions on the package of pods that stained her laundry:

1975208_10201212858277283_63458173_n

Procter & Gamble, for their part, insist that consumers are just using the pods wrong. Ignore the needlessly complex water temperature directions and just remember that no matter what, the pod always goes in the washer first.

In an e-mail to our freshly laundered colleagues at Consumer Reports a few months ago, a Procter & Gamble representative explained to them that some common mistakes cause the staining, not inconsistent or confusing directions. Nope, nope, nope.

The most common contributors to the development of a blue/purple stain on fabrics is not placing the pac into the washing machine drum BEFORE adding the clothes and/or overstuffing machine with laundry. This is important to ensure machine has enough space to provide the agitation needed for the best clean and to maximize contact with ‘free water’ in the machine.

Spirit Airlines CEO: Consumers Complain Because They Don’t Understand Us

Fri, 2014-04-18 18:50

(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

They say you get what you pay for, so if you’re flying cheaply, should you expect a lower level of customer service? That’s the argument made by Spirit Airlines, which has the highest rate of customer complaints of all domestic airlines. And a new promotion and recent comments from Spirit’s CEO don’t give any indication that the carrier’s attitude will be changing.

Hot off the heels of a new U.S. Public Interest Research Group study that found the airline garnered the most consumer complaints – 8 complaints per 100,000 customers – filed with the Dept. of Transportation in 2013, Spirit appears to be on damage control. Although we’re not entirely sure how helpful their latest actions will prove.

First, CEO Ben Baldanza continues his ever entertaining claims that his company is the “most consumer-friendly” airline by simply saying customers just don’t understand Spirit’s business model.

“Offering our low fares requires doing some things that some people complain about—more seats on our planes with a little less legroom, no Wi-Fi or video screens, and no refunds without insurance; however, these reduce costs which gives our customers the lowest fares in the industry,” Baldanza wrote in a letter to Bloomberg Businessweek and other journalists. “Judging by the number of customers on our planes and repeat customer rate, most people like this tradeoff.”

Missing from Baldanza’s list of tradeoffs consumers should be okay making are the fees charged for carry-on baggage, fees charged to talk to a human being, charges for printing your boarding pass at the airport and a lack of free water during flights.

Friday’s explanation by Baldanza is the latest in a string of mind-boggling declarations over the years.

In 2010, he famously declared those baggage fees to be a “consumer benefit.” And let’s not forget the company’s stance in 2012 that posting full airfares is the government’s way of hiding higher taxes in fares.

The CEO consistently maintains that Spirit is the most consumer-friendly airline despite being the only U.S. carrier on a list of the world’s worst airlines.

Following Baldanza’s statement, the company announced a new campaign offering discounts to the 99.99% of customers it says don’t file complaints against the company.

Spirit Airlines is celebrating the 99.99 percent! That’s right, over 99.99 percent of our customers did not file a complaint with the Department of Transportation in 2013. To the 0.01 percent – that’s OK, we know we aren’t the airline for everyone (though we’d love for you to save by flying with us again!).  We are celebrating the 99.99 percent by running a $24 OFF* promotion. Book a flight for travel from September 3, 2014 through November 19, 2014 and you’ll save $24 off* of your trip.

While the promotion might seem like a valid attempt to squash consumer unease with the airline the $24 savings likely won’t cover your carry-on fee.

Spirit Airlines Celebrates the 99.99 Percent [Spirit Airlines]
Spirit Airlines Sees All Those Passenger Complaints as Mere Misunderstandings [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Barnes & Noble Might Have Smaller Stores, Still Won’t Price-Match Own Website

Fri, 2014-04-18 17:55

(bclinesmith)

(bclinesmith)

It’s pretty intuitive that you don’t need a lot of retail floor space to sell e-books. Even a display of e-reader gadgets doesn’t take up as much room as shelf after shelf of books. that’s why absolutely no one should be surprised that Barnes & Noble might be considering stores with a smaller footprint.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, company chair Leonard Riggio discussed the future of the media-selling business and the current format of Barnes & Noble stores. Oh, and also a frequent topic of complaint for Consumerist readers: the company’s refusal to price-match its own website, even when not doing so costs them sales.

It’s not that the company doesn’t want to price-match, explains Riggio: it’s that they can’t, and it’s all your fault for doing research on the item that you wanted to buy. The only solution that experts at Barnes & Noble have been able to figure out? Sell exclusive items that no one online carries, which isn’t possible for a bookstore. “There are a certain number of customers who say who has the best price? They’ll come into the retail store itself with their phones and hit the button…” he told the WSJ. “The more you sell products that are branded outside of the store, that aren’t exclusive to the store, the harder it is.”

As for littler stores, Riggio agrees that comparatively tiny stores, 15,000 square feet or less, could be in the chain’s future. “The level of digital convergence from books to digital has decelerated,” he pointed out in a hopeful manner.

Riggio displayed less optimism when, a few weeks after the paper conducted this interview, he sold off $64 million worth of his stock, about 10% of the company.

Smaller Barnes & Noble Stores? ‘Yes, It’s Possible,’ Says Leonard Riggio [Wall Street Journal]

NJ Driver Sues After State Rejects Her “8theist” License Plate

Fri, 2014-04-18 17:34

(Alan Rappa)

(Alan Rappa)

A woman in New Jersey claims the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission is biased in favor of Christians after rejecting her request for a vanity plate that reflected her atheist beliefs while allowing plates that express a driver’s Christian identity.

According to the South Jersey Times, the plaintiff attempted to use the MVC’s website to obtain a personalized plate that reads “8theist,” but her request was allegedly rejected for being objectionable.

However, claims the woman, when she tried “Baptist” on the MVC site, she says it was not flagged by the system.

“There is nothing offensive about being atheist,” she tells the Times. “I should be able to express my sincerely held beliefs with a license plate just like everyone else.”

The driver says her attempts to get an explanation from the MVC went without a response.

A rep for the MVC tells the Times that each plate request is reviewed on an individual basis. Without commenting on this specific plate, the rep says the MVC as an organization has “no objection and [we] continue to issue plates” that express an atheistic position.

However, just last year another NJ driver was initially unable to receive the “athe1st” plate he’d requested from the MVC after a clerk there deemed it offensive. Ultimately, after appealing to the commission, that driver was able to get the plate he wanted, but the plaintiff in the newer case sees this as evidence of a systemic problem at the MVC.

“The commission thus has a practice of denying personalized license plates that identify vehicle owners as atheists,” reads the complaint, “thereby discriminating against atheist viewpoints and expressing a preference for theism over non-theism.”

Uber To Tack On $1 “Safe Rides Fee”

Fri, 2014-04-18 17:02

ubergrabGetting a ride via UberX, a service that pairs up those in need of a lift with pre-screened drivers in the area willing to give them that lift, is getting slightly more expensive, as the company adds a one dollar Safe Rides Fee.

According to Uber, the additional cash “supports our continued efforts to ensure the safest possible platform for Uber riders and drivers,” claiming the money will go to fund background checks, regular motor vehicle checks, driver safety education,and insurance.

Uber and other similar services have been criticized by existing taxi services for allowing non-professional drivers to use their own cars to do the jobs of taxi and livery drivers.

This issue was put into the spotlight in recent months following the tragic death of a 6-year-old girl who was hit by an Uber driver in California. Not only did the incident raise questions about the safety and training of those behind the wheel for Uber, but it has also gotten bogged down in the debate over whether or not Uber is responsible for those times when one of its drivers is not actively engaged with a passenger.

In that incident, the driver was not driving or picking up an Uber passenger, but says he was using the Uber app to see if there were passengers in need of a ride. Uber maintains that since there was no passenger in the vehicle, it can not be held liable for the driver’s actions.

Last month, both Uber and its competitor Lyft announced they would expand their insurance policies to cover drivers while they are between jobs. It seems likely that the additional cost for this insurance is a big reason for the new tacked-on fee.

Craft Store Michaels Confirms Data Breach Affecting 2.6 Million Credit Cards

Fri, 2014-04-18 16:26

(Michael Ocampo)

(Michael Ocampo)

Three months after craft retailer Michaels announced it may have been the victim of a data breach, the company confirms the worst: nearly 2.6 million consumers’ credit cards are affected.

In January, Michaels, a large arts and crafts chain, warned customers that the company “may have experienced a data security attack.” On Friday, the company announced that sometime between May 8, 2013 and January 27, 2014 about 2.6 million or 7% of payment cards used at its stores were compromised.

Additionally, nearly 400,000 cards were affected at 54 Aaron Brothers stores, a subsidiary of the company, from June 26, 2013 to February 27, 2014.

While officials say the affected systems contained payment card numbers and expiration dates, there is no evidence that data such as customers’ names or personal identification numbers were at risk.

“After weeks of analysis, we have discovered evidence confirming that systems of Michaels stores in the United States and our subsidiary, Aaron Brothers, were attacked by criminals using highly sophisticated malware that had not been encountered previously by either of the security firms,” Michaels CEO Chuck Rubin says in a statement to customers on the company’s website. “We want you to know we have identified and fully contained the incident, and we can assure you the malware no longer presents a threat to customers while shopping at Michaels or Aaron Brothers.”

Michaels claims that there are only a limited number of fraud incidents have been reported, but the company is offering 12 months of free identity protection and credit monitoring services, as well as 12 months of free fraud assistance to affected customers in the United States.

Customers are encouraged to continue to monitor their payment activity and immediately contact their banks if any suspicious activity is found. The company continues to work with law enforcement authorities, banks and payment processors to investigate the breach.

“We are truly sorry and deeply regret any inconvenience this may cause,” Rubin says in the statement. “Our customers are always our number one priority and we are committed to retaining your trust and loyalty.”

The company first announced the possibility of an attack just weeks after the massive Target data breach that hit approximately 110 million consumers during the holiday season.

Following a string of data hacks, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau outlined a number of ways consumers can protect themselves and where to get help if they suspect their information has been compromised.

Shortly after the data breaches at Target, Neiman Marcus and Michaels were announced the conversation turned to what new technology could help prevent such attacks in the future. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in February, senators discussed the possibility of “smart” chip cards.

The EMV (short for “Europay, Mastercard and Visa”) cards tiny chips embedded in them that encrypt the card’s information. Already in use in Europe, the chips cut back on card fraud because their existence makes cards significantly harder to clone: even if you get all of the information from a card’s magnetic strip, as through a skimmer, without the chip actually being present the card data is useless in a physical transaction.

Officials with Visa and MasterCard announced they hope to end traditional sign-and-swipe credit card transitions and switch to the chip-and-PIN system by 2015. In March, the companies formed an industry group to address payment security issues specifically the adoption of EMV technology.

Important Notice About Certain Customer Payment Card Information [Michaels]

Disney World Proposes Raising Starting Wages To $10/Hour

Fri, 2014-04-18 16:14

(Alan Rappa)

(Alan Rappa)

While lawmakers in D.C. argue over whether or not to raise the federal minimum wage, Walt Disney Co. has made an offer to the unions representing thousands of employees at its Disney World park in Florida that would raise employees’ starting pay from $8.03 to $10 over the course of the next two years.

Bloomberg reports that Disney made the offer earlier this week to the Service Trades Council, a consortium of six labor groups representing more than 30,000 Disney World workers.

New full-time hourly employees at the park currently earn a wage starting at $8.03/hour, about 75 cents more per hour than the federal minimum wage. The offer from Disney to the unions would gradually increase that amount to $10/hour by July 2016, which is just shy of the $10.10/hour being proposed by President Obama and some legislators.

At the same time, these new employees would no longer be offered a standard pension, but would instead receive a 3% company match in a 401 (k) retirement plan.

The Council says it is “very pleased” with the pay increase offer but plans to oppose the change to the pension policy for new workers.

Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Fri, 2014-04-18 16:05

Here are twelve of the best photos that readers added to the Consumerist Flickr Pool in the last week, picked for usability in a Consumerist post or for just plain neatness.

(Joel Zimmer)

(Joel Zimmer)

(François Quévillon)

(François Quévillon)

(Allan Ellerby)

(Allan Ellerby)

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

(George)

(George)

(Hammerin Man)

(Hammerin Man)

(Mijaeus)

(Mijaeus)

(Hogof)

(Hogof)

(Quinn Dombrowski)

(Quinn Dombrowski)

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

(Rich Renomeron)

(Rich Renomeron)

(Jeff Gates)

(Jeff Gates)

Our Flickr Pool is the place where Consumerist readers upload photos for possible use in future Consumerist posts. Want to see your pictures on our site? Just be a registered Flickr user, go here, and click “Join Group?” up on the top right. Choose your best photos, then click “send to group” on the individual images you want to add to the pool.

My Taxes Are Done. What Can I Throw Out Now?

Thu, 2014-04-17 23:13

(Pete)

(Pete)

Unless you filed for an extension, your tax return is now done and posted through the mail or beamed through the Interweb to the IRS and your state government, if required. That’s a relief. Now, what items in your files should you keep, and which can you throw out?

To protect yourself in case of an audit, you should keep our printed or digital tax returns for seven years. Keep these in locked cabinets or password-protected files. If the IRS suspects you of hiding income, you can be audited for up to six years, and you can be subject to random audits for three years. If you like to keep information about your income around, go ahead and keep them indefinitely.

Also keep supporting documents such as receipts, invoices, 1099 forms, sales records, charitable donation receipts, and any other documents that you would need to verify every penny that you claimed as income or deductions.

If you ended up taking the standard deduction, as many people with salaried jobs do, then you don’t need to prove your deductions. You can throw the receipts and such out, and just keep copies of any of the forms, digital or paper, that you would have mailed in with your return.

By “throw that out,” of course, we mean feed it into a cross-cut shredder at home or at a public shredding event, then recycle it.

How long should you keep your tax records? [Consumer Reports]

Volkswagen Recalls 26,000 New Vehicles Because Bursting Into Flames Is Not Cool

Thu, 2014-04-17 22:58

(Chauncer)

(Chauncer)

Brand new isn’t always better. That certainly seems to be the case with more than 26,000 new Volkswagen vehicles being recalled.

Volkswagen is recalling 26,452 vehicles because of an issue that could result in a fire, Detroit News reports.

The recall affects the model year 2014 Jetta, Beetle Convertible, and Passat with a 1.8T engine and torque converter automatic transmission.

The company tells the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a notice [PDF] that O-ring seals between the oil cooler and the transmission my leak fluid, which could cause a fire when it comes into contact with a hot surface. Officials with Volkswagen say they are unaware of any crashes or fires related to the issue.

The issue was first observed in March at a Port facility during routine vehicle inspection. From there the company initiated an investigation and checks at dealerships. A stop-sale of affected vehicles was initiated on April 8.

Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealerships will replace the O-ring seals in the transmission oil cooler, free of charge, the company says.


VW recalls 26,000 ’14 cars for fire risks
[The Detroit News]

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