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The Consumerist

Seven Crumbs Locations To Reopen Next Month With The Addition Of Non-Cupcake Treats

Wed, 2014-08-27 18:40

CrumbsIf the closure of Crumbs Bake Shop last month left a cupcake sized hole in your heart, you may be able to fill that void next month as the new company operators prepare to reopen at least seven locations.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New Jersey gave its stamp of approval to a joint venture to acquire Crumbs’ assets in exchange for the cancelation of $6.5 million in debt.

Just a week after Crumbs shuttered its stores in early July, Marcus Lemonis, star of reality TV’s The Profit, and snack-maker Fischer Enterprises announced plans to use the Crumbs name to sell their own non-Crumbs’ retail products – as well as the once-popular cupcakes.

Before anyone can consider the new joint venture the savior of Crumbs, the WSJ reports that court filings show Fischer Enterprises had actually provided a $5 million investment to Crumbs in January, but the out-of-court restructure never took place resulting in Crumbs entering bankruptcy.

Following Tuesday’s court approval, Scott Fischer, COO of Fischer Enterprises, announced that the company will reopen about two dozen Crumbs locations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Washington D.C.

Seven of those locations will reopen next month and the rest in the months following, but don’t expect to find any in your area mall. Under the restructuring plan, all mall locations in the Northeast will remain closed.

The stores will have a decidedly different appearance than those consumers previously visited. Although Crumbs cupcakes will still be prominently displayed, the shops will incorporate other food brands owned by the new investors. A full list of offered treats hasn’t been released, but Fischer Enterprises owns Dippin’ Dots, Doc Popcorn, Mr. Green Tea Ice cream, and Sweet Pete’s Candy, while Lemonis has stake in several other dessert companies.

Crumbs Bake Shop to Reopen Stores After Court Approval [The Wall Street Journal]

Copyright Troll Lawyer Doesn’t Seem To Understand Copyright Law

Wed, 2014-08-27 18:11

The lawyer's DMCA takedown letter included these screengrabs that he alleges infringe on his copyright.

The lawyer’s DMCA takedown letter included these screengrabs that he alleges infringe on his copyright.

If someone publishes copyrighted content online without permission, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act provides a process for requesting that content’s removal. But a lawyer who apparently doesn’t like being the subject of negative articles — and who either doesn’t understand the DMCA or is hoping that others don’t — is trying to use the law to have critical comments removed from websites.

This story goes back several years, to a time when the lawyer in question was once heralded as an opponent of copyright trolls — those lawyers and businesses who threaten to sue alleged file-sharers and then make a nice profit when that threat results in a settlement. As TorrentFreak points out, this attorney once referred to trolls as “bill collectors for the movie industry” who were just “extorting money.”

But at some point, he had a change of heart and his firm got into the business of suing alleged pirates. This did not go unnoticed, and in 2011, FightCopyrightTrolls.com posted before/after screenshots of the firm’s website demonstrating this change and referring to the lawyer as a “weretroll.” The site subsequently published other critical articles about this lawyer.

And then last week, the attorney sent a DMCA takedown letter, not to FCT’s editors, or its lawyers, or to its hosting company, but to the site’s domain registrar. The letter states that FCT had posted “my website pictures and inserts defamatory and libelous statements” and demands that the registrar remove the allegedly infringing content from its servers and “immediately notify the infringer of this notice and inform them of their duty to remove the infringing material immediately, and notify them to cease any further posting of infringing material to your server in the future.”

Except the domain registrar doesn’t host anything, so there’s no content that could be removed from its servers. Additionally, the DMCA does not apply to domain registrars, so the lawyer isn’t even dangling his legal sword above the correct head.

The second big goof with the letter is its allegation that FCT’s use of images from the law firm’s website somehow constitutes copyright infringement. He offers no explanation for how these images violate his copyright or whey they would not be considered fair use. The two before/after images shown in the letter are from an article specifically about the lawyer’s shift of opinion and are vital to the core of the news story to which they are attached. These are not trade secrets nor was FCT attempting to use these grabs to trick people into thinking they were the law firm. So it’s hard to see — especially in the absence of any explanation from the lawyer — why the DMCA would require anyone take down this content.

Perhaps the most problematic issue with the letter comes from the lawyer’s argument that “defamatory and libelous statements” should be included in what he considers to be infringing content.

Even if you agree with his claim that the images from his firm’s website violate his copyright, the best a DMCA takedown notice could hope to achieve is to remove those images. The DMCA does not deal with libel or defamatory content, and the Communications Decency Act would give the site’s domain registrar immunity from those statements anyway.

Putting aside for the moment that the supposedly libelous content cited in the letter appears to fail the standard test for defamatory speech, the question of whether or not it is libelous should be a matter for the court to decide; not something to be declared as fact in a poorly written letter to a domain registrar.

[via BoingBoing]

19,000 Suzuki Sedans Recalled Due To Spider Infestation Risk

Wed, 2014-08-27 18:08

(M 93)

(M 93)

Today, Suzuki announced the recall of with fuel lines that are somehow irresistible to spiders. The spiders build webs in the cars’ fuel lines, which lead to negative pressure in the fuel tank and can crack fuel lines, which in turn could lead to fires. Yes, spiders could be trying to set fire to your car, garage, and home.

Affected vehicles are the Suzuki Kizashi, model years 2010 through 2013. What complicates this recall is that Suzuki doesn’t sell cars in the United States anymore, having sold off the last of their inventory in 2013. While Suzuki instructs owners in their letter to take their vehicles to an “authorized service provider,” customers need to call a toll-free number to find out where those service providers are.

Fortunately, the fix is pretty simple: it consists of putting a filter on one of the car’s ventilation lines in order to keep spiders out.

Suzuki recalls sedans in U.S. as spider webs block gas vents [Reuters]

Woman Upset That Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cereal Came With The Extra Crunch Of A Dead Mouse

Wed, 2014-08-27 16:56
(thills1988)

No mouse here, don’t worry. (thills1988)

First things first: If you don’t want to see a deceased rodent lying atop a bed of cereal, don’t click on any of the links in the below post. Because when a woman poured her grandson some Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes and saw a dead mouse fall out, she made sure to take a photo as proof.

While Kellogg’s and the British Tesco store where she purchased the box both say they’re looking into things, it sure as heck looks like a wee dead mouse, reports The Daily Mirror (Again, don’t click if you don’t want to see such a thing).

The woman says she was pouring her grandson a bowl of the cereal, after keeping it stored with the box and inner bag still sealed in her cupboard since she brought it home from the store.

That’s when she noticed something odd among the flakes, before the two-year-old had a chance to take a bite.

“In the morning I poured some into a bowl for him and noticed something black covered in the cornflakes,” she said, adding that she bought the cereal specifically for when he stays over. “I knew something wasn’t right, so I got a spoon and gingerly moved the flakes out of the way. Then I saw the mouse. It was horrible and I felt absolutely sick.”

“Goodness knows how long the mouse was in the box or if it was dead or alive when it went in,” she adds, though there was apparently no damage to the box.

She snapped a pic and has saved both the box and the mouse in the freezer for any investigators who might want to take a peek, and went back to Tesco that day to file a formal complaint. The chain says it’s looking into her claim.

“We set ourselves the highest standards for the quality and safety of the food we sell and were concerned to hear of this,” a company spokesperson said, adding Tesco is “concerned” over the incident. “We would like to thank [the customer] for alerting us and we will work with the supplier to support their investigation.”

Kellogg’s says it’s looking into the mouse matter as well.

“We are carrying out a full investigation to identify if and how this occurred as it hasn’t happened before,” the company said in a statement. “We take food safety extremely seriously and carry out regular quality checks in our factories.”

As for grandma, she says she spoke with Kellogg’s and was offered a replacement box of cereal. For some reason, she’s declined that offer.

Crunchy Nut Rodent: Woman finds DEAD MOUSE in box of cornflakes while serving grandson’s breakfast [Daily Mirror]

Hurray, Time Warner Customers Are Back Online After Internet Outage

Wed, 2014-08-27 16:39

(Van in LA)

(Van in LA)

If you’re a Time Warner Cable customer, welcome back! The Internet missed you. Many customers nationwide reported an outage this morning, though Time Warner claims that all customers are now back online.

Thanks to this outage, we learned about the very cool site DownDetector, which has heat maps for reported outages. They show concentrated Time Warner Cable outages reported in the Midwest, Texas, North Carolina, New York’s population centers, and New England. That’s to say, pretty much anywhere that there’s Time Warner service.

In theory, this should have nothing whatsoever to do with the company’s proposed merger with Comcast. However, any service hiccup is enough to make customers wonder whether their Internet and cable service provider really ought to merge with another, even bigger company. Combined, they could knock out Internet service to even more of the country.

The company blames backbone issues for the outage: to grossly oversimplify, it means that Time Warner Cable had problems with their connection to the Internet.

At least @TWC_Help was available all morning on Twitter to help frustrated customers.

Services should be restored for all customers; our apologies for the interruption. If you're still having issues, please let us know. ^BP—
TWC Help (@TWC_Help) August 27, 2014

GM Ignition Switch Compensation Fund Received Claims For 107 Deaths In Less Than A Month

Wed, 2014-08-27 16:37

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

Less than a month after General Motors’ victim compensation plan began accepting claims, the company has received notice of 107 deaths possibly related to its ongoing ignition switch defect. That figure far surpasses the 13 deaths the company previously acknowledged and the 74 deaths one report found could be tied to the defect.

According to Reuters, the GM victim compensation plan has received a total of 309 claims in the first 26-days.

The program, which began accepting claims on August 1 and will continue until December 31, aims to provide relief for the victims and families affected by ignition switch issues that resulted in the recall of 2.6 million vehicles and a number of federal probes related to the company’s 13-year delay in acknowledging the problem.

While the number of claims submitted to the plan already appears high, lawyers representing a number of victims tell Reuters it will continue to grow steadily over the next several months.

Jere Beasley, who represents multiple claim-filers, says that some lawyers and victims may wait to file claims until the first round of compensation has been offered. Officials with GM previously said they expect the first compensation checks to reach consumers in the fall.

The submitted claims will be evaluated by lawyer-in-charge Ken Feinberg and his staff to determine if the ignition switch was in fact responsible for causing the injury or death. If the claim is deemed authentic, Feinberg will calculate the compensation the family or individual can receive.

The compensation plan, which was unveiled in late June, does not put a cap on the payment amount victims could receive. Instead those affected by the faulty switch could receive anywhere from $20,000 to double-digit millions depending a number of factors including loss of wages, severity of injuries and more.

According to the plan’s formula, families of those who died are entitled to at least $1 million, plus the calculation of lifetime earning lost, and $300,000 for a spouse and for each dependent.

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

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

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

Additionally, the plan provides for payout for accidents that have yet to occur. The protocol will cover crashes that happen through December 31, 2014.

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

While GM officials are hopeful the compensation program will deter victims from seeking relief through the courts, they say filing a complaint doesn’t necessarily mean consumers forfeit their right to sue.

Feinberg said in June that victims only waive their right to sue if they accept the payment from GM.

GM ignition-switch fund receives claims for more than 100 deaths [Reuters]

Taco Bell, Where A “Lifetime Of Food” Costs Just $10,000

Wed, 2014-08-27 16:13

(smohundro)

(smohundro)

What would you say if someone told you the rest of your meals for your entire life were covered? Great, right? But could you buy a “lifetime” of food for $10,000? Maybe at Taco Bell, as the chain’s new “Eleven Everlasting Dollars” contest claims each winner will win free Taco Bell food for life.

The fast-food Mexican chain announced yesterday that it’s released 11 special $1 bills into the wild, bearing winning serial numbers that it will post every day for 11 days. If you have one of those bills, “you could win a lifetime of food from Taco Bell®.*”

Oh yes, there is an asterisk, because while surely going south of the border can be cheap, a lifetime is a long time. So as Taco Bell explains, it’s free food for life if you’re going to eat about $10,000 worth of burritos and chalupas before you shuffle off this mortal coil in approximately half a century. And you pay taxes on your own.

The fine print:

*Prize awarded as $10,000 in Taco Bell® gift cards. Based on average consumption ($216 per year) for 46 years. Dollar Cravings Menu™ at participating locations. Prices and Items may vary. Prices exclude tax.

So could you survive on $216 worth of Taco Bell food every year? Probably not, if you eat only $4 worth of food in a week. But can you spend $10,000 at Taco Bell in 46 years? That’s between you and your stomach, friend. You two set the terms of what you want to do to each other.

Netflix, Dish & Others Ask FCC To Block Comcast/TWC Merger

Wed, 2014-08-27 16:03

The period for leaving a comment about the Comcast/TWC merger with the FCC closed on Monday. Roughly a zillion members of the public — individuals, nonprofits, state and federal politicians, telecom companies, tech trade groups, and consumer advocates — have weighed in, including several big names in pay TV who are staunchly against the deal.

As Comcast is happy to point out, many comments in support of the merger have been filed. As the New York Times predicted back in February, many of those are from municipal and state-level politicians in areas where Comcast has invested heavily in the community, or from small non-profit organizations that Comcast has given grants to.

However, there also plenty of responses not so much in favor. Spot-checking comments from private individuals reveals three big trends: consumers are worried about high prices, poor service, and losing independent niche programming that they love. Many also express fears about a post-merger company’s outsized influence on net neutrality (or, specifically, its absence).

Competitors, meanwhile, are concerned about being squeezed out of the market altogether. Small cable systems feel they won’t be able to afford Comcast/TWC content or to negotiate with contractors and advertising companies that Comcast owns. Internet video providers are concerned about paid peering, connection speeds, and data caps. And consumer advocates are worried about all of the above making the already-dismal state of cable and broadband competition even worse.

Here’s what some of them are saying.

CenturyLink
  • We are in big trouble if this merger goes through as-is. Pretty please put strong conditions on it to let us keep competing?
  • CenturyLink offers DSL and fiber service in several markets where Comcast also operates, making them one of the few direct competitors challenging Comcast for subscribers in many cities.

    In their comments, the company explains that the size and influence of a post-merger Comcast would have an adverse effect on their ability to keep doing business effectively. For starters, Comcast would be able to pay less for content than other, smaller providers would have to, CenturyLink says, because Comcast would own not only the NBCUniversal family of networks, but also any programming assets TWC currently has in-house, like regional sports networks.

    If the FCC doesn’t reject the merger outright, CenturyLink writes, then they need to impose a whole array of strict merger conditions. Among them: Comcast should divest its advertising representation firms, should be subject to a mandatory peering non-discrimination agreement, and should for at least seven years be required to disclose the terms of its contracts with content companies to other TV providers. CenturyLink also asks that Comcast be held to all terms of the NBCU merger agreement for seven more years.

    “CenturyLink’s ability to offer competitive video choices to new customers and in new markets – and to offer a viable product to consumers in its existing markets – depends fundamentally on the existence of a fair (if not level) competitive playing field. This transaction threatens to tilt the playing field decisively against small providers such as CenturyLink in a number of significant ways, and thus to limit or prevent competitive facilities-based entry, much to the detriment of consumers.”

    Common Cause / Consumers Union
  • Everything about this is terrible for competition, and consumers need a marketplace with competition in it so they don’t get screwed over.
  • Consumers Union (the advocacy arm of our parent company, Consumer Reports) and Common Cause (the organization where former FCC commissioner Michael Copps now works) jointly filed a petition to deny the merger.

    In their petition, the two advocacy groups stress how the merger will make already-sparse competition even worse for consumers. That, in turn, will lead to negative outcomes for subscribers. Prices will go up and customer service will go down, because consumers won’t have alternatives.

    The organizations also say that the more control Comcast has over the market, the more they can control what programming gets to air, by price-squeezing out smaller, independent content companies, and the more they can try to squeeze out new online competition, like Netflix.

    “Comcast and TWC claim unconvincingly that they already face abundant and growing competition, and that they will continue to. Consumers rightly do not see it that way. Widespread consumer complaints of high prices, poor service, and no choices are unmistakable hallmarks of an absence of meaningful competition. Comcast and TWC already dominate television and broadband service in most key parts of the country, and this merger would only expand and strengthen and solidify that dominance.”

    COMPTEL
  • Increasing Comcast’s market power hurts competition on every front and is not in the public interest.
  • COMPTEL is a communications trade industry group representing nearly 200 phone, wireless, fiber, broadband, and cable organizations (including Cogent, Sprint, and WOW) both large and small.

    Because the organization represents so many companies up and down the telecom supply chain, the COMPTEL petition touches on the threats a merged Comcast/TWC would pose to every aspect of competition. They mention consumer-facing issues but mostly focus on business-to-business challenges or ways in which Comcast’s growth could harm competitors. The organizations represented by COMPTEL rely on purchasing wholesale broadband services from Comcast and TWC, as well as on licensing Comcast-owned programming.

    The story is the same as the frequent refrain heard elsewhere: the bigger Comcast gets, the more they can exert pricing and contract leverage on third parties that makes it impossible for smaller providers to compete.

    “The harms that could result from such an aggregation of control are far more substantial than those threatened by the Comcast/NBCU transaction. The combined company would have even greater incentive and greater ability to raise prices for its popular video programming, greater incentive and ability to hinder the development of rival online video offerings and third-party devices, and greater incentive and ability to inhibit potential competition from online video distributors that compete with its cable television business. Compounding these harms are those that may result from the substantial increase in the number of customers over whose access to the Internet and Internet content Comcast will exercise bottleneck control.”

    Dish Network
  • The merger will give Comcast control over such a huge percentage of residential internet that we won’t be able to grow or innovate anymore.
  • Dish, as a satellite TV company, does compete directly with Comcast for video subscribers. And Dish also has to pay fees to Comcast for every single NBCU network every single Dish subscriber gets.

    But Dish has also been experimenting: they’ve begun expanding into over-the-top pay TV service. That means that subscribers can pay Dish to live-stream their cable TV networks over another company’s internet connection. And in many cases, that other company is Comcast or TWC.

    Dish’s service is still new, and growing. If Comcast gets to merge with TWC now, the argument goes, that service and other new technologies and innovations like it will never get off the ground because Comcast will be able to squeeze them out from the start.

    “High-speed broadband connections are the lifeblood of these new online services, and these connections will only become more important with each passing year. The services provided by DISH and other OTT video providers optimally require a household to have actual and consistent download speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (“Mbps”). If approved, the combined Comcast/TWC would control 50 percent of the broadband pipes in the United States that have speeds of at least 25 Mbps. Most households will have no alternative to the combined company’s high-speed broadband pipe. … This chokehold over the broadband pipe would stifle future video competition and innovation, all to the detriment of consumers.”

    Free Press
  • There is already no real competition in the broadband internet space and giving Comcast even more market share makes a bad situation into a real anti-trust concern.
  • The FCC’s role in approving or denying the merger is meant to focus on whether or not allowing the two companies to become one is in the public interest, and that’s where Free Press focuses their comment.

    Free Press spends much of their petition reviewing the technicalities of internet access. They explain at length why neither wired DSL connections nor wireless satellite/LTE connections are actually relevant broadband competition, and point out that post-merger, Comcast would not only have more than 50% of the truly high-speed broadband market but also that for more than half of those households, there is literally no other option. They also directly challenge Comcast’s assertion that the two companies don’t compete with each other because they don’t overlap geographically, explaining that the market for internet services (like Netflix) is a national one, and giving Comcast more of the national market share is indeed a relevant problem.

    Unlike many of the comments from telecom competitors, Free Press doesn’t throw in the towel and ask for merger conditions to remedy these likely harms. Instead, they say outright that there are no conditions that could actually make this merger not terrible in the long run.

    “This transaction truly represents the prospect of replacing Ma Bell with Father Cable. This merger would confer on Comcast substantial additional gatekeeper power, to an extent not seen since the time of the nationwide Bell System monopoly. Comcast would control one of two conduits for the transmission of media and communications into the homes of six out of every ten Americans, and for three out of every 10 it would be the only option for advanced broadband. [Comcast and TWC] would like the Commission to ignore the likely consequences of one company possessing this level of control over our nation’s essential communications infrastructure. The Commission simply cannot do that.”

    Netflix
  • Comcast already has every incentive to screw us over and making them bigger will make that worse.
  • Netflix has been very open with their public, repeated, and vocal criticism of Comcast all year, and at a meaty 256 pages their formal petition to deny the merger is no exception.

    Netflix is an “edge provider” that relies on other companies to provide the internet access that makes their business work. Comcast has, Netflix says, already interfered with that on multiple fronts. One is peering and interconnection, where Comcast infamously allowed Netflix traffic to bottleneck — degrading subscribers’ experiences — until Netflix agreed to pay up.

    The other major aspect is consumer-facing, with data caps and streaming restrictions. Comcast’s “data thresholds” will apply nationwide in a few years, company executives have said, and post-merger that would include all current TWC subscribers. There’s only so much streaming video you can cram into that threshold, especially as ultra high-def 4K video becomes more common. Netflix users can soar into the limits easily — but Comcast’s own on-demand offerings don’t count as data use. That discourages consumers from using services like Netflix, lest they get charged out the wazoo.

    “The ability of providers like Netflix to innovate, grow, and offer consumers new and exciting ways to enjoy online content depends on their ability to access high-speed broadband capable of distributing rich media and interactive content. … [Comcast and TWC] claim that the Transaction would be a net positive for edge providers, but the cold, hard economic facts and Comcast’s past behavior prove otherwise. … Post-transaction, the combined entity’s unparalleled number of subscribers … would give it significantly greater and unrivaled power to harm edge providers, and the consumers of those edge providers. … While this threat remains, the proposed merger cannot be justified.”

    Public Knowledge / Open Technology Institute
  • Sure, TV is a thing, but this merger would really hurt the internet and all the people and services on it.
  • Public Knowledge and the Open Technology Institute, like Common Cause and Consumers Union, jointly filed their petition to deny the merger.

    Letting Comcast and TWC merge, the organizations explain, would basically hand them gatekeeper control over the entire next generation of internet, programming, and video services. Competition for cable is suddenly available, thanks to over-the-top services from companies like Netflix and Dish, but if Comcast gets to control half the internet connections in the country, they can stifle innovation and competition wherever they find it.

    The real danger, Public Knowledge and OTI say, is that a post-merger Comcast will be able to exert control at every level of the chain: over the cable wires, over the content they own, over the providers of other content, and over the internet tubes themselves. Giving them such a high percentage of the nationwide market share would increase their ability and incentive to clamp down on every potential competitor and supplier.

    “Some of the largest technology companies — for example, Apple, Intel, and Amazon — have been trying to launch online video services that more directly compete with cable for some time. Thus far, they’ve hit insurmountable obstacles. No matter how much money, technology, and talent a company has, it can’t sell a video product if programmers won’t sell to them, and programmers won’t sell to them if their current largest customers won’t let them. Large cable companies are using their power over content, over the broadband pipe, and over the viewer’s TV screen to make sure that any new services that viewers start using are ones they control.”

    RCN
  • Competing around Comcast is already nearly impossible, and the merger could knock out the only competitors Comcast will ever have.
  • RCN is a small cable TV and internet service provider, operating in small pockets around Chicago, parts of New York City, parts of metro Boston, parts of Pennsylvania, and metro Washington DC. They are already squeezed out by Comcast or by TWC in most of those areas.

    The theme of RCN’s petition is that the merger “poses substantial risk” that Comcast will be able to use its power up and down the chain to harm competition. They highlight four key areas: the sheer market share a post-merger Comcast would have in television, the scope and scale of influence Comcast would have over the broadband internet market, the control Comcast and TWC have over the spot advertising market, and the way that Comcast can use exclusive contracts to lock RCN and other providers out of working with installation, construction, and collections contractors in various regions.

    RCN also points out that if the current competition is allowed to fail, which is more likely if Comcast and TWC get to merge, starting a new competitor is basically impossible. If that happens, the market — and consumers — are up the metaphorical creek.

    “With its monopsony power in programming acquisition unchecked, the combined company would have a natural incentive to … engage in predatory conduct. … Once competition has been eliminated or neutralized, the combined company is then free to raise prices without fear of losing subscribers to competitors. The continued existence of smaller providers is the only thing that forces dominant providers such as Comcast and TWC to charge below-monopoly prices, and this is in the public interest. Because cable and broadband delivery involve huge sunk costs, if other small providers are driven out of the market, others cannot and will not enter to replace them.”

    Zara Pulls Striped Shirt After Complaints That It Looks Like A Concentration Camp Uniform

    Wed, 2014-08-27 15:38

    No longer sold by Zara.

    No longer sold by Zara.

    Zara has been busy apologizing today after shoppers noticed a blue-and-white horizontally striped children’s pajama top with a yellow sheriff’s star reminded them of something else, something a bit more controversial than an officer of the law — the uniform Nazis forced Jewish concentration camp prisoners to wear during the Holocaust.

    “The shirt bears a large six-pointed star on the upper-left section, in the exact place where Nazis forced Jews to wear the Star of David,” wrote Israeli newspaper Haaretz, adding that the shirt is “hauntingly reminiscent of a darker era.”

    The newspaper ran a photo of Auschwitz prisoners wearing green-and-white vertically striped jackets, bearing the yellow star with the German word “Jude” for Jew in on its sleeve in comparison.

    Others joined in to decry the shirt on Twitter, among them, many questioning what in the heck Zara was thinking.

    The European retailer says it’s pulled the shirt from its stores, and has issued apologies to those shoppers who might have been offended by it, reports The Guardian:

    “The item in question has now been removed from all Zara stores and Zara.com. The garment was inspired by the classic Western films, but we now recognise that the design could be seen as insensitive and apologise sincerely for any offence caused to our customers.”

    Zara’s parent company Inditex tells Reuters that the resemblance was unintentional, and that the shirt was for sale online in three countries but not in Israel.

    Zara had barely left the hot water it was in from a few days ago, when it reportedly pulled a T-shirt from stores that said “White is the new black.”

    This isn’t the first time retailers have found themselves scrambling to apologize over tone-deaf design moves, either. Someday they’ll learn… right?

    Keeping Zara company in the halls of Clothing You Shouldn’t Sell:

    H&M Realizes Menacing Skull Emblazoned On A Star Of David Maybe Isn’t Appropriate, Pulls Shirt
    Urban Outfitters Shocks Absolutely No One By Selling, Then Pulling Socks Featuring Hindu Deity
    Urban Outfitters Pulls Shirt That Reminds People Of The Holocaust
    Online Fashion Retailer Apologizes For Holocaust Reference

    Striping resemblance: Zara tee looks like Holocaust garb [Haaretz]
    Zara removes striped pyjamas with yellow star following online outrage [The Guardian]
    Fashion chain Zara withdraws t-shirt likened to concentration camp uniform [Reuters]

    Your Next Fraudulent E-Mail May Come From Your Boss

    Wed, 2014-08-27 00:34

    fakemegIf I received an urgent e-mail from Boss Meg telling me to send a $9,000 wire transfer to Consumerist’s fedora vendor, I would know that it was some kind of scam. Paying our bills isn’t part of my job, so clearly that isn’t an e-mail that I would receive. What if that were my job, though? Companies have reported losing an average of $55,000 to a scam exactly like this, wiring money to mysterious entities who forge e-mails from the boss.

    Companies do conduct a lot of business by e-mail, which is what makes this scam so scary. A fraudster might also pose as an existing vendor sending in new “account information” that goes somewhere else entirely. The goal of this scam is simple: pretend to be the boss, ask employees to send money as a fake vendor payment or investment. Once the money is sent, it will be almost impossible to recover.

    Companies targeted from this scam are generally in North America or the United Kingdom, deal with vendors in other countries, and routinely send out large payments, so the errant payment might even go unnoticed for long enough that it can’t be traced. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, the largest fraudulent payment sent was more than $800,000.

    There are ways to prevent such things from happening in your workplace: make sure that multiple people have to authorize large transactions. Carefully check return addresses on messages that you receive, and even look at the headers to make sure that the message originated where it was supposed to. Require purchase orders approved by a manager for all big expenditures. Also, be wary of any transaction that you’re told is absolutely urgent, or that needs to be kept secret from other people in the organization.

    A bossy business scam [Federal Trade Commission] (via Bloomberg Businessweek)
    BUSINESS E-MAIL COMPROMISE [Internet Crime Complaint Center]

    Family Annoyed That Southwest Misplaced 85-Year-Old Woman

    Tue, 2014-08-26 23:22

    (Jason Daniel Brown)

    (Jason Daniel Brown)

    We recently published a post about a 7-year-old traveling as an unaccompanied minor who Delta handed over to the wrong relative. Families pay for extra supervision when kids fly unaccompanied, but what about unaccompanied seniors? A family in Colorado says that instead of escorting her to her Southwest Airlines flight, airport staff parked her wheelchair out of the way for hours instead of putting her on the plane.

    There is no formal “unaccompanied senior” program at Southwest, but the 85-year-old, who has diabetes and is sometimes forgetful, navigated the airport in a wheelchair. A skycap at Newark was supposed to help her to the gate. That wasn’t what happened.

    “[The skycap] pushed me there and left me. I was just sitting all day in a wheelchair,” she explained to local news station CBS4. Sitting for hours with no food is particularly dangerous to a diabetic. She was visiting one daughter on the East Coast, and her other daughter back in Denver started to worry when her mom wasn’t on her scheduled flight.

    There was some confusion about who was responsible, though. Skycaps, who help people and their stuff get to the gate, don’t work for airlines. They can be assigned to a particular airline’s terminal, but the person who parked this poor passenger and left her doesn’t work for Southwest.

    The airline did apologize and offer the family $200 worth of travel vouchers. That’s nice, but what they really want is for airline and airport staff to take their responsibilities toward passengers who need extra help more seriously.

    In a statement to the TV station, Southwest said that a “processing error” during checkin meant that the staff at the gate didn’t know to expect a passenger using a wheelchair.

    We’ve researched the details of this Denver customer’s travel and can verify that she checked in for her flight at Newark Liberty International Airport two hours prior to her scheduled departure, but a processing error in that check-in process did not alert our employees at the gate to her special need (wheelchair) in boarding the aircraft.

    Family Angry After It Says Airline Lost Aging Mother [CBS Denver]

    Google Fixes Glitch Featuring Mysterious Photo Of Car Crash In Search Results

    Tue, 2014-08-26 22:56

    (Grab via WSJ)

    (Grab via WSJ)

    It’s unclear what exactly was causing Google’s Image search to return result upon result of a photo showing what appeared to be a car crash with a stop sign written in Russian, but whatever it was, the company says it’s fixed now.

    Earlier today, some users reported getting endless photos of one particular car crash in the search results for images, unrelated to the search terms, with the photos also sprinkled throughout other news and other results as well.

    The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog notes that for example, looking for results for “Emmys” pulled up the repeat photos in the news search, which have nothing to do with who won which thing for that show where the guy wears lots of T-shirts and talks about science. And switching to simply “Images” produced a parade of the same image.

    But it wasn’t every single search on Google, and it’s not known which words triggered the results or if there’s any connection to a bug or hack attack.

    Google apologized for the issue and said it had been resolved.

    “Oops–speaking of accidents, we’ve fixed it!” the company said in a statement, via the Washington Post. “We apologize. The least we could have done was show everyone micropigs instead.”

    Google Resolves Repeat-Image Problem in Search [WSJ Digits]

    Instagram’s New Hyperlapse App Turns Anyone Into A Professional Videographer

    Tue, 2014-08-26 22:25

    hyperlapseThere’s something new lurking over at Instagram. The social site unveiled its latest project app that allows consumers to take professional-quality video with their smartphones: Hyperlapse.

    The new app creates tracking shots and fast, time-lapse videos that were once only possible with high-quality equipment, Wired reports.

    “Traditionally, time-lapse videos depend on holding your phone or camera still while you film,” Instagram wrote in a blog post. “Hyperlapse from Instagram features built-in stabilization technology that lets you create moving, handheld time lapses that result in a cinematic look, quality and feel — a feat that has previously only been possible with expensive equipment.”

    So how it is it possible for such a small device to produce awe-inspiring video? Apparently, Instagram created the perfect storm with engineers and imagination.

    Back in 2013, Instagram data worker Thomas Dimson reconnected with a friend who had recently sold his start-up, Luma, to Instagram. While the firm’s image-stabilization technology was deployed to improve video capture in the Instagram app, the engineers saw far greater potential.

    Eventually, a prototype was produced and the duo uploaded a video of the app to Instagram’s internal message board where it received a thumbs-up from company CEO and founder, Kevin Systrom.

    Wired reports that boost of confidence propelled the Dimson and Karpenko to present the project at the company’s “pitch-a-thon” last January. Officials with Instagram chose to release Hyperlapse as a standalone rather than an upgrade to the current app in an effort to keep the core app simple for users.

    The app seems simple enough to use: Users just have to press the record button and when they’re done filming chose a speed to run in which to run the video. The finished product can then be shared directly to Facebook or Instagram.

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    Hyperlapse, Instagram’s New App, Is Like a $15,000 Video Setup in Your Hand [Wired]

    Couple Accused Of Stealing $16K By Exploiting Debit Card With Magically Increasing Balance

    Tue, 2014-08-26 21:57

    (Aubrey Arenas)

    (Aubrey Arenas)

    To my knowledge, there has never been an established, official “opposite day,” whereby spending money on products you actually magically increase how much money you have, much less an “opposite bunch of months” where this happens. So when a couple using a debit card that made them richer with every purchase realized what was happening, the legal thing to do would’ve been to pipe up.

    Alas, a British twosome decided to stay mum on their bit of money magic, after what was supposed to be a prepaid debit card that you know, debits money from the balance on it instead started adding funds to the account when it was used, reports the Hull Daily Mail.

    The couple ended up with £10,000 — around $16,000 in “free” stuff from a local shop by using the glitchy card. After about a year of mysteriously losing money, the store owner called the police and officials realized what was going on.

    “The system should have been the person who owns the card pays money in advance, then spends money on the card,” the prosecutor said. “In this case, it was the reverse. When they bought something, they were credited rather than debited so the amount on the card was increasing and that went on for nine months.”

    Both the man and the woman pleaded guilty to fraud, because though they didn’t realize it wasn’t just a magic “opposite day” kind of thing at first, once they did, they kept on taking advantage of the card.

    “They don’t understand how the money was put on it, whether it was a glitch in the system or the shopkeeper didn’t know how it worked, but once they realized, they did carry on like it was a golden ticket,” the woman’s lawyer explained, adding that she “regrets her involvement and the effect it had on the shopkeepers.”

    ‘Golden ticket’ debit card paid out £10,000, Hull Crown Court hears

    This LifeAlert Ad Is Creepier Than American Horror Story

    Tue, 2014-08-26 21:18

    life_alert_basementFear can be a good motivator in marketing. It’s probably not such a good motivator when your ads freak everyone out so much that they leave the room or change the channel. What company has consumers so frightened that they’re begging the company to stop showing the ads? Life Alert. Yes, the people behind the often-mocked “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” ads.

    Life Alert has a new spot airing, apparently on daytime television. It’s aimed at their typical audience of senior citizens who live alone, but…well, we’ll just let you watch it.

    The sound isn’t necessary, if you’re at work: there’s menacing music and the voice of an older woman wailing in agony, then saying, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” to no one in particular, because there’s no one within earshot who can save her. That’s the point. The ad preys on the fears that people who live alone have: life is going on right outside her window, but too far away to hear her cries for help. The spot makes it clear that the woman will die in horrible pain stuck at the bottom of her basement stairs. It’s the cold opening of an episode of CSI: Boca Raton.

    It’s meant scare you into asking “what if” about yourself or elderly loved ones. It’s effective marketing. Too effective, if you ask many viewers of the ad who have complained on the Life Alert Facebook page. We paraphrase. Slightly.

    Welcome to the Facebook age: where once our complaints were written on paper or even e-mail and acknowledged privately, now we can post our complaints for the everyone to see. This is good and bad, but what really interests Consumerist is how Life Alert is responding to viewers’ concerns.

    Here’s a selection of complaints posted on the Facebook wall and as comments in response to the company’s posts, lightly edited to fix major grammar and punctuation issues:

    I sleep with my tv on at night and your commercial wakes me up and i think something is happening to my mother. It’s a very scary way to wake up in the middle of the night. …It’s terrible.

    Stop airing that awful basement commercial with the old lady begging for help from the bottom of the stairs. It’s indecent and disturbing and wakes me up when I’m trying to fall asleep to the TV.

    I do applaud you for offering Life Alert’s services. BUT I am troubled by your most recent commercial. My kids beg me to change the channel when it comes on tv, because it frightens them.

    Shame on you for a commercial that is meant only to scare senior citizens. It is a disgusting way to sell any product. Stop airing the ad with the woman crying for help at the bottom of the stairs. It is truly a shameful way to try to take advantage of older Americans. If that’s what you need to sell your product, it is not worth anything.

    Please stop airing that commercial with the old woman at the bottom of the stairs. I thought that her skull was going to have been cracked open and bleeding when they showed her. My own grandmother fell and cracked her hip and we brought her to the hospital immediately, but this just makes me feel so awful inside I start crying. I’m 17 years old and this is way too scary. I don’t want to see anyone in that much pain and crying when I’m just trying to enjoy my day. Please take it off the TV.

    How does Life Alert respond to complaints like these? They say that when you’re lying at the bottom of your stairs wailing for help, you’ll wish that their ads had been even scarier.

    In our business, we consistently hear horror stories of how families procrastinated in getting a Life Alert only to discover their loved one had fallen and was on the floor for hours (sometimes days) before someone found them. They have even complained that our commercials are corny, and NOT SERIOUS ENOUGH, and that our message doesn’t get through. The guilt and fear these families feel after a preventable tragedy is very real and far worse than any commercial.

    Our goal is to wake people up to the realities of what is going on with the elderly and to get a medical alert system as a PREVENTIVE measure, not a reactionary result to a tragedy. To date we have received many calls and emails from aging parents and/or adult children thanking us for showing them the severity of the problem affecting our beloved aging community.

    We understand that some people may have different tastes and either like or dislike our commercial, but the thousands of lives we are saving daily is very important to us and the families that trust us.

    We hope that you will remember this commercial when it comes time for a family member who may need extra help, and although you may not choose our service, we encourage you not to wait for a tragedy to happen before getting a medical alert system for an elderly loved one.

    Thank you,
    Life Alert

    Okay. We get that, and we’re all for being proactive and not waiting for an emergency to take precautions. Their goal is to disturb you and make you imagine yourself or someone you care about in the same position. Maybe this ad will save lives, but we know for sure that it’s freaking people out.

    AppleTV Users Can Now Watch Live And On-Demand Showtime Programs

    Tue, 2014-08-26 20:47

    (Arnold)

    (Arnold)

    Apple TV users who happen to be fans of Shameless and Ray Donovan have reason to rejoice today: Showtime Anytime is coming to the streaming service. Subscribers of the channel won’t even have to wait for programs and events to be posted on-demand, instead viewers will be able to watch Showtime’s programs live. [The Verge]

    Used-Car Dealer Admits To Selling Vehicles Flooded During Superstorm Sandy

    Tue, 2014-08-26 20:44
    (smcgee)

    (smcgee)

    A used-car dealer in New Jersey has admitted to selling cars damaged by flooding during superstorm Sandy in 2012 to unsuspecting customers. Some of those who drove off with lemons found their cars breaking down just minutes after leaving the dealership.

    According to the Asbury Park Press, the operator of a used car dealership confessed to a judge that he used fake vehicle titles to sell the waterlogged cars, aided by a former technician at the state Motor Vehicle Commission. She admitted to make the “clean” titles for the cars in the scheme.

    A salesman was also charged in the scheme, as well as a clerk and receptionist at the dealership.

    The con lasted from February through July 2013, after the dealership bought eight cars at auction that had been flooded during Sandy. All were owned by the same insurance company, which had them listed as acceptable to be used “for parts only.”

    That’s when authorities said the dealer, helped by the insider at the Motor Vehicle Commission’s local office, created the fake titles for the cars and forged the signatures of past owners to transfer the titles over to the dealership.

    Seven of those cars were sold for a gain of $86,000.

    The dealer pleaded guilty to theft by deception and is facing three years in prison. He’ll also pay the scammed customers back and won’t be able to sell vehicles in New Jersey for a certain amount of time that has yet to be determined.

    “By ruthlessly cashing in on superstorm Sandy, [the dealer] not only cheated customers of his car dealership, he put those customers and other motorists at risk, because these flood-damaged vehicles had the potential to fail and even catch fire on the highway,” acting Attorney General John J . Hoffman said in a prepared statement. “Two of the cars did, in fact, fail shortly after they were purchased, but fortunately no one was hurt.”

    Dealer sold Sandy-flooded cars [Asbury Park Press]

    American Airlines, US Airways Remove Fares From Orbitz Amid Booking Fee Feud

    Tue, 2014-08-26 20:06

    (benh57)

    (benh57)

    American Airlines and Orbitz are giving consumers a bit of deja vu today: Three years after the two companies participated in a standoff over flight fees, they’re back at it and American has once again removed its listings from the travel booking site.

    According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, American Airlines withdrew its flights from the site over continued negotiations over booking fees.

    Travel sites such as Orbitz and Expedia, and other third-party ticket distributors have been working with airlines that are pushing for lower fees to cut costs.

    “We have worked tirelessly with Orbitz to reach a deal with the economics that allow us to keep costs low and compete with low-cost carriers,” Scott Kirby, president of American Airlines, tells the WSJ.

    Officials with American’s parent company, American Airlines Group Inc., said it would also withdraw US Airways fares from the site on Monday. American and US Airways merged late last year.

    A representative with Orbitz wasn’t available for comment, the WSJ reports.

    The newest issue between the airline and the ticket site doesn’t affect tickets that have already been purchased. However, any changes that consumers need to make to those tickets must be done through each airline’s reservations department.

    Back in late 2010, American and Delta removed their fares from online ticket sites for similar issues. The airlines wanted more control over the distribution of their seats and to funnel more travelers to their direct website where they can also profit from lucrative hotel and car rental upgrades to tickets.

    Flights began to show up on the sites again during the summer of 2011. In the case of American and Orbitz, an Illinois judge ruled that the airline had to make its flights available on the site.

    American Airlines Pulls Fares From Orbitz Again [The Wall Street Journal]

    Uber Testing Pre Fixe Lunch Delivery Service Called UberFRESH

    Tue, 2014-08-26 19:44

    uberfreshnewNot content with ferrying people or packages here and fro, Uber is now testing yet another service — lunch delivery. The service is rolling out just in the Santa Monica, Calif. area right now, the company says, and will be limited to the lunchtime hours. Because it’s lunch delivery.

    Unlike normal restaurant delivery, with UberFRESH customers will be limited to a few pre-fixe options each day, instead of having an entire restaurant menu to choose from. The options are then refreshed every week. Each meal costs $12, with delivery times running between 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

    For customers in that trial area, the UberFRESH service will appear as an additional toggle in the app, on the far right of the slider at the bottom of the screen. Instead of a delivery guy running up to your door, however, customers will meet up with their drivers like a normal curbside passenger pickup.

    If the test run goes well through Sept. 5, Uber says it might extend the service and ostensibly, expand it to other areas.

    Pumpkin Spice Gum Hits Shelves, Consumerist Editor’s Forehead Hits Desk

    Tue, 2014-08-26 19:26

    pumpkin spice gumAs Peak Pumpkin Spice approaches, eventually, food manufacturers will run out of items that they can inject real or artificial pumpkin flavoring and spices into. When that happens, we’ll end up with ridiculous things like pumpkin spice flavored gum. …Oh. Look at that. Well, flavor wizards if we’re going there, how about some pumpkin spice toothpaste? I don’t like gum, but I would definitely buy that. Maybe some dental floss, while you’re at it? Mouthwash? [The Impulsive Buy]

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