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The Consumerist

8 Things We Learned About Burger King’s New Leadership

Fri, 2014-07-25 22:43

kingWe tend to focus more on the wacky food items and creepy mascots coming out of Burger King, but we learned this week that there are interesting things going on behind the scenes. Burger King is changing the way that it does business in a way that will either fail catastrophically or set an example for the rest of the fast-food industry.

  1. Burger King’s new chief executive officer, Daniel Schwartz, is only 33 years old. The only CEO in the Fortune 1000 who is younger is Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. Many of the company’s top officers are pretty young, too: their chief financial officer and head of investor relations are both under 30.
  2. Burger King now owns only 52 of its restaurants, having sold more than 1,200 corporate-owned locations since new ownership took over in 2010. They use these for testing and training, but Some experts think that’s a bad idea: by owning so few restaurants, the corporate overlords will know less about what’s going on in restaurants on the ground.
  3. In the last year, Burger King has opened new restaurants, especially aborad, increasing their total count by 1,493. New franchisees have put up the money for that expansion, so most of Burger King’s income is now royalty fees.
  4. Schwartz comes from Wall Street, not the fast-food biz. He started as an analyst after graduating from Cornell, and was the driving force behind his employer, 3G Capital, acquiring Burger King.
  5. 3G took over during the Double Cheeseburger Revolt, when franchisees actually sued the company because they couldn’t make money selling double cheeseburgers for $1.
  6. The company engaged in some very millennial-generation cost-cutting after 3G took over, with employees told to scan and e-mail documents instead of using FedEx, and to make long-distance calls with Skype.
  7. Schwartz worked on the ground in a restaurant for his first few months as CEO. Sure, it was a publicity move reminiscent of “Undercover Boss,” but he also learned a lot. For example: he had trouble keeping up with complicated orders, concluding that the menu was too complicated and needed simplifying.
  8. Burger King now employs coaches to help franchisees boost their income. The in-house consultants may have helped the company’s same-store sales rise by 2%.

Burger King Is Run by Children [Bloomberg Businessweek]

AirBnB Employee Handles A Sexy Photo Situation In The Very Best Way

Fri, 2014-07-25 22:21

airbnbloogWhen you can’t get what you want from a company, there are many bad ways a customer service representative can respond. Ahem. But in a bit of refreshing news, one Airbnb employee recently showed just how good customer service can be, even while having to reject that customer. Warning: before you keep clicking: Two attractive men in a shower. No genitalia shown, but NSFW.

A New York City party promoter who’s renting out his Fire Island cabana wanted to make sure that potential guests noticed his listing among all the others. And because Fire Island is a popular destination for gay men, he knew he had to use the perfect bait to show just how great his place could be, as New Now Next points out (h/t to Daily Dot).

Here’s where the hot fellas covered in water come in, just one of many other photos of the property, but one that definitely um, stands out. Because hello.

(via New Now Next)

(via New Now Next)

Unfortunately, it seems he won’t be able to keep the photo in the listing. But the rejection from Airbnb’s specialist hits it out of the park — she handles the whole situation with empathy, poise and general awesomeness. It’s the kind of letter that makes you want to be friends with someone and hang out and do friend stuff with. Maybe get some ramen at that new place that just opened, who knows.

The cabana owner posted the letter on his Facebook page earlier this week, calling her “a class act.” And if you don’t think so as well after reading the nicest rejection letter ever, well, you’re missing out on some warm emotions.

She writes:

I hope this message finds you well! My name is Kristi and I’m a specialist with the Trust and Safety Team here at Airbnb.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that official introduction out of the way, your (admittedly, mesmerizing for my tastes) photo for this listing has garnered more attention than may be warranted for the listing itself.

I’m a writer of m/m erotica and was very, um, pleased to see your photo, but I think it may be just outside of our current realm in terms of general non-risqué photos for listings.

Again, not saying that I personally didn’t think it was captivating, but if you didn’t mind putting up a photo less visually – compelling – while still keeping the verbiage, some of us will sigh with disappointment, but it will also fit more soundly in our Terms of Service.

If you didn’t mind dropping me a line when you insert a different photo, I’d be grateful. Also, if you happen to know any friends with ringleted red hair, please let me know; my most recent writing submission could use a book cover.

In all seriousness (and the book cover part was serious!), I’m so glad you’re hosting with us, just want to ensure that the preliminary photos are showing more of the listing.

My warm regards,
Kristi L.

High five, Kristi. No, make that a high 10.

Airbnb Representative Writes Best Letter Ever To Gay Man Renting Fire Island Cabana [New Now Next]

Bose Sues Beats Alleging Infringement Of Noise-Canceling Headphones

Fri, 2014-07-25 22:10

photo (5) The last thing you want when flying early in the morning is to have what little sleep you can get on the plane interrupted by your fellow fliers’ noise. That experience is exactly what makes noise-canceling headphones so popular, and what’s subsequently prompting a bit of a war between Bose and Beats.

Bose filed a lawsuit against Beats Electronics alleging the noise-canceling technology is being wrongfully used in Beats’ headphones, The Verge reports.

According to the complaint [PDF], Bose accuses Beats of infringing on patents that have grown to be an essential part of Bose’s business. Currently, Beats uses noise cancellation technology in its Beats Studio, Beats Studio Wireless, and Beats Pro headphones.

The suit details Bose’s history with the noise-canceling technology including the company’s research and investment into the product.

Bose is seeking monetary damages to compensate for Beats’ infringement and to put an end to Beats’ alleged encroachment on the company’s territory.

Beats is currently being purchased by Apple for an estimated $3 billion. The proposed deal includes both Beats’ streaming-music service and headphone business.

Bose sues Beats ‘to protect’ noise-canceling headphone technology [The Verge]

Korean Baseball Team Replaces Human Fans With Terrifying Remote-Control Robots

Fri, 2014-07-25 22:04


I’ve made no attempt over the years to hide my affection for the Philadelphia Phillies. I’ve even been known to attend a few dozen games a year, but sometimes I can’t always make it to the game, or — especially when the Phils don’t have much phight in them — it’s just too depressing to slog down to Citizens Bank Park and wonder why I masochistically pay to witness brutal, almost nightly beatings. If only I were a fan of the Hanwha Eagles.

The Eagles, who aren’t exactly the New York Yankees of Korean Baseball Organization, are now using “Fanbots” — robots who sit in the stands at Eagles games and can be remotely controlled over the Internet by human fans who want the at-the-game experience without having to actually be at the game.

According to the above video [via BigThink], the Fanbots can cheer, hold up electronic message board signs and even do the one thing that no actual baseball fan should ever, ever, ever do — the wave.

(Editor’s Note: Seriously, don’t do the wave at baseball games. Or football, basketball, hockey, cricket, monopoly, or rock-paper-scissors. Just don’t do it.)

A Fanbot can even be customized so that the remote user’s face appears on the bot’s face-screen thing.

Tell us the image below isn’t terrifying:
terrifying

In the robots’ defense, it’s unlikely that a Fanbot will ever be arrested for deliberately throwing up on a little girl seated in front of it.

Loophole Allows Auto-Title Lender To Charge Triple-Digit Interest Rates Despite Law

Fri, 2014-07-25 21:55

instaloanConsumer advocates have long claimed that usury caps are the best way to protect borrowers from predatory lenders offering payday or auto title loans. But even those protections aren’t surefire. A title loan company in Florida has been skirting the state’s cap for the past three years.

According to a report from ProPublica, the largest title lender in the country, TMX Finance, revamped the lending contracts at its InstaLoan businesses so customers are now required to pay for products with fees that effectively result in triple-digit interest rates, despite a 2000 Florida law prohibiting annual interest rates above 30%.

A basic 30-day title loan entails a consumer handing over the title to their vehicle as collateral for a loan ranging from $100 to several thousand dollars. If the borrower can’t repay the loan when it comes due, she can pay just the interest and renew the loan for the principal. If the borrower defaults on the loan, the lender can auction off the car.

Similar to payday lenders, title loan companies receive most of their profit from consumers who can not pay off their loans and instead renew them several times.

TMX, which has 26 InstaLoan locations in Florida, charges borrowers the maximum interest rate, and then adds fees for two types of insurance plans – neither of which actually protect the consumer.

Instead, the plans reimburses InstaLoan in case the car is damaged. When consumers can repay their loans, they are required to pay fees for a new round of insurance each month in order to keep their vehicles.

While InstaLoan labels the fees as voluntary, the lender requires the protection either through InstaLoan or the borrower’s own insurance plan.

ProPublica reviewed 28 loan contracts made by Florida residents over the past two years and found that the insurance costs made the loans carry an effective annual rate of 144%.

A number of consumers have filed complaints with state regulators over TMX’s business practices.

One woman borrowed $3,100 and made $2,600 in payments, but after rolling her loan over seven times she still owed $3,900.

In another instance, a customer with a $866 monthly income had to pay a third of her wages to renew her $3,000 loan. Rather than repay, she surrendered her vehicle.

An attorney for Florida Legal Services says the company “appears to be in violation of the law and taking advantage of families struggling to survive in these hard times.”

Consumer watchdogs tell ProPublica that companies such as TMX Finance are using ineffective add-ons to run around the law.

“The sale and financing of the credit insurance as part of these auto title loans is deceptive and abusive,” Birny Birnbaum, the executive director of the nonprofit Center for Economic Justice, says.

To make matters worse, ProPublica found that the company selling insurance through InstaLoan – Lyndon Southern Insurance Co. – sends more than half of the borrowers’ premiums back to lenders in the form of commissions and other fees.

So far, little has been done by Florida regulators to stop TMX’s practices. In fact, the company plans to continue expanding storefronts, a decidedly easy task.

To open a store in the state, TMX must seek approval from the Office of Financial Regulation. Early in the company’s expansion, regulators inspected a TMX store at the company’s invitation and found a number of minor violations.

The company paid a $4,000 fine and fixed the issues including advertising itself as a “title loan lender,” because the company is not registered under the law governing title lenders.

TMX is registered under a statute meant for consumer finance companies that offer longer-term installment loans, despite the fact InstaLoan offered short-term loans against car titles.

Officials with the Office of Financial Regulation maintain that TMX’s license authorizes it to originate consumer finance loans.

It’s not just TMX’s InstaLoan businesses that are attempting to skirt state and local laws. Last year, we told you how TMX’s TitleMax loan operations in Texas got around city laws by giving away free cash and then redirecting customers to lenders outside city limits when they need to refinance.

Insta-Loophole: In Florida, High-Cost Lender Skirts the Law [ProPublica]

Congress Finally Passes Bill To Re-Legalize Cellphone Unlocking

Fri, 2014-07-25 21:02

(Consumerist)

(Consumerist)

Nearly two years after the Librarian of Congress decided to make it illegal for consumers to unlock cellphones and take them to a new carrier without getting permission from their current wireless provider, the U.S. Congress has finally signed off on legislation that will restore that right to Americans.

After passing easily through the Senate earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives today passed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act.

In the fall of 2012, the Librarian of Congress bowed to pressure from the wireless industry and used his authority to reinterpret the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act to declare that because of proprietary software on cellphones, consumers never actually own their devices. Instead, the consumers have a license to use the software on their phones. And if a consumer wants to take that phone — even if he owns it outright — he needs to get permission from the carrier that licenses the software or be in violation of the law.

That rule went into effect in early 2013 and was subject to immediate backlash from consumers, advocates, the FCC, the White House and lawmakers.

This isn’t just a pain in the butt for consumers who found that wireless companies were less than eager to assist them in taking their devices to different providers. It also put the entire industry of wholesale phone reselling at risk, as buyers of used phones would have to somehow get permission from each individual carrier to unlock each device they resold, or only resell phones if they remained on the old carrier.

Regardless of whether it’s an individual looking to switch carriers without having to invest in a new phone, or a phone reseller looking to unlock used phones to resell for use on a network of the buyer’s choosing, the LOC’s decision meant that consumers had fewer choices for carriers and devices.

This legislation would have passed through Congress earlier this year, except the version initially accepted by the House in February included a last-minute addition of language that appears to limit the unlocking of phones to individuals and leaves open the door to future DMCA restrictions on bulk unlocking.

This new language caused some advocacy groups to pull their support for the bill who were concerned that a company could use copyright as an excuse to inhibit certain business models, even if the business isn’t actually infringing anyone’s copyright.

The version of the bill passed today does not include this language.

“This legislation is about giving consumers more choices and options for their phones,” says our colleague George Slover, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, about the passing of this bill. “Restoring the option to unlock a phone gives consumers the ability to pick another wireless service without having to give up a perfectly good, working phone for a new one. This legislation can help consumers save some money, and it can help drive competition in both mobile phone technology and wireless service.”

In late 2013, under pressure from regulators, the wireless industry announced a voluntary set of unlocking standards intended to make it easier for consumers to get their devices unlocked. However, these rules were merely industry guidelines and not a binding law. Additionally, they still required that the consumer go through their current provider to unlock their devices.

IKEA Workers Tried To Get Birds Drunk So They’d Stop Flying Around Store

Fri, 2014-07-25 20:43

(Gregory Brown)

(Gregory Brown)

Calling all avians with a thirst for the hard stuff — workers at an IKEA store in Florida are handing out rum to birds for free. Not because IKEA decided to open a bar for our feathered friends, but to try and get a couple bothersome birds drunk enough on rum that they’d slow down and be easier to catch.

The store isn’t open yet, but employees were still annoyed by a pair of birds flying around the building pooping everywhere. They’ve ruined at least one mattress that had to be thrown out, reports CBS Miami, and were proving elusive.

That’s when workers had the idea to soak bread crumbs in rum, in the hopes of impairing the birds’ ability to drive themselves home and instead just get tipsy enough to dull their reflexes. That way, workers could catch them more easily and then release them humanely.

While IKEA officials confirmed the rum plan had been tried, it didn’t say whether or not that’s what eventually got the birds to go. A spokesperson said the company didn’t want to harm wildlife, so it hired an expert to get the birds back to the wild and off all that MALM furniture.

“We reached out to bird abatement contractors and provided direction to ensure removal as respectfully as possible,” said the rep. “Basically, we hired someone to take care of it in a good way and they did.”

Rum seems like a pretty good way to get captured, just saying.

Exclusive: Ikea Workers Try Rum Trick To Remove Bothersome Birds [CBS Miami]

Verizon To Start Throttling Speeds For LTE Data Hogs

Fri, 2014-07-25 20:38

(dooley)

(dooley)

Back in 2011, Verizon started throttling 3G data speeds for the 5% of its smartphone customers who used the most data every month, even if those customers had so-called “unlimited” data plans. The company then killed off unlimited data in 2012, but existing plans were conditionally grandfathered in. In what appears to be an attempt to weed out the few remaining unlimited plans, Big V will soon start throttling 4G LTE data speeds for that top 5% of users.

As of now, users with unlimited plans and devices LTE-capable devices didn’t have to worry about being throttled, but the folks at Droid Life recently posted leaked information from Verizon Wireless indicating that this throttling plan would go into effect in Oct. 1.

The documentation obtained by Droid Life includes a notice that the five-percenters are slated to receive starting Aug. 1:

[Verizon] Wireless strives to provide its customers with the best wireless experience when using our network. In 2011, Verizon Wireless launched Network Optimization, which slows the data speeds of its unlimited data subscribers with 3G devices who are in the top 5% of data users when they connect to a cell site experiencing high demand. Effective October 1, Verizon Wireless will expand its existing Network Optimization policy to include its unlimited data subscribers using 4G LTE devices who have fulfilled their minimum contract term. Based on your plan and recent data usage, one or more lines on your account may experience a reduction in data speeds when connected to a cell site experiencing high demand. Customers on MORE Everything or other usage-based data plans are not subject to Network Optimization. For more information about our Network Optimization, please refer to http://www.verizonwireless.com/networkoptimization.

Unlike some “unlimited” plans on other wireless carriers, where heavy users’ data is throttled after reaching a certain monthly threshold, VZW’s “Network Optimization” would not throttle all data for the company’s biggest hogs (currently meaning customers whose monthly data use is around 4.7GB or more); just when said hogs are attempting to use data on a cell site that is experiencing high demand.

For heavy users who are the only data-devourers in the area, this could mean they may see minimal, if any, difference in speeds. Hogs in densely populated areas may see their speeds downgraded much more frequently.

Verizon recently admitted that its LTE service in some metro areas, like New York City, had gotten so congested at times that all customers in an area had to occasionally be knocked down to 3G service.

Five-percenters will remain at risk for throttling until the end of their billing period. If a user drops out of that 5% group by the end of the month, then they are free from restriction — at least until they cross that ever-shifting 5% line.

[via GigaOm]

CPSC: Best Buy And Its Closeout Stores Sold Electronics And Furniture After Recall

Fri, 2014-07-25 20:21

CobyTelevisionLARGEOnce an item has been formally recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, it becomes illegal to sell that item. Yet the CPSC reports that Best Buy, Magnolia, Best Buy Private Auction, CowBoom, and TechLiquidators continued to sell products that had already been recalled in 2012 and 2013.

Yes, all of those brands are owned by Best Buy. The numbers are pretty small–the CPSC estimates that maybe 200 units of recalled products are in circulation somewhere, but the company doesn’t know how many recalled Canon cameras were sold.

Here are the items in question as a refresher, in case you missed them in our monthly Recall Roundups.

Canon EOS Rebel T4i Digital Cameras – The rubber grips on these cameras can cause a skin rash.

Coby Televisions – These TVs can catch fire when an electronic component fails.

Definitive Technology SuperCube 2000 Subwoofers – Can give user an electric shock when they pick up the speaker.

GE Dishwashers – Heating element can fail and catch fire.

Gree dehumidifiers – Potential overheating and fire hazard. (We’ve covered this huge recall extensively.)

iSi North America Twist’n Sparkle Beverage Carbonation Systems – May twist’n’explode.

LG Electronics Electric Ranges – Burners may fail to turn off

LG Electronics and Kenmore Elite Gas Dryers – may continue heating after dryer cycle is done

Samsonite Dual-Wattage Travel Converters – Fire hazard

Sauder Woodworking Company Gruga Office Chairs – Seat plate can break

Recalled Products Sold by Best Buy and Liquidators After Recall Date [CPSC]

Dunkin’ Donuts Wants Cashiers To Do More Upselling To Afternoon Customers

Fri, 2014-07-25 20:07

(photographybynatalia)

(photographybynatalia)

Are you one of the many people who pops into a Dunkin’ Donuts on your way home from work, not to buy a box of glazed chocolate Munchkins, but to get your caffeine fix? Well, get ready to have cashiers try to suggest you also purchase donuts, sandwiches and other items, because the chain’s CEO says stores aren’t doing enough upselling in the afternoon.

According to the AP, Dunkin’ Brands CEO Nigel Travis explained that the company hasn’t historically done much upselling because the busy early morning hours are not conducive to taking a few seconds to suggest other items that customers might enjoy paying for. However, in DD’s less-hectic afternoon hours, there is the time to ask a customer if he’d “like a cookie with that.”

“People tend to be in a slightly different mode in the afternoon,” explains Travis. “In the afternoon, they tend to be more relaxed.”

That’s why some stores have been adding counter displays to put additional, potentially tempting food items at the point of sale.

“It’s a way to push various items,” says Travis.

But he says that the upsell is also required because not everyone is lured in by muffins and cookies in a POS display. According to Travis — who was an exec at Papa John’s, Burger King, and Blockbuster before coming to Dunkin’ — one of his previous companies tracked the eye motions of customers waiting in line to pay. He said that customers would look up at the menu board to make their decision, but that they would then look up at the board again once they arrived at the cash register. To him, this indicates that people are still willing to change their minds at the point of sale.

Leaked Copy Of ‘The Expendables 3′ Downloaded More Than 100K Times A Month Before It Hits Theaters

Fri, 2014-07-25 20:02

Arriving Aug. 15... or now.

Arriving Aug. 15… or now.

The devotion of young men who love action movies and Sylvester Stallone combined with that demographic’s ability to torrent video content quickly and easily is providing quite a headache for Lionsgate, the distributor of the upcoming The Expendables 3, after a reportedly near DVD-quality copy of the movie leaked online earlier this week.

What seems to be a screener copy of the movie has already been downloaded over 100,000 times using BitTorrent alone, reports Torrent Freak (by way of The Verge), after first appearing online late Wednesday sometime.

The movie doesn’t even hit theaters until Aug. 15, which means if Lionsgate can’t put a lid on this thing now, it likely won’t do that well at the box office.

After all, why pay for Stallone and pals like Harrison Ford Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Jason Statham and Jet Li (basically anyone who’s been in an action movie in the last 100 years) when you can get them in your living room for free? Especially if the movie’s quality is better than what you get from a shaky cellphone camera in a theater.

Well, because piracy is illegal, and Lionsgate could potentially try to go after anyone who downloads a leaked copy.

We’ve reached out to Lionsgate to see if the distributor has any plans to seek legal action, and whether or not it’s taking actions to seal this leak up before it goes too far.

EXPENDABLES 3 LEAKS ONLINE, 100K+ COPIES DOWN IN HOURS [TorrentFreak]
‘The Expendables 3′ leaks nearly a month before theatrical release [The Verge]

No Actual Humans Were Harmed In The Making Of Weird Flesh Chair (That We Know Of)

Fri, 2014-07-25 18:55

(Gigi Barker)

(Gigi Barker)

The world has gone entirely mad. That’s the only reason I can think of for why someone would create a chair that not only feels like human flesh (shudder shudder shudder, okay that’s better) but also looks like it and smells like it, too. Nope, not done yet (shudder shudder shudder aaaand shudder).

It’s at least a relief to know that the chair isn’t made from the skin of humans who have been imprisoned in a pit with only a yappy dog and a basket of lotion to pass the time: According to Quartz, the London-based designer Gigi Barker spent two years perfecting the texture and smell of the furniture’s “pheromone-impregnated” silicone base.

That way, you can feel like you’re relaxing in the lap of a giant who smells vaguely of aftershave. Because that’s the scent the designer used to infuse her chair with humanness — the same aftershave worn by the anonymous guy whose form serves as the inspiration for the piny, peachy, flesh-colored set.

You can buy your own human furniture (SHUDDER sorry, that one slipped out) for the bargain basement price of £1,500 ($2,545) and a matching ottoman is £440 ($747).

Finally, a chair that replicates the look, feel, and smell of human flesh [Quartz]

Witnesses Report Drone Allegedly Crashed Into Space Needle, Police Find No Evidence Of Actual Impact

Fri, 2014-07-25 18:44
(Kevin Rank)

(Kevin Rank)

Maybe he was just practicing for future drone deliveries? Okay, probably not, but an Amazon employee visiting from out of town allegedly crashed his personal hobby drone into the Space Needle earlier this week.

Several visitors at the Space Needle reported seeing a drone flying near the top of the landmark and allegedly crashing into an observation deck window on Tuesday evening, the Seattle Times reports.

Following the alleged crash witnesses reported that the drone left the area and flew into an open hotel window down the block.

Security staff at the landmark called police to report the incident. Upon arrival, officers say they found no sign of damage.

When officers arrived at the specified hotel room, an occupant admitted to flying a drone near the Space Needle but denied crashing the device.

Officers reviewed video captured by the drone that shows the unmanned aircraft hovering over the Space Needle but nothing in the video indicated the drone had hit the building.

The man agreed not to fly the device for the remainder of this stay in the city.

With companies like Amazon, UPS, and others looking to use drones for commercial purposes, the FAA recently clarified guidelines on legal use of remote-controlled flying devices.

According to the FAA, the personal (i.e., non-commercial) use of drones for taking photos is acceptable, though it’s probably advisable to stay away from towering landmarks — or at least be sure to not crash your drone into one.

SPD: Reports of drone strike on Space Needle greatly exaggerated [Seattle Times]

FCC Chair Now Has Two Chances To Overturn Bans On Municipal Broadband

Fri, 2014-07-25 18:41

 ash)

The city of Chattanooga wants to be able to offer its city-owned broadband service to surrounding towns, but Tennessee law prohibits it. (photo: ash)

Thanks to deep-pocketed telecom lobbyists, 20 states in the U.S. have laws that either ban or heavily restrict local governments from creating or investing in public broadband networks, and more states are trying to jump on that ban-wagon. For months, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler has been saying that his agency could use its authority to preempt these anticonsumer laws and give municipalities the ability to invest in Internet infrastructure if they want. Now it’s time for Wheeler to put up or shut up, as the FCC ponders petitions from groups in two states.

First up is Tennessee, where state law says that a city-owned electric utility may provide telecom services, but that it must go through a bureaucratic maze of disclosures, hearings, voting, and other requirements that a private telecom provider would not have to endure. Additionally, telecom services — including broadband and pay-TV — may only be offered to those within that utility’s electric service area.

Ars Technica reports that EPB — a utility company owned by the city of Chattanooga, TN, that also offers broadband, TV, and phone service — has filed a petition [PDF] with the FCC asking it to invalidate these state laws, so that it may expand these non-electrical services to communities that have requested it.

“EPB is… surrounded by a digital desert in which businesses and residents are unable to access broadband Internet service or must make do with very limited speeds,” reads the petition, which claims that “advanced telecommunications capabilities, including high-speed broadband services, are not being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis in communities near EPB’s electric service area because of the territorial restriction” of the state law.

The petition states that there have been numerous legislative attempts in Tennessee over the last 15 years to “modify territorial or other limitations applicable to municipal electric systems that provide Internet and video services,” but that “None of the bills has been enacted.”

The second petition filed this week comes from North Carolina, where a 2011 Time Warner Cable-backed bill put new restrictions on cities wanting to offer broadband service.

Luckily for the people of Wilson, NC, their municipal fiber network was partially grandfathered in, meaning residents still have access to it. However, much like in Chattanooga, state law now prevents the service, dubbed Greenlight, from being offered outside of its home county, even though Wilson’s city-operated power utility provides service to a total of six counties.

And similar to the EPB petition, Wilson says that the city “has received numerous requests for its broadband services from residents, government agencies, businesses, and other organizations outside of its home county.”

“I have seen Wilson evolve from ‘the World’s Greatest Tobacco Market’ to ‘NC’s First Gigabit City,’” says Wilson Mayor, C. Bruce Rose, in a statement. “Years ago, our City Council saw fiber optics as the public infrastructure of the future and absolutely essential to improve the economy, provide jobs and improve our quality of life.”

Wilson’s petition asks the FCC do review the relevant state laws regarding municipal broadband and deem them unenforceable.

If you’re hoping that Wheeler and the FCC are looking at these petitions as a reason to propose a general rule that would preempt or invalidate the state laws limiting muni broadband, think again.

A rep for the Commission tells Ars Technica that there is no timeline for the FCC’s review of these petitions and that all petitions are handled on a case-by-case basis.

“We look forward to a full opportunity for comment by all interested parties, and will carefully review the specific legal, factual, and policy issues before us,” says the rep. “The FCC has the authority to take broader action through rulemakings — but that is not what is happening here.”

Lyft Can Launch In New York City, Only Using Commercial Drivers

Fri, 2014-07-25 18:26

(Ben Schumin)

(Ben Schumin)

Two weeks ago, car-sharing service Lyft was supposed to launch in New York City, allowing car-owners to receive cash for driving strangers around. The state’s attorney general stopped the launch, saying that the company is a livery service in disguise and should be regulated as one. Today, the AG’s office announced that they’ve come to an agreement with Lyft, which will be able to launch in New York City using only already-licensed commercial drivers.

Licensed commercial livery drivers are plentiful in New York City, but not so much in the upstate cities of Buffalo and Rochester where the service was already operating. The new agreement means that the company will have to shut down its operations in the smaller cities.

“We will continue to work with Lyft so that any future business it undertakes meets that standard and protects consumer safety,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement released today. “We look forward to exploring solutions that enable companies in the sharing economy to operate and thrive throughout New York State.” Solutions like subpoenaing the personal information of thousands of AirBNB hosts, apparently.

Man Who Tried To Rob Pizzeria Sues Restaurant For $260K, Claiming Unnecessary Roughness

Fri, 2014-07-25 18:11

(Van in LA)

(Van in LA)

A man who’s in jail for several robberies including an attempted robbery at a pizza restaurant in Delaware is now suing police and several employees of that eatery for $260,000, claiming they were unnecessarily rough in subduing him.

Back in 2010, the then 19-year-old man forced his way into the restaurant through the back door with a gun. Several employees tussled with him as they tried to get the gun away from him, tackling him to the ground, reports The News Herald (warning: link has video that autoplays).

The gun went off in the melee and went through a garbage can, but employees say they’re still shaken up over the incident — the trash can is still in the kitchen, with the name of the worker who was narrowly missed by the shot written over the bullet hole.

But in the lawsuit filed from prison, where the man is serving 15 years for various charges, he says the roughness was “unnecessary.” For the injuries he received during the incident, he wants $20,000 each from six pizzeria employees, $20,000 from each of the two arresting officers and $100,000 from Seasons.

According to his lawsuit, after he displayed a gun and a delivery driver handed him $140, he started to make his way forward into the restaurant. Another worker grabbed him from behind while someone else wrested the gun from him, which is when it went off.

“That is when the assault began,” he says in the lawsuit. “All of the [redacted] employees participated in punching, kicking and pouring hot soup over my body. I was unarmed and defenseless and had to suffer a brutal beating by all of the employees,” he wrote, adding the beating knocked him unconscious.

He also claims that he awoke from being unconscious to realize he was in handcuffs and was “being tasered” by the police. He contends that the officers denied him medical attention for burns and stun gun wounds and other injuries for eight hours.

Attorneys for the police are seeking to have it tossed out on statute of limitations grounds, while the police chief says it’s sham of a lawsuit, the kind that usually gets tossed out. This time, however, a U.S. District court judge allowed the case to move forward after tossing out several other claims in it.

“It is a joke lawsuit,” the police chief says. “It is sad to see this kind of suit being looked at. The court shouldn’t waste the taxpayers’ money.”

Pizzeria, police respond to suit over thwarted robbery [News Herald]

AirBNB Squatter May Be Developer Of Overdue Kickstarter-Funded Game

Fri, 2014-07-25 18:10

conexThe man occupying a vacation condominium in Palm Springs, California without paying rent was not thrilled that his new landlord planned to cut off the electricity. He said that it would affect his work, which he does from home and earns $1,000 to $7,000 per day. What kind of work? Developing video games, apparently.

We learned from Polygon that both the renter and the owner of game company Kilobyte Studios are named Maksym Pashanin and are based in Austin, Texas. Neighbors and the homeowner report that the renter’s brother has been staying with him, and Panashin’s brother Denys works with him on games and was originally listed as one of the principals in his company.

How did local TV station KESQ figure out that the game company owner and the AirBNB squatter are the same guy? Google searches, probably. Neighbors revealed the man’s full name to the station, and they found his company. The station showed a Kickstarter campaign video to the neighbors, and they confirmed that the guy in the video is also the now-infamous squatter.

Not every delayed project is a massive fraud in the making, of course. Polygon describes the games as “flailing,” but one title, Knuckle Club, is still in the funding phase. Confederate Express was funded with almost four times its $10,000 goal back in November of 2013. Yet backers are upset because they haven’t heard anything after a demo of the game was released at the end of 2013.

The company promised backers copies of different game title, but that title is still in the Kickstarter campaign phase, with only $742 of its $25,000 goal pledged.

Notorious Airbnb squatter may be the dev behind two flailing Kickstarter games [Polygon]
My Airbnb Squatters [Blogger]

Regulators Investigating Hyundai Because Seatbelts And Airbags Are Suppose To Work

Fri, 2014-07-25 17:43
(Van Swearington)

(Van Swearington)

Since there’s no point in having seatbelts or airbags in a car if they don’t function when needed, the National Highway Traffic Administration is looking into an issue that could knock out these safety features in some Hyundai vehicles.

After receiving more than 80 complaints from consumers, NHTSA opened an investigation into a possible seatbelt and airbag safety malfunction involving nearly 394,000 model year 2006-2008 Hyundai Sonatas, the Associated Press reports.

According to a NHTSA filing [PDF], a sensor inside the driver and passenger seat belt buckle assembly may experience a failure leading to a malfunction of the safety belt pretensioner.

Depending on the nature of the failure and the airbag deployment algorithm, the airbag may not deploy as designed or at all.

NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation received reports and data from the vehicle manufacturer alleging the seatbelt buckle assembly may have failed and needed to be repaired or replaced.

In the majority of cases, the airbag warning light illuminated, indicating an issue was present.

When consumers took their vehicles to the dealer for inspection, the malfunction was generally found. Owners reported they were charged nearly $400 to fix the issue.

According to NHTSA there have been no crashes or injuries related to the possible defect. There has been no recall issued related to the problem.

Regulators opened the investigation to analyze the scope, frequency and consequences of the reported incidents.

US agency probes Hyundai Sonata air bag problem [Associated Press]

Hidden Listening Devices Found At Ford HQ; FBI Investigates Former Engineer

Fri, 2014-07-25 17:29

(Patrick Hirlehey)

(Patrick Hirlehey)

Like mismatched partners in a bad early ’90s buddy cop movie, Ford and the FBI are working together to investigate why a former engineer at the car maker may have placed listening devices in conference rooms at the Ford global HQ in Michigan.

According to the Detroit News, an FBI search of the Dearbon, MI, offices of Ford turned up secret recording devices that may have been used to steal trade secrets.

“Ford and the FBI are working together on a joint investigation involving a former employee,” a rep for Ford tells the News. “As this is an ongoing investigation, we are not able to provide additional details.”

The particular reasons behind the investigation and the FBI’s July 11 search of Ford HQ are currently unknown as federal court records related to the search are sealed.

However, the News reports that FBI agents were authorized to seize digital and electronic recording devices given to Ford representatives by a former Ford engineer, along with e-mails and other records.

Three weeks earlier, FBI agents searched that engineer’s home and seized dozens of items, including several computers, a credit card, thumb drives and financial records. However, that engineer — a 17-year vet of the car maker — has not been charged with any offenses.

The News reports that the engineer was fired in June after Ford security discovered recording devices in company meeting rooms. Her lawyer says his client has admitted to using the devices, which were placed under the tables, but that she was just using them so she could transcribe the meetings she attended.

“It didn’t involve anything of a spying nature,” says her lawyer. “She wanted to record conversations of meetings she attended but didn’t know how to do it. She was insecure about her note-taking.”

So why were the devices left behind, where they may have recorded other meetings, intentionally or not?

“It was very difficult to remove them when other people were in the same room,” explains the engineer’s attorney. “That leads to Ford Motor security finding this activity suspicious.”

He says his client never intended to share her recordings with anyone and that she erased the files after listening to the audio.

“I think you’re dealing with a person who was seeing how sharp the new kids are and maybe feeling a need to keep up with them,” says the lawyeer. “And maybe she realized that she’s not as attentive as she once was and needs a little assistance. Maybe her memory was failing her on the technology end but she didn’t want to admit it.”

He theorizes that the reason the FBI got a warrant to search Ford HQ is that perhaps the car company had not turned over all the listening devices that his client had placed.

A law professor, and former federal prosecutor, at Wayne State University tells Detroit News that the search of the Ford offices may indicate concerns that there are others involved beyond the one mechanical engineer.

“If it’s an economic espionage case or trade secrets case, that rarely involves one individual,” explains the professor. “So the concern is if you send a subpoena and ask for recording devices, those things can be erased.”

The Latest In Wearable Fitness: A Wristband That Shocks You For Not Exercising Enough

Fri, 2014-07-25 16:53

"A personal coach" or a human cattle prod?

“A personal coach” or a human prod?

As if the prick of a guilty conscience isn’t enough every time you pass those dusty gym shoes, someone has gone and created a device users willingly wear that give out electric shocks if you’re not sticking to your exercise regime.

The wearable prod/fitness tracker is called the Pavlok, as its creator thinks the wristbands can be used to train those who wear them with negative reinforcement.

“Research shows that consistency is the key to forming a habit. When you use Pavlok to stick to your goals, you’ll find that they become easier and eventually, automatic,” the Pavlok site reads, via The Telegraph. “At that point, use Pavlok to train your next habit and keep up your transformation into a better you.”

In an extra twist right out of a Psychology 101 book, apparently your friends can have the power to shock you when you fail. You can also lose access to your phone and face fines, if you want to do that to yourself.

But there’s the positive reinforcement side as well, as “Pavlok can reward you when you achieve your goals” with some way to win prizes and “even money when you complete your daily task.”

You set your own goals, like taking a certain amount of steps per day or going to the gym. The Pavlok uses its GPS data to track whether or not you’re going to that gym or taking all the steps you need to be. If you fail, zap!

It’s unclear at this point how the shocking mechanism works, exactly, but “up to 340V” can’t be a fun experience. The human zapper isn’t on the market yet and is set to go on sale in 2015, but interested parties can get in on “a limited number of prototypes” for $249, or preorder the commercial unit for $149.

A guilty conscience is much cheaper, but not quite as physically painful. The choice is yours.

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