website utilities

People before Profit

Follow on:

The Consumerist

Please Do Not Donate Your Cremated Loved Ones To Goodwill

Tue, 2014-12-16 20:52

(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

After someone dies, it’s normal to box up all of their stuff and take it to the nearest thrift store. However, it’s probably a good idea to give some of that stuff a cursory check first. Not just because you might be inadvertently giving away some serious valuables, but because the earthly remains of your relatives have a poor resale value at Goodwill.

This is a thing that actually happened at a Goodwill store in Lafayette, Indiana. A batch of donations included a box with a velvet pouch inside, which in turn contained two white boxes filled with cremains. The store called the police, not being sure what the laws are regarding what should happen when someone accidentally donates human remains to a secondhand store.

Fortunately for everyone involved, the Goodwill store was able to track down the family that had donated the original box in the first place: there were names and dates written on the boxes full of cremains.

Still, on behalf of order-sorters everywhere, please check your boxes full of junk for things that thrift stores really don’t need and would prefer not to dispose of.

Cremated remains donated to Goodwill [Journal & Courier]

Jury: Apple iTunes, iPod Restrictions Don’t Constitute Monopoly

Tue, 2014-12-16 20:33
(Chris Harrison)

(Chris Harrison)

A long-running court battle over alleged antitrust issues involving Apple’s iPod and iTunes store came to an end today after a jury determined that the company did not act improperly when it restricted music purchases starting in 2006.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that the billion-dollar class-action lawsuit was put to rest when an eight person jury rejected plaintiffs’ claims that Apple sidelined competitors and hiked prices during the glory days of the iPod.

Plaintiffs in the case, which covered nearly 8 million individuals and businesses that purchased iPods from September 2006 to March 2009, argued that Apple orchestrated a digital music monopoly by restricting music downloads on the iPod to those made through the iTunes store.

Specifically, the group pointed to the fact that the iTunes 7.0 update blocked RealNetwork’s Harmony, a program that previously let users download music to their iPods.

By blocking RealNetwork and similar programs, the plaintiffs argued that Apple discouraged iPod users from buying competing devices when it came time to upgrade.

For its part, Apple tried to undercut accusations of a monopoly by pointing out that prices for music on iTunes fell during the time period covered by the case.

The company also contended that changes found in iTunes 7.0 constituted general product improvement by providing users many key features, such as enhanced security, games, and movies.

After just two hours of deliberation the jury unanimously decided that iTunes 7.0 was a meaningful improvement over previous versions of the software, and not a ploy to weaken rival music software companies, the Mercury News reports.

The case, which began December 2 in Oakland federal court, could have cost Apple upwards of $1 billion had the jury sided with plaintiffs. While plaintiffs only sought $351 million, under antitrust laws that figure would have been tripled.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs tells The Verge that an appeal has already planned.

According to Mercury News, the case featured several spectacles, including the vacating of lead plaintiffs after it was revealed those representatives did not actually buy iPods covered by the case’s time frame. A new lead plaintiff was not appointed until just before closing arguments.

Additionally, Apple used testimony from several high-ranking company officials, including a taped deposition of late CEO Steve Jobs.

Jury sides with Apple in iPod antitrust case [The San Jose Mercury News]
Jury finds Apple not guilty of harming consumers in iTunes DRM case [The Verge]

Judge Rules That Artist’s Lawsuit Over “Angry Birds” Plush Pet Toys Can Move Forward

Tue, 2014-12-16 20:11



A Seattle artist suing a pet company for allegedly cutting her out of a deal to license a line of plush “Angry Birds” pet toys to Rovio, creators of the popular video game, has won a battle in her legal war. A federal judge has refused to dismiss her lawsuit, saying she’s made a case for her claim that she retained intellectual property rights in the “Angry Birds” trademark.

You can click the link above for the full story, but in short — the artist claims she’s been cheated out of millions of dollars in merchandise profits after pet toy company Hartz stopped making her Angry Birds design as a line of toys and instead, licensed the trademark to Rovio and made a deal to make toys for that company, instead.

Hartz wanted the court to dismiss the case, reports the Associated Press, saying that because of its contract with the artist, it owned the trademark for Angry Birds pet toys and thus could use it however it wanted.

But U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik didn’t agree, instead saying the artist had made a plausible case to support her claim to intellectual property rights.

“They had an obligation to treat [her] fairly and not throw her off for someone else,” the artist’s attorney said.

To be clear — she’s not claiming that the entire Angry Birds kingdom belongs to her, or that the video game is based off her design, at least, not so far. Her attorney has said there are similarities in the two versions, however. He says he’s in touch with Rovio, which has thus far not commented on the lawsuit as it’s not named in it.

Artist’s ‘Angry Birds’ lawsuit goes forward [Associated Press]

AMC Theatres To Test Monthly Subscription Packages To Lure Moviegoers

Tue, 2014-12-16 19:47

moviepssWe first told you about MoviePass — a subscription service that gives you access to a movie a day for a set monthly rate — more than three years ago. And while the service has managed to evolve and stick around, it hasn’t been able to convince the major theater chains to partner with it. But now MoviePass and AMC, the country’s second-largest theater operator, have announced a plan to test the service to see if people are willing to pay $35-45/month for regular trips to the cinema.

The NY Times reports that the tests will start out at AMC venues in Denver and Boston starting in January, with plans to roll it out to other markets.

Currently, MoviePass works in a somewhat awkward multistep process. You need to first get the MoviePass card, which is effectively a debit card. Then you use the service’s app to choose the film you want to see. MoviePass puts the appropriate ticket price on the card, which is then used to pay for the ticket at the box office or at a kiosk.

Since it is paying full price for tickets, MoviePass is banking on the idea that its users will regularly opt to skip the theater, letting their subscription go largely unused.

“Some overuse; a lot underuse,” the company’s CEO explains to the Times.

AMC is obviously hoping that enough people will be interested to get butts in seats — and more importantly to get those butts in line at the concession stand, where the theater stands to make most of its money.

MoviePass users are typically in that prime 18-34 age group that theaters want to attract, but who are increasingly realizing they can just wait to see a movie on their huge TV screens without having to plunk down a ton of cash at the theater. The company also claims that its users are big spenders at the concession stands.

So how often would you need to go to the theater to make a $35 subscription worth it?

The typical AMC ticket is now about $9.50, so a night at the movies for two people will cost you $19. Two movie dates in a month puts you at $38.

But MoviePass isn’t transferrable and you can’t reserve more than one ticket at a time using the app. So you would personally need to average a movie a week to see the value of one subscription.

During this time of year, when multiple Oscar-worthy title comes out on a weekly basis, that might be tempting. But think about the dog days of February through May, when theaters are full up with sequels to movies you never saw in the first place.

Show Your Loved Ones That You Care With Blood Pressure Monitors

Tue, 2014-12-16 19:44

Not for feline use. (Mark Turnauckas)

Not for feline use. (Mark Turnauckas)

This holiday season, give the people you care about a gift that combines portable consumer electronics with genuine concern for their well-being. Our colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports say that you can get a well-rated home blood pressure monitor for as little as $40. What’s a more thoughtful gift than wanting to make sure someone stays alive for longer? [Consumer Reports]

Kmart Ruins Christmas By Canceling Layaway Orders, Holding Onto Refunds

Tue, 2014-12-16 19:05
(Thomas Hawk)

(Thomas Hawk)

There’s an unhappy wind blowing toward Kmart right now, and it’s coming from the direction of disgruntled customers who say that after the retailer notified them of a Dec. 12 deadline to pay off layaway balances in order to have their items delivered by Christmas, the retailer has been canceling orders left and right, saying items are “out of stock.” Not only that, but some shoppers say they’ve been told their refunds won’t arrive until after it’s too late to buy new Christmas presents to replace the canceled layaway items.

We got an email from a Consumerist reader tipping us off to check out Kmart’s Facebook page, where indeed, the rage over canceled Christmas layaway items is in full effect.

Customers want to know, among other things, why items weren’t placed on hold when they they were put on layaway? And how does Kmart expect people to pull the money out of thin air — money they already paid to Kmart’s layaway program — to replace those gifts that won’t be coming? Shoppers have reported hearing anywhere from 3-5 days for their money back, or even up to 14 days in some cases.

Here’s one example:

What a joke this company is, sold products out from under our layaway contract. I even paid it off early before the deadline for Christmas and after I complained 2X they sent me a canceled layaway email, a week after I paid the layaway off! I talked to customer service and after they patronized me and talked to me like I was stupid they said it would take 7-14 business days to get my money back. That is way after Christmas, how does that help my child not having the gifts?

And another:

Shame on you, Kmart! You seriously need to re-vamp your online layaway program. What kind of company lets you put in your layaway online in mid November, pay it off online at the first of December, and then sends you an email a week AFTER you’ve paid it off to inform you that the items are ‘out of stock’, will not be delivered AND it will take 3-5 business days to refund your money? Good luck finding that item somewhere else before Christmas, eh?

Not over yet:

You guys are the absolute worst. I will no longer be shopping at Kmart, and Sears. I had 2 layaway orders, both placed early last month. Finish paying them, excited to get my son’s Christmas shopping done earlier than normal, only to be told all the items I’ve purchased are out of stock. How very professional of you. When I have items on layaway at another store, like Walmart, they take those items and put them back to prevent this sort of thing from happening. How absolutely ridiculous of your company. You’ve lost my business and the business of family, friends, and anyone else willing to listen to my complaint. Seeing as I now only have 10 days to find all these items for my son, my FULL refunds better be in my account very, very soon.

People are already using the “L” word:

To whomever is organizing the class action lawsuit regarding Kmart layaway – Please add me to the contact list, as I too have been duped. Notified of cancellation 9 days before Christmas, no refund in sight and no idea what to do about it. Way to ruin the holiday Kmart!

There’s been a generic reply so far, but it doesn’t seem to be going over too well:

“We are very disappointed to hear that you had to go through this experience with your layaway order. Please let us know if you do not see your refund within 5-7 business days,” Kmart responded to some posts.

But that doesn’t seem to be enough for many:

We don’t want to hear that you are sorry or let you know if there is any problem receiving a refund. You are avoiding our questions…. I want to know how this can happen????? How do you have something on layaway and pay on it and hold your customers money without holding the product also? I expect an answer. Not your generic reply that you have replied to all of us.

There are also all these other people: Not happy here, others ready to call the local news and there are even thsoe who haven’t even used layaway who are ticked off.

We’ve reached out to Kmart to get more information from their end on how this kind of thing could happen, and see how widespread it is. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.

In the meantime — did this happen to you? What kind of items did you purchase — toys, electronics, clothing? Send us your stories and emails from Kmart to with the subject line KMART LAYAWAY.

T-Mobile “Data Stash” Will Let Some Customers Roll Over Unused 4G LTE Data

Tue, 2014-12-16 18:49

This guy is maybe a little too excited about Data Stash.

This guy is maybe a little too excited about Data Stash.

Here’s the latest piece of evidence showing that data is dirt cheap and we’re paying too much for it. T-Mobile announced today that it will start letting subscribers with plans of at least 3GB/month (1GB/month for tablet plans) begin rolling over any of their unused 4G LTE allotments into what it’s dubbed the “Data Stash.”

From everything we can tell, it’s effectively no different from rollover minutes that wireless companies used to advertise before everyone stopped talking on the phone.

Beginning in January, subscribers in Simple Choice plans starting with 4G LTE allotments of at least 3GB/month will start seeing any unused high-speed data added to their next month’s allowance, where it will remain until you use it up or until a year passes.

The 3GB/month minimum for smartphones not only eliminates the rollover option for 1GB/month customers, it also means that anyone who signed up for the pretty decent 4-for-$100 plan (4 lines at 2.5GB each) are not eligible for the Stash.

For those with tablet data plans from T-Mobile, the minimum plan for inclusion in Data Stash is 1GB/month.

While we applaud the fact that T-Mobile isn’t throwing customers’ data away and taking their money, we wonder if it will ultimately have any effect on how T-Mo subscribers use their data.

Assume that your average 3GB/month subscriber is only using 2GB each month. If that doesn’t change after the implementation of Data Stash, that user will have more access to more than a dozen gigabytes of LTE service come next holiday season. The user would presumably continue to maintain at that same level of unused data so long as Data Stash exists.

For some people whose data use can occasionally get near their monthly limit, there may be real value in a rollover plan like this, but for users who aren’t streaming video over LTE to their devices, it may be no different that AT&T and Sprint dangling the data carrot that will never be eaten.

FedEx Truck Rollover Spills Packages On New Jersey Highway

Tue, 2014-12-16 18:25

fedex_crashYesterday was the busiest shipping day of the entire year for the U.S. Postal Service and for FedEx, which could have made a tractor-trailer accident that happened early on Monday morning in New Jersey even more disastrous. While the driver sustained only minor injuries, the accident spilled packages across the highway and affected traffic for the rest of the morning.

The road, an exit ramp for I-287, remained closed for more than seven hours. As you can see in the screen grab above, FedEx employees were on the scene loading packages from the tandem trailer to other company vehicles. Yes, that’s a double load of packages at a crucial time of year for “The safety and security of our customers’ shipments, especially during this time of year, is a top priority,” a FedEx spokesperson told Yes, it’s hard not to picture your own precious package there in the massive pile, but FedEx says that their workers grabbed the packages in order to “avoid” delays, so customers may not notice any problems at all.

The driver claims that he swerved to avoid a tire in the road. Police issued him two summonses for careless driving and for failure to maintain his lane.

Route 287 reopened after FedEx tractor trailer overturns in Mahwah, dumps packages []

Appeals Court: Forcing Porn Stars To Wear Condoms Doesn’t Violate First Amendment

Tue, 2014-12-16 18:14

(Amy Adoyzie)

(Amy Adoyzie)

Even though many adults in non-monogamous relationships are using condoms, the porn industry has long held that using the prophylactic devices in sex scenes is a buzzkill. And in recent years porn auteurs have argued that laws mandating the use of condoms on XXX sets is a violation of the First Amendment. But yesterday, a federal appeals court said a rubber requirement isn’t enough to claim restriction of free expression.

The 2012 County of Los Angeles Safer Sex In the Adult Film Industry Act (better known as “Measure B”) requires the use of condoms when shooting actual sex scenes anywhere in the massive expanse that is Los Angeles County.

The adult industry — led by the Vivid Entertainment studio — has been fighting the regulation, arguing that it’s a case of prior restraint; that the county is prohibiting the filmmakers from fully expressing themselves under the belief that unprotected sex might negatively impact the public health of Los Angelenos.

In 2013, a U.S. District Court issued a preliminary injunction against some of the enforcement and fee-setting provisions, but allowed the core of Measure B — the condom and permitting requirements — to remain.

Vivid appealed to the Ninth Circuit, not only claiming First Amendment violations, but also arguing that because the lower court severed some portions of Measure B, it should have struck down the entire ordinance.

The appeals panel quickly dismisses [PDF] that argument, writing that “courts must respect the laws made by legislatures and, therefore, should avoid nullifying an entire statute when only a portion is invalid.”

This is especially true with Measure B, explains the court, as it contains a severability clause that explicitly states that just because one provision may be stricken, “the remaining provisions shall not be affected, but shall remain in full force and effect.”

As for the claim that the condom mandate restricts porn artists’ free expression, the court says that the requirement “survives intermediate scrutiny because it has only a de minimis effect on expression, is narrowly tailored to achieve the substantial governmental interest of reducing the rate of sexually transmitted infections, and leaves open adequate alternative means of expression.”

So basically, because it doesn’t prevent performers from still making explicit movies, it is not a prohibition of their Constitutional rights.

To back up its opinion, the court cited the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Erie v. Pap’s A.M., in which a Pennsylvania strip club attempted to fight a local ordinance banning public nudity.

In that case, SCOTUS held that, because the law in question allowed dancers to dance while wearing only pasties and G-strings, it was a “minimal restriction in furtherance of the asserted government interests” that “leaves ample capacity to convey the dancer’s erotic message.”

Interestingly, L.A. County is not the party trying to defend its own statute. Early on, when Measure B was first appealed, the county said that it would not fight an appeal but that it would enforce the ordinance if the court said it passed legal muster. And so it was the measure’s private sponsors who chose to fight the appeal on behalf of the county.

The question is now whether or not the county will actually enforce Measure B, which some opponents view as an extravagant use of county resources and funds. If so, the L.A. porn industry could move elsewhere, though a larger statewide condom requirement looms in the California legislature.

[via National Law Journal]

Comcast, Charter, TWC All Admit That Strong Net Neutrality Rules Won’t Actually Be The End Of The World

Tue, 2014-12-16 18:10
Sterling Davis

Sterling Davis

Every single one of the big ISPs has been spending the better part of a year telling both the government and the public that using Title II to regulate net neutrality would be so counterproductive, ineffective, and unlawful that it would ruin the whole internet for everyone forever. Their main threat has been that with tighter regulation, they will stop spending money investing in networks. But to their investors, company executives are telling a different tale entirely: Comcast, Charter, and Time Warner Cable have now joined Verizon in admitting that from an investment standpoint, Title II won’t really harm them or change much of anything at all.

Executive leadership from all three companies spent some time at a conference trying to “ease concerns” about the impact stronger regulation would have on investors, the Washington Post reports.

Participants at the conference of course asked the heads of the ISPs about their thoughts on the Obama administration’s call for the FCC to use Title II to create strong net neutrality regulation. If there’s one thing on earth executives hate, it’s scaring investors — and so all of them deflected concerns that strong regulation would be a problem for their businesses.

Charter CEO Tom Rutledge admitted that while he doesn’t really want Title II, as long as the FCC is careful only to apply relevant parts of the regulation (a process called forbearance, and one in which title II advocates are strongly in favor) then really, it’s no big deal. “It’s not like we can’t operate in that world and that we don’t want to, but we’d rather have a good regulatory regime than a complicated one.”

Time Warner Cable COO Robert D. Marcus, meanwhile, fielded a question about federal interference in price regulation if the FCC uses Title II, a concern that opponents of regulation have often floated. But, Marcus said, that’s really not a concern at all. He answered that, “No one, Title II proponents and opponents alike, have suggested that whatever the FCC does it should include any component of rate regulation.”

Comcast CFO Michael Angelakis hedged slightly more than his peers. When asked if Title II regulation would change the way Comcast runs its business, he answered, “I certainly hope not,” but continued, “the devil would be in the detail and it’s too speculative right now to sort of make those kinds of decisions.”

Angelakis stayed slightly more on-message with the “regulation is bad” theme than his counterparts, concluding: “We want to invest in infrastructure, we want to invest in broadband, we want that to be an important part of our legacy in terms of how we invest in and build these kinds of things and Title II just is unfortunately a negative,” without saying why.

Comcast, like Verizon and AT&T, has previously said that using Title II “would be a radical reversal that would harm investment and innovation.”

These admissions — that perhaps regulation won’t actually be the end of the world as we know it — come right after Verizon’s inadvertent honesty last week. The company tried to walk it back as soon as the headlines began to appear, but by then everyone — including FCC chairman Tom Wheeler — had heard the message.

Comcast, Charter and Time Warner Cable all say Obama’s net neutrality plan shouldn’t worry investors [Washington Post]

Airline Baggage Fees Bring In Nearly $1B In Three Months, Ticket Sales Still Top Revenue-Maker

Tue, 2014-12-16 17:59


All those baggage fees added so far this year appear to be bringing in the big bucks for U.S. airlines. A new report found that airlines brought in nearly $1 billion last quarter by charging customers for hauling their belongings. And while that seems like a lot of dough, it’s just a drop in the bucket for the industry.

The Department of Transportation’s latest new data regarding airline revenue and expenditures found the 27 U.S. airlines took in nearly $960 million for flying bags from July to September 2014, a fairly significant increase from one year ago, CNN Money reports.

The new figure represents a 9% increase – $79 million– from the same time last year.

But baggage fees, while continuously tacked on by companies, aren’t the bread-and-butter for airlines.

In fact, when you look at airline’s complete revenue, you’ll find that baggage fees are just a small fraction of the $45.3 billion airlines’ recorded in the third quarter of 2014.

Ticket sales represented the bulk of revenue for the industry, with the same 27 companies bringing in $34 billion in sales last quarter.

Transport-related earnings – including inflight sales, code shares between airlines, and associated businesses – was the second highest revenue-maker for the airlines, bringing in $7.2 billion.

Earnings from pet transportation, sale of frequent flier award miles to airline business partners, standby passenger fees and other public service revenues made up the third highest category for the airlines, bringing in about $1.1 billion for the third quarter.

As for the biggest expenditure, that belongs to fuel costs. Airlines spent about $11.4 billion on fuel for the third quarter.

Though fuel costs have recently begun to decrease, airlines say they actually paid 4% more during the third quarter of 2014 than they did during the same time period a year earlier. We’ll have to wait a few months to see how the recent, significant drops in oil prices impact the current quarter.

Still airlines aren’t exactly hurting, according to the U.S. DOT data.

For the third quarter, airlines recorded a net income of $3.1 billion, and increase of 0.47% over last year.

As for year-to-date net income, the 27 airlines have combined to make $7.2 billion, an increase of $2.2 billion from January to September of 2013.

Airlines get $1 billion from baggage fees [CNN Money]
3rd Quarter 2014 Airline Financial Data [U.S. DOT]

Toys ‘R’ Us Will Stay Open For 39 Hours Straight Leading Up To Christmas Eve

Tue, 2014-12-16 17:35



It’s no 100-hour marathon like Kohl’s is holding this year leading up to Christmas, and it’s not the four straight days of staying open its stores have pulled in the past, but Toys “R” Us is extending its holiday hours for last-minute shoppers again this year.

Most locations will be open for 39 hours in a row, from 6 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 23 until 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve the following day, Dec. 24, reports CNNMoney.

Those shoppers brave enough to be in New York City during the height of holiday pandemonium will have an even wider window for around-the-clock shopping, as the Toys “R” Us flagship store in Times Square is scheduled to remain open from 7 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 17 to 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve a week later for more than 180 hours of shopping time.

To work all those extra hours, the retailer has hired 45,000 seasonal workers, while keeping expenses down by keeping the stores open for only 39 hours instead of multiple days at a time like in holiday seasons gone by.

One big advantage brick-and-mortar stores have over major online competitors like Amazon? You can run out to an open store at the last second, while there’s no “last second” on the Internet that will save you from ruining Christmas.

For those people – Dec. 19 is Amazon’s deadline for getting free shipping on items that are guaranteed to arrive by Dec. 24. Any later than that and you’re paying more for shipping or again, ruining Christmas. Just kidding! Christmas is about cookies, not presents.

Toys ‘R’ Us extends hours for last-minute shoppers [CNNMoney]

Eddie Lampert Blogs Mini-Manifesto About Why Sears Has Shed 200 Stores

Tue, 2014-12-16 17:03

(Scott Miller)

(Scott Miller)

Americans seem to love and hate their Kmart and Sears stores: our posts linking to unofficial but comprehensive closing lists have been very popular in the last few weeks. Americans apparently love to complain about their Sears Holdings stores, but don’t really want them to go away. Sears Holdings CEO and chief manifesto-writer Eddie Lampert recently took to the company’s blog to explain why the chain is getting rid of up to 200 stores.

Lampert wants us all to know that what he really wants is for Sears Holdings “to operate our stores both profitably and with excellence. Both, not just one or the other.” Or neither, as our readers have reported about some of the chain’s stores before it began its most recent turnaround effort.

Lampert compares massive large legacy Sears stores to another type of legacy real estate: phone company buildings. “[I]n virtually every city across the country, real estate owners and communities are trying to figure out what to do with large, windowless buildings that once held essential – now useless – telephone equipment to make landlines work,” he explains. Some of these buildings will become offices, apartments, or other things that are relevant to the modern world. That’s what Sears is doing by taking on roommates and subleasing space to other retailers like Whole Foods or Primark.

It doesn’t matter whether an area has a local Sears or Kmart store, Lampert assures us, because the company already has our contact information after badgering us into joining the “Shop Your Way” rewards program. “[W]hen we close a store we can retain a relationship with Shop Your Way members who visited the store – because we can now communicate with them and meet their needs in other ways on other platforms,” Lampert notes cheerfully, still apparently allergic to the word “customer.”

Moving Forward [SHC Speaks]

Roku And Comcast Finally Make Nice, Will Allow HBO Go And Showtime Apps

Tue, 2014-12-16 17:00

hbograbA personal anecdote, if you’ll allow… A few years back, I — ever a good son — bought my mother a Roku box for her TV (that I’d also bought her), only to find out that she, like millions of other Comcast subscribers, was not allowed to access the device’s HBO Go app because she’s a Comcast customer. But those darks days are coming to an end, now that Kabletown and Roku are suddenly buddies.

This is according to an FCC filing [PDF] from yesterday, in which an attorney for Roku tells the Commission that, as of Nov. 25, Comcast and Roku had concluded “several months” of negotiations “regarding a number of issues” and that Comcast had — among other, unspecified items — agreed to allow Comcast users to log into the HBO Go and Showtime Anytime apps on their Roku devices.

The letter makes no mention of specific dates and Comcast isn’t commenting on this story at the moment, but we’re hearing that more information is forthcoming as early as today.

Sources also tell Consumerist that while Comcast is not currently authenticating HBO Go and other apps on the Amazon Fire TV devices, it is actively negotiating with Amazon to make this happen.

So why the rush? A) Comcast needs to do anything it can to look good to consumers and, more importantly, to the federal regulators that are reviewing its deal to acquire Time Warner Cable. And B) Time Warner Cable already allows its customers to access these apps online, and if Comcast is going to take on those millions of customers, it can’t suddenly say “no more HBO Go for you” to everyone in the major markets — NYC, L.A. and Dallas — that it will dominate post-merge.

[via Recode]

Study: Tanning Beds Responsible For Average Of 3,234 Injuries Per Year That Send People To The ER

Tue, 2014-12-16 16:55

(Plankton 4:20)

When the weather outside is frightful and the sun is nowhere to be found in the winter months, some people might turn to an indoor tanning bed to get their glow on. But beyond the chance for cancer from the exposure to ultraviolet radiation, there’s the risk of getting burned, bumped or bruised, says a new study on tanning bed use.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers say tanning beds are responsible for an average of 3,234 injuries every year that end with people going to the hospital emergency rooms each year.

That number excludes any kind of private physicians, urgent care facilities or people who treated themselves at home, notes the Washington Post.

Injuries included skin burns, fainting spells, eye injuries, lacerations, strains, sprains, bruises or dislocations, along with the fact that tanning in such beds increases the risk of skin cancers like melanoma at the same time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends against using the contraptions.

But because the data only includes ER visits, the health economist who conducted the study for the CDC says he thinks the real number of injuries is higher.

Women are more than four times likely as men to get hurt, with skin burns being the most common injury suffered during tanning. This, because women are more likely to go indoor tanning, the study says, especially younger adults ages 18-34.

There is some good news, however — the number of injuries dropped quite a bit during the period covered by researchers: In 2003 there were more than 6,000 acute injuries, a number that dropped as low as 2,000 in 2012.

Another 3,234 reasons to avoid tanning beds [Washington Post]

Court Affirms $151M Ruling Against Walmart For Making Employees Work Off The Clock

Tue, 2014-12-16 16:19

(Ben Schumin)

(Ben Schumin)

When employees claim that their employer systematically forces them to work through breaks or other times during which they aren’t getting paid, how far do they have to go to prove that this is not a fluke particular to just a few stores? This is the question at the core of Walmart’s most recent appeal of a 12-year-old lawsuit that could cost the company nearly $200 million.

In 2002, a former Walmart employee from Pennsylvania filed a class action against the retailer, alleging that workers were forced to work off the clock, through mandated break times, or through meal breaks.

Four years later, after a trial during which both sides presented testimony from employees supporting their respective stances, a jury here in Philadelphia sided with the plaintiffs on everything but the food break allegations and awarded Walmart $151 million in damages (plus millions in legal fees and costs) to more than 187,000 workers.

Walmart’s problem with the verdict is that it claims this was a “trial by formula,” in that instead of looking at all the incredibly specific instances in which breaks were missed or worked through, the court listened to the testimony and analysis of expert statisticians who reviewed Walmart time sheets and determined the extent to which workers were harmed.

The retailer’s own expert questioned this analysis, alleging that it failed to take into account things like people who clock in and out of a break even though they took one, or employees who voluntarily worked through breaks without being told to do so.

The Supreme Court shot down the notion of “trial by formula” in an infamous 2011 ruling that also involved Walmart. In that case, Wal-Mart v. Dukes [PDF], a few named plaintiffs had sued the retailer over allegations of sexual discrimination. A federal appeals court had ruled that a sample set of affected class members could be used to determine the company’s liability. The awarded back pay would be set by a third party and then multiplied by the number of members in the total class “without further individualized proceedings.”

Thus, according to SCOTUS, Walmart would “not be entitled to litigate its statutory defenses to individual claims,” and so it was determined that the class should not have been certified to begin with.

However, the PA Supreme Court held yesterday [PDF] that the appeal in the time clock case is different from Walmart’s claim of a “trial by formula” in the Dukes case.

The SCOTUS ruling in Dukes involved the belief that Walmart was being pre-determined as liable to a large class through mere extrapolation. But in yesterday’s decision, the PA Supremes said that Walmart was not being wrongly pre-judged, as “the evidence of Wal-Mart’s liability to the entire class for breach of contract and WPCL violations was established at trial by presentation of Wal-Mart’s own universal employment and wage policies, as well as its own business records and internal audits.”

According to the court, these records sufficed to support the claim “that there was an extensive pattern of discrepancies between the number and duration of breaks earned and the number and duration of breaks taken.”

“In our view, this was not a case of ‘trial by formula’ or of a class action ‘run amok,'” concludes the opinion for the majority of the court.

A dissenting opinion [PDF] from the lone justice siding with Walmart, states that the workers were “permitted to effectively project the anecdotal experience of each of six testifying class members upon thirty-thousand other members of the class at large, to extrapolate abstract data concerning missed and mistimed ‘swipes’ from 16 Pennsylvania stores to 139 others, to overlay discrete data taken from several years’ experience across a distinct four-year period, and to attribute a single cause to missed and mistimed swipes, all despite indisputable variations across store locations, management personnel, time, and other circumstances.”

Walmart tells the Philadelphia Inquirer that it disagrees with the court and “continue to believe that these claims should not be bundled together into a class-action lawsuit.” The retailer is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While the attorney for the plaintiffs says that the ruling “demonstrates that [this] type of shortchanging of workers at a mammoth employer should not be tolerated and that the justice system should provide some form of relief for low-wage workers, particularly through class actions.”

Amazon Extends Free Holiday Shipping Deadline, But Still Can’t Control Weather

Tue, 2014-12-16 16:18
(Zach Egolf)

(Zach Egolf)

With the countdown to Christmas officially in the single digits, procrastinators of the world had better get a move on ordering their gifts if they want them delivered by the holiday. That is unless you plan to shop with Amazon, apparently. The online retailer is giving those dragging their feet a little extra time by extending their free Christmas delivery. But, as we’ve learned in the past, just because the company says you’ll get your gift in time doesn’t mean it will actually happen.

Amazon announced Tuesday that customers now have until 11:59 p.m. EST on December 19 to order goods with free-shipping and receive them by Christmas Eve.

The new deadline gives customers one more day than they had last year.

But not all Amazon customers must adhere to the deadline in order to receive their packages in time for holiday festivities. Prime members, who receive free two-day shipping on a number of items, have until December 22 to place their orders.

And for the true procrastinators – those waiting until just hours before the holiday to buy gifts – Amazon offers same-day delivery in 12 major metro cities if orders are placed by 10 a.m. on December 24.

Same-day delivery is available in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

While the extended shipping deadlines at Amazon might buy consumers a little extra time, that doesn’t mean overwhelmed shipping companies and weather won’t throw a wrench in your last-minute gifting plans.

That was certainly the case last year when the perfect storm of last-minute purchases, bad weather and shipping companies overcome by demand left many spots under the Christmas tree empty.

In fact, a post-holiday report found that nearly one in three packages promised for Christmas delivery didn’t make it last year.

And while some Christmas miracles occurred, Amazon and other retailers had to issue oodles of apologies, refunds and discounts when packages didn’t make their appearance until after the holiday.

This year several delivery companies are hoping a proactive approach to the busy holiday season prevents a fiasco like last year. So far, companies such as UPS and FedEx have hired extra workers and warned retailers that they’ll face fines if their sales and promised holiday deliveries back up the shipping process.

But if you want to roll the dice with your holiday deliveries, keep in mind the following deadlines for Amazon:

Dec. 19: Free Shipping (order as late as 11:59 p.m. EST)
Dec. 22: Two-Day Shipping
Dec. 23: One-Day Shipping
Dec. 24: Same-Day Delivery (order as late as 10:00 a.m. local time)
Dec. 25: Buy Prime or send an Gift Card

Plenty of Time to Order Online: Amazon Extends Free Shipping Order Cutoff to Dec. 19 [Amazon]

Another Layaway Angel Swoops In, Pays $50K Worth Of Bills At Pennsylvania Walmart

Tue, 2014-12-16 15:52



In a season where there can be Grinches around every corner and bah-humbuggers just waiting to get ya, it’s always fun to hear about those layaway angels who go around paying off other shoppers’ bills all in one fell swoop. We’ve landed a big one today, folks — someone’s just paid off $50,000 in layaway items in Pennsylvania.

An anonymous donor known simply as “Santa B” dropped off the big check at a Mechanicsburg, PA yesterday morning, reports, surprising shoppers who were prepared to pay off their layaway balances.

One of the around 100 people who had their bills paid off said she was about to pay her $200 balance to pay for gifts for her daughter, when she found out a stranger had beaten her to it.

“It was definitely a surprise, and a blessing,” she said.

The manager of the Pennsylvania Walmart said Santa B is from around the area but doesn’t want to reveal his name.

“He said he wanted to help take care of folks –- to bring everyone a special Christmas,” the manager said..

The layaway manger spent the day calling customers to make sure they knew their layaway items had been paid for, and could now be picked up. Yesterday was the last day to pay off layaways at the store, making the angel’s move good timing.

“It’s not a record, but it’s certainly high,” said a Wal-Mart spokesman, adding that two similar donations of $51,000 and $59,000 happened yesterday in Florida.

“It’s amazing to see the random acts of kindness that happen at the holidays,” he said. “It’s incredible customers are coming in and wanting to help their neighbors by covering their layaway balances for the season.”

Previously this season in layaway angels: Layaway Angels Fan Out, Hit West Virginia And Tennessee

‘Santa B’ pays off $50,000 in layaway bills at Wal-Mart in Silver Springs Commons []

December Recall Roundup: Nobody Likes A Melted Battery Charger

Tue, 2014-12-16 00:07

The Recall Roundup for December is not very merry, especially if you’re in the market for electronic devices. Here’s a collection of appliances and devices that could cause overheating and discomfort or actual property damage.

Cost Plus World Market Modular Storage Bars – Mounting plate may fall out when things are actually hung from the bar. Injury hazard.
Folding Lounge Chairs (Ross Stores) – Chair may tip over or recline too quickly. Five falls reported in Ross stores, with a few minor injuries.
Venmar Ventilation Air Exchangers – Unit may overheat, posing fire hazard. There have been 30 fires in the U.S. and Canada, resulting in a total of $1.1 million in property damage.
Daesung Celtic Enersys Tankless Water Heaters – Risk of overheating. There have been 40 reports of overheated units, including two fires with property damage and some burned walls.
DD Brand Candles (Hobby Lobby) – Expanded recall. High flame can ignite things that are not candles. There have been 29 fire reports; nine with property damage and one injury.
Mohawk Rugs (Home Depot) – Do not meet flammability standard.
Daikin Streamer air purifiers – May overheat and catch fire.
Ethan Allen Harwood Floor Lamps – Risk of electrical shock. One user reported being shocked.

Hello Kitty Birthday Lollipop Whistles (McDonald’s Happy Meal Toy) – Pieces of the whistle may detach and be inhaled. There are two reports of this happening, with one child receiving medical attention.

Tools & Gardening
Bob-Cat Zero Turn Riding Mower – Steering control arm may break, and steering is important. There have been 22 reports of this part failing.

Tectron 3-in-1 iPhone and mini USB Chargers – Fire hazard. Sold at school fundraisers. Two melted chargers reported.
Visonic Amber Personal Emergency Response Pendants and Kits (Life Alert) – Battery may drain faster than anticipated, and “low battery” status much shorter than users were told.
Olympus DS-5500 digital audio recorders – May overheat while charging. There have been three reports of overheating.
AP Specialties Power Bank Chargers (given as freebies at trade shows, meetings, and conventions) – May overheat and cause fires. There have been three overheating incidents and one fire that caused damage.
Goal Zero Sherpa rechargeable battery packs – May overheat, melt, bulge, or catch fire. There has been one fire and two cases of property damage reported, and one user reported becoming ill after inhaling fumes.
Lenovo Computer Power Cords for the IdeaPad B-, G-, S-, U-, V- and Z-series and Lenovo brand B-, G- and V-series computers. – May overheat, posing fire and burn hazards. There have been 15 incidents outside of the U.S. and Canada of overheated cords
HobbyZone Super Cub S Ready-To-Fly and Super Cub S Bind-N-Fly Power Supply and Charger – Battery may overcharge


Babies & Kids
Graco Umbrella Strollers – Fingertip amputation hazard.
Leatherman Children’s Leap Multi-Tool – Lock mechanism may release the blade instead. No injuries reported.
Dream On Me Recalls Incredible Play Yards – Rails may collapse, strangling child

Open Vest Sweaters by Leith (Nordstrom) – Do not meet federal flammability standard.

Sports & Outdoors
Aqua Lung buoyancy compensators with SureLock II weight pocket handles -Handles may detach, posing a drowning hazard in an emergency
Ventamatic Cool Draft Misting Fans – Wiring is not grounded; fire and electric shock hazard. There have been two incidents, one of which included a user being shocked.
Black Diamond Equipment Whippet Ski Poles – Hand grip may come apart. There have been no reports yet of this happening in the wild.
Hoppe’s Semi-Auto Gun Bore Cleaner – Child-resistant cap of poisonous product is easier to open than anticipated. A child opened the bottle and spilled some on himself.
UVEX Bicycle Helmets – Chinstrap anchor may fail, causing helmet to slip down or off the head.
GCI Outdoor Stadium Seats – Back rest may fail. One user fell off the back of a set of bleachers and was injured.
Salsa Bearpaw Bicycle Forks – May break or bend

HBO Go Now On Amazon Fire TV Boxes (Not So Fast, Comcast Customers)

Mon, 2014-12-15 23:47

These are the pay-TV providers currently allowing HBO subscribers to access HBO Go on Amazon Fire TV.

These are the pay-TV providers currently allowing HBO subscribers to access HBO Go on Amazon Fire TV.

The Amazon Fire TV set-top box just got a lot more worthwhile for people wanting to add HBO to TVs without getting additional cable boxes. That is, unless you’re a Comcast customer.

Amazon announced today that HBO Go is now available for the Fire TV box and will be coming to the less-expensive, recently released Fire TV stick sometime this spring.

While this still requires that you have a basic cable subscription and a subscription to HBO (or that you have someone willing to lend you their login info), it can be a money-saver for people with multi-TV homes who don’t feel like paying the cable company for additional cable boxes.

Perhaps that’s why not every cable provider is on board yet. According to the HBO Go/Fire TV activation page, most of the major pay-TV players — DirecTV, Dish, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-Verse — are allowing customers to stream HBO Go this way, there are two huge omissions: Comcast and Charter.

Because you have have to use your pay-TV operator’s login info to access HBO Go, it’s up to each provider to determine which devices you’re allowed to watch the service on. As many a Roku buyer has learned over the years, not every provider is too eager to let people get a free add-on service that may take away the ancillary revenue of additional set-top boxes or lead to cord-cutting when HBO finally releases its long-awaited standalone streaming option.