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Report: FTC Thinks Stores With ‘Dollar’ In Names Mostly Compete With Each Other

Wed, 2014-11-19 20:20



Most people think of a dollar store as a store where every item costs $1. This is not the case for Family Dollar, a discount chain, or and Dollar General, one of the suitors seeking to acquire it. Dollar Tree, the company’s other suitor, is a traditional dollar store. As the chains compete to merge, there’s one important question: who do these stores compete with?

Sources close to the (potential) deal told the New York Post that the Federal Trade Commission is concerned that the various stores with “dollar” in their names mostly compete with each other. If the FTC finds that to be the case, it could have tough consequences for either company that’s looking to acquire Family Dollar. Dollar General had assumed that it would only need to sell 1,500 stores, but that number could be as high as 4,000 stores.

The management of Dollar Tree apparently assumed that it mostly competes with other stores where everything costs $1 or less, and that it wouldn’t have to sell any stores, but those same sources told the Post that the smaller chain would also have to sell some stores, too.

The government requires these divestments not because they’re just being mean, but to protect consumers from the artificially high prices and crappy service that can happen when mergers result in a local monopoly. If you live in a remote area that has only a Dollar General and a Family Dollar and those two stores combine, that leaves your area without real discount retail competition. The FTC could force Dollar General to sell to a fellow discount store or dollar store. The same would go for Dollar Tree if it wins the Dollar Store Wars (that mostly include stores that aren’t dollar stores.)

While Family Dollar shareholders have accepted the offer from Dollar Tree, they have not yet accepted the higher offer (by $5.50 per share) from Dollar General. That offer now expires on December 31st.

Dollar General may have to ax more than 4K stores [New York Post]

Uber Investor Ashton Kutcher Sticks Up For Executive Who Wanted To Look Into “Shady Journalists”

Wed, 2014-11-19 19:57

kutcherIf you’ve been on the internet at all this week, then you already know that Uber has found itself in hot water after an executive discussed the idea of digging up dirt on journalists critical of the company. Well, things aren’t looking much better for the ride-sharing company today after actor and investor Ashton Kutcher Tweeted his support for the executive in question. Uber has also updated its privacy policy to ease the minds of users, but it could still allow the company to track riders.

The Washington Post reports that the firestorm engulfing Uber began earlier this week when Uber executive Emil Michael reportedly suggested the company should look into the personal life of a journalist who criticized the company.

Michael allegedly suggested Uber should spend millions of dollars to hire a team of opposition researchers to spread details of the personal life of Sarah Lacy with PandoDaily – a Silicon Valley site that has a rather contentious relationship with the ride service.

The executive’s comments to Buzzfeed came a month after the journalist wrote an article about her decision to delete Uber’s app after a promotion by the company in France offered to pair riders with “hot chicks.” The journalist encouraged others to ditch the app, too.

While the Uber executive issued an apology for his remarks, saying they were supposed to be off the record, the company has none-the-less come under great scrutiny from once loyal users.

Still, the company has one famous person in their corner: Uber investor Ashton Kutcher.

The actor opened a can of worms when he posted on Twitter Wednesday asking “What is so wrong about digging up dirt on shady journalist?”

What is so wrong about digging up dirt on shady journalist? @pando @TechCrunch @Uber

— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) November 19, 2014

Predictably, social media users fired back.

@aplusk Depends on ur opinion. Isn't that, in effect, exactly what the shady journalist is doing? @pando @TechCrunch @Uber

— Liberally Lisa (@LiberalMunky) November 19, 2014

@aplusk Because it makes it look like @Uber has something to hide. Never "dig up dirt" on anyone, cause you'll get dirty.

— Duane Jeffers (@duanejeffers) November 19, 2014

What if the journalist isn't shady, @aplusk? What if digging dirt shouldn't be a legit business tactic? What if @uber didn't have PR issues?

— Nick Kolakowski (@nkolakowski) November 19, 2014

Kutcher then replied to one user’s comment that it “Depends if they are a PUBLIC FIGURE, like you, or not,” with the assertion that “We are all public figures now!”

We are all public figures now! “@RussADeCastro: @aplusk Depends if they are a PUBLIC FIGURE, like you, or not.

— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) November 19, 2014

More Tweets from Kutcher appear to question the authenticity of claims against Michael were even true.

I believe we live in a day were the first word has become "the word"

— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) November 19, 2014

Rumors span the globe before anyone has an opportunity to defend them selves.

— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) November 19, 2014

Everyone is guilty and then tasked to defend themselves publicly.

— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) November 19, 2014

Finally, Kutcher made it clear that he speaks for himself, not Uber and closed the Twitter rant with this Tweet:

U r all right and I'm on the wrong side of this ultimately. I just wish journalists were held to the same standards as public figures.

— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) November 19, 2014

Kutcher’s public defense of Uber also comes on the heels of the company’s privacy policy, which had been decidedly lacking

The policy change was meant to soothe consumers’ fear of being tracked by the so-called “God View” – an internal Uber tool that allows employees to easily track riders.

“We wanted to take a moment to make very clear our policy on data privacy, which is fundamental to our commitment to both riders and drivers,” a blog post about the update states.

The post goes on to explain that the policy prohibits “all employees at every level from accessing a rider or driver’s data.”

That is, unless the company has a legitimate business purpose to do so. According to Uber legitimate business purposes include:

• Supporting riders and drivers in order to solve problems brought to their attention by the Uber community.
• Facilitating payment transactions for drivers.
• Monitoring driver and rider accounts for fraudulent activity, including terminating fake accounts and following up on stolen credit card reports.
• Reviewing specific rider or driver accounts in order to troubleshoot bugs.

So, while the policy does say employees can’t track users, it doesn’t completely do away with the possibility that it could continue to happen.

“Uber’s business depends on the trust of the riders and drivers that use our technology and platform,” the post concludes.

Unfortunately for Uber, consumers’ trust may have already left the app in the rearview mirror.

Uber investor Ashton Kutcher doesn’t see the problem with digging up dirt on a ‘shady journalist’ [The Washington Post]

United Airlines, Orbitz Ask Court To Stop Site From Selling “Hidden City” Tickets

Wed, 2014-11-19 19:05

Recent Skiplagged listings for flights that don't end in Chicago, but go through Chicago.

Recent Skiplagged listings for flights that don’t end in Chicago, but go through Chicago.

I live in Philadelphia and if I want to visit a friend in Chicago for a weekend, it will cost me several hundred dollars for a round-trip ticket on U.S. Airways. For significantly less money, I could book what’s known as a “hidden city” ticket from Philadelphia to Orlando via Chicago, and then just get off the plane when it stops in Chicago. Most airlines ban the practice, but there’s not much they can do to stop it. They can, however, sue to stop a website from promoting and booking these verboten fares. is a site that lists and is supposed to allow you to book hidden city fares (though all of our attempts to reserve tickets failed), and is now the subject of a lawsuit [PDF] filed in federal court by both United Airlines and travel-booking service Orbitz.

The plaintiffs accuse Skiplagged and its owner of “intentionally and maliciously” interfering with withe their business by “promoting prohibited forms of travel” and inducing “breach of Orbitz Worldwide’s travel agency contracts with commercial airlines and of United’s customer contractual relationships.”

Most airlines forbid passengers from booking travel to somewhere other than their intended destination. Additionally, the deals that travel agents and booking services make with airlines generally include a ban on knowingly allowing a customer to purchase a hidden city fare.

The plaintiffs claim that Skiplagged and its owner are aware of this prohibition and still not only advertised the fares but also then directed users to the United and Orbitz websites to purchase the tickets.

The airline and the travel site claim that this direct-linking to their online booking portals falsely gave the impression that the plaintiffs were affiliated with Skiplagged.

“To the average internet user of Skiplagged, the transition from the Skiplagged site to Orbitz’s website is seamless and strongly suggests an affiliation or identity between Skiplagged and Orbitz that does not exist,” reads the complaint. “By creating a website that operates in much the same manner as an online travel agency, and by linking that site to Orbitz’s site, [the defendant] is attempting to confuse and mislead the public into believing that his website, and the “hidden city” ticketing it employs, is done with the approval (if not the outright authorization and sponsorship) of Orbitz and the airlines.”

Orbitz claims that the Skiplagged owner “expressly agreed not to engage in this conduct when he entered into an affiliate agreement with Orbitz, LLC in early 2013.” That agreement has subsequently been terminated. Additionally, the complaint claims that the defendant “has taken steps to try to hide from Orbitz and United his continued bad conduct and breach of his promises to stop.”

United says that when it demanded that all of its trademarks and content be deleted from the site, Skiplagged initially responded that it would do so. But instead, according to the complaint, Skiplagged replaced United’s name with a “Flight Censored” label, and a note reading “Sorry for the inconvenience, but United Airlines says we can’t show you this information.”

Additionally, United claims that Skiplagged continued to list the airline’s flights, but with slightly altered departure times so that the content was not identical to that published on the United site.

Among the violations alleged by the plaintiffs are violation of the Lanham Act’s prohibition against false affiliation, tortious interference, breach of contract, and misappropriation. The plaintiffs are seeking damages and asking the court to issue an injunction blocking Skiplagged from listing and offering hidden city fares.

Asian-American Sephora Customers With Closed Accounts File Discrimination Lawsuit

Wed, 2014-11-19 18:35



A few weeks ago, we shared with you the claims of some loyal Sephora customers who found that their accounts for placing online orders had been shut down. While Sephora claimed that account shutdowns were aimed at people buying large amounts of makeup to re-sell, customers complained that the only thing the company looked at was whether a given customer had a Chinese surname. Now customers living in the United States whose accounts were closed are filing a class action suit against the company.

The four lead plaintiffs in this lawsuit are women of Chinese descent and Sephora shoppers who live in New York, Ohio, and Pennyslvania. We know that the site crashed on November 6, the company later blamed the failure on “high levels of bulk buys for reselling purposes in North America and other countries.” What this lawsuit alleges is what many customers claimed in makeup forums and posts to Sephora’s social media pages: that accounts targeted for shutdown were were under names or e-mail addresses that “appeared to signify Chinese/Asian race/ethnicity/national origin/descent regardless of the web domain used” and/or e-mail accounts on Asian-based sites such as,, or Their complaint (PDF download) provides examples of customers other than the four named plaintiffs who had similar issues, and claims that whether a customer had an Asian-sounding name was the only piece of criteria that Sephora used in deciding which accounts to deactivate during the site crash crisis.

The attorneys attempt to tie the account deactivations to recent high-profile “shop and frisk” cases in New York City department stores like Macy’s and Barneys, which required both stores to promise not to assume that all people of color in their stores are criminals, train staff in how to do loss prevention work without blatant racial profiling, and to pay six-figure settlements to the state of New York. They open the complaint by saying:

Despite significant media coverage of so-called “shop and frisk” cases––where companies have been accused of discriminating against minority customers while shopping in retail stores––Sephora has brazenly taken this practice to the Internet.

One of the named plaintiffs shared an e-mail that she received from an account with the name “Gray markets” that explained that her account was one of many that was deactivated “in order to optimize product availability for the majority of our clients, as well as ensure that consumers are not subject to increased prices or products that are not being handled or stored properly.” Well, nobody likes melted lipsticks. The e-mail from Sephora continued:

At this time, we are not reactivating any blocked accounts.

Thank you for respecting our business decision.


The four Sephora customers and their attorneys seek to turn this case into a nationwide class action, and damages to punish Sephora for what they consider to be a violation of their civil rights.

We checked with Sephora whether they have any further comments on the allegations of ethnic profiling in account deactivations.

Xiao, et al v. Sephora, USA, Inc., et al [PDF]

Jury Orders AutoZone To Pay Former Employee $185M For Pregnancy Discrimination

Wed, 2014-11-19 18:33


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Pregnancy Discrimination Act forbids companies from discriminating against employees based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment including hiring, firing, promotions and demotions. So when a former employee accused AutoZone of illegally demoting and then firing her after she became pregnant, the woman sued the company. And this week a California jury ruled in her favor, ordering the auto parts retailer to pay her $185 million.

The Los Angeles Times reports that a federal jury found that AutoZone unlawfully demoted and fired the employee who complained she was demoted and fired from a San Diego County store just because she was pregnant.

The woman claimed the company began to treat her differently after she told a district manager in 2005 that she had become pregnant.

During her discussion with the district manager, the woman claims he told her “Congratulations…I guess. I feel sorry for you.”

Shortly after the encounter, the woman says the company began complaining about her performance and demoted her from a management position.

When she filed a lawsuit challenging the demotion in 2006, she says the company fired her.

The L.A. Times reports that AutoZone’s lawyers argued at trial that the woman was fired for misplacing $400 in cash, not because she was with child.

However, the loss prevention officer who handled the misplaced cash investigation testified that the woman was never suspected of wrongdoing and she believed the company was targeting the former employee.

The jury’s award of $185 million in punitive damages comes in addition to $872,000 in compensatory damages the jury awarded the woman last week.

Officials with AutoZone tell the Times they plan to appeal the decision.

Jury awards $185 million to ex-AutoZone worker demoted after pregnancy [The Los Angeles Times]

We Guess Public Relations Barbie Can’t Use Email Any Better Than Computer Engineer Barbie

Wed, 2014-11-19 17:42

Barbie is stymied by this email thing.

Barbie is stymied by this email thing.

Yesterday we found out that Computer Engineer Barbie has no idea what computer engineering is, and can’t write code for a game she’s designing without men to do it for her, much less email or reboot her computer successfully. We reached out to Mattel’s media relations team to comment on the book all about Barbie’s brush with a computer virus and subsequent saving by her guy friends, but it would seem the PR team also has trouble using email. Better ask Steven and Brian for help.

Thus far Mattel has remained silent on the recent outrage over I Can Be A Computer Engineer, a book that people have been complaining about in the Amazon reviews for the title since January. Consumerist has yet to get a reply to our inquiry yesterday, and it doesn’t appear that Mattel has issued a public statement or comment on the controversy.

This, despite a renewed and steady flow of complaints in the reviews on Amazon. There are currently 97 one-star reviews, eight five-star reviews (at least one of which appears to be sarcastic) and only a few other ratings in between:

Content communicates the opposite of what the title promises
This review is for Barbie I can be a computer engineer; How did Mattel fail so badly at creating this book? Clearly parents who have a genuine interest in getting their daughters involved in STEM would purchase a book with this title. Problem is, it communicates the exact opposite of what the title promises to little girls. Mattel- if you wanted to contribute positively to the women in STEM movement you should have at least done your research. A BASIC test group perhaps? Speak to a woman software engineer perhaps?

Small girls can code!
My daughter who is 9 can program with Scratch (the puppy and blocks that are mentioned in the book), and finish her video game with no male help. This book is awful, please do not buy it for girls (or boys).

I am very glad this book was NOT available when I was younger, just imagine where I’d be then.
As an awesome computer engineering female, I find this book insulting and rediculously terrible. There is no way the content actually came from anyone who knew anything about computer engineering – and literally any woman who was actually a computer engineer could have come up with an inspiring message or at least a decent storyline. This probably does more harm than good – I can’t believe someone released this.

Sexist rant tells girls they CANNOT be Computer Engineers
I can’t believe anyone would think this is appropriate for children. This is nothing but a tasteless way for the author to discourage girls from learning how to be self sufficient people and rely on boys instead.

Barbie is supposed to be a computer engineer and yet she seems to know less about computers than my mom (no offense, Mom). She wants to design a game, but doesn’t seem to understand really basic things, like virus protection.

Don’t waste your money or your time on this POS

the computer engineer book is not just bad – it is harmful
if you show the so-called computer engineer book to your daughter, or son, be sure to point out that it is ridiculous. one of the first things she does is say she needs some boys to do her coding – that she can NOT be a computer engineer. it doesn’t improve. she is not portrayed as a competent computer user much less a computer engineer. i recommend you NOT buy it at all but if you are in a bookshop, and see it, tell the manager that all copies should be taken from the shelves and sent back to the publisher.

Great gift idea for the holidays
Great gift idea for the holidays! Little girls now know to think only of cute puppies, colored blocks, and asking for help from the boys. And little boys will churn out the next WoW and buy up San Francisco. Thanks so much, Amazon, for carrying such strong products!

Fanfic? Please?
Please.. please tell me this is an unlicensed and the author is about to get a knock on their door from Mattel’s lawyers to have a little word with the person about copyright infringement and harming their brand.

Poison for the soul
This book is pure poison for the mind of any child. Barbie herself would be enraged that her corporate overseers have misrepresented her capabilities and motivations. Mattel should be ashamed to have betrayed their own ward.

This book is bad primarily because it is inexcusably sexist (it is extremely clear that the sexism was purposefully written in, not overlooked by accident).

As if that weren’t bad enough, it’s also laughably technically inaccurate.

We’ll let you know if PR Barbie figures out how to use email.

Comcast Hits Man With $2,789 Fee For Moving To Area Not Served By Comcast

Wed, 2014-11-19 17:38

comcastbillWhen a Tennessee graphic designer decided to move an hour away, Comcast originally told him that he could move his business-class service and even set up an appointment for installation. But when the Comcast installer never showed up, the company finally told the man that (A) his new address wasn’t served by Comcast and (B) he owes the company nearly $3,000 in early termination fees.

“I was just blown away,” the man tells Nashville’s WSMV-TV about the $2,789 in fees from Comcast. “That’s way too much money for somebody like me to be able to pay.”

Comcast told him that he was in a 3-year contract for his business broadband service, and per the business-class terms of service [PDF] he owed a fee equal to 75% of the amount he would have eventually paid over the balance of the contract.

“They kept telling me the same thing,” he recalls. “‘You’re under contract, that’s what the contract says.’”

The former Comcast customer, who said he’d never had any problem with the company until this incident, says he understands that there’s an early termination fee for those who cancel service, but he wasn’t attempting to get out of his contract. He’d tried to relocate his service and he’d been told that Comcast could install service at his new address.

“I didn’t think that was fair, to pay an early termination fee, because I wanted to keep their service,” he explains. “And due to them not offering it in my area, I feel like I was being punished because they don’t offer the service here.”

A rep for Comcast confirmed the early termination fee to WSMV but said there were extenuating circumstances in this case and that the fee is being waived.

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Operators Of “Free Access To Credit Scores” Scam To Return $22M To Victims

Wed, 2014-11-19 17:35
(Chris Blakeley)

(Chris Blakeley)

Consumers looking for a good deal might be tempted to take unknown companies up on their offer of providing credit scores for free. But those promises can often be too good to be true. Just ask consumers bilked out of millions of dollars after falling for once such “deal”.

The Federal Trade Commission, in collaboration with the state attorneys general for Ohio and Illinois announced today that they have put a stop to an alleged online scheme promising free credit scores to consumers and ordered the operators to refund victims $22 million.

According to the FTC complaint [PDF], One Technologies LP – also doing business as ScoreSense, One Technologies Inc., and MyCreditHealth – One Technologies Management LLC, and One Technologies Capital LLP allegedly lured consumers with a promise of free access to their credit scores and then billed them a recurring monthly fee of $29.95 for a credit monitoring program they never wanted.

The defendants allegedly marketed their credit monitoring programs, MyCreditHealth and ScoreSense, through at least 50 websites, including, and

To reach more consumers, the FTC claims the operators bought advertising on search engines such as Google and Bing so that ads for their websites appeared near the top of search results when consumers looked for terms such as “free credit report.” The most prominent ad stated, “View your latest Credit Scores from All 3 Bureaus in 60 seconds for $0!”

The complaint claims the defendants failed to clearly disclose that consumers who accessed their credit score through their websites would be enrolled in a credit monitoring program and incur monthly charges until they called the company to cancel.

The only way consumers could cancel their membership and request a refund was to call a toll-free number.

Consumers reported difficulty obtaining the cancellation and refund, telling the FTC they would have to make repeated calls to the toll-free number. And more often than not the defendants refused refunds to those who claimed they did not knowingly enroll.

In all, nearly 210,000 consumers contacted banks, credit card companies, law enforcement agencies, and the Better Business Bureau to complain about the scheme, the FTC reports.

The FTC alleges that the companies violated the FTC Act and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA), which prohibits charging consumers for goods or services sold online via a negative option unless the seller clearly discloses all material terms before obtaining the consumer’s billing information, obtains the consumer’s express informed consent before making the charge, and provides a simple way to stop recurring charges.

Additionally, the companies were charged with violating the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act and the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act.

In addition to the consumer refunds, the defendants are permanently prohibited from violating ROSCA, misrepresenting material facts about any product or service marketed with a negative option, misrepresenting material terms of any refund or cancellation policy, and failing to clearly disclose, before a consumer consents to pay via a negative option, all materials terms of any such policy.

FTC, Illinois, and Ohio Stop Scheme That Offered ‘Free’ Credit Scores, Then Charged Consumers for Credit Monitoring Programs They Never Ordered [FTC]

Starburst Introduces Christmas-Themed Jellybeans For Some Reason

Wed, 2014-11-19 17:01

Here at Consumerist, we’re fascinated with holiday mashups: items that we associate with one holiday re-purposed for another, usually for marketing reasons. Items like pumpkin spice egg nog and Independence Day candy corn exist because the makers of candy corn and egg nog want to expand these festive treats out to other holidays. Now let’s welcome Christmas jelly beans to the holiday mashup fold.


Christmas jelly beans? Yes, Christmas jelly beans. Starburst brand jelly beans are very tasty, we admit, but we have some trepidation about expanding jelly beans to non-Easter holidays. When the Easter candy is out on display before Christmas in some stores, why are we even bothering to have special foods for different holidays at all? Let’s have Halloween baskets and go around to our neighbors’ houses demanding candy on Valentine’s Day, too.

Spotted On Shelves – 11/19/2014 [The Impulsive Buy]

JetBlue Adding Checked Bag Fees, Cutting Down On Legroom

Wed, 2014-11-19 16:40

(Boss Meg)

(Boss Meg)

One of the last remaining airlines holding out against fees for checked bags has fallen prey to the siren song of money: JetBlue, which had persisted in offering a complimentary checked bag even as other airlines tacked fees on, announced three new “bundled” fare options for fliers, with the cheapest fare now requiring an extra fee to check a bag. That, and it’s stuffing more seats into plane cabins, which means less legroom for you.

In a press release today detailing the company’s plans for getting investors bigger returns, JetBlue says the three new options will roll out in the first half of 2015.

“The first of these will be designed for customers who do not plan to check a bag, while the latter two will offer one and two free checked bags, respectively, along with other attractive benefits, including additional TrueBlue points and increased flexibility,” the press release says.

It’s unclear at this point how much that fee will be to check a bag if you buy a fare in the first bundled option, but it’s happening, nonetheless.

Another revenue-boosting effort? An Airbus A320 “Cabin Refresh,” as JetBlue calls it, which means using “lighter, more comfortable seats” with larger seatback screens with more power ports. These new seats will allow the company to increase the number of seats it can fit on planes. More seats = more knees up against those seats, as legroom gets more precious.

Despite this, JetBlue claims it will continue “to offer the most legroom in coach.”

Nielsen To Finally Peel Back Curtain On What’s Actually Popular On Netflix, Amazon

Wed, 2014-11-19 16:39

netflixkidsSure, there’s a “Popular On Netflix” category on the streaming service, but are those actually the most-watched Netflix videos? For years, only Netflix has known how many of its users were watching which videos — and the company has not been eager to share that information. But the folks at Nielsen reportedly are going to start collecting ratings data for Netflix and Amazon videos, pulling back that curtain of secrecy.

This is according to the Wall Street Journal, which reports that the Nielsen streaming ratings will begin next month. Since it won’t have access to data directly from Netflix, Nielsen will sample audio content of streamed movies and shows to determine which titles are being watched.

The ratings won’t initially be made public, and content companies will — at first — only be able to see data for their own shows and movies. Eventually, Nielsen will make ratings for more content available to its subscribers, meaning the numbers will inevitably make its way to the rest of us.

While ratings data may hold some curiosity for Netflix users, the folks with the most interest in the Nielsen numbers would be the content companies that license their videos to Netflix.

Many studios license their content in bundles to services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, so if the Nielsen ratings show that a certain show is particularly popular, the studio could use this info to get a higher fee for all of its content when it comes time to renew the license.

Likewise, people associated with popular shows — actors, producers, writers, directors — might be able to make a case for a better deal from the studio.

Of course, if a show isn’t popular on Netflix — or if the data shows that Netflix users have wide-ranging interests and that individual pieces of content aren’t as important as the entirety of the library — the ratings wouldn’t be of much use to the content companies.

The data could also be used to compare what’s popular online vs. what works on pay-TV, and whether or not streaming services are cannibalizing viewership on cable.

NHTSA Pushes For National Recall Of Takata Airbags

Wed, 2014-11-19 16:32
(I Am Rob)

(I Am Rob)

In the past year, nearly 10 million vehicles have been recalled in areas of high humidity – generally the southern United States – related to defective Takata-produced airbags. That number could increase significantly now that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has urged the Japanese auto parts maker and car manufacturers to expand the recall to cover the entire United States.

On Tuesday, NHTSA called for a national recall of vehicles with certain driver’s side frontal airbags made by Takata.

Officials with the agency say the decision to call for an expanded recall was based on NHTSA’s evaluation of a recent driver’s side airbag failure in a vehicle outside the current regional recall area.

Reuters reports the incident involved a 2007 Ford Mustang in North Carolina. Investigators with NHTSA say that all other incidents of Takata airbag ruptures have occurred in areas of the regional recall.

Regulators believe that issues with the airbags have been caused by the presence of moisture, which led automakers to initiate recalls in areas of high humidity such as southern Florida, along the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Saipan and American Samoa.

Based on the new information, unless Takata and the ten manufacturers that use its airbags quickly agree to the national recall, NHTSA officials say they will use the full extent of the agency’s statutory powers to ensure vehicles that use the same or similar airbags inflators are recalled.

As part of NHTSA ongoing investigation into the defective airbags, the agency issued a General Order to Takata and all 10 vehicle manufacturers – BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota – requiring them to file, under oath, a detailed report and produce all related documents about completed, ongoing or planned testing of Takata inflators outside the current regional recall area.

“The agency is demanding this information to compel Takata and the affected industry to be frank with not only NHTSA, but the American public, as to what testing and additional steps they have done and plan to do to control and mitigate the risk associated with Takata’s defective inflators,” a statement from NHTSA reads.

Reuters reports that officials with Honda, Ford, Mazda, and Chrysler have said they would continue to cooperate with NHTSA and plan to evaluate their call for a national recall.

However, each company stopped short os saying they would expand bend the current set of cars they are fixing. Reuters reports that BMW’s initial recall was already of national scope.

A spokesperson for Takata tells Reuters that the company will cooperate with regulators and automakers if a national recall is required, but that of the “almost 1,000 passenger and driver inflators from outside the high humidity areas that have been evaluated to date, none have ruptured.”

“Takata is concerned that a national recall could potentially divert replacement air bags from where they’re needed, putting lives at risk,” the company said in a statement.

In addition to the request for documents and an expanded recall, NHTSA issued a Special Order to Takata – the second regarding the defective airbags – asking the company to provide documents and detailed information related to the propellant used in the inflators.

It was previously reported that Takata uses an unusual chemical explosive – ammonium nitrate – for the chemical’s ability to make airbags inflate in a matter of milliseconds. Since then the company notified NHTSA of a change in its chemical compound.

Officials with NHTSA say they want to analyze the information received from Takata regarding the chemical to determine if its composition may be the cause or a contributing factor to the airbag inflator ruptures.

Legislators who previously criticized NHTSA for their allowance of regional recalls and called for a criminal investigation into Takata say the new push is welcomed, but may not be large enough in scope.

Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Ed Markey of Massachusetts tell Reuters that NHTSA’s call should also include replacement of passenger side airbags, as well as the driver’s side airbags.

Earlier this month the lawmakers called on the Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation into Takata after news revealed the company secretly tested airbags four years before the first recall was announced.

“Reports that Takata concealed and destroyed test results revealing fatal air bag defects, along with other evidence that the company was aware of these deadly problems, clearly require a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice,” Blumenthal and Markey say in a news release. “If the reports are true, the company must be held accountable for the horrific deaths and injuries that its wrongdoing caused. These allegations are credible and shocking — plainly warranting a prompt and aggressive criminal probe.”

Legislators will have their chance to grill Takata executives and officials from several car manufacturers during a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing tomorrow afternoon.

USDOT Calls for National Recall of Defective Takata Driver Side Air Bags [NHTSA]
U.S. auto regulator seeks nationwide recall of Takata air bags [Reuters]

Police Searching For Lane Bryant Shopper Accused Of Letting Her Dog Urinate On Store’s Clothes

Wed, 2014-11-19 15:57



There are bad consumers, and then there are shoppers who allow their dogs to do their bathroom business inside the store. And we’re not talking a little “oops” of a light sprinkle, but New Jersey police say one Lane Bryant shopper let her little pet pee on $2,000 worth of store merchandise.

Police are looking for a 35-year-old suspect who’s accused of allegedly allowing her pooch to tinkle on 14 dresses and 11 pairs of pants at a Lane Bryant store, reports the Smoking Gun.

Investigators say the woman and her dog entered the store on Monday afternoon, whereupon the canine went about urinating on the clothing, which totaled about $2,000 in soiled products.

That wasn’t cool with store personnel, who reportedly asked the woman to leave the store. She “became belligerent and refused,” the police report says, so workers called 9-1-1.

But before officers could nab the suspect, she drove off, running several red lights while police followed her. Cops called off the chase upon encountering a wet roadway, concerned that the chase could turn out dangerous for others.

The suspect was identified through her license plate and a physical description, and is now wanted on counts of eluding police and obstruction.

New Jersey Cops Hunt Woman Who Let Her Dog Urinate On $2000 Worth Of Clothing In Lane Bryant Store [The Smoking Gun]

UPS Works To Avoid Another Holiday Backlog, Will Charge Retailers Extra If It Happens

Wed, 2014-11-19 00:42



Dear retailers: UPS has its eye you. In an interview with the wire service Reuters, the company’s CEO explained its efforts to avoid another disaster like the Christmas 2013 shipping delay that left many Americans sad and giftless. Namely, if retailers try any last-minute sale shenanigans while promising delivery by Christmas, it’s going to cost them. Money.

Last year, there were about two million packages that arrived late, which were largely the fault of retailers who promised express shipping by Christmas. Not everyone enjoys receiving gifts after the holiday, and for the last year, the entire retail industry has been thinking about how to prevent a similar delivery disaster next year. Shipping carriers like UPS, FedEx, and the U.S. Postal Service may actually appreciate Christmas Creep and Black Friday Creep, since if the sale cycle begins earlier, that gives them more time to deliver orders.

While CEO David Abney told Reuters that UPS has increased its capacity and its ability to spot massive package surges before they cause systemwide delays, they also won’t rule out charging retailers extra if they cause extra work. UPS reports that the number of packages that it processes at the peak of the holiday season is up 40% since 2009.

UPS CEO: Unplanned holiday surge could cost retailers [Reuters]

You Can Now Delegate Mailing Boxes Of Poop To Your Enemies

Tue, 2014-11-18 23:29

poopicWhile placing feces on the doorstep of someone who has offended you is a time-honored insult, it’s now possible, for about the cost of a pizza and wings, to have a steaming pile delievered to the address of your choice. Well, maybe not so much a “steaming pile,” and more of a “room-temperature sealed plastic container.” Is this service all it’s advertised to be? There’s nothing quite like a first-hand review when a new product or service hits the market.

We at Consumerist haven’t tested the service, because we prefer to find other ways to nauseate our colleagues. Instead, we will go by the review of Pando Daily, where they received poo in minimalist packaging from someone in Slovenia. Slovenia? What did they put on the customs form, I wonder?

Motherboard has a video review (Warning: auto-play video) that will make you thankful that technology to transmit smell over the Internet is not yet a thing. They found the merchandise satisfactorily smelly, but the container sent to Pando was stale. Quality and customer service are important: while Shit Express has the latter down, they might have some quality control issues. No one wants to spend good money sending stale, non-smelly feces to … whoever it is you send feces to.

I am not 100% satisfied with the box of shit I received in the mail [PandoDaily]

Authorities Arrest Owner, Six Employees Of Debt Collection Group That Scammed $4.1M From Consumers

Tue, 2014-11-18 22:56

(Alan Bruce)

(Alan Bruce)

We’re no stranger to the shady tactics that debt collection companies use to pry money from consumers. But the latest scam to be shut down by U.S. authorities might be one of the most egregious we’ve ever seen.

Reuters reports that criminal charges were filed against a Georgia collection agency, its owner and seven employees for their alleged part in running a scam that bilked $4.1 million from 6,000 consumers over a five-year period.

Williams Scott & Associates are accused of wrongly threatening people with arrest, using aliases and trying other tricks to collect million of dollars in fake payday loan debts from consumers, a federal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court states.

Employees with the company allegedly impersonated FBI agents, U.S. Marshals, sheriffs and Justice Department employees as a way to collect debts.

Callers used aliases such as “Mr. Cline” and “Investigator Ace Rogers,” telling victims that the “national check fraud center” had filed complaints against them and that they would face jail time if they didn’t pay up, the complaint states.

WSA also allegedly emailed bogus “government” documents purporting to show consumers owed money or were being sought on a warrant.

In order to sound convincing, Reuters reports, the company’s employees read from a script containing phrases such as “failure to respond will lead to criminal charges being pursued,” and “it’s a Class A felony pending against you for theft of property.”

During the five-year scheme, the company reportedly used 87 phone numbers, switching when a number received too many complaints.

The company’s owner, John Williams, along with six employees were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connections with the scheme.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara tells Reuters that the case is an example of “an absolute epidemic of abusive debt collection practices.”

Bharara says he has contacted federal agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission, to bring about more cases as part of a broad crackdown of deceptive debt collection practices.

WSA previously agreed with the FTC to stop collecting allegedly fake payday loan debts.

UPDATE 1-U.S. says debt collector cheated 6,000 people in scheme [Reuters]

Firestone Made Deal With The Devil, Paid Millions To Help Fund Genocidal Warlord

Tue, 2014-11-18 22:29

Frontline and Pro Publica's "Firestone and the Warlord" investigates the secret relationship between the American tire company and the infamous Liberian warlord/president/mass-murderer Charles Taylor (pictured). [Photo Credit: © Patrick Robert/Sygma/Corbis]

Frontline and Pro Publica’s “Firestone and the Warlord” investigates the secret relationship between the American tire company and the infamous Liberian warlord/president/mass-murderer Charles Taylor (pictured). [Photo Credit: © Patrick Robert/Sygma/Corbis]

In the late 1980s, 40% of the latex used in the United States was supplied by a single plantation — a massive operation run by Firestone in the African nation of Liberia. The plantation had survived the 1980 coup that saw the country’s president slaughtered in his bed and cabinet members executed in public. But after an even bloodier uprising began in 1989, Firestone ultimately ended up in bed with one of history’s most evil figures.

“Firestone & The Warlord,” the latest from Frontline and Pro Publica, is an in-depth investigation into the tire company’s decision to fund and help legitimize Liberian mass-murderer Charles Taylor during his insurrection in the early ’90s. It debuts tonight on PBS, while the Pro Publica story can be read in its entirety now.

Following the 1980 military coup led by eventual president Samuel Doe, American-educated Taylor was put in charge of the government bureau responsible for procurement. When he was accused by Doe of embezzlement, Taylor fled to the U.S., where he was eventually jailed.

Mysteriously, Taylor managed to escape custody and make his way back to Liberia (via Libya), where he quickly began building an army, mainly consisting of heavily armed, unskilled boys, often from neighboring nations like Sierra Leone.

Taylor’s army quickly took over large swaths of Liberia, but was unable to take the capital of Monrovia, about 45 miles west of the Firestone plantation in the company town of Harbel.

“It really didn’t affect us much,” says the former Senior Accountant for the Firestone operation, “until we knew that they were getting closer to Monrovia, and therefore, obviously, closer to us. I was hoping the rebels would go around the plantation, not come onto the plantation, and we would be able to continue to operate.”

But the war did come to the plantation on June 5, 1990, when a small group of Taylor’s rebels burst into the plantation’s golf club and demanded vehicles, bags of rice, handheld radios and petty cash.

The rebels also began killing and torturing people in Harbel who belonged to the wrong tribe. Soon, more than 1,000 employees and family members showed up at the plantation manager’s estate looking for some sort of help or protection.

“They told us that he cannot take us in because we are the ones who will be protecting him,” recalls one former worker, “not he protecting us.”

Another former manager who is Liberian says that only the foreign Firestone workers — mostly American — were given shelter.

“He said, ‘It’s Liberians that are coming. You are gonna be safe among your own people. You don’t need to come in,’” says the manager. “So only the expats can come in.”

Those expats tell Frontline that they simply couldn’t protect anyone. And even the manager’s mansion was no longer safe after the ninth day of Taylor’s breach of the plantation. Rebels told the expats they had to leave the house or it would be destroyed with an RPG.

And so, the next day the expat management fled by plane and the plantation stopped operating. But the war continued.

The former head of the Coca-Cola bottling operation (also then run by Firestone) in Harbel says that around 17% of his more than 300 employees were killed by rebels.

“My driver, my secretary,” he recalls, “the story that bothered me the most was my driver because… First time he was beaten; second time they cut the soles off his feet. Third time they shot him.”

In spite of these atrocities, Firestone’s biggest concern was not for the workers at its abandoned plantation who were now subject to the whims of a madman and his army of young killers. Instead, Firestone (which had been purchased by Bridgestone in 1988) was more concerned about the lack of rubber and revenue coming out of Liberia.

“Firestone’s intent was to make money,” says the plantation’s former controller. “Why did we go back? Because we felt sorry for the people that were there? Probably not. We wanted to get the investment earning money again.”

And even though sources both inside and outside the U.S. government were discussing reports of acts of genocide by Taylor’s army, including atrocities in Sierra Leone, where Taylor was cashing in on the lucrative diamond business, the government never openly told Firestone that it would be a bad idea to deal with the rebels.

Making things even more complicated was the fact that the interim government set up in Monrovia was also not recognized as being legitimate. But they didn’t have control of the plantation — Taylor did — and the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeepers were doing more looting and photo-taking than keeping of the peace.

And so, in Oct. 1990, only months after being run off their own property by rebels, Firestone contacted Taylor to request a meeting, saying that the company “continues to incur major losses as a result of hostilities.”

In early 1991, Taylor invited Firestone officials back to Liberia to assess the plantation. By then, all but the manager’s mansion had been gutted and destroyed, chunks of land ruined, and the streets so strewn with dead bodies that the Coca-Cola manager says you couldn’t drive down the road without running over human bones.

At the time, Taylor admitted to officials that his forces would probably have no choice but to surrender if the U.S. military were to send in soldiers to quash the fighting, but with American soldiers already busy in the first Gulf War, Liberia’s bloody conflict took a backseat.

By the end of 1991, the board of Firestone agreed to work with Taylor, who demanded that the company recognize his government as the rightful ruling power in Liberia, even though he still didn’t control Monrovia.

As part of the terms of its agreement with Taylor, Firestone not only agreed to recognize him as the president of Liberia and use a shipping port controlled by Taylor, but that it would also pay more than $2.3 million in taxes to his government, which would also remain on the land alongside the plantation workers to provide “security.”

A former advisor to Taylor tells Frontline that getting the Firestone plantation reopened and allied with the rebels gave credibility to the insurrectionists.

“For every employee at Firestone… they have about a secondary and tertiary family of eight people,” he explains. ” So for 1,000 people you’re affecting the lives and providing sustenance for 8,000 people. We needed Firestone to keep people busy.”

A U.S.-based Liberian attorney for Firestone at the time says the company did what it had to do.

“For Firestone, it was either you don’t go back or you have to acquiesce and pay taxes to the government in control of that area,” he claims. “They did the right thing.”

But Amos Sawyer, the then-president of the interim government in Monrovia, tells Frontline he believes this is nonsense.

“They had a choice,” he claims. “I don’t understand this notion of not having choice over the corpses of Liberians. What is that supposed to mean? Choice to become a launch pad to rain war on Liberians? I don’t accept it.”

And Taylor was about to truly rain down war on his fellow Liberians, with the help of the Firestone money and using the Firestone plantation as a base for his prolonged attack on Monrovia.

That attack began in Oct. 1992, not even a year after Firestone returned to Liberia and invested millions in rebuilding the facility.

The company claims that it had no idea that Taylor was using the plantation as a staging ground or storing weapons on the property, but employees at the plantation believe there is no way that Firestone management did not know what was going on.

“The plantation had been turned into a major military installation,” claims Sawyer. “Firestone provided the backdrop for this. Provided the rear base, the rear guard base. Provided the ammunition depot from which ambushes could be set and all of this could happen.”

And it could have continued to go on like this, with Firestone harvesting sap and Taylor launching attacks on Monrovia, if ECOMOG had not decided on an aerial strike against the rebel camp in Harbel.

“There were guys on the football field playing,” remembers one worker of the bombing that killed around 40 people. “And then the next thing we saw, they started releasing bombs and people started running.”

This was too much for Firestone’s expats to take, so they pulled up stakes again and fled the plantation.

But not before sending an apology note — not to its workers — but to Taylor.

“I wish to personally thank you for your kind understanding,” wrote the plantation’s manager. “I look forward to being able to quickly return to restart our operations.”

And Firestone would restart that relationship in 1996, when it returned to Liberia, which would eventually elect Taylor to the office of president in 1997.

While the tire company downplays its complicity in abetting Taylor’s actions, claiming the millions it provided to the rebels were insignificant in the big picture of a rebellion that lasted nearly a decade, Taylor’s own words paint a different picture of the company’s role in his rise.

More than a decade later, when tried for crimes against humanity at The Hague, Taylor explained the importance that Firestone in the early years of his insurrection.

“You had immediately a means that would provide the needed financial assistance that we needed for the revolution,” explained Taylor about being allied with the plantation, which “became at that particular time our most significant principal source of foreign exchange.”

For the full story, watch Frontline tonight (and check out the Frontline site for videos and huge amounts of supplementary material), and read the story on Pro Publica.

Dave & Buster’s Apologizes For Tweeting That All Guys Named Juan Like Tacos

Tue, 2014-11-18 22:03

(via AdAge)

(via AdAge)

In yet another chapter of the book all companies should read, How Not To Tweet So You Don’t Risk Offending Your Customers, Dave & Buster’s went and shoved the basketball into its own hoop with a misguided tweet timed to coincide with #TacoTuesdays that basically says anyone named Juan likes tacos.

According to various reports including one from AdAge, this morning D&B tweeted the joke”‘I hate tacos’ said no Juan ever #TacoTuesday #DaveandBusters”

The response from Twitter was immediate, with calls for D&B to delete their account, some calling the tweet racist, and others, simply responding: “what the [expletive.]“

“Why do so many companies hire people who are completely tone deaf to handle their social media?” wrote another user.

The swift backlash prompted D&B to reportedly delete the tweet within the hour, and later this afternoon, issue an apology on Twitter:

We sincerely apologize for the tweet that went out today our intention was never to offend anyone please accept our apology

— Dave & Buster's (@DaveandBusters) November 18, 2014

Pabst Blue Ribbon Remains American, Wasn’t Actually Purchased By Russian Brewing Company

Tue, 2014-11-18 21:30

(Ken Fager)

(Ken Fager)

Back in September it was widely reported that Pabst Blue Ribbon would become a little less American after its parent company was purchased by a Russian beverage company. Only that was never actually the case.

The New York Times DealBook reports that despite a press release announcing the deal, Russian brewer Oasis never had any part in buying Pabst Brewing Company, maker of PBR, Colt 45, Old Milwaukee and Schlitz.

In reality, Oasis was never even included in talks to acquire Pabst. Instead, it was the former chairman of Oasis who independently sought the purchase of the American brewing company.

Eugene Kashper, a U.S. citizen who was born in Russia, was working with San Francisco-based private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners to close the deal.

Kashper and TSG created a new company – Blue Ribbon Intermediate Holdings – that eventually purchased Pabst.

The confusion over who was purchasing the brewing company came after Kashper, who reportedly has a long history in the brewing business, had apparently discussed a distribution agreement with Oasis that would have introduced Pabst to the Russian and Eastern European markets.

However, DealBook reports that those discussions broke down because market conditions in Russia and Eastern Europe made it an inconvenient time to introduce the beer in the area.

It remains unclear why the press release sent to media outlets contained the overtly inaccurate information. Kashper and TSG declined the publication’s request for comment and Oasis was unable to be reached.

Hey Guys, the Russians Aren’t Buying Pabst After All [The New York Times DealBook]

Computer Engineer Barbie Needs Men To Write Code, Can’t Reboot Computer

Tue, 2014-11-18 21:22

barbieengineerIt’s taken the media at large many months to catch on, but Amazon reviewers have been up in arms over a book from Mattel’s “I Can Be” Barbie series, I Can Be A Computer Engineer (Mattel created a Computer Engineer Barbie in 2010 as well) for months now. Why? Because Barbie doesn’t seem to actually do anything a computer engineer does, only has the skills to design a game and needs the help of men to code it and heck, she can’t even reboot her computer right.

Let’s set the scene, as noted by yesterday and subsequently posted to Reddit: Barbie is working on her laptop one morning, eating yogurt as one does in front of computers, and Skipper asks what she’s up to. She’s busy computering, it seems.

“I’m designing a game that shows kids how computers work,” explains Barbie. “You can make a robot puppy do cute tricks by matching up colored blocks!”

Right on, girl power! Wait — designing adorable puppies is one thing, but they need to be coded.

“Your robot puppy is so sweet,” says Skipper. “Can I play your game?”

“I’m only creating the design ideas,” Barbie says, laughing. “I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!”

Yes, really.


She then proceeds to give her computer a virus while failing to email her design ideas to the boys who must help her, and can’t figure out to reboot her computer. If that’s not bad enough, she also puts a virus on Skipper’s laptop, losing all her important homework files.

And yes, there’s more — a whole lot, including a scene where the boys tell Barbie she can fix things faster if they help, and the end where Barbie takes the credit for all the work she didn’t do and gets extra credit to boot: ” ‘I guess I can be a computer engineer!” says Barbie happily.’ “

Those are not the messages parents say they want their daughters to hear, as reviewers have been noting on the Amazon reviews of the book since January. It’s part of a two-pack offering along with I Can Be An Actress.

Of course there’s been an avalanche of negative reviews since yesterday, but the bad reviews stretch back 11 months.

January 31, 2014:

I found the sexist drivel that this book portays[sic] to be especially inflammatory, so much so that I’ve placed it near my fireplace for emergency use during a power outage. The demeaning words add extra fuel as they certainly come from the fire of hell itself.

Also wonderful for starting your backyard grill.

February 11, 2014:

I just read this book, and it’s incomprehensible how misogynistic it is. I wouldn’t be surprised if it got removed from the shelves soon.

Still on virtual shelves by February 13, 2014:

An appalling representation of how women act in the world of technology.
Lessons you learn from “I Can Be a Computer Engineer”:

A girl needs a boy to do anything of value.
Women are not able to fix their own computer problems.
Girls need boys to do their work for them but can simply take the credit and no one will worry about who really did the work since, duh! a girl couldn’t have done it by herself.

Basically this book enforces all the bad stereotypes about women/girls not being capable enough to compete with men/boys when it comes to careers in technology. Fantastic.

November 17, 2014, people are catching on even more:

To add insult to misogynist injury, the depiction of “computer engineer” has nothing to do with either engineering or computer science. As far as I can tell, this story seems to think “computer engineer” means being utterly ignorant of how computers work, and not actually using them to write software.

Do your daughter a favor, and just download the past year of @SwiftOnSecurity’s tweets, instead. She’ll learn far more about computer security, engineering, and girl power from a real fake girl than from this waste of tree carcasses.

Which brings us to today:

Wow, and here to think I’ve been foolish enough to do my own work all these years when I could have just found some boys to do it for me. Where were Steven and Brian when I had to write my dissertation?

Seriously, with all the hard work so many are putting in to make sure that girls know that computing can be a great career for them it’s absolutely appalling to see something like this out there to reinforce the gender stereotypes.

I wish I could say this is the first time we’ve seen a major company send a message like this, but of course there was “Math is hard” Barbie, followed by a slew of bad retailer decisions that, intentionally or not, tell girls they can’t do something boys can do, or should like only stereotypically girl things like shopping and the color pink.

We’ve reached out to Mattel for comment and will update this post if we get a response.