website utilities

People before Profit

Follow alonovo.com on:

The Consumerist

CFPB Wants Better, Faster Database Of Credit Card Agreements

Wed, 2015-02-25 20:12
(Philip Taylor)

(Philip Taylor)

Much like a restaurant that has to shutter for a short time while installing new kitchen equipment, federal regulators occasionally have to press pause on an important process to fix things for the long haul. So in order to improve the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s public database of credit card agreements, the agency is planning to give banks a brief break from having to file those documents with the system.

Under the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibly and Disclosure (CARD) Act, each quarter certain banks are required to send their customer agreements to the CFPB, which then posts the document to an online database that consumers can use to compare terms and conditions.

However, the Bureau says the current system for receiving and posting agreements is too slow, sometimes taking up to a month for the documents to appear in the database.

As a result, the CFPB is proposing [PDF] a one year suspension on credit card issuers’ obligations to manually submit the agreements so that the Bureau can develop a new submission system.

“Streamlining the process for how credit card companies submit their agreements to us could help save time and reduce burden for both industry and our agency,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray says in a statement. “Updating this process should also give consumers and other users access to the data in a faster and more useable form.”

Depsite a reprieve from submitting the documents the Bureau, credit card issuers must still adhere to the CARD Act requirement to post agreements on their own publicly available websites.

The proposed suspension would apply to submissions due to the Bureau by the first business day on or after April 30, July 31, and October 31 of 2015, and January 31, 2016. Issuers would resume submitting the agreements beginning April 30, 2016.

If the suspension is approved, the Bureau says it will collect consumer credit agreements from the largest card issuers’ public websites and post them to the online database.

“This will help ensure that the database contains agreement terms that are currently offered to consumers by credit card issuers responsible for the substantial majority of existing and new credit cards in the U.S.,” the Bureau says.

The CFPB will accept public comments on the proposal until March 13.

CFPB Seeks to Improve Process for Industry Submission of Consumer Credit Card Agreements [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau]

Revenge Porn Site Operator Tells Google To Remove His Personal Info. Seriously.

Wed, 2015-02-25 19:20

For the record, this is what Craig Brittain looked like in 2013 when he sat down to speak with KCAL-TV about his site.

For the record, this is what Craig Brittain looked like in 2013 when he sat down to speak with KCAL-TV about his site.

For several years, Craig Brittain operated a so-called “revenge porn” website that not only allowed users to publicly post revealing photos and personal information about people (mostly women) without their permission, but actively encouraged it. The site has since been shut down and Brittain recently settled with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations of fraud. But now the man who made money off the sharing of strangers’ images doesn’t want the world to know what he looks like.

Ars Technica points out that Brittain recently filed a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice with Google, asking that the search engine block search results for numerous websites for “Unauthorized use of photos of me and other related information. Unauthorized use of statements and identity related information. Unauthorized copying of excerpts from isanybodydown.com. Using photos which are not ‘fair use’.”

Among the sites listed in the DMCA request are Vice.com, Gawker, HuffPo, Ars, reddit, Salon.com, Forbes, PopeHat, and two pages on the FTC website that contain information about the very settlement to which he agreed.

Google has taken no action and likely won’t, as Brittain is a public figure who has previously made himself available for TV news stories about his site. Unless he can claim a copyright on specific images, he can’t justifiably ask to have the content removed or blocked from search results.

Perhaps each of the sites on Brittain’s DMCA list should take a lesson from him and offer to remove his images — for an extortionate fee.

[via The Verge]

NYC Cabbie’s License Suspended After Video Appears To Show Him Pulling Pregnant Passenger From His Car

Wed, 2015-02-25 19:19

(afagen)

(afagen)

A New York City cab driver has had his license suspended after a pregnant woman accused him of pulling her from his vehicle during a payment dispute. She says the alleged incident caused her to go into labor five weeks early.

Surveillance video from a building in Midtown Manhattan appears to show the driver opening the door of the cab and hauling the woman out of the back seat, reports CBS New York.

She says the issue began when she got into the cab and the driver told her his credit card reader was broken. So she offered to stop to get cash at an ATM in Brooklyn, she claims, but instead, he told her to get out of the car. When she refused, he took matters into her own hands, she says, pushing her to the ground after pulling her from the car. He then took off.

“I was just in shock — complete shock,” she said. “I was really worried about my baby.”

Being eight months pregnant, she went to the hospital and was checked out and cleared to go home. A few days later, she went into early labor, five weeks ahead of her due date.

She says she immediately filed a police report at the scene, but because she had no visible physical injuries, no assault charges were filed and the case was closed. This, despite the surveillance video showing the incident.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission told CBS that it suspended the license of the accused cab driver in connection with the alleged incident last week.

Cabbie’s License Suspended After Pregnant Woman Is Allegedly Roughed Up [CBS New York]

Track How Customers Move Around Real-Life Malls With The ‘Physical Cookie’

Wed, 2015-02-25 18:53

keychainCookies are small files that websites store on your computer so they can identify and remember you. They can do useful things, like keep you signed in to a site, or annoying things, like make what seems like every ad bar across the entire Internet show you ankle boots after just one Zappos search. What if that technology could follow you into real life?

That’s the dream of one property company in Finland, which has a vested interest in keeping real-life malls healthy and solvent. They conducted a real-life test of the physical cookie, which they’re now marketing as a keychain called Sponda. Their pitch to mall owners? Malls can stay ahead of e-commerce by tracking and advertising to shoppers just like websites do. Once everyone is disappointed that “physical cookie” doesn’t mean that it’s snack time,

The transponders aren’t registered to the person’s identity and address, but instead sit there and gather data while the person browses and makes purchases. Mall billboards and store displays can then customize displays to shoppers as they walk around. This is what phone-based services like iBeacon would like to do, but they’re limited to zapping offers to users on their phones.

‘Physical cookie’ could help malls fight back against Amazon [Mashable]
Physical Cookie [Sponda]

American Express Raises Interest Rates In Effort To Be Just Like Other Credit Cards

Wed, 2015-02-25 18:49
(The.Comedian)

(The.Comedian)

The bad news continues to mount for American Express customers, as the company announced plans Wednesday to raise the annual interest rates on a number of consumer credit cards.

Bloomberg reports that more than a million cardholders will be affected by the rate increase to variable-rate products, including some proprietary and co-branded credit cards.

Under the plan, AmEx will increase interest rates by an average of 2.5 percentage points, bringing rates for new customers up to at least 12.99%. However, some longtime customers may continue to have lower rates.

The company says the hike – which applies to balance transfers and new purchases – is the result of a year-long review that purportedly found AmEx rates were well below competitor cards.

“We analyzed our credit-card portfolio last year and found customers that had APRs considerably lower than market rates, sometimes as low at 3.25%,” Elizabeth Crosta, a spokeswoman for the company says.

According to Bloomberg, the average rate on a variable credit card is currently 15.76%.

The company says the changes are a normal part of business, despite the fact that it hasn’t increased rates in nearly five years.

Crosta says the new rates are no different from what consumers would get if they applied for a comparable AmEx card today.

AmEx has suffered several substantial losses already in 2015.

In early February, the company confirmed a months-long rumor that it would end its exclusive relationship with Costco. The agreement between the two companies is slated to end in March 2016.

Shortly after that announcement, rumors began swirling that AmEx and JetBlue would end their decade-long relationship. At the time, sources claimed that JetBlue had reached a deal with Barclays Plc and MasterCard Inc. to take over its co-branded card business.

On top of the severed partnerships, AmEx was dealt a blow last week when a federal court ruled the company’s merchant agreements violate antitrust laws, resulting in higher costs for customers.

AmEx Said to Increase Rates for More Than 1 Million Cardholders [Bloomberg]

Tobacco Giants To Pay $100 Million To Settle Hundreds Of Lawsuits In Florida

Wed, 2015-02-25 18:35

(Ryan McFarland)

(Ryan McFarland)

After more than two decades of a legal roller-coaster that at one point had the tobacco industry hit with $145 billion in damages, hundreds of federal lawsuits in Florida are close to being settled after three tobacco giants reached a deal to pay a total of $100 million.

In May 1994, a Florida man named Howard Engle filed a class-action suit against the country’s largest tobacco companies on behalf of smokers in the state who alleged that cigarette makers had misled consumers about the dangers of their products.

And they did mislead people for decades, which is why in May 2000 a Florida jury slapped the defendants with $145 billion in damages, one of the largest jury awards ever in the U.S.

But the tobacco companies argued that the class of plaintiffs was too general and that the penalty too excessive, and the state’s Supreme Court ultimately agreed.

The court decertified the class in 2006. Decertification can be a lawsuit-killer in that members of the former plaintiff class must now file as individuals or regroup into smaller plaintiff groups; having to reprove the case all over again but for a smaller payout.

However, the Florida Supremes allowed the so-called “Engle progeny” to use the jury’s factual findings in any lawsuits they subsequently filed. So these plaintiffs would not have to prove that the tobacco companies misled consumers; just that they were affected by these misleading representations.

That resulted in thousands of lawsuits filed in Florida state courts and in U.S. District Courts in the state. Since plaintiffs didn’t have to go through the hassle of trying to re-prove the lies told by tobacco companies, most Engle verdicts have gone against the tobacco industry.

One company, Liggett Group, settled in 2013 for $110 million, which is more than double what any of the three companies involved in today’s announcement will pay.

Reynolds American Inc. and Altria Group Inc. will each pay $42.5 million, while Lorillard Inc. will pay $15 million.

These settlements, if approved, will only close the books on unresolved lawsuits in Florida federal courts. The announcement does not impact cases filed against the tobacco companies in state court.

[via WSJ.com]

SCOTUS: Dentists Can’t Bar Other Businesses From Offering Teeth-Whitening Services

Wed, 2015-02-25 18:20

(evil robot 6)

(evil robot 6)

When you want to get your pearly whites professionally polished to their pearliest and whitest, going to the dentist doesn’t have to be the only option, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled today. The justices had looked at a case brought by the Federal Trade Commission against a North Carolina state board dominated by dentists that the agency said had unlawfully excluded non-dentists from teeth-whitening services.

The justices ruled 6-3 that the board acted illegally be excluding competing businesses from offering teeth-whitening services, reports USA Today, the kind you might see in shopping malls, spas and other stores.

The FTC charged the state Board of Dental Examiners with antitrust activities, saying it was acting in the interest of dentists and not customers by doing things like issuing cease and desist letters to non-dentists who were whitening teeth.

Back in 2006, the dental board had warned operators of teeth-whitening kiosks away, saying they were practicing dentistry without a license, the Associated Press reports. Those businesses were pressured into closing, pushing customers to go to higher-priced dentists.

A federal appeals court had agreed that the board had been acting like a group of private practitioners, and not as a state agency. The Supreme Court sided with that court and the FTC, ruling that dentists shouldn’t be keeping customers from finding cheaper ways of whitening their teeth just to make a buck.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion that the FTC was right to conclude that the state regulators also had a financial interest in the market for teeth-whitening, despite that fact that state entitities are usually exempt from federal antitrust laws.

The exemption doesn’t apply here because the board wasn’t actively supervised by the state, notes Reuters, and was instead made up of self-interested private businesses.

He wrote that the exemption “does not authorize the states to abandon markets to the unsupervised control of active market participants.”

Justices: Dentists can’t decide who whitens your teeth [USA Today]
Supreme Court drills dentists in teeth-bleaching dispute [Associated Press]
Supreme Court says state dental board can’t regulate teeth whitening [Reuters]

Nearly A Year After Recall, Alli Weight-Loss Pills Return To Stores

Wed, 2015-02-25 17:50

After 11 months in recall limbo, alli is heading back to store shelves.

After 11 months in recall limbo, alli is heading back to store shelves.

In March 2014, drug giant GlaxoSmithKline issued a voluntary recall of the popular alli weight-loss pill over concerns about possible package tampering. Nearly a year later, the over-the-counter drug is finally coming back to stores.

Alli (orlistat) had been on sale as an over-the-counter drug in the U.S. since June 2007 when it was recalled last year.

The recall occurred after some alli users claimed to have discovered non-alli pills inside of bottles that had been sealed. This led to concerns of tampering, resulting in GSK working to create a more tamper-resistant container for the drug.

The AP reports that Amazon recently began taking pre-orders for alli in anticipation of its re-release and that the drug officially hit the market again via drugstore.com this month. GSK says alli should be back in most stores by this point.

Hero Sets Record By Eating 182 Slices Of Bacon In Five Minutes

Wed, 2015-02-25 17:09

(Carbon Arc)

(Carbon Arc)

Listen, not everyone can throw arterial caution to the wind, so when someone does go above and beyond the usual bacon intake to prove themselves a hero in the pork-eating world, it must be noted. I salute you, guy who ate 182 slices of bacon in five minutes, because there is no way I will ever be you.

Of course, competitive eating is not for everyone, even those who really, really, really like eating delicious foods such as bacon.

But it was all in a day’s greasy work for competitive eating champion Matt “Megatoad” Stonie, who crammed a world record amount of bacon into his stomach in just five minutes during a contest sponsored by Smithfield Foods in Dayton, FL recently, reports WXIA.

The event kicked off the Smithfield Pig Out Chase, which is an amateur eating competition with various events leading up to an “ultimate eating showdown” that will take place in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The previous bacon record was set in 2010 with just 54 pieces of bacon in five minutes.

“I’m a huge bacon fan, so I jumped at the chance to team up with Smithfield to set the bacon-eating world record,” our brave hero says. “As one of the youngest competitive eaters on the circuit, I’m always looking to push myself so I aimed to eat 150 slices, but when I passed that and got to 182 slices, I knew it must be because I’m fueled by bacon!”

His stomach has been tested before and won accolades for making room for other foods, as well. According to Major League Eating, Megatoad is ranked second overall and has the record for eating the most gyros, birthday cake, frozen yogurt and pumpkin pie.

Man eats 182 slices of bacon in one sitting [WXIA]

Can A Website Get You Out Of A Traffic Ticket?

Wed, 2015-02-25 16:52

(Rich Renomeron)

(Rich Renomeron)

It’s scary to get a traffic ticket, especially if you drive for a living or there’s a hike to your insurance on the line that you can’t afford, not to mention paying the fine. It makes sense to pay a service advertising that it can help get you out of a ticket for a modest fee that’s less than your fine. Or does it?

Instead of going to traffic court, California lets people make their plea in writing: it’s called a trial by written declaration. However, this isn’t the equivalent of hiring a lawyer. When you pay a site like TicketBust.com, you’re effectively paying for some expensive form letters.

That’s what CBS Sacramento learned when a truck driver who used the site to get a red light camera ticket dismissed worried that he was paying $250 for something that couldn’t possibly help. The site promises a partial refund of $100 if a customer’s ticket isn’t dismissed, but keeps the $150 “document processing fee.” That fee goes toward…hitting “print” on a computer, apparently, since the site admits that what they do is choose from a “library of stock defense templates” and send the appropriate one to the court. They aren’t lawyers, but also claim that they don’t represent themselves as one.

The problem, consumer reporter Kurtis Ming points out, is that the company brags that it has helped more than 50,000 drivers on its website. Yet they don’t actually keep track, and have no way to know how many customers they’ve really helped.

Call Kurtis Investigation: Can Websites Fight Traffic Tickets? [CBS Sacramento]

T.J. Maxx, Marshalls & HomeGoods To Increase Minimum Wage To $9/Hour

Wed, 2015-02-25 16:43
(Mark Clifton)

(Mark Clifton)

In another sign that retail companies are re-evaluating the way they pay employees, TJX Cos. – the parent company of stores like T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods – announced it intends to increase hourly wages for worker starting this year.

Bloomberg reports that the company, which also own Sierra Trading Post, unveiled plans Wednesday to boost pay to $9 per hour for nearly 200,000 employees beginning in June.

By 2016 the company aims to pay all hourly workers at least $10 per hour, as long as they have been employed by the retailer for at least six months.

“This pay initiative is an important part of our strategies to continue attracting and retaining the best talent in order to deliver a great shopping experience for our customers, remain competitive on wages in our U.S. markets and stay focused on our value mission,” CEO Carol Meyrowitz said in a statement.

TJX’s proposal to increase employee pay comes just a week after Walmart announced it would provide raises for nearly 40% of its hourly workers over the next year.

Retail wages have been the center of much discussion in the past few years, with workers and labor advocates scrutinizing companies for underpaying employees and the legislature contemplating an across the board increase to minimum wage standards.

As a result, more and more retailers have indicated they would bump up compensation in recent months.

Employees at Gap, Inc. stores received an increase to $9 per hour in 20014, with that wage set to climb to $10 per hour this year.

IKEA also vowed to give hourly workers a raise from $91.7 to $10.76 starting this past January.

TJ Maxx Follows Wal-Mart in Raising Employee Wages to $9 an Hour [Bloomberg]

Warby Parker Is Sorry About Your Stolen Car, Buys You A Beer

Wed, 2015-02-25 16:35

(reddit)

(reddit)

When you have a bad day and make a comment about to someone at the store, you probably don’t expect anyone to do anything other than nod their head and feign sympathy. But one Warby Parker customer says her visit to the eyewear store resulted in a little more than a “there there.”

An Atlanta-area woman named Tess says she recently had her car stolen and smashed into a tree as the thieves made off with it.

That same day she went into a Warby Parker store to pick up her new glasses and mentioned the theft of her vehicle.

Then, according to Tess, she got the above note and gift card to use at a popular bar in Atlanta.

“We were so sorry to hear about your car,” reads the note. “Since you probably won’t be the designated driver any time soon, here’s a round on us!”

Of course, since this is reddit, there are a number of people claiming that this is a plant from Warby Parker intended to go viral; in spite of the fact that Tess has been posting on reddit for two years, including the above-referenced post about her stolen Jeep. And while a number of these eagle-eyed cynics pointed out things like the clean photography, the inclusion of the logos for Warby Parker, the bar, and the name of a particular type of eyeglass frame — some of them managed to miss the fact that Tess is not a “him.”

Obviously Warby Parker and every other retailer that does something like this is hoping that the customer will share their story. That’s the whole point of making generous gestures to customers — that they will be so happy they feel compelled to tell others. Before the Internet, that was called “going above and beyond,” now it’s automatically labeled as viral marketing.

Back in 2013, multiple reddit threads accused an Olive Garden customer of being a corporate shill for posting a photo of a receipt for a meal that had been comped by the restaurant after learning of a family tragedy. In the end, it was all much ado about nothing, as the receipt turned out to be the real deal.

“I posted the receipt on the Internet, and the Internet is a highly skeptical place,” the customer told us at the time, “so I can’t really blame anyone for thinking the receipt was fake.”

Jury Orders Apple To Pay $532.9M After Finding That iTunes Software Infringes On 3 Patents

Wed, 2015-02-25 16:28

(afagen)

(afagen)

Apple is on the hook for a hefty wad of cash after a Texas jury found its iTunes software infringes on three patents held by a company called Smartflash LLC. It’s been ordered to hand over $532.9 million, and has pledged to appeal the verdict.

At the center of the case are three patents owned by Smartflash that deal with data storage and payment management, reports the Wall Street Journal. The company alleged that a patent co-inventor shared his ideas back in 2000 with a man who is now a senior director at Apple.

Smartflash doesn’t make its own products, but claimed that Apple infringed on the patents by using the technology to manage apps sold through the iTunes store, like “Coin Dozer Pro” and “Grub Guardian,” all developed by outside companies. Two of those companies were also defendants before being dismissed from the case.

The jury said that Apple had willfully infringed on all three patents, and that it hadn’t proved the patents were no longer valid. Though $532.9 million is a hefty sum, Smartflash had been seeking even more in damages — $852 million.

“Smartflash makes no products, has no employees, creates no jobs, has no U.S. presence, and is exploiting our patent system to seek royalties for technology Apple invented,” said an Apple spokesperson, adding that Apple would be appealing the decision.

“I would expect Apple to say they will appeal as part of Apple’s standard operating procedure,” said Brad Caldwell, lead counsel for SmartFlash. “However, Smartflash believes the facts and the law support the jury’s verdict.”

Apple isn’t the only target Smartflash had in its sights — it also filed similar lawsuits against Google and Samsung Electronics.

Apple Is Ordered to Pay $532.9 Million in Patent Case [Wall Street Journal]

What You Need To Know About Tomorrow’s Votes On Net Neutrality And Municipal Broadband

Wed, 2015-02-25 16:00

On Thursday morning, the Federal Communications Commission will sit down to discuss and vote on two big issues — net neutrality and municipal broadband — that the cable and telecom industries have campaigned heavily to defeat and obscure. Because of these industry-backed efforts and the legalese involved, many consumers are having difficulty separating myth from reality. In an effort to cut through that haze, we’ve attempted to answer the most pressing questions about these two topics before tomorrow’s vote.

Tomorrow’s FCC session involves two separate but often conflated proceedings. The first is officially dubbed “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet,” but the rest of us know it as Net Neutrality.

The second issue looks at state-level regulations that ban or severely limit municipal broadband, i.e. networks owned by local governments. In particular, the discussion revolves around two FCC petitions, filed by the cities of Wilson, NC, and Chattannooga, TN, asking to be allowed expand their existing public broadband networks in defiance of industry-supported state laws.

The measures are likely to pass in contentious 3-2 votes. Here’s what you need to know about both.

What is going on with net neutrality?Image courtesy of consumerist Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
After over a year of going back and forth with various proposals, the FCC is planning to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service — a common carrier — under Title II of the Communications Act.

Once they have done that, the FCC can put in place strong regulations mandating that ISPs not discriminate among the traffic they carry. Companies like Comcast, Verizon, and so on will not be allowed to block or throttle lawful internet traffic, nor will they be permitted to take cash to speed up or clear the way for other internet traffic (paid prioritization).

In sum: you pay your ISP for your internet access, so you get to pick which content you access. All (lawful) content you request should be delivered to you properly on request, without extra barriers. Neither you nor the people who made the content you’re requesting should have to pay extra to get that content delivered just as well as anything else.

Wait, but network management is a real and vital thing. Will ISPs still be able to do that?
“Reasonable network management” will be explicitly permitted under the new regulations. So ISPs can still manage the flow of data as needed for optimum network performance. But, as the FCC fact sheet points out, there’s a critical caveat: “The network practice must be primarily used for and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management — and not commercial — purpose.”

So: traffic shaping in order to keep the network working smoothly for as many people as possible? A-ok. Traffic shaping in order to give Streaming Service A better access to customers than Streaming Service B? No way.

Who will the new rule apply to?
The rules apply to retail internet providers — companies that sell internet access to consumers. That means your basic home and business ISPs, from AT&T to Verizon and every carrier large and small in between. That does not include back-end, middleman bandwidth delivery companies like Level 3 or Cogent.

However, in a change from previous regulation, it does include wireless broadband. So going forward, net neutrality will apply on your phone’s 4G just as it does on your home wifi.

Does this have any effect on my data caps?
Not right now, or at least nothing affecting data caps — on either mobile or wired service — has been announced at this time.

So how new or groundbreaking is this?
The concept of net neutrality isn’t new at all. It’s the status quo. The regulatory framework is pre-emptively meant to protect it going forward, so ISPs can’t start charging consumers more to access some sites or types of data than others (or start charging businesses to be accessed by some consumers).

Doesn’t that make net neutrality “a solution in search of a problem?”
Nope. Despite nondiscrimination being the overall rule of the road, there are always some folks who don’t play along.

Comcast got in trouble for throttling subscribers’ legitimate content a few years ago, for example. Others have been accused of blocking different legitimate traffic. And AT&T, Verizon, and others have said that they would love to charge for fast-lane access if it were permissible. The problem is there.

Why is Title II reclassification needed to make this happen?
Because the old rules were able to be thrown out in court based on the technical legal arguments. One of the few paths left available to the FCC for future regulation, in that case, was reclassification.

I keep reading that these regulations are old and outdated — they were developed for railroads and for the Bell System! Should they really apply to the internet?
Title II is a section of law with many different provisions in it. The FCC, when using Title II authority, can choose to forbear from (skip) some provisions that don’t or shouldn’t apply while enforcing others that do and should. And that is exactly what they’re doing.

The FCC is explicitly forbearing from any provisions having to do with rate regulation or tariffs, the segments of the law that ISPs considered the most potentially harmful to future investment. The commission is enforcing provisions having to do with consumer protections and access to infrastructure like utility poles.

Some of the specific sections of the law the FCC does and doesn’t plan to apply are listed in their net neutrality fact sheet (PDF), and the full, detailed list will be available to the public after Thursday’s meeting.

I’m worried this will make my internet bill go up because of the $15 billion in new taxes and fees.
Your internet bill probably will go up this year (sorry), but it has absolutely nothing to do with net neutrality. That’s just because there’s no competition in most markets and ISPs will soak you for every penny they can.

Your ISP could absolutely start charging you more after the FCC rule change. But — and this is really important — they already do exactly that anyway and have done so for many years. The main driver of internet price increases is not government policy, but rather the near-complete lack of competition. Prices go up because they can, and they go down when multiple businesses actually have to compete for subscribers.

The claim that reclassifying broadband services will generate $15 billion in new taxes and fees comes from a single report that has since been thoroughly debunked. States may be able to add certain narrow surcharges and fees, but there is a a federal law blocking taxation of the internet, period. And the author of that law has literally called the $15b claim “baloney.”

Additionally, the commission has explicitly stated that the new order “will not impose, suggest or authorize any new taxes or fees” on internet services.

Will this fix or change Comcast in any way, or have an impact on the merger?
Nope. Comcast is against both measures, as are the other major ISPs (Verizon and AT&T especially), but neither rule has any direct bearing on the Comcast/TWC merger plan. That’s a separate proceeding that the FCC and Justice Department are expected to deal with in March or April.

Will net neutrality make my Netflix better (or worse)?
In theory, end users (all of us at home) shouldn’t see any real differences at all. That’s the point: that all of the internet traffic we request, including Netflix, should be delivered to us equally.

The conflicts Netflix has had with Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T take place farther down the chain, before the internet traffic ever gets to the “last mile” and becomes the purview of retail operators.

The new net neutrality proposal will not directly regulate these interconnection, or peering, agreements. However, it will grant the FCC the authority to hear complaints and potentially take enforcement action (usually that’s fines) if a company is abusing interconnection agreements or otherwise behaving badly.

Will net neutrality make competition better?
Sadly, no. Net neutrality regulation is in many ways actually a response to the lack of competition in the marketplace: since consumers can’t usually or easily go elsewhere, monopoly providers need to be regulated in such a way that they can’t harm customers who would otherwise walk away from them.

However, the municipal broadband petitions might make competition better. Which leads us to…
What is going on with municipal broadband?Image courtesy of frankieleon Section Permalink Bookmark Section Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
Currently, 19 states have rules on the books prohibiting or restricting the ability of municipalities — city or county level governments — to build their own broadband networks.

Those laws are heavily lobbied for and sponsored by the incumbent ISPs, who really like not having to compete at all and don’t think they should have to start.

However, the FCC has the authority to pre-empt — override — the state laws that block municipal broadband projects if those laws are against the public interest. Wilson and Chattanooga, both of which already have robust public networks, have asked the FCC to give them permission to expand those networks despite the laws in their states, and the FCC is likely to agree.

Will this override all those laws in all 19 states?
No. Only these two cities (in those states) would be able to move forward with their projects at this time. However, the ruling would set a precedent for other municipalities who want to move forward with their own projects in the future.

Congress is mulling over a bill that would prevent all states from blocking community broadband projects in the future, but one should generally never hold one’s breath waiting for Congress.

I have heard this is a federal takeover of my internet, and that taxpayers are going to be forced into it!
Despite repeated ISP lobbyist claims that this pre-emption is tantamount to a federal takeover of the internet, that is not actually the case. The networks in question are neither mandated nor implemented by state or federal governments, nor will cities be required to act. The pre-emption will only give cities — and for now, only two cities — the right to undertake their own broadband projects if they see fit.

Anthem Hack Included Personal Information For 78.8 Million Customers & Employees

Wed, 2015-02-25 15:51
(Anthem)

(Anthem)

Nearly three weeks removed from the detection of a massive data breach, health insurer Anthem Inc. is releasing more details about the scope of the hack, including the fact that personal information for about 78.8 million was compromised.

The Wall Street Journal reports of the 78.8 million people affected by the breach, 60 million to 70 million are current and former employees and customers going back as far as 2004.

Anthem, the owner of Blue Cross and Blue Shield in 14 states and Medicare and Medicaid plans, says some of the breached data belongs to consumers who were enrolled with Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurers outside of Anthem’s coverage area, but had used their coverage in one of the states where Anthem is the BCBS provider.

The Indianapolis-based insurer says that compromised records for around 14 million people are incomplete, So far, the company has been unable to identify where those consumers were enrolled, but believe it is unlikely they were active customers.

While compromised information includes names, birthdays and Social Security numbers, there is no evidence showing medical information or financial details such as credit-card or bank-account numbers were involved in the hack.

Previously, the company announced it would offer all current – and anyone who has been an Anthem customer since 2004 – two years of free identity-theft protection services.

Anthem faces multiple investigations by the FBI, federal healthcare agencies and state insurance commissioners, the Times reports.

“We appreciate the identity-protection services being put into place by Anthem, but reviewing the scope and implications of this event will be a long process,” Monica J. Lindeen, Montana’s commissioner of securities and insurance and president of the National Assn. of Insurance Commissioners, said following the breach.

As part of state and federal investigations, commissioners are looking into whether Anthem took sufficient security measures to safe-guard that information.

Industry analysts said last week that the outcome of those inquiries could lead to government sanctions like fines or suspension from key programs like Medicare Advantage or bidding for state Medicaid contracts.

Anthem first spotted the breach internally. They then brought it to the attention of the FBI and hired a specialist cybersecurity firm to help investigate. In a statement at the time, Swedish called it a “very sophisticated external cyber attack.”

The company, formerly known as Wellpoint, is the second largest health insurer in the country and currently covers 37.5 million Americans. They operate a wide variety of plans and brands, particularly Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The company has launched a dedicated website for sharing information about the breach, though at the moment it only contains the statement from Swedish and a brief FAQ.

Anthem: Hacked Database Included 78.8 Million People [The Wall Street Journal]

KFC Bringing Edible Coffee Cups To UK

Wed, 2015-02-25 15:48

kfcediblecup1_3211389bHave you ever looked at your empty cup of coffee and just wished you could devour it? You’d probably survive eating your standard paper cup, but it wouldn’t be the most tasty of experiences. Thank god there’s KFC, which is introducing an edible coffee cup in the UK.

The “Scoffee” Cup is intended to promote the chicken chain’s launch of Seattle’s Best Coffee at KFC eateries in the UK. It was developed by food scientists at a company called The Robin Collective, creators of things like edible terrariums and a margarita that changes colors.

The cups consist of a cookie (or “biscuit,” as they inexplicably say in England) wrapped in sugar paper that is lined with heat-resistant white chocolate.

“We’ve infused different cups with a variety of ambient aromas including ‘coconut sun cream’, ‘freshly cut grass’ and ‘wild flowers’,” says a member of the Robin Collective to the Telegraph. “These scents were used in our recipes as they have a natural ability to evoke the positive memories we associate with warm weather, sunshine and summer holidays. Things that make everyone smile.”

A KFC UK brand manager says the company has been experimenting with edible packaging “to see if it could be a feasible product to bring to market in limited quantities.”

The Scoffee Cup is still in development, but KFC plans to bring them to a limited number of stores later this year.

While the cup might look yummy in the above photo, this image posted to Instagram by the model in the photoshoot shows that the reality may be less appetizing:

Instagram Photo

Uber Passengers Can Now Earn Starwood Hotels Points With Each Trip

Wed, 2015-02-25 15:41

(James Callan)

(James Callan)

Uber and Starwood Hotels are teaming up in an effort to get more passengers to choose Uber over regular taxis, with a new partnership that gives riders Starwood rewards points every time they take a ride using the car-hailing mobile app.

Passengers will get one rewards point for each dollar they spend on Uber rides, reports the Associated Press, while guests staying the night at a Starwood hotel will earn two to four points per dollar spent, depending on the level of their status with the hotel chain.

But it’s not like everyone who takes a ride with Uber will automatically start bringing in the Starwood points — passengers won’t be eligible to rack up points on rides until they’ve spent at least one night in the calendar year at a Starwood hotel.

It takes at least 3,000 points to get a free night in a Starwood hotel at the lowest tier of hotels, and as high as 35,000 points a night for upscale properties. That’s a whole lot of Uber rides.

This is the first such global deal that rewards ground transportation passengers with hotel points, and could give Uber a boost in cities where it’s competing fiercely with established taxi companies and other car services.

Neither company revealed the terms of the deal.

“Our guests get to us in many different ways,” says Mark Vondrasek, Starwood’s senior vice president of loyalty and partnership marketing. Through these partnerships, “we’re trying to get members to concentrate their stays with us.”

Uber partners with Starwood, giving hotel points for rides [Associated Press]

Man Returns $10,000 Walmart Debit Card To Store, Now It’s Gone Missing

Wed, 2015-02-25 15:16

Walmart claims that there is no way this card, found by a man working at an Alabama fast food restaurant, could have more than $1,000 on it.

Walmart claims that there is no way this card, found by a man working at an Alabama fast food restaurant, could have more than $1,000 on it.

A young man in Alabama who says he found a Walmart-branded Visa debit card with more than $10,000 on it is in the odd position of having to defend himself after the nation’s largest retailer has effectively called him a liar.

The man, a college student at the University of South Alabama, says he was recently sweeping the parking lot while working at a Captain D’s eatery when he came across the card. Checking the balance on the register inside the restaurant, he claims it showed a balance of $10,446.88 on the card.

He initially was overjoyed, especially since he needed a new car, but he ultimately decided that the right thing to do was turn the card over to Walmart and hope someone there could identify the rightful owner.

And so the man took the card to a nearby Walmart and turned it over to a customer service rep.

Here’s where things get strange.

When the man went back to inquire if the owner of the card had been found, the store pleaded ignorance.

When AL.com asked the Walmart manager, he said the store didn’t have the card and directed questions to Walmart HQ.

The corporate office gave a response that was even more baffling, claiming that not only was no one able to locate the card but that it’s not possible for the card to have more than $1,000 on it.

“So it is basically my word against a big company like Walmart,” says the man who found the card.

We think some of the confusion with Walmart HQ might lie in local media reports’ reference to the card as a “gift” card. The actual Walmart store reloadable gift card does have a maximum allowable balance of $1,000, but the card shown in photos shared by the man who found it does not appear to be a standard gift card.

It looks like the card is a Walmart MoneyCard, the store’s co-branded reloadable Visa debit card. These cards can have significantly more than $1,000 on them. The only limit stated in the terms of the MoneyCard [PDF] is a maximum daily reload limit of $2,999.

We’ve contacted Walmart HQ to ask for clarification regarding its claims of a $1,000 maximum balance. This post will be updated if we hear back.

Southwest Gets OK To Continue Flying 128 Planes That Missed Inspections

Wed, 2015-02-25 14:05

(Douglas Muth)

(Douglas Muth)

Yesterday afternoon, Southwest Airlines had to cancel dozens of flights after learning that one-fifth of its entire fleet was overdue for a necessary maintenance check. The airline was to have grounded 128 planes pending inspection, but has reached a deal with the Federal Aviation Administration that will allow those jets to continue flying.

The airline notified the FAA on Tuesday that the planes had missed a required maintenance check on their standby hydraulic systems, and voluntarily moved to ground the Boeing 737-700 jets.

Southwest then conferred with Boeing and the FAA to work out a plan, announced in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, that allows these planes to keep flying for up to five days while the inspections are completed.

Tuesday’s halt resulted in about 80 Southwest flights being canceled and grounding all 128 planes for even a day or two would have wreaked havoc on one of the nation’s busiest carriers. Because of the FAA’s green light to continue flying, the airline hopes that there will be minimal impact over the next few days as it pushes through these overdue maintenance checks.

Southwest is already in the hotseat with the FAA regarding repairs. Last summer, the regulator said the airline could face upwards of $12 million in fines over years of allegedly improper repairs to its fleet. A few months later, the agency sued Southwest for failing to pay those fines.

H&R Block Will E-Mail Your Tax Info To Just Anyone

Wed, 2015-02-25 00:08

(bradhoc)

(bradhoc)

Tax returns contain some pretty sensitive information. You would think that when a tax preparer collects your e-mail address, they might verify to make sure that it is your correct e-mail address. If that’s your assumption, clearly you are not H&R Block, which doesn’t particularly care whether they’re sending your personal information to you or not.

This will be familiar territory for anyone whose e-mail address happens to be [first initial][last name]@emailprovider.com, or [first name][last name]@emailprovider.com. There’s even an xkcd cartoon about the phenomenon, which is not limited to older people: I’ve run across it with L. Northrups young enough to be my children. However, one Ars Technica reader was not thrilled to receive the name, address, and security questions for the H&R Block account of someone he doesn’t know.

While the other man is a stranger, they have something in common: the same relatively common first and last names. While one Aaron reports that he does often get e-mail meant for the other Aaron, he was surprised to receive so much personal information.

Take this as a warning: if you use H&R Block, be sure to triple-check the e-mail address that you type in. Otherwise you might end up perpetuating identity theft against yourself.

Tax firm H&R Block doesn’t verify client’s e-mail, leaks personal info [Ars Technica]

Pages