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The Consumerist

AT&T: $100M Fine For Throttling Unlimited Data Users Is “Unlawful,” “Coercive,” “Indefensible”

Tue, 2015-07-28 19:16

(jetsetpress)

(jetsetpress)

In June, the FCC proposed a potentially $100 million fine against AT&T for allegedly failing to disclose to its “unlimited” data plan subscribers the extent to which their data access could be throttled if they used too much of it in any given month. The company recently responded to the allegations, and let’s just say that AT&T isn’t exactly thrilled.

According to AT&T’s official response [PDF], the FCC’s proposal “flouts the most basic principles of fairness, due process, and responsible enforcement.”

The Commission accused AT&T of violating the so-called Transparency Rule, which requires broadband providers to publicly disclose sufficient and accurate information about their network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of their services.

The FCC’s problem wasn’t necessarily that AT&T was throttling data speeds of certain unlimited users who gobbled up the most data each month. Instead, the Commission contends that AT&T failed to advise these users on the extent to which their data speeds would be slowed if they were in that throttled group. An investigation found that some were having their speeds cut by 80-90%, effectively rendering their plans useless until the throttling ended.

But in its response, AT&T says the FCC “must rewrite the terms of the [Transparency] Rule, disavow the Commission’s own prior statements, and ignore the broad reach and detailed content of AT&T’s multiple, customer-friendly disclosures,” if if wants these allegations to stick. The company labels the FCC’s actions, both unprecedented and indefensible.”

The wireless giant claims the FCC is ignoring similar practices by other companies that have “employed the same congestion management practices and disclosed less,” but “have not been subjected to any similar enforcement action.”

It’s worth noting that while there haven’t yet been any similar enforcement actions, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler has indeed questioned throttling practices at other providers, and that he’s not terribly impressed with the “but other people are doing it” argument.

“The Commission’s findings that consumers and competition were harmed are devoid of factual support and wholly implausible,” continues the response from AT&T, who maintains that the FCC lacks statutory authority to levy the potential $100 million fine, which it dubs “an unseemly effort to coerce settlement.”

AT&T also alleges that the FCC has made up its mind about the matter, “abandoning any pretext that the Commission remains an impartial arbiter of the case.”

With regard to the FCC’s proposed sanctions — like getting affected users out of AT&T contracts without early termination fees, putting an end to use of the term “unlimited,” and publicly acknowledging violation of the Transparency Rule — AT&T says they are all “independently unlawful.”

“The Commission cannot alter the terms of AT&T’s private contracts to allow customers to evade early termination fees because, as the D.C. Circuit has held, ‘the Commission lacks authority to invalidate licensees’ contracts with third parties,'” writes the company. “Moreover, ordering that sanction here would constitute an unlawful ‘damages’ order beyond the Commission’s authority and would raise grave Takings Clause issues.”

AT&T says the FCC lacks any authority to issue a cease-and-desist on its use of “unlimited” and contends that forcing to the company to wear a “scarlet letter” and inform its customers that it violated the Transparency Rule would violate the First Amendment.

While the $100 million was bandied around as a definitive figure when the FCC notice was made public, it’s only a vague estimate. AT&T’s response is part of the process of determining the specific financial penalty and any other sanctions, which the company believes it could successfully challenge in a court of law.

Which is a fancy way of saying that this situation is far from being resolved.

[via Multichannel News]

Filmmakers Claim To Have Conclusive Proof Against “Happy Birthday” Copyright Claim

Tue, 2015-07-28 18:36

(Karen Chappell)

(Karen Chappell)

“Happy Birthday” (aka “Happy Birthday To You”) may be sung millions of times a day at birthday bashes around the world, but putting it in a movie or recording a version of the brief ditty will set you back some money for royalties to Warner Music Group, which has long claimed to hold the copyright for the song. But a recently filed court document claims that there is conclusive proof that the song belongs in the public domain.

The makers of Happy Birthday, a movie about the classic song, have sued Warner/Chappell Music to get back the $1,500 they had to pay to use the song in the film. They are also hoping to represent a class of others who have paid what they contend is a bogus royalty on the “Happy Birthday” song.

In a recent filing [PDF] with the federal court hearing the case, the filmmakers claim they can show “conclusively that Happy Birthday has been in the public domain since no later than 1922.”

Warner/Chappell’s copyright claim is based on a 1935 version credited to writers Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R.R. Forman, rather than Patty and Mildred Hill, the sisters who actually wrote it decades earlier.

But the filmmakers and others have argued that this copyright is only for a particular piano arrangement of the song, and that the new evidence shows the Hills’ version of the song had already been given over to the public domain by 1922.

According to the plaintiffs, they recently received 500 pages of documents from Warner/Chappell as part of the discovery process. Included in that cluster of documents was the 15th edition of The Everyday Song Book from 1927, which they claim is the “proverbial smoking-gun.”

Included in the songbook is “Good Morning and Birthday Song,” which uses Patty Hill’s words for “Happy Birthday” and the very similar “Good Morning” with sister Mildred Hill’s music.

And while there is a line of text below this song that reads “Special permission through courtesy of The Clayton F. Summy Co.,” there is no specific copyright claimed. However, the filmmakers note that every other individual song in the book has an explicit declaration of copyright.

They were able to obtain a revised Fourth Edition of the songbook from 1922, and again the song contains the permission notice but no copyright claim. This, argue the filmmakers, “is fully consistent with Plaintiffs’ position that the Happy Birthday lyrics had been dedicated to the public many years before then.”

As Ars Technica’s Joe Mullin points out, the lack of an explicit copyright notice in the 1922 songbook is “critical, because under the 1909 Copyright Act which was then in force, a published work had to include the word ‘Copyright,’ the abbreviation ‘Copr.,’ or the ‘©’ symbol, or ‘the published work was interjected irrevocably into the public domain.'”

Additionally, even if the court holds that the “permission” line constitutes a valid copyright in 1922, the laws in place at the time would have put the song into the public domain by 1949. And, even if that copyright had been renewed, it would ultimately have expired at the end of 1997.

The filing from the filmmakers came only days before a scheduled hearing on the copyright issue, so there may be an update coming later this week.

Amazon Debuts Launchpad, A Store Showcasing Crowdfunded Products

Tue, 2015-07-28 17:47

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 11.10.29 AMFrom books to mini-tanks, Amazon might be a one-stop-online-shop for just about anything consumers could desire, and with the unveiling of its new platform, Launchpad, the e-tailer is now gunning to be the one-stop-marketing-and-distribution center for startups.

The e-commerce giant announced today that it would wade into the world of startups by partnering with more than 25 crowd-funding platforms and venture capital firms to offer up-and-coming sellers a place to showcase their unique products, like a all-in-one home security devices or toddler snack packs.

According to Amazon, Launchpad was created as a way to help startups successfully launch their innovations and share their stories, while allowing consumers to try out new products.

As part of the system, Amazon will manage inventory, fulfill orders using its own distribution network and provide customer service for some of the startup’s sales. In the future, the company will help the selected startups reach a global audience.

“With Amazon Launchpad, startups can overcome many of the challenges associated with launching new products by using Amazon’s retail expertise and infrastructure to create awareness and drive sales,” the company says.

These are just a handful of the products showcased on Amazon's new Launchpad platform.

These are just a handful of the products showcased on Amazon’s new Launchpad platform.

Products currently featured on the platform include everything from food – like chickpea pasta – to home furnishings – such as mattresses and a wine access system.

“As the pace of innovation continues to increase within the startup community, we want to help customers discover these unique products and learn the inspiration behind them,” Jim Adkins, vice president of Amazon, says in a statement. “We also know from talking to startups that bringing a new product to market successfully can be just as challenging as building it.”

Missing from Amazon’s lineup of partners — which includes Indiegogo — is Kickstarter, the most prominent name in the crowd-funding arena.

Amazon Rolls Out the Red Carpet for Startups with Amazon Launchpad [Amazon]

Costco Joins In Virginia Crackdown On Bulk Cigarette Buyers

Tue, 2015-07-28 17:41

New signs at Virginia Costco stores remind shoppers that their bulk purchases of cigarettes will be scrutinized.

New signs at Virginia Costco stores remind shoppers that their bulk purchases of cigarettes will be scrutinized.

Following reports of Costco shoppers loading up entire trucks full of large boxes of cigarettes, presumably with the purpose of reselling them on the black market in other states, the wholesale club is now posting signs indicating that these customers will face much more scrutiny going forward.

In some parts of the country, buying cigarettes can be much more expensive because of state and local taxes on tobacco. For example, while Virginia has the cheapest cigarette tax in the U.S. at $.30/pack, nearby states tack on substantially larger taxes for tobacco.

According to Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Maryland charges $2/pack; D.C. is $2.50/pack; Delaware and Pennsylvania both charge $1.60. Go even farther up I-95 and you’ll pay $2.70/pack in New Jersey and then there’s New York’s nation’s-highest $4.35.

So if one can buy the cigarettes with both low taxes and in bulk, one could (but should not; please do not) try to cash in by illegally reselling them to smokers sick of paying those huge taxes.

And earlier this year, an investigation by NBC4 in D.C. found Costco customers buying truckloads of bulk smokes, spending upwards of $150,000 at a time. These big-time buyers were doing so under the names of multiple questionable businesses registered with state tax authorities.

One customer bought around $10 million in cigarettes over the course of six months. The addresses given for his four businesses registered with the state included a vacant lot and a private family home.

So now Costco has posted signs in Virginia stores reminding shoppers of its requirements for buying cigarettes in bulk, like presenting a valid photo ID, agreeing to have your vehicle’s license plate information recorded and verified, and the completion of IRS paperwork.

The hope is that this will cut down on the interstate smoke smuggling, though only time will tell if it pans out.

Costco Makes it Clear: Bulk Cigarette Buys to Be Scrutinized [NBC4; WARNING: Incredibly loud auto-play video]

Another Armored Truck Opens On Highway, Causes Cash Blizzard

Tue, 2015-07-28 16:56

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

It might seem like a miracle if you’re driving down the highway and find yourself in a blizzard of cash. Tempting as it might be, it is not legal for you to scoop up money and keep it for yourself, and you’ll get in trouble if authorities are able to track you down. After this happened just last week in Maryland, it has happened again in South Carolina.

If we didn’t know better, we would wonder whether the same truck was involved in both incidents, but the armored truck in Baltimore was from Brinks, while a Loomis armored truck was the source of the South Carolina blizzard. Maybe there’s just a very small epidemic of poorly locked armored trucks out there.

“God as my witness … I drove through a cloud of cash money… It was like a scene from a movie,” TV station WYFF quotes a tipster who wrote to the station yesterday morning.

As usually happens in cases like this, the rules of “finders keepers” do not apply, and police are asking motorists who may have scooped up money from the roadside to turn it in to police.

Driver: ‘I drove through a cloud of cash’ on Interstate 85

Verizon’s Go90 Mobile Streaming TV Service To Launch With Tiny Beta Test

Tue, 2015-07-28 16:28
(Eric Hauser)

(Eric Hauser)

It’s been almost a year since Verizon first announced it would launch a streaming TV service and the company is just now getting around to naming it — Go90 — and providing details on its eventual launch.

Bloomberg reports that Verizon will be doing a test run of Go90 in the coming weeks with a few thousand people.

By creating a beta test for current Verizon customers, the company is apparently counting on working out any technical kinks that might mar a wider release, such as the hiccups faced by Sling TV during college basketball and the runaround some users of HBO Now experienced during the Game of Thrones premier in the spring.

“This is unlike any other system,” Alberto Canal, a Verizon spokesman, tells Bloomberg. “This is a completely new product, and the beta piece is about testing the platform and some of the functions, like sharing.”

Fran Shammo, chief financial officer for Verizon, said last week that a limited launch of Go90, originally set for June but pushed back, is expected to take place by the late summer.

However, the initial start of Go90, which the company has touted as a redefining over-the-top video service, won’t include the full package, as Shammo says more will be added throughout the year.

Variety exclusively reported on Friday that Verizon had accidentally made a pre-launch staging website for its upcoming service public, revealing some details, including the name Go90.

According to that report, the streaming service will be ad-supported, offering customers free access (initially) to full-length shows, clips, highlights and live music.

Of course the company has said it will dabble in subscription and pay-per-view models for the service. It has yet to offer details on the cost of such options.

As Consumerist previously reported, Verizon’s upcoming venture – which is in addition to current mobile streaming available for customers with FiOS – will include the holy grail of non-cable video services: live sports programming.

Of course, that programming isn’t a full season of football, basketball or baseball. Instead it will feature selected games from CBS Sports and ESPN — just not the high-profile ones.

In addition to some ESPN and CBS Sports programming, Verizon already announced partnerships with DreamWorks, Scripps, AwesomenessTV and Vice.

According to Variety, the pre-launch website for Go90 featured content placement from Victorious, GoPro and Vevo. However, a spokesperson for the company said the content listing on the site was inaccurate, but didn’t specify which programming might not be included on the service.

Verizon Users to Test Mobile-TV Service Ahead of Delayed Debut [Bloobmerg]
Verizon Mobile Video Service Details Uncovered: To Be Called Go90 [Variety]

Consumers Put Robocall-Blocking Devices To The Test

Tue, 2015-07-28 15:59

(Jenn and Tony Bot)

(Jenn and Tony Bot)

While we wait for phone companies to get around to offering services that help consumers block unwanted prerecorded robocalls, there are already several options available for people to use now, but not all of them may be up to the task.

For their latest issue, our colleagues at Consumer Reports asked volunteers to try out four different devices — and one online service — that are intended to minimize the number of annoying calls users receive.

Most of the options use at least one approach known as “whitelisting,” where the device allows calls from phone numbers it has been told are acceptable by the user. Some of them simultaneously use the blacklist approach that uses a database of known spam phone numbers to automatically block or redirect calls. Only one of the tested options uses blacklist-only for vetting calls.

Now to the testing results.

Consumer Reports asked each volunteer to install the call blocker they received. Over the course of four days, the volunteers monitored the number of robocalls that got through. Volunteers also provided feedback on ease of setup and use.

Digitone Call Blocker Plus
digitone

Selling on Amazon for around $100 plus shipping, this device uses block black- and whitelist tech.

While some of the testers were confused with the setup instructions, three-out-of-four said they would buy it after having given it a test run.

Among the more appreciated features was the fact that it blocked calls silently. Incoming robocalls would be indicated visually, but no ringing phone or other audio alert.

Nomorobo

Nomorobo works by intercepting all calls right after the first ring and immediately comparing the incoming number to its vast blacklist of known robocallers and the user’s whitelist of known safe numbers. If it deems the call safe, it continues to ring.

This free service, which won the Federal Trade Commission’s first public contest to create a robocall blocker, got great scores from testers — 85% of them gave it at least 4 out of 5 points — it does have one notable drawback for consumers still on traditional landlines: Nomorobo currently only works on VoIP phone service.

HQTelecom.com Landline Call Blocker

HQ

Some testers were turned off by the fact that this device requires the user to actively blacklist numbers with the press of a button. And some said that even after telling the device to block a number, calls continued to come through.

That said, about half of the testers said they would purchase this product, which currently sells for around $58 on Amazon, while the others would not.

CPR Call Blocker Protect
 N/A Photographer: Rebekah Nemethy

Usage: Consumer Reports September 2015
Story: Robocalls
Brand: CPR
Model: CallBlocker Protect
CU: N/A
Photographer: Rebekah Nemethy


At around $50 on Amazon, this is the least-expensive device in the CR test, but it also fared the worst with testers.

The product uses a whitelist-only approach, meaning that all incoming calls will be blocked until the user enters acceptable numbers.

“This was a huge setback, as there is no possible way for me to program every caller I need to answer,” wrote one tester. And this person wasn’t alone; 80% of testers said they would not purchase the device.

CR volunteers also tested the Sentry Dual Mode Call Blocker and the feedback was decidedly mixed. Callers have to prove they are not robots by listening to a recorded message and pressing “0” to be connected to the user. Some testers says this confused callers into thinking they had dialed a wrong number, especially since the prerecorded message is in a British accent.

Since the volunteers did their testing on the Sentry, it’s been replaced by the Sentry 2.

For more on Consumer Reports’ look at the robocall problem, check out this story from the current issue.

And to add your voice to the chorus of consumers calling on phone companies to give us easier access to call-blocking technology, you can join in Consumers Union’s End Robocalls campaign.

eBay Shutters Same-Day Delivery Service eBay Now

Tue, 2015-07-28 15:35
(Erik Gunther)

(Erik Gunther)

Three years after eBay launched its rapid delivery venture, eBay Now, the company is nixing the service as other e-commerce companies and retailers like Amazon, Uber and Whole Foods continue to dip their toes in the fast-delivery market.

The company announced it would simplify commerce on its site by retiring eBay Now – which let customers buy items from local retailers or sellers and have them delivered, sometimes within hours – by Friday.

The move to shutter the super-express delivery option comes about a year after the company retired the eBay Now mobile app, a move that “significantly reduced our dependency on a separate standalone service,” the company says.

“While we saw encouraging results with the eBay Now service, we always intended it as a pilot, and we are now exploring delivery and pick-up/drop-off programs that are relevant to many more of our 25 million sellers, and that cover a wider variety of inventory that consumers tell us they want,” RJ Pittman, chief product officer for eBay, said in the company’s announcement.

The service – which was available only in certain areas of New York City, Chicago, Dallas and the San Francisco Bay region – offered $5 same-day shipping on orders of $25 or more from partner retailers and those selling through the site.

The company says the logistics of the quick-delivery service proved difficult to manage, as many sellers provide items from their homes.

However, eBay Now did dabble in deliveries from local retailers, counting partnerships among Kmart, Home Depot, Office Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond, Urban Outfitters, and GNC as part of the service.

While the marketplace is shuttering eBay Now and a similar pilot program operating in Brooklyn, the company says that it will continue to offer in-store pickup at its partner retailers like Best Buy and Toys “R” Us.

eBay also announced it would shut down three seldom-used mobile apps. The eBay Fashion and eBay Valet apps will wind down over the next few weeks, as these services are already available on the company’s website or main app. The eBay Motors app is expected to shut down later this year.

Simplifying the eBay Commerce Experience [eBay]

New York Unveils Billion Dollar Overhaul Of LaGuardia Airport

Tue, 2015-07-28 15:00
(Ashi Fachler)

(Ashi Fachler)

It’s out with the old and in with the new at New York’s LaGuardia Airport… well, in four years, that is.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo today unveiled a multi-billion dollar overhaul of the aging airport in partnership with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Delta Air Lines, the Associated Press reports.

The plan, which must still receive final approval, would include a complete tear down of the existing Central Terminal Building and a move to position the airport closer to the Grand Central Parkway.

The $4 million first phase of the overhaul – which also includes the consolidation from four terminals to one and a connection to the city’s subway system – is expected to begin next year, with partial reopening to passengers slated for 2019 and final completion in 2021.

Cuomo says the first part of the overhaul would relieve space constraints for aircraft taxiing to and from gates by adding about two miles of new taxiways.

Additionally, the completed 35-gate facility will include more restaurants, stores, larger gate areas and a system of raised pedestrian walkways.

“This is what New Yorkers deserve and have deserved for a long time. And now we’re going to get it,” Cuomo said.

Bloomberg reports that Delta’s contribution to the project includes the redevelopment of two terminals. Cuomo did not specify how much the second phase would cost or when it would open to the public.

“The initiatives announced today are aligned with our ongoing commitment to providing an exceptional experience for anyone traveling through New York for business or pleasure,” Ed Bastian, president of Delta, said in a statement.

New York Gov. Cuomo Announces New LaGuardia Airport [The Associated Press]
‘Third World’ LaGuardia to Be Built Anew With Delta’s Help [Bloomberg]

Get Your Halloween Costumes And Plastic Pumpkins While They’re Still On Shelves

Tue, 2015-07-28 14:30

Time keeps moving whether we like it or not, and it’s almost the end of July. The patriotic party decorations and inflatable pool rafts have all sold, the school supplies that took their place in stores’ “seasonal” sections are starting to move, and they need something to fill that empty space on the shelf. That’s why we have Halloween in July.

Bryan sent along this picture from his local Costco, which features kid-sized Halloween costumes. Now, to be fair, these costumes could be aimed at parents taking their small children to conventions and who need a kiddie Batman costume on short notice, but that is probably a very limited market.

marvelcostumes

Shockingly, this post is an exact tie with last year’s post announcing the arrival of Halloween costumes at Costco: that was on July 28, 2014. Hmm: maybe none of this is very shocking at all.

Karla visited At Home, which logically enough is a home-goods store, a while ago and spotted fall and Halloween décor. This was back during the first week of July. While those hay bales could be for people who like to plan their fall decorations or their haunted houses way in advance, is there any excuse for those pumpkins?

haybales

No.

WA State Attorney General Orders Non-Delivering Kickstarter Campaign To Pay Up

Tue, 2015-07-28 00:56

asylumcardsLast year, the Washington state attorney general tried something that no government had ever tried before: it sued the people behind a Kickstarter campaign that never shipped the merchandise that it promised. Justice moves slowly, but that case has finally been settled, with the company that failed to send Asylum horror-themed playing cards, being ordered to pay a total of $54,851 in restitution, civil penalties, and the attorney general’s costs and fees.

The problem with such a case being brought by a state attorney general is that everything must be calculated based on only the Kickstarter backers who live in the state of Washington. Out of the 810 backers, 31 were Washington residents at the time of the campaign in 2012, so the case was brought on their behalf.

The Kickstarter project was supposed to be a set of horror-themed playing cards, and the campaign raised $25,146 back in 2012. The cards were supposed to be delivered at the end of 2012, but the people behind the project haven’t communicated with their backers since the summer of 2013.

The final judgement against the Nashville-based company includes:

$668 in restitution to Washington state backers
$1,000 in civil penalties per Washington backer for a total of $31,000
$23,183 of costs and fees for the AG’s office to bring this case

AG MAKES CROWDFUNDED COMPANY PAY FOR SHADY DEAL [Washington State OAG]

In 1998, Kmart Invited Customers To Come To Kmart And Shop Online

Mon, 2015-07-27 23:05

kmart_solutionsBack in 1998, home broadband connections were rare, Amazon was only four years old, and shopping online was kind of a novel and weird concept to most Americans. Kmart was out to change that, encouraging their customers to purchase an amazing array of merchandise from the comfort of their own… local Kmart.

This idea has actually come back around, with some retailers offering in-store kiosks where you can order sizes and items that aren’t in stock from the website.

atyourservice

We aren’t quite sure what happened to Kmart Solutions: the person who pulled this YouTube video from the DVD that played in stores says that it lasted for maybe two years, then failed to catch on because Americans simply weren’t ready yet.

K-Mart’s 1998 Concept That Made You Drive To A K-Mart To Use The Internet [Digg]

Unsanitary Growing Conditions Lead To Partial Import Ban On Mexican Cilantro

Mon, 2015-07-27 21:48
(Renee Rendler-Kaplan)

(Renee Rendler-Kaplan)

Bad news for cilantro lovers: U.S. officials have implemented a partial ban on imports of the herb after health officials linked hundreds of illnesses to cilantro growing in feces- and toilet paper-covered fields in Mexico.

The Food and Drug Administration announced the seasonal import ban after health officials in Texas and Wisconsin identified cilantro grown in the Mexican state of Puebla as a suspect in separate illness clusters, and investigations of local farms and processing plants turned up unsanitary conditions.

Increasing outbreaks of cyclosporiasis – a parasitic illness that causes diarrhea and explosive bowel movements – linked to the herbs have been reported over the last several years.

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported receiving 304 cases of cyclosporiasis, while Bloomberg reports 205 cases have been identified so far this year.

According to the ban, from April to August 30 of every year fresh cilantro from the Puebla region will be detained at the border and won’t be allowed into the U.S. without inspection and certification.

Several restaurants – including Chipotle and Taco Bell – that use cilantro in their meals tell Bloomberg they don’t expect to be affected by the partial ban. A spokesperson for Chipotle says their cilantro comes from California.

Starting in 2013, the FDA and Mexican authorities began investigating outbreaks of cyclosporiasis by inspecting farms and packing houses in Mexico to determine the conditions and practices that may have resulted in the contamination of cilantro.

In all, the groups inspected 11 farms and packing houses, of those five were linked to the illnesses and investigators observed questionable conditions at three others.

The inspections found, among other things: human feces and toilet paper in growing fields and around facilities; inadequately maintained and supplied toilet and hand washing facilities or a complete lack of toilet and hand washing facilities; food-contact surfaces – such as plastic crates used to transport cilantro or tables where cilantro was cut and bundled – visibly dirty and not washed; and water used for purposes such as washing cilantro vulnerable to contamination from sewage/septic systems.

“Based on those joint investigations, FDA considers that the most likely routes of contamination of fresh cilantro are contact with the parasite shed from the intestinal tract of humans affecting the growing fields, harvesting, processing or packing activities or contamination with the parasite through contaminated irrigation water, contaminated crop protectant sprays, or contaminated wash waters,” the notice states.

At least 304 people in 19 states came down with cyclosporiasis linked to the herbs last year, seven of those people reported being hospitalized, according to the CDC.

Of those cases, 133 were from Texas and 57% of those people reported having eaten fresh cilantro two to 14 days before becoming six. As a result of that outbreak, Texas health officials and the FDA increased sampling of cilantro from Puebla farms.

The previous year, a cyclosporiasis outbreak in 25 states was linked to Puebla cilantro, as well as salad mix from Taylor Farms de Mexico.

CDC and state and local public health partners say they are continuing surveillance to identify and interview additional ill persons to identify other sources of infection.

Import Alert 24-23 [Food & Drug Administration]
Mexican Cilantro Contamination Spurs Partial U.S. Import Ban [Bloomberg]

Yet Another Uber Passenger With Service Dog Allegedly Left At The Curb

Mon, 2015-07-27 21:40

uberdawgDivit is a guide dog, who has been trained to keep his owner safe and independent and to have impeccable manners in public. Yet Divit’s owner says that they were left at the curb on their way to a vet appointment, simply because the driver assigned to their ride didn’t want to have a dog in the car. Even a service dog, which in theory is allowed to go anywhere that its owner or trainer does.

Uber says that it makes allowances for drivers who have religious issues with certain animals, or allergies, but that drivers “are expected to comply fully with ADA requirements, and we provide our driver community with information on best practices for accommodating riders with disabilities.” Uber also told NBC News that the driver who refused to transport this passenger has had his account deactivated.

You could say that he was fired, but Uber isn’t an employer, it’s an app. The company maintains that it’s simply a service that brings together people who need rides and people willing to accept money for rides. That means they don’t have direct control over their drivers on the ground, who are not their employees.

The timing is bad for yet another Uber driver to be accused of refusing to transport a service dog. The company is facing a civil rights lawsuit by the National Federation of The Blind, where one passenger claims that their guide dog was forced to ride in the car’s trunk when a driver wouldn’t allow it in the backseat.

Uber Allegedly Turns Away Wisconsin Blind Man and His Service Dog [NBC]

Wendy’s Finally Begins Testing Antibiotic-Free Chicken

Mon, 2015-07-27 21:02

 Consumerist)

(Photo: Consumerist)

More than a year after Chick fil-A began its transition away from drugged-up chickens, and months after McDonald’s announced its plans to eventually go the antibiotic-free route, Wendy’s — the one major burger chain with ads that tout its better, more natural ingredients — is finally dipping its toes into the no-antibiotics pool.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Wendy’s will begin the test this week of antibiotic-free chicken products in a few locations in Orlando; Gainesville, FL; Kansas City, MO; and Austin.

The company says the test is being done in response to rising customer demand for meat sourced from animals not raised on steady diets of low-dose antibiotics.

To run through it one more time. Many farmers feed their chickens, pigs, and cows continual, sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics, primarily because it encourages tissue growth. Unfortunately, this overuse of antibiotics has the unintended result of creating new, drug-resistant “super bugs” that require stronger antibiotics to fight.

Antibiotics sold for use on farm animals account for around 80% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. In late 2013, the FDA asked drug makers to stop selling the drugs that were solely for growth-promotion, but since most livestock antibiotics were approved for both therapeutic and growth-promotion purposes, this really only required farmers to change the reason they purchased the drugs, not the amount they used.

Under increased pressure from doctors, scientists, public health advocates, and a growing number of consumers, several large companies are making the switch to drug-free, especially for chickens.

Both Perdue and Tyson have made commitments to drastically reducing the drugs given to their birds, while restaurant chains like Chipotle, Panera, Chick fil-A, McDonald’s (and hopefully Wendy’s) have helped nudge demand. A coalition of 50 different groups recently petitioned Subway in the hope of getting the company to source antibiotic-free meat.

A Wendy’s exec tells the Journal that the company’s decision to expand the test will depend on customers’ response.

Owners Of Nike+FuelBands Eligible For $15 Check Or $25 Gift Card Under Class-Action Settlement

Mon, 2015-07-27 20:37

FuelbandOwners of Nike+Fuelband fitness trackers are eligible for a partial refund after Nike and Apple agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit that claimed the companies misled consumers about the accuracy of the wearable device.

The settlement, in which neither company admits wrongdoing, stems from a 2013 lawsuit filed by consumers alleging Nike and Apple made false or misleading claims about the FuelBand’s ability to track calories, steps and NikeFuel, the sports company’s fitness tracking metric.

Under the proposed settlement [PDF], consumers who purchased the fitness tracker between January 19, 2012 and June 17, 2015 are eligible to receive either a $15 check or a $25 gift card redeemable online and at Nike-owned stores.

While both companies agreed to resolve the lawsuit, only Nike is responsible for covering the $2.4 million associated with attorney’s fees and refunds.

The Nike+Fuelband, first released in 2012, was developed out of a sporting technology partnership between Nike and Apple that began back in 2006, the settlement states.

According to the lawsuit [PDF], both companies consistently advertised in promotional materials that the FuelBand “measures each step taken and each calorie burned,” “tracks steps, calories, and time of day,” and “tracks calories burned, steps taken and more.”

However, in reality, the suit contends that the FuelBand could not and does not track each calorie burned or each step taken, as users “experience wildly inaccurate” step, calorie burn and NikeFuel readings.

“Despite their knowledge of the FuelBand’s inability to accurately track each of a user’s calories burned, steps taken, or to read or measure physical activity sufficiently to provide any form of accurate measurement of that activity,” the suit states. “The defendants promulgated and implemented the false and misleading advertising alleged herein as part of a business scheme designed to unfairly and unlawfully reap substantial profits at the expense of [consumers].”

A spokesperson for Nike tells the Wall Street Journal that the company remains committed to Nike+ and NikeFuel.

Consumers eligible for a partial refund under the settlement must make a claim on nikefuelbandsettlement.com by Jan. 4, 2016.

[via The Wall Street Journal]

From Apple To Walmart, Over A Dozen Of The Biggest Businesses In The U.S. Sign On To White House Climate Pledge

Mon, 2015-07-27 20:35

(Mike Matney)

(Mike Matney)


A huge number of the world’s nations are coming together in Paris this December to negotiate an agreement to stem emissions and forestall further climate change. Ahead of this winter’s United Nations talks, however, some well-known names here at home are pledging their own contributions to the cause.

The White House announced today that thirteen major businesses have signed on the climate pledge, with more due in the fall. The companies that announced their participation today include Alcoa, Apple, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Cargill, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo, UPS, and Walmart.

The pledges come ahead of international climate talks slated to take place in Paris this coming December.

In terms of publicity for attempts to protect the environment and stem the tide of climate change, it’s a landmark agreement. The thirteen businesses are all national and global leaders in their fields — huge, well-known brands across a variety of industries. In terms of actual impact, though, there’s a lot of variety in the promises.

The thirteen businesses have not all signed on universally to the same, single goal; each is, instead, making some promise relating to its own strengths and line of business.

Bank of America, for example, doesn’t exactly have widespread manufacturing operations they need to improve the efficiency of. Instead, they plan to move money around: their pledge is to increase lending, investing, and advisory services in their “environmental businesses initiative,” as well as to make investing in clean energy financially attractive to other parties. A similar plan of investment and lending comes from Goldman Sachs, which also pledges to achieve carbon-neutrality across all its operations this year and to use 100% renewable energy by 2020.

The energy and physical goods businesses do all promise some more direct actions to increase energy efficiency, increase their reliance on renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, or both, to varying degrees. Apple’s pledge is to keep doing what they’ve already been doing, for example, as they point out that all of their U.S. operations already run on 100% renewable energy.

Alcoa’s pledge includes a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2025, and also to prove by then that the products they make and sell (to other industries) will result in an emissions reduction equal to three times that of their production. That is to say, if an aerospace widget takes 2 tons of carbon emissions to make, then that aerospace widget will create 6 fewer tons of carbon emissions than you would spend by not using that aerospace widget.

Coke and Pepsi both promise improvements up and down their supply chains, from farming to bottling to shipping. Coca-Cola’s specific promise is to reduce the carbon footprint of “the drink in your hand” by 25% by 2020; PepsiCo plans to halt deforestation in their global supply chain and to eliminate hydrofluorocarbons from all their new equipment in the U.S. by that same year.

UPS also promises to increase their efficiency, promising to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 20% (as compared to 2007) by 2020. Walmart also plans to reduce the amount of energy their buildings use by 20% by 2020, along with increasing their renewable energy use by 600% as compared to 2010.

Google and Microsoft both pledge to shift 100% to renewable energy for their data centers, offices, and labs. Although neither provides a target year for meeting that goal, Google commits to tripling their purchases of renewable energy by 2025. Both companies also pledge to reduce their carbon footprint in business transportation.

Perhaps most notable is Berkshire Hathaway’s pledge, however: the energy business not only plans to keep investing in solar and wind power actoss the west and midwest, but also to retire more than 75% of their coal-fueled power plants in Nevada over the next few years.

Many of the pledges are essentially statements that businesses intend to keep making a profit, and that renewable energy and increased energy efficiency are seen as ways to make and save money as much as they are ways to save ecosystems. In the end, though, that’s a good thing: business goals and environmental goals must become aligned in order to get the world’s largest industries actually to make serious moves on emissions reductions and increased use of renewable fuel.

As Google pointed out on their blog, “We’re serious about environmental sustainability not because it’s trendy, but because it’s core to our values and also makes good business sense. After all, the cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use in the first place.”

The full fact sheet, detailing all 13 businesses’ pledges, is available on the White House official site.

Someone Is Planning A Drive-Thru Grocery Store In Silicon Valley: Maybe Amazon

Mon, 2015-07-27 20:18

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

A real estate developer has filed building plans for an 11,000-square foot grocery pickup facility in Sunnyvale, CA, but won’t say who their client is. Sunnyvale is the Silicon Valley town where Yahoo is based, but word in the local real estate community is that their new grocer isn’t a local startup: it’s Amazon.

Amazon has, after all, been experimenting with both parts of this idea: they’ve been delivering groceries to customers’ doorsteps, but struggling with the “fresh” part of the Amazon Fresh brand. The company is also experimenting with using the U.S. Postal Service for early morning grocery deliveries.

They’ve also opened one store on a college campus where students, faculty, and staff can pick up their orders. Combining these ideas solves the problem of delivering perishable food, and also means that live customers will be sitting in front of kiosks providing feedback on the experience.

If this business model sounds familiar, it should: Walmart has set up a very similar drive-thru store near its headquarters in Arkansas. Customers place their orders, announce their location on a kiosk, and wait for an employee to bring out their grocery order. If this facility in Sunnyvale isn’t run by Amazon, it’s possible that it could be a Walmart joint. The green color scheme in the preliminary sketches is only preliminary, but matches both Amazon Fresh and Walmart drive-thru store branding.

Is Amazon going to open a grocery drive-thru? [Retail Wire]

Google Removing Google+ Requirement For YouTube, Other Product Interactions

Mon, 2015-07-27 19:57
(Bill Binns)

(Bill Binns)

Just a week after Google said it would ship its Google+ Photo platform into the ether, the company announced more plans to distance its social network venture from its other products by ditching a requirement that tied user activities to their public profiles.

Google announced today that it will begin removing the connection between users’ Google+ profiles and other platforms like YouTube, where some people may prefer to remain anonymous.

“People have told us that accessing all of their Google stuff with one account makes life a whole lot easier,” Bradley Horowitz, vice president of streams, photos and sharing at Google wrote in a blog post. “But we’ve also heard that it doesn’t make sense for your Google+ profile to be your identity in all the other Google products you use.”

So, starting today with YouTube and rolling out to other products over the next several months, Google will allow people to use their unsearchable standard Google account to comment or post content.

Under the previous requirement to use a searchable public Google+ account, individuals comments, posts and other actions were plastered on their profile for all to see.

For now, the folks at YouTube say in a blog post that the disconnect between Google+ and the platform only applies to posting comments. However, in the next several weeks, it plans to rollout changes in which a Google+ profile is no longer needed to upload or create a channel.

The company also says it will make it easier for people who currently have a Google+ account but don’t want to actually use it, to manage and remove the public profile.

Everything in its right place [Google]

Critic Publicly Calls Out Movie Company For Editing His Negative Review Into A Rave

Mon, 2015-07-27 19:55

While the words "A comedic masterstroke" were indeed in Dowd's original review, the rest of the sentence makes it clear that he thought the film was anything but.

While the words “A comedic masterstroke” were indeed in Dowd’s original review, the rest of the sentence makes it clear that he thought the film was anything but.

Everyone knows that when a movie trailer or poster is peppered with single-word review quotes — “Wow,” “Thrilling,” “Meh” — there’s usually a good reason why the full sentence from the reviews aren’t being quoted. But when you see something resembling a complete thought on a DVD box, you might be misled into thinking it accurately represents the reviewer’s opinion.

Over at AVclub.com, reviewer A.A. Dowd has published an open letter to Mongrel Media, a company that picked up the DVD rights to a little-known (unless you’re a David O. Russell completist) film called Nailed and used a quote from Dowd’s review on the box.

“A comedic masterstroke,” reads the back of the packaging in bright, bold letters.

That would be great, if it even vaguely resembled what Dowd had written in his “C-” review of the film, which was released in the U.S. under the dreadful title, Accidental Love.

See, the movie was a long-in-progress project, directed by Russell and written by Al Gore’s daughter Kristin, that fell apart so many times before the director eventually washed his hands of it and had his name changed in the credits before its eventual, virtually unnoticed release earlier this year.

In Dowd’s review of the movie, he wrote [bolding for emphasis]:

To be fair to whoever refashioned Accidental Love from the abandoned scraps of Nailed, there’s little reason to believe that the ideal, untroubled version of the material would have been a comedic masterstroke.

So the review didn’t even give the glimmer of hope that there might have been a good movie in there before Russell abandoned it. And yet there’s the misappropriated quote right on the DVD box.

“Did you think I wouldn’t find out, Mongrel, just because you’re all the way up there in Canada?” asks Dowd, who accuses the company of playing “dirty pool.”

“You’re breaking the bond of trust between a critic and the public; if I lead anyone astray—and I’m sure you could find plenty of readers of this site who feel that I have—it’s by way of a difference in opinion, not malicious intent,” he explains. “Framing me as a big fan of Nailed isn’t just a lie, it’s an attack on my critical reputation. What if someone reads that and really thinks I see a ‘comedic masterwork’ in Nailed? They’ll never trust me on a comedy again!”

Dowd says he’s not demanding that the boxes be pulled from stores, just an apology, “and maybe a promise that you won’t pull this kind of stunt again. Because when you turn your allies in the critical community into unwitting shills, it’s the film-buying public that really gets nailed.”

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