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McDonald’s Worker Accused Of Sticking Glass In Cop’s Big Mac In 2005 Wins $437K

Fri, 2014-11-21 19:00

(SarahSphar)

(SarahSphar)

It’s the end of a long story that started back in 2005, when a New York City police officer said he bit into shards of glass in his Big Mac after picking up food from the drive-thru a McDonald’s in the Bronx. An 18-year-old cashier confessed to the alleged crime, and the officer sued the franchise for $6 million. But the worker recanted his confession and was later acquitted of charges related to the incident, and the officer settled for $15,000 back in 2009. It was that settlement that paved the way for the cashier to fight back against the city, arguing that the officer made the whole thing up to sue the city for money. He’s won a settlement with NYC himself, nabbing $437,000 for his efforts this week.

The worker was acquitted in 2010, after his defense team argued that he had been under pressure from four detectives at the time, which is why he felt pressured to confess. And after the police officer settled with the city, it allowed his lawyer to get his hands on the depositions from that time and uncover crucial inconsistencies in the story, reports the Associated Press.

Previously, the worker had tried to argue that it was a fabrication, but the case was dismissed in 2012, a decision that a lower state appeals court upheld. But then, the New York State Supreme Court decided to hear the case earlier this month, leading the city to offer him the settlement this week.

“I was thrilled when I found out,” the now a 28-year-old said.”I really thought this wasn’t going to happen.”

His attorney said the depositions showed inconsistencies within the officer’s story of that night, where the cop claimed he’d driven away and bitten into the glassy burger. After that he’d stopped to take care of his canine partner, before calling his superior and heading to the hospital.

Despite what he’d told other officers, medical records from that ER visit show that there were no apparent symptoms of swallowing glass, the worker’s attorney argued, and that the officer’s claim that he’d talked to his family doctor later about finding glass in his stool weren’t true — the doctor testified that the conversation never happened.

Restaurant workers also testified that the worker had been a half hour late the night of the incident, and wasn’t even on duty when the officer bought his Big mac. Somehow that information never made it into the police report, the lawyer says.

Now, almost 10 years later, the workers says he’s happy to finally have some closure.

“It’s not fair what they did,” he said. “It makes a lot of good officers look bad.”

For more background on the story, check out this 2010 piece from the New York Times.

McDonald’s worker charged in glass-in-Big Mac case wins $437K [The Associated Press]

Dish Customers Get Cartoon Network, CNN Back After Month-Long Blackout

Fri, 2014-11-21 18:21

adventuretimeJust hours after averting (for now) a blackout of CBS-owned stations in 14 markets, Dish Network has made nice with another of its foes in the broadcasting world, ending the month-long blackout of Turner channels like CNN, HLN, and the Cartoon Network.

It’s a temporary peace at best, as the end of the blackout doesn’t mean that the two parties have reached a deal. Instead, Dish and Turner have agreed to temporarily extend their previous agreement while they continue to hash out new terms.

This means that CNN, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, truTV, TCM, HLN, CNN en Espanol and Boomerang are coming back to Dish subscribers’ screens, and that rumored potential blackouts of Turner-owned TBS and TNT are off the table.

During the blackout, Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen didn’t help ease tensions between the two sides when he publicly questioned the importance of CNN to a pay-TV company’s lineup.

“Twenty years ago, CNN was a must-have channel, but it’s not a top 10 network anymore,” said Ergen at the time.

Why Big Companies Spend So Much Money On Washington: It Works Even Better Than You Think

Fri, 2014-11-21 18:10

(darrenleno)

(darrenleno)

That money talks in Washington is conventional wisdom for a reason. Corporations, industries, and a handful of extraordinarily wealthy individuals spend big bucks on campaigns and on lobbying not for fun, but because they expect to get something back in return. And while adding up all those expenditures is comparatively straightforward, finding out who gets how much back has been harder… until now. A new study finds that billions of dollars might go into D.C., but trillions are coming back out.

The Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit, released a study this month they call Fixed Fortunes. In their research, the Foundation looked at six years of campaign and lobbying spending by the nation’s 200 largest corporate spenders (“the Fixed Fortune 200″), and compared it to the favorable returns those companies get.

The numbers are as depressing as they are large. In total, the 200 organizations spent a combined $5.8 billion on federal lobbying and campaign contributions. Corporations (or the people who run them) might be avaricious, but they’re not stupid: nobody spends that much without getting a solid return from their investment. And so they do: together, over the same six-year span, those corporations received $4.4 trillion in federal business and support.

In a rough sense, for every dollar they spend on Washington, the biggest companies in the U.S. are getting more than $750 back. With outcomes that good, it’s no wonder spending on politics keeps going up.

The returns from the feds take all kinds of forms. Sometimes lobbying results in policies and industries more favorable to a company’s long-term interests, but sometimes it also means actual cash in hand in the form of loans, grants, or lucrative contracts:
For example, the federal government issued contracts to purchase goods and services that totaled a little more that $3 trillion during the period; companies among the top 200 corporate political givers won $1 trillion of that, a third of the total. The Treasury Department managed $410 billion in loans and other assistance issued under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, created by Congress to cope with the 2008 financial crisis; of that amount, $298 million, about 73 percent, went to 16 firms among the Fixed Fortune 200. When the Federal Reserve took extraordinary measures in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, it funneled nearly $2.8 trillion through 29 Fixed Fortune firms. The companies that participated the most in politics got huge returns.

The companies come from all sectors, the Foundation reports. Finance takes about a quarter of the slots, with 48 businesses far and away making the largest number of campaign donations time and time again. Of the other three-quarters, 28 fall into communications and electronics, 21 in healthcare, 13 in defense and aerospace, 13 in agribusiness, 11 in “energy and natural resources” (mining, oil, etc), and 7 in transportation.

The “Fixed Fortune 200″ gave to roughly a quarter of all Congressional incumbents (approx. 144 members) in each election cycle, the Foundation found. The same group also accounted for roughly 1% of all lobbying clients (there are over 20,000), but for more than a quarter, 26%, of all lobbying spending.

The Foundation looked at a six-year span — 2007 through 2012 — specifically because they wanted to include spending both before and after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling. In that case, and again in 2014′s similar McCutcheon ruling, the Court held that when it comes to politics, money is protected speech and therefore spending can’t be limited. The ability to buy your way into a favorable political outcome, therefore, is protected.

The Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, also found that influence is only tantamount to corruption if it reaches cartoon-villain levels of obviousness. Since nobody is handing over giant burlap sacks with dollar signs printed on the side in exchange for mysterious briefcases, it’s all above-board and legal.

Spending, meanwhile, continues to increase. Candidates, their campaigns, the parties, and donors spent about $1.5 billion (with a B) on the 2014 midterms. That’s on top of the $3.24 billion spent on formal lobbying last year, and the $2.4 billion and counting spent this year.

In the six-year span covered by the Sunlight Foundation study, General Electric was the biggest overall spender, to the tune of over $151 million. GE, in turn, received $23.5 billion in federal business and $19.6 billion in federal support during that same time period.

However, GE was nowhere near the biggest recipient of federal business, which the Foundation defines as including government contracts and some other transactions. That honor goes to massive defense contractor Lockheed Martin, unsurprisingly, with $204.2 billion of business from the feds. Fellow defense and aerospace contractors Boeing ($187.9 billion) and Northrop Grumman ($88.6 billion) were right behind.

The biggest recipients of government support (“including loans, loan guarantees, grants, and money advanced to companies in the aftermath of the financial crisis”) were, again unsurprisingly, all banks. Citigroup received $503.4 billion of support, followed by JPMorgan Chase with $485.6 billion and Bank of America at $457.1 billion.

You can browse the full table, or download the data set to do your own analyses, by clicking here.

Fixed Fortunes: Biggest corporate political interests spend billions, get trillions [Sunlight Foundation]

You Can Now Share Tweets Using Twitter’s Direct Messages

Fri, 2014-11-21 18:00

(SarahMcGowen)

(SarahMcGowen)

Though it might seem like a feature that should’ve been in place already, the ability for Twitter users to share tweets of interest via the platform’s direct messages option is something the company just rolled out this week.

Now when you see a specific tweet that you want to share privately, there are options other than simply retweeting it or quoting it within Twitter, Twitter says in a new blog post. Sharing tweets within Twitter? What a novel idea!

On the Twitter site, Tweet Deck and iOS and Android Twitter apps, users can click on a tweet in their timeline and select “Share via Direct Message,” which will beam the link straight to the friend of their choosing.

Before this change, users would have had to copy the URL of the specific tweet and paste it into a direct message, an extra step that again, one might think Twitter would’ve remedied before now, seeing as sharing within Twitter is just logical.

Why have a messaging function if not to share the content from that same platform easily? Oh right, for famous people to accidentally not understand what they’re doing and send private messages on their public timelines instead.

Amazon Reportedly Launching Hotel Booking Site In 2015

Fri, 2014-11-21 17:58

(Natasha L.)

(Natasha L.)

Consumers preparing to go on vacation might peruse Amazon for the necessities: sunscreen, rafts, hiking backpacks –– you name it and the online retailer probably has it. Unless, of course, you were looking to book your lodging. But that’s about to change now that the e-tailer is reportedly gearing up to launch its own hotel-booking service that would compete with the likes of TripAdvisor and Booking.com..

Skift reports that Amazon is poised to launch Amazon Travel, a site dedicated to booking at independent hotels and resorts near major cities, around January 1.

The site’s initial rollout will reportedly feature a selection of hotels within a few hours of New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

Citing representatives of three independent hotels, Skift reports that Amazon’s aim with the new service is to create a marketplace for independent and boutique hotels that might not have the marketing power afforded to larger chains or online travel agencies.

Amazon did not respond to Skift’s request for comment on the new venture.

Of the hotels that Skift spoke with, two had already signed on with Amazon, while the third was giving the proposition “heavy consideration.”

According to the hoteliers, properties would load their room types, availability, pricing information, and photos into an Amazon extranet and would pay a standard 15% commission to Amazon for the prepaid bookings.

When a consumers decides to book with the hotel, Amazon sends the property an email notification and the hotels update their calendar on the extranet.

The properties would receive their payments from Amazon for the booked stays in two installments and could attempt to negotiate a lower commission rate, Skift reports.

One hotelier tells Skift that Amazon used TripAdvisor ratings as part of their criteria for selecting properties to participate in the new service. He says the e-tailer would only use a few properties per destination and those hotels would have to be rated four stars or above.

So far, it appears that Amazon Travel would only be focusing on hotels, but could eventually add flights and other travel accommodations.

A hotelier that already signed on to the service, says they were persuaded to do so by Amazon’s enormous customer base.

While Amazon Travel might offer similar hotel options to other travel sites like Booking.com, Skift reports that Amazon’s model is significantly different.

Although both sites would use an agency/commission model, Amazon appears to be starting with prepaid bookings. Booking.com generally offers a pay-at-the-hotel model for consumers.

For that reason and the fact that one hotelier said they would have to wait for two payments from Amazon, Skift envisions it could be difficult to persuade hoteliers to join the new service.

However, by targeting a large niche market – independent and boutique hotels – Amazon is setting itself apart from the competition which largely focuses on large chain properties.

Robert Cole, a hotel consultant with RockCheeta, tells Skift that Amazon’s presence in the hotel market will likely shake things up.

“A key will be if Amazon can create a great user experience and drive traffic,” he says. “Travel is a big global market without shipping/logistics costs. Thinking special Amazon Prime deals are a no-brainer when running at scale”

Skift reports this isn’t Amazon’s first time entering the travel market. In 2001 and 2006 the company partnered with Expedia and SideStep, respectively. In the partnership with SideStep, the company created an Amazon travel store offering flight, hotel, car and vacation package searches.

Exclusive: Amazon to Get Into Hotel Booking With Launch of Travel Site [Skift]

Southwest Airlines Sued Over “Early Bird” Fees That Don’t Guarantee Priority Boarding

Fri, 2014-11-21 17:27

(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

When you pay a $25 fee to board a flight — especially one without assigned seats — ahead of other passengers, you might be ticked off to arrive at the gate and find out that not only aren’t you in the highest-priority boarding group, but that some of the people in front of you didn’t pay any additional money for their place in line. This is why a pair of Southwest passengers have filed a class-action suit against the airline, claiming the airline’s Early Bird Check-In program is “deceptive, fraudulent, and misleading.”

In the complaint [PDF] filed last week in a federal court in California, the plaintiffs say they each bought “Wanna Get Away” tier (aka coach) tickets on Southwest and paid $12.50 per flight leg ($25 round-trip) for Early Bird access, which is supposed to automatically check you in and assign you a boarding position 12 hours before those passengers who didn’t pay the fee.

But when they got to the airports for their respective flights, both plaintiffs — one of whom had to board with the B group of travelers — say that the travelers in front of them had not all paid for the early access and who were not Business Select passengers.

Some of the people in front of the plaintiffs had paid the higher “Anytime” fares, but as you can see from the chart below, priority boarding is not one of the perks associated with this middle tier of ticket:
southwestchart

The plaintiffs say that Southwest’s policies are confusing and contradictory, as the above chart mentions no boarding benefit for Anytime tickets, but the below answer in the Early Bird FAQ shows that Anytime passengers who pay for Early Bird access will be given a higher priority than Wanna Get Away passengers:
southwest2

“This is ambiguous and misleading,” reads the complaint, which alleges that passengers would not buy the Early Bird access — and Southwest wouldn’t make millions in ancillary revenue from it — if they were “properly informed.”

Additionally, the lawsuit points out that Southwest puts no cap on the number of Early Bird Check-ins it can sell for each flight, meaning that an entire plane of around 200 passengers could — in theory — all pay for priority boarding.

“[A] customer may purchase the ‘Early Bird Check-in’ add-on and still receive a boarding position of C sixty (C60), the last boarding position of the flight,” argue the plaintiffs, “thus creating a fiction of ‘priority boarding.’”

The class action seeks damages for all Southwest travelers who paid for tickest and/or Early Bird access on Southwest in the last four years.

Zappos Is Opening An Enormous Real-Life Holiday Pop-Up Store

Fri, 2014-11-21 17:09

(OrderWithMe)

(OrderWithMe)

Zappos is famous for its attentive customer service, but how would that translate to real life? Customers will have the opportunity to find out from this weekend until December 31, as Zappos opens a 20,000 square foot holiday pop-up store in downtown Las Vegas. Since it’s Vegas, the store will be open 24/7 the whole time (except for Thanksgiving and Christmas) and offer an integrated retail and online shopping experience, especially to customers who download the app before they shop.

The app? The retail venture isn’t all Zappos: their partner is ShopWithMe, a company seeking to provide integrated online and in-store inventory services for small retailers. The idea for the pop-up store (and for retailers that sign on with the service later on) is that customers can fondle and try on merchandise, then use handy kiosks or their smartphones to order items that aren’t in stock.

While most people refer to this as a Zappos project because they’ve actually heard of Zappos, ShopWithMe is behind the endeavor. Selling Zappos products during the holiday season seems sort of incidental to the whole project. Their goal is to show off their services, using Zappos’ vast inventory of online items to show off their own services.

ShopWithMe is a venture of OrderWithMe, a company that in turn is also based in Las Vegas. One of its investors is Zappos founder Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Fund.

Preview the Zappos Pop-Up Shop in Downtown Las Vegas [Tech.co]
Zappos opens first freestanding store [Chain Store Age]
JOIN THE PARTY [ShopWithMe]

Boston TSA Agents Find Dozens Of Credit Cards Under Different Names Stuffed Inside Teddy Bear

Fri, 2014-11-21 17:03

creditcardsanimalStuffed animals serve a simple purpose: To be cute and cuddly. As such, they’re imbued with a sort of innocence, so far as inanimate object can be, which is perhaps why someone thought no one would notice if a sweet little teddy bear was stuffed chock full of what could be stolen credit cards.

Transportation Security Administration agents at Boston’s Logan snagged a stuffed anima after noticing an odd mass inside a child’s teddy bear, reports CBS Boston.

“When TSA Officers went to resolve the anomaly they discovered dozens of credit cards of differing names concealed within the stuffed animal,” the TSA said in a statement.

The TSA notified the Massachusetts State Police, who are now investigating the teddy bear turned mule.

This isn’t the first time the TSA has found very adult things that shouldn’t be inside stuffed animals stuffed into a toy: A few years back, a man traveling T.F. Green International Airport in Warwick, RI said he had no clue how handgun parts ended up dispersed inside three of his four-year-old’s stuffed animals.

TSA Finds Dozens Of Credit Cards Inside Teddy Bear At Logan [CBS Boston]

Lexus Recalls Nearly 423,000 Sedans Because Fuel Leaks Can Lead To Fires

Fri, 2014-11-21 16:47
(Eric Smith)

(Eric Smith)

The only time most consumers want to see a car catch on fire is during a high-action movie. So it’s probably for the best that Toyota issued a recall of nearly 423,000 Lexus vehicles for a fuel leak issue that increases the risk of fire.

The Associated Press reports that the latest recall covers 422,509 model year 2006 to 2011 Lexus GS sedans, model year 2007 to 2010 LS sedans and the 2006 to 2011 IS sedan.

Officials with Toyota say the vehicles’ fuel lines, which have nickel phosphate plating to protect against corrosion, may have been built with particles coming into contact with a gasket.

If that’s the case, the sealing property can deteriorate and trigger a fuel leak where the fuel pressure sensor is attached to the fuel delivery pipe. If a spark were to occur a fire could start.

Toyota reports it is unaware of any fires or injuries related to the issue.

The AP reports that Toyota began looking into the matter in June 2010 after getting a report of a gasoline odor coming from an owner’s engine compartment.

During the investigation, the company received six reports from the field and 238 warranty claims about the issue. However they didn’t find the cause until last year.

Owners of affected vehicles will be notified of the issue starting next month, and dealers will repair the issue.

Toyota Recalls Over 420,000 Lexus Cars to Fix Fuel Leaks [The Associated Press]

CFPB Proposes Rules To Protect Consumers From Shoddy Foreclosure Practices

Fri, 2014-11-21 16:20

(jetsetpress)

(jetsetpress)

Since the recession began in the late 2000s, many homeowners have struggled to keep their homes, often fighting off aggressive and shady foreclosure attempts. Over the years, consumers groups have fought to extend protections for these consumers. On Thursday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took steps to ensure that homeowners and struggling borrowers are treated fairly by mortgage servicers.

The Bureau’s proposed rules [PDF] cover a variety of issues from providing additional help to consumers who previously faced foreclosure to making sure that loan servicers who buy a borrower’s loan provide the consumer with the same protections and advanced notice as previously afforded to them.

The rules focus on correcting the often shady tactics mortgage servicers – companies responsible for collecting payments from the borrower and forwarding the payment to the owner of the loan – employ when typically handling customer service, collections, loan modifications, and foreclosures.

Officials with the CFPB say the proposed rules are part of the Bureau’s ongoing effort to protect struggling homeowners and to make the mortgage process easier to understand.

Back in 2010, the CFPB put in place rules to eliminate surprises and runaround from consumers, the rules require servicers to maintain accurate records, give troubled borrowers direct and ongoing access to servicing personnel, promptly credit payments and correct errors on request.

Since those rules went into effect the CFPB has continued to hear from consumer advocacy groups that more could be done to protect consumers.

Require Foreclosure Protections More Than Once
Under the newly proposed rules, servicers are required to provide certain borrowers with foreclosure protections more than once over the life of the loan.

Currently, a mortgage servicer must give borrowers certain foreclosure protections, including the right to be evaluated under the CFPB’s requirements for options to avoid foreclosures, only once during the life of their loan.

Expand Consumer Protections To Heirs, Successors
With the proposed rule, servicers would be required to once again extend these protections to borrowers who have brought their loans current at any time during the last loss mitigation application.

According to the CFPB this rule change would be particularly helpful for borrowers who obtain a permanent loan modification and later suffer an unrelated hardships, such as job loss or death of a family member.

Required Notification For Loss Mitigation Processes
The new rules also expand consumer protections to surviving family members and other homeowners.

In the event that a borrower dies, the CFPB’s rules currently require that servicers promptly identify and communication with family members, heirs, and other parties, known as “successors in interest,” who have a legal interest in the home.

The new rule expands the circumstances in which consumers would be considered successors. Meaning that if the property is passed to another family member through a divorce, legal separation, through a family trust, between spouses, from a parent to a child or when a borrower who is a joint tenant dies, that borrower would receive the same protections as the original homeowner.

Protection For Struggling Borrowers During Servicing Transfers
Often when mortgages are transferred from one servicer to another, the borrower who had applied to the prior serviver for loss mitigation may not be notified of where they stand with the new servicers. In that instance, the new CFPB rules clarify that generally a transferee servicer must comply with the loss mitigation requirements within the same timeframes that applied to the previous servicer.

So if the borrower’s application was complete prior to the transfer, the new servicer generally must evaluate it within 30 days of when the prior servicer received it. For involuntary transfers, the proposal would give the new servicer at least 15 days after the transfer date to evaluate a complete application. If the new servicer needs more information in order to evaluate the application, the borrower would retain some foreclosure protections in the meantime.

Clarification To Prevent Servicers’ Dual-Tracking, Wrongful Foreclosures
Currently CFPB rules prohibit servicers from proceeding to foreclosure one they receive a complete loss mitigation application from a borrower more than 37 says prior to a scheduled sale. But in some cases, borrowers are not receiving this protection and servicers’ foreclosure counsel may not be taking adequate steps to delay foreclosure proceedings or sale.

The Bureau’s proposal clarifies what steps servicers and their foreclosure counsel must take to protect borrowers from a wrongful foreclosure sale.

Servicers who do not take reasonable steps to prevent the sale must dismiss a pending foreclosure action.

The proposed clarifications would aid servicers in complying with, and assist courts in applying, the dual-tracking prohibitions in foreclosure proceedings to prevent wrongful foreclosures.

Clarification On Delinquency Timing
Several current protections under the Bureau’s rules are contingent on how long a consumer has been delinquent on a mortgage. The newly proposed rules aim to take the guess-work out of that issue, but clarifying that delinquency, for purposes of the servicing rules, begins on the day a borrower fails to make a periodic payment.

Under the proposal, when a borrower misses a payment but later makes it up, if the servicer applies that payment to the oldest outstanding periodic payment, the date of delinquency advances.

The proposal also would allow servicers the discretion, under certain circumstances, to consider a borrower as having made a timely payment even if the borrower’s payment falls short of a full payment by a small amount.

Officials with the CFPB say the clarification will help ensure borrowers are treated uniformly and fairly by all servicers.

Protecting Borrowers In Bankruptcy
Currently borrowers in bankruptcy receive little or no periodic statements or loss mitigation information from their servicers; the proposed rule would change this way of business.

Consumer groups were quick to applaud the CFPB for their proposed foreclosure protections.

The National Consumer Law Center says in a statement [PDF] that the new revisions are an important step toward improving protections for distressed borrowers.

“The CFPB’s proposal addresses several top-line problems for homeowners seeking help from their mortgage companies,” Alys Cohen, staff attorney for the NCLC says in a statement.

Still, the group believes that several important issues were not addressed in the proposed rules and urged the CFPB to look into the problems further.

“Homeowners must have clear guidance on what they need to submit in order to have their request for assistance reviewed. Because key protections only apply once a complete application has been submitted, homeowners continue to face skyrocketing fees and piled-on interest from foreclosures while they try to complete their applications,” Cohen says.

The proposed rules and disclosures will be open for public comment for 90 days after their publication in the Federal Register.

CFPB Proposes Expanded Foreclosure Protections [CFPB]

Aereo Finally Gives Up The Ghost, Files For Bankruptcy Protection

Fri, 2014-11-21 15:32

aereoantenna2AFive months after the Supreme Court issued the fateful verdict against Aereo and a little more than a month after the company tried to convince the Federal Communications Commission that it was now just like cable companies in an attempt to save itself from the dustbin it seems the streaming broadcast TV service has thrown in the towel, filing for bankruptcy last night.

The Boston company filed for Chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Thursday in New York, reports the Wall Street Journal, listing assets of $20.5 million and a debt of $4.2 million.

Chief Executive Chet Kanojia said it all went back to that SCOTUS decision, which made the company basically illegal.

“The U.S. Supreme Court decision effectively changed the laws that had governed Aereo’s technology, creating regulatory and legal uncertainty,” Kanojia told the WSJ. “And while our team has focused its energies on exploring every path forward available to us, without that clarity, the challenges have proven too difficult to overcome.”

The company’s finance chief said in an affidavit filed with the court that Aereo filed for bankruptcy so it could work toward a goal of “consummating a sale of substantially all of its assets, recapitalizing or entering into some other reorganization transaction for the benefit of its creditors and shareholders.”

Aereo shut down “temporarily” (read: forever) at the end of June, giving customers refunds. That was followed by unsuccessful attempts to convince the U.S. copyright office and the U.S. Appeals Court that it was actually a cable company now, instead of what it started out to be — a company that took transmitted signals from broadcaster over the air by antenna and streamed that conent to customers online.

TV-Streaming Firm Aereo Files for Bankruptcy [Wall Street Journal]

Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Fri, 2014-11-21 15:30

Here are ten of the best photos that readers added to the Consumerist Flickr Pool in the last week, picked for usability in a Consumerist post or for just plain neatness.

(Ron Kroetz)

(Ron Kroetz)

(Scott Akerman)

(Scott Akerman)

(Hammerin Man)

(Hammerin Man)

(Tambako The Jaguar)

(Tambako The Jaguar)

business hours

(Chris Blakeley)

(吉姆 Jim Hofman)

(吉姆 Jim Hofman)

(Joel Zimmer)

(Joel Zimmer)

(ash)

(ash)

(Brian Howell)

(Brian Howell)

(Karen Chappell)

(Karen Chappell)

Our Flickr Pool is the place where Consumerist readers upload photos for possible use in future Consumerist posts. Want to see your pictures on our site? Just be a registered Flickr user, go here, and click “Join Group?” up on the top right. Choose your best photos, then click “send to group” on the individual images you want to add to the pool.

Get Ready For Parents To Fight Over Pink Plastic Pregnant Puppies

Thu, 2014-11-20 23:43

puppy_surpriseMany readers will recognize the product at the top of this page: It’s Puppy Surprise, a toy originally introduced in 1991. The gimmick: inside you will find three, four, or five puppies with different markings and personalities. Puppy Surprise came back on the market this fall, and has been so popular that the company had to pull its ads off TV.

Just like real puppies, they are born through a massive gash in their mother’s abdomen that never heals, and come with pink or blue ribbon around their necks so you can tell whether they’re boys or girls. (The age range they’re marketed for is 2 and up, so the explanation of how these things really work can probably wait.)

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that the company that manufactures them, Just Play, pulled ads from TV for six weeks because the company couldn’t keep the animals on the shelves.

Parents (mostly mothers) who are under age 35 or so will probably remember the original version of this toy, which was made by Hasbro two decades ago. Just Play chose not to change much of anything about the product, keeping its fur pink and using the same product jingle.

Here’s the 1991 version:

Here’s the current one:

Kids love puppies (and kittens: there’s a Kitty Surprise available at Toys ‘R’ Us), and these toys are relatively low-tech: they don’t even have batteries. The company tells Businessweek that they have plenty of accessories and new animals on the way for next year, but supplies may run short this holiday season.

Success Is the Surprise of This Retro Gift [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Amazon Deploys Robot Army To Assemble Your Orders

Thu, 2014-11-20 23:10

This is only what giant Amazon order-filling robots look like in my imagination.

This is only what giant Amazon order-filling robots look like in my imagination. (chinguri)

While government regulations are keeping Amazon’s delivery drones out of American skies for now, the company is still looking for ways to remove slow, error-prone humans from the fulfillment process in order to save time and money. One cool piece of machinery that will help the company with the holiday rush are robots that don’t pick items off the shelves: they bring the shelves to the human order-pickers.

We’ve shared with you an account of life as an order-picker in a large e-commerce warehouse, where order-pickers need quality walking shoes as they power-walk around a massive warehouse, collecting items to be boxed and shipped. Amazon bought Kiva Systems, a company that makes shelf robots, in 2012. These robots don’t roam the shelves: they bring shelving units to the order-pickers, who can perform their jobs much more quickly when they don’t have to walk from shelf to shelf.

This isn’t about saving the aching feet of order-pickers, of course: the idea is to cut costs. An order picker in a robot-equipped warehouse can nab 300 items per hour, but a worker human-powered warehouse is supposed to get about 100. One expert told the Wall Street Journal that automating warehouses in this way could cut fulfillment costs by as much as 40%.

By the end of the year, Amazon plans to have about 10,000 shelf-bots roaming its warehouses.

Amazon robots prepare for Christmas [MarketWatch]

CBS Blackout Still Looms For Dish Customers

Thu, 2014-11-20 22:58

Dish customers in 14 markets will only be able to see the 326 Big Bang Theory reruns that air every night in syndication if no deal is reached with CBS.

Dish customers in 14 markets will only be able to see the 326 Big Bang Theory reruns that air every night in syndication if no deal is reached with CBS.

In a few hours, the deadline for Dish Network and CBS to reach a deal — or to agree to extend their current arrangement while they continue hammering out details — will expire, meaning millions of satellite subscribers around the country could be without access to their local TV CBS station.

The blackout would affect stations that are owned and operated by CBS Corp. While that is only about a dozen stations, they represent some of the country’s largest markets — Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Denver, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Dallas.

Time Warner Cable went up against CBS in a similar dispute in the summer of 2013, but those blackouts only really affected viewers in L.A., NYC, and Dallas. Additionally, TWC picked the wrong time of year to pick a fight, taking CBS off the air during a time of year when the network’s most desirable programming was the risible Under the Dome.

TWC caved in its standoff with CBS just as the college football and NFL seasons were to begin. But as we’re already well into both of those seasons this year, a Dish blackout of CBS owned-and-operated stations could really tick off football fans.

For example, here in Philadelphia the Eagles/Titans game on Sunday is slated to air on CBS. It’s even worse for local fans of the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins, both of whom could be heading over to a neighbor’s house to watch those two teams to play this weekend.

CBS stands to lose money and face a lot of irate advertisers if it can’t deliver ratings on these games, while Dish could risk losing customers to whatever cable company they already get their Internet service from. TWC lost hundreds of thousands of customers in the wake of its prolonged standoff with CBS.

And it may not be as simple as going out and spending a few bucks on a digital antenna for some Dish customers, as many rural satellite subscribers don’t have easy access to over-the-air signals.

That said, a CBS blackout might be too much for some Dish subscribers, who are currently without several cable channels owned by Turner Broadcasting, including CNN, HLN, and the Cartoon Network.

CBS and Dish have had an adversarial relationship for years, with the broadcaster leading the legal charge to shut down the satellite company’s “Auto Hop” DVRs, which edit out prime-time commercials for users so they can watch recorded TV without having to even fast-forward through the ad breaks.

The Auto Hop is only one of the sticking points in the Dish negotiations reports the L.A. Times. There is also the issue of digital rights to CBS content, which is incredibly important to Dish as it prepares to launch a standalone online streaming service in the coming months.

In Sept. 2013, Dish and Disney came within a few hours of a blackout that would have turned off ABC stations and — most importantly — ESPN for Dish subscribers. And shortly thereafter the two companies announced that they had reached a deal to have Disney content be part of the Dish streaming service when it launched.

Discover, Wells Fargo To Offer Private Student Loan Modifications

Thu, 2014-11-20 22:45

(Phil Jones)

(Phil Jones)

Consumers facing difficulty in paying back their private student loans often have a difficult time receiving any relief from lenders. While some smaller banks have relaxed their repayment terms for good borrowers in the past, two of the nation’s largest private lenders are set to make the same opportunities available to private student loan borrowers.

The Washington Post reports that Wells Fargo and Discover Financial Services are currently ironing out the terms of modification programs that could begin before the end to the year.

Officials with Wells Fargo, which has $11.9 billion worth of student loans outstanding, says the company plans to offer lower interest rates for eligible borrowers starting this month and extend repayment periods starting in February.

The move, the company says, could save consumers thousands of dollars in interest payments over the life of the loan. A test pilot conducted with a few borrowers in May found that a majority of participants had their monthly payments lowered by as much as 31%.

By the end of the year, officials estimate that 600 to 1,000 borrowers will take advantage of the program.

John Rasmussen, Wells Fargo’s head of education financial services, says the bank worked with regulators to create the program after repeatedly hearing that consumers needed more options when they faced financial hardships.

Under the new program, Wells Fargo will consider lowering the interest rate of any borrower who can demonstrate a hardship. Borrowers don’t have to actually be delinquent on their loans, instead they can be current on payments, but foreseeing a rough patch related to job loss or other issues.

The eventual extended repayment plans from the bank would offer up to an additional five years for people who need more help than an interest rate reduction.

Officials with Discover, which has $8.3 billion in private student loans, tell the Post that they are in the final stages of creating a modification plan.

With an anticipated launch early next year, the plans aim to offer lowered interest rates and forgiving some debt for borrowers in dire straits.

Wells Fargo and Discover aren’t the first private student loan issuers to offer borrowers relief.

Back in January, Charger One announce a new Education Refinance Loan that, as advertised, would provide borrowers with rates as low as 5.24% and a variable rate of 2.84%. The lowest rates are reserved for those borrowers with better credit.

Wells Fargo and Discover to offer student loan modifications [The Washington Post]

Lewis Black Rants About The Expansion Of Black Friday

Thu, 2014-11-20 21:45

lewis_black_fridayMost Americans don’t go shopping on Black Friday or on Thanksgiving Day, but it remains a popular topic for us in the media to yap about. This year, the increasing number of stores opening on Thanksgiving Day and growing controversy over the practice has prompted Lewis Black, professional ranter, to weigh in.

He didn’t just walk around shouting: this was a “Back in Black” segment on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” Black doesn’t really have a problem with people not worshipping him on Black Friday, or even with the uncontrolled shopping frenzies. “Trample a guy on a Tuesday afternoon, you get charged with assault,” he says. “But do it on Black Friday, you get a PS4!”

No, his problem is with the media’s inconsistent stance on the Black Thursday phenomenon. When it’s employees complaining about having to work on the holiday, newscasters and the general public shrug and say, “find another job if you don’t like it.” However, when it’s a business forced to be open on a holiday against its will or face fines, well, then people get upset.

Back in Black: Black Friday [Hulu]

Is Comcast’s New Appointment Tracker A Time Saver Or An Unrealistic Concept?

Thu, 2014-11-20 21:36
Comcast unveiled a new feature that allows customers to track their service technician.

Comcast unveiled a new feature that allows customers to track their service technician.

We all know that time is precious, and for once it seems like Comcast is agreeing with consumers on that point. The company, which has a decidedly checkered consumer relationship, unveiled a new attempt to project a more consumer-friendly appearance by beginning tests of a new app that allows people waiting on a service call to track where a technician is currently located.

The service, Comcast’s latest attempt to project a more consumer-friendly appearance, was announced on a blog post titled “Your Time Is Valuable; We Don’t Want To Waste It.”

Although the company says in the post that it has whittled down the service call window to two hours instead of four, more could be done to recognize consumers’ valuable time. And so they created the “Where’s My Tech” feature, which is currently being tested in Boston.

Customers with a scheduled appointment will be alerted through the feature, available on the MyAccount app, when a technician is about 30 minutes away. At that time, the customer can track the technician’s progress on a map.

“We’re hoping this will prevent our customers from just needing to sit at home and wait,” the post says. “They can check the app from the office, or wherever they are, and head home when they see we’re on our way.”

While the intention seems all well and good, the company doesn’t appear to consider the fact that some people have to commute more than 30 minutes to work. So even with notice that a technician will be at their door in a half hour, some consumers still have to waste at least two hours of their time waiting at home.

Additionally, in the situation that the technician gets tied up at a previous appointment, the app will alert waiting customers of the delay and continue to send real-time status updates.

But such alerts are double-edged swords for Comcast. Yes, it keeps customers up to date about their appointment, but people who rush home to only then get a delay alert may  be even more annoyed to find out there was no reason to hurry.

Also, the company isn’t specific in how they determine when the technician will arrive. The app’s insistence on a 30 minute window could potentially rush the technician’s work, which means your cable, internet or phone problem might not receive the attention it needs and then you have to repeat the cycle again next week.

There’s also no assurance that techs won’t try to game the system to make it seem like they have arrived on time.

We’ve seen this before at Sears, where employees were stopping the “5 Minute Guarantee” clock early, and we’ve heard countless reports of drivers for UPS, FedEx, and even Domino’s falsely declaring a delivery was made just to juke their stats.

It’s great to see Comcast attempting to be more transparent, but until we see the app in action and see actual customer feedback on it, we’re keeping the champagne on ice.

Your Time Is Valuable; We Don’t Want To Waste It [Comcast]

Google’s New “Contributor” Feature Lets You Pay Sites In Exchange For No Ads

Thu, 2014-11-20 20:57

Users who support sites through Google Contribute will see blocked-out boxes instead of ads when they visit participating sites.

Users who support sites through Google Contributor will see blocked-out boxes instead of ads when they visit participating sites.

Taking a cue from the world of smartphone apps, where users can either get a free version that includes ads or pay a premium to get an ad-free experience, Google has announced a new product — Google Contributions, which will allow users to pay participating sites in exchange for not being bombarded with ads.

The feature — which will launch on a number of popular sites, including Mashable, The Onion, and Urban Dictionary — is pretty simple.

If you are a fan of participating sites and read them frequently but don’t want to see ads, you can sign up to pay a monthly amount between $1-3 through Contributor, and when you visit those sites you’ll see blurred-out boxes with a Thank You message from Google instead of ads.

The contributed money will be doled out to those sites that you visit, so if you visit Mashable but not ScienceDaily, your funds will go to the former instead of the latter (with Google taking its share).

This is really a test to see whether enough people are willing to show their support for the content they read every day and whether the temptation of ad-free browsing is sufficient to convince them to open their wallets.

For sites that run mostly remnant ads or ads sold by the Google network, the contribution of a buck or two per month may equal or pass the ad revenue lost by not showing these ads. Sites that frequently sell committed blocks of ads directly to advertisers would probably require larger contributions to make up for those lost pageviews and click-throughs.

Google has started a waiting list for invites to Contributor for anyone willing to support their favorite sites if it means no ads.

Of course, Consumerist doesn’t run any ads whatsoever, and we don’t charge you a penny for that privilege. We do, however, really love it when readers click on that Donate button at the top of this page and then help support the site with their tax-deductible contribution.

Woman Waits More Than An Hour To Be Rescued From Locked CVS, Still Pays For Vitamins

Thu, 2014-11-20 20:38

(KMOV.com)

(KMOV.com)

What would you do if you were stuck inside a closed store for an hour and a half with a waning smartphone battery and nothing to do while you wait to be rescued? While some of us would surely finally live out some kind of supermarket sweep fantasy, one woman marooned in a closed CVS behaved herself, taking a selfie and still paying for her gummy vitamins at the end of the ordeal.

KMOV News spoke to the woman after her ordeal, which started when she arrived at a Kansas City CVS around 9:45 p.m. and began wandering around on a hunt for some gummy vitamins.

“Kind of took my time meandering the store for a while. I was there for about 30 minutes,” she said, saying she made her way to the checkout counter a little after 10, and realized no one was there.

“There’s nobody at the cash register and so I start looking around the store, I can’t find anybody, I start calling out and then I walk up front and see the garage door is pulled down,” she explained.

That’s when it hit her — she was locked in, and her phone was about to die. She tried CVS corporate offices to no avail, and was about to call 911 when the store’s phone rang.

“I’m going to answer this, what the heck, and it ended up being CVS general security alarm system that had been silently triggered by me,” she said.

It wasn’t until 11:30 when police and two managers arrived to release her, during which time she took a selfie in front of the locked doors wearing the grimace of a person who is stuck in a CVS waiting for someone to let her out. She also paid for her vitamins.

She’s since filed a formal complaint, though she admits she’s “not that mad or upset” and mostly finds the situation “hilarious.”

CVS didn’t comment to KMOV, but you’ve gotta think — while it’s surely not a life-threatening situation to be trapped in a closed CVS for an hour and a half after notifying management that you’re there, one might think having someone wait that long to be rescued would be willing to throw say, a free bottle of gummy vitamins into the mix. Or at least explain why it took that long — what if the tripped alarm had been a burglar? That’s a lot of time to do some serious damage.

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