website utilities

People before Profit

Follow on:

The Consumerist

Mattel Apologizes, Says Incompetent Engineer Barbie ‘Doesn’t Reflect The Brand’s Vision’

Wed, 2014-11-19 23:32

networkedagentEarlier today, we wondered why the communications people over at Mattel hadn’t answered our (or any other news outlets’) questions about the book starring Barbie as a computer engineer featuring sexist tropes and a very inaccurate representation of what computer engineers do. Good news: Steven and Brian managed to get the virus off PR Barbie’s computer, and the book’s author has spoken up as well.

Susan Marenco has written lots of stories about established characters, especially for Disney. According to her personal website, she wrote the dialogue for all of the Barbie “I Can Be” books, including the problematic title about Computer Engineer Barbie. She told ABC News that the issue may have been a miscommunication between her and her editors: she claims that she was told to write a book about Barbie as a “designer,” and Barbie in the book does design a cute puppy game.

Yet Marenco admitted that she sees how this book is problematic. It’s not that she’s never worked with engineers: she is a technical editor, and spent twenty years working for Microsoft as an editor and usability designer.

“If I was on deadline, it’s possible stuff slipped out or I quietly abided by Mattel without questioning it,” she told ABC. “Maybe I should have pushed back, and I usually I do, but I didn’t this time.” Mattel hasn’t confirmed this account with ABC yet. She could have easily made one of the engineer characters in the book female.

That’s a problem not just in feminism, but in life in general: the need to get an assignment done so you can go to sleep or out to dinner or to your third job, balanced with the need to fight back against putting potentially harmful messages in a book for little girls. She may not even have realized how harmful the messages were, given that her assignment wasn’t to write a book about an “engineer.”

For its part, Mattel is sorry, too. They sent a statement to ABC News attributed to Lori Pantel, vice president of Barbie’s global brand marketing, explaining that the

Since that time, we have reworked our Barbie books. The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for. We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls’ imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.

That’s not to say that a woman who likes cute casual games and pink puppies, or who needs help to remove a virus from her computer, isn’t empowered in other areas of her life. It’s just that to women who work with technology, this book read a little bit like a story about Barbie as a doctor who runs to a male colleague for help when she gets a paper cut.

Don’t sweat it, though, Mattel: Over at the site Feminist Hacker Barbie, a whole team of helpful volunteers are rewriting the book for you.


We Guess Public Relations Barbie Can’t Use Email Any Better Than Computer Engineer Barbie
Computer Engineer Barbie Needs Men To Write Code, Can’t Reboot Computer

CFPB Orders ‘Buy-Here, Pay-Here’ Auto Dealer DriveTime To Pay $8M Penalty For Unfair Debt Collection Practices

Wed, 2014-11-19 22:54

(Misfit Photographer)

(Misfit Photographer)

For the first time in its existence the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took action against a so-called “buy-here, pay-here” vehicle dealer, ordering the company to pay $8 million and fix its egregious ways.

The CFPB announced today that it has charged DriveTime Automotive Group Inc., an Arizona-based company that sells vehicles as well as originates and services auto loans, with harming customers by making harassing debt collection calls and providing inaccurate credit information to credit reporting agencies.

DriveTime and its finance company, DT Acceptance Corporation, make up one of the largest buy-here, pay-here car companies in the U.S., operating 117 dealerships in 20 states and holding more than 150,000 outstanding auto installment contracts.

“Buy-here, pay-here” dealers typically target economically vulnerable subprime borrowers, offering high-interest loans and aggressive repossession tactics.

In DriveTime’s case the average customer has an annual income of $37,000 to $50,000 and a FICO score between 461 and 554.

According to the CFPB, at least 45% of DriveTime’s auto installment contracts were delinquent at any given time, with approximately 69,000 installment contracts past due at the end of 2013.

When customers fell behind on their installment payments, DriveTime’s extensive collections operation – made up of at least 290 collection employees in two domestic call centers and 80 contractors in Barbados – allegedly began placing tens of thousands of collection calls each weekday.

The CFPB alleges that often the collection calls and practices utilized by DriveTime were in violation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which establishes that companies’ practices can be found unfair if consumers cannot reasonably avoid being harmed.

Harmful consumer debt collection practices allegedly employed by DriveTime included:

Harassing borrowers at work: The CFPB found that DriveTime collectors often called borrowers at work, and DriveTime management encouraged these calls. Several consumers tell the CFPB they requested DriveTime not to call them at work, but the company continued anyway.

Harassing borrowers references: Customers to DriveTime were required to provide the names and phone numbers of at least four reference when they applied for financing. When customers fell behind on payments, the company allegedly called those references repeatedly.

Making excessive, repeated calls to wrong numbers: In DriveTime’s effort to reach consumers who fell behind on payments, the company regularly used third-party databases to find contact information. Often these databases provided the wrong numbers. The CFPB found that upon receiving DriveTime’s calls, numerous consumers told the company they had the wrong number, but calls continued.

Providing inaccurate repossession information to credit reporting agencies: In some cases, DriveTime gave the three major consumer reporting agencies inaccurate information on the timing or repossession and dates of delinquencies. This action made it appear on consumers’ credit reports that consumers’ vehicles had been repossessed more recently than the actual repossession.

Failing to properly handle credit information furnishing disputes: In the event that incorrect information was submitted to reporting agencies, DriveTime often mishandled the resulting consumer complaints. In several instances, consumers disputed the same account information several times without the inaccurate information being corrected. In other cases, DriveTime informed the consumers in writing that the information had been corrected, when it had not been.

Failing to implement reasonable procedures to ensure the accuracy of consumers’ credit information: The CFPB found that DriveTime failed to establish and implement reasonable written policies and procedures regarding the accuracy and integrity of the information it furnished to credit reporting agencies. The policies and procedures put in place by DriveTime were not appropriate to the nature, size, complexity, and scope of its furnishing activities.

In addition the paying an $8 million penalty to the CFPB Civil Penalty Fund, DriveTime and its related companies must end unfair calling practices, disclose collection options to consumers, cease furnishing inaccurate repossession information, correct credit reporting information, provide credit reports to harmed consumers and implement an audit program.

CFPB Takes First Action Against ‘Buy-Here, Pay-Here’ Auto Dealer [CFPB]

Apple Reportedly Pushing Beats Music App To Everyone’s iPhone, iPad With Next iOS Update

Wed, 2014-11-19 22:07

(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)

Apple’s first big move after purchasing Beats earlier this year – aside from firing people and removing competing products from its stores – reportedly involves pushing the subscription music service to all iPhones and iPads during an iOS update early next year.

Financial Times reports that Apple’s move to capitalize on its $3 billion investment into Beats’ hardware and streaming music service could happen as early as March.

This isn’t Apple’s first time forcing bloatware on consumers. Earlier this year it pushed out its iBooks app with the iOS 8 update. And just a few months ago the company outraged users when it sneakily installed U2′s new album onto devices without getting permission from consumers. The company later apologized and created a website that made it possible for consumers to remove the album.

Pre-installing or pushing apps through system updates is often seen as a speedy way to reach new customers, without them having to search for the service in the App Store.

And that could certainly happen for Beats Music, which is estimated to have just 110,000 subscribers, while Apple’s iTunes has nearly 200 million active users.

However, the ploy had a decidedly bleak outcome when Apple pre-installed iTunes Radio with iOS 7. The service has seen rather lackluster usage, Financial Times reports.

The inclusion of the Beats subscription service is part of Apple’s new three-pronged approach to music, which already includes iTunes downloads and iTunes Radio.

Apple first announced it would purchase Beats in May, marking the largest acquisition for the company to date. The deal included Beats’ iconic headphones and streaming music service.

Apple plans to push Beats to every iPhone [Financial Times]

Someone Sent $270K Worth Of Pot To The Wrong Clothing Store

Wed, 2014-11-19 22:03

Here are the two blocks of pot delivered Monday. A third 30 lb. block was delivered to the same store on Tuesday.

Here are the two blocks of pot delivered Monday. A third 30 lb. block was delivered to the same store on Tuesday.

I’ve never mailed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of marijuana to anyone, but if I were going to do it, I’d at least make sure that it was properly addressed. But that’s apparently not the case for whomever sent 90 pounds of pot to one Philly-area clothing store over the course of two days.

The Philadelphia Daily News reports that the dopey deliveries began Monday, when the manager of a clothing store received two boxes, each weighing about 30 pounds.

The packages were addressed to the store, but what they contained was nothing intended for the retailer’s shelf. Both packages were packed solid with marijuana, which the police said has a street value of about $3,000 per pound.

The manager contacted the police who confiscated the parcels and began investigating.

But they just had to come back the next day when a third box, also full to the brim with 30 pounds of pot, arrived at the store. That means someone has basically thrown away $270,000 worth of pot in just two days.

At this point, we expect that several people are seeing the possibility of green in every box that arrives at the store.

This is just the latest story in drug-deliveries gone wrong.

Just a few weeks ago, a FedEx driver delivered a box full of pot, painkillers, cocaine, morphine, LSD, hash, steroids, black tar heroin, codeine, and other drugs to the wrong person, who notified police, resulting in a substantial bust of the intended recipients.

In 2013, a box containing 11 pounds of marijuana landed on a California man’s doorstep because whoever sent the package had used his address as the return address.

Then there was the lawsuit in Massachusetts filed by a woman who received a box full o’ drugs intended for someone else, only to have the rightful recipient show up at her door because FedEx had given them her home address so they could pick up their parcel.

Poll Results: Most Americans Don’t Shop On Thanksgiving Or Black Friday

Wed, 2014-11-19 21:54

(Michael Holden)

(Michael Holden)

Whether stores plan to open to shoppers on Thanksgiving Day or not, there would be no American Shopping Frenzy Long Weekend at all if people weren’t going to head out there and shop. Yet who are the people who have clamored to go out and shop on Thanksgiving Day? How many Americans are really going to hit the stores at the end of next week? The results of two polls can give us some insight.

Last year, Consumerist asked our statistics-crunching colleagues down the hall at the Consumer Reports National Research Center to include some questions about Thanksgiving shopping behaviors in their annual nationally representative holiday poll. We were curious about what Americans’ real habits were. Obviously, someone shopped on Thanksgiving Day, because the practice is expanding.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center poll took place in December last year, so respondents’ answers reflect their shopping habits in 2013. Many stores and malls were open on Thanksgiving 2013, but 86% said that they didn’t shop on the holiday. 61% of people polled said that non-essential stores should not have opened on Thanksgiving. 42% of people who did go out and shop on Thanksgiving Day said that they “strongly agreed” that stores shouldn’t have opened.

Meanwhile, over at Bankrate, they were curious about shoppers’ plans for the day after Thanksgiving this year. Despite giving their article about the results the provocative title “Is Black Friday Dead?” they proved that Black Friday is definitely not dead. Their survey of 1,000 adults showed that 28% of them planned to go shopping at some point on Black Friday, which is probably all that the average mall parking lot can hold.

The Consumer Reports Holiday Poll, designed by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, is a nationally representative survey of more than 1,500 randomly selected adult U.S. residents who said they plan to shop for the holidays. It was conducted in December 2013.

Wells Fargo Refusing To Honor Widow’s 30-Year-Old CD

Wed, 2014-11-19 21:14

27411027_BG2In 1984, an Arizona man invested more than $18,000 in a Certificate of Deposit at First Interstate Bank, and then placed that CD away in his family’s personal records where it sat for 25 years. Then in 2009, after he passed away, his widow discovered the CD and attempted to cash it out, only to be denied by First Interstate’s new owner, Wells Fargo.

The widow tells KPHO-TV in Phoenix that she and her late husband frequently placed their money in CDs when they owned a towing company.

“Going back in the ’80s, that was the way you made your money,” she explains.

But when she tried to get the money that she believes is rightfully hers, she the bank “practically almost laughed at me.”

KPHO claims that Wells Fargo refused to comment on the story but claim in court documents that it had no records of the CD and believes it’s possible that it could have already been paid out at some point in the past, pointing out that First Interstate had a policy of allowing customers to retain paid-out certificates.

The widow insists that her late husband never cashed out the CD, while her lawyer notes that the CD states that it must be “presented and surrendered” in order to be redeemed. He claims that it’s not enough for Wells to cite a lack of documentation on its part as evidence that the CD had been paid.

“Given the passage of the time, the bank doesn’t have a record of it,” says the lawyer. “And so really what needs to be decided by the court is, what’s the import of the lack of a record in the face of the instrument?”

The two sides also can’t agree on just how much the CD would be worth if Wells Fargo did have to pay the widow.

Her lawyer believes it’s worth hundreds of thousands of dollars while the bank estimates its value at closer to $60,000.

KPHO reports that the court is expected to decide on this dispute in January.

( function() { var func = function() { var iframe_form = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-form-f0ccfd0cefea2755cbb51ceb75d6bbd8-546cfa6c477e4'); var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-f0ccfd0cefea2755cbb51ceb75d6bbd8-546cfa6c477e4'); if ( iframe_form && iframe ) { iframe_form.submit(); iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-f0ccfd0cefea2755cbb51ceb75d6bbd8-546cfa6c477e4' }, window.location.protocol + '//' ); } } // Autosize iframe var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) { var origin = document.createElement( 'a' ); origin.href = e.origin; // Verify message origin if ( '' !== ) return; // Verify message is in a format we expect if ( 'object' !== typeof || undefined === ) return; switch ( ) { case 'poll_size:response': var iframe = document.getElementById( ); if ( iframe && '' === iframe.width ) iframe.width = '100%'; if ( iframe && '' === iframe.height ) iframe.height = parseInt( ); return; default: return; } } if ( 'function' === typeof window.addEventListener ) { window.addEventListener( 'message', funcSizeResponse, false ); } else if ( 'function' === typeof window.attachEvent ) { window.attachEvent( 'onmessage', funcSizeResponse ); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )();

Attempting To Steal Steaks From Walmart By Sitting On Them Only Leads To Your Arrest And Really Flat Steaks

Wed, 2014-11-19 20:57



We already know that meat is the product of choice for many shoplifters and that more often than not that particular kind of theft involves the meat being shoved down one’s pants. But a new development in meat-centric thefts occurred this week when a man allegedly tried to steal several rib-eye steaks by sitting on them.

The New York Daily News reports the latest meat-caper took place Tuesday at a South Carolina Walmart when a man on a motorized scooter was arrested.

According to a police report, a loss prevention employee at Walmart was walking by the meat department when she observed the 43-year-old man select five rib-eye steaks and place them in the seat of a motorized handicapped scooter.

The employee told officers that the man then sat on the steaks and exited the store “passing all points of sale, without attempting to pay for said merchandise.”

At that time the loss prevention employee confronted the man and escorted him to the loss prevention office.

The man was taken to county jail where he remained under police custody for three hours before he was released without bond.

Man arrested for shoplifting 5 rib eye steaks at Wal-Mart [The New York Daily News]

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

Wed, 2014-11-19 20:20



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wed, 2014-11-19 19:57

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) November 19, 2014

Predictably, social media users fired back.

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

— Liberally Lisa (@LiberalMunky) November 19, 2014

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

— Duane Jeffers (@duanejeffers) November 19, 2014

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

— Nick Kolakowski (@nkolakowski) November 19, 2014

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

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

— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) November 19, 2014

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

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

— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) November 19, 2014

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

— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) November 19, 2014

Everyone is guilty and then tasked to defend themselves publicly.

— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) November 19, 2014

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

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

— ashton kutcher (@aplusk) November 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wed, 2014-11-19 19:05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asian-American Sephora Customers With Closed Accounts File Discrimination Lawsuit

Wed, 2014-11-19 18:35



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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for respecting our business decision.


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

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

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

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

Wed, 2014-11-19 18:33


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wed, 2014-11-19 17:42

Barbie is stymied by this email thing.

Barbie is stymied by this email thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wed, 2014-11-19 17:38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

( function() { var func = function() { var iframe_form = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-form-de0db62840dadaddae2e454d1bf2b198-546cd45969879'); var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-de0db62840dadaddae2e454d1bf2b198-546cd45969879'); if ( iframe_form && iframe ) { iframe_form.submit(); iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-de0db62840dadaddae2e454d1bf2b198-546cd45969879' }, window.location.protocol + '//' ); } } // Autosize iframe var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) { var origin = document.createElement( 'a' ); origin.href = e.origin; // Verify message origin if ( '' !== ) return; // Verify message is in a format we expect if ( 'object' !== typeof || undefined === ) return; switch ( ) { case 'poll_size:response': var iframe = document.getElementById( ); if ( iframe && '' === iframe.width ) iframe.width = '100%'; if ( iframe && '' === iframe.height ) iframe.height = parseInt( ); return; default: return; } } if ( 'function' === typeof window.addEventListener ) { window.addEventListener( 'message', funcSizeResponse, false ); } else if ( 'function' === typeof window.attachEvent ) { window.attachEvent( 'onmessage', funcSizeResponse ); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )();

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

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

(Chris Blakeley)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starburst Introduces Christmas-Themed Jellybeans For Some Reason

Wed, 2014-11-19 17:01

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


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

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

JetBlue Adding Checked Bag Fees, Cutting Down On Legroom

Wed, 2014-11-19 16:40

(Boss Meg)

(Boss Meg)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wed, 2014-11-19 16:39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NHTSA Pushes For National Recall Of Takata Airbags

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

(I Am Rob)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wed, 2014-11-19 15:57



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

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

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

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

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

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

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