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Costco Announces New Credit Card Partnership With Citi, Visa

Mon, 2015-03-02 15:36

(Rick Takagi)

(Rick Takagi)

It seems Costco is not one to sit around pining for old flames very long, as the shopping club announced today that it’s rebounding from the end of its relationship with American Express with a new partnership with Citigroup and Visa.

Costco has dubbed the two companies as its new credit partners starting in April of next year, reports the Wall Street Journal. Previously, only AmEx credit cards and debit cards were accepted at the wholesale retailer.

This means only Citi will be able to issue Costco co-branded credit cards, and it will make Visa the exclusive credit-card network for Costco’s stores. While it’s clearly a big win for Visa and Citi, Costco hasn’t revealed any financial terms of the deal.

It would seem that whatever the agreement involves, it’s more favorable for Costco than the arrangement it had with AmEx: Costco had been trying to come to new terms in its AmEx deal, but the two sides couldn’t reach a mutually beneficial decision, the company said. Instead, Costco said that ending its relationship with AmEx was about saving money for customers.

As of March 31, 2016, AmEx Costco-branded credit cards will be useless, giving customers just over a year to make the switch — if they want to. Customers can still use debit cards from either Visa or MasterCard, as well as Costco cash cards, which can be purchased online.

Costco Names Citi, Visa as New Credit Partners [Wall Street Journal]

IKEA Making Furniture With Built-In Charging Stations

Mon, 2015-03-02 15:33


Rummaging through drawers to find the right power cord for your smartphone, tablet and other electronic devices can be a frustrating task. Soon, though, you might be able to juice up your device simply by placing it on the IKEA bookshelf, desk or nightstand littering your home.

Mashable reports that the Swedish furniture company will incorporate technology into several product offerings to allow consumers to charge their devices by placing it on the “X.”

The technology, called Qi, is already available in many public locations, including some Starbucks stores.

Although the new technology will eliminate much of the cord clutter we’ve all become accustomed to, IKEA says the furniture will still need a power source to facilitate the energy transfer.

In addition to offering the new furniture with built-in stations, IKEA will also sell wireless charging kits that can fit into existing furniture.

The new technologically advanced furniture doesn’t appear to break the bank, with pieces averaging about $22 more than typical IKEA pieces. But there’s no word on whether or not the charging stations will make assembly anymore difficult than it already is.

IKEA furniture will soon be able to wirelessly charge your mobile device [Mashable]

Hyundai Recalls 200,000 Vehicles For Steering Issues

Mon, 2015-03-02 15:09

(Van Swearingen)

(Van Swearingen)

Here’s the thing about driving a car: no one wants it to be more difficult or dangerous than it needs to be. That’s why Hyundai is recalling more than 200,000 with steering issues.

According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notice [PDF], Hyundai will recall 204,768 model year 2008 to 2010 Elantras and 2009 to 2010 Elantra Touring vehicles.

Hyundai says the electric power steering (EPS) electric control unit (ECU) may sense a discrepancy in the steering input signals and, as a result, disable the steering power assist.

Although steering control can be maintained, the manufacture says the vehicle could revert to manual steering mode, requiring greater driver effort from the driver, especially at low speeds. Additionally, the changes could increase the risk of a crash.

Hyundai will notify owners of affected vehicles, and dealers will examine the EPS and update software if needed.

Chrysler Adds 467,000 Vehicles To 2014 Recall Of Jeep, Durango SUVs With Fuel Pump Issues

Fri, 2015-02-27 22:44

(Ralph Krawczyk Jr)

(Ralph Krawczyk Jr)

Nearly five months after Fiat Chrysler issued a recall of 230,000 Dodge and Jeep SUVs for fuel pump issues that could lead to a vehicle stall, the company expanded the number of affected vehicles by more than 467,000.

The automaker announced today that it would recall an additional 467,480 model year 2012-2013 Dodge Durangos and 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokees in order to fix an issue with the vehicle’s fuel pump function.

Engineers with the company determined that a condition in a 2014 investigation may now extend to later model vehicles. The issue centers on a pattern of repairs to fuel-pump relays that are susceptible to deformation, and could prevent the vehicle from starting or lead to an engine stall.

The company says it is unaware of any injuries or accidents related to the problem.

In all, the recall covers 338,216 vehicles in the U.S., 18,991 in Canada, 10,829 in Mexico and 99,444 outside the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Chrysler will notify owners of affected vehicles when they can schedule service to install a new relay circuit.

In the meantime, the company says customers who experience no-start or walling ins sues should advise their local dealer.

Statement: Fuel-Pump Relay [Fiat Chrysler]

Who’s Making The Money When Your Smart TV Watches You Back?

Fri, 2015-02-27 22:27



We’ve heard plenty of times in the past few years that if you have a smart TV — one that’s internet-enabled, for all that app goodness — that it might be watching you just as much as you watch it. Samsung in particular generates a lot of questions about how secure your data is with your TV, as do LG and Vizio. But there’s a missing piece to the equation. If your TV is watching you, why? Who stands to gain (in the sense of cold hard cash) from your data?

That’s what our colleagues over at Consumer Reports (Consumerist’s parent company) decided to find out.

Your TV is collecting and sending data about everything you watch — TV, streaming content, or discs — to a third party, CR explains. And those three companies have been doing it since as far back as 2012. The process is known as automatic content recognition (ACR), and there’s an entire industry now built on collecting and making money from viewer behavior data.

And the data is indeed valuable, to the right buyers. After all, if the TV is recording everything you watch, isn’t that more accurate and granular than relying on a Nielsen estimate? Content providers would pay well to get to-the-second viewership data.

And of course, there’s endless advertising potential. Companies could buy ad space directly on your TV, bypassing the network level altogether. If you’re watching a TV show with a certain actor in it, why wouldn’t the TV want to try to sell you that actor’s book? Or a movie they were in? Or airplane tickets to the glamorous place they’re visiting?

There are several different companies whose software is embedded into smart TVs. CR names Cognitive Networks, Enswers, and Gracenote as just a few. Those companies monitor the video and/or audio that the user is consuming. The software then captures a “fingerprint” of the content, phones home with it, and a remote server reads the fingerprint and reports back, “That’s Game of Thrones, season 2, episode 4″ or whatnot.

And since all this data does fly back and forth among so many points, it’s leaving a lovely trail of breadcrumbs that adds up to a pretty significant picture of your household’s viewing history, all in the hands of some middleman company (or companies) you’d otherwise never hear of.

Even worse, CR points out, consumers have no real way of knowing what they’re agreeing to when they buy and set up their new TVs. One LG set that Consumer Reports tried had more than 6000 words of legal disclosures to read through in order to be fully informed. The Samsung user agreement spanned 47 separate pages… all of which you can of course agree to with a single click.

The end result? Consumers who are having the most boring and innocuous evening possible, kicking back with an hour of reality TV and a frothy beverage, are being watched and targeted in their own living rooms in ways they may not even realize.

The good news, CR says, is that consumers can opt out. They just have to dig through their TV settings for a few hours to find the right setting first.

Samsung, LG, and Vizio smart TVs are recording—and sharing data about—everything you watch [Consumer Reports]

The Only Abs You’ll See From Abercrombie & Fitch Now Are On A Cologne Bottle

Fri, 2015-02-27 21:43

(Abercrombie & Fitch)

(Abercrombie & Fitch)

Gone are the days of college dorm rooms papered entirely in panels from Abercrombie & Fitch bags, with abs, golden, undulating abs as far as the eye could see. After announcing last year that the company would be phasing out the ubiquitous stomach muscles in its ads, now the only six-packs you’ll see are on a bottle of the brand’s cologne.

Since the models have put their shirts on, it’s up to the headless, shirtless figure on the “Fierce” cologne bottle to carry the musclebound torch, notes Bloomberg Business.

This, because everyone pretty much agrees that sex and the fragrance industry go together like well, abs and smelly stuff that’s supposed to be sexy: Bloomberg cites an insider who says the company held onto this last set of taut tummy muscles because it fits the sexualized atmosphere in the industry. And smelling like the headless ab man will get you girls!

“The clean scent of fresh citrus will grab her attention and warm musk will keep her interested,” Fierce’s description reads.

You might not recognize Fierce by its headless abs man, but if you’ve ever walked into an Abercrombie & Fitch store and had your nostrils hit with a wave of scent, that’s what you’ve been sniffing. And not, in fact, a mysterious witches’ brew made from the blond eyelashes of a model mixed with unicorn vomit.

These Are the Last Abs You’ll Ever See at Abercrombie & Fitch [Bloomberg News]

Senators Chastise Govt. For Making Money Off Struggling Student Loan Borrowers, Not Offering Enough Relief

Fri, 2015-02-27 21:20

(Sapurah Lashari)

(Sapurah Lashari)

For several years now the government has offered federal student loan forgiveness programs aimed at helping borrowers to avoid defaulting on their debts. While recent reports have shown that the popularity of the programs has exceeded expectations, a group of six senators say the Department of Education could do more given the billions of dollars in payments it receives from federal loans each year.

Six senators — Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA), Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH), Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (WI), and Sen. Edward Markey (MA) — sent a letter [PDF] to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan scolding the Department for turning federal student loans into a source of revenue while students struggle to make ends meet.

The Department is “squeezing students who are struggling to get an education” in order to maximize profits, the senators say, pointing to the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent estimates indicating that the federal government is expected to produce $110 billion in profits from its student loans over the next decade.

“Congress did not create federal student loans to generate revenue for the federal government – to the contrary, it gave the Department of Education a host of tools to ensure that federal student loan borrowers are treated fairly and with dignity,” reads the letter.

Instead of using those tools and following Congress’ directives, the senators say the Department has continued to let student loan borrowers be buried in debt.

As an example, the letter cites the Department’s failure to give borrowers a clear idea of how to exercise an option under the Higher Education Act that allows for the cancellation of student loan borrowers’ debts the college acts in a way that hurt the quality of their education or their finances.

“Similarly, the Department of Education has broad authority to compromise, modify, discharge, and cancel student debts,” the letter states. “Instead, the Department continues to gouge borrowers who struggle to meet their payments, subjecting them to debt collection, wage and benefit withholding, and other harsh penalties even when it is clear that the debtors can not pay.”

The senators also pointedly accuse the Department of failing to protect students from collapsing for-profit college chain Corinthian Colleges Inc. last year.

“The Higher Education Act also requires the Department of Education to offer student loan discharges to students whose colleges close their doors,” the letter states. “Instead, last year the Department of Education undertook an elaborate plan to use federal funds to bail out …Corinthian Colleges, Inc. and deprive students of the ability to discharge their federal student loans.”

The senators say they aren’t asking the Department to stop making money off federal loans, they are asking that more steps be taken to ensure “vulnerable young people struggling with the burden of federal student debt have meaningful opportunity to build a sting future for themselves and their families.”

Senators to Education Department: Stop Profiting Off Student Loans and Fulfill Congressional Directives to Help Struggling Borrowers [Sen. Elizabeth Warren]

Passenger’s Lawsuit Blames American Airlines For Wife’s Death

Fri, 2015-02-27 20:36



A Canadian man who flew with his wife on an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Mexico in March 2013 has filed a lawsuit against the airline, blaming it for his wife’s death.

He claims that when his wife started to experience respiratory distress and couldn’t breathe, he told the crew that she had a pre-existing lung condition, and they would need an ambulance to meet their plane, reports ABC News.

Instead, his suit says two crew members showed up at the plane with a wheel chair.

The husband also claims that although crew administered oxygen to his wife while she was in the midst of the episode, and she improved, she was forced to give the oxygen equipment back.

“While disembarking the aircraft and over [the plaintiff’s] objection, a member of the flight crew demanded that [she] give up the oxygen supplied earlier by the flight crew that had been keeping her alive,” the lawsuit said. According to the complaint, she died about 30 minutes afterward.

The airline declined to comment to ABC News.

American Airlines Named in Lawsuit After Passenger Dies [ABC News]

Taco Bell Testing Cap’n Crunch-Coated, Cream-Filed Donut Calorie Bombs For Breakfast

Fri, 2015-02-27 20:14

Cap'n Crunch Delights copyIf you’ve been considering starting your morning with the cream-filled Cinnabon Delights at Taco Bell but decided they weren’t sugary enough, the fast food chain is now testing a similarly cream-filled, deep-fried treat that is coated in Cap’n Crunch and has a mysterious pink dough.

Taco Bell, which might as well change its name to “Why The Hell Not?,” tells Nation’s Restaurant News that the “Cap’n Crunch Delights” are being tested in Bakersfield, CA, and are intended to be a throwback to Cap’n Crunch Crunch Berries cereal.

“It’s a nostalgic throwback brand from when you were a kid,” explains the Bell’s senior director of marketing, presumably in between bites of a chalupa-wrapped beignet filled with pure adrenalin. “We feel like it will appeal to what we call ‘kid-ults,’ or the kid-adults out there.”

While these sugar bombs are going to be on the breakfast menu, Taco Bell says they will also be available the rest of the day.

Over at FoodBeast, they already have actual photos of the calorie bombs in the wild:

TACOBELL is testing new CAP'N CRUNCH DONUT HOLES filled with MILK ICING. All the news on #…

— (@foodbeast) February 27, 2015

Detroit-Area Shopping Center Goes From Nation’s Oldest Mall To Nation’s Newest Dead Mall

Fri, 2015-02-27 19:52
Northland Center - the nation's oldest shopping mall - is set to close. (Google Street View)

Northland Center – the nation’s oldest shopping mall – is set to close. (Google Street View)

If you spend much time on Consumerist, then you’re probably aware of the current sad state of the world’s malls; from the former largest mall in the world being demolished to those full of fish or snow covered, it isn’t exactly a pretty picture. Today, we learn that another historic shopping center will soon trade in its title as the nation’s first regional shopping mall for that of the latest “dead mall.”

The Detroit Free Press reports that Northland Center Mall in Southfield, MI, will soon close its doors for good after a county judge determined there were no alternative options for the center.

The judge’s decision to shut down Northland Center – which is estimated to be losing $250,000 a month – came at the request of the mall’s court-appointed receiver, who took over the center after it defaulted on a $31 million loan last year.

Northland Center set up shop as an open-air concept mall in 1954. At that time, it was considered to be the world’s largest shopping mall. In the mid-’70s, it was expanded and enclosed.

But since the early 2000s, the mall has struggled to stay afloat as popular chains left for other shopping centers.

According to the Free Press, things for the mall have only gotten worse. Last month the Target store closed and current anchor – Macy’s – is expected to close sometime in March.

Additionally, the mall’s receiver says the center has about $3 million worth of unpaid bills, including $700,000 in overdue water bills. And he says that the small number of remaining tenants – which will likely receive 30-day eviction notices soon – often fail to pay rent.

Although no closure date has been announced, the acting mayor of Southfield tells the Free Press that he was told the building will be cleared out and boarded up by late April.

One of the building’s current – and oldest – tenants, an optometry shop, says the closure comes at a terrible time.

“It’s strange. We’ve been doing so well, and the mall has been doing so poorly,” said the shop’s owner.

Judge approves plan to close Northland Center mall [The Detroit Free Press]

4 Things We Still Don’t Know About Net Neutrality

Fri, 2015-02-27 19:49
(Julio Marquez)

(Julio Marquez)

The FCC voted yesterday to reclassify broadband and protect the open internet. In other words, at long last, we have a net neutrality rule. And that’s great! But there is still a lot we don’t know, and there are a lot of questions left unanswered. Here are the major things we don’t know, and parts we’re waiting to better understand.

1.) We still don’t know exactly what the rule says — and that’s completely normal.
As the Washington Post points out, some folks are already working themselves into a bit of a conspiracy-theory frenzy about the fact that the full text hasn’t yet been published, even though the vote happened 24 hours ago.

But a delay between FCC votes and the release of the full, finalized text of the rule they’re voting on is completely normal — it’s part of the process, just how the agency always works. You can argue whether or not the rule should have been made public before the vote, but after the vote there’s a very specific procedure the commission needs to follow.

The FCC’s staff have to make their final edits, which means accounting for the dissenting arguments. And as we observed yesterday, those dissents are lengthy and quite detailed. In other words, it’s going to take some time to capture all of that information and collect it into the final rule, as FCC guidelines require.

After that, the commission can get it up on their website for all of us to read.

2.) We don’t know exactly when the new rules will take effect.
A rule made by the FCC doesn’t become the law of the land until after it’s published in the Federal Register, which can’t happen until after the text is finalized. The Federal Register, overseen by the National Archives, operates on its own timetable and it could be days to weeks after the time the rule is ready before it’s published. And after that, rules usually allow for 30 days, 60 days, or even longer after publication to go into full effect, to give all relevant parties time to adjust the things they need to adjust.

Add it all together, and we’re probably not looking for any actual changes before May at the earliest, and possibly not until much later this year.

3.) We don’t know to what degree interconnection agreements are covered (or not).
Netflix has been at the center of the net neutrality arguments ever since the fight started up last January. The streaming video goliath had been in standoffs with major ISPs — Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and AT&T — over delivering TV traffic to subscribers. Netflix eventually had to pay the ISPs for direct connections in order to see streaming video traffic delivered to customers at reasonable speeds.

The disputes, though, didn’t happen at the “last mile” level, where the ISP runs a cable into your house and you request Netflix over it. They happened farther back, at interconnection — peering — points between the place where Netflix sends out data to a backbone carrier and your ISP picks it up from that carrier.

Netflix has argued repeatedly that the FCC should cover interconnection in any net neutrality rules; the ISPs have said the FCC can do no such thing.

What the FCC has to say about the matter so far is: “For the first time the Commission can address issues that may arise in the exchange of traffic between mass-market broadband providers and other networks and services. Under the authority provided by the Order, the Commission can hear complaints and take appropriate enforcement action if it determines the interconnection activities are not just and reasonable.”

That makes it sound like the FCC will not be putting any specific rules in place about what can or can’t happen with interconnection agreements, but that if one party (like Netflix or Verizon) files a complaint that the other party is being a jerk, the FCC can then take investigate to see if that’s true and, if so, take action (like ordering them not to be a jerk, or ordering them to pay a fine and stop being a jerk).

However, it’s unclear under what specific authority those investigations would take place, and what specific actions the FCC would be willing or able to enforce.

4.) We don’t know how this will affect “zero rating” programs or data caps.
Zero rating is when a company arranges it so certain data doesn’t count against your data caps. So for example, that thing where T-Mobile doesn’t count your streaming Pandora against your monthly data allotment? That’s zero rating.

Comcast has experimented with variations on the theme, as has Time Warner Cable. AT&T has tried a different approach, but with a similar outcome.

None of these programs actually change anything about the data connection: you access Pandora on your T-Mobile phone at the exact same speed you access any other streaming service. But because one counts against your data cap and the other does not, you are more likely to gravitate to the ones that don’t. And so those services that pay for zero-rating agreements become de facto preferred apps for millions of consumers.

So: are those kinds of arrangements kosher? Does using data caps as leverage, rather than data throttling or fast lanes, count as interference or is it just business? The answer is: we have no idea. The FCC’s released statements don’t address it at all, so we don’t know if the final rule will either.

Man Finds His Missing Log Cabin 3,750 Feet From Where He Last Saw It

Fri, 2015-02-27 19:29

(Klamath County Sheriff's Dept.)

(Klamath County Sheriff’s Dept.)

Though sometimes it feels like your keys, wallet or phone can just go walking away from where you left them, a man in Oregon was shocked this week to first find that his log cabin had been stolen, and then to find that it had somehow wandered 3,750 feet away from its original resting place.

The circumstances surrounding the case of the mysterious move are a bit complicated: A woman, her ex-husband and her ex-boyfriend type all own the property where the log cabin sat jointly, explains ABC News, but only the ex-boyfriend’s name is on the home loan and he apparently built the cabin.

Police believe the ex-husband sold the house to a neighbor for $3,000, placing it in the new owner’s field half a mile away, without the ex-boyfriend’s permission.

When he came back to the property months after last being there and found the log cabin missing, he called the cops.

“Quite frankly, it’s one of the most unusual moments I’ve ever seen,” the sheriff said, adding that the home was listed for $10,000 but the buyer bargained down to just $3,000.

“To quote him, ‘It was a steal of a deal,'” a sheriff’s department official said at a news conference. Get it? Literally.

Thus far, no charges have been filed during the ongoing investigation.

Missing Log Cabin Found 3,750 Feet Away From Original Location [ABC News]

Can New McDonald’s CEO Turn Tide Against Antibiotic Abuse In Farm Animals?

Fri, 2015-02-27 19:08



Since the Food and Drug Administration won’t set down hard-and-fast rules on non-medical antibiotic use in farm animals, it’s up to the farmers and the companies who buy the most meat to make a change that will cut down on the use of drugs that result in bigger cows, pigs, and chickens, but also put us all at risk for drug-resistant pathogens.

That’s why some public health advocates are looking to Steve Easterbrook, who will take over as CEO of McDonald’s on Monday and who is in the rare position of being able to effect change on a large scale.

The fast food giant reportedly buys upwards of 2% of all beef sold in many countries where it operates, and even more chicken, making it one of the largest single buyers of meat.

McDonald’s own guidelines [PDF] acknowledges that there are concerns about the use on farm animals of antibiotics that are medically important to humans, and say that antibiotic use at its meat-supplying farms “shall be used in accordance with all applicable regulatory requirements.”

Which is the issue, as the current regulatory requirements don’t forbid farmers from using antibiotics for growth promotion. The FDA merely asked drug companies to stop selling drugs solely for this purpose. Additionally, the FDA guidelines still allow for everyday prophylactic use of antibiotics, which many critics say only requires farmers change the reason they use the drugs from “growth promotion” to “disease prevention” without any significant effect in the amount of antibiotics going into the animals’ feed.

So we have a situation where the FDA is putting the onus on big meat buyers to demand change while the big meat buyers say “We’re doing exactly what the FDA requires.”

Thus it’s up to consumers to demand more drug-free beef, pork, and poultry. And it’s working, with companies like Chipotle, Panera and the recently IPOd Shake Shack already selling only antibiotic-free products.

Meanwhile Tyson, Perdue, and Chick fil-A have all recently made pledges that could have a significant positive impact on the availability and cost of drug-free chicken.

Given increased public interest in drug-free meat — especially among younger Americans — and McDonald’s sagging sales to that same demographic, the public health advocates at the Natural Resources Defense Council believe that McDonald’s new CEO McCheese could enact more strict antibiotic-use requirements for its suppliers that will make us all safer in the long-run and earn McDonald’s some new customers.

“Sitting at the controls of that enormous supply chain, Mr. Easterbrook now has the opportunity to adopt a progressive antibiotics stewardship program that would reverberate through all corners of the global meat and poultry industry and truly set his company apart from the fast food pack,” writes NRDC’s Jonathan Kaplan, pointing out that Chipotle, Panera, and Shake Shack are all mainstream chain operations making money by “tapping into growing consumer demand for healthier, safer and more sustainable meat choices. They seem to be enjoying growth and brand success that McDonalds must envy.”

McDonald’s has done so much tinkering with its menu in recent years, to little effect other than the irritation of franchisees, but it could possibly improve its business without menu changes simply by going drug-free with its Big Macs and McNuggets.

Don’t Lie About Paying For Online Reviews. It’s Against The Law

Fri, 2015-02-27 18:56
(Sybren Stüvel)

(Sybren Stüvel)

In this era of social media and crowdsourced reviews, businesses with happy customers do what they can to publicize positive feedback. But if a company compensates customers for reviews and fails to disclose that tit-for-tat relationship, it’s illegal and deceptive marketing.

Just ask the Georgia-based auto-shipping company targeted in the Federal Trade Commission’s first case involving misrepresented online reviews.

The FTC announced today that AmeriFreight, an automobile shipment broker, agreed to settle charges that it violated the FTC Act when it deceptively represented that its favorable online reviews were based on unbiased reviews from customers.

According to the complaint [PDF], AmeriFreight – which arranges the shipment of consumers’ cars through third-party freight carriers – provided consumers with a discount of $50 off the cost of services if they agreed to review the company’s services online.

If customers refused to make an online review, the company would allegedly raise the cost of services $50.

The company also supplied customers with “conditions for receiving a discount on reviews,” which stated that if people left an online review, they would automatically be considered for a $100 “Best Monthly Review Award” given to the most creative write-ups.

After a vehicle was shipped, the company would contact consumers to remind them of their obligation to complete the online review.

In an attempt to drum up business, AmeriFreight would then encourage new customers to Google top-rated car shippers with the Better Business Bureau. “You don’t have to believe us, our consumers say it all,” the company boasted.

However, the company never disclosed the material connection between customers’ positive reviews and compensation made for the endorsements.

Under the proposed settlement, the company is prohibited from misrepresenting that their products or services are highly rated or top-ranked based on unbiased consumer reviews, or that customer reviews are unbiased.

It is also required to clearly and prominently disclose any material connection, if one exists, between them and their endorsers.

“Companies must make it clear when they have paid their customers to write online reviews,” Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “If they fail to do that – as AmeriFreight did – then they’re deceiving consumers, plain and simple.”

FTC Stops Automobile Shipment Broker from Misrepresenting Online Reviews [Federal Trade Commission]

What Happened After TV Show ‘Pimp My Ride’ Pimped People’s Rides?

Fri, 2015-02-27 18:13

pimpmyridexzibitWhile no one can take away the joy of watching someone’s jalopy get turned into a gleaming pile of doodads and gadgets in bright colors that just so happened to also have wheels, the internet has been abuzz about reports that MTV’s early ‘aughts “reality” TV show Pimp My Ride wasn’t exactly the fairy tale you see on the screen.

The Huffington Post had a few people talking about how the show hosted by Xzibit really went down. Though it purported itself to be the kind of surprise fantasy-turned-reality set-up we all love about contests like Publishers House or other seemingly random rewards, things weren’t so simple.

For example, one guy said MTV took back some of the gadgets installed in his car after they filmed it for TV, including in his case, a “pop-up” champagne contraption and a “drive-in theater.” Sounds shady, sure, but he further explained to HuffPo that MTV didn’t want to condone drinking and driving, thus pulling the booze device, and that the theater wasn’t street safe.

Brooke Siegel at the DailyWorth had her car revamped as well, taking on the question most people wanted to know — can you sell the pimp my ride car after it’s been pimped?

The short answer: You’re not supposed to.

The long answer: She wrote that after a weird experience where she had to rehearse being excited and surprised to find Xzbit at her door and pretending to be a film student trying to earn money for grad school when really she was a cocktail waitress, she found herself with an odd vehicle she would rather sell than drive, after handing over her white Chevy Cavalier convertible named Betsy.

“They filmed my reaction to the car at least 10 times — before I’d ever even seen it. And when I did, holy hell, poor Betsy looked like Barbie’s Dream Car From Hell,” Siegel writes. “It was neon pink and turquoise and had a video projector and popcorn machine. (Remember, I was a “film lover.”)”

She adds that she drove it once, and then parked it in the garage “where it could appreciate value.”

“There was just one teeny snafu: My contract stipulated that I, Brooke Siegel, could NOT sell the car,” she explained, adding that she didn’t remember how long she had to wait or whether it was that she couldn’t advertise it as being on the show. “The premise of the show was that this was my dream car — and producers didn’t want people hawking their rides immediately.”

To get around that, she says she gifted the car to her boyfriend and made it official at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and he then sold it for $7,500.

“A clever gambit (if I do say so myself) that MTV’s lawyers didn’t find quite so charming,” she writes.

Again, as weird as this show might sound in reality — the one you and I live in, and not TV — isn’t that what most shows are based on anyway? Something so crazy and out of the norm that it must be on TV to entertain the masses. Most of these people seemed to walk away feeling positive overall, if not a hefty chunk of change, even if they didn’t need a car with a built-in suntan dispenser.

How I Made Money Off Pimp My Ride [The Daily Worth]
Here’s What Really Happened To The Cars From ‘Pimp My Ride’ [Huffington Post]

Police Say Trucker Used Bond, James Bond-Style Device To Avoid Paying $95 Toll

Fri, 2015-02-27 17:21



Perhaps you think you’re clever, sure, but just because you can pull a James Bond and movie move and rig your car in a way that helps you break the law, doesn’t mean you won’t get in trouble for it. Police in New York say a truck driver tried to skirt the rules by modifying his bumper in such a way that it could flip up and hide his license plate when he went through tolls.

That move effectively blocked the toll booth’s cameras from capturing an image of his license plate, blocking the toll system from seeing it and thus, avoiding the $95 fare for an 18-wheeler on the George Washington Bridge, reports Reuters.

Police said he was hauling a load of candy across the bridge going to New York City this week, and before he got to the toll gates, he flipped a switch on his dashboard, enabling the tricky device that tilted the bumper up, hiding the plate.

“The officer positioned at the toll booth sees the bumper lift to a 90-degree angle. This makes it unreadable to the EZ-Pass reader,” said spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police.

Officials also said his rear license plate was smudged with grease and unreadable. He’s the owner-operator of the rig, making it possible that he’s done this James Bond move before, but police are not sure if he has.

Police charged him with tampering public records and possession of burglary tools. He’s not the brains behind the whole thing, however (and of course, James Bond needs a Q).

“He did volunteer that the kit cost him about $2,500,” said the spokesman, adding that the official use for the device is to keep bumpers from getting scraped at construction sites or other places where the pavement may be wonky.

Interestingly enough, another driver was accused of doing this same thing on the same bridge back in 2011, reported the Associated Press then, when the toll was $65 and everyone still called it a “James Bond” device. Some things never change.

NYC trucker accused of avoiding toll with device inspired by James Bond [Reuters]

Lawsuit From Ericsson Wants To Ban Apple From Importing iPhones, iPads

Fri, 2015-02-27 16:42



Another day, another lawsuit against Apple: This time around, the company’s facing a lawsuit from Ericsson that seeks to ban imports on all iPads and iPhones amidst a dispute about licensing fees for several patents.

Fresh off the heels of another lawsuit this week that found a jury ordering Apple to pay $532 million to another company, Apple is squaring off against telecom manufacturer Ericsson, after the Swedish company accused it of infringing on 41 of its patents that are used in iPhones and iPads, reports the New York Times’ Bits Blog.

One of the patents involved includes technology related to Long Term Evolution, known as LTE, which is the latest high-speed wireless technology used for transmitting data between cellular networks and mobile devices.

The two sides sued each other over Apple’s use of some of those patents last month, with Apple claiming that Ericsson was demanding too much money to license the technologies, and Ericsson saying in a separate suit that Apple was using its patents even after a license that gave it permission to do so expired in January.

Now Ericsson is adding two more complaints against Apple with the United States International Trade Commission seeking to block Apple mobile devices from coming into the U.S. until the patent issue is cleared up. It also filed separate lawsuits with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas involving what Ericsson claims is Apple’s misuse of its intellectual property.

Ericsson also wants payments for any potential damages Apple could cause by continuing to use the patents without a license.

“Ericsson’s technology and our engineers are behind these patents,” Gustav Brismark, head of the company’s patent strategy told the NYT. “We’re asking for a fair payment from Apple for using our technology.”

But Apple claims it’s willing to pay to use those patents, pointing out in last month’s counterclaims that it respects Ericsson’s rights to its intellectual property, but it just doesn’t want to pay what the other company is demanding.

“Unfortunately, we have not been able to agree with Ericsson on a fair rate for their patents,” Apple said last month.

Ericsson Again Sues Apple Over Wireless Patents [NYT Bits Blog]

My Credit Card Interest Rate Is Going Up. What Are My Options?

Fri, 2015-02-27 16:40



Earlier this week, American Express announced that it would be raising annual interest rates on more than 1 million accounts, leading lots of people to ask if this could happen to their credit card — and what they should do about it.

Credit card companies are indeed allowed to raise your APR, but the CARD Act of 2009 includes pro-consumer restrictions that prevent sudden and retroactive rate hikes for cardholders in good standing and gives them the option of closing your account without penalties.

While the CARD Act allows to hit delinquent customers (those who are at least 60 days behind on payments) with a higher penalty APR, cardholders who are continuing to make payments must be given 45 days notice in writing before a rate change. That’s why you need to open every piece of mail from your credit card company even if you get all your statements online.

That higher APR will only apply to new transactions and not to your current balance. So if you don’t want to be hit with the increased interest rate, you can try to not use that card for new purchases. If you have multiple credit cards, choose the one with the lowest APR. Depending on your creditworthiness, you may want to consider applying for a new card though there’s no guarantee that the new account will come with a friendlier APR.

If you’re facing a rate hike, the law allows cardholders to close their credit card accounts without facing immediate repayment in full or penalty fees. That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for the balance; you must still continue to make monthly payments and interest will still accrue. Card companies can put a five-year repayment deadline on closed accounts, so cardholders with substantial balances or who have been making minimal payments may need to pay more than they’re used to.

The one caveat with closing out a credit card is that it can have a temporary negative impact on your credit score. Credit bureaus factor in a consumer’s debt-to-credit ratio when tallying up their scores, so closing out a line of credit while retaining the same level of debt means that ratio increases.


Amazon Imagines A Future Where Delivery Trucks Print 3D Products At The Curb

Fri, 2015-02-27 15:58

One of Amazon's patent applications.

One of Amazon’s patent applications.

There can be a lot of worry over getting a package from Amazon delivered successfully — but what if your item never had to travel farther than the distance between the curb and your door? Amazon has filed a few patent applications in an effort to perhaps make curbside 3D printing a reality for the future.

These “mobile manufacturing hubs” would allow drivers to pop out products right outside the customer’s home, reports the Wall Street Journal, all from the delivery truck that’s already driving around dropping off other products.

The explanation for the patents says that using such a system would cut down on the time it takes to deliver a package, and also cut down on how much warehouse space Amazon needs to hold all its products.

“Time delays between receiving an order and shipping the item to the customer may reduce customer satisfaction and affect revenues generated,” Amazon wrote in the applications. “Accordingly, an electronic marketplace may find it desirable to decrease the amount of warehouse or inventory storage space needed, to reduce the amount of time consumed between receiving an order and delivering the item to the customer, or both.”

This kind of thing could be good if you needed replacement car parts or other 3D printed items on the day you’re set to go on a road trip, posits the WSJ, but find something is missing. It could also mean that some products would never be out of stock, meaning less frustration on the customer end once you find that perfect item you absolutely must have.

When Drones Aren’t Enough, Amazon Envisions Trucks with 3D Printers [Wall Street Journal]

Report: Americans Are Optimistic About Their Finances But Few Actually Feel Secure

Fri, 2015-02-27 15:53
(Arks Endeavors)

(Arks Endeavors)

Americans’ positive feelings about the economy have officially returned to the level they were at on the eve of the Great Recession, according to a new study from Pew Charitable Trusts. While that might sound comforting, it doesn’t mean consumers are actually feeling secure in their own financial stability.

Pew’s “Americans’ Financial Security” report [PDF] found that as the economy continues to recover a majority of consumers still face precarious financial situations.

Consumers' positive feelings about the economy have finally reached the same level as before the Great Recession.

Consumers’ positive feelings about the economy have finally reached the same level as before the Great Recession.

The report, based on a survey of 7,000 households and three focus groups, examined consumers’ perceptions of financial security and how their views differ based on income, wealth and other demographic factors.

In all, the study found that consumers are mostly conflicted about their financial well-being. Nearly 56% of consumers surveyed say they would rate their financial situation favorably.

Americans are divided when it comes to their feelings of financial security.

While consumers may have a positive opinion of their current financial situation, they appear to be cautious with only 51% of them saying they feel secure about their finances.

When asked to define what financial security meant to them, most participants said it meant families have enough money to pay the bills, a little left over for small extras or savings, and few worries about making ends meet.

Consumers’ responses to questions about financial emergencies and worries about finances show a stark contrast to earlier suggestions about respondents financial optimism.

Nearly 57% of respondents say they are unprepared for a financial emergency, and another 57% say they worried significantly about their finances in the past year.

Pew reports that many of those consumer should be worried about their finances given their lack of savings and the dismal increases in earnings over the last decade.

Just 45% of respondents reported having a steady income and consistent expenses. To make matters worse, nearly 36% of the group reported having no savings.

Additionally, many of the consumers polled reported barely breaking even or spending more than they make each month.

While most consumers reported viewing the economy more favorably today than immediately after the great recession, many are still feeling the aftershocks.

According to the report, nearly 8 in 10 households surveyed said they continue to suffer from events such as a drop in income, hospital visit, loss of a spouse or partner, or a major car or house repair in the past year.

“Our findings show that despite a steady economic recovery, many Americans continue to feel vulnerable,” Erin Currier, director of Pew’s financial security and mobility project, said in a statement. “Many worry about their finances, and record numbers—more than 9 in 10—say it is more important to them to achieve financial stability than it is to move up the income ladder.”

Researchers with Pew say that consumers’ move to favor financial stability over moving up the income ladder is likely a reflection of families’ desires to gain greater control over their financial situations.

In fact, consumers feelings on the matter changed significantly in the last five years. Back in 2009, nearly 39% of Americans felt it was common for someone to start poor, work hard and become rich, while only 23% of respondents feel that way today.

Pew concludes the report by calling for policymakers to continue focusing on helping Americans gain a steady financial foothold.

“Ultimately, more work needs to be done to help families today and chart a path toward economic mobility in the future,” the report states.

Pew Survey Shows Americans’ Financial Worries Cloud Optimism [Pew Charitable Trusts]