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The Consumerist

Verizon: New Net Neutrality Rules Won’t Actually Hurt Our Network Investment At All (But We’ll Still Sue)

Thu, 2014-12-11 16:42

(Eric Hauser)

(Eric Hauser)

All of the big ISPs have been full of bluster about the FCC’s pending new net neutrality rules, but none more so than Verizon. Verizon is the company that sued in the first place to get the 2010 rule overturned, and they are the company that has been most aggressive with promises to sue again when the FCC actually comes up with a rule. Their main argument has been that strong regulation will damage their ability to invest in their networks — but it seems even Verizon’s own top executives don’t fall for that nonsense.

In a call earlier this week, Verizon flat out told investors that they were not concerned about the effect Title II regulation would have on their networks, the Washington Post reports.

One participant on the call asked specifically if a change to net neutrality regulations would have an impact on “the attractiveness of investing further in the United States.” And although Verizon CFO Francis Shammo reiterated the company’s preference for the FCC not to use Title II, he also made it very clear that even if the commission did so, it would have absolutely no impact on the company’s investment in networks (emphasis added):
I mean to be real clear, this does not influence the way we invest. I mean we’re going to continue to invest in our networks and our platforms, both in Wireless and Wireline FiOS and where we need to. So nothing will influence that.

Despite his reassurances to investors that Title II would not actually harm Verizon’s operations, Shammo repeated the company stance that Title II would earn the FCC a lawsuit, saying that “I think it’s going to be a very litigious environment” if the commission goes that route.

Verizon is not alone in their opposition to Title II. All of the ISPs have been staunchly against stronger regulation since the moment the 2010 rule was vacated, but their fervor increased following the President’s call for the FCC to use Title II. Immediately following the statement from the White House, the major trade group representing ISPs clamored that doing so would destroy investment, despite evidence to the contrary.

AT&T followed the next day by doing their best to make the argument that Title II will stifle innovation and block investment a self-fulfilling prophecy. The company dropped a not-so-veiled threat that net neutrality regulation would make them take their investment ball and go home when CEO Randall Stephenson told investors: “We can’t go out and invest that kind of money deploying fiber to 100 cities not knowing under what rules those investments will be governed.”

Of course, AT&T’s threat is and was somewhat hollow, as although AT&T has been considering perhaps expanding their gigabit fiber offerings to as many as 25 new cities, they haven’t started any of those improvement projects at all, yet.

The threat alone of stronger regulation is clearly a deterrent to further upgrades from AT&T. Except even without regulation, those upgrades have not exactly been forthcoming. So far the gigabit fiber expansion is more about good press releases than about good service to customers. And so, too, is the threat to take it away.

Verizon’s C-suite leadership telling investors not to worry about Title II confirms what the data have already shown: the claims about network investment are, at best, concern trolling and, at worst, disingenuous and hypocritical deflection. The FCC expects to be sued no matter what not because regulation will destroy private business, but because big companies want the ability to make more money at consumers’ expense.

Verizon: Actually, strong net neutrality rules won’t affect our network investment [Washington Post]

Survey: 4-In-5 Consumers Say They Won’t Be Spending More This Holiday Season

Thu, 2014-12-11 16:09

(Andrew Speers)

(Andrew Speers)

Consumer spending this holiday season got off to a rather slow start last month when fewer people hit up retailers over Black Friday weekend. And that trend of spending less likely won’t change in the final few weeks of 2014 if a new holiday spending survey is to be believed.

Bankrate.com released its holiday spending survey today, revealing that four out of five consumers (82%) say they won’t be spending any more in the final push to the holidays than they doled out last year.

Analysts at Bankrate say the large number of consumers planning to hold steady on their holiday spending comes as a surprise, considering gas prices have fallen nearly 15% this year.

Of the 16% of consumers who say they will spend more this holiday season, nearly 5% cite lower gasoline prices as the reason.

By breaking down the numbers and demographics of the 1,001-person survey, Bankrate found that falling fuel prices have a bigger influence on lower-income consumers’ spending habits.

According to the survey, Americans who earn an annual income between $30,000 and $49,900 were more likely than others to report that they will spend more this season because of lower gas prices. On the other hand, higher-income Americans (those earning $75,000 or more per year) were more likely to report that they are spending more for reasons other than saving money at the pump.

Still, Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate, says that cheaper prices at the pump really isn’t enough to spark a shopping frenzy for most consumers.

“Consumers are still uneasy,” he says. “Many haven’t had a raise in quite some time. Their savings cushions are insufficient, and any breathing room from the drop in gasoline prices could prove temporary should those prices rebound.”

Analysts say that for the remaining 11% of consumers who plan to spend more this year, but didn’t cite lower gas prices as the reason, pent-up demand for goods may be their driving force.

“I think that people are probably anxious to begin spending again,” Gail Cunningham, a spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, tells Bankrate. “I’ve often called it the seven-year itch.”

As for who you can expect to see waiting in the checkout lane leading up to the big holidays, that would be millennials. Nearly 28% of consumers ages 18 to 29 say they plan to spend more this season.

So while some consumers plan to spend big this holiday season, those planning to hold back might have the right idea. After all, according to a report earlier this week most of the items people want for Christmas are actually cheaper after the holidays.

Holiday spending unfazed by cheaper gas [Bankrate.com]

23,000 United Airlines Flight Attendants Getting An iPhone 6 Plus

Thu, 2014-12-11 16:01

She kind of looks scared she might drop it?

She kind of looks scared she might drop it?

Remember how fun it was to watch that Oprah’s favorite things and steam with jealousy as she announced things like, “And YOU get an iPhone 6 Plus! And YOUUUU get an iPhone 6 Plus!” while doling out expensive presents to her audience? Now just imagine her saying that 23,000 times to a crowd of United Airlines flight attendants.

The airline announced today that its 23,000 mainline flight attendants will soon be equipped with the over-sized not-really-a-phone-not-yet-a-tablet devices so they can streamline credit card transactions onboard with passengers. They’ll also be able to access their company email, united.com and the company’s intranet.

Eventually, the phones will also hold digital copies of their safety manuals, replacing the hard copies kept on planes now, as well as allow attendants to provide real-time reporting and status on aircraft cabin issues and repairs. Which means maybe every time you ask when a plane will be able to take off finally, they won’t just say, “10 minutes.”

Without saying anything about what they might be, United adds in the press release that it “plans to develop a number of customer-focused tools for the device.”

Perhaps they can be handed to crying babies to make them cease that damnable racket?

“We are thrilled to make this investment in our flight attendants,” said Sam Risoli, United’s senior vice president of inflight services. “iPhone 6 Plus will enable them to deliver an even higher level of flyer-friendly service and will offer our flight attendants simple, one-touch access to valuable work information, enabling them to better serve our customers.”

United pilots are already used to the Apple routine, having received iPads in cockpits in 2011, with an upgrade to the iPad Air 2 recently.

Uber’s Response To Complaint About Driver Who Offered Oral Sex: Here’s $31

Thu, 2014-12-11 15:51

uberappHow is one supposed to react when an Uber driver offers to pull the car over and demonstrate his prowess at oral sex? And how is Uber supposed to react when that passenger files a complaint about the incident? We don’t know the answers to these questions, but the ride-sharing service valued the passenger’s discomfort at around $31.

Newsweek reports that a woman in London complained to Uber about a driver who was “very forward and quite creepy” and, more specifically, “Asked me if I wanted him to go down on me.”

In e-mails to Uber, the passenger recalled how the driver invited her to sit in the front seat. Since she was feeling car sick — which can be made worse by sitting in a back seat — the passenger agreed. But eventually the driver’s conversation topics took a turn for the wildly inappropriate.

“Towards the end of the journey he was asking if I liked blow jobs,” wrote the passenger, “saying that he was very good at going down on girls or giving ‘sucky sucky’ to girls and did I want him to do it to me. He even suggested that he could pull over into a side street and do it now if I wanted, which was I think the scariest part of the drive.”

Uber’s response indicated that the company was “already investigating this” and that “necessary actions will be taken to avoid a similar incident in future.”

A second e-mail from Uber acknowledged that this sort of incident “should definitely not happen in the first place,” but if they do, Uber has “the full details of the driver, trip and rider on our systems so that we can immediately investigate any concerns raised.”

The e-mail then apologized for the “un-Uber experience,” which is perhaps a bit overly glib given the situation, and refunded the passenger her full fare of £20 (about $31), which was the last the passenger ever heard from Uber.

Uber tells Newsweek that it takes all allegations seriously and that “Any driver who is accused of acting inappropriately is suspended from the platform while an investigation is undertaken.”

The driver in this incident is “no longer on the Uber platform,” (heaven forbid Uber makes a statement without using nonsense terms like “the Uber platform”), but wouldn’t say whether this was a result of the “sucky sucky” complaint.

Had Uber simply provided an update to the passenger about the fate of this driver, that might have sufficed to let her know that her complaint had been taken seriously. We understand the need to respect the privacy of their drivers — even those accused of being a-holes — but simply telling a customer that “we’ll investigate” without providing any resolution isn’t sufficient to convince consumers that they are being heard.

Uber claims that this sort of incident is so rare that it doesn’t have a specific policy for how to remunerate harassed passengers, other than to apologize and refund their money.

But sexual harassment by cab drivers — not just Uber drivers — is a widespread issue that often goes unreported. Many of my female friends have had to brush off the creepy advances of drivers who asked them for dates, for their phone numbers or e-mail addresses, or who asked if they were virgins. One friend was kicked out of her cab in the middle of a rain storm when the driver found out she had a boyfriend.

And Newsweek claims that it’s received several reports from women in London who say they’ve been hassled by Uber drivers, like the one who says her driver repeatedly offered to give her a massage even though she made it known from the start that she was not interested.

New Rule Aims To Curb Inaccurately Reported Medical Debt

Thu, 2014-12-11 13:00

(Meneer Dijk)

(Meneer Dijk)


Medical bills account for nearly half of all collections notices on consumers’ credit reports, affecting more than 43 million Americans. Meanwhile, it’s been shown that medical billing is fraught with errors and many consumers sent to collections for these debts are penalized too harshly. A new federal rule hopes to reduce this overly negative impact of medical debt on credit reports.

In an effort to better address the challenges consumers face when it comes to medical debt, the CFPB announced, in conjunction with its new report [PDF], that major consumer reporting agencies will now be required to provide regular accuracy reports to the Bureau on how disputes from consumers are being handled.

“Access to this required reporting information on a regular basis will help us prioritize our work, and it will help us protect consumers even more effectively in this field,” Richard Cordray, CFPB director, says in a statement.

Because medical debts are often the result of unpredictable and costly events such as accidents and sudden illnesses, the CFPB believes they should be weighed differently from non-medical debts. After all, people choose to go into debt buying stuff they can’t afford, but they rarely choose to get an appendicitis that will end up costing them more than a luxury sports car.

Often the CFPB has found that consumers do not even know they owe medical debt until they get a call from the collections agency or they discover it on their credit report.

This occurs because in many cases if a medical bill goes unpaid after a certain amount of time, the medical provider may hand over the account to a third-party debt collector. And the majority of those collections items that end up on consumers’ credit reports are furnished to the credit reporting agencies by third-party debt collectors.

This system has been found to precipitate an ecosystem of errors and confusing processes for consumer disputes.

Complaints related to medical billing most often received by the CFPB involve claims from consumers that information furnished by these collectors to credit reporting agencies are inaccurate due to errors in billing or slow-moving insurance claims.

In fact, the CFPB reports that consumers identifying as having medical debt are more than twice as likely to claim that the debt was paid than consumers with other types of debt.

Today the CFPB took steps to ensure that these issues have less impact on consumers and that credit reporting companies are doing their part to ensure consumers’ records are as accurate as possible.

By requiring major credit reporting companies to provide regular accuracy reports to the Bureau as part of ongoing examinations, officials with the agency believe consumers’ credit reports will improve.

The reports will highlight key risk areas for consumers, including disputes filed with the credit reporting agencies. Some of the metrics in the accuracy report will include:

Furnishers with the most overall disputes: If a credit reporting company continuously experiences an outsized number of consumer disputes about information from a particular furnisher, the CFPB expects the credit reporting agency to investigate, identify if there is a problem, and take appropriate action.

Industries with the most disputes: The credit reporting agencies will have to list the top industries they are reporting on, the volume of information received from those industries, and the total number of disputes generated by those industries.

Furnishers with particularly high disputes relative to their industry peers: For each industry named, the credit reporting agency must also name the top furnishers with the largest number of consumer disputes.

Officials with the CFPB say the new requirements are fundamental in indicating the risks consumers face when it comes to medical debt.

“If a credit reporting company has a furnisher that continuously experiences an outsized rate of consumer disputes relative to its peers, we expect the company to do something about it,” Cordray says. “We expect it to investigate the source of the disputes, identify any problems, and take necessary action. This may include declining to accept information from the troubled furnisher where that step is justified.”

While consumer groups applauded the steps taken by the CFPB on Thursday, they urge the agency to continue taking action against unfair medical debt collection practices.

Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center called the CFPB’s action a good first step.

“The credit reporting system needs fundamental reform,” Wu says in a statement, “including better standards for accuracy and real, meaningful investigation of consumer disputes that don’t automatically defer to the debt collector or creditor in a dispute.”

Officials with the NCLC say the CFPB could further protect consumers by:

• examining the larger medical debt collection agencies;
• requiring debt collectors to give consumers a notice before placing or “parking” medical debt on their credit reports;
• require that consumers be given time to deal with insurance disputes or billing errors, or to apply for financial assistance or charity care, before a debt can be reported to a credit reporting agency;
• preventing damage to a consumer’s credit score from medical debts that are disputed or result from billing errors; and
• prohibiting debt collectors from dunning low-income consumers for inflated chargemaster prices.

Why Are Big-Box Stores Pricing Barbies Differently By Race?

Wed, 2014-12-10 23:55

Equality in the toy aisle.

Equality in the toy aisle.

Are pricing algorithms racist? That’s not really possible, and several big retailers are blaming “pricing errors” for discrepancies in the prices of Barbie dolls of different ethnicities. Shoppers interested in a doll in a figure-skating costume, for example, have to pay $1.99 extra at Walmart for a doll with darker skin and black hair. How does that happen?

One dad shopping for the Barbie Fashion Maker doll for his daughter for Christmas was stunned to see that the black doll cost more than double the price of the white one online at Target.

Whats wrong with this picture? @WCPO #smhtarget pic.twitter.com/s7D7x9332Y

— Coach J (@jayven07) December 7, 2014

That’s not very fair: if the toy was on a special sale, why was it only on the white doll? He called Target and the retailer told him that he could buy the more expensive black doll for the sale price while they sorted out the pricing error. He also took the issue to a local TV station, which contacted Target. In a statement, the retailer said:

Both dolls should have reflected the same pricing, however, due to a systems issue this change did not occur. We appreciate you bringing this discrepancy to our attention and have since adjusted the pricing and product detail listing.

After the news story aired, both dolls were at the lower $20.99 price: now the sale is apparently over, and both cost $49.99. However, there are less dramatic price differences at other retailers: CNBC alerted Walmart to the price difference between different versions of their ice skater doll, and the company corrected it, promising a gift card to make up the difference for any shoppers who did purchase the overpriced doll. Toys ‘R’ Us, meanwhile, changed things up by charging an extra $4 for the white doll.

Harvard Business Professor Apologizes For $4 Overcharge Feud With Restaurant

Wed, 2014-12-10 23:15

From the lengthy e-mail exchange between the professor and the restaurateur. (via Boston.com)

From the lengthy e-mail exchange between the professor and the restaurateur. (via Boston.com)

Earlier today, we told you about the Harvard Business School professor who engaged in a lengthy back and forth with the owner of a couple of Boston-area restaurants over the issue of a $4 overcharge. Apparently the Internet didn’t side with the prof, who is now apologizing.

“Having reflected on my interaction with [the restaurant owner], including what I said and how I said it, it’s clear that I was very much out of line,” the academic writes in a statement posted on Boston.com. “I aspire to act with great respect and humility in dealing with others, no matter what the situation. Clearly I failed to do so. I am sorry, and I intend to do better in the future. I have reached out to Ran and will apologize to him personally as well.”

The restaurant owner, who clearly came out on top in the court of public opinion (though honestly, he should have offered to make the refund right away and his online menu should match the actual prices), issued a statement of his own today, thanking people from all around the world who voiced support for his business.

“I have received overwhelming support from Harvard graduates and the student body,” he writes. “I believe that one man’s actions should not be the burden of another. I just want to apologize to Harvard for all the negative association they have been linked with this ordeal. I also believe that something good can come out of all this situation.”

In Wake Of Target Ruling, Will Retailers Scale Back Security So They Can Plead Ignorance?

Wed, 2014-12-10 23:03

targetLast week, a federal court in Minnesota gave the go-ahead to a lawsuit filed against Target by several banks trying to claim damages from the massive 2013 payment systems breach. Now, some worry that the court’s decision could lead retailers to go with simpler, perhaps less secure, systems rather than risk missing a red flag on a more complicated one.

The concern, a few security and payment system experts tell the Christian Science Monitor, is that Target is being sued for its alleged failure to notice early signs of a breach that could have saved billions of dollars.

If the banks are successful, a hacked retailer could be held responsible for missing any blip on their security radar. The more complex and layered a system, the more blips, though many of them will be false alarms.

So might retailers be tempted to dumb down their alert systems so that they can later plead ignorance if a hack occurs?

“There is a huge security negative to this kind of ruling,” explains John Pescatore, director of emerging security threats at the SANS Institute. “It reinforces the ‘better not to know, than to know and not do anything’ [mindset]. For way too long that was used as a reason not to do vulnerability scanning or penetration testing – a huge mistake.”

Christopher Pierson, general counsel and chief security officer at online invoicing and payment platform Viewpost, says the ruling’s stance that negligence might exist just because a security-alerting service wasn’t used aggressively enough highlights a lack of understanding of how companies deploy new security technologies.

In many cases, he tells CS Monitor that companies’ security programs use multiple layers of defense against attacks.

When new systems are put into place they must first have time to gather information into what constitutes normal networking behavior. To do so, they are often introduced on a learning or passive mode.

Because the systems in place at major companies can generate millions of alerts each day, companies may limit the kind of response features used to minimize issues for consumers.

Pierson says that while monitoring network events and logs can enable better security, requiring companies to monitor all of their logs all of the time could harm their ability to operate in the first place.

While we could possibly see a smaller company choosing to not upgrade its system so that it could eventually claim “We did the best with what we had,” we don’t imagine any retailer — and certainly not a major, national chain — deliberately scaling back its alert system.

That would only put a bigger target on the retailer’s back, as it would demonstrate the company knew about — and had the means to deploy — a better system but deliberately opted to not do so.

It’s one thing for a home gardener to find out after the fact that his flimsy wire fence wasn’t enough to keep out the gophers. It’s another for a deep-pocketed farm to tear down a multi-leveled animal repellent system and put in a flimsy wire fence.

One lawyer we spoke to agrees, saying that a retailer could end up being hurt more by choosing to scale back its security.

Having an inadequate system in place purposefully to avoid liability is totally unacceptable and any company that does so should be penalized, the legal eagle tells Consumerist.

Target ruling raises stakes for cybersecurity vigilance [The Christian Science Monitor]

Why A Village With 500 Residents Mails More Than 10,000 Christmas Cards From Its Post Office Every Year

Wed, 2014-12-10 22:28

(Wisconsin Rapids Tribune)

(Wisconsin Rapids Tribune)

How is it possible that in a village that boasts a population of only about 500 people sends more than 10,000 Christmas cards from its post office every year? Is it because each person in town has 200 friends? Or is it because the town has something special to do with Christmas?

It’s the second reason: As well all know, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the esteemed ringleader of all Santa Claus’ flying crew, ever since that whole foggy night situation. As such, his fame has made the village of Rudolph, WI a popular place when the holidays roll around, reports the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune.

People from all around have mailed more than 10,000 cards that will be mailed on Saturday, from as far away as Santa, just so their holiday cards for loved ones can be stamped by the Rudolph post office and get the special postal marking the post offices issues every year at this time. It features a bright red reindeer and reads, “Rudolph, WI, home of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” in a tradition that started back in 1945.

One woman drove 45 minutes just to get her Christmas cards stamped with the Rudolph ink stamps, saying she and her husband are sending out 100 cards from Rudolph this year. She says her grandkids get a kick out of the mail from Rudolph.

“They just think it’s fun, too — and we do, too,” she said. “And it’s a nice outing.”

The last batch of cards that will be mailed go out Dec. 13, and will be even more festive this year as the U.S. Postal Service has new Rudolph stamps to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the claymation classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

“It’s been very strong, very strong this year. We have issued an awful lot of stamps,” said the Rudolph Postmaster, who admits even she bought more stamps than she thought she would.

“I know I’m sending out a few extra cards because of them.”

As they say, when in Rudolph…

Christmas card season a busy one for Rudolph [Wisconsin Rapids Tribune]

Deal To Keep The Government Running Cuts $303M From Pell Grant Program

Wed, 2014-12-10 21:53
(Sapurah Lashari)

(Sapurah Lashari)

Congress’ deal to keep the federal government up and running may be coming at the expense of some of the nation’s poorest prospective college students. The spending package is poised to cut $303 million from the Pell Grant program.

The Washington Post reports that instead of using the portion of surplus dollars to fund college for lower-income students, it will now be used to pay companies that collect student loans on behalf of the Department of Education.

The Pell Grant program, which awards funds that don’t have to be repaid to students whose household incomes are generally less than $30,000, provided 9 million students with $33.7 million in grants during the 2013-2014 school year.

The Post reports that the cut is only a small fraction of the Pell Grant program’s current $4.4 billion surplus.

The measure, which was introduced by retiring Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, would fix a 2013 budget deal that eliminated mandatory payments to loan servicers working for the Dept. of Education.

Officials with Harkin’s office say that if the nonpayment issue wasn’t addressed then the industry could have suffered furloughs, creating a disruption in service to the millions of borrowers repaying student loans.

Although the funds being cut from Pell represent a surplus in the program, student loan advocates say the deal could prove to be hurtful to students in the future.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Pell Grant surplus could become a deficit as early as 2017.

“We constantly worry that any spending bill is going to involve negotiations over Pell,” Jennifer Wang, policy director at Young Invincibles tell the Post. “We have seen funding shortfalls in the past and Congress always ends up having to find additional dollars elsewhere to fund the program. Why put students in that position again?”

But officials with Harkin’s office say that a looming Pell deficit isn’t set in stone.

“The demands placed on Pell during the recession, when thousands of people entered or went back to school, have changed as the economy has improved,” Harkin spokesperson Susannah Cernojevich tells the Post. “This bill provides sufficient funding to increase the maximum award, reinstates eligibility to some students cut off in 2012, and invests $4.1 billion in new surplus funding that Senator Harkin believes will be sufficient to ensure the Pell does not face any significant funding gap in FY 2016.”

Still, advocates maintain that Harkin’s view of the situation is short-sighted.

Many groups including Young Invincibles and the Institute for College Access and Success have begun a campaign to protect the program, writing letters to members of Congress and urging students to call their representatives to prevent cuts.

Congress cuts federal financial aid for needy students [The Washington Post]

Survey Says: Yes, Everyone Really Is Binge-Watching A Lot More Netflix (And Cutting Back Cable)

Wed, 2014-12-10 21:51

(Carbon Arc)

(Carbon Arc)

Americans watch a lot of TV. But increasingly, we don’t watch it “on TV.” If you feel like everyone you know is spending Saturday devouring whole seasons of programming on Netflix instead of channel-surfing on the cable box, you’re not alone. At least half the people you know are doing that, a new survey confirms — and those numbers just keep going up.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers today released the results from a survey they conducted this year on “consumer attitudes toward video content and corresponding behavioral shifts.” In other words: what are we watching, where and when are we watching it, and how has it changed?

The results (PDF) are exactly what you suspect they are. Overall, traditional TV viewership is slowly declining and online streaming — and binge watching in particular — are on the rise. “The videoquake is here,” PWC concludes, particularly (and predictably) among younger adults.

Adults 35-49 and 50-59 have maintained or increased their cable subscriptions, but for the 18-35 set the number who subscribe to cable TV has dropped about 6%: from nearly 3/4 of the 25-34 set (73%) to closer to 2/3 (67%). Meanwhile subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu are all up — Netflix most dramatically so, with a 25% increase in subscribers since last year.

Meanwhile, if you accidentally (or intentionally) finished the entire run of your favorite series in a single weekend this year, you’re in good company: a solid half of the participants in the survey self-identified as binge-viewers. And binge-viewing is on the rise: 55% of respondents said they do it more often now than they did last year. Young adults are again more likely than their older peers to take in a big block of programming all at once. Though taking in three or more back-to-back episodes of a show is something most of us apparently do at least once a month, 53% of the 18-24 set reported doing it at least weekly or even daily.

Of course, cable vs. Netflix it doesn’t have to be an either-or scenario, and the data reinforce that. Plenty of people have both a pay TV service (cable, satellite, or fiber) and also subscribe to Netflix. Across all age groups, 60% – 70% of pay TV users also subscribe to Netflix. The most notable year-over-year increase is among older adults age 50-59: in 2013 just 19% of the pay TV subscribers in that group also had Netflix, but in 2014 a whopping 58% reported having both.

PWC also tried asking why viewers are frustrated with or turning away from traditional pay TV subscriptions. The result? 41% of participants said they were tired of paying for networks they never watch and don’t need, and want the ability to build a la carte bundles. The average cable subscriber gets 189 channels, PWC says, but on average watches fewer than 20 of them.

But unbundling, and a shift to online or on-demand programming from traditional networks, may not save consumers much money in the long run. Channel lineups are determined as part of massive contract negotiations (for now, anyway), and if content companies can’t get their smaller networks included as part of an agreement with the Comcasts of the world then the costs for their flagship, high-demand networks may well increase. Likewise, internet TV will probably not be cheap, and it still comes with plenty of chances for arguments between corporations to increase costs and decrease service to the subscriber.

Still, despite the challenges, the way we get our comedies, dramas, and reality TV is clearly going to keep changing. 91% of respondents said they’d still have cable in a year’s time, but only 61% said they’d probably still have it in 5 years. Less than half of participants, a mere 42%, said they could see themselves still subscribing to cable ten years from now.

Bank CEO Rips Walmart For Allowing ID Thieves To Spend $12K Without Anyone Noticing

Wed, 2014-12-10 21:36

(Ben Schumin)

(Ben Schumin)

How do ID thieves spend $12,000 in just a couple of hours at Walmart without anyone noticing? Quite easily, apparently. Which is why one CEO of a Texas-based bank is criticizing the nation’s largest retailer.

NBC Dallas/Fort Worth reports that scammers in the Fort Worth area went on a Walmart spending spree over the weekend with fake debit cards created using information stolen from data breaches at other retailers.

The CEO of Citizens National Bank of Texas says that he learned over the weekend that his fraud department had flagged $12,000 worth of Walmart purchases made in the area over the course of only a couple of hours.

“I just wish they would check ID just a little bit,” says the CEO. “If they would just be a little more responsible and check who they were doing business with. Ask for a driver’s license. What’s it take? Two seconds.”

These debit card transactions were presumably processed as credit cards since that doesn’t require the user to enter a PIN.

In response to the fraud, Citizens National is now requiring that any Walmart purchases over $49 be processed as a debit transaction with a PIN.

Of course, this still leaves open the opportunity for scammers to make multiple, smaller purchases. And as we recently learned, a resourceful ID thief might be able to glean enough information to change a victim’s PIN, giving them unfettered access to funds in the linked account.

For its part, Walmart is reminding everyone that customer privacy and security is “something we take very seriously… We want to make sure we’re doing everything from our end to prevent these fraudulent transactions from happening.”

The company says it is increasing the training for cashiers, though it might be hard for some of them to care very much about being trained by a company that is taking away their health insurance.

There Is A Thrift Store That Sells Ugly Christmas Sweaters, And Only Ugly Christmas Sweaters

Wed, 2014-12-10 21:35

(CBS Denver)

(CBS Denver)

The fun thing about trends nowadays is that they often bring something back that either used to be popular, or never was. In any case, now that thrift stores are the place to go to find that gently-used look, it only makes sense that one business owner would dedicate the store’s entire stock to just one trendy thing: Ugly Christmas sweaters, of course.

Sure, some stores are going to charge a bit too much for an intentionally ugly item of clothing you’ll only wear once, but maybe you don’t want to pay just to rent it and give it back after your holiday shindig.

So if you’re near Fort Collins, CO, you’re in luck, as the appropriately named Ugly Christmas Sweater store is now open for business and sells Ugly Christmas Sweaters and that is ALL she wrote.

When the store opened it had 4,000 sweaters in stock, with prices ranging from the very modest $3 up to $43, reports CBS Denver. The owner says she’s now selling about 150 sweaters every day.

She got the idea after working at another thrift store and seeing that people really, really liked buying UCSs. So she planned this summer, washed and hot glue-gunned stuff, then opened up in the fall. She has plans to expand to Denver and Boulder, to spread the ugly joy there.

“I like risk,” she said, “And thought, ‘I’m going to do it,’ and I did it.”

Her employees sound like they’re having fun as well, though it might be tougher to stay in the holiday company of those sweaters once July hits, hot and sweaty.

“You immediately get a laugh because you look at someone’s sweater and you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s actually more hideous than mine,’ ” one employee joked.

Exactly the point, friend. Exactly the point.

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Fort Collins Shop Capitalizes On The Ugly In Christmas Sweaters [CBS Denver]

Toddlers Try And Fail To Destroy A New iPad

Wed, 2014-12-10 21:22

ipadkidsWhen a new version of Apple’s iPad comes out, delighted media outlets answer all kinds of questions about its size and features. What most reviews will not cover is the important question that many families need answered as they decide which tablet to buy: can it withstand one of the greatest destructive forces known to humankind?

We mean, of course, the human toddler: a creature powered by a combination of willfulness, frustration, developing hand-eye coordination, juice, and cuteness. Instead of simulating the effect of toddlers on thin, delicate tablets, CNN found two junior test technicians and handed them an iPad with no case. (Warning: auto-play video!)

Thanks to either good parenting or modern children having an inborn sense of how new technology works, the kids resisted throwing the tablet on the ground at first. After a few rounds, the kids figured out how this fun new game worked, and they threw the iPad on the floor, down the stairs, and even (why not?) off the CNN anchor desk. The kids even stomped on it while wearing shoes. All of this resulted in…a few little dings to the device’s metal casing. That would affect the resale value, but the important parts of the tablet are still working.

Note: it probably still isn’t a good idea to hand an unprotected iPad to a small child.

Toddler vs. Apple iPad Air 2: Stress Test [CNN] (Warning: auto-play video!)

Poll: 1-In-5 Consumers Say They’ll Die While Still In Debt

Wed, 2014-12-10 21:00
(daniel lobo)

(daniel lobo)

Millions of Americans dream of the day that they exit the dark, desolate tunnel of debt and can live their lives without owing money to anyone. But sadly, a new report finds that most consumers actually have little hope of ever being debt-free.

A new poll from Creditcards.com found that one-in-five consumers (or 18%) believe they’ll take their debt to the grave, double the number of consumer who felt the same way in 2013.

The survey, which polled 1,001 consumers earlier this month, asked respondents about their expectations regarding the debt they already have and those they expect to acquire in the future.

Analyst with Creditcards.com say the overwhelmingly bleak outlook of being in debt until death is a manifestation of consumers’ struggle to pay down their debts in the current economy.

Consumers’ pessimistic views regarding eventual debt freedom were generally consistent across all income levels, the report found.

While nearly 20% of consumers who made less than $30,000 per year felt they would never be out of debt, their counterparts in a higher income are almost as pessimistic, with 15% of consumers earning $75,000 or more reporting they would never be debt free.

Although income levels didn’t appear to ease consumers’ harsh feelings about being indebted until death, age proved to be a decisive factor when it came to optimism regarding debt.

Despite a growing tab of student loan debt, only 6% of already indebted millennials said they would never get out of debt.

That’s a significant change from the 31% of debtors ages 65 and older and 22% of consumers between the ages of 50 and 64 believe they’ll die with debt.

Analysts with Creditcards.com say that while it’s admirable that younger consumers want to pay off their debt quickly, it might not be realistic.

The survey found that 59% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 who are currently in debt believe they will pay off their debts by the time they are 30. Another 14% of millennials see themselves as debt free by 40.

Overall, Creditcards.com found that the average age consumers felt they would have debt paid off was 53.

Poll: More Americans expect to be in debt forever [Creditcards.com]

Blaming The Beer-Battered Fish You Ate Before Driving Will Not Make A Failed Sobriety Test Disappear

Wed, 2014-12-10 20:36

(ChrisGoldNY)

(ChrisGoldNY)

The thing about eating food that’s been cooked in booze, is that it’s been cooked. And because you usually cook with heat, any alcohol that started out in that liquid is gone by the time you eat it. But basic science didn’t keep one Wisconsin driver from brewing up a boozy food excuse for failing a field sobriety.

Because fried fish and beer go together like um, delicious fried fish and delicious fried beer, I am unsurprised that a Wisconsin man went for the excuse of beer-battered fish affecting his driving ability. But yeah, the cops didn’t go for that excuse, reports Channel3000.com.

A man suspected of his 10th offense of operating while intoxicated was stopped by police after a deputy saw his truck cross the center line of a highway, and that it had a broken tail light.

When he noticed a smell of alcohol on the 75-year-old man’s breath, the officer administered a field sobriety test. That came up with a result of 0.062, well over the 0.02 limit the suspect had to be under as part of his previous convictions.

Deputies say the man denied he’d been drinking any booze, but said instead that he’d been eating beer-battered fish earlier that night. And the fish were drunk. And everyone had to drink a beer before taking a bite and the oxygen in the room was pumped fool of booze molecules. Those last reasons are also made up, because I made them.

He was also cited for third-offense operating while his license is revoked, having open intoxicants in a vehicle and operating left of center in the incident, and is due in court in January.

Deputies: Man suspected of 10th OWI says he ate beer battered fish [Channel3000.com]

Senators Ask Dept. Of Education To Discharge Student Loans For Everest, WyoTech, Heald Students

Wed, 2014-12-10 20:07

everestWhile Corinthian Colleges — the failing for-profit educator behind schools like Everest University, WyoTech, and Heald College — sorts out new owners for most of its properties, several thousand of the schools’ students are left in limbo, unsure of who is responsible for their education — and unsure if that pricey education is worth the huge loans they’ve taken out to pay for it. Yesterday, a group of a dozen U.S. Senators asked the Dept. of Education to consider giving these students a way out of their federal student loans.

The letter [PDF] points out that the law provides “avenues for relief from overwhelming debt taken on by students at duplicitous colleges,” but that it requires the Dept. of Education to flex its regulatory muscle to make those loan discharges happen.

“For this reason, we are writing to request that the Department… to utilize that authority and immediately discharge federal student loans incurred by borrowers who have claims against Corinthian.”

This would include students covered under pending suits filed by attorneys general in states like Massachusetts, California and Wisconsin. In fact, it may cover all Corinthian students nationwide, as the company is currently being sued by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

These lawsuits have alleged, among other claims, that Corinthian misled applicants about graduation rates and job-placement statistics in an effort to convince them to take out high-priced student loans that are guaranteed by the federal government and which generally can’t be discharged, even in cases of bankruptcy.

The Dept. of Education has previously stated that borrowers may request a discharge by asserting that the loan isn’t legally enforceable on the basis of a claim against the school, but the Senators point out that “The process for doing so… is far from clear.”

And so they have asked the Dept. of Education to clarify whether the current pending state lawsuits against Corinthian are sufficient to demonstrate that a loan isn’t legally enforceable.

If so, would students in states where the attorney general hasn’t filed suit be able to use those other states’ claims to make the case for loan discharge?

The letter also requests information from regulators on how the Department can clear up the process for requesting a discharge.

There is also the question of whether affected student loan borrowers would be reimbursed for any amount already paid on a loan.

A rep for Corinthian tells the Wall Street Journal that the Senators are getting ahead of themselves by assuming that the allegations in the pending lawsuits are true.

“The authors of this letter take the deeply unjust position that the federal government should act on the basis of unproven allegations which are being vigorously contested in court,” explains the CCI rep. “Their logic is dismayingly clear: Anyone who has been accused of anything is presumed guilty.”

It’s not surprising that the Dept. of Education has been dragging its feet on clarifying its stance on loan discharges for CCI students, as there are potentially billions of dollars in loan principal and interest that could be lost.

McDonald’s Cutting 8 Menu Items Next Year And Narrowing Down Value Meal Options From 16 To 11

Wed, 2014-12-10 19:34

(SA_Steve)

(SA_Steve)

While McDonald’s customers will soon be getting the option to build their own burgers, the fast food chain’s menu is going to be shrinking a bit despite that new feature. Eight items will be hacked from the menu starting in January, and the extra value meal menu will be narrowed down from the 16 current options to 11 combinations.

Mickey D’s is looking to speed things up in the service line, the company said at its investor meeting today, according to CNBC.com.

It’s not like you’re going to miss [fill in your favorite item here, which may or may not be getting cut], McDonald’s says, as four out of five of its sales come from a small set of items on the menu.

“It helps operationally yes, but it simplifies the menu as well,” said CEO Don Thompson on the call.

As for which items are going bye-bye, it seems no one knows that information yet (and it could vary by franchise) — Consumerist reached out to McDonald’s to see if the company was willing to share who’s on the execution list, and we’ll let you know when we hear back.

McDonald’s to cut down menu items to boost speed [CNBC.com]

Want L.L. Bean Duck Boots Right Now? Head To eBay, Pay Double

Wed, 2014-12-10 19:32

ebaybootsWhen there’s a shortage of something that people want to buy, capitalism fills in the gaps and unites buyers, sellers, and large amounts of cash. That’s the case with L.L. Bean duck boots, Which are in short supply right now and backordered until almost spring time. For people who want their feet warm and dry right now, there are eBay auctions where they can buy the boots at a premium.

While writing this post, I watched one auction end at $260 with $10 shipping, which is $10 less than double the list price. If learning that the boots are in short supply has created such a strong desire for waterproof footwear in you that you don’t even want to wait around for a couple of days for an auction to end, “Buy it Now” options abound for $300 or more.

You can also buy “vintage” or “Like New” pairs of boots, since premium prices bring boots that aren’t being worn out of closets.

Buying them directly from L.L. Bean means paying $140 but waiting around until as late as March, depending on which style and size you want.

PREVIOUSLY:
Why Are 100,000 People On A Waiting List To Buy Duck Boots From L.L. Bean?

Convicted Pirate Bay Co-Founder Says Site Should Stay Shuttered

Wed, 2014-12-10 19:21

The_Pirate_Bay_logo.svgYesterday, police in Sweden raided file-sharing mega-site The Pirate Bay and confiscated its servers and computers, taking it offline and leaving lots of people with partially downloaded files. While it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Bay could be rebuilt and brought back to life, one of the people who spent time in jail for his involvement with the site says it’s time to say farewell.

Peter Sunde was one of the co-founders of The Pirate Bay and for years was the public face of the site as it fought fought and appealed charges of promoting copyright infringement. In 2009, he and three others at the site were convicted.

After unsuccessfully attempting to appeal his case, Sunde managed to avoid serving his sentence for two years before finally being put behind bars in May 2014. He was released just last month, and rather than call for TPB to rise again, he’s admitting that maybe it’s outlived its original purpose.

In response to yesterday’s news, Sunde wrote on his blog that this raid is very different from the first time that authorities clamped down on the Bay in 2006.

“That time, a lot of people went out to protest and rally in the streets,” writes Sunde. “Today few seem to care. And I’m one of them.”

The site turned 10 years old in 2013, and Sunde said the original idea had been to shut it down when it reached that point.

“Instead… there was a party in [its] ‘honour’ in Stockholm,” he writes. “It was sponsored by some sexist company that sent young girls, dressed in almost no clothes, to hand out freebies to potential customers. There was a ticket price to get in, automatically excluding people with no money. The party had a set line-up with artists, scenes and so on, instead of just asking the people coming to bring the content. Everything went against the ideals that I worked for during my time as part of TPB.”

Additionally, Sunde says the site had failed to keep up with the times, with the operators who controlled TPB refusing to update.

“The site was ugly, full of bugs, old code and old design,” he gripes. “It never changed except for one thing – the ads. More and more ads was filling the site, and somehow when it felt unimaginable to make these ads more distasteful they somehow ended up even worse.”

And while the Bay is gone, Sunde acknowledges there are still plenty of other ways for people to share files over the Internet.

“But from the immense void that will now fill up the fiber cables all over the world, I’m pretty sure the next thing will pan out,” he concludes. “And hopefully it has no ads for porn or viagra. There’s already other services for that.”

[via TorrentFreak]

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