website utilities

People before Profit

Follow on:

The Consumerist

GM Extends Claim Submission Deadline To January 31 For Ignition Switch Victims

Mon, 2014-11-17 16:01

(Louis Abate)

(Louis Abate)

With the deadline for submitting ignition switch related injuries and deaths for consideration under the General Motors’ Victim Compensation Plan a little more than a month away and thousands of consumers still waiting to be notified, officials with the car company have extended the deadline to January 31.

The Detroit News reports that General Motors announced the extension for submitting claims out of an “abundance of caution.”

The fund was established in late summer by GM to compensate those hurt or killed because of a defective ignition switch that can allow the key to turn off the car accidentally, disabling power steering and airbags.

The deadline extension comes after GM officials and Ken Feinberg, the independent administrator for the fund, faced increased pressure from lawmakers and safety advocates over possible issues with notifying owners of affected vehicles.

According to the Detroit News, one of the families of the 13 initial fatalities linked to the ignition switch defect didn’t learn they were among those linked by GM to the issue until earlier this month.

Feinberg says in a statement that additional notices are being mailed this week to approximately 850,000 newly registered owners and to those individuals for whom a change in registration, change of address or corrected address has been received.

“I believe that the many efforts to reach all possible GM automobile owners, former owners and others who might have been adversely impacted by a defective ignition switch have been both comprehensive and effective,” Feinberg says. “There will always be some individuals who do not receive formal notice and are generally unaware of available compensation. But such individuals appear to be very few in number.”

A spokesperson for the fund announced on Sunday that Feinberg, who has been given free rein to set eligibility for compensation, approved 33 death claims and 39 injury claims.

In all, the fund has now received 2,105 claims, including 217. Officials say that about 10% of the claims have been rejected, most because they involved ineligible vehicles.

So far, the fund has made 11 cash payments and 40 total offers, 28 of which have been accepted, the Detroit News reports.

Officials with GM previously said they expect to spend $400 million on claims, but that could rise as high as $600 million.

When the fund was launched over the summer, GM said there would be no cap to the claims, but that compensation would be tied to the level of injury and loss experienced. An approved death claim is expected to result in an offer of compensation for at least $1 million, plus payments of $300,000 to surviving family members.

Consumers who suffered life-altering injuries could receive even more when the cost of lifetime medical care, lost earnings power and other factors are considered.

The plan also addresses consumers who faced less-severe injuries. Those who were treated at a hospital or an outpatient medical facility within 48 hours of the accident are eligible for a claim.

The formula for that claim is $20,000 for one night in the hospital; $70,000 for two to seven overnights, $170,000 for eight to 15 overnights, with a maximum of $500,000 for 32 or more overnights. Those treated on an outpatient basis could receive a maximum of $20,000.

The claimants are not obligated to accept the compensation, but if they do take the money they give up their rights to pursue legal action against GM with regard to the ignition defect.

The compensation program covers approximately 1.6 million model-year 2003-2007 recalled vehicles manufactured with an ignition switch defect and approximately 1 million model year 2008-2011 recalled vehicles that may have been repaired with a recalled ignition switch.

GM extends ignition compensation deadline to Jan. 31 [The Detroit News]

Norovirus Strikes A Crown Princess Cruise For The Second Time This Year, Sickening 170

Mon, 2014-11-17 15:46

The Crown Princess (Princess Cruises)

The Crown Princess (Princess Cruises)

Some guests just refuse to leave, even when the party is over, it seems: For the second time in six months, Carnival’s Crown Princess, which sails the seas under the Princess Cruises brand, has hosted an outbreak of norovirus. The ship was met at the dock in Los Angeles yesterday by public health officials after more than 170 passengers and some crew fell ill on a 28-day cruise to destinations like Tahiti and Hawaii.

The stricken have been suffering from a gastrointestinal issue caused by norovirus, a Carnival spokeswoman said in a statement, via Reuters.

“Over the last few days, the ship began seeing an increased number of gastrointestinal illnesses, caused by norovirus,” said the company spokeswoman. “In response, we have enacted our stringent disinfecting protocols developed in conjunction” with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Crown Princess is no stranger to the sight of passengers worshipping at the porcelain throne: In April, the Crown Princess saw a norovirus outbreak sicken more than 100 people aboard. So whatever cleaning up was done after that journey, let’s hope Carnival doubled down — especially because the Crown Princess was scheduled to depart San Pedro last night for another cruise, this time to the Mexican Riviera.

About 170 people fall ill on Carnival cruise from California [Reuters]

Al Franken: Ted Cruz Has No Idea What Net Neutrality Is

Mon, 2014-11-17 12:12

Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas attempted to slam the notion of net neutrality, dubbing it “Obamacare for the Internet” and claiming that it would result in prices and services being set by the government. But over the weekend, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken called Cruz’s claim “baloney,” pointing out the fact that we’ve had net neutrality for years and cable companies have been doing just fine.

“He has it completely wrong,” said Franken on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley. “He just doesn’t understand what the issue is.”

The Senator clarifies that neutrality has existed throughout the Internet age. It’s the ISPs, led by Verizon, that successfully sued to gut the rules so that they can add fast lanes and charge more to companies that can afford to pay.

So the move to keep the Internet neutral is intended to maintain the status quo. It just requires new rules because the cable companies don’t want to abide by the old ones.

On the other hand, points out Franken, Obamacare is a program that created something new. Whatever your opinion of the Affordable Care Act, it’s in no way analogous to net neutrality.

“This would keep things exactly the same as they’ve been,” says Franken of neutrality.

The reason that the FCC is even considering the idea of reclassifying broadband as telecommunications infrastructure — as opposed to its current designation as an information service — is because it’s the only way in which the government can effectively tell ISPs to not create fast lanes, and there are some who contend that even reclassification may fail a legal challenge.

“It’s because these ISPs, which have been getting bigger… they essentially have an oligopoly,” says Franken about the need for FCC-enforced neutrality. “They have been talking about a fast lane — they have been talking about charging big, deep-pocketed corporations extra money to go faster, meaning everyone else goes slower.”

As for the claim that reclassifying broadband would cripple innovation and investment, Franken says, “That’s baloney,” and that a truly neutral Internet won’t be the end of investment.

“All this stops them from doing is making a whole bunch of extra money,” says the Senaory. But this is not going to stop them from wiring the country.”

For an even better rebuttal of Cruz’s “Obamacare for the Internet” claim from someone without any sort of legislative agenda, check out this hilarious response from The Oatmeal.


Copies Of ‘E.T.’ From The Atari Graveyard Sold For Up To $1,500

Fri, 2014-11-14 23:36



Last week, we shared the exciting news that a local historical society would auction a bunch of trash on eBay. Well, okay, that “trash” was really some of the millions of unsold Atari cartridges that were crushed, covered with cement, and left in the desert for three decades. They were left in the desert because nobody wanted them in 1983, but cartridges sold for as much as $1,537 on eBay, with auctions concluding this week.

The group behind these auctions, the Tularosa Basin Historical Society, said that it will sell maybe 900 more cartridges from the dump site, but that’s all. Material from the legendary “Atari Graveyard” has also been sent to relevant museums all over the world.

Out of the 100 listings in this initial test batch, nine pre-mangled cartridges sold for more than a thousand dollars each. All were copies of “E.T.,” the game whose terribleness created the Atari Graveyard legend and was a large part of Atari’s demise.

In case you wondered whether these auctions were legit, as of right now they have one satisfied customer who has left feedback:

I paid a hojillion dollars for trash, just as described. A+, would buy again!


The buyer paid $1,400 for their cartridge.

tbhs575 [eBay]

Atari Games Recovered From New Mexico Dump Now Available On eBay

Verizon Has Made It More Expensive To Get Out Of Your Wireless Plan Early

Fri, 2014-11-14 23:10



Verizon Wireless has updated its Customer Agreement to change how it handles early termination fees for people who cancel their service while still under contract. But rather than simply jacking up the total amount you would have to pay, Verizon now has an 8-month delay before the total begins to decrease.

Before today, VZW early termination fees started at $350 for people with smartphones who canceled service immediately after starting a new contract, and then decreased by $10/month over the course of your contract. This will remain unchanged for people whose current contracts started before Nov. 14.

Those contracts starting today and moving forward will still begin with ETFs of $350, but the $10/month decrease doesn’t start until the eighth month of service. Then in the 19th month that increases to $20/month off your ETF, until the final month, in which you get $60 off the fee.

So imagine two siblings, Jim and Jill. Jim started his VZW contract on Monday. Jill didn’t get around to it until today:

Six months from now, when they both have to drop their service because they are being transferred to the Tuva Republic for work, Jim’s ETF will have dropped to $290, while Jill’s will still be $350.

But suppose that Tuvan transfer gets delayed for six months, meaning Jim and Jill don’t need to cancel their service until the 12th month. At this point, Jim would have to pay $230 to Verizon while Jill would owe $300.

Even after the monthly ETF drops increase for Jill, she will continue to owe more than her brother. When that transfer to Tuva is finally confirmed in the 22nd month, Jim’s ETF bill is $130 while Jill must pay $160.

It’s not until after that final $60 gets chiseled off that Jill’s ETF is cheaper than Jim’s, but by this point it might be cheaper to stick around the last few weeks than face an ETF of either $110 or $80.

The above numbers are for subscribers who also got their smartphone through Verizon. If you have a contract with Verizon for tablet or basic wireless phone service, the ETF starts at $175. Current subscribers immediately see that fee drop by $5/month. New subscribers must also wait until month 8 to see that fee decrease by $5. For months 19-23, it’s $10/month off the ETF until the final month, when they take off $30:


In both cases, it’s now always more expensive to cancel your Verizon service (unless you wait until month 24).

Employee’s Daughter Asks Kmart To Give Mom Some Time Off On Thanksgiving

Fri, 2014-11-14 22:56

(Nicholas Eckhart)

(Nicholas Eckhart)

Should stores be open on Thanksgiving Day? While some businesses, such as hotels, gas stations, airlines, and even restaurants must be open to keep civilization running and make sure other people can get to their destinations and enjoy their holidays. Yet many non-essential businesses are open. Like Kmart. The child of one Kmart employee is unhappy about this, and wants the store to consider maybe giving her mom, a 21-year employee, the day off.

It’s not that the store being open on Thanksgiving Day came as a surprise to anybody. As Kmart made a point of saying in its announcement of this year’s hours, opening early on Thanksgiving Day is a “tradition,” one that dates back to when large numbers of Americans still shopped at Kmart. What employees don’t know until the end of the previous week what their schedules will be. That means that they don’t find out what shift (or shifts, in the case of split shifts) they’re working on the holiday.

“She was not going to be able to spend any real time with our family,” the daughter told Thinkprogress. “To hear her on the verge of tears really infuriated me, to think why are they doing this to people? They need time to be with their families.”

She started an online petition on, a site “for engaging in workplace advocacy.” As of right now, 1,429 people have signed the petition, which asks Kmart to consider not staying open for 42 hours straight, closing earlier than planned, or at least giving employees more flexibility to choose their own holiday schedules.

In a statement to Thinkprogress, Kmart explained that the retailer does its “very best” to not drag employees in to work on the holiday when they don’t want to. That doesn’t mean that everyone working in the store is there because they don’t have any other plans and want the extra cash.

Our stores do their very best to staff with seasonal associates and those who volunteer to work holidays. All associates are compensated time and a half pay for the hours they work on Thanksgiving Day. We want to express deep appreciation in advance to all associates who will be working Thanksgiving evening and the day after Thanksgiving.

People who claim to be current or former Kmart employees say that this rosy picture isn’t quite how things really are under the big red K.

I used to work at KMart, and missed MANY holidays with my family. It is NOT volunteer work, it is required. They are ridiculous and should be ashamed at themselves for trying to make money on Thanksgiving! Let people be with their families!

I used to work at K-mart, actually, I worked there for FIVE years, working all of their ridiculous holiday hours. There are no volunteers, and some Boston Market dinner did not make up for the time I missed with my family.

I signed because way back when I worked for Sears who used to be the world’s largest retailer. We were scheduled 2 weeks in advance, closed on all the major holidays, and treated like people. But now with everyone trying to be Walmart the retail business doesn’t give a damn about its employees.

Daughter Petitions Kmart Not To Make Her Mom Work On Thanksgiving [ThinkProgress]

Two-Time Krispy Kreme Challenge Winner Can Somehow Run 4 Miles & Eat 12 Doughnuts Without Barfing

Fri, 2014-11-14 22:56



While I could maybe probably run four miles and definitely eat a dozen doughnuts, I couldn’t accomplish both in the same day, much less the same hour. That’s why it’s somewhat amazing that a two-time Krispy Kreme Challenge winner has managed to run two miles to Krispy Kreme, stop and eat 12 doughnuts, then run two more miles in only an hour. And without losing the contents of his stomach, to boot. Or not to boot. You get it.

The Man With The Iron Stomach, as I have just named the 38-year-old Alabama man, has accomplished this win twice, both times without barfing, reports

He’s got some practice for the running side of things, saying he competes in 40 races every year, though the doughnut race is the the most gluttonous. Being in good shape from all that running is an important part of his training for the Krispy Kreme race, he said in an interview. It’s held by United Cerebral Palsy, an organization he supports and the reason why he runs the race.

“It’s mostly being in general good shape. There’s two components — running and eating. You can do one or the other, but the skill is to do both.”

Again, I couldn’t do both of those in a single day, so kudos to you, MWTIS.

And speaking of his lucky stomach, he doesn’t have to see anyone else getting sick either, because he is always in front. Oh, snap.

“Fortunately, when you’re in the lead, there is no one in front of you so I’ve been lucky to not see anything,” he explained.

His final advice: “Enjoy the sugar rush, the impending sugar crash after, and try to avoid throwing up on your shoes.”

The 2-time Krispy Kreme Challenge champion explains how one prepares for 12 doughnuts and 4 miles in 1 hour []

Report: Many Banks And Prepaid Companies Lack Clear Disclosures For Smartphone Deposit Services

Fri, 2014-11-14 22:43
(David Goehring)

(David Goehring)

Some days, driving to the bank or searching for the right ATM, seems like too much effort to deposit a single check. Over the past few years time-crunched consumers have found some relief in the form of banks offering the ability to remotely deposit checks with a smartphone. While the technology may be convenient, a new report found certain drawback to the program, including poorly disclosed terms and conditions.

The Pew Charitable Trusts report [PDF] on mobile remote deposit capture (mRDC) examined how financial institutions present the key feature of mobile banking to their prospective customers and found that many lacked vital information.

mRDC, which was first introduced in 2009, allows individuals to take smartphone or tablet photos of endorsed paper checks and deposit them through an app from their bank or prepaid card company. Since its inception the program has steadily grown in usage and popularity, according to the Federal Reserve.

Pew researchers analyzed 10 key elements of remote deposit services. [click to enlarge]

Pew researchers analyzed 10 key elements of remote deposit services. [click to enlarge]

Pew examined mRDC availability and policies at 50 banks and 51 prepaid card companies, identifying 10 key terms and conditions, including cost, time before deposited funds become available, and eligibility requirements, that prospective customers are likely to consider when deciding if the technology is for them.

The report found that banks are more likely than prepaid card companies to offer mRDC, although several large banks still do not offer the technology.

In all, 37 large banks offer mRDC, while 13 did not. Additionally, seven prepaid card companies offer the technology, while 14 offer it through third-party vendors and 30 do not offer the product.

Of the banks that offered mRDC services to consumers, 13 disclose terms online and in an app, while 22 provide disclosures online only.

Among prepaid card companies, only two offered terms online and in apps, and 19 offered the disclosures online only.

Only one of the large banks that offer mRDC provided details on all 10 of the terms Pew identified. And although the bank’s terms were transparent, Pew determined they were not idea.

“Per its disclosure, the bank does not notify account holders of the mRDC deposit’s status—whether it is approved or rejected, or whether a hold is placed on the deposited funds,” the report concluded.

Additionally one of the 37 banks offering the service didn’t supply any of the 10 pieces of information sought by Pew.

The two prepaid companies with both types of disclosures were found to have errors in their content.

For example, the app for one of these banks lists the cutoff time for processing a deposit as 6 p.m. and as 9 p.m. on its website. The second bank shows the check-retention requirement for consumers once funds have been deposited as two days on its app and as 14 days on its website. No inconsistencies appear in the mRDC disclosures provided by GPR prepaid card companies.

As for the cost of mRDC, 28 of the 37 large banks disclose that they offer the service free of charge to consumers. Three other banks charge $0.50 per check deposit, while two waive the fee under certain conditions.

Customers using prepaid companies’ mRDC will likely incur more costs for the service. Only two companies disclose their fee as free, while two have a cost of $4 per deposit, and 16 charge as much as 4% of the deposit in exchange for making funds available immediately. However, all but one of the companies offer free options that require longer waiting periods.

While it might be tempting to go on a mDRC deposit spree, Pew found that most banks limit the amount a consumer can deposit in one month with varying price points.

The minimum limit disclosed by banks was $2,500 per month, and the maximum was $750,000 per month.

However, 13 of these banks either do not disclose the existence of mRDC deposit limits or do disclose that they have these limits but do not provide details about them.

Limited deposits for prepaid card companies were significantly less, ranging from $1,500 to $10,000 per month. Additionally, the companies were more likely to disclose the limits, with 20 offering disclosures, while only one did not.

Perhaps one of the most important disclosures that consumers would look for in a mRDC service is the amount of time they must way before deposited funds become available for use.

Banks are required, under federal rules, to disclose funds-availability policies to consumers. However, Pew found that banks’ mRDC offerings cannot always obtain that information because of lack of clear disclosure.

Of the banks that offer mRDC, a whopping 18 do not provide disclosures on when funds would be available. One bank makes funds available immediately, one offers a variety of options, 13 disclose availability between one and two days after posting and four disclose availability of three and five days after posting.

Again the disclosures for prepaid card companies appeared to be more readily available than those of larger banks.

None of the companies lacked a disclosure on fund availability. Four state that funds from approved deposits will be fully available within minutes.

Another 15 offer almost immediate access to funds in exchange for a fee but also offer no-charge deposits for those willing to wait longer. Two card companies do not offer an option for immediate funds availability; customers’ deposited money is accessible in two and six days after posting.

Although Pew did not provide policy recommendations for banks and prepaid card companies offering mRDC services, researchers make it clear that better disclosures are needed.

Providing clearer disclosures would go a long way in producing better informed consumers.

“The better informed customers are about their companies’ policies, the better they will be at managing their account balances and avoiding unnecessary fees,” the report states. “Providing greater transparency could be a powerful tool for providers to help build confidence in mobile banking.”

Pew: Smartphone Deposits Differ by Where and How You Bank [Pew]

If Video Game Publishers Want To Release Broken Games, They Should Discount Pre-Orders

Fri, 2014-11-14 22:01

Um, Arno... who are those two guys who just walked in during the middle of this scene at started babbling in French?

Um, Arno… who are those two guys who just walked in during the middle of this scene at started babbling in French?

You wouldn’t go to Spring Training and expect to pay regular season prices to see a sluggish baseball team play a half-assed game. If you go to a preview of a new musical — where they might not be in full costume or have to stop and start a song halfway through — you don’t pay the same as someone going to the theater after opening night. And there’s a reason why the “dinged and discounted” section of the furniture store isn’t asking for the full sticker price. But when it comes to video games, consumers are increasingly paying a premium to be de facto beta testers for unfinished and broken games that aren’t ready for the market.

The latest instance of this is the double-shot of Assassin’s Creed games that Ubisoft dumped on the world this week. While both games are playable (unlike previous launches of games like Sim City and Battlefield 4), a quick check of any gaming forum or news site will turn up a slew of complaints from players about a slew of glitches, along with server overloads and a mobile companion app that is currently all but useless.

Ubisoft can not claim surprise in this case. These problems are not relegated to only a few players or even to a single platform.

These are errors that Ubisoft surely knew about — after all, it forced reviewers to wait until after the game was released to post their write-ups — but decided to put out to the pulic regardless, knowing it could always patch problems later.

But as I’ve written before, that we-can-fix-it-later attitude is causing game publishers to knowingly release unfinished and broken products.

And yet, even though Ubisoft and others are well aware that they are rushing out games that will need to be fixed from day one, the publishers continue to charge full price, unapologetically charging people at least $60 for the privilege of being guinea pigs.

EA’s launch of Sim City was so bad that it ultimately had to offer free games to upset customers in an effort to make up for the massive goof. And the publisher has been sued by players for allegedly unleashing Battlefield 4 on consumers knowing it was broken.

Meanwhile, the negative public response to the Assassin’s Creed games has hit the Ubisoft stock price, which dropped from $15 to below $13 in the two days after the games’ release.

Wouldn’t it be smarter if the publishers just knocked a few bucks off — or gave some incentive other than “look, here’s a free outfit!” — for pre-orders of games that are still going to need significant work?

Consumers would complain less when they get an unfinished game because they didn’t pay full price. It cuts down on negative word of mouth — think of all the people who are striking Assassin’s Creed: Unity from their holiday gift lists because of the poor public reception — and also give just the slightest indication to consumers that a publisher doesn’t just view gamers as flesh-covered wallets waiting to be drained.

All that said, if people continue to scramble for pre-orders of AAA titles after being burned so many times in the past, publishers won’t have any incentive to change or to take their customers seriously.

It’s like food at the airport — we all complain about paying $5 for a bottle of water and $10 for a cruddy pre-made sandwich, but enough people continue to fork over the cash so the prices just keep going up and the quality just keeps going down.

The only way to stop it is by not giving in to temptation.

So the next time you’re thinking about pre-ordering a game, just think of these two random French guys who like to interrupt cut scenes:

Of Course There’s An App For Getting Medical Marijuana Delivered To Your Doorstep In L.A.

Fri, 2014-11-14 21:57

As marijuana becomes legal in a growing list of states, whether recreationally or for medical reasons, it would make sense that consumers living in those areas would turn to technology to get the products they want. After all, who actually calls the delivery place on the phone to get dinner anymore? Calling a cab, how quaint! So to fill that technology need, a California company has set its app up to offer medical marijuana delivery.

The smartphone app comes from a company called NestDrop that started delivery alcohol via smartphones in California, reports USA Today, using in-app ordering and payment process, unlike other services that use mobile sites.

Lest any sneaky consumers think they can trick an innocent delivery person into bringing them drugs they shouldn’t legally have, the app will only work for Los Angeles-area customers who upload a photo of their ID, medical marijuana card or doctor’s recommendation.

The pot comes from the collective to which the patient belongs (so it’s like Seamless, if you were only allowed to order from one restaurant), and is driven to the customer’s house, where the driver checks the buyer’s ID and makes the handoff.


The company’s founders said they got into weed delivery because of the people with chronic pain or other issues that make it difficult for them to go get the medicine they need.

“After our initial success with alcohol deliveries, we decided to expand when we saw how this platform could be used to bring difficult-to-obtain products to people who really need them,” Nestdrop co-founder Michael Pycher said in a statement. “We began talking to patients and found a genuine need out there for improved access to this medicine.”

In Colorado and Washington states, where recreational marijuana is now legal, it’s against the law to have delivery services, as the states’ laws require in-person purchases from retailers.

Calif. company offering smartphone marijuana deliveries [USA Today]

Former Freelancer Sues Google For Overtime, Pay Violations

Fri, 2014-11-14 21:09

(Joshua Leners)

(Joshua Leners)

It’s not uncommon for employees and contractors to bring lawsuits against their employers for unpaid wages. One such suit was filed earlier this week by a former freelance worker claiming that Google didn’t pay overtime, improperly classified him as an independent contractor and terminated his contract after he asked for more hours.

Reuters reports the lawsuit [PDF], which was filed in a New York federal Court, claims that Google violated federal labor standards. The plaintiff is asking the court to designate the suit as a collective action on behalf of all Google employees.

“Despite its profitability, Google maintains policies and practices of misclassifying employees as independent contractors who are not covered by wage and hour laws, paying these employees through outside agencies, and not paying them for all hours worked,” the suit states.

According to the complaint, the plaintiff began work at the company’s New York offices in 2013 as a “site merchandiser for magazines” in the Google Play unit. The man, who made $35 per hour, was classified as a freelancer and paid through an outside agency.

Under the terms of the contract, the man was limited to billing 30 hours a week, but often worked more than that.

“Google limited the number of hours for which Plaintiff and others similarly situated could be paid,” the suit reads. “However, Google did not similarly limit the amount of work that it assigned to Plaintiff and others.”

He claims that Google declined to pay him for those extra hours or for any overtime he accumulated over 40 hours a week, despite the fact that he and others “similarly situated were often forced to work more than the maximum allowed hours in order to complete the tasks assigned to them by Google and keep their job.”

Google allegedly terminated his contract after he asked for more hours to be covered in the contract, the lawsuit states.

Officials with Google did not immediately return Reuters’ request for comment.

Lawsuits over the payment and treatment of contractors and freelance workers have increased in recent years.

Last month, Consumerist reported on a slew of class action lawsuits filed against FedEx Ground in which former workers were seeking compensation for unpaid overtime and paycheck deductions.

The company contends that the plaintiffs aren’t actual employees, but independent contractors that lack the same rights as verified employees.

Google contractor accuses company of pay, overtime violations in lawsuit [Reuters]

Suspected Serial Scammer Arrested After New Roommate Googles Her

Fri, 2014-11-14 21:05



We all do it — looking up someone you’ve just met on the Internet, whether it’s a first date or a job candidate — and in at least one case, Googling a new roommate helped one woman escape a potentially scammy relationship.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon says a woman accused of befriending people in a string of cities in Oregon and then stealing their cash or running up thousands of dollars on their credit cards was arrested in Los Angeles after her roommate checked her out online, reports the Statesman-Journal.

The tipster called police saying she’d met the suspect three weeks ago and become buddies quickly. The woman visited her apartment for a short stay that turned into a more permanent situation as the days went by.

That’s when the roommate noticed the woman’s stories about her background seemed off, and that she suddenly seemed “very manipulative and vindictive.”

This week while the suspect was out to dinner, her roommate decided to Google the suspect, and saw that she’d been in trouble with the law and police were looking for her. She called the cops, and LAPD arrested her when she came back to the apartment after dinner.

Authorities believe the 24-year-old has been scamming people for the last three years, including allegedly stealing a car from her sister. She was first reported in August to the county sheriff’s office, and was indicted by a grand jury in October on charges of first degree aggravated theft, first degree theft and three counts of identity theft.

Salem woman accused of statewide thefts arrested in L.A. [The Statesman-Journal]

Report: “Secret Spy Program” Targeting U.S. Cell Phone Signals From the Skies

Fri, 2014-11-14 20:53

(Rosalyn Davis)

(Rosalyn Davis)

As Thanksgiving approaches, perhaps you dread having your turkey with a side of the latest conspiracy theory served up by that uncle (there’s always one) who is convinced the government is spying in from helicopters overhead. This year, though, that relative has some evidence on his side. He’s wrong about the helicopters, as far as we know, but a new report finds that law enforcement agencies actually are using aircraft to scoop up Americans’ mobile phone calls from the skies.

The Wall Street Journal uncovered the program and published their findings this week. The program, managed by the U.S. Marshals Service under the auspices of the Justice Department, uses a high-tech trick to collect cell phone data far and wide, before zeroing in on actual suspect behavior.

Here’s how it works: the Marshals have small aircraft, usually Cessnas, based at a handful of airports around the country. Those planes have devices on board — called “dirtboxes” — that basically fool phones down on the ground into thinking they’re cell towers. A dirtbox is kind of like the electronic version of a duck lure: it’s a fake that can convince phones that it’s the real thing.

By design, as the WSJ explains, mobile phones automatically connect through the cell tower with the strongest available signal as their users move around. But if a plane with a dirtbox is circling overhead, it can convince the phone that it has the closest, strongest signal. That means any phone in range to detect its signal will be sending its unique identifying information to the plane, and not to the best available cell tower.

The theory is that law enforcement agencies can use the technology to zero in on the locations of criminal suspects under active investigation — a specific cell phone identified by a dirtbox can be located to within ten feet. That would tell you not only what building your bad guy is in, but also what room.

In reality, though, the devices are not just magically zeroing on criminal users. Instead, they’re a massive net collecting all signals in the area, after which it sorts through them to find the ones it actually wants and then, as the WSJ says, “‘lets go’ of the non-suspect phones.” The mechanism is less like bringing a magnet to look for a needle in a haystack, and more like bringing a magnet to look for a needle in a needle factory.

The dirtboxes don’t just attract and capture information, either; they can also (unintentionally) interrupt calls or (intentionally) jam signals and retrieve data — like texts and pictures — from a targeted phone.

The WSJ reports that law enforcement has “tried to minimize the potential for harm, including modifying the software to ensure the fake tower doesn’t interrupt anyone calling 911 for emergency help.”

Experts in the field told the WSJ that the U.S. military and intelligence communities use similar devices overseas, to locate terrorist suspects. They also said that in this country, the program has been effective in tracking down alleged drug dealers and murderers. However, they declined to tell the WSJ in which cases the dirtbox tech was instrumental to catching a suspect.

In terms of a “collect it all first, sort it out later” attitude, the air surveillance program is similar to the NSA’s now infamous collection of nationwide records outlining who called whom, when, and for how long. However, in terms of execution, it’s more invasive — up there with NSA programs that have tampered with the electronics or various software that consumers use.

Without actually admitting it exists, a Justice Department official defended the practice to the WSJ after their first report ran.

The official insisted to the WSJ that the DoJ does not maintain a database of the general public’s phone information, and that the technology is used “only in furtherance of ordinary law enforcement operations, such as the apprehension of wanted individuals, and not to conduct domestic surveillance or intelligence-gathering.” The official added that it would be “utterly false” to mix up the DoJ’s skynet program with the NSA’s bulk records database.

However, the WSJ points out, the Marshals do seem to have the capability. The Boeing subsidiary that makes the devices has said in a regulatory filing that some of their machines do have the ability to store information for later cross-referencing, and someone familiar with the tech told the WSJ that when these tools are used overseas, they store data.

With or without data storage, however, the process is likely to increase tensions between the tech community and intelligence agencies. The two sides have been in conflict over issues of surveillance and law enforcement requests since the NSA’s data collection gained widespread public attention in 2013.

Americans’ Cellphones Targeted in Secret U.S. Spy Program [Wall Street Journal]
U.S. Defends Marshals in Wake of Secret Cellphone Spying Report [Wall Street Journal]

Man Responsible For “Framily” Is Being Frired By Sprint

Fri, 2014-11-14 20:45

sprint-framily-hamsterAnyone who champions an ad campaign that features: a talking hamster voiced by Andrew Dice Clay; a French-speaking Girl Scout; a jerky, lanky goth named Gord-on; and the sadly wasted comedic talents of Judy Greer — and then tries to introduce the term “framily” into the lexicon — does not deserve to be a top executive at a major wireless provider. Which is why Sprint is already planning to say goodbye to its Chief Marketing Officer after less than one year on the job.

Ad Age reports that Sprint CMO Jeff Hallock, who rose to the position in January after 15 years rising through the ranks at the company, will be departing the company at some point during the first quarter of 2015 unless they find a replacement sooner.

Though Sprint insists that Hallock’s exit is “voluntary” and “based on a personal decision,” the writing has been on the wall for him since new Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure joined the company in August.

Not only did Claure immediately scrap the Framily ads and replace the group plans with new plans that value gigabytes over quirky characters, he also openly mocked the campaign, saying, “We are marketing a hamster talking to people… That’s very hard to sell.”

Pro-Holiday Activists Protest At Mall That Will Open On Thanksgiving Day

Fri, 2014-11-14 20:35



There’s less than two weeks left until Thanksgiving Day, and consumers are beginning to learn which retailers will be open on the holiday so they can either plan their shopping trips or get very, very upset. Some people in Michigan have taken the “get upset” option, holding a protest outside of a mall that is scheduled to open at 6 P.M.

Last year, the Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor, Michigan opened at 8 P.M., its first attempt at opening on the holiday. That was apparently a success, and the mall has moved the opening time back two hours to match anchor store Macy’s. The mall announced its plans two weeks ago, and activists decided to protest yesterday.

It makes sense to protest ahead of time instead of on Thanksgiving Day: the protest tells shoppers to stay away on Thanksgiving Day and to consider avoiding those retailers and malls altogether this holiday season. (Not that boycotts are necessarily effective in cases like this, but doing so will publicize the problem and make boycotters feel better.)

The Briarwood Mall is owned by Simon, the same company that drew controversy for being the first nationwide mall management company to open all of its shopping centers on Thanksgiving Day last year. A spokesperson for Simon explained that the company wants to offer its customers the choice of shopping on Thanksgiving Day if that’s what they want to do. “We appreciate that people may have a different view of that,” he told the Ann Arbor News. “People have different traditions and we respect that, but this is there for those who want to take advantage of the extra hours the mall is open, we’ll be there for them.”

The protesters, as you might imagine, don’t agree. “You couldn’t pervert the holiday any more than to [make] it a shopping holiday,” one protester told the News.

Group rallies against Thanksgiving Day shopping at Ann Arbor mall [MLive]

Students Arrested After Allegedly Stealing $7.5K Ronald McDonald Statue, Completing Drive-Thru Order

Fri, 2014-11-14 20:14

Surveillance footage showing the kidnapping.

Surveillance footage showing the kidnapping.

We all know you’re not supposed to return to the scene of the crime, but another good way to get caught is to spend as much time as you can in front of surveillance cameras while committing an unlawful act. Heck, four students accused of kidnapping a Ronald McDonald statue from an Illinois restaurant stuck around long enough afterward to finish going through the drive-thru and pick up some eats.

Four students from a nearby university were arrested for felony theft after the statue went missing in October, reports The Daily Journal.

“The Hamburglar was not a suspect, as much as everyone thought he was,” said a local police detective who investigated the case.

Obviously sir, as it was an inedible statue that was stolen, and not a hamburger.

In any case, police say the foursome arrived in a car and drove up to the drive-thru to order some food. Three of the suspects allegedly hopped out and ripped Ronald from his spot, hiding him in a bush.

Then they picked up their order of eight cheeseburgers and one ice cream cone and paid for it at the window. Police say three of the guys went back later to pick up the statue, which was recovered in a dorm room after a patrolman identified the suspect’s car on campus.

“People might think they were stealing from a big corporation, but the bottom line it comes out of the franchise owner,” the detective noted. “This is a business owner in our community, and it’s still felony theft.”

4 ONU students arrested for stealing Ronald McDonald [The Daily Journal]

Walmart Employees Once Again Planning Black Friday Protests For Higher Pay

Fri, 2014-11-14 19:48



Despite a Walmart executive’s generalized promise to eventually raise the wages for the company’s lowest paid employees, a group of workers have announced plans to protest the mega-retailer on Black Friday for the third year.

Reuters reports that labor group OUR Walmart (Organization United for Respect at Walmart) plans to protest 1,600 stores across the nation the day after Thanksgiving.

“Over the last year, Walmart workers have pressured Walmart to change its pregnancy policy, provide access to more hours and most recently to pledge to phase out its minimum wage jobs,” the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which has helped OUR Walmart in the past, said on its website.

Reuters reports the upcoming protest announcement comes a day after 23 people were arrested at a protest outside a Los Angeles-area Walmart.

The people, who were protesting the company’s alleged retaliation against workers who pushed for better working conditions, were arrested for blocking an intersection and were cited for failure to disperse.

A spokesperson for the company tells Reuters that Walmart does not retaliate against workers who strike or protest.

“The reality is that few Walmart associates participate in these labor-organized protests,” the spokesperson says.

Back in October, Walmart CEO Douglas McMillon made a vague pledge that the company would eventually raise the wages for the lowest paid workers.

He did not provide details on how Walmart would actually raise the wages of those lowest-paid employees.

At the same time, McMillon said that only about 6,000 of Walmart’s 1.3 million U.S. employees earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25, claiming that the average full-time hourly wage is $12.92.

However, it was unknown if those figures included employees in cities and states with minimum wages that are higher than the federal minimum.

Walmart workers plan Black Friday protests over wages [Reuters]

Uber Can’t Transport People For Profit In Germany, Brings Fruit Instead

Fri, 2014-11-14 19:32

( Twitter/ ‏@der_azubi )

( Twitter/ ‏@der_azubi )

In recent months, we’ve shared with you the legal war between ride-sharing service Uber and taxi regulators in Germany. Like people all over the world, consumers love the inexpensive UberPop service that lets people hire amateur taxi drivers in their personal vehicles. Now that fares have been lowered to barely cover drivers’ expenses, Uber has assigned some of its drivers a different task: fruit delivery.

No, this isn’t quite like UberKITTEN, the recent promotion where the company would, in certain cities, bring you a kitty to play with in exchange for a $30 donation to local shelters. Uber in Berlin promised its regular customers that they could get free boxes of fruit from delivery service HalloFresh and Uber brand swag by logging in this afternoon. (That’s 6 hours ago: sorry, Consumerist readers in Germany.) The Wall Street Journal’s reporters in Berlin weren’t able to get free fruit, but some people did.

Nadine hat ihre #Obstbox #HelloFreshUber #happyfriday

— Uber Berlin (@Uber_Berlin) November 14, 2014

Danke @Uber_Berlin & @HelloFreshDE <3 #hellofreshuber #HappyFriday

— Christoph (@HerrBeat) November 14, 2014

Danke Uber und HelloFresh – mein Vitaminvorrat ist wieder aufgefüllt #hellofreshuber

— Falko (@der_azubi) November 14, 2014

Unsere Leckereien vibrieren nur! WIR WOLLEN FRISCHES OBST! #HELLOFRESHUBER @HelloFreshDE @Uber

— Amorelie (@AmorelieDE) November 14, 2014

Just got tasty fresh Fruit as a gift. Thank you #uber. #hellofreshuber

— dieter (@DieterDasbeste) November 14, 2014

#Woop! Erster Kunde! Er hat die #surprise #box bekommen! #lucky #hellofreshuber #uberondemand

— Uber Berlin (@Uber_Berlin) November 14, 2014

Fruit delivery recipients have been asked to post photos to Twitter with a hashtag…not just for fun, but so they can win a $50 Uber credit. The apron doesn’t seem on-brand to us, but the recipients seem happy to get free fruit boxes.

This doesn’t really solve Uber’s legal problems in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, but at least it gives some drivers something to do…and, more importantly, encourages customers to keep the app on their phones for now and to open it up.

Uber Gets Juicy in Berlin [Wall Street Journal]

Porn Stars Do A Better Job Of Explaining Net Neutrality Than Lobbyists

Fri, 2014-11-14 19:26

pornneutralityYesterday, we told you about the laughable efforts of one prominent lobbying group to mislead consumers about net neutrality, claiming that it will hurt all those “high school bloggers” who will inexplicably have to pay for Netflix’s bandwidth use (which they won’t, because this is nonsense). For a more accurate representation on what a non-neutral Internet means for consumers, you’d honestly be better served by listening to a trio of porn stars.

In a moderately NSFW (depending on your place of work) clip over at Funny or Die, the three adult actresses — Alex Chance, Mercedes Carrera, and Nadia Styles — explain what it would mean if the FCC passes compromised neutrality rules.

“Without net neutrality, Internet service providers could create special fast lanes for content providers willing to pay more,” says Carrera.

Adds Chance, “That means slow streaming, slow social networking, and yes, slow porn.”

Ms. Styles slam neutrality critic, Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas, saying he “doesn’t want me to get naked for you.”

She also points out that the anti-neutrality drive is being led by wealthy older men and says that doesn’t make any sense since, “Old rich guys watch the weirdest porn.”

Ms. Chance compares the current, neutral state of the Internet to “a giant sex party where everyone gets to have sex with anyone they want,” but Ms. Carrera contends that, “Without net neutrality, that sex party is only for rich people.”

The video then devolves into a three-way love-fest, or at least it would if your broadband connection wasn’t being throttled by Comcast, which wants you to spend money renting pay-per-view porn.

Pennsylvania Sues Think Finance, Alleging Illegal Payday Loan Scheme

Fri, 2014-11-14 18:57



Pennsylvania is one of several states with laws prohibiting payday lending, but the often predatory products still find their way to consumers via online marketplaces and companies’ claiming affiliation with American Indian tribes. In an effort to crack down on such nefarious lenders, the state’s attorney general filed a consumer protection lawsuit against a Texas-based company for allegedly engineering a payday loan scheme over the internet.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced yesterday that her office filed the suit against Think Finance Inc, a company behind a number of payday loan-like lenders including RISE Credit, for violating a number of the state’s laws by targeting Pennsylvania consumers for costly payday loans.

The lawsuit claims that Think Finance used three Native American tribes to target the state’s consumers with the lending products. The tribes, which allegedly functioned as a cover, made it possible for Think Finance to earn revenue through various services it charges to the tribes.

According to the complaint, this isn’t the first time Think Finance has engaged in shady actions to skirt that state’s payday lending laws. Previously, the company was found to be engaged in a “rent-a-bank” scheme, in which it used a Philadelphia bank as cover to provide the small-dollar, high-interest loans to consumer. That operation was shut down by the federal government.

The AG’s suit also named the company behind MoneyMutual – Selling Source LLC – as a defendant in the case for its part as an active member in Think Finance’s scheme.

The internet marketer allegedly used the MoneyMutual website and television commercials, which feature Montel Williams, to generate online leads for Think Finance products in order to receive commissions.

According to the suit, Selling Source continued to make referrals of Pennsylvania residents to Think Finance even after the company was ordered to stop the referrals as part of a 2011 agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Banking.

Also named as defendants in the suit were a number of debt collectors including Washington-based law firm of Weinstein, Pinson and Riley PS, Cerastes LLC and National Credit Adjusters LLC, which were allegedly utilized to collect debts derived from illegal loans.

In all, the defendants are accused of violating several Pennsylvania laws including the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, the Corrupt Organizations Act and the Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act.

The lawsuit seeks to provide restitution for all consumers harmed by the scheme. Civil penalties levied against the companies would include up to $1,000 for each violation of Pennsylvania law and up to $3,000 for each violation involving a senior citizen.

Attorney General Kane files lawsuit over alleged illegal payday loan scheme [Pennsylvania AG]