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The Consumerist

Lawsuit Alleges Chipotle Required Workers To Perform Duties Without Pay

Thu, 2014-10-16 20:30

(Kerry Lannert)

(Kerry Lannert)

The door may be locked and the lights may have dimmed, but there’s still plenty of work to be done after closing for many restaurant employees. While working after hours isn’t uncommon, those who perform those duties probably expect to continue being paid. But a former employee claims that wasn’t happening at Chipotle, and now he’s suing the fast-casual restaurant.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports the former employee filed a federal lawsuit last week accusing Chipotle of not paying workers for duties performed after clocking out.

The 29-year-old former employee claims that Chipotle would conduct training, meetings and other activities in which employees are “required to attend, but for which they are not allowed to punch in.”

Additionally, the suit, which seeks class action status, alleges that the company encouraged managers “to require that work be performed off the clock” after 12:30 a.m. and that systems were put in place for “reward and punishment” of supervisors who either stayed within or exceeded their payroll budgets.

After beginning work at the Chipotle in 2011, the employee says he was required to punch out at the end of his shift but continue to clean the restaurant and attend night meetings.

When the employee complained about the issue, he says managers scheduled him for fewer hours and said he was not being a “team player.”

The suit alleges the employee accumulated between 10 to 15 hours a week of off-the-clock work. The plaintiff seeks unpaid wages, unspecified damages and legal fees.

Officials with Chipotle tell the Star Tribune that they do not comment on pending litigation. So far, no response has been filed by the company.

According to the Star Tribune, the suit marks the second federal case making allegations of wage theft against Minnesota Chipotle restaurants. The first suit was filed on behalf of four employees and remains active.

Minnesota suit: Chipotle makes workers stay late ‘off the clock’ without pay [Minneapolis Star Tribune]

New iPads Go On Sale Tomorrow; Shipping Next Week

Thu, 2014-10-16 20:09

ipadair2As predicted — and leaked by Apple — the company’s big announcement today was for the next generation of its iPad tablets.

“We’ve got a few more things to share with you before we close out the year,” declared Apple CEO Tim Cook at the opening of today’s press event.

After about 45 minutes of showing off things that most people don’t care about, he finally got to the reason everyone showed up.

Calling the iPad a “simple and magical device,” that has sold some 225 million units over the last four years, Cook unveiled the iPad Air 2.

Claiming it’s the world’s thinnest tablet, the Air 2 will be 6.1mm, that’s 18% thinner than iPad Air. In fact, you can stack up two Air 2 tablets on top of each other and still not be as thick as the original iPad.

The new display includes an anti-reflective coating that reduces reflection by 56%, so you won’t be as bothered with occasionally staring at your reflected face in the screen during a dark scene of some Netflix movie you’re watching.

The Air 2’s A8X chip, an iPad-specific chip based on the A8 that debuted in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, improves CPU performance by 40% and provides graphics processing that is more than twice as fast as the iPad Air.

The Air 2 boasts 10-hour battery life for those who can’t plug in. And the Touch ID fingerprint lock is now included in the iPad Air 2.

The improved 8MP rear-facing camera shoots 1080p HD video and for the first time offers burst-mode shooting, time-lapse and slo-motion (120fps at 720p). The Air 2 also includes dual microphones for better audio performance

Many of these features will also be included in the iPad Mini 3, which is launching at the same time.

So when are these going on sale?

Both the Air 2 and the Mini 3 will be available in three colors — silver, space gray and gold.

The Air 2 will start at $499 for 16GB, $599 for 64GB, and $699 for 128GB. LTE-ready models will add $120 to each of those prices (so, $629, $729, and $829).

The iPad mini 3 will begin at $399 for 16GB, $499 for 64GB, and $599 for 128GB. Again, add $120 to each price level for LTE-compatible mini 3 tablets.

In spite of reports that demand for the iPhone 6 was delaying iPad production, Apple will begin taking pre-orders for new tablets tomorrow, Oct. 17, and plans on shipping them to customers next week.

Apple is also dropping prices on older models of the iPad:
ipadrange

Family Getting Texts From Dead Grandma Is Ticked Phone Company Sold Her Number

Thu, 2014-10-16 20:07

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

Sure, the urge to talk to your loved ones after they’ve passed away is natural. But when one family start ed getting replies to texts sent to the mother and grandmother who died three years ago at age 58, they weren’t so happy to be hearing from beyond the grave.

The family had buried her with her mobile phone because she’d loved texting her family with nice messages, reports the Daily Mirror. Her son said he called up the phone company, O2, and asked that her number be canceled end never used again. He says the company agreed, and the family continued to text her when they felt like being close to her again.

But then her granddaughter got a reply: “I’m watching over you, and it’s all going to get better. Just push through.”

Shocked, as one would be, to hear from her dead grandmother, she worried that the worst had happened.

“Then I started getting horrible visions that someone might have dug up her grave and taken her phone, my mind was full of all sorts of really unpleasant possibilities,” she said.

As it turns out, O2 had given the number to a new customer, who’d been using it for a few weeks. He thought his friends were joking with him at first, so he replied, until he realized maybe that wasn’t the nicest thing to do, either.

The family says they called him up and he was apologetic about the situation, but now things can never be the same.

“We are a big family of texters, if we ever fell out or had something to say, we’d always just send a message, that’s why we buried her with her phone,” her son explained. “So to think someone else now has our mam’s number is just awful, we can’t believe 02 has done this.”

In the meantime, they’re trying to get the number deleted for good, but O2 says it sold it off to another phone company, complicating things.

A spokeswoman from 02 said: “We’ve been in touch with [the other company] and they have left their customer messages on e-mail. At the moment it’s a waiting game until he gets back in touch. Meanwhile we have spoken to [the woman's son]. He understands what’s happening and is appreciative that we’re trying to get the number back.”

Family who sent texts to mobile buried with late gran get replies ‘from beyond grave’ [Daily Mirror]

Dollar Tree Racked Up $866K In Fines Over Last 12 Months For Workplace-Safety Violations

Thu, 2014-10-16 19:04
(pjpink)

(pjpink)

Discount retailer Dollar Tree has earned itself the not so great distinction of raking in perhaps more workplace-safety violations in one year than any other business has managed to accumulate: In the last 12 months, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued 48 violations to Dollar Tree, charging it $866,000 in fines.

Was there an epic case of exploding boxes of soda or something? The answer is probably a lot simpler and more dangerous in an everyday way, say regulators, saying that problems like precariously balanced boxes, tanks of gas placed willy nilly and blocked electrical outlets are to blame for the rash of violations, reports the Wall Street Journal.

One store in Texas just received $262,500 in fines on Wednesday, OSHA said, it’s fourth fine of more than $100,000 since May.

This run of violations and fines could be the highest ever doled out to a retail chain, says OSHA head David Michaels.

“We see a problem in stores across the country,” he said. “Each of these stores has some serious hazards.”

In comparison — though Dollar General and Family Dollar are both larger chains, each only run up fines of less than $50,000 over the same period.

Dollar Tree says in response to the news that it’s “committed to maintaining a safe workplace environment for each of our associates. We are currently in the process of contesting recent OSHA citations.”

The pressure to move as much cheap merchandise as possible and make a profit often leads to stores cutting down on staff, with sometimes only two employees working in a store at once. That’s a lot of ground to cover, especially when stores are between 7,000 and 10,000 square feet.

So what happens when a worker is unloading one of the thousands of boxes delivered to the stores each week when a customer needs help? She might leave that pile to assist, abandoning boxes in the aisle that could block emergency exits, trip customers with clutter or otherwise prove unsafe.

At one store, OSHA found boxes blocking an exit route, with containers piled precariously in stacks reaching 12 to 15 feet. That store also had unsecured helium cylinders that could’ve fallen on employees or customers and electrical panels blocked with merchandise, which could’ve caused burn and electrical shock injuries, OSHA said.

OSHA inspections were prompted mostly by complaints from employees and managers, bringing in inspectors almost 80 times in the past five years.

Employees injured at Dollar Tree stores recall cartons stacked carelessly with empty boxes lying around, ready to cause even more damage. Others said managers were blasé about the whole workplace safety thing.

“Things are tumbling on you because the space in the storage room is so small,” said one 57-year old former Dollar Tree worker who quite after a box of cans fell on her head. “We were always complaining to the manager, but she doesn’t do anything.”

Dollar Tree Racks Up Safety Violations [Wall Street Journal]

Fake Travel Agent Allegedly Scammed Customers Out Of $130,000

Thu, 2014-10-16 18:53

(Daniel Hedrick)

(Daniel Hedrick)

People instinctively trust others more if we have something in common with them, and that instinct led some people of Fijian origin who live near Modesto, California to a scammer. A man who was originally from Fiji set himself up as a travel agent and accepted money to book flights, then gave customers phony paperwork without making reservations, or canceling return tickets while travelers were out of the country.

It’s unlikely that the phony travel agent’s victims will get any of their money back, though. He’s accused of scamming about 50 travelers out of $130,000, but local police knew that he would be in a certain place at a certain time, and took advantage of that to arrest him. Where was that? Federal bankruptcy court, for his scheduled bankruptcy hearing.

One traveler says that he spent $5,000 on tickets for a trip to Fiji, later learning that the tickets weren’t even real. Other customers received authentic-looking flight itineraries, but the flight numbers they received weren’t even real. According to local police, fake or canceled plane tickets stranded five customers overseas, since they thought they had flight reservations.

There were some warning signs: the travel agency had poor online reviews, and an F rating with the Better Business Bureau.

Travelers Allegedly Swindled By Phony Modesto Travel Agent May Never See Their Money Returned [CBS Sacramento]

FedEx Delivery Mistake Leads To Huge Drug Bust

Thu, 2014-10-16 18:16

(David Transier)

(David Transier)

If my neighbor accidentally gets my FedEx or UPS package, the worst that could happen is they find out about my pedestrian reading tastes or that I might order too many video games. Then again, no one is shipping me parcels full of illegal drugs.

Of course, neither was the Houston-area resident who notified police after FedEx mis-delivered a package containing cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin that was intended for a nearby address.

Police tracked down the rightful recipients of the parcel and found a trio of adults with around $100,000 worth of drugs (including marijuana, prescription painkillers, cocaine, morphine, LSD, hash, steroids, black tar heroin, codeine, and drugs normally prescribed to cancer patients), a variety of weapons and thousands of dollars in cash.

Oh, and a 5-year-old who slept in the room next to where its mom smoked meth, reports the Houston Chronicle.

While FedEx dumb-lucked into aiding law enforcement in this case, the company is currently in hot water with the federal government for its alleged involvement with illegal drug shipments.

In July, a federal grand jury indicted FedEx on multiple charges, including Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substances, Distribution of Controlled Substances, Conspiracy to Distribute Misbranded Drugs and Misbranding Drugs, because it allegedly turned a blind eye to shipments from operators of illegal pharmacies.

The shipping company denies any wrongdoing.

Cop Guesses Woman’s iPad Password, Uses Find My iPhone App To Locate Woman Missing After Car Crash

Thu, 2014-10-16 17:58

(kenfagerdotcom)

(kenfagerdotcom)

In possibly one of the only instances where you might be lucky to have chosen an easily guessed password, a woman stuck for 13 hours after her car flipped over was finally located after a police officer was able to get into her iPad and activate the woman’s Find My iPhone app.

A 28-year-old woman near San Jose spent hours facedown in a ravine after her car fell hundreds of feet down an embankment, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

And while her vehicle’s OnStar system alerted police that she’d been involved in a rollover accident in an are a few miles from her home, cops couldn’t find her car after two hours of searching.

The location the OnStar system had marked wasn’t right, officers realized, after having the system make the car honk repeatedly, to no avail.

From there, police contacted the woman’s cell phone company to get a pin on her location within a 7-mile radius of downtown San Jose, which still didn’t help them find her.

It wasn’t until the woman’s stepmother filed a missing person’s report, saying they lived together and she hadn’t heard from her. A police officer who met with the stepmother asked if the woman had the Find My iPhone app, which she did, on her iPad.

But once the iPad was located, there was still the matter of gaining access to it.

“So I made an educated guess, based on a series of common numbers people use for passwords,” the police officer explained. He’s a SWAT team member and accident reconstruction specialist but also says he’s known around the department as “kind of a tech geek.”

He guessed right, after only three to four tries, officials said, and was able to use the same passcode to unlock the app. Once he activated it, a map of the location where the missing woman’s phone was popped up.

Rescuers found her injured but conscious, face down in a ravine about 500 yards off an embankment. The car was on its roof, and the victim was outside. She only had 12% battery left on her phone by the time she was found.

“You think about it. If we didn’t have that specific location I would hate to think what the outcome would be without him logging into that account,” a captain with the police department said.

She was airlifted to a nearby medical center with major injuries, but is expected to survive.

Find My iPhone app helps save woman in South Bay ravine [San Francisco Chronicle]

Chrysler Recalls 747,000 Jeep And Dodge Vehicles For Electrical, Alternator Issues

Thu, 2014-10-16 17:58

(Consumerist Dot Com)

(Consumerist Dot Com)

By some standards the Chrysler Group’s recall of nearly 764,000 vehicles in the last three weeks is just a drop in the bucket. That changed today when the group issued two notices calling back an additional 747,000 vehicles for electrical and alternator issues.

According to a notice [PDF] from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the first recall concerns 434,581 model year 2011 to 2014 Chrysler 300, Charger, Challenger, Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles with an alternator issue.

Chrysler reports that the alternator in the vehicles may suddenly fail, which could lead to an engine stall.

Depending on the failure mode and timing, the system voltage may drop to critical levels disabling systems such as antilock brakes and electronic stability control, documents [PDF] provided to NHTSA state.

Officials with Chrysler tell NHTSA that as of August 25, the company is aware of one accident that may be related to the issue.

Although a remedy has not been announced, Chrysler will begin notifying owners of affected vehicles in November.

Chrysler’s second recall of the day concerns 313,236 model year 2011 to 2013 Jeep Wrangler SUVs that may have an electrical short.

According to the NHTSA notice [PDF], corrosion in the exterior heated power mirror electrical connector may result in an electrical short that increases the risk of a fire.

Officials with Chrysler say the issue may be the result of water dripping on the door trim panel, traveling along the mirror wiring harness and into the electoral connector.

So far, Chrysler says there have been no accidents or injuries related to the issue.

Owners of affected vehicles will be notified of the issue in December and dealers have been instructed to move the mirror power feed to a separate connector away from the path of water.

In the past three weeks, Chrysler has recalled 764,000 vehicles, including many Durango and Jeep models, for fuel pump delays, inadvertent ignition switch movement and airbag deployment issues.

Another City Wants To Stop Comcast From Taking Over Cable Service

Thu, 2014-10-16 17:30

(Renee Rendler-Kaplan)

(Renee Rendler-Kaplan)

Weeks after city leaders in Lexington, KY, made it clear that they are not pleased about the promise of being passed around like a hot potato from Time Warner Cable to Comcast to Charter, the City Council of Worcester, MA, is also laying out the unwelcome mat for Comcast.

Worcester, which is currently being served by Charter, would become a Comcast city if the cable company’s merger with Time Warner Cable goes through. The merged mega-company would swap several markets with Charter in order to gain a more continuous footprint in the D.C.-Boston corridor.

But the Worcester City Council voted 8-3 earlier this week to ask City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. to not agree to the transfer of Worcester’s cable franchise agreement from Charter to Comcast.

The Council cited residents’ concerns about Comcast’s “substandard customer service practices.”

Augustus was scheduled to make a decision yesterday, but Comcast agreed to a two-week extension, giving the City Manager, who is not obliged to follow the Council’s suggestion, some time to mull over his decision.

“I have heard loud and clear from Worcester residents and the city council their concerns,” said Augustus in a statement. “I have been engaged in fruitful conversations with Comcast regarding these issues, including the vital matters of jobs and consumer protection.”

If Augustus does say no to the franchise transfer, it may just be a speed bump for Comcast, which could appeal to the state’s Cable Television Commission.

The city’s acting chief development officer tells the Telegram & Gazette that bad customer service is not among the four criteria that the City Manager is supposed to use when determining whether to sign off on a license transfer.

Those criteria are the company’s management, technical and legal experience, and its financial capabilities.

Though the Council vote does not compel the Manager to oppose the transfer, and there is little that the Manager can do to ultimately stop Comcast from taking over the license, some Council members say this is about making regulators in D.C. know what’s going on outside of the Beltway.

“This is not a paper vote; this is not an empty vote,” said Councilor-at-Large Konstantina B. Lukes, chair of the council’s Public Service and Transportation Committee. “This is a very clear vote that we are not going to tolerate the kind of responses we got from Charter and Comcast.”

Council member Gary Rosen was more blunt in his assessment of Comcast.

“It’s a terrible company,” he explained. “In my opinion, they should not be welcome in this city. Comcast is a wolf in wolf’s clothing; it’s that bad. They are awful, no doubt about it. Maybe we can’t stop it, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out.”

[via Ars Technica]

Disabled-Access Lawsuits Against Small Businesses Increasing

Thu, 2014-10-16 17:20

(Kim)

(Kim)

Everyone who likes to eat hot dogs should have the right to enter a restaurant and order some hot dogs. Recently, though, a 60-year-old luncheonette in Miami was sued when a man who walks with a cane sued, claiming 30 separate accessibility violations. Was the man even a customer of the hot dog stand? Turns out that doesn’t really matter.

Usually, restaurants, stores, and other businesses open to the public choose to settle lawsuits like this, making the needed changes instead of fighting the allegations. Even though he chose to settle, the owner of the hot dog stand in Miami ended up paying $10,000 to make needed renovations to his restaurant, and $14,000 in legal fees to settle the case.

Last year, a federal appellate court decision opened the button-controlled automatically opening door to lawsuits from people who aren’t necessarily customers of an establishment, but who claim to be “testers” checking businesses for accessibility. Since that decision, there has been a significant increase in the number of “testers” out there testing entrances and bathrooms and filing lawsuits.

Disability Lawsuits Against Small Businesses Soar [Wall Street Journal]

CFPB: Private Student Loan Companies Provide Few Options For Borrower, Driving Them To Default

Thu, 2014-10-16 17:10

(thisisbossi)

(thisisbossi)

By now we all know that for many consumers taking out private student loans is the only option when it comes to financing their higher education. We also know that many of those same borrowers will ultimately end up defaulting on their debt. A new report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests that it’s not borrowers’ lack of willingness to repay that lands them further in debt, but a lack of resources provided by lenders that drives consumers to default.

The new report [PDF], which analyzed 5,300 private student loan complaints over the past year, reiterated previous assumptions that private student lenders are not doing enough to help struggling consumers repay their loan obligations and avoid default.

The report highlights borrowers’ helpless in the face of evasive practices perpetrated by many private student loan lenders.

A vast majority of complaints received by the CFPB relating to private student loans involve issues with repayment and servicing of loans.

A vast majority of complaints received by the CFPB relating to private student loans involve issues with repayment and servicing of loans.

Many borrowers reported proactively contacting lenders seeking to modify repayment terms to obtain a payment they can actually afford only to be met with rejection and refusals to provide assistance.

However, some borrowers reported that when they did receive information about repayment options they were often given the runaround by customer service representatives who provided conflicting or inaccurate information.

“I have a private consolidation loan through [specialty student loan company]. . . I called . . . to see what options I had regarding delaying the payment on the loan. The customer service agent . . . told me I could put the loan into a forbearance for 3 months,” one borrower reported to the CFPB. “She gave me a confirmation number . . . and told me that I would not have a payment due until [date]. Around [date], I received an email from [specialty student loan company] saying my private loan was past due, even though I thought it was in forbearance. I called [specialty student loan company] on 4 separate occasions over the following days. Today, I finally got through to collections, and they told me that I am not eligible for a forbearance, and that “their employee made a mistake.” I told them repeatedly that I had a confirmation number and that the payment I made for the forbearance was deducted from my checking count. I told the representative that I did nothing in error, and I thought they should honor the forbearance.”

Officials with the CFPB found that this issue was a result of a lack of transparency and communication between lenders and companies hired to collect payments.

When consumers were successful in receiving payment relief options, they quickly found those measures only worked to delay their inevitable loan default.

Although private student loans do not come with the same repayment plans afforded to federal student loans, many lenders may offer borrowers’ temporary forbearance.

The short-term fix, which provides a brief period of time when no payment is due, often does little to actually provide relief to borrowers. In fact, many consumers reported encountering burdensome enrollment fees and processing delays that sometimes led to surprise defaults.

“I was told that I was eligible for a forbearance, however . . . [specialty student loan company] continues to tell me it is “processing” the forbearance,” one complainant tells the CFPB. “I have called in numerous times and even escalated the situation to speaking with a manager last when I was told the matter would be taken care of within 3 to 5 business days which have again passed and my account still shows as past due.”

Officials with the CFPB say these shortcomings reflect an industry that has done little to make good on commitments by lenders to expand alternative repayment options.

“The response by the private student loan industry to distressed borrowers is failing to help them avoid default,” Rohit Chopra, CFPB student loan ombudsman says in the report. “Too many borrowers are barely treading water, losing hope that these companies will throw them a lifeline.”

Because there are few alternatives for private borrowers, many reported that the lack of assistance from lenders resulted in the consumer being driven to default.

In some cases when a borrower defaults, the entire balance of their loan becomes due in full. In that situation, many consumers are unable to pay and their credit profile is affected, making it difficult to pass background checks, obtain housing or access other forms of credit.

While the private student loan complaints received in the past year reflect a 38% increase from the previous year, officials with the CFPB believe the complaint process will ultimately led to significant changes within the lending industry.

In fact, the CFPB report recommends several possible ways in which private student loan borrowers could receive relief.

One recommendation suggests that Congress take action to fix the bankruptcy code to enable distressed borrowers to discharge their student debts.

Back in 2005, a change to bankruptcy laws made it difficult for borrowers to discharge private student loans. It’s those changes that officials with the CFPB suggest may lead lenders to forego working with borrowers on repayments.

Rather than allow all consumers to discharge private student loans during bankruptcy, the CPFB suggests creating limitations that may ultimately lead lenders to provide more flexible payment options.

To achieve that, Chopra suggests that borrowers be allowed to discharge private student loans only in cases where lenders didn’t offer consumers flexible repayment options.

While such significant changes aren’t likely to happen overnight, the CFPB does provide several resources for borrowers struggling to work with their lenders.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Report Finds Distressed Private Student Loan Borrowers Driven Into Default [CFPB]

NY Attorney General: 72% Of Airbnb Rentals Violate State, City Laws

Thu, 2014-10-16 17:03

(Vivienne Gucwa)

(Vivienne Gucwa)

New York state’s crackdown on the burgeoning short-term home rental industry continues this morning, with a new report from the state’s Attorney General claiming that nearly 3-in-4 of the short-term New York rentals listed over the last few years were in violation of state and/or city law.

The report [PDF] from NY AG Eric Schneiderman is based on data obtained as a result of the May 2014 agreement in which Airbnb agreed to turn over anonymized user information to state investigators.

Of the 35,354 private, short-term listings included in this data, Schneiderman’s office believes that 25,532 violated either New York State’s Multiple Dwelling Law, which prohibits rentals of fewer than 30 days in most apartment buildings, and/or New York City’s Administrative Code, which prohibits the use of non-residential buildings for housing.

These 25,532 properties accounted for nearly 301,000 bookings on Airbnb and brought in $304 million in revenue, from which Schneiderman claims that Airbnb earned almost $40 million.

The report also calculates that New York City is owed nearly $33.5 million by Airbnb landlords who did not collect or remit the city’s hotel room occupancy tax of 5.875%. In the past, Airbnb has stated that it reminds property owners of their obligations under local laws, but maintains that it is not the site’s responsibility to actually collect this occupancy tax.

While so-called “commercial” Airbnb landlords — those who list at least three properties on the service — only make up around 6% of the total number of Airbnb hosts, they account for a disproportionate share of rental revenue.

According to Schneiderman, those 6% of hosts brought in 37% of all revenue ($168.3 million) during the years in question. And the more than 100 commercial hosts with at least 10 properties earned a total of $59.4 million, claims the report.

The most entrepreneurial operation had 272 unique Airbnb listings and earned $6.84 million in revenue.

The AG’s office also contends that the short-term rental business is making it more difficult to find long-term housing options for New Yorkers.

According to the report, more than 4,600 rental units were booked for at least three months of the year, and nearly 2,000 of these were booked for at leasts six months. Since these properties are booked as short-term rentals, Schneiderman argues that they can’t very well be rented out to someone looking for a more permanent home.

“This report raises serious concerns about the proliferation of illegal hotels and the impact of Airbnb and sites like it on the City of New York,” said Schneiderman in a statement. “We must ensure that, as online marketplaces revolutionize the way we live, laws designed to promote safety and quality-of-life are not forsaken under the pretext of innovation.”

We reached out to Airbnb for a comment on the AG’s report, and the company sent the following statement in response:

We’re proud that Airbnb has helped countless families pay their bills and stay in their homes.

Now, we need to move forward. We should not deny thousands of New Yorkers the chance to share their homes, pay their bills and stay in the city they love. We need to work together on some sensible rules that stop bad actors and protect regular people who simply want to share the home in which they live. We look forward to working with everyone in New York in the weeks ahead.

The report’s conclusions rely on incomplete and outdated information. For example, the findings do not account for the more than 2,000 listings we have already removed from our community in New York.

Additionally, every single home, apartment, co-op and living space in New York is subject to a myriad of rules, so it’s impossible to make this kind of blanket statement. That kind of uncertainty and lack of clarity is exactly why we’re advocating for clear, fair rules for home sharing.

Facebook Adds New Safety Check Feature To Let Loved Ones Know You’re Okay After A Disaster

Thu, 2014-10-16 16:52

SafetyCheck2I’ll never forget the one time I’ve felt an earthquake in New York City. Not because it was anything scary — it was only a brief, jarring moment in an elevator — but because it seemed like every person I knew outside of the area was reaching out whether through text, phone call, email or social media to make sure I was okay (I was totally fine, but it was nice anyway). Facebook has a new feature called Safety Check that it says will make that whole process a lot easier.

Here’s how Safety Check will work, according to a new company blog post: Facebook will send you a notification to see if you’re okay after a major disaster or emergency has been reported in your area, and you can notify it that you’re safe, which will generate a notification and News Feed story with that news.

If you’re with friends, they can also check you as “I’m safe” if you’re not near your phone. You can also peruse a list of friends who’ve checked in as safe during disasters, with only friends seeing your status and any comments shared.

Facebook uses either your last location if you’ve opted in to Nearby Friends, the city listed on your profile and the city where you’re using the internet to find out if you’re in the affected area and send you a notification. And if you’re outside that area, you can mark that you’re safe and not near wherever the action is.

It’s unclear whether there’s an option for “No, I’m not safe, I’m trapped under a large car” or something, because you wouldn’t want to assume someone’s in danger just because they’ve failed to check in.

FDA Going After Companies Offering Unapproved Ebola Medications

Thu, 2014-10-16 16:14

(fujoshi)

(fujoshi)

While the country is watching the news of every new Ebola case very closely, the federal government doesn’t want the worrying to get so out of hand that people start looking for medications to prevent or treat Ebola. Since there are currently none approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the government is already cracking down on a handful of companies promising to provide relief from Ebola.

When there’s fear to be mongered, there are people willing to take advantage of that, prompting the FDA to warn at least three companies in the last month for shilling treatments, solutions or therapies for Ebola, reports USA Today, because there are no FDA-approved drugs or vaccines currently available to treat or prevent the deadly virus.

All those companies have removed their claims from products or totally abandoned them, though one of the companies says it’s going to stand by its product.

“Right now we’re not seeing a lot of websites making these types of claims, but our concern is that if the risk level increases, that there will be more of a temptation to move into this area, so we are in the process now of monitoring the internet and looking for these types of claims,” said Rich Cleland of the Federal Trade Commission’s advertising practices division.

Some of the products the agencies have issued warnings to their companies about include essential oils from a company in Utah that “could help against Ebola” and oregano, which can be used for “athlete’s foot, candida, canker sores, Ebola virus,” according to the FDA.

FDA cracks down on Ebola scams [USA Today]

CBS Joins HBO, Launches Online-Only Subscription Service

Thu, 2014-10-16 16:01

(Adam Fagen)

(Adam Fagen)


On the heels of yesterday’s surprise announcement that HBO is creating an online-only, cable-free, streaming-access package in 2015, broadcast network CBS has announced that it, too, is joining the cord-cutting party.

As Re/Code reports, the service, CBS All Access, launches today and will run subscribers $6 per month. All Access works on web browsers or mobile devices, and has access to both live and on-demand programming.

However, there are several catches. NFL games (Sunday and Thursday night football) are not included. Nor are all recent programs available on demand; availability depends on the production company that made the show, and whether CBS’s contract with them includes streaming rights. And livestreams are, for now, only available in the cities where CBS directly owns and operates the affiliated station, which does not include several of the country’s largest media markets.

And paying CBS your $5.99 directly won’t spare you with ads: live-streaming content will have the same ads online that you would see on air, and on-demand programming of all currently-airing programs (so, a season 1 episode of a show that’s in season 7, say) will also play with ads.

As both Re/Code and the New York Times point out, this is a tricky needle for CBS to thread. Currently, they make oodles of money from the fees they get from traditional pay-TV (cable and satellite) companies. But to keep making oodles of money in the future, they need a way to reach up-and-coming generations of potential subscribers, too.

It’s impossible to hear CBS’s announcement without immediately thinking of Aereo, the on-demand streaming broadcast-TV service that more or less met its demise in the Supreme Court earlier this year, after being sued (repeatedly) by CBS and other broadcasters.

CBS was particularly hostile to Aereo, and threatened basically to take their ball and go home by leaving the airwaves and going cable-only if Aereo won their Supreme Court case.

As we all now know, however, Aereo lost that case earlier this year, and the broadcasters, including CBS, won.

But of course, CBS benefits directly from launching their own service in a way they would not from having their signals captured and streamed by Aereo: Nielsen can count and quantify All Access users, which allows the network to continue making money from ad sales.

The timing of CBS’s announcement, paired with HBO’s, brings a debate about the future of TV to the forefront. The future is clearly online, and has been for some time — but that future is suddenly accelerating.

Amazon, CBS, Hulu, Netflix, and HBO now all offer or soon will offer packages that offer not only access to streaming archive content, but also to their own original programming. Showtime is also considering an online package. Sony and Dish are working on over-the-top streaming services, and other major cable and satellite companies may soon join in.

The younger generations of so-called cord cutters now nearly have access to all of their preferred content online, but in a very fractured and fragmented landscape. Consumers skipping cable to avoid an extra $50 on their broadband bill are now faced with paying nearly that much to a half-dozen different services, and tasked with trying to figure out which content is available on which one.

A competitive landscape is good for consumers, but is also one ripe for future consolidation. Perhaps by the year 2025, DisViaNetHuAmazonFlix (a division of Comcast) will charge $50 per month for an all-you-can-stream online 100-channel bundle full of shows you never watch.

Walmart CEO Promises To Eventually Raise Wages For Lowest-Paid Workers

Thu, 2014-10-16 15:48

(Marike79)

(Marike79)

As proponents of higher pay for Walmart workers prepare for a day of protests against the retailer, its CEO is making the vague pledge that the company will eventually no longer have employees making only the national minimum wage.

CEO Douglas McMillon was quick to point out to reporters on Wednesday that only about 6,000 of Walmart’s 1.3 million U.S. employees earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 (We don’t know if that number included those employees in cities and states with minimum wages that are higher than the federal minimum). He also claims that the average full-time hourly wage is $12.92.

But McMillon, who says the company is making an effort to “invest in its associate base,” declared that “it is our intention over time that we will be in a situation where we don’t pay minimum wage at all.”

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

The other looming issue is the increasing pressure to significantly increase the federal minimum wage, which hasn’t been changed since 2009. If the minimum were to be pushed to $10, $12, or $15 per hour as some advocates have suggested, Walmart would then have to raise the pay of many employees to live up to this new pledge of not paying the minimum.

Meanwhile, protests are scheduled today in New York and Washington, D.C., by union-supported OUR Walmart, a group of Walmart workers pushing for better pay from the retailer.

The company recently announced that it will no longer be offering insurance to about 30,000 part-time employees who work fewer than 30 hours per week.

Apple Stores To Stop Selling Fitbit Trackers, New Product Photos Leaked

Wed, 2014-10-15 23:44

They're baaaaaack

They’re baaaaaack

If you’re one of the people who loved the Fitbit Force, but returned the fitness-tracking wristband when you suffered from contact dermatitis or when the product was recalled in the United States, good news. Photos have leaked of a product display for the Force’s rumored replacements, and they look very similar. However, we have bad news if you planned to buy that wristband at your local Apple Store.

Apple, as you may have heard, will begin selling its own wrist computer sometime in 2015, and the product will apparently have its own fitness-tracking functions. Fitbit hasn’t yet announced whether it plans to make its trackers and syncing apps compatible with Apple’s HealthKit app, one of the new and exciting features of the latest version of the company’s mobile operating system. Earlier today, Re/code reported that the Fitbit will no longer be sold in Apple’s retail stores.

Well, okay, but does this mean that other companies’ fitness trackers won’t be available in Apple Stores, either? Will products need to be HealthKit-compatible before they’re allowed to grace the shelves, or are cheaper wearables as a category out once the Apple Watch is available? How about fitness trackers for pets (which are a real thing)? The sources who gave this information about Apple’s plans to Re/code didn’t say.

It may not matter in the end to Fitbit, since their product works on multiple platforms. The trackers do need to sync to another device to work, or you might as well just buy a pedometer at the dollar store. However, that device doesn’t have to be a phone at all. You can sync one only to a computer instead, and they’re multi-platform and sold in stores with a lot more foot traffic than the typical Apple Store: think big boxes like Best Buy, Target, Walmart, or Kohl’s.

Here are the apparent new trackers, though, in a photo leaked to our ex-sibling site Gizmodo, which they have understandably watermarked the heck out of. The two new trackers are the Charge and Charge HR, which have a similar feature set except that the latter also constantly tracks your heart rate from your wrist. Both track steps, sleep, and altitude climbed, and have the caller ID feature that had long been promised to users of the Fitbit Force.

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Apple Plans to Stop Selling Fitbit Devices in Stores [RE/code]

Bayer Sued Over Allegedly Misleading Marketing Of One-A-Day Vitamins

Wed, 2014-10-15 22:53

According to the complaint, Bayer does not have sufficient science to back up many of its health claims on its One A Day Multivitamins.

According to the complaint, Bayer does not have sufficient science to back up many of its health claims on its One A Day Multivitamins.

The marketing for Bayer’s One A Day brand of multivitamins makes some very specific claims about what these products can do to improve a user’s health. But a new lawsuit brought against the over-the-counter drug giant argues that Bayer’s statements aren’t always backed up by the science necessary to make those claims.

The proposed class-action suit [PDF], filed in a federal court in California by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, contends that Germany-based Bayer AG and its U.S. subsidiaries Bayer Corporation and Bayer HealthCare, of false advertising, unjust enrichment and violation of California consumer protection laws.

The plaintiffs seek an injunction preventing Bayer from making what they allege are misleading statements in One-A-Day ads and on the product packaging, along with refunds for consumers who purchased these products based on the at-issue statements.

“Bayer commands a premium price for its One A Day multivitamins by distinguishing them from regular multivitamins with targeted multivitamins aimed at various segments of the population based on age, gender, and even health concerns,” reads the complaint, which cites phrases like “heart health,” “immunity,” and “physical energy” that Bayer uses to market various One A Day products.

The complaint alleges that Bayer “deceives consumers about One A Day Multivitamins” by “bombarding” them with “messages of purported health benefits, and even using scare tactics to convince consumers that they need Bayer’s multivitamins.”

According to the plaintiffs, Bayer is allegedly trying to hide the fact from consumers there is “very little difference” between the numerous One A Day varieties.

The One A Day website currently breaks down the products into four categories — “Products Specially For Women,” “Products Specially For Men,” “Products For Healthy Lifestyles,” and “VitaCraves Gummy Multivitamins.”

Then each of these has multiple varieties. For example, the page for female-targeted vitamins lists 10 different One A Day products that specifically target everyone from teens, to prenatal women, to the over-50 crowd, to “petite” women to menopausal women, to females with “active metabolism.”

Males have fewer options, with only five varieties listed.

Bayer’s “heart health” claims are based on the use of vitamins B6, B12, C, E, and folic acid in their products.This recent ad features regular guy talking about taking care of his “engine” with “One A Day Men’s, a complete multivitamin with nutrients to help support heart health.”

But the plaintiffs argue that scientific investigation, including research from the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association, has shown that supplementing your diet with these vitamins is not proven to prevent or reduce the risk of heart disease.

Thus, CSPI alleges that Bayer is illegally making a false claim of disease prevention.

The complaint also cites NIH and AHA research in attempting to debunk Bayer’s “support physical energy” claims based on the presence of many of the same vitamins in One A Day products.

Another example of supposedly questionable marketing cited by the complaint involves claims that various One A Day products “support immunity,” based on the presence of vitamins A, C, E, selenium, iron, beta-carotene, and zinc.

Again, CSPI points to what it believes is a lack of scientific evidence to back up this claim. In fact, the complaint contends that randomized clinical trials demonstrate that multivitamins do not affect the number, severity, or length of any illnesses.

“A multivitamin can be beneficial to those who are vitamin deficient, which few Americans are,” said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner in a statement. “None of Bayer’s multivitamins can unclog arteries, prevent heart attacks, or otherwise ameliorate heart disease. And to the extent these claims prompt people to take vitamin pills instead of doctor-prescribed heart medicines, Bayer may be harming people’s health as well as their wallets.”

Bayer has been down this road before, having previously settled in 2010 with multiple states’ attorneys general over claims that the use of selenium in One A Day products might protect against prostate cancer.

The company also paid millions in 2007 to close a federal investigation into bogus weight-loss claims about One A Day products.

That 7-year-old settlement came back to bite Bayer on the derriere in September, when the Justice Department asked that the company be held in contempt for violating that consent order because it was allegedly making unsubstantiated claims about Phillips’ Colon Health pills.

We’ve reached out to Bayer for comment, but have not yet heard back from anyone.

Whole Foods Introduces Produce Ranking System Based On Suppliers’ Farming Tactics

Wed, 2014-10-15 22:39

(Glyn Lowe Photoworks)

(Glyn Lowe Photoworks)

How do the fruits and vegetables you buy stack up against other produce? Are those flowers really the best you can get? Whole Foods is trying to answer some of those questions for customers with its new “responsibly grown” labeling system that ranks produce and plants at its stores, based on how suppliers farm those products.

The rankings will go from “Good” to “Better” to “Best,” for products that are pesticide-free only, and will take into account things like water and energy use involved in growing the produce, reports the Associated Press, with more information about what the rankings mean will be available online and in brochures in stores.

These are just standards developed by Whole Foods, and not approved by any official government agency. The new program is set to roll out to almost 400 Whole Foods locations in the U.S. and Canada starting today, with stores displaying signs with the rankings near the products’ prices.

Not all fruits, veggies and flowers will be under the system, however. A similar program already exists based on animal welfare conditions for meat and sustainability standards for seafood.

Whole Foods to roll out rankings for produce [Associated Press]

Portable Toilet Waste Tanker Drops Its Load Of Cleaning Fluid On California Highway After Collision

Wed, 2014-10-15 22:13

NBC Bay Area news reports that the morning rush-hour got off to a messy start when a tanker carrying portable toilet cleaner was involved with a collision, spilling the liquid on the roadway.

NBC Bay Area news reports that the morning rush-hour got off to a messy start when a tanker carrying portable toilet cleaner was involved with a collision, spilling the liquid on the roadway.

Things you might expect to see on your morning commute: cars, traffic jams, fender benders and 100 gallons of portable toilet cleaning fluid. That last one wasn’t a test, it actually happened Wednesday morning near San Jose.

NBC Bay Area reports that a big rig used to carry sewage from portable toilets tipped over on Interstate 280 just after 5 a.m., creating quite a mess.

Although the tanker didn’t contain any human waste at the time of the accident, it did leak about 100 gallons of deodorizer onto the roadway.

California Highway Patrol officials say the tip over of the rig happened after a BMW lost control and crashed into the tanker. The collision then created a chain reaction involving five other vehicles.

Officers say the incident resulted in only minor injuries.

While the Highway Patrol is unsure how the BMW’s spinout occurred, they believe light rain may have caused slick road conditions.

Port-a-Potty Tanker Messes Up Commute in San Jose [NBC Bay Area]

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