Avon doesn’t market its Skin So Soft bath oil as an insect repellent, and it’s not clear where the legend that it works as one started. Yet many people swear by it, including avid outdoorspeople like my late dad. It’s not clear where the legend started, but as far as our myth-repellent colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports can tell, Skin So Soft doesn’t actually repel insects.
Now, Avon does take advantage of the product’s legend and now markets a Skin So Soft brand combination insect repellent/sunscreen, but combo products are problematic because you need to reapply sunscreen more often than insect repellent, which means building up more of the latter on your skin than you probably need.
As part of their tests of insect repellents, Consumer Reports tested the original Skin So Soft bath oil, the product that so many people swear by to repel mosquitoes. They found that it…did not repel mosquitoes.
The deal with Skin So Soft [Consumer Reports]
While we’re still waiting for confirmation about the menu update from the company, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and other consumer groups are reporting that the Minneapolis-based subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway is joining an ever-growing list of fast-food restaurants no longer serving soda as an option with kids’ meals.
“Dairy Queen deserves credit for being responsive to the concerns of parents, who increasingly want to be able to order off the kids’ menu without having to say ‘no’ to soda,” Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at CSPI said in a statement.
According to Wootan, the decision to remove soda from the kids menu was approved unanimously by DQ’s Franchise Advisory Council.
The removal of all soda (or pop, Coke, cola, fizzy brown stuff) from the DQ kids’ menu is expected to take place by September 1. The company’s current kids’ menu offers milk, soft drinks and the ice drink Arctic Rush as options to complete meals.
The Food Justice campaign from Momsrising.org, a grassroots organization, was quick to applaud DQ’s move, saying the company is now doing its part to keep America’s kids healthy.
“Ensuring that our children can make healthy choices is an important part of raising them,” Monifa Bandele, senior campaign director with the group, says in a statement [PDF]. “When restaurants offer up sugary drinks as a default choice, it undermines those efforts.”
Consumerist’s request for confirmation and comment to Dairy Queen was not immediately returned.
Citing an ongoing investigation, Sally Beauty Holdings Inc. didn’t go into details about the scope of the breach, the company said in a press release Thursday.
“We believe it is in the best interests of our customers to alert them that we now have sufficient evidence to confirm that an illegal intrusion into our payment card systems has indeed occurred. However, we will not speculate on the scope of the intrusion as our forensics investigation is still underway,” said Chris Brickman, President and CEO. “We are working diligently to address the issue and to care for any customers who may have been affected by the incident.”
The company urges customer to monitor their credit card statements, noting that any fraudulent charges that are promptly reported will not be the responsibility of customers. Customers with concerns can call Sally Beauty at 1-866-234-9442 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Loan servicers are the companies that process loan payments and manage borrowers’ accounts. In most cases, it’s a third party that had nothing to do with issuing the loan but is now responsible for making sure it gets repaid.
One might assume that loan servicing is a reasonably simple process: collect payments, post them to the account, adjust the balance accordingly, work with customers who are having trouble making payments.
But many student loan borrowers have reported a wide variety of problems with their loan servicers. A 2013 report from Consumers Union included anecdotal claims of servicer incompetence, like the borrower who was being charged more than twice the interest rate he was supposed to pay.
Even borrowers who took it upon themselves to try to get ahead by paying more than they owed on their monthly invoices sometimes found that their good intentions were pointless. In 2013, the CFPB reported that servicers were inconsistent and opaque about how these additional payments were posted, especially in cases where a servicer managed multiple loans for the same borrower.
More recently, the CFPB found that some student loan servicers took part in several illegal and shady practices, including inflating borrowers’ minimum payments, making illegal collection calls and charging unlawful late fees.
Borrowers rarely have any say in the servicer handling their loan, or whether that loan gets sold to another servicer. Between 2010 and 2013, 10 million federal loan borrowers had their loan servicing company changed on them. The CFPB says it’s heard repeated complaints from borrowers who experienced servicing and billing interruptions during the transition from one servicer to another.
With eight million student loan borrowers in default, representing a total of $110 billion in debt, it would seem to be in everyone’s best interest for servicers to work with troubled borrowers to get them back on the repayment track. However, borrowers have complained that their servicers were unable or unwilling to present alternative payment options.
In order to better address these concerns the CFPB is asking the public for feedback on the following issues:
• Industry practices that create repayment challenges:
Are consumers harmed by billing error dispute processes? Are servicers applying payments in ways that maximize fees or increase the amount of interest paid? How are accounts handled when transferred from one servicer to another?
• Hurdles for distressed borrowers:
Are servicers’ policies and procedures resulting in struggling borrowers paying more fees or prolonging repayment? Are these policies and procedures driving borrowers to default on their loans?
• Economic incentives affecting the quality of service:
Most servicers receive the same fee from lenders regardless of how much the borrower pays in a month. Does this model incentivize servicers to push borrowers to only make the minimum payment? Is there a way to provide incentives for servicers to take the time to enroll borrowers in flexible repayment options or help them avoid going into default?
• Application of consumer protections in other markets:
Can consumer protections in other credit markets — like credit cars and mortgages — inform any effort to improve the quality of student loan servicing?
• Availability of information about the student loan market:
Is the general lack of transparency in the student loan market contributing to consumer harm?
The CFPB is accepting comments on these issues from the public between now and July 13, 2015.
There are multiple ways to submit your feedback. All comments must reference Docket No. CFPB-2015-0021:
• Online: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
• E-mail: Send a message to FederalRegisterComments@cfpb.gov with “Docket No. CFPB-2015-0021″ in the subject line of the message.
• Mail: Send written comments to Monica Jackson, Office of the Executive Secretary, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 1700 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20552.
• Hand Delivery/Courier: Written comments can also be hand-delivered to Monica Jackson, Office of the Executive Secretary, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 1275 First Street NE, Washington, DC 20002.
It’s important to us to keep our readers updated about the latest and most important news in the world of novelty Oreos. We’ve learned that Lemon Twist Oreos have returned to shelves, which are not to be confused with lemon Oreos. Lemon Oreos, which are still available, are on a vanilla cookie, and Lemon Twist Oreos are on a chocolate cookie.
Note that the last time there was a Lemon Twist Oreo, back in 2012, that was also lemon creme on a vanilla-flavored cookie. This time around, the package has also been struck by the Grocery Shrink Ray, and this time around is 10.7 ounces instead of 15.5. Maybe we’re all better off in the long run with 1/3 fewer cookies in a package, but it is disappointing that Nabisco is now offering their novelty flavors only in the smaller packages.
SPOTTED ON SHELVES: Nabisco Limited Edition Lemon Twist Chocolate Oreo Cookies [The Impulsive Buy]
Hulu, which recently announced a deal that would let Cablevision sell the streaming service directly to its broadband subscribers, is continuing to make a big push to increase its reach. Today, the company unveiled a deal with AT&T that will integrate Hulu video and AT&T’s live and video-on-demand offerings on new mobile and web-based apps.
Starting in the vague “later this year,” Hulu subscribers with AT&T service will have access to a mobile app that combines the live TV Everywhere access and its VOD library. You’ll still need to pay a monthly subscription for Hulu Plus content, but it will all be in one place.
Today’s announcement is notably vague, talking only about “AT&T customers” without differentiating between wireless, U-Verse, and GigaPower customers. When asked by Consumerist, the company would only say that the Hulu content will be available through an app to all its customers later this year.
For Hulu, the deal puts its streaming service — which rarely gets the attention given to competitors like Netflix and Amazon Prime — front and center for more than 100 million current AT&T customers.
Today’s announcement also mentioned the possibility of a future TV-based app. Presumably that would not only reach AT&T’s current U-Verse subscribers, but also the more than 20 million DirecTV customers that AT&T is about to acquire.
For its part, AT&T will eventually be able to bundle Hulu Plus subscriptions in with its other services. While the company is not giving examples, it could possibly do things like offer free Hulu Plus access for a few months for new customers, or give discounts on Hulu Plus for subscribers who pay for bigger data plans.
If anything, this news is slightly encouraging, as it shows that AT&T — which is about to become the second-largest pay-TV company in the country — is not necessarily viewing streaming services as the enemy, but as a potential revenue source and marketing partner.
A rep for AT&T says the company is currently talking to other possible streaming video partners about similar agreements.
When shopping, you compare prices for different sizes and quantities of the same item and weigh that against your needs to determine which is the best deal. Except at Target. At Target, customers have to deal with a special kind of math, where putting an item on sale means that the price goes up, and where buying things in larger quantities means that you pay a higher unit price. It’s a special place where the bargains are plentiful, but make no sense.
Let’s take these eggs, for example. Piotr noticed that eggs were on sale, but the price was a little high. If this shelf tag is accurate, the store raised the price by $1.19 to put them on sale. We tried to make sense of this and could not. The discount claims that the original price was $4.29, which isn’t double the original price of the eggs. That would almost have made sense.
Jenn sent us this example of “Target math,” but there’s something wrong. See if you can tell what it is.
Yes, it would cost you more to buy a smaller quantity of cat food in two bags than a larger quantity in one bag, and the price becomes cheaper still if you buy two of the larger bags and receive a gift card back. However, both items are on sale, and this is an example of pricing done correctly in a Target store. The cat food gets cheaper per ounce if you buy more. That is how it is supposed to work.
The Information reports that Walmart is preparing to launch its own subscription quick-ship service in a bid to capture a bigger chunk of the e-commerce arena.
The new program, which is codenamed “Tahoe,” will purportedly comes with a lower price tag than Prime’s $99/year subscription, Business Insider reports.
However, the service doesn’t come with extras such as free video and music streaming that are available to Amazon’s Prime members.
Tahoe was originally expected to launch before the 2014 holiday season, but was delayed until this spring or early summer, The Information reports.
In the past, Walmart has tried other measures to expand its reach online, including tests of same-day grocery delivery or pickup and store pickup for items purchased on its website.
The company previously went toe-to-toe with Amazon when it began allowing customers to price-match the online retailer.
Wal-Mart Preps Rival to Amazon Prime [The Information]
Wal-mart is reportedly launching a subscription shopping service to take on Amazon [Business Insider]
Although dyeing your hair an ashen color is apparently a fashion thing right now, some consumers will try just about anything to stall the steely tint from cropping up on their heads: including shelling out big bucks for dietary supplements that promise to prevent or reverse the presence of gray hair. Only, according to a new settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, those claims weren’t actually backed by science.
The FTC announced today that the marketers of dietary supplements Get Away Grey and Go Away Grey have agreed to settle charges that they made false or unsubstantiated scientific claims about their products, while a third company – COORGA Nutraceuticals Corporation – will face legal action in court.
According to the FTC complaints, GetAwayGrey, LLC [PDF] and Rise-N-Shine LLC [PDF] allegedly engaged in unfair or deceptive practices and the misrepresentation and omission of material facts when promoting their products, Get Away Grey and Go Away Grey, respectively.
The companies purportedly routinely made unsubstantiated claims that the enzyme catalase found in the supplements would attack hydrogen peroxide – the chemical that causes hair to turn gray – and reverse or prevent the presence of gray hair.
For example, GetAwayGrey advertised its product with the following statement and depiction: “Watch your grey go away! Now, grey hair can be stopped and reversed… We stop grey hair by using a vitamin that includes the Catalase enzyme. Just two vitamin pills a day can bring back your natural hair color.”
Rise-N-Shine used similar ads and testimonials for Go Away Grey, including: “New & Improved! Now With 50% More Catalase… ‘After 3 months of Go Away Gray, I can see white roots coming in darker. I’m very impressed!’ – D. Heindl”
Both Get Away Grey and Go Away Grey – advertised through websites and online ads – were sold for $29.95 to $69.99 per bottle online and at national retailers such as CVS and Walgreens. Rise-N-Shine allegedly used similar marketing for its catalase-containing shampoo and hair conditioner.
Under the proposed order, the companies – along with their presidents – are barred from making any claim about the health benefits, performance, or efficacy of any covered product, as well as making claims about gray hair elimination, unless the claim is non-misleading and the defendants have competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate it.
The FTC’s order also includes a $1,817,939 suspended judgment against GetAwayGrey, and a $2 million suspended judgment against the Rise-N-Shine defendants.
In the case of COORGA Nutraceuticals Corporation [PDF], the FTC alleges that the company – which sells Grey Defence – engaged in the same unfair and unsupported marketing practices as GetAwayGrey and Rise-N-Shine.
The company also advertised its product through websites and online ads with claims such as: “65% of Grey Defence Customers in [an] Observational Study Reversed Their Grey! Grey Defence Reverses Greying – Detailed Observational Study Proves it.”
The FTC plans to pursue its complaint against COORGA Nutraceuticals Corporation in court.
FTC Challenges Marketers’ Baseless Claims That Their Supplements Prevent or Reverse Gray Hair [Federal Trade Commission]
Sephora is a magical playground filled with very expensive substances that grown-ups can slather on themselves. Yet what if that $29 mascara or $45 foundation just doesn’t look right on you? The cosmetics retailer has a famously generous return policy, even for items that have been opened and used, and there are certain items that end up returned more often than others. Which are they?
Stylecaster discussed this fascinating question with real Sephora employees, and the items that tend to come back fall into two broad categories: items that are difficult to use, and items that just don’t work for everyone.
Hard to use: One notable example is a facial contouring set from the brand Smashbox that doesn’t work very well on fair-skinned makeup wearers. “I feel like not many people know how to work with them so they get frustrated and give up,” one Sephora person explained.
Similarly, the Lock-It foundation from the company’s Kat Von D line doesn’t wear very well without primer, which makes it difficult to use. One employee blames this on how the color changes over time.
Not for everyone: A primer from BBECCA is advertised as “mattifying” and pore-minimizing, but doesn’t have magical powers. “When people return it and say ‘my skin is still oily’ then that probably means if you have that much excess oil you can’t depend on the makeup to fix it,” explains one employee. Never send makeup in to do a dermatologist’s job.
NARS All-Day Luminous Foundation “doesn’t sit well on 99% of people,” according to one worker. The foundation is supposed to improve as the day goes on, but isn’t perfect when first applied.
Beauty Insider: The 6 Most Returned Products at Sephora [Stylecaster]
The former sales executive for a money transfer service called Intermex claims in a recent lawsuit [PDF] (h/t to Ars Technica) that after she disabled the job management app, she was fired by her boss. She says he acknowledged tracking her and her co-workers on their personal time, even making jokes about how fast she drove.
The lawsuit says he “admitted that employees would be monitored while off duty and bragged that he knew how fast she was driving at specific moments ever since she installed the app on her phone.”
She claims that she had no problem with the app’s GPS watching her during work hours but objected to monitoring her location on her own hours and complained that it was an invasion of her privacy, likening “the app to a prisoner’s ankle bracelet and informed [her boss] that his actions were illegal. [Her boss] replied that she should tolerate the illegal intrusion” because they were paying her more than another job she had.
The lawsuit alleges that not only was she “scolded” and subsequently fired by the company for removing the app, her bosses told another company she’d been working with — one they knew about while she was employed — that she’d been disloyal, and that contract was terminated as well. The worker says she “met all quotas” while working at Intermex.
“Plaintiff’s whereabouts and conduct while off duty, was private and highly confidential. A reasonable person would have an interest in maintaining the confidentiality of such information,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff had a reasonable expectation of privacy in her own conduct and whereabouts while off duty.”
She’s claiming invasion of privacy, retaliation, unfair business practices, and other allegations in the lawsuit and seeking in excess of $500,000.
Me, I just text pictures of my cat to my coworkers so they constantly know where I am in my off hours.
The Department of Defense is trying to do something good for servicemembers by closing loopholes in the Military Lending Act that can leave military personnel vulnerable to predatory lenders. But these safeguards are now the target of a Congressman who has received substantial campaign contributions from payday lenders.
Just two weeks after the House Armed Services Committee narrowly voted to remove controversial language from the annual defense authorization bill that would have delayed the rules, the House of Representatives is set to consider a new amendment [PDF] that would block finalization of the DoD’s new rules.
The amendment to the National 2016 National Defense Authorization Act was introduced by Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers and aims to delay the new protections until a host of technical certifications can be made for a database of active-duty military members.
According to OpenSecrets, Rep. Stivers received $42,500 in campaign contributions from payday lenders during the 2014 election cycle. This was the third-highest amount of all recipients for that year.
Unlike the previously struck down provision – which delayed the rule implementation one year – Stivers’ measure doesn’t give a clear timeline for how long work related to the database would take.
Robert Weissman, president of advocacy group Public Citizen, called the new attempt to delay the DoD’s protections “unconscionable.”
“It is a sign of just how indebted certain members of Congress are to corporate interests that a critical, commonsense regulation that is needed to protect military families can be sacrificed in service to the predatory lending industry,” he says in a statement. “The Defense Department bent over backwards in the proposed rule to make sure that predatory lenders are protected from legal liability if they verify that they are lending to a service member, rather than a non-service member, by relying on a database created by the Defense Department.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told the Military Times that, “It’s almost too difficult to believe that you’d have a member of Congress looking to carry water for the payday loan industry, and allow them to continue to target in a predatory fashion military families who in many cases are already in a vulnerable financial state.”
Earnest told the Times that he doesn’t see Stivers’s amendment “earning the majority support in the United States Congress.”
The Military Lending Act, as it stands, prevents military personnel from being caught in revolving debt traps of triple-digit interest loans from predatory financing operations like payday and auto-title lenders. However, there are loopholes in the Act that allow some lenders to get around the MLA’s 36% APR interest rate cap, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars to servicemembers each year and raising issues of national security.
Examples of companies and products taking advantage of the gaps in the current MLA include retailers that provide financing for servicemembers’ purchases of electronics and other goods, without clearly stating the cost of the financing to the buyer.
One such case made headlines last July, when a Virginia-based company that marketed always-approved credit offers to members of the military with bad credit or no credit history was found to have charged customers several times the price of products thanks in part to exorbitant markups and finance charges. In one case, a servicemember ended up paying $8,626 for a $650 laptop.
Other financial products currently not covered by the MLA are credit cards and deposit advance loans. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, nearly 1-in-4 servicemembers will take out a deposit advance loan — often with an APR of around 300% — each year, paying millions in fees.
Back in September, the DoD proposed changes to the MLA that aim to reduce predatory lending practices, expand protections provided to servicemembers, close loopholes and help ensure military families receive proper protections.
The proposed rules include implementing a cap of 36% on the annual percentage rate of interest charged for credit products, which is estimated to cover nearly 40,000 creditors – most involving credit cards, deposit advance loans, installment loans and unsecured open-end lines of credit.
Creditors would also be required to provide military borrowers with additional disclosures, including a statement that the service member should seek other options than high-cost credit.
Additionally, creditors would be prohibited from requiring service members to submit to arbitration, waive their rights under the services members’ Civil Relief Act, or impose onerous legal notice requirements as a result of taking out a loan.
As U.S. Public Interest Research Group consumer program director Ed Mierzwinski previously explained, delaying the new protections and allowing such high levels of debt against military personnel isn’t just a matter of protecting those who protect us, it could also be a national security risk.
“When servicemembers default on loans, bad credit reports result in security clearances being revoked,” he said. “The Pentagon found that the problem was big enough to harm unit preparedness since significant numbers of servicemembers were being prevented from deployment on ships or overseas, which generally requires a security clearance,” he said. “The Pentagon also found that unit morale suffered from the harsh effects of predatory lending.”
The RadioShack stores that have survived to stay open under new owners will be allowed to keep their name. Well, the RadioShack name that may eventually have a much larger “Sprint” sign above it. Bidding is complete in the auction of RadioShack’s intellectual property and trademarks, and the winner is hedge fund Standard General. Yes, that’s also the owner of the 1,700 or so RadioShack stores that have remained open.
It was always possible that someone else might be interested in the RadioShack name. For example, the brand would appeal to an electronics manufacturer in Asia looking to enter the U.S. market under a familiar (if tainted) name. It would have been ideal for a maker of radio-controlled cars, for example.
In the end, Standard General was the most logical buyer, as the owners of remaining RadioShack stores. We don’t know who the other bidders were yet, but the company confirmed that it won the auction for RadioShack’s intellectual property, which includes the brand name, phone numbers, domain names, patents, trademarks, relationships with dealers and franchisees, and the controversial customer mailing lists.
RadioShack Name Goes to Standard General for $26.2 Million [Bloomberg News]
Southwest Airlines Passenger Says Flight Crew Wouldn’t Let Her Make Emergency Call To Husband Before He Died
The woman says the alarming text came moments before her flight from New Orleans to Milwaukee was set to take off, when he sent a message asking her for forgiveness for committing suicide, reports WTMJ-4 News (warning: link contains video that auto-plays).
“I started shaking the minute I got the text and I was panicked, I didn’t know what to do,” she said, adding that she immediately replied “no,” and went to call him.
But a flight attendant making her final checks told her she had to turn her phone off or put it in airplane mode, and “slapped the phone down,” the passenger says.
When she explained the situation, the woman says the attendant told her it was “FAA regulations.”
After the flight reached cruising altitude she explained what was going on to another crewmember, saying she begged her to somehow get an emergency call out, but that that attendant also said there was nothing she could do.
“I just wanted someone to go and try to save him,” she added.
Instead, she says she sat crying in her seat for the next two hours. When she arrived at the gate in Milwaukee, she immediately called the police. Upon arriving home, officers informed her that her husband had died.
Southwest Airlines issued a statement to WTMJ-4, saying:
“Our hearts go out to the family during this difficult time. Flight attendants are trained to notify the Captain if there is an emergency that poses a hazard to the aircraft or to the passengers on-board. In this situation, the pilots were not notified.”
That almost seems to make it worse, as the woman says she thinks she could’ve changed what happened that day if given the chance.
“The pain of knowing something could have been done, it breaks my heart,” she told the station.
The rules [PDF] will require labels stating “mechanically tenderized,” “blade tenderized,” or “needle tenderized” on packages of raw or partially cooked beef products that have been through any of these processes. This includes some beef products that have been injected with a marinade or solution.
Under normal circumstances, a labeling change like this wouldn’t kick in until the next Uniform Compliance Date for Food Labeling Regulations. In this case, it would be Jan. 1, 2018. However, the USDA believes this particular change merits an accelerated effective date, so the labels will be required a year from when the rule is published in the Federal Register (so, May or June 2016).
To the supermarket shopper, mechanically tenderized beef looks no different than the other meat products available. However, the USDA believes that because of the potential for pathogens inside these pre-tenderized products, the consumers need to be made aware so they know about the possible risk before showing down on a blood-red rare burger or steak.
And so the rule doesn’t just use labels to alert customers to the fact that a product has been mechanically tenderized. The labels must also include cooking instructions for safe preparation. These instructions must specify minimum internal temperatures and any hold times for the products to ensure that they are fully cooked.
“Labeling mechanically tenderized beef products and including cooking instructions on the package are important steps in helping consumers to safely prepare these products,” said Deputy Under Secretary Al Almanza. “This common sense change will lead to safer meals and fewer foodborne illnesses.”
Every day, the great amorphous mass of consumers creates millions upon millions of trackable, quantifiable pieces of data. Every purchase at every store. Every click on every website, every bit of geotagged data, every installed or opened app and every interaction on social media. All of it adds up together into one giant Mount Everest of data to be sliced, diced, bought, sold, and traded.
But there’s a break in it, and that break is hardware. What you do on your phone, what you do on your laptop at work, and what you do on your tablet or computer at home can be tricky to aggregate into one complete, whole consumer profile. Cross-platform stalking measurement is in many ways basically the holy grail of advertising and therefore of nearly all web and app businesses.
Today, Facebook is the biggest player in the cross-platform space. If you have logged in to Facebook on multiple devices, they can use your profile as the unique identifier that ties all those different sets of behavior together into the shape of one specific consumer. But although Zuck’s big blue behemoth is winning the race right now, they are far from the only runner.
Verizon has been working in the universal tracking space for years already. Just last month, the mobile giant finally allowed wireless customers to opt out of some of the more pernicious phone tracking.
But that doesn’t mean they’re done unifying your profiles. Not by a long shot. And that’s where their purchase of AOL comes in. As we reported yesterday, Verizon executives have specifically said that purchasing AOL, and all its advertising and user targeting software, “supports our strategy to provide a cross-screen connection for consumers, creators and advertisers to deliver that premium customer experience.”
And that fancy synergy is also where the greatest risks lie for consumers and our already-waning privacy.
The National Journal spoke with privacy and consumer advocates about the merger, and those advocates say through could be a lot of red flags waving.
“Whether or not the combination of a major online advertiser with the largest mobile-services provider raises substantial antitrust concerns, it raises extremely substantial and urgent privacy concerns,” Harold Feld from consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge told the National Journal.
“Verizon has already shown an alarming tendency to harvest private information from subscribers to bolster its foray into online advertising.”
The head of the Center for Digital Democracy, Jeff Chester, echoed the sentiment. He told the Journal that there are “disturbing privacy issues here as Verizon integrates its massive customer database into AOL’s cutting-edge digital data-targeting system.”
And the concerns don’t just come from professional advocates. Jonathan Mayer, a researcher at Stanford, told the National Journal that, “Verizon appears to be tearing down the wall between telecommunications and personalized advertising.” He added that telecom companies are “in a privileged and trusted position” because of how much data (i.e. literally everything you do online) flows through their networks, and wondered if perhaps the FCC might have something to say about Verizon’s plans.
The merger does have to be approved by regulators before it can take place, and privacy concerns may or may not be on the agenda of the agency that reviews the transaction. The FCC has to consider the public interest (which can include privacy) when it reviews mergers, but they aren’t a part of this one.
This deal will be reviewed either by the Justice Department or the FTC. Those agencies are mandated with looking at competition, not consumer benefit. But if there’s one thing we know, it’s that there’s plenty of competition out there in the race for who can strip away more of your privacy and access more of your data.
Verizon’s AOL Deal Could Lead to New Privacy Problems [National Journal]
Just when you think carmakers have recalled the last of the vehicles equipped with Takata airbags that could spew shrapnel when deployed, more cars are added to that list. Today, Toyota and Nissan expanded their already massive recalls to include an additional 6.5 million vehicles, while Honda has plans to do the same.
The New York Times reports that both Toyota and Nissan say the newly expanded recalls are precautionary and that no accidents or injuries had been reported in the specific vehicles.
In all, Toyota says its latest initiative to get vehicles equipped with Takata-produced airbags off the road includes one new recall and two expansions totaling about 5 million cars worldwide.
The new recall involves about 160,000 model year 2004 and 2005 RAV4 SUVs in the U.S. The expanded recalls include 177,000 model year 2003 and 2004 Tundra pickups and model year 2004 Sequoia SUVs, as well as 300,000 model year 2005 to 2007 Corollas, Matrixes, Sequoias, and Lexus SCs that are in areas of high humidity such as Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, Hawaii and some American territories, USA Today reports.
The remaining Toyota vehicles being recalled are located in Europe and Japan.
Toyota tells the Times that the expanded recalls followed an examination of Takata airbags, in which “certain types of airbag inflators were found to have a potential for moisture intrusion over time,” which could result in the inflators not working properly in a crash.
Investigators for Toyota have been testing used vehicles with Takata airbags to determine if the inflators are airtight. If the test revealed that a certain inflator wasn’t airtight, then the company decided to recall the related inflators, a spokesperson tells the Times.
However, the company says it was still uncertain about why the airbags have failed, because the relationship between moisture and inflator rupture is still unknown.
For its part, Nissan is recalling about 1.56 million cars globally because of the same Takata issues. The automaker did not elaborate on exactly what models are affected by the recall.
The likelihood that the latest round of recalls could grow is strong, with Honda telling the Times that it is also preparing to issue new recalls, but didn’t offer details on which vehicles might be involved.
To date, 10 automakers have recalled more than 30 million vehicles equipped with Takata-produced airbags that have been linked to six deaths and more than 100 injuries.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to make a decision soon on how to proceed with its investigation into Japanese automaker Takata and its airbags.
Regulators first opened an investigation into the issue in June 2014 after automakers began recalling millions of vehicles.
In February, the agency began fining the company $14,000 per day for failing to turn over documents and answer questions. Investigators said the fine was a result Takata’s slow pace in working with the agency.
A week later, NHTSA upgraded its probe to an engineering analysis. The regulators said the formal step intensifies the investigation and could help determine whether the company’s failure to quickly notify the agency of possible defects violated federal law or regulations.
Shortly after that, Takata said that it would double its production of replacement airbags over the next six months.
Toyota and Nissan Recall 6.5 Million More Vehicles Over Takata Airbags [The New York Times]
Toyota, Nissan add 6.5 million cars to air bag recall [USA Today]
The proposal (AB1357) by Assemblyman Richard Bloom wanted to put a $0.02 per fluid ounce tax on sodas and other sugary drinks, reports the Los Angeles Times. The roughly $3billion raised money the tax would’ve gone to fund state health programs with a focus on the prevention and treatment of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and dental disease.
Proponents and opponents of the measure brought their arguments before the Assembly Health Committee during a hearing, before the committee voted.
“We have been asleep at the wheel in California. It’s now well past time for us to aggressively attack this maiming, blinding and often fatal disease,” said Dr. Dean Schillinger, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco in his testimony.
On the other hand, said one registered dietitian, it’s more complicated than just what people are drinking, with factors like physical activity also coming into play.
“We all can agree that obesity and related health problems are very serious and complex issues, but it is overly simplistic, not to mention misleading, to single out sugar-sweetened beverages as the driving cause of Type 2 diabetes,” she said.
There were also legislators who said the poor would be hit hardest by the tax, which might not end up making an overall impact on health.
“I would be more comfortable if I felt like this would change behavior,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who voted against the bill, adding that she believed a tax would “just cost poor people more money.”
The bill ultimately failed by a 6-10 vote.
Last year, Berkeley, CA became the first city in the country to pass a tax on sugary drinks, with the city voting in a $0.01 fee per ounce on sodas and the like.
Proposed tax on sugary drinks fails in Assembly panel [Los Angeles Times]
Sugary drink tax gets committee hearing, fails to pass [KXTV.com]
McDonald’s is trying to make its food offerings better and fresher to coax young adults back to their restaurants. In addition to a simplified drive-thru menu, the company is also testing fancy giant burgers, cutting ingredients from its products, and will no longer use chicken treated with antibiotics also used in humans. Yet their decision to start serving kale as a regional test is drawing lots of attention.
That’s because we don’t really associate leafy green vegetables with McDonald’s. Maybe we should reconsider. The amount of a vegetable needed to put it in the massive McSupply Chain means that McDonald’s can very quickly become the top buyer of a fruit or vegetable once they put it on the menu. For example: their McWrap sandwiches contain English (semi-seedless) cucumbers, and Bloomberg News explains (warning: auto-play video) that it took the company two years to make sure they had access to enough cucumbers to fill wraps in stores nationwide. In the wraps’ first year, McDonald’s bought 6 million pounds of cucumbers. After adding apple slices to Happy Meals, McDonald’s became the biggest buyer of Gala apples in the country. If the breakfast bowls that include kale take off, that one item alone could significantly increase how much kale Americans eat…and how much needs to be grown.
How McDonald’s Could Conquer Kale [Bloomberg News] (Warning: auto-play video)
The controversial sale of RadioShack’s intellectual property continues: an attorney who represents the chain’s network of franchisees and dealers says that the current high bidder is the most logical buyer for the name and intellectual property: the same affiliate of hedge fund Standard General that purchased fewer than half of RadioShack’s stores and is running them in partnership with mobile carrier Sprint.
These stores have the right to use the RadioShack brand name for another five months, but the new bosses weren’t especially concerned about the brand name itself. However, an attorney representing the Shack’s franchisees and dealers says that Standard General is the current high bidder for what’s left of RadioShack, having bid $15 million.
No one is particularly concerned about items like the RadioShack brand name or trademarks for house-brand items, but the most controversial part of this sale has been the company’s mailing lists, which have millions of e-mail addresses and mailing addresses. The state attorney general of Texas was the first to be concerned, and AT&T and Apple have also objected to the sale of data that was collected when their customers made purchases at RadioShack.
The bankruptcy auction has a customer data privacy ombudsman, who will issue a report on the sale of personally identifiable information, and RadioShack also agreed to mediation after a winner is chosen.