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NHTSA Adds One Million More Fiat Chrysler Vehicles to Agenda For July Hearing

Fri, 2015-06-19 20:33
(Ralph Krawczyk Jr)

(Ralph Krawczyk Jr)

Just two weeks before federal regulators are scheduled to take Fiat Chrysler to task over its leisurely pace in addressing a plethora of recalls – including millions of Jeeps that can explode following low-speed rear-end collisions – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it would add two additional cases to its review roster.

The Detroit News reports that the expansion of the review covers an additional 1 million Fiat Chrysler vehicles that were part of two recalls in 2014, bringing the total number of cars under assessment to 11 million.

In addition to increasing the number of recalls under review, NHTSA laid out its concerns ahead of the July 2 hearing, including the car manufacturer’s failure to meet legal requirements to fix defects, make replacement parts available and notify owners and regulators in a timely fashion.

“NHTSA has tentatively concluded that Fiat Chrysler has not remedied vehicles in a reasonable time and has not adequately remedied vehicles,” the agency said in the supplemental notice.

According to the notice, Fiat Chrysler has repeatedly failed to meet requirements for recalls — failing to notify owners in a timely fashion and failing to make parts available.

The agency pointed out that it continues to receive consumer complaints regarding several recalls including one for nearly 278,000 SUVs and trucks because a pinion nut on the vehicle’s differential that may come loose.

In that case, NHTSA says the complaints involve vehicles that have been unable to be repaired because parts were unavailable.

NHTSA says it found that the replacement parts for another 2013 recall – this one for more than one million trucks with steering problems – had issues.

“At this time, a year and a half after the recall notices were filed, many of the vehicles remain unrepaired. Owners have reported to NHTSA that they have been unable to have their vehicles repaired after making multiple attempts to do so because parts are unavailable,” NHTSA said.

The Detroit News reports that parts of the July 2 hearing will likely focus on the recent massive recall of vehicles equipped with Takata airbags that can shoot shrapnel upon deployment. The agency says that Fiat Chrysler waited five months before notifying vehicle owners of the deadly defect during a recall in 2014.

For its part, Chrysler says it has revamped procedures regarding recalls and notifications by creating a biweekly executive campaign execution review team to oversee recalls. Additionally, the company has plans to “review of the recall execution process to identify and measure additional improvement opportunities.”

As a result of the upcoming hearing, the Detroit News reports that NHTSA could fine Fiat Chrysler up to $35 million for each recall campaign that failed to meet legal requirements.

NHTSA expands Fiat Chrysler review to 22 campaigns [The Detroit News]

Don’t Expect To Play Your PS3 Games On A PS4 Anytime Soon

Fri, 2015-06-19 19:33
(ibraheem kurdieh)

(ibraheem kurdieh)

Owners of Sony’s PlayStation 4 hoping the company would follow in Microsoft’s footsteps and add backwards compatibility to allow PS3 games to be played on the newer console shouldn’t hold their breath, as executives for the electronics company say they have no immediate plans to implement the technology.

The declaration came during a Eurogamer interview from Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida, who expressed his surprise that Microsoft announcement of backwards compatibility during E3.

“I didn’t think it was possible,” he says. “There must be lots of engineering effort.”

Prior to Microsoft’s announcement that it would provide an update to include backwards compatibility on the Xbox One by the upcoming holiday season, owners of the gaming system had to use an older console to play their previous Xbox 360 games. The situation is the same for owners of Sony’s gaming systems.

So, the biggest question amongst gamers – especially owners of the PS4 system – is whether or not Sony would move to include the capability to the PS4. To that, Yoshida says probably not – or at least not anytime soon.

“PS3 is such a unique architecture, and some games made use of SPUs very well,” Yoshida tells Eurogamer. “It’s going to be super challenging to do so. I never say never, but we have no plans.”

While it doesn’t appear that owners of the PS4 will be able to shove a disk of their favorite PS3 game into their system just yet, they can still stream the older games via PlayStation Now. But that, of course, comes at an extra cost.

Don’t hold your breath for PS4 backwards compatibility [Eurogamer]
[H/T Mashable]

Comcast Founder Ralph Roberts Dies At 95

Fri, 2015-06-19 19:27

ralphrobertsComcast founder Ralph Roberts, whose cable roots went back more than 50 years to a tiny operation serving around 1,200 customers in Tupelo, MS, passed away last night at the age of 95.

Regardless of your opinion of Comcast, Ralph Roberts is inarguably a key figure in the history of pay-TV. He purchased the wee American Cable Systems in 1963, and six years later moved his business to Philadelphia where it was incorporated under the name Comcast.

In 1990, Roberts handed day-to-day control of the company over to his then 30-year-old son Brian, under whose leadership Comcast expanded to become the largest, and possibly most controversial, cable and Internet provider in the country. Ralph remained with Comcast as chairman of the board until 2002.

The elder Roberts and his wife Suzanne remained heavily involved in philanthropy and arts patronage through the Suzanne F. and Ralph J. Roberts Foundation. The family’s legacy of giving lives on in facilities like the Roberts Proton Therapy Center at Penn Medicine. He was also heavily involved in organizations like the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Brandywine Museum and Conservancy, the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition, and the National Conference for Community and Justice.

“Ralph was a remarkable man who touched the lives of so many people,” reads a statement from the Roberts family. “He was a wonderful husband, father and grandfather and perhaps most importantly, a kind and humble human being. He will always be remembered for his generosity, integrity, honesty, kindness and respect for everyone around him. He was an inspiration to us all and we will miss him greatly.”

Teardown: Beats Headphones Contain Less Than $17 Worth Of Parts

Fri, 2015-06-19 18:59

(J. H.)

(J. H.)

What’s really in a $200 pair of Beats headphones? According to a teardown by venture capital firm Bolt, about $16.89 worth of parts. They found a device mostly made out of injection-molded plastic, pieces of metal that serve no purpose other than to make the headphones feel heavier than they really are, and a whole lot of glue. [Medium]

Smaller Cable Companies Concerned About AT&T/DirecTV Merger’s Impact On Prices For Regional Sports Networks

Fri, 2015-06-19 18:58

Root Sports Pittsburgh is one of several regional sports networks owned by DirecTV.

Root Sports Pittsburgh is one of several regional sports networks owned by DirecTV.

As we’ve seen with the ongoing locals sports broadcasting messes in Houston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, pay-TV operators with exclusive regional and team-specific networks sometimes put too high a price on their content, meaning other providers can’t afford to carry these stations and large swaths of fans are left in the dark. And a trade group representing small and midsize cable operators are worried that this problem may only get worse without certain conditions being put on the pending $49 billion merger of AT&T and DirecTV.

DirecTV currently operates a handful of regional sports networks under the Root Sports banner, including Root Sports Southwest, which it and AT&T jointly bought on the cheap for $1,000 after the controversial forced bankruptcy of Comcast’s CSN Houston. AT&T does not own any other regional sports channels, but it does provide U-Verse pay-TV service to millions of subscribers.

The American Cable Association represents several hundred smaller cable operators around the country, and in a filing [PDF] with the FCC about the AT&T/DirecTV merger, the ACA raises concerns that the merged company would have “an increased incentive to charge greater fees” to pay-TV providers whose biggest — and sometimes only — competition is from satellite providers like AT&T.

The filing contends that DirecTV already has an incentive to charge high prices to competing cable operators for access to its Root Sports content. A merged company would have both DirecTV and AT&T’s interests to protect would, according to the ACA, be even more incentivized to price smaller competitors out of access to these channels.

Since all information about carriage fees — the price paid by a cable company to carry a channel — is confidential, the ACA says that it can’t even enter into arbitration with regional sports networks because there is not enough data to “effectively formulate and make a best and final offer at the outset of the arbitration.” However, DirecTV and AT&T, as both a pay-TV provider and broadcaster, would allegedly have the unfair upper hand of knowing exactly what these costs are.

The ACA also mentions the possible “threat of retaliation” from a merged AT&T/DirecTV in carriage negotiations to come.

[via FierceCable]

Senator Calls For Investigation Into Alleged Anti-Competitive Airline Behavior

Fri, 2015-06-19 18:16
(David Transier)

(David Transier)

American Airlines and US Airways, Southwest Airlines and AirTran, Continental and United. These are just a few of the major mergers to hit the airline industry in the last several decades. While airlines contend that such combinations have created more streamlined processes for customers, some legislators are concerned that a shrinking airline industry has perpetrated potential anti-competitive behavior, leading to a request for a federal investigation.  

In a letter [PDF] sent Wednesday to Assistant U.S. Attorney General William Baer, Sen. Richard Blumenthal urges the Justice Department to investigate possible collusion and anti-competitive actions in the airline industry that could result in higher airfares for consumers.

The senator from Connecticut cites a recent NY Times report which found that some  airlines plan to cut back on the number of seats offered on certain routes in an attempt to boost profits.

The Times report was, in part, based on airline executives remarks at an industry conference regarding strategies to remain “disciplined” in their decisions to manage capacity across their flight routes.

“In light of the recent unprecedented level of consolidation in the airline industry, this public display of strategic coordination is highly troubling,” Blumenthal stated in his letter.

Two weeks ago, we told you that Delta Air Lines and United Airlines were considering cutting back on passenger capacity in the fall.

Blumenthal called the “capacity discipline” approach a “strategic attempt to coordinate behavior – specifically designed to encourage Wall Street to punish smaller rival airlines that have announced plans to expand capacity and cut prices.”

“Consumers are paying sky-high fares and are trapped in an uncompetitive market with a history of collusive behavior,” he states.

In addition to referencing alleged collusion in his letter, Blumenthal pointed to the DOJ’s own investigation into and eventual anti-trust lawsuit [PDF] against the merger of American and US Airways as evidence of the dangers of a consolidated market.

While the merger between the two companies eventually went through, Blumenthal says the issues found beforehand are still an issue.

“DOJ’s original complaint painted a stark picture of an extremely consolidated market, in which a few firms wield enormous market power to the detriment of consumers and competition – and in which high-level executives believe there is an unmistakable link between fluctuations in capacity and fares hikes,” he states. “The Justice Department also correctly predicted that this kind of behavior would continue should the merger be allowed to proceed – as it ultimately was.”

According to Blumenthal the coordination has become easier as the number of major airlines dwindled and their business models converged.

Citing Unprecedented Consolidation within Airline Industry, Blumenthal Urges DOJ to Investigate Potential Anti-Competitive, Anti-Consumer Behavior and Misuse of Market Power [Sen. Richard Blumenthal]

Two Women Steal Merchandise Worth $7,000 In 1-Minute Sunglass Heist

Fri, 2015-06-19 18:15

the_hutHow long does it take to scoop up $7,000 worth of merchandise from a Sunglass Hut store while employees aren’t looking? According to this surveillance video released by the police in San Francisco, about just over a minute. Two suspects working together were in and out of the store in that amount of time, slipping pricey merchandise into their tote bags and then zipping out the door before employees could stop them.

The theft happened about a month ago, and police released the video in an effort to find the two women. This was clearly a well-planned operation: they planned their entrance for a moment when the cashier was helping another customer and distracted, and they knew exactly which items they were looking for and where they were located.

If you do happen to know anything about this incident, call the anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444.

Video: S.F. shoplifters allegedly clean out a Sunglass Hut [San Francisco Chronicle]

New York City Audit Calls Out Verizon For Failure To Build Out FiOS Network As Promised

Fri, 2015-06-19 17:51

(Jeremy Schultz)

(Jeremy Schultz)


Verizon is pretty much over this whole “FiOS” thing. They still support their existing networks, of course, but they’re pretty much done building out new ones. That, however, does not sit well with the city of New York, which is still waiting for Verizon to finish the city-wide build they promised to have done by last year.

The city’s Department of Information Technology and Communications (DoITT) this week announced the results of an audit they conducted of Verizon’s FiOS implementation, and the news is not good.

In 2008, the telecom giant agreed to extend FiOS to any household that wanted it, across all five boroughs, by June 30, 2014. But with that deadline nearly a year gone, that goal is far from met — even though Verizon announced it had met its obligation and completed its build in November of last year.

“Through a thorough and comprehensive audit, we have determined that Verizon substantially failed to meet its commitment to the people of New York City,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “Broadband is a key component of this Administration’s fight to create opportunity and sustainable economic development in every corner of the five boroughs. As I’ve said time and again, Verizon must deliver on its obligation to the City of New York and we will hold them accountable.”

New Yorkers have been complaining for years that Verizon isn’t getting FiOS to them, and the data from the audit bears that out. Among the major issues the city’s auditors found:

  • Verizon has not actually run enough fiber to do what they say they do
  • Callers are being told their address cannot and will not get FiOS service, despite living within the agreed-upon area (i.e. one of the five boroughs)
  • Over 40,000 requests for service were left outstanding and unmet
  • Of those tens of thousands of requests, 75% had been left outstanding for over a year
  • Verizon tracks complaints from subscribers but not from people who want to subscribe, even though the agreement with the city requires them to do so
The approximate FiOS footprint in four of NYC's 5 boroughs, as of June 30, 2014.  (via the Broadband Map).

The approximate FiOS footprint in four of NYC’s 5 boroughs, as of June 30, 2014 (via the Broadband Map). Click to expand.

The report (PDF) explains that Verizon had the original deadline in their contract extended, due to some of the predictable delays (like infrastructure challenges) and the unpredictable ones (like Hurricane Sandy) that slowed down the build. But after that, it got a little hazy.

“As 2014 progressed,” the report says, “and Verizon’s build-out approached 100 percent, DoITT began to receive anecdotal evidence, largely in the form of consumer complaints, suggesting that Verizon was simultaneously taking credit for ‘passing’ households and declining to accept orders for non-standard service installations from those households.”

In November, 2014 Verizon told the city they had “passed” all residential households in the city, meaning they could — and would be obligated to — accept orders for service from all residential buildings in the city. But complaints kept mounting, to the point where the city developed concerns “that these anecdotes did not reflect occasional irregularities, but possibly broader failures by Verizon to fulfill the obligations it undertook in the 2008 franchise agreement.”

And so, the formal audit.

However, even the audit took longer than it needed to, the report says, due to Verizon’s “persistent intransigence and delay — following Verizon’s pattern in previous audits.” Verizon failed repeatedly to supply data that the city’s auditors requested and denied them access to Verizon systems, the report claims.

In their response report to the city, Verizon claims that auditors present a “distorted view” of their performance, ignoring the “truly significant accomplishments” Verizon has achieved so far. The company, as one would expect, pushes back hard on the findings, claiming that they have in fact met their goals and are perfectly cooperative.

“Aside from its erroneous conclusions and procedural flaws,” Verizon writes, “the Report’s lack of balance and its clear agenda is also disturbing.”

Verizon seems to miss the point of an audit intended to delve into the truth of repeated customer complaints, continuing, “One would expect a performance review to include an assessment of both the positives and the (perceived) negatives of Verizon’s performance. In start contrast, however, the Report makes no positive findings, despite the fact that Verizon’s submissions during the review provided DoITT with several opportunities to do so.”

Many New York City officials found Verizon’s response and performance unsatisfactory.

“We would have universal broadband in New York City, if only Verizon had kept its promise to provide universal fiber to every home, as was required by the 2008 franchise agreement. Countless New Yorkers have tried to get fiber in their homes only to be told it was ‘unavailable,’ and I know because I am one of them,” said Council Member Ben Kallos.

Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer echoed the sentiment, saying, “Verizon promised to provide a new option in a market with too little competition, but for too many New Yorkers that promise has proved empty so far. While there is no question that rolling out fiber-optic service in New York City is a massive undertaking, Verizon must be open and honest about the availability of its services and must make good on its commitments.”

Samsung Rolling Out Security Update To Fix Keyboard Vulnerability That Affects Up To 600M Galaxy Phones

Fri, 2015-06-19 17:50

(Janitors)

(Janitors)

After a security researcher found a flaw in the way Samsung phones update their SwiftKey keyboard software that leaves Galaxy phone owners open to hack attacks, the company says it’s rolling out a security update in the next few days that will address the vulnerability.

In an official statement posted last night, Samsung says that while it’s aware of the vulnerability of keyboard updates on Galaxy devices and that it takes all security threats very seriously, the likelihood of a bad actor making a successful attack and exploiting that vulnerability is low.

“This vulnerability, as noted by the researchers, requires a very specific set of conditions for a hacker to be able to exploit a device this way,” Samsung says. “This includes the user and the hacker physically being on the same unprotected network while downloading a language update. Also, on a KNOX-protected device there are additional capabilities in place such as real-time kernel protection to prevent a malicious attack from being effective.”

The company adds that there haven’t been any reports thus far of Galaxy devices being compromised through the keyboard updates, as of June 15. But because a real risk does exit, Samsung’s security policy update will be coming forthwith.

“In addition to the security policy update, we will continue to work with related parties such as SwiftKey to address potential risks going forward,” Samsung says.

Samsung advises users to make sure their devices automatically receive security policy updates, as it will be pushed to the user and require them to accept it.

To ensure your device receives the latest security updates, go to Settings > Lock Screen and Security > Other Security Settings > Security policy updates, and make sure the Automatic Updates option is activated. At the same screen, the user may also click “Check for updates” to manually retrieve any new security policy updates.

Amazon’s Deal With Marvel Adds 12,000 Comics To The Kindle Store

Fri, 2015-06-19 17:03

(Marvel)

(Marvel)

Kindle users who’d rather pick up a comic book than a literary tome will now have 12,000 more options with a new deal between Amazon and Marvel. The e-commerce giant announced a partnership last night that will allow fans to download single issues of the publisher’s comics directly from its store.

Amazon bought comics download platform comiXology last year, which opened up the Marvel library to users, but customers had to first download the comiXology app to get them.

This new deal means readers can get anything from Ant Man to Spider-Man straight from the Amazon store instead, with no separate app required. Issues will be available on the Kindle Store the same day as they hit store shelves and comiXology, though the platform will continue to run its app on both iOS and Android Devices as well as the Marvel Digital Comic Shop.

“Amazon, comiXology and Marvel share a passion for expanding the audience for comic books and graphic novels worldwide,” said David Naggar, Vice President, Amazon Kindle in the press release. “With the ever-increasing number of devices in consumers’ hands and the growing popularity of Marvel’s extensive catalogue of familiar Super Heroes we see this as the perfect time to create a whole new generation of comic book readers.”

Although the idea of swiping through an e-reader to read a comic book might seem foreign to fans who are used to poring over back issues in the store and flipping through physical pages, Amazon has done pretty well with its digital comic service. The company says the comiXology app was both the number one grossing book app on iOS, and the highest grossing app in the Google Play Store’s comics category in 2015.

Office Depot, Staples One Step Closer To Walking Down The Office Supply-Wedding Aisle

Fri, 2015-06-19 16:40
(Mike Mozart) (frankieleon)

(Mike Mozart)
(frankieleon)

Back in February Staples presented Office Depot with a freshly sharpened bouquet of pencils (really, $6.3 billion) as a token of its desire to live as one for the rest of their office supply days. Now, three moths later, Office Depot has accepted the proposal.

The Associated Press reports that Office Depot shareholders “overwhelmingly” voted in favor of the $6.3 billion acquisition proposition from Staples.

The company said that 99.5% of the votes cast during a recent meeting were in favor of combining the No. 1 and No. 2 office supply chains.

Staples and Office Depot began “advanced talks” for a merger in early February after receiving significant pressure from shared investor Starboard Value in December.

Starboard Value, the company that roundly mocked Olive Garden and then seized seats on its board of directors just months ago, publicly pushed for a union between the two chains saying a merger would deliver more than $2 billion in cost savings and help the retailers to better compete with larger chains and online companies.

The investment firm, which has a stake in both companies, increased the pressure for a merger by sending a letter to Staples CEO Ronald Sargent demanding that the company engage advisers to begin work on a deal.

While a combined Staples, Office Depot retailer could help the companies fend off competition from online retailers and big-box stores, any pending marriage would face serious antitrust scrutiny.

That added probe by regulators would likely center on the fact that Staples and Office Depot are the biggest remaining retailers of core office supplies.

Office Depot previously purchased the other top office supply store, Office Max, in 2013 for $967 million. That deal was given the go-ahead after regulators deemed there was plenty of competition in the office supply industry.

This wouldn’t be the first go-around for a union between the two retailers, 17 years ago regulators objected to Staple’s attempt to buy Office Depot.

Office Depot shareholders approve sale to Staples [The Associated Press]

IMAX Demands Website Retract Story That Has Virtually Nothing To Do With IMAX

Fri, 2015-06-19 16:28
(Chris Metcalf)

(Chris Metcalf)

The folks at IMAX need to learn when to take a compliment. When someone name-drops your brand as an aspirational standard, you should smile and appreciate the respect. What you shouldn’t do is demand that a news website retract an entire story just because someone mentions your brand.

But according to Ars Technica, that’s exactly what happened to them a few days after writing this story about Valve’s virtual reality platform.

In that article, a video game designer used the IMAX brand as a reference when talking about virtual reality.

Said the designer in that original story, “The jump between a regular game and playing a room scale VR experience is X times 100. It’s like saying, ‘I have an IMAX theater in my house.'”

It’s the kind of comparison you hear people toss off every day in news stories — “They’re the McDonald’s of auto dealerships;” “It’s like having an Uber for babysitters;” “It’s the Consumerist.com of erotic massage parlors” — without anyone batting an eye.

But IMAX batted. And this wasn’t just some automated trademark-monitoring bot that spits out cease-and-desist letters at the mere mention of the word IMAX. It was a letter from the company’s Chief Administrative Officer, complete with a hare-brained explanation for why a retraction is necessary.

“We believe that your incorrect reference to IMAX when describing this product is misleading to readers as we do not believe that it is possible for a virtual reality system to replicate the experience of an IMAX theatre,” reads the letter, which calls for a retraction and for Ars to cease using this quote in future related stories.

But as Ars Technica Joe Mullin points out, IMAX’s trademark infringement argument point is moot. Aside from the fact that the original article doesn’t make this statement as fact — and that it’s not the article’s author but an interviewee who made the supposedly infringing statement — the existence of a trademark doesn’t prevent a journalist from using that trademark in a comparison.

Now, if Valve were going around making the claim — especially in ads or marketing materials — that its Steam VR platform was “like having an IMAX theater in your house,” then IMAX might have a valid trademark dilution concern, as it could be seen to imply a connection between the two companies that isn’t there. But a news story that quotes a game designer who is just using the comparison to illustrate his opinion appears to fall far short of this threshold.

If a trademark owner could make successful infringement claims on every use of a brand that it disagrees with, then most news stories on Consumerist and every other news site would be restricted to either positive puff pieces or edited to read, “Passengers on an airline that we can’t name had to make an emergency landing at an airport somewhere and then complained about the bed bugs at the hotel whose name we can’t write without fear of a trademark complaint.”

Dear IMAX: Just because you don’t like a comparison doesn’t mean someone can’t make it.

Thanks to Michael for the tip!

New Yorkers Will Soon Be Able To Dine With Their Dogs At Restaurants With Outdoor Areas

Fri, 2015-06-19 16:05
(mytoenailcameoff)

(mytoenailcameoff)

It’s one thing to have your furry best friend underneath the table at home waiting for scraps to inevitably fall, but once you try to take a dog to a restaurant at meal time, it’s not always acceptable or even legal to have your pet accompany you as your dinner date. In New York, however, canines will soon be welcome with their owners at restaurants with outside space.

The state Senate passed legislation that amends the state health law to allow diners to have their pet pups with them in outdoor dining areas, reports The Journal News, and it’s now heading to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for review.

The “Dining with Dogs” bill doesn’t mean that anyone can bring a dog to any restaurant that happens to have a patio. Rather, it would allow customers to have their canine buds on the leash with them at any restaurant that wants to provide the service, as long as that establishment can ensure that the dogs won’t contaminate food, utensils or equipment. Any restaurant can choose to ban dogs as well.

Many restaurants already allow dogs, making them popular spots especially on sunny summer weekends when relaxing on the deck with your human is a dog’s favorite activity.

“We have no issues, we’re dog-friendly here,” says one such restaurant owner. “Generally, the rules for dogs are the same for people or kids: If any of those living creatures are being uncooperative or difficult, we speak to them.”

Restaurant employees going in for a pat on a particularly cute pooch would be prohibited from doing so under the new law, however, as staffers won’t be allowed to have direct contact with dogs while on duty. Restaurants that want to allow pets will also have to have a separate outdoor entrance, so as not to parade dogs through the main space to get outside.

California just passed a similar measure, joining states like Florida that also allow dogs at restaurants under state health law. It’s up to each state to draft its own state health code, though many simply abide by the Food and Drug Administration’s rule banning pets from retail establishments where food is served.

Dining out with your dog just got easier [The Journal News]

McDonald’s Expanding (Limited) All-Day Breakfast Test To Mississippi & Tennessee, Adding Biscuit Sandwiches

Fri, 2015-06-19 15:45
(dsuniaga)

(dsuniaga)

Last month McDonald’s told franchisees that it would begin expanding its limited all-day breakfast menu outside of the San Diego area, but shared few details about the plans other than it would include Nashville. Now, the fast food giant has let the cat out of the bag, revealing that the experiment won’t just be making its way to one city, but three – and adding new sandwiches.

USA Today reports that McDonald’s will start offering biscuit sandwiches when it rolls out the all-day morning meal trial in Greenville and Greenwood, MS, on Monday, June 22.

In all, 12 locations in Mississippi will serve as testing ground for the menu, and all but one of the stores will make the new biscuits from scratch.

Pam Williams, McDonald’s marketing director, confirmed the expansion, adding that the Nashville tests – which will also include the new sandwiches – are expected to take place in 132 locations starting in July.

“We’re interested in getting our customer’s perspectives from around the country,” Williams told USA TODAY. “It should allow us to get a good understanding of our customers feelings and impressions of how this menu can work.”

As with the pilot taking place in San Diego, McDonald’s all-day menu in Nashville and Mississippi will include the various McMuffins (Egg, Sausage, Sausage with Egg), the Sausage Burrito, Hash Browns, Hotcakes, Hotcakes and Sausage, Fruit & Maple Oatmeal and Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait.

While Williams said offering breakfast after 10:30 a.m. was well-received in San Diego, she says it’s too early to predict whether the menu will make it nationwide.

“We’re hearing a lot of positive feedback from our customers and our operators,” she said. “We believe that we have customers that are coming in that maybe haven’t been visiting. They’re also visiting more frequently — we’re hearing that in the customer responses. But since this is a test, we are still evaluating all the information.”

McDonald’s expanding all-day breakfast test [USA Today]

Delaware Decriminalizes Possession, Private Use Of Small Amounts Of Marijuana

Fri, 2015-06-19 15:28

(katherine_hitt)

(katherine_hitt)

Delaware is joining a slew of other states that are loosening up a bit on the private use of marijuana, with legislators in the Senate giving final approval to a measure that decriminalizes the possession and private use of up to an ounce of the drug. Gov. Jack Markell signed it into law almost immediately.

The bill allows residents to have up to an ounce of marijuana and to use it privately without getting into trouble with the law, reports The News Journal, though police are authorized to confiscate marijuana.

Any criminal repercussions for having marijuana will be replaced with a $100 civil fine instead. It’s still illegal to sell marijuana under the law, and anyone under 21 will still face criminal penalties if caught with pot. It’s also still illegal to consume marijuana in a moving vehicle.

“The governor remains committed to reducing the number of people entering the criminal justice system and refocusing resources where they are needed most and House Bill 39 supports these efforts,” a spokeswoman for the governor’s office said in a statement.

Delaware joins 19 other states and D.C., all of which have stopped charging citizens for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Markell signs Delaware marijuana decriminalization bill [The News Journal]

Lyft To Pay $300,000 To Resolve Claims It Illegally Operated In Some Areas Of New York

Fri, 2015-06-19 15:12
(Σπύρος Βάθης)

(Σπύρος Βάθης)

Nearly a year after the New York Attorney General’s office and state insurance regulators filed a lawsuit accusing ride-sharing app Lyft of violating state law in certain areas, the company has agreed to pay $300,000 to resolve the complaint.

New York Attorney General Eric Schnedierman, in conjunction with the New York State Department of Financial Services, announced Wednesday that it reach a deal with Lyft to settle claims the company violated state and municipal laws in the summer of 2014.

The agreement, in which Lyft doe not admit wrongdoing, puts an end to a July 2014 lawsuit that claimed the ride-hailing service’s entry into Buffalo and Rochester was done illegally.

According to the original complaint, Lyft allegedly broke the law when it failed to require its drivers to hold commercial licenses, carry adequate insurance, or comply with local for-hire licensing rules.

State officials accused the company of operating in “open defiance of state and local licensing and insurance laws designed to protect the lives and well-being of New Yorkers.”

As part of the lawsuit, the state sought to prevent the company from launching service in Brooklyn and Queens. The parties came to an agreement on that issue just two weeks later, allowing Lyft to begin services in those areas.

In addition to paying the $300,000 fine, Lyft agreed to give at least three weeks notice to cities before launching in the state and abide by all state and municipal laws for vehicles-for-hire. The company must also require drivers to have auto insurance issued by state-authorized insurers.

The insurance must cover drivers while they have the Lyft app turned on to receive requests to pick up passengers through the end of any rides they provide. Additionally, the consent order prohibits Lyft from offering, selling or providing insurance policies that do not comply with the New York Insurance Law.

A.G. Schneiderman Announces Joint Settlement With LYFT [New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman]

QR Code On Ketchup Bottles Points To Porn Because Of Expired Domain

Fri, 2015-06-19 15:07

(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

When you’re setting up a 4th of July barbecue in a couple of weeks, you might want to make sure none of the kids or sensitive souls nearby scan the QR code on the Heinz ketchup. That’s because, thanks to an expired promotion, the site it leads to isn’t fun ketchup marketing… it’s hardcore porn.

A German man discovered the issue when he scanned the code this month, The Independent reports. He expected to be taken to Heinz’s site for designing your own label and, instead, ended up somewhere much more adult.

The promotion, it turns out, had been designed to run from 2012 through 2014 — and when it ended, Heinz let the domain name registration lapse. But it didn’t go inactive: a different company snapped it up, for a different purpose entirely.

The man who discovered the error posted on Facebook (in German and blurred but probably not work-safe), “Your ketchup really isn’t for under-age people. Even if the bottle was a leftover, it’s still in lots of households. It’s incomprehensible that you didn’t reserve the domain for one or two years. It really doesn’t cost the Earth.”

Heinz, of course, apologized, responding (also on Facebook), “We really regret the event very much and we’re happy to take your suggestions for how we implement future campaigns on board.” The ketchup company also offered him a free bottle of ketchup with his own custom label design.

The pornography company also left a comment, offering him a free one-year subscription to their site.

Heinz forced to apologise after QR code on ketchup bottle linked to hardcore porn site [The Independent via The Verge]

There’s Still $43 Million In Outstanding RadioShack Gift Cards, And Texas Wants To Rescue It

Fri, 2015-06-19 14:50

Radio Shack Old Logo They took down the sign and the old logo was underneath. This was the 1974-1995 logo.

(Phillip Pessar)

When a retailer looks like it might be in danger of going out of business, we warn gift card holders to use their cards soon, before the company declares bankruptcy and the cards lose their value. Not everyone has the good sense to read Consumerist, though, and that’s why the Texas Attorney General wants the smoldering remains of RadioShack to put aside some money for gift card holders.

The AG in Texas, RadioShack’s home state, estimates that the balance of outstanding RadioShack gift cards is $43 million. (Apparently, even people holding gift cards no longer shopped at RadioShack. The state argues that gift cards don’t come with a disclaimer that they will self-destruct if the retailer goes out of business, and marketing materials also don’t tell customers this.

RadioShack’s policy and practice provided in relevant part that these gift cards did not expire. Both prepetition and postpetition, via telephone and via their website, Defendants represented to consumers that the gift cards do not expire.

By “prepetition and postpetition,” the AG’s office means before and after the Shack filed for bankruptcy protection. Staff members in the AG’s office called up RadioShack customer service to ask about the status of their gift cards on March 2, well after the bankruptcy, and customer service representatives informed them that gift cards never expire. The gift cards would actually lose their entire value on March 31.

They also aren’t buying RadioShack’s claim that they have no contact information for any gift card holders:

Texas respectfully contends that such an assertion must be viewed with some skepticism in light of the fact that the Defendants maintain extensive data regarding their customers’ purchases. The Defendants likely know the names, mailing addresses, and email addresses of at least some of the purchasers if not the holders.

It’s that extensive purchase data that led to the previous dispute between the entity that used to be RadioShack and its home state’s attorney general: the company still had extensive data abut its customers and their purchases, which was going to be sold as part of the bankruptcy auction. The state objected, because customers weren’t told when handing over their contact information that it would be sold.

What Texas is asking is that claims for unredeemed RadioShack gift cards be given priority over lenders when the company finally liquidates. Since RadioShack knows what the outstanding gift card balance is, whatever the unclaimed balance is should be turned over to state attorneys general to be held with unclaimed funds, in case consumers find an unredeemed gift card in a junk drawer five years from now.

Texas AG Sues RadioShack Over Unused Gift Cards [Wall Street Journal]
THE STATE OF TEXAS’S COMPLAINT FOR DECLARATORY RELIEF [U.S. Bankruptcy Court] (PDF)

Consumerist Friday Flickr Finds

Fri, 2015-06-19 14:00

Here are nine of the best photos that readers added to the Consumerist Flickr Pool in the last week, picked for usability in a Consumerist post or for just plain neatness.

(Corey Templeton)

(Corey Templeton)

(Xavier J. Peg ☠)

(Xavier J. Peg ☠)

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

(Todd)

(Todd)

(Todd)

(Todd)

(Karen Chappell)

(Karen Chappell)

(Ann Fisher)

(Ann Fisher)

(吉姆 Jim Hofman)

(吉姆 Jim Hofman)

(Xavier J. Peg ☠)

(Xavier J. Peg ☠)

Want to see your pictures on our site? Our Flickr pool is the place where Consumerist readers upload photos for possible use in future Consumerist posts. Just be a registered Flickr user, go here, and click “Join Group?” up on the top right. Choose your best photos, then click “send to group” on the individual images you want to add to the pool.

Walmart Tries Moving Greeters Back To The Entrance

Thu, 2015-06-18 23:55

(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

A few years ago, Walmart tried an experiment with their staff greeters who stood at the doorway of every store: they moved them away from the front door. Sure, they would still greet people who they encountered, but their jobs also involved directing customers to an open register, or performing tasks inside the store at a time when Walmarts were catastrophically short-staffed. Now Walmart is testing the idea of maybe reversing that decision.

The Wall Street Journal reports that in a few hundred stores, the retailer is experimenting with moving greeters back to the door. They’re also experimenting with a new job title that serves as a loss-prevention buddy to the greeter, if there is one. The asset protection customer specialists, or APCS, will wear yellow vests so they stand out from other employees, and will have the task of pre-scanning merchandise for returns before customers can proceed to the customer service desk.

While it may have seemed wasteful to post someone to stand at the door while stores were understocked and short-handed, the greeter position may have been a better theft deterrent than upper management thought.

“[P]eople started walking out the door with cartloads of stuff” after greeters were removed from their postings at the doors, one overnight stocker told the Wall Street Journal.

Wal-Mart Ushers ‘Greeters’ Back to the Front [Wall Street Journal]

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