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What Recall Woes? GM Sold Record 9.92M Vehicles In 2014

Thu, 2015-01-15 16:40


Back in June, General Motors hit the mark where it had officially recalled more cars during the 2014 recallapalooza than it had sold in the United States during the past seven years. While that comparison was startling and put the sheer enormity of the company’s many recalls into perspective, it apparently wasn’t something the company or consumers worried about, as a new report points out that the company still managed to sell a record number of vehicles last year.

The car manufacturer announced yesterday that it sold 9.92 million cars worldwide in 2014 besting its previous record in 2013 by 2%, according to the L’Agence France-Presse.

Officials with GM say the increased sales in the U.S. could be contributed to consumers purchasing more large trucks and large SUVs. Additionally, sales in Europe jumped 3.4%, while those in the Chinese market increased 12%.

Still, the 9.92 million cars sold in 2014 don’t hold a candle to the more than 30 million the manufacturer recalled in the same 12-month period.

GM’s recallapalooza kicked off in February 2014 when the company announced millions of vehicles may contain faulty ignition switches. It was soon revealed that the company had known about the deadly issue for more than a decade before issuing its first recall.

According to Reuters, the company has now officially linked 45 deaths and hundreds of injuries to the safety defect. In all, GM’s victim compensation plan has received 2,710 claims for injury or death and paid out nearly $2 billion to victims and their families since it began accepting applications in August.

GM sold record 9.92 mn cars in 2014 despite recalls [L’Agence France-Presse]

T-Mobile Announces New Unlimited (3G) Prepaid Plans Starting At $40

Thu, 2015-01-15 16:35



If you’re someone who wants a prepaid mobile plan that includes unlimited talk, text and data access for things like checking e-mail or occasionally browsing the Internet, T-Mobile’s new Simply Prepaid plans may be worth looking into.

The new plans, which start at $40/month and go on sale Jan. 25, will offer the typical unlimited talk and text that most people are used to. They also provide unlimited data — but only to the provider’s 3G network. How much you pay for the plan depends on how much you want to use T-Mobile’s faster 4G LTE data.

The $40 plan includes 1GB of 4G LTE. For $50/month, that increases to 3GB of 4G LTE, which is currently enough for the average smartphone user. If you want 5GB of LTE each month, the rate goes up to $60.

While Simply Prepaid users will have access to other T-Mobile features like WiFi phone calls at no extra charge, they won’t get certain benefits offered to the company’s postpaid customers — like access to numerous streaming music services that won’t count against users’ data allotments.

Passenger Tips Philly Cab Driver Almost $1,000 For A Two-Minute Trip

Thu, 2015-01-15 16:09



It’s a dream come true for anyone who depends largely the generosity of others to make a living — land a huge tip for a small or otherwise not difficult job, and walk away happy. But one Philadelphia cab driver was so shocked by an almost $1,000 tip for a two-minute that he was more worried the passenger had made a mistake than he was excited about his windfall, at first.

The cabbie was cruising for fares in the early morning hours of Dec. 13 when he was flagged down by a man asking to go for just a short ride, reports He asked how the driver’s night was going, according to the founder of the cab company who spoke to the press on behalf of his worker.

“A little hectic, but not bad,” the cab driver said.

“I’ll make it a great night,” the mystery passenger replied.

At the end of the ride, which took a little more than a minute, the passenger swiped his card to pay the $4.32 fare and entered a tip — of $989.98.

The driver was worried that the passenger had made a mistake and asked if he’d meant to put such a large tip in, but the passenger answered, “I know what I did.”

Still, the cab company was concerned it was all a mixup, and waited 30 days for the credit card company to process the fare. Finally yesterday, the fare was all clear and the company could announce the driver’s big win. His generous customer remains a mystery.

“We’ve tried to get in touch with him, but the credit card company won’t divulge his name,” the cab company founder told “The fare was not disputed. That’s all they would say.”

He adds that this extra cash couldn’t have come to a better guy — he originally hails from West Africa, and works six or seven days a week to send a “good amount” of the money he makes to family still remaining overseas, the founder explains.

“I’ve heard of some large tips before, but nothing this big,” he says of his employee. “It couldn’t have happened to a better guy.”

Cabbie surprised by nearly $1,000 tip []

New Travel App Only Lets You Book Hotel Rooms For Tonight or Tomorrow

Thu, 2015-01-15 16:04
(kevin dean)

(kevin dean)

Every once in a while, customers get stranded in an unfamiliar town for any number of reasons: flight cancelled, last-minute business meeting, the list goes on. If you’ve ever found yourself in one of those situations then you know it can be difficult to score a last-minute hotel room without forking over the big bucks. Priceline-owned travel company (you know the company with annoying booking.yeah commercials?) claims to have the answer in the form of its Tinder-for-hotel-rooms mobile app, Booking Now.

Gigaom reports that Booking Now is a companion piece to the already in service app, but with a huge caveat: you can only book rooms for tonight or tomorrow night.

The app is based on the same idea of normal travel sites while also sprinkling in a Tinder-esque function.

To use the app, customers provide their email address and a list of preferences such as if you need Wi-Fi or how much you’re willing to pay for the last-minute accommodations.

Now comes the Tinder-lovers favorite part: swiping yes or no. When the app provides a list of available rooms, customers simply swipe right or left to view their matches.

While Gigaom reports that the new app creates a less anxiety filled experience for last-minute travel bookers, it does have some fairly glaring deficiencies.

For one, it’s not very good at pinpointing the closes hotels to you. When looking for a hotel in New York, Gigaom found the app suggested rooms that were over 30 blocks away while closer hotels were buried further down in the search results list.

Although the app does store your credit card information, the company says it’s only used to confirm the reservation. When you arrive at the hotel you pay for your lodging directly.

Because most hotels no longer accept cancellations within 24 hours of the reservation, consumers who use the app will likely be out the cost of the room if their travel plans unexpectedly change.

Priceline gets into last-minute booking with new iPhone app [Gigaom]

Marriott Gives Up For Now On Plan To Jam Guests’ Personal Wifi Hotspots

Thu, 2015-01-15 15:39


Marriott got a big fat fine from the FCC last year for illegally blocking customers’ personal wifi hotspots. The chain paid the fine, but doesn’t want another one. Their solution? Ask the FCC to make what they did legal going forward. But after widespread backlash from tech companies, customers, and basically everyone on the internet, Marriott is now backing away from the plan.

In a brief statement issued late yesterday, the chain said, “Marriott International listens to its customers, and we will not block guests from using their personal Wi-Fi devices at any of our managed hotels.”

Marriott’s claim with the FCC was that blocking personal wifi hotspots was essential to guarantee the safety and integrity of the company’s own wifi network, and the statement concludes by once again diving behind that cover: “Marriott remains committed to protecting the security of Wi-Fi access in meeting and conference areas at our hotels. We will continue to look to the FCC to clarify appropriate security measures network operators can take to protect customer data, and will continue to work with the industry and others to find appropriate market solutions that do not involve the blocking of Wi-Fi devices.”

The saga began when the FCC fined the company $600,000 last fall for illegally jamming personal wifi hotspots in a Nashville convention center in 2013.

Instead of doing some corporate introspection about the limited virtues of nickeling and diming consumers to death, Marriott decided that the best way to avoid incurring such a penalty again in the future was to petition the FCC to make it legal for them to jam personal wifi hotspots on their properties.

Other hotel chains and trade groups chimed in to the proceeding on Marriott’s side. Tech giants Microsoft and Google, among others, stood on the other side, filing responses that Marriott should be allowed to do no such thing.

Over the holidays, Marriott tried to placate the hordes burying them in bad PR by clarifying that they didn’t want to block personal wifi hotspots in guest rooms, but only in the shared spaces where you actually need to use one. But since the people who work at, attend, and cover conventions like being able to use the internet to do their jobs while at those conventions, that argument didn’t fly either.

Marriott’s statement is good news for consumers in the short term. However, their FCC petition is still an open proceeding that the Commission will have to deal with one way or the other.

Target Preparing To Exit Canada, Will Close All 133 Stores In The Country

Thu, 2015-01-15 15:38



Some news for our friends shopping north of the border, or any Americans who wander into the country looking for a bit of home: Target is pulling up the stakes, closing all 133 stores in the country and rolling out of Canada, after the company said there was just no way to make Target Canada profitable anytime soon.

The company announced the news today in a statement from Brian Cornell, Target Corporation Chairman and CEO, reports the Toronto Star:

“After a thorough review of our Canadian performance and careful consideration of the implications of all options, we were unable to find a realistic scenario that would get Target Canada to profitability until at least 2021,” he says in the statement. “Personally, this was a very difficult decision, but it was the right decision for our company. With the full support of Target Corporation’s Board of Directors, we have determined that it is in the best interest of our business and our shareholders to exit the Canadian market and focus on driving growth and building further momentum in our U.S. business.”

Canada’s 133 Target stores employ about 17,600 people, with “nearly all Target Canada-based employees receive a minimum of 16 weeks of compensation, including wages and benefits coverage for employees who are not required for the full wind-down period,” the company says.

Target says it’ll cost about $500 million to $600 million in cash to shut things down in the wintry north, with stores remaining open during a court-supervised liquidation period. Things were supposed to get better during the holidays after an added effort, but alas, it wasn’t enough.

“We hoped that these efforts in Canada would lead to a successful holiday season, but we did not see the required step-change in our holiday performance,” said CEO Cornell. “There is no doubt that the next several weeks will be difficult, but we will make every effort to handle our exit in an appropriate and orderly way.”

Target to close up shop in Canada [Toronto Star]

Report: RadioShack Preparing To File For Bankruptcy As Soon As Next Month

Thu, 2015-01-15 15:15

(Da Chris Boss)

(Da Chris Boss)

RadioShack’s march toward doom is continuing steadily on, after announcing it would close a bunch of stores, then saying it wouldn’t close as many because even that was too expensive, and telling employees it would no longer match employees’ retirement contributions as of next year, the struggling electronics retailer is reportedly getting ready to file bankruptcy papers.

The filing could come as early as next month, reports the Wall Street Journal, as RadioShack is in talks with lenders who could help provide the cash to cover its operations during the bankruptcy protection proceedings.

The company is also reportedly in talks with a private-equity firm that could be interested in buying its assets out of bankruptcy, but that deal is far from being a sure thing. RadioShack might go the more typical road of reducing its debt and restructuring its operations in bankruptcy court.

Everything could change in the next few weeks, of course, but it seems inevitable that RadioShack has to do something — it’s been bleeding cash and posting losses for 11 straight quarters.

RadioShack Prepares Bankruptcy Filing [Wall Street Journal]

Organic Ground Beef Sold At Wegmans Stores Recalled Due To Plastic Fragments

Thu, 2015-01-15 00:30



There are many things that are very delicious alongside ground beef when mashed into a hamburger patty or loafed into a meatloaf, but plastic shards are not one of those things. Customers of Northeastern grocery chain Wegmans have reported finding “small malleable plastic pieces” in their packages of organic ground beef.

That’s a safety hazard, and plastic is not a substance that can be included in organic meat. A total of just under 34,000 pounds of beef were recalled, which were produced on December 23rd.

The product in question is called Wegmans Organic 93% Lean/7% Fat Grass-Fed Ground Beef, which was sold in vacuum-sealed packages of one pound, and also in bulk packs with three of the pound-sized sealed packages. Meat subject to this recall went to Wegmans stores in Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

The packages have a “use or freeze by” date of January 16, 2015. The meat supplier and the U.S. Department of Agriculture don’t know of any consumers who have been harmed by these plastic pieces.

If you’re a customer with a question about the recall, contact the producer, J&G Foods in Massachusetts, at (508) 865-1101.

Massachusetts Firm Recalls Ground Beef Products Due To Possible Foreign Matter Contamination [USDA]

Park-N-Fly And OneStopParking Confirm Suspected Breaches

Thu, 2015-01-15 00:06



After looking at the transactions on compromised credit cards, security experts at banks suspected that breaches may have occurred at two airport parking companies: the suspected breaches at Park-N-Fly and OneStopParking. Both companies have since confirmed that they were breached, but that doesn’t mean that the same person or group targeted both companies.

Park-N-Fly issued a statement on Tuesday about their breach, where card numbers and other customer information stolen included other information that is part of customers’ accounts with the company, including e-mail addresses and passwords. If you tend to use the same password everywhere and you’ve made an online Park-N-Fly reservation, time to change your password and also to rethink that strategy.

Here’s the relevant statement, as posted on the company’s website:

While the investigation is ongoing, it has been determined that the security of some data from certain payment cards that were used to make reservations through PNF’s e-commerce website is at risk. The data potentially at risk includes the card number, cardholder’s name and billing address, card expiration date, and CVV code. Other loyalty customer data potentially at risk includes email addresses, Park ‘N Fly passwords, and telephone numbers


OneStopParking confirmed the breach on their site, which occurred when hackers found a weak spot in the software that powers the company’s site, Joomla. Unfortunately for them, a patch existed for this specific vulnerability months before the break-in, and the site’s manager told Krebs on Security that the patch caused problems with their site, so they didn’t install it.

Card numbers from both breaches showed up in the same online marketplace, part of the surprisingly normal-seeming marketplaces where credit card numbers are sold.

Park ‘N Fly, OneStopParking Confirm Breaches [Krebs on Security]

Lawmakers Claim Congress Better At FCC’s Job Than FCC Is, Plan To Introduce Net Neutrality Proposal

Wed, 2015-01-14 22:52
(Brad Clinesmith)

(Brad Clinesmith)

Large swaths of Congress are not pleased with the FCC’s moves towards regulating net neutrality, and they got even less pleased after the President threw his weight behind Title II and the FCC started to move in that direction. With the FCC set to vote in February, time for Congress to stick its oar in is running out. So now, in addition to the proposed bill that would bar the FCC outright from using Title II, there will soon be proposed new legislation afoot that seeks to do the FCC’s job for it, without letting the FCC in at all.

The new bill hasn’t been written yet, but its coming, according to key lawmakers Senator John Thune and Rep. Fred Upton. Thune and Upton are, respectively, the new chairmen of the Senate and House Commerce Committees, so they get to set the committee agendas. And they both want very badly to make sure that the FCC is not allowed to regulate broadband ISPs as Title II communications companies.

In an op-ed today for Reuters, Thune and Upton try to lay out their argument for why letting the Federal Communications Commission actually regulate communications would be a disaster, and why Congress is better-placed to act instead. Their reasoning has a lot of grand rhetoric in it, but not a whole lot of actual substance.

They start in fine form, proclaiming: “We need unambiguous rules of the road that protect Internet users and can help spur job creation and economic growth.”

This is bland, but true. We do badly need clear, direct, universally-applied rules that cover all ISPs, large and small, and protect all consumers, including individuals, small businesses, and even large corporations.

The lawmakers then propose to prohibit blocking and throttling data, and to “ensure that Internet service providers could not charge a premium to prioritize content delivery.” That sounds like net neutrality, all right. Exactly what the FCC has been trying to do, in fact. So far, so good.

But then it starts to get a lot more hazy.

Upton and Thune claim that the FCC has “limited ability” to establish the kind of rules that consumers need. But that’s okay, they say, because Congress can, and Congress does, and therefore Congress should.

The argument relies heavily on two industry talking points. The first is that Title II is so anachronistic and outmoded — “a set of rules conceived in the Franklin D. Roosevelt era” — that it cannot possibly be adapted to the fast, digital, iPace of the modern age:

Our nation’s current technology and telecommunications laws were meant for an era of rotary telephones, brick-sized cellular phones and expensive long-distance service. By acting legislatively, we can set aside the baggage and limits of an antiquated legal framework and work with the Federal Communications Commission to ensure the Internet remains the beacon of freedom and connectivity that defines America in the 21st century.

Congress was founded 48 years before the invention of the telegraph, and yet that doesn’t seem to have stopped them from passing the Communications Acts of 1934 and 1996. Nor has it prevented them from passing laws about more historically recent needs like automobiles, aircraft, and airwaves.

So sure, Title II is an old piece of law, but so is the Constitution. And both have proven to be adaptable: Title II has many sections, and the FCC has the ability to cherry-pick which ones apply to broadband services if broadband is indeed reclassified. The commission can and almost certainly will skip any, like railroad-specific clauses, that don’t actually apply to the internet.

The other big talking point Thune and Upton rely on is from a widely-publicized study claiming that using Title II will somehow force ISPs to charge consumers an extra $15 billion in taxes. Fees! Bills! Won’t anyone think of the poor beleaguered consumers?!

The number in study they cite, however, has been debunked. While it is true that in an absolute worst-case scenario consumers might be on the hook for increases, the figure is a combination of conflation and hyperbole — and some of those hypothetical increases would have come from Congress, not the FCC. The Senator who wrote the relevant law literally called the $15 billion claim “baloney.”

Meanwhile, over here in realityville, broadband prices are already constantly jumping, and for no good reason except that they can. The absence of competition in most markets means that American broadband is already slow and expensive compared to many other developed nations.

Even if you measure American broadband success by the amount of money large corporations spend and make off it, as Comcast and Verizon and AT&T do, the claims that Title II will halt that progress are dishonest, as even those companies have reluctantly admitted.

Upton and Thune never outright say why they feel the FCC is so outmoded and inflexible, other than the fact of the commission contemplating a ruling that some of their biggest donors really don’t like. (Comcast was Upton’s top donor in 2014, contributing $44,500 to his campaign.) If the Federal Communications Commission is indeed so manifestly unsuited to regulating communications under the Communications Act, it is because of the toolbox that Congress has given it.

The op-ed points to that potential weakness that Congress itself has helped create by reminding us all that “this approach will perpetuate years of litigation and even more uncertainty for consumers and job creators,” and that part is true. Verizon and others have threatened repeatedly to sue the regulators if the FCC tries to regulate them, and the agency expects the challenge.

But the fact that large corporations will throw a temper tantrum at regulators for regulating is the worst possible reason to decide not to act. Parents don’t give their toddlers cookies every time a child fusses, and nor should Congress hand over the public interest to corporations every time a company’s legal team starts to make a ruckus.

The op-ed concludes, “Enduring, long-term protections for our digital freedoms are something we should all support.” They are, and we should. But proposals that prohibit the FCC from doing the job it exists to do scuttle those protections before we even get them.

Congressional proposal offers Internet rules of the road [Reuters]

Throwing Rubbing Alcohol During A Robbery Constitutes Use Of A Dangerous Weapon

Wed, 2015-01-14 22:48


There are a number of things we couldn’t imagine a would-be thief using during an attempted robbery. One of those things is rubbing alcohol. But that’s exactly what police say a man used to rob a Oklahoma Walgreens on Monday.

Fox23 News reports that Tulsa police arrested a man who allegedly robbed a nearby Walgreens by throwing rubbing alcohol on a store clerk.

According to police officials, the man entered the drug store around 3 a.m. Monday and grabbed a bottle of rubbing alcohol from a nearby shelf.

He can then be seen on security camera unscrewing the lid to a bottle of rubbing alcohol moments before he doused the store clerk with it, implied he had a weapon and walked away with an undisclosed amount of money.

While rubbing alcohol used for any other intended reason would be considered fairly harmless, police say that by throwing the liquid during the act of a crime constitutes use of a dangerous weapon.

Fox 23 reports that according to jail records the man was booked for robbery with a dangerous weapon, and his bond was set at $50,000.

“I mean I have been doing this for 17 years and at a certain point you think you have seen everything, then there is always somebody who comes along to surprise ya,” a local detective tells the TV station.

Man accused of using rubbing alcohol in a Walgreens robbery arrested [Fox23 News]

Procter & Gamble Will Stop Hating On Brooms So Much In Ads

Wed, 2015-01-14 22:47

uptothreetimesThe pitch for Procter & Gamble’s Swiffer floor-cleaning products is that they’re easier to use and more effective than brooms and mops. That may be the case, but a competitor has some issues with current Swiffer ads bragging that the brand’s sweepers are [up to] three times more effective than a broom at picking up dirt, dust, and hair. That competitor: a broom company.

You may not know that the Council of Better Business Bureaus have a division that investigates ad claims, but they do. The National Advertising Division describes itself as “an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation,” and refers cases to the Federal Trade Commission when a company doesn’t respond to concerns about their advertising.

The broom company that questioned Swiffer’s ad claims, Libman Brooms, took its concerns to the NAD. Swiffer’s ads brag about the superiority of cloths to brooms, but of course the claims are spangled with asterisks and the . These claims could be found on Swiffer packaging, as well as in ads and on the brand’s website. (Screen grabs included in this post were taken this afternoon.) The NAD investigated these claims:


  • “Swiffer Sweeper Leaves your floors up to 3X cleaner than a broom**” **on dirt, dust and hair
  • “Thicker cloths leave floors up to 3X cleaner. **”) **Than a broom on dirt, dust and hair.
  • “DRY CLOTHS LEAVE FLOORS UP TO 3X CLEANER ** vs. broom on dirt, dust and hair.”
  • Swiffer Sweeper “Pick[s] up 50% more dirt, dust, and hair than with a broom.”

Libman’s objection to these claims was that they are too broad, while the tests Procter & Gamble based them on were quite limited. The tests included a relatively small variety of surfaces, and larger particles that might not stick to a sweeper pad had been sifted out of the “dirt” used for testing. The surfaces included only test surfaces of hardwood, vinyl, and ceramic tile that measured nine square feet. That’s three feet long along each edge, maybe the size of a tiny half bathroom. As you might expect, one of the brooms used for the tests was made by Libman.

Procter & Gamble has agreed to stop using these claims in their ads. “While disappointed by the recommendation, P&G is committed to self review of advertising,” the company said in their official advertiser’s statment. “[P&G] will discontinue the challenged claims and will consider the NAD’s recommendations in future advertising.”

NAD Recommends P&G Discontinue Claims Made for Swiffer Sweeper Following Challenge by Libman Broom Maker [Advertising Self-Regulatory Council]
Here’s why P&G is backing off ad claims for Swiffer [Cincinnati Business Courier]

Samsung May Be The Only One Still Interested In Buying A Blackberry

Wed, 2015-01-14 22:34

 Ninja M.)

Raise your hand if you had one of these! Now put that hand down because you’re reading this online and you look silly. (photo: Ninja M.)

Let’s flash back to 2007, when every hotshot businessperson on the go click-click-clicked away on their Blackberry. Maybe they even had one with a really nice color screen and a scrollwheel that didn’t break after a few months. Fast-forward to now, when anyone still carrying a Blackberry gets pelted with spoiled meats and exiled to a rocky island in the Delaware River where they watch VHS tapes and dial into AOL. And yet, Samsung is reportedly thinking about paying billions of dollars to buy Blackberry.

This is according to Reuters, who reports that Korean electronics giant Samsung may be willing to pay upwards of $7.5 billion to acquire Blackberry, mostly to snatch up the company’s patents.

Company bigwigs met up last week to chat about the possibility of a merger, which could pay Blackberry shareholders somewhere between $13.35 and $15.49 per share, significantly higher than the sub-$11 price the company had been trading at recently. (News of the possible merger sent shares soaring today from $9.32 to a 52-week high of more than $12.60.)

Just for fun, let’s look at Blackberry’s share price for the last decade and a half:

Another Chicago Uber Driver Accused Of Sexually Assaulting Passenger

Wed, 2015-01-14 22:09

uberxWhile Uber claims to have recently bolstered its security and safety policies, reports of drivers allegedly assaulting passengers continue to make headlines.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the driver picked up his passenger, a 21-year-old male, in the Lakeview section of the city.

The driver then asked the passenger to sit in the front seat because he claimed the back seat was too dirty.

As the ride got underway, the driver, who outweighed the passenger by more than 100 pounds, allegedly forcibly kissed the passenger and grabbed his leg, touching his genitals through his pants.

The passenger told police that he repeatedly demanded to be let out of the car but the driver, a father of three, refused and told him that no one knew where he was.

At some point when the car had come to a stop, the driver allegedly choked the passenger, who says he almost passed out from lack of air. Whenever the passenger would try to exit the car, the driver would speed up so that it was unsafe to jump from the moving vehicle.

The passenger says the driver unzipped his own pants and attempted to push the passenger’s head into the the driver’s crotch.

Eventually the driver agreed to take the passenger home. He later contacted the police and identified the driver in a photo lineup.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the driver allegedly admitted to groping the passenger and exposing himself.

He’s been charged with criminal sexual assault, unlawful restraint and kidnapping, and was ordered held in lieu of $150,000 bail.

This is the second sexual assault allegation made against a Chicago Uber driver in recent weeks. On Dec. 30, a driver was accused of assaulting a passenger in the car and then again at the driver’s apartment. In that instance, the driver only had a temporary Illinois license and was using his wife’s Uber account to pick up passengers.

While violence between taxi drivers and passengers is nothing new — there’s a reason that cabs in NYC and other cities have those thick plexiglass dividers between front and back seats — there is a particular focus on Uber and other ridesharing services as they market a product that is supposed to be more consumer-friendly than a taxi you flag down on the corner.

Incidents like the two Chicago cases are rare, but they fuel arguments from Uber detractors who claim the company doesn’t do enough to screen its drivers or ensure passenger safety.

100% Of Consumerist Staff Would Forgive Sir Patrick Stewart For Eating Tuna On A Plane

Wed, 2015-01-14 21:59

Noooooo, SPS don't doooo it!!! (Jimmy Kimmel Live on YouTube)

Noooooo, SPS don’t doooo it!!! (Jimmy Kimmel Live on YouTube)

Of the many jokes, riffs and bits about the annoying kinds of people you’re likely to meet on a flight, the team at the Consumerist is having a tough time going along with a sketch on last night’s Jimmy Kimmel Live. See, that’s because the actor playing all the obnoxious types of passengers just happens to be Sir Patrick Stewart, he of the voice that could melt butter or freeze water into ice.

Honestly, we could only be so lucky to have SPS on our flight, even if he was going to be the “Chatty Charlie” (with that voice? Chat away!), “The Seat Climber” (yes, please) or “The Landing Clapper” (love the timbre of your laugh).

In fact, a non-scientific survey of the Consumerist team just now found 100% of us would even forgive SPS for being the kind of “Stinky Snacker” who would eat a day-old tuna sub on a plane full of people — some only if you absolutely had to otherwise something terrible might happen to SPS.

Expressing sentiments such as “If he would die or become very ill from tuna deficiency, I would forgive him”; “Sir Patrick Stewart smells like science and christmas. But yes. If he had to”; “Absolutely, as long as he wasn’t chewing with his mouth open,”; and “Yes, because he’s Sir Patrick/He would have to recite Shakespeare at me the whole time to earn my forgiveness, but still,” we can confidently say that we’d very likely tolerate even that most heinous of passenger-on-passenger crimes, given the right set of twinkling eyes and a sparkling British accent to match.

I know I just asked you all about eating ants, but I’m full of questions today:
Take Our Poll (function(d,c,j){if(!d.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;;pd.src='';s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);} else if(typeof jQuery !=='undefined')jQuery(d.body).trigger('pd-script-load');}(document,'script','pd-polldaddy-loader'));

Taco Bell Suggests Fans Tweet #SaveTacoBell To Preserve Original Bell Building

Wed, 2015-01-14 21:30

The original Taco Bell opened in 1962 in Downey, CA. It now stands empty and local preservationists hope to save it.

The original Taco Bell opened in 1962 in Downey, CA. It now stands empty and local preservationists hope to save it.

Earlier today, we told you how the original Taco Bell building in Downey, CA, now faces possible demolition after its most recent tenant left the place empty in December. We asked Taco Bell corporate for comment on the story and its response is apparently to start a social media campaign — though we’re not exactly sure to what end.

“This is a very special place in our history, and for the entire Taco Bell community,” a rep for Taco Bell HQ tells Consumerist. “For passionate Taco Bell fans who want to share their support, we encourage them to use #savetacobell in social media.”

The question is whether Taco Bell actually plans to do anything if people use this hashtag enough, or whether the company is just throwing up its hands and suggesting that this is a possible way people could preserve the building that company founder Glenn “Taco” Bell erected by himself with only the assistance of a stubborn burro named Justin in 1962. (We may have embellished on that part about the burro.)

So share the hashtag if you want. Or don’t. The world will probably continue to spin either way.

Americans Shopped Less In December, Bought More Furniture And Booze

Wed, 2015-01-14 21:25

(Gerard Stolk)

(Gerard Stolk)

If you tried to find a parking space at your local mall at any time last month, you might think that Americans were in a spectacular shopping frenzy. That may have been the case, but consumers’ total spending across the whole economy was down in December, falling further than government economists had expected it to.

Keep this in perspective, of course: we’re talking about some relatively small percentages here. Economists expected total spending across the whole economy to fall only .1 percent, but the monthly report from the Commerce Department says that it fell .9%. That seems tiny, but remember that’s a percentage of all consumer spending in December as a whole, across the country.

One culprit for the decrease could be the deep discounts that retailers used in person and online to coax shoppers to shop during the last weeks of 2014. Categories where total spending decreased included clothing, electronics, and new automobiles.

However, there were two categories where spending was up: one was restaurants and bars, which one might expect during the holiday party season. The other was furniture, which probably makes sense for some reason.

U.S. retail sales post largest decline in 11 months [Reuters]

Proposed Scorecard Could Help Protect Students From Dangerous Banking Products

Wed, 2015-01-14 21:17


For the past several years, federal agencies, lawmakers and consumer advocates have shared their displeasure with the rather cozy relationship between the financial industry and higher education institutions and set out to protect consumers from the often shady deals made between the two groups. Now the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is setting out to protect students by creating a scorecard that would help ensure colleges have all the pertinent details when it comes to partnering with financial institutions that offer checking and prepaid accounts to students.

The CFPB announced today that it is seeking input on a draft of the Safe Student Account Scorecard [PDF] that would help colleges access upfront information about fees, features, and sales tactics before agreeing to a sponsorship.

“An important issue for young people is how best to manage their money while they are still in school,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray says in a statement about the initiative. “Because of the influence schools may have on the financial products students choose, we are working to arm them with the information they need to negotiate safe and affordable products for students.”

Officials with the Bureau say such a scorecard could help level the playing field for all financial institutions that offer affordable products, regardless of their ability to pay schools bonuses or royalties.

Typically colleges make deals with financial institution in which the school helps with or allows the promotion of credit, debit, or prepaid cards, sometimes endorsed with a college logo or linked to a student identification card.

Through these deals, colleges often receive royalties for allowing the companies to use college trademarks or logos and bonuses based on the number of students who sign up for accounts.

A report from the CFPB back in December found that in 2013 colleges and universities received nearly $43 million in royalties and bonuses from credit card issuers.

While the CFPB has found that many colleges do employ transparent, competitive bidding processes to establish their relationships with financial institutions, they may have a difficult time finding clear information on features and fees.

That’s where the new Safe Student Account Scorecard would come in.

The Bureau says the card would allow colleges to easily evaluate student costs and benefits of products by accessing information about fees, features, and marketing practices.

Specifically, the financial institutions would be asked to provide schools with:

A clear description of product fees and features: The draft scorecard specifically seeks information on whether there is a fee for certain features, such as access to mobile banking and electronic statements, and the amount of any fee.

The scorecard will determine whether financial institutions charge any non-standard fees, as well as the availability of in-network ATMs.

The scorecard also seeks to have financial institutions explain any other fees they may charge, such as a prepaid card reload fee or balance inquiry fee.

Full disclosure about the financial institutions’ marketing practices: The scorecard requests information on how financial institutions offering school-sponsored accounts would ensure that students receive objective and neutral information on their choices.

For example, the scorecard asks financial institutions to provide an explanation as to how they will ensure that a college has the ability to approve certain marketing materials using its brand or logo.

How much the financial institution earns from the accounts: The scorecard provides a way for colleges to seek specific information about the cost of Safe Student Checking and Safe Student Prepaid Accounts.

For example, colleges might require that institutions would have to say how much they receive for each account opened, how much financial support they provide to the school, and how much the institution receives for each transaction with its financial product.

Annual summary of fees: The draft scorecard would have financial institutions provide the school with an annual summary describing the fees charged to account holders at the given college.

The summary would include: number of student account holders the previous year; average and median fees paid by a student account holder per year; the three most frequently incurred fees per year; and the average and median fees paid by a student for each fee imposed.

Once the scorecard is implemented, the CFPB says it can be adapted to meet schools’ specific needs. However, it is only meant to solicit information helpful to a school’s selection process and not to establish minimum standards.

The CFPB will accept input on the draft scorecard until March 16. Consumers wanting to comment on the scorecard initiative can find information on how to do so here.

“With American consumers carrying $1.2 trillion in outstanding student debt on their backs and with the cost of college rising, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants to help colleges restore their role as trusted advisers to young people across the country,” Cordray says in a statement.

Consumer advocates applauded the CFPB’s work so far in regards to the scorecard, saying it would  help schools find good partners, promote better deals for students.

“This tool can make a real difference in helping schools find a good partner that will treat students fairly and honestly,” our colleague Pamela Banks, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union says in a statement. “This is part of a larger effort to clean up a system that promotes financial products that are aggressively marketed to students, but wind up eating away at the limited funds they depend on to go to school.”

CFPB Releases Safe Student Account Scorecard [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau]

Pop-Up Restaurant Has 60K People Waiting On A List To Eat Twitching Seafood Covered In Ants

Wed, 2015-01-14 21:12



In one of those, “Someone has got to be jerking us around” bits of pretentious restaurant news, today we caught wind of a pop-up restaurant in Tokyo that has 60,000 people on a waiting list to eat things like dead-yet-still-wriggling-because-of-needle-in-brain langoustine covered in ants. What? We know. But really.

Gogo Lidz at Newsweek writes that not only did she snag a reservation for the five-week residency in Tokyo of Noma, a much-buzzed about Copenhagen restaurant pop-up, but she was “the very first customer seated for the very first meal on the very first day.”

She goes into great detail about the 14 courses on Chef René Redzepi’s menu, which reads like a litany of grossness that really makes us think this whole thing is a huge joke. Also, juice pairings are really big.

The first of 14 courses involves “a langoustine on a bed of ice, the tail shell peeled back to expose the raw flesh, which is speckled with large black ants.” YES, ANTS.

She bites the prawn, and the tentacles start moving, so she freaks out and asks the chef if it’s still alive. It’s dead, so she asks how.

“A needle to its brain. For three to four minutes after the langoustine is killed, it moves as if it were electric.”

And then there are the ants…

“I close my eyes and bite into the ant-y tail. It’s…delicious! Almost like lobster ice cream. With salted ant jimmies.”

It goes on: “citrus segments with tiny, pickled Okinawa chilies in a puddle of roasted kelp oil”; “shaved monkfish liver that’s frozen and served on lightly grilled toast”; “cuttlefish sliced into ribbons that mimic soba noodles” with “a bowl of pine broth and rose petals” to dip each noodle in and oh yes, “freshwater clams and wild kiwi paste on a sea kelp pastry shell.”

That one sounds particularly insane, as Lidz writes: “The staff is particularly proud of the clams. There are 45 per tart, and 13 people spent eight hours shucking them. The amazingly complex flavors linger, continually changing like one of Willy Wonka’s everlasting gobstoppers.”

There’s so much more in this that is real, but cannot be. Because ants. And that’s not even to mention the various juices paired with everything and a hacked apart duck.

All of the ants and other things are apparently pleasing to people, as Lidz writes “the guests leave the dining room happily swooning.”

One half of a Consumerist discussion between MBQ and #BossMeg went as follows, after yours truly expressed a willingness to try such a menu:
#BossMeg: You can go ahead and eat ants. I’m going to be over here trying to keep them out of my food
MBQ: I would love to try those ants. The twitching langoustine… eh.
#BossMeg: I would not eat ants. Honey is as far as I go.

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A Restaurant With a Waiting List of 60,000 [Newsweek]

Facebook Is Now Moving To Invade Your Workplace With New App

Wed, 2015-01-14 20:59

fbwork_press_ios1-640x454While many employers complain about their employees using Facebook too frequently during work hours, a new app actually seeks to integrate the Facebook experience with the workplace.

Much like Google has had success in offering an enterprise-level version of its e-mail and Drive services, Facebook is looking for legitimacy in the office by offering companies a way to set up a sharing network for just employees that exists alongside any personal Facebook accounts they may have.

“Facebook at Work is a separate experience that gives employees the ability to connect and collaborate efficiently using Facebook tools,” reads a statement from the company, which says that users of the new app will see many features they’re already likely familiar with, like News Feed, Groups, messages, and events.

Except, rather than being pestered with requests for games that you don’t want to play or links to viral stories that were debunked three years earlier, you’ll presumably be getting invites to meetings and posts about important company-related information.

Just like the Google business services, Facebook will charge a premium to companies looking to use Facebook At Work. That’s different than the company’s current approach to generating revenue by selling heavily targeted ads on the free version of the site.

“We’ve been using Facebook for work for many years now internally, and we’ve gained a lot of insight into how people can collaborate more efficiently,” says Lars Rasmussen, a Facebook engineer who worked on the new app.

Unlike the Facebook we’ve all come to know and fear, the company says it will not use the Facebook At Work app to collect data on users.

Only a small number of companies currently have access to the app, but that will change as Facebook allows more businesses to sign on and download it from the iOS and Android app stores.

‘Facebook At Work’ Hits App Stores [WSJ Digits]

Facebook At Work finally lets employees get away with Facebook at work [Ars Technica]