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General Motors Recallapalooza Was Bad News For Rental Car Companies, Too

Wed, 2014-08-20 23:25

hertzcarfuntimeThis year’s vehicle Recallapalooza hasn’t just been bad news for General Motors and for nervous vehicle owners waiting for repair kits. Having fewer cars on the roads has been bad for major car rental companies, too, at a time that was supposed to be a renaissance of sorts for that business.

This week, Hertz withdrew its predictions about its performance this year, citing an audit of all of its financial reports going back to 2011 and “operational pressures.” The strongest pressure has been the number of cars in their fleet that were part of the General Motors recall.

As the company explained in its latest report to shareholders:

While demand was trending ahead of plan, transaction days in the 2014 second quarter were tempered by already tight fleets in the face of rising OEM recall activity, which limited the Company’s ability to convert demand into transaction days.

That means Hertz had people ready to rent cars, including in the vacation market, which is more lucrative than boring old insurance or business travel rentals. However, the number of vehicles out of commission due to various manufacturers’ recalls meant that Hertz couldn’t accommodate all of that business.

Bad Timing For Hertz: Rental Demand Rises, But So Do Auto Recalls [Wall Street Journal]

Why Every Driver Should Care About The GM Ignition Recall
5 Major Rental Car Companies Agree To Stop Renting & Leasing Recalled Vehicles

Uber Infiltrates Chicago Airports Thanks To Partnership With United Airlines

Wed, 2014-08-20 22:54

(So Cal Metro)

(So Cal Metro)

Airports have long been the domain of taxi cabs, limos, and licensed car services. Ride-sharing services haven’t really been able to break that stronghold, though some have tried. But travelers to one of America’s busiest airports may soon have new options as a result of a new arrangement between United Airlines and Uber.

United launched the service Thursday that allows passengers to use the United Airlines mobile app to find UberTaxi information including the types of vehicles available, estimated wait times and prices.

The airline’s passengers can hook-up with the Uber service by using the airline’s mobile app to select a ride, at which point they are either directed to the Uber app to complete the transaction or to sign-up for an Uber account.

While ride-sharing services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar are banned from picking up passengers at most airports, United found a loophole in the Windy City, Crain’s Chicago Business reports.

UberTaxi is permitted at O’Hare International Airport and Midway Airport, because the service links to professional taxi drivers and Uber dispatches the licensed cabs themselves. Other Uber options, including UberX, UberLX and the company’s black cars, will continue to be prohibited from fetching passengers at the airport.

The taxi and limousine industry has been opposed to allowing ride-share companies to pick up passengers from airports, claiming they would cut into business and skirt the typical $4 departure stamp required, Crain’s reports.

Officials with United claim the partnership will ensure passengers have a more convenient journey, but we’re not exactly sure about that.

For starters, would the service be any faster than waiting in line at the taxi stand? Generally, when one requests a pick up from Uber it takes a few minutes for the car to arrive.

Also, it’s unclear if Uber will have a designated pick up location at the Chicago airports, which means passengers could be left wandering around looking for their driver.

United Airlines falls in love with Uber, too [Crain's Chicago Business]
United Airlines the First Airline to Offer Uber Service via Mobile App [United Airlines]

Hair Stylist Gives Away Free Haircuts Every Weekend To NYC’s Homeless

Wed, 2014-08-20 22:44


Just because someone doesn’t have a roof over their head doesn’t mean that head can’t be well-groomed, as one New York City stylist who usually commands upwards of $150 for his hair services is showing by providing free haircuts to those in need.

Every Sunday afternoon, the stylist takes the time to groom denizens of the city who are homeless or in otherwise not ideal situations, reports CNNMoney, instead of tending to his usual clients at a Chelsea salon.

The stylist has been cutting hair since he was four years old, and started helping the needy with their grooming while visiting relatives in the Philippines in 2012. While there, he joined efforts with a local barber shop to give cuts to needy kids.

“It made such a strong positive impact on me that I decided to bring it back home to NYC,” he said, estimating he’s given haircuts to more than 50 homeless people. He’s also handed out free cuts in Costa Rica, Jamaica and Los Angeles as well.

“I approach individuals on the street or parks and tell them the purpose of what I do,” he says. “Cutting their hair becomes a lot like a therapy session and not just a haircut.”

After one man got a free cut, he said while he doesn’t care so much about what’s in the mirror these days, a haircut makes him feel “cleaner.”

Another man who’s been homeless for eight years got a buzzcut and his goatee trimmed, calling the stylist an “angel” for getting him ready to visit his daughter that night.

“When someone comes along and gives you something you never get, it’s just nice,” the man said. “It makes me wanna cry.”

Stylist gives free haircuts to the homeless [CNNMoney]

Is There A Link Between The Size Of Your Wedding And The Quality Of Your Marriage?

Wed, 2014-08-20 22:31

(Kerry Lannert)

(Kerry Lannert)

Compared to a lifetime (or at least a few years) spent with your spouse, the one day you spend actually getting married is but a blip on a very long timeline. But the results of a new study seems to indicate that there is some sort of link between the size of your wedding’s guest list and the quality of the marriage that ensues. Of course, that data also appears to show that most marriages are not truly happy.

The L.A. Times writes about the University of Denver’s Relationship Development Study, which has been looking at hundreds of recently married people over the last five years.

Among the various findings of the study are some curious numbers about the number of people attending a couple’s wedding and the quality of their marriage.

The couples in the study who said “I do” before a crowd of at least 150 people had high-quality marriages, according to the researchers. On the other end of the scale, only 31% of couples with relatively cozy weddings of 50 or fewer guests had high-quality marriages. For the group in the middle of those two extremes, the stats weren’t much better, with just 37% having high-quality marriages.

Likewise, only 28% of couples who eschewed formal weddings entirely fit into the the high-quality category, compared to 41% of those who went the formal wedding route.

What’s the connection? The researchers think there might be some impact of what I (not the researchers) have dubbed “The Biggest Loser Effect,” meaning someone might be more willing to commit to something unpleasant if they know lots of people are paying attention.

“There is some reason to believe that having more witnesses at a wedding may actually strengthen marital quality,” write the researchers, who also speculate that the success disparity between informal and formal weddings could be because “couples who are struggling or less happy in their relationship may be less likely to want to celebrate getting married.”

But the real demon lurking in these numbers is that even the best success rate didn’t even crack 50%, meaning a majority of couples in the study are not in high-quality marriages.

So you can invite all the people you want to your wedding, but you may still have better odds of winning at the blackjack table than you do at marriage.

This is as good a reason as any to listen Gram Parsons’ greatest song:

Caramel Apple Oreos Arrive In Target Stores Today

Wed, 2014-08-20 22:19

Is caramel apple the new pumpkin spice? It could be: when Americans reach the level of pumpkin spice fatigue, they’ll be looking for new, non-orange but still fall-themed snacks. Starting today, you can pick up Caramel Apple flavored Oreos…only at Target.


We learned about the product launch from the Twitter feed of Target Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Jones, who shared the above photo. Of course, our readers already knew that Caramel Apple Oreos were on their way, since we discussed them in our post on Monday about the cookies’ Halloween-themed cousins, Pumpkin Spice Oreos.

Exclusive new flavor arrives tomorrow! Thanks oreo #newfavorite
Jeff Jones (@jjones) August 19, 2014

While the package has clearly been opened, Jones has nothing to tell us about the flavor of the cookies. We can assume that they will taste like “natural and artificial” apple and caramel flavors with vanilla cookie wafers, but will the apple and caramel flavors match up with the green and brown coloring in the Oreo creme? We’ll just have to wait to find out.

Or never find out at all. We’ll be fine either way, I guess. Some food bloggers got to preview the Pumpkin Spice flavors, but we operate by rules that prevent us from accepting freebies from companies, so no cases of strangely-flavored cookies for us.

The new cookies will have lots of exotic Oreo company on the shelf: recent Oreo flavor launches have included root beer, limeade, peanut butter cup, cookie dough, and Rice Krispies that are not, for legal reasons, called Rice Krispies. They’ll also have at least one flavor buddy on store shelves: Candy Apple flavored M&Ms also hit shelves this fall.

Exclusive new flavor arrives tomorrow! [Instagram] (via Brand Eating)

SeaWorld Trainers Will Stay Out Of The Water After Park Drops Its Appeal Of OSHA Citations

Wed, 2014-08-20 21:55


SeaWorld’s orca trainers will stay out of the water following the park’s decision to give up its appeal to overturn a federal appeals court ruling in April. That decision that upheld the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s citations against SeaWorld for various violations, including some linked directly to the death of one of its trainers in 2010.

As chronicled in the documentary Blackfish, which has been quite the public relations headache for the marine park, SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed in front of park visitors when an orca named Tilikum pulled her into the water and kept her under it during a performance.

OSHA then cited SeaWorld with three workplace safety violations, two linked to Brancheau’s tragic death.

Since that appeals court ruling, SeaWorld trainers have stayed out of the water, as OSHA alleged that the park exposed animal trainers to hazards of drowning or injury, knowingly, by allowing them in the water with whales without anything to keep them safe, should something go wrong. As it did when Brancheau was killed, as well as in previous instances involving two other trainers killed while with Tilikum.

And now it seems it’ll stay that way, as SeaWorld Entertainment won’t be taking its case to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week cited by the Orlando Sentinel.

SeaWorld says that it has “elected to not pursue further appeal.”

“The safety of our staff and the welfare of our animals are SeaWorld’s highest priorities, and since February 2010 we have made significant safety improvements. … We are focused on the implementation of those improvements moving forward,” SeaWorld said in a prepared statement. “As such, we opted not to pursue further appeal of the court’s decision, which was based on how we were conducting our killer whale program prior to February 2010.”

SeaWorld San Diego announced last week that it’s doubling the size of its orca environment and pledging $10 million in research funding to study the creatures in the wild.

SeaWorld won’t appeal ruling keeping whale trainers out of water [Orlando Sentinel]

Subprime Auto Lender Fined $2.75M For Providing Inaccurate Information To Credit Agencies

Wed, 2014-08-20 21:20

(Chris Goldberg)

(Chris Goldberg)

Even the slightest bad rating on a credit report can have long-lasting negative affects on consumers’ lives – from getting jobs to renting or buying a home. And while most bad credit behavior detailed on credit reports are of the consumers’ own doing, sometimes it’s the result of inaccurately furnished information from financial institutions. That appears to be the case for a Houston-based financial group that now faces a hefty fine from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The CFPB announced today that it fined subprime lender First Investors Financial Services Group Inc. $2.75 million for knowingly providing inaccurate consumer information, including wrong payment and overdue amounts, distorted dates, inflated delinquencies and mischaracterization of vehicle surrender, to credit reporting agencies.

According to a CFPB consent order [PDF], First Investors continued to provide inaccurate information to credit reporting agencies even after discovering the issue in April 2011.

When the company, which specialized in lending to consumers with impaired credit profiles, notified the vendor of issues, but failed to take steps to correct the situation.

“It continued for years to use a system that it knew was flawed. Tens of thousands of consumers were likely subject to these systemic reporting problems,” the CFPB alleges.

According to CFPB investigators the inaccurate information provided by First Investors included:

• Wrong payments and overdue amounts: First Investors provided inaccurate information about how much consumers were paying toward their debts. In many cases, First Investors understated the amounts its customers were paying. When consumers made multiple payments within a single month, for example, First Investors only reported one of the payments. This does not give consumers full credit for keeping up with their loan obligations. First Investors also overstated the dollar amount by which many of its customers were past due on their accounts.

• Distorted dates: First Investors inaccurately reported many of its customers’ “date of first delinquency,” which is the date on which a consumer first became late in paying back the loan. In most cases, First Investors was reporting the date to be more recent than it actually was. The date an account first becomes delinquent matters because it determines how long a delinquency can appear on a consumer’s credit report. Inaccurate reporting of the age of a consumer’s delinquency can cause it to appear on the consumer’s credit report longer than is allowed by the FCRA.

• Inflated delinquencies: First Investors substantially inflated the number of delinquencies for some customers when it reported customers’ last 24 months of consecutive payment activity. In one case, First Investors reported that a consumer was delinquent eleven times, when in fact the consumer had only been delinquent twice.

• Mischaracterization of vehicle surrender: When loans reach a certain stage of delinquency, First Investors has the option to repossess the car. Before that happens, though, consumers have the option to voluntarily surrender their vehicle and avoid a “repossession” showing up on their credit report. First Investors told credit reporting agencies that some of its customers had their vehicles repossessed, when in fact those individuals had voluntarily surrendered their vehicles back to the lienholder.

In addition to paying the $2.75 million fine, First Investors must correct the errors on consumers’ credit reports, help consumers obtain free copies of their credit reports and establish consumer safeguards.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Takes Action Against Auto Finance Company For Distorting Borrower Credit Reports [CFPB]

Norway Marks The Legalization Of Segways With First Drunk-While-Segwaying Arrest

Wed, 2014-08-20 21:01
This is a person on a Segway. (pbm.)

This is a person on a Segway. (pbm.)

As my cool cousin Charlie once said, laws are made to be broken, man. That’s certainly true in Norway, where someone already got arrested for driving a Segway while under the influence of alcohol a month after the country legalized the electric scooters. This is why you can’t have nice things, Norway.

It was only last month that Norway lifted a ban on “self-balancing vehicles” because they can go as fast as mopeds, but officials had concerns about how safe they’d be on roadways with other vehicles.

Alas, one man in Oslo has already been arrested for allegedly boozing and cruising, reports the BBC. Witnesses in a restaurant area of town reported a guy exhibiting “strange behavior” while attempting to keep his balance on a Segway.

Police arrested him and charged him with being drunk while driving a Segway. This initial incident already has traffic cops worried.

“I really hope we’re not risking having lots of drink-drivers [editor's note: this is what the BBC calls it repeatedly] on two-wheeled vehicles,” the head of Oslo traffic police said. “These are treated like any other vehicle when it comes to the limit on blood alcohol.”

Mom and Dad are already sighing and shaking their heads at you, kids.

“I’m not surprised, but disappointed they don’t appreciate the danger,” a police inspector said.

Just disappointed in you. That’s all. Disappointed.

Norway catches its ‘first drink-driving Segway user’ [BBC News]

Movie Theater In California Closed Until Tomorrow Due To Alleged Bed Bugs

Wed, 2014-08-20 20:59

lodi12It’s been a long time since we’ve heard any reports of bedbugs munching on people while the people munch on popcorn in a movie theater. Almost exactly four years, to be exact. A movie theater in a rural area of California will stay closed until Thursday after extensive de-bugging began over the weekend. However, the theater won’t confirm whether the mysterious insect infestation is bedbugs.

What the pest control company that’s inspecting and potentially treating the theater could tell local reporters was that bedbugs are infesting dorms and homes in the area, so they are potentially hopping around on people and bedding.

“I was itching a little in the theater, and my daughter later pointed out to me that I had a few bumps on my back,” one moviegoer told TV station WTVR. “I woke up the next morning with a rash all over my body. My daughter had bumps on her legs and arms.”

In a statement, theater management said that the business closed to the public in response to similar complaints from customers, and an inspection turned up “limited evidence of insect activity in a few auditoriums.” They plan to reopen tomorrow if current extermination efforts are effective.

Bed bug complaint closes Lodi theater for second day [WTVR]
After Bed Bug Complaints, Lodi Theater Closed Until Thursday To Eliminate ‘Insect’ Problem [CBS Sacramento]

Lawmakers Wade Into Fight Over FCC Chair’s Potential Plan To Overturn Bans On Municipal Broadband

Wed, 2014-08-20 20:59



Not very much happens in Washington, D.C. in August. But even as the city slows down, FCC chair Tom Wheeler continues to make strong noises about using the FCC’s authority to preempt state laws that prohibit the expansion or creation of municipal broadband utilities. And now, some members of Congress are joining him.

Wheeler first spoke in June about potentially doing an end-run around those states. Pointing to Chattanooga’s success with municipal fiber, Wheeler said clearly at the time, “I believe that it is in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercises its power to preempt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband. Given the opportunity,” he continued, “we will do so.”

The opportunity began to present itself a short while later. In July, the public broadband utility companies owned by two different cities — Wilson, NC and Chattanooga, TN — filed petitions with the FCC asking to be allowed to expand their service. Both North Carolina and Tennessee are among the twenty states that have restrictive cable lobby-sponsored laws on the books that prevent them from implementing or expanding public broadband service.

In between those two events, several Senators and members of the House of Representatives sent a letter (PDF) to chairman Wheeler asking him to take action to protect and encourage the growth of municipal broadband networks. The list of lawmakers included Massachusetts senator Ed Markey, who at a hearing in July rather spectacularly challenged executives from Comcast and AT&T to give legitimate reasons why they are so opposed to municipal broadband. (They couldn’t.)

Wheeler has now issued a formal response to the lawmakers (PDF).

In his letter, the chairman agreed that, the state laws against municipal broadband “have the effect of limiting competition in those areas, contrary to almost two decades of bipartisan federal communications policy that is focused on encouraging competition.”

He also reiterated his earlier stance on pre-emption, saying, “I respect the important role of state governments in our federal system, but I know that state laws that directly conflict with critical federal laws and policy may be subject to preemption in appropriate circumstances,” though he diplomatically added, “I recognize that federal preemption is not a step to be taken lightly without a careful consideration of all relevant legal and policy issues.”

In answer to Wheeler’s response, Sen. Markey and Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania have now issued a joint statement again calling on the FCC to take swift action.

In the statement, Sen. Markey sang the praises of competition, saying, “What the broadband market needs today are more options and greater local choice, not barriers that prevent cities and towns from participating fully in the global economy.” He then encouraged the FCC “to use its authority to ensure municipalities have the power to make decisions about their broadband infrastructure.”

Rep. Doyle echoed the sentiment, saying, “I strongly encourage [Chairman Wheeler] and the FCC to take quick and decisive action to lift restrictions that limit or prevent communities from addressing their own broadband needs.

As Motherboard points out, the statements from Sen. Markey and Rep. Doyle are most useful to Wheeler as political cover. Wheeler already faces pushback from Congress over net neutrality and major media mergers this year. Politically speaking, adding a threat to pre-empt state laws with federal regulation into the mix isn’t just pouring gasoline onto the fire; it’s adding a match and maybe a couple of sticks of dynamite just for fun. He can use all the cover he can get.

Particular interests — certain members of Congress as well as businesses — are firmly against increasing competition in the broadband marketplace, and are trying every tool in the box to stop the FCC from taking action. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee is one of the lawmakers who takes exception to Wheeler’s statements, as Motherboard reports. In a statement, she said, “We don’t need unelected bureaucrats in Washington telling our states what they can and can’t do with respect to protecting their limited taxpayer dollars and private enterprises, adding, “This Congress cannot sit idly by and let an independent agency trample on our states’ rights.”

Earlier this summer Blackburn proposed a bill to strip the FCC of its authority to pre-empt state laws, which passed in the House but has not reached the Senate.

Coincidentally we’re sure, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, a large industry trade group, rank very high among Blackburn’s campaign donors.

Companies with money to spend (like Comcast) aren’t just trying to block municipal broadband expansion through targeted political donations; they’re also out in force objecting on their own. When asked about municipal broadband restrictions back in July, Comcast bigwig David L. Cohen opposed public broadband as much as he could without actually having an “I hate this” sound byte on the record.

Cohen said, “As a company, we have serious questions about whether municipalities should get into the broadband business.” He continued, “I was in city government for six-and-a-half years, I know what city government can do. I think it’s a mistake to do to it, and so we will advocate at the municipal government level that we think this is a mistake. The answer is we don’t oppose it — we don’t have the right to oppose it — we have the right to advocate against it.”

By “advocating against it,” Cohen means that trade organizations representing Comcast and other companies specifically introduce and sponsor those state-level bills restricting public networks.

The FCC itself is also far from unified. Today, speaking at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the chief of staff to FCC commissioner Ajit Pai said today that any attempt by the FCC to intervene in states’ laws would be unconstitutional, and chided Wheeler for even daring to think of it. The NCSL has promised to take the FCC to court if the commission does try to preempt any state laws.

Amidst all this, the FCC is accepting public comments until August 29 on the petitions from Wilson and Chattanooga. They will probably aim to come to a decision late this year.

Original Twinkies Factory To Close; Company Blames Impostors

Wed, 2014-08-20 20:27

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

A year ago, Twinkies were pulled from the ashes of the Hostess bankruptcy, dusted off and put back by the shelf from the brand’s new owners. But the fallout from the collapse of Hostess lingers, with an announcement today that the factory where the Twinkie was born will soon fade into memory.

Back in the 1930s, the Continental Baking Company factory in Schiller Park, IL, gave birth to the first Hostess Twinkie. The plant was one of many that shut down after Hostess filed for bankruptcy in 2012, but reopened the summer of 2013 to once again crank out super-sweet, creme-filled treats under the new Hostess Brands LLC.

But the company’s new owners say there isn’t as much demand for Twinkies thanks to the apparent flood of impostors that rushed in to steal the snack’s sugary crown. Thus the Schiller Park plant, which currently employs around 400 workers, will close in October.

“While the old Hostess company was in bankruptcy, many competitors took over the shelves and are tenaciously defending their business and thus we must be highly efficient and technologically advanced to compete,” explained Hostess Brands CEO Bill Toler in a statement to the Chicago Tribune. “As a result, we have invested in more efficient production capabilities and need to streamline our manufacturing infrastructure and protect our ability to compete.”

Corona Extra Beer Recalled Because Glass Particles Don’t Go Down So Smoothly

Wed, 2014-08-20 20:15

affectedcoronaThat’s not an extra unripe lime interrupting a smooth pull of the beer — the makers of Corona Extra say some 12-ounce bottles of the brew have been recalled for having small glass particles in them.

Constellation Brands Beer Division announced the voluntary recall in a press release today, saying that certain six-packs, 12-packs and 18-packs of 12-ounce clear glass bottles might come with free glass shards.

Consumers who have purchased these kinds of bottles should check the production code — an eight-digit alphanumeric code printed on the necks of the bottles and side panels on the cardboard packages — against the below list:

Corona Extra six-packs: G014C059, G024C059, G064A059, G064C059, G074B059, G104C049, G114C049, G124C049, G134C049, G144C049, G154C049, G164C049, G244C049, G254A049, G264A049, G274A049, G304C059.

Corona Extra 12-packs: G024B069, G034C069, G044C069, G054B049, G054C069, G064C049, G074B049, G084B049, G084C069, G094B049, G094B069, G104A069, G104C069, G114C069, G124C069, G164A069, G174B069, G184B069, G214C069, G244B069, G244C069, G254C069, G264C069, G274C069, G294B069, G304B069.

Corona Extra 18-packs: F294A049.

The company says a production error at of its third-party suppliers’ glass plants prompted the recall.

As if you need a reminder, do not drink any bottles with the codes listed above. Instead, call the consumer call center at 1-866-204-0407 to get a refund, and then chuck that bottle.

Visa’s New Fraud Protection System Detects Credit Card User’s Risk At The Gas Pump

Wed, 2014-08-20 20:13
(dennis mancini)

(dennis mancini)

This year credit card companies have sought out ways to make credit card use safer and more secure for consumers. While we’re still waiting for the widespread implementation of chip-and-pin cards, Visa is attempting to tackle fraud at one of its more common sources: the gas pump.

Visa announced new software intended to protect consumers and gas stations by trying to detect the likelihood that someone is using a stolen, lost or counterfeit credit card to fill up, The Washington Post reports.

Visa Transaction Advisor, which is already in use at 25,000 service stations, analyzes 500 pieces of data that have already been collected about cardholders, such as location and past transaction history, to create a risk score between 0 and 100 for each card being used.

Service stations that use the software are able to set a risk threshold and if the user’s card has a risk score higher than that set standard the user will be prompted to see the store’s attendant.

“If a fraudster gets that message, they’re going to drive away. The genuine consumer is going to go to the attendant to finish the transaction,” Mark Nelsen, Visa’s vice president of risk products and business intelligence, tells the Post.

So far the stores using Visa Transaction Advisor have reported a 23% drop in fraud at their pumps. Visa tested the system at 300 Southern California Chevron stations before rolling it out to additional merchants.

The self-serve environment of gas stations provide the perfect occasion for fraudsters to test lost, stolen or counterfeited cards to see if they’re working before using them elsewhere.

While the upcoming implementation of chip-and-pin cards, also known as EMV cards, could significantly cut down on the amount of fraud associated with credit cards, it’s likely to be a slower rollout for gas stations, as they would require more significant hardware upgrades than most retailers.

Merchants and financial firms have been given until 2015 to equip their systems to accept the new technology, but gas stations received an extension giving them until 2017 to replace the readers in their pumps.

Nelson said the gap of time in which gas stations aren’t protected provided Visa an opportunity to offer the merchants additional fraud protection.

“It’s going to take longer for gas stations to deploy the technology, so we’re getting that risk intelligence down to those stations so they can better protect their consumers and themselves,” Nelsen tells the Post.

Visa wants to make it even harder for thieves to buy gas with your credit card [The Washington Post]

AT&T To Offer Gigabit Broadband Service In Apple’s Home Turf

Wed, 2014-08-20 18:57

1infiniteloopWhile Verizon’s FiOS expansion plans are apparently idling in the “to do… maybe, at some point” bin, AT&T appears to be moving forward with its plans to roll out its GigaPower gigabit broadband network to more markets. Today, the Death Star announced that it has selected its first target in California’s Silicon Valley — the city of Cupertino, better known as the home to Apple HQ.

“Cupertino is proud to be the first city announced in California set to receive the ultra-high-speed AT&T GigaPower network,” said Mayor Gilbert Wong in a statement.

AT&T isn’t yet saying exactly which neighborhoods in Cupertino will get service first or what GigaPower, which also offers pay-TV and phone service, will cost for area residents.

The company announced in April that it would be expanding the GigaPower network to 25 new cities.

The service is already available in some areas of AT&T’s home state of Texas, including Austin and Dallas/Fort Worth. Confirmed markets set to get GigaPower in the future include Houston and San Antonio; Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Winston-Salem and Greensboro in North Carolina, Jacksonville and Miami in Florida; Nashville; and Overland Park, KS, in the shadow of Google Fiber’s birthplace.

Speaking of Google, Big G’s home turf of Mountain View, CA, is also currently being considered for AT&T’s gigabit service.

This is all just an excuse to run this clip:

Is ActiveHours A True Payday Alternative Or Just Another Too-Good-To-Be-True Letdown?

Wed, 2014-08-20 18:47

active hoursWe’re largely a society built on convenience: fast food, one-stop shops and other we-need-it-now services. Unfortunately, that need for timeliness seeped in to the financial system in the way of quick-fix payday loans, which can provide the convenience of a quick, low-value loan but which often result in a revolving cycle of high-interest debt. Now a new lending product aims to take the predatory stigma out of short-term loans, but, like many payday alternatives of the past, a closer look reveals reason for concern.

ActiveHours, a new startup, takes a different approach than typical payday alternatives, like RISE Credit, that simply extend loan repayment time.

The service purports to allow hourly employees the ability to collect their wages the day they worked, rather than waiting for their paycheck to arrive. When payday does roll around, ActiveHours users, who have given the program access to their bank account, will have the funds they were fronted deducted in a lump sum.

So far, that sounds a lot like a typical payday loan: taking an advance on your paycheck, repaying it when payday comes. What ActiveHours claims sets it apart from others is the idea that it doesn’t charge a fee. Instead, the company asks users to give a voluntary monetary tip as thanks to the service.

On the surface ActiveHours sounds significantly better than traditional short-term, high-risk payday loans that have been known to leave consumers in a revolving door of debt by charging three-digit annual percentage rates and tacking on exorbitant fees. But some consumer advocates warn that there are likely more similarities between ActiveHours and payday loans than there are differences.

Here’s Some Money, Pay It Back And Continue To Be Broke
Like many payday loan products and alternatives, ActiveHours doesn’t consider a consumer’s financial history or their ability to repay the short-term loan.

While ActiveHours does verify consumers’ employment and pay schedule it doesn’t actually examine where the consumer will be financially after repaying the wages.

“There are still some potential problems with this kind of service that are akin to problems with payday loans,” Suzanne Martindale, senior counsel with Consumers Union, tells Consumerist. “If you’re taking out an advance on your paycheck today, that’s money that you won’t have later. As with any other loans, the question is: what’s your cashflow situation when the balance is due?”

Indeed, that’s usually what triggers any cycle of debt for consumers – although high-interest rates don’t help either.

If you’re taking out an advance either from ActiveHours or from a traditional storefront payday loan operation to cover costs until the next pay period, will you have enough to make it through after repaying your debt? For many consumers, the answer is no.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found earlier this year that repaying short-term loans has become increasingly difficult for borrowers. Only 15% of borrowers were able to repay their debt when it was due without re-borrowing. However, 48% of initial payday loans were able to be repaid with no more than one renewal.

Of course, ActiveHours doesn’t arbitrarily come up with a number to advance hourly employees, the figure is calculated by how much that employee actually worked. So one could assume that a consumer would able to repay, but at what cost?

“If the loan is repaid in a lump sum that’s automatically deducted from your bank account on payday, you may find yourself short of cash and needing to borrow on the next paycheck,” Martindale says. “For consumers who live on razor-thin margins, it may not be enough that the loan is fee-free; repaying a loan may still be tough without having time to repay it in installments.”

Is A Tip Any Better Than A Fee?
While there are many, many issues with the current payday loan model, the high interest rates and fees are probably the most troublesome. But ActiveHours contends that their products are far and away a better option because they simply don’t charge any kind of fees.

According to the service’s Frequently Asked Questions page, the company simply doesn’t believe in the exploitation that charging fees creates.

“We believe in a world where technology is used to create products that serve the individual. We don’t think people should be forced to pay for services they don’t love, so we ask you to pay what you think is fair based on your personal experience.

Typical fees don’t give the consumer a choice and disregard each person’s situation. This is especially true with banks – most Americans pay $12 per month just to keep a bank account open, and in 2012, banks collected $32 billion in overdraft fees, $35 at a time. We don’t like the way banks exploit customers. We want to have a different type of relationship – one based on mutual trust, support, and lots of good karma. That’s why we let you name your own tip.”

While the philosophical approach to fees may have some people praising the company, it makes some consumer advocates think the company is taking advantage of consumers’ gratefulness.

“In general, it makes me nervous,” Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center tells Consumerist. “Even with a discretionary fee, you are still committing to a balloon payment payday loan and people will feel compelled to pay something that sounds small but I suspect they will likely get into a cycle of debt.”

Even the most conservative tip, when calculated by the length of the loan and the amount fronted, equals an extremely high interest rate. For example, paying a $10 tip after receiving $100 from ActiveHours, if paid back in two weeks, would equal an APR of 260% – falling inline with the triple-digit rates charged by typical payday loans.

Granting Access
While high APR and a disregard for consumers’ financial standings are all reason for concern, perhaps the most worrisome aspect of ActiveHours is its need for so much consumer information.

ActiveHours, like typical payday loans, requires that borrows provide access to their bank accounts in order for wages to be deposited and later deducted.

ActiveHour’s privacy policy was of particular concern for officials with the National Consumer Law Center because of the highly sensitive data being provided and accessed by the service.

“By submitting information, data, passwords, usernames, PINs, other log-in information, materials and other content to Activehours through the Service, you are licensing that content to Activehours solely for the purpose of providing the Service. Activehours may use and store the content for the purpose of providing the Service to you. By submitting this content to Activehours, you represent that you are entitled to submit it to Activehours for use for this purpose, without any obligation by Activehours to pay any fees or other limitations.”

“You turn over a lot of information and authorize them to act on your behalf and who knows where that will lead,” Saunders, with NCLC, tells Consumerist.

Two Of The Same?
ActiveHours’ inviting “we won’t charge you fees” approach to lending may be appealing to consumers in need of quick cash, but the similarities between the service and predatory payday lending operations aren’t hidden far from the surface.

Still, the operators of ActiveHours claim to be the antithesis to payday loans.

“People aren’t used to the model, so they think it’s too good to be true,” founder Ron Palaniappan told Wired. “They’re judging us with a standard that’s completely terrible. What we’re doing is not too good to be true. It’s what we’ve been living with that’s too bad to be allowed.”

Perhaps it’s unfair to compare a new, just off its feet, service to an industry that has been known to prey on those who need help the most, but in the end neither product actually provides an answer to consumers’ debt problems.

Bad News For College Kids: Instant Noodles Might Be Bad For Your Heart

Wed, 2014-08-20 18:46



If you’ve ever been a strapped-for-cash college student, you probably know what it’s like to sustain yourself on instant noodles. But new research suggests that female students and other consumers who chow down on the quick, inexpensive meal might want to start looking for alternatives, because those noodles could cause health problems down the road.

A new study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that certain people with diets high in instant noodles could lead to metabolic syndrome, which includes symptoms of abdominal obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol and blood sugar levels, the New York Time’s Well blog reports.

The South Korean researchers studied the diets of more than 10,711 adults in the country and found two major dietary patterns: those who consume a “traditional” diet of fish, rice and vegetables and those who sustain on a regimen of meat and processed foods, including instant noodles.

Although researchers say that neither diet as a whole was associated with metabolic syndrome, they did find that women who ate instant noodles at least twice a week were 68% more likely to have health issues, such heart disease and diabetes, that are often associated with the syndrome.

While that doesn’t necessarily spell doom-and-gloom for the millions of college students scarfing down instant noodles, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard, Dr. Frank Hu, tells the Well blog that cutting back on noodles might not be a bad idea.

“Once or twice a month is not a problem,” he says. “But a few times a week really is.”

Instant Noodles Tied to Heart Risk [The New York Times Well Blog]

Let’s Guess What Happens If You Drive A Stolen Shopping Scooter To Meet Your Probation Officer

Wed, 2014-08-20 18:32
(KOAT News)

(KOAT News)

There are many things you can do to make sure you don’t go get in trouble with the law for another go around, but a surefire way to hop right into that hot water again? By boosting a ride and driving it to a meeting with a probation officer.

In this case, “ride” means an electric shopping cart pilfered from an Albuquerque Walmart, court documents say, according to KOAT News (warning: link has video that auto plays).

And when his probation officer asked the 18-year-old where he got his new wheels, to which he allegedly replied that he “took it from the Walmart” in the area.

At least he made it to his appointment?

He was arrested and charged with larceny and receiving stolen property and violated his probation.

“The cart was worth over $1,800, and certainly it could have been used by those who needed it more than this man,” a police spokesman said.

For the next time you might be considering driving a stolen shopping cart to meet with a representative of the legal system, the answer to the headline’s question is, you’ll be arrested. Most definitely arrested.

Police: Man drives stolen electric shopping cart to meet probation officer, gets arrested [KOAT News]

Airlines Worried Another Icelandic Volcano Could Screw Up Air Travel For Everyone

Wed, 2014-08-20 17:54

(Patrick Johanneson)

(Patrick Johanneson)

It’s been four years since the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland erupted, sending a massive cloud of ash into the skies and effectively bringing air travel to a halt in the normally busy North Atlantic. Now the airlines in the busiest area for international travel (and the good people of Iceland) are concerned about another Icelandic volcano that is showing signs it might erupt.

Regional air-traffic manager Eurocontrol has been looking at seismic data from the Bardarbunga volcano in Iceland and tell Bloomberg that the “seismic swarm” of earthquakes recorded around the caldera’s rim this week is the largest seen since the volcano last went “boom” in 1996. Earlier this week, officials in Iceland raised the eruption risk to “orange,” the second-highest level, and began evacuating the to the north of Bardarbunga yesterday.

The volcano’s proximity to Vatnajokull, Europe’s largest glacier, could result in a “a more explosive eruption,” explains a volcanologist, as the searing heat mixes with the melting ice.

“If the volcano erupts — which we don’t know — how explosive or non-explosive the eruption is depends entirely on where the magma reaches the surface,” she tells Bloomberg.

A seismologist cautions that “It’s still impossible to say whether or not the volcano will erupt, due to the simple fact that we can’t predict what the developments in the next hours or days will be.”

The 2010 eruption resulted in the cancellation of more than 100,000 flights and $1.7 billion in lost revenue for the airlines, that could not risk trying to navigate through or around the clouds of ash that don’t just present a visual hazard, but which can do damage to jet engines.

For the airlines there isn’t much to do other than continue flying as scheduled and hope Bardarbunga doesn’t lose its cool.

Report: Amazon Could Test Drone Delivery In India This Year

Wed, 2014-08-20 17:45

The Amazon Prime Air drone that will eventually be hailed as the forefather of our future robotic overlords.

Amazon is taking its drones to India, where the government is cool with robo-delivery for now.

Fine: if the Federal Aviation Administration won’t let Amazon prepare for the robot apocalypse by testing its delivery drones near the company’s Seattle headquarters, the company will take its new toys and play with them elsewhere. Namely, in India. The Times of India reports that the e-commerce giant plans to test the service near its current warehouses in Mumbai and Bangalore.

This would be the same drone service that Amazon proposed to test here in the United States: the unmanned aerial vehicles would be able to deliver packages weighing up to about 2.25 kilograms (5 pounds) within one and a half to three hours of a customer placing an order. A source who spoke to the Times said that deliveries could begin in just a few months: near the Diwali holiday in late October.

Real-world consumer testing of drone delivery is an option in India simply because the country doesn’t have rules prohibiting unmanned flights for commercial use. Aerial photography for profit doesn’t require special approval, and delivery by drone isn’t prohibited as it is here.

In the United States, hobbyists can fly small drones for fun, but in this country the FAA has delayed the deployment of delivery drones for now. They haven’t ruled the idea out indefinitely, but if you’re a company itching to deliver books or flowers as soon as possible, it will need to happen abroad.

Of course, not everyone in India thinks that this is a great idea. One expert who works for a drone company in India pointed out that there are roadblocks to real-world sky delivery in major cities like Mumbai and Bangalore. Well, sky-blocks. They’re called “buildings.” If the operator loses control of the drone, it could attract unwanted attention, or damage property. “Many companies in India have thought about [drone delivery]. But all are worried about the safety aspect,” he told the newspaper. Drone delivery may be legal in India, but is it practical in the real world? If these reports are true, Amazon will find out.

India to be launch pad for Amazon’s plan to deliver packages using drones; deliveries may start by Diwali [The Economic Times] (via Fortune)

Don’t Want To See Tweets In Your Timeline From Strangers You Don’t Follow? Too Bad, Says Twitter

Wed, 2014-08-20 17:42


As if it’s not already annoying enough to see promoted tweets in your Twitter timeline, an inevitable advertising move that we’ve grumbled about and gotten over, Twitter says it’s going to sprinkle strangers’ musings, missives and messages into users’ timelines. Just because it can, apparently.

So not only will you see say, an excited tweet about the benefits of some frozen yogurt, but you could find out that a guy who lives in Argentina just stubbed his foot. Maybe you and that guy end up being best friends, but still, people are expressing annoyance at the update to Twitter’s FAQ subject: What’s a Twitter timeline?

Apparently, it’s a place for you to read what strangers are saying, perhaps against your will:

Your home timeline displays a stream of Tweets from accounts you have chosen to follow on Twitter.
Additionally, when we identify a Tweet, an account to follow, or other content that’s popular or relevant, we may add it to your timeline. This means you will sometimes see Tweets from accounts you don’t follow. We select each Tweet using a variety of signals, including how popular it is and how people in your network are interacting with it. Our goal is to make your home timeline even more relevant and interesting.

This could be good, if you aren’t following Neil DeGrasse Tyson and see the light when one of his tweets lands in your lap, forcing you to ponder the enormity of time and space and your perhaps insignificant role in it.

Or it could just be annoying, especially if you see more tweets from strangers than from people you actually follow.

It’s also just one more way for the Twitter universe to show you the fun stuff your ex is doing without you, like that beer-making class in the Andes with alpacas. Ugh. Thanks, universe!