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Target Confirms Holiday Plans: Gift Guides, Free Shipping, Rotating Promotions

Yes, we’re going to have to accept that the holiday shopping season has begun. Today, Target announced its holiday promotional plans, which include discounts that rotate through departments, free shipping for online orders, and app-based toy coupons.

The free shipping promotion was reported based on a leaked copy of the retailer’s holiday 2016 toy catalog, and today the company confirmed the rumor. While customers shopping on Target’s site get free shipping on purchases of any amount if they use the store’s charge card, this opens free shipping up to all customers, beginning today.

The rotating discounts will begin in November with a $10 off $50 deal that will rotate between different departments of the store: for example, one week it would be grocery, the home department the next, and apparel the next. The promotion will escalate to $25 off a $100 purchase in December—remember, though, that’s just on the amount from the department on promotion that week. If you have $15 worth of groceries and $85 worth of penguin-themed home goods, that won’t help you if it’s a grocery promotion week.

The holiday decorations area will be called the “Wondershop,” though we really prefer when Target does a “Nightmare Before Christmas” mashup. The “wonder” branding will extend to the store’s curated gift guide, called the “Wonderlist,” which recommends curated gifts for different kinds of people.

Finally, the store’s Cartwheel coupon app will feature 50% off one featured toy each day, encouraging shoppers to open the app daily even if they aren’t at Target.

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

FanDuel, DraftKings To Pay $12M To Resolve False Advertising Allegations In New York

Daily fantasy sports companies DraftKings and FanDuel each agreed to pay $6 million to resolve New York’s claims that the companies engaged in false advertising. 

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the settlements Tuesday, just two months after the state legalized online sports betting following the shutdown of the sites earlier in the year.

The settlement agreements impose the highest penalty New York has awarded for deceptive advertising in recent memory.

As part of the settlements, FanDuel [PDF] and DraftKings [PDF] have agreed to revamp their marketing to include clear disclosures of terms and conditions for marketing promotions, expected winnings, and expected performance in the online contests, as well as resources for players at risk for compulsive gaming disorders, including addiction.

The companies are also required to maintain a webpage that provides information about the rate of success of users in its contests, including the percentage of winnings captured by the top 1%, 5% and 10% of players.

Finally, the agreement requires the companies to acknowledge the findings of the AG offices’ year-long investigation, which concluded that both companies:
• misled consumers about the substantial advantages of high-volume and professional players
• gave false and misleading statistics in marketing and advertising about the likelihood of winning
• deceptively promised to match a player’s initiation despite in marketing promotions
• mischaracterized the betting games as “harmless fun” by failing to disclose the risk for compulsive gaming and addiction.

The settlement comes just two months after FanDuel and DraftKings were allowed to once again begin operations in New York following Governor Andrew Cuomo putting his name to a new law that explicitly legalized certain daily fantasy sports (DFS) contests within the Empire State.

The issues between the sites and New York began back in Nov. 2015 when Schneiderman’s office concluded that DraftKings and FanDuel constituted unlawful “contest of chance” as defined in state statutes, and directed the two sites to cease operating in the state.

A legal back-and-forth quickly ensued, with Schneiderman suing the two companies over not just the alleged gambling, but also accusations of false advertising. A state court first ordered the sites to temporarily stop operating in New York, only to immediately grant them a stay, allowing operations to continue.

The sites, of course, began a million-dollar lobbying effort in the state capital to pass or amend laws in order to protect the legality of DFS.

In March 2016, Schneiderman and the DFS sites reached a deal. They would cease operating in New York for a few months, giving the state legislature some time to listen to the lobbyists. The end result: a law was passed, Cuomo signed it, and the sites began operating again.

by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Apple Granted Patent For Crowdsourced Bluetooth Lost And Found

Imagine this: you run some errands after work, and don’t realize until after you get home that you left your umbrella… somewhere between work and home. Instead of checking every store’s lost and found, you just open up an app on your phone and report the umbrella, which has a low-energy Bluetooth tag on it, missing. The app responds with the approximate location of your item, and the last time it was spotted there.

This works not because the tag has a GPS locator on it, but because someone else with the same app passed by the umbrella after you left it behind, and made a note of the location. The system will note the item’s distance from the nearest WiFi access point or cell tower, and tell you where it is based on that.

The best part of this illustration is the literal cloud.

Apple was recently granted a patent for this kind of system, which we learned about from AppleInsider. If this sounds a lot like Tile and other similar services that let you attach tags to things and later find them, that’s because it is pretty much the same system. Apple applied for this patent just over a year ago, and it was granted earlier this month.

There are two flaws with this kind of crowdsourced lost and found service: first, you need a critical mass of people using it, to make it plausible that someone will actually walk within a few yards of where you left the umbrella.

Second, running the app in the background on your phone and having it constantly scanning for nearby items can be a big power drain, which makes the idea rather unappealing and means there’s even less of a critical mass of people using it in public at any given time.

While Apple hasn’t announced its intentions for this patent, what if the phone-maker sold those Bluetooth beacon tags and put the app on all iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch users by default?

We’ve seen the power of Apple’s own “Find my (Device)” app when a reader traced her iPad to a specific office within an airport, finally convincing United to ship her the missing iPad.

Such a system would also have massive privacy implications, with people constantly scanning the location of each other’s purses, keys, backpacks, and umbrellas.

Apple patents crowd-sourced lost-and-found electronic tag service [AppleInsider]

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Senator Asks Federal Agencies For Information On Massive Internet Of Things Breach

A massive denial of service attack last week has already resulted in the recall of a number of webcams that may have been used to aid hackers in taking popular sites like Twitter, Github, Reddit, and others offline throughout the day. Now, lawmakers are asking federal agencies what else can be done to prevent future attacks.

Virginia Senator Mark Warner, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a co-founder of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, sent letters to the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center requesting information on the tools available to prevent future hackings through Internet of Things devices.

With the rise in popularity of IoT products — like webcams, smart thermostats, and other devices — Warner expressed concern that hacks similar to the one that occurred Friday are imminent.

Friday’s attack centered on DNS host Dyn. Attackers sent massive amounts of coordinated traffic to Dyn in order to overwhelm its ability to function. As a result, legitimate users connecting to sites managed by Dyn were not able to access the content they were looking for, due to the barrage of robotic requests running interference.

On Monday, Chinese company Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology Co Ltd announced the recall of all products — primarily webcams — that contain circuit boards or components from the company that were sold in the U.S. after they were identified as having a part in the recent attack.

Security researchers believe the easy-to-guess default passwords for the devices aided hackers in the massive web attack.

In his letters, Warner claims that similarly weak security features in connected devices could enable “access to user data by hackers, create easy entry points to home or work networks, and allow hackers to hijack devices into enormous botnets used to send crippling amounts of data to specific Internet sites and servers.”

“Because the producers of these insecure IoT devices currently are insulated from any standards requirements, market feedback, or liability concerns, I am deeply concerned that we are witnessing a ‘tragedy of the commons’ threat to the continued functioning of the internet, as the security so vital to all internet users remains the responsibility of none,” Warner wrote. “Further, buyers have little recourse when, despite their best efforts, security failures occur.”

To that end, he is asking the agencies to provide “expert opinions and meaningful action” on tools that can be used to “better protect American consumers, manufacturers, retailers, Internet sites and service providers.”

Specifically, he asks for information on what kind of network management practices are available for internet service providers to respond to threats; what strategies can be used to take devices that are deemed harmful out of commerce; and what kind of alerts can be used to inform consumers of risks from hacks.

[via Krebs On Security]

by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Pizza Shop Customer Claims Daughter Received Medication From Toy Machine

It’s always a surprise when you you pop quarters into toy vending machines, but there are some prizes that no parent wants their kid to get. Say, blood pressure medication.

A New Hampshire woman says a toy vending machine at a pizza restaurant dispensed a container of pills to her daughter, WSB Radio reports.

“I put all three quarters in, the first two were toys, and then the third one… when it first came out I thought it was candy and I didn’t let her have it,” she told the station.

She says she opened it up and realized it was medication: one capsule, and three pills — one of which was broken in half.

The pizza restaurant says an outside company is responsible for filling the machine, and the owners are unsure how pills ended up in it.

Though her daughter knows not to eat things she shouldn’t, the woman says she’s worried about other children, especially if the same supplier fills other machines.

“She’s seven, she’s old enough to know, but had she been younger, maybe she wouldn’t have known,” she said.

Mother says toy machine at pizza shop dispensed medication [WSB Radio]

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

You Can Now Check In Online For A Table At Olive Garden

Many restaurants already allow patrons to call ahead for seating as a way to avoid long waits when they walk through the door. While Olive Garden has never adhered to this option, the restaurant is now taking that idea and making it its own: allowing guests to check in on the web to save tables. 

The Orlando Sentinel reports that by the end of the week all 843 Olive Garden restaurants around the country will enable web check-in for patrons.

Through the system, which was previously being tested in Florida, customers visit the Olive Garden website or use its mobile app, find their location, and put their names on a wait list.

Restaurants currently offering the check-in option can be found on the company’s store locator page, with each location denoted with a “no wait” or estimated wait time.


Clicking “join wait list” prompts a pop-up asking for the customer’s name, phone number, and other information.

If customers don’t show up to the restaurant in time, the Sentinel reports they will be skipped over on the list and have to wait longer for their table.

“Guests can now plan their evenings before even stepping foot outside of their homes,” said Olive Garden spokeswoman Jessica Dinon told the Sentinel.

Olive Garden expands online check-in nationwide [Orlando Sentinel]

by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

AT&T CEO: DirecTV Now Streaming Service Will Cost $35/Month, Launch Next Month

We’ve been waiting nearly eight full months for AT&T to announce details on its “DirecTV Now” standalone streaming platform, and today the company’s CEO has finally revealed some of the most important information.

Speaking at a Wall Street Journal conference today, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson reportedly told attendees that DirecTV Now will launch in November at a price of $35/month. That puts the service $15/month above the starting point for the competing Sling TV live-TV streaming offering, and about the same price point for the barest-bones versions of Sony’s PlayStation Vue service.

Where DirecTV Now appears to be trying to compete is on content. According to reports — again, this has not been officially announced or confirmed — Stephenson says that DirecTV Now will offer 100 channels. It’s unclear if that’s included in the $35/month price, or if there will be 100 total channels available, depending on what price you pay. In the months since announcing the service, reports have indicated that DirecTV Now would have multiple subscription tiers.

Depending on how those 100 channels are divvied up — and what those channels are — DirecTV Now could be offering significantly more for your buck than Sling TV or PS Vue. Sling only has around two dozen stations for its $20/month base package (more can be added in small, themed bundles), while Vue has more than 100 channels, but you must pay significantly more than $35 to get them all. That might also be true for DirecTV Now; it’s just not clear yet.

We’ve tried to get clarification from AT&T on exactly how these channels will be parceled out, but the company is not currently answering questions about DirecTV Now. Hopefully, now that Darth Stephenson has spilled the beans — and with a launch apparently as little as two to five weeks away — official information on the service will be forthcoming.

by Chris Morran via Consumerist

This Woman’s Job: Smearing Makeup Globs Just Right For Photos

When you see a photo in an ad or on a website of a cosmetics product that’s been artfully smashed, smeared, or scattered on a surface, that’s a special kind of advertising art that requires special tools. What’s it like to smear lipstick around for a living, smash eyeshadows, and build towers of perfume bottles with a hot glue gun?

It’s kind of comforting to know that the product smears in cosmetics ads are real smears of the products, and that’s the job of Marissa Gimeno, who calls herself a “cosmetics still life specialist” and recently discussed her work with Racked.

She also calls herself a “makeup artist without the models,” and her still lifes usually appear alongside a photo of a model in advertisements. She carries around a 55-pound case of tools, and the most useful ones would have come from a craft store, like her glue gun (for creating gravity-defying piles of bottles or other containers) or an X-Acto knife for cutting powders out of their pans or palettes.

Her job involves going to places where everyone else is dressed very nicely, like photo studios and magazine headquarters, but preparing like she’s going to paint a house. Well, the “paint” part is accurate.

While the product photos are real, they are carefully lit and Photoshopped, which is why the lipstick that she’s smeared across a surface doesn’t look quite the same as it does on your face. Sometimes, she admits, the products used in photos aren’t the actual cosmetic products, or they’re mixed with glycerin to make them look more oily and shiny.

However, it would be illegal to do that for an ad, since using a different product or doctoring a formula would be considered false advertising, especially in countries with stricter ad standards than the United States.

Meet the Woman Who Smashes Makeup For a Living [Racked]

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Google Express Bringing Delivery Service To 13 More States

Google is continuing its march toward rivaling same-day grocery delivery services around the country: Google Express is now rolling out in 14 additional cities, including in Amazon’s home state of Washington.

After expanding into much of the northeast last month, Google’s home delivery service will now be available in parts of Alabama, Kentucky, Utah, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, TechCrunch reports.

The addition of those areas will mean Google Express now reaches 70 million more people, according to the company, covering about 90% of the United States.

“Our goal with Google Express is to offer a great shopping experience and connect people with their favorite stores,” Brian Elliott, general manager of Google Express, said in a news release.

Google Express has some restrictions on what it will deliver from a list of partner stores: it tested a pilot program for fresh and frozen groceries in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2015, but Elliott says the idea wasn’t scalable, USAToday notes.

“We really wanted something where we can make sure we have a nationally scalable product that can reach everybody,” Elliott said. On that note, “We’re not doing refrigerated or frozen goods,” he told The News & Observer. “And we’re not going to deliver a couch.”

Customers can either pay for a $10 monthly membership($15 in most cases, but some require an order of at least $35) and receive free delivery when the order meets the per-store minimum, or pay each time you shop starting at $4.99 per store. New members can try the service for three months free.

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Bong Maker Must Pay Starbucks Nearly $500K Over Copyright Violations For “Dabuccino”

Coffee and bongs: While you might not expect the two things to be related, they are. Or at least, they were in a recent copyright lawsuit that saw coffee giant Starbucks sue the maker of frappuccino-shaped bongs.

Eater reports that Starbucks ultimately prevailed in the odd lawsuit when a judge ruled in the coffee company’s favor after the defendants failed to respond to the suit or show up in court.

The lawsuit, which was originally filed in June, claimed that an Oregon artist and the companies he partnered with to sell the Dabuccino line “willfully intended to create an association with the Starbucks Marks and to capitalize upon the success and popularity of the Starbucks Marks to sell [their] products.”

The pipes, which sold for between $200 and $8,000, featured a mouthpiece that resembled Starbucks’ signature green straws and a logo on the cup that looked similar to Starbuck’s signage.

These similarities, Starbucks claimed, resulted in trademark dilution that “caused and will continue to cause irreparable injury and damage to Starbucks Corp.’s business, reputation, and goodwill.”

With the suit, the company asked that the artist and other companies turn over profits made by the sale of the “water pipes,” pay damages and attorneys’ fees. Eater reports that the judge ordered the artist to pay up to $410,580 in damages.

A spokesperson for Starbucks tells Eater that the company is pleased with the court’s decision.

“Starbucks has made significant investments to develop our brand and intellectual property over the past 45 years. We have an obligation to protect our intellectual property from infringement in order to retain our exclusive rights to it,” the rep said.

This, of course, isn’t Starbucks’ first time claiming a company has infringed on its trademarks: most famous is Starbucks’ years-long (and ultimately failed) battle against the New Hampshire coffee roaster who dared to parody the bigger company by selling a Charbucks brand roast.

In 2013, the company sent a cease-and-desist letter to a small Missouri brewpub that dared to sell something called Frappicino beer. The company also tussled with a parody shop, dubbed “Dumb Starbucks,” that opened for a short time in Los Angeles.

Starbucks Wins Lawsuit Over Bongs That Look Like Frappuccinos [Eater]

by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Brewery Revives 2,500-Year-Old Alcoholic Beverage Found In Ancient Burial Plot

If you thought making beer out of a 260-year-old recipe was neat, the revival of an alcoholic brew after a few thousand years is probably going to pique your interest: after archaeologists uncovered the remains of an alcoholic beverage in an ancient burial plot a Milwaukee brewery took up the task of bringing the brew back to life.

An archaeologist and anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, along with others on her team, found the remnants of the beverage in a cauldron found at an Iron Age burial plot in modern day Germany, dating back to 400 or 450 B.C.

“We actually were able, ultimately, to derive at least some sense of what the contents were in a bronze cauldron,” Bettina Arnold told WUWM’s Lake Effect (via NPR’s The Salt).

She teamed up with Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee to bring the brew back to life*, using a recipe inspired by the materials they found on the cauldron.

“The honey, which is definitely present… and then as a bittering and preservative agent — not hops… but meadowsweet,” Arnold explains, noting that mint also showed up in the brew.

So what was the booze originally? It’s thought to be a drink called a “brag got,” which, as the cellar master at Lakefront explains, is “a blend of barley and honey as the two sugar ingredients to create the beverage.”

“The result was smooth and pleasant — almost like a dry port, but with a minty, herbal tinge to it. It also packed an alcoholic kick,” NPR’s Bonnie North says of the final product, which she sampled.

The brew will likely never make it to store shelves, Lakefront’s Chris Ranson says, despite the fact that it’s drinkable and “very cool to taste… I don’t think people would be interested in purchasing it to drink.”

*Beverage in photo above is not an ancient brew, it’s modern beer.

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

AT&T Makes Money Mining, Selling Phone Use Data To Police Nationwide

There’s been chatter in the air for years about phone records and metadata, ever since civil rights advocates sued the NSA over its massive record-retention program back in 2013. But new documents highlight that while federal surveillance might be sweeping, it’s got nothing on the scope of the private sector — and that selling data to investigators can be a profitable side-business.

The Daily Beast published new documents today showing that not only does AT&T collect and retain a staggering amount of data on everything that happens in its network, but also that it has formed partnerships with law enforcement agencies all around the country to sell access to that database for as much as a million dollars per year.

What’s at play here is phone metadata — not recordings of calls, or the content of texts, but rather the who, what, when, and where of communication. AT&T may not know what you and John Doe talked about for 15 minutes on June 2, 27 minutes on June 7, and 3 minutes on June 8, but they know that you and he communicated for those lengths of time on those dates, and how many texts were sent between your phone numbers in the same period of time.

Put that together with cell phone location data, and you can paint a detailed picture of someone’s activities and actions — a digital trail to be stalked long after any calls are made.

AT&T’s database of cell tower location data goes back until July, 2008 and appears to have no deletion or retention end policy. Verizon, in contrast, keeps records for 12 months and Sprint for 18, according to The Daily Beast. Meanwhile, AT&T has about 142 million wireless customers in the U.S. and Mexico. But the data isn’t only on their customers; it would include information about any other phone customer — wired or landline — who has contact with AT&T customers. AT&T also still owns more than 75% of the landline switches in the U.S.

In short, the scale is mind-numbingly enormous; AT&T holds trillions of records.

Granted, it’s not exactly new news that AT&T is totally happy to help with surveillance. The New York Times reported on Hemisphere as far back as 2013, writing that for at least six years — so, back to 2007 — AT&T had been in a partnership with anti-narcotics law enforcement to provide massive amounts of data from decades’ worth of Americans’ calls.

On top of that, leaked documents obtained from the NSA back in 2015 showed that AT&T was amenable to working with the feds in a corporate partnership. The company, described at the time under the code name Fairview, was singled out as “highly collaborative” and displaying “an extreme willingness to help,” above and beyond that found with other communications companies.

But what is a new revelation is the fact that with Hemisphere, AT&T acts not just in response to warrants or subpoenas, but actually voluntarily mines its troves of data and sells that information.

Law enforcement bureaus — sheriff and police departments — pay six-figure or seven-figure sums annually to AT&T for Hemisphere access, the Daily Beast reports. Harris County, Texas — where Houston sits — paid AT&T just over $77,000 for Hemisphere access in 2007; by 2011, the county was paying $940,000.

An AT&T representative told the Daily Beast that AT&T behaves like any other telecommunications company, saying, “if a government agency seeks customer call records through a subpoena, court order or other mandatory legal process, we are required by law to provide this non-content information, such as the phone numbers and the date and time of calls.”

Which is true, as far as it goes; all phone companies have to provide records when they’re on the receiving end of a warrant or court order. (Anyone who’s watched enough Law and Order probably feels like they know that.) But the AT&T documents obtained by the Daily Beast say that the company doesn’t need a specific warrant from investigators in order to provide records from Hemisphere. Instead, AT&T only requires something called an administrative subpoena — a kind of authority Congress grants to some federal agencies allowing them to demand “compelling document production or testimony” in the course of an investigation. The DEA has had that authority since 1970.

An ACLU technology policy expert told the Daily Beast that AT&T was being pretty misleading about Hemisphere. “Companies have to give this data to law enforcement upon request, if they have it,” he agreed, but “AT&T doesn’t have to data-mine its database to help police come up with new numbers to investigate.”

“It’s like that line, ‘if you build it, they will come,” he continued to the Daily Beast. “Once a company creates a huge surveillance apparatus like this and provides it to law enforcement, they then have to provide it whenever the government asks. They’ve developed this massive program and of course they’re going to sell it to as many people as possible.”

AT&T, however, is eager to keep its participation secret even while AT&T employees, acting on behalf of law enforcement clients, are the ones who find, analyze, and present the data that police use. So if all that data it’s mined leads to a case moving forward, or a suspect in a crime being arrested, that leaves police in something of a pickle: they have to find a way to use the evidence, and share its provenance with a criminal defendant and their legal team, without revealing that Hemisphere exists.

That leads to something called parallel construction: to get a piece of evidence, without actually using it from the way you got it, you have to go back and reconstruct the case to find another, alternate way to get it.

So if phone records from AT&T show, for example, that Suspect John Doe makes a phone call to Suspect Jane Doe every day from a certain location, but you can’t use the phone records, then you might apply good old-fashioned gumshoe legwork and have a detective follow Suspect John Doe in that place at that time, to obtain the evidence that way and thus prove it exists without revealing the participation of AT&T or the existence of Project Hemisphere.

An attorney with the EFF told the Daily Beast that if that feels backwards to you, well, you’re right. “This document here is striking,” he told the Daily Beast. “I’ve seen documents produced by the government regarding Hemisphere, but this is the first time I’ve seen an AT&T document which requires parallel construction in a service to government. It’s very troubling and not the way law enforcement should work in this country.”

AT&T Is Spying on Americans for Profit, New Documents Reveal [The Daily Beast]

by Kate Cox via Consumerist

Judge Approves VW’s $15B Settlement, Still No Fix For Affected Vehicles

It’s official: Volkswagen will begin the process of buying back thousands of vehicles equipped with “defeat devices” designed to skirt federal emission standards after a judge signed off on a proposed $15 billion settlement between the carmaker and federal regulators on Tuesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer called the agreement “fair, reasonable, and adequate” on Monday, despite VW’s failure to provide an adequate fix for the defective vehicles, the Associated Press reports.

According to the agreement [PDF], VW would pay a maximum of $10.03 billion to cover buybacks and fixes for the affected vehicles.

The settlement only covers about 475,000 vehicles in the U.S. that contain 2.0 liter diesel vehicles. It does not cover about 87,000 3.0 liter diesel engine vehicles, so you can expect a separate settlement to resolve cheating allegations in those cars.

Per the agreement, VW would remove from operation or modify at least 85% of the vehicles covered by the settlement.

To do so, the company will offer each eligible owner and lessee of an affected vehicle the option of a buyback and termination of the lease, or modification of the vehicle at no expense.

Consumers who choose the buyback option will receive between $12,500 and $44,000, depending on their car’s model, year, mileage, and trim of the car, as well as the region of the country where it was purchased.

The buyback and lease termination offers will be available to affected vehicle owners or lessees 15 days after the settlement has been approved, and will remain open for at least two years.

Additionally, because a straight buyback will not fully compensate consumers who owe more than their car is worth due to rapid depreciation, a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission provides these consumers with an option to have their loans forgiven by Volkswagen.

Consumers who have third-party loans have the option of having Volkswagen pay off those loans, up to 130% of the amount a consumer would be entitled to under the buyback. For example, if the owner is entitled to a $20,000 buyback, VW would pay off his/her loans up to a cap of $26,000.

Any vehicles bought back by VW are required to be fixed, scrapped, or recycled. The company is prohibited from shipping or moving the vehicles out of the U.S.

Tuesday’s order notes that, so far, 336,612 owners of 2-liter diesels have registered for the settlement and 3,298 have opted out, the Associated Press reports.

Eventually, customers will have also been given the option to have their vehicles modified once a fix was ironed out by the EPA and California Air Resources Board.

CARB has previously rejected two proposed fixes from VW related to both 2-liter and 3-liter vehicles, saying the plans were “incomplete, substantially deficient, and fall far short of meeting the legal requirements to return these vehicles to the claimed certified configuration.”

In addition to signaling the beginning of the buyback option, Tuesday’s settlement also requires VW to pay $2.7 billion for environmental mitigation and another $2 billion for clean-emissions infrastructure.

Judge approves Volkswagen’s $15-billion emissions settlement [The Associated Press]

by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

South Korean Customers Sue Samsung Over Galaxy Note 7

It took less than a week for attorneys in a class action suit against Samsung in South Korea to round up 500 customers interested in demanding compensation from the company after their experience with the Galaxy Note 7 recall. Public opinion has turned against Samsung in its home country as well as in the rest of the world, leading to the worst crisis in company history.

In the middle of all of this, shareholders are about to vote on an important new candidate for the company board: Jay Y. Lee, a member of the next generation of the Lee family that runs the conglomerate. (Warning: auto-play video at that link)

The company’s largest shareholder, a major pension fund in South Korea, has already declared its support for Jay Lee, but a large investors’ advisory firm has come out against his election to the board, as has an international activist investor.

The Galaxy Note 7 has turned investors and consumers against Samsung in a way that would have been unthinkable not long ago.

“It has caused a crack in the company’s confidence,” the president of a corporate watchdog in Seoul told Bloomberg Technology. “Samsung worked hard to build up a premium image, but its reputation has been fractured.”

The attorney behind the suit has threatened to file a new lawsuit every month, since the class action system in South Korea is apparently different from the one in the United States. Customers in the suit are demanding cash compensation for their trouble: 500,000 won or about $440.

Samsung’s Note 7 Crisis Sows Seeds of Rebellion on Home Turf [Bloomberg] (Warning: auto-play video)

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Report: Twitter Preparing To Cut Hundreds Of Jobs After Failing To Find Buyer

After failing to secure a buyer for the company, Twitter is now reportedly looking to slash hundreds of jobs, totaling about 8% of its workforce.

According to a report from Bloomberg, citing ever mysterious “people familiar with the matter,” Twitter may eliminate about 300 people, which is the same percentage it let go last year when co-founder Jack Dorsey stepped in as chief executive officer.

Those numbers could change, as planning isn’t final yet. If the workforce reductions do happen, Twitter may announce them before it releases third-quarter earnings on Thursday, one of the insiders suggested.

Rumors of Twitter trying to sell itself started swirling in late September, with Google as a rumored buyer.

Walt Disney Co. and Salesforce were also reportedly interested in buying Twitter, but eventually, all potential suitors walked away from the table: first Google and Disney dropped out in early October, followed by Salesforce days later.

Twitter Planning Hundreds More Job Cuts as Soon as This Week [Bloomberg]

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Yes You Can Milk A Reindeer: 9 Dairy Animals That Don’t Say “Moo”

We’re all familiar with cow’s milk in its many possible forms: in your coffee, on your cheese sandwich, in a sundae, and of course as the butter sculptor’s medium of choice. And most of us have dabbled at various times in goat’s or sheep’s milk and cheese while out to eat or strolling down the “fancy” aisle of the supermarket, but these few farm animals are just some of many mammals whose milk can be enjoyed, or at least tolerated.

Why are we so limited in our dairy endeavors? Part of it has to do with where we live — there aren’t many yak or reindeer dairy farms stateside — but it also has to do with what our bodies are used to.

“Unpalatable fat and protein levels keep some milks off the shelves, but the difficulty of milking recalcitrant beasts can be no less an obstacle,” Benjamin Phelan wrote for Slate in 2012, addressing the question of why we don’t milk mammals other than cows.

And yet, it can be done. Here are nine non-cow animals other than cows that provide humans with milk in sometimes far-flung parts of the world.

1. Goat

Image courtesy of Phil Roeder

Because goat’s milk has less lactose than cow’s milk, some people may find it easier to digest. That’s because its proteins are a bit different, more similar to the structure of human breast milk than cow’s milk, explains Modern Farmer. It has some other advantages over cow’s milk: it has more calcium, magnesium, potassium, and Vitamin C.

Another reason goat’s milk isn’t as common in the U.S. as cows? Dairy cows produce about 20,000 more pounds of milk annually than goats, according to the Oshkosh Northwestern.

2. Sheep

Image courtesy of Magnus Reuterdahl

If you want fatty milk, go for the sheep, whose milk has twice the content of cow’s milk, making it an unappetizing beverage to gulp. That same fattiness makes it appealing to cheese makers, however, who use it to make cheeseboard standouts like chèvre and Roquefort, among others.

“The sheep people are a weird bunch,” one chef told Slate. “Sheep are difficult to raise, and fickle. You don’t get much yield, and the cheese isn’t that popular, so you’re talking about an eccentric person. It’s very difficult.”

3. Water Buffalo

Image courtesy of navnetmitt

You might not think you’ve had water buffalo products, but if you’ve ever enjoyed some mozzarella di bufala, well, you have: The animals are raised in Campania, Italy, to make that specialty cheese.

For most Americans, that’s the most likely exposure they’ve had to water buffalo milk, but it’s a different story in India, the largest producer and consumer of water buffalo cattle and milk. Clarified butter, or ghee, made from the milk is especially popular.

But before you sidle up with a pail to help yourself to some water buffalo dairy products, be warned: They’re not the easiest creatures to milk.

“One Wisconsin dairyman (a former lieutenant colonel in the Israeli military) who had acquired a herd of dairy buffalo told a newspaper that milking them was more difficult than leading troops into war,” Slate’s Phelan wrote.

Despite that, there are some farms in the U.S. moving into water buffalo territory, Modern Farmer reported in 2014, though these farms are currently far-flung and small.

4. Donkey

Image courtesy of Josh Kelahan

Yes, you can milk a donkey, Modern Farmer reported, and yes, sometimes it’s called “ass milk.”

Moving along.

Some folks may recall that Cleopatra allegedly bathed in it, and in modern-day Europe, some folks are getting into donkey milk as food.

“The milk works very well in a number of recipes,” one chef who’s used it to make desserts like panna cotta and mousse told Modern Farmer, “and when you add in sugar and chocolate in particular, the taste is amazing.”

5. Yak

Image courtesy of Sean Quirk

In central Asia, tea with yak ghee — clarified butter — is all the rage, as is milk alcohol. Just take it from my brother Sean, who just happens to live with his family in Kyzyl, Tuva, an autonomous republic within Russia.

“Yak milk is a little richer maybe than cow milk but really pretty similar — yaks and cows are so close that they can interbreed,” he told me.

And all that ravening Genghis Kahn and his hordes did? Powered by yak.

“This is what allowed Genghis Khan’s armies to travel so fast for so long — they didn’t stop to eat, they just nourished themselves with this curd, called ‘kurut’ which is very light to carry,” my brother explains. “The whey can be drunk and is also used in softening leather.”

How My Brother Makes Milk Alcohol

First, fermented milk (a bit like kefir), is boiled; when it boils, the alcohol evaporates and then condenses on the underside of of another bowl that’s placed on top and filled with cold water.

The “nipple” shape of the bowl allows the condensed alcohol to drip into the central collectors.

The leftover fermented milk is then squeezed through a sack, separating the curds and whey.
“The curds can be eaten fresh or also dried into little hard chunks which are light, long lasting, and super nutritious,” my brother explains.

6. Moose

Image courtesy of Kostroma Moose Farm

It’s far from common, but there are moose dairies in Russia, notes Modern Farmer, including one with 30 moose, located about four hours from Moscow in Kostroma.

The “pine-scented delicacy” is carefully milked from these huge animals and is known as a cure for peptic ulcers: it’s high in butterfat — around 10%, compared to cow milk’s 5% average — which works to kill ulcer-creating bacteria. A local sanatorium has been dispensing moose milk as a treatment “for an array of diseases and disorders for over 30 years.”

7. Reindeer

Image courtesy of linhvienthai

This is one reindeer game you probably won’t ever play, not only because most Americans don’t live around herds of these animals, but also because it’s really tricky to obtain reindeer milk (which has a fat content of 22%, several times that of cow’s milk), as it takes two people to milk a reindeer, reports.

Regardless, Laplanders in northern Scandinavia use reindeer milk exclusively because they’re the only animals that can withstand such a cold environment.

Some central Asian folks, including Tuvans and their neighbors in Mongolia, also consume reindeer milk products like yogurt.

While my brother isn’t intimately familiar with reindeer herding in the area, he pointed me to Dan Plumley of Adirondack Wild, an organization dedicated to the protection, enhancement, and education of wild land values in the Adirondack Park and Catskills.

Plumley has worked with reindeer herding culture since 1993, when he started a project aimed at improving the reindeer herd of the Dukha, which totaled only 400 to 600 reindeer then. Today, that herd numbers over 1,500 healthy reindeer — animals he’s had the chance to milk himself.

“It is a two-person job because one person is needed to keep the animal in one place and calm usually by standing near the head and neck of the animal and holding its bridle – head strap,” he explains, while the other person does the actual milking.

The process doesn’t take long, since female reindeer only give about one to two cups of milk each day, Plumley explains, so herders will milk several reindeer to get the milk they need for cooking and meals.

In his time working with the Dukha, Plumley says he’s enjoyed reindeer milk, cheese, and yogurt.

He claims it is delicious, creamy, high-fat milk, but low in volume per animal when compared to cattle, horses or yaks. Plumley offers a pro-tip for dairy lovers: “I love fresh reindeer yogurt in the taiga — it’s always a cooling, tasty treat with a little kick to it.”

8. Horse

Image courtesy of Jeanne Menj

You’re not going to find horse cheese on the shelf, but in Central Asia, folks use fermented horse milk to make a slightly alcoholic, fermented drink called Kumiss.

9. Camel

Image courtesy of International Livestock Research Institute

Whether you’re milking a two-humped camel or a single-humped camel, the results are the same. While camel milk is particularly popular for folks living in hot, arid climates, the stuff has gone mainstream, albeit very slowly, Modern Farmer reports: starting with Oasis Camel Dairy near San Diego, there are now seven camel milking facilities in the U.S.

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by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Report: Fake Account Fiasco Could Cost Wells Fargo $4B, Thousands Of Customers

As Wells Fargo continues to grapple with the consequences of its potentially decade-long fake account fiasco, we’re beginning to see what the future might hold for the banking giant: a large loss both financially and in its customer base. 

While Wells Fargo has already been ordered by federal regulators to pay $185 million for its high pressure sales tactics that led to the opening and closing of millions of customer accounts without consent, analysts believe that fine is just a drop in the billion-dollar bucket.

CNBC cites analysts who estimate that before the scandal is all said and done, the bank could lose up to $4 billion in revenue over the next year.

A large chunk of that loss could come from an exodus of customers, as a recent survey by cg42 found that up to 30% of the Wells Fargo’s account holders could leave as a result of bank’s recent issues.

According to the report, while just 3% of customers surveyed were actually directly affected by the cross-selling scandal that saw employees enrolling customers in accounts they didn’t need, about 14% are projected to switch banks.

“While the lion’s share of Wells Fargo customers we surveyed had not directly reported being affected by the scandal, it didn’t matter,” Steve Beck, founder of cg42, tells CNBC. “The breach of trust the scandal created has fundamentally changed the way that they think about their institution, the way they think about the bank.”

And the way customers think of the bank isn’t exactly positives, cg42 found. Prior to the scandal, 60% of respondents had a positive impression of Wells Fargo, but that fell to 24% after news of the scandal broke. Conversely, negative perceptions of the brand increased from 15% to 52%, CNBC reports.

Although Wells Fargo did not reply to a request for comment on the survey, The Charlotte Observer reports that recent bank disclosures show customer visits have fallen steadily after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, along with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Los Angeles city attorney, announced the bank would pay more than $185 million in refunds and penalties for its practice in cross-selling products to customers.

According to disclosures [PDF] the bank made earlier this month, customer visits with bankers in branches fell 10% in September, while credit card applications fell 20% and consumer checking account openings fell 25% compared to rates in 2015.

In an attempt to retain customers, The Observer reports that Wells Fargo plans to launch a national TV campaign addressing the scandal.

The commercials, which began to air on Monday evening, focus on the steps the bank has taken to address the issues, such as eliminating sales goals and compensating customers.

Wells Fargo fallout could tally $4 billion in revenue, up to 30% customer drop, study says [CNBC]
Wells Fargo to start national TV commercials addressing sales scandal [The Charlotte Observer]

by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Truck Carrying 40K Pounds Of Delicious Cheese Overturns On Highway

We are never fans of wasted food, and so it is with a certain measure of sadness that we must tell you: a semi-truck carrying 40,000 pounds of shredded cheddar overturned on an Oregonian highway, spilling the trailer’s delicious contents everywhere.

According to officials with the Oregon State Police, the driver of the truck veered from his lane for unknown reasons around 3 a.m. Monday on Interstate 5 outside Ashland, destroying about 300 feet of guardrail before the truck tipped over, the Mail Tribune reports.

The driver maintained minor injuries, and refused medical treatment. His cargo didn’t fare so well: all 20 tons of cheese — which was meant for Papa John’s Pizza — spilled across the interstate, cheese that will never be eaten.

“It just opened the top of that trailer like a can opener,” an Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman told the Mail Tribune said of the crash.

Police said the driver was cited, though they didn’t give more details.

Semi hauling 41,000 pounds of shredded cheese crashes on I-5 [Mail Tribune]

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Philly Fast-Food Workers Fired After Gross Confessions On Facebook Live

After a Facebook Live Video posted over the weekend showed workers at a Philadelphia Checkers restaurant smoking cigarettes in the kitchen and talking about having sex with customers went viral, the company says those employees will lose their jobs.

In the 44-minute video, one worker says his fellow employees have had sex with customers, NBC 10 [warning: link contains autoplay video] reports. At one point he lights up a cigarette in the kitchen, and talks about how he sometimes handles food without gloves, threatens to spit in food, and discusses “washing the floor with burger buns.”

A Checkers spokesperson said in a statement that those in the video would be fired, and the restaurant would be sanitized and reinspected by the health department.

“The behavior of these employees does not meet our high standards for food preparation and guest service, and does not represent the thousands of Checkers employees who do an outstanding job every day,” the spokesperson told NBC 10. “As soon as we became aware of the post, we immediately contacted the franchisee, who proactively closed the restaurant late last night. The employees involved will be terminated, the restaurant will be fully sanitized and re-inspected before it reopens, and all of the team members will be fully retrained.”

One of the employees who lost his job, and the one who speaks most often in the video, said it was just a publicity stunt: he’s a comedian and hip hop artist who worked at Checkers for just a few months. He says he was trying to promote his music, and that nothing he said in the video was actually happening. He claims he deleted the video, but someone else got their hands on it and posted it.

“I wouldn’t do that to my community,” he said. “Now a lot of people don’t have jobs because of me and I feel bad. Because it was all a joke.

Philly Fast Food Restaurant Employees Talk About Having Sex With Customers, Describe Unsanitary Acts in Viral Video [NBC 10]

by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Uber’s Self-Driving Truck Startup Delivers Beer To Denver With Driver In Sleeper Cab

AB InBev and Uber teamed up last week for a ceremonial delivery: the first recorded commercial shipment delivered by self-driving truck. It was a load of Budweiser, and the truck made its 120-mile trip down a highway with no driver in the seat.

There was a driver on board, of course, ready to take the controls if needed. Self-driving trucks are a long way from widespread deployment in the real world: the trip from Fort Collins to Denver required careful mapping of the route, good weather, and an early-morning trip with light traffic.

The trucks for Otto, the startup that Uber acquired earlier this year, also can’t really navigate areas that are off the highway, which is why the early years of widespread commercial deployment of these trucks may mean that companies will have to keep paying a driver to sit in the back and take over to get the vehicle on and off the highway.

AB InBev says that’s cool: it’s still interested in autonomous truck technology because trucks that drive themselves would still have a lower fuel cost, and could spend more hours on the road since they wouldn’t be subject to the same break and sleep requirements as human drivers.

Uber Self-Driving Truck Packed With Budweiser Makes First Delivery in Colorado [Bloomberg Technology]

by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

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