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Tyson Recalls 66 Tons Of Chicken Nuggets That May Contain Plastic Nuggets

What’s supposed to be in chicken nuggets? One thing that is definitely not supposed to be inside that breaded exterior is pieces of plastic, yet pieces of plastic or other foreign substances turn up in nuggets with frightening frequency. This time, it happened at chicken giant Tyson Foods, and the affected product was the panko-breaded nuggets that come in 5-pound bags from the frozen food department at Costco.

The chicken products would have been produced on July 18, 2016, and have a “best if used by” date on the package of July 18, 2017. The case codes on affected products are 2006SDL03 and 2006SDL33.

Chicken patties that were sold wholesale, probably to food service establishments, were also part of the recall, but those weren’t sold to consumers.

pankochickennuggetsmedium

If you have the products, you should throw them away and not eat them unless you really enjoy plastic pieces, but remove the UPC and date code from the bag and mail them to Tyson for a refund. You can also bring them back to Costco for a refund.

The address to send the label to Tyson is:

Tyson Foods – CP631
P.O. Box 2020
Springdale, AR 72765-9989

If you have any questions about the products or about the recall, contact the company at 866-328-3156, or email comments@tyson.com.

What’s the problem with these products? The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the company received reports of plastic pieces in chicken nuggets. These pieces were about 21 millimeters by 6 millimeters, or about .8 inches by .25 inches.

The USDA notes that the plastic pieces “may have come from a round, hard plastic rod used to connect a plastic transfer belt,” and wouldn’t have tripped the metal detectors that nuggets pass through before they ship.

Since these nuggets came from a warehouse club, Costco, in theory the club should contact members who purchased them. This is usually also the case for products purchased at regular grocery stores using a loyalty card.

If any people working in food production have any ideas about where the plastic pieces come from, our tipline is open.

Tyson Foods Inc. Recalls Chicken Nugget Products Due To Possible Foreign Matter Contamination [USDA]


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Man Charged With Fraud, Accused Of Importing Illegal Sex Drugs

One important consumer lesson that we hope our readers take away from this site is that erectile dysfunction drugs that you find on a gas station counter are never a good idea. An Alabama man has been charged with intentionally defrauding and misleading consumers for importing a drug sold as a “male enhancement product” that contained sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra.

zhengongfu

No, Viagra isn’t available as a generic drug yet, and it isn’t available as an over-the-counter one, either. Yet over-the-counter sexual aids sold as “dietary supplements” are so common that the Food and Drug Administration has a special “Tainted Sexual Enhancement Products” page it lists new products that the agency has tested.

Another notable case were the “Black Ant” supplements, which were not capsules of ground-up black ants, but in fact contained the active ingredient in Viagra.

Other than its public health value, you can also learn a lot about marketing from reading the names these products were sold under. The supplements, which actually included unknown amounts of the active ingredients in Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra, include:

The most common real drug or analogue found in these pills is sildenafil, which is still only legally available in the U.S. as Pfizer’s Viagra. It’s safe when it’s prescribed by an actual doctor who knows something about your health and other medications that you take, and when you know how much of the active ingredient you’re taking.

Capsules marketed as “herbal supplements” and sold on the counter of a gas station, on the other hand, don’t tell you what’s actually in them, and could potentially cause a drug interaction with medications that contain nitrates.

Zhen Gong Fu is only one on this long list of “supplements” sold over the counter in this way, and the man who imported and distributed them to wholesalers who in turn sold them to gas stations and truck stops has been released from jail on a $5,000 bond and pleaded not guilty.

Feds charge seller of mislabeled Chinese ‘Viagra substitute’ [Associated Press]


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Tired Of Earth? Elon Musk Unveils Plans To Colonize Mars

Although the verdict is still out (there somewhere) on whether or not there is life on Mars, there soon could be Earthlings on the planet. At least that’s the latest plan from Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who today unveiled the latest project for his SpaceX venture.

In a speech this afternoon at the International Astronautical Congress, Musk says human colonization of other planets is “something we can do in our lifetimes.”

Of course, Musk hasn’t actually hidden his desire to send Earthlings to Mars. In fact, he announced earlier this year that it was his plan all along for SpaceX. Musk said eventually the expedition could include more than one million humans and the creation of a self-sustaining city on the Red Planet.

Tuesday’s speech detailed just how Musk, SpaceX, and unnamed government, industry, and tech partners — who would help split the billion-dollar bill for the endeavor — could one day make the planet-to-planet travel and colonization a reality.

First up, Musk says he and the future partners will have to tackle the high cost of such a trip, estimating that it would currently take about $10 billion to complete a journey to Mars. One day, he hopes the cost will be closer to $200,000. It’s unclear if the lower cost would be per trip or per person making the trip.

In order to make continuous trips to the planet, Musk envisions creating a fleet of four rockets that would travel to Mars every two years.

Each of the rockets would be reusable, have the ability to refuel in Earth’s orbit, and produce fuel on Mars using the planet’s abundance of carbon dioxide and ice to create methane fuel.

Musk also outlined in a video released prior to the event just how passenger would get to the plant. With people — likely a dozen at a time — boarding a spaceship on top of the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) at NASA’s Cape Canaveral.

The spaceship will be equipped with 42 separate rocket engines that ignite with 28.7 million pounds of thrust. After liftoff, a first stage rocket booster detaches and the unmanned spaceship will enter Earth’s orbit.

The booster eventually makes its way back to the launched where a propellant tanker is loaded and it is all sent back into space. There, the tanker fills up the spaceship.

At that point, the spaceship, which is equipped with gigantic 200,000 watt solar panels, would head to Mars, where it will land after a multi-month trip.

While Musk believes that trips to Mars could start in as little as a decade, SpaceX is still struggling to get off the ground in some respects.

Earlier this month, an “anomaly” during testing of an unmanned SpaceX rocket at Cape Canaveral created an explosion that destroy the rocket.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Listen To This Creepy Robocall & See Why 750K People Want Free Robo-Blocking Tools

As if auto-dialed, pre-recorded robocalls weren’t bad enough, scammers are now blasting out robocalls that use poorly synthesized text-to-talk programs in an effort to try to frighten people into thinking they are being sued.

The following recording is just one of many robot-voiced robocalls we’ve received in recent weeks from scammers. They all claim that we are facing legal action. This one mentions a “criminal lawsuit” and provides some bogus docket number, but no reference to any actual crime; others have claimed to be from the FBI, IRS, or other agencies:

What’s interesting about the calls is that the call-back number provided in the recorded message matches the number that shows up on Caller ID. Usually a scam robocaller uses spoofing technology to hide behind a fake Caller ID number and then provides a different phone number for calling back. These calls are either coming from someone who doesn’t care/know enough to spoof a number or is using tech to reroute calls to that number to yet another phone.

Out of curiosity, we called the number back on a public phone with a blocked number. The call connected but no one ever answered. NOTE: Don’t call any of these numbers back from your phone or any phone you don’t want to end up identified as being a potential victim.

We’ve filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission about some of these calls, as they violate both the Do Not Call registry and telemarketing laws; the calls impersonating the IRS and FBI break additional laws. But it can take a while for authorities to actually track down the source of robocalls; even then it may be difficult to connect them to a human being that can be punished.

That’s why so many Americans just want some easy-to-use way to block these calls from ever reaching our phones in the first place.

The End Robocalls campaign by our colleagues at Consumers Union has reached a milestone, gathering some 750,000 names from American consumers who want the phone companies to know they are tired of answering the phone and not knowing if that unfamiliar number is a friend, family member, some other important caller, or a jerk trying to con them out of their money or personal information.

And if you think “that’ll never happen to me,” maybe you’re right, but it’s happening to a lot of people, with an estimated $350 million a year lost to telemarketing scams.

While the telecom industry recently partnered with the FCC to create an anti-robocall strike force to combat these unwanted calls, these same companies had long balked at actually offering robo-blocking tools to their customers.

Meanwhile, third-party blockers have not yet proven to be the answer. Add-on devices often cost money and may not work the way you wish. One of the best-regarded blockers, Nomorobo, is free to use, but only on certain types of landline phones. There are wireless versions of Nomorobo and other blocking-apps, but they generally cost money. All this hassle, just to block calls that are likely illegal.

“Consumers are sick and tired of being harassed by robocalls and anxious for the phone companies to deliver real relief,” says Tim Marvin, who heads up the End Robocalls campaign. “As the Robocall Strike Force works on longer term efforts to combat unwanted calls, the phone companies should start offering the best call-blocking tools currently available and make sure that all of their customers get the protection they deserve.”

Before agreeing to form the strike force, the telecom industry often claimed it couldn’t offer blocking services on a widespread basis because they couldn’t possibly block all robocalls. CU’s Marvin says that no one expects perfection; just fewer calls.

“While no robocall solution will be 100% effective,” says Marvin, “it’s clear that the phone companies could be doing so much more today to stop these nuisance calls.”

Even if the blockers worked for just 75% of robocalls, that could mean a significant reduction in Nuisance calls for many Americans.

According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, around 7-in-10 customers at each of the major landline providers (AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink) told CR they get at least six robocalls a week, while around 40% of these folks say they get upwards of 10 robocalls each week. Who wouldn’t want a free, easy-to-use tool that could cut those numbers down at least a bit?


by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Short-Term Loan Startup LendUp Ordered To Pay $3.6M Over Alleged Lending Violations

When a company promises to lend you money and rebuild your credit — all through your phone — it can be hard to pass up the offer, especially when you’re in a pinch. But what happens when that lender doesn’t deliver? It gets fined millions of dollars by the federal government, or at least that’s the case for online lender LendUp.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced Tuesday that it ordered Flurish, Inc, — doing business as LendUp — to pay $3.6 million in penalties and refunds to resolve allegations it failed to help customers build their credit or access cheaper loans.

San Francisco-based LendUp offers single-payment loans and installment loans in 24 states. The company markets its products as a way for consumers to build credit and improve credit scores, while also promising to offer borrowers the ability to progress to loans with more favorable terms — dubbed the “LendUp Ladder.”

The so-called “Ladder” saw borrowers taking out high interest loans — dubbed Silver — then paying off those debts, and moving to a lower interest “Gold” loan, and then an even lower interest rate “Premium” loan.

According to the CFPB consent order [PDF] with LendUp, many of the benefits the company advertised to customers never materialized or were never actually available.

Despite the fact that LendUp advertised all of its loans nationwide, loans at the higher levels — those with lower interest rates — were not available outside of California for most of the company’s existence.

As a result, borrowers outside of the state were not eligible to move up the “LendUp Ladder” and obtain lower-priced loans and other benefits, as marketed by LendUp.

In some cases, the company was found to allegedly provide customers with inaccurate information about the costs off loans.

For example, the company often advertised on Facebook and search engines as allowing customer to view various loan amounts and repayment terms, but it did not disclose the annual percentage rate as required by law.

Despite billing itself as a company that has “no hidden fees” and “clear terms and conditions,” the CFPB claims that LendUp charged customers extra fees.

When it came to the Silver loans, the CFPB claims that LendUp offered borrowers the option to select their own loan payment date.

Borrowers who selected an earlier repayment date received a discount on the origination fee. However, if a borrower later extended the repayment date, the company would reverse the discount given at origination, according to the CFPB.

The company did not disclose this and in California, Tennessee, and Mississippi, the company’s loan agreement specifically stated that it would not charge any fees to extend the repayment period.

In addition, the CFPB found that if a borrower defaulted, any discount received at origination was reversed and added to the amount sent to collections.

Additionally, from May 2013 to March 2016, LendUp offered a service that allowed consumers to obtain loans more quickly, for a fee. In many cases, the CFPB alleges, the fees should have been included in the annual percentage rate calculation, but were not. Thus, the company inaccurately disclosed the finance charges.

Finally, the CFPB claims that while LendUp promised to help consumers build their credit by moving up the lending ladder, the company failed to provide information to credit reporting companies from 2012 until at least Feb. 2014.

According to the CFPB’s consent order, in order to resolve the allegations it misled customers, LendUp must refund $1.83 million to more than 50,000 consumers, and $1.8 million in penalties to the CFPB Civil Penalty Fund.

The company must also stop misrepresenting the benefits of borrowing, end inaccurate advertisements, and ensure the accuracy of pricing disclosures.

This isn’t the first time that LendUp has received unwanted recognition. The company became the center of a bit of controversy earlier this year when Google announced it would no longer include ads of payday lenders to protect “users from deceptive or harmful financial products.”

The only problem? Google’s parent company, Alphabet, revealed an investment in the startup, which offers loans with interest rates as high as 600%.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Here’s Why Mall Owners Stepped In To Save Aeropostale

The winners of the bankruptcy auction for teen clothing retailer Aeropostale weren’t a competing clothing chain or another retailer hoping to get into the teen clothing biz: it was a joint venture by mall landlords, who apparently didn’t want to face another hole in their shopping centers left by a bankrupt retailer.

Two leaders of the group that won the auction were Simon Property Group and General Growth Properties, companies that probably own at least one of the malls near you.

The Wall Street Journal explains that 260 Aeropostale stores are in Simon malls, and General Growth Properties has 77 of them. That’s a lot of empty stores to fill.

Yet the retail clothing business isn’t doing that great now, which is why it looked likely that the retailer formerly known as Aeropostale was heading into the familiar territory of liquidation and empty stores.

This is the first time that the two mall firms have moved into the actual retail business, and they haven’t yet said what their strategy for Aeropostale will be, other than to keep as many stores open as they’re able.

Mall Owners Go on Defensive to Rescue Aéropostale [Wall Street Journal]


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Yahoo Facing Lawsuits, Senate Inquiry, Possibly Merger Issues After Massive Data Breach

Last week was pretty rough for Yahoo, which confirmed on Thursday that it suffered a major data breach affecting more than half a billion (yes, with a B) users. Now 500 million people with Yahoo accounts are trying to figure out what to do next… but they’re not the only ones.

Courtrooms

As you might imagine, Yahoo users are incredibly unhappy with the fact that their data was stolen en masse, and are even less happy with the way the company handled the disclosure. The first lawsuits against Yahoo were entered the day after the news broke, and now a pile of similar, related claims is starting to pile up.

As USA Today and Bloomberg report, there are at least five cases filed against Yahoo so far.

Two, one by a New York resident and one for an Arkansas woman, have been filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Both seek class-action status. Another, also by a New York resident, was filed in federal court in San Jose. And similar complaints have also been filed in federal courts in Illinois and San Diego.

In one case, the plaintiff’s lawyers claim Yahoo “intentionally, willfully, recklessly, or negligently” failed to protect its systems and also failed to tell users that their data “was not kept in accordance with applicable, required, and appropriate cyber-security protocols, policies, and procedures,” in violation of the FTC Act and California law.

Another complaint says, “[Yahoo’s] misconduct was so bad that it evidently allowed unauthorized and malicious access to plaintiff’s and the class’s personal information on defendant’s computer systems to continue unimpeded for nearly two years.”

Legal action takes time, so it will be a while before we know how or if these cases will be consolidated, and if class-action status ends up granted.

Capitol Hill

A half-dozen Senators really want to know a lot more about how this breach happened and what was stolen — and also, just what Yahoo knew and when they knew it.

To that end, Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT), joined by Senators Richard Blumenthal (CT), Al Franken (MN), Ed Markey (MA), Elizabeth Warren (MA), and Ron Wyden (OR) today sent a letter full of pointed, specific questions to Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer.

The letter (PDF) asks, among other questions, what Yahoo sites and services were affected, how many total users were hit, how Yahoo didn’t notice the intrusion to begin with, and what it’s doing to prevent another one.

“We are even more disturbed that user information was first compromised in 2014, yet the company only announced the breach last week,” the Senators write. “That means millions of Americans’ data may have been compromised for two years. This is unacceptable. This breach is the latest in a series of data breaches that have impacted the privacy of millions of American consumers in recent years, but it is by far the largest. Consumers put their trust in companies when they share personal and sensitive information with them, and they expect all possible steps be taken to protect that information.”

Separately, Sen. Mark Warner (VA) is asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether Yahoo met mandated disclosure requirements about the breach.

“Disclosure is the foundation of federal securities laws, and public companies are required to disclose material events that shareholders should know about,” Warner wrote in a letter to SEC chair Mary Jo White. He also asked the SEC to investigate whether Yahoo made “complete and accurate” representations of its information security practices.

The SEC is involved because Yahoo is in the midst of a $4.8 billion acquisition by Verizon. As part of that, Yahoo told the SEC on Sept. 9 that it did not have knowledge of any unauthorized access of its users personal data… 13 days before it announced the massive breach.

C-Suite

Lawsuits and letters from Congress are concrete, but the rumors in the business world are a little more ethereal and vague. That said, issues surrounding the breach could indeed complicate or even scuttle Verizon’s plans to purchase Yahoo.

As Fortune explained last week, the language of the deal between Verizon and Yahoo would not allow Verizon to scrap its plans over external factors, like changes in global political or economic situations (Brexit, anyone?). Verizon can, however, either back out — or negotiate a lower price — if a court finds that the breach is an adverse event that lowers Yahoo’s value.

But the more pressing issue is the same one Sen. Warner’s asking the SEC to look into: when did Yahoo find out about the breach? Because the merger agreement that Yahoo signed on July 23 specifically agrees that to their best knowledge, there have not been any incidents or claims about data loss or security breaches. And if Yahoo did know, and signed that agreement anyway, that would spell trouble.

Verizon, meanwhile, said on Thursday that it only found out about the massive breach two days before Yahoo’s 500 million users, and the rest of the world, did.

There are reports beginning to surface that Verizon leadership are unsure how to continue. Many analysts say that the deal is likely to progress, but that Verizon may well lower the price it’s willing to pay for now-damaged goods.


by Kate Cox via Consumerist

Audi Recalls 20K SUVs Because Seats Shouldn’t Move In A Crash

Owning or driving a vehicle with a third row of seats can be convenient when hauling around your family, the neighbor’s kids, or when you simply just need to get more people from point A to point B. But you know what’s not convenient? When those seats don’t stay where they’re supposed to in a crash. For that reason, Audi is recalled nearly 20,000 SUVs. 

Audi issued the recall of 19,205 model year 2015 Q7 SUVs after finding that the third row seats may move forward during a frontal collision, posing an injury risk to passengers.

According to a notice [PDF] posted with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the lower transverse pipe used in the 3rd seating row was improperly manufactured which could lead to a weakening of the seat structure.

The issue means that the vehicles are in violation of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 207 for seating systems.

Audi says it became aware of the issue in May 2016, during internal periodic quality testing.

The carmaker then launched an investigation to determine if the test failure was the result of an incorrect test procedure or a defective part.

On August 25, 2016, the matter was presented at the Product Safety Committee where a decision to conduct a Compliance Recall was made, the carmaker says.

Owners of the affected vehicles will be notified by Audi, and dealers will install additional support brackets to the third row.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Report: Chinese Owner Of AMC Theatres In Talks To Acquire Dick Clark Productions

Chinese entertainment giant Wanda Group is reportedly in the mood for shopping, and it now has its eye on Dick Clark Productions, a company that owns far more than ABC’s New Year’s Eve programming. The transaction would give Wanda and its billionaire owner control of programs like the American Music Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards, the Golden Globe Awards, and the Miss America pageant.

Big awards shows don’t draw as many viewers as they used to but millions of people around the world watch the shows that Dick Clark Productions owns, and people who don’t watch them still think that they seem prestigious.

Wanda, the Wall Street Journal notes, is mostly a commercial property developer in China, but has been buying entertainment assets internationally, including the movie theater chain AMC and movie studio Legendary Entertainment.

At home, the company has linked these two interests by building theme parks, which have drawn the ire of Disney with their own versions of Snow White and Captain America wandering around.

FURTHER READING:
10 Chinese Companies You Should Probably Know About


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Feds Fine TitleMax, TitleBucks Parent Company $9M Over Alleged Illegal Loan Practices

The terms and conditions for short-term, high-cost loans can often be confusing, making it difficult to decipher just how much a borrower will spend to repay an initial loan. That was apparently the case for TMX Finance, the company behind TitleMax, as federal regulators fined the company $9 million for allegedly luring consumers into costly loan renewals by presenting them with misleading information about monthly plans. 

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that it had fined TMX Finance for allegedly engaging in a slew of illegal practices, including providing customers with misleading information about the terms of the loans, and divulging private information about customers during collection attempts.

According to the CFPB filing [PDF], TMX Finance — which operates 1,300 stores under the TitleMax, TitleBucks, and InstaLoan names — lured consumers into more expensive loans with information that hid the true costs of extending typical 30-day loans.

The CFPB found that in many cases when store employees in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee pitched a 30-day loan to customers they would ask the customer how many months he or she would like to repay the transaction, or how much the customer would like to pay each month.

These “monthly options” required consumers to renew or extend the transaction each month — incurring additional fees — and to pay more than the required minimum payment to reduce the principal over time, the CFPB complaint states.

Once the borrower provided their desired payback period or monthly rate, the store employee would provide them with a “Voluntary Payback Guide” that showed how to repay the loan with smaller payments over a longer time period.

However, the CFPB alleges that the system default for the guide is 12 months, but could be adjusted to up to 24 months. This would likely confuse a borrower who wanted to repay their loan in two months. If they made the payments listed for a 12 month loan only a small fraction would have been paid off in the two months they had planned for, forcing them to renew the loan.

“The guide and sales pitch distracted consumers from the fact that repeatedly renewing the loan, as encouraged by TMX Finance employees, would dramatically increase the loan’s cost,” the CFPB claims.

In fact, the CFPB found that the guide did not calculate fees or the total cost to consumers of repeatedly renewing the loan instead of repaying it in 30 days. This, the CPFB says, makes it difficult, if not impossible, for a consumer to compare costs for renewing the loan over a given period.

In addition to allegedly misleading customers on the total cost of their loans, the CFPB found that TMX Finance and its loan companies exposed the personal financial information of customers during debt-collection attempts.

According to the complaint, from at least Dec. 2011 to Dec. 2015, if a customer failed to make a timely payment and did not respond to communications from store employees, the company would allow employees to make “in-person visits” to borrowers’ homes, place of employment, or listed references.

During these in-person visits, employees disclosed the existence of borrowers’ past-due debts, the CFPB claims.

In order to resolve allegations it violated consumer protection laws, the CFPB has ordered TMX Finance to stop abusive loan-repayment policies, stop intrusive visits to consumers’ homes or workplaces, and pay a $9 million penalty to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.

TMX Finance says in statement that it did not admit to the CFPB’s findings, but that the resolution settles a years-long investigation into its practices.

“This resolution of the CFPB’s investigation addresses and mitigates the CFPB’s identified concerns while allowing us to continue meeting the urgent financial needs of our customers,” Otto Bielss, President of the TMX Finance, said. “We continue to focus on enhancing and strengthening our compliance program to support responsible lending practices and our compliance with applicable state and federal consumer lending and consumer protection laws.”


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Video Game Maker Thanks Pirates For Playing, Offers Discount

Kill them with kindness, that appears to be the motto for a video game company after it found links to some of its games posted for free on Reddit. 

TorrentFreak reports that instead of lecturing or threatening legal action against the pirates that posted the content online for all to have, PM Studios, instead tried to convert the pirates to actual customers.

PM Studios chose to join a Reddit discussion after noticing that its Playstation Vita game SUPERBEAT XONiC had been posted on the Vitahacks and VitaPiracy subreddits.

The company thanked the posters and offering them discounts on the actual games.

screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-10-46-57-am

“We feel honored that you enjoy our game SUPERBEAT XONiC so much, we would like to invite you to take this opportunity to purchase it on sale at the Playstation Store,” they commented on several threads, noting that the total cost would be $15.99, a 60% discount from its original price.

The offer was greeted with its own thank you thread, with several of the pirates suggesting they plan to buy the game.

“This is confusing me I don’t like it! Why are you so nice to me! Now I have to buy your game,” poster transferstudentx wrote.

“You know what? These guys are cool. I just purchased it. Hope they do well with their future endeavours,” zacksterjp wrote.

“I appreciate the ability to be able to download a game and give it a good run. Demos do not always sway purchasing decisions in the right way, for numerous reasons,” one poster, Mr_Cloud_Strife, wrote, noting that it’s hard to say no when company approaches the situation the way PM Studios did.

Game Maker Thanks Reddit Pirates for Attention, Offers Discounts [TorrentFreak]


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Advocates, Lawmakers, Even Best Buy Call On FCC To Approve Cable Box Plan

The Federal Communications Commission has been stewing over a proposal that would shake up the cable set-top box market for months. They’ve got a vote on the final proposal coming up this week, but in the face of partisan bickering and opposition from the cable industry, the matter has become controversial. So today, a whole passel of folks called on the FCC to approve the measure ASAP, for consumers’ sake.

Here’s the background: the FCC voted in February to consider making a proposal that would open up the cable set-top box market. The argument goes that cable companies have a monopoly on the hardware they put in your home, and they charge high fees (and lots of ’em) on that equipment. Competitive markets have a way of increasing service and decreasing prices, so the market for tools you can use to connect to your cable service should be competitive.

The final proposal, announced earlier this month, takes an industry-favored approach to the problem: eliminating the set-top box in favor of an app that can run on basically any other major smart or streaming device you have in your home. Consumers would be able to choose between using the streaming app, which would be free, or continuing to rent a set-top box if that’s what they prefer.

MORE: The FCC’s final set-top box proposal: free apps and integrated search for all

The FCC estimates that the cable industry makes about $20 billion annually from box rental fees, so it will surprise basically nobody that industry stands strongly against the measure. In fact, within moments of commission chairman Tom Wheeler announcing a final proposal had been made, Comcast was already rehearsing its legal arguments about how an eventual rule would violate federal law.

Amid that background, there’s also drama inside the FCC on this one.

While most of the high-profile proposals of the last few years have been controversial, their outcome has usually been a foregone conclusion to political watchers well in advance of the final vote. Everyone “knew,” for example, that net neutrality would pass by a 3-2 vote by the time the FCC actually held its meeting on the measure.

But the set-top box proposal is that rare wild card in the highly partisan, politically charged DC atmosphere. The entire chattering class in tech and in DC once again knows that there are going to be two votes in favor (Chairman Wheeler and commissioner Mignon Clyburn) and two against (commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly) — commissioners basically said as much before Congress recently. But that leaves commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel as a swing vote that could make or break the plan.

The FCC is scheduled to vote to adopt, reject, or delay proceedings on the proposal on Thursday (Sept. 29), and so all that is the background against which members of Congress, minority programmers, and consumer advocates spoke today, urging the Commission to adopt, rather than delay, new rules when it meets.

Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey spoke first, saying, “Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen an explosion of choice and innovation in consumer electronics” in general, from mobile devices to computers to TVs. “But for two decades, there’s been no choice in the pay-TV video box marketplace. Consumers have no choice but to rent their box from their provider in perpetuity.”

Markey cited a report he and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT) had sponsored, which found that 99% of cable subscribers rent boxes, spending an average of $89 a year per box to the tune of $232 per year per household — not exactly pocket change.

“Consumers have been waiting for years for a marketplace that puts an end to exorbitant rental fees … the FCC rental-box order represents the dawn of a new era,” Markey said. “We want to unleash the same Darwinian, paranoia-inducing competitive forces” in this market as every other gadget market out there,” he concluded. “It’s the twenty-first century: consumers should be able to choose their set-top box the same way they choose their mobile phone.”

Markey was joined by his Senate colleague Blumenthal. “My hope is that the action by the FCC anticipated this Thursday will break open the market and will be a significant win for consumers, providing them with real and immediate relief,” Blumenthal said. But he also acknowledged reality, saying that “past is often prologue,” and pointing out that it will likely take strong enforcement to make sure that pay-TV companies don’t try to weasel out of the spirit of the rule while obeying the letter.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (CA) echoed her Capitol colleagues’ sentiment that the wait has been more than long enough, saying, “Here we are, on the cusp of the FCC finally taking up the issue that the American people have waited twenty long years for … A constituent said to me over the weekend, there are marriages that haven’t lasted as long as we’ve had to wait” for a cable box rule.

A spokesperson for the Writer’s Guild of America – West and Robert L. Johnson, founder of BET, also spoke to the benefits of the proposal for both consumers and diversity.

Visibility, both indicated, is a huge challenge for non-traditional programmers or programmers who reach niche audiences. The proposal, particularly the integrated search requirement, will create “a level playing field” for minority programmers, Johnson said. “Bringing in an app-based application that allows a consumer to pick what they want to see, when they want to see it, and where they want to see it, opens the door to the flow of diversity of content … this decision is the most important decision the FCC has ever made” for minority programmers and consumers.

Consumer advocates from Public Knowledge and our colleagues down the hall at Consumers Union (the policy and mobilization arm of our parent company, Consumer Reports) also spoke heavily in favor of the proposal.

Consumer Reports, Consumers Union deputy director David Butler said, often surveys readers as to how happy they are with their cable service and the value they get. And time and time again, everyone says they’re paying too much and aren’t satisfied.

This proposal should help, Butler said. “We think this is a good proposal, a pro-consumer proposal that’s going to help a lot of people and will boost choices and competition in a market where that has been seriously lacking for too long.”

Clearly, it’s striking a chord, he added. “Some 200,000 consumers have signed a petition in support of the FCC stepping up and helping people unlock the box … we really believe that with all of the advances that have been made in video services, consumers ought to have access to affordable, innovative products” by now.

“Consumers deserve better than what they have now… this is long overdue,” he concluded.

But of course, all those folks have been beating their drum, asking the FCC to act, for a long time. New to the arena? Retailers who, of course, can stand to make more money and get more shoppers coming in to browse the shelves if consumers’ cable needs aren’t filled by boxes shipped and installed by the cable guy.

Parker Brugge, a senior executive at Best Buy, said, “We believe chairman wheeler’s proposal will bring about greater innovation and competition, simply put. Innovation and competition ultimately benefit the consumer, so that’s how we view the issue… We look forward to greater competition in this area, again because we feel it will ultimately benefit the consumer.”


by Kate Cox via Consumerist

Public Backlash Grows To Proposed Ads In National Parks

Backlash is growing against a proposal by the National Park Service that would allow some corporate logos and signage within park boundaries, with the majority of folks who weighed in on the idea during a public commenting period saying they’re against it.

In May, NPS announced a proposed donor recognition program — known as Director’s Order #21 — that would allow individuals and companies to have their names displayed on things like programs, benches, and other interior spaces at parks as a way to raise funds.

At the time, the service said the program would be more about recognizing donors, and that corporations wouldn’t be allowed to rename parks like Yellowstone or features like Old Faithful. No logos or ad language would be allowed either. Still, critics noted that some of the new donor recognition methods could take away from the park-going experience: under the proposal, corporate logos and wraps would be allowed on vehicles that donors have funded, for example.

NPS’ public commenting period on the proposal ended in May, but did not post those comments for review, Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert program and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) pointed out today, so CCFC requested the comments under the Freedom of Information Act.

The group obtained 345 of those comments [PDF], and, after reviewing them, said 78% of commenters oppose the NPS policy.

“We have reviewed those comments, and they make clear that the public is already outraged about many of the existing forms of commercialism in America’s national parks, and strongly opposed to the proposed changes which would allow more commercialism in our national parks,” Public Citizen and CCFC wrote in a letter [PDF] demanding revisions to the NPS policy. “Eighty percent of the public comments filed oppose DO21. NPS should take these comments seriously and not move forward with the revision as it is currently written.

Under the federal Administrative Procedure Act, when the NPS issues a final rule “it must describe and respond to the public comments it receives,” CCFC says.

“It’s disappointing that the NPS did not post these comments for public review,” said Kristen Strader, campaign coordinator for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert program. “But the public has spoken loudly and clearly against corporate sponsorships in our parks. We urge the National Park Service to hear their voices and abandon this plan, so the parks will forever be places to appreciate nature and American history, unspoiled by commercialism.”

The groups are also opposed to NPS’ plans to require park superintendents to engage in fundraising, as they say that could result in superintendents hired and rewarded on the basis of their fundraising abilities instead of their skills at managing parks and furthering the mission of NPS.

“Our national parks are America’s treasures, held in trust for future generations, and are not ‘brought to you by’ corporations,” said David Monahan, campaign manager of CCFC. “To teach children that an appreciation for our history, culture and natural resources is more important than materialism, the park experience must remain free of corporate logos and recognitions.”

Thus far, a petition led by CREDO Action, Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert, and CCFC has 215,000 signatures demanding that the NPS abandon plans to permit corporate sponsorships, naming rights and branding in parks, the groups say.

NPS is expected to make a final ruling on the proposal by the end of the year.


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Mylan’s Capitol Hill Critics Still Don’t Believe Company Only Makes $80 Profit Per EpiPen

Last week, when Mylan CEO Heather Bresch told a congressional panel that her company only makes $50 profit per EpiPen — the emergency allergy treatment that has risen in price by 600% in recent years — lawmakers found that hard to believe. And now that Mylan has revised that profit figure to $80 per EpiPen, the company’s critics are only getting louder. 

Rep. Elijah Cummings (MD), who last week accused Mylan of getting “filthy rich at the expense of our constituents,” is now calling into question the company’s revised profit margin, which was 60% higher than Bresch’s figure given during congressional testimony last week, CNBC reports.

“We didn’t believe Mylan’s numbers last week during their CEO’s testimony, and we don’t believe them this week either, which is why we gave them 10 days from the date of our hearing to produce their internal files,” Cummings said.

That means Mylan has until Friday to provide Congress with documents that will help determine what the company’s actual profits are for the drug, which rose in price nearly 600% in the last nine years.

Others in D.C. joined Cummings in arguing that the profit revision only raises more questions about EpiPens.

“Mylan continues to evade honesty about the costs associated with the EpiPen,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN) said in a statement to StatNews, adding that the profit revision “illustrates the need for further investigations.”

Rep. Buddy Carter (GA), who was on last week’s panel, is similarly critical about this apparent lack of transparency.

“Even after the CEO of Mylan told me under oath that Mylan’s profit per EpiPen is $50, we still don’t know if the information she provided is correct, and that’s a real problem,” Carter told StatNews.

In 2009, a two-pack of EpiPens had a sticker price of around $100. That same pair of auto-injectors now sells for $608.

On Monday, the pharmaceutical giant clarified Bresch’s statements, noting that her $104 per two-pack figure is Mylan’s profit after taxes. Before taxes, the profit is $88 per pen, or $166 per two-pack.

“Tax is typically included in a standard profitability analysis and the information provided to Congress has made clear that tax was part of the EpiPen Auto-Injector profitability analysis,” the company tells CNBC.

Still, the explanation wasn’t greeted with rounds of “oh, that makes sense.” Instead, the Wall Street Journal raised concerns about how the company came up with its numbers.

For example, the $52 figure applies the maximum 37.5% corporate income tax rate to EpiPen earnings, while the company as a whole only paid 7.4% in taxes.

Analysts told the WSJ at the time that the 37.5% tax rate Mylan applied to the EpiPen “has nothing to do with reality.”

Lawmaker: ‘We don’t believe’ Mylan on new profit numbers for EpiPens [CNBC]


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Did Wells Fargo Target Seniors? Lawmakers Want To Find Out

We’ve said it countless times: those who attempt – and often succeed – at scamming senior citizens of their savings are among the worst of the worst. Now lawmakers want to know if the Wells Fargo employees who created millions of unauthorized accounts were preying upon vulnerable senior citizen customers.

Senators Claire McCaskill (MO) and Susan Collins (ME), both members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging urged the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to investigate just who Wells Fargo employees targeted when fraudulently opening more than two million accounts without customers’ permission.

In a letter [PDF] to CFPB director Richard Cordray, the senators ask that federal regulators keep tabs on Wells Fargo as it begins the process of identifying and making restitution to the consumers who were defrauded.

“We have concerns about the impact this activity has had on our nation’s senior population, especially those who do not conduct their financial business on the Internet,” the senators wrote. “Because these individuals are less likely to be tech savvy or to even be active on the Internet, they are more susceptible to all types of fraud.”

The senators then provided a list of questions the CFPB should answer, such as how many Wells Fargo victims are over the age of 65, and whether or not the investigation into Wells Fargo uncovered any characteristics about the victims in terms of who was more likely to be targeted.

While McCaskill and Collins await a reply and a meeting with the CFPB, some older Wells Fargo customers are coming forward as victims of the alleged scheme, the Los Angeles Times reports.

An 87-year-old woman tells the Times that she’s been a long-time Wells customer — starting when her Crocker National Bank account was transferred to the banking giant in 1986.

The woman reports that after years of being happy with her service, she became worried that a scammer had gained access to her account. To remedy the issue, she decided to stop by a local branch to close the account and open a new one.

While an employee at the branch was happy to help, the process became more involved, with the woman being told she needed to open a savings account and apply for a credit card.

When the employee asked if the woman would like to arrange direct deposit for her Social Security check, she declined.

To close out the process, the employee printed a stack of documents and had the woman sign them, both joking that she didn’t know what she was signing.

Much to the woman’s surprise, the following month her Social Security check was deposited to her Wells Fargo account.

The woman now believes the worker slipped the permission slip into the stack of papers she was told to sign. She chose to close the savings account and credit card last year, the Times reports, but felt it would be too much of a hassle to change the direct deposit.

Although the woman doesn’t believe the account changes resulted in extra fees, many other seniors may have paid unnecessary fees for similar issues.

However, it could be difficult to determine just how old many Wells Fargo victims are.

“While we found examples where seniors who were Wells Fargo customers were victims, we do not have information on how widespread the practice was or whether they were targeted for this practice,” Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer tells the Times.

Did Wells Fargo target seniors with its bogus-account scheme? [The Los Angeles Times]


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

People Aren’t Watching Live TV As Much, But They’re Still Watching A Lot Of TV

In case you hadn’t noticed, Americans watch TV a bit different today than they did 50 years ago. But just even though many people aren’t sitting down to view programs live as they air — or even soon after on a DVR — they’re still getting their fill of TV content.

Nielsen says in a new report that viewers are shifting away from TV, but not quite as sharply, AdWeek notes.

That report found that the decline in live TV numbers has started to plateau: in the second quarter of 2016, adults spent an average of four hours and nine minutes watching live TV, down two minutes from the same time a year ago.

A separate report from the Video Advertising Bureau called Requiem For A Stream: The Relationship
Between TV Brands & Video Streaming
[PDF] says a measly 6% of the U.S. population is doing 87% of the streaming. And much of that time, they’re watching TV: 67% of Hulu users choose network TV shows to stream, while 44% of Netflix users go for TV shows as well.

It’s all about the combination: perhaps you’re a fan of a network TV show but you missed the live airing of your show, so you turn to Hulu the next day to watch it. The next week, maybe your butt is firmly planted on the couch all night and you don’t miss one second of live viewing.

Advertisers shouldn’t be worried about their TV ad dollars going to waste, however, as VAB says TV reach “has remained stable despite streaming growth.” In other words, TV is being watched, but just not how it used to be.


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Households Don’t Have Warehouse Club Memberships, They Do Have Amazon Prime

It used to be that a warehouse club membership was a necessity for suburban families: depending on where they lived, they might belong to BJ’s, Costco, or Sam’s Club, or some combination of the three. Only while warehouse club membership has stayed pretty steady over the last few years, membership in Amazon Prime has increased instead.

That leads retail-watchers to wonder: is Prime the new warehouse club membership?

While Prime doesn’t necessarily entitle shoppers to load up their cars with dozens of rolls of toilet paper and barrels of honey, it’s the same model as warehouse clubs. giving members access to merchandise or discounts not available to the public, as well as other benefits.

According to a research note from investment firm Cowen and Company (via Business Insider), the percentage of households in the U.S. that have Amazon Prime has risen significantly in just the last four years, while the percentage who have memberships in warehouse clubs hasn’t changed by very much.

That means there’s a big overlap between the two categories, but that there must also be a few people dropping their warehouse club memberships in favor of Prime, depending on what benefits they receive back and how useful the services are to them. The number of Prime member has doubled over that time, but

Cowen estimates that there are around 50 million Prime memners, about twice what there were last year.


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Traveler Sues Emirates Because He Was Seated Next To Obese Man For 9-Hour Flight

We all like to have as much space to ourselves while flying, but sometimes that’s just not the reality. Close quarters on a nine-hour Emirates flight led to a lawsuit from one passenger who claims his trip was ruined because of the “spillover” from the obese man seated next to him.

The passenger, an Italian lawyer from Padua with “Gold” member status in the airline’s frequent flier program, says he asked flight attendants for another seat on the July flight from Cape Town to Dubai, but the flight was full, reports Italian newspaper Mattina Padova (via The Telegraph).

He’s now suing the airline for around €2,759 (roughly $3,091), which includes €759 ($847) in compensation for his fare and €2,000 (about $2,232) in damages.

“For nine hours, I had to stand in the aisle, sit on seats reserved for the cabin crew when they were free, and in the final phase of flight resign myself to suffer the spillover of the passenger at my side,” the man reportedly told the Italian paper.

He also took a photograph of the situation to back up his claims.

Emirate did not comment since litigation is pending. The case is scheduled for Oct. 30 in Italy.

Passengers have sued over their seatmates before: in August 2015, an Australian man sued Etihad Airways, claiming he had to contort his body to avoid being in contact with his “grossly overweight” seat mate, resulting in a back injury, BBC reported.


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Survey Says: Your Bills Are Going Up, But 82% Of Households Still Pay For Cable

It may seem like the golden age of cable and the age of internet TV is upon us, but when you get right down to it, a whole lot of households still subscribe to monthly pay-TV. That said, the latest edition of an annual survey does indeed find that both cable prices and cord-cutting are on the rise — a completely coincidental pair of facts, we’re sure.

The firm that published the data, Leichtman Research Group, has been running annual pay-TV subscriber studies for 14 years. That gives it a decent set of data — from a time when ordering rental DVDs online through Netflix was a new and novel idea, to the present day.

For all that cord-cutting is a true trend, it’s a slow one. The study finds that about 82% of households are subscribing to a traditional pay-TV (cable, satellite, or fiber) service. That’s still a drop of several million viewers from the 2011 high of 87%, but it’s comparable to subscriber numbers from 2005, before the economy crashed or internet TV became a thing.

The study looks at consumers who identify as new to pay-TV, and also those who identify as new to not having pay-TV — basically, consumer growth and cord-cutting.

About 1% of pay-TV subscribers were new to it in the past year, Leichtman found. That’s consistent with 1% being new to pay-TV in 2015 as well… but well below where things stood a decade ago. In 2006, 3.5% of pay-TV subscribers they spoke to were new to the service.

That implies that fewer new customers are signing up — the generation of “cord-nevers” that are forming new households all the time but not putting cable service in them. Like the folks who moved in the past year: the survey found that a quarter of those who moved didn’t bother subscribing to pay-TV service at their new address.

Indeed, other data Leichtman gathered also points to the cord-nevers and cord-cutters gaining traction. About 6% of the households they surveyed have never subscribed to pay-TV. Another 6% subscribed in the past, but more than 3 years ago, and another 3% don’t subscribe now, and cut their service sometime in the last 1-3 years.

On top of that, 7% of the current subscribers took at least a month off from subscribing sometime in the last two years, and another 6% said they’re likely to cut the cord in the next six months.

And why is that? Well, prices are indeed going up. The average monthly bill is now up to $103.10, the survey found, an increase of 4% from last year. (The current rate of inflation in the U.S. is about 1.1%, give or take, so cable bills are surpassing that.) That 4% increase is, however, the lowest year-over-year increase the survey has noted in the last five years.

Also of note: 12% of subscribers Leichtman surveyed said they plan to switch from their current provider in the next six months. One wonders how much higher that number would be if most cable subscribers had access to actual competition.


by Kate Cox via Consumerist

Majority Of Shoppers Using Amazon To Search For Products, Even If They Buy Elsewhere

For years we’ve talked about “showrooming” — the practice of going to a bricks-and-mortar retailer just to look at a product you intend to buy online, and now Amazon has apparently supplanted traditional search engines as the place for most Americans to begin their product hunt.

Bloomberg reports on a recent survey from BloomReach, which found that 55% of 2,000 people surveyed visit Amazon first when searching for products, while 28% of shoppers turn to search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, as a starting point.

The number of people window-shopping, if you will, on Amazon represents an 11% increase over the same survey results in 2015.

“Amazon has become the reference point for shoppers,” Jason Seeba, head of marketing for BloomReach, tells Bloomberg. “Shoppers will go to Amazon first to find a product and check prices.”

Last year, 44% of consumers began product searches with Amazon, while 34% started with search engines.

Trips to physical retailers for browsing and comparison shopping continues to decline, the survey found, with just 16% of shoppers making trips to big box stores or mall, down from 21% last year.

Those rates aren’t exactly welcome news for retailers like Walmart and Target, which have struggled in recent years to compete with Amazon.

Still, Walmart’s recent $3 billion purchase of Jet.com could propel the company toward a more even playing field. The retailer also this year launched a $50/year free-shipping option called ShippingPass, to compete with Amazon’s $99/year (or $10/month) Prime membership that includes free two-day shipping on thousands of products.

But ShippingPass and the addition of Jet.com to its portfolio might not be enough to help Walmart move past Amazon’s appeal, analysts says, noting that the e-commerce giant continues to add “layers” to its services.

“Prime members have the Amazon app on the front screen of their smartphones. That definitely hurts Walmart,” John Blackledge, an analyst at Cowen & Co. Blackledge, told Bloomberg.

More Than 50% of Shoppers Turn First to Amazon in Product Search [Bloomberg]


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

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