Wells Fargo Customers Sue Bank Over Alleged Insurance Scheme That Led To Vehicle Repossessions

After a recent report alleged that Wells Fargo had charged its auto loan customers for unnecessary and unwanted insurance — resulting in 25,000 repossessed vehicles — the bank now faces a lawsuit from one of those borrowers.

The potential class action [PDF], filed in a California federal court, claims Wells Fargo worked with National General Insurance to bilk millions of dollars from unsuspecting customers, by forcing them to pay for auto insurance they neither wanted nor needed.

According to the lawsuit, Wells Fargo received kickbacks from National General after the bank charged more than 800,000 borrowers for Collateral Protection Insurance, often failing to disclose the insurance plans were added to customers’ auto loans.

The Alleged Scheme

The insurance, which the bank required on auto loans beginning in 2006, was automatically added to customers’ tabs through Wells Fargo’s Dealer Services unit.

When a customer came to Wells Fargo for an auto loan their information was sent to National General. While the company was supposed to check to see if the customer already had insurance, that didn’t always happen, says the plaintiff.

Instead, a new insurance policy — often more expensive than the auto insurance customers had already acquired — would be added to the borrower’s account.

The Harm

Wells Fargo’s “latest-revealed scheme sustained financial damages beyond the costs of the unlawful auto insurance,” the suit states. “The financial harm included inflated premiums, delinquency charges, late fees, repossession costs, increased interest rates, and damage to customers’ credit reports.”

The plaintiff cites a New York Times report in claiming that 274,000 Wells auto loan customers were unable to pay for this insurance, with their loans eventually going delinquent. As a result, the bank illegally repossessed nearly 25,000 vehicles, alleges the lawsuit.

The Times noted that the delinquencies and repossessions were a consequence of the way Wells Fargo charged for the insurance. In some cases, customers who agreed to have their monthly loan payments deducted from their bank account automatically weren’t notified that the insurance payment would be added to that amount. As a result, some accounts could become overdrawn.

A Specific Case

In the case of the Indiana man named as plaintiff in the lawsuit, the man says the bank issued a CPI loan for a vehicle purchased in Feb. 2016.

Starting in May 2016, the man was charged $598 for the loan. However, he repeatedly contacted Wells Fargo to inform the company that he already had required insurance through Allstate, according to the complaint.

Despite this, the lawsuit claims Wells Fargo did not credit the man’s account for the unlawful charge or otherwise refund the funds collected. Instead, the bank continued to charge the man for the policy, causing him to incur late fees.

Making It Right

Wells Fargo admitted last week that it was aware of the issue, and had been for nearly a year. The company said that it initiated a review of the CPI program and related third-party vendor practices back in July 2016, discontinuing the CPI program in Sept. 2016.

“Since then, the company has gone through a comprehensive review using independent consultants to ensure the remediation plan it develops addresses customers’ situations in a thorough and thoughtful way,” the bank said in a statement.

However, it had not addressed the issue publicly until last week. At that point, Wells Fargo said it would refund customers who were financially harmed by CPI policies issued between 2012 and 2017.

The bank said it identified approximately 570,000 customers who may have been impacted by the scheme. In all, approximately $64 million in cash remediation will be sent to customers in the coming months, along with $16 million of account adjustments, for a total of approximately $80 million in remediation.

“We take full responsibility for our failure to appropriately manage the CPI program and are extremely sorry for any harm this caused our customers, who expect and deserve better from us,” Franklin Codel, head of Wells Fargo Consumer Lending, said in a statement. “Upon our discovery, we acted swiftly to discontinue the program and immediately develop a plan to make impacted customers whole.”

Wells Fargo notes that while it has been providing CPI-related refunds to some customers, beginning next month it will send letters and refunds checks to customers who are due additional payments.

As for the lawsuit, it seeks restitution, disgorgement of all profits and three times damages incurred by all plaintiffs.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Podcasters Take Annoyance With Tech Support Scammers Really, Really Far

If you’re looking for something to brighten your Monday, and you’ve always wanted to learn more about the actual people and businesses behind the robocalls that plague your phone, here’s just the thing. It’s a world-spanning epic that began with a tech support robocaller that happened to dial the number of the wrong bored podcast host.

“We are legion. Expect us.”

Specifically, a company in India called up Alex Goldman, co-host of the podcast Reply All, and told him in a slick British robo-voice that his computer was compromised. He knows that this is a scam, but feels compelled to call anyway. Maybe Goldman felt compelled to call because he knew that it was a scam, in the grand tradition of 419 Eater and the P-P-P-Powerbook.

This is a variation on a very common scam, which gets your attention through an online pop-up, a direct phone call, or a robocall, which warns you that your computer has been infected with a virus. As far as many users know, Microsoft can tell that your computer is infected with a virus from afar, so this scam is an effective one that can be lucrative. The software that these particular scammers were selling cost $400.

How far did it go? During the first call, Goldman asked the supposed “tech” whether he really worked for Apple. It eventually became clear to the scammer that he wasn’t going to make a sale to Goldman, but rather than assuring his customer that Apple had dispatched him to help, the tech, identified only as “Alex Martin,” pivoted to threats:

“We are anonymous. We are legion. Expect us.” Later, he clarified, “We will be demolishing all of your social identities.”

How could someone not be intrigued after that?

Zeus Troan

So, Goldman called back. He went through the scam once again, this time playing along until he reached the point where he would have to give over his credit card number. Then, he did something you should never, ever do — he gave control of his computer to the fake tech support staff.

Let’s be clear here: there was nothing detected. The tech had just typed the words in there. As you might be able to figure out from the word “Troan.”

“Ok, it says that your Apple ID is compromised, and a Zeus Troan is found,” the tech played along with his own typo.

Can I talk to Kamal?

In a heartwarming turn, Goldman actually strikes up a friendship with “Alex Martin,” the first tech he spoke to. Goldman tells Consumerist that over a period of a few months he probably called the scammer’s call center 100 times, asking again and again for “Alex Martin.” As he learned more about the company’s operations, he would also ask to speak to the boss — a guy named Kamal.

In an email interview, Goldman tells Consumerist that, despite the fact that he probably took up a lot of their time, he wasn’t deliberately trying to keep the scammy call center staff on the line.

“I’d love to say that I seriously impeded their operation,” he wrote in response to Consumerist’s hopeful question, “but it feels hard to imagine, because there are 50 or more people in their company. In all likelihood I was a welcome afternoon diversion for them.”

(Having worked in a call center, yes, his calls were probably both a stressor and an interesting diversion.)

We’re not going to tell you everything, but you should know that the episode ends with Goldman learning about the special relationship between Kamal and Alex Martin, and concludes with Goldman and a producer boarding a plane to India.

Go check this story out. If you aren’t into podcasts, there’s a link at the bottom of the episode page to open a transcript, which you can read.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Airport Employee Punches Passenger Holding Baby Because We Live In A Cruel And Absurd Universe

As Dostoyevsky wrote, a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel, so it’s of little surprise that a random airport worker lashed out with his fist at a passenger — a traveler who was not only holding an infant in his arms at the time, but who had languished for some 13 hours while waiting for his repeatedly delayed flight.

This scene of very human brutality played out over the weekend in, of all places, Nice, France, where travelers at Nice Côte d’Azur Airport were waiting on an easyJet flight to London Luton Airport in the UK.

According to travelers on the scene, this two-hour hop across the Channel was repeatedly delayed due to mechanical issues, leaving ticketed passengers realizing they could have driven most of the 900+ miles across the full length of France, through the Chunnel and back to London — all while enjoying significantly more pleasant scenery than an airport terminal.

Compounding the absurdity of the situation, passengers on this flight (is it a “flight” if it never leaves the ground?) say they watched in confounded irritation as other easyJet planes departed Nice for Luton.

Travelers tell the Washington Post that airport and airline staff were not forthcoming with helpful information about when their plane might cease being useless, or if anything really matters in a universe devoid of meaning.

The Magic 8 Ball of fate finally appeared to be in their favor when, after more than a dozen hours, passengers were told they would finally be boarding — only to be mocked by the futility of existence when, following another 30 minutes spent idling on a skybridge, they were sent back to the gate for additional waiting.

That’s when the man holding the infant said something to an airport employee — a worker for a third-party company that, ironically, is supposed to aid travelers.

Things got heated between the two, then hands were raised, sending the boulder of civil discourse back down the hill again.

“The [airport] employee lifted his hand first and pushed the mobile phone out of the man’s hand,” one passenger, who Tweeted the amazing photo below, told the Washington Post. “You could see it go flying. The man pushed him back, like he was protecting the baby… And then he just whacked him.”

As Camus noted, while the Absurd Man may be amoral, that does not mean he is free — legally or ethically — to act immorally.

“The absurd does not liberate; it binds. It does not authorize all actions,” explained Camus, who was not at the Nice airport on Saturday because he died in 1960. “‘Everything is permitted’” does not mean that nothing is forbidden.”

And so it was that both the airport employee and the punched man were escorted from the scene, with easyJet absolving itself via Twitter of any responsibility in the matter, even though its delayed flight (and inability to get travelers on other flights) is arguably the spark of this brief, brutal explosion.

Our message to easyJet comes from Sartre, who claimed that “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

Much to the world’s detriment, Sartre never worked as a PR rep for a discount airline.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Instead Of Busing College Students To Stores, Target Opens New Locations, Tests Pickup Options

As back to school season kicks into high gear, retailers across the country are competing to fill students’ backpacks with supplies and adorn their dorm rooms with TV, mini-refrigerators, and other college-esque paraphernalia. Target just happens to be one of those retailers, and the big box store is upping its back to school game by opening smaller format stores, offering new pickup options, and hosting pop-up shops on campuses.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that after 15 years of busing college students to Target for special after-hours shopping events, the retailer is changing gears and coming to where the students are: campus.


Pop-Up Stores

Under Target’s previous college-targeting system, the retailer would bus students to stores for after-hour soirees where shoppers could pick up essentials while enjoying tunes from a DJ.

Instead of bringing students to stores, Target is now bringing the stores to students. The retailer is hosting two-day pop-up stores on college campuses, the Star Tribune reports.

The first such experiment will occur at University of North Carolina’s campus, where students can shop dorm decor and other items.

Smaller Stores

The pop-up shops, while offering a convenient way for students to grab necessities, also serves as an opportunity for Target to showcase its newer small-format stores, many of which are being built near college campuses.

Target recently opened at least two of the stores, which are around 20,000 square feet, near The University of Cincinnati and University of North Carolina. The company says it will provide complimentary rides — via Gotcha Ride — to and from the stores for students as the school year begins.

Target plans to open 30 new small-format stores by the end of 2017, doubling its presence in dense urban and suburban markets and on college campuses.

“Going off to college is a new life stage—students are making their own shopping decisions for the first time,” said Mark Schindele, senior vice president, Target Properties. “We want to help make students’ experiences fun and easy, serve up products and services they’ll love and show them the best that Target has to offer, so they become lifelong guests.”

Show Now, Pickup Later

The convenience of the newer, smaller stores has also given Target another avenue to meet shoppers’ demands. With shoppers increasingly spending time online, Target is now testing an online order and pickup service just for college students.

Not to be confused with Target’s other pickup service, the Shop Now, Pickup Later program — being tested at six universities this fall — aims to simplify the dorm move-in process.

Through the service, students prepping for their college adventure can preorder products online from a curated list of 300 products, including sheets, mini-fridges, and other dorm room essentials, the Star Tribune reports.

When it’s time to move into the dorm — even weeks later — customers will be able to pickup their orders at the closest Target to campus.

Source: Consumer Reviews

New Clues Revealed About iPhone 8 Display, Facial Recognition

For the better part of a year rumors have been swirling about the features and design of Apple’s yet-to-be launched iPhone 8. Speculation about the highly anticipated 10th Anniversary phone, which CEO Tim Cook blamed for the poor sales of the iPhone 7, may have reached peak levels this weekend after the tech giant accidentally pushed out firmware for its HomePod.

Apple has released the firmware that will power the HomePod smart speaker several months ahead of the device’s December launch. But, as MacRumors reports, that earlier update has unintentionally given the public a look at what we might see in the iPhone 8, which isn’t expected until September.

Facial Recognition

Among the details iOS developers claim to have discovered in the iOS 11.0.2 update is a reference to infrared face detection.

This, MacRumors notes, gives the impression that the new phone could rely on facial recognition in some capacity, such as for locking and unlocking the device.

Researches say that the BiometricKit framework included in the iOS contained a new “FaceDetect” method that detects when a person’s face is too close, too far from the camera, when there are too many faces in the camera, and other elements used for authentication.

Design & Look

The code also seems to confirm many of the previously rumored design elements of the iPhone 8. A photo of the likely device was found in the HomePod code under the area dealing with authentication for Apple Pay.

The simple depiction for “D22,” the possible codename for the iPhone 8, shows the full-frontal display of the device.

The photo suggests that the earpiece and sensor are still located in a notch at the top of the device, while there are no longer borders on the device, meaning the display reaches the edges of the phone.

Additionally, the phone doesn’t appear to have a home button anymore. This, again, suggests that Apple will use different means for locking and unlocking the device, such as the infrared facial recognition system mentioned above.

Previously, sources told Bloomberg that Apple was working to create a home button incorporated into the screen instead of a separate button below the display.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Court Says FAA Must Explain Why It Won’t Do Anything To Stop “Incredibly Shrinking Airline Seat”

A federal appeals court has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to reconsider a petition filed by consumer advocates seeking to halt the ever-decreasing size of airline seating arrangements.

In Aug. 2015, the organization Flyers Rights filed a petition with the FAA, calling on the agency to issue new rules halting the further reductions in both the size of airplane seats and seat “pitch” — the distance between rows of seats.

This isn’t just a matter of tall travelers knocking their knees on seat backs, or heavier fliers feeling the pinch of too little room between the armrests. Seat width and pitch are matters of passenger safety and health, argued the Flyers Rights petition.

“[F]lying can cause potentially life threatening blood clots from lack of movement and cramped spaces,” wrote the group. “Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), also known as ‘economy-class syndrome,’ occurs when leg clots develop in deep veins. This happens when one’s legs are not moving and the muscles are not contracting. Medical professionals suggest moving about the cabin or performing different leg exercises while seated. The issue with this suggestion is many people do not have the room to move in their seat or get up to move about the cabin. Reducing the seat space even more would only expand the issue and cause greater health, safety, and comfort concerns.”

With regard to safety, the petition claims out that while the FAA requires airlines to test their emergency evacuation plans under realistic circumstances (including randomly blocked exits and low light conditions) these tests are not being run on any aircraft with seat pitches narrower than 31 inches. But some planes now have pitches that go as low as 28 inches. Those few inches may make a significant difference, according to Flyers Rights, particularly as your typical traveler grows larger.

“Additionally, these FAA required emergency evacuation tests to not factor in human panic, such as older passengers, passengers with children, or passengers with disabilities who may need more time to evacuate,” explains the petition. “A decreased amount of space between seats would likely increase this panic, and cause delays in evacuations during an emergency.”

The petition asked the FAA to pause further reductions in seat width or pitch, and to create a new regulation establishing minimums for these dimensions.

Thanks, But No

Not only is the public allowed to petition the FAA to create or revise regulations, federal law requires that the FAA consider that petition within six months and then provide a written explanation of its response, regardless of what the decision is.

So in Feb. 2016, the FAA replied [PDF] to the Flyers Rights petition, effectively brushing off the group’s concerns.

The rules for considering a petition direct the FAA to look at three criteria, including “The immediacy of the safety or security concerns raised.” The petition failed, explained the FAA, because the concerns raised by Flyers Rights “relate to passenger health and comfort, and do not raise an immediate safety or security concern.”

Additionally, the FAA said that, contrary to the claims in the petition, “Full scale evacuation tests on widely used airplanes have been successfully conducted at 28- and 29-inch pitch,” and that “Seat pitch alone does not determine the amount of space available between seats. The seat design will play an important role. In general, modern, thinner seats at lower seat pitch provide more space than older seats did at higher pitch.”

As for the petitioner’s concerns about deep vein thrombosis, the FAA counters that the risk of DVT “is the same for economy-class and business-class travel.”

Show Us Your Work

Though the FAA’s denial letter referenced a number of tests and studies, the agency didn’t actually cite specific research or provide any details to corroborate its assertions. So Flyers Rights responded to the letter, asking the FAA to provide the evidence it used to reject the petition.

The FAA ultimately responded, listing three of its own reports on passenger evacuation. But none of this impressed the Flyers Rights folks, who say the three FAA studies “focused primarily on exit row seating,” and this research did not “report on the results of any evacuation test conducted with seat configurations of any specified width or seat pitch.”

Rather than continue this back-and-forth with the FAA, Flyers Rights took its petition to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which has the authority to review the agency’s decision.

Do It Again

Last week, the D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of Flyers Rights, telling the FAA to put a little more thought into its consideration of the petition.

“We agree with Flyers Rights that the Administration failed to provide a plausible evidentiary basis for concluding that decreased seat sizes combined with increased passenger sizes have no effect on emergency egress,” explains Judge Patricia Millett in the court’s opinion [PDF], which she dubbed “the Case of the Incredible Shrinking Airline Seat.”

The appeals panel found that Flyers Rights had “reasonably identified a safety concern arising from the commercial airlines’ documented pattern of placing ever larger passengers in ever smaller seats with still less space between them,” and that when the FAA is faced with a “plausible life-and-death safety concern,” it “must reasonably address that risk in its response… The Administration failed that task here.”

The judges took issue with the studies cited in the FAA’s follow-up response, noting that these reports “say nothing about and do not appear to control for seat pitch, width, or any other seat dimension. Nor do they address or control for how increased passenger size interacts with the current seat dimensions to affect emergency egress. Studies cannot corroborate or demonstrate something that they never mention or even indirectly address.”

These studies didn’t include data on seat dimensions because it’s not important to emergency egress, argued the FAA, but the appeals court called shenanigans on this way of thinking.

Millett gives the theoretical example of a study on tooth decay that only kept track of participants’ sugar consumption.

“The study’s silence on the question of brushing and flossing would surely not imply that brushing and flossing have no effect on the risk of getting a cavity,” she writes. “The Administration’s rationale also blinks reality. As a matter of basic physics, at some point seat and passenger dimensions would become so squeezed as to impede the ability of passengers to extricate themselves from their seats and get over to an aisle. The question is not whether seat dimensions matter, but when.”

In fact, the court points out, one of the FAA exit row studies that it used to back up its denial of the petition includes data that would seem to support Flyers Rights’ assertion that passenger size (and therefore seat dimensions) are a safety factor.

This chart shows that “Subject waist size” had the greatest effect on an individual test subject’s ability to leave through the exit row:

The court chided the FAA. If passenger size is such a factor in a relatively wide exit row, how can the agency make the claim that it is not relevant to passengers seated in other rows with less space to move about?

“Finally, the Administration stated in its decision that emergency evacuation tests have been successfully run with seat dimensions as small as those being used by commercial airlines,” notes Millett. “The problem is that not one of those tests is in the record.”

The FAA, claiming these tests are “proprietary,” refused to provide the seat dimension data to the court, even under seal or redacted to remove sensitive information.

“But that is not how judicial review works,” counters the court. “We cannot affirm the sufficiency of what we cannot see.”

What Now?

The court’s ruling doesn’t mean that the FAA has to grant Flyers Rights petition. In fact, given the current deregulatory approach in D.C., it’s highly unlikely the agency would grant this petition.

Instead, the agency has been instructed to provide a “properly reasoned disposition of the petition’s safety concerns about the adverse impact of decreased seat dimensions and increased passenger size on aircraft emergency egress.” In other words, it has to more thoroughly make its case why it should continue to ignore the problem of seat width and pitch.

However, the FAA may soon have no choice in addressing this matter. In June, Rep. Steve Cohen (TN) successfully got an amendment tacked on to the FAA reauthorization bill that would effectively require the agency to do the same thing as in the petition: finally establish minimum seat dimensions.

And again, there is always the possibility that the FAA could set minimums that are even narrower than current low-end dimensions, so let’s not get too excited; it’s going to be a bumpy flight.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Staples And Office Depot Circling Each Other Again With Merger In Their Eyes

From 2015 to 2016, retail-watchers carefully tracked the proposed merger of Staples and Office Depot, which itself had recently acquired OfficeMax. The Federal Trade Commission ultimately didn’t bless the deal, but the two chains have come back with a new idea: What if Office Depot were to acquire just the retail portion of Staples?

The New York Post reports that’s what the two companies are working on right now, according to mysterious “sources.” Instead of two competing retail big-box office chains, spinning off the consumer-facing part of Staples and selling it to Office Depot would mean just one big nationwide chain under the Office Depot name.

That might meet with the FTC’s approval. Back in 2016, a federal judge ruled in favor of the Commission, which argued that the storefront operations of both chains weren’t the as much of an antitrust issue. Ordinary shoppers can buy the merchandise available at office supply stores from a variety of retailers.

The companies’ large corporate clients, however, don’t have that choice, and the commissioners decided that it would be unwise to merge the only two national office supply vendors.

Earlier this summer, Staples sold itself to a private equity firm, and that firm had the idea to split up the business into three parts, separating its retail operations, its commercial supply operations, and its international operations.

When Staples was up for sale, a buyer that was reportedly Office Depot bid somewhere between $625 million and $700 million for the company’s North American retail operations.

The two companies tried to merge in 1997 as well as in 2015, but retail consumers were an actual concern 20 years ago. That’s not so much the case now, and maybe the two superstore chains are closer to being two metaphorical penguins afloat on tiny icebergs in a vast and cruel and rapidly changing retail sea, as the companies argued to the FTC while trying to save their proposed merger in 2016.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Google’s Tracking Of Offline Spending Sparks Call For Federal Investigation

Google recently announced a suite of new tools for advertisers, allowing them to link a customer’s offline credit card purchases with the things they look at online. Shockingly, some privacy advocates think this sort of tracking goes too far and have called on the federal government to investigate.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center this morning filed a complaint [PDF] with the Federal Trade Commission, asking the agency to investigate Google’s Store Sales Management consumer profiling technology and stop the company from tracking customers’ in-store purchases.

According to EPIC, Google’s system, which can allegedly track 70% of all credit and debt card transactions in the U.S., puts the personal information — including product searches, location searches and payment information — of shoppers and Internet users at risk of hacks or other data breaches.

The group alleges that Google is increasing that risk by refusing to reveal details about the algorithm that “deidentifies” — or removes shoppers’ personal details — customers while tracking their purchase.

“Google claims that it can preserve consumer privacy while correlating advertising impressions with store purchases, but Google refuses to reveal—or allow independent testing of the technique that would make this possible,” the complaint states. “The privacy of millions of consumers thus depends on a secret, proprietary algorithm. And although Google claims that consumers can opt out of being tracked, the process is burdensome, opaque, and misleading.”

The Advertising Tool

Businesses are willing to spend some money on advertising and outreach, but only if they see it translate into a return. Google’s system attempts to do just this.

Back in May, Google launched the Store Sales Measurement tool as a way to connect in-store revenue for purchases to adverting purchased from Google.

The technique correlates in-store purchases with actions users take on their smartphones using Google’s Internet-based services, such as searching for products or searching for alternative locations to make purchases.

To do this, Google collects credit card transaction information from credit card companies, data brokers, and others. The company then links this information to a customer’s phone searches or internet history.

Google noted at the time that the data it collects won’t have customers’ names attached to it. The data is anonymized and then hashed over. So what advertisers see is something more like, ten users, with names like 08a862b091c379fe9767615d10873, saw these ads in the morning, and spent between $23 and $28 on those products at a certain grocery store that afternoon.

Privacy Problems

Despite this, EPIC claims that Google’s reliance on a secret, proprietary algorithm to ensure customer privacy is anything but safe.

According to EPIC, the mathematical technique that Store Sales Measurement is based on is known to have security risks, as researchers were able to hack into a CryptDB protected database of healthcare records in 2015.

Additionally, the group claims that Google would not specify if users had consented to having their credit and debit card transactions shared with advertisers.

Google claims that users can delete and/or opt out of location history tracking on both Android and iPhone devices if they do not want to be tracked. To do so, users can visit their My Activity Page, click on Activity Controls and uncheck Web and Web Activity.

Still, EPIC claims that Google’s opt-out settings and description are confusing and opaque.

Also, because Google won’t identify which companies are providing it with transaction records, customers cannot know which cards not to use or where not to shop if they do not want their purchases tracked.

“Google’s collection of massive numbers of credit card records through unidentified ‘third-party partnerships,’ and Google’s use of an opaque and misleading ‘opt-out’ mechanism are unfair and deceptive trade practices subject to investigation and injunction by the FTC,” EPIC said in the complaint.

EPIC claims that if Google’s program is allowed to move forward and does not work as described by the company, millions of consumers’ credit card transactions and other private information could be at risk for exposure.

A rep for Google tells the Washington Post that its new advertising system is “common” and that it “ensures users’ data remains private, secure, and anonymous.”

Source: Consumer Reviews

Charter Decides It’s Not Particularly Interested In Being Acquired By Sprint Right Now

You would think that after just having finished a mega-merger with Time Warner Cable last year, Charter might want to take a break before diving into any more major transactions. And yet that hasn’t stopped Sprint from coming ’round knocking at Charter’s door.

What’s the would-be deal?

Late last week, news of Sprint’s interest in Charter first began to bubble up when thee Wall Street Journal reported that the two companies were in talks to come together and create one massive new multi-media entity.

Sprint had already been in talks with both Charter and Comcast — who are working together on mobile — about a deal that would allow both cable giants to resell mobile service on Sprint’s network through their own respective brands, much as they already do with the Verizon network.

But as the WSJ reported, coming out of those talks, Sprint chairman Masayoshi Son has gone farther, and is pursuing a full-blown merger with Charter.

The resulting business would be a massive, publicly-traded company that would bring together one of the nation’s two largest cable and internet companies with a large and established mobile provider, positioning it well to keep competing against Comcast and Verizon as the communications and media industries continue to consolidate their interests, power, and leverage.

Although Sprint is the smaller and more beleaguered of the two businesses, SoftBank, the Japanese company that owns Sprint, would be in charge of the merged company under Son’s proposal.

Why so merger-happy?

We were barely more than a week past the 2016 election when investors giddily started speculating about who could leap into metaphorical bed with whom, given the expectations that 2017 would bring a business-friendly and regulation-hostile administration.

The combinations investors mulled over included basically every pairing you can think of among the major internet companies (including the mobile phone ones). And indeed, although as yet none of the players has inked an actual deal with anyone, it doesn’t appear to be for lack of trying.

Verizon, for instance, has been making noise this year about wanting to merge with, well, anyone: Comcast, Disney, CBS… the list is not exclusive.

And Verizon did in fact make an actual offer for Charter earlier this year, reports say, but was rebuffed. Big V was willing to offer about $100 billion, but Charter — now including TWC, and a legitimate rival in size to Comcast — said that wasn’t enough.

Sprint is particularly eager.

Sprint has been trying to position itself for — or wheedle itself into — a merger for years now. It’s the smallest of the big four wireless companies by far, and hasn’t had the success in recent years that third-place T-Mobile has enjoyed.

Sprint went to the White House in March to discuss potential mergers, perhaps with either Comcast or T-Mobile, and the rumor mill has only been heating up since then.

All throughout May, chatter began flying about a potential Sprint and T-Mobile betrothal. And in public, the C-suites from both companies have largely seemed open to the idea.

A Sprint merger with Charter would not actually preclude Sprint also merging with T-Mobile, Bloomberg and the WSJ both note. The post-merger Charter/Sprint could simply then go on and also acquire T-Mobile, in what would indeed be an enormous transaction.

But Charter’s keeping coy.

After sitting on the rumors all weekend, Charter said on Monday that is has “no interest” in pursuing a merger with Sprint.

In a statement given to Reuters and others, a Charter spokesperson said, “We understand why a deal is attractive for SoftBank, but Charter has no interest in acquiring Sprint.”

That said, “not interested” doesn’t mean “never,” and “cool” doesn’t mean, “hostile.” Bloomberg reports that despite the rebuffing, the two companies are still in talks.

Investors, however, appear relieved: Charter’s stock price soared several percent after news of its disinterest in Sprint became public.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Utility Worker Accused Of Shooting Dog During Surveying Work For AT&T

A family in Michigan kept their dog safe in their own front lawn, hanging out behind an invisible fence. The problem with invisible fences, though, is that people wandering through the neighborhood don’t know that they’re present. Like the man who was reportedly performing surveying work for an AT&T contractor, and fatally shot the family’s dog, which he thought was attacking him.

The family recounted to WXYZ-TV (warning: auto-play video at that link) that their dog, Katie, age four and a half, was hanging out in the yard.

“I heard a pop and the next thing I know my dogs laying down on the ground dead,” one of the dog’s owners told the TV station. “I noticed a guy coming from my neighbor’s yard into our yard.”

The family reports that the shooter said he was cutting through their property to get to a meter, and that the dog “lunged at [him].” The family insists that their dog would not have acted that way.

The important question, which a representative of the man’s employer couldn’t answer, is whether he was supposed to be carrying a personal firearm on the job at all, let alone use it to shoot and kill someone’s pet.

His employer is also waiting to find out whether any laws were broken. In a statement, the company said in part:

We’ve instructed our employee to fully comply with local police in all respects, if requested. The Company is also prepared to fully cooperate with the police, if requested. At this stage, the Company has not been advised by the police as to whether they believe that any laws have been violated. If and when such a determination is made, the Company will be prepared to take that fact into consideration.

The utility worker is on leave pending an investigation, though his employer, a contractor for AT&T, wouldn’t tell WXYZ whether that leave was paid or unpaid.

Source: Consumer Reviews