Ford To Inspect, Repair 1.3M Explorers Over Exhaust Fumes

More than a year after federal safety regulators announced they were investigating at least 600,000 Ford Explorer SUVs after receiving hundreds of complaints that potentially dangerous exhaust fumes were leaking into the car’s cabin, Ford says it will inspect and repair more than 1.3 million vehicles.

Ford announced today that it would offer the free inspections as a way to placate owner concerns about exhaust or carbon monoxide leaking into the vehicles.

Despite offering the service, Ford contends that the vehicles are safe.

“Our investigation has not found carbon monoxide levels that exceed what people are exposed to every day,” the company said in statement.

“However, for our customers’ peace of mind, Ford is offering a complimentary service that reduces the potential for exhaust to enter the vehicle,” the carmaker continued.

Under the program, customers can take their vehicles, regardless of mileage or warranty status, to a Ford dealer to have this service performed, starting Nov. 1. The program will end Dec. 31, 2018.

Looking Into It

Issues surrounding the possibility that dangerous fumes were leaking into the Ford Explorer came to light in July 2016 when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it had opened an inquiry [PDF] into 600,000 model 2011 to 2015 vehicles.

The inquiry came about after the agency received 154 consumer complaints — including one crash — related to the smell of exhaust fumes in the passenger compartment. Since then, there have been more than 700 complaints submitted to NHTSA, and another 2,000 to Ford.

Complaints indicate that the fumes seep into the compartment when the vehicle is operating at full throttle — such as when climbing hills or merging onto freeway ramps — or when the air conditioning system is in recirculation mode.

“It is happening on acceleration and going up steep grades and there is a sulfur/mechanical burning smell that wafts in,” a driver who alleges the issue contributed to a crash told NHTSA back in 2016. “The kids and I, as well as anyone else in the car for long durations have been getting migraines, dizzy, and just flat out sick.”

One day while driving, the man reported that he passed out from the fumes and wrecked the vehicle. He says he was traveling at a slow enough speed that no one was injured.

Police Cruisers

More recently, Ford has contended with a similar issue in Police Interceptor SUVs. The company found that the vehicles may have contained unsealed holes from the installation of police equipment by third parties after the vehicle was purchased.

Ford contends that issues in the 1.3 million vehicles set to be inspected are unrelated to the police cruiser problems.

Ford began repairing the police versions earlier this year after receiving reports that police officer had fallen ill from fumes in the cars.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Samsung CEO To Leave Company Over “Unprecedented Crisis”

It hasn’t exactly been a great year for Samsung: The company’s vice chairman was indicted, arrested, and then sentenced to five years in prison in connection to a massive South Korean bribery case, then there were the Galaxy Note 7 and washing machine explosion debacles. Now the CEO of the tech giant’s electronics division is heading for the door amid what he calls an “unprecedented crisis” within the company.

Samsung announced today that CEO — and current vice chairman — Oh-Hyun Kwon will leave the company in March and not seek another term on the board.

Kwon, who has worked for the company for 32 years, announced his departure in a letter to employees, noting that the move is something he had “been thinking long and hard about for quite some time.”

While Kwon says he is proud of what the company has accomplished, he believes it needs a new leader “more than ever and it is time for me to move to the next chapter in my life.”

“It has not been an easy decision, but I feel I can no longer put it off,” he wrote. “As we are confronted with unprecedented crisis inside out, I believe that the time has now come for the company start anew, with a new spirit and young leadership to better respond to challenges arising from the rapidly changing IT industry.”

Litany Of Issues

Although Kwon didn’t specify what the “unprecedented crisis” within the company is, Samsung has faced a number of issues in recent months.

In August, Samsung vice chairman Jay Y. Lee was found guilty on multiple charges related to a bribery scandal and sentenced to five years in prison.

Lee, who denied any wrongdoing, was first publicly tied to the case in January when he faced 22 hours of questioning related to his part in the scandal.

The questioning and eventual indictment came after the South Korean special prosecutor’s 90-day investigation into a corruption scandal involving now-former South Korea President Park Geun-hye.

The case involved whether or not millions of dollars in payments from Samsung to businesses and foundations run by an associate of the President’s — Choi Soon-sil — constituted a bribe, and if Lee had any personal dealings with the contributions.

Prior to that debacle, the company contended with two very public recalls, one focusing on the Galaxy Note 7 and the other on a washing machines.

As for the phones, Samsung recalled and eventually discontinued the Galaxy Note 7 after several of the devices’ batteries overheated and exploded or caught fire.

When it comes to the washing machines, Samsung recalled 2.8 million top-loading washing machines in Nov. 2016 after several folks had complained about violent, almost explosive, vibrations, that did some significant damage to users — like breaking one person’s jaw.

The company came under scrutiny after the recall, as customers reported issues with scheduling and obtaining repairs for the machines, and receiving rebate checks. 

Source: Consumer Reviews

States Sue Trump Administration For Halting $7 Billion In Cost-Sharing Payments To Insurers

With a one-paragraph statement released late in the evening on Thursday, President Trump announced he was pulling the plug on $7 billion a year in payments from the federal government to insurance companies who sell individual policies through the exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act. Today, at least five states say they are suing to keep these subsidies in place.

The monthly payments, known as cost-sharing subsidies, are part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act and are intended to keep out-of-pocket expenses — like co-pays and deductibles — low, particularly for Americans making between 100% and 250% of the federal poverty line.

Because the exact payments are not appropriated by Congress, President Trump has maintained that he has the authority to end them at any time.

However, some state attorneys general disagree that Trump can turn these payments off like a garden spigot, and are planning to file a lawsuit against the administration this afternoon in a California federal court.

UPDATE: The complaint has been filed and is now available HERE.

Canceling these subsidies, says California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, is a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act, the law that details how federal agencies do things like make, change, and repeal rules and regulations.

What’s more, these states argue, President Trump is violating the “Take Care” clause of the Constitution, which states that the President shall “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

Becerra and the other attorneys general involved in this suit contend that President Trump is violating the Take Care clause by deliberately going against the intent of the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s lost past time that President Trump learn he doesn’t get to pick and choose which laws he will follow,” said Becerra at a Friday morning press conference. He was joined by Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts, and Connecticut AG George Jepsen, all of whom have signed on as plaintiffs in this case. New York is also part of this lawsuit, and it’s possible that other states could also sign on.

UPDATE: Per Becerra’s office, the states signing on to this lawsuit are currently California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Oregon, North Carolina, Illinois,Vermont, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Minnesota, New Mexico, Washington, Iowa, and Washington, D.C.

“The government’s plan to stop paying subsidies will cripple healthcare here in Kentucky,” said Beshear in a statement, pointing out that 88,000 Kentuckians have coverage through the ACA exchange, but will likely see their health insurance costs rise at least 20%.

“These companies are going to pass on the costs of the federal government’s broken promises to you and me,” said Beshear. “And for so many Kentuckians, who are already struggling at the end of the month to pay the power bill and to pay for their healthcare, it’ll get that much harder if not impossible.”

The higher premiums and lack of subsidies, noted the AGs, won’t necessarily be felt by the lowest-income Americans, whose premiums are currently capped under the law. It’s the middle-class Americans who are purchasing insurance on their own — families that make too much money to qualify for the premium caps but not enough to afford the higher rate — that will likely be harmed the most, whether it’s because they have to overpay for coverage or go without insurance.

“This lawsuit isn’t about the president at all,” said Beshear, acknowledging that probably 70% of the Kentuckians that could be negatively affected by these cuts voted for Trump. “It’s about Kentuckians deserving healthcare that they can afford and the federal government keeping its word.”

At a later press conference, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman argued that the Trump administration is illegally disregarding existing statutes in order to “simply to blow up the system.”

“The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land” said Schneiderman, pointing out that the law has withstood multiple challenges before the Supreme Court. “We are not going to let the President destroy a system that has been providing for so many of our people.”

The suit being filed by the states is seeking a preliminary injunction that would bar the government from halting the payments pending the outcome of the case. It’s also seeking a declaratory judgment from the court that these payments are allowed by the Affordable Care Act. That second part might be a bit tricky, as these subsidies are also the subject of a separate, ongoing legal dispute involving their legality.

In 2014, Republican members of the House of Representatives sued the Department of Health and Human Services, arguing that Congress had not properly authorized these payments. A District Court judge agreed with the GOP in 2016, but allowed the payments to continue pending the outcome of an appeal filed by the Obama administration.

However, after Trump took office, the new administration has made it clear that it has no intention of continuing that appeal. So in Aug. 2017, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit allowed a coalition of states — including all of the states involved in the lawsuits being filed today — to intervene and effectively take the government’s place, defending the subsidies. That appeal has yet to be heard by the D.C. Circuit.

All of the lawsuits can be mooted by Congressional action. If, as many of the attorneys general have suggested, legislators can revise the law so that it explicitly includes these payments in appropriations then there would nothing for the President to halt, and nothing for the states to sue over.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Some Disney World Hotels Will Now Allow Dogs In Guest Rooms

The next time you head to the House of Mouse in Florida, Rover won’t necessarily have to stay at home: Disney is launching a pilot program at some of its Walt Disney World hotels that allows dog owners to bring their pooches along for the trip.

Starting Oct. 15, four locations — Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, Disney Port Orleans Resort – Riverside, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, and the cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground — will permit up to two dogs per guest room.

And because dogs need a good spot to do their business and play, each hotel will offer easy access to outdoor pet exercise areas and green spaces with pet relief areas.

If your dog needs more attention while you’re out enjoying rides — and you’re wiling to spend extra for it — day care and other pet services are available at an on-property full-service pet care facility .

Pooches will get some special treatment upon arrival as well in the form of “Pluto’s Welcome Kit” with a mat, bowls, a pet ID tag, courtesy plastic disposable bags, puppy pads, dog walking maps, and a “Do Not Disturb” Pluto door hanger so hotel staff are aware there’s a dog in the room.

(If your dog walks on two legs, talks, and wears pants, we presume it will get the “Goofy Welcome Kit.”)

There are some extra costs involved, however, as each spot will charge a per night/per room pet-cleaning fee:

Disney’s Art of Animation Resort: $50/night
Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort: $50/night
Disney’s Yacht Club Resort: $75/night
Cabins at Disney’s Ft. Wilderness Resort: $50/night

You’ll also have to make sure your pup has all his vaccinations, behaves well, and stays on a leash in public areas.

Source: Consumer Reviews

H-E-B Recalls Shredded Beef That May Contain Potential Plastic Pieces

While people may disagree about the best ingredients for their favorite barbecue dishes, everyone can agree that pieces of plastic do not belong in pulled beef. That’s why grocery chain H-E-B is recalling 6.4 tons of shredded beef with barbecue sauce shipped to its stores.

What to look for

H-E-B has received one report from a customer of plastic pieces in the pulled beef, and all 12,816 pounds produced on the same day have been recalled.

The affected beef comes in trays of two sizes, 16 ounces and 28 ounces. Both sizes of beef packages have “use by” dates of Dec. 15, 2017, and come from USDA establishment 7066.

Here’s what the front and back of the package look like:

What to do

If you have this beef in your fridge, the company that processed it — J & B Sausage Company— asks you to throw it away without eating it, or return it to the store where it was purchased. If you have questions about the product or about this recall, call J & B Sausage Company at 830-788-7511.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Student Loan Debt Relief Operations Allegedly Bilked $95M From Borrowers

The federal government and 11 states have joined together to accuse 30 purported debt relief operations of using deception and false promises to swindle more than $95 million from student loan borrowers.

“Operation Game of Loans” — the eyeroll-worthy code name for the investigation — culminated today with the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general from 11 different states bring multiple actions against alleged scam companies that marketed themselves as providing debt relief services.

According to the FTC, the companies involved in these actions charged consumers illegal upfront fees, falsely promised to help reduce or forgive student loan debt burdens, and pretended to be affiliated with the government or loan servicers, in violation of the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule and the FTC Act.

The AGs taking part in Operation Game of Loans include those from Illinois, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

New Cases

The FTC recently filed five new cases against 30 debt-relief operations, obtaining a temporary restraining order against each defendant, halting their alleged scams and freezing their assets.

A1 DocPrep
In the first case, filed in federal court in California, the FCT charges that A1 DocPrep took at least $6 million from individuals by promising to provide customers with relief from their student loan or mortgage debts.

According to the complaint [PDF], the company claimed to be from the Department of Education, and promised to reduce borrowers’ monthly payments or forgive their loans.

The FTC alleges the A1 DocPrep targeted distressed homeowners, making false promises to consumers that they would provide mortgage relief and prevent foreclosure.

However, instead of helping these customers, A1 DocPrep’s CEO, Homan Ardalan, allegedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars the company received from customers on cars, jewelry, nightclubs, and restaurants, according to the FTC.

Also named in the complaint are Stream Lined Marketing, Project Uplift Students and Project Uplift America, and Bloom Law Group PC, Home Shield Network, and Keep Your Home USA.

American Student Loan Consolidators
In lawsuit filed in Florida federal court, the FTC and Florida AG’s office claim that American Student Loan Consolidators (ASLS) and BBND Marketing bilked more than $11 million from student borrowers.

To do this, the FTC claims that since 2013 ASLC and its related operations promised customers they could provide loan forgiveness, lower monthly payments, and reduced interest rates if they paid upfront fees, typically up to $799.

According to the complaint [PDF], the company, which purported to be affiliated with the Dept. of Education and loan servicers, said these fees would be applied to the individual’s student loans.

In many instances, however, consumers discover that the companies had failed to enroll them in any payment reduction or debt forgiveness programs and have otherwise failed to reduce their payments or interest rates or eliminate their student loan debt.

As a result, many borrowers fell behind on their student loan payments or incurred addition interest on their tabs.

Alliance Document Preparation
Another lawsuit filed in California federal court accuses Los Angeles-based Alliance Document Preparation of taking more than $20 million from student loan borrowers by charging illegal upfront fees for purported debt relief services.

According to the complaint [PDF], since at least 2015 Alliance Document Preparation charged customers fees of up to $1,000, promising alumni of for-profit colleges that it could enroll the borrowers in programs that provide loan forgiveness, permanently reduced monthly payments, reduced or eliminated interest rates, or loan discharge.

The company, which targeted customers through social media posts, purported to be affiliated with the Dept. of Education or student loan servicers.

When a potential customer contacted the company, a rep would allegedly create a false sense of urgency by claiming that funding would only be available if they signed up for services immediately.

In short, the FTC claims that consumers pay the companies for promised loan forgiveness or permanently reduced monthly payments, but in most instances, receive neither the promised loan forgiveness nor permanently reduced monthly payments.

Companies and individuals named in the complaint include SBS Capital Group; SBB Holdings; First Student Aid; United Legal Center; United Legal Center; Elite Consulting Service; Grads Doc Prep; Elite Doc Prep; Benjamin Naderi; Shawn Gabbaie; Avinadav Rubeni; Michael Ratliff; Ramiar Reuveni; and Farzan Azinkhan.

The companies also operated under the names Grads United Discharge, Allied Doc Prep, Post Grad Services, Post Grad Aid, Alumni Aid Assistance, United Legal Discharge, First Grad Aid, Academic Aid Center, Academic Protection, Academy Doc Prep, Academic Discharge, and Premier Student Aid.

Student Debt Doctor
A complaint filed in Florida federal court accuses Fort Lauderdale-based Student Debt Doctor (SDD) and its owner, Gary Brent White, Jr., of collecting more than $7 million in illegal upfront fees from customers seeking student loan debt forgiveness.

According to the complaint [PDF], since 2014 SDD has used social media, email, and telemarketing to promote promises that it could provide customer with loan forgiveness in as little as five years.

In order to achieve this forgiveness, the company charged customers upfront fees up of more than $750 to purportedly enroll the individual in repayment or debt-forgiveness programs.

The reps, which also allegedly told individuals not to communicate with their loan servicers, said they would work with customers’ servers to reduce the debts.

In reality, the complaint alleges that the companies did contact servicers, but only to place customers’ loans in temporary forbearance.

In the end, the FTC claims that customers found that they were never enrolled in a repayment program and their debts were not eliminated or reduced. Instead, their debts continue to incur fees and often went into default.

Student Debt Relief Group
In another complaint [PDF] filed in California federal court, the FTC accused Los Angeles-based M&T Financial Group and American Counseling Center Corp. — doing business as Student Debt Relief Group — of bilking at least $7.3 million from consumers struggling to repay their student loans.

According to the complaint, since 2014 the companies — which claimed to be affiliated with the Dept. of Education — targeted anxious and confused student loan borrowers with aggressive outbound telemarketing calls that included illegally contacting people on the National Do Not Call Registry.

The telemarketers would promise customers they could qualify for federal programs that would permanently reduce their monthly loan payments to a fixed amount, the FTC complaint states.

To access these government programs, the reps told consumers that they must pay an advance fee of up to $1,047. They also allegedly charged consumers monthly fees they claimed would be credited toward their student loans.

The companies also allegedly deceived consumer into providing them with their Social Security numbers and Federal Student Aid identification numbers. This allowed the operation access to customers’ accounts.

As with other debt relief operations facing complaints from the FTC, SDRG also allegedly told customers not to communicate with loan servicers.

In some cases when customers found they had been scammed, they would attempt to cancel or block their accounts to prevent further charges.

However, the FTC claim that these customer would then receive threats from the companies that their accounts would be sent to collections and their credit scores negatively affected.

Previous Actions

In addition to the five new cases against purported debt relief operations, the FTC announced today that Operation Game of Loans included two pending actions against 11 companies.

Student Aid Center
A federal court in Southern Florida issued summary judgment [PDF] in the FTC’s favor related to a complaint filed against the Student Aid Center and operator Ramiro Fernandez-Moris.

The complaint [PDF], filed by the FTC and state of Florida, accused the company of taking more than $35 million from student loan borrowers by enticing them to sign up for services using misleading and false claims.

According to the complaint, since 2010 Student Aid Center misled consumers into believe that they could receive loan forgiveness or modification if they paid unlawful upfront fees in the form of five monthly payments of $199 or more.

While the court issued summary judgment, a final order related to relief will be made at a later date.

Strategic Student Solutions
A Florida federal court entered a stipulated preliminary injunction [PDF] in the FTC’s case against Strategic Student Solutions.

With the injunction, the court froze the company’s assets, halted its student loan debt relief operation, and appointed a receiver to control the business.

According to the FTC’s complaint [PDF], the company took more than $11 million from customers by falsely promising to reduce or eliminate their student loan debt and offering them non-existent credit repair services.

In exchange for the promised debt relief and credit repair services, the company allegedly charged illegal upfront fees of as much as $1,200 and monthly fees, typically of $49.99.

While the operation claimed the monthly fees would be paid toward their debt each month, that was not the case, the FTC claims.

Be Aware

As part of Operation Game of Loans, the FTC today released recourses intended to assist borrowers in avoiding debt relief scams.

As a rule of thumb, consumers should remember that only scammers promise fast loan forgiveness, and that scammers often pretend to be affiliated with the government, the FTC notes.

Borrowers should never pay an upfront fee for help, and should not share their FSA ID — a username and password used to log in to Dept. of Education websites — with anyone.

Additionally, borrowers can apply for loan deferments, forbearance, repayment, and forgiveness or discharge programs directly through the Dept. of Education or their loan servicer at no cost. These programs do not require the assistance of a third-party company or payment of application fees.

For more information on avoiding debt relief scams, visit the FTC’s consumer education center.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Following Mid-Flight Explosion, FAA Orders Emergency Inspection Of Some Airbus Engines

In the wake of the recent in-flight engine explosion on an Air France jet, the Federal Aviation Administration has ordered an emergency inspection of the engines on some Airbus superjumbo jets to make sure this is not likely to happen again.

The FAA’s Emergency Airworthiness Directive was [PDF] sent to those Airbus A380 owners and operators whose jets use one particular engine, the Engine Alliance (EA) GP7270 turbofan.

The agency is ordering one-time visual inspections of the engines aimed at preventing failure of the fan hub, “which could lead to an uncontained release of the fan hub, damage to the engine, and damage to the airplane.”

If any damage or defects are found that are outside serviceable limits, engine owners will have to remove the fan hub and replace it.

In its directive, the FAA acknowledges that the measure was prompted by the uncontained engine failure on that Air France flight, which was bound for L.A. but ended up making an emergency landing in Newfoundland.

“We evaluated all the relevant information and determined the unsafe condition described previously is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design,” the FAA notes.

This is considered an interim action, the agency notes, as an” investigation to determine the cause of the failure is on-going,” air it may consider additional rule making in the future.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Increased Use Of Machine Learning, Facial Recognition Outs Sex Workers’ Real Names

If you operate a video-sharing site with millions of user-uploaded clips, it sounds like a great idea to use software that is smart enough to identify some of the faces in those videos. The clips would be indexed more accurately, you might be able to more readily identify copyrighted content, but you could also be risking the privacy — and maybe the physical well-being — of those identified by the software.

Hire a robot

PornHub — do not search for or visit that one from work — is exactly what it sounds like. The site hosts around 5 million decidedly explicit videos that adult viewers can enjoy at their leisure.

But as with any other kind of entertainment (perhaps even more so), viewers often approach the site with some kind of specific content preference. They may have a certain performer, performer gender, and/or performer quantity in mind, for example, or perhaps are looking for some particular kind of setting or action.

So the site uses a tagging system to categorize all its content. Each video is labeled with a set of tags saying what’s in it, so a viewer can pick and choose based on their mood. Users can add tags to videos to keep content organized.

But videos already outpace humans’ ability to keep up and tag everything, and so the site is turning to help from software.

The company announced [content is safe for work; URL is not] this week that it’s adding an AI model to help it categorize content. The robot overlord will be starting by identifying certain stars, using facial ID tech not unlike that which Facebook, Amazon, and other media entities apply, and will next year branch out into adding more content categories, too.

“Artificial intelligence has quickly reached a fever pitch, with many companies incorporating its capabilities to considerably expedite antiquated processes. And that’s exactly what we’re doing with the introduction of our AI model, which quickly scans videos using computer vision to instantaneously identify pornstars,” company VP Corey Price said in a statement.

Price added, “Now, users can search for a specific pornstar they have an affinity for and we will be able to retrieve more precise results. Our model will undoubtedly play a pivotal role moving forward too, especially considering that over 10,000 videos per day are added to the site. In fact, over the course of the past month alone, while we tested the model in beta, it was able to scan through 50,000 videos that have had pornstars added or removed on the video tags.”

We know who you are

There’s nothing illegal about making money from pornography, as long as everyone is of age, consenting, and and material is recorded and distributed within the boundaries of federal, state, and local law.

In most places, though, it’s still not a line of work one really discusses in-depth with the neighbors. Performers, especially amateurs, may well prefer to keep their public, working persona separated from the name and identity they use in private life. But that gets ever harder in the era of algorithmic recognition and big data.

Motherboard observes that in many ways, this particular use of facial recognition is a privacy disaster in the making.

For one thing, porn piracy is definitely a thing that exists. A video that has been uploaded and tagged on PornHub won’t necessarily stay on the service, but will instead travel the internet — and bring the performer’s auto-tagged name along with it.

There’s also the entire challenge of revenge porn, in which sexually explicit content features someone who did not authorize its sharing, often because a jilted ex shared it out of spite. Although the site has tried to make it easier for victims to report content and have it removed, it still exists on the site until or unless someone flags it.

For now PornHub says its AI will only be used to match the 10,000 “stars” in its database, but any technology that exists can be expanded — intentionally or not. And sweeping up amateurs and unwitting participants into its collection of named and tagged faces could have serious negative effects on people’s lives.

Plausible, not just paranoia

Data that gets collected gets sold, shared, and matched across companies — a practice that seems likely only to increase, not decrease, as time goes on.

Gizmodo recently reported on a case where Facebook matched one sex worker’s two completely separate and disconnected identities to each other.

Her public, real identity is like virtually anyone else’s, Gizmodo reports: She lives in California, discusses politics, has a work-related email address.

But her private, working persona is, very deliberately, not on Facebook at all. Professionally, she uses a different name, different email address, and different phone number. Like Bruce Wayne and Batman, she keeps the two halves of her life discrete from each other: never the twain shall meet.

And yet she found Facebook was filling its “People You May Know” recommendations for her daytime persona with a list of her evening clientele. That, in and of itself, is bad enough — but, she reasoned, if they were being suggested to her, then it was highly possible that she was also being suggested to them, despite going to lengths to keep her real name and personal details out of clients’ hands.

It’s not just the workers who are going to lengths to try and maintain their privacy, she told Gizmodo: “The people who hire sex workers are also very concerned with anonymity so they’re using alternative emails and alternative names. And sometimes they have phones that they only use for this, for hiring women. You have two ends of people using heightened security, because neither end wants their identity being revealed. And they’re having their real names connected on Facebook.”

She’s not alone, Gizmodo reports; other sex workers have privately discussed the same happening to them.

“I don’t want my 15-year-old cousin to discover I’m a porn star because my account gets recommended to them on Facebook,” another person in the industry told Gizmodo.

“We’re living in an age where you can weaponize personal information against people,” she added. “Facebook isn’t a luxury; it’s a utility in our lives. For something that big to be so secretive and powerful in how it accumulates your information is unnerving.”

Unfortunately for all of us, the math Facebook uses to determine who adds up with whom remains internal, proprietary, and secret. When a Gizmodo reporter had their own unnerving experience with Facebook seemingly knowing too much earlier in the year, the social network said only that “more than 100 signals” go into the recommendations. Facebook, however, lists only five of those potential signals on its help page.

Source: Consumer Reviews

You Can Now Order Food From Within Facebook

Facebook wants to be your portal to the world. It’s where you can connect (in a sense) with others, keep up with current events (through the filters of you and your friends’ personal biases), watch videos (of people doing their versions of videos previously posted by others)… and also order lunch.

Even though there are already a large number of popular apps and online platforms for food delivery, Facebooknow claims it has simplified the “complicated” process of ordering takeout or delivery through your phone by not actually hosting a single ordering platform, but by giving users single-point access to multiple platforms.

Because people are already on Facebook to see what their friends say about restaurants and read about local eateries, the company says the move makes sense.

The Order Food tool — located in the Explore menu in the Facebook app —combines options from food ordering services like or DoorDash, ChowNow and Olo, as well as restaurants like Five Guys, and Panera, Facebook says, and puts them all in one place.

Once you’ve found what you want, you can select which delivery service you want to use, and order using an existing login or sign up from within Facebook.

Reviews of local spots from your friends will also be available if you want to find out more about a restaurant before you order.

People will be able to browse restaurants near them that take orders via, DoorDash, ChowNow, Zuppler, EatStreet, Slice, and Olo.

You can also order directly from nationwide chains including Papa John’s, Wingstop, Panera, Jack in the Box, TGI Friday’s, Denny’s, El Pollo Loco, Chipotle, Five Guys, and Jimmy John’s.

The new feature is rolling out across the U.S. on Facebook for Android, iOS, and desktop.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Sketchy Debt Relief Company Accused Of Impersonating Federal Agency

In a sweet case of karma, a debt relief operation that claimed to wipe away consumers’ debt through an affiliation with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been sued by none other than that exact same agency. 

The CFPB announced Thursday that it had filed a lawsuit against debt-relief operation Federal Debt Assistance Association and Financial Document Assistance Administration, and affiliated company Clear Solutions, accusing the organizations of engaging in unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices related to debt relief.

Baltimore-based Federal Debt Assistance Association and Financial Document Assistance Administration — doing business as FDAA — claimed to provide advice and assistance to consumers to eliminate all or a portion of their debts and improve their credit scores.

Clear Solutions, also based in Baltimore and owned by the same individuals as FDAA, was in charge of processing payments for the companies and providing other services.

There’s No Affiliation

According to the CFPB’s complaint [PDF], in order to appear legitimate the two FDAA operations claimed to be affiliated with or endorsed by the federal government, specifically the CFPB and the Federal Trade Commission.

The companies marketed their so-called debt-validation programs as a way for customers to receive a portion of the fines and restitution the CFPB obtains through enforcement actions against banks and credit-card issuers. These funds would be passed on to the customer in the form of credit card debt reduction.

Federal Debt and Financial Document touted their programs as being approved by the FTC, telling customers that they and their agents were “authorized to review, consult, and prepare consumer protection documents on your behalf.”

In reality, the Bureau claims the companies do not have and never have had any involvement in providing relief or restitution obtained by the CFPB to individuals or working on behalf of the FTC.

Targeting Customers

Federal Debt and Federal Document also targeted financially distressed customers with debt-relief programs, the CFPB alleges.

To do this, the CFPB claims the company purchased consumer information from national list brokers, specifically targeting individuals who were using at least 85% of their available credit on their credit cards, who had at least $30,000 in debt on those cards, and who were current but had a recent delinquency.

The companies would then send these consumers direct mailers or pre-recorded messages that claimed individuals were involved in a class-action lawsuit with millions of dollars in settlements.

The direct mailers included a seal meant to look as if it were from a government agency, sharing several similarities with the Great Seal of the United States.

Inflated Results & High Fees

When promoting their debt-validation program to potential customers, FDAA allegedly claimed the service was the most beneficial debt-relief option available.

The companies claimed that they could reduce a customers’ principal debts by “at least 60%” and improve credit scores within the first year.

In order to achieve these results, however, the company charged upfront fees ranging from $12,000 to $19,000.

Under federal law, companies are prohibited from collecting such fees before a credit-repair or debt-relief company actually achieves results.

Still, these payments were sent to Clear Solutions which processed the funds and maintained accounts for Federal Debt and Financial Document.

The Process

After the fees were paid, the companies instructed customers to stop making payments on all their debts.

However, they failed to disclose that not making payments may result in the consumer being sued by creditors or debt collectors and may increase the amount of money the individual owes due to the accrual of fees and interest.

When a debt collector or service provider contacted the customer, FDAA said they would send a response on the customer’s behalf asking for “Notice and Demand for Verification of Debt.” The CFPB notes that this notification was not tailored to the customer’s dispute or to the facts surrounding the debt.

If within 30 days, the collector failed to provide answers to the request, FDAA would send a “Notice of Insufficient Response” (NOI).

If FDAA did not receive what it considered a sufficient response to the NOI after 15 days, it would deem the debt invalid and produce a “commercial record” stating the debt balance was zero.

In reality, the CFPB contends that Federal Debt and Financial Document’s practices did not eliminate debt balances as a matter of law.

“FDAA and its owners lied to financially vulnerable consumers to line their pockets with cash,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement.

With the complaint, the CFPB is seeking monetary relief for affected individuals and civil penalties against the operation.

Source: Consumer Reviews