Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Doing meth raises the risk of strokes in young people

Strokes aren’t common under the age of 45, but people who use methamphetamine are almost five times more likely to have a type of stroke that can be fatal

via New Scientist - Health Read More Here..

Robot suit helps children with cerebral palsy to walk better

Half of children with cerebral palsy lose the ability to walk by adulthood. A new exoskeleton may improve their walking more than corrective surgery

via New Scientist - Health Read More Here..

Robot suit helps children with cerebral palsy to walk better

Half of children with cerebral palsy lose the ability to walk by adulthood. A new exoskeleton may improve their walking more than corrective surgery

via New Scientist - Health Read More Here..

Robot suit helps children with cerebral palsy to walk better

Half of children with cerebral palsy lose the ability to walk by adulthood. A new exoskeleton may improve their walking more than corrective surgery

via New Scientist - Health Read More Here..

Robot suit helps children with cerebral palsy to walk better

Half of children with cerebral palsy lose the ability to walk by adulthood. A new exoskeleton may improve their walking more than corrective surgery

via New Scientist - Health Read More Here..

Robot suit helps children with cerebral palsy to walk better

Half of children with cerebral palsy lose the ability to walk by adulthood. A new exoskeleton may improve their walking more than corrective surgery

via New Scientist - Health Read More Here..

Robot suit helps children with cerebral palsy to walk better

Half of children with cerebral palsy lose the ability to walk by adulthood. A new exoskeleton may improve their walking more than corrective surgery

via New Scientist - Health Read More Here..

If You Win Tonight’s Powerball, Where You Bought Your Ticket Matters

The odds are that you are going to win tonight’s Powerball multi-state lottery drawing are very small. You’re more likely to be struck by lightning, or eaten by a shark. Still, that doesn’t stop people from paying $2 for a slip of hope. As long as you’re planning what you’re going to do with that money, you should keep in mind that where you buy a ticket matters for tax reasons.

If you’re curious and are planning to buy tickets across state lines, the lottery site USAMega has a handy chart with the current tax rate for each state on lottery prizes. You’ll have tax withheld according to the tax rate of where you bought the ticket, regardless of where you actually live. You should also keep in mind that you have to redeem the ticket in the state where it was purchased.

CNBC uses the example of someone who works in New York City and lives in New Jersey. While the federal government’s tax bite is always the same, the combined state and city taxes withheld for a ticket bought in NYC will be 12.7%.

Buying the same ticket at home in New Jersey means that only 8% would be withheld. That might not seem like a big difference, but the excess tax would be $20.8 million — for a sole winner who took the $443.3 million lump sum payment.

A New Jersey taxpayer would get that money back as a refund eventually, but only after filing his or her tax return the following winter or spring.


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Ad Watchdog Group Calls For Investigation Into Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop

From paying $425 for a cleanse to claiming “healing stickers” are made from material designed for NASA space suits, Gwyneth Paltrow’s “modern lifestyle brand” Goop is no stranger to controversy. Now, a consumer watchdog group is asking regulators in California to investigate the product line for deceptive advertising.

The folks at Truth In Advertising have sent a complaint letter [PDF], urging attorneys for the California Food Drug and Medical Device Task Force to investigate what it claims are Goop’s unsubstantiated and deceptive health and disease treatment claims.

The Claims

TINA, as the watchdog group is known, claims that its investigation of Goop found more than 50 instances of the company claiming that its products, or third-party products sold via Goop, could treat, cure, prevent, alleviate, or reduce the risk of ailments, ranging from depression, anxiety, to infertility and arthritis.

Related: Goop Suggests Its Critics Are Seeking Attention, Might Just Be Jealous

“The problem is that the company does not possess the competent and reliable scientific evidence required by law to make such claims,” TINA alleges in a statement.

Among the advertising claims questioned by TINA:

• That carnelian crystal “treats infertility,” in addition to “easing period cramps, tempering PMS, regulating menstrual cycles,… and addressing shame around female body parts and sexual trauma.”

• “Jade eggs can… prevent uterine prolapse.”

• Goop’s essential oils can “help tremendously with chronic issues from anxiety and depression to migraines.”

• Goop’s Black Rose Bar is “brilliant for treating acne, eczema, and psoriasis.”

A full list of the claims challenged by TINA can be found on the organization’s website.

Goop’s Conference

Additionally, TINA notes that its representatives attended Goop’s first-ever wellness summit, “In Goop Health,” in June.

At the conference, TINA staffers, who were undercover, paid $500 to $1,500 for the chance to sit in on panel discussions and test products that were purported to have cognitive benefits.

At the conference, TINA reps spoke with a barista serving cups of Bulletproof Coffee — a Goop partner brand. The barista claimed that the grass-fed butter in the coffee increased brain function, among other things.

When the barista was asked to explain how brain function was affected by the coffee, the individual provided a “garbled” answer that included an explanation that “you feel a little bit different.”

Issuing A Warning

Armed with these examples, TINA sent a warning letter [PDF] to Goop and Paltrow about its concerns on Aug. 11, signaling its intent to alert regulators if Goop failed to take action on the claims by Aug. 18.

 

According to TINA, the organization was in contact with Goop’s legal counsel and provided the company with a list of Goop and Goop-promoted webpages containing illegal health claims.

Goop to date has only made limited changes to its marketing, TINA claims.

As a result, TINA filed its letter with the district attorneys for the California Food, Drug and Medical Device Task Force.

“Marketing products as having the ability to treat diseases and disorders not only violates established law but is a terribly deceptive marketing ploy that is being used by Goop to exploit women for its own financial gain,” Bonnie Patten, executive director for TINA, said in a statement. “Goop needs to stop its misleading profits-over-people marketing immediately.”

Consumerist has reached out to Goop for comment on TINA’s letters.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Robot suit helps children with cerebral palsy to walk better

Half of children with cerebral palsy lose the ability to walk by adulthood. A new exoskeleton may improve their walking more than corrective surgery

via New Scientist - Health Read More Here..

Robot suit helps children with cerebral palsy to walk better

Half of children with cerebral palsy lose the ability to walk by adulthood. A new exoskeleton may improve their walking more than corrective surgery

via New Scientist - Health Read More Here..

Sonos Holds Software Updates Hostage If You Don’t Sign New Privacy Agreement

Sonos, the current popular brand of smart speaker that people don’t [yet] talk to, really wants its customers to agree to the company’s new privacy policy; so much so, that failing to acknowledge the new rules can turn your Sonos speakers into very expensive shelf decorations when they eventually “cease to function.”

Too smart for their own good

Yes, that’s the problem with “smart” devices. They depend on cloud-based software, which means that when the company that operates its software goes out of business or decides to make the device obsolete, certain features or the whole device will no longer work.

In the case of the Sonos privacy update, the devices will keep working, but gradually lose functionality over time as new software updates come along.

ZDNet pointed out this catch for customers who decide not to accept the company’s new privacy policy. The real problem is that the devices will have a different privacy policy going forward than they did when they were purchased.

Experts on privacy are not huge fans of this development.

“We’re going to see this more and more where core services for things that people paid for are going to be conditioned on accepting ever-evolving privacy policies and terms of use,” Joe Jerome, a policy analyst at the Center for Democracy & Technology, told ZDNet. “That’s not going to be fair unless companies start providing users with meaningful choices and ensure that basic functionality continues if users say no to new terms.”

Sonos hasn’t specified what functionality might no longer work in the future if customers don’t accept the new privacy policy.

What’s in that policy?

The new privacy policy is important to the operation of speakers since it lets customers integrate their speakers and devices like an Amazon Echo or Google Home that are an interface to a virtual assistant.

In a blog post addressed to its customers, Sonos tried to explain that the privacy changes are to support future features, some of which may not even exist.

“The most important thing for you to know is that Sonos does not keep recordings of your voice data,” the policy states. “It goes to the voice assistant service (for example Amazon) that you’ve activated on your Sonos system.”

It does, however, also share information about your WiFi network, the devices that you use with the Sonos system, the names of rooms on your system, and your logins for integrated services.

“When information is shared, it will be with a product or service you have requested or authorized,” Sonos explains. “We’ve included this information in past versions, but in the current version we’re much more specific and clear about what information we are collecting and sharing with these partners.”

It’s possible to opt out of some, but not all, of these options for sharing your information.


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Samsung Confirms A Smart Speaker Is In The Works, Surprising No One

While Amazon, Google, and Apple have all given their voice-controlled intelligent assistants smart speakers to live in, Samsung’s Bixby hasn’t had a speaker to call home. Instead, it’s been limited to the Galaxy S8 smartphone. That may change soon, as Samsung says it’s about to follow its rivals into the smart speaker market.

The president of Samsung’s mobile division confirmed today that a smart spacer will be launched sometime in the near future.

“Maybe soon we will announce it. I am already working on it,” DJ Koh told CNBC.

He adds that in the interest of providing a “fruitful user experience at home” with the company’s devices, he’ll be “moving quite heavily on it.”

Koh didn’t offer details on whether or not the device will be powered by Bixby, but the S8 and new Note 8 both have a feature called “Bixby Home” that lets people connect their devices to their phone.

It’s also unclear how much such a speaker might cost, but it’ll have competition at any price: Alibaba recently announced a $73 voice-activated speaker; the Google Home runs around $129.99, Amazon’s Echo sells for about $180; and Apple’s toilet paper roll HomePod is at the top of the price pile at $349.


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Robot suit helps children with cerebral palsy to walk better

Half of children with cerebral palsy lose the ability to walk by adulthood. A new exoskeleton may improve their walking more than corrective surgery

via New Scientist - Health Read More Here..

Robot suit helps children with cerebral palsy to walk better

Half of children with cerebral palsy lose the ability to walk by adulthood. A new exoskeleton may improve their walking more than corrective surgery

via New Scientist - Health Read More Here..

Robot suit helps children with cerebral palsy to walk better

Half of children with cerebral palsy lose the ability to walk by adulthood. A new exoskeleton may improve their walking more than corrective surgery

via New Scientist - Health Read More Here..

Here’s How One State Is Using Driver’s License Facial Recognition To Crack Down On Fraud

Fake IDs aren’t just a problem for people whose identities have been stolen and used to make a new driver’s license, but they can also lead to unlicensed drivers hitting the roads and potentially endangering others. Officials in New York say they’ve made a serious dent in these kinds of crimes with its driver’s license facial recognition technology.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office says that the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles’ Facial Recognition Technology Program has identified more than 21,000 possible cases of identity theft or fraud since its launch in 2010, with more than 7,000 of those cases happening in the last 18 months.

So far, investigations have resulted in more than 4,000 arrests involving more than 16,000 people who are now facing some kind of administrative action against them.

Cuomo’s office attributes this success to a technology upgrade in Jan. 2016 that doubled the number of measurement points mapped to each driver’s photograph, “vastly improving the system’s ability to match a picture to one that already exists in the database, and identify people who had two or more identities.”

Netting fraudsters

Cuomo’s office lists a few cases of accused fraudsters who have been arrested for allegedly obtaining fake licenses, including a furniture mover who allegedly stole a customer’s identity and tried to obtain a New York driver license under that person’s name but was denied.

He didn’t give up, and instead is accused of flying to Florida and allegedly obtaining a license issued in the customer’s name there. Authorities say he then leased a car with that license, and allegedly stole $50,000 in cash from the victim’s bank account. According to investigators, he was in the middle of receiving a shipment of furniture he’d allegedly fraudulently charged when authorities arrested him.

Safety matters

The governor’s announcement also cites a study of the program by the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research, which found that drivers with multiple licenses pose a serious traffic safety risk.

And of the more than 12,300 cases that involve drivers with multiple licenses who may be fraud problems, 24% of them didn’t have a valid license under their own name.

“The use of this facial recognition technology has allowed law enforcement to crack down on fraud, identity theft, and other offenses — taking criminals and dangerous drivers off our streets and increasing the safety of New York’s roadways,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement.

Privacy issues?

Who else might use facial recognition? While NY does not send driver’s license photos to an FBI program criticized by privacy advocates after a 2016 Government Accountability Office report [PDF] found that the FBI had collected hundreds of millions of face recognition photos in its Next Generation Identification database, New York does submit “criminal photos” to that program.

And according to the GAO report “the FBI has entered into agreements to search and access external databases— including millions of U.S. citizens’ drivers’ license and passport photos…”

“Face recognition is notoriously inaccurate across the board and may also misidentify African Americans and ethnic minorities, young people, and women at higher rates than whites, older people, and men, respectively,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said last June.


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Major Student Loan Company Accused Of Overcharging, Delaying Forgiveness For Some Borrowers

A student loan servicing company that handles accounts for millions of borrowers nationwide now stands accused of preying on people in a federal program that forgives the loans of borrowers who work in public service and education jobs.

A lawsuit [PDF] filed today by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey accuses the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) — doing business as FedLoan Servicing — of harming borrowers by improperly servicing their accounts as part of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant program.

The complaint claims that PHEAA’s actions put these borrowers at risk of losing their eligibility for having the loans forgiven. These borrowers also saw their repayment costs increase, says Healey, because PHEAA prevented them from making monthly payments that would have counted toward their obligations under the federal forgiveness programs.

The Programs

Since 2012, PHEAA has had the exclusive contract for servicing both the public service forgiveness and TEACH Grant programs.

For those unfamiliar with the public service forgiveness option, it was launched in 2007. That’s when the government began offering a public service loan forgiveness program that will forgive certain federal student loans for borrowers who work for government organizations and non-profit groups for 10 years and make 120 on-time monthly payments on their loans.

New Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is currently calling for the elimination of this forgiveness program, though it’s believed that those currently enrolled will not be affected if it is cancelled.

Under the TEACH Grant program, students who wish to pursue teaching careers in low-income schools for at least four years in fields such as math, science, or foreign language are given financial grants. Students receive up to $4,000/year to help pay for the education required for their teaching career.

Processing Problems

According to the AG’s lawsuit, since that time PHEAA has failed to properly and timely process borrowers’ applications for the programs. This has caused many borrowers to miss deadlines required to either participate in the program or remain eligible for loan forgiveness.

Under its contract, PHEAA must guide borrowers through the process of both enrolling in and managing their monthly payments, ensuring they remain eligible for the programs. Healey claims that PHEAA has been unreasonably slow to perform these duties.

For instance, the lawsuit points to processing issues with the Dec. 2015 debut of the REPAYE plan, an income driven repayment plan for federal student loan borrowers who participate in the forgiveness plans.

“Its failure to process applications timely and properly resulted in a lengthy application processing backlog that delayed borrowers from staying on track with monthly payments that would count towards loan forgiveness,” Healey notes.

As a result, Healey notes that these borrowers — which include public service employees and low-income borrowers — lost months that would otherwise have counted toward achieving loan forgiveness.

Delayed Forgiveness

In some cases, PHEAA, in an effort to make up for processing delays, would place borrowers’ accounts in forbearance.

While this would relieve borrowers from having to pay their debts for a certain timeframe, it is not an approved payment plan under the loan forgiveness programs.

Months during which loans are in forbearance do not qualify toward loan forgiveness. As a result, the lawsuit claims that borrowers will have to make payments on loans for longer than required, eventually delaying the forgiveness of their loans.

Miscalculations

In addition to preventing borrowers from staying on track in their repayment plans under the program, the lawsuit contends that PHEAA also miscalculated borrowers’ monthly payments and sent erroneous or unnecessary bills to borrowers.

In some cases, the suit claims that PHEAA overcharged borrowers and collected tens of thousands of dollars in payments that were not due. These overcharges, according to the complaint, were the result of a defect in PHEAA’s servicing system and affected 1% of all borrowers nationally.

Healey claims that PHEAA knew of this issue, but failed to correct it for nearly a year. Since then, the company has allegedly failed to refund the overcharges or notify borrowers they were overcharged.

“This company’s actions have jeopardized the financial futures of teachers and public servants across the country,” AG Healey said in a statement.

The lawsuit seeks restitution, injunctive relief, civil penalties, and reimbursement of the costs and expenses related to PHEAA’s practices.

Past Issues

This isn’t the first time the servicing of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program has come under fire.

Back in Dec. 2016, four borrowers who were previously qualified for the program sued the Dept. of Education to find out why they received letters from FedLoan that they were no longer eligible to have their loans forgiven. What’s more, the decision was retroactive, meaning none of the time they’d spent working toward the forgiveness goal would be counted.

The lawsuit [PDF] alleges that the Department acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when it changed its interpretation eligibility requirements without explanation.

The Department responded to the lawsuit in March, noting in a filing that the FedLoan approval letter was never a reflection of a “final agency action on the borrower’s qualifications” for the program.

In the filing, the Dept. denies that its acts were arbitrary or that the plaintiffs are required to any relief as a result of being deemed ineligible for the forgiveness program.

More recently, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report highlighting borrower complaints about student loan servicers mishandling the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

According to the report — which analyzed complaints from March 1, 2016 through Feb. 28, 2017 — many borrowers aren’t receiving proper notification of this eligibility.

For instance, the CFPB found that borrowers experienced delays or denials of access to promised loan forgiveness, forcing some to forfeit months or years of qualifying service. This, the CFPB contends, can add hundreds or thousands of dollars to the total cost of borrowers’ student debt.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

IBM to investigate role of microbiome in autoimmune disorders

A project launched by tech firm IBM plans to analyse millions of bacterial genes, in an effort to understand what causes type 1 diabetes and Crohn's disease

via New Scientist - Health Read More Here..

Washington State Begs Anglers To Go Fishing, Help Clean Up Farmed Salmon Spill

When you hear about a “spill” in a waterway, you might picture waste products or some kind of noxious liquid. In Washington state, though, the state is asking for the public’s help in cleaning up a massive and very problematic spill of live salmon from an aquaculture farm north of Seattle.

The Great Salmon Escape Caper

The company behind the farm, Cooke Aquaculture, told the Seattle Times that unusual tide activity related to Monday’s solar eclipse caused a breach in the pen where the fish are kept.

The farm and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife don’t know how many fish escaped from the pen, which held 305,000 fish, or 3 million pounds, of Atlantic salmon that aren’t native to the area, and aren’t equipped to survive.

The farm and wildlife authorities won’t know how many fish escaped until the upcoming harvest, when the fish will be inventoried. Their best guess is that 3,000 to 4,000 fish escaped.

Cooke is in the process of applying for a permit to run another farm where fish are kept in net pens, and the spill does not give opponents of that plan any reason any more confidence in the company.

“If they can’t be trusted in an accident like this how can they be trusted to tell the truth in the permitting process?” one environmental activist asked the Times. The same activist called the company’s explanation for the broken net “B.S.,” since pens should be built to withstand high tides.

One of these fish just doesn’t belong

Although they don’t have exact numbers on how many fish escaped, officials do know that the water is full of salmon that don’t belong there, and they’re hoping that fishers will pitch in and help catch the invaders as quickly as they can. As long as they catch Atlantic salmon, people who already hold fishing licenses for this year are welcome to catch as many fish as they want at any weight. The state has published a handy guide to identifying Atlantic salmon.

READ MORE: 7 Things We Learned From New ‘Frontline’ About State Of The Seafood Industry

A spokeswoman for fish farming firm Cooke stood by the company’s story, and emphasized that the Atlantic salmon will not be an invasive species. They cannot interbreed with the King salmon that the Northwest is known for, and aren’t equipped to survive in the wild.

“It’s primarily a business loss,” she said. “The salmon will be food for the seals and the fishermen can enjoy them.”

A researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agreed with this assessment, telling the Times that the fish are, as salmon go, couch potatoes.

“They are domesticated,” he said. “Imagine a dairy cow getting lost out in the Serengeti. It doesn’t last very long.”


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

With Galaxy Note 8 Nearing Launch, Samsung Focuses On Battery Safety

A year after Samsung recalled and eventually discontinued the Galaxy Note 7 after several of the devices’ batteries overheated and exploded or caught fire, the tech company is prepping the release of its next version of the smartphone, the Galaxy Note 8.

In an attempt to avoid a similarly fiery smartphone debacle, Samsung says it has increased scrutiny of the new device’s batteries ahead of its expected September launch.

Changing The Process

Samsung reiterated it commitment to safety today in the announcement of the new Galaxy Note 8, revealing that it has taken extra steps to ensure the device and its battery are safe.

Samsung says that it has “re-assessed every step of the smartphone manufacturing process” and put the new phone through its “8-point battery safety check.”

These checks, the company notes on its website, include “putting our batteries through extreme testing, inside and out, followed by careful inspection by X-ray and the human eye to ensure highest quality.”

According to Samsung, the eight-point safety check entails a durability test, charge/discharge tests, visual inspections, tests of batter leakage, x-ray tests, an accelerated usage test, a disassembling test, and a voltage test.

Additionally, the company says it has invited a team of experts from academia and research centers to provide it with “objective analysis to ensure the safety of the battery.”

Samsung has, for the first time, enlisted the assistance of product safety consultant Underwriters Laboratories to conduct additional tests of the phone’s batteries.

The tech company and UL say they have been working closely to make meaningful advancements with smartphone tests.

“As a result, the Note8 has successfully completed a rigorous series of device and battery safety compatibility test protocols,” Sajeev Jesudas, President, UL International, said in a statement. “We look forward to maintaining our strategic relationship with Samsung to help ensure device safety for all consumers.”

New & Improved

In the end, Samsung tells The New York Times it believes the new tests and other upgrades to the phone have made it unlikely to explode.

“Samsung pursues innovation, and we stumbled,” Justin Denison, head of product strategy for Samsung, tells the Times. “We accepted it, we learned from it, we’ve applied processes and we’ve had quite a bit of success in recovering from that.”

Despite the previous issues with the Note 7, Samsung believes customers will welcome the new Note 8 with open arms.

In fact, Denison tell the Times that Samsung’s own surveys of Galaxy Note 7 owners found that eight of 10 described their previous phone with the word “love.”

This finding was echoed by some third-party firms that found that 64% of 1,000 individuals still consider Samsung products to be reliable, with 27% saying they would purchase the Note 8.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Justice Dept. Decides It No Longer Wants Info On 1.3 Million Visitors To Anti-Trump Site

The U.S. Department of Justice recently tried to compel a website hosting company to turn over all the information the company has on the approximately 1.3 million internet users who visited a site created to organize a protest during President Trump’s inauguration. Now the DOJ is rethinking that plan, withdrawing its demand for this mountain of data.

The DOJ contends that the website DisruptJ20.org was “used to organize a riot” on the morning of Trump’s Jan. 20, 2017, inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C.

As part of its case against the site, the DOJ served a sweeping warrant [PDF] on web-hosting company DreamHost, seeking virtually every piece of information DreamHost might have about DisruptJ20 and its visitors.

Not surprisingly, this rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, including the folks at DreamHost, who have been fighting the warrant in court.

Now, the DOJ says its original intent for the warrant is being misunderstood, and that the government did not know when it drafted the warrant that DreamHost had retained such extensive user data.

“The Warrant — like the criminal investigation — is singularly focused on criminal activity,” explained the DOJ in a brief [PDF] filed yesterday with a D.C. Superior Court judge. “It will not be used for any other purpose.”

According to the brief, the warrant “was not intended to be used, and will not be used, to ‘identify the political dissidents of the current administration,’ Nor will it be used to ‘chill free association and the right of free speech afforded by the Constitution.'”

More bluntly, the brief states that “The government has no interest in records relating to the 1.3 million IP addresses” previously referenced by DreamHost on its blog and its court filing.

The DOJ says that any evidence seized from DreamHost that is not within the scope of the warrant will be sealed and will not be revisited without getting a second court order.

The government’s brief seeks to exclude unpublished content on the site, and also data related to general access of the DisruptJ20 site, meaning most user info will no longer be included in the DOJ warrant.

DreamHost calls the DOJ’s change of course a “victory” for internet privacy but cautions that “Much of the DOJ’s original demand for information is still in place, and there are still a few issues that we consider to be problematic for a number of reasons.”

The company is continuing to challenge the warrant on First and Fourth Amendment grounds and will be in court tomorrow (Thursday, Aug. 24) for another hearing related to this dispute.


by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Sony Agrees To Refund Xperia Owners For Claiming Devices Were Waterproof

A few years ago, Sony walked back its marketing claims that the Xperia line of devices were so waterproof, they could be used to take photos underwater. The company is now agreeing to settle a class action complaint that resulted from those waterproof claims by issuing refunds to anyone whose phone or tablet was damaged by water.

Say “cheese”

With the release of the Xperia Z5 in 2015, Sony went to great lengths to brag about all the great photos and videos you could take underwater with its devices.

However the company later updated its page for water and dust protection, reminding phone owners “not to use the device underwater.”

That proved confusing for some Xperia owners, who filed a class-action complaint [PDF] against Sony in New York in April accusing the company of overstating claims that the Xperia line was “waterproof” with allegedly misleading marketing campaigns.

The settlement

A judge has now granted preliminary approval [PDF] of a settlement [PDF] that would require Sony to issue refunds related to prior water-related warranty claim rejections, as well provide a 12-month warranty extension for Xperia owners.

While Sony is not admitting any liability or wrongdoing, the company has agreed to change any packaging, labeling, and advertising labels relating to “waterproof” or similar terms to use phrasing like “water resistant” instead.

Here’s a list of which models are involved in the settlement — you have until Nov. 1 to submit a claim, before the settlement is approved by the end of the year:

Mobile Device Name MSRP At Issue 50% of MSRP
Xperia M2 Aqua $249.99 $125.00
Xperia M4 Aqua $299.99 $150.00
Xperia ZR $599.99 $300.00
Xperia Z Ultra $499.99 $250.00
Xperia Z1 $599.99 $300.00
Xperia Z1 Compact $579.99 $290.00
Xperia Z1s (T-Mobile) $529.99 $265.00
Xperia Z2 $599.99 $300.00
Xperia Z3 $569.99 $285.00
Xperia Z3 Compact $469.99 $235.00
Xperia Z3 (T-Mobile) $629.99 $315.00
Xperia Z3v (Verizon) $499.99 $250.00
Xperia Z3 Dual $629.99 $315.00
Xperia Z3+ Dual $499.99 $250.00
Xperia Z3+ $449.99 $225.00
Xperia Z5 $599.99 $300.00
Xperia Z5 Compact $499.99 $250.00
Xperia Z2 Tablet (WiFi) $449.99 $225.00
Xperia Z2 Tablet (LTE) $549.99 $275.00
Xperia Z2 Tablet (Verizon LTE) $599.99 $300.00
Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact (WiFi) $429.99 $215.00
Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact (LTE) $479.99 $240.00
Xperia Z4 Tablet (WiFi) $679.99 $340.00
Xperia Z4 Tablet (LTE) $599.99 $300.00

 


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

McDonald’s Gradually Expanding Its Use Of Antibiotic-Free Chickens To Rest Of The World

Here in the U.S., McDonald’s says its McNuggets are all already sourced from chickens raised without the use of controversial antibiotics. But the continued overuse of antibiotics in overseas farm animals — particularly in some developing nations where the practice is growing — also puts people worldwide at risk for contracting and spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria. So today, McDonald’s said it is expanding its antibiotic-free program on a global basis — but not right away.

In an update to its antibiotics policy released today, the world’s biggest name in fast food is finally acknowledging that drug-resistant pathogens are a global problem, and that using its size to source more antibiotic-free birds in the U.S. is just a start.

According to the company, the removal of antibiotics from the McDonald’s poultry process will begin in Jan. 2018. That’s when the U.S. and many of McDonald’s major international markets — Brazil, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and Europe — will stop purchasing and using chickens raised with the use of certain, vital antibiotics.

McDonald’s customers in Australia and Russia will have until the end of 2019 to meet these same standards, while the remaining McDonald’s international markets have nearly a decade — until Jan. 2027 — to cut out these antibiotics from their chickens, though the company says it hopes to beat that deadline.

The precise antibiotics being banned by McDonald’s are those that the World Health Organization has deemed “Highest Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials” (HPCIA) — in other words, drugs that are needed to treat dangerous diseases and infections, and shouldn’t be used on farm animals just because the drugs help them put on weight faster.

Repeated use of antibiotics — particularly at a level below the dosage used for disease treatment — can and has encouraged the development of bacteria that is resistant to the drug. For example, a common disease like gonorrhea that used to be easily treated with penicillin, has become increasingly resistant to not only the original drugs used to treat the infection, but subsequent antibiotics.

“The widespread use of antibiotics on livestock that aren’t sick is contributing to a global public health crisis with potentially dire consequences,” says Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for our colleagues at Consumers Union. Halloran says that if McDonald’s plan — which should eventually include a policy on beef (more on that below) it “could be a total game-changer that could transform the marketplace given the company’s massive buying power.”

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 2 million Americans fall ill from drug-resistant bacteria each year, with some 23,000 dying annually as a result. While it’s not yet known exactly how many of these illnesses and deaths are directly linked to antibiotics overuse in livestock, nearly three-quarters of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are fed to farm animals, largely for growth-promotion purposes.

Where’s the beef?

In addition to today’s chicken-related announcement, McDonald’s has reportedly informed a number of public health advocacy groups — including our colleagues at Consumers Union — that the company intends to eventually release a timeline for cutting down on antibiotic overuse in cows.

The switch to drug-free cattle is more time-consuming and expensive than making the switch for chickens. Your typical broiler chicken raised for use by a fast food chain reaches market size in a matter of weeks, while cows live for years before heading to the slaughterhouse. Additionally, cattle may be shifted between multiple owners during their lifetime, making it more difficult to track the use of antibiotics.

Even so, CU says that McDonald’s is planning to focus its eventual antibiotics policy primarily on meat suppliers from the 10 countries that supply 85% of the company’s beef.

“Antibiotic resistant bacteria don’t observe national boundaries,” said Halloran. “We commend McDonald’s for setting these goals and urge all fast food chains to use their market clout to protect public health before it’s too late.”


by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Lithium in tap water seems to both raise and lower dementia risk

A study has found that high levels of lithium in drinking water is linked to a lower dementia risk – but medium levels are linked to a raised risk

via New Scientist - Health Read More Here..

Can Retailers Use Stealth Calorie Cuts To Get Shoppers To Eat Healthier?

While there is a large segment of the population always looking for healthier, lower-calorie food options, there are some shoppers who like the things they buy just the way they are — and who react negatively when their favorite foods are tweaked. Is there a way to get these folks consuming fewer calories?

Maybe just don’t tell them they’re eating a lower-cal version, suggests a new study, published this week in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen wanted to find out if “silent reformation” — cutting calories from store-brand processed foods without explicitly telling people it’s different — could be a good way for retailers to contribute to lower calorie intake in the population.

The researchers note that often when foods are reformulated to contain lower fat, sugar, or salt content, some consumers may feel like they can now comfortably get those uneaten calories, etc., from other foods.

In other cases, product reformulation might change the perceived quality of the products — for example, a reformulated product could be considered a “diet” product — which could undermine their effectiveness, the authors of the study point out.

The switcheroo

Researchers looked at a full year’s worth of sales data from March 2013 to 2014 that included figures on eight product categories from a Danish retail chain. In each category, certain store-brand products — mayonnaise, fruit yogurt, pumpkin seed rye bread, buns, yogurt bread, carrot rolls, whole grain rolls, and chocolate muesli — were reformulated with the intention of providing a healthier product to customers.

How many calories were cut differed for each product: Mayo and fruit-flavored yogurt cut calorie content by about 16-17%, while for bread products the reduction was 5-10%, and chocolate muesli only had 2-3% reduction in calories.

The reformulations were not truly secret. The nutrition label on each product was updated to reflect the changes. However, the supermarket chain made no effort to announce or advertise that reformulations had occurred, nor did it change any of the prices on the affected products.

The results

Researchers ultimately found that for all products, silent reformulation translated into a reduction in the sale of calories. In other words, shoppers generally continued purchasing these products, and the total amount of calories in their carts declined.

But in some products, the effects of substitution were outweighed by the positive effect.

The changes didn’t seem to have any drastic net effect on sales for the retailers. At worst, some of the products experienced “very moderate” dips in sales value, while other sales remained the same or even increased after reformulation.

“Based on these findings, ‘silent’ reformulation of retailer’s private brands towards lower energy density, seems to be a promising strategy for the retail sector to contribute to lower calorie intake in the population, and thus supportive of public health goals and industry’s incentive to undertake also modest and silent reformulations,” the study’s authors concluded.


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Spyware Found In Over 500 Android Apps, Together Downloaded More Than 100M Times

Official storefronts that sell apps — Google Play and Apple’s App Store — do their best to make sure everything they’re distributing to you isn’t going to wreck your phone or steal your data. But one vulnerability in code used in hundreds of Android apps has allowed malicious actors to change what your app does after you download and install it, and the problem has affected millions.

The mobile security firm Lookout announced its discovery in a blog post this week.

The problem apps had significant spread: The bad code was in more than 500 total apps, that cumulitively had more than 100 million downloads. Lookout did not name most of the apps, but at least one, a “game targeted at teens,” had between 50 and 100 million downloads itself.

Where did the code come from?

Software development is like any other kind of complicated product: Not every company reinvents the whole wheel for itself.

Think of cars: Honda, Ford, and Toyota each make some parts themselves, sure, but they outsource things like airbags and tires to third parties that specialize in those products, and distribute them to many companies. So, too, with code.

Software development kits — SDKs — are basically little bundles of pre-written, pre-packaged code you can drop into your product to do something for you so that you don’t have to reinvent it from scratch. Basically every app out there, from the smallest mobile app to the biggest blockbuster video game, licenses and uses some SDKs to build the final product.

That’s all well and good, as long as the SDK is legitimate and not compromised. But this particular SDK, Igexin, appears not to have met that standard.

How does it work?

The Igexin SDK is used to serve up targeted advertising to people using free apps. So far, so good; that’s a common, if annoying, function.

But the researchers at Lookout noticed an unusual traffic pattern coming from apps using the Igexin SDK. The pattern was consistent with behavior the researchers had typically seen when “clean” apps surreptitiously install some kind of malware after the fact, to avoid detection up front.

That made Lookout researchers look more closely, where they found that the malicious versions of the Igexin SDK allowed third parties to remotely load new code onto a user’s device to do, basically, anything.

The most serious vulnerability Lookout actually observed from any of the apps using the malicious version of the SDK is “call log exfiltration.” Or, in plain words, your phone records: The numbers that call you or that you call, when, and if the call connects or not.

What should I do about it?

Lookout informed Google of its findings before publishing the public breakdown, and compromised apps were either removed from the Google Play store or were replaced with updated versions that had the problem code removed. So first things first: Make sure you update any apps on your phone when you’re prompted to.

Beyond that, however, watching out for app safety can be challenging.

First and foremost, read app descriptions carefully and use good judgement when you’re downloading them. Many are questionable ventures from fly-by-night outfits, and those are comparatively easy to spot.

As the Igexin issue demonstrates, though, that’s not foolproof; even a popular app, reputable enough to rack up more than 50 million downloads, can be vulnerable when third-party code is at fault.

A third party security suite or anti-malware program can help protect your phone from this kind of vulnerability, the same way it can for your computer (and many mobile security programs are from the same companies that make them for your desktop or laptop).

The Lookout researchers, of course, recommend Lookout products in their post but there are plenty of other options, too. Our colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports have some recommendations.


by Kate Cox via Consumerist

Owners Of DJI Drones Face Grounding If They Don’t Install Fix That Keeps Devices From Losing Power

The fun part about drones? The way they zip through the sky. Not so fun? If they come crashing to the ground unexpectedly. That’s why the maker of popular Spark drones is telling owners they’ll have to install an update that keeps their aircraft aloft — or face grounding.

Drone company DJI said in July that only a “small number” of Spark owners were losing power in mid-flight, sending the mini camera drones tumbling to the ground.

It’s now pushing out a firmware fix to enhance “Spark’s battery management system to optimize power supply during flight,” DJI says.

Spark owners using the DJI GO 4 App will be prompted to download the update when they’re connected to the internet. They can also install it via the DJI Asisstant 2 desktop software.

There’s a timer on this update if you want to keep flying, however: If the firmware isn’t updated by Sept. 1, Spark drones will not be able to take off.

“DJI decided on the option of a mandatory firmware update in order to maximize flight safety and product reliability which we consider as top priorities,” the company said.

Buggy drones are nothing new: Last year, GoPro was forced to recall its Karma drones after some of them simply stopped working.


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Uber Drivers Have Already Received $50 Million In Tips Through The App

After a parade of scandals and a campaign urging users to delete its app, the ride-hailing app Uber has implemented some changes that the company hopes will happier, including in-app tipping. Since that was added to the app, the company reports that drivers have already received $50 million in tips.

That’s according to Recode, which notes that competitor Lyft has had tipping for five years, and says that its drivers have received $250 million in tips through the app in that time.

Uber originally promoted itself as an easier alternative to regular taxis, telling passengers that there was “no need to tip.” Drivers could accept cash tips, but not solicit them from passengers, since not having to carry cash is sort of the point of the app.

As it happens, Uber added the feature to its app just a few months before drivers in New York City succeeded in having a requirement for in-app tipping signed into law by Mayor Bill De Blasio. Now all services operating in New York must have in-app tipping, but Uber was the only one that didn’t at the time the law was proposed.

The company is now on a campaign called “180 Days of Change,” in which it is implementing more features aimed at making drivers happier. Specifically, what it needs to do is hang on to the drivers that it already has for longer. New features include allowing drivers to route their fares in a way that gets them near a specific destination at a certain time, or allows them to only accept UberPool or UberEats rides… or decline those, according to their preferences.

If you’re worried that this kind of flexibility for drivers means that it will be harder to get a ride, that isn’t the case. Drivers are less likely to decline the rides they’re offered, which means faster hails and a better experience for passengers, the company’s head of driver experience explained to Recode.

“Riders want to feel their driver is not unhappy,” he said. “This is something I think about a lot, [and we’re working on] extra special features that we can launch that will be positive and mutually beneficial to both riders and drivers.”


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

If You Don’t Want AccuWeather Sharing Your Location Even When You’re Not Using It, Update Your App Now

We’ve all been there: You download a new app to your phone or tablet and are asked to share your location data — even when you’re not using the service. In most cases, you can say no and go about your day knowing that the app isn’t following your every move. But that’s apparently not the case with AccuWeather, as security researchers say the app is accessing users’ location data even when they turn off location services.

Security Analyst Will Strafach on Tuesday sounded the alarm bells claiming that AccuWeather’s iOS app sends users’ personal location information to a data monetization firm, despite leading customers to believe that wouldn’t happen.

According to Strafach, AccuWeather sends a different, less accurate set of information to Reveal Mobile, a company that converts mobile location information into data that can be used by advertisers to better target their audience.

Granting Access

When a user downloads and opens the AccuWeather app they are asked if they will allow the service to access their location even when they are not using the app.

This, AccuWeather notes in a popup window, allows the service to alert users to “severe weather in your area, provide critical updates, make the app launch faster, and more!”

Strafach claims that “more” includes sending information to Reveal Mobile every few hours. Over a period of 36 hours, the researcher says the app sent his GPS location, the name of his WiFi router, and whether or not his device has Bluetooth turned on or off to Reveal Mobile 16 times.

Access Denied

While you might think that denying access to your location data would prevent an app from gathering information on your whereabouts, that’s not the case, Strafach claims. Users who don’t give AccuWeather permission to use their location data still have some of their information passed on to Reveal Mobile.

Strafach found that these users’ WiFi router names and their unique MAC addresses were sent to Reveal Mobile. While this data isn’t as precise as true location data, it can still be correlated with public data to reveal an approximate location of a user’s device.

What’s The Problem?

Although many consumers share their location data with apps and services frequently, Strafach notes that the way in which AccuWeather presents this sharing is concerning.

He tells ZDNet that while AccuWeather gets “GPS access under an entirely innocent premise” — that it will provide alerts to weather changes and better track weather near users — users likely have no expectation that this data would also be used to target advertisements.

“This seems especially problematic as their website plainly states that use of WiFi information is for geolocation, and that seems a bit over the line for situations where the user pretty clearly does not wish to share their location,” he said.

In a joint statement released Tuesday, AccuWeather and Reveal Mobile addressed the concerns related to the iOS app.

“Despite stories to the contrary from sources not connected to the actual information, if a user opts out of location tracking on AccuWeather, no GPS coordinates are collected or passed without further opt-in permission from the user,” the companies said.

AccuWeather adds that data such as WiFi network information was for a short period available to Reveal, but was unused by AccuWeather.

For its part Reveal notes that no reverse engineering of locations was ever conducted by any information they gathered, nor was that the intent.

“AccuWeather and Reveal Mobile are committed to following the standards and best practices of the industry,” the companies said. “We also recognize this is a quickly evolving field and what is best practice one day may change the next. Accordingly, we work to update our practices regularly.”

To that end, AccuWeather said it would remove the Reveal data sharing form its iOS app until Reveal updates the system.

Once the system is reinstated, AccuWeather says that “zero data is transmitted back to Reveal Mobile when someone opts out of location sharing.”

A look at the AccuWeather app in the Apple store shows that the service was updated for “performance improvements” Tuesday.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist