Apple to pay $450m for price fixing

July 17th, 2014 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

Fire iPad Air Wallpapers HD 27 300x300 Apple to pay $450m for price fixingLast July, we told you about Apple going to court for playing a central role in the price fixing of e-books.

We told you about the daytime ITV drama scenario of book executives meeting up in the private dining rooms of upscale New York restaurants, where they bitched about Amazon’s low prices and asking Apple what they could do about it. Apple pulled their best innocent face, but are now coughing up money.

Apple have agreed to pay $450-million to resolve the US State and consumer claims that they conspired with five major publishers to fix e-book prices.

The settlement will provide $400-million for consumers, on the condition of the outcome of a pending appeal of a New York federal judge’s ruling.

Apple will be holding out for the second ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York going in their favour. If they reverse the liability finding, they could reduce the amount Apple pays to $70 million, with $50 million going to consumers.

Or they could eliminate payments altogether.

There could well be a lot of private dining rooms in New York getting booked, filled with executives and judges in the coming weeks, if you catch the drift?

2 in 3 loaves have pesticides in them

July 17th, 2014 6 Comments By Mof Gimmers

bread 2 in 3 loaves have pesticides in themDid you have some toast this morning before you set off for work? Have you been sat on the sofa aimlessly eating dry bread straight out of the packet while thinking of ending it all?

Well, chances are, you’ve been eating pesticides.

Turns out that two in every three loaves of bread sold in the UK contain one pesticide residue. This is according to the government who have been doing analysis and wanted to share the data with us all. Tests on loaves showed that 25% of them contained residues of more than one pesticide.

Nick Mole, at Pesticide Action Network UK (Pan UK) and an author of the new report, said: “There is the possibility of harm from the repeated ingestion of low doses of pesticides and no one has done research on the impact of the cocktails of pesticides we are all exposed to. We are all being experimented on without our consent.”

Yet no-one has died or grown an extra eye.

The Guardian have been doing their own studies, looking at the differences between organic and conventional food and deduced that ”pesticides were found four times more often on conventional fruit, vegetables and cereals.” Funny that. The Guardian being hippies about food.

Mole accused the pesticide companies, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the National Farmers’ Union of having a “cosy” relationship. “The UK’s pesticide action plan was particularly weak,” he said. “Pesticides need to be used last, if at all, at the moment they are the first choice.”

How on Earth are we going to cope? And will Guardian readers stop baking their own loaves for long enough to show patronising concern for the poor people eating factory produced bread?

More on this when we get it.

telephone operator Comcast, and the customer service call that wont ever endSometimes, you have to ride out the spiel that people in call centres are paid to dish out. Their bosses make them do it and it can often be quicker to simply let them blurt it out as fast as they can, so you can give an answer and move on.

However, customer retention teams are a different breed altogether. They want to keep you on the phone and seduce you.

They’re the pick-up artists of the business world, all needy and determined like that Ted fella from How I Met Your Mother.

When Ryan Block, co-founder of Engadget, wanted to cancel his Comcast contract, he was met with a member of staff who is absolute agony to listen to. That’s right! There’s a recording! And now Comcast has issued an apology after their representative kept Block on the line for around 18 minutes.

Have a listen to the call here (and don’t worry, it isn’t 18 minutes long).

Block said that him and his wife wanted to switch provider, however, when Block’s wife was transferred to Comcast’s customer retention guy, the employee wouldn’t accept anything for an answer. The Block got involved and more of the same occurred.

“I started the call by (very nicely) saying that we were moving, and that we needed to cancel our service,” Block’s wife, Veronica Belmont, wrote in the description of the recording on SoundCloud. “He asked if we wanted to move our current service. I said no, thank you, but we’ve already signed up for Astound.”

“The representative continued aggressively repeating his questions, despite the answers given, to the point where my wife became so visibly upset she handed me the phone,” Block wrote in the audio description. “Overhearing the conversation, I knew this would not be very fun.”

A Comcast spokeswoman provided the following statement to ABC News today about the recording: “We are very embarrassed by the way our employee spoke with Mr. Block and are contacting him to personally apologize. The way in which our representative communicated with him is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives. We are investigating this situation and will take quick action. While the overwhelming majority of our employees work very hard to do the right thing every day, we are using this very unfortunate experience to reinforce how important it is to always treat our customers with the utmost respect.”

Recycling Mixed Containers ‘Bin decision’ costs taxpayers £200 million a year Local councils who can’t agree on a standard size and shape of recycling bin are costing us a fortune, according to a new and exciting recycling report.

With so many lovely designs around – ‘the green one with the lid’, ‘the brown one with the hole in the top’ etc. – councils simply can’t make their mind up, and that means that each bin costs us £5 more than it would in other countries where all bins are a standard type.

Overall, their disjointed and quite frankly RUBBISH approach to bin selection and recycling in general is costing the UK £1.7billion.

The report from the Circular Economy Task Force suggests that the UK could actually generate £2billion in private investment in recycling plants. But because the UK recycling market stinks, not enough produce is collected to make private investment in new recycling plants profitable.

At the moment only 30% of plastic is recycled in the UK – two thirds of it goes to companies abroad, losing the UK more money. And so it goes. The circle of crap, as they sang in the Lion King.

‘Local authorities spend more on waste management than housing or planning. Valuable raw materials are lost while businesses are frustrated by a lack of usable recycled materials.’ Says Dustin Benton, who compiled the report (known as ‘Dusty Binton’ to his mates).

‘The system both stymies demand for recycled materials and prevents businesses investing. The problem is structural. The Government could easily turn this around by reforming the system to help businesses get the UK moving toward a circular economy.’

private 300x199 How your banking habits and other personal data are affecting your insurance premiums...We’d all like an extra 20% discount on our car insurance, right? Well it seems that some insurers are offering up to a fifth off car insurance premiums for ‘prudent’ people.

Some insurance firms claim that they have found a strong link between people who are prudent with their spending and those less likely to take risks while driving. If you’re careful with your money, you’ll be careful on the road. This means that Lloyds insurance arm Scottish Widows is apparently offering up to 20% off to certain customers who, for example, stay within their overdraft limits, or never need an overdraft, or who never miss a credit card payment.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that renewing car insurance becomes a more labour-intensive process, requiring drivers to detail their financial histories in order to try and get a discount. Instead, this is just part of the ‘big data revolution’ which sees businesses using consumers’ personal information in new and exciting ways. And Scottish Widows aren’t alone.

We’ve known for years that Tesco monitors the shopping habits of Clubcard holders, and Tesco insurance reportedly offers discounts of up to 40% on home and car insurance to those whose shopping habits indicate they would be a careful driver. However, they are not forthcoming on which products are so indicative. Aviva changes house insurance premiums depending on the exact location of properties on a street.

But while no one is going to be miffed at being offered an un-requested 20% discount, as with everything else in life, the fear is that this is, in fact, a double edged sword. While those with ‘good’ financial habits are offered money off, are those struggling to make ends meet going to be penalised even further by higher premiums? Apparently not.

A spokesman for Scottish Widows told the Telegraph that “this use of the data we hold is allowing us to offer discounts on motor insurance to customers who tend to show care in areas like personal finances. But we will not be using this information to increase premiums.” Sounds pretty categoric. For now anyway.

However, privacy groups remain unconvinced, and consider this alternate use of data to be a breach of trust by holders of super-sensitive data.

Emma Carr, acting director of Big Brother Watch, said: “Despite this being within the law, the way many companies go about doing this is underhand and goes far beyond what customers would expect them to do with their data.”  She called on insurers to give customers the option of explicitly opting-in to the use of big data rather than just allowing them to opt out, if consumers are even aware of how businesses are using their data.

So what do you think? Is it OK so long as it only confers positive benefits, or will the sharp side of the deal inevitably turn up before long?

school uniform 300x211 A third of parents take children out of school to save money on a holidayIt’s almost the end of term. Unless you are in Scotland in which case that is old news. Some parents may be looking forward to having their offspring around 24-7, others may be experiencing a growing sense of dread. But some parents will have been rubbing their hands with glee as more than a third of parents (36%) take their children out of school during term time. And this risk to their child’s education is all in the name of saving money.

New research by Nationwide Building Society shows that, despite increased attention and new £60 penalties for unauthorised absences, the proportion of parents angling for a cheap getaway has remained largely unchanged since last year’s research, where 37% admitted taking a hooky holiday. Out of those parents who did opt for term-time holidays, almost one in five (19 per cent) further compounded their children’s moral slide by lying about it and telling  the school their child was sick rather than admit they were off on holiday.

However,  given the fact that the premium for a typical holiday in Spain for a family of four has been calculated as amounting to as much as an extra £1,347 during school holidays compared with term-time, £60 seems a fair price to pay for the discount.

The research also showed that:

57% took their kids out of school for holiday at the end of term, compared with 18% who chose the start of term and 17% who went for a mid-term break

72% of parents went for a foreign holiday during time term, which would result in greater savings compared with school holidays

62% of children on term-time holidays were from primary school, but the figure almost halved for older children, with only 32% of secondary pupils being taken out of school for holiday

But while over a third of parents sounds a lot, is this news so surprising? Alternative research by Yorkshire Bank suggested that almost a quarter (24%)  of people base their choice of holiday primarily on price, while a further 27% would book somewhere unusual if it would save them money. The average spend of a summer holiday is estimated at £1,027.72 per person per year.

So would you do it? Is a week’s education worth over a grand to you? Or do you live in Scotland and have already enjoyed a lovely family holiday abroad, cheaper and without a resort full of screaming English children…

Cheap food = tax dodging?

July 10th, 2014 3 Comments By Thewlis

tax image 300x230 Cheap food = tax dodging?We all know that inflation has been outpacing earnings increases for years, and is only now getting back to levels targeted by the Bank of England. This means that the pressure on cost of living has been immense for many people, many of whom may have turned to discount supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi in order to make ends meet. And this has had a knock on effect of driving down food prices across the supermarket sector, which is almost certainly A Good Thing.

But does discount shopping come at a price?

New figures released today show that suggest that food price inflation is standing at record low levels. But some are suggesting that, like Amazon, the way discounters are managing to undercut the market starts with tax avoidance, potentially adding a moral cost to the discount

George Bull from accountants Baker Tilly cites Lidl as an example. Most of Lidl UK’s stock, management and administrative support arises from its German parent which means that Lidl’s UK tax liability is low owing to all the costs being sent back over to Germany. While Lidl is providing jobs and cheap food in the UK, it is therefore contributing little to the UK tax pot. More worryingly, Bull suggests that the big UK retailers might be eyeing up the smaller discounters – for example, Sainsbury’s is reported to be taking to take a half share in a new Netto chain with the Danish parent – meaning more money is diverted away from the UK treasury.

But does that matter so long as the cash is, instead, staying in UK consumers’ pockets? After all, we will eventually spend that money and boost the UK economy further. Or is corporate tax avoidance always wrong, even if, as in the case of Lidl, it was a legitimate foreign company long before it ever landed here.

Or does anyone even care anymore so long as prices are kept low? Is anyone still boycotting Amazon and Starbucks now they are no longer in the news?

new food labelling 300x105 Our EU chums are getting shirty over our traffic light labelling on foodEveryone knows that if you constantly eat crap, you end up a pale and unhealthy glutinous mass. Of course, everyone is free to choose what they eat, but as part of a drive to help people make informed choices, UK food retailers largely conform to the voluntary traffic light food labelling system, which tells you whether the amount of fat and sugar you are about to cram in your gob is good (green) or less good (red).

Now, however, some of our European chums have decided that, far from being helpful and informative, this traffic light labelling is in fact discriminatory and rude, and have run off to the European Commission to tell tales. The group, led by Italy, is concerned that, as their national produce such as prosciutto and Parmesan might end up with red labels, we are clearly trying to stealthily stop all UK people eating foreign muck.

Italy accused the UK’s labelling system of ‘clearly influencing customer choice’ and got its mates, Slovakia, Luxembourg, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Slovenia, Romania, Portugal together with France just for good measure, to back it up. They all stood around huffily in the EC until the Commission agreed to investigate. Their challenge is supported by UK local retailer the Co-operative who undertook a survey which found that 40% of women and 30% of men had decided against buying a product owing to its red traffic light labelling.

The Commission’s findings are expected in a few weeks, but its investigation will consider whether the labelling infringes basic EU tenets of the free market within Europe.

However, Glenis Willmott, UK MEP Health Spokesperson condemned the challenge, describing the case as “spurious” and claiming EU legislation was clear in permitting voluntary informational labelling on products. If the EU finds against the UK, and the UK refuses to withdraw the labelling, we could be landed with a heavy fine.

It seems the irony of us pasty Britishers hankering after a more Mediterranean diet is lost on our near neighbours.

websites  People confused by copycat ‘government’ websites Confusion reigns amongst consumers, who are regularly bamboozled and misled by fake websites posing as official ones – particularly copycat government websites.

Savvy web users might be able to spot a rubbish fake crown logo or a web address called ‘giveusyourdetails.gov.passport.’ But others are regularly being led down the garden path, according to research by the Advertising Standards Authority.

The ASA is so concerned about this that it’s launching a new awareness campaign, which will lead people to official government web pages and away from the dodgy ones.

It’s also considering tougher enforcement of fake sites and advertisers, pledging to work with Google and Bing to weed out the infiltrators.

Although 8 out of 10 people surveyed could spot the official passport application site, some of the other sites posing as government sites are quite convincing. Only half guessed that a site replacing Births, Deaths and Marriage certificates was actually a commercial website.

‘We’re focused on tackling any sites that continue to mislead, in support of other enforcement activity.’ Said Miles Lockwood from the ASA. ‘We’re also working with search engines and government to ensure the public are protected. In the meantime, always start at gov.uk to access a government service.’

50% of people post online TV show spoilers

July 8th, 2014 4 Comments By Lucy Sweet

game of thrones 50% of people post online TV show spoilers According to a survey by people with nothing better to do, three quarters of us have had the plotlines of TV shows ruined by people on social networks.

Game of Thrones is the most spoiled programme (KING JOFFREY IS A WOMAN!), followed by Breaking Bad (IT’S NOT THAT GREAT!) and The Walking Dead (NEVER SEEN IT, IS IT GOOD?).

And half of us admit that we can’t resist sharing sensitive plot information with the world via Facebook and Twitter.

Researchers at VoucherCodesPro polled 2749 people about their viewing habits, and found that 77% of people watched their favourite shows for an average of 10-15 hours a week. But they only watched scheduled, traditional telly for 5.5 hours.

74% said that they’d had a TV show ruined by online spoilers, because audiences in America had seen it before then and discussed it on social media. BOO HOO.

Perhaps if people used those 20 hours a week of watching telly to do something more interesting they wouldn’t be sitting around boring everybody about spoilers. And they might smell a tiny bit less of overpowering armpit cheddar.

 Homophobic bakery finds itself in a sticky situation A bakery which refused to make a Bert and Ernie cake with the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’ might find itself in court after saying the request went against its director’s religious beliefs.

(How can people not believe in Bert and Ernie?)

Christian-run Ashers Baking Co is in Northern Ireland, the only place in the UK where gay marriage is still illegal, but even so, apparently the bun-faced haterz have been sent a stern letter by the Equalities Commission threatening legal action if they don’t ice the message.

The request for the cake came back in May, apparently made by a LGBT activist. The bakery is being backed up by the Christian Institute, which calls for extremely specific new laws to protect small bakeries from gay marriage. In a statement they said:

‘The case proves the need for the law to reasonably accommodate family-run businesses with firmly held beliefs.’

Daniel McArthur from Ashers Gay-hate-ery bakery added:

‘We thought that this order was at odds with our beliefs. It certainly was in contradiction of what the Bible teaches.’

Hmm, well with that logic, they would only make cakes featuring King Herod and thousands of dead babies. Or a jolly frosted representation of the story of King David’s son Amnon, who raped his half sister and then was brutally murdered by her brother in a revenge attack. FESTIVE!

What has cake got to do with beliefs anyway? MAKE A GAY CAKE, YOU SPONGE BRAINS.

oxford street Oxford Street is the worst pollution hell hole in the world London’s Oxford Street, home of Top Shop and lots of places selling ‘I went to London and All I Got Was This Lousy Chest Infection’ t-shirts, is officially the most polluted street on EARTH, with the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide.

The pollution station at Oxford Street has coughed and spluttered and produced a reading of 135 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre of air so far this year. That’s more than 4 times the EU limit of 40mcgs.

But that’s not even the true picture – that’s just the average. In the day time, when you’re out shopping for something pretty, the levels are even higher.

On one day in March, the nitrogen dioxide levels hit a chest heaving 436 micrograms per cubic metre of oxygen. These levels are higher than China and India, and it’s all down to diesel engines on buses and lorries.

David Carslaw from Kings College London said: ‘To my knowledge this level is the highest in the world in terms of both hourly and annual mean. NO₂ concentrations in Oxford street are as high as they have ever been in the long history of air pollution.’

So if you’re asthmatic, or would rather not die of heart disease or a stroke, then move to somewhere with cleaner air. Like Calcutta.

Dominos caught selling Aldi potato wedges

July 4th, 2014 9 Comments By Lucy Sweet

wedges 300x243 Dominos caught selling Aldi potato wedges Staff at a branch of Dominos in Linlithgow, West Lothian face a grilling after they were caught buying cheap jumbo bags of potato wedges from Aldi and then trying to pass them off as Domino’s own brand.

The cheapo wedges cost only 59p from Aldi, whereas Dominos wedges are a staggering £3.49 for a tiny box. But staff say they’d run out due to Wimbledon and the World Cup, and they were just trying to keep up with an unprecedented demand for wedge action.

A customer spotted what they were up to when he went in to order a pizza, and said: ‘I had a bit of a chuckle – but it’s really cheeky flogging Aldi products as their own.’

Domino’s bosses explained the problem.

‘With big sporting events in full swing, the Linlithgow store was faced with no wedges. We do not advocate this as a solution. We have spoken to the store to ensure ordering has been adjusted and our customers get Domino’s wedges.’

It’s actually pretty enterprising when you think about it – and it also very much begs the question: ‘is there a scientific correlation between major sporting events and potato wedges?’

MPs slam scary looking debt letters

July 4th, 2014 No Comments By Lucy Sweet

debt collector MPs slam scary looking debt letters Proving they’ll stop at nothing to make a buck, Barclays, Halifax, Lloyds, RBS and HBSC have been accused of putting the frighteners on customers by sending them letters which are designed to look like they come from debt collecting agencies.

The letters – which are actually from the banks themselves –look like they’re from third party solicitors or agencies to scare people into settling their debts.

But these companies are fictional. For example, Barclays use the pseudonym ‘Mercers Debt Collection’, Scottish Power ‘Sterling Collections’, and Lloyds have really pushed the boat out with a triumvirate of imaginary solicitors, ‘Blair, Oliver and Scott.’

And this trick is used not just by banks, but by utility companies and student loans companies, too.

Everyone was roundly outraged when it was revealed last week that Wonga was using a fake debt collecting company to ‘encourage’ customers into paying back their loans. And the FCA ordered them to pay £2.6m in compensation.

However it seems to be standard practice across the board. Labour MP Stella Creasy slammed the letters, saying:

‘These letters seem to have been designed to frighten people into thinking that they are further along in the debt process than they are. At best, they are not being transparent, and at the worst they are being downright deceptive. It’s disgraceful.’

So why fine Wonga and not the others? Marc Gander from the Consumer Action Group said:

‘All the companies that employ these tactics, whether it is the Student Loans Company, the banks or utility companies, should face equal scrutiny and equal sanctions. Action needs to be taken.’

You bet it does.

eBay and Gumtree are riddled with scams

July 4th, 2014 2 Comments By Mof Gimmers

ebay eBay and Gumtree are riddled with scamsWe all know that eBay and Gumtree are full of scams (including some of the t&cs from the company themselves, eh readers? Eh? EH?), but just how many?

Well, the Citizens Advice have revealed that one in six complaints about products or services advertised on Gumtree, and one in 10 about sales at eBay, are scams or potential scams.

The CA’s analysis looked at 649 problem cases involving Gumtree and 3,711 at eBay.

Problems included scams advertising housing and job scams, as well as motorists buying second-hand cars and then finding out that there was a logbook loan attached.

Other scams include the classic ‘paying for something but getting nothing in return’ on things like phones and, weirdly, pets. Apparently, businesses are being stung as well as people just shopping for themselves. Companies are contacted by other firms offering cheap advertising which transpire to be cons. There’s an increase in scams on fake tickets for the Commonwealth Games, where people are being offered expensive stubs, and getting nothing back.

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Online marketplaces are at risk of becoming a hotbed for scams. These sites are an important service for buyers and sellers, but con artists are profiting from them too. Scammers are swindling people out of hundreds or thousands of pounds by posting false products and services online.”

“Con artists are preying on those still trying to get back on their feet from the recession. Fake jobs and phoney homes are taking people’s deposits that they strived and saved so long for.”

As a result, CA want eBay, Gumtree and others to police their sites better.

If you think you’ve been scammed, then visit citizensadvice.org.uk or call 03454 040506 (03454 040505 for the Welsh speakers among you).