google Google lose appeal and are going to get sued over privacy concernsGoogle have lost their Court of Appeal bid to prevent British consumers having the right to sue them in the UK.

Pardon? Well, a group called Safari Users Against Google’s Secret Tracking (which has the frankly rubbish aconym of SUAGST) want to sue the internet behemoth in the English courts over what they claim are Google bypassing security settings to track them online.

Three appeal judges have dismissed Google’s appeal against a High Court ruling and ruled that claims for damages can be brought over the allegations of Google’s misuse of private information.

The Safari Users say that Google’s “clandestine” tracking and collation of internet usage (between the summer of 2011 and early 2012) led to distress and embarrassment among UK users. You might not remember that, because as a BW reader, you’re in a constant state of embarrassment and distress, so all the years roll into one.

Anyway, the group say that Google collected private info through cookies, without their information.

Dan Tench, a partner at law firm Olswang, who are representing the group, said this case decides “whether British consumers actually have any right to hold Google to account in this country”. Tench added: ”This is the appropriate forum for this case – here in England where the consumers used the internet and where they have a right to privacy.”

Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls, and Lady Justice Sharp said in their joint judgement, with which Lord Justice McFarlane agreed: “On the face of it, these claims raise serious issues which merit a trial. They concern what is alleged to have been the secret and blanket tracking and collation of information, often of an extremely private nature… about and associated with with the claimants’ internet use, and the subsequent use of that information for about nine months.”

“The case relates to the anxiety and distress this intrusion upon autonomy has caused.”

digitalbritain 300x221 New consumer rights bill gives extra rights on digital and faulty productsMost consumers probably woke up this morning with no idea of the momentous events of yesterday. Putting driving programme ex-presenters and boy band ex-members in the shade is the news that the new Consumer Rights Act received Royal Assent in Parliament yesterday. While you might not think it is exciting, the new rights will extend consumer rights to digital products and offer greater redress and clearer rules on faulty products. Thrilling stuff.

The Consumer Rights Act is described the biggest change to consumer legislation in “a generation” and replaces the Sale of Goods Act, and seven other pieces of consumer legislation. The Act is also predicted to boost the economy by £4 billion over the next decade.

When the new Act comes into force on 1 October 2015, consumer rights will now be extended to digital products for the first time, meaning that anyone buying a digital product that turns out to be faulty could be entitled to a refund or replacement.

The Consumer Rights Act gives consumers new rights to a repair, replacement and refund of faulty content such as online films, games, music downloads and e-books- even if you didn’t pay for the original platform.

Take the example cited by Which!!! of a free to download app that you have been playing for months and on which, you’ve spent an amount of money on in-app purchases to improve your game character. However, after your last character upgrade, the game stopped working. Under the new rules you’ll be entitled to a repair or a replacement (of all your added parts)  and if a repair isn’t provided within a reasonable time or is impossible to replace then you’d be entitled to some money back.

But the new rules also offer clarity when dealing with faulty items. For example, if your kettle or toaster knackers up three weeks after purchase, are you entitled to a refund or not? The current law refers to a ‘reasonable time’ which is open to different interpretation from seller and purchaser. However, under the new law you will have a clear right to a full refund for up to 30 days after you buy your item.

Finally, there will also be clearer rules for shoddy services- those provided either without reasonable care and skill, or as agreed.  For example, this could be a restaurant meal delivered lukewarm or painting and decorating that’s been completed in the wrong colour or to a poor standard. From 1 October, you will now have a legal right to ask for the service to be repeated or to get a full/partial refund.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “This is the biggest shake up of consumer law for a generation, bringing legislation in line with the fact many people now buy online.

“Consumers will now be much better informed and protected when buying goods or services on the internet. They will now be entitled to get for the first time a free repair or replacement for any faulty digital content.”

Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson said: “For too long consumers and businesses have struggled to understand the complicated rules that apply when buying goods and services.

“That is why the Consumer Rights Act is so important in setting out clear and updated consumer rights for goods, services and, for the first time, digital content.

British Airways 857 19385812 0 0 4005 300 Airlines review safety procedures after Germanwings disasterIf you’re flying anywhere this week, you’ll understandably be a bit nauseous after the tragedy that is the Germanwings disaster.

With that, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said that they have got in touch with all the British airlines “to require them to review all relevant procedures”.

The details of the crash in the Alps are well documented, so you’ll know that, in the lead-up to the crash, Andreas Gunter Lubitz waited until the captain of Flight 4U 9525 left the cockpit and then crashed the aircraft into a mountain range.

Post 9/11, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) brought in rules which require a member of the cabin crew to enter the cockpit if the captain or first officer needs to leave for some reason. These rules weren’t put in place across Europe.

The CAA said: “Following the details that have emerged regarding the tragic Germanwings incident, we are co-ordinating closely with colleagues at the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and have contacted all UK operators to require them to review all relevant procedures.”

“All UK airline pilots undergo extensive and regular medical assessments to determine their fitness to hold a licence. As part of this, aeromedical examiners are required to assess a commercial pilot’s mental health at each medical examination which, for an airline pilot flying with at least one other pilot, is undertaken annually.”

Virgin, Thomson, Monarch and Easyjet have said that they’ll be bring in the procedure immediately and Ryanair, Jet2 and Flybe already undertake this system.

What to learn Spanish on your Xbox?

March 27th, 2015 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

Bitterwallet Spain 300x237 What to learn Spanish on your Xbox?Ever wanted to learn a new language, but hate the idea of doing a class that will make you take irritating exams? Want to be able to converse abroad without having to sit on your sofa with the headphones on, repeating inane phrases?

Well, you might be in luck if you’re tired of simply shouting in staccato English and have an Xbox One.

The successful language learning tool, Rosetta Stone, has been launched as an app on the Xbox One, which is a good idea.

The app will visualise real-world situations for you, so you can learn phrases that matter to you. Presumably, phrases like “Can I have a beer please?”, “where is the nearest cash machine?” and “I’m sorry, but I’ve soiled myself – please stop laughing.”

For the time being, there’s only English and Spanish that are available, but obviously more languages will be added.

The developers say: “You explore several locations in the Discovery Zone and chat with the characters you find there. In the Training Zone, you’ll solidify the concepts you encountered with study recommendations, cultural tips, phrase books, and of course, more games! Keep track of your achievements, and keep practising until you get a perfect score.”

Co-op: now not losing quite as much money

March 27th, 2015 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

Co op 292x300 Co op: now not losing quite as much moneyRemember how much trouble the Co-operative Bank were in? Well, they’re slowly sorting it all out and reckon they’ve ”stabilised”, cutting their losses to £264.2m in 2014. However, they’ve still got some way to go and there’s going to be more branches being closed.

They said that they’ll be closing 57 branches in 2015.

Chief executive Niall Booker has agreed to stay on and chip away at the mess until the end of 2016. He took over in 2013, when the bank looked like it might vanish completely after a £1.5bn hole was found in their accounts.

That said, the Co-op said that they’ve now revised their 2013 debt to £688.3m, which is still loads of money.

Booker said: “Over the course of 2014 the management team has continued to take significant steps to implement the strategy and to turn the bank around. The Co-operative Bank is stronger than a year ago and we end the year with a strengthened capital position, ahead of schedule in the reduction of non-core assets and having made progress reducing underlying costs and improving the day-to-day management and governance.”

“However, we are in the early stages of the turnaround and there is still much to do to transform the organisation into a sustainable business. There are a number of matters where the bank does not yet meet FCA and PRA regulatory requirements and expectations.”

“The revised plan, accepted by the regulators, seeks to address this.”

While this is all well and boring, the thing that really hammered the bank’s reputation is the fact it was embroiled in a sex and drug scandal, which was the worst kind of PR for a service that wants to scream stability and not an association with orgies and crystal meth.

pensioner 242x300 Pension companies will have to tell you about rivalsFrom now on, people selling you pensions will have to tell you if they’re ripping you off. More accurately, they’ll have to tell you if their rivals offer better deals and such, according to the Financial Conduct Authority.

Businesses will now have to advertise what their competitors are offering and how much more you could earn if you switched to a different provider. This will happen every time a customer is sent a quote for an annuity. The FCA reckon that this will “prompt customers to consider the benefits of shopping around and switching”.

FCA director Christopher Woolard said: “The retirement income market is set for the biggest change in a generation. We want to ensure it is fit for purpose.”

The idea is that pensioners will not have blindly accepted any old rubbish thrown their way, and now, people looking at their retirement will start shopping around and looking for a better deal, rather than just accepting a poor-value annuity offered by the first firm to flutter their eyelashes at them.

The FCA also said that pension documents now have to contain a lot less jargon. People can’t be bothered reading 20-odd pages of finance-babble, so companies need to do more to make it clear what they’re offering. The watchdog is also looking at the idea of people being sent a simple statement by pension companies, which outlines how much money they’ve saved and what type of pension they have.

Good news, oldsters!

Facebook to beef up Messenger

March 26th, 2015 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

Facebook 300x300 Facebook to beef up MessengerFacebook are giving their Messenger app some muscles as they look to woo businesses and brands (brands is a cuddle way of saying ‘businesses who want you to feel like they’re a lifestyle choice’) out of loads of money.

There’s going to be a rake of new features, enabling people to integrate their own apps with Messenger (thanks to a new thing called Messenger Platform) and companies will be able to enhance online shopping and bug everyone on Facebook (thanks to a thing called Businesses on Messenger).

Mark Zuckerberg reckons these new tools will end up in social media tools replacing the old types of talking to companies.

“Currently, if you want to get in touch with a business, most of us probably still call,” Zuckerberg said. “But I actually don’t know anyone who likes calling businesses. It’s just not fast or convenient and it definitely doesn’t feel like the future.”

David Marcus, also of Facebook, added that this would restore the “personal and delightful experience” that customers have when shopping at little local shops for local people. David Marcus clearly hasn’t been to Royston Vasey.

Anyway, the whole deal here is that Messenger Platform will help people plug apps into Messenger which will allow users to share photos, audio or whatever, more easily. Alongside that, businesses will be able to play with the format too. Expect to get some animated gifs from Oreos or something, in the near future. Or, you can live chat with IAMS about your cat that just choked to death.

coinjar 300x255 Has the new 0% savings rate of tax made cash ISAs obsolete?In last week’s Budget, the Chancellor announced that the first £1,000 of savings income (£500 for higher rate taxpayers, nothing for additional rate (45%) taxpayers) would be subject to zero tax, with effect from 6 April 2016.While this won’t affect people looking for the best deals on where to invest anything that remains of this tax year’s ISA allowance of £15,000, that expires on 5 April 2015, those looking forward to this time next year might not have such a worry.

The point is, of course, that the main draw of cash ISAs was the fact that the interest arising was not taxable, saving investors at least 20% in income tax. While there have regularly been headline savings rates, or more recently, current account credit interest rates, that could beat cash ISA rates, once the tax advantage was taken into account ISAs often came out on top.

But if all savings interest is not taxed, why bother investing in an ISA? £1,000 of interest given the current low rates would require a sizeable capital balance, meaning that the tax-free status of cash ISAs  is only of benefit to those who already have pots of cash.

But what about the rates? Could cash ISAs still offer better rates on a straight comparison? Which!!! looked at short, medium and long term savings rates and found that, comparing like with like, and assuming no tax is due on ISA or non-ISA savings accounts, there is currently no benefit to a cash ISA for most people.

On short term/instant access accounts, Which!!! figures show that the best ISA deal is 1.5% (1.65% if fixing for a year), compared with up to 5% payable by current accounts, although you would need to check the limits applicable to interest payments. For 2-3 year fixes, the best cash ISA deal comes in at 2.1%, whereas a standard savings account earns 2.2% for two years or 2.7% for three years.

Over the longer term, rates might rise and you have longer to build up a larger savings pot so a cash ISA may become more attractive, but currently the best five-year fixed-rate cash ISA only gives returns of up to 2.75%.

Of course, in a year’s time, the banks will also be aware that savers will be checking to see which rates are best for them, so the market may adjust to show better rates for ISAs at that time, but for now, the bell seems to be tolling for cash ISAs for the masses…

TomTom launch free sat-nav app

March 26th, 2015 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

TomTom 281x300 TomTom launch free sat nav appTomTom have gone a launched a free sat-nav on Android called TomTom Go Mobile. If you’ve just bought a sat-nav, gutted for you.

So what do you get with it? Well, it looks like it has more features than the competition, with live traffic updates and speed camera notifications and all that. Oh, and of course, you can navigate yourself with it. That’s pretty obvious though.

You can also take trips to millions of ‘points of interest’ and if you’re worried about hammering your data, you can download offline maps for the 111 countries covered by TomTom.

What’s the catch? Well, it is free to download, but that’s limited to 50 miles per month. If you’re driving in advance of that, then you’ll need to look at the £14.99 per year subscription (or £34.99 for three years).

Of course, you could just use Google Maps for free, or indeed, the Google-owned Waze which also won’t cost you a penny.

However, Google Maps can be a bit of a faff, while TomTom Go Mobile has big, clutter-free buttons, which is advantageous if you’re behind the wheel. Either way, sat-navs as we know them are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, so TomTom need to do something, and with this freemium model, they might be onto something.

Unless Google are scheming something…

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz12345671 300x300 Sports Direct is like a backstreet operationMPs aren’t impressed with Sports Direct, saying that they’re being run like a “backstreet outfit”, complete with deals being made behind the board’s back, withholding payments from suppliers, nonsense with the USC fashion chain, and a whole load more.

Keith Hellawell, chairman of Sports Direct, is looking at a barrage of accusations from the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, who say that the way his company dealt with the collapse of USC was so poor, that his past is in danger of being tarnished. Retroactive tarnishing! Nice.

You might know that USC went under in January and was bought back by Sports Direct, debt-free. This left staff redundant and £15.3m in money owed to landlords and suppliers, unpaid and wiped off the record. Also erased from history was the £700,000 owed to HMRC, who are now picking up the tab for the redundancy payments too.

Not only that, the company is being hammered over their reliance on zero-hours contracts – they currently have 75% of their staff on these controversial deals.

Hellawell is pleading innocence, saying that he had no idea that USC was about to go under and that, in fact, chief executive Dave Forsey, and deputy executive chairman, Mike Ashley, had met administrators without his knowledge a whole two months before USC went kaput. The committee also found that USC went under after bosses held back payment to Diesel, because they thought the fashion brand might stop supplying USC, which would have made other suppliers stop.

Thanks to being completely backed into a corner, Hellawell admitted that this withheld money was tantamount to holding Diesel “to ransom”. He added, dimly, that he had no idea how widespread the practice was in the company, adding: “We are in negotiations with a large number of landlords to reduce the cost of property at the moment… clearly I am going to ask some searching questions of the board.”

Simon Reevell MP wasn’t having any of it, saying: “You actively breached a contract with Diesel in order to try to bring them to the negotiating table. You are the chairman of a FTSE 100 company and you are in that role to bring credibility as a [former] senior police officer. At least on one occasion the company tried to renegotiate a deal by withholding …payments it is contractually obliged to pay. That sounds like some sort of backstreet outfit … can you understand that we struggle to understand why reputational matters such as this are completely unknown to you as a chairman?”

Chairman of the committee, Ian Davidson, chipped in: “Some members of the board knew that these discussions were going on, like Mike Ashley and the chief executive. Other members of the board, including you, did not know that. There are two categories of board members – those that are in the know and those that are not. Essentially you were there for decoration, to make a final decision that had already been made to be rubber-stamped.”

Is the culture at Sports Direct going to change? Don’t hold your breath.

Lloyds+Bank 266x300 UK gradually claws money back from Lloyds and RBSThe UK has made £500 million pounds thanks to another bit of the Lloyds Banking Group being sold off, according to the Chancellor, George Osborne.

This means that the British taxpayer now owns less than 22% of the company after we all took a 40% stake in it, after the 2009 bailout.

“We have raised a further 500 million pounds through Lloyds share sales,” Osborne said on Twitter. “Nine billion pounds now recovered and being used to pay down our national debt.”

On top of that, RBS have sold off it’s shares in the US company Citizens, raising £2.1bn. This means that the Royal Bank of Scotland can look at selling additional shares, after the 90-day lock-up period has passed. The idea is for the bank to sell out of Citizens shares by the close of 2016.

Of course, RBS have to sell all these shares under the group’s state bail-out conditions.

“The sale of Citizens is an integral part of the RBS capital plan. It will help us to create a stronger, safer, UK focused bank that can better serve the needs of its customers,” said Ross McEwan, the chief executive of RBS.

pothole 13 years and £12bn   thats what is needed to fix potholesDrivers and cyclists all know that there’s a big problem with potholes in the UK. The Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) claims the money spend on repairing roads in the last year has been “wasted”.

We assume Scotland and Northern Ireland are doing their own thing, but as far as England and Wales are concerned, to fix the problem, it would cost £12 billion and need 13 years of work, which is a damning viewpoint indeed.

The AIA annual found, unsurprisingly, that there’s been an increase in the amount paid in compensation to motorists in England, hovering somewhere around the £20m mark. Add to that, the increased costs of local authorities staffing the situation and to process claims, that’s another £18m.

Alan Mackenzie, chairman of the AIA, said: “Essentially, the money spent on filling the 2.7 million potholes reported is wasted – it is inefficient and short term in its effectiveness. So, while we understand that the Department for Transport is promoting permanent repairs, the point remains that money would be better spent preventing potholes forming in the first place.”

“The £6bn of funding pledged between 2015 and 2021 is welcome, and hopefully will be confirmed by an incoming government. But the truth is that although it sounds like a big investment, it will only be enough for local authorities to tread water and it will do nothing to tackle the backlog or prevent continuing deterioration.”

Mackenzie’s not the only one who is alarmed by all this. Peter Box, transport spokesman at the Local Government Association, said: “Councils need billions, not millions, to bring our roads up to scratch. Every mile of motorways and trunk roads will receive £1.4m funding over the next six years compared with £31,000 per mile for local roads.”

“This makes little sense given the Government’s own traffic projections predict an increase in local traffic of more than 40% by 2040.”

Lidl offer One Direction discount

March 26th, 2015 2 Comments By Mof Gimmers

Lidl’s marketing team have been on fire lately. You may recall them mocking Morrisons not too long ago, as well as poking fun at Sainsbury’s ’50p challenge’.

Well, they’re not razzing any of their rivals at the moment (give them time), but rather, offering money off One Direction Easter eggs, after Zayn Malik left the group.

2015 03 25 21.57.09 421x500 Lidl offer One Direction discount

 

As you can see, they knocked one-fifth off on the news of Zayn’s departure, which is a neat bit of marketing indeed. If only all products were discounted every time someone left a band – Bee Gees albums would be well cheap!

tick 259x300 FCA plans to ban opt out marketing on insurance productsGood news for consumers but bad news for insurance companies- the FCA has today announced plans to ban ‘opt-out selling’, which is where insurers handily pre-tick boxes offering you additional products and services, over concerns that customers were paying high prices for things they didn’t want or need. A triumph of common sense.

The FCA ran a study into the general insurance add-ons industry last year, which concluded that opt-out selling often results in “consumers purchasing products that were of poor value and not what they needed.” The FCA also found that the value of general insurance products “is not always clear,” with some consumers are not even aware they have bought an add-on.

The FCA is concerned that consumers “are not able to make an informed decision on whether they need or want” the extras being foisted on to insurance purchasers. As part of the review, the FCA also wants firms to provide consumers with “more appropriate and timely information” to help them identify if they even want an add-on at all, and if so, which is the most appropriate and most cost-effective option for them.

The FCA plans to introduce guidance encouraging insurers to raise the issue of the most common add-ons to consumers earlier in the sales process, while also making it easier to compare alternatives, specifically recommending that firms provide the annual price of add-ons rather than just giving the smaller monthly figures in a shameless attempt to make the overall cost look smaller.

Christopher Woolard, Director of Strategy and Competition said, categorically, “this is about ensuring consumers can make the right decision on what add-on insurance they do or don’t need. Forgetting to un-tick a box at the end of a purchase is not making an informed choice.”

“Our work shows that the opt-out model means too often consumers are buying a product when they have not been able to give any thought to whether or not they need it,” he continued, citing the familiar example of consumers having to double check whether or not they have accidentally agreed to buy an add-on insurance product when buying car insurance or tickets online, for example.

“These proposals will mean that consumers will be in a better position to decide what they want and consider the options available to them. Fewer consumers will end up with products they didn’t want or don’t even know they own,” he finished, with a flourish.

The proposed ban would apply to any add-on sales of regulated or unregulated products offered alongside financial primary products, which would include the almost industry-standard add ons of  legal expenses sold with home or car insurance, breakdown or key cover sold alongside motor insurance, or protection cover when taking out a mortgage or credit card.

The consultation period ends on 25 June 2015.

beans 300x225 Kraft and Heinz merge: dont mess with our food or elseWhen Kraft took over Cadbury, we all knew that it would spell trouble for some of our favourite chocolate. And indeed, we saw a large amount of kerfuffle with Creme Eggs.

Well, start worrying about your baked beans, tomato soup and ketchup, because Kraft have merged with Heinz. Together, they’ll become what they reckon is the third largest food and beverage company in America. The deal was brokered by Heinz’s owners 3G Capital and billionaire gadabout Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway chief executive, said: “I am delighted to play a part in bringing these two winning companies and their iconic brands together. This is my kind of transaction, uniting two world-class organisations and delivering shareholder value. I’m excited by the opportunities for what this new combined organisation will achieve.”

But what about our beans, Buffett?

This new, merged like Voltron company, will be called the Kraft Heinz Company and they better not start messing about with our HP brown sauce and Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce, or Bitterwallet will find out where all the company’s directors live, and boot them up the arse for eternity. We’re not even slightly joking.