Archive for the ‘Business’ Category
And, as an add-on to the previous post, some mobile ISP companies don’t allow encrypted emails to be sent or received—though as soon as it was pointed out publicly, the company changed its stance. They were just trying to see whether they could get away with it, I suppose. Nancy Scola and Ashkan Soltani report in the Washington Post:
Some customers of popular prepaid-mobile company Cricket were unable to send or receive encrypted e-mails for many months, according to security researchers, raising concerns that consumers may find that protecting their privacy is not always in their hands.
The inability to send some encrypted messages on Cricket’s network was discovered by software engineers from the Austin-based digital security firm Golden Frog. The company mentioned the issue in a July filing to the Federal Communications Commission, and the tech publication Techdirt published an article on it earlier this month. But neither Golden Frog’s filing nor Techdirt named the mobile Internet service provider.
Golden Frog told The Washington Post that Cricket customers were unable to send encrypted messages and said its testing found that the problem ended shortly after the TechDirt article was published. It is unclear how long or how many customers were affected.
Cricket did not address repeated questions about the issue and did not alert customers, many of whom rely on Cricket as their sole Internet service, that they would not be able to protect their e-mails from prying eyes. AT&T, which absorbed Cricket when it acquired Leap Wireless last spring, did not respond to a request for comment.
Cricket said in a statement to The Post that it “is continuing to investigate the issue but does not intentionally prevent customers from sending encrypted emails.” . . .
How many believe Cricket? … sound of crickets …
AT&T throttles their “unlimited” customers routinely. (A few years back, a blog reader commented that “We can trust corporations.” I was stunned by the statement, but I realize that he probably meant that we can trust corporations to try to cheat us at every turn and lie repeatedly.”) Chris Welch reports at The Verge:
The Federal Trade Commission is suing AT&T because the second-largest US carrier throttles speeds of its unlimited data customers, a policy that the FTC describes as “deceptive” and “unfair.” In a press release, the FTC said AT&T has “misled millions of its smartphone customers” by slowing down their data speeds after they’ve used up a certain amount of data in a single month. AT&T has failed to make its throttling policies clear enough, according to the complaint. “The issue here is simple: ‘unlimited’ means unlimited,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. The Commission’s filing blasts AT&T for slowing customers down to the point where common tasks — watching video, streaming music, etc. — become “difficult or nearly impossible.”
Lesson to mobile companies from FTC’s 1st data throttling case: If u promise unlimited data, ur on hook to deliver: http://t.co/Q29FL8Am2V
— FTC (@FTC) October 28, 2014
AT&T no longer offers unlimited data plans; the carrier began slowing down speeds for heavy data users in 2011 — and it’s throttled a whole lot of people since then. 3.5 million unique customers have had speeds slowed more than 25 million times, per the FTC’s numbers. AT&T has drawn thousands of complaints over the policy from consumers who feel unlimited data should continue to be free of restrictions. Those complaints have been sent to the FTC, FCC, Better Business Bureau, and AT&T itself. AT&T is by no means alone in slowing down those on unlimited plans, but clearly the FTC isn’t happy with how the carrier has handled things in recent years. Today’s press release says the FTC worked closely with the FCC in piecing together the complaint. In response, AT&T offered the following, strongly-worded statement: . . .
In the meantime, of course, AT&T is one of the telecoms pressuring states to pass laws that make it illegal for municipalities to create gigabit networks for public use: worse than a dog in the manger, a pig in the manger.
Brian Fung also reports on this in the Washington Post:
AT&T broke the law when it slowed down mobile Internet speeds among customers who’ve paid for unlimited data, federal regulators said in a complaint unveiled Tuesday.
As many as 3.5 million individual AT&T customers were hit by the throttling more than 25 million times over the course of several years, the Federal Trade Commission alleges in its suit. In some cases, users’ speeds were cut by more than 90 percent. . .
Sara Azfal writes in ProPublica:
When it comes to politics, the actions of social welfare nonprofits are usually hard to track. And unlike political action committees, these “dark money” groups can channel money to influence elections without naming their donors.
But as ProPublica’s Theo Meyer explains in this week’s podcast, an accidentally released court filing revealed how a mining company known as the Cline Group used dark money groups to help pass a law that would speed up Wisconsin’s mining permit process.
Meyer describes the release as a “fluke” — a federal court in Chicago mistakenly posted the legal document online for a few hours — that provided a rare look behind the scenes: In 2011 and 2012, the mining company had secretly given $700,000 to a conservative nonprofit that worked to pass the bill.
“For once we actually know something about how the money was spent and where it came from,” says ProPublica Editor-in-Chief Stephen Engelberg.
Meyer agrees. “This is really just one of a handful of instances in which donors to groups like this have become public,” Meyer explains. “And unless you have subpoena power and can get bank records from these groups, it’s really impossible to see who is funding the effort.” . . .
Here’s the podcast. And here are some related stories:
This is something that I believe should be stopped. Elizabeth Dwoskin writes at the Wall Street Journal:
A new study found that e-commerce sites vary online pricing depending on whether customers use mobile or desktop devices, iOS or Android, and other factors.
Travel-booking sites Cheaptickets and Orbitz, for instance, charged some users searching hotel rates an average $12 more per night if they weren’t logged into the sites. Travelocity charged users of Apple’s iOS mobile operating system $15 less for hotels than other users. Users of mobile devices who surfed to Home Depot saw products that were roughly $100 more expensive than those offered to desktop-computer users. Expedia and Hotels.com steered users at random to pricier products, according to researchers at Northeastern University’s College of Information science.
For the study, the Northeastern researchers recruited 300 helpers on the task-outsourcing site Amazon Mechanical Turk and noted their experience on different sites. They created hundreds of fake accounts to evaluate the effect of historical clicks and purchases. Did consumers who spent less money in the past get better deals? Were consumers who bought pricey tickets more likely to be charged higher prices? The researchers didn’t examine the impact of overall Web browsing because they didn’t know whether a particular e-commerce site tracked individual visitors as they browsed other sites.
Discriminatory pricing isn’t illegal. It happens all the time when consumers get loyalty cards, coupons, or promotion codes. But consumers have protested when it’s not transparent. How can you shop for the best deal if you don’t know the rules of the game?
Even in the physical world, though, pricing can be less transparent than it appears. Stores may hold flash sales available only to customers who happen to be shopping at the time. They may mail promotion codes and coupons to some people and not others. Is that really so different from what’s happening online? . . .
Later in the article:
Expedia and Hotels.com were researching the impact of pricing on sales by showing different prices to different groups of shoppers, a practice known as A/B testing — essentially conducting market research in real time. Without such testing, Expedia and other vendors have argued, it would be harder for them to run their business.
Wall Street is chronically down on Costco, despite its excellent record of profitability and customer (and employee) satisfaction because Costco (in Wall Street’s view) pays its employees too well—not so well, of course, as those on Wall Street, but that’s different, I’m told. At ThinkProgress Bryce Covert describes a container store that pays its employees an average of $50,000/year:
The Container Store pays its 6,000 employees an average of $48,000 a year, according to CEO Kip Tindell’s new book Uncontainable.
As he told Business Insider, “That’s a lot of money for a retail sales clerk.” In fact, median pay for retail sales workers is just $21,410 a year. The company also gives “big” raises each year, he said, from 0 percent for low performers to as much as 8 percent.
The company still performs well while paying more than double what’s typical for the industry. It has annual sales of nearly $800 million. And Tindell credits at least some of that performance with the higher pay. His theory is “one equals three,” he told the Wall Street Journal: “one great person can easily do the business productivity of three good people,” which means a company can pay that one high performer “50% to 100% above industry average.”
And that brings returns back to the company. He told Business Insider that the company gets three times the productivity even while paying two times as much in wages. “[Y]ou save money, the customers win, and all the employees win because they get to work with someone great,” he said. Plus the company has a 10 percent turnover rate, while the rate for the entire industry is about 75 percent, and turnover is very costly. Tindell credits high wages for the low rate, saying, “[P]ay is more important than most people realize, particularly if you’re trying to attract and keep really great people.”
Beyond the business incentives, he believes he has a responsibility to pay more. “If you’re lucky enough to be an employer, you have a moral obligation to create a great work environment,” he said.
To that end, he thinks other companies should compensate their employees the way his does. And he may have the ability to influence them as incoming chairman of the National Retail Federation (NRF), which has opposed a minimum wage increase. . .
UPDATE: See also this story by Liz Alderman and Steven Greenhouse in the NY Times:
COPENHAGEN — On a recent afternoon, Hampus Elofsson ended his 40-hour workweek at a Burger King and prepared for a movie and beer with friends. He had paid his rent and all his bills, stashed away some savings, yet still had money for nights out.
That is because he earns the equivalent of $20 an hour — the base wage for fast-food workers throughout Denmark and two and a half times what many fast-food workers earn in the United States.
“You can make a decent living here working in fast food,” said Mr. Elofsson, 24. “You don’t have to struggle to get by.”
With an eye to workers like Mr. Elofsson, some American labor activists and liberal scholars are posing a provocative question: If Danish chains can pay $20 an hour, why can’t those in the United States pay the $15 an hour that many fast-food workers have been clamoring for?
“We see from Denmark that it’s possible to run a profitable fast-food business while paying workers these kinds of wages,” said John Schmitt, an economist at the Center for Economic Policy Research, a liberal think tank in Washington. . .
And the idea that minimum-wage jobs are held only by teenagers is long out of date. From Jordan Weissman’s excellent article in The Atlantic last December, “Should We Raise the Minimum Wage? 11 Questions and Answers”:
Hilllary Clinton is Wall Street’s pick for Democratic candidate for president. They loved Bill, who pretty much gave away the nation to Wall Street, and Hillary is going the same route. Pam Martens and Russ Martens write at Wall Street on Parade:
The contrast between Wall Street’s continuity government in Washington under another Clinton in the White House and the charismatic populist voice of Senator Elizabeth Warren as she stumps for Democrats in the midterms, is awakening millions of Americans to the idea that there may be choices after all in the 2016 presidential election.
Columnist Eugene Robinson said it best last Monday in the Washington Post, writing that Senator Warren’s “swing through Colorado, Minnesota and Iowa to rally the faithful displayed something no other potential contender for the 2016 presidential nomination, including Hillary Clinton, seems able to present: a message.”
What Robinson really means is “a message of hope” – that Wall Street’s wealth transfer system, institutionalized under a protection racket by members of Congress who keep their seats using Wall Street’s campaign dough, could come under serious challenge with Warren in the White House.
In a Wall Street Journal article last Friday, Peter Nicholas reports that Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and a large donor to Democrats, summed up Hillary as follows: “I see Hillary as part of the middle-of-the-road mainstream government that is essentially in bed with these corporations.”
Where would such an idea come from? The Center for Responsive Politics reports that four of the top six donors to Hillary’s failed bid to capture the Democratic nod for the Presidency in 2008 were employees, family members or PACs of major Wall Street firms: JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley.
When the Democrats gave the nod to Barack Obama instead, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup show up among his top seven donors for his 2008 campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. (As indicated above, the corporations do not give directly; it’s their PACS, employees or family members of employees.)
The idea that Wall Street is running a continuity government in Washington stems from the fact that it was President Bill Clinton who repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, a goal Wall Street and its legions of lobbyists had advanced for decades. This breathtaking deregulation of Wall Street did not happen under a Republican presidency but under one styling itself as progressive. The repeal allowed commercial banks holding insured deposits to merge with investment banks, brokerage firms and insurance companies to become vast gambling casinos, looters of the little guy, and to crash the economy in 1929 style fashion just nine years after Clinton signed the repeal legislation in 1999.
The Wall Street sycophants in the Bill Clinton administration who pushed through the repeal of this legislation that had protected the country for seven decades included Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin, and the man who would step into the Treasury post, Lawrence Summers, after Rubin headed for Citigroup to collect $120 million in compensation over the next eight years. Both men turned up as advisors to Obama once he took his seat in the Oval Office.
Last year, Obama attempted to push through the nomination of Summers, then on the payroll of Citigroup as a consultant, to become the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. It took heavy backlash from members of his own party to advance Janet Yellen’s nomination over Summers.
With the exception of retiring Senator Carl Levin, Senator Warren uniquely demonstrates a comprehensive knowledge of how Wall Street firms like Citigroup maintain their stranglehold on the levers of power in Washington. . .
It’s good to see local governments actually working to serve the public instead of kowtowing to big business. Jason Koebler writes at Motherboard:
At least 20 additional American cities have expressed a formal interest in joining a coalition that’s dedicated to bringing gigabit internet speeds to their residents by any means necessary—even if it means building the infrastructure themselves.
The Next Centuries Cities coalition launched last week with an impressive list of 32 cities in 19 states who recognize that fast internet speeds unencumbered by fast lanes or other tiered systems are necessary to keep residents and businesses happy.
The group includes cities that have built their own municipal broadband networks, cities that want to build their own, and cities that have worked with companies such as Google to bring fiber, gigabit-speed internet to their residents—the idea being that cities that don’t have ultrafast internet can learn how to jump through legislative and logistical hoops from those who have been there before.
The group’s launch event was so successful that Deb Socia, the group’s executive director, says at least 20 more cities have already asked to join, and that she expects the coalition to grow “substantially” in the next couple months.
“It’s already generated a lot of interest in other cities, so it justifies what we’ve been thinking all along—that people really want this,” she told me in a phone interview. “Over the next month or two we’ll formalize it. I think we’ll increase our numbers pretty substantially.”
Socia wouldn’t tell me what cities have expressed interest, because they haven’t formally joined yet.
These new cities would join others such as Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Wilson, North Carolina—two cities that have built their own broadband networks but are hoping to expand them to neighboring communities despite state laws being on the books that prevent them from legally doing so. To circumvent that problem, both cities have filed petitions with the Federal Communications Commission to override state restrictions.
“One of our principles is that communities must enjoy self determination,” she said. “Even if you’re in a city with an anti [municipal broadband] law, we think that decisions are made best when they’re made close to the people who are impacted.”
Socia said she believes that over the last several years, cities have really begun recognizing that if they are unable to offer their residents fast, reliable internet (or if big telecom is unwilling to), their growth and economic prosperity will stagnate. . .