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Google turns tables, sues an attorney general

Mississippi AG calls a truce after Google accuses him of selling out to Hollywood

By James R. Hood of ConsumerAffairs
December 22, 2014 Photo AG Jim Hood (Photo: jimhood.org)

We've all read a lot of stories about attorneys general suing big Internet companies but when's the last time you read a story about a big Internet company suing an attorney general?

It's odd but that's what's happened in the ongoing scuffle between Google and the attorney general of Mississippi, Jim Hood (no relation to the author of this story).

Hood has been a leading critic of Google and, along with AGs from other states, has persuaded Google to block at least some search queries for child porn and to stop carying ads for illegal drugs. But Hood says more needs to be done and he and 23 other AGs have written letters over the last year requesting meetings with Google. Stymied by a lack of positive response, Hood issued a 96-page subpoena asking Google to produce various documents.

Google did produce some documents, although Hood says they were so jumbled as to be useless, but it also filed suit against Hood in a Mississippi federal court accusing him of conspiring with the movie industry.


How, you might ask, do movies come into it? Well, Google contends that powerful movie industry lobbyists have been using Hood to bring pressure on Google to make it harder for consumers to find pirated movies and other contraband on the Web.

Hood was supposedly being influenced by a former Mississippi attorney general who is now a lobbyist for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), according to a recent report in The New York Times. 

But Hood says he was merely trying to protect consumers in his state from child sex trafficking, illicit drug use and other evils, and says Google is using the recent Sony hacking scandal to draw an overblown picture of influence-peddling in the entertaiment business.

"Feeling emboldened with its billions of dollars, media prowess and political power, some of [Google's] more excitable people have sued trying to stop the State of Mississippi for daring to ask some questions," Hood said in a prepared statement. "We expect more from one of the wealthiest corporations in the world."

Besides its allegations of cloak-and-dagger activities, Google argues in the suit that Mississippi and other states do not have jurisdiction over the Internet. Hood says he and the other AGs are simply trying to enforce their states' consumer protection laws.

Hood has now called a "time-out," saying he hopes that cooler heads prevail. But whether Google will withdraw the suit remains a question. 




Ten last-minute gift ideas

Time is slipping away so this might help

By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs
December 22, 2014 Photo Image: Lowes.com

The weekend – the last before Christmas – was huge for retail as shoppers hit the stores for last minute gifts. But if you still find yourself with more to do and the big day just days away, here are 10 last minute gift ideas.

Polaroid iD610 HD Water-Resistant Pocket Camcorder with 5x Optical Zoom and 2" LCD Since smartphones came along there hasn't been a big market for pocket camcorders but they seem to be making a comback. This small HD camcorder packs good video quality in a small package and its SD memory card allows for easy back up and storage. It's less than $20 at Walmart.

Joseph Abboud Joseph Abboud Mens Pebble Grain Leather Passcase Wallet Men tend to carry a wallet until it falls apart. It isn't usually something they think about buying for themselves. This Joseph Abboud leather wallet at Sears is an inexpensive but thoughtful gift, that may be greatly needed.

Berts Bees tips and toes kit This 6 piece gift set contains trial size portions of almond milk beeswax hand cream, therapeutic honey and grapeseed oil hand cream and hand salve. Available at many department stores, including Target.

Cashmere sweater It's taken for granted that no one wants to get a sweater for Christmas, right? Maybe, but there is an exception. If it's a cashmere sweater it is likely to be viewed in a completely different light. And cashmere isn't as expensive as you think, starting at around $30 at Kohls.

Cool tools For those handy – and not so handy – around the house, a nifty tool makes a thoughtful gift. For a son or daughter who has just moved into their own place, a basic household tool set can be among the most practical gifts they'll receive.

Photo Image: Target.com

Legos For kids, it's hard to go wrong with Legos, a way to engage young minds without employing a screen or diode. These popular toys are available everywhere, including Target.

Bose SoundLink bluetooth speaker Your smartphone, among its many other jobs, is a music player. It can hold hundreds of songs on the device itself and also stream music and podcasts from the web. But what if you'd like to listen without wearing headphones or earbuds?

Fortunately there's a wide selection of high-quality speakers that connect wirelessly, turning your smartphone or tablet into a stereo. The Bose SoundLink bluetooth speaker costs $130 at Target.

Clinique A Little Happiness coffret fragrance gift set Perfume is a traditional gift for her, but it doesn't have to be a cliché. Clinique's A Little Happiness coffret fragrance gift set, available at Macy's, is smart and stylish and costs just $40.

Modern Gent's shaving kit maca root Unless the guy on your list has a beard, chances are he shaves just about every day. So the Modern Gent's shaving kit maca root is a gift that will get a lot of use. It's available at The Body Shop, recently marked down to $24.

Metrokane Rabbit ZippityWine Tool Kit If someone on your list appreciates a good bottle of wine, you could buy them one. A nice gift, but once they drink it, it's gone. So why not give them the Metrokane Rabbit Zippity wine tool kit instead? It includes everything they need to open, serve and seal a bottle of win and is available at Bed Bath and Beyond for $20.


Consumers often pay a steep price for cybercrime

Despite promises, survey shows many victims don't get reimbursed

By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs
December 22, 2014

PhotoCyberattacks are in the news this month, especially when Sony Pictures was victimized by hackers intent on preventing a new movie satirizing North Korea's ruler from being shown, broke into the company's network.

But attacks on consumers are a much more common occurrence. We hear a lot about consumers falling for online scams, having their credit and debit card accounts hacked and being victimized by other types of cyber-fraud. We rarely hear about what happens next.

Do these stories have a happy ending? It turns out a lot of them don't.

Still waiting for their money

A survey by Kaspersky Lab and B2B International found that nearly half of the consumers who reported losing money in fraudulent online transactions did not get all – or sometimes any – of their money back.

Remember that many banks and credit card companies have policies of reimbursing money lost due to cybercrime. Despite that, only 56% of respondents reported that they could fully recoup their losses.

Of those who lost money, 16% of victims received only partial compensation while 28% said they couldn't recover any.

Consumers in some countries have it worse than others. In places like Russia, 58% of those surveyed said there was no hope of getting any money back, and 13% received only part of the stolen money.

Some of the losses are significant. The average amount stolen by cybercriminals was $218 and 18% of respondents reported a loss in excess of $1,000.

“Even if you are sure that the financial company or online store will refund any stolen money in the event of online fraud, you should still be cautious, said Elena Kharchenko, head of Consumer Product Management, Kaspersky Lab. “You may indeed get all the money back – although the figures suggest this only happens about half the time – but the time and stress you will suffer are impossible to compensate. That’s why it’s important to pay special attention to the protection of confidential information, including your financial data.”

Lack of awareness

Some consumers fall victim because they aren't aware of the danger. The survey found that 22% of respondents believe they won't be the target of an attack. However, statistics show that about 43% of users faced financial cyberthreats at least once during the previous year.

CNA Financial, an insurance provider, warns the threat is growing and is especially dangerous around busy shopping periods like the holiday season.

"The digital universe has become increasingly complex and it's important to know how to protect your identity online," said Robert Allen, CNA's Chief Security Officer. "As convenient, quick and easy as online shopping can be, it also leaves businesses and individuals vulnerable to security risks."


The company offers a number of consumer tips to reduce your risk when shopping online:

Make sure the site is secure. Once you're ready to check out, look for signs that the site is secure, including locating the "closed padlock" icon on your Web browser's address bar. Other sites may have a URL address that begins with "https://"; the "s" means the site is secure.

Don't shop on a public Wi-Fi connection. If you don't have to use a password to get online, the network isn't secure. Someone else on the network could actually monitor what you're doing online. Sometimes, attackers create fake networks which allow them to intercept and modify communication between two parties.

Stay current with your security updates. All software, Web browsers and operating systems should be up to date.

Don't save credentials in Web browsers. When a pop-up displays asking if you want the site to save your information, click "Continue Without Saving." Hackers will use stored data, including saved credentials.

Avoid using debit cards. Even with debit protections, if your cards information is stolen, the money is taken immediately from your account. Getting that money back may prove to be difficult.

Keep a paper trail. Print and/or save records of your transaction, including the product description, price, receipt, terms of the sale and copies of any communications from the vendor. After receiving your credit card statement, make sure all transactions match and there are no unauthorized charges.


What you should know about pet insurance

It is amazing what veterinarians can do today these days – it's really people medicine for pets. And like people medicine, the price tag for some of these procedures can be staggering. Maybe you should consider pet insurance?


Why gift cards make bad gifts

If the thought of braving holiday crowds at the mall is driving you to go for gift cards, you’re not alone. Spending on gift cards is expected to hit a record high this year.



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