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Hackers break into Dairy Queen's database

How many customers and which Dairy Queen stores were hit still isn't known

By Jennifer Abel of ConsumerAffairs
August 28, 2014

PhotoBad news for Dairy Queen lovers: a company spokesman confirmed today that yes, hackers have breached their customer database, stealing numbers and making fraudulent purchases with the accounts of an unknown number of customers from an unspecified number of DQ locations.

More specifically, Dairy Queen confirmed that the U.S. Secret Service had contacted them about “card-stealing malware.”

Security blogger Brian Krebs first reported on Aug. 26 that his sources in the financial industry were seeing signs indicating a Dairy Queen database breach. Banks, credit unions and other debit- or credit-card-issuing institutions from around the country were getting huge numbers of fraudulent-charge reports from customers who all had one thing in common: they'd recently used their cards at various Dairy Queen locations.

But Krebs updated his story today to report that a Dairy Queen spokesman confirmed that the Secret Service had recently contacted the company about “suspicious activity” involving malware that had been used to steal card information from “hundreds” of other retailers.

So far, that's all anybody knows: some customers, who “recently” visited some Dairy Queen locations, are at risk. As for how many customers, which specific locations in which states, and what actual time frame counts as “recently” … right now, chances are even Dairy Queen and the U.S. Secret Service don't know for sure.

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Keurig competitors crack company's DRM code

This is why your old K-cups won't work in new Keurig machines

By Jennifer Abel of ConsumerAffairs
August 28, 2014 Photo Photo: Mother Parkers

Last March, when we first reported that Keurig planned to require RFID-limited K-cup pods for its upcoming version 2.0 machines, we rhetorically asked “Will coffee drinkers be stupid enough to fall for this? Stay tuned.”

Now it's almost six months later, and the answer appears to be “No, coffee drinkers will not.” And there's two different reasons why.

You're probably familiar with Keurig and its K-cup single-serving coffee, tea or cocoa pods. (The company has, in the past year, also announced intentions to branch out into the single-serving soup and at-home soda fountain markets.)

And over the past couple of years, ever since Keurig's patent on filtered K-cups expired, you've also become familiar with the non-Keurig-branded coffee pods that work equally well in the original Keurig machines, usually at a fraction of the price.

Java-bean DRM

Which is why Keurig announced, last March, that it would change its machines and pods, to require what TechDirt called “the java-bean equivalent of DRM” (digital rights management), to ensure that only official Keurig-branded or -licensed K-cups could be used in the next generation of Keurig coffee makers.

That next generation of DRM-limited Keurig machines is on the market now. How's it working out for Keurig? Arguably not as well as they'd hoped. First of all, TechDirt reported this week that Keurig competitors Mother Parkers and TreeHouse Foods have already figured out how to crack Keurig's DRM code. More specifically, they know how to produce pods that are compatible with Keurig 2.0 machines.

Although such news should not be surprising. As early as June, the Motley Fool investment blog warned current and potential Keurig investors that “TreeHouse foods CEO Sam Reed said his company could replicate the next-generation K-Cup technology in less than one year. If Reed is correct, Keurig may encounter stiffer competition from unlicensed brands in the years ahead.”

If this week's reports are correct, TreeHouse actually needed less than one summer to crack the new Keurig code.

How does the Keurig “DRM” system work, anyway? It's not literally a digital rights management system, which usually refers to computer software, encrypting or watermarking data so that it cannot be accessed by unauthorized users.

The Keurig “DRM” actually involves printing the pods with a special ink. When the company revealed its version 2.0 coffee machines and K-cups last June, The Verge reported:

When the Keurig employee tried to use an old-model pod, one without a new ink marker on the foil top, the brewer wouldn’t run. "Oops!" read a message on the touchscreen display, explaining that the machine only works with specially designed pods and directing the user to a Keurig website and helpline. The employee wouldn’t elaborate on how it worked, except to say that the ink is proprietary and inspired by counterfeiting technology used by the US Mint. Ian Tinkler, Keurig’s vice president of brewer engineering, went into a bit more detail, explaining that an infrared light shines on the ink marking and registers the wavelength of the light reflected back.

But just how proprietary is that ink, in a legal sense? Can Keurig sue to prevent competitors from reverse-engineering the ink (or at least its infrared-reflection qualities), and would the courts side with Keurig if they did?

It's still too early to tell, but the fact that Keurig's “DRM” can be cracked with such ease doesn't seem to bode well for the company.

So that's one reason Keurig might be in trouble: because it bet everything on imposing a technological barrier which turned out to be ridiculously easy to get around.

The second problem is simpler, involving human nature rather than technology: Keurig customers plain don't seem to like the version 2.0 pod restrictions.

Remember our report about Keurig DRM pods from last March? Just this week, that six-month-old story suddenly started collecting a string of fresh comments from disgruntled Keurig customers who don't like their new machines. On Aug. 26, for example, regular commenter Rich Long remarked: “My old Keurig gave out so I bought a new Version 2.0 at Costco. Finding that my old cups don't work on it, I searched it on the internet. Price increases, freezing competition out, etc., I'm taking it back to Costco today and buying a Mr Coffee or equivalent.”

Only an hour earlier, commenter Shannon Steffin remarked: “I received the 2.0 machine as a Klout Perk (I'm a coffee addict) and I have to say: how disappointing! None of my other K-Cups can be used in the machine, a family member cannot use the reusable filter for her needed low-acid coffee brand …. I spoke with a VP at a coffee roaster yesterday and he told me that, in order to have your coffee in those nifty new K-cups, you have to sign over rights to have Keurig roast your coffee in their own plant - highly diminishing the quality of coffee roasted at speciality roasters. How annoying! I'm just going to put my 1.0 machine back on the counter and give the 2.0 away as a gift – although I'd hate to stick someone I like with such a limited product.”

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Has your vehicle been recalled? New website makes it easy to find out

Yes, there have been a lot of vehicle recalls lately – and not just all GM models. In fact, safety recalls have been issued for about 43 million cars, trucks and motorcycles so far this year.

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Feds take aim at undocumented watermelons

Supermarkets throughout the land are displaying watermelons without nutrition labels

By James R. Hood of ConsumerAffairs
August 28, 2014 Photo © Grafvision - Fotolia.com

Some people spend all their time inveighing against the ever-encroaching federal government getting its nose into every aspect of modern life. Somedays it's pretty hard to argue with that notion.

Take the case of the rogue watermelons. The feds are concerned because watermelons don't come with nutrition labels and are working on rules that would correct this oversight.

Perhaps genetic modification will someday enable watermelons to produce their own nutrition labels but for now, it looks like we'll be stuck with the stick-on variety.

Blame Obamacare

As far as we've been able to determine, it's only sliced watermelons that are currently being considered as outlaws. Apparently, a provision in the Affordable Care Act -- yes, that's right, Obamacare -- stipulates that as soon as a watermelon is sliced open, it becomes a potential restaurant serving and must be labeled with calorie information.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is, with a straight face, working on a rule to implement this provision, according to information harvested by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), a food industry trade group.

Besides watermelons bound for restaurants, melons arrayed in supermarkets may also need labels, as the act of slicing them open makes them "food on display," which would require calorie information "directly affixed to or adjacent to the item, not just on a menu or menu board, which is the required method for restaurant food," as FMI puts it. 

This might all seem rather absurd but it gets worse as one considers the practicality of the matter. After all, the caloric content of a given slice of watermelon varies with a number of factors -- like, uh, weight and degree of ripeness. Estimating could spell trouble. Stores that get it wrong could be subject to a penalty.

Exploratory slicing

Jennifer Hatcher, who is FMI's Senior Vice President, Government and Public Affairs and a self-described watermelon fan, says that leaving watermelons unmolested doesn't do the trick either.

"The first thing a grocery store produce manager does to expose his customers to the two best attributes of that watermelon – color and smell – is to cut it open," she notes, a practice that would be imperiled by the FDA's rules. 

"Both our senses and the way food retailers do business are being threatened," Hatcher laments. And, just like those obsessed with ongoing federal power grabs, she warns that government's overreach won't stop with wastermelons.

Birthday cakes displayed in bakery departments and olives left exposed in olive bars could be next, she warns. Much as Paul Revere did in his day, Hatcher is sounding the alarm and rounding up supermarket managers and, presumably, watermelon farmers to descend on Washington seeking redress.

Maybe they'll throw watermelons into the Potomac?

Read more...

Americans more satisfied with U.S. schools, survey finds

48% of Americans are "completely" or "somewhat satisfied" with the education their children receive

By Truman Lewis of ConsumerAffairs
August 28, 2014

PhotoKids seldom celebrate the end of summer vacation but parents are more satisfied with the quality of their children's education than at anytime in the last 10 years.

Gallup finds 48% of Americans are "completely" or "somewhat satisfied" with the quality of kindergarten through high school education in the country, the highest Gallup has measured since 2004. For the first time since 2007, Americans are now about as likely to say they are satisfied as dissatisfied.

Gallup has asked U.S. adults about their satisfaction with education since 1999, including each August since 2001, as part of its annual Work and Education poll.

The high of 53% satisfaction was reached in 2004, the only year more Americans were satisfied with education than dissatisfied. Americans were most negative about the state of education in 2000, when education was a major presidential campaign issue and more than six in 10 said they were dissatisfied.

Photo

Satisfaction has largely been stable in recent years, ranging from 43% to 46% from 2005-2013. However, satisfaction ticked up this year, and is now similar to what was seen in the early 2000s.

Americans who have children in grades K-12 are generally more satisfied than U.S. adults as a whole. A majority of these parents (57%) are satisfied with education in the country. Parents may be basing their evaluations at least partly on their own child's education, not just on what they hear in the news.

Optimism gap

For as long as Gallup has measured it, U.S. parents of school-aged children are more likely to be satisfied with the quality of their child's education than Americans are with the quality of education in the country. Most parents are satisfied with their child's education, while historically the majority of Americans have been dissatisfied with the quality of U.S. education.

This long-evident "optimism gap" may result from Americans focusing on press reports of inadequate schooling in problem school districts when they are asked about education nationally, but focusing on what they perceive as a much more positive local situation when asked about the education of their own children.

Read more...

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