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Sat02242018

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Consumer Daily Reports


Trusted reliable news sources from around the web. We offer special news reports, topic news videos, and related content stories. Truly a birds eye view on news.

Consumer News: Study finds e-cigarette vapors may contain lead and other toxic metals

PhotoA new study finds e-cigarette vapors may contain potentially unsafe levels of toxic metals, including lead and arsenic.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health tested e-liquids in the refilling dispensers of 56 daily e-cigarette users both before and after vaping, as well as the aerosols users inhale.

They found small amounts of some toxic metals in the liquids before use, but much higher levels were detected after the liquids had been exposed to the device’s heating coils.

Coils may leak toxic metals

A “significant” number of devices produced aerosols with potentially dangerous levels of lead, chromium, manganese and/or nickel, the researchers found. Aerosol metal concentrations were highest for e-cigarette users with more frequently changed coils.

Although the study was small, the authors say its findings are important and warrant evaluation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) due to the potential health consequences of exposure to these metals.

The FDA does not currently regulate e-cigarettes but has the authority to do so, the study authors noted.

"It's important for the FDA, e-cigarette companies and vapers themselves to know that these heating coils, as currently made, seem to be leaking toxic metals -- which then get into the aerosols that vapers inhale," said senior study author Ana Maria Rule of the Bloomberg School in a statement.

Health impact

Chronic exposure to metals such as those found in the study have been linked to negative effects on the lungs, brain, heart, liver, and immune system. These metals have also been linked to cancer.

The researchers note that the toxic metals found in aerosols were “often much higher than safe limits.” The aerosol is created after an electric current produced by a battery passes through a metal coil, which then heats nicotine-based liquids.

The fact that minimal levels of metals were found in the e-liquids within the refilling dispensers, but levels 25 times higher were found in aerosols, led the researchers to believe the heating coils may increase the metal concentration.  

The source of the lead “remains a mystery,” but e-cigarette heating coils typically contain nickel and chromium, among other elements, the researchers pointed out.

"We don't know yet whether metals are chemically leaching from the coil or vaporizing when it's heated," Rule said.

The full study has been published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Read more ...

Consumer News: The weekly hack: Tesla, Facebook founder’s college roommate, and Fortune 500 companies under attack

PhotoA local news channel in Australia reported that a bizarre hack prevented people from accessing its own Facebook page. When viewers tried to visit the Channel 7 Facebook page, they were automatically redirected to the profile page belonging to Arie Hasit, Mark Zuckerberg's former college roommate.

Hasit was an early adopter of the social media platform, but does not work for the company. He currently lives in Jerusalem and became a rabbi last year.

Individual Facebook users also reported being redirected to his page when trying to access their own profiles. A Facebook spokesman confirmed the instances but denied it was a breach.

The spokesman told The West Australian newspaper “this was due to a misconfiguration, not a hack or a security issue. We promptly fixed the matter, and the affected Pages are working normally.”

Tesla

Tesla is the latest entity to fall victim to crypto-jacking, a hack in which a victim unknowingly mines cryptocurrency on behalf of a hacker. Such breaches have become more common with the rising value of cryptocurrencies. A similar breach last week affected consumers who visited government websites in the United States, the U.K., and Canada.

Crypto-jacking allows hackers to put someone else on the hook for the expensive process of “mining” for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, a process that is so energy-intensive that experts warn it could worse global warming.

It costs between $3,000 to $7,000 to produce a single Bitcoin in energy and hardware expenses, according to research conducted by Morgan Stanley.

Tesla confirmed that its Amazon cloud network had been breached by crypto-jackers following an investigation and discovery initially made by the security from RedLock. Tesla added that customer data had not been compromised.

"Our initial investigation found no indication that customer privacy or vehicle safety or security was compromised in any way,"  a company spokeswoman told the BBC.

Fortune 500 companies

Last fall, the security firm IBM Security noted a “significant increase” in complaints about fraudulent wire transfers from its corporate clientele.

Hackers had apparently convinced accounting personnel at “some Fortune 500 companies” to transfer money into their accounts, “resulting in the theft of millions of dollars.”

The firm investigated and, in a report published on Wednesday, detailed the sophisticated measures hackers took to defraud corporations. They used stolen email credentials so that they appeared to work for the company, infiltrated existing conversations taking place online between company employees, and imitated vendors that companies did business with.

“In cases in which additional approval or paperwork was needed, the attackers found and filled out appropriate forms and spoofed supervisor emails to get required approvals,” IBM Security writes.

The report highlights the ability of hackers to defraud corporations without having to use malware, which law enforcement agencies and companies have been cracking down on.

Tinder

Researchers at the security firm AppSecure found a vulnerability in which hackers would be able to manage a stranger’s Tinder account by simply knowing their phone number. The news prompted Tinder to change its login system.

Read more ...

Consumer News: The best cities for consumers seeking a fresh start

PhotoWhere would you go if you lost your job, split with your significant other, or had some setback that caused you to contemplate starting over? It’s a difficult questions, and many consumers might not know where to start.

Fortunately, LendingTree has done the research for you. The online lender has published a study that ranks the best cities for those seeking a fresh start.

The study looked at eight variables in the 50 largest U.S, metro areas, ranking them as the most conducive for starting a new career and improving health, love life, and finances.

It considered local median income, rent prices, and state laws protecting consumers from aggressive debt collection. To make the list, cities had to provide opportunities for employment and career advancement.

The top 10

The top 10 metro areas identified by the study are:

  1. Buffalo, N.Y.

  2. Minneapolis, Minn.

  3. Salt Lake City, Utah

  4. Austin, Tex.

  5. Hartford, Conn.

  6. San Diego, Calif.

  7. Milwaukee, Wis.

  8. Baltimore, Md.

  9. Richmond, Va.

  10. Boston, Mass.

Other metro areas making the list include Raleigh, N.C., San Antonio, Tex., Columbus, Ohio, Phoenix, Ariz., and Indianapolis, Ind.

LendingTree says Buffalo tops its list because it has the lowest median rent – $738 – of any city it studied. It also found 94 percent of its adults over 35 are covered by health insurance.

Minneapolis placed highly on the list due to its extremely low unemployment rate. Minneapolis residents over 35 earn a median salary of $70,915.

Salt Lake City came in at number three because it has a high percentage of residents over 35 enrolled in school and single. It also shows up well when it comes to low rents and high incomes.

To gauge how residents of these different cities are doing financially, LendingTree looked at average credit scores. It gave extra points to communities where it found credit scores rose at the fastest rate, suggesting residents were improving their financial standing.

Read more ...

Consumer News: Airbnb adding hotels, luxury properties to its site

PhotoAirbnb has announced that it will expand its selection of travel accommodation options available to customers to include hotels, new housing categories, and a loyalty program.

The new plans for the 10-year-old company were announced Thursday by co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky at an official Airbnb event.

The plans include the incorporation of a tiered program, which starts with Airbnb Plus -- a category for higher-end homes that are vetted by the company to ensure they meet certain requirements.

“Every Airbnb Plus home is one-of-a-kind, thoughtfully designed, and equipped with a standard set of amenities -- whether you’re in a private room or have the entire place to yourself,” reads the website for Airbnb Plus.

All Airbnb Plus homes are visited by a human inspector “to ensure comfort, consistency, and design,” the site says. “They are checked for 100-plus things that guests told us they love, from must-have amenities to the art on the walls.”

Chesky also unveiled a new brand called Beyond by Airbnb -- a separate platform comprised exclusively of mansions and penthouses that will open this spring. This luxury tier of properties will include “custom-designed trips of a lifetime” at the “world’s finest homes, custom experiences, and world-class hospitality.”

Recognizing hotels

In a marked shift from its former stance as a rival of hotels, Airbnb announced that it’s officially recognizing hotels on its platform.

Hotels and bed and breakfasts were previously allowed to be listed on the site, but now the company will be giving these properties official classification. Airbnb hopes this will make it easier for customers to find those listings through online travel agencies like Expedia and Priceline.

Additionally, the company will roll out a rewards plan called “Superguest” that will offer benefits to frequent customers. Superguests will get benefits such as flight upgrades, discounts, and benefits. Airbnb will launch the new rewards program this summer following a pilot with 10,000 guests.

Read more ...

Consumer News: Nissan wades into ride-sharing with program designed around self-driving cars

PhotoRecent surveys show U.S. consumers don't have that much confidence in self-driving cars.

Nearly 60 percent of drivers who currently own a connected car -- defined as a vehicle with certain “smart” technology features -- said they wouldn’t buy a self-driving car even if money wasn’t an issue, according to a survey conducted by Solace.

But money almost certainly will be an issue. Automotive experts who tend to be autonomous vehicle advocates are reluctant to talk about what one of these self-driving cars will cost.

A 2014 article in Fast Company put a price tag on an autonomous Toyota Prius, used to demonstrate how a self-driving car can give new mobility to a vision-impaired consumer. After adding up the cost of all that technology, the publication determined that the Prius cost more than a Ferrari 599, with a price tag of $320,000.

That's why many automotive experts believe that self-driving cars will not be individually owned, but part of the “shared” economy. Nissan has apparently adopted that point of view.

Nissan getting into ride-sharing

Nissan plans to not only make autonomous cars, but operate them in a ride-sharing business model. According to Reuters, the Japanese automaker is “preparing for a future in which self-driving cars are anticipated to curb vehicle ownership.”

The report says Nissan is developing and testing a service it calls Easy Ride, which uses ride-hailing software to control its fleet of self-driving cars by putting it in the same business as Uber and Lyft.

Nissan is the first automaker to take this step, but it is unlikely to be the last. Ford and GM are both heavily involved in autonomous vehicle research and testing, and it's not a stretch to assume they might also consider a business model in which they operate some of the cars they produce.

So where does that leave consumers who are open and trusting of the emerging autonomous vehicle technology? As with any technology, the price is likely to come down over time.

Still, there is a lot of room between $320,000 and $30,000 – the average amount consumers now spend on a new vehicle. In the future, consumers may ride in a self-driving car, but it may not be parked in their garage.

Read more ...

Consumer News: Amazon gives the green light for more Amazon Go stores

PhotoThe plans for Amazon Go, Amazon’s revolutionary convenience store, just ramped up further with up to six more storefronts expected in 2018, according to a Recode report.

The company will keep its brick-and-mortar experiment close to home, adding more in Seattle where the first location opened, last month, with the next stop likely being Los Angeles.

Amazon Go is another peg in the company’s effort to flip the way people shop. With its sights set on a piece of the $550 billion U.S. convenience store niche, the move builds on Amazon’s jump into the grocery world’s fray with its purchase of Whole Foods, as well as the rollout of 13 physical bookstores.

True get-it-and-go

In what may sound like The Jetsons-meet-shoplifting, Amazon’s Just Walk Out Technology allows shoppers to scan their phone when they enter the store, grab what they want, and walk out without having to stop at a cash register to pay.

Artificial intelligence charges the customer’s credit card every time an item is picked up. If you change your mind and put it back on the shelf, the software removes it from your account.

Amazon doesn’t see this ingenuity of Amazon Go as another competitor to full-service stores like Wal-Mart but rather an automated convenience store stocked with snacks, ready-prep meals, day-to-day basics, and beer & wine.

Still, it won’t be putting its toe in this water alone. Kroger announced that it has plans for its initiative called Scan, Bag, Go at 400+ locations by the end of 2018.

While Kroger’s move seems like Amazon is entering a dogfight, the plans for Amazon Go are a little more deliberate with the goal of finding out if a cashier-less experience is even viable. The company’s announcement to expand implies initial trials are going as planned, but those have all been in Amazon’s backyard in Seattle. Greenlighting metros outside its comfort zone appears to be a move toward finding out how the rest of the world will react.

Are jobs at risk?

As of 2016, there were more than 3.5 million cashiers in the United States making an average of $20,180 per year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics had already projected that about 30,000 of those would go away by 2026, but digital shopping forays like Amazon’s and Kroger’s may grow those numbers higher if the technology behind Amazon Go catches on.

However, Amazon’s thrown a towel over that crystal ball, saying Go’s technology won’t eliminate jobs, but rather change jobs its employees do. “We’ve just put associates on different kinds of tasks where we think it adds to the customer experience,” Gianna Puerini, the executive in charge of Amazon Go, told the New York Times.

Those job tasks will likely shift toward restocking Go’s shelves and assisting customers with any technical issues or pointing them in the right direction. Although the store’s concept is “cashierless,” someone will be needed to check I.D.s before taking beer or wine home.

Read more ...

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