Saturday, May 30, 2015

POSTED: Wednesday, October 10, 2012, 11:59 AM

Counterfeiting always hurts businesses that lose sales of real goods, but often causes only trivial harm to the people who buy the fakes. If you're foolish enough to spend $10 on a fake Rolex watch or sports jersey, your life isn't at risk.

Not this time. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration put out a warning today to anyone who has been in a car crash during the last three years and had someone other than a new-car dealer replace a vehicle's air bags, or who purchased a new air bag online to make such a repair: 

NHTSA has become aware of a problem involving the sale of counterfeit air bags for use as replacement parts in vehicles that have been involved in a crash. While these air bags look nearly identical to certified, original equipment parts—including bearing the insignia and branding of major automakers—NHTSA testing showed consistent malfunctioning ranging from non-deployment of the air bag to the expulsion of metal shrapnel during deployment.

Jeff Gelles @ 11:59 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, August 16, 2012, 1:44 PM

The controversial deal involving Verizon, Comcast and other cable companies - under which Verizon and Comcast plan to market each other's services - won approval today from the Justice Department, albeit with conditions aimed at minimizing the damage to competition. Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, quickly signaled that his agency would likely go along.

The approval drew quick and sharp criticism from consumer groups such as Public Knowledge (see below).

Both government agencies said an earlier spectrum swap between Verizon Wireless and fourth-place carrier T-Mobile was crucial to making the deal work to benefit the public interest - a standard the FCC says it must meet to approve any spectrum transaction. The DOJ said:

Jeff Gelles @ 1:44 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, August 9, 2012, 12:37 PM
Google will pay $22.5 million, a record penalty from the FTC but a pittance for the multibillion-dollar tech giant, for fibbing to users of Apple's Safari browser.

Google has agreed to pay $22.5 million, a record penalty from the Federal Trade Commission for violating previous promises but a pittance for the multibillion-dollar search behemoth, for fibbing to users of Apple's Safari browser about its online-tracking practices.

But the deal allowed Google - whose informal motto is "Don't be evil" - to deny that it did anything wrong, which was enough to cause one FTC commissioner, J. Thomas Rosch, to dissent.

What did Google do to stir the FTC's (mild) anger? The agency's announcement explains:

Jeff Gelles @ 12:37 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, August 2, 2012, 2:52 PM

I rarely get spam calls or texts on my cell phone, but apparently I'm pretty lucky. A new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which my colleague Sam Wood writes about here, says that two-thirds of cellphone users report having gotten unwanted marketing calls, and that two-thirds of text users have gotten cellphone spam.

Even worse, more than 1 in 4 smartphone owners report getting unwanted sales or marketing calls "at least weekly," and a similar proportion of texters receive spam messages with that same alarming frequency.

The report, which you can read here, also says many cellphone owners experience problems with slow downloads and dropped calls - the latter a complaint that goes back to the early days of cellphone adoption and that, to be fair, is correlated with our increased expectations for service quality. Still, more than a third of smartphone users, and 28 percent of all cellphone owners, report suffering dropped calls "at least weekly." More than 1 in 10 suffer dropped calls at least once a day - which is probably how I'd answer the question regarding my AT&T iPhone service.

Jeff Gelles @ 2:52 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, August 1, 2012, 11:46 AM

Yes, it's far away in the middle of what East and West Coasters supposedly dismiss as "fly-over country." (Not that I actually know any of those people.) But as Rodgers and Hammerstein pointed out in song, everything was once up to date in Kansas City. Now, it promises to again get well ahead of the curve, thanks to Google's ambitious demonstration project: a regional fiber-optic network offering superfast broadband.

The debut is less than 40 days away, and there are some limits on how much the search giant is willing to expend. As its blog post last week pointed out, Google is carving the area into "fiberhoods," starting with Kansas City, Kansas, and then the larger Kansas City, Missouri. To gain connection to the high-speed network, each fiberhood will need a critical mass of preregistered subscribers. (What's a critical mass? It's unclear if there's a firm definition; some fiberhoods' goals are listed online at 10 percent and others at 25 percent.)

But Google's price list tells the real, disruptive story: three tiers, including one at the bottom that offers 5-megabit service for seven years in return for the $300 installation charge, paid up-front or over 12 months, $25 a month. That's right: the superhighway of the 21st century, essentially without tolls.

Jeff Gelles @ 11:46 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, July 26, 2012, 12:16 PM

My colleague Joe DiStefano, writing about Sandy Weill's newfound appreciation for the Glass-Steagall Act's rules that separated staid, old consumer and commercial banking from the casino-style world of investment banking, skewers the former Citigroup CEO for his hypocrisy. Like other bankers who lobbied for the 1999 repeal, Weill made a fortune from the Citi colossus before it nearly collapsed during the 2008 financial crisis - and helped collapse an economy weighted down by too-big-to-fail megabanks. As DiStefano notes, no one is volunteering to give the fortunes back.

But it's fascinating to consider the company Weill now keeps, which you can now do thanks to American Banker's great slide show, "Who Else Wants to Break Up the Big Banks."  The Banker's slide show illustrates more than a dozen politicians, regulators and ex-bankers who have called, one way or another, for rolling back the repeal.  

Among them:

Jeff Gelles @ 12:16 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, July 18, 2012, 11:13 AM

The products Capital One's vendors pitched came with names such as ""Privacy Guard," "Credit Inform Premier," or "Payment Protection," and they would have been of questionable value even if all the details had been fully disclosed.

But two federal regulators, including the new  Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said today that the products had been pushed deceptively by bank-affiliated telemarketers - some for nearly a decade. They ordered Capital One to pay about $150 million in refunds to about 2.5 million cardholders and a total of $60 million in penalties.

In a joint action with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the CFPB also ordered Capital One to pay a $25 million penalty for tactics used "to pressure or mislead consumers" into buying the add-on services when they activated their credit cards, and the OCC's order added $35 million in penalties. The consumer-protection agency said marketers targeted the pitches at customers with low credit scores or low credit limits, and ordered $140 million in refunds.

Jeff Gelles @ 11:13 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Friday, July 13, 2012, 10:35 AM

Georgia businessman Robert C. Postell and his wife, Joan, lost a bundle in the market, and believed his brokerage, Merrill Lynch, had failed in its duties to him. So in December 2009 they did what their contract with Merrill required if they wanted to seek damages: They filed an arbitration claim against Merrill, now part of Bank of America, for more than $640,000 plus attorney’s fees. In May 2011, a three-arbitrator panel ordered Merrill to pay $520,000 in damages.

So how did the organization in charge of the panel, the Wall Street self-regulatory body known as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, respond?

It fired the arbitrators, according to this Bloomberg View column by William D. Cohan, a former investment banker and author of “Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World.”

Jeff Gelles @ 10:35 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
About this blog

Jeff Gelles, who writes the Inquirer's weekly Consumer 14.0 and Tech Life columns, takes a broad look at the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.

Reach Jeff at

Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist