Sunday, December 21, 2014

Archive: July, 2010

POSTED: Friday, July 30, 2010, 10:42 AM

Remember all those warnings that the new credit-card law would just muck things up for consumers -  that without the ability to make money the tricky way, credit-card issuers would have to raise interest rates, impose new annual fees, and do away with all their rich rewards programs?

Hasn't happened, according to new data from Mintel Compermedia, the market research company.

Last week, I reported here on the Pew Charitable Trusts' findings that most of the major traps of the old credit-card business model had been vanquished, as promised, by the Credit CARD Act of 2009.

POSTED: Thursday, July 29, 2010, 12:51 PM

In a call for more accountability from phone manufacturers and network operators, Slate's Farhad Manjoo focuses on a little-remarked aspect of Steve Jobs' mea minima culpa regarding the iPhone 4's antenna problems: Jobs' attempt to point the finger at other cell-phone makers by insisting that the iPhone's shortcomings were an industrywide problem.

Manjoo notes the quick retort from the co-CEOs of Research in Motion, the company that makes the Blackberry, iPhone's predecessor and rival, who blasted Jobs for what they said "appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public's understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple's difficult situation."  (You can read their statetment here.)  

But Manjoo rightly notes this is indeed a broader issue. It's an industrywide problem - just not the industrywide problem that Jobs claimed. Instead, it's a problem of companies' hiding the ball from the consumers they want to buy their products and services.

Manjoo pushed a couple phone-makers for actual data and got back more posturing - you can read about his efforts here. Then he wrote about his increasing frustration at the knowledge that the manufacturers and carriers know far more more than they disclose about their devices' and systems' shortcomings:

POSTED: Wednesday, July 28, 2010, 2:22 PM

A Canadian computer sleuth says he created a downloadable directory with personal information about 100 million Facebook users who have failed to tighten their security settings in light of Facebook's recent policy changes.

It wasn't hacking - the giant social-networking site considers the information public - but some users may be appalled at the result: Ron Bowes says they are all now part of a directory full of personal information such as their birth dates, phone numbers and addresses.

Reports about Bowes' directory have appeared on tech sites in the United States and Britain, such as Tech-eye.net. Here's what www.thinq.co.uk reported:

POSTED: Sunday, July 25, 2010, 3:58 PM

I'd like to hear from consumers about their experiences - good or bad - using mail-order pharmacies.

I'm especially interested in hearing from you if your health insurer either encourages or requires you to use mail order for filling prescriptions.  Insurance companies say that mail order's efficiency saves money for both the insurers and their policyholders, who typically benefit via reduced co-pays for multi-month supplies of medications prescribed for chronic conditions or preventive care.

As I reported in my column in Sunday's Inquirer,  "Pa. pharmacists push for parity with mail order,"  it's clear that some consumers have mixed feelings, at best, about the tradeoff.  They like the savings but  don't like the process: having to send in the prescription, waiting a few days or a week for their medicine, and losing the face-to-face contact with a pharmacist.

POSTED: Friday, July 23, 2010, 1:07 PM

Back in May, my Inquirer colleague Susan Snyder reported about how loans for for-profit colleges were leaving some students with crushing debt and little hopes of paying it off.  (You can read her story, "For-profit colleges leave many students in debt," by clicking here.)

Today, the investigative journalists at the nonprofit ProPublica expanded on that story with a piece about for-profit schools that are using misleading online pitches and President Obama's name to lure poor students into dangerous debt.

You can read ProPublica's story, "Bogus ‘Obama Mom’ Grants Lure Students," by clicking here.

POSTED: Thursday, July 22, 2010, 12:19 PM

There's good news for credit-card users, according to a report today from the Pew Charitable Trusts: As promised, many of the credit-card industry's  best-known tricks and traps for consumers were vanquished by last year's credit-card law.

The report looked at card data collected in March, and found that three of the law's prime targets were gone:

  • "Hair trigger" shifts to penalty interest rates on existing balances, based on minor account violations such as being a day late on a payment, .
  • Unfair payment-allocation schemes that trapped people who accepted "0 percent" interest rates on balance transfers into paying unexpected interest if they also used their new cards for purchases.
  • Meaningless credit limits, in which banks allowed people to spend beyond their limits but then imposed unexpected "over-limit fees" on them.

"The elimination of these practices marks a major improvement" since Pew last studied the credit-card market a year ago, before most of the new law had been implemented.

POSTED: Wednesday, July 21, 2010, 1:00 PM

How long can you claim to be "Going Out of Business"? According to my colleague Monica Yant Kinney, who wrote Sunday about a long-running sale at Cherry Hill Rugs, the limit in New Jersey is 90 days, and stores can't conduct such sales more than once a year - even if they miraculously stave off death every six months.  (Read her column, which is also about the store's ailing owner, here.)

The rules in Pennsylvania are even stricter, according to Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, a spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office.  He says the state limits "Closing Out Sales" to 30 days, and requires a permit from the city treasurer or borough secretary. The permit can be renewed for another 30 days with an affidavit stating that no merchandise has been, or will be, added.  "Anyone can file a complaint with the Court of Common Pleas in the county where the sale is occurring," he says.

So why do sales at certain kinds of stores still seemingly last forever?  Here's how Kinney quoted the head of Philadelphia's BBB answering that question:

POSTED: Tuesday, July 20, 2010, 10:54 AM

For weeks, Apple kept balking at even admitting there was a genuine signal-interference problem with the iPhone 4 - the so-called "grip of death." Then Consumer Reports, the nonprofit magazine owned by Consumers Union, weighed in with laboratory findings, and Steve Jobs folded.

The Times' David Carr sees this as a victory for an "old-media tester of everything from flooring to steam mops."  His very good "Post Mortem: No Hair Shirt for Steve Jobs" recounts how Apple ultimately bowed to the evidence.

But Carr misses an important point:  Especially in recent years, Consumer Reports and its parent organization have gone far beyond their familiar role of testing products and services.  They've become important participants in public-policy debates on issues such as telecommunications, auto safety, and financial products,  with a consistent stance in favor of consumer protection via intelligent regulation and pro-competitive policies.  

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 jgelles@phillynews.com.

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