Sunday, February 14, 2016

Archive: March, 2012

POSTED: Friday, March 30, 2012, 11:12 AM

The Fair Labor Association was asked last month by Apple to audit three of its Foxconn final-assembly manufacturing plants in China - the massive, city-like factories where iPhones and iPads are produced for the world market.

The nonprofit group said yesterday that its inquiry, which included a survey of more than 35,000 randomly selected workers, had found "serious and pressing noncompliances with FLA’s Workplace Code of Conduct, as well as Chinese labor law."

This morning, PC Magazine says, Foxconn promised changes:

POSTED: Thursday, March 29, 2012, 1:27 PM

Business groups bitterly opposed the Consumer Product Safety Commission's new publicly accessible product-injury database,  It was designed to enable consumers to quickly report injuries linked to products such as toys, cribs, and household appliances - things that are usually safe but that occasionally come with dangerous defects - and to enable other consumers to search for such reports if they have particular concerns about an item.

It's too soon to tell if the new database, which posted its first reports on April 2, 2011, will significantly reduce the lag time between discovery of a defect and a product's recall, or encourage manufacturers to monitor  their own products more aggressively. But a report today from the Consumer Federation of America, Kids In Danger and Consumers Union suggests that the database is working largely as intended.

You can find the report here. Rachel Weintraub, senior counsel at the CFA, says that the vast majority of 6,000 reports in the first 10 months involve newer, well-identified products and reports from consumers themselves, in contrast to opponents' warnings that third-party advocates would clog the database and that manufacturers would be harmed by vague gripes involving older products. 

POSTED: Monday, March 26, 2012, 2:22 PM
Workers who haven’t applied for jobs lately may not know how certain terms affect one’s ability to be tapped from the applicant pack.

With all eyes today on the Supreme Court and the future of Obamacare - or ObamaRomneyCare, if you prefer - it's easy to overlook other news from Washington. But here's one that will matter to anyone who worries about Internet data tracking.

The Federal Trade Commission has issued its long-awaited final report on "best practice" for protecting American consumers in an era of ubiquitous digital data. And FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz says he's hopeful that it's all the nudge industry will need - with the threat of congressional action if self-enforcement fails.

“We are confident that consumers will have an easy to use and effective Do Not Track option by the end of the year because companies are moving forward expeditiously to make it happen and because lawmakers will want to enact legislation if they don’t,” Leibowitz said in a statement.

POSTED: Sunday, March 18, 2012, 12:01 PM

I've been out of the office, and will be for another week, but this merits mention: Mike Daisey's widely quoted account of labor conditions at an Apple contractor's plant in China has been retracted by This American Life, the radio show that broadcast it, for what host Ira Glass calls "significant fabrications."

I cited Daisey's report in a column two weeks ago about Apple's China problems, though I also noted that Apple was quietly questioning some of Daisey's most dramatic assertions, including the presence of underage workers at a Foxconn final-assembly plant.

In a blog post, Glass says the fabrications included some of those assertions:

POSTED: Friday, March 2, 2012, 12:16 PM

Credit unions added more than 1.3 million customers last year, more than twice as many as in 2010, according to this story in the Los Angeles Times.  That brings the number of credit union members to a record 91.8 million, the National Credit Union Administration says.

This chart from may help explain why:

Type of Fee Top 10
Top 10

Non-interest checking monthly fee $9.93 $6.50

Minimum balance to avoid monthly fee $1,626.67 $500.00

ATM withdrawal (out-of-network) $2.20 $0.83

Overdraft item $33.70 $23.40

Returned item $33.70 $23.40

Stop payment $31.90 $19.20

Incoming wire transfer - domestic $14.70 $1.30

Incoming wire transfer - foreign $17.50 $1.30

Outgoing wire transfer - domestic $26.40 $17.25

Outgoing wire transfer - foreign $45.50 $26.95

POSTED: Thursday, March 1, 2012, 7:39 PM

AT&T Mobility has now clarified which customers are subject to the wireless-data throttling I described last week, though it still isn't explaining exactly what happens to them, or give a good reason why - other than that they have the temerity to think that "unlimited data" means what it says.

The bottom line: If you use less than 3 gigabytes of data per month on your iPhone or a similar device, or less than 5 gigabytes on an Android that runs on the speedier LTE network, there are no limits on your unlimited data.

But go past those limits, and you'll be throttled until the start of your next billing cycle.

POSTED: Thursday, March 1, 2012, 3:35 PM
Xfinity is the new name and logo for Comcast's TV, Internet and phone services. The company announced today that the new name will be premiered next week.

In today's Tech Life column about broadband data caps, I told the story of Andre Vrignaud, a Seattle gaming consultant who says he was suspended for a year by Comcast because he twice surpassed the company's 250-gigabyte-per-month "excessive use" cap.

Comcast, which imposed the cap in 2009, is hardly alone. Five of the seven largest broadband providers now impose some sort of cap, and a sixth, Time Warner Cable, is experimenting with one. Only Verizon has refrained so far - and, as I reported, it's not making any hard promises.

That's a shame, because Verizon could be singing its technological advantages from the rooftops. "We don’t see the congestion that the cable companies are seeing," John Schommer, Verizon's director of broadband security and cloud services, told me. "We have a network that can handle a substantially higher volume of traffic." And Schommer can rattle off the tech specs to back that up: a network that can deliver 2.4 gigabits downstream shared among 32 customers, versus a good cable system's 320 megabits per second that he says may be shared, in a good case, among 200 customers.

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

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