Monday, February 8, 2016

Archive: May, 2011

POSTED: Thursday, May 26, 2011, 1:27 PM

I wrote Monday about my own encounter with a very rare species: a malware attack on my Mac computer.

Here's an equally rare sighting: Apple has acknowledged the attack and announced that it plans a software update to fix it.

Apple doesn't like to acknowledged any particular vulnerabilities to its hardware or software. More common is this sort of high-level reassurance on an Apple security-information page:

POSTED: Tuesday, May 24, 2011, 12:31 PM

Roger M. Beverage says he and his banking-industry colleagues once thought Elizabeth Warren was "akin to the antichrist."  Now he is urging President Obama to appoint the Harvard law professor as director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau - and to do so through a controversial recess appointment to sidestep the pledged opposition of 44 Republican senators to putting any single individual in charge of the fledgling agency.

In a letter last week to the President, the head of the Oklahoma Bankers Association urged Obama "to wait no longer":

Elizabeth Warren has long been an advocate for protecting consumers from bad financial services providers and practices and, as an advocate for “banks,” I’ve not always agreed with some of her statements. I have come to know her since her current duties began last September, and I am convinced she clearly recognizes the importance of community banks and small credit unions to the nation’s economic recovery and how they fit into her vision to protect American consumers and their families.

POSTED: Monday, May 23, 2011, 5:20 PM

As a Mac owner, I've always been pleased by the relative stability of the Apple operating system and comforted by Mac's relative freedom from malware.  Not too long ago, one security expert told me that while he'd seen Mac malware, he could count the number of serious incidents on a couple of hands.

A couple recent events have made me wonder. First, there was a report from Ed Bott at ZDNet on What a Mac Malware Attempt Looks Like. Then there was my own momentary exposure to what Bott described: an attempted "drive-by download" on my Macbook Pro by something known as the "Mac Defender Trojan." So could Bott - who earlier this month warned ominously that Malware for Macs Is on Its Way - possibly be right?

The response has been heated, to say the least.

POSTED: Wednesday, May 18, 2011, 11:01 AM

From January 2006 to December 2010, American households received more than 2.6 billion offers for so-called "business" credit cards, according to a new report from the Pew Safe Credit Cards Project.  The cards look, feel, and perform just like consumer credit cards but for one small-but-critical detail:  They don't have to conform to basic consumer protections - including the new safeguards of 2009's Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act. 

You don't have to be a businessperson have one of these cards, which Pew says are "labeled for business or commercial use, regardless of whether the account holder is a large corporation, a small business owner, an employee or an ordinary consumer."  You might have one in your wallet today.

Why does it matter? You can read the Pew report here, but Pew says the basic problem is that "while consumer credit cards in general no longer include unpredictable pricing structures and hair-trigger penalty interest rates, these and other potentially harmful practices remain common on business credit cards that millions of individuals use."

POSTED: Monday, May 16, 2011, 2:30 PM

One health-care concern that predates last year's Affordable Care Act is the country's chronic  shortage of primary-care physicians. So it's worth wondering why congressional Republicans are blocking a small provision of the law designed to help address that problem - "an influential commission to guide the country in matching the supply of health-care workers with the need," as Amy Goldstein describes it in the Washington Post.

Goldstein reports that nothing has happened in the eight months since the commission's members were named:

The group cannot convene, converse or hire staff because $3 million that it needs for its initial year has been blocked by two partisan wars on Capitol Hill — strife over the federal budget and Republicans’ disdain for the health-care changes that Democrats muscled into law 14 months ago.

POSTED: Friday, May 13, 2011, 11:10 AM

Has Facebook been trying to smear Google? That's what Daily Beast writer Dan Lyons says he figured out as he followed the trail started by a major PR firm with a mystery client:

For the past few days, a mystery has been unfolding in Silicon Valley. Somebody, it seems, hired Burson-Marsteller, a top public-relations firm, to pitch anti-Google stories to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy. Burson even offered to help an influential blogger write a Google-bashing op-ed, which it promised it could place in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, and The Huffington Post.

The plot backfired when the blogger turned down Burson’s offer and posted the emails that Burson had sent him. It got worse when USA Today broke a story accusing Burson of spreading a “whisper campaign” about Google “on behalf of an unnamed client.”

POSTED: Thursday, May 12, 2011, 2:03 PM

Meredith Attwell Baker may make a fine lobbyist for Comcast, and she may have been a fine member of the Federal Communications Commission for the last couple years. But her direct jump from the FCC to the nation's leading cable and broadband company, announced yesterday by the Philadelphia company, is just one more example of the disturbingly thin line separating federal and state regulators from the industries they oversee.

Comcast, you may recall, just completed a $30 billion takeover of NBCUniversal - a controversial deal that Baker was charged with reviewing before it was approved, with conditions, on a 4-1 vote. Her move to Comcast drew quick criticism about the "revolving door" between industries and regulators.  Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, a media watchdog group that fought the Comcast-NBCU deal, said:

Less than four months after Commissioner Baker voted to approve Comcast’s takeover of NBC Universal, she’s reportedly departing the FCC to lobby for Comcast-NBC. This is just the latest -- though perhaps most blatant -- example of a so-called public servant cashing in at a company she is supposed to be regulating.

POSTED: Tuesday, May 10, 2011, 2:45 PM

I'm anything but enthusiastic about the business uses of supposedly social media, but this one could grab me: Airlines are tweeting the availability of rock-bottom last-minute fares, according to Consumer Reports.

At a time when fares are creeping upward, that's a small piece of good news - and really the only actual surprise in a list of "How to land the best fare" tips that CR offered in an email promoting its latest report on airlines.  But since all the rest are evergreen, I'll pass them along as a reminder:

  1. Use social networks. Many airlines tweet deals. Two examples are @Frontier¬Sale and @JetBlueCheeps, where CR found a $10 one-way fare from San Francisco to Long Beach, Calif. But seats are limited. By some accounts, @UnitedAirlines’ Tware fares sell out within 2 hours.
  2. Sign up for promo codes. If you’re a member of an airline’s frequent-flyer program, you can often sign up for special promotion codes, which provide discounts from 10 to 50 percent. Promo alerts can be sent to you via e-mail, RSS feeds, Twitter, Jaiku, Facebook, and other channels. But the deals expire quickly, so you’ll have to act fast. The trade-off? Your e-mail inbox can get flooded with offers that don’t interest you.
  3. Work the Web. More than 70 percent of respondents booked their own flights directly on an airline’s website. A smaller number, 55 percent, compared fares on other websites. For the best possible deals, you should cast that wider net. Start with websites that allow you to compare the deals from multiple airlines, such as Airfarewatchdog and Kayak. Also try travel-agency sites, such as CheapTickets, Expedia, and Travelocity. If you’re a bit more adventurous, Hotwire and, where you don’t know which airline you’re flying until after you book, are another option.
  4. Book early or late. You don’t need to book more than 90 days in advance. Booking about 21  days before your trip will usually get you a good fare. Price-comparison sites often let you sign up for alerts that will tell you when prices drop. Many sales are posted late Monday or early Tuesday making it a good time to shop, but bargains can appear at any time.
  5. Be flexible. Shifting dates by a day or two often allows you to nab a much lower price. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday are generally the cheapest days to fly. If you’re traveling with a group, consider splitting up your party. If you have four in your group and there are only two cheap seats available, online reservation systems will give everyone higher-price seats. Instead, check the price for one, two, and three seats on the plane, as well as for all four before booking.
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.

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Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist
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