As the era of the internet advances everything seems to be interconnected. This connection of your car, home appliances and more to the internet is referred to as the internet of things. Because it might be connected to the internet could your microwave steal your identity? Sounds crazy but here is an example of internet theft via the internet of things.
Target Data Breach
Three years ago our sister site, Consumer Research Dept mentioned the Target data breach in an article about EMV cards, the debit and credit cards with a chip in them.
When hackers breached security at Target Corporation more than 70 million people had their personal information stolen. Target customers are busy changing pin numbers, canceling cards, and using cash. Then it turns out that credit card security was breached at Neiman Marcus in June of 2013 and no one noticed until December! The bottom line answer to this issue is for the USA to switch to EMV cards such as are used in Europe.
When security experts investigated the Target data breach they found out that hackers entered the server of the company that managed Target’s heating and cooling systems. Their advanced system could monitor stores and offices from off site. Unfortunately there was no computer program firewall keeping hackers who were in the heating and cooling system server from entering Target’s system for heating and cooling and then their main computers. Tens of millions of people were victims of identity theft by way of Target’s air conditioning. Could this happen in your home via your appliances? This is enough of an issue that internet security folks are discussing it.
ESecurity Planet discusses staying ahead of cyber criminals and the use of threat intelligence for protection. They suggest programming the internet of things to identify and fend off threats instead of being passive targets. Newsweek says that it is time to get smart about dumb homes. They are specifically taking about an attack on internet servers that took out a third of the internet.
This threat was exemplified by the huge DDoS attack on DNS provider Dyn at the end of last year and came through the weak defenses of the Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure. The Mirai botnet attack took out 33 percent of the internet and it was a “benign” attack, widely believed to have been by a bored American teenager.
You buy a new appliance and it connects via WiFi to your server. The kid who attached the internet got millions of appliances to “phone home” all at once. The sheer volume of traffic shut down the internet. But what if an attacker uses the Target approach and enters your home appliances to gain access to your server and then to your computers and smart phones? Then your microwave, washing machine or air conditioning system could be complicit in stealing your personal information, your identity. What can you do? In the aftermath of the internet of things attach it became obvious that no one bothers to change the user name and password on their appliances not to mention routinely changing again. Pay attention to what you have in your home and whether or not it is connected to the internet and to devices that hold your personal information. If that is the case keep a notebook, pencil and paper, and routinely change and update passwords on all devices including your home computer.
Doctors have long recommended that eating the unsaturated fats in fish, omega-3 fatty acids, will reduce your risk of heart disease. Is that really true? Consumer Reports casts doubt on the use of fish oil supplements and says they may not help prevent heart disease.
A new scientific advisory report from the American Heart Association (AHA) concludes that omega-3 fish oil supplements, which have long been touted as a path to heart health, may not be useful as a heart disease preventive.
According to the new report, published in the journal Circulation, only heart attack survivors and those who have already been diagnosed with heart failure seemed to benefit from taking the supplements. Meanwhile, other evidence supports the benefits of eating fish-such as salmon and sardines-for protecting against heart disease.
It turns out that one in five Americans take fish oil supplements. Unless you have had a heart attack for have heart failure you may not get any benefit from fish oil supplements. What does the study say?
Prevention of Clinical Cardiovascular Disease
Here is the conclusion from the medial journal Circulation regarding many recent studies of the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acids in preventing heart and other diseases, and our comments.
Although recent RCT evidence has raised questions about the benefits of omega-3 supplementation to prevent clinical CVD events, the recommendation for patients with prevalent CHD such as a recent MI remains essentially unchanged: Treatment with omega-3 PUFA supplements is reasonable for these patients. Even a potential modest reduction in CHD mortality (10%) in this clinical population would justify treatment with a relatively safe therapy.
If you already have had a heart attack it is a good idea to take omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
We now recommend treatment for patients with prevalent heart failure without preserved left ventricular function to reduce mortality and hospitalizations (9%) on the basis of a single, large RCT.
Based on recent research it is a good idea to take fish oil supplements if you have heart failure. Ask your doctor about this.
Although we do not recommend treatment for patients with diabetes mellitus and prediabetes to prevent CHD, there was a lack of consensus on the recommendation for patients at high CVD risk. On the other hand, we do not recommend treatment to prevent incident stroke among patients at high CVD risk and recurrent AF.
The doctors do not recommend fish oil supplements to prevent heart disease or strokes in diabetics or individuals with atrial fibrillation of the heart.
Because there are no reported RCTs related to the primary prevention of CHD, heart failure, and AF, we were not able to make recommendations for these indications. RCTs in progress with clinical CVD end points may inform recommendations related to these potential indications for omega-3 PUFA supplementation.
Although there are studies underway there are no finished studies showing any benefit of fish oil supplements in preventing heart attacks, heart failure or atrial fibrillation in individuals who are otherwise well.
Why Not Take Fish Oil Supplements?
The only down side to eating fish is the potential for mercury poisoning. Fish oil supplements are less likely to contain mercury that fish that are high on the food chain because they eat other fish. These include tuna, marlin, shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish and northern pike. If you stick with supplements and avoid excessive intake of fish mercury poisoning is unlikely. Then the only issue is if you are wasting your money on a treatment that does not prevent heart disease or stroke in your case.
If you have been looking for ways to lose weight you may have heard that green tea extract will help. Not only is there no good evidence that this food supplement helps you lose weight but there is evidence that it may hurt you. A couple of years ago we wrote about weight loss scams and whether you could lose weight with green coffee extract. Here is what to think about when considering weight loss supplements.
There are valid ways to lose weight and there are weight loss scams. All too often weight loss scams are promoted by those who hope to make a lot of money. With weight loss scams you pay a lot but in the end you do not lose weight or keep it off. We wrote recently about using green coffee extract for weight loss. As we noted you really can lose weight with green coffee bean extract in the very short term. But there is no evidence that this approach helps you maintain a lower weight. We also mentioned that doctors used to prescribe thyroid hormone or amphetamines which raised the metabolic rate but had dangerous side effects that precluded long term use. And short term use of amphetamines never led to long term weight loss. When doctors once believed that these drugs were appropriate they were acting in good faith. However, one our useful consumer tips is that it is not clear that current weight loss scams are anything but attempts to steal your money without any regard to your health or safety.
ABC 7 reports on the potential danger of green tea extract powder.
While green tea supplements claim to help with weight loss, Consumer Reports experts said there is very little evidence to support them.
The experts reveal the potentially serious health risks of those supplements.
You may have heard green tea is good for you, but don’t confuse drinking a cup of green tea with green tea extract powder.
“Higher concentrations of green tea extract can be really dangerous because it can potentially cause serious liver damage. Plus the herb itself has been found to alter the effectiveness of a long list of drugs, including certain anti-depressants and anti-clotting medications,” said Jeneen Interlandi with Consumer Reports.
It can also elevate your heart rate and blood pressure. Researchers suggest that up to 10 percent of people who suffer acute liver failure from green tea extract could die as a result.
When your doctor prescribes a medication for you there are two things in your favor. The doctor in all likelihood has your best interests at heart. And the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that any prescription drug has been proven to help for the condition you have and does not harm you either. Food supplements do no fall under the rule of the FDA. The only way that these substances are reviewed is if the manufacturer makes a clear claim as to their effectiveness. They don’t do this. What they do is publish testimonials from people who claim to have benefited from the product, such as green tea powder. And of the facing page of the magazine there is information about how you can buy it. It works the same way on TV and on the internet. The company does not offer clear proof but rather testimonials and you are left with the side effects while the manufacturer has your money.
Your cholesterol is too high and you take medications called statins to lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke. And when you complained to your doctor of aching muscles you were sent for a test to see if you have liver damage. Are statins bad for you, good for you or somewhere in between? The Mayo Clinic writes about these cholesterol lowering drugs.
Statins are drugs that can lower your cholesterol. They work by blocking a substance your body needs to make cholesterol. Statins may also help your body reabsorb cholesterol that has built up in plaques on your artery walls, preventing further blockage in your blood vessels and heart attacks.
Statins include medications such as atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), lovastatin (Altoprev), pitavastatin (Livalo), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor). Lower-cost generic versions of many statin medications are available.
But what if you get statin side effects?
While statins are highly effective, they have been linked to muscle pain, digestive problems and mental fuzziness in some people and may rarely cause liver damage.
One of the most common complaints of people taking statins is muscle pain. You may feel this pain as a soreness, tiredness or weakness in your muscles. The pain can be a mild discomfort, or it can be severe enough to make your daily activities difficult.
While a lot of people get muscle soreness that can be treated by altering the dose of medicine or changing pills there is a rare condition that is a lot worse.
Very rarely, statins can cause life-threatening muscle damage called rhabdomyolysis (rab-doe-my-OL-ih-sis). Rhabdomyolysis can cause severe muscle pain, liver damage, kidney failure and death. The risk of very serious side effects is extremely low, and calculated in a few cases per million of patients taking statins. Rhabdomyolysis can occur when you take statins in combination with certain drugs or if you take a high dose of statins.
So, if your muscles hurt tell your doctor. And regarding liver damage you should get periodic blood tests.
Although liver problems are rare, your doctor may order a liver enzyme test before or shortly after you begin to take a statin. You shouldn’t need any additional liver enzyme tests unless you begin to have signs or symptoms of trouble with your liver.
Contact your doctor immediately if you have unusual fatigue or weakness, loss of appetite, pain in your upper abdomen, dark-colored urine, or yellowing of your skin or eyes.
And how else can statins be bad for you? Taking statins may raise your blood sugar. However, diabetics who have elevated blood sugars have fewer heart attacks if they take statins. This is something you need to discuss with your doctor.
Sometimes statins are bad for when taken with something else because the something else inhibits the breakdown of the drug and levels increase to where they are a problem. If you love grapefruit be careful because there is a chemical in grapefruit that interferes with statin breakdown. Medications that interfere with statins are these.
Amiodarone (Cordarone, Pacerone), a medication for irregular heart rhythms
Gemfibrozil (Lopid), another variety of cholesterol drug
Protease inhibitors, such as saquinavir (Invirase) and ritonavir (Norvir)
Some antibiotic and antifungal medications, such as clarithromycin (Biaxin) and itraconazole (Onmel, Sporanox)
Some immunosuppressant medications, such as cyclosporine (Gengraf, Neoral, Sandimmune)
Make sure that you doctor knows if you are taking any of these because they may interfere with statin breakdown and be bad for you.
The possibility of side effects is not a reason to avoid statins because they have been shown to reduce the incidence of heart attacks and strokes but you need to discuss the pros and cons with your physician.
So you want to rely less on the power grid for heating and cooling your home and along the way reduce what you pay for electricity. You are thinking that solar panels would be a good way to go and would be environmentally friendly as well. But then you start shopping around and you get confused by prices and specifications. What should you have to pay for solar panels, passive solar heating and the like? Clean Technica says there is a consumer information tool recently released by SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association).
People who want to purchase or lease a residential solar system are faced with a welter of unfamiliar and sometimes conflicting information. Often, deciphering it all is an overwhelming process, especially if the home owner is soliciting bids from two or more solar contractors.
The folks at SEIA have created the SEIA Solar Purchase Disclosure which is modeled after the HUD-1 form that specifies terms and conditions for mortgages.
You can use this form to make sure that you are comparing like products and capabilities when seeking to compare prices.
“As solar becomes more affordable, many consumers are paying cash or using loans to buy a solar system,” said Nat Kreamer, chairman of the board of directors of SEIA and CEO of Spruce. “The SEIA disclosure released today helps consumers easily understand the value created by, and responsibilities associated with, owning a home solar electricity system.”
When considering solar you probably also want to consider other energy efficient changes to your home such as if energy efficient windows are worth it.
What is the point of using solar energy and how can you do this? If you look on the internet you see a lot of ads. Before reading them or looking at the SEIA form take a look at the government site, Energy.gov for help in planning a home solar electric system.
To help evaluate whether a home solar electric system will work for you, you should consider the following:
Your available solar resource — do you have clear and unobstructed access to sunlight for most or all of the day, throughout the year?
The system size – do you have a roof or area large enough to accommodate it?
The economics – is it worth the investment?
Local permits and covenants – are there any issues with installing a system?
Solar systems are most popular because they are the most economical in the Southwestern USA where there are more cloud free days throughout the year and where winter days are not as short as in the North. When considering a solar system you need to look at initial investment and operating costs and compare these numbers to long term savings from generating part or all of your own electricity. What you should have to pay for solar panels should match the benefits you will receive. In other words if you are paying more you should be generating more electricity or have lower maintenance costs over the years. The SEIA form will help you avoid being tricked by the fine print in a solar installation contract.
One of the best gift choices, especially for those hard-to-shop-for family members, is a gift card. The obvious reason to buy a gift card is to give it as a gift. Your family and friends can shop with gift cards that you give them for birthdays and holidays. Or, you can shop with gift cards as a budgeting choice. If you have a $500 Target gift card you have a wide selection of things to buy. And if you run a business gift cards are a nice way to say thank you to employees. When they shop with gift cards that you hand out as bonuses at year end they will, hopefully, remember your generosity along the way.
Are Gift Cards a Good Idea?
A gift card is a piece of plastic with a name or logo that identifies where you can use it. You simply shop for what you want and bring it to the cashier. The cashier will swipe the card just like a credit card or bank debit card and debit the amount of the sale against the card. The sales receipt will often tell you how much remains on the initial balance or you can ask the cashier. Gift cards do not necessarily have time limits but it is probably wise to use the card within a few months or a year. Put the card in a safe place as it is like cash. You do not need to use a PIN number to use the card. Gift cards are a convenient way to shop and not carry cash. And, if you get a $500 Target gift card for free it certainly is a good idea!
Why Shop at Target?
The first and foremost reason may be that you win a $500 Target gift card. But there is more. Target is the second largest discount store retailer in the USA behind Walmart. It tends to have slightly more expensive but decidedly better quality goods than its larger competitor. The store originated as a project of Dayton’s a Minneapolis upscale department store. Over the years department stores have not done so well and discount stores like Target have flourished. Dayton’s is now gone and the company has changed its name to Target Corporation. What can you buy at a Target store? Target features electronics, clothing, household good, toys and lots of other items all available with your gift card. And a nice feature of Target that has held over from its beginnings as Dayton’s is a very agreeable return policy. Of course you need your receipt but you tend not to have a lot of trouble returning items that don’t fit or certainly items that are defective.
Why Not Shop Online?
Everyone seems to have an online presence today and that includes Target. You can use your $500 Target Gift Card for online purchases and never leave the comfort of your own home.
The new president wants to make government less intrusive. To that end he has signed an executive order that for every new government regulation put into place two much be taken away. There is some controversy on how that will work out. But what is clear is that Trump has appointed people who are likely to roll back the rules in many government agencies. One of them is the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC. Business Insider expects that Trump’s appointee to the FCC will have a lasting effect on the internet. What is going to happen to the internet under Trump?
President Donald Trump last week named Ajit Pai the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Pai’s voting record and past statements strongly suggest he will steer the agency in a more hands-off, pro-industry direction.
With a majority at the FCC, like-minded Republicans in control of Congress, and no need for Congressional approval to issue regulations (since Pai still has one year left on his five-year term), several hallmark rulings of the last commission are immediately up in the air.
The 2015 Open Internet Order may be the first to go.
What Pai does with the 2015 Open Internet Order, the landmark set of rules that enforce the net-neutrality framework in place today, is the sexiest issue on the table, and the one most likely to affect what the internet will look like in the years to come.
In short, expect an attempt to roll it back in some capacity. Pai, along with current GOP commissioner Michael O’Rielly, voted against the 2015 Open Internet Order, claiming it was trying to “solve a problem that didn’t exist.” In December, he said he was “more confident than ever” that the 2015 Order’s “days are numbered.” And he’s repeatedly called for a light-touch, free-market approach to regulation in general, a process he has already started on a minor level. Many of the major cable and telecom lobbies like him because of this predictability.
The question is if you should like the probable result. We have written about new FCC rules that protect privacy. Are they on their way out?
The Federal Communications Commission just protected your privacy with new rules to keep broadband providers like AT&T and Comcast from collecting and selling information about which websites you visit or which apps you use. This set of rules is a setback for the likes of Comcast and AT&T because they use the big data from their users to help target sophisticated advertising. Now they will need your approval to make money off of your user information. How can you protect yourself in this regard?
New FCC regulations also make collectors of BIG DATA pay you before using any of your info. That might be on the way out as well. With the new rules you only have to be careful what you say yes to. Now with the internet ruled by Trump’s appointees your privacy may have just left the building.
Super Bowl Sunday in almost upon us and for many the best parts are the funny ads. But, from the perspective of the advertiser do Super Bowl Ads increase sales? And if so do they increase sales enough to cover the expenses related to the ad? The Nashville Ledger says that Super Bowl ads face declining demand and value.
Super Bowl advertising sales have been slow-going this season, with only 90 percent sold by December of last year.
While that might sound like solid performance given the big game isn’t until February, consider that Super Bowl ads usually sell out in September or October given how long it takes advertisers to produce their big-game spots.
These are the primary factors driving this slowdown in ad-sales performance.
The reasons for slow Super Bowl ad sales as reported by the Ledger are these.
- NFL ratings are down
- Consumer viewing habits are changing
- NFL RedZone offering game highlights without commercials is siphoning off viewers
- The price of an ad has gone up to $5 million or more for a 30 second ad
- The ads are such a popular feature that brands suffer if the ad does not do well
Part of the NFL falloff may be that people are exhausted from watching TV and the Trump phenomenon. But also viewers like to see the action and skip the commercials which may be a matter of being efficient or shortening attention spans. Nevertheless sports fans multitask and use tools like NFL RedZone to keep track of the game while focusing on video games or whatever. And if people really don’t like your ad sales will suffer.
The price of an ad has doubled in the last few years and that is not the entire cost. It can run a million dollars so to just to pay the talent and produce an ad.
It is also a matter of economies of scale. How many more cars will Chevy sell and how much more beer will Budweiser customers buy? The cost of production is small compared to the possible return for these companies. For smaller operations it can be a make or break deal to pay for an ad and produce it in hopes of hitting a home run. However, that does happen. An example is Death Wish Coffee. BuyOrganicCoffee.org reports on the success of a small coffee roaster who basically won the lottery, two times around by getting a free ad and then increasing sales.
If you watched Super Bowl 50 you may have seen the commercial for Death Wish Coffee. Vikings rowing a long boat on a stormy sea that turns out to be… Death Wish Coffee! Mike Brown, the founder and owner of Death Wish Coffee, a blend with twice the amount of caffeine of most coffees, won a contest for small business owners who wanted to advertise during the Super Bowl. In the commercial a Viking ship forges through stormy seas, which turn into a river of strong brew that flows into the mouth of a satisfied coffee drinker. The contest sponsor, Intuit QuickBooks, paid for the production plus the cost to air it during the Super Bowl, a reported $5 million for 30 seconds.
While the commercial was running the visits on the Death Wish Coffee web site went up to 10,000 a minute and sales doubled. This is a great result for a small company but one that could not have happened if the owner had not won a lottery and gotten a free ad!
Trump is barely in office and the prospect of his presidency already has consumer rights advocates concerned. Is consumer protection going to be eradicated under the new administration? ARS Technica reports that the Trump team wants to strip the FCC of its regulatory powers.
President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team is reportedly pushing a proposal to strip the Federal Communications Commission of its role in overseeing competition and consumer protection.
Multichannel News has what it calls an exclusive report that says the incoming Trump administration has “signed off on an approach to remaking the Federal Communications Commission.” The plan, offered by transition team members appointed by Trump, “squares with the deregulatory philosophies of FCC Republicans Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly,” who will take a 2-1 majority after Trump’s inauguration on Friday, the report said.
Besides restructuring FCC bureaus, the majority of the transition team wants to “eventually move functions deemed ‘duplicative,’ like, say, competition and consumer protection, to other agencies, particularly the Federal Trade Commission,” Multichannel news reported. The story cites “sources familiar” with a recent meeting involving Trump officials and FCC transition team members. The Trump team has not made any on-the-record statements about specific plans for the FCC.
Is this just rearranging the chairs and cutting out duplicated functions or the first step to eradicating consumer protection throughout government agencies? Consumer advocates call this “a declaration of war on the most basic principles of universal service, consumer protection, competition, and public safety that have been the bipartisan core of the Communications Act for the last 80+ years.”
What Happens When There Is No Consumer Protection?
Reference.com explains why people need consumer protection.
Consumer protection is important for protecting consumers and instilling confidence in different institutions within the country. The laws are able to guarantee safety and quality of the products and services consumers use. A country can only experience a growth in economic activities when consumers have trust in the producers, so the producers must work to provide the assurance required to win the trust of consumers.
Just over a century ago the USA passed laws requiring that products sold for medical purposes did not cause harm. That seems like common sense but in the 19th century tricksters could sell bottle of liquid and claim miracle properties when in fact the liquids were poisonous. It took another 70 years before the law demanded that such medicines actually helped the patient. Consumer protection agencies are in a position to check on products and services and demand removal of those that are dangerous, fraudulent or simply a waste of time and money. Now we see that products such as dangerous magnets are being sold again and the Trump team is setting up to roll back consumer protection services in the world of telecommunications. The Republicans have a current majority of 2 to 1 on the FCC and will have a majority of 3 to 2 when retirees are replaced. We will need to wait and see if newly proposed changes to FCC rules are in fact based on a desire for efficiency or an attempt to roll back consumer protection.