Consumer Confidential
With David Lazarus
FCC vote could be game changer for Internet privacy

Nearly all discussion of the federal rules for high-speed Internet service approved Thursday has focused on net neutrality — the idea that all online content be treated the same.

Largely overlooked has been another part of the regulatory change: Privacy.

This could be a game changer, requiring Internet service providers to seek customers' permission before monitoring or sharing personal information.

"Potentially, this could apply to every Web request you make," said Marc Rotenberg, head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

"If the same safeguards that now apply to phone services are applied to broadband, this could have major implications for Internet service providers," he said.

At issue is Section 222 of the Communications Act. It requires that telecom companies protect customers' "proprietary information," such as how you use their services.

It defines such information as relating to "the quantity, technical configuration, type, destination, location and amount of use of a...

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Your Uber driver is quietly rating your Uber-worthiness

Here's the scoop from Wednesday's Consumer Confidential segment on KTAL-TV:

Uber ratings. Santa isn't the only one making lists for who's naughty and nice. Uber drivers are rating their passengers. And if you get low marks, you might find it hard to get a lift -- or you might find yourself blacklisted. What will get you in trouble? Drivers might penalize you being too chatty or not chatty enough or, God forbid, eating in their car.

Alli returns. A year after being recalled because of product tampering, Alli, the popular nonprescription diet pill, is returning to drugstore shelves. Manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline says it's come up with new packages that are harder to tamper with and easier to spot if someone has messed with them.

Girl Scout cookies. If your hankering for Thin Mints or Samoas extends throughout the year, you're in luck. A company called Wicked Cool Toys has come out with an oven that makes the sweet treats. Think of it as a modern spin on the Easy Bake Oven. However,...

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Critics are wrong about Apple introducing racist emojis

Here's what went down on Tuesday's Consumer Confidential segment on KTLA-TV:

Racist emojis? Apple has introduced some diversity to its emojis, those little images meant to convey sentiment in emails and messages. Now you can use various skin tones. But is the yellow skin tone meant to depict Asians? That's what some critics say. They're wrong. This is a race-neutral way of expressing yourself. Just ask Homer Simpson.

Car brands. Consumer Reports has ranked car brands in terms of both reliability and how fun the vehicles are to drive. Top of the list: Lexus, followed by Mazda, Toyota, Audi and Subaru. The only American car brand in the top 10 is Buick. At the bottom of the list: Fiat.

Tax audits. Thinking about cheating on your taxes? You're in luck. The Internal Revenue Service says your chances of being audited this year are at their lowest level in a decade. There's now a less than 1% chance of being audited. The reason: Congress whacking more than a billion dollars from the tax...

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SoCal Gas, third-party insurer should disclose their sweetheart deal

Southern California Gas wants its customers to pay extra for insurance on gas lines in their homes and it wants them to buy coverage from a Connecticut company called Home Emergency Insurance Solutions.

At least that's the impression many people could get from a recent mailer to area households from Sempra Energy, SoCal Gas' parent company, or, at least, on the company's letterhead.

The packet includes a notice stating that customers can pay for "home protection policies from Home Emergency Insurance Solutions" on their monthly bills.

This billing service is offered for no other insurance provider, suggesting that Home Emergency Insurance Solutions is preferred by SoCal Gas because of its superior performance and pricing.

The reality is that Home Emergency Insurance Solutions, a.k.a. HomeServe USA, a subsidiary of Britain's HomeServe, cuts in the utility for a piece of its action as part of an exclusive marketing arrangement.

Neither SoCal Gas nor the insurer discloses that...

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Your financial advisor soon may need to have your best interests at heart

For a quick take on the latest consumer news, check out Monday's Consumer Confidential segment on KTLA-TV:

Financial advisors. Financial advisors aren't required to act in your best interest. They just have to steer you into "suitable" investments, and those might not be ones that come with the lowest fees and commissions. A new rule being cooked up by the Labor Department would change that. It would impose a fiduciary duty on financial advisors to look out for clients. We shouldn't need such a rule, but with the greed of the financial industry, apparently we do.

No savings. According to a new study by Bankrate.com, about a quarter of all Americans have more credit-card debt than savings. That means they're just a single mishap away from financial trouble. It's hard in this era of wage stagnation to set money aside for a rainy day, but the experts say you should have at least three months' worth of expenses on hand. That's good advice.

Free shipping. Target is lowering the bar to...

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Feds slam Japanese maker of faulty airbags

For a quick take on the latest consumer news, check out Friday's Consumer Confidential segment on KTLA-TV:

Airbags. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cracks down on Japan's Takata for not cooperating with federal investigators. Takata's airbags have been implicated in the deaths of at least five people. There's a danger they can explode and spread shrapnel throughout the car, officials say. The company has been told to pay $14,000 a day until it straightens up and flies right.

Cable. Time Warner Cable is in hot water after using a really filthy word in a letter to a California customer. The company says it's shocked to learn the word was somehow inserted and says it will provide a year of free service to make amends. A Comcast customer had a similar experience recently with that cable giant. Seems like these guys need to do something about their potty mouths.

For more, follow me on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

 

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