Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

October 2010 Archives

FDA Rejects Yet Another Diet Drug: Qnexa

Another diet pill lost its battle for approval with the Food and Drug Administration this week. The FDA denied approval for the diet drug Qnexa, developed by Vivus, located in Mountain View, California. Overall, this is the third diet drug to receive a major setback from the FDA. Last week, the agency rejected the drug Lorcaserin for causing tumors in lab rats. As noted in a prior post, earlier in October, the drug Meridia was taken off the market.

A statement on the Vivus website says the FDA is seeking more safety information from the company about Qnexa, reports The New York Times. According to the company, the FDA wants more data on the drug's possible links to birth defects and heart problems. Vivus says it can provide the FDA with the necessary information in about six weeks.

A high incidence of heart risks also caused the FDA to force Meridia off the market. Back in 1997, the popular diet drug combo fen-phen was also pulled from the market after it was found to damage heart valves.

Unfortunately for those struggling with obesity, it is a common cause of heart trouble as well. As The Times reminds us, one third of Americans are described as obese. Obesity can lead to health issues such as cancer and diabetes, as well as heart risks.

The FDA is struggling to balance the risk of these diet drugs with their efficacy. A high heart risk is not worth the relatively minor weight loss that some of these drugs provide. However, this puts the agency in a quandary according to Morgan Downey, an advocate for obese people who also consults for pharmaceutical companies. “The FDA has gotten itself into a real knot,” Downey told The Times. “They can’t approve a very effective drug and they can’t approve a modest drug.”

According to The Times, there has been no new prescription diet pill approved since Roche’s Xenical in 1999. Xenical is currently the only drug approved for long-term use in managing weight.

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Nissan Recalling 747,000 Trucks, SUVs in the U.S.

Better safe than sorry is a popular phrase that should apply to every car maker when there are concerns about their cars. Luckily, Nissan is taking this approach. Nissan is recalling 747,000 trucks, SUV's in the U.S. over concerns that the vehicles have a possible stalling problem, The New York Times reports.

The Times quotes a Nissan statement: "We discovered that on some of the potentially affected vehicles, silicon vapor may form inside the electrical relay that supplies voltage to the Engine Control Module. Over time, this vapor could create oxidation on the electrical contacts in the relay that may lead to engine performance issues, including the possibility of stalling at low engine speeds."

CNN adds that the Nissan recall will cover 2.2 million vehicles worldwide including: Nissan Armadas and Titans from 2004 to 2006, Infiniti QX56s from 2005 and 2006, as well as Nissan Frontiers, Pathfinders and Xterras from August 2003 and June 2006. The Japanese automaker classifies the recall as voluntary and there have been no known accidents linked to the stalling problem yet.

Voluntary car recalls can be a misleading term. Although Nissan initiated the recall, once an automaker is aware of a safety issue with a particular make or model, they are required to issue a notice to the safety agency within five days. Voluntary or mandatory, this is one recall to take notice of. In extreme situations, the stalling issue could cause the car to never restart again.

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Cablevision Customers File $450M Class Action

What happens when you mess with viewers of the World Series? They file a class action lawsuit for nearly a half billion dollars. And who can blame them? This is America. I think it's in the Constitution that you have to show the World Series. Or the Bill of Rights or something.

Last night approximately 3 million Cablevision subscribers were unable to see the World Series because of a dispute between Cablevision and News Corp. The same may happen tonight with Game 2. Cablevision has said that it will reimburse Cablevision customers that opt to watch the World Series online at Postseason.tv. The package costs $9.95 per month and Cablevision will reimburse up to two months of charges, the company said in a statement.

The dispute revolves around a $150 million carriage fee that Fox has demanded Cablevision to pay in order to air programs on Fox including Fox News, Glee, House, The Simpsons and the NFL. Cablevision had been paying less than half that amount. The contract stalemate is now on its 13th day.

It looked like it was all going to come to a peaceful resolution Wednesday. Cablevision offered to pay News Corp., the parent company of Fox, the same rate Fox charges to broadcast the channel on Time Warner Cable. But News Corp. wasn't having it. They called the offer "yet another in a long line of publicity stunts," The Star-Ledger reports.

"We have told Cablevision all along we are willing to negotiate a deal — based on an entire suite of channels — under the terms we have reached with Time Warner Cable and other providers, or a stand-alone agreement for Fox5, Fox 29 and My9," Fox said in a statement.

Cablevision has now called on the Federal Communications Commission to intervene. Let's hope that everyone can work it out, and quickly so that Cablevision customers can enjoy America's favorite past time.

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It seems that 2010 has been the year of recalls. Perhaps BMW felt that once just wasn't enough. Just hours after an ABC News investigation highlighted problems with a defective fuel pump, BMW has issued a recall.

This current BMW recall is a voluntary recall of 130,000 vehicles. The recall involves problems with the fuel pump in vehicles that feature the High Precision Injection, twin-turbo inline six-cylinder engines and direct fuel injection systems.

In a statement released by BMW, the automaker said, “affected vehicles may experience a failure of the high-pressure fuel pump,” The New York Times reports. The problems could also cause trouble starting the engine and cause the check engine light to activate. BMW expects that around 40,000 vehicles will need a new fuel pump and some may require a software update.

The recall involves the following vehicles:

  • 2007-2010 BMW 335i
  • 2008-2010 135i
  • 535i and X6
  • xDrive35i Sports Activity Coupes
  • 2009-2010 Z4 roadsters with sDrive35i

In a separate BMW recall, the automaker is also recalling approximately 20,800 X5 SUVs to replace the low-pressure fuel pumps.

Before fuel pumps stop working, drivers may notice that the engine takes longer than normal to crack, the check engine light may come on and drivers may notice a reduction in driving performance. Fuel pump problems can be serious, as the engine can stop and the driver will lose power for steering and brakes. If a car loses power while on the road, drivers should pull over as quickly as safety allows.

So far, no injuries have been reported in connection with the recall. BMW plans to contact owners of affected vehicles in the coming weeks. Customers that experience related problems should contact BMW.

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Google Admits Street View Cars Collected Private Data

Google is finding it difficult to live up to its motto: "Don't be evil." Whether the technology giant intends to or not, it continues to find itself on the edge of prickly privacy issues. The latest dustup comes after Google's Street View cars, which carry a globe like camera designed to capture street views, captured sensitive WiFi data.

Google admits that its "Street View" vehicles collected complete e-mails, passwords and private data. It had previously disclosed the capture of some information. But it had not fessed up to obtaining complete messages and sensitive information.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the admission "validates and heightens our significant concerns," and noted that the state's investigation is ongoing. Google is now facing lawsuits in several other states.

This latest admission is igniting further inquiries in countries across the globe. Days ago, a Canadian privacy agency said Google violated the rights of thousands of Canadians. Investigations are also pending in France, Germany and Spain.

The issue came to light because Google, while capturing street view data, was also collecting WiFi hot spot locations. In the process, Google's cars also captured personal data. This despite the fact that Google designed safeguards (like rapidly switching the channels of their system) to prevent capturing personal data. Google has since stopped collecting the WiFi data.

But expect its previous data collection to cause major legal headaches.

The company was collecting this data in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Macau, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United States, The Associated Foreign Press reports.

"We are mortified by what happened, but confident that these changes to our processes and structure will significantly improve our internal privacy and security practices..." said Alan Eustace, Google's senior vice president of engineering and research. Whether that mea culpa will be good enough remains to be seen.

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A large group of Central Washington University students throw a party and consume copious amounts of Four Loko, a beverage that comes in tall cans and packs the punch of a six pack of beer and five cups of coffee. What could go wrong? Anything? Any ideas? Can you imagine any way that something bad could happen when teenage college freshmen down caffeinated booze with 12% alcohol?

Well, naturally everyone throws up and passes out, not necessarily in that order. Nine students were sent to the hospital after the Oct. 8 party. At first authorities suspected that the students were drugged. Instead, it turns out the high-alcohol energy drink was the only culprit.

The drink, also known by the nicknames "Black-Out In A Can" and "Liquid Cocaine," is now being scrutinzed by lawmakers. New Jersey's Ramapo College has already banned caffeinated booze. Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna has gone so far as to say that the product should be prohibited from being sold.

"They're marketed to kids by using fruit flavors that mask the taste of alcohol and they have such high levels of stimulants that people have no idea how inebriated they really are. They're packaged just like non-alcoholic drinks, but include a dangerous dose of malt liquor," McKenna said.

It will be interesting to see how successful states and universities are at regulating the sale of such beverages. Legally, the question will likely come down to whether the product is safe as consumed and whether it is marketed to underage drinkers. As far as the safety goes, it's a fairly loose standard. After all, alcohol and energy drinks are both already legal. In 2008, scientists and doctors petitioned the FDA for regulation over caffeine in non-alcoholic energy drinks such as Red Bull, Rock Star and Monster. Not much has changed in the industry since then.

Regarding the question of whether Four Loko markets to underage drinkers, the company said absolutely not. "Our cans feature seven different warnings about the product's alcohol content and the necessity of an ID for purchase ... we're the only manufacturer to prominently place a 'WE ID' message on our can. We also offer free, point-of-sale materials to stores selling our products that reinforce the importance of asking for identification when selling any alcoholic beverage."

That may all be true, but if teenagers keep getting their hands on the stuff and literally going loco, expect the legislature to eventually step in and attempt to regulate.

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Teething Tablet Recall: Can be Toxic at High Levels

Here's one for the tooth fairy: a teething tablet recall has been voluntarily instituted by Hyland's Teething Tablets after news that the oral tablets can be toxic when consumed at high levels. The basic premise behind teething tablets is fairly straightforward -- to provide temporary relief to your children's often painful teething symptoms.

CBS News reports on the teething tablet recall: "The substance in question is belladonna, which can cause serious harm at high doses ... some children taking the product experienced symptoms consistent with belladonna toxicity." Another issue with Hyland Chewing tablets thought to be compounding the problem: the lack of a child resistant cap on many of their bottles.

Symptoms of belladonna toxicity include: seizures, difficulty breathing, lethargy, excessive sleepiness, muscle weakness, skin flushing, and constipation, among other symptoms. The teething tablet recall comes after an FDA inspection of the company's manufacturing facility prompted some concern. Currently, the company is working to refine its testing, packaging and production protocols.

This is known as a voluntary recall, a type of preemptive strike by Hyland to limit any damage already done, and attempt to fix the problem before FDA demands a recall. A voluntary recall is often a smart move for a company, both legally and in the PR world. From a legal standpoint, Hyland is aware of the potential for liability, and taking the tablet off the market as soon as they were alerted to the potential toxicity will shield them from a never-ending barrage of lawsuits. On the public relations end, anytime a company is acting in the best interests of its customers' health, they are also acting in the best interests of their company's reputation.

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Toyota Recall for Brake Fluid Leak

Toyota has recalled more than 10 million vehicles in the last year, but still, more recalls are under way. On October 21, it was announced that the car maker will recall 740,000 Avalon, Highlander, Lexus GS300, IS250 and IS350 cars in the United States. The recalled vehicles will have the brake master cylinder seal replaced due to the possibility of a brake fluid leak from the cylinder, causing the brake warning lamp to go on.

At this time, no accidents or injuries have been reported in relation to this most recent Toyota recall, reports Reuters. The car maker has blamed the slip in quality that has lead to the recalls on the rapid expansion of the company. Toyota has replaced GM as the world's largest car maker. However, the company was forced to recall as many as 5.4 million in the United States this year alone. As a comparison, in 2009, the company reportedly sold 1,770,147 in this country.

Bloomberg reports that the problem causing the break fluid to leak from the master cylinder can lead to a gradual decline in the performance of the brakes. “It can cause a ‘spongy’ feeling in the brakes,” said Brian Lyons, a Toyota spokesman. The company has had 14 reports of brake fluid leaks.

The brake fluid leak is leading to Toyota recalls outside the U.S. as well. Reuters reports that in Japan, the company is recalling around 600,000 cars including, the Crown sedan model. The Japanese recall is for the fluid leak as well defective fuel pump wiring or both. Recalls have also been announced in China.

The company is trying to turn around its reputation and its perceived reluctance to admit flaws in car performance. Bloomberg reports that in order to restore the public's confidence in the brand, they must be open about any problems and address them quickly. The company appears to be trying to be proactive, at least on this recall.

Toyota found the brake-fluid flaw on its own, David Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told Bloomberg.

“Toyota’s action was uninfluenced by NHTSA,” Strickland said today. “They notified the agency as soon as they knew, which is fantastic, and they took affirmative action, which is the right thing to do.”

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Texas Food Processor Closed After 5 Listeria Deaths

What's the deal with celery?

The Texas Department of State Health Services told SanGar Produce & Processing Co. to shut down its food processing plant after a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak in chopped celery caused five Listeria deaths. SanGar issued the recall Wednesday of their celery. According to the DSHS, the celery was cut fresh and put in sealed packages that were sent to schools, hospitals and restaurants. They do not believe the celery has been shipped to shops and stores.

According to Medical News Today, Listeria can trigger miscarriages, cause stillbirths and premature births and potentially cause life-threatening infections in very young children, elderly individuals and others with a weakened immune system. The DSHS has conducted lab tests and found that listeriosis has been reported a total of ten times in Bexar, Travis and Hidalgo counties. Five Listeria deaths have been reported. Six of the cases were linked back to the chopped celery at the SanGar plant.

Apparently the outbreak happened in part to due a failure to properly sanitize the celery and other foods at the plant. An investigation found soil on a prep table, insufficient hand hygiene and a condensation leak above the food product area. The plant will not be allowed to reopen until health authorities say that the plant is safe.

Experts say that it is very difficult to accurately determine how many people suffer listeria infections, because most of the time it isn't serious enough for them to seek a doctor. Instead, they experience flu-like symptoms which run their course.

If you are concerned that you might have a listeriosis infection, the symptoms include: diarrhea, fever, muscle aches and chills. Once the infection moves past the digestive system it becomes far more serious and symptoms include mental changes, confusion, headaches, convulsions, seizures, stiffness and other signs of loss of mind and body control.

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FarmVille creator Zynga has a particularly tough row to hoe this week. On Monday, the Wall Street Journal released the results of its investigation regarding the release of Facebook User IDs by Facebook and social media app makers like Zynga. As discussed in a post on this blog, controversy surrounds this practice of allowing third party firms access to this information, who then may go on to sell it to other companies.

In a fast turn-around, PCWorld reports on October 19, that a suit was filed in San Francisco Federal District Court charging Zynga with violations of federal law for the release of user information to third parties. The complaint seeks unspecified monetary damages and injunctive relief. The action, filed by attorneys for named plaintiff Nancy Graf of St. Paul, Minnesota, seeks class action status.

The information in question, the Facebook user IDs, can allow access to the name and any other information a Facebook user has decided to make public. If the user has not set their online privacy settings to keep some information confidential, the ID can reveal the name, residence and other information about the user. PCWorld says some critics find this harmless, the e-version of looking up a name in the phone book.

But others are more alarmed. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a legal non-profit dedicated to advocacy for better privacy laws and policy, is concerned over the way Facebook polices the online privacy policies of its third-party application developers. The EFF may have the better understanding in this situation, of what the exact issue is. Looking up one name in the phone book, or googling a name, to bring the example into the 21st century, is not the same as consistently finding and selling hundreds of thousands of names grouped by a common element such as the use of an app, other product, region, or other distinguishing characteristic.

USAToday has updated their report with a reply from Zynga regarding the suit. The company statement said, "We believe that the complaint is without merit, and we intend to defend against it vigorously."

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Tylenol Recall Due to Musty Odor

Johnson & Johnson is beginning to outstrip even Toyota in the amount of recalls the company has had to face in a single year. This week, yet another recall for a J&J product was announced. Due to a musty or moldy odor, the company is recalling an additional lot of Tylenol painkillers.

According to a report by Reuters, the company is engaging in a voluntary Tylenol recall of the affected product even though the "risk of adverse medical events is remote," said a company statement. The specific type of Tylenol subject to the recall is adult Tylenol eight-hour caplets sold in 50-count bottles in both the United States and Puerto Rico.

A company spokeswoman has confirmed that the drugs which are part of this Tylenol recall were made in a McNeil Consumer Healthcare Unit plant located in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. This is the same plant that was cited earlier in the year by the FDA for violations of good manufacturing practice requirements. Reuters reports that products from the McNeil plant account for about 1 percent of total annual Johnson & Johnson sales.

Over and over, Tylenol and Motrin products have been the subject of the recalls dogging J&J. Some of the recalls have been due to complaints of musty or moldy odors emanating from the drugs. Reuters reports the smell was found to be a chemical called 2,4,6-tribromoanisole, which is present in the wooden pallets that product packaging materials are moved and stored on.

When asked if she though any further recalls would be on the horizon for the beleaguered company, the Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman answered, "I can't speculate."

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Graco Stroller Recall After Reports of Infant Deaths

The CPSC, in cooperation with Graco Children’s Products Inc., of Atlanta, Ga, is recalling about 2 million Graco strollers after reports of four infant deaths. The strollers under recall are some older versions of the Graco Quattro Tour™ and MetroLite™strollers. The CPSC is asking parents and caregivers to stop using this product immediately, unless otherwise instructed.

According to the CPSC, the agency and Graco have received four reports of infants being strangled in the recalled strollers between 2003 and 2005. In addition, CPSC says it is aware of five other reports of infants becoming trapped, resulting in cuts and bruises, and one report of an infant having difficulty breathing. The injuries can occur to infants younger than one year old when the child is not harnessed into the stroller. The baby can slip through the space between the stroller tray and the bottom of the seat, but the baby's neck can be trapped by the tray, causing a risk of strangulation.

According to the CPSC, the Graco stroller recall covers the Graco Quattro Tour™ strollers and travel systems manufactured prior to November 2006 and MetroLite™ strollers and travel systems manufactured prior to July 2007. The strollers and travel systems were distributed between November 2000 and December 2007. These Graco strollers were manufactured before the voluntary industry standard change in January 2008, which affected the space between the stroller tray and seat. As of 2008, the voluntary industry standard requires a larger stroller opening to prevent just this kind of entrapment and strangulation hazard.

A complete list of the model numbers, names, prices and distribution dates has been provided by the CPSC. The agency would like consumers to note that the Quattro and MetroLite strollers ending with the number 3 are NOT affected by this recall.

Consumers may contact Graco for a free repair kit. To order a repair kit, call Graco toll-free at (877) 828-4046 anytime, or visit the firm’s website at www.gracobaby.com. Consumers can continue use of the stroller as a “travel system” with a carseat. When the stroller is used with an infant car seat, the child is protected from the entrapment and strangulation hazards.

For more information from the company, consumers can contact Graco at (800) 345-4109 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

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300 Chinese Drywall Cases Settle

A settlement and some relief for a few of the many homeowners with homes made with Chinese drywall was announced on October 15. Three hundred homes in Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi will be repaired under the settlement reached with drywall manufacturer Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin (KPT) and several other companies. Knauf Plasterboard is said to be responsible for about one-fifth of the tainted drywall in the country.

According to a report by The Miami Herald, the settlement will cover costs for the homeowners that include a re-build of the interior of their homes, relocation costs and attorneys fees. However, there are some strict limitations on the settlement. According to the parties' agreement, for a homeowner to qualify, at least 95% of the drywall in their home must have come from KPT.

For those plaintiffs who were part of a class action in Miami-Dade County, any homeowner with a smaller percentage of Knauf drywall in the home must reimburse the company for that proportion of repairs. Making for further difficulties, is the lack of evidence showing how much drywall is in each home. According to The Herald, in South Florida, some homes were built with a mix of KPT drywall and with materials from other companies. To further complicate matters, some drywall distributors say they don't have records that would show which kind of drywall was delivered to which homes during their construction.

The percentage based solution proposed in this settlement is already causing difficulties for some of the plaintiffs. Although he calls the pilot program an important step forward, attorney Victor Diaz has some reservations about the settlement and is still in negotiation with KPT on behalf of his clients, who are part of the Miami-Dade class action. "As one of the epicenters of this crisis, it's important that Miami-Dade be included and on the same terms as everybody else. If 50 percent of the drywall contaminated 100 percent of the house, why shouldn't they reimburse 100 percent of the cost?'' Diaz told The Herald.

KPT has identified about 40 homes which the company could begin repairing as soon as Monday, October 18. About 300 others will likely be a part of the first group set for repairs. If the repairs on the initial group of homes go smoothly, Knauf would consider repairing hundreds more, attorney Gregory Wallance told The Herald.

This settlement agreement will not affect every lawsuit and claim. According to The Herald, Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin is the only manufacturer of defective board that has responded to U.S. court proceedings.

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Class Action Filed in Baby Sleep Positioners Recall

On September 30, FindLaw's Common Law noted the warning issued by the CPSC and FDA regarding the use of sleep positioners for infants. The bolster-like products were supposed to help babies sleep on their backs, the position recommended to help prevent breathing problems and which lessens incidents of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS. Instead, the government agencies warned of reports of suffocation caused by the sleep positioners. The week of October 4, a lawsuit against the makers of the sleep positioners was filed.

The lawsuit was brought against eight manufacturers of the infant products, reports ConsumerAffairs.com. Seeking class action status, the suit was brought on behalf of Illinois consumers who purchased the sleep positioners from any of the defendant companies during the applicable time period. According to ConsumerAffairs, the suit claims there are possibly thousands of consumers who could become part of the action.

Plaintiffs claim the companies represented the sleep positioners would help prevent crib deaths from SIDS, but in fact they had no scientific evidence to support these claims. The single cause of action brought under the suit is that of consumer fraud and alleges the defendants engaged in fraudulent and deceptive practices by making the unsupported claims about their products.

ConsumerAffairs reports the eight companies listed in the lawsuit are as follows: Learning Curve Brands d/b/a The First Years Company; Summer Infant, Inc.; Kid Brands, Inc. d/b/a Sassy; Dex Products, Inc.; Kiwi Holdings, Inc. d/b/a Basic Comfort; Prince Lionheart, Inc.; Baby Delight, Inc.; and Munckin, Inc.

When it issued its warning regarding the sleep positioners, the FDA said it had not given any approval regarding the safety of the products for their advertised use. At the time the warning was issued, FDA Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the F.D.A.’s principal deputy commissioner, told the New York Times, "To date, there is no scientifically sound evidence that infant sleep positioners prevent SIDS.”

ConsumerAffairs reports that according to the FDA and the CPSC, in the past 13 years, there have been reports of 12 infant deaths related to the sleep positioners.

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Facebook Privacy Breach Exposes Users' Facebook IDs

Step away from the animals a moment, Farmville folks. You and the users of at least ten of Facebook's other most popular apps could be the subject of a Facebook privacy breach. The apps involved have allowed access to user's names and, in some cases, their friends' names to dozens of advertising and internet tracking companies.

According to an investigation by The Wall Street Journal, even those users who thought they had their privacy settings set at the strictest levels have been vulnerable. It is not yet clear how long the privacy breach existed, but the company made an announcement on Sunday, October 17, that they would work to "dramatically limit" potential exposure of personal information to outside sources.

The Journal reports that it discovered the top 10 Facebook apps were allowing user IDs to be transmitted to outside companies. The apps that were affected include FarmVille, Texas HoldEm Poker, FrontierVille, Phrases, Causes, Cafe World, MafiaWars, Quiz Planet, Treasure Isle and Heart.

So what exact information is being given to the outside companies? According to The Journal, the Facebook ID number (given to every Facebook user) has been passed on to the third party companies. This is of concern because the ID number can be used to access a user's name, even if their privacy settings are set so that all of their information is supposed to remain private. If a user did not use this level of security, the ID can give any information that is set to "everyone" including age, where the user lives, occupation and any posted pictures.

Who does the information go to? The Journal reports that "at least 25" data or ad firms had access to this information. One of data companies, RapLeaf Inc., reportedly added the Facebook ID's to its company database of online users, which it then sells to other companies. However, RapLeaf defended its action saying it was accidental. "We didn't do it on purpose," Joel Jewitt, vice president of business development for RapLeaf, told The Journal.

This kind of Facebook privacy breach could lead to just one more class action suit against the company, or possibly even the makers of the apps such as Zynga, who produces FarmVille, FrontierVille and Texas HoldEm, among others. Zynga has faced legal challenges over alleged scams linked to the purchase of game credits. For its part, Facebook has had to shut down projects such as Beacon, after being sued. Although the apps do ask for personal information before a user can join, a Zynga spokeswoman told The Journal the company has a strict policy against passing information to third parties.

The Journal reports that news of this dissemination of user IDs came just after the company announced it had created a control panel that lets users see which apps are accessing which categories of information about them.

According to Facebook, 70% of users use apps each month. On Facebook, you are what you app, so use wisely.

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FCC to Propose Rules Regulating Cell Phone ‘Bill Shock’

Watch out for "Bill Shock"

Whether or not you have heard of it by name, if you have a cell phone, you have probably had to deal with frustrating business practices such as early termination fees (ETFs). The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, gave a speech on Wednesday and promised that the FCC would work to put and end to bill shock, though he was short on details.

In general, the bill shock policy would require cell phone carriers to do a better job of keeping consumers informed. For example, carriers would have to warn users when they are nearing their maximum of voice, data and text limits. This would in turn lower many consumers monthly bills.

According to Genachowski, ETFs are sometimes reasonable because consumers are given a steep discount when they sign up for their phone plan. This is known in the industry as "phone subsidies." However Genachowski said that the fees are too confusing. In addition, The Washington Post noted that consumer advocates argue that ETFs prevent competition because consumer wind up locked into multi-year contracts.

"There’s no reason we shouldn’t have clear and simple disclosure around ETFs," Genachowski said. "The more consumers know, the more likely it is that the company offering the best product, or service, or price will come out on top – driving competition, which drives innovation, resulting in better and more useful products for the American people."

Not everyone thinks that the bill shock proposal is a good idea. For example, CTIA, the trade group for the wireless industry, thinks that it is unnecessary. CTIA cites the fact that all wireless providers already offer ways for consumers to check their accounts. "...we are concerned that prescriptive and costly rules that limit the creative offerings and competitive nature of the industry may threaten to offset these positive trends,” said Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA, The Washington Post reports.

It's certainly something to keep an eye on. But until the proposal is actually enacted, keep a close eye on that cell phone bill, even if it pains you.

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FDA Warning: Osteoporosis Drugs May Cause Fractures

The Food and Drug Administration is issuing a warning to patients taking the bisphosphonate class of osteoporosis drugs for more than five years. These drugs can cause a rare but serious type of thigh bone fracture, and the FDA wants those using these drugs to be aware of the risk. Bisphosphonates are used to prevent osteoporosis and include commonly known names such as Actonel, Atelvia, Boniva, Fosamax, Reclast, as well as the generic versions of those drugs.

According to WebMD, the fractures, called atypical femur fractures are more commonly found in patients taking this type of osteoporosis drugs than in those who take other types. The FDA issued the warning on October 14, and it will also begin to appear on the labels of the drugs.

Patients who have this kind of fracture often experience a dull ache in the leg or groin area, reports WebMD. The pain is often the only warning of the fracture, as they can occur with little or no trauma to the thigh area.

It is possible for osteoporosis patients not taking these drugs to experience the atypical femur fracture, says Sandra Kweder, MD, deputy director of the FDA's office of new drugs. At a news conference, Kweder emphasized that those taking the osteoporosis drugs should not be afraid to continue. "This should not cause patients to become fearful of their medications. Bisphosphonates have prevented many fractures in the years of their use," she said.

Earlier this year, the FDA began an investigation into bisphosphonates. WebMD says today's warning is a direct result of that investigation.

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Meridia Diet Pill Pulled from Market Over Safety Risks

The Food and Drug Administration has ordered Abbott Laboratories to take its diet drug Meridia off the market in the U.S. The company has said it will comply, even though it maintains the drug is safe and effective in some patients. Meridia has been a source of controversy since studies linked the diet drug to increased chance of stroke or heart attack in some patients.

Meridia was approved in 1997, reports Bloomberg, even though there was some evidence at the time the drug could raise blood pressure and heart rate. In January of this year, Meridia was taken off the market in Europe. The FDA did not follow suit, waiting to review more data from the study which linked the drug to a 16 percent increase of major cardiovascular side effects in 10,000 high risk patients. The agency also waited for the review of a panel of outside experts.

According to Bloomberg, warnings on prescribing information for Meridia were added in January to prevent the drug from being given to patients with a high risk of heart attack. Finally in September, the FDA advisory panel voted 8-8, when asked if the drug should be withdrawn or remain available with additional warnings or restrictions.

In a related warning, the FDA also said on October 8 that “several reports of serious side effects” have been tied to Slimming Beauty Bitter Orange Slimming Capsules. This diet treatment also contains sibutramine, which is the main ingredient in Meridia.

The recall of Meridia from the market may result in higher safety standards being applied to those diet drugs that follow, reports Bloomberg. No doubt new diet drugs will come up for approval, because the market is there. One third of American adults are obese, raising their risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

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Pfizer Lipitor Recall Over 'Musty Odor'

Pfizer Inc., the world's largest drug maker has done issued Lipitor recall -- recalling 191,000 bottles of the cholesterol fighter based on a "musty odor" emitting from some bottles. Reuters reports that the recall was prompted by consumer reports of the odor, although the company maintains that there are no adverse health problems from the unwelcome stench.

Lipitor is the world's largest-selling prescription drug, with annual sales over $11 billion. In total, seven lots of 40 milligrams of Lipitor were recalled -- five in the U.S. and three in Canada. All the recalled bottles came from a third party supplier that Pfizer declined to identify.

Reuters quotes Pfizer spokesman Rick Chambers, "We're working closely with the supplier to guarantee that we can meet our supply demand, including changing the way that the bottles are packaged at the bottle supplier, decreasing time to delivery, and relocating some bottle production to other facilities operated by the supplier." Interestingly enough, Johnson and Johnson also recalled Tylenol, Motrin, and other healthcare products following reports of odors coming from bottles; although the Johnson and Johnson recall was much larger in scope and scale than the Pfizer Lipitor recall.

Drug recalls, on some level, are fairly common considering the serious risk to a user's health a bad product can have. There are three scenarios which lead to a drug recall: by the company, by FDA request, or by FDA order. The Pfizer Lipitor recall falls into the first category and serves more as a preventative measure on the part of the drug company that anything else. This move can also been seen as helping to limit liability if it is eventually determined that there are health risks with the recalled bottles -- by removing the product from the stream of commerce as soon as Pfizer was alerted to it, the company is seen as being proactive and limiting exposure and lawsuits.

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FTC Guidelines: New Proposals for 'Eco Friendly' Products

How green is green? When purchasing products, how does the concerned consumer make an educated decision about which products will help them buy green? The FTC says there are too many vague and misleading claims by companies that their products are "green," so help is on the way.

This week, the FTC has released its draft guidelines for eco friendly products updating those first set up in 1998, according to The New York Times. Consumers don't always know what we are getting when we try to buy green. For example, most people think a "green" product means it is recyclable, biodegradable or made from recycled or renewable materials. Nearly half of consumers also believe eco friendly means a product is nontoxic, compostable or made with renewable energy.

Among other things, according to The Times, the FTC guidelines will set out the first federal rules for marketing products claiming carbon offsets and renewable energy credits. FTC Chair Jon Leibowitz told the press that consumers need to be protected from the vague and misleading claims companies make about eco friendly products. "For many products, confusion abounds," Leibowitz said. "We don't always get what we think we're getting."

The summary of the proposed guidelines breaks down a few concrete rules that businesses should follow. Some of the more specific rules include, limiting environmental claims to specific benefits, updated regulations regarding ozone-depleting chemicals, and putting a one year time limit for those products claiming they are bio-degradable.

In the end however, nothing will change overnight. The issues are complex and these FTC guidelines are not enforceable on their own. However, the FTC will continue the pattern of stepped up enforcement that has occurred under the Obama Administration.

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Happy Meal Ban Moves Forward in San Francisco

The possible ban on toys in Happy Meals in the city of San Francisco is headed for a vote by the full Board of Supervisors. A committee has recommended that the Board vote on legislation that proposes to ban the toys in the iconic meal from McDonald's and other fast food restaurants unless the sugar, sodium and fat amounts in the meals are limited and the meals include at least one half cup of fruits and of vegetables.

The Board is seeking to put the brakes on the rising rates of childhood obesity reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Some pediatricians have gone on record in favor of the Happy Meal ban, stating they see kids in their waiting rooms, sodas and McNuggets in hand.

However, even if the proposed law receives the support of the city supervisors, Mayor Gavin Newsom is already on record saying he will veto the Happy Meal ban. According to an earlier report by the Chronicle, Mayor Newsom has a record of trying to promote healthy eating habits. However, when dealing with proposed legislation such as an added tax on alcohol or a fee on big-box stores for soda sales, Newsom has come down on the side of business.

"It's one thing to educate people and make sure they have healthy choices, but this is over the line," mayoral spokesman Tony Winnicker told the Chronicle in September. "What's next - Tony the Tiger, boxes of Cracker Jacks?"

There have been lawsuits and many proposed laws in various areas of the country as officials walk the line between complaints of "nanny state" regulations and the growing health problems found in children.

The proposed San Francisco law is similar to that already passed by Santa Clara County, California. The San Francisco City and County version is due for a vote on October 19.

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Think your car is safe because it earned a top safety rating from the Transportation Department Stars on Cars crash rating system? The rules are about to change. Starting with model year 2011 cars, the government rating system for front and side impact and rollover potential will change, making it tougher for cars to earn the five star rating.

Too many of the current cars were earning the highest five star rating, according to the Associated Press. When the program began in 1979, less than 30% of cars earned the top rating. This encouraged safety innovation like side impact airbags and anti-rollover improvements and now, 90% percent of cars earn the top rating of five stars. This result can make it too difficult for the consumer to tell the safest cars apart from the rest.

"More stars equal safer cars," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Through new tests, better crash data and higher standards, we are making the safety ratings tougher and more meaningful for consumers."

The AP reports that the new safety rating system will be depend on an overall score. Ratings will be based on a car's crash prevention technology and performance in a new crash test which simulates the car hitting a pole. The final score rests on the results of the front, side and rollover tests and compares them to the average injury risk and potential for rollover of other cars.

Of the 34 new 2011 models that have been tested so far, only two, the BMW 5 Series and a 2011 Hyundai Sonata, received the top five star crash rating. On the slightly lower end of the scale, the 2011 Nissan Versa got two stars, while hybrid and conventional versions of the Toyota Camry received three stars.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing car makers such as General Motors, Toyota, Ford and others, said today said the changes will mean the safety ratings for new cars will probably go down, even in cases where there have been no significant changes to the vehicle.

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Verizon Refunds15 Million Customers for Improper Charges

It has been a long time coming, by one report, at least two years. On Sunday, it was announced that Verizon Wireless had reached a settlement with the Federal Communications Commission over improper charges for data usage to customers who did not in fact have a data usage plan. The phone company has agreed to pay a total of $90 million to consumers who were mistakenly charged. The Verizon refunds will go out to about 15 million customers and will total between $2 and $6 per person.

The company will send the refund to current customers in the form of refunds in their October and November bills; former customers will receive checks, reports CNET. According to a statement from Verizon Deputy General Counsel Mary Coyne, the company says some of the mistaken charges were due to a glitch in the software built into the phones, others were due to customers accessing the web, which should not have incurred a charge. Verizon customers were charged the standard rate of $1.99 per megabyte of data. The company says the issues have been addressed and there will be no future improper charges for data.

The Associated Press reports the FCC has confirmed it has been investigating complaints from customers for years. "We're gratified to see Verizon agree to finally repay its customers," FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Michele Ellison said in a statement. However, there are other questions as to why it has taken Verizon so long to correct the issues that caused the incorrect charges and to reimburse customers for the charges they never should have incurred in the first place.

The FCC will continue its investigation of those questions, including the possibility of additional penalties, Ellison said told the AP.

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BMW Recall 2010: 200k BMWs Could Have Break Problems

The summer of recalls continues, with BMW getting in on the action. The automaker is recalling nearly 200,000 vehicles. The BMW recall includes BMWs from the 5 Series, 6 Series, 7 Series, and Roll-Royce. The safety concern involves power brake lines which could develop a leak.

BMW said it has no reports of accidents or injures and that mechanical braking would still stop the vehicle in the case of a leak. BMW is calling the recall voluntary. The New York Times points out this is a bit dubious as automakers must recall vehicles once a safety defect becomes apparent.

The BMW recall includes:

  • 2002-8 BMW 745i/Li,
  • 750i/Li, and 760i/Li
  • 2007-8 BMW Alpina B7
  • 2004-10 BMW 645i and 650i
  • 2004-10 BMW 545i and 550i
  • 2003–10 Rolls-Royce Phantom

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration a leak may develop in the power braking system, potentially causing a vacuum loss and consequent reduction of power braking assistance. This would only occur in rare circumstances when “a check valve of the brake vacuum pump may leak a small amount of lubricating oil.”

BMW will conduct the inspection and repair as well as distribute replacement parts. Owners of vehicles should expect to receive letters in the mail in the next few weeks with further information on scheduling an appointment.

Although it sounds like the risk of having problems are fairly low, you should always error on the side of caution when it comes to braking problems. If you own a vehicle on the list, keep an eye on the brakes until the vehicle has been serviced. If you suffer a partial or total brake failure, pull over as soon as it is safe and call a service agent. You should not drive a vehicle that has suffered a brake loss.

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There is much back and forth today about who knew what, when about the "phantom recall" of Motrin caplets organized by Johnson & Johnson subsidiary McNeil sometime in June of 2009. Emails have surfaced that seem to indicate the FDA did have notice that rather than doing a full recall, J&J had hired a third party company to have contractors walk into stores across the country and simply buy up all the affected Motrin they could find.

ABC News reports that some emails from the FDA in the San Juan, Puerto Rico district seemed to indicate the FDA knew of McNeil's plan to do a Motrin buy-back. Previously, the FDA had claimed not to know about the so-called phantom recall. ABC reports it had obtained documents that show McNeil execs were pleased at gaining FDA acceptance for the recall. One email from McNeil employees began, "Good news," the FDA director in San Juan, "is in agreement with continuing to pull product from the rest of the stores and NOT consider this a National Recall."

J&J is pressing the advantage this type of email has given them. In a statement the company said, "McNeil kept the FDA informed of its actions and removed the product from the market in a compliant manner. However, given the concerns highlighted by the congressional committee with respect to Motrin, moving forward we would like to handle things differently."

Additional email communications make it clear that McNeil executives were charged with coordinating the phantom recall. When J&J discovered that some of the Motrin tables were not dissolving properly, despite the lack of danger to the public, a recall would have been the proper way to proceed. However, as ABC reports, instead of announcing yet another recall, contractors were sent to 5,000 convenience stores around the United States to buy back the defective Motrin without alerting the public.

J&J products have been the subject of eight recalls in the past year. Medicines including Children's Tylenol, Motrin Infant Drops, Children's Benadryl and Zyrtec have all been pulled from the shelves.

The FDA said today that when they learned of the McNeil's phantom recall, they told J&J to go ahead with a full recall before the buy-back program ended. The company agreed to begin a valid recall in July, 2009.

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