Day: October 16, 2018

Washington to Decide on First-of-Its-Kind Carbon Fee…


(Bloomberg) — Whatever you do, don’t call it a tax.

Voters in Washington state will go to the polls Nov. 6 to decide whether or not they want to impose a first-of-its-kind “fee” on carbon emissions. Ballot initiative 1631 marks the second time the state will vote to put a cost on emissions. A prior effort, labeled a carbon tax, failed when it was on the ballot two years ago.

Proponents including Democratic Governor Jay Inslee and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates are hoping the new proposal — which the state estimates would raise $2.3 billion for clean-energy investment by 2025 — will win more backing. If passed, it would be the first effort of its kind enacted by referendum anywhere in the world, making the state a global leader in climate policy at the same time the Trump administration is reversing some federal measures.

“If it passes, it would encourage carbon-tax supporters in other states — as a matter of political reality, this means ‘blue’ states — to pursue analogous referendums,” said Pavel Molchanov, an analyst at Raymond James & Associates in Houston, said in an email.

Because Washington is already one of the cleanest U.S. states in terms of greenhouse gases, a carbon fee would be less of a burden for households there than in other places, according to Neelesh Nerurkar, vice president with the Washington-based research firm ClearView Energy Partners LLC.

Fifty percent of registered voters support the measure, with 36 percent opposed, and 14 percent undecided, according to a poll conducted Oct. 4 to Oct. 9 by Elway Research and Crosscut, an online news provider. The margin of error is 5 percent.

The idea is to make carbon pollution more expensive so people will use less fossil fuel. Though with abundant hydroelectric power, Washington is already among the least carbon-intensive states in the nation, ranking ninth lowest in U.S. Energy Information Administration data. It produces more hydroelectric power than any other state — more than double Oregon, which ranks second.

So the Washington measure isn’t likely to change the world, but “doing something is better than doing nothing,” said Robert Stavins, director of Harvard University’s environmental economics program.

Ballot initiative 1631 would impose a fee beginning in 2020 on major emitters of carbon dioxide, including refineries, power utilities and oil and gas producers. The amount would start at $15 per ton of emitted CO2 and increase by $2 a year, plus inflation, until the state meets its 2035 emissions goal to cut CO2 to 25 percent below 1990 levels.

The “NO on 1631” political-action committee estimates it would increase state gasoline prices as much as 14 cents a gallon. The group led by the Western States Petroleum Association — which faults the measure for exempting other major polluters — has amassed more than $21.3 million to fight the state proposal. Washington is the fifth-largest state in terms of refining capacity.

The measure “creates an un-level playing field within our industry, raising energy prices and failing to provide adequate transparency and accountability,” said Jamal Kheiry, a spokesman for Marathon Petroleum Corp., one of the top corporate donors along with Phillips 66 and BP Plc.

Backers of the measure — who have raised $8.49 million — were emboldened by two events last week:

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a 700-page report chastising world leaders for their inaction on cutting greenhouse gas emissions and William Nordhaus of Yale University won half of the 2018 Nobel Prize in economics for research on how carbon-emissions pricing can drive change in the energy sector and in consumer behavior.

“The UN report is a seal of approval, that we’ve accurately assessed the dangers to our state,” Inslee said in an interview. “It’s a scientific coda to what we’re feeling personally. We’re choking on smoke from fires the last two summers. We’re seeing our shellfish industry damaged because of ocean acidification.”

The money the measure would raise is earmarked for environmental and community programs — not the state treasury — meaning it’s technically not a tax, Harvard’s Stavins said.

In the 2016 referendum, 59 percent of Washington voters rejected the carbon tax, which would have used revenue from the levy to cut other taxes and provide rebates to low earners. Environmental activists broke ranks over what to do with the proceeds, with some pushing for spending on renewable energy, public transit and communities inundated with pollution.

The 2018 version, developed in consultation with labor and social justice groups, American Indian tribes, communities of color, health organizations and business groups, is more politically viable because it invests in programs people want, said Mo McBroom, director of government relations for The Nature Conservancy, which has pumped $1 million into the pro-carbon-fee campaign. A third of the money raised will go to addressing forest-fire risk and water-supply issues and the rest to carbon-reduction strategies.

‘Incentives and Activities’

“Our strategy is more focused on investing in the incentives and activities on the ground that will make us less reliant on fossil fuels,” she said. The 2016 measure “had no chance of passing” because the public “did not want to tax itself in order to pay for tax breaks.”

Average household fuel costs would rise by $13 a month, according to the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, a Seattle-based group that develops and analyzes economic and policy proposals.

“What we have found is that people understand that their children’s health is worth a few dollars a month,” Inslee said. “You have excess pollution and inadequate health and this simply tries to reduce that externality by imposing a cost on something that is a cost to all of us.”



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Officials find roasted pig in luggage at Atlanta airport…


– U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and their K-9 coworker discovered something unusual when they looked in a checked luggage back at Hartsfield-Jackson: a cooked pig.

Thursday, CPB Agriculture Detector and member of the “Beagle Brigade” Hardy got a smell of something suspicious in the bag of a traveler from Ecuador.

When they examined the bag, officials told FOX 5 they found a roasted pig head in the baggage.

Agents seized and destroyed the pig, which weighed almost 2 pounds, 

“Our best defense against destructive pests and animal diseases is to prevent the entry of prohibited agriculture products from entering the United States,” said Carey Davis, CBP Area Port Director for the Port of Atlanta. “This seizure at ATL illustrate the tremendous expertise of our four-legged K-9 partners in protecting the United States.”

The U.S. prevents any pork and pork products from other continents in order to prevent the introduction of diseases like foot and mouth disease and classical swine fever.

Hardy, the dog of the day and a rescue beagle, joined the U.S. Customs and Border Protection after he trained at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Detectors Dog Training Center in Newnan, Georgia.



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Mysterious radio signal unusually close to Earth…


ASKAP

A strange flash of radio waves that was recently detected in space has now been traced to its home galaxy – and appears to originate from relatively nearby.

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are blasts of radio waves that last for only a few milliseconds but can contain as much energy as our sun puts out in decades. Over 50 have been spotted in space since they were first discovered in 2007, however we still don’t know what causes them.

Most detected bursts have been billions of light years away, making them hard to study. …



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Sneaky subscriptions plague APPLE app store…


Subscriptions have turned into a booming business for app developers, accounting for $10.6 billion in consumer spend on the App Store in 2017, and poised to grow to $75.7 billion by 2022. But alongside this healthy growth, a number of scammers are now taking advantage of subscriptions in order to trick users into signing up for expensive and recurring plans. They do this by intentionally confusing users with their app’s design and flow, by making promises of “free trials” that convert after only a matter of days, and other misleading tactics.

Apple will soon have an influx of consumer complaints on its hands if it doesn’t reign in these scammers more quickly.

However, the company’s focus as of late has been more so on getting developers to give subscriptions a try — even holding “secret” meetings where it evangelizes the business model that’s earning developers (and therefore Apple itself) a lot of money. In the meantime, a good handful of apps from bad actors have been allowed to flourish.

Utilities Top Grossing Apps are worst offenders 

Today, the majority of the Top Grossing apps on Apple’s App Store are streaming services, dating sites, entertainment apps or games. But when you get past the market leaders — apps like Fortnite, Netflix, Pandora, Tinder, Hulu, etc. — and down into the top hundreds on the Top Grossing chart, another type of app appears: Utilities.

How are apps like QR code readers, document scanners, translators and weather apps raking in so much money? Especially when some of their utilitarian functions can be found elsewhere for much less, or even for free?

This raises the question as to whether some app developers are trying to scam App Store users by way of subscriptions.

We’ve found that does appear to be true, in many cases.

After reading through the critical reviews across the top money-making utilities, you’ll find customers complaining that the apps are too aggressive in pushing subscriptions (e.g. via constant prompts), offer little functionality without upgrading, provide no transparency around how free trials work and make it difficult to stop subscription payments, among other things.

Here are a few examples. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather a representative one, just to illustrate the problem. A recent Forbes article listed many more, if you’re curious.

Scanner App – This No. 69 Top Grossing app is raking in a whopping $14.3 million per year for its document scanning utility, according to Sensor Tower data. It has an unbelievable number of customer reviews, as well — nearly 340,000 as of today, and a rating of 4.7 stars out of 5. That will lead most customers to believe this is a good and trustworthy app. But when you parse through the critical reviews, you’ll see some valid complaints.

Tap around in the app and you’ll be constantly prompted to subscribe to a subscription ranging from $3.99 a week to $4.99 per month, or start a free trial. But the subscription following the free trial kicks in after only 3 days — something that’s detailed in the fine print, but often missed. Consumers clearly don’t understand what they’re agreeing to, based on their complaints. And many of the negative reviews indicate customers feel they got duped into paying.

QR Code Reader — Forbes recently found that TinyLab’s QR Code Reader was tricking users into a ridiculously priced $156 per year subscription. This has now earned the app the rank of No. 220 Top Grossing across the App Store, and annual revenue of $5.3 million.

QR Code Scanner, via Forbes 

Again, this “free” app immediately starts pushing you to upgrade by starting a “free trial.” And again, this trial converts to a subscription after only 3 days. Can you imagine paying $156 per year for QR code scanning — something the iPhone camera app now does natively?

Weather Alarms – With a 4-star rating after hundreds of reviews, this weather alerting app seems to be handy. But in reality, it’s been using a “dark pattern” to trick users into pushing a button that will start a free trial or sign them up for subscription. And it’s working — to the tune of over a million in annual revenue.

A full screen ad appears in the app, offering two buttons — try for free or pay. The small “X” to close the ad doesn’t even immediately appear! Users then end up paying some $20/month for weather alerts. That seems… excessive.

Legitimate developers have complained about this app for months, but Apple even featured it on its big screen at WWDC. (Watch the video embedded below. It’s incredible.)

*After speaking to Apple about this app, Weather Alarms was removed from the App Store over the weekend. 

Translate Assistant – The same developer behind Weather Alarms offers this real-time translation app promising instant translations across more than 100 languages and has 4.7 stars after nearly 4,000 ratings.

But the app is also super aggressive about pushing its subscriptions. With every app launch, a splash screen appears with three different boxes — 1 month ($12.99/mo), 12 months ($44.99/year) or the “free trial,” which converts users to a pricey $7.99/week plan after only 3 days.

Meanwhile, the option to “continue with a limited version” is in small, gray text that’s intentionally been designed to be hard to see.

The app is making $1.3 million a year, per Sensor Tower data.

As you can tell, the issue with many of these scammy apps is that they capitalize on people not reading the fine print, or they allow an app’s design to guide them to the right button to tap. Trickery like this isn’t anything new — it’s been around on the web as long as software has been sold. It’s just that, now, subscriptions are the hip way to scam.

These developers also know that most people — especially if they’ve just downloaded a new app — aren’t going to immediately subscribe. So they push people to their “free trial” instead. But that “free trial” is actually just an agreement to buy a subscription unless you visit the iTunes Settings and cancel it right away.

Many of these “free trials” convert almost immediately, too, which is another way developers are cashing in. They don’t give you time to think about it before they start charging.

“It’s incredibly frustrating how little has been done to thwart these scams,” says Contrast founder and longtime developer David Barnard, whose apps include Weather Atlas and Launch Center Pro. “It erodes trust in the App Store, which ultimately hurts Apple and conscientious developers who use subscriptions,” he says.

Apple also buries Subscription management 

The issue of scam apps may not always be the failure of App Store review. It’s possible that the scammy apps sneak in their tricks after Apple’s App Review team approves them, making them harder to catch.

But for the time being, users have to take it upon themselves to cancel these sneaky subscriptions.

Unfortunately, Apple isn’t making it as easy for users to get to their subscriptions as it could be.

Compare Apple’s design with Google Play, where the option to manage Subscriptions is in the top-level navigation:

On the iPhone, it takes several more taps and a bit of scrolling to get to the same area in iOS Settings:

 

Above: Getting to subscriptions in the iPhone Settings (click images to view larger)

In the App Store itself, you can navigate to subscriptions in fewer taps, but it’s not obvious how. You first tap on your profile icon on the top right of the Home page, then your Apple ID, then scroll down to the bottom of the page. It’s still buried further than need be, considering how critical it is to manage these auto-payments.

“I firmly believe this is not the future we should be aspiring for in terms of user experience,” says Denys Zhadanov, VP at Readdle, makers of Scanner Pro, Spark, PDF Expert and other productivity apps, speaking about these scam apps. “Apple as a platform, as an ecosystem, has always been a symbol of trust. That means people can rely on it for personal life and work needs,” he continues.

“The App Store has always been a great place, overseen and curated by highly intelligent and ethical people. I believe the App Store can stay as it always has been, if the right measures are taken to deal with those developers who trick the system,” Zhadanov adds.

Today, most subscription-based businesses thriving on the App Store come from legitimate developers. But they know how scammers could easily ruin the market for everyone involved. If allowed to continue, these scams could lead to consumer distrust in subscriptions in general.

In a worst-case scenario, consumers may even go so far as to avoid downloading apps where subscriptions are offered as in-app purchases in order to protect themselves from scams.

For now, Apple is largely relying on user and developer reports via reportaproblem.apple.com — a site most probably don’t know exists — to help them fight scammers. It needs to do more.

In addition to making access to your subscriptions easier, it also needs to better police “Top Grossing” utilities and productivity apps — especially if the service’s value is questionable, and the 1-star reviews are specifically calling out concerns like “sneaky billing” or mentions other subscription tricks.

Apple declined to comment on the matter, but its Developer Guidelines clearly prohibit fraudulent behavior related to subscriptions, and insist that apps are clear about pricing. In other words, Apple has grounds to clear out these scammy subscription apps, if it chose to focus on this problem more closely in the future.

 



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Cops: Drug suspect chewed, swallowed glass crack pipe…


OCTOBER 15–In an apparent bid to destroy evidence, a female drug suspect chewed and swallowed a glass crack pipe, according to Florida cops who arrested the woman on narcotics possession and tampering charges.

During a police investigation late Friday evening, a Largo Police Department officer asked Dariel Hutton, 52, for permission to look through her purse. Hutton, a criminal complaint notes, replied that she “only wanted another officer to look through it.”

Hutton then began “rummaging” through her bag, which allowed a cop to spot “a small glass pipe” with Brillo and “burnt residue” inside. The officer then sought to grab Hutton’s wrists so that he could handcuff her.

“While I was doing this, she placed the pipe in her mouth and refused to open it,” Officer Robert Drumm reported.

Hutton, seen above, then began “chewing and attempting to swallow” the crack pipe in the face of Drumm’s demands to spit out the drug paraphernalia. “Afterward, once she was placed in custody she made a big swallow,” added Drumm.

When Hutton finally opened her mouth, the patrolman observed that she was bleeding from a cut on the roof of her mouth. And the crack pipe had disappeared.

Hutton was booked into the county jail for tampering with physical evidence, a felony, for consuming the crack pipe. She was also charged with resisting arrest, a misdemeanor, and felony narcotics possession (her purse contained methadone pills for which she did not have a prescription).

Locked up in lieu of $4150 bond, Hutton has a lengthy rap sheet that includes multiple drug convictions and state prison terms. (1 page)



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Most say can't tell difference between social bot, human…


Most Americans say they can’t tell social media bots from real humans, and most are convinced bots are bad, according to a new study from Pew Research Center. Only 47 percent of Americans are somewhat confident they can identify social media bots from real humans. In contrast, most Americans surveyed in a study about fake news were confident they could identify false stories.

The Pew study is an uncommon look at what the average person thinks about these automated accounts that plague social media platforms. After surveying over 4,500 adults in the US, Pew found that most people actually don’t know much about bots. Two-thirds of Americans have at least heard of social media bots, but only 16 percent say they’ve heard a lot about them, while 34 percent say they’ve never heard of them at all. The knowledgeable tend to be younger, and men are more likely than women (by 22 percentage points) to say they’ve heard of bots. Since the survey results are self-reported, there’s a chance people are overstating or understating their knowledge of bots.

Of those who have heard of bots, 80 percent say the accounts are used for bad purposes. Regardless of whether a person is a Republican or Democrat or young or old, most think that bots are bad. And the more that a person knows about social media bots, the less supportive they are of bots being used for various purposes, like activists drawing attention to topics or a political party using bots to promote candidates.

Overall, the report gives the sense that most Americans are worried and can’t do much to identify bots. Still, researchers have already come up with tools to combat bots. One of the more recent ones is an algorithm proposed by MIT Sloan academics that would distinguish bots from humans based on how they interact with other accounts. The general idea is that if an account is very active and others aren’t talking to it, it could be a bot.



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Customers freak over haunted house 'mock rape'…


One couple is accusing a local haunted house of subjecting patrons to a mock rape scene without asking their permission or having them sign a waiver.

“There was a man in a mask standing over my boyfriend, my boyfriend was on the edge and he was being pushed down,” said Sarah Lelonek.

“She comes over and yells, stop, what are you doing? That’s my boyfriend,” said Lelonek’s boyfriend Ryan Carr. “Not anymore, he’s mine now I’m going to rape him and then he started thrusting against me.”

The couple says this all went down at the Akron Fright Fest, which is housed on the Kim Tam Park property. They say this is not the special haunted house where you had to sign a waiver to enter, although they do offer a haunted house like that on the property. 

Lelonek and Carr aren’t the only ones complaining about this rape scenario.

One Facebook user wrote, “It was 100 percent a rape scene.”

Some else saying, “They did have a mock rape scene in one of the houses.”

A different viewer sent us a private Facebook message and wrote, “They grabbed my ankles and shins and pulled my legs apart and was thrusting while telling me to scream papa.”

We reached out to the Haunted House manager over Facebook, but he did not respond to our message. We also called the owner of the property who said he would have the manager contact us. That same manager who did not respond to us, wrote online “the issue has been resolved.”

“In all the years I’ve been going to haunted houses, I have never seen anything like that, ever,” said Lelonek.

RELATED: A haunted house lover’s list of the best haunted houses in Northeast Ohio

 



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