All posts by Mary Beth Quirk

Netflix To Unsanctioned ‘Stranger Things’ Bar: “Please Don’t Make Us Call Your Mom”

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery — or so they say — but that doesn’t mean that just anyone can go around using popular TV shows to make a few bucks. So although Netflix thinks a Stranger Things-themed pop-up bar in Chicago is fun, it’s insisting that the venue shut down after its planned six-week run. In a cease-and-desist letter addressed to “The Upside Down” — a watering hole that pays homage to the terrifying, eerie alternate reality in Stranger Things, complete with drinks named after the characters — Netflix’s legal counsel nerded out with more than a few references to the ‘80s themed show. “My walkie talkie is busted so I had to write this note instead,” the letter, published by DNAInfo, begins. “But unless I’m living in the Upside Down, I don’t think we did a deal with you for this pop-up,” the missive continues. “You’re obviously creative types, so I’m sure you can appreciate that it’s important to us to have a say in how our fans encounter the worlds we build.” Although Netflix’s legal team is not going to “go full Dr. Brenner” on the bar, they have a few requests: That the bar not extend the pop-up beyond its six-week run ending Oct. 1, and that they ask for permission next time they plan something similar. “We love our fans more than anything, but you should know that the demorgoron is not always as forgiving,” the letter notes in closing. “So please don’t make us call your mom.” The folks behind the pop-up — who also run the Emporium Arcade Bar nearby — sound a bit bummed about having to close eventually, as the season two premiere is scheduled for Oct. 27. “If Netflix were OK with us running The Upside Down project through the season two premiere & the Halloween weekend we would most definitely have continued this incredible party a little bit longer!” the bar’s manager told DNAInfo in an email.

New Hinge App Lets Wannabe Matchmakers Set Up Their Single Friends

If you’re single and you use dating apps, we’re sure you’ve been there: Your partnered friends grab your phone so they can swipe around and make matches for you. “They didn’t have this when I was single,” your friend might gleefully cackle. And so, in an effort to let the coupled-up join the mobile fun, dating app Hinge is now offering would-be matchmakers the chance to set up their friends.

Make me a match

Hinge Matchmaker allows users to see which of their Facebook friends are on Hinge — or invite those who aren’t on it yet to join — then view suggested potential matches, and recommend them to their intended targets. Or, you can choose a friend you want to set up. Those friends can then decide whether or not they want to connect on the Hinge app. “We found a lot of people who felt like they missed out on the dating app craze wanted to be able to participate in some way,” Hinge founder Justin MacLeod tells TechCrunch. “A lot of times, people will pull out their friend’s phone and swipe for them on other apps.” For now, Hinge Matchmaker is a standalone app for iOS only, but it could eventually be integrated into the main app.

Get me out of here

Don’t want your non-single pals poking around in your business — or for them to know that you’re on Hinge in the first place? You can opt out of Matchmaker. iOS
First update to the latest version of Hinge.
Then:
  1. Tap Settings
  2. Tap Hinge Matchmaker
  3. Scroll to the bottom and toggle off “Let friends matchmake for me”
Android
You’ll have to write hello@hinge.co with the subject line “Matchmaker” and indicate you’d like to opt-out.

Here’s Which Airlines Are Capping Fares, Adding Flights For Travelers Fleeing Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria continues to gain momentum as it churns through the Caribbean, strengthening to a Category 5 storm after making landfall on the island of Dominica on Monday. Forecasters and safety officials are advising everyone in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to get to safety, and so some airlines are capping fares for travelers trying to get out of the storm’s path. On Monday, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida sent letters to 10 U.S. airlines asking them to limit prices on airfare for anyone fleeing Hurricane Maria, citing skyrocketing prices many travelers faced ahead of Hurricane Irma, which led some airlines to cap fares for evacuees as a result. “As you know, Hurricane Maria is a major hurricane and is threatening Puerto Rico and the Caribbean now and may be a threat to the U.S. coast by next week,” Nelson wrote. “Individuals and families should not be forced to delay or cancel their evacuation efforts because of confusion over the cost of airfare,” he added in his letter to executives at United, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, Alaska, Hawaiian, Frontier, and Allegiant. In response, some airlines have announced their plans for capping airfare, as well as adding additional flights, and offering travel waivers for those who need to change their travel.

United

United says it has capped fares at $384 plus tax for nonstop flights in economy class. United also says it’s adding more seats on departures out of Puerto Rico beginning with an early morning departure today from Aguadilla (BQN) to Newark. Additional seats have also been added on the airline’s three scheduled departures out of San Juan (SJU) on Sept. 19. United also added an extra flight departing San Juan at 3:30 p.m., bringing the total number of seats leaving the island today to 500. “We will suspend operations at SJU and BQN on Wednesday with a tentative plan to resume operations on Thursday pending infrastructure assessments,” the airline says. “Our Emergency Response teams are engaged to coordinate any needs. As the storm tracks northwest, we will also develop plans for Punta Cana/PUJ and Santo Domingo/SDQ for Thursday operations.” United is also waiving change fees and any difference in fare for flights departing through Sept. 30.

American

American says it will also cap nonstop fares at $99 one-way for Main Cabin, and $199 for premium cabins (though connecting fares may be higher) through Sept. 24 in the following markets: • Antigua, Antigua (ANU)
• Cap Haitien, Haiti (CAP)
• Port Au Prince, Haiti (PAP)
• Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands (PLS)
• Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (POP)
• Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (PUJ)
• San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU)
• Santiago, Dominican Republic (STI)
• Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (SDQ)
• St. Croix Island, U.S. Virgin Islands (STX)
• St. Kitts, Saint Kitts and Nevis (SKB)
• St. Thomas Island, U.S. Virgin Islands (STT) “Our team of meteorologists continues to coordinate closely with the National Weather Service; we are also monitoring developing storms offshore,” American notes. Check here for more information on American’s Hurricane Maria-related travel waivers.

Delta

Delta is capping main cabin, one-way nonstop fares at $199 for flights departing the following airports through Sept. 21: • San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU)
• Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (PUJ)
• Santiago, Dominican Republic (STI)
• Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (SDQ) The airline says it’s also added two extra flights to and from San Juan to Atlanta to help customers leave ahead of the hurricane, and is temporarily waiving fees for baggage and pets in cabin for customers traveling to and from San Juan and several other airports. A travel waiver has also been issued for passengers flying out of San Juan from Sept. 19-26. The waiver, which allows customers to change plans without incurring a fee, also covers customers from St. Maarten, Saint Thomas, and Turks and Caicos with tickets issued from Sept. 5 to Dec. 31. For more information, check out Delta’s travel advisory here.

JetBlue

For those looking to evacuate areas in the hurricane’s path, JetBlue is offering any remaining seats on its flights to and from the below destinations for travel through Sept. 25 at reduced fares: • San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU)
• Aguadilla, Puerto Rico (BQN)
• Ponce, Puerto Rico (PSE)
• St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands (STX)
• Antigua, Antigua (ANU) JetBlue also says it has added five additional flights to its regular schedule from San Juan to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and New York JFK on Sept. 19 “in order to help customers and crewmembers evacuate ahead of Hurricane Maria.” The airline is also waiving waiving cancellation fees, change fees, and differences in air fare customers traveling today through Thursday, Sept. 21.

Southwest Airlines

A spokeswoman for Southwest tells Consumerist that the airline has removed advance purchase requirements to allow customers to have access to fares that were lower than what they would normally have had access to. The airline has also added five extra flights out of San Juan today, one additional flight out of Punta Cana, and “had all inventory set at the lowest fare.” Southwest says it has “also matched all competitor pricing actions if lower than ours.” Travelers can check the Southwest site for travel advisories and flexible accommodations.

Other airlines

As for the rest of the airlines, we’ve reached out to each to ask if they’ll be capping fares in regions affected by Hurricane Maria, and will update this post as we receive new information. As always, you should check with your airline before you head to the airport to confirm your scheduled flight. In the meantime, you can check out travel advisories for the carriers below for more information on waivers and change fees related to Hurricane Maria (not all airlines have issued alerts or advisories, depending on which markets they serve): • Frontier Airlines
Spirit Airlines

Post Strays From Cereal Aisle, Picks Up Bob Evans Packaged Foods For $1.5B

When it comes to breakfast, Post wants to serve up more than cereal: The company says it’s paying $1.5 B for the Bob Evans packaged food business, so it can have a “presence in breakfast sausage.” Along with sausage, Bob Evans Farms — which also includes the Owens, Country Creek, and Pineland Farms brands — sells things like potato, pasta, and vegetable-based side dishes in the refrigerated and frozen aisles of the grocery store. The company also has a “growing” foodservice business peddling sausage, sausage gravy, breakfast sandwiches, and side dishes. “The addition of Bob Evans’ highly complementary portfolio of brands and products will meaningfully enhance Post’s refrigerated side dish offering,” Post Holdings said, as well as “provide Post with a presence in breakfast sausage.” Post is currently the third-largest cereal company in the U.S. However, the cereal industry in general has taken a hit in recent years, so it’s not surprising that the company is ready to branch out. The deal has already been approved by both companies’ boards, and is expected to be complete in the first quarter of 2018. Earlier this year, Bob Evans sold off its restaurant brand to a private equity firm, in an effort to focus on its packaged food division.

Toys ‘R’ Us Files For Bankruptcy But Plans To Keep Stores Open For Holiday Shopping

Well, that was quick: Soon after the rumor mill lit up with the news that Toys ‘R’ Us could be preparing to file for bankruptcy, the debt-strapped toy chain has gone ahead and done exactly that. The largest toy store chain in the country filed for Chapter 11 protection [PDF] late Monday night, and will also seek protection in parallel proceedings for its Canadian subsidiary. Toys ‘R’ Us will not be packing up its toys and quitting, however, as the holidays are coming. Instead, it will be restructuring its outstanding debt in an effort to “invest in long-term growth.” “Today marks the dawn of a new era at Toys’R Us where we expect that the financial constraints that have held us back will be addressed in a lasting and effective way,” said Dave Brandon, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. This holiday season will be instrumental in those efforts to stay alive, and the company knows it. To that end, the chain’s approximately 1,600 Toys ‘R’ Us and Babies ‘R’ Us stores will remain open — at least for now — as well as the brand’s online stores. “We thank our vendors for their ongoing support through this important season and beyond,” Brandon said. “We also appreciate the strong support our investors have provided over time and the constructive role they are playing in this process that will allow us to create a brighter future for our company.” Thus far, the company has secured a commitment for more than $3 billion in debtor-in-possession financing from lenders. That financing is still subject to court approval, but it’s good news for suppliers who still want to get paid for all the toys they’re shipping out to stores for the holidays. “Together with our investors, our objective is to work with our debtholders and other creditors to restructure the $5 billion of long-term debt on our balance sheet,” Brandon said. Again, as a reminder: It’s a good time to use any gift cards you may have, as a Chapter 11 filing often voids the company’s bast gift cards.

United Accused Of Stranding Woman In Wheelchair After Bumping Her From Flight

United Airlines is apologizing to yet another passenger, after a man said airline employees left his 77-year-old mother to her own devices after bumping her from her flight home to London. According to WUSA-9, a Washington, D.C. man said he’d dropped his mother off at Ronald Reagan National Airport, where she was supposed to catch a flight to New Jersey before connecting to a London-bound flight. His mother travels in a wheelchair and can be easily confused, he says, but he thought United would take care of her. “They assist people in wheelchairs and get someone to wheel them through and basically take responsibility for that person until they arrive at their destination,” he told the news station, so he left the airport, trusting that United would make sure she got where she needed to go. Cut to the wee hours of the morning, when the driver he hired to pick his mother up in London texted him to tell him she hadn’t arrived. “I called the airline to make sure she was on the flight and they reassured me three or four times she was on that flight,” he said. She wasn’t, however: After hours of phone calls, he says United told him that his mother had made it to Newark, but the airline had bumped her from her London flight. As for why, he’s not sure. “Basically she was left at the gate for 12 hours. They offered her a hotel that was miles away,” he explained. “She had to get there on her own steam. There’s no way my mom could have pushed a wheelchair at her age, so she sat there. “ On Tuesday, United said it had apologized to the man and his mother. “This never should have happened and we have spoken with our customer’s family to apologize,” the airline said in a statement to WUSA-9. “We are working with our team and our wheelchair assistance vendor at Newark to review what happened and to prevent this from happening again.” In an additional statement to NJ.com, United added that it had offered the woman a hotel room and to take her there, but said that she had declined the offer of assistance. The man says United called him Tuesday night to apologize, and offered his mother a $1,000 flight voucher.

Facebook Launching Crisis Center To Put Safety Check, Fundraising In One Place

Facebook knows that when a natural disaster or other major crisis hits, many people turn to social media to connect with loved ones, ask for or offer help in their communities, and raise money for charitable causes. The company is now putting all of those tools in one place.

All together now

Following an earlier update that expanded Safety Check to allow users to offer and get help in a crisis, Facebook is now moving Community Help and Safety Check to its new Crisis Response feature. In that area, users will also be able to create fundraisers and donate to support those affected by the crisis, as well as nonprofit organizations helping with relief efforts. And in an effort to provide more information about crises, Facebook will show folks links, articles, photos, and videos of crisis-related content from public posts.

Making money on Facebook

Perhaps to prepare for the likelihood that some bad actors may try to take advantage of this new feature to make money off such crises, Facebook also introduced monetiziation eligibility standards this week. “These standards provide clearer guidance around the types of publishers and creators that are eligible to earn money on Facebook, along with guidelines on the kind of content that can be monetized,” the company says. With these new standards, content must meet certain guidelines. If users don’t comply with the standards, Facebook will notify them that it has removed the ads. Users can challenge the eligibility of their content through the appeals channel. For example, tragedy and conflict content — focusing on real world tragedies, like natural disasters, crime, or medical conditions — may be ineligible, Facebook says, “even if the intention is to promote awareness or education.” Other kinds of content that may get vetoed for monetization include misappropriation of children’s characters, debated social issues, violent content, adult content, prohibited activity (sale or use of illegal products, for example), explicit content, drug or alcohol use, and inappropriate language.

‘South Park’ Screws With Viewers’ Google Home, Echo Devices

Fans of the show South Park who watched the season premiere last night got more than the usual fart jokes and foul-mouthed rants: Amazon Echo and Google Home devices were woken up throughout the episode, triggered by commands from the characters. Of course, hilarity — or headaches, depending on your point of view — ensued. Before we proceed, it’s worth noting that South Park contains a great deal of extremely not safe for work language, so you’ll probably want to put on headphones, turn down the volume, and read this out of earshot of your boss and/or children. In one example in the episode, Cartman conducts a veritable potty-mouthed orchestra, getting a group of Echo and Home devices to repeatedly trigger each other to say things about human genitalia. For the most part, it seems viewers were pretty amused by the stunt, posting clips on Twitter showing their devices adding things like “titty chips” and “hairy balls” to their shopping lists, or setting an unwanted alarm for (gasp) 7 a.m. People who owned both devices had double the laughs:

While others sat back and watched Alexa go (again, beware foul language):

Google Home was also feeling spunky, owners say:

We’ve reached out to Google and Amazon for more information on how this could happen, and whether the companies have plans to deal with these kinds of situations going forward. We’ll update this post if we hear anything back. Of course, this isn’t the first time TV content has messed with voice-activated devices. Back in April, a Burger King commercial for the Whopper forced Google Home devices to chime in with information about the burger. Soon after, Google blocked the ad from triggering Home devices, but Burger King found a way around it again.

Nobody Knows What LaCroix “Essence” Is, Nobody Seems To Care

There’s no doubt that LaCroix — the comeback kid that transformed from the seltzer your mom drank to a ubiquitous libation treasured anew by the millennial gang — has amassed a dedicated following recently in the U.S. But that devotion doesn’t mean its fans know what the “essence” is in the carbonated drinks — and no one really seems to care. On every can of zero-calorie fizzy water, “natural flavor” is listed under ingredients, whether it’s tangerine or graprefuit. According to LaCroix’s website, those “natural flavors” are “derived from the natural essence oils extracted from the named fruit” used in each flavor. The Wall Street Journal embarked on a quest to find out what, exactly, “essence” is — and found it wasn’t easy to nail down.

Fizzy mysteries

First of all, “essence” is not a term defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, although the agency allows companies to plaster it on products when describing “flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof.” LaCroix wasn’t particularly helpful when the WSJ inquired after the true nature of “essence.” “Essence is our picture word,” a LaCroix spokesman told the WSJ, adding, ““Essence is—FEELINGS and Sensory Effects!” Okay then. Food industry executives and scientists, however, say that essence is a clear, concentrated natural chemical, and has been used in everything from gravy to shampoo over the years. It’s created by heating parts of fruits or vegetables — skins, rinds, what-have-you — at a high temperature. The resulting vapors are then captured, condensed, and sold in 55-gallon barrels, reports the WSJ.

No one cares

Despite this mystery, it seems like most people aren’t up in arms about the nature of “essence.” “I know what flavors I like but I have no idea what kinds of chemicals are in there and I don’t care,” one fan told the WSJ. “I know it tastes good.” “Essence is fairies in a warehouse somewhere dancing with fruits, and suddenly you have this amazing drink,” another said.

Department Of Homeland Security Sued Over Warrantless Searches Of Electronic Devices At The U.S. Border

Although it’s illegal for a police officer to search your electronic devices without a warrant — even after you’re arrested — the Department of Homeland Security says warrantless searches of digital content are allowed at any U.S. border. Privacy advocates and civil rights organizations are now suing the agency, claiming that border protection officers should also have a warrant before they’re allowed to search through residents’ laptops and phones. On Wednesday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties filed a lawsuit [PDF] in Massachusetts federal court against the DHS, claiming that warrantless searches of digital devices violate the First and Fourth amendments. The suit was filed on behalf of 11 Americans — 10 U.S. citizens and one lawful permanent resident — who were re-entering the country from business or personal travel when border officers searched their devices. In Aug. 2009, the DHS clarified to [PDF] its Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agencies the government’s official position that warrantless searches of digital content were allowed at the border. “In the course of a border search, with or without individualized suspicion, an Officer may examine electronic devices and may review and analyze the information encountered at the border, subject to the requirements and limitations provided herein and applicable law,” reads the DHS directive. Five years later, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held in Riley v. California that police must have a warrant to search someone’s phone, even after that person has been arrested. This decision was an acknowledgement of the phone’s changing, now vital, role in daily life. “Today’s electronic devices contain troves of data and personal information that can be used to assemble detailed, comprehensive pictures of their owners’ lives,” the lawsuit notes, calling government scrutiny of electronic devices “an unprecedented invasion of personal privacy and a threat to freedom of speech and association.”

It’s not like luggage

The lawsuit notes that unlike other belongings travelers have with them, their electronic devices contain a whole lot of personal information including messages to loved ones, private photographs, and sensitive medical, legal, and financial information. RELATED: Can Border Patrol Agents Search The Data Your Phone Stores In The Cloud? “The volume and detail of personal data contained on these devices provides a comprehensive picture of travelers’ private lives, making mobile electronic devices unlike luggage or other items that travelers bring across the border,” the complaint says. Not only is it a privacy issue, note advocates, but warrantless searches could have a chilling effect on free speech: If your phone or laptop could be searched at any time — revealing who you’re talking to or what you’ve said on social media, you might be less likely to express yourself freely. “One of the concerns here is that when you have a regime of warrantless searches, people will think twice about who they can communicate with if they know the government can look at their phones,” ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari explained on a conference call with media. She notes that some of the plaintiffs are journalists and artists, who are concerned about the impact of such searches when they may have source information and sensitive work products on their devices. Requiring border officers to get a warrant will protect privacy and reduce the chilling of first amendment rights, the advocates say.

More searches every year

According to the lawsuit, the number of electronic device searches at the border have been steadily increasing over the last few years: Customs and Border Protection officers conducted 8,503 electronic device searches in fiscal year 2015; in 2016 that number grew to 19,033; and in the first half of fiscal year 2017, they conducted almost 15,000 searches of this kind. That puts the CBP on track to conduct more than three times the number of searches it did just two years ago. RELATED: Proposed Bill Would End Warrantless Searches Of Cellphones At U.S. Borders Thus far, the government hasn’t provided any information on how many of those searches were performed on citizens or lawful permanent residents. To that end, in March, a free speech group called Knight First Amendment Institute filed a lawsuit seeking to compel the DHS to make relevant records about electronic device searches at the border available to the public. The 11 plaintiffs in this case — none of whom were subsequently accused of any wrongdoing — detailed their experiences with CBP officers in today’s lawsuit, claiming that often their devices were held for hours or even months with no explanation. Plaintiff Diane Maye, an assistant professor of homeland security at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a former Air Force captain who spent a decade working for the defense industry — including an 18-month stint in Iraq — says her phone was searched by CBP officers after she flew into Miami on her way home from Norway last year. Exhausted after 24 hours of continuous travel, she says she needed to communicate with her husband, who was waiting for her. She said she was confined in a small room and told to unlock her phone and laptop computer, and that she watched while they searched her devices. They then took her phone for two hours, she claims. “As I sat in the interrogation room, I felt violated,” she told reporters today, saying she imagined officers going through her photos, banking information, social media, and other information. “This was my life, and a border agent held it in the palm of his hand.” Akram Shibly, an independent filmmaker who lives in upstate New York, said he was crossing the U.S. border from Canada when he was detained for two hours after CBP demanded he unlock his phone. “I feared that refusing their demands would result in them holding me at the border indefinitely,” he said today. After two hours, he says he was eventually allowed to leave. But a few days later, he was once again detained and told to surrender his phone. “When I refused, three agents used force against me,” he claims: One started to choke him, he alleges, while another restrained his arms and legs, and a third took his phone out of his pocket. The device was later returned to him “without any explanation,” he says. “I joined this lawsuit so other people don’t have to go through what happened to me,” Shibly said. “Border agents should not be able to coerce people into providing access to their phones, physically or otherwise.” According to the lawsuit another plaintiff, Suhaib Allababidi, said his locked phone — which he declined to unlock — was confiscated by CBP officers in January after he flew in from Dubai. While the government returned another, unlocked phone he had with him two months after the incident, his locked phone has still not been returned. The lawsuit seeks to establish that the government must have a warrant based on probable cause to suspect a violation of immigration or customs laws before conducting such searches.

Facing the future

The issue of warrantless searches will no doubt heat up as technology continues to advance. For example — what will happen if a police officer or CBP agent can simply wave your iPhone X in front of your face, enabling its facial recognition technology to unlock your phone? “There is some question whether or not they could get you to scan your face or your fingerprint,” Susan Hennessey, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a managing editor of Lawfare, a leading national security blog, told The Washington Post. “Ultimately, this is the next development in the already existing, open legal question.”