Senior lawmakers are launching an investigation into potential privacy problems stemming from companies that tailor Internet advertising to consumers’ Web surfing.
Four top Democrats and Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to 33 companies asking detailed questions about how they serve Web ads to customers and whether they collect or store data on people’s Internet searches.
The letters went to large companies such as Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable Inc., AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. as well as smaller companies such EarthLink Inc.
The letters were signed by John Dingell (D., Mich.), Joe Barton (R., Texas), Edward Markey (D., Mass.) and Cliff Stearns (R., Fla.).
Free credit report, umm, not so fast. It’s really $14.95 a month. Gotcha!
“It’s called FreeCreditReport.com,” he said. “It’s kind of easy to make that assumption. I didn’t see anything in the process of signing up that said, ‘Hey, if you don’t cancel in 30 days or whatever, you’re going to get charged.’ ”
Consumer groups have long objected to sites like FreeCreditReport.com. Consumers may obtain a free credit report each year from the three major agencies, as mandated by an act that Congress passed in 2003. The only authorized site for that is AnnualCreditReport.com.
The three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, are required to offer reports through the authorized AnnualCreditReport.com, but the bureaus also make money from their own credit reports.
Experian, which owns FreeCreditReport.com, increased both its site visitors and new member sign-ups by 20 percent in 2007.
I should sign up, actually. This post is a public note to myself to see what lies are contained on my consumer DNA file. As long as I don’t sign up in the wrong place:
The FTC has received complaints from consumers who thought they were ordering their free annual credit report online. Some consumers responded to TV ads, email offers, or simply searched online.
The FTC recently settled a lawsuit against Consumerinfo.com – which did business as Experian Consumer Direct – over the “free credit report” promotion it advertised on television, radio and the Internet, including its websites freecreditreport.com and consumerinfo.com.
Blah blah blah. Bud was so eager to wrap itself with the American flag, I have no sympathy for them now.
CHICAGO (AdAge.com) — As Anheuser-Busch frets over how to ward off a takeover attempt from Brazilian-run InBev, the positioning of its flagship brand might just be the closest thing the No. 1 U.S. brewer has to a poison pill.
In fact, A-B distributors and agency executives who have worked on Bud and its sibling brands have grave doubts that a brand as overtly red, white and blue as Budweiser — and, by connection, its siblings — would remain credible with consumers under a Belgian owner operated by Brazilians.
“It could be a disaster,” said an executive at one of A-B’s agencies. “It’s all-American above all else — the Clydesdales, all the imagery. It’s an enormous challenge” if the brand becomes foreign-owned. And there’s a lot at stake: In 2007, $8.5 billion of A-B’s $16.7 billion in total global revenue came from sales of Bud-family brands in the U.S.
The situation is made even more ironic by the fact that A-B has in the past been willing to play the patriotism card against competitors. Earlier this decade, after Miller was acquired by South African Breweries and Coors merged with Canada-based Molson, A-B railed against their owners as “foreign interests” with a nativist strategy that would make Lou Dobbs blush.
On its websites and in point-of-sale materials, A-B ripped Miller and Coors for sending profits abroad and closing breweries here. “With over 80% of its employees outside of the United States, it’s hard to ignore a simple question: Does Miller reflect the American spirit?” said Budweiser’s official website at the time.
American corporations like Anheuser-Busch who helped the Republicans get in power are now reaping their rewards – a dollar at near historic lows, and absentee corporate ownership in countries with stronger economies. Budweiser makes crappy beer to boot. They import a few quality brews (Bass Ale, for instance), but that has nothing to do with their brewing skills, just their distributing and political clout.
News America has a dark reputation in the in-store media arena as well.
News Corp.’s trouble in aisle three – Jul. 20, 2007:
For months now, Rupert Murdoch’s quest for Dow Jones has riveted the business world. But another juicy melodrama is unfolding at News Corp., one that may shed some light on how the $25 billion company sometimes does business.
It involves a little-known subsidiary called News America marketing, which comprises the bulk of News Corp.’s magazines and inserts division. It produces newspaper coupon inserts, in-store supermarket ads, and the like. That may seem boring next to, say, movies or MySpace, yet, its profitability is anything but: Its 28% operating margins are the highest at News Corp., while operating profit is triple that of Dow Jones (Charts). Even more scintillating is a series of lawsuits alleging that News America used anticompetitive behavior to try to drive its rivals out of the market, and the recent emergence of a former employee who claims the company tried to pay him off to keep quiet. His lawyer: Philip Hilder, best known for representing Enron whistleblower Sherron Watkins. The saga has become the talk of the industry.
News America’s $1.1 billion in sales make it a small player by Murdoch standards, but it has a market dominance that’s unrivaled in most industries: It controls 50% to 60% of the insert market and as much as 90% of the in-store business, estimates analyst Robert Evans of Craig-Hallum Capital Group. “They are the hands-down 800-pound gorilla,” says Peter Hoyt, executive director of the In-Store Marketing Institute, a trade association.
It’s a gorilla that likes to throw its weight around, according to four separate lawsuits filed by competitors that accuse it of using illegal tactics against them.
A business acquaintance used to work at News America, and is full of stories of anti-competitive behavior and shitty treatment of employees, but of course, without hard evidence, and subsequently no involvement with this case:
But now there may be a smoking gun in the form of an ex-employee who is alleging unsavory conduct on the part of his erstwhile employer. Robert Emmel, a former account manager who worked in in-store marketing, was fired late last year; a few months later, after Floorgraphics subpoenaed him as part of its lawsuit, Emmel revealed he had kept a copy of his computer hard drive because, he said in a deposition, he “had some concerns about some of the business practices that News America had engaged in.” Just what is on those disks is still unknown, but News America isn’t taking any chances: In April the company sued Emmel personally, alleging, among other things, breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets. Emmel countersued under Georgia’s RICO statute.
The charges in Emmel’s countersuit read like headlines ripped from Murdoch’s New York Post. Among them: “the extortionate use of economic fear,” “theft and scheme to commit wire fraud,” and the allegation that News America broke into Floorgraphics’ computer system 11 times during one three-month span.
Emmel also alleges that News America’s president, Christopher Mixson, offered him $30,000 in “severance” after Emmel told a colleague he was weighing speaking with the state of Minnesota’s attorney general’s office, which is a co-plaintiff in one of the lawsuits. Reached for comment, Emmel would say only, “I’m a pro-justice individual.” Mixson declined to comment.
As for Carlucci, a quick look at his background suggests a man with a soft spot for tough guys and how they operate. A board member of the Guardian Angels, he has invited founder Curtis Sliwa to speak at a company meeting for several years running. And according to the Valassis lawsuit, Carlucci once tried to motivate his sales force by playing a scene from the film The Untouchables in which Al Capone crushes a rival’s skull with a baseball bat. In Murdoch’s eyes, though, Carlucci is a star: In 2005 he gave him the added job of publisher of the Post, replacing Murdoch’s son Lachlan.