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July 21, 2014

If You Can’t Trust Consumer Reports to Keep Your Info Private…

Filed under: Autos,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:07 am

  Consumer Reports offers a Car Pricing Service for $14 that provides car buyers with the invoice price of vehicles, as well as an even lower price — the Consumer Reports “bottom line” price — that subtracts out all dealer incentives, holdbacks, and rebates. It is a handy report for arming you with information to negotiate a deal more effectively.

R.L. of Massachusetts recently complained to Consumer World that immediately after signing up for the Car Pricing Service, she was inundated with telemarketing calls and emails from car dealers.

Here’s what happened. Not wanting to place her order online for a report on a 2014 Toyota Highlander, R.L. called the auto price customer service number at Consumer Reports at 800-880-4874. They took her contact information, email, phone number, etc. and said she would be receiving an email. She asked the representative to hold on to make sure she could access the report. She quickly breezed through its various sections. Just after R.L. hung up the phone, it rang. It was a local car dealer offering to sell her a 2014 Toyota Highlander. R.L. told him basically what he could do with his car and she called back Consumer Reports to complain that they had shared her personal information with car dealers. Consumer Reports responded “we don’t share that,” according to R.L., and told her that she could complain to “corporate” about the issue.

R.L. says that on the day she placed her order for the Consumer Reports pricing report, she received 15 to 16 phone calls from dealers from as far away as Florida (at least that’s what the caller I.D said), and about a half a dozen emails. By a point 10 days later, she said she had received another half dozen to a dozen phone calls and a total of about 30 emails. R.L.’s phone, incidentally, is on the do not call list.

According to a disclosure on the Consumer Reports website, the company does not share your email when buying one of these reports.

*MOUSE PRINT:

car pricing service

At the bottom of the ordering page is a link to their privacy policy (which actually takes you to a “privacy policy highlights” page). The full privacy policy is summarized in relevant part below:

*MOUSE PRINT:

If you (the consumer) disclose your personal information to third parties, their privacy policies govern, and not those of Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports only provides third parties with enough information for them to carry out the service for which they were hired. Other than that, third parties are seemingly authorized to only use anonymous data from Consumer Reports in most cases.

In the case of the Car Pricing Service, Consumer Reports jointly provides the reports with a company called TrueCar. And they have recently begun offering a free bonus when you buy a car pricing report — access to the Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service operated by TrueCar. Build & Buy shows you discounted prices that local car dealers are offering on the car that you were just researching. As described, it is a service that the consumer can take advantage of if he/she so chooses, rather than a service that somehow automatically inundates users with sales offers.

*MOUSE PRINT:

…your identity is hidden from them [dealers]. If you choose, you will then have the option to send your contact and vehicle information to any of the dealers, and the dealers’ identities will be revealed to you.

What appears to have happened to R.L. is this: while she was perusing her car pricing report, she unknowingly entered “Build & Buy,” clicked a “next” button, and that sent dealers her telephone number and email address.

Before you criticize R.L. for poking around without reading, you have to see how Consumer Reports presented these pages to her, along with the representations they made.

The top of the first page of the Car Pricing Report looks like this:

car pricing 1

Most people would be interested to see what real dealers are charging, so the temptation to click “View Dealer Pricing” is strong given its prominence on page one.

After clicking twice, you are brought to this page asking you to verify your contact information:

build & buy 1

Only the most observant person would recognize that they left the Consumer Reports Car Pricing Service and were now in Consumer Reports Build & Buy. The consumer is assured that the reason they are being asked to enter their name, telephone and email is this:

In order to ensure your dealers honor your Guaranteed Savings, we collect your basic information.

There is no disclosure there whatsoever that the reason they are collecting your contact information is so that dealers can call and email you after you go a little deeper into Build & Buy.

So one innocently fills out the form, and then you see prices for your chosen car from three local dealers:

build & buy 2

Since the dealers’ names are not disclosed yet, the natural inclination is to click the “next” button which is labeled “Get Your Certificates.” These certificates have the location of the dealer and the discount price each one has guaranteed to offer you. Only if you catch the third bullet on the left do you see what really is going to happen next.

*MOUSE PRINT:

By clicking next, your information will be shared only with the dealer(s) you select. Your personal dealer representative(s) will call you within 24 hours to discuss availability.

You just, maybe unwittingly, gave this service permission to send your telephone number to a bunch of dealers. And although you didn’t give explicit permission to share your email, they will also be sending that to the dealers.

Incidentally, it appears that only these three dealers will receive your contact information. And Consumer Reports cleverly has the box pre-checked for each one to get your information.

Whewwww!

Mouse Print* asked Consumer Reports to explain why R.L. started getting so many phone calls and emails after signing up for their pricing service considering their privacy policy seemed to forbid sharing of her personal information. And we also asked, if her contact information was being improperly shared, what they were going to do to correct the situation.

Consumer Reports explained how their site works and what likely happened to her. They also offered this statement:

…we provide a seamless connection to a customized Build & Buy service, powered by TrueCar, that connects consumers directly with auto dealers to get competitive prices from local dealers who are hel​d​ accountable for high customer satisfaction. Consumer Reports does not share any personal​ly​ identifiable information with third parties unless that is explicitly stated and required as is the case with our Build & Buy service. We regret any inconvenience that [R.L.] may have had as a result of ​using our product and have reached out to TrueCar to ask that [R.L.] no longer be contacted by any participating auto dealers. — Director of Communications and Social Media

R.L. explained to us that she was so upset that her information was shared with third parties because it was Consumer Reports that was doing the sharing — the last company she would expect to not respect her privacy.

Here’s our take: In an effort to make it appear that Consumer Reports was providing services itself to consumers to help them with car purchases, they rebranded services provided by a third party — TrueCar. Despite tiny disclaimers explaining the deal that Consumer Reports has with TrueCar, most people would have no idea that an independent third party was providing the actual service. So few consumers would realize that parts of Consumer Reports’ privacy policy allowing information to be shared with third parties actually applied in the case of these services.

Worse, explicit statements on the sign up page for both services said the consumer’s email would not be shared (Car Pricing Service) or misleadingly said that contact information was only being collected so that the saving promised would be honored by dealers (Build & Buy).

Consumer Reports/TrueCar could certainly provide the exact same Build & Buy service without passing on the consumer’s identity and personal contact information to car dealers. Both the consumer and the dealer could get written confirmation of the dealer’s name, the specifications of the consumer’s desired car, the price promised, and a code number representing that individual potential customer. Then, if the consumer chose to visit a particular dealer, the dealer could verify the offer by matching the code number given to the consumer with the one in their system.

We urge this most respected of consumer organizations to take a hard look at how they are presenting these car buying services, so that every user clearly understands when their personal information is going to be shared, and what the consequences of this sharing are — potentially a deluge of phone calls and email offers from local car dealers.

• • •

July 14, 2014

Here We Downsize Again — Part 1

Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:27 am

 Since last fall, manufacturers have been hard at work shrinking the products you buy everyday in an effort to make a price increase be less obvious.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Ball Park Franks

Ball Park Franks recently decreased their package size by one ounce, so their one pound packages are now just 15 ounces.


*MOUSE PRINT:

Chobani

Chobani decreased the size of their yogurt containers to 5.3 ounces saying they were just matching what competitors had done. Remember the days when the standard yogurt container was eight ounces? Thanks to SW and Richard G. for the tip on Chobani.


*MOUSE PRINT:

Super Scoop

Arm and Hammer took out almost two pounds of kitty litter from Super Scoop but kept the boxes the same size. How many people noticed that we have to wonder? Thanks to WAE for the tip on Super Scoop.

• • •

July 7, 2014

When Good Rebates Go Bad

Filed under: Electronics,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:07 am

 Newegg offered an amazing price a few weeks ago on a refurbished 32-inch Samsung HDTV — only $159.99 after a $30 mail-in rebate. And if you used a particular American Express card offer, you saved another $15.

As with most rebates, to get the $30 back you had to mail in the UPC code from the box. Unlike regular TV boxes printed with a picture of the TV, etc., the carton the Samsung TV was shipped in was plain brown. And there was no UPC barcode to be found. There was only the UPS shipping label, and an internal Newegg item number barcode (not the manufacturer’s).

ups label

Upon closer scrutiny, it appears that Newegg’s shipping department placed the large UPS label over the UPC code label. Have you ever tried to remove one of those large labels from cardboard? Of course this could have been a freak occurrence but for the fact that another consumer complained about the same shipping department mishap.

If by some chance the purchaser was able to remove the UPS label through careful surgery, this is what they would find:

*MOUSE PRINT:

UPC

What a relief! Not so fast. The joy is about to end. A quick check of the rebate form reveals the next problem.

*MOUSE PRINT:

rebate form

The UPC code number required for the rebate to be submitted does not match the UPC code number actually on the box!

A representative at the fulfillment house that processes rebates for Newegg fully understood the issue, but said there was nothing they could do about it. Consumers would have to submit whatever they could as proof of purchase, get denied, and then take up the battle with Newegg directly to (hopefully) get their $30 back.

The consumer who complained to Consumer World said he got the same answer when calling customer service at Newegg directly. Each individual purchaser would have to fight their own battle.

Imagining that hundreds of these TVs were sold during two sales in May and June where the erroneous UPC code was printed on two separate rebate offers, MrConsumer contacted executives at Newegg in an attempt to find a global solution for these customers.

In short order, Newegg’s Senior PR Manager had good news. They were going to find a solution. And a few days later, they sent out this email to purchasers of that Samsung HDTV:

newegg apology

Unfortunately, the company didn’t address the problem of obstructed UPCs in this notification. But, at least most purchasers of this TV won’t have to fight an individual battle to get their $30 back.

• • •

June 30, 2014

Don’t Assume the Store Brand is Comparable

Filed under: Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:30 am

 Many savvy shoppers automatically grab the store brand even when it comes to health products.

In fact, the store brand often says that it is comparable to XYZ name brand right on the package. For example, this package of CVS “Advanced Eye Health” sits right next to Bausch + Lomb’s PreserVision AREDS 2 Formula on store shelves and says in large letters “comparable to ongoing study formula in AREDS 2.”

PreserVision vs. CVS

PreserVision AREDS 2 formula contains all the ingredients from the second of two studies that were shown to be effective in slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a very serious eye condition leading to partial blindness. This particular combination of vitamins and minerals resulted from years of testing sponsored by the federal government through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “AREDS 2″ refers to this second and the most recent completed five-year study reported on in May 2013. So, it is very important for any product that is promoted to be a comparable product to mirror the list of ingredients that has proven successful in these tests.

A review of the two ingredients panels reveals some big surprises:

*MOUSE PRINT:

ingredients comparison

Keep in mind that the Bausch + Lomb product on the left has the exact ingredients that were found to be the most effective in the most recent study. The formula is patented.

The CVS product on the right has only two of the six ingredients that were judged most effective in the most recent study, plus omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids were in fact tested in the AREDS 2 study, but deemed not to improve the efficacy of the product. Bausch + Lomb removed the omega-3 from the current formula because the study found that “Omega-3 fatty acids … clearly do not reduce the risk of progression to advanced AMD.” CVS did not remove it.

So one really has to wonder with only two of the six ingredients that were found to have any effect, what value is there in taking the CVS product? Consumers are likely grabbing this product to save money based on the label claim, and not realizing the formulation is different. In so doing, they are likely under the mistaken belief that it will help slow the progression of macular degeneration.

We asked CVS to comment on the stark differences between PreserVision and the CVS brand. We wanted to know how they could call it “comparable” to the AREDS 2 formulation, since it only had two of the six ingredients found to work.

The packaging of our CVS/pharmacy Advanced Eye Health states that it is comparable to the “ongoing study formula in AREDS2.” No comparison is made to the national brand product.

When this product was launched in July 2012, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) was ongoing. CVS/pharmacy Advanced Eye Health dietary supplement was formulated with the same nutrients as used in one of the study arms. The “comparable to” claim was designed to invite consumers to compare the product to the study arm while noting the ongoing nature of the clinical trial. The packaging also notes that there were other formulations being studied.

We are in the process of removing this statement from the product packaging now that the results of the AREDS2 study have been released. — CVS Director of Public Relations

CVS is correct that they don’t compare their product to PreserVision directly and their claim refers to the “ongoing” tests. But the tests referred to are long over. And, the Bausch + Lomb product is the final AREDS 2 formulation as found in the AREDS 2 study. It says “AREDS 2″ on the label, and it sits right next to the CVS version on store shelves. Given that, consumers will inevitably make the comparison to PreserVision and assume the CVS version is the same. They are not likely to go off and do medical research to read the full study to understand what was being tested and how it compared to the CVS product.

CVS, however, appears to be incorrect when it says that the ingredients in its product are “the same nutrients as used in one of the study arms.” The study was very complex, but basically it took the original AREDS formulation of vitamins and minerals and tested ADDING things to it. In one part of the test, lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3s were added to the basic AREDS formula. The CVS product however, ONLY has those three added ingredients and none of the original proven AREDS ingredients. To analogize, imagine if CVS was coming out with a new detergent plus bleach product. It added bleach to the detergent bottle, but did not put in the main ingredient, the actual detergent.

Lastly, while it is good that CVS has agreed to remove the comparability claim from its packaging, they should have done that a year ago when the AREDS 2 study was finished and released. And they probably should remove the current product from store shelves pending the revision of the packaging claims.

Should CVS continue to market this product with its current formulation either expressly or impliedly as being comparable to either the AREDS 2 formula or to Bausch + Lomb’s PreserVision, you have to understand that it has not been proven to slow the progression of a disease that could rob you of your vision.

If you purchased CVS Advanced Eye Health, please post a comment indicating what your experience was, what you believed you were buying, and how you feel about the revelation that it is not the equivalent of the AREDS 2 formula.

• • •

June 23, 2014

Corn Oil Lowers Cholesterol More Than Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:51 am

  A full page ad from Mazola Oil in a recent Sunday coupon insert, made an astounding claim:

Mazola

What? Corn oil is better for you than olive oil? There is a block of almost unreadable fine print at the bottom of the page. It reads in part:

*MOUSE PRINT:

“…Very limited and preliminary scientific evidence suggests that eating about 1 tbsp (16 grams) of corn oil daily may reduce the risk of heart disease due to the unsaturated fat content in corn oil. FDA concludes there is little scientific evidence supporting this claim. To achieve this possible benefit, corn oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.”

How limited was the test? According to a summary of the results, the theory was only tested on 54 people.

Two other points:

  • Mazola seems to be claiming that eating just one tablespoon of corn oil daily may reduce the risk of heart disease. Yet, the test they conducted required subjects to eat FOUR tablespoons a day.
  • Mazola shared the cost of this study, and it does not appear to have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

    The question becomes whether it is fair to tout this health claim in big headlines with such a limited test? We asked the makers of Mazola to comment on this and the discrepancy in the amount of oil needed to achieve the claimed benefits, but they failed to respond.

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