Posts tagged with "MarketWatch"

TurboTax to pay $141M for allegedly deceiving users into paying for tax prep that actually was free

May 6, 2022

Tax software giant TurboTax has reached a multi-state settlement to pay back $141 million to low-income customers who were allegedly deceived into paying for tax services they should have gotten for free, according to the New York State Attorney General’s office.

TurboTax, which is owned by Intuit,  was accused of aggressively advertising free tax preparation services for years—but then steering customers who were eligible for it into paying for premium services, reports MarketWatch.

From 2016 through 2018, the company was accused of charging 4.4 million customers in all 50 states such fees, the authorities said. The agreement remains subject to court approval.

“Intuit cheated millions of low-income Americans out of free tax filing services they were entitled to,” said New York Attorney General Leticia James. “For years, Intuit misled the most vulnerable among us to make a profit.”

A message sent to representatives for Intuit wasn’t immediately returned.

In March, the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against the company alleging deceptive advertising. In response to the suit, Intuit insisted that it was up front with its customers about the fees for its services.

James’ office said Intuit offered two free versions of TurboTax. One was through an agreement with the IRS that allowed taxpayers earning less than $34,000 or who were in the military to  file their taxes for free. As part of the agreement, the IRS agreed not to create its own competing service.

The other was a commercial product called “TurboTax Free Edition,” which authorities said was only free to those with what Intuit determined had “simple returns.”

As part of its advertising campaigns, TurboTax would claim sometimes dozens of times in a 30-second commercial that these services were free, authorities said.

But TurboTax was accused of using deceptive practices to push many of its clients who were eligible for the IRS program into using TurboTax’s program. The company’s product was only free for approximately one-third of U.S. taxpayers, whereas the IRS Free File product was free for 70% of taxpayers.

Among the steps THAT Intuit allegedly took were to block search engines from surfacing their page for the IRS program and failing to list the service on its rate card page.

Those who ended up using the TurboTax program often ultimately had to pay a fee of $30 or more, authorities said.

Customers who were deceived between 2016 and 2018 will receive reimbursements of $30 for each year they filed using the pay service under the settlement.

Intuit also agreed to cease its allegedly deceptive advertising, to better disclose the eligibility criteria of its free services; and to stop forcing customers to restart their tax filing, if they switch from a pay to a free service midway, the government said.

Intuit withdrew from its filing partnership with the IRS in 2021.

Research contact: @MarketWatch

Walmart to acquire virtual fitting room platform Zeekit, as retail giant leans into fashion

May 14, 2021

For many years Walmart has eschewed offering high-fashion merchandise, but all that is changing—and on May 13, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based mega-retailer revealed plans to acquire Zeekit, a virtual fitting room platform that it hopes will enhance the social shopping experiences for online customers, Forbes reports.

“Over the last few years, we’ve been working hard to expand our apparel assortment to include quality, on-trend, and accessible fashion to help customers outfit their closets, no matter their personal style or budget,” said Denise Incandela, executive vice president of Apparel and Private Brands at Walmart-U.S., in a blog post. “But, in an increasingly online driven category, customers not only want variety in styles, they also want an inspiring and personalized digital experience.”

Zeekit, a female-founded Israeli-based startup company, is seen as facilitating that experience while smoothing away the pain points of ill-fitting purchases that ultimately lead to costly returns.

Indeed, Forbes reports, Walmart realized it was missing an enormous opportunity to sell consumers well-designed apparel at higher price points—something competitor Amazon  has been doing, both by attracting brands to its e-commerce site, and launching its own private labels.

“Virtual try-on is a game changer and solves one of the most difficult things to replicate online—understanding fit and how an item will actually look on you,” Incandela said. “Zeekit will help us deliver an inclusive, immersive and personalized experience for our diverse customer base.”

Walmart said it has elevated its fashion sensibility with exclusive labels Free Assembly, Sofia Jeans by Sofia Vegara, and Scoop. The retail giant also has  expanded its assortment of national brands with Free People, Champion, and Levi Strauss. Other other private labels include Time and Tru, Terra & Sky, Wonder Nation, and George. There’s also plus-size label Eloquii Elements.

When the experience is live on Walmart, customers will upload their photo or choose from a series of models that best represents their height, shape and skin tone, to instantly see themselves in clothing items. They can share their virtual outfits with friends, bringing a social experience to digital shopping.

Zeekit’s scalable technology can be integrated into Walmart’s digital products, and can be used to create other fashion experiences—including building a virtual closet and mixing and matching clothing to see how a top might look with a pair of pants. This is achieved by bringing real time image technology, computer vision and AI to the world of fashion. It can also help increase customer loyalty and return visits as it makes buying fashion online easier and more predictable.

“Zeekit’s impressive technology has been trialed by many top brands and retailers in the fashion industry,” Incandela said. “It uses real-time image processing to map a person’s image into thousands of segments. Clothing is processed in a similar manner and the equivalent points of the two are mapped into one final simulation. These exciting technologies add a social element to the digital experience, allowing our customers to bring their unique personalities and preferences to shopping.”

Zeekit’s founders, CEO Yael Vizel, chief technology officer Alon Kristal, and vice president of research and development Nir Appleboim will join Walmart when the deal closes, bringing their extensive experience to the retail behemoth.

Research contact: @Forbes

For young ‘influencers,’ Instagram is exploring a version of the app for kids under 13

March 22, 2021

In a move certain to generate controversy, Instagram is developing a version of its popular photo-sharing app for users 13 and under, MarketWatch reports.

BuzzFeed News first reported on the project on March 18, and it was later confirmed by an Instagram executive.

To date, Instagram’s policy has not allowed users under 13 on the site. Instagram is owned by Facebook, which also has a minimum age of 13. However, despite these restrictions, a number of children under 13 already have surreptitious accounts on both sites.

Citing postings from an internal message board at Instagram, BuzzFeed reported the new app would be developed by Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri and Pavni Diwanji, a Facebook executive who previously oversaw children-focused products, including YouTube Kids, while working at Alphabet’s Google.

In a tweet Thursday, posted after the BuzzFeed report was published, Mosseri said: “Kids are increasingly asking their parents if they can join apps that help them keep up with their friends. A version of Instagram where parents have control, like we did w/ Messenger Kids, is something we’re exploring. We’ll share more down the road.”

Messenger Kids is a Facebook app on which parents can control whom their choose to communicate with. However, a bug was found in 2019 that allowed kids to communicate with not just their friends, but with friends of friends—including adults—whom their own parents had not vetted.

In a message-board post, Instagram said its kids version would emphasize privacy and safety, according to the BuzzFeed report.

Separately, MarketWatch notes, on Wednesday. March 17, Instagram announced new features and resources for its teen users and their parents, in an effort to protect users from abuse, bullying, and predators.

“Protecting young people on Instagram is important to us,” the company said in a blog post. “We want parents to have the information to help their teens have a safe and positive experience on Instagram.”

If launched, the app could face legal issues regarding children’s privacy and targeted advertising—and would likely spark heavy criticism from youth advocates on issues including harassment, sexting and mental health.

One Twitter user replied to Mosseri’s tweet: “We don’t just give stuff to kids because they WANT it. We don’t give kids dangerous tools to play with when grownups haven’t figured out how to make those tools safe.”

Research contact: @MarketWatch

Cesar Millan offers to help Bidens’ dogs feel more at home in the White House

March 15, 2021

Bringing a dog into a new home can be a stressful experience, whether it’s your house or the White House.

So dog behaviorialist Cesar Millan—AKA the “Dog Whisperer” by fans of his long-running reality show on National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Wild—wasn’t too surprised to hear that President Joe Biden’s dog, Major, reportedly nipped an unidentified person at the White House recently.

In fact, Milan tells MarketWatch that he immediately reached out to the White House, offering to lend his services.

“We are waiting and ready to help,” says Millan, whose new series “Cesar’s Way” will premiere on Nat Geo Wild in August. “What that incident says to me is that they were not in agreement on how to welcome Major into this new lifestyle.”

“In order for a dog to bite, he either feels the need to protect his territory, or he feels the need to protect his family — or when he’s afraid, or he doesn’t trust, he can also bite,” Millan says. The dog might also need clearer rules, boundaries and limitations.

And this is a doggy dilemma likely shared by the many Americans who adopted or fostered a pet as the pandemic allowed them to work or spend more time at home. Indeed, animal rescues have reported record numbers of adoptions and fosters over the past year. So it’s not too surprising that many people sided with Major, a 3-year-old German Shepherd that the Bidens rescued a few years ago, when they learned about the altercation. 

So how can the First Family—and families across the country—help their dogs settle into a new home?

 

Milan tells MarketWatch that dog owners often assume that their pups understand things beyond their comprehension — like, say, moving into the Executive Mansion and all of the stress that entails.

“It’s a new environment. It’s new people. And this particular place is a lot of stress.” Millan says. And while the president and first lady have accepted this stress and made the decision to move into the White House and its “routine for chaos” willingly, the dogs didn’t have a say in the matter any more than a toddler would. 

“The way [Champ and Major] see it, they just appeared from one place to another place one day. And to us, the White House is a very symbolic house in the world, a very powerful house — but in the dog world, it’s just a house where people are not in sync,” Millan says. “So you have to let the dogs adapt in their way.”

And that includes introducing the dogs to the Executive Mansion and the grounds that they will have access to in a controlled way, and making sure everyone who is going to be coming into contact with the dogs on a regular basis is on the same page about where the dogs can go, how the dogs are supposed to behave in each space, as well as basics such as how people should approach the dogs.

And German shepherds like Champ and Major fall under the group of working dogs, which means they need jobs to do. That includes lots of exercise and mental stimulation to release the excess energy that can otherwise become pent-up stress and erupt in aggressive actions, like barking and biting.

“If he’s allowed to move around too much, as a German shepherd he’s going to start ‘patrolling,’” Millan says. This harks back to something White House press secretary Jen Psaki said about Major’s altercation—that the younger dog “was surprised by an unfamiliar person and reacted in a way that resulted in a minor injury to the individual.” Millan recommends reining in that extra energy by getting Major to run on a treadmill indoors, or having him fetch a ball and bring it back when he’s outside.

When Major is inside, the Bidens and their team can keep him in a “calm, surrendered state” by giving him a “job” in each room of the White House, such as a specific spot where he is supposed to sit, stand, or lie down in each room.

“He needs to know exactly what he’s doing in the Oval Office: stay here to the right or to the left, sitting or standing. You have to let him know. He can’t choose,” Millan said. “It’s like how soldiers or the Marines are trained to do their work. It’s that kind of discipline.”

And if 50 people walk into the room, they also need to be taught not to run up to Major and touch him. “Tell them he’s working,” Millan said, similar to how those with service dogs gently remind other people not to pet or make eye contact with their dog while he’s doing his job.

And Millan would love to walk the First Family, the White House staff, animal handlers, Secret Service and anyone else who would be coming into regular contact with Champ and Major through a seminar that gets everyone on the same page about caring for the dogs—as well as literally taking a group walk with the dogs.

“It would be awesome for Major to walk with all of the people he lives with, like a pack, to see and put everyone together into a community,” says Millan. “To a dog, that is the best thing in the world: walking with his pack. His goal in life is to make sure the pack is awesome.”

Research contact: @MarketWatch

Landmark criminal justice legislation clears Senate, 82-12

December 20, 2018

In one of the 115th U.S. Congress’s final acts—and surely one of its few bipartisan agreements—on December 17, the Senate overwhelmingly approved, by a vote of 82-12, the most significant and sweeping reform to prison sentencing laws in a generation, according to a report by ABCNews.Go.

U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee—who introduced the First Step Act along with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island)—commented, “This bill in its entirety has been endorsed by the political spectrum of America. I can’t remember any bill that has this kind of support, left and right, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican.”

The legislation combines prison reform proposals that overwhelmingly passed in the House of Representatives earlier this year with sentencing reform provisions from the broadly bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which was authored by Durbin and Grassley and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in February by a vote of 16-5.

Broadly, the bill allows judges more discretion in sentences offenders for nonviolent crimes (particularly, for drug-related crimes); allows more home confinement of lower-level offenders; expands prison employment programs so that inmates can earn wages; sets up a risk assessment system to determine whether a prisoner is likely to re-offend, if released; and addresses sentencing disparities (particularly, against those of color).

The bill’s approval represents a win for President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has been a leading advocate for criminal justice reform within the administration, following his own father’s experience behind bars.

And according to ABCNews.Go, Trump’s embrace of the legislation is a departure from his tough-on-crime rhetoric. While the president in the past has gone so far as to call for the death penalty for drug dealers, according to the network news outlet, the president “has gotten on board with a bill that aims to loosen sentencing guidelines for some nonviolent drug offenses.”

Despite receiving bipartisan support, there were some skeptics., the news outlet said. Two Republicans, Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and John Kennedy of Louisiana, unsuccessfully introduced amendments to limit which types of offenders would be eligible for early-release programs and were fiercely opposed to the legislation.

This is only the beginning, according to everyone involved. Ergo, the name, First Step Act. ““When it comes to reversing the harms done by mass incarceration, the real work is going to lie with the states and with local jurisdictions,” said Wanda Bertram, a spokeswoman for the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts-based think tank focused on criminal-justice reform, told MarketWatch.

“What we’re hoping is that states look to this bill as a model for state-based reform, but they also go much further, because this is a first step, but much more is needed,” she said.

Research contact: @MKhan47