TIME Retail

Toys ‘R’ Us to Open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving

Retailer unveils initiatives to make the shopping experience smoother during the busy holiday season.

Toys “R” Us will open its stores at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving this year, the same time as last year and a sign the toy retailer is showing some restraint when it comes to the so-called “Black Friday creep.”

“We had incredibly positive feedback with customers who shopped with us on Thanksgiving last year,” Chief Merchandising Officer Richard Barry told Fortune.

The toy retailer, which generated $12.5 billion in sales for the latest fiscal year, and many other big-box retailers have been progressively opening their stores earlier and earlier each year for the critical Black Friday weekend. Many are now open on Thanksgiving itself, angling to get an important slice of consumer spending in a bid to better compete with online rivals that can generate sales at any time of the day. Several years ago, when brick-and-mortar retailers realized they were losing out on precious sales as consumers took to their computers to shop after their Thanksgiving feasts, they began to respond by opening their stores on the actual holiday.

Mayc’s and Kohl’s are among the retailers that have already announced earlier hours for the upcoming holiday season. And for years, Toys “R” Us has been a willing participate in this “Black Friday creep” game. It first inched into Thanksgiving Thursday in 2009 and pushed store opening times earlier in every subsequent year through 2013.

But Toys “R” Us says 5 p.m. is the right time to open its doors.

“We saw that people really enjoyed the early opening, and frankly we saw the sales on Black Friday itself being very strong,” Barry said. “There wasn’t as much pressure on that 10 p.m. or midnight time. It was more spread out and people had a more civilized shopping experience.”

Toys “R” Us on Thursday also unveiled a few other initiatives to make the shopping experience smoother during the busy holiday season. The company is placing employees, known as a “Guru for Play Stuff,” at the front of the store to help assist navigation. New express lanes will help speed up the checkout process for those buying two items or less, while employees will also have the ability to scan items in a jam-packed cart and provide a bar code that can be scanned to get them out the door quickly.

Barry said it was important to serve both customers, those with the overflowing carts and those with just a few items in their arms.

Toys “R” Us must perform well during the holiday season, as it generates roughly 40% of its annual sales during the final quarter of the year, which runs from November through January. The toy retailer battles big-box rivals like Wal-Mart Stores and Target, as well as online retailers like Amazon.com, for a slice of consumer spending in the $22 billion domestic toy business.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

MONEY stock market

3 Ways a Market Swoon Can Put Money in Your Pocket

Money in jeans pocket
Image Source—Getty Images

Though the stock market tumble has been scary, there are some upsides to all the bad news.

With the market down more than 7% in the last month, it’s easy to feel fearful for the parts of your life most immediately affected by a rocky financial world — like retirement savings and job security.

Certainly, there are plenty of good reasons to be cautious about the future, including high valuations and other signs the current bull market may be aging.

But a downtrodden market like this one can create pockets of opportunity for investors and consumers alike. Here are just a few ways you can benefit from the recent pullback.

1. Cheaper gas prices

Thanks to a supply glut and low demand, gasoline prices are hovering at less than $3 a gallon across the United States. And that’s despite international geopolitical unrest, which usually keeps oil expensive.

2. Low interest rates on mortgages

The Fed is keeping short-term rates low, and the sell-off has sent investors into Treasury bonds, driving down the yields that serve as a benchmark for borrowing costs throughout the economy. So mortgage rates have taken a big dip in the last month.

Interest on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is now 4.01%, which means that if you’re sitting on a much higher rate from buying a home a few years ago, now could be a very opportune moment to refinance. Though the paperwork might be intimidating, letting inertia get the best of you could mean leaving literally tens of thousands of dollars on the table.

3. Stock-buying opportunities

When the market takes a big dive, it can be a good moment to purchase stocks, especially if your goal is to buy and hold for the long term. This is particularly true for younger people who have time on their side, as they stand to lose very little in the short term (even if stocks continue to drop) and can gain much more when the market eventually recovers.

So if you are a millennial and have been putting off opening (or upping contributions to) that 401(k), now is your moment to choose a plan. And even Gen X-ers generally have enough years ahead to take on some risk in their retirement portfolios.

Finally, if you’re not a driver, homeowner, or investor, there’s always that trip to Paris you’ve been putting off: Thanks to economic uncertainty in Europe, the Euro is trading for less than $1.30—the cheapest it’s been since last summer.

TIME Shopping

Why It’s Your Fault There’s Already Christmas Stuff in Stores

Richard Drury—Richard Drury

Exhausting? Yes. Going anywhere anytime soon? No

Everybody complains about seeing inflatable lawn Santa and Christmas ornaments stocked next to the candy corn and costumes in October or even earlier. Better get used to it, though. Plenty of research indicates that ‘Christmas creep’ shows no sign of slowing down—and stores are just delivering on what shoppers today want.

Consulting company the Hay Group finds that more than half of retailers surveyed say they’ll have kicked off their holiday promotions by this month (including almost 20% who said they started last month), up significantly from last year. That’s a lot of red and green mingling with Halloween orange and black.

“Shoppers can expect to start seeing holiday sales early this season, as retailers work to get customers in the door sooner,” the company says.

Both the Hay Group and the National Retail Federation are predicting healthy increases in holiday spending this year, and after a largely disappointing back-to-school shopping season, stores are scrambling to be the first ones getting a crack at your wallets.

If the NRF’s prediction of a 4.1% increase in holiday shopping this year is correct, it will be the first time in three years that holiday sales increase by more than 4%. “Consumers are in a much better place than they were this time last year, and the extra spending power could very well translate into solid holiday sales growth for retailers,” the group says.

The funny thing is, as much as we complain about holiday promotions pushing into ever-earlier parts of the calendar, retailers are just delivering what customers today seem to want. We might gripe, but we’re still buying holiday stuff as soon as it’s on shelves. The NRF found last year that 40% of shoppers started before Halloween, including nearly 20% who started in the month of September or earlier. The Omaha World-Herald says the Mall of America even sells plenty of holiday-related items over the summer.

“You’re going to see holiday promotions coming on maybe even prior to Halloween… with ‘Black Friday’ thrown in there repeatedly before Thanksgiving,” Ken Perkins, president of research firm Retail Metrics, tells the newspaper.

TIME How-To

Tips for Stopping Identity Theft

This has been a good year for hackers. To date, businesses, medical centers, banks and schools have suffered some 578 data breaches, exposing over 76 million records of personal and financial information (Identity Theft Resource Center PDF).

Home Depot recently announced its database had been breached, with hackers making off with around 56 million payment card numbers. Earlier in the year, Neiman Marcus and Michaels revealed similar hacks, exposing 1.1 million and 2.6 million records respectively (PDF).

While some fraudsters might take advantage of stolen information to clear out your bank account or make claims on your insurance policies, a more insidious form of identity fraud has emerged based on scammers who create whole new accounts — bank accounts, store accounts, credit card accounts — in your name.

Identity thieves can use your personal information to open and max out multiple credit cards, apply for loans and place deposits on big-ticket items. This activity all goes onto your credit profile, eventually sinking your credit rating. Yet you might never find out about the unauthorized activity until the debt collectors come calling or you find yourself summarily rejected for a loan or mortgage application.

Many folks have turned to credit monitoring services that will notify you about unusual activity. But that’s the equivalent of closing the door after the horse has already left the barn. At that point, thieves have already opened accounts and compromised your credit.

So what can you do to thwart identity thieves? The major credit bureaus let you freeze your credit or add a fraud alert. Both are free, but each has its limitations.

Is it time for a freeze?

Closing any compromised credit and bank accounts can stem your financial losses, true. But thieves can continue opening false accounts and piling up debt on your credit profile, making it impossible to successfully apply for credit.

To stop thieves in their tracks, put a security freeze on your credit profile, which prohibits lenders and companies that are trying to check your credit from accessing your profile. This prevents thieves from opening new accounts under your name, because creditors are unable to check your credit history.

“The security freeze is a good tool for someone with recurring fraud issues,” says Rod Griffin, director of public education for credit reporting agency Experian. “That’s the insidious nature of fraud. Once an identity has been stolen, more false accounts may pop up again six months or two years later, and we wouldn’t necessarily recognize it as fraud.”

A fraud alert may be more helpful

If you’re planning on getting a mortgage, a car or even a new telephone service, a security freeze can hold up the process by preventing the service providers from checking your credit. “For most people, if you plan to apply for credit or services that need credit checking, a security freeze tends to be more intrusive than it is beneficial,” Griffin says.

Instead, if you believe you’re the victim of fraud, Griffin recommends first requesting a copy of your credit report. At the same time, alert a credit reporting agency that you suspect you may be at risk for fraud. The credit reporting agency will place an initial fraud alert on your profile so that any companies requesting a copy of the profile are told to ask for additional proof of identity. This makes it more difficult for identity thieves to prove they are you. The credit agency you alert will let the other two agencies know to do the same.

Next, comb your credit report for activity that wasn’t generated by you. Common signs of fraud include social security number and address changes or names and accounts you don’t recognize. “If you discover you have been the victim of fraud, file a police report, send it to Experian, and we extend the fraud alert so that it stays on your profile for seven years,” Griffin says.

Set fraud alerts and security freezes

Follow these steps to set a security freeze or a security alert.

1. If you suspect you have been the victim of identity theft, set an initial fraud alert at any of the three credit agencies. You can do this online, and the agency you contact will alert the others to add a fraud message to the profile they hold on you. We also recommend alerting Innovis, a smaller credit agency. Here are the links to their fraud alert pages for quick access:

An initial fraud alert on your profile advises potential creditors to request additional verification of your identity if an account is opened in your name. This alert lasts for 90 days. If you apply for anything requiring a credit check during this period, you should be prepared to provide greater proof of your identity than usual.

2. If you find that you are the victim of identity theft — for example, if your credit profile shows suspicious activity or a debt collector turns up demanding payments for something you know nothing about — you can request an extended fraud alert that lasts for seven years. File a police report and mail a copy to the credit agency along with your request for an extended fraud alert. The credit agency will verify the fraudulent accounts and clear them out of your profile. Potential creditors will continue to receive alerts that your profile is associated with fraud, with instructions to request additional ID verification.

3. If fraudulent activity continues to appear on your credit profile, you may want to consider a security freeze. With a credit freeze, no one can access your credit profile except lenders you specify during a time period you set. You need to set up a freeze individually with each credit agency, either by phone or via each agency’s online form.

When you freeze your credit profile, you’ll receive a PIN to use for temporarily lifting the freeze to allow specific credit checks. Security freezes are free for victims of identity theft, and will run anywhere from $0 to $10 for other applicants, depending on age and state of residence. Fees for lifting and restoring freezes vary by state from free to $5.

How to stay safe

“Knowing when your personal data has been compromised is very difficult, as it could happen from any number of places which hold that data,” says Thomas Labarthe, managing director (Europe) for security firm Lookout. When a security breach occurs at a point-of-sale terminal, as it did in the recent Home Depot breach, consumers are especially powerless and may never find out about the breach until the retailer itself uncovers it. “It’s best to only use credit cards, as there’s an added layer of protection which makes it easier to claim money back in cases of fraud,” Labarthe says.

When you’re shopping online, use encrypted sites with “https” in the URL, and only use credit cards even when using secure online payment services. Offline, make sure your mailbox is secure; fraudsters can get plenty of identifying information from stolen mail.

Most importantly, check your credit profile once a year. You can request an annual free copy from each credit agency at AnnualCreditReport.com.

This article was written by Natasha Stokes and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Web

FTC Mandates Refunds for Online Backorders Over 30 Days

Online Shopping
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By now, most everyone has an e-retail horror story.

Mine happened several years ago when I ordered a sale priced flat-screen TV from a major tech website. My credit card was charged immediately when I placed the order, but the television never shipped. It was still back ordered months later, and every time I checked back in with the unhelpful seller, there was no new delivery date in sight. Only after I challenged the charge on my credit card statement did the website finally relent and agree to refund my money and the interest charges that accumulated while waiting.

Thankfully, these kinds of horror stories will soon be a thing of the past. This week, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced new rules regarding the timeliness of fulfilling online orders. In short, if a website cannot put an item in your hands in 30 days, it needs to offer you a refund. The FTC writes (PDF):

The Rule prohibits sellers from soliciting mail, Internet, or telephone order sales unless they have a reasonable basis to expect that they can ship the ordered merchandise within the time stated on the solicitation or, if no time is stated, within 30 days. The Rule further requires a seller to seek the buyer’s consent to the delayed shipment when the seller learns that it cannot ship within the time stated or, if no time is stated, within 30 days. If the buyer does not consent, the seller must promptly refund all money paid for the unshipped merchandise.

The new rule is slated to go into effect on December 8, which is good news for those of us planning on doing our holiday shopping online this year. Similar rules have existed for mail orders since 1975 and for telephone orders since 1993. You can read the full details of the updated Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule by visiting www.ftc.gov.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME social

How Facebook Uses Ad Feedback to Alter Your Timeline

A few years ago, Facebook rolled out functionality to all users that lets us hide advertisements we find objectionable. Many ignore this “I don’t want to see this” feature, hiding in the down arrow at the top right corner of the ad, because hidden advertisements are quickly replaced with new ones.

Some do click and give their reasons for reporting ads, however, giving Facebook a wealth of data about which ones users find objectionable. Facebook has taken to its official Newsroom blog to explain how the site now uses that feedback to making your experience on the social network better.

According to Facebook Product Manager Max Eulenstein, when people start reporting an ad, the site’s algorithm takes note and adjusts our News Feeds accordingly:

When testing this update, we looked at when people told us that ads were offensive or inappropriate and stopped showing those ads. As a result, we saw a significant decrease in the number of ads people reported as offensive or inappropriate. This means we were able to take signals from a small number of people on a small number of particularly bad ads to improve the ads everyone sees on Facebook.

This change means Facebook is collecting more data on you, but in this case, it may be a good thing. Each time you report an ad, Facebook also learns about the type of ads you, specifically, dislike. Once your ad profile is built, Facebook will intentionally avoid showing you ads it thinks “there is even a small chance” you might hide. The company says this change has already reduced the rate at which people hide ads by 30%.

Of course, this is only the latest “advertising innovation” to hit the social network. Last year, Techlicious revealed how Facebook algorithms stretch well beyond the boundaries of the site itself, collecting data on you even as you shop in supermarkets. And the site landed in hot water last year when it asserted the right to feature everyday users of the site, including minors and their photos, as unpaid endorsers in ads on the site.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME privacy

How to Take Control of Your Personal Data

privacy
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Just how much data is there about you online?

Before you answer that, think about the slew of social media networks, retailers, insurance providers, fitness tracking services and other digital services you’ve interacted with in your lifetime.

Companies mine the tracks we leave as we browse the Internet, then sell the data to targeted marketing firms and customers. The digital data marketing industry, including companies generating revenue from online ads and selling user data, was worth $62 billion in 2012, according to a 2013 study by the Data-Driven Marketing Institute.

Yet you and I, the users who actually create this data, have little to no control over what it’s used for. Having control over our data means being able to view it in its entirety whenever we want (instead of having to file a formal request with an energy provider, for instance) and to decide if, when and how companies may use it.

“The mere fact that the data is in the cloud puts it at least one or two steps from you having control,” says Lee Tien, senior staff attorney of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights organization. “If you lose access to the Internet, you lose access to your data.” Ideally, Tien says, you would possess a complete copy of your data from all the services you use, downloaded to your computer — and in a perfect world, you’re the only who would have it.

New services are getting on board with that idea. From a vault for your most sensitive documents to a private browser that could one day allow you to sell your data yourself, the services below can help you reclaim control over your digital self.

Your personal encrypted cloud service

Personal is a highly encrypted cloud storage service where users are the only ones with the key necessary to decrypt their data. You can manually upload documents as well as email passwords, account numbers and addresses. Partner service Fillit can automatically save data fields to your cloud. For example, if you’re shopping for car insurance, once you fill out one application, Fillit can auto-populate others.

A link between Personal and the Department of Education allows you to import all data fields from your FAFSA application and National Student Loan records. You can also import data from Facebook and LinkedIn. In the future, says Personal’s chief policy officer Josh Galper, federal health records will also be available for import, letting you manage and share your medical history with doctors or insurance providers as you see fit.

If you want to share data with a trusted friend (for example, so that your spouse can fill in a mortgage application), you can send a key to decrypt and download a particular piece of info from your vault. You can also delete your account at any time, wiping out your virtual vault but keeping everything you’d downloaded.

Personal doesn’t store your log-in details, and since each vault is encrypted, the company itself cannot view the stored data. However, the weak link in the security chain could be devastating if broken. A Personal password that gets hacked due to lax personal security or the theft of a device that’s still logged in could give thieves access to — well, everything, ever.

Price: $29.99/year or $2.99/month with a 30-day free trial

Download social media posts to one secure location

SocialSafe saves a copy of all your social media posts and photos to a local hard drive. Currently supporting seven networks, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it’s searchable across all accounts for specific content such as particular friends or posts about an event. Analytics tools let you see highlights such as most popular photos and which days you’ve posted the most, over any period from a day to lifetime.

Founder Julian Ranger says that the company has no access to user data at all. “We have no servers, no central database that could be a target of a hack,” he says. Instead, users download the SocialSafe software, which connects with each account to directly download your data.

SocialSafe will become even more useful as other types of providers join its ranks. Ranger says that integration with fitness, financial and retail outlets is in the pipeline, and the coming months will see the inclusion of location check-ins, Spotify listening habits and data on the so-called quantified self (diet, fitness and sleep habits). This will allow you to obtain copies of data that’s hitherto been disparately held, and, as Ranger says, gain insight into your own behavior.

Price: $6.99/year (four linked accounts) to $27.99/year (20 linked accounts) with a 30-day free trial

Centralize your bills safely

Bill fetcher FileThis, which will be out of beta testing this year and is expected to support 1,000 services by 2015, connects with utility and financial providers to import bills and statements to your local hard drive or a cloud service like uber-secure service Personal. FileThis supports major banks, Paypal, Verizon, American Express and many energy and water companies.

Once you’ve fetched the documents you need, FileThis can recognize fields (dates, keywords and account numbers) and file various types of statements for easy searching. For example, a National Grid statement would be put in a Utilities folder, then tagged with keywords such as “Gas & Electric” and “Invoice.”

Because FileThis uses bank-level encryption standards and encrypts your log-in details as soon as they’re entered, linking accounts by giving FileThis usernames and passwords should be as secure as online banking. Documents aren’t stored on its servers but simply pass through, encrypted, so hacker breaches should not give access to your data.

Price: Free when linked to six accounts; $2/month or $20/year for up to 12 accounts; or $5/month or $50/year for up to 30 accounts

Collect and protect your browser history

The Meeco browser takes privacy one step further: It stores and encrypts your search history and so-called rich personal data (such as location, age or other info mined by website cookies) in a personal cloud, much like Personal’s model, so that data brokers can’t sell or use the data for advertising. Instead, what you do on the Internet is visible only to you. The idea is that eventually, you can allow particular companies access to particular data about you in exchange for monetary compensation.

The Meeco browser also keeps your web surfing more private by breaking down your history into individual sessions, making it much harder for websites to know who you are and where you’ve been.

Price: Free, currently in beta testing at meeco.me

Download your medical and utility records

In 2010, the U.S. government launched the Blue Button initiative to allow individuals (initially veterans) to download healthcare records. Now many more providers, including labs and pharmacies, allow patients to download medical histories and share them with hospitals, doctors and health insurance companies.

Green Button is the project’s equivalent for energy companies. At the time of posting, 67 energy companies covering 43 million households were participating, allowing customers to download their usage history.

Seeing profit in privacy

What happens if a company’s servers are hacked or a visionary startup that puts privacy first gets bought, as WhatsApp and Instagram were, by a tech giant with a more lax view on user data?

“If the encryption technology is perfectly implemented, then a data breach would be less of an issue — and even if the company is sold, its new owner should still not be able to access user data,” says EFF’s Tien. “But if tech isn’t guaranteed, then what matters is what the terms and conditions say.”

Still, there’s plenty of incentive for companies to get it right. Personal, SocialSafe and Meeco are capitalizing on today’s high concern about online privacy. In the wake of unfolding revelations of mass surveillance, privacy breaches and data losses, companies that don’t respect privacy wind up with a bad rep and lose customers.

Take Personal: The bulk of its revenue is intended to come from companies, such as the businesses that pay for information on users who auto-fill online forms using the service. The for-pay model seems to assuage customers’ privacy concerns. “[In its early stages], people wanted to pay to subscribe to the service, so that they know they’re not the product,” says Personal’s Galper.

At the end of the day, as EFF’s Tien says, “Everything is all about economics.” If a company can turn a profit by tapping into a burgeoning need for privacy, it’s more likely to release a privacy-friendly product. And as Americans grow savvier about online privacy, so will the demand for services whose business models respect user data — and our right to its control.

This article was written by Natasha Stokes and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME mergers

Why Big Mergers Are Bad for Consumers

When big companies merge, it’s good for the bankers — but not so good for the rest of us

Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox wants to take over Time Warner. Comcast wants to buy Time Warner Cable. AT&T and DirecTV may hook up to compete against them. T-Mobile and Sprint are looking to connect, as are any number of other large communications firms, not to mention technology and pharma giants. We are in a new golden age of mergers and acquisitions–M&A activity was up sharply in 2014 and is already at pre-financial-crisis levels. Now bankers are salivating at the billions of dollars in fees such deals generate. The question is, Will the deals be any good for the rest of us?

Since the early 1980s, antitrust regulators like the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission have tried to answer that question by asking another: Will a given merger bring down prices and improve services for consumers? If the answer was even remotely yes, then the merger–no matter how big–was likely to go through. But voices on all sides of the antitrust debate are beginning to question whether that rationale is actually working anymore.

Nobody would argue that the megamergers that have taken place over the past 30 years in pharmaceuticals, for example, have brought down drug prices. Or that the tie-ups between big airlines have made flying more enjoyable. Or that conglomerate banks have made our financial system more robust. “Merging companies always say that they’ll save money and bring down prices,” says Albert Foer, president of the American Antitrust Institute, a think tank devoted to studying competition. “But the reality is that they often end up with monopoly power that allows them to exert incredible pressure in whatever way they like.” That can include squeezing not only customers but also smaller suppliers way down the food chain.

Take the book business, for example. Though publishing is minuscule as a percentage of the economy, it has recently become a focal point in the debate over how our antitrust system works (or doesn’t), mostly because it illustrates the incredible power of one corporation: Amazon. In 2012, the Department of Justice went after tech giant Apple and a group of five major book publishers for collusion, winning a case against them for attempting to fix the prices of e-books. The publishers argued their actions were a response to anticompetitive monopoly pricing by Amazon. Apple is appealing.

Did the verdict serve the public? Many people, including star trial attorney David Boies, say no. Boies, who’s been representing large firms on both sides of the antitrust issue as well as the DOJ over the past several decades, says the verdict is “a failure of common sense and analysis.” Regulators often bring collusion cases, for example, because they are relatively easy to prove. Yet in this case, argues Boies, it led to an outcome in which the entrenched market participant, Amazon, was strengthened, and new participants–Apple and the book publishers–that hoped to create a competing platform in the e-book industry were shot down. “The result is that Amazon gets bigger, and eventually regulators will have to go after them,” says Boies. “We really need a more realistic, commonsense view of antitrust enforcement.” Amazon declined to comment.

The “Bigger Is Better” ethos of the 1980s and 1990s grew not only out of conservative, markets-know-best thinking. It was also fueled by a belief on the left that antitrust enforcement was wasteful and that regulating big companies was preferable to trying to stop them from becoming too big in the first place. Neither side got it right. Big companies aren’t always concerned first about the welfare of their customers–or particularly easy to regulate. The idea of letting companies do whatever they want as long as they can prove that they are decreasing prices may be far too simplistic a logic to serve the public–or even the corporate–good. Amazon shares have tumbled as investors worry about the future of a company that has so successfully compressed prices that it generates as much as $20 billion in revenue a quarter but no profit.

How to fix things? We need a rethink of antitrust logic that takes into consideration a more complex, global landscape in which megamergers have unpredictable ripple effects. We also need a new definition of consumer good that encompasses not only price but choice and the kind of marketplace diversity that encourages innovation and growth. Tech and communications firms today are like the railroads of old: it will take a strong hand to rein them in. That’s a task not for regulators but for Congress and a new Administration. Until then, with corporate coffers full and markets flying high, the big are only likely to get bigger.

TIME Travel

U.S. Airports to Begin Leveraging Your Smartphone to Track Wait Times

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is installing a first-in-the-nation system to monitor security checkpoint wait times using travelers’ smartphones and other Wi-Fi-enabled devices, Bloomberg Businessweek is reporting.

The system, known as BlipTrack, works by tracking the unique Media Access Control (MAC) addresses of phones and other devices actively searching for a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection in the airport. The location of your phone will only be tracked as it moves through certain pre-defined areas, and no personally identifying data will be collected. Airport officials claim the system poses no threat to your privacy.

The nuts and bolts behind BlipTrack are virtually identical to the customer-tracking system tested by retailer Nordstrom early last year.

The choice to move forward with the BlipTrack system is curious, given that Apple is removing the ability for MAC addresses to be tracked in iOS 8. Should Google’s Android OS follow suit, Cincinnati’s system could be obsolete just months after it’s installed.

BlipTrack, already in use in major international airports worldwide, is expected to go live in Cincinnati next month.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Gadgets

After Recall, Nest Smoke Alarm Is Back and Discounted

Nest

Nest’s followup to its nicely designed smart thermostat was a smart smoke detector called Protect (see our original coverage here).

One of the features of Protect — aside from being Internet-connected and able to send alerts to your smartphone — was a trick that let you wave your hand underneath it to silence it.

The thought was that people have a tendency to accidentally set off their smoke alarms while cooking, and getting the alarms to pipe down is more cumbersome than it should be.

However, the company found that the feature might have been at risk of malfunctioning, which in certain cases could have silenced the alarm when it was supposed to be making noise. So in early April — a few months after Nest was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion — nearly half a million Nest smoke detectors were recalled; the wave-to-dismiss feature was able to be deactivated via a software update as well, making physically sending the smoke detector back to Nest unnecessary.

Now, the Nest Protect is back on the market, with the wave-to-dismiss feature disabled altogether. The company had originally alluded to trying to fix it via a future software update, so we’ll see if and when that comes to fruition. The price of the Nest Protect has also dropped from $130 down to $99 as well.

[New York Times]

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