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McDonald’s Sued for $5M Over 2 Slices of Cheese

The Free Press WV

They didn’t want cheese on their Quarter Pounders. They claim they had to pay for it anyway—a cost of up to $1—and now want $5 million for the trouble. That’s according to a new lawsuit filed by two Florida residents against McDonald’s, which should be used to such fights by now. It came after Leonard Werner says he realized McDonald’s was repeatedly charging him for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, but giving him a cheese-less sandwich, as he requested. “I started talking with some lawyer friends, saying, ‘What’s the deal? They can charge for something I didn’t get?‘ It’s not right,“ Werner says, per the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. According to Werner, McDonald’s restaurant menus no longer feature a cheese-less Quarter Pounder, but its app menu does, at a reduced cost of 30 cents to $1.

Restaurant customers are therefore “being forced to pay for two slices of cheese, which they do not want, order, or receive, to be able to purchase their desired product,“ the suit says. One of the attorneys who filed the suit, which is seeking class-action status, explains people who order a Big Mac with items left off “are not entitled to a credit against the purchase price” because the burger is trademarked according to its ingredients, per the Miami Herald. He says that’s not the case with the Quarter Pounder, since a cheese-less option is sold. Another lawyer involved says up to 25 million customers may have been overcharged and could be eligible to receive $10 and a free sandwich should a judge side with the plaintiffs. McDonald’s doesn’t expect that to happen, claiming the suit is without legal merit.

McDonald’s dollar menu replacement fuels industry price war

The Free Press WV

McDonald’s Corp., the world’s largest restaurant chain, unveiled its new value-priced menu on Monday, aiming to keep its lead in an industry that’s increasingly racing for the bottom. The lineup, set to go live on January 04, includes items such as chicken tenders, Happy Meals, sodas, triple cheeseburgers and the Egg McMuffin.

With visits to U.S. fast-food restaurants seen remaining flat next year, the major chains are jockeying for position and announcing discounts to keep diners’ attention. Taco Bell, the Mexican-themed chain owned by Yum Brands, is responding with what it calls its “biggest value push in company history.“

The new offering at McDonald’s, which will run alongside the regular menu at restaurants, is a balancing act for the Golden Arches. If items are priced too high, customers feel like they’re getting ripped off and head to competitors. But if the prices are too low, McDonald’s own franchisees will do the grousing.

That was the case with the company’s Dollar Menu, which was phased out in 2013. McDonald’s operators thought it weighed too heavily on profit margins, but the menu was popular with customers. And its absence was felt. The demise of the Dollar Menu was seen as a contributor to a sales slump that lasted two years.

This time around, McDonald’s thinks it has a formula that can keep franchisees happy. More than 90 percent of restaurant owners have signed up to participate in the program, according to Chris Kempczinski, who runs the company’s U.S operations.

“You have to make sure it’s something we can sustain,“ he said in an interview.

Andy Barish, an analyst at Jefferies, upgraded the stock to “buy” on Tuesday and raised his price target to $200, in part because the new value menu will help the chain continue to gain customers.

McDonald’s shares climbed as much as 2 percent to $174 in New York Tuesday, in the biggest intraday gain in more than two months. The stock had already climbed 40 percent this year through Monday.

McDonald’s announced in October that it was planning the menu, though it didn’t give details until Monday. The idea is to shore up a comeback built on the success of all-day breakfast and more targeted discounts like McPick 2 for $5.

When the new menu hits next month, customers will be able to get a handful of options for $1, $2 or $3. The cheapest items include sodas, McChicken sandwiches, a sausage burrito and cheeseburgers. The sausage McMuffin with egg is on the menu for $3, alongside a new chicken sandwich. And the company’s buttermilk chicken tenders, which sold out last month after a brief run, are returning to the menu – with an order of two costing $2.

One popular item that’s absent is french fries. Kempczinski said the company spent months trying to figure out the best way to construct the new menu and ultimately decided it was compelling without fries.

“We didn’t need fries to make it attractive,“ he said.

Taco Bell, meanwhile, is seeking to remain in the mix as McDonald’s and its burger rivals at Wendy’s and Burger King increasingly look for ways to appeal to the core fast-food customers looking for discounted fare.

Shares of owner Yum were little changed Monday at $83.32.

Taco Bell is reminding customers that it has a $1 menu with 20 items, and this lineup will be boosted by 20 more limited-time offerings in 2018. The menu will include nacho French fries and a new “stacker” quesadilla – beef and cheese in a folded flour tortilla.

“I think a lot of places begrudgingly try to figure out what food to serve at these price points,“ Brian Niccol, the chain’s chief executive officer, said in an interview. “We choose to lean into it.“

GM could launch its own autonomous ride-hailing service as early as 2019

The Free Press WV

A General Motors executive said Friday that the company is rushing to launch autonomous vehicles for a ride-hailing service that could compete with Uber and Lyft, the latest example of how aggressively the legacy carmaker is pushing to stay at the forefront of automotive innovation.

GM says those robotic vehicles – battery-powered Chevy Bolts that are being developed by Cruise Automation, a subsidiary – will appear on American streets without a driver in 2019.

The company said vehicles will not have human backup drivers.

The ambitious timeline could place GM in an enviable position: with the unique ability to provide existing ride-hailing companies like Lyft or Uber with a growing fleet of autonomous vehicles or, better yet, to unleash their own service. Using their vast dealership networks, nationwide influence and manufacturing prowess, a GM-driven ride-hailing service may be positioned to leapfrog the Silicon Valley startups that have been trying to disrupt the auto industry. GM has invested $500 million in Lyft, which did not respond to a request for comment.

“We have been committed since we first started talking about our efforts and when we purchased a portion of Lyft to building self-driving cars that operate in a ride-sharing environment,“ Ray Wert, head of Storytelling and advanced technology communications at General Motors, said. “We’re very happy with how the technology is progressing and given that we feel we have the capability to move forward with one partner, many partners or no partners at all.“

“We will pick the solution that helps us achieve our mission of safely developing and deploying self-driving cars at scale,“ Wert added.

GM hasn’t said where it plans to launch autonomous ride-sharing fleets or how many vehicles they might include, but the company’s chief executive Mary Barra, said this week that they believe the “biggest opportunities are in the coastal areas.“

The car-maker is already testing autonomous vehicles on busy San Francisco streets – as well as in Phoenix and its hometown, Detroit. At those locations, engineers have a chance to refine the vehicle’s self-driving capabilities and the still-precarious rider experience ahead of the ambitious deadline. Instead of testing its vehicles on a closed course or a “simple suburban setting,“ Wert said, the company has opted to test the vehicles in an environment that resembles where they’ll actually be deployed. Real-world conditions, company officials believe, accelerate the technology and unlock economic opportunity.

“That’s why we’re committed to the aggressive timelines that we’re committed to,“ he said. “The faster we can do that the greater impact we can have on society.“

GM is far from the only traditional automaker investing in autonomous technology and ride-hailing services. Last month, Volvo announced plans to provide Uber with up to 24,000 vehicles for a fleet of driverless taxis that are expected to appear on American streets in 2019.

Google’s Waymo, German automaker Daimler and Ford are also developing self-driving cars that would be available for ride-sharing services.

GM considers autonomous vehicles the “biggest business opportunity since the creation of the internet,“ a market with with multitrillion dollar potential that goes hand-in-hand with electric vehicles.

In a note to clients Friday, Barclays analyst Brian Johnson wrote that instead of the “overly-aggressive timelines pushed by Tesla,“ GM’s ability to launch autonomous vehicles for a ride-sharing service now “seems possible.“

“The tech is real,“ he wrote, noting that GM’s vehicles will be “monitored by humans at a control center” and the company will benefit from their aggressive timeline.

After joining a test-drive in one of the prototypes, Johnson said the car was “impressive.“

“There were no disengagements,“ he wrote. “While the vehicle drove conservatively (i.e., taking time, strictly obeying speed limits, checking carefully at both sides before turning at an intersection), we’d also note that the driving environment was quite complex.“

Uber Concealed Cyberattack That Exposed 57 Million People’s Data

The Free Press WV

Hackers stole the personal data of 57 million customers and drivers from Uber Technologies, a massive breach that the company concealed for more than a year. This week, the ride-hailing company ousted Joe Sullivan, chief security officer, and one of his deputies for their roles in keeping the hack under wraps.

Compromised data from the October 2016 attack included names, email addresses and phone numbers of 50 million Uber riders around the world, the company told Bloomberg on Tuesday. The personal information of about 7 million drivers were accessed as well, including some 600,000 U.S. driver’s license numbers. No Social Security numbers, credit card details, trip location info or other data were taken, Uber said.

At the time of the incident, Uber was negotiating with U.S. regulators investigating separate claims of privacy violations. Uber now says it had a legal obligation to report the hack to regulators and to drivers whose license numbers were taken. Instead, the company paid hackers $100,000 to delete the data and keep the breach quiet. Uber said it believes the information was never used but declined to disclose the identities of the attackers.

“None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,“ Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over as chief executive officer in September, said in an emailed statement. “We are changing the way we do business.“

Hackers have successfully infiltrated numerous companies in recent years. The Uber breach, while large, is dwarfed by those at Yahoo, MySpace, Target, Anthem and Equifax. What’s more alarming are the extreme measures Uber took to hide the attack. The breach is the latest explosive scandal Khosrowshahi inherits from his predecessor, Travis Kalanick.

Kalanick, Uber’s co-founder and former CEO, learned of the hack in November 2016, a month after it took place, the company said. Uber had just settled a lawsuit with the New York attorney general over data security disclosures and was in the process of negotiating with the Federal Trade Commission over the handling of consumer data. Kalanick declined to comment on the hack.

Sullivan spearheaded the response to the hack last year, a spokesman told Bloomberg. Sullivan, a onetime federal prosecutor who joined Uber in 2015 from Facebook, has been at the center of much of the decision-making that has come back to bite Uber this year. Bloomberg reported last month that the board commissioned an investigation into the activities of Sullivan’s security team. This project, conducted by an outside law firm, discovered the hack and the ensuing cover-up, Uber said.

Here’s how the hack went down: Two attackers accessed a private GitHub coding site used by Uber software engineers and then used login credentials they obtained there to access data stored on an Amazon Web Services account that handled computing tasks for the company. From there, the hackers discovered an archive of rider and driver information. Later, they emailed Uber asking for money, according to the company.

A patchwork of state and federal laws require companies to alert people and government agencies when sensitive data breaches occur. Uber said it was obligated to report the hack of driver’s license information and failed to do so.

“At the time of the incident, we took immediate steps to secure the data and shut down further unauthorized access by the individuals.,“ Khosrowshahi said. “We also implemented security measures to restrict access to and strengthen controls on our cloud-based storage accounts.“

Uber has earned a reputation for flouting regulations in areas where it has operated since its founding in 2009. The U.S. has opened at least five criminal probes into possible bribes, illicit software, questionable pricing schemes and theft of a competitor’s intellectual property, people familiar with the matters have said. The San Francisco-based company also faces dozens of civil suits. London and other governments have taken steps toward banning the service, citing what they say is reckless behavior by Uber.

In January 2016, the New York attorney general fined Uber $20,000 for failing to promptly disclose an earlier data breach in 2014. After last year’s cyberattack, the company was negotiating with the FTC on a privacy settlement even as it haggled with the hackers on containing the breach, Uber said. The company finally agreed to the FTC settlement three months ago, without admitting wrongdoing and before telling the agency about last year’s attack.

The new CEO said his goal is to change Uber’s ways. Uber said it informed New York’s attorney general and the FTC about the October 2016 hack for the first time on Tuesday. Khosrowshahi asked for the resignation of Sullivan and fired Craig Clark, a senior lawyer who reported to Sullivan. The men didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The company said its investigation found that Salle Yoo, the outgoing chief legal officer who has been scrutinized for her responses to other matters, hadn’t been told about the incident. Her replacement, Tony West, will start at Uber on Wednesday and has been briefed on the cyberattack.

Kalanick was ousted as CEO in June under pressure from investors, who said he put the company at legal risk. He remains on the board and recently filled two seats he controlled.

“While I can’t erase the past, I can commit on behalf of every Uber employee that we will learn from our mistakes,“ Khosrowshahi said in the emailed statement.

Uber said it has hired Matt Olsen, a former general counsel at the National Security Agency and director of the National Counterterrorism Center, as an adviser. He will help the company restructure its security teams. Uber hired Mandiant, a cybersecurity firm owned by FireEye, to investigate the hack.

The company plans to release a statement to customers saying it has seen “no evidence of fraud or misuse tied to the incident.“ Uber said it will provide drivers whose licenses were compromised with free credit protection monitoring and identity theft protection.

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