Joel Carillet/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Carnival Cruise Line is planning to unveil what it calls the "first-ever roller coaster at sea" in 2020.
The cruise line plans to feature "BOLT: Ultimate Sea Coaster" on board the ship Mardi Gras when it launches in two years. The 800-foot, all-electric coaster will travel up to about 40 miles per hour and feature "twists, turns and drops."
"Mardi Gras will be our most innovative ship ever with some tryly special features and attractions," Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy said in a press release. She called the roller coaster a "one-of-a-kind, game-changing, exhilarating attraction."
Carnival's website says riders will be able to control the speed of their ride -- up to the limit, of course -- and will experience 360 degree views of the ocean around them.
golubovy/iStock(MENLO PARK, Calif.) -- Facebook said a software bug affected nearly 7 million users who shared photos with as many as 1,500 third-party apps on Friday.
This includes photos that were never posted, the company said.
"Our internal team discovered a photo API bug that may have affected people who used Facebook Login and granted permission to third-party apps to access their photos. We have fixed the issue but, because of this bug, some third-party apps may have had access to a broader set of photos than usual for 12 days between September 13 to September 25, 2018," the company said in a post on its developer blog.
"When someone gives permission for an app to access their photos on Facebook, we usually only grant the app access to photos people share on their timeline. In this case, the bug potentially gave developers access to other photos, such as those shared on Marketplace or Facebook Stories. The bug also impacted photos that people uploaded to Facebook but chose not to post. For example, if someone uploads a photo to Facebook but doesn't finish posting it -- maybe because they've lost reception or walked into a meeting -- we store a copy of that photo so the person has it when they come back to the app to complete their post," the company said.
The social media giant also said the bug may have affected "up to 6.8 million users and up to 1,500 apps built by 876 developers," the statement said. "The only apps affected by this bug were ones that Facebook approved to access the photos API and that individuals had authorized to access their photos."
Users who were affected were notified by an alert on Facebook, the company said Friday. They also recommended users log into apps and check which photos they granted access to.
CPSC(NEW YORK) -- New York State is suing the Target Corporation, Walmart Inc., and importer LaRose Industries, for allegedly selling a toy jewelry kit containing lead levels up to 10 times higher than the federal limit, state Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood's office announced on Thursday.
Authorities allege that those retailers and importers committed deceptive acts, false advertising and thousands of violations of state laws related to selling hazardous toys when they imported and sold thousands of Cra-Z-Jewelz jewelry-making kits between 2015 and 2016, according to the suit filed in Albany County Supreme Court.
“No parent should have to worry that their child’s toy may be toxic. As we allege, these companies imported and sold toys with dangerous levels of toxic lead -- jeopardizing the health of New York’s children and breaking the law,” Underwood said in a statement. “Our lawsuit seeks to hold these companies accountable for the failures that allowed lead-contaminated toys on store shelves, while forcing them to take responsibility for the safety of the products they sell.”
The federal limit for lead is 100 parts per million (ppm).
In a statement, Walmart said that they take safety seriously and "require our suppliers to meet safety standards."
"As soon as LaRose Industries made us aware of the product recall nearly three years ago, we removed the items from our shelves and online and haven’t sold them since. We’ve discussed this matter with the New York Attorney General’s office and will address the allegations and demands with the court," Walmart added.
Target also issued a statement in response to the lawsuit.
"As soon as the New York Attorney General let us know about the allegations with this product after its testing back in 2016, we immediately and voluntarily pulled the bracelet kit from our stores," said Target in a statement. "We’re committed to providing high quality and safe products to our guests and we require all of our vendors to follow safety laws and CPSC guidelines for the products they sell at Target."
In 2015 and 2016, the New York attorney general’s office said they tested Cra-Z-Jewelz kits sold in New York City, Long Island, Syracuse and Buffalo and found lead levels of 120 to 980 ppm in wristbands from kits sold at Target and supplied by LaRose. Prosecutors determined the same LaRose-supplied kits were sold in New York Walmart stores, according to the lawsuit.
Following the initial finding of high-lead levels in the wristbands, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, LaRose and the attorney general’s office all did additional testing that also found that there was lead contamination, the attorney general’s office said in a statement.
LaRose then issued a national recall of the jewelry-making kits, according to the attorney general. They also adopted "measures to better ensure that the imported toys they sell comply with federal lead limits."
Prosecutors are seeking civil penalties from $70 to $6,000 for each Cra-Z-Jewelz kit the companies sought to sell in the state and a court order requiring the companies to "take actions to ensure that toys with high lead levels do not end up on the retailers' store shelves."
LaRose did not immediately return ABC News’ request for comment.
bigtunaonline/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Post a photo of a baby on Facebook and you’ll see ads for diapers, toys and more, or purchase a gift for a friend’s new baby and you’ll start getting ads for baby products yourself. Users of social media know the drill when it comes to ads.
Now, one mom is calling out tech companies after her own emotional experience with ad targeting.
Gillian Brockell, of Washington, D.C., said she was inundated with ads for baby products the first time she picked up her phone after delivering her stillborn son in November.
Brockell posted an open letter on Twitter asking tech companies to fix their algorithms so that users are not confronted by ads they don’t want to see.
“Please, Tech Companies, I implore you: If your algorithms are smart enough to realize that I was pregnant, or that I’ve given birth, then surely they can be smart enough to realize that my baby died, and advertise to me accordingly -- or maybe, just maybe, not at all,” she wrote.
"We never asked for the pregnancy or parenting ads to be turned on; these tech companies triggered that on their own, based on information we shared. So what I’m asking is that there be similar triggers to turn this stuff off on its own, based on information we’ve shared," Brockell added.
The letter by Brockell was published this week by The Washington Post, where she works as a video editor.
Brockell, who declined to comment for this article, noted in her letter that social media platforms should be able to detect from her online activity that she did not deliver a healthy baby.
“But didn’t you also see me googling 'braxton hicks vs. preterm labor' and 'baby not moving'? Did you not see my three days of social media silence, uncommon for a high-frequency user like me?” she wrote. “And then the announcement post with keywords like 'heartbroken' and 'problem' and 'stillborn' and the 200 teardrop emoticons from my friends? Is that not something you could track?”
Brockell’s letter has been shared on Twitter more than 25,000 times. Many of the commenters shared similar experiences.
“I received big envelopes and packages in the mail from Shutterfly on my baby’s due date and for many months, encouraging me to capture memories of the first year. I had miscarried at 12 weeks and I never signed up for Shutterfly. So sorry for your loss,” wrote one commenter.
“Heartbreaking. I lost four pregnancies (although thankfully all much earlier) so I absolutely understand exactly how horrific these posts can be. So sorry and wishing you all the best in persuading them to tackle this,” wrote another.
Brockell also received a tweet in reply to her post from Rob Goldman, the vice president of ads for Facebook, who said the platform is working on the issue.
Goldman shared that there is a way to change ad settings manually on Facebook, by going to Settings>Ad Preferences>Hide ad topics.
Brockell said in a later tweet that once she adjusted her ad settings on Facebook, she received an ad about adoption.
Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, did not reply to requests for comment.
"We cannot imagine the pain of those who have experienced this type of loss,” a spokesperson for Twitter told ABC News' Good Morning America in a statement. “We are continuously working on improving our advertising products to ensure they serve appropriate content to the people who use our services."
KFC(NEW YORK) -- The holidays are synonymous with the intoxicating aroma of good food and the smell of a cracking fire -- but KFC has just married the two with a KFC 11 Herbs & Spices Firelog.
That's right, the comfort of a warm fire and the smell of Kentucky Fried Chicken can now waft from your fireplace, "to create a delightful, hearth-warming and hunger-inducing experience," according to the company.
The five-pound logs were created in partnership with Enviro-Log, and "is dramatically less wasteful and significantly more effective at making your home smell like fried chicken than burning actual fried chicken."
There are some caveats, KFC points out -- notably that the smell could attract hungry bears or neighbors, and, of course, that you shouldn't attempt to actually taste the log while it's not burning and especially when it is.
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- After Nancy Pelosi walked out of the White House in a fire-red, high-collared coat earlier this week after a contentious meeting with President Trump, her sartorial statement went so viral that the coat's designer, MaxMara, is reportedly planning to bring back the design in 2019.
The House minority leader, and likely future speaker of the House, made headlines when her meeting with Trump erupted into political fireworks around the topic of border wall funding.
After the meeting, Pelosi buttoned up in her bright-hued MaxMara jacket, popped on some sunglasses walked out of the White House to face the press alongside Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Photos of her fashion-forward exit quickly went viral across social media, with the coat taking center stage and hundreds coveting over the bright-colored, classic statement piece.
A parody account, in the voice of the coat itself, was started on Twitter.
The coat's designer was eventually identified by eagle-eyed fashionistas online as MaxMara, and the fashion label put out a statement on Facebook Thursday saying they are "honored" that Pelosi wore their coat "to her recent historic meeting at the White House."
"This boule shaped, funnel collar coat represents lasting values and projects both personal strength and glamour," the Italian fashion house added.
Pelosi's daughter, Christine Pelosi, tweeted that her mother originally bought the coat for President Barack Obama's second inauguration. Many on Twitter eventually pointed out that she wore to that event as well.
MaxMara did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment, but Glamour reported Wednesday that MaxMara will be bringing the coat, originally from their 2013 collection, back to stores in 2019.
Google (NEW YORK) -- Lime, the e-bike and scooter company, will be integrated into Google Maps as a transportation option and launched in 13 cities around the globe, the companies said.
Icons for available Lime vehicles — whether they are bicycles or electric bikes or scooters — will begin appearing on Thursday in the Google Maps "directions" or transit tab. Google will also show the vehicles' locations and the estimated cost of the trip, according to a press release from Lime and a blog post from Google. Because Lime scooters and bicycles are dockless, the location information is significant.
Google Maps has already integrated the ride sharing apps Lyft and Uber. Alphabet Ventures — the capital arm of Google's parent company, Alphabet — and Uber have invested in Lime.
In an email to ABC News, a Google spokesperson said that this relationship would not affect users' data privacy.
"Lime shares vehicle availability and pricing information to surface this useful information within Google Maps. We are not sharing any data with them," the spokesperson said.
Hospitals and health centers in cities where e-scooters have launched have seen an uptick in emergency room visits for broken bones and serious head injuries. Two fatal accidents have been tied to Lime scooters. The company has recalled an undisclosed number of its scooters twice this year. The first affected vehicles had batteries that could catch fire. The most recent recall in November came after numerous reports of the brand's scooters breaking apart while in use.
In the U.S. the cities launched in Austin, Baltimore, Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland, San Antonio, San Jose, Scottsdale and Seattle. The feature also kicked off in Auckland, New Zealand and Brisbane, Australia.
D-Keine/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Attention last-minute Christmas shoppers, there's still time to get all your gifts before Dec. 25 thanks to online retailers adjusting their rush shipping promotions.
Amazon announced Thursday it would extend its holiday free shipping promotion to Dec. 18 to all customers with no minimum purchase.
The online retailer also expanded Amazon Prime free one-day shipping to 10,000 cities and towns.
Additionally, Prime Now deliveries can be placed until 11:59 p.m. on December 24 with "free two-hour delivery exclusively for Prime members in more than 30 cities," the company said in a press release.
Amazon published a holiday delivery calendar to help ensure shoppers know the best time to buy products in a time crunch.
Target, Walmart and Best Buy are also offering special speedy holiday shipping.
According to a press release earlier this year, Target is the first retailer to offer shoppers same-day delivery and Drive Up service from coast to coast.
The retailer is taking on competition like Amazon, offering free two-day shipping to all guests on a number of items, with no minimum purchase and no membership required.
Walmart also offers free two-day shipping on qualifying orders of $35 or more with no membership fee.
PeskyMonkey/iStock(AUSTIN, Texas) -- Apple is expanding its presence in the U.S. as a part of a billion-dollar investment that the company said would generate at least 5,000 new jobs.
The iPhone maker will build a new $1 billion campus in Austin, Texas, and open new offices in Seattle, San Diego and Culver City, California, to broaden its U.S. footprint, according to a statement released early Thursday morning.
"Apple is proud to bring new investment, jobs and opportunity to cities across the United States and to significantly deepen our quarter-century partnership with the city and people of Austin," Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a press release. "[W]ith this new expansion, we're redoubling our commitment to cultivating the high-tech sector and workforce nationwide."
Apple expects the 133-acre Austin campus to generate 5,000 jobs initially and potentially 10,000 more later. It also plans to expand in other U.S. cities, including Pittsburgh, New York and Boulder, Colorado, over the next three years, "with the potential for additional expansion elsewhere."
New jobs at Apple's planned Austin outpost will include engineering, research and development, operations, finance sales, and customer support positions.
Apple already has about 6,200 employees in Austin, making it the company's largest enclave outside of its Cupertino, California, headquarters.
Texas Governor Greg Abbot and Austin Mayor Steve Adler celebrated the news in a statement.
"Apple has been a vital part of the Austin community for a quarter century, and we are thrilled that they are deepening their investment in our people and the city we love," Adler said.
Abbot praised the tech giant as one of "world's most innovative companies" and a creator of jobs in his state.
"Their decision to expand operations in our state is a testament to the high-quality workforce and unmatched economic environment that Texas offers," he said.
In addition to the new $1 billion campus, Apple also said it added 6,000 U.S. jobs in 2018 and is on track to generate about 20,000 jobs nationwide by 2023.
Apple has a market capitalization of about $803 billion, making it one of the world's most valuable firms, but the company's stock price has been under pressure due to concerns about declining demand for new iPhones. Shares have declined almost 30 percent since October, after the stock hit a year-to-date high of $233 per share.
YinYang/iStock(LOS ANGELES) -- This year has been a pivotal time for women in Hollywood with the emergence of the Time’s Up and the #MeToo movements.
Feminism has been pushed to the forefront, and more women in film are raising their voices for gender equality in show business.
A recent study examining top-grossing films in the U.S. -- commissioned by Time’s Up -- found that those with female leads outperformed male-led films. The data examined 350 films, released from January 2014 to December 2017, across all budgets.
Of the films examined, 105 are categorized as female-led and 245 are categorized as male-led.
Studio System by Gracenote, an entertainment database, determines the status of a film’s lead by who is listed first in the film’s press materials. Trailers and one-sheets were used when that information was unavailable, according to the website.
When assessing co-leads, the first name listed in the database for the film was considered the lead.
The study, conducted by Los Angeles-based talent and sports agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and shift7, a technology company, categorized the pictures into five budget levels: under $10 million, $10 million to $30 million, $30 million to $50 million, $50 million to $100 million, and over $100 million.
Movies with female leads grossed more money in every category.
"This is powerful proof that audiences want to see everyone represented on-screen," said Amy Pascal, head of Pascal Pictures and former chairman of Sony Pictures, in a press release. "Decision-makers in Hollywood need to pay attention to this."
Christy Haubegger, an executive at CAA who worked on the project, said the group intended to eradicate a very common stigma in the film industry.
"What we knew is that there was a perception, when we talked to the women executives and producers and asked why we don’t see more female protagonists," she told ABC News.
"One of the quick responses everybody had was it was perceived to not be as lucrative -- that female led films don’t make as much money. That was an assumption that most people in our industry were working with. Then the question was 'Well is that true? Is that backed up by data?'" said Haubegger.
The group’s findings proved the opposite.
"This critical, conventional wisdom is actually just not true, and we certainly should be able to see a greater number of female protagonists going forward," she added.
The findings give hope to many within the industry.
“The report released today confirms what many of us have known: that films with women at the center are good business and good entertainment,” said Kirsten Schaffer, executive director of Women In Film Los Angeles, a group that advocates for women working in the film industry, in a statement to ABC News.
The study also examined which films passed the Bechdel test, which measures if a film has at least two female characters who speak to each other about something other than a man.
The films that passed this criteria outperformed those that did not, of the 350 films examined in the study.
jetcityimage/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Amazon workers at a Staten Island warehouse are launching a campaign to unionize, officials at the retail workers union confirmed on Wednesday.
Employees at the Staten Island facility spoke about what they called problematic workplace conditions at a press conference in front of New York City Hall.
The news of the organizing push was first reported by Bloomberg.
"Ever since they opened, management has forced everyone at the warehouse to work 12-hour shifts for five or six days a week. During our new-hire orientation, management promised us that the company would provide a shuttle service and ride shares to help us get to and from the warehouse, which is located in a remote area of the island. That has not happened," Rashad Long, an order picker in Staten Island, told reporters. He added that he commutes on an "overcrowded MTA select bus service."
The conference took place before a New York City Council hearing on the new Amazon HQ2 or second headquarters deal on Wednesday, officials from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU/UFCW) who are working with some Amazon employees to organize, told ABC News.
News of workplace conditions is under renewed scrutiny on the heels of the Queens HQ2, for which Amazon is receiving more than $1.5 billion in tax breaks and incentives from New York City and the state. The deal has been criticized for granting taxpayer funds to the world's largest retailer. Protesters say that the already crowded mass transit system cannot handle the additional 25,000 workers that Amazon has promised to hire locally to commute to Queens.
"Health and safety at the facility is also [a] huge issue. Product bins are over-stuffed and our breaks are few and far between. The third and fourth floors are so hot that I sweat through my whole shift, even when it’s freezing cold outside. We have asked the company to provide air conditioning for us, but they told us that the robots inside can’t work in cold weather, so there’s nothing they can do about it," Long said.
"On top of that, the sprinkler system and smoke detectors in the building don’t even work! I honestly feel that my life is in jeopardy just by working there," he added.
Last week, 24 Amazon workers in New Jersey were hospitalized after a robot accidentally tore a can of bear repellent spray at a fulfillment center in Robbinsville Township, New Jersey.
Richard Termine/Sesame Workshop(NEW YORK) -- "Sesame Street" is bringing back an old friend to help tackle the issue of homelessness among kids.
Lily, a 7-year-old Muppet, and her family are staying with friends on Sesame Street after losing their home.
She will be featured in new videos, interactive activities for families and storybooks available for free online, according to Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organization behind Sesame Street.
"Sesame Street" watchers may remember Lily from 2011, when she was originally introduced in an episode about her family struggling with hunger. She is being re-introduced with a focus on homelessness to “help mitigate the impact of the trauma and stigma that result from homelessness,” Sesame Workshop said in a statement.
Sesame Street’s new homelessness initiative is part of the show’s Sesame Street in Communities program. It was designed primarily for families with children ages 2 to 6.
More than 2.5 million children are experiencing homelessness nationwide and nearly half of those children are under the age of 6, according to figures shared by Sesame Workshop.
“By featuring Lily and her friends on Sesame Street, the resources are designed to show the experience from a child’s perspective, with Lily and her friends encouraging optimism, promoting understanding, and modeling simple coping strategies for children,” the organization said.
The materials featuring Lily are both free and bilingual. There are no current plans to air segments with Lily on TV, a spokesperson told "Good Morning America."
Last year, "Sesame Street" introduced Julia, a Muppet with autism.
McLaren Automotive(NEW YORK) -- Lamborghini, Porsche and Maserati have one. Ferrari and Aston Martin are working on theirs.
But don’t expect an SUV from McLaren. The British supercar maker just unveiled its latest model, the sleek, $315,000 720S Spider. “There are three reasons why there will not be a McLaren SUV,” Tony Joseph, president of McLaren Automotive North America, told ABC News, without apology.
“It could dilute the brand,” he said. “An SUV is not a driver’s car. And if we made that financial investment in the technology, will it pay off?”
He added, “It’s not the customers who are asking for an SUV. It’s the media.”
It was once unthinkable for sports car manufacturers to get into the SUV game. Now, SUVs are a guaranteed cash cow.
The market tells the story: Maserati said its Levante SUV accounts for 50 percent of sales worldwide. The Porsche Macan and Cayenne are the best-selling models for the German brand. There’s a 12-month waiting list for the Lamborghini Urus.
SUVs and light trucks are the top-selling vehicles in the U.S., accounting for 70 percent of the U.S. market. Carmakers continue to see increasing demand for SUVs in China, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
“People are gobbling up the Urus like the Cayenne,” Kim Wolfkill, editor-in-chief of Road and Track magazine, told ABC News. “The Urus is a way to get into a Lambo without driving a low-slung exotic.”
Unlike McLaren Automotive, which is privately-owned, Lamborghini is one of several brands under the Volkswagen umbrella, including Porsche, Audi and Bentley. The technological know-how for an SUV was already there.
“Lamborghini didn’t have to engineer a platform for an SUV from the ground up,” Wolfkill noted. McLaren, however, finds itself in a unique position.
McLaren “set out to only produce serious sports cars,” Wolfkill said. “It’s also trying to produce the wildest track car available. Every six months, McLaren announces a better version of its last model.”
Rebecca Lindland, an independent automotive expert, argued that McLaren’s anti-SUV stance may prove to be a smart business strategy. “The premium luxury brands needed to expand and go after the SUV market,” she told ABC News.
“McLaren doesn’t need to do this just because the other brands are,” she said. “It’s important to stay authentic. If the client isn’t looking for one then McLaren doesn’t need to build an SUV.”
Joseph said he hadn’t anticipated how swiftly the industry responded to high-performance SUVs that handle like sports cars.
He was at Porsche when it debuted the Cayenne in 2002, a seminal moment in the auto industry and one that encouraged others to rev up their own plans for an SUV.
McLaren Automotive, part of the McLaren Group, which also owns the Formula One racing team, was spun off in 2010 to create six-figure (and sometimes seven-figure) supercars and hypercars for billionaires.
“When we launched, we had very little brand awareness,” said Joseph, who was hired in June 2009 as the company’s first-ever U.S. employee.
McLaren was always known for its proud racing legacy in Formula One and its founder Bruce McLaren, the famous New Zealand race car driver and inventor who was killed testing one of his own cars at the Goodwood circuit in 1970 at the age of 32.
McLaren’s Formula One team, struggling competitively in recent years, has won eight constructors’ championships, 12 drivers’ titles and 182 grands prix. That racing expertise and rich motorsports heritage formed the backbone for the new company. When McLaren Automotive presented the design for its first car, the MP4-12C, demand was astronomical. Production was sold out for three years.
In May, McLaren announced that it had produced its 15,000th car – a major milestone for the young, niche automaker.
Its new 720S Spider convertible will still generate the same 710 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque as the 720S coupe though weighing 108 pounds more.
The 720S Spider is the second model under the company’s Track 25 business plan, which aims to launch 18 new models or derivatives by 2025.
The first model, the McLaren Speedtail, a hybrid “Hyper-GT,” was three-times oversubscribed when it was announced in November 2016.
Only 106 units will be produced, at a price of 1.6 million pounds or $2 million. The Speedtail – the fastest-ever McLaren (it can exceed 243 mph, the top speed of McLaren’s legendary F1 road car) – features a three-seat cockpit design and a gasoline electric hybrid powertrain.
McLaren has also publicly declared that 100 percent of its supercar lineup will be hybrid in seven years.
“We consider ourself as a technology company first and we want to be cutting edge,” Joseph said. “Hybrids – that’s the future.”
The company has been exploring the possibility of an all-electric car. It may have a battery under the hood but McLaren’s signature “throaty” exhaust sound would still be there, Joseph promised. “That’s the plan,” he said.
Workers hand-assemble about 20 of the company’s performance-focused cars each day at the McLaren Technological Center, the automaker’s futuristic headquarters in Woking, Surrey, England.
In 2017, the automaker sold 3,340 cars globally, with 1,300 units delivered to customers in North America. This year the company will be on track to produce 4,800 cars, Joseph said, with the goal of 6,000 in 2019. Ferrari, McLaren’s main competitor, shipped 8,398 units in 2017.
McLaren would not divulge revenue figures, only saying that it has already surpassed 2017 sales in the U.S., a banner year for the company. To keep the momentum going the company has started reaching out to a new demographic.
“We’re trying to appeal more to women,” Joseph said. “We’re seeing more women driven McLarens because of the comfort.”
The sports cars coming out of Woking may earn plaudits for their record-breaking speeds and aerodynamic designs. But there’s another reason why McLaren has been so successful so quickly.
“It’s a new company as far as production cars. It does not have a lot of legacy baggage,” said Wolfkill. “It’s building cars that people enjoy driving.”
Peter Shankman(NEW YORK) -- An entrepreneur who travels the world for work has made the holidays brighter for a group of complete strangers by giving them his frequent flyer miles.
Peter Shankman’s donation is allowing five people from across the country to fly home over the holidays.
“It’s pretty neat,” said Shankman, a New York City-based entrepreneur and podcast host who racks up hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles each year through his work as a corporate speaker.
Shankman, 46, started donating his miles to strangers five years ago in an initiative he calls Home for the Holidays. He now finds applicants via Imgur, an image sharing social media site.
Applicants explain why they want or need the miles and then other Imgur users vote on who should be selected, according to Shankman.
One of this year's winners is Morgan Bothwell, a musician in Kansas who will be able to spend Christmas with his parents in New Hampshire.
“I haven’t really been able to spend holidays with them since I went to get my Master’s degree in Kansas,” said Bothwell, 26, a trained opera singer. “My mom wasn’t even going to put up a tree this year because she thought, 'Why go to the trouble?'”
Bothwell said his mom, Leslie Bothwell, did not believe him when he told her that he had won a first-class ticket home.
“She said, ‘Things like that don’t happen,’” he recalled. “She and my dad got so excited.”
Another family that will be reunited this Christmas thanks to Shankman is Max Jacobson and his older brother, Alex Jacobson.
Max Jacobson, 31, asked for a ticket for his 34-year-old brother to fly from Los Angeles to see their family in Provo, Utah. The brothers plan to surprise a group of around 30 family members on Dec. 23.
“I really was thinking of my mom and I wanted her to be able to see her son again,” said Max Jacobson, adding that he expects his mom to scream when she sees Alex.
Other recipients this year include a mom who will be able to visit her son’s gravesite for the first time in a decade, and a man who is going to surprise his brother in the military.
Shankman said he has received photos and videos from past winners showing joyful reactions when they make it home to their families thanks to his frequent flyer miles.
"It’s a great feeling to know that I could do this," he said.
Shankman works with Imgur officials to connect directly with the winners. His generosity has inspired other Imgur users to donate their frequent flyer miles as well, the company said.
"We at Imgur are thrilled to see how many people have been impacted by Peter's Home for the Holidays initiative," said Sarah Schaaf, Imgur’s vice president of community. "Our mission has always been to lift the world's spirits for a few moments each day, and we view our platform and community as a place for positivity. We are heartened to have so many Imgurians like Peter using the platform to drive social good initiatives year-round."
Shankman estimates he has helped more than 100 people make it home for the holidays in the five years he's been donating his miles.
"The last thing I want to do is travel when I’m home," he said. "For me it was about being able to do something where I could help people and make a difference for someone."
"I plan on doing it every year that I can, as much as I can," said Shankman.
United Airlines, the airline on which Shankman flies, told Good Morning America exclusively they plan to donate 200,000 miles, the amount of miles Shankman used, to a charity of his choice.
We love welcoming Peter on board and appreciate his loyalty, passion and generosity. Donating miles is a powerful way to make a difference and we encourage all of our customers to visit donate.mileageplus.com to give to the charities that matter most to them," United said in a statement. "To say thank you to Peter for helping bring others home for the holidays, we are proud to share that we will donate 200,000 miles to the United charity partner of his choice."
ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Millions of people in the U.S. have been victimized by scams involving “free trial” offers or subscription plans in disguise, both of which are often promoted with deceptive ads, some with fake celebrity endorsements, according to a new Better Business Bureau report.
The report, released exclusively to ABC News' Good Morning America on Wednesday, outlines how these operations have created a global, multi-billion-dollar industry that reaches outside of the U.S. into countries including Canada and Australia. The Federal Trade Commission has resolved at least 14 cases over the last 10 years, with losses to consumers totaling more than $1.3 billion, according to the report.
Between 2015 and 2017 complaints to the FBI about “free trial” offers have more than doubled, the BBB said in an interview with Good Morning America.
“These sorts of scams, frauds often claim that they're endorsed by celebrities or that celebrities are actually investing in them, for example that people have left their TV jobs to instead set up a skincare line,” said Steve Baker, an international investigations specialist for the BBB. “For people that become victims of this, a lot of the time the fact that somebody that's famous… endorsed this… gives them a real strong feeling that this must be a legitimate.”
In fact, Baker told ABC News that celebrities’ names and pictures are being printed without their permission. Representatives for Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez told GMA the celebrities knew nothing about online ads ABC discovered for their purported skin cream products.
“The fact that these things claim a celebrity endorsement does not mean that they're really endorsed by the celebrity,” said Baker.
In November 2017, a federal court ordered three men the FTC alleged were behind ads making false claims that Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg of ABC’s The View were launching their own skincare lines, to pay $179 million -- the amount the FTC claimed consumers had paid for the products over more than five years. The judgment was ultimately suspended after the defendants paid nearly $6.4 million to the FTC.
In another case last month, a federal court temporarily halted an alleged international internet marketing scam operating since 2014. The FTC claims the operation, headed by Apex Capital Group, LLC, and others, deceived consumers through false claims of free trial offers for more than 50 different products. They allegedly told customers they only had to pay $4.95 for shipping and handling for items such as personal care products or dietary supplements, but then charged full product prices -- at an average of $90 -- and enrolled them in various kinds of subscription plans without their consent.
The FTC alleges Apex Capital Group, LLC, and others also engaged in “credit card laundering,” by setting up dozens of shell companies in the U.S. and the U.K. to open merchant accounts needed to accept customers’ credit card payments, and avoid potential fraud detection by card companies and law enforcement. Alex Capital Group did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.
Although the FTC continues to crack down on what the BBB says is a massive problem, operations can be challenging to identify and locate. Baker says the scam often involves several players working together.
“There are people that put up the ads on the internet or social media. Those are called ‘affiliates’ and those are the ones that get paid commissions if people go to the website where they see the claims,” Baker said.
He also says those websites, run by a third-party hired by the affiliate, are often designed to replicate legitimate websites and feature fake news articles with fabricated user testimonials and celebrity quotes endorsing the product.
When someone purchases an item, “there are separate people that ship the products called fulfillment companies,” Baker said.
There is also a customer service department for “people that talk to unhappy ripped-off people on the phone all day. And there are people at hand at the credit card processing. So this industry is very large, very organized and often very international with lots of players. It makes it difficult to pin down who exactly is responsible for this,” Baker said.
According to Baker, the BBB believes criminal charges brought by a law enforcement agency are necessary.
“Some of these people need to go to prison. The FTC cannot do that. It's going to take the Justice Department bringing criminal charges,” he said.
In addition, the BBB would like to see credit card companies do more.
“Since all these frauds can't exist without credit card processing, if the credit card companies would crack down on them or try to get them out of their system that would make a huge difference as well,” Baker said.
Meanwhile consumer advocates urge shoppers to take precautions to prevent falling for the scam.
“Nothing is really free. There’s always a catch,” said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at Consumer Federation of America, a nonprofit. “So it’s really important to look at the fine print and not believe you’re going to get something for nothing.”
The BBB also suggests tips on what consumers can look for to spot a deceptive online ad:
- a surprising celebrity endorsement
- extravagant claims about the product
- credit card needed for shipping and handling
- website with no contact information
- subscription information hidden in the fine print.
If a consumer believes they have seen a deceptive “free trial” offer ad, they are urged to report it and send a screenshot to the BBB at: www.bbb.org/adtruth. The BBB continues to build a database of crowdsourced information and work with the FTC and state attorneys general offices in an effort to identify those behind the ads and shut down companies.
In addition, the BBB instructs consumers to call their credit card company if they’ve been a victim.
“Call the customer service number on the back of the card and tell them you want your money back. That's a process called a ‘chargeback,’” Baker said.
Consumers should also file complaints with the FTC or their state’s attorney general. Most importantly, Baker said, “People who've been victims should not take it lying down.”