May 29, 2017

DealBook: Headhunter for the Rich Turns on Them

Wall Street’s masters of the universe have a new enemy: Adrian Barrie Smith.

Mr. Smith, a British recruiter who supplies butlers, maids and other domestic workers to some of the world’s wealthiest families, has turned on his former clients.

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Over the last 18 months, Mr. Smith has filed lawsuits against the families of some of the most prominent names in finance, including Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chairman of the Blackstone Group; Carl C. Icahn, the activist investor; Leonard Blavatnik, the Russian investor who recently acquired Warner Music; Howard Lutnick, the chairman and chief executive of Cantor Fitzgerald; and George Soros’s former wife, Susan Soros Webber. To top it off, he filed a suit against Jerry Seinfeld and his wife, Jessica. Before that, he sued Ron Perelman, the billionaire investor, and the singer Mariah Carey.

This week, Mr. Smith is expected to be in court with a case against the wife of Kenneth A. Buckfire, co-founder of Miller Buckfire, the restructuring firm.

In virtually every instance, Mr. Smith has accused his clients of some form of breach of contract and has then trotted out a list of complaints about race and age discrimination. His targets see it as mudslinging, even extortion. Mr. Smith says he is simply trying to get the truth out about New York’s powerful.

“I could tell you stories that you simply would never believe,” Mr. Smith told me in a recent e-mail. “Who sits in the private planes and homes, dinner parties of the elite? The butlers, the nannies, the housekeepers.” He added, “And who do they e-mail, and tell all the gossip to? Me.”

When I first heard of Mr. Smith a little more than a year ago, I have to admit, I was intrigued. He promised the secrets of the city’s biggest names and stories worthy of a Park Avenue version of the TV show “Desperate Housewives.” He offered himself up as a Robin Hood crusading on behalf of the working class that serve the wealthiest.

But I came to believe that his intent could well be to tell fanciful stories in hopes of drawing media attention to extract settlement payments in his lawsuits.

In 2011, Mr. Smith was convicted of aggravated harassment of a potential client, Tania Higgins, the wife of a hedge fund manager. “I will have a really great laugh when I see your house crumble,” he said in a voice mail message to her that included profane language that can’t be printed here. “I will have my revenge.”

When it became clear that I intended to write about him, Mr. Smith sent a series of blistering e-mails threatening me with a lawsuit. “Bring your lawyer. You personally will be sued,” he said in one e-mail. “You are on notice! A jury made up of New Yorkers will judge you, plus all your colleagues, and the press worldwide,” he told me.

One of his early rambling e-mails said, “It would be nice if someone focused on the truth rather than merely just making me look foolish.” But he quickly moved to more threats: “Who are you taking money from? Who are you doing a favor for? Someone got to you today. Right?” His final e-mail on Monday said, among other things, “You throw dirt on me, and surely it’s my right to return the favor. Walk away. That’s my advice.”

In an interview last year with a colleague of mine, Mr. Smith admitted that he had a temper, and that “curse words were used” in some of his previous business dealings. But he defended himself against allegations that he was a bully who had harassed, or even blackmailed, his high-powered clientele.

“Do I look like a bully? Do you see any tattoos on me? I don’t even drink,” he said.

And yet his Twitter account is an unfiltered diatribe against his targets.

“Gail Golden Icahn is so lazy she cannot squeeze her own toothpaste, or switch on the TVs, cook, clean or drive a car. She hires someone!” he wrote.

Another, misspelling included, said: “Rupert Murdock apparently aided his friend Nelson Peltz to burn his house to the ground for insurance money. Tommy Mottola helped. Wow.”(Mr. Mottola’s former wife is Ms. Carey.)

In his case against the Seinfelds, he contended that the family’s butler rejected a qualified housekeeper because the butler said the Seinfelds would think “she is not cute enough and she’s a little fat.”

I mention these claims not to dignify them, but rather to illustrate the nature of his claims.

In my reporting, I discovered that Mr. Smith had outstanding lawsuits against media organizations including the News Corporation, the Daily Beast, and yes, even The New York Times. (Ms. Higgins’s case against him was mentioned in passing in an article about housekeepers in the New York section last year.) He also brought a case against The Daily Telegraph in Britain, contending that the paper used a photograph of Mr. Smith without his permission.

In a twist, after threatening to sue the musician Lou Reed in 2011 and getting into a heated argument with Mr. Reed’s manager, Mr. Smith had the manager arrested on charges of harassment. That case was dismissed, but a separate case was brought against Mr. Smith, who pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated harassment in the second degree.

In Ms. Icahn’s case, Mr. Smith was hired to find a housekeeper but was quickly fired after she discovered he was finding potential prospects on Craigslist, not from the pool of experienced housekeepers he said he had relationships with, according to people briefed on the case. The cases against the others seem equally thin.

When I called many of the subjects of his suits, virtually every one of them refused to speak about him or even provide a “no comment.” They all said that they feared his retribution, name calling and other backbiting.

Oddly enough, Mr. Smith’s litigious efforts appear to be working, at least outside of court. Mr. Schwarzman paid about $19,000 to settle his case, according to people briefed on it, hoping Mr. Smith would go away. Ms. Icahn offered him $1,500, which he rejected.

But the courts could be slowing Mr. Smith down. Last December, the city’s small-claims court barred Mr. Smith from bringing any new cases without receiving permission from the court in advance, citing 51 cases he has brought since 2006. The order said it was intended “to avoid the possibility of the use of the small-claims part for the purpose of harassment.” On Tuesday, Mr. Buckfire’s lawyers are planning to seek a permanent injunction stopping Mr. Smith’s lawsuit against their client.Mr. Smith now says he is writing a book. The title? “Filthy Rich in New York City.”

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/06/17/headhunter-for-the-rich-turns-on-them/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Apple Executive Defends Pricing in Case on E-Books

“Wow, we have really lit the fuse on a powder keg,” Mr. Jobs wrote in the e-mail dated Jan. 30, 2010, to Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet software and services.

The e-mail was brought up as evidence during the second half of Mr. Cue’s testimony in a Manhattan courtroom on Monday, where much of the discussion focused on whether Apple intended to help the publishers raise Amazon’s prices.

Mr. Cue testified on Monday that Mr. Jobs’s e-mail was not a memo congratulating him about how Apple’s entry into the e-book market affected Amazon, causing it to switch to a business model called agency pricing, where the publishers, not the retailer, set the price of the books. Mr. Cue said Mr. Jobs was remarking on the company’s ability to “cause ripples” in the e-book industry, which was then largely dominated by Amazon.

While Mr. Cue conceded that some e-book prices had gone up as a result of agency pricing, he noted that many titles might not have become available in any digital store at all if Apple had not introduced agency pricing to the market. He said he had learned from his meetings with publishers that they were unhappy with Amazon’s uniform $9.99 pricing for e-books and that they were planning to use a tactic known as windowing — delaying the release of an e-book until after the more expensive hardcover had been in stores for a while.

Mr. Cue testified that both he and Mr. Jobs believed that “withholding books is a disaster for any bookstore.”

The Justice Department was not persuaded. Lawrence Buterman, a Justice Department lawyer, asked Mr. Cue whether he was aware that only 37 e-books had ever been windowed.

“The number doesn’t matter,” Mr. Cue said. “What matters is which books. Thirty-seven could be a huge number if it’s the right books.”

Both parties showed their evidence on a projector screen. Apple’s legal team used a MacBook to shuffle between evidence documents, stacking them side by side in split screens and zooming in on specific paragraphs.

In contrast, the Justice Department’s lawyers could show only one piece of evidence at a time. One video that Mr. Buterman played as evidence failed to produce the audio commentary needed to make his point.

In its antitrust case brought a year ago, the federal government is trying to cast Apple as the ringmaster that conspired with five big book publishers to raise e-book prices. The publishers have all settled their cases.

On Monday, the Justice Department’s lawyers homed in on a condition in Apple’s contracts with the publishers: the “most favored nation” clause, which required publishers to allow Apple to sell e-books at the same price as the books would be sold in any other store. Apple has said this clause existed to guarantee that Apple customers got the lowest e-book prices. But Mr. Buterman argued that it defeated Amazon’s ability to compete on price, and that it left Amazon with no choice but to switch to the agency model while allowing the publishers to raise prices.

Mr. Cue said he disagreed. He noted that Amazon had 90 percent of the e-book market before Apple entered the game.

“Amazon could have negotiated a better deal,” he said. “They had a lot more power.”

Lawyers for Apple and the government spent much of the hearing debating whether the e-mails exchanged between Apple executives and publishers illustrated Apple’s intent to help the publishers force Amazon’s hand. In one e-mail sent to Mr. Jobs, Mr. Cue was reviewing his meeting with the publishers, saying they were interested in solving the “Amazon issue.”

Mr. Cue said he was referring to the publishers’ ability to price books above Amazon’s uniform price of $9.99 in Apple’s iBookstore. Apple had proposed price caps of $12.99 to $14.99 for new releases. But he said this did not refer to enabling the publishers to force Amazon to raise prices, too.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/technology/apple-executive-defends-pricing-and-contracts-in-antitrust-case.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bucks Blog: ID Theft Services Toning Down Some Claims

Commercial identity-theft protection services are doing somewhat better at toning down their claims and providing more specifics about the assistance they provide, a report from the Consumer Federation of America says.

Last year, the federation rated various identity-protection services based on the clarity of their marketing, and whether or not they were promising more than they delivered. The federation, working with many of the sites themselves, has created a set of voluntary “best practices” for them to follow. The guidelines are meant to help deter potentially misleading claims and ensure that consumers understand just what they are getting, and how much the services cost, before they sign up.

Susan Grant, the federation’s director of consumer protection, said the goal of its work with the service providers is to help consumers understand what they are getting, because the services offered by the firms vary. Some, for instance, simply monitor a participant’s credit file for suspicious activity and send e-mail alerts to subscribers, while others offer Internet scanning, which aims to ferret out credit card numbers or other information that may be offered for sale on illegal Web sites. Still others may offer checks of public records, such  bankruptcy filings, to see if stolen personal information is being used to create a new identity.

Some sites essentially offer advice about what to do, after the fact — which may be helpful, she said, but is different from actively preventing identity fraud. “For some people, someone who will hold your hand through the process may be really what they need,” she said. But it is important for consumers to know that advice is what they are buying, she said.

A recent review of 20 Web sites — some of which participated in the federation’s working group, and some that didn’t — found that many have made “significant improvements” or are in the process of implementing the federation’s recommendations, said Ms. Grant.

For instance:

– The federation found that AllClear ID (formerly called Debix) modified its claim of a “100% success rate,” to state that it referred to resolving cases of financial identity fraud, specifically. (Ms. Grant noted that because there are other types of identity theft, including medical identity theft, the federation considered the claim to be too broad).

AllClear ID also added information under its “frequently asked questions” about its refund policy, and a link to a summary of the benefits of its insurance policy, the federation found.

– Equifax, which was not a member of the federation’s working group, added a link from its products page to a summary of the benefits provided by its identity-theft insurance, and also provides a clearer explanation of the fraud assistance that it offers to customers if they become identity-theft victims, the federation said.

– Identity Guard, offered by Intersections Inc., has added an explanation to make clear that the credit score it provides as part of its service is for educational purposes, and isn’t the score that lenders actually use.

Some services, however, don’t seem to be in a big hurry to change their approach. Experian, the federation said, will make changes to its Web site “over the next twelve months,” including the removal of a claim to “Stop Identity Theft in its Tracks.” (In its 2012 report, the federation said the statement was an “overpromise” of what the service could do.)

The federation is in ongoing talks with TransUnion about making changes to its Zendough site, the federation said. (In its 2012 report, the federation had recommended changes like putting more information in easy-to-find locations, rather than in a jargon-filled “product agreement.”)

One site, EZShield, didn’t respond when the federation tried to contact it, the report said.

The federation offers tips on shopping for identity theft services on its identitytheft.org site, and additional information is available from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse as well as the Federal Trade Commission.

Have you used an identity fraud service? Did you find it helpful?

Article source: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/12/id-theft-services-toning-down-some-claims/?partner=rss&emc=rss

N.S.A. Said to Gather Users’ Online Data

While the data provided varies according to the online provider, it could include e-mail, chat services, videos, photos, stored data, file transfers, video conferencing and logins — according to an apparently highly classified document describing the National Security Agency program called Prism.

The program is authorized under law and was recently reauthorized by Congress, said the senior official, who said it minimizes the collection and retention of information “incidentally acquired” about Americans and permanent residents. Several of the Internet companies issued statements strongly denying knowledge of or participation in the program.

“The law does not allow the targeting of any U.S. citizen or of any person located within the United States,” said the official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss a highly classified program. “Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats.”

But the disclosure of the documents by American and British newspapers came just hours after government officials acknowledged a separate seven-year effort to sweep up records of telephone calls inside the United States. Together, the unfolding disclosures opened an extraordinary window into the growth of government surveillance that began under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and has clearly been embraced and even expanded under the Obama administration.

The extraordinary revelations, in rapid succession, also suggested that someone with access to high-level intelligence secrets had decided to unveil them in the midst of furor over leak investigations. Both were reported by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, while The Washington Post, relying upon the same presentation, simultaneously reported the Internet company tapping. The Post said a disenchanted intelligence official provided it with the documents to expose government overreach.

Before the disclosure of the alleged Internet company surveillance program late Thursday, the White House and Congressional leaders defended the phone program, saying it was legal and necessary to protect national security.

Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, told reporters aboard Air Force One that the kind of surveillance at issue “has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terror threats as it allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States.” He added: “The president welcomes a discussion of the trade-offs between security and civil liberties.”

The Guardian and The Post posted several slides from the 41-page presentation about the Internet program, listing the companies involved — which included Yahoo, Microsoft, Paytalk, AOL, Skype and YouTube — and the dates they joined the program, as well as listing the types of information collected under the program.

The N.S.A. and other government agencies declined to comment about the disclosures. The possibility of a broad government sweep of domestic telephone data in pursuit of potential terrorists has long been suspected by civil liberties advocates and even hinted at by members of Congress. But the public disclosure of a secret court order confirmed it in a more concrete way than ever before.

The reports came as President Obama was traveling to meet President Xi Jinping of China at an estate in Southern California, a meeting intended to address among other things complaints about Chinese cyberattacks and spying. Now that conversation will take place amid discussion of America’s own vast surveillance operations on its own citizens.

Peter Baker contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/07/us/nsa-verizon-calls.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

State of the Art: Remember All Those Passwords? No Need

Have these security pundits ever listened to themselves?

That advice is clearly unfollowable. I currently have account names and passwords for 87 Web sites (banks, airlines, blogs, shopping, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter). How is anyone — even a security professional — supposed to memorize 87 long, complex password strings, let alone remember which goes with which Web site?

So most people use the same password over and over again, and live with the guilt.

There are solutions. Most Mac and Windows Web browsers now offer to memorize passwords for you. But that feature doesn’t work on all Web sites, and is generally of little help when you pick up your phone or tablet. At that point, the only person you’ve locked out of all your online accounts is you.

The only decent solution is to install a dedicated password memorization program (like Roboform, KeyPass, LastPass, 1Password, and so on). Last week, one of the best was just improved: Dashlane, now at 2.0. It’s attractive, effective, loaded with timesaving features and available for Mac, Windows, iPhone and Android — and it’s free.

Installation is quick. Dashlane works in Safari, Chrome, Internet Explorer and Firefox. It can import existing password “vaults” from rival programs.

Dashlane has two primary features. First, yes, it’s a password memorizer. Every time you type your account name and password into a Web page and press enter, Dashlane pops up, offering to memorize that information and fill it in the next time.

In fact, it also offers to log you in — not just to enter your password, but also to click “log in” for you. In effect, Dashlane has just removed the login blockade entirely. When you go to Facebook, Twitter or Gmail, you just click your bookmark, smile at the briefest flash of the login screen and arrive at the site.

Since Dashlane is now storing and auto-entering your passwords, you’re now free to follow the security experts’ advice. You can make up long, unguessable passwords — a different one for every Web site, since you don’t have to remember any of them. In fact, each time you sign up for a new account, Dashlane offers to make up such a password for you, and then, of course, to memorize it.

Dashlane’s second huge feature is even more amazing. It can also fill in other kinds of Web site forms: your name/address/phone number, and even your credit card information.

When you’re buying something online, and you click into the credit card number box, Dashlane displays pictures of your credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express or whatever — even PayPal.

When you click the one you want to use, Dashlane instantly fills in the long card number, your name, the expiration date, even that accursed security code, in the right boxes. Every time you order something online, you save between 30 seconds and five minutes, depending on whether you have your card information memorized or have to go burrow through your wallet.

When you make a purchase, Dashlane even offers to store all the details in a digital receipt that you can call up later, along with a screenshot of the Web site where you shopped. This feature makes online shopping so frictionless, every dot-com retailer on earth ought to be promoting Dashlane as if its profits depended on it.

In fact, Dashlane can fill in all kinds of forms automatically: phone numbers, job titles, tax numbers and so on. If you’ve ever recorded multiple answers — you have two different Twitter accounts, say — two tidy buttons appear beneath the name box, bearing the account names. Click the one you want.

Unlike some rival programs, Dashlane doesn’t require you to associate one set of personal information to each “profile.” If you have three addresses, for example, you’re always offered those three when filling in a form. You don’t have to create three personalities’ worth of personal information.

So far, Dashlane probably seems designed for convenience, and that’s true. Behind the scenes, of course, its ultimate goal is security.

E-mail: pogue@nytimes.com

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/06/technology/personaltech/too-many-passwords-and-no-way-to-remember-them-until-now.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bits Blog: Microsoft Names First Female Finance Chief

Amy Hood, Microsoft's new chief financial officer.Microsoft Amy Hood, Microsoft’s new chief financial officer.

Microsoft named Amy Hood, an executive at the company, as its chief financial officer, the first woman to hold the top finance job at Microsoft.

Ms. Hood, 41, joined Microsoft in late 2002 and was most recently the chief financial officer of Microsoft’s business division, the unit that oversees its lucrative Office suite of applications. She replaces Peter Klein, Microsoft’s chief financial officer who announced recently that he was resigning to spend more time with his family.

A number of women have risen to Microsoft’s top ranks, but like most technology companies, its senior leadership is still dominated by men. One exception is Lisa Brummel, who, as chief people officer, runs the company’s human resources department. Late last year, Microsoft appointed two women, Julie Larson-Green and Tami Reller, to run the engineering and finance operations of the company’s Windows division, one of its most important units.

As chief financial officer, Ms. Hood will play a bigger role in helping Microsoft adapt to major changes in its business, most notably the shift to mobile devices from PCs and the transformation of traditional software into cloud services. In a sign of these changes, for the last six months, Steve Ballmer, the chief executive officer, has begun talking about Microsoft as a devices and services company.

Ms. Hood will also serve as Microsoft’s ambassador to Wall Street, which has for years looked skeptically at the company’s efforts to enter new businesses like Internet search. After a recent solid earnings report from Microsoft, investors have become more bullish on the company’s prospects. Its shares now trade near their 52-week high.

In an e-mail to Microsoft employees on Wednesday, Mr. Ballmer said Ms. Hood had helped lead the change of Microsoft Office into a cloud service. He said that he worked closely with her on two big acquisitions, that of Skype and Yammer, and that her critical thinking would be an important skill in her new job.

“Amy is a great collaborator with a history of successful cross-group projects, and I am looking forward to having her as a member of my leadership team,” Mr. Ballmer wrote.

Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/08/microsoft-names-first-female-finance-chief/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder: AT&T’s Ads With Cute Kids Are a Neat Fit for Mother’s Day

ATT is offering consumers — regardless of which carrier they use — a chance to visit a microsite, or special Web site, to send personalized video cards to their mothers for Mother’s Day. The video clip that will be part of the greeting also forms the basis for the newest commercial in ATT’s series of cute-children spots.

The new commercial, which is to begin running on television on Friday, plays down any pitching for ATT. The company’s logo is there, though, and the spot uses the theme of the current campaign, “It’s not complicated.”

And, it ought to be noted, Mother’s Day is typically the busiest day of the year each year for phoning, sending texts and other telecommunicating.

But the new commercial eschews overt selling in favor of a general greeting to mothers. The commercial presents Beck Bennett, the comedian who interviews the children in each spot, asking, “What’s better, a big hug or a small hug?” (Big, natch.)

And when he asks, “Who gives the best hugs?” the response is unanimous: “Mom.”

An announcer comes on at the end to declare: “It’s not complicated. Moms are the best. Happy Mother’s Day from ATT.”

The ATT part is missing from the version that can be personalized on the microsite, ATTmothersday.com, which is being billed as the “ATT Mother’s Day Card Maker.” (There are ATT brand logos, lest one forget the sponsor.)

The video cards, which can be sent via Facebook, Twitter or e-mail, will end with the words “To the best mom ever” and be signed, “Love,” followed by the given names provided by users.

ATT will also promote the video card in social media like Facebook and YouTube.

The Mother’s Day commercial is the second time since the campaign began in November that a special spot based on a calendar event is being produced. For the N.C.A.A. tournament, ATT and its advertising agency, BBDO Atlanta, brought out a commercial in which Mr. Bennett bantered with professional basketball legends.

That raises a question: How many times can ATT and BBDO Atlanta go to the well before it runs dry?

“We look at that very carefully,” said David Christopher, chief marketing officer at the ATT Mobility unit of ATT in Atlanta.

“We measure this campaign, and every campaign, every which way to Sunday,” he added, “measuring wear-out and sentiment.” So far, the campaign is still a hit, Mr. Christopher said, and still being welcomed by consumers.

Stephen McMennamy, a creative director at BBDO Atlanta — part of the BBDO Worldwide division of the Omnicom Group — said the goal was to reserve special spots “for special moments,” adding, “We by no means want to be greedy about it.”

“You can overdo something like this,” Mr. McMennamy acknowledged. To that end, the run of the commercial on television is being limited to three days, Friday through Sunday, rather than a longer period.

What about Father’s Day?

“We haven’t talked about that yet,” Mr. McMennamy replied. “I feel like once Dad sees this, there might be a tear.”

ATT is among scores of marketers coming out with special campaigns for Mother’s Day. There are far fewer ad agencies doing so, with a notable exception: the agency known as Mother, which is based in London and has offices in New York and Buenos Aires.

Each year, staff members in London and New York create projects for Mother’s Day. The 2013 effort from Mother New York is centered on a microsite, themomtract.com, offering a mock contract that rewards a mother for her child-raising.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/10/business/media/atts-ads-with-cute-kids-are-a-neat-fit-for-mothers-day.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

State of the Art: 3 Ways Feedly Outdoes the Vanishing Google Reader

On July 1, it will take away Google Reader. To the dismay of millions, that service will go the way of Google Answers, Google Buzz, iGoogle and GOOG-411. Google hasn’t provided much in the way of a satisfying reason for this “spring cleaning,” saying only that “usage has declined.”

This column is intended to help two kinds of people: Those who used Google Reader, and those who never even knew what it is.

Google Reader is what’s called, somewhat geekily, a newsreader, or painfully geekily, an RSS aggregator.

It’s like an online newspaper you assemble yourself from Web pages all over the world. Instead of sitting down at your desk each morning and visiting each of your favorites sites in turn — say, NYtimes.com, Reddit.com and HuffingtonPost.com — you just open reader.google.com. There, you find a tidy list of all the new articles from all of those sources, organized like an e-mail Inbox. You skim the headlines, you read summaries, you click the ones that seem worth reading.

Occasionally, you can read the entire article without leaving the newsreader page; that’s up to whoever published the article. Usually, though, you see the headline of each item and a quick description of the article, or maybe the first few paragraphs and an accompanying picture.

One click takes you to the originating Web site. It’s all much faster and more efficient than wading through the ads, the blinking and the less interesting articles on the originating Web sites themselves.

There was a huge outcry when Google announced the imminent death of Reader — petitions, blogs, the works — but you might not immediately understand why. Google Reader is notoriously ugly. It’s fairly complicated and busy.

It is, however, complete, customizable and convenient. And once you’ve set up your preferred sources of reading material, they show up identically on every computer, tablet and phone. The masses may not have used Reader or even heard of it, but information devotees, news hounds and tech followers loved it.

They needn’t mourn. Google Reader has plenty of rivals and satisfying replacements. In fact, I fully intended to offer capsule reviews of each of them, until I realized that six presidential administrations would pass by the time I finished.

Newsreaders are available for every kind of phone, tablet and computer: Bloglines, NewsBlur, Pulse, Taptu, Reeder, FeedDemon, Spundge, Good Noows, HiveMined, Prismatic, Netvibes, NetNewsWire, ManagingNews and so on. Some are Web pages like Google Reader; others are stand-alone programs or apps. Some e-mail programs can subscribe to these feeds, too, dropping them right into your Inbox.

The one everybody keeps saying is the natural heir to Google Reader, though, is Feedly.com. In fact, Feedly says the ranks of its four million users have swelled to seven million since Google’s Reader death sentence was announced.

It requires a free plug-in for the Firefox, Chrome and Safari browsers. Three factors in particular make it useful.

First, the biggie: Simply logging into Feedly with your Google name and password instantly re-creates your Google Reader setup. All of your news sources, favorites and tags — category names that you can apply to certain articles, for ease in rounding them up later — magically show up in Feedly, ready to use. The synchronization is two-way; until July 1, you can bounce between Reader and Feedly to your heart’s content, and your newsreader worlds will look identical.

(Behind the scenes, Feedly relies, believe it or not, on Google Reader’s feeds. But the company says it will seamlessly replace Google’s feeds with its own source by July 1.)

Second, Feedly is much nicer-looking than Google Reader. It does a better job with typography — Google does no job at all — the layout is more attractive, and it offers more views of your news.

For example, Feedly can display your feeds exactly the way Google does, in a text-only list; click something in the list to expand and read it right there in the list. But it can also display your articles in much more visual ways. There’s Magazine view (a list of descriptive blurbs, each with a small photo next to it); Cards view (photo and blurb appear on what looks like playing cards filling the screen); and Full Articles view (you don’t have to click to expand anything — each scrolling vertical block shows as much of the article as is available).

E-mail: pogue@nytimes.com

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/technology/personaltech/three-ways-feedly-outdoes-the-vanishing-google-reader.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bucks Blog: Online Shopping, With Sales Tax Added

A shopper compares prices online.Isaac Brekken for The New York Times A shopper compares prices online.

Attention, all you online shoppers out there: your sales-tax-free party may soon be over.

The Senate is set to vote on the “Marketplace Fairness Act,” legislation that would help states force online retailers to collect sales taxes for Internet purchases.

The measure, supported by some revenue-hungry states, as well as brick and mortar merchants who say it would eliminate an unfair advantage for online sellers, is expected to be voted on by the Senate this week. It must then, of course, be considered by the House of Representatives.

If the proposal becomes law, a perk of online shopping would go away and shoppers would pay the sales taxes to the online retailer at the time of purchase — just as they do now in physical stores. Some of the biggest online retailers, like Amazon.com, have already started collecting them.

“The free ride is almost over,” Edgar Dworsky, publisher of Consumer World, said in an e-mail. “Shoppers will now have to figure in sales tax when they are deciding whether it is better to buy a particular item online or in a brick-and-mortar store.”

Right now, Internet sellers must collect state sales taxes on online sales only if the seller has a “physical presence” — like a store, or distribution center — in the state. But consumers are still technically subject to the tax in many states — a fact that may come as a surprise to many online shoppers. It’s often called a “use” tax, because it is levied on an item you bought out of state but you “use” in your home state.

In Florida, for instance, the state Department of Revenue’s Web site says online purchases are subject to the state’s 6 percent sales tax, even if the seller doesn’t collect it at time of purchase. Florida consumers are supposed to fill out an “out-of-state purchase return,” also known as a Form DR-15MO, and mail the payment directly to the state.

But few consumers are even aware of such requirements, said Stephen Schatz, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, which represents large retailers and supports the legislation. The proposed law, he said, “shifts compliance from consumers, who aren’t complying or are complying minimally, to the retailer.”

He added that the law would require states to streamline their sales tax processes and take other steps to ease the burden on retailers.

It doesn’t seem to me that the law is lifting much of a burden from consumers, though. It just seems that we’ll be paying more when buying some things online. Sigh.

Of course, there’s still the attraction of shopping online in your pajamas and then having your purchase delivered to your door, often with “free shipping” thrown into the bargain. For that reason, I suspect I’ll still shop online as much as I did before, if the measure becomes law. (A report from Forrester Research says consumer behavior is unlikely to change much because of the addition of online sales taxes.)

Jack Gillis, a spokesman for the Consumer Federation of America, agreed. “People shop on the Internet for so many more reasons than to avoid taxes,” he said in an e-mail, so taxing online purchases will probably have little effect on purchase behavior. Online sellers might even offer better shipping deals or lower prices to lessen the impact, he said.

What do you think? Would broader collection of sales taxes make you shop online less?

Article source: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/24/online-shopping-with-sales-tax-added/?partner=rss&emc=rss