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Customers Have Mixed Opinions About COVID-19 Surcharges

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  • Customers have begun noticing “COVID-19 surcharges” on their bills at some restaurants across the U.S.
  • Those outraged by the fees have been calling and harassing restaurants that are adding them, meanwhile, others argue that it’s a small price to pay to help keep these businesses open. 
  • Business owners have said the temporary fees are adjusted weekly to help cover the increased costs of meat, protective gear, and take-out packaging. 
  • They have also stressed that they are not trying to “get rich” off these charges but are just trying to take care of their staff and businesses during the pandemic.

Negative Reactions to Surcharges 

Several customers across the country have noted a coronavirus “surcharge” attached to the bottom of their restaurant bills, prompting a flood of different reactions online.

A $2.19 charge spotted at a restaurant in Missouri sparked a ton of frustration. “Scuse me … what? A covid surcharge…?” a woman posted on Twitter after she found the viral photo online and shared it.

That was met with loads of comments from users saying they would never pay such a charge, while others called it a small price to pay to help support the business.  

Billy Yuzar, the owner and manager of the Japanese steakhouse and sushi lounge, told Fox News that the surcharge was advertised online, as well on the store’s front door and register. He also added that he hadn’t heard any complaints from customers but was bombarded with negative reviews from people who haven’t ever visited his establishment. 

The restaurant eventually took to Facebook to defend itself after employees began facing harassment over the photo. “Please understand we are not doing this to take advantage of you guys!” it said.

“We are doing this hoping we can adjust the surcharge weekly rather than just raise all of our prices on our menu due to increase prices from our supplier on meat, poultry, seafood & produce.”

The restaurant also noted that businesses in the community, which use the same suppliers,  were also adding similar fees. “So why are we the one that [is] being harassed??!! Stop calling names to my employees!!” the post continued.  

In the end, the restaurant apologized, saying it will remove the charge and instead increase prices. It also linked out a CNBC report about changes in the meat supply chain related to the pandemic.

It is true that other restaurants in the area have implemented similar policies. Bootleggers BBQ, another West Plains restaurant, announced it was adding a 5% charge starting on May 8, and customers were initially supportive.

However, the restaurant was later met with several calls and messages accusing it of ripping off customers. “Sadly, these calls were from people out of our area and mostly out of state, not even our customers,” the owner Brian Stacck told NBC’s TODAY.

It too eventually decided to increase prices and remove certain items from its menu in place of the surcharge, promising to print new menus at least once a week to reflect its current limitations and changes. 

Staack told TODAY, “I have 26 employees that we have managed to keep at the same hours, or more, throughout this.”

“All I was trying to do was cover our added food cost and keep them working. But people who wouldn’t take the time to listen to me on the phone, or read our explanation on Facebook, would rather make threats.”

Not Just in Missouri, Not Just Restaurant 

Though most of the reported outrage seems to be coming from Missouri, there are other businesses across the country that have been implementing the fees and price increased for coronavirus related circumstances. 

In San Diego, one Mexican restaurant added a $1 extra charge for carne asada due to meat shortages.

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Covid carne asada surcharge: $1.

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A Texas BBQ joint also noted a price increase for brisket until the “market stabilizes.” 

And it doesn’t just end with restaurants. A dentist’s office in Jacksonville Florida reportedly started charging an extra $10 per appointment to cover personal protective equipment. Meanwhile, in Texas, some hair salons have started adding a $3 sanitation charge, according to KTRK-TV Huston. 

While many might be upset by these extra charges, they are legal, according to Gregory Frank, a New York City-based attorney.

“Generally, restaurants are allowed to structure their pricing however they like,” Frank told TODAY. “The important question is whether the restaurants are disclosing to consumers what they are paying before they pay it, so they can make their own informed choices.”

It’s also important to note that the cost of adjusting and reprinting menus might not make the most economic sense for every restaurant, especially if it hopes that the increased prices will only be short term. 

By adding the added fee to the final sale, Frank says business can also make customers feel more comfortable because they’ll know the temporary charge is related to the current circumstances. 

Positive Reactions to Surcharges 

Still, not every business has faced as much hate for their surcharges. At Goog’s Pub & Grub in Holland, Michigan, the response to surcharges was much more positive.

The store’s general manager and co-owner Palmer White told The Daily News Thursday that it recently increased prices by $1 per order from 86 cents before. “We’ve received overwhelming support. People have been very understanding,” White said.

Like at other businesses, this change is in response to increase meat prices, but its also aimed at covering the large amount of packaging take out orders require. 

“Takeout averages about 82 cents more per meal just to put that meal out cause you’re not just putting it on a plate or tray and washing that again. It’s the silverware, the boxes,” the pub’s other co-owner, Brad White, told Fox 17. 

“When this started, we were running about $50 for a case of burgers and then it was up to $55, $62, $66, $72 last week and they just told me next week it’ll probably be up to $88 a case, so almost double what we were paying.”

The pub also noted that it had given its remaining servers raises “so they can maintain a consistent income.” 

“They’re still getting tips. Actually, we’ve been blown away by people’s generosity. But tips are based on percentages, and sales just aren’t as high without all the alcohol and desserts,” Palmer added. “We’re trying to make sure they’re being taken care of.”

Both have said they plan to remove the extra charge once the damage from the virus settles.

“We’re not doing this to get rich,” said Palmer. “We just want to see our staff is taken care of, make sure people are fed, make sure our lights are on.

See what others are saying: (The Daily News) (Fox News) (TODAY

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FDA Recalls 11,000 Ice Cream Containers and Sportsmix Pet Food Products

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  • Over 11,000 cartons of Weis Markets ice cream were recalled after a customer discovered an “intact piece of metal equipment” inside a 48-ounce container of the brand’s Cookies and Cream flavor. 
  • The FDA also expanded a recall of Sportsmix pet food over concerns that the products may contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxins.
  • So far, more than 70 dogs have died and more than 80 pets have become sick after eating Sportsmix food. The agency recommends taking your pet to a veterinarian if they have eaten the recalled products, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

Metal Pieces in Weis Ice Cream Cause Massive Recall

The Food and Drug Administration announced two major product recalls this week following serious consumer complaints.

The first came Sunday when the agency revealed that over 11,000 cartons of Weis Market ice cream were recalled. “The products may be contaminated with extraneous material, specifically metal filling equipment parts,” the FDA’s statement explained.

At least one customer discovered an “intact piece of metal equipment” inside a 48-ounce container of the brand’s Cookies and Cream flavor.

Those containers were available in 197 Weis Market grocery stores, but they have already been pulled from shelves. The products have a sell-by date of October 21, 2020, and customers who purchased the product can return it for a full refund.

Along with removing 10,869 units of the Cookies and Cream containers, the brand also recalled 502 3-gallon bulk containers of Klein’s Vanilla Dairy Ice Cream.

Those bulk containers were not for retail sale, but were instead sold to one retail establishment in New York and have since been removed.

Sportsmix Recall Follows 70 Pet Deaths, 80 Illnesses

The second major recall came Tuesday when the FDA expanded a recall of Sportmix dog food.

According to the agency, the product may contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxins – toxins produced by the Aspergillus flavus mold, which can grow on corn and other grains used as ingredients in pet food.

As of Tuesday, more than 70 pets have died and more than 80 have gotten sick after eating Sportsmix pet food. Not all the cases have been officially confirmed as aflatoxin poisoning at this time. This count also may not reflect the total number of pets affected.

For now, the FDA is asking pet owners and veterinary professionals to stop using the impacted Sportsmix products that have an expiration date on or before July 9, 2022, and have “05” in the date or lot code.

More detailed information about the recalled products can be found on the FDA’s announcement page.

Pets experiencing aflatoxin poisoning may have symptoms like sluggishness, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice, and/or diarrhea. In some cases, this toxicity can cause long-term liver issues without showing any symptoms. Because of this, pet owners are being advised to take their animals to a veterinarian if they have eaten the recalled products, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

There is currently no evidence that pet owners who have handled the affected food are at risk of aflatoxin poisoning. Still, the FDA recommends that wash your hands after handling pet food.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (USA TODAY) (PEOPLE)

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Signal and Telegram Downloads Surge After WhatsApp Announces It Will Share Data With Facebook

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  • Downloads for Signal and Telegram have skyrocketed in the last week, with the encrypted messaging apps boasting 7.5 million and 9 million new followers, respectively.
  • The growth comes after WhatsApp said it will require almost all users to share personal data with its parent company Facebook.
  • It also comes after Parler’s shutdown and bans against President Trump from Twitter and Facebook, which prompted his supporters to turn specifically to Telegram.

Telegram and Signal See Big Boost

Downloads for the encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram have surged in the last week after WhatsApp announced that it will start forcing all users outside the E.U. and U.K. to share personal data with Facebook.

Last week, WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, told users that they must allow Facebook and its subsidiaries to collect their phone numbers, locations, and the phone numbers of their contacts, among other things.

Anyone who does not agree to the new terms by Feb. 8 will lose access to the messaging app. The move prompted many to call for people to delete WhatsApp and start using other services like Signal or Telegram.

Now, it appears those calls to use other encrypted messaging apps have been heard. According to data from app analytics firm Sensor Tower, Signal saw 7.5 million installs globally through the App Store and Google Play from Jan. 6 to Jan. 10 alone, marking a 4,200% increase from the previous week.

Meanwhile, Telegram saw even more downloads. During the same time, it gained 9 million users, up 91% from the previous week. It was also the most downloaded app in the U.S.

WhatsApp responded to the exodus by attempting to clarify its new policy in a statement Monday.

“We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way,” the company said. “Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data.”

Other Causes of App Growth

Notably, some of the spikes in the Telegram downloads, specifically, also come from many supporters of President Donald Trump flocking to alternative platforms after Parler was shut down and Trump was banned from Twitter and Facebook.

Far-right chat room membership on the platform has increased significantly in recent days, NBC News reported. Conversations in pre-existing chatrooms where white supremacist content has already been shared for months has also increased since the pro-Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week.

According to the outlet, many of the president’s supporters have moved their operations to the app in large part because it has very lax community guidelines. Companies like Facebook and Twitter have recently cracked down on groups and users sharing incendiary content, known conspiracy theories, and attempting to organize events that could lead to violence.

There have been several documented instances of Trump supporters now using Telegram channels to discuss planned events and urge acts of direct violence. Per NBC, in one channel named “fascist,” users have called on others to “shoot politicians” and “encourage armed struggle.” A post explaining how to radicalize Trump supporters to become neo-Nazis also made rounds on the “fascist” channel, among others. 

Membership one channel frequently used by members of the Proud Boys has grown by more than 10,000 in recent days, seeming to directly attract users from Parler.

“Now that they forced us off the main platforms it doesn’t mean we go away, it just means we are going to go to places they don’t see,” a user posted in the chatroom, according to NBC.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Business Insider) (CNBC)

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Pornhub Removes All Unverified User Uploads, Taking Down Most of Its Videos

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  • Pornhub is now removing all videos that were not uploaded by verified users.
  • Before the massive purge, the site hosted around 13.5 million videos. As of Monday morning, there were only 2.9 million videos left. 
  • The move is part of a series of sweeping changes the company made days after The New York Times published a shocking op-ed detailing numerous instances of abuse on the site, including nonconsensual uploads of underage girls.
  • Following the article, numerous businesses cut ties with the company, including Mastercard and Visa, which both announced Thursday that they will not process any payments on the site.

Pornhub Purges Videos

Pornhub removed the vast majority of its existing videos Monday, just hours after the company announced that it would take down all existing videos uploaded by non-verified users.

According to reports, before the new move was announced Sunday night, Pornhub hosted about 13.5 million videos, according to the number displayed on the site’s search bar. As of writing, that search bar shows just over 2.9 million videos. 

The decision comes less than a week after the company announced it would only allow video uploads from content partners and members of its Model program.

At the time, Pornhub claimed it made the decision following an independent review launched in April to eliminate illegal content. However, many speculated that it was actually in large part due to an op-ed published in The New York Times just days before. That piece, among other things, found that the site had been hosting videos of young girls uploaded without their consent, including some content where minors were raped or assaulted.

The article prompted a wave of backlash against Pornhub and calls for other businesses to cut ties with the company. On Thursday, both Visa and Mastercard announced that they would stop processing all payments on the site.

“Our investigation over the past several days has confirmed violations of our standards prohibiting unlawful content on their site,” Mastercard said in a statement.

Less than an hour later, Visa tweeted that it would also be suspending payments while it completed its own investigation.

Pornhub Claims It’s Being Targeted

However, in its blogpost announcing the most recent decision, Pornhub claimed that it was being unfairly targeted.

Specifically, the company noted that Facebook’s own transparency report found 84 million instances of child sexual abuse content over the last three years. By contrast, a report by the third-party Internet Watch Foundation found 118 similar instances on Pornhub in the same time period.

Notably, the author of The Times report, Nicholas Krisof, specifically said the Internet Watch Foundation’s findings represented a massive undercount, and that he was able to find hundreds of these kinds of videos on Pornhub in just half an hour.

Still, the site used the disputed numbers to point a finger at others.

“It is clear that Pornhub is being targeted not because of our policies and how we compare to our peers, but because we are an adult content platform,” the statement continued.

“Every piece of Pornhub content is from verified uploaders, a requirement that platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter have yet to institute,” the company added. 

However, Pornhub’s implication that it is somehow more responsible because it only let verified users post content is a highly impractical comparison. First of all, Pornhub is a platform created exclusively for porn, content the social media companies the company name-checked explicitly prohibit.

Second of all, and the vast majority of people who use those platforms are not verified, and it would be impossible for a company like Facebook or YouTube to limit content to only verified users without entirely undermining their own purposes.

Verification Concerns

Even beyond that, there are also still questions about Pornhub’s verification process. According to their site, all someone needs to do to become verified is to simply have a Pornhub account with an avatar and then upload a selfie of themselves holding a piece of paper with their username and Pornhub.com written on it.

While the company did tell reporters the process would be made more thorough sometime next year, they did not provide any specific details, prompting questions about exhaustive the verification process will ultimately be.

That question is highly important because, at least per its current policies, the verification process makes it so users are eligible to monetize their videos as part of the ModelHub program.

If the new verification process is still weak or has loopholes, people could easily slip through the cracks and continue to profit. However, on the other side, there are also big concerns among sex-workers that if the process is too limited, they will be able to make money on the platform.

That concern has already been exacerbated by some of the other actions taken since The Times article was published. For example, after Mastercard and Visa made their announcements, numerous sex workers and activists condemned the decision, saying it would seriously hurt how porn performers collect income —  not just on Pornbub, but on other platforms as well. 

“By targeting Pornhub and successfully destroying the ability for independent creators to monetize their content, they have made it easier to remove payment options from smaller platforms too,” model Avalon Fey told Motherboard last week. “This has nothing to do with helping abused victims, and everything to do with hurting online adult entertainers to stop them from creating and sharing adult content.”  

Other performers also expressed similar concerns that the move could spillover to smaller platforms. 

“I am watching to see if my OnlyFans will be their next target and sincerely hoping not,” amateur performer Dylan Thomas also told the outlet.

“Sex workers are scared by this change, despite not having uploaded any illegal content,” Fey continued, “because we have seen these patterns before and have had sites and payment processors permanently and unexpectedly shut down.”

See what others are saying: (Motherboard) (The Verge) (Bloomberg)

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