In today’s Bulldog wrapup of technology news:

  • Verizon revamps its wireless plans – which could save you money
  • Wal-Mart offers pay-by-phone
  • More than 500,000 hoverboards are recalled due to fire hazards
  • A new judge is named in the $1.3 billion dispute between IBM and the state of Indiana

The details:

  • Verizon hikes prices, but new options could save you money

Verizon is hiking prices on its cellphone plans, though the new rates come with changes that might actually save you money.

If you do nothing, your prices won’t automatically go up. But new benefits announced Wednesday — including better options when traveling in Canada and Mexico — require you to switch to the new rates.

While people still make plenty of calls, plain old data — much of it for streaming video and playing games — is emerging as the most important part of your cellphone plan. Verizon’s changes reflect that. Even if you’re happy with your current plan, it’s still a good time to review it.

  • Wal-Mart now lets you pay with phone at all 4,600 US stores

Wal-Mart will now let you pay with its phone app at all 4,600 stores nationwide.

The effort is part of Wal-Mart’s strategy to make shopping easier and faster, while learning more about consumer behavior.

With Wal-Mart Pay, the cashier scans a QR code on the phone screen to charge a credit, debit or Wal-Mart gift card linked with the account. It differs from Apple, Samsung and Android Pay, which involves tapping your phone next to a payment machine with a wireless technology called NFC.

In December, Wal-Mart said it would develop its own digital wallet rather than honor existing systems from Apple and others, though Wal-Mart said it isn’t ruling out third-party wallets in the future.

Retailers have been pushing their own systems in part because they retain control. Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services at Wal-Mart U.S., says data from the app will be used to improve the shopping experience. One way, he said, would be to usepast shopping behavior to build a personalized shopping list. The customer could then delete or add items. He said such features would be done only with a customer’s permission.

Wal-Mart joined other retailers in backing CurrentC, a system that was also based on scanning codes rather than NFC. But the beta test of the system faltered as Apple Paybecame more popular. The consortium last week suspended its launch indefinitely, saying it plans to focus on other aspects of its business.

Apple Pay, in particular, has been credited with boosting interest in mobile payments, though many consumers still use traditional plastic cards because it’s not difficult to pull one out. Although the number of stores accepting NFC payments has grown, it’s still relatively low, and the stores with the right equipment still need cashiers familiar with it.

Wal-Mart says no payment information is stored on users’ phones or at registers. Rather, card information is stored on Wal-Mart servers. By contrast, Apple, Samsung and Android Pay use alternative card numbers for added security, so if hackers break into a merchant’s system, they wouldn’t be able to go on a buying spree. Wal-Mart usesregular card numbers, but it insists it keeps the information secure.

Wal-Mart Pay is built into Wal-Mart’s app, which has 20 million active users.

  • More than 500,000 hoverboards recalled after fires, burns

More than 500,000 hoverboards are being recalled after some of the motorized scooters overheated, burned riders and damaged property.

There have been 99 reports to the Consumer Product Safety Commission of hoverboard battery packs that exploded or caught fire, the U.S. regulator said Wednesday. At least 18 injuries were reported, such as burns to the neck, legs or arms, according to the CPSC. Property damages were also reported.

The CPSC warned hoverboard makers and retailers earlier this year that they had to follow newly-created safety requirements or face recalls. Many airlines, railroads and college campuses have already banned hoverboards, citing safety risks.

(Watch a Consumer Reports video at hoverboards at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xyYmeaGqWU )

  • Indiana’s high court OKs new judge in IBM welfare case

Indiana’s highest court has granted the state’s request for a new judge to oversee its long-running fight with IBM Corp. over the company’s failed effort to privatize state welfare services.

The Indiana Supreme Court found Tuesday that the state is entitled to a change of judge, and said its opinion “is final.”
The high court did not detail its reasoning, but its order says it “has exclusive, original jurisdiction” over Indiana’s courts.
Indiana sought a new judge in May after a Marion County judge decided not to award the state any damages in the case.

That came two months after the state Supreme Court found IBM had breached its $1.3 billion contract to automate much of Indiana’s welfare system, and directed the judge to determine what damages IBM owes Indiana.