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Consumer Confidential: Google coupons, online sales taxes, Prius recall

June 1, 2011 | 10:11 am

Googpic Here's your whip-it-good Wednesday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--Google has begun test driving its new online coupon service, dubbed Google Offers. The service will undergo a test run in Portland, Ore., before rolling out nationwide. It remains to be seen whether Google Offers will be able to find a place in a market dominated by Groupon and crowded with other competitors like LivingSocial. There have also been questions as to whether consumers are starting to feel fatigued from so many online daily coupon offers, and whether local businesses truly get enough value from these deals. The concept behind these services is that merchants set a specific number of coupons that must be sold in order for a deal to become available, thus ensuring a certain level of sales and participants.

--Speaking of the Net, California may soon crack down on online shoppers who don't pay their taxes. A bill approved by the state Assembly would require retailers such as to collect sales and use taxes. Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Whittier) says his legislation levels the playing field for physical stores that operate in California and have been paying sales taxes all along. "We're not imposing a new tax," he says. "What we are suggesting is a way to collect a tax that goes uncollected." AB 155 extends the statewide sales tax to purchases made from online retailers that have a presence in the state, including those that work with sister companies with offices in California. Physical stores also must charge local sales taxes. The state Board of Equalization estimates that unreported sales and use taxes total more than $1 billion annually.

--Here we go again: Toyota is recalling about 106,000 Prius hybrid cars globally for faulty steering caused by a nut that may come loose. The carmaker says the latest recall affects vehicles manufactured through 2003. Spokesman Paul Nolasco says the recall affects 52,000 Priuses in the U.S., 1,200 in Great Britain and 800 in Germany. The loose nut in the electric-power steering can cause the vehicle, if operated over a long time, to steer with too much force.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: Google wants a piece of the online coupon market. Credit: Clay McLachlan / Reuters