Wednesday, December 28, 2005

What's Your Privacy Worth

Recently, I wrote about Comcast's privacy policies and mentioned that, as a cable franchise, they have a requirement (weak though it may be) for their privacy policy to meet certain standards. While reading the legal notices in the newspaper (you know, those articles printed in 7 point type stuffed in as filler in random places around the paper), I came across this one:
If you were a Time Warner Cable subscriber any time between January, 1994 and December, 1998, you may be eligible for free cable services from a class action settlement ....
Ohhhh, Free Cable!

The class action is over Time Warner selling personal information of their subscribers without their permission or knowledge. I guess that was before the cable companies figured out they could tell customers in such a way that they'd still be oblivious to it - with legalese so impenetrable that no one could possibly be sure what it meant - assuming they were still awake after the first three sentences.

I'll cut to the chase. The terms of the proposed settlement are as follows: one free month of cable service. Yep. That's it. In return for giving away your private data, you get a month of cable service! How fair is that?

And it's worth even less than it sounds at first. Because if you're a TW subscriber, it's not your entire bill but rather an extra channel or service that you don't already get, such as HDTV. In other words, you get to choose something that you probably don't want because if you did, you'd already have bought it! Alternatively, you can choose two Movies On Demand. Ok, let's be generous and estimate this is worth $15 total. (And costs the company zip.)

And if you're a former subscriber, the terms are equally meager: Yes, you get a free month of cable service but, of course, the only package you can get without paying extra is basic cable which is typically only a dozen or so channels. No, you're not going to even get the entire analog line-up of 100 or so channels because technically, that's two packages: basic plus expanded basic. (Remember, you can't get expanded basic without paying for basic.) But it's a moot point because any "former" subscribers are probably former because they either 1) live out of the TW area (in which case they can't get the service) or 2) are getting what they want from alternate TV providers (i.e., satellite) and aren't about to switch back for a month.

One more possibility: Former customers can also donate their settlement to someone else. Right. As if you're going to call some old neighbors and take 20 minutes of their time to try to explain to them what this pathetic little turd is that you're bequeathing them with IF they jump through the appropriate hoops not to mention even want it in the first place.

And that's what your privacy is worth.

By the way, there is one party sure to be happy with the settlement. The settlement includes a $5,000,000 payment to the law firms responsible for the settlement proposal. I guess your privacy is worth something after all.


Anonymous said...

A very funny blog.
Amazing that you found this notice. You're right - who would think of looking for this great bargain among the legal notices.
Do you think one could ask for cold cash in lieu of their freebee?

Shiner said...

A very interesting post that I bet they didn't put too much effort into advertising themselves.

I'm just really making a test to see if the post turns up when I hit submit really.


Chris (From Blogger Support Forum)