Did Comcast Violate Your Privacy?

Customers pay extra for unlisted numbers, but don’t always get what they are paying for. According to an investigation by the California Public Utilities Commission, between July 2010 and December 2012, Comcast sold, leased, and/or released the names, addresses and unlisted phone numbers of tens of thousands of customers.

The information was sold or provided to third parties for publication in online, print and phone directories. This went on for two and a half years before Comcast noticed it.

For some customers, an unlisted number is simply a preference—a preference they are constitutionally entitled to under the privacy provisions of the California constitution. For other customers, keeping their personal information confidential is literally a matter of life or death. That was the case with some of the Comcast customers, who, the company says, had domestic violence or personal safety concerns.

Comcast eventually reported the error to the CPUC, and to the 74,650 impacted customers via US mail, but failed to publicly acknowledge the error. So many customers may not know their information was published.

>But some do. CPUC investigators quickly found out complaints from Comcast customers about these violations of their privacy on numerous websites. These subscribers paid Comcast from $1.25 to $1.50 per month to have an “unlisted” residential phone number or numbers. Here’s what a few of them had to say:

“Comcast published my address and a convicted felon has it.”

“My address is listed all over the internet!”

“We have been paying to be unlisted all along yet our personal and private information has been sold. Again.”

The complaints posted on Comcast’s own complaint forum date back as far as March 2010.

So its no surprise that the Commission says Comcast should have known that the problem existed long before its confession to the Commission in December 2012, and that fines may be appropriate.

The problem apparently started in July 2010 when Comcast changed its process for residential directory listings. So the Commission is wondering why Comcast never checked to see if the new system was working properly. Or googled itself.

Comcast has resisted CPUC attempts to investigate. One of Comcast’s attempts to wriggle out of corporate accountability caught TURN’s attention. Comcast claimed that the CPUC had no right to require it to treat customers fairly because they were receiving phone service through V>oice over Internet Protocol. This gap in consumer protection for phone customers receiving service over a broadband connection, SB 1161, was approved by the legislature over TURN’s most strenuous objections in 2011. But it doesn’t give Comcast a fee pass on everything, and certainly not on the California constitution, which provides strong privacy protections to residents of our state.

Comcast claims that it will refund money to customers who paid for but didn’t get unlisted numbers. But Comcast should still be fined for failing to follow the law. And some customers may need more relief than just a refund. For once, the CPUC is standing up for consumers. TURN will also attempt to advocate for consumers in the case, and to urge that SB 1161, the phone industry’s anti-consumer legislation, not be interpreted to prevent the CPUC from doing its job.

If your privacy was violated, TURN wants to hear from you! Comcast customers with unlisted numbers that may have been listed should e-mail TURN today!