For some consumers, privacy is a choice- one they are willing to pay for, including paying extra for an unlisted number. Many others consider privacy a necessity- whether they are fleeing domestic violence, exposed to violent criminals through their jobs or have been victims of harassment. For every consumer in California, privacy is a constitutional right. But it is one Comcast didn’t respect when it published 74,000 phone numbers that consumers had paid $1.50 per month each to keep unpublished.
What’s worse, Comcast didn’t listen when customers complained. But KOVR, the CBS affiliate in Sacramento, did. Back in February of 2012, Kurtis Ming of KOVR called TURN to request a consumer perspective on a troubling story- Kim Jason, a Comcast customer who had paid for an unlisted number, was easily able to find her number in the phone directory.
At that time, Comcast said it was an isolated incident. But a year later, Comcast admitted just the opposite- that thousands of customers were in the same position, with their private, unlisted phone numbers easily available online. At the time, TURN said such violations of customer privacy should result in meaningful financial penalties and remedies at the CPUC. Now we’re advocating for just that in the CPUC’s investigation into Comcast’s privacy violations.
The KOVR story is especially important because Comcast claims that it first uncovered the privacy violations 8 months later. But, there doesn’t appear to be any difference between Kim Jason’s case and the 74,000 other consumers who were harmed. Among those customers are many TURN members, who, like Ms. Jason, paid Comcast for an unlisted number but didn’t get what they’d paid for. One TURN member from San Francisco said she’d had the same phone number for 40 years, but now would have to change it since it was “all over the Internet.” Another, Linda, a retired public defender in Contra Costa county, had worked with sex offenders before retirement and felt safer with an unlisted number.
Comcast has refunded customers’ money. The problem is that once something is published on the Internet the cat is out of the bag. Customers whose privacy was violated may need to switch numbers to be sure they are safe. TURN will advocate for additional remedies at the CPUC, in the hopes that Internet scrubbing type services might be able to put the cat back in the bag- on Comcast’s dime.