Cable Company Uses Social Media to Shame Late Payers

Photo (cc) by William Hook

Imagine you’re late paying the cable bill and are punished by having your name and delinquent balance posted on Facebook. What would you do?

That was a reality some customers faced last week, when CBC News reports Canadian cable company Senga Services first posted a list of overdue customers’ names and balance amounts on its Facebook page, and then on community pages on the social media network.

Jennifer Simons, who works for Senga — based in the Northwest Territories village of Fort Simpson — tells the CBC:

“We always got excuses from everybody. Promissory notes and everything, and it never arrives. So we found the most effective way is to publicly post the names.”

The move sparked outcry, however:

Connor Gaule, an administrator for the Fort Simpson Bulletin Board page, immediately removed Senga’s post from that Facebook page, telling the CBC:

“I thought that it was kind of illegal for her to be posting the people in arrears. And there’s better ways to go about it. Especially on social media, where half the people on that list are elders that don’t have access to that.”

Senga has also removed the post from its Facebook page since the outcry started. The CBC contacted the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada in an attempt to determine if it were legal for Senga to post such customer information online.

Tobi Cohen, a spokesperson for the Canadian government agency, told the CBC that the country’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act “allows organizations to use or disclose people’s personal information only for the purpose for which they gave consent.”

Bruce Schneier, a security technologist and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, tells CBS MoneyWatch that social media is an “immense power” because the list of delinquent customers could show if someone searched online for one of those customers’ names.

For example, an employer could decide not to hire a job candidate after encountering his or her name on Senga’s list.

“The issue isn’t whether people are deadbeats and should pay. The issue is whether the punishment fits the crime. Now you’ll lose your career and your life because you didn’t pay your cable bill.”

Do you worry that other companies could adopt this public shaming tactic? How would you react if it happened to you? Share your thoughts below or on Facebook.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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