Monday, July 30, 2007

Comcast: Don't sue us, we'll sue you...

Service companies love to change their terms of service or services, they do it all the time - and most of those times the changes happen without uproar since the ToS changes are typically pretty small. Actually, literally very small - the service company usually notifies their consumer base with tiny 3-point font notes that arrive cleverly disguised as junk mail. Or, if you are lucky, a small 3-point font addendum to your monthly bill. That was the path that Comcast chose when they decided to change their terms of service with you this summer.

Let's see...what were the ToS looks like, oh, they are moving the Anime channel out of the premium package...well, I guess that's ok...and....they moved a couple of the sports packages around....fine. Hmmm...upped their service fee a bit...well, I guess that's expected....and it looks like they want me to wave my rights to sue them in cases of negligence or fraud...I guess that....wait, WHAT???

Yup - read your bill closely, kids. By not responding to a carefully worded "opt out" clause, you have 30 days to "opt out" of giving up your rights to sue Comcast if they rip you off. (If you are freaking out right now and think you are running out of time, you can opt out with Comcast online.)

The US Court of Appeals has woke up to the fact that, hey, big companies do things all the time to inconvenience their user bases. Huh. What a shocker. The case that pushed them over the edge was an AOL user named Joe Douglas who woke up one morning to find out that his account had been transfer to "Talk America," when that company bought a segment of AOL's business. AOL didn't even bother with wasting all that paper with 3-point font, they just made a change to their ToS on their website. (If you want to read about it in excruciating detail, here's the filed petition with the US Court of Appeals.) In this case, the court ruled in Douglas' favor, stating that it wasn't reasonable for a consumer to be checking a service provider's website every day for changes in the ToS.

The system is still broken, tho - technically, Comcast did notify its users that they were changing the ToS, but the language was dense and the important "you can't sue us, neener-neener!" phrase was buried in with several relatively unimportant ToS changes. Companies like Comcast are playing fast and loose with these rulings, and many of their tactics are bordering on deceptive practices.

So, for now the best we can do is read each bill from your service providers, credit cards, etc carefully when they arrive each month. Annoying, but I don't want anyone depriving me of the fun of joining a class action suit should the need arise...

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