AT&T And Verizon Can Cancel Service Of Subscribers Who "Damage" Their "Reputation"

Criticizing AT&T DSL as a subscriber can result in them shutting down your service, according to their Terms of Service:

“5.1 Suspension/Termination. …AT&T may immediately terminate or suspend all or a portion of your Service, any Member ID, electronic mail address, IP address, Universal Resource Locator or domain name used by you, without notice, for conduct that AT&T believes …(c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries.”

Verizon Online has a similar clause under their Acceptable Use Policy (AUP):“3. You may NOT use the Service as follows: …(j) to damage the name or reputation of Verizon, its parent, affiliates and subsidiaries, or any third parties.”

In other news, you can escape your AT&T DSL and Verizon Online contracts without early termination fee by talking smack about your ISP.

It’s worth noting, however, that we can’t figure out how to access the AT&T TOS from the main page, only by going directly to that link, so we have to wonder if it’s actually the official TOS or something else.

New AT&T terms of service: We’ll cut off your Internet connection for criticizing us [BoingBoing] (Thanks to Saiwen1)
(Photo: Yogi)

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  1. SimonSwegles says:

    Business-class leased line contracts with AT&T continue to escape all the residential crap to which folks continue to be subjected. Nothing of this sort in the ToS, and thankfully no traffic shaping so far.

  2. JustAGuy2 says:

    As I read it, it’s not so much criticizing them that’s the issue, but doing something that causes others to criticize them, i.e. “person X is using a Verizon DSL connection to host his white supremacist website.”

  3. Black Bellamy says:

    @JustAGuy2:

    No need to go that far. Just substitute “The Consumerist” for “white supremacist website” in your post.

  4. alfista says:

    What’s worse, the wrath of a current customer or a ‘fired’ one?

  5. Heyref says:

    Nice to see another business adopting the popular “The Customer Is The Enemy” business model. It’s worked so well for the RIAA. Now, if they would only put that clause into their mobile contracts, it would give folks a way out of being locked in to crap service.

  6. Trai_Dep says:

    So the two largest telecos hide, in a web-only, ultra-fine-print notice that any online complaints by their customers will get them banned for life. Without rationale or review.

    Oh, but we can totally trust them to play fair when the telecos pick which internet companies are winners/losers and/or which political expressions they decide can “legitimately” use their networks.

    Network neutrality. Now.

  7. kctipton says:

    I guess I’m screwed (assuming that they can find what I wrote about them).

  8. In other news, you can escape your AT&T DSL and Verizon Online contracts without early termination fee by talking smack about your ISP.

    No limitation of freedom of speech here?

  9. ElizabethD says:

    Galactic love for Darth Fiddler…. ;-)

  10. Nighthawke says:

    I think that someone is due to get donkey-punched really hard for the bullcrap that they did. I’m under their thumb as they are the ILEC for the community i’m in, but that is not going to stop me from ripping them a new one every opportunity. Same goes for verizoned.

    Plus that TOS/AUP entry will not stand up in a court of law anyway. It’s too discriminative, shows preferential treatment, and is inflammatory.

    Their “customers are the enemy now” policy is only going to get them burned in the end.

    Net 2.0 is where the people are making the news, not just some profiteering newsie or talking head. THAT is what they are afraid of, the people speaking out. I say to hell with them and their “holier than thou” attitude.

  11. homerjay says:

    Has anyone actually had this happen?

  12. Jerim says:

    As much as I am an advocate for consumers, I also at least try to understand the business side. I have first hand experience of managing a company where 95% of the customers were satisfied to varying degrees. 3% were dissatisfied but understanding, and the other 2% were dissatisfied no matter what you did. When you have a customer that is asking you to do something that just wouldn’t be good business, then you have to tell them no. And sometimes they don’t take no for answer. You can’t spend $100+ in customer support each month on a customer paying $30 a month for service. You lose money that way. Some customers expect way too much from their cheap rate service. I have dealt with customers before who had periodic problems, and even though you resolve the issue quickly and kindly, they still complain and moan. At that point, you have to cut them lose. They can’t complain about you if they aren’t your customer. It is not something any company likes to do, and they usually go out of their way not to. I believe the clause is reserved for only those whose conduct is egregious. (And my experience has shown me that they complained about the company before us, and they continue to complain about the company after us.)

  13. geekfather says:

    Sure, because their complete and utter lack of customer service skills is doing NOTHING to hurt their name or reputation.

    AT&T sucks.

  14. Arch4ngel says:

    We also have to understand that what they write in their contract is one thing. But there is probably a lot of stuff that are “illegal” to do. Freedom of speech go far and by canceling your account even if you were criticizing them and you did “damage”. It’s still in your right to have Free Speech right? I’m pretty sure there is a lot you can do in court :).

  15. kahri says:

    no worries. Really hard to “damage” a reputation in the gutter.

  16. d0x says:

    I wonder if i run around with a sign that says how much Verizon sucks with my cell # on it…will they cancel my account?

  17. camille_javal says:

    It reads to me like something similar to the issues raised in the Lanham Act (federal Trademark law) in 43(a) (15 U.S.C. § 1125(a), the false advertising civil action, more or less). However, 43(a) claims are limited to competitors for standing in most cases, or at least other people engaged in comemrce who are close enough to being competitors (it depends upon the federal Circuit). So, perhaps the idea is that if you go on a campaign of hatred targeted towards one company, they can choose to terminate their business contract with you.

    Actually, come to think of it, it’s probably in response to the rulings in the [company]sucks.com cases (more related to trademark infringement proper, Lanham Act § 32), where many/most courts have found in favor of the defendants, ruling that [company]sucks.com was unlikely to cause confusion with the [company] mark. Because the statutes don’t get them damages, they figure they can at least put it in the contract that they’re allowed to terminate their agreement.

    I imagine, to give up that early termination fee and further payments, it would have to be a pretty egregious and thorough campaign of hatred.

    I hope, in the time I’ve been looking at the statute, somebody hasn’t gone and posted this already.

  18. alice_bunnie says:

    @Arch4ngel:

    Freedom of Speech applies to the government abridging your rights, not a company.

  19. royal72 says:

    dear at&t and verizon, you suck ass and your mother dresses you funny. have a nice day :)

  20. obbie says:

    so am i allowed to cancel my contract if the company is causing damage to my reputation because they have a billing error in my favor that they will not recognize and it is ruining my financial situation and possible my credit score

  21. davebg5 says:

    This idiotic rule will NEVAH be enforced for two reasons.

    The obvious reason is the PR hit that they’d take would likely do more harm to their brand than the actual statement itself.

    However, we’ve seen time and again the asinine decisions made by companies that would seem to fly in the face of any sort of logic (::cough:: RIAA ::cough::)

    So, it’s reason number two which will really keep this from coming to fruition. Internet providers are protected from liability in regard to the things that their users post b/c they are excused from monitoring their networks for content. If AT&T were to start monitoring their own network in an effort to protect its own corporate identity, then they may find themselves open to lawsuits from other parties looking for the same protection that it now gives itself.

  22. Canes816 says:

    So the big question here is, how can I use this to actually cancel my account without the craptastic early termination fee. I have one year left with this horrible company and I’d love to get out of it early!!

  23. BlueModred says:

    First of all, they write these contracts and TOS’s in such a way that they can cancel your service for any reason, so it’s not a big surprise. Second, it seems to me that if you *** bad enough, publicly enough, and loud enough that ATT notices and goes through the hassle of tracking your forum post (somewhere on some website) to your account, you probably wouldn’t be all that upset to see them go, or would be on the way to canceling your service anyway.

  24. Trai_Dep says:

    @alice_bunnie: Quasi-monopolies, sanctioned by government and (in theory) regulated by them aren’t “companies”. They enjoy special perks being a state-sanctioned oligopoly, they endure some burdens.

  25. Maulleigh says:

    If someone was my client and decided to make fun of me, I’d terminate them too.

    Although if people really had stones, they’d terminate their own contract before resorting to that worst of weapons–satire.

  26. SoCalGNX says:

    Verizon told me it would take about four weeks to give me phone service (note – all the wiring etc. was already in place. How hard could it be to flip the switch?). I ended up with cable phone instead. After I cancelled with Verizon, they then had the nerve to tell me I could not have service with them due to a bad credit report. Note – my credit is great and my score is 780. Can I sue them for saying things I don’t like about me?

  27. Amelie says:

    It would seem that third parties could include a lot of companies. So I can’t bag on their advertisers, or the companies that provide them content on their site’s webpage or the dicks that track us?

    Actually, a form “freedom of speech” is guaranteed for telephone and telegraph communications. (Western Union tried unsuccessfully to limit political messages, back in the day.) Unfortunately, when these protections were enacted, text messaging and the internet didn’t exist, hence they are not yet covered.

  28. Chicago7 says:

    So, everybody who held their nose but not their tongue about AT&T and bought an iPhone anyway is subject to termination of service? Hahahahaha!

  29. Doc Benway says:

    NET NEUTRALITY . . . nuff said

  30. kahri says:

    NO, no, no, this is a NEW TOS. Meaning unless this version of the TOS is the one YOU SIGNED, then you have nothing to worry about. The only contracts that affect you are the ones you signed, regardless of what they change on their new contracts. They can’t hold you accountable to Terms you never agreed to. Now go read your TOSs.

  31. SabrinaFaire says:

    Wait, the Verizon Online one says “3. You may NOT use the Service as follows: …(j) to damage the name or reputation of Verizon, its parent, affiliates and subsidiaries, or any third parties.” so you CAN log in from work or a library and do all that stuff, right? :)

  32. JustAGuy2 says:

    @trai_dep:

    Quasi-monopolies? Uh, how? Nothing stopping you from launching your own wireless services company, either by buying spectrum, or by using the unlicensed bands.

    Their network, their capital investment, their rules.

  33. The Doctor says:

    “What you say about my momma?!”

  34. FLConsumer says:

    Dumb question, but how can anyone possibly damage AT&T/Verizon’s reputation? When you’re at the absolute rock bottom, you can’t dig any deeper.

  35. Trai_Dep says:

    @JustAGuy2: Remember a lil’ homespun, folky company affectionately refered as Ma Bell? Back in the day when they were dropping their wire, they did so under an exclusive contract with the US gov’t. Anyone else trying would have been arrested as being a terrorist – err – communist.

    That little squidgeon of favoritism allowed them to build out their network – now a sunk cost insurmountable to any newcomer – that was the basis of the hegemony now.

    This is also why I refer to the telecos. Since they all were beneficiaries of this state largesse. It’s like saying, “Anyone could simply lay wire, build generators and create their own power company!” Cute. But disinginuous.

    Which is fine. So long as they keep in their box of regulated, quasi-monopolistic basic carrier.

  36. JustAGuy2 says:

    @trai_dep:

    So what about T-mobile? Clearly doesn’t apply to them. Or Sprint. Or Alltel. The fact that they built out their wireless networks without any sort of claimed gov’t benefit proves that it’s not required, hence not applicable to Verizon and AT&T Wireless either.

    You might have a case for some modest restrictions on the direct descendents of Ma Bell, for the networks that they built during the pre-breakup era, but there’s no case for any of the wireless carriers, the cable companies, or any post-breakup networks (i.e. FiOS and Lightspeed). Investors’ money, investors’ networks.

    Want network neutrality? There’s a clear, fair way to do it. Convince your friends, start a movement, get politicians elected, raise taxes, build a federally-financed network, or have a taxpayer-led buyout of AT&T, Verizon, and Qwest, at fair market value.