Round 16: Mattel vs ATT

This is Round 16 in our Worst Company in America contest, Mattel vs AT&T.

Mattel profited off of selling millions of toys covered in lead paint, as well a toy with detachable, swallowable, magnet balls.

AT&T has managed to sully the beautiful iPhone with their customer service missteps, let the government set up shop atop internet backbones so American citizens privacies could be invaded, and seems to almost go out of its way to make it possible for customers to sign up for federally mandated dry loop/naked DSL, and otherwise experiences many of the same foibles and hijinx you would expect with any other national telephonic giant.

This is a post in our Worst Company In America 2008 series. The companies nominated for this honor were chosen by you, the readers. Keep track of all the goings on at

STILL OPEN FOR VOTING: Capital One vs Video Professor, eBay/Paypal vs COX, Apple vs SallieMae, Diebold Vs Pfizer, MTV vs TransUnion
CompUSA vs DirecTV
Target vs Best Buy
Allstate vs Verizon,
DeBeers vs 1800 flowers, Starbucks vs United Airlines,
Exxon vs Crocs, Google Vs Sony, Ticketmaster vs Wachovia, Facebook vs The American Arbitration Association, Comcast vs Menu Foods


Edit Your Comment

  1. JeffMc says:

    I like this match up.

    I figure Mattel is more incompetent than evil while AT&T is indeed evil. BUT, Mattel hurt children while generally AT&T is screwing over adults.

    Who will win?

  2. Corydon says:

    I’m only annoyed with Mattel because they created yet another “It’s for the children!” panic. From what I’ve been able to see, the levels of lead in their toys were still considerably lower than what kids in my generation were exposed to growing up from leaded gas, widespread use of lead in paint, etc.

    Incidentally, has anyone actually seen any reports of any actual damage caused by their toys? Or was this truly just another “OMG! My babbies!” moment?

    AT&T just generally sucks and needs to DIAF. So they got the vote.

  3. qwickone says:

    @Corydon: I know a kid was injured or killed by the magnetic ball toys, but I don’t know if it was Mattel’s item or another company’s similar item.

  4. Times like this when we used the selection type buttons instead of Radio buttons.

  5. seym0ur caKe says:

    I’m sure lead poisoning in children almost adds up to bad service…

  6. Yankees368 says:

    ” and seems to almost go out of its way to make it possible for customers to sign up for federally mandated dry loop/naked DSL,”

    That would be a good thing, wouldnt it? Besides, I had no trouble signing up for it.

  7. Beerad says:

    Yeah, both of these would ordinarily just be regular companies with regular stupid company screwups. However, it was AT&T’s willingness to help the government illegally spy on citizens that elevates them pretty much to the level of absolute scum.

  8. B says:

    I vote yes on the graphic. That is just awesome.

  9. IrisMR says:

    Well, lead poisoning kills so Mattel got my vote.

    …But ATT sucks rear ends.

  10. Corydon says:

    @qwickone: Just did a Google search and found a CDC report on the problem: [] .

    The manufacturers weren’t specified, but there was only one report of a death. The report noted that death was caused by magnets which “became dislodged from an older sibling’s toy building set”.

    That sounds to me a lot more like a tragic accident than negligence on the part of the manufacturer. If you really need to blame someone, why weren’t the parents monitoring what their 20 month old put in his mouth, or having their older kid pick up his toys?

    We all know why, of course…the parents no doubt had their hands more than full with working and looking after at least two kids. Thus, a tragic accident, not real evil, on anyone’s part.

  11. Gev says:


    It’s not like Mattel intentionally was selling these lead-tainted toys and they did recall them when it was found out that they were hazardous. Same thing for the magnetic toys.

    The way it’s phrased above makes Mattel sound like some cartoon villain in a black top hat twirling his moustache with one hand while fondling a big bag with a “$” on it with the other.

    Just because AT&T Wireless makes it so your shiny object of technolust isn’t as cool as it could be doesn’t get them in the running either. Apple is just as much to blame for the iPhone being one of the most pretty-looking yet overall worthless things.

    There’s also nothing wrong with hiding their least-profitable products.

    However, AT&T’s willingness to “wiretap” the internet without even blinking or thinking it might be a bad idea makes them deserving of the vote.

  12. sleze69 says:

    This is a bad matchup for Mattel…going up against a #1 seed like AT&T.

  13. royal72 says:

    @B: “I vote yes on the graphic. That is just awesome.”


    … otherwise, i find this unpopularity contest useless and unscientific.

  14. Bladefist says:

    selling lead paint = bad to me

    i dunno, thats just me. the whole lead thing. I know iIdiots were inconvenienced though, we can’t have that.

  15. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    and seems to almost go out of its way to make it possible for customers to sign up for federally mandated dry loop/naked DSL


    @Yankees368: I think the level of difficulty depends on which state you’re in. I don’t think most people would figure out that if the machine doesn’t give an option for your state you’re supposed to just sit there until a human picks up the phone.

  16. AceKicker says:

    I voted Mattel, and here’s why.

    At first I didn’t know who to vote for. I didn’t know if I should vote for Mattel because I wasn’t sure if I could say they were directly responsible for the tainted products. I didn’t know if I should vote for AT&T because they pull the standard crap every other telecom company does, but I couldn’t think of anything that would set them from the rest. (For the most part any iPhone snafus I put on Apple.)

    But then I started thinking about if Mattel was responsible for the tainted products. Even if they weren’t, shouldn’t they be? Why is it so ambiguous? They choose to be involved exclusively with children’s toys, shouldn’t they be taking every possible precaution to make sure the toys they put out are safe, no matter who they contract to manufacture them? They NEED to be ultimately responsible for their products. Even if it’s the manufacturer’s fault for defects, Mattel has to be the first line of defense against it. Any failure to do so should be a failure against Mattel.

    It feels ambiguous to me right now, and it shouldn’t.

    Also, crappy marketing < lead poiseoing.

  17. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    otherwise, i find this unpopularity contest useless and unscientific.

    @royal72: You’re going to complain in every single poll, aren’t you?

  18. AceKicker says:

    @royal72: Oh my word, just enjoy it for what it is and let us have our fun, ok?

  19. DeepFriar says:

    knowlingly illegal colluding with the government + blatant attempt at monopolizing the telecom industry is really, really bad form.
    then again, threatening children’s lives by trying to cut expenses sucks, too.
    tough one, I’ll go with my theme of hating all telecoms

  20. DeepFriar says:

    @DeepFriar: that’s some super grammar there, chief.

  21. Beerad says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: Wait, is royal72 suggesting this anonymous intarweb poll is not scientifically sound evidence of “the worst company in America”?!! I am shocked and appalled by the lack of rigor and objectivity in this process! Conglomerist would never have tolerated such lax standards, I’ll wager!

  22. QuantumRiff says:

    Wow, it looks like were now officially half way through the first round! There are still 46 more rounds till we have a winner.. thats alot of voting!

    Maybe next year, 3 way voting, instead of 2 way?

  23. savvy9999 says:

    oh come on.

    Poisoning children >>>>>>>> iPhone inconveniences

  24. Best graphic ever.

    While AT&T has pissed me off personally, Mattel is endangering children, so I say Mattel.

  25. urban_ninjya says:

    AT&T All the way. I’m pretty sure there’s probably more lead paint in their cell phones than Mattel has in their toys anyways.

    Has anyone even tested for lead in cell phones? Have they? I think it’s a disaster waiting to happen. I’ll bet in 20 years, a news headline story about how lead paint in cell phones cause erectial dysfunction will surface.

  26. britne says:

    Lead/detaching parts can KILL people. Not a tough matchup.

  27. urban_ninjya says:

    @QuantumRiff: Then we wouldn’t have so many stories.

    Maybe run it like we would a professional sports league. Have regular match ups through out the year. Say at the end of the day, the 4 more popular stories have the companies involved in a round of voting. Then at the end of the year/season, have like a playoff.

  28. plustax says:

    I am part of the Hollywood herd that had to have an iPhone but I guess I am more of a victim of demographics I suppose.

    Now the problem I’m having with Ma Bell right now is that she’s charging me Utility User Taxes for a jurisdiction I don’t live in or have any connection to whatsoever. It’s about $15 a month and it’s adding up. I’ve called and faxed over official statements from my city’s clerk and they insist I have to pay the taxes of the neighboring city. My zip code bleads into the big city so they insist I should be paying their taxes. I had this same problem with Verizon and they cried the whole adminstrative burden defense and said sorry we can’t help you. After awhile I gave up because it was at the time an immaterial amount due to having a lower bill. I’ll update you on how AT&T will handle this, we’re at the escalation point right now and waiting for their next move and a refund.

  29. johnva says:

    Their cooperation with the NSA wiretapping is enough for me to vote AT&T.

  30. Ayo says:

    Ok, Mattel sells toys with lead in them, and ATT might over charge some customers from time to time and have bad customer service…


    And then Mattel refuses to recall ALL of the toys and sells them at a “discounted” rate. WTF?

    I thought this web site was a forum for intelligent consumers.

    I’m sorry that you got charged for text messages because you went over your limit and didn’t know it. Or got accidentally overcharged for something you didn’t purchase.

    Boo Hoo.

    Atleast you still have your health.

  31. Trai_Dep says:

    Intent is a huge element for me with these two. Mattel didn’t mean to, then tried to address its failings. AT&T laughed in its Darth Vader wheezing voice then slathered on even more layers of evil.
    Plus anyone that rolls over for Jackbooted Gov’t thugs because they’re paid insane amounts to do so then tries sneaking in a retroactive immunity deal once their raped customers finds out deserves our ire and spite.

  32. bjarmson says:

    Gee, didn’t AT&T get broken up just a few years back into a lot of baby Bells because it was a huge, arrogant monopoly. And now it’s right back to AT&T and being a huge, arrogant monopoly again. WTF. Don’t we ever learn?

  33. Corydon says:

    @britne: Lead/detaching parts can KILL people. Not a tough matchup.

    There are far more KILLINGS attributable to dihydrogen monoxide (including hundreds of CHILDREN every year) yet the government refuses to regulate THAT. Obviously the government is failing to protect OUR CHILDREN from this dangerous chemical! Won’t someone PLEASE think of the CHILDREN?

    Meanwhile, I’ve seen not one article that actually refers to ANY injury from these lead painted toys and only 19 injuries (including one from a super-genius 11 year old who intentionally swallowed magnets on a dare) and one accidental death from ingesting magnets over a 3 year period (and the death wasn’t caused by a Mattel product either).

    There’s a lot more evil in deliberately subverting the Constitution than there is producing toys that might conceivably cause some harm if they are deliberately used in unintended ways.

    Yes, inspections should be stepped up and the administration was asleep at the switch (yet again). Yes, QA was lax or nonexistent at Mattel. As others have pointed out, however, the question of intention has to enter into calculations about evil.

  34. silencedotcom says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve been an AT&T Wireless customer for almost 2 years, and they’ve been nothing short of spectacular to me. Granted, I haven’t had any sort of big problems where I’ve needed to call in and get help or service, but simple things like changing my rate plan and text messages proved to be a quick and easy phone call.

  35. landsnark says:

    AT&T got my vote for helping W take a dump on the Constitution and for having poor customer service. Bonus points for that time in college when they charged me $7 for a 1 minute payphone call.

  36. evslin says:

    @Trai_Dep: Agreed. Negligence on Mattel’s part is stupid, but at least they didn’t intend to do what put them in this contest.

  37. mavrc says:

    Poisoning children (by accident) versus spying on millions of people (illegally, and on purpose.)

    Now there’s a contest.

    Mattel’s story, while pathetic and sad, doesn’t seem to indicate intentional action. They’re just utterly inept. AT&T violated the constitutional right to privacy of millions of people, so I’m going with them.

  38. Angryrider says:

    Easy, AT&T. They’re spying on us.
    Mattel, eh. The toys we all had growing up had some lead, but were WE STUPID enough to grind the paint out and sniff it, as “concerned” parents are saying? No.

  39. Trai_Dep says:

    @Corydon: “There’s a lot more evil in deliberately subverting the Constitution than there is producing toys that might conceivably cause some harm if they are deliberately used in unintended ways.”

    Well, unless you hate America, of course.

  40. Beerad says:

    @silencedotcom: “they’ve been nothing short of spectacular to me” — well, besides possibly illegally turning over your private information to the NSA. Besides that, you mean.

    Just kidding, I totally dig that AT&T can provide good technical service. They certainly don’t seem worse than anyone else in that regard.

  41. Dadu says:

    dihydrogen monoxide..tehe!

    Seriously, I agree with Trai_Dep…Intent is huge, and AT&T has it in spades.

  42. gig says:

    Both are horrid, but today AT&T gets my vote. They sent my 84 year old father a CD for the $10 DSL which gave instructions for him to click here to finish and they left out the button to click to finish. I thought well maybe at 84 he can’t see the button so I checked and sure enough it was missing so it couldn’t be downloaded. So I tried to call the DSL number to find out why the click here button was missing and why when I tried to order the DSL online (after spending hours trying to find the $10 deal), it said they have no phone account for my father even though he has BOTH local and long distance service with AT&T. I got routed to 8 different states, not one of which was mine (NY). Each time they said let me send you to NY and each time I ended up talking to someone in another state who told me that they could not help me because I was from a different state. I said can you just tell me if they have DSL in New York. The answer from all was NOPE. The guy from Alabama asked me if the service he was providing was excellent causing me to spit out my coffee but I said well let’s see if you can send me to a person in NY and then I will let you know. He sent me to Kentucky. I hung up. I will never do business with this company. I am in the process of changing my fathers phone service as well.

  43. lesspopmorefizz says:

    AT&T, for sure. but then…mattel sucks too. poisoning children is as bad as spying. wow, tough call!

  44. Cheebus says:

    What is wrong with you people.

    Mattel poisons children.

    What part of “poisoning children” is unclear to you?

  45. BadBoyNDSU says:

    1. I’m not a child.
    2. I don’t have any children.
    3. I don’t personally know any children.
    4. I have no conscious.
    5. I really want an unlocked 3G iPhone.

  46. bhall03 says:

    @Cheebus: Are you the person who spilled McDonald’s coffee on your lap and then sued?

  47. AT&T helped the White House violate the U.S. Constitution. The same constitution soldiers died to protect through the course of history. AT&T is spitting on American soldier’s graves.

  48. uberbucket says:

    AT&T. For not standing up to the government and telling them where they should stick that warrantless wire-tapping crap like Qwest did.

    Buy toys made out of wood, kids can gnaw on that shit all they want.

  49. Garbanzo says:

    AT&T subverts the Constitution.

    What part of “subverting the Constitution” is unclear to you?

  50. crapple says:

    That graphic is epic! Absolutely awesome!

    That said, AT&T for the loss. Between stomping on freedom’s testes, being a GW lapdog, and the horrendous customer service reputation…I think this deservedly one-sided.

    The lead amounts have been nearly nil…so there’s that, and the fact that I really don’t give a damn.

  51. nrwfos says:

    @bjarmson: I remarked on that myself not too long ago. Seems like you just can’t keep a bad company down.

  52. JustaConsumer says:

    AT&T is one of the worst companies ever. Even when dead, they managed to come back to life. They have screwed me out of some much money for cell phones and even back in the day for “long distance access”. Remember that crap? I would love to have an iPhone, but will never buy one until they get rid of AT&T.

  53. joebobfunguy says:

    I can’t believe what I’m seeing. They gave kids brain damage, but they messed up my iphone bill or wouldn’t let me out of a contract I signed to get a great discount on a phone. What did those kids ever do for me? Go cry to brangelina.

  54. joebobfunguy says:

    Mattel refused to recall a toy tainted with led “unintentionally”, but at&t messed up my iphone bill or wouldn’t let me break a contract I used to get a great discount on a phone without paying. What did those kids ever do for me? Go cry to brangelina.

  55. blackmage439 says:

    I wanted to vote for AT&T. I really did. Our first internet provider was AT&T DIALUP. Oh. My. Gawd. A slow connection that constantly/randomly dropped. However, since those depressing days, the entity known as SBC/Cingular/AT&T has been nothing but gold for us. The “new” AT&T, in my eyes, is the most upstanding and fairly-priced communications monopoly in business to date.

    However, I cannot condone the price cutting these toy companies have endorsed. As joebobfunguy said: bilking your contract or poisoning your children? Go cry an iRiver Apple fanboys.