Comcast Charged For Unlisted Phone Numbers, Listed Them Anyway

Starting in July 2010, Comcast accidentally shared thousands of California customers' unlisted phone numbers, even though those subscribers paid to keep their info hidden from the public.

Starting in July 2010, Comcast accidentally shared thousands of California customers’ unlisted phone numbers, even though those subscribers paid to keep their info hidden from the public.

When you pay to have your phone number unlisted, you would expect that the company you pay would honor this request. You’d also expect that if that company screwed up and accidentally published half of its unlisted customers’ numbers in the state of California, it might notice. This week, the California Public Utilities Commission is holding a hearing to determine if Comcast violated the law when it screwed up and shared more than 74,000 phone numbers, names, and addresses that were supposed to be unlisted, including info for customers who were victims of domestic violence or hiding from criminals.

CBS13 in Sacramento first reported on Comcast’s inability to keep unlisted numbers unlisted back in 2012, when a viewer demonstrated on-camera that she could easily call up 411 and request the phone number she was paying Comcast a monthly fee to keep off these directories.

At the time, Comcast apologized and refunded her the fees, saying it was a rare occurrence. But then in early 2013, it revealed to the CPUC that, during a 27-month period starting in July 2010, it had goofed and allowed the 74,000 unlisted numbers to be shared with third-party phone directories.

According to CPUC documents [PDF], the problem arose after Comcast implemented a new process for producing and disseminating listing information for its residential phone customers. The new system pulled information from a Comcast billing data table so that it could be shared with third party publishers, directory assistance providers, and in Comcast’s online directory.

Problem is, this data table didn’t include whether subscribers’ numbers were unlisted or not, so the lists sent out by Comcast to third parties included the confidential information of subscribers who had paid Comcast for an unlisted telephone number.

While many people have their numbers unlisted just out of a desire for privacy, there are those with more dire concerns about keeping their information out of the public eye.

“I have paid for unpublishing my information for years as I testified in a murder trial,” reads the complaint of one California Comcast customer. “Now, my wife, children, and I are all in danger; and I have nowhere to turn.”

Another customer asks how she is supposed to protect herself from a man that has previously threatened to kill her.

What makes the Comcast case even more intriguing is that, while the CPUC says “there does not appear to be any essential difference” between the CBS13 case from 2012 and the 74,000 other names that were revealed, Comcast maintains that the CBS viewer’s issue is “not the same” as the one being investigated by CPUC, but apparently did not give an explanation how the two are different.

Which makes us wonder how frequently, and in how many different ways, Comcast has failed to keep customers’ information secret.

After all, the initial Comcast report to CPUC only indicated that around 50,000 unlisted numbers had been published. It wasn’t until later that the company realized that the problem went back even further than it thought, resulting in the total of 74,000 numbers being compromised.

This is the same company that thinks it can handle another 10 million subscribers?