Cable Company Decides To Shame Overdue Customers By Posting Names On Facebook

(photo: CBC)

(photo: CBC)

There are a lot of reasons you might fall behind on your cable bill — finances are tight, a medical emergency — or maybe, as we’ve heard all too often, the cable company screwed up and hasn’t properly credited your account. But even if you’re just a cheap jerk with no intention of ever paying your bill until they cut off service, that still doesn’t merit being called out publicly on Facebook.

And yet, Senga Services, a cable operator in Canada’s Northwest Territories, recently decided it would be a great idea to shame some of its in-arrears customers by listing their names and amount owed on the social media site.

“We always got excuses from everybody,” a rep for Senga told the CBC about the decision to shame these customers. “Promissory notes and everything, and it never arrives. So we found the most effective way is to publicly post the names.”

Given that towns in the Territories are often quite small, the people whose names are listed are often familiar with the other locals.

“Everybody knows who owes money to a cable company,” said one local resident who wasn’t on the list but who disagreed with Senga’s tactics. “So we know who is irresponsible with money or who might be struggling. If I were struggling to pay bills, I wouldn’t want my community knowing.”

The company rep said that Senga understands this notion, which is why she contends the company is only going after the biggest scofflaws.

“We know everybody, so we give people a chance,” explained the rep. “It’s the people who dodge us on a regular basis who are the ones being shamed.”

And while the amounts owed by some customers were above the $1,000 range, some customers were being shamed for owing less than $100 to the cable company.

While Senga contends that the Facebook posts were legal, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada told the CBC that Canadian law only “allows organizations to use or disclose people’s personal information only for the purpose for which they gave consent,” and that, “There is also an over-arching clause that personal information may only be collected, used and disclosed for purposes that a reasonable person would consider appropriate under the circumstances.”

At the urging of the Commissioner’s office, Senga eventually pulled the Facebook posts.

We aren’t familiar with Canadian privacy laws, but here in the States, Section 551(c) of the Cable Communications Policy Act forbids cable companies from disclosing “personally identifiable information concerning any subscriber without the prior written or electronic consent of the subscriber concerned.”

[via Vice]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.