Comcast Pays $33.4 Million, Mostly to the State, for Customers’ Privacy Loss

Monday, September 21, 2015

Around 74,774 Californians who paid Comcast for unlisted phone services—some for security reasons—won’t be able to get their privacy back, but they will each get $100 in compensation from the giant telecom for publishing their names, phone numbers and addresses.

Comcast agreed to pay $33.4 million in a settlement reached last week with the California Department of Justice and Public Utilities Commission. Most of the money, $25 million, will go to the state for penalties and to cover investigative costs. The rest will go to injured parties.

Comcast screwed people who asked for unlisted numbers while using Xfinity Voice, the company’s voice over internet protocol (“VOIP”). They will get refunds, on top of their $100, for the service they didn’t receive. Two hundred and sixteen customers who were put at special safety risk—victims of domestic violence, law enforcement officers, and judges—will receive $432,000 in additional services, like home security.

Comcast charged California Xfinity customers $1.50 a month for non-published status and $1.25 for non-listed service. The telecom uses a third-party vendor to sell its customer information to other companies who, in turn, often repackage and resell it.

In 2009, Comcast inadvertently failed to flag people paying for “private” non-published status when it sent the listings to Neustar, a  cloud-based clearinghouse for real-time information and analytics, according to the complaint filed (pdf) by the California Attorney General. “Neustar provided those listings to Microsoft FAST, who then published them for Comcast on the Ecolisting website.”

That didn’t change that until 2012. Comcast had been receiving complaints from customers that their private information was not private but didn’t determine the root of the problem until October of that year. They were apparently spurred on by two agitators, one from California. Two months later, the lists were deleted from Ecolisting.

Comcast sent out letters to the affected customers, 54,000 of whom still had the service, warning of their exposure and offering a credit for their unnecessary payments. They set up a hotline and received 11,000 calls. Around 200 expressed concern for their safety.     

The stipulated judgment (pdf) in Alameda County Superior Court calls for Comcast to revise its process for handling customer inquiries and complaints about the privacy leakage it has now stopped.

Comcast was voted Worst Company in America last year, beating out Monsanto 51.5% to 48.5% in Consumerist’s annual round-robin tournament. The company had to beat Verizon, Facebook and Yahoo to reach the Death Match finals.

Comcast wanted to merge with TimeWarner but gave up earlier in the year in the face of opposition by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission.   

 –Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Comcast Penalized $33 Million by PUC for Privacy Breach (by George Avalos, San Jose Mercury News)

Comcast Reaches $33 Million Settlement with California over Privacy Violations (by Yashaswini Swamynathan, Reuters)

Comcast Will Pay $33 Million to Settle Breach of California Customers’ Privacy (by Leticia Miranda, BuzzFeed)

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Reaches $33 Million Settlement with Comcast Over Privacy Violations (California Department of Justice)

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