Company told to stop Facebook naming and shaming overdue customers

overdue bill

Canada’s privacy commissioner has ordered a small cable TV company in the Northwest Territories to stop naming and shaming overdue account holders on Facebook.

As if it’s not embarrassing enough to struggle to pay bills, Senga Service Cable TV, in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., reportedly posted the names of 25 customers who were delinquent in paying their bills, along with the amounts owed.

The overdue bills ranged from $94.25 to $1,406.80, according to the CBC.

The company first posted the list of accounts in arrears to its company Facebook page last Monday evening, along with a warning that the accounts would be disconnected on Wednesday.

Then, employee Jennifer Simons posted the list to a number of community Facebook pages.

She told the CBC that it’s legal: a determination she arrived at after speaking to lawyers before she posted the names.

She told CBC that it’s fine to publish a person’s name and amount owed, but that “you cannot put a [social insurance number], a birth date, an address or anything else identifying the specifics of a person.”

The CBC checked up on that by contacting the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

In an email response, Tobi Cohen, a senior communications adviser at the office, told CBC that Senga Services had been contacted and “the company has complied with our request to take down the post.”

CBC quotes Cohen [link added]:

[The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act] allows organizations to use or disclose people's personal information only for the purpose for which they gave consent.

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.

While the legality is debatable, the tactic sure does work, Simons said:

We always got excuses from everybody. Promissory notes and everything, and it never arrives. So we found the most effective way is to publicly post the names. 

The list had been quickly removed from at least one community Facebook page: that of the popular Fort Simpson Bulletin Board.

But it was up long enough to prompt four people to come forward and pay their bills, Simons said, while others called to arrange to pay off their balance.

While it worked to some extent, it also blew up in the company’s face from a public relations perspective.

People in the small community of Fort Simpson, with a population of 1,200, didn’t take kindly to the public shaming.

While the shamed names have disappeared from the company’s Facebook page, people have taken their jeering to an earlier post from the company that asked “what can we as providers do to make your cable TV experience more enjoyable?”

The Huffington Post captured some of the replies, which included, among other, profanity-laced replies, the most obvious one of all:

Not post customers names on facebook?

Image of Overdue bill courtesy of Shutterstock.com