Comcast Pays $33M for Unlisted Snafu

     (CN) – Comcast has reached a $33 million deal with California authorities to resolve allegations that it illegally posted personal information online of 75,000 customers who had paid for unlisted service.
     Under the settlement, the cable giant will pay $25 million in penalties and investigation costs to the California Department of Justice and the California Public Utilities Commission, and will refund affected customers $100 each.
     Another $432,000 will go to 200 law enforcement officers, judges and domestic abuse victims who said they faced safety concerns because of the leak, which occurred from 2010 to 2012.
     Comcast’s settlement comes after a year-long investigation and three days of evidentiary hearings into Comcast’s unauthorized disclosure and publication of names, telephone numbers and addresses of unlisted and nonpublished customers.
     The information was listed on Comcast’s online directory, in one or more rural telephone books, and through nationwide directory assistance, state officials said.
     An investigation revealed that Comcast had received many complaints from customers whose information was published despite paying for it to be kept private, CPUC commissioner Catherine Sandoval said.
     “It is imperative that customer complaints be quickly addressed and that systems are established to identify and correct the root cause of the problem and protect consumer privacy,” Sandoval said.
     According to the complaint filed in Alameda County Superior Court by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the problem arose after Comcast implemented a new process for producing and disseminating listing information for its residential phone customers in late 2009.
     “[A] significant portion of those California customers who elected nonpublished status prior to December 2009 were mistakenly not flagged as ‘nonpublished’ and thus were made available for publishing in July 2010” by nonaffiliated third party Neuter, the complaint says. (14)
     Harris called the publication of the unlisted information “unlawful and a troubling breach of privacy.”
     As part of the settlement, Comcast will improve how it handles customer complaints and will strengthen the restrictions it places on vendors’ use of personal information about customers.
     The agreement also calls for Comcast to provide a simple and easy-to-read disclosure form to all customers that explains the way in which it uses unlisted phone numbers and personal information.
     “This settlement provides meaningful relief to victims, brings greater transparency to Comcast’s privacy practices and sends a message that violations of consumers’ privacy will result in significant penalties,” Harris said.

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