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Customer Policy in the Age of Conversation

By - September 30, 2007

AT&T has a TOS for its customers which, implemented strictly, would be an indefensible limitation on freedom of speech (and would create a shitstorm for the company if enforced). I’m very interested to see how long it takes for AT&T to listen to the howling in the blogosphere, and revise that TOS. My take: Companies who don’t listen, respond, and iterate are doomed to fail in the conversation economy.

The language:

5.1 Suspension/Termination. Your Service may be suspended or terminated if your payment is past due and such condition continues un-remedied for thirty (30) days. In addition, AT&T may immediately terminate or suspend all or a portion of your Service, any Member ID, electronic mail address, IP address, Universal Resource Locator or domain name used by you, without notice, for conduct that AT&T believes (a) violates the Acceptable Use Policy; (b) constitutes a violation of any law, regulation or tariff (including, without limitation, copyright and intellectual property laws) or a violation of these TOS, or any applicable policies or guidelines, or (c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries.

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  • Steven M.

    Irrespective of its customer base, AT&T’s own conduct tends quite easily to damage the name or reputation of AT&T. Two great examples include cozying up to the NSA as well as infuriating iPhone owners with its absurd rate policy and insistence (contrary to law) that iPhone owners be locked into AT&T’s mediocre voice and data services. I for one plan to switch my iPhone service to T-Mobile within a few weeks because of AT&T’s ongoing Evil Empire behavior. Isn’t that why 25 years ago the courts broke up Ma Bell in the first place, for anticompetitive behavior?

  • Paul

    This isn’t anything new. A lot of companies do this. Take a look at every Microsoft EUL. IIS’s EUL specifically says that you cannot use IIS to host information that is derogatory to Microsoft.

  • http://searchengines.wordpress.com/ Search☸ Engines WEB

    That is just their legal staff leaving no stone unturned.

    How will AT&T know who has defamed them? Most Bloggers or Journalists will not divulge their IPhone accounts publicly – so how will they be traced?

    Perhaps in a rare extreme case, a high profile persistent controversial activist could get terminated – but 99.999% of the users have nothing to worry about.

  • Corey

    You mention “indefensible limitation on freedom of speech.” It might be worth noting that the US Bill or Rights protect us against the government limiting our speech. It doesn’t protect us against each other, or in this case against a private company. So, it might not be a freedom of speech issue at all. AT&T may have the right to draft and enforce their TOS as stated above, and we have the right not to do business with them.

  • Eli

    I agree with Corey.

  • John Battelle

    Yes, you are right. Though it most likely turns on whether or not ATT’s underlying services are considered common carriage, no?

  • Corey

    I learned what common carriers were today. Thank you!

    It will be interesting to see on which side of the debate telecommunications will fall within definition of common carriers.