And Here’s Yet Another Unethical Use For Facebook…


Senga Services, a Canadian cable company, recently web-shamed some of its  customers who were behind in their cable fees by listing their names and amount owed on Facebook. Of course, “it wasn’t the worst thing”—the company could have put up wanted posters

Naturally, the company had an excuse: Rationalization 2A, Sicilian Ethics.* “We always got excuses from everybody,” a rep for Senga told the CBC about the decision to publicly humiliate customers. “Promissory notes and everything, and it never arrives. So we found the most effective way is to publicly post the names.”

Effective, maybe. Ethical, never. Employing the threat of using humiliation to extract funds is indistinguishable from extortion. Yes, lawyers do it all the time, and mostly get away with it. It’s still wrong. It is particularly wrong when consumers have reason to believe that they are dealing with a business entity that respects their privacy and understands that their dealings, amicable or not, are not to be shared with the public. This is a dirty tactic, and in the U.S., an illegal one.  Section 551(c) of the Cable Communications Policy Act specifically prohibits cable companies from disclosing “personally identifiable information concerning any subscriber without the prior written or electronic consent of the subscriber concerned.” The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada maintains that Canadian law only “allows organizations to use or disclose people’s personal information only for the purpose for which they gave consent,” meaning 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.” Senga, not knowing ethics from a tree frog, feels that public shaming for amounts as small as a hundred dollars is appropriate. Nonetheless, Senga agreed to pull the shaming posts.

Ban them from cable service, take them to court, work out a payment plan, charge interest…all of that is fair and reasonable. Using private information as a reputation-wrecking weapon, however, isn’t.

I think the debts of every Senga customer who the company treated this way should be cancelled.


*Note of Rationalization List change: Rationalization #2 was always two rationalizations in one. I finally split out the two, with the main rationalization re-named “Ethics Estoppel,” for the theory that Party A’s unethical conduct makes him unworthy of ethical conduct from Party B. The sub-rationalization, “Sicilian Ethics,” is just an excuse for revenge.


Pointer: Alexander Cheezem

Facts: Consumerist

12 thoughts on “And Here’s Yet Another Unethical Use For Facebook…

  1. Here’s an honest question for Jack:

    There are lots of unethical things happening on Facebook; but, is it “ethical” to publicly discuss, in an ethics blogging tool, the ethics of others who are using the Facebook tool to intentionally change the unethical behavior of some?

    I appreciate that you are a deep thinker when it comes to ethics; this is an interesting conundrum.

  2. Using unethical behavior to change the unethical behavior of others is wrong. Why shouldn’t it be discussed, and pointed out as unethical? The end does not justify the means.

  3. crella asked, “Why shouldn’t it be discussed, and pointed out as unethical?”

    I think you’ve misunderstood my question.

    I didn’t say or imply that it shouldn’t be discussed or pointed out as unethical, I simply asked the question is it ethical to do so. If we are discussing this type of unethical behavior to change that unethical type of behavior, then aren’t we loosely “sorta kinda” doing the same thing that Senga Services did when they tried to change unethical behavior of their customers buy publicly shaming them.

    I didn’t post the question for any reason whatsoever except to start an open discussion about the interesting conundrum.

    Does our purposeful discussions about the ethics of others somehow make us immune to our own standards of ethics?

    Since this blog is all about ethics, I honestly thought it was a fair question.

    • I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that you couldn’t or shouldn’t have asked the question. I was just trying to get a idea of what exactly you were driving at. I had to go out, so I didn’t write any more. I should have written something clearer.

      In answer to your earlier question, I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but I hadn’t commented in part because I thought upon reading the post that if I got started on FB I might not stop. I recently sent them a few paragraphs on their lack of ethics and judgement. It’s just whistling in the wind, but I got it off my chest. FB can be a useful tool, we used it here after the Tohoku disaster to do things like translate the shelter lists into English for those looking for loved ones in Japan from other countries. We also have a disaster preparedness group, and FB Japan automatically sets up pages for local disasters. However…when one reports abuse, 9 times out of 10 the answer you get is “We find that this post doesn’t violate our community standards” regarding pages laughing at cancer victims, advocating the extermination of those with autism, and a page showing the crucufixion of cats, among others. Stalking and or defamatory posts are met with the same answer. They don’t care. They have created this enormous network, and as long as the clicks keep coming, they are really not interested in policing it. What the ” community standards” are, one has to wonder…

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