And Here’s Yet Another Unethical Use For Facebook…

shaming

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

Not Every Disappointment Is Cable TV Or Social Media Fodder: The Case of The Dry Artificial Leg

WHEEEEEEEEE!

WHEEEEEEEEE!

In the old days, the saying was “You don’t have to make a federal case out of it.” Today it would be “You don’t have to put it on the internet.”

At Frontier City’s Wild West Water Works in Oklahoma City, a family objected strenuously because their 8-year-old daughter’s prosthetic leg caused her to be banned from the water slide. The attendant stopped the family at the entrance to the ride, explaining that park policy prevented individuals with prosthetic limbs from sliding because it risked scratching the sides of the slide. The family decided to make a federal case out of it, and the dispute ended up on in the local media, then the national media, then the internet, then social media

The complaint was that the park didn’t have this restriction listed. Okay, good point. That doesn’t mean they were obligated to let the daughter scratch the slide with her leg. I can imagine other perils of sliding with an artificial limb that neither the park nor its insurance carrier would want to risk. It’s a shame the little girl was embarrassed and disappointed. My son was once similarly disappointed when a ride he wanted to go on had a height requirement. Too bad. I didn’t make a federal case out of it. Not every restriction can be listed on park signs; the longer the text, the fewer people read it.

The family of the rejected girl, however, did make a federal case out of it. They got the news media involved, and soon the park was putting out this:

“Our goal at Frontier City is to create family fun and fond memories for each of our guests while placing a priority on guest safety. Our Ride Admission Policy has been developed in consultation with industry professionals, based on the recommendations of the ride manufacturer, past experiences, and evaluations of each ride using knowledge of the ride in all operating conditions.Like many water parks across the United States, regulations regarding loose articles and medical assistance devices are enforced to ensure the safety of each guest. Unfortunately, we can’t allow loose articles, swimwear with exposed metal ornamentation, casts, certain limb braces, or prosthetic devices on certain slides at Wild West Water Works.We never want to refuse our guests the opportunity to enjoy our attractions, but we must also always follow guidelines that have been set by our industry to insure the safety of all guests. To avoid any confusion or heartache in the future, we will strive to make sure this is communicated better in advance by adding the restrictions to our website and ride signage. We deeply regret any disappointment caused to our guests due to our Ride Admission Policies. Again, our first priority is guest safety and our mission is to provide the best experience possible for all of our guests.”

The park sounds completely reasonable, professional and fair. But one family had to react to a minor disappointment by casting the Frontier City as a heartless villain and their child as a victim, resulting in dozens of news stories across the country, blog commentary and Facebook posts. Some things are not worth making a fuss about. Some things should be handled with a shrug, a quiet suggestion of a better way to handle things in the future, agracious goodbye and maybe a letter afterwards.. Every minor dispute doesn’t have to be the Battle of Waterloo.

I fear we are raising a generation of entitled and hair-triggered victim-mongerers, armed with little cameras and video recorders, ready at any provocation to turn every mistake, disagreement, disappointment or ill-considered glance into 15 minutes of infamy for anyone unfortunate enough to cross their paths. In the future we will all be spending so much time apologizing to each other and explaining to the media what we meant that it will be increasingly impossible to just live. The insatiable web and 24-hour news cycle makes shaming a constant threat to the most minor offender, and gives everyone the power, under the right conditions, to bend others to their will.

But I guess that dystopian hell will be worth it if the next child with an artificial leg knows she can’t use the water slide at Wild West Water Works before she gets to the top.

__________________________

Pointer: Fred

Facts: KFOR

 

Outrageous, Unprofessional, Unethical Judge Michael Cicconetti

Pepper spray in the face? Uh, that's not what we mean by "blind justice"...

Pepper spray in the face? Uh, that’s not what we mean by “blind justice”…

In Painesville, Ohio, Municipal Court Judge Michael Cicconetti decreed that Diamond Gaston, tried for assault for pepper-spraying another woman in the face, had to choose between spending a month in jail or getting pepper-sprayed in her face by the victim. Judge Cicconetti—the sly fox—had secretly had the pepper-spray replaced with a saline solution without telling Gaston, who was his victim. In the same week,  Cicconetti sentenced a woman who failed to pay a cab driver for a 30 mile trip to the choice of jail time or paying $100 restitution and walking the 30 miles she stole from the cabbie. This got him on all the cable news shows, so obviously it was a great idea.

Law Professor Jonathan Turley was so upset by these absurd sentences (and others he has condemned) that his blog post on the topic is (uncharacteristically) riddled with errors, as if he wrote it while screaming as tears blurred his eyes. Maybe he did. Unlike your host, Turley is usually reserved and understated, but this really got to him. Here: my view is substantially the same as his, so let’s give the professor his say (with a little editing): Continue reading

Sen. Gillibrand and The Pigs

"I yield to the distinguished gentleman from the sty..."

“I yield to the distinguished gentleman from the sty…”

People magazine revealed an intriguing bit of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) new memoir, “Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice to Change the World” that suggests that members of the Senate are not the “Distinguished Gentlemen” they are supposed to be, at least when it comes to basic manners involving female colleagues:

“Gillibrand isn’t especially offended by her coworkers’ remarks. ‘It was all statements that were being made by men who were well into their 60s, 70s or 80s,’ she says. ‘They had no clue that those are inappropriate things to say to a pregnant woman or a woman who just had a baby or to women in general.’ ”

Now some critics on the Right are using this as a “gotcha!”, suggesting that Gillibrand is protecting Democrats from negative attention for the same kinds of conduct that Gillibrand’s party and colleagues are quick to use against Republicans in its “war on women” strategy.

This accusation is beyond disingenuous, not to mention stupid. If Gillibrand were to publicly accuse a GOP colleague of such conduct, she would be accused, by these same critics, of being a hysteric, a bad colleague, unprofessional and petty—and they would be right. No professional woman responds to this kind of crude, obnoxious, “Look! I’ve-been-hiding-in-since-1970,” training-wheels harassment by making a public accusation that embarrasses not just the individual at fault but the organization they both work for. For Gillibrand to do this in the U.S. Senate would instantly make her a pariah even in her own party.

More importantly, it would be wrong. Continue reading

Ice Bucket Challenge Ethics

Ice Bucket Challenge

The “Ice Bucket Challenge” is a silly, brilliant fund-raising device that has simultaneously increased public awareness of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, brought over 14 million more dollars of donated funds into the ALS Association than last year for research, and provided some priceless YouTube fare, ranging from celebrity drenchings to this…

Entertainment! Celebrities! Medical research! Charity! Public Education! How could there be anything unethical about such a phenomenon? Well, ethics often throw cold water on all manner of activities human beings crave, so it should not be too great a surprise that the “Ice Bucket Challenge” has generated quite a few ethics-based objections. Let’s examine the potential, alleged and actual ethical flaws of the current fad, and rate them on an Ethics Foul Scale from zero (No ethical concerns at all) to ten ( Very Unethical).

1. It’s dangerous.

Anything can be dangerous if you are not sufficiently careful, and the Ice Bucket Challenge had its consequentialist moment when four firefighters were injured, one very seriously, trying to help the marching band at Campbellsville University get dumped with ice water this week. Two firefighters were in the bucket of their truck’s ladder preparing to douse the students using a firehose when a surge of electricity jumped from nearby power lines and electrucuted them and two colleagues. This was just a freak accident, however. Unlike the so-called Facebook Fire Challenge, the ALS fundraisng stunt shouldn’t be perilous to anyone, as long as practitioners don’t get too grandiose or creative.

Ethics Foul Score:

0

2. It wastes water.

Continue reading

The Ethics Scrooge On The Starbucks Pay-It-Forward Ponzi Scheme

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The Ethics Scrooge here.

If you think I’m going to get all misty eyed about the “random acts of kindness” fun and games Florida Starbucks customers have been amusing themselves with lately,  you are sadly mistaken.

The happy-talk story of the week—and I admit, the nation needed one—concerned a St. Petersburg, Florida Starbucks where an early morning customer at the drive-through window decided to “pay it forward” and buy coffee for the next person in line.That customer emulated the spirit of the Kevin Spacey weepie,  and bought a drink for the next person in line at the drive-through, and so it continued throughout the day, with 378 customers purchasing drinks for the strangers in line behind them, a so-called altruism chain that lasted 11 hours.

Awww. Continue reading

Ethics Heroes: Senate Republicans

crack

Just say “No.”

Sneaking expensive entitlements into long-term national policy is craven, dishonest, and continues the dangerous trend of sloppy, election-driven legislating that has become virtually standard operating practice in recent years. Senate Republicans generated some hope for transparency and the future of honest debate on governing philosophy by using the threat of a filibuster to block yet another extension of the supposedly “short-term” extensions of unemployment benefits.

I’ve written about this recently, so I won’t belabor it, but there was nothing in Democratic rhetoric surrounding the extension to disprove my suspicion, which was  full-blown three years ago, that this is nothing but a strategy for embedding  a permanent government subsidy of unemployment without a national debate regarding the consequences of such a policy. A ‘temporary” benefit is permanent if elected representatives lack the integrity and courage to end it; for an example one need only look to the supposedly short-term “Bush tax cuts,” which a Democratic President and legislature, despite exorbitant rhetoric about how irresponsible they were (and irresponsible they were), extended, and they are in place still. There is not a single Democratic argument in favor of the supposedly temporary extension that would not apply to a policy of paying the unemployed forever. Here are some quotes from “The Hill” yesterday:

  • “We’re one Republican vote away from restoring benefits to 1.7 million Americans.  There is one Republican vote standing in the way of a lifeline to these 1.7 million people.”-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

1.7 million, 1 million, 657,000…when would such benefits not qualify, in Reid’s words, as a “lifeline”? If the answer is never, and it is, why would anyone believe these are intended to be temporary benefits? Isn’t the money just as crucial to an unemployed worker whether he or she has 1.7 million companions in misery, or fewer? Continue reading