Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Consumer protection laws and cell phones

by Rob - February 27th, 2009.
Filed under: Uncategorized.

Yeah, yeah, we all know Rob’s into big government :) so feel free to tune this out, but here’s a guy who just got a $6,000 phone bill for using his iPhone in Mexico. And, yeah, sure, we can all smugly argue that this particular guy should have known better — but stories like this crop up all the time.

The billing formulas your cell-phone provider uses are known … to them. And although they’re rip-offs, the math behind the rip-offs is trivial. Cell-phones should have to display the current-cost-per-second on their screens, should have to display an alert when you’ve gone over your plan’s monthly maximums, and should have to display a running tally of your bill.

More: they should require specific user authorization (just punch in an acknowledgement to continue) when your monthly bill is exceeding a pre-set amout (which, by default, should be something low, like $100, but easily setable to whatever threshhold the user wishes).

We have laws that keep credit-card companies from charging you more than $50 if your card is used fradulently. We need laws that keep cellular providers from surprising us with what our bills are going to be. They know — or should know — what we’re being charged as we’re racking up the charges; there’s no reason for them not to tell us. If they can text me to wish me a happy birthday or tell me about their latest sale, they can certainly inform me of how much money they’re sucking out of my wallet right now.

And, geez, isn’t one of the prime rules of business to never make the customer regret having chosen to do business with you? A business model that’s based on making the customer livid when he sees his or her bill is just nuts.

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