Facebook and Verizon Reverse Course, Show Power of Consumer Complaint

Sending angry email messages and posting complaints on social media sites can embarrass tech companies into changing obnoxious policies, as demonstrated by some recent flip-flopping from Facebook and Verizon.

pitchforks torches mob
Credit: Blurrent

I frequently tell my readers to complain, complain, complain if they feel like they've been wronged by a service provider. I'm sure I sometimes sound like a broken record. (I know, old-school metaphor.) But guess what — it works...at least occasionally.

Last week, consumer complaints midwifed three separate victories, including two against Facebook. If you go back a few more weeks, you’ll see the FCC seriously rethinking its lame stance on net neutrality after receiving three million missives from concerned Web users.

I know it's inconvenient to write those emails and make those phone calls. Frankly, they're more effective than withholding your business because there's little chance that a technology giant will notice unless the boycott is widespread. I speak with a lot of companies, and the majority of them pay close attention to social media (another great way to complain), incoming email and phone calls.

Here's a brief look at the recent issues concerned consumers brought to the fore.

Facebook's Real Names Policy

Members of the LGBT community were rightfully angered when they realized that Facebook had suspended their accounts because they weren't using real names. That's a problem for many people who don't want to be outed for reasons of privacy or safety. Following a flurry of complaints, media coverage and meetings, Facebook's VP of Product Chris Cox apologized for any pain caused and explained the rationale behind the company's decision. 

Facebook Dials Back Secret Research

Facebook angered many users last spring when news broke that the social media empire was monitoring the feeds of 700,000 people and manipulating the news they saw. It was all reportedly a part of an experiment that Facebook claimed would help it adjust the algorithm that determines the shape of its news feeds.

On Thursday, Facebook said research projects would be subjected to greater internal scrutiny from top managers, particularly if it focused on "deeply personal topics" or specific groups of people. I'm calling this a victory, but it's worth noting that Facebook didn't suspend experiments or let users know what these new guidelines mandate. I would keep an eye on them.

Verizon Throttles Its Throttling Plan

Verizon told wireless customers on its "unlimited" data plans that it would slow their download speeds to a crawl if they used too much data. The move seemed like a sleazy way to push customers onto more expensive data plans, and it sparked a lot of anger and bad press — even a rebuke from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Verizon surrendered on Wednesday and released the following statement:

"We've greatly valued the ongoing dialogue over the past several months concerning network optimization and we've decided not to move forward with the planned implementation of network optimization for 4G LTE customers on unlimited plans."

Good job, consumers. Keep on complaining.

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