Mobile phone company lied about "unlimited data", but that's OK says ASA

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unlimited.pngunlimited: not limited or restricted in terms of number, quantity, or extent.

It seems that the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has a problem interpreting the standard dictionary definition of “unlimited”, because it has ruled in favour of a mobile phone company which used the word before “data” but really meant “250MB per month”.

Yes, it’s one of those words that should bring joy to the hearts of consumers (well, unless it precedes “torture” or “bills” or some other unpleasantness) — and yet so many tech-related companies abuse it mercilessly.

The ASA has already proved itself ineffectual in complaints against broadband providers who boast of “unlimited data plans” and yet cap or throttle users for breaking the obscure “fair use” policies.

This time, it’s e2save — a trading name of the Carphone Warehouse — which is barely in trouble for some BlackBerry Bold advertising materials that shouted “unlimited” but really meant “250MB per month fair use policy”.

Despite the fact that on the grounds of “truthfulness” (clause 7.1 in the CAP Code, in case you’re interested) the company was found to be — well — lying, the ASA said that this was acceptable because Orange “sent documentation that showed that the number of customers on the unlimited data package who had breached the 250MB monthly limit was a tiny proportion of the total number of customers on that package”. Conclusion? “The vast majority of customers were unaffected by the data limit … the fair usage policy did not contradict the claim ‘includes unlimited data'”.

Know something, ASA? That’s not the frickin’ point. Unlimited should mean unlimited. Sure, in the world of marketing, there’s something less attractive about headlining the limits placed on consumers than bending the truth by using cuddly, warm, fuzzy words like “unlimited” and “free” (with those pesky little asterisks tied to barely legible exclusions), but customers don’t like being lied to.

Orange and/or e2save also had a rather bizarre definition of data usage: “They said they understood that 1 MB represented 160 WAP pages, 100 short emails, 4 video clips or 3 music tracks.” Huh? Since when? That’s a gross underestimation, particularly as the BlackBerry Bold has a full web browser, and most individual music tracks are at least several megabytes in size.

e2save is required to change future ads to make things clearer, but this ruling really doesn’t feel like a victory for the common man. What must happen is that these so-called “fair use policies” need to be big, bold, upfront, and fully explained by companies. Somehow I think it’s going to take a while.

PS: The company also lied about “unlimited texts” — that really means “3000 UK per month”.

ASA adjudication (via PC Pro)

Andy Merrett