“Unlimited” False Advertising

18 09 2008

ISPs and telephone companies have been using the word “unlimited” to describe their services, when really these services aren’t unlimited at all. For example, Vodafone advertised “unlimited” Internet access, but that really meant only 500MB. They also advertised “unlimited” text messaging, but that is capped at 3,000 texts a month. This company and others have used the word “unlimited” to mean unlimited up to a certain cap, which the company sets.


The companies claim “unlimited” because they give more texts or minutes or MB than the average user uses. But, those un-average users that want to go above those limits set on the “unlimited” services must pay a fee or their service gets slower.


So basically, people that are paying for “unlimited” service can’t really get it and they’re getting penalized for trying to use their unlimited amount of service, whether it’s in minutes or whatever.


The thing is, is that companies are allowed to say “unlimited” even if they don’t mean it. The Advertising Standards Authority in the UK is allowing this! The ASA is even supporting these companies’ false claims of “unlimited”!


According to the ASA Web site: “Something can be described as “unlimited” even if a fair-use policy exists. However, the existence of the fair-use policy should be stated in the ad, and the policy should only be invoked to prevent misuse of the service.”


Uh, does this even make sense? Not to me, and plenty of other people who have filed complaints with the ASA.


Vodafone defends its use of using “unlimited” to describe its services in two ways. First, it argues that because “only a very small percentage” of users actually exceed the 500MB limit its claim of “unlimited” was justified. The company also states that most users use “less than a tenth of the allowance,” which means to those users, the 500MB seems unlimited because they’ll never use it. But just because people who pay for the unlimited service actually use it, doesn’t mean those people should be penalized. That’s ridiculous! Those people should get what they paid for! To me, it’s like paying for $1 million insurance coverage and then when you get into an accident being told you can only use $500,000 of that money unless you pay an extra fee. It makes no sense! It’s just false advertising.


Vodafone’s second argument is that “Vodafone handsets were set up to access Vodafone live! and the mobile internet through the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) apn; they said some Internet content was very data intensive but that could only be accessed if customers chose to change their handset settings.” Of course, if the user doesn’t know this because Vodafone doesn’t state it in their advertising in a clear manner, then this is just a stupid argument.


I just can’t believe that the ASA is backing up these arguments by Vodafone. I say the ASA isn’t doing its job by letting this “unlimited” definition go through. What’s next? “Free” stuff that only costs $5? There are already plenty of asterisks next to “Free” when it’s in an ad; now, it seems, advertisers can just use the word how they like. Seems dangerous to me. Once people get burned by these false advertisers, they’re never going back and I’m sure the word will spread like wildfire. Is false advertising really worth all the eventual negative backlash and negative word of mouth? I don’t think so.




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