Case 31: An accidental or deliberate mistake?

14th March 2006

Filed by: Officer Taylor

The Offence

In a recent update to their terms and conditions, Orange (a telecomms provider in the UK) explains their new plans for selling their customers' personal information for marketing purposes:

2. By registering your Device on the Network you consent to us sharing your information with other companies in the Orange Group and companies outside the Orange Group who are our business partners. They or we may contact you by mail, telephone, electronic messaging services, fax or email to let you know about any goods, services or promotions which may be of interest to you.
If you have previously asked us not to send you marketing communications your preference will not be effected. [their emphasis]

Oh, that's clever. That's very clever.

The Verdict

What they meant to say was ``your preference will not be ``affected'' - that is, your previously stated preference will continue to apply. But what they actually said was that ``your preference will not be ``effected'' - that is, it will not be put into effect. In other words, ``We are going to ignore your previously stated preference.''

But. Is this really the innocent example of a grotesquely wrong-headed error betokening horrifying ignorance and a distressingly inadequate education that it appears to be? Or is it something more sinister? Could it be that Orange have done this deliberately? That they want their customers to believe that their preferences will be respected when in fact they are explicitly saying that the preferences will be ignored?

I particularly like this case, as it's a rare example of a common error deployed in just such a way that it means the exact opposite of what is meant. On this particular occasion, the added frisson of a Big Business Conspiracy leaves us feeling all tingly.

The Sentence

We sentence Orange to provide funding for this error-or-is-it-a-conspiracy to be made into an award-winning blockbuster film starring Julia Roberts and Mel Gibson, with Denzel Washington in his usual role of The One Man She Can Trusttm. The profits are to be shared 50-50 between Orange and the SAGP.

Feedback to <> is welcome!