Ernestine the snorting pinched-faced telephone company operator played for so many years by comedian Lily Tomlin had a standard line for any customers who had the gall to complain about their service. "We're the phone company." she'd say. "We don't have to care."
Ernestine would be ideal employment material for Qwest Communications, it seems.
Many Qwest customers are hopping mad over the latest mailing from their local phone company but this time, their ire isn't the result of overbilling or mysterious charges.
Qwest recently sent its customers a pamphlet describing the ways the company plans to use its customers' personal data. Unless Joe Customer contacts Qwest to stop the practice, the company will share virtually all data collected on Joe Customer with its wireless, Internet and phone directory subsidiaries including phone numbers, billing information, who you called and the time, length and number of calls.
There is some question as to whether or not that plan is even legal in Arizona. But there is no question that it would constitute a gross invasion of privacy.
Based on Qwest's response to the uproar, the spin-control job has been handed to Ernestine herself. At one point, company officials insisted that they had no plans to share customer information except when it would be "commercially reasonable to do so." In other words, when there's a plug nickel to be made out of it.
Qwest has set up a toll-free number 1-(877)-628-3732 for consumers to dial in requests that their privacy not be invaded. Of course, Qwest knows that most people will not call, thereby handing over "permission" for abuse of their data. It's insane. But they're the phone company. They don't have to care.