BT, er, clarifies get-out terms in time for Phorm

I’m getting worried about my old friend BT. She’s fallen in with the wrong company, Phorm, and started behaving completely out of character, being evasive, and started getting into trouble with the law. It was like she didn’t know who she was any more. Saw her interviewed recently, and she couldn’t even answer a simple question.

Today she wrote to me to “keep me informed”, she said, but it was like her memory had gone completely; she didn’t mention any of it. “You can have complete trust in me”, she said.

And she’s losing her grip on language. If you were asked to clarify the term “significant disadvantage”, would you replace it with “material disadvantage”? No, I thought not. That doesn’t clarify it, it completely changes the meaning. But here’s what her letter said.

Changes to the Terms and Conditions for … BT Total Broadband … took place on 3rd January 2008. The changes are summarised below:

  • All references to contractual changes which are to your ‘significant disadvantage’ have been changed to ‘material disadvantage’. These changes are for clarification purposes only.
  • In future when we make contractual changes that we reasonably believe is to your ‘material disadvantage’ we will also let you know that you may end the agreement early without paying a charge for doing so.

She seems to have completely lost her grip of how language works, and has started to think you can just redefine words at will.

Or maybe there’s method in this madness? A reasonable person would view introduction of compulsory interception of their private internet traffic as a change to their significant disadvantage. That might lead them to decide to go elsewhere. Even if they were locked into an 18-month contract, they could walk away without charge, because of that “significant disadvantage”.

But if those terms were, er, “clarified” to replace “significant disadvantage” with “material disadvantage”, the old girl might just argue that things were different. Intercepting private traffic without permission might be illegal and breach the psychological contract between ISP and customer – but it might just be argued that it doesn’t cause a material disadvantage.

This episode has got me suddenly appreciating the emphasis on texts of all kinds in the literacy outcomes.

The definition of ‘texts’ also needs to be broad and future proof. Within Curriculum for Excellence,
a text is the medium through which ideas, experiences, opinions and information can be communicated.
Texts include those presented in traditional written or print form, but also orally, electronically or on film. link

This is, of course, a private view.