Some weeks ago, while on the computer, I had the radio on in the background, as I often do. It was probably one of the morning chat/business shows on either RTÉ or Today FM. The show ran a story and interview about “One Big Switch.” The gist of it was that if thousands of people banded together, then their combined purchasing “people power” would enable them to negotiate a discount with energy suppliers. On the face of it, seems sensible.
In intervening weeks, I heard more and more about it on radio and TV, and then they started a radio advertising campaign. I presumed it was because they’d been very successful in signups and had possibly gotten some donations, to afford the advertising. Then they started advertising a deadline of yesterday, midnight, to sign up – which seemed a little odd.
But anyway, I went and signed up, but checked the terms and conditions and policies while I was at it.
Turns out that onebigswitch.ie is actually a private limited company – OBS People Power Holdings Limited. Their business model is “Get lots of members, negotiate a discount if they switch to our chosen supplier – and get commission from the supplier!”
As lifehacker says:
One Big Switch receives a commission of between $60 and $135 per account that switches. That alone should make you want to double-check its calculations; its main motivator is to sign you up, not to help you.
One Whirlpool user, stinkychicken, reckons:
With 194,018 registered for the [Australian] offer thats a potential $11,641,080 for very little work. Someone is doing very well out of this.
They’ve been operating in Australia and the UK already. Reports from Australia suggest the discount they negotiate isn’t any better than you could “negotiate” yourself by ringing around, checking price comparison sites, or threatening to leave your current supplier. Their UK figures aren’t great, either.
(Incidentally, that’s something I did recently with UPC. Phoned them to complain about the router dropping connection on the hour, every hour. They said they’d fix it, then said they could also put me on a cheaper package. I was on standard TV and broadband. They added phone and faster internet, for 50c a month less. Then two weeks later they wrote to say they were increasing prices. Colleagues had received similar letters, phoned up, threatened to move to Sky, and ended up talking to UPC’s “Loyalty Department”, getting new contracts costing less than they had been on… I did the same, and am now getting the phone and faster internet, with standard TV, for €10/month less than I had been getting just somewhat fast internet and standard TV. Private sector business practices seem to lack logic, sometimes…)
OBS’s terms and conditions are interesting. Apparently you need prior written permission to link to their site. Heh.
“Personal information” apparently means:
…any information or opinion about you from which your identity is apparent (including any photographs or information you upload on our web site), or can reasonably be ascertained, from the information or opinion regardless of whether the information or opinion is:
a. true or not; or
b. recorded in a material form or not.
Whether true or not?!
And they pretty clearly state that they’ll sell your information on to third parties, so that you can be spammed:
…we may disclose your personal information to third parties where:
a. we have your consent. By using our web site, registering your interest with One Big Switch, becoming or remaining a member of One Big Switch, contacting One Big Switch, participating in a One Big Switch campaign, or providing your personal information to us in any other way, you have expressly consented to us disclosing personal information to our third party partners;
Really? Merely by contacting them, I’ve consented to them selling my personal information (i.e., email address) to third parties? Also:
We own the database rights in the information collected via our web site.
We or a third party partner may use your personal information to contact you about, among other things [blah]:
You may be contacted in various ways including, but not limited to, post, email, SMS, instant messaging, telephone, multimedia messaging or other form of electronic communication. As outlined above by using our web site, registering your interest with One Big Switch, becoming or remaining a member of One Big Switch, contacting One Big Switch or participating in a One Big Switch campaign, you expressly consent to receiving electronic communications from us or a third party partner for the direct marketing purposes outlined above.
So, yeah, they appear to say that by interacting with them in any way, they will send you spam, and let third parties send you spam, unless you opt out.
So, points to note: They’re not a “people power” grassroots movement. They’re a for-profit company. They make money from commission, so their interest is in getting you to switch provider, not in saving you the most money. They may sell your details to people who will spam you, because you consented to it. Yes, they’re giving you something “for free.” What’s that old (well, new) adage? If you’re not sure what the product is, then you are the product. Certainly seems to apply here.
I signed up, but I think I’ll also be opting out of their spam. And possibly still phoning around for the best deal…