One Big Switch. (Ltd Co. T&Cs apply.)

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.

The privacy policy contains some standard clauses and some I’ve never seen before, anywhere.

“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…

New marketing strategy: advertise our crapness!

There’s a new advert for eircom broadband doing the rounds.  I’d link to it, but it appears noone has deemed it worthy of uploading to YouTube just yet.  Understandably so.  A quick rundown of the advert:

There’s a party or some sort of social gathering on. Middle-aged bald, bespectacled guy – the stereotypical know-it-all, smug annoying neighbour – mentions to the host that he’s  gotten a new internet connection.

Host: “Let me get my IT department.”  His son wanders over. All 10 or so years of him. “Internet. Go.”  And the son asks a series of questions.

Son: “8Mb?”

Old, bald, guy: “Emm, yes.”

Son: “Uncongested?”

Old, bald, guy: “Eh…”

Son: “Kids in an exam year?”

Old, bald, guy: (thinks about it for a moment) “Yes.”

Son: “Studyhub?”

Old, bald, guy: “Eh… no?”

Son: “Free streaming music?”

Old, bald, guy: “No.”

Son: “*tsk* We’re done here.”

Which all seems fine and dandy.  Kids understand that internet thing. Old people don’t.  So our product, eircom broadband, is praised by this kid, while pointing out what a buffoon this old, bald guy is for getting the non-eircom package.

Now, in fairness, I do know some people who love their eircom broadband.

They all happen to live outside Dublin and have zero choice in internet service provider, if they want to pay a reasonable amount per month.  They “love” their eircom broadband in the same way I “love” oxygen.  I don’t have any choice in the matter…

So let’s rewind that advert…

Son: “8Mb?”

Old, bald, guy: “Jesus, no, not for a few years now. I used to be _promised_ 8Mb by eircom, and be charged for it, but they never managed more than 2 or 3Mb download.  I’m on 30Mb now.”

Son: “Uncongested?”

Old, bald, guy: “Of course!”

Son: “Kids in exam year?”

Old, bald, guy: “For the sake of this imaginary conversation, let’s say yes.”

Son: “Studyhub?”

Old, bald, guy: “Eh… no.  You’ve got me there.  But y’know, it’s the internet.  It has things like Google.  So they can look up all sorts of wonderful educational resouces from all over the world. And, because it’s an actual decent connection, they won’t see that ‘buffering’ thing we used to get when we were on eircom.

Though I freely admit they’re far more likely to just be on Facebook or looking at cat videos on YouTube.”

Son: “Free streaming music?”

Old, bald, guy: “Eh… you really don’t get this whole ‘online’ thing, do you?  It’s the Internet!  Do you know how many free, streaming music services there are?”

Son: “Uhh… but aren’t they illegal?”

Old, bald, guy: “Eh, no.  Mind you, if you’re on eircom? Don’t be tempted to ever download anything you don’t have the rights to. Three-strikes rule. Eircom are the only ISP to have agreed to it.  Basically how it works is that you download something that they think is illegal, they’ll write to your dad.  Invasion of privacy, much?

And if it gets done four times from your connection, they’ll cut you off.  Even if it was you one time, your sister another, your dad another and – oh – better hope your wifi is secure, too… cos those stereotypical students next door, if they were to hack your eircom wifi router and download stuff – yeah, you’d get blamed for that too.

But anyway – yeah, sorry, 8Megs and ‘free’ stuff that the Internet gives me anyway?  Look – I’m sorry, but we’re done here.”

Son: “Waaaaah!”

The thing is – everyone seems to know that eircom are crap.  Literally, the only people I know using them for internet are those who can’t get another ISP in their area.  Or those who’ve no techie knowledge whatsoever and just go for whatever seems handiest/the one they’ve heard of.  Or who really don’t want or need Internet apart from email and booking tickets. And one thing eircom does a lot of is advertising. “8Mb”  For real?  8Mb is… ten years ago.  Don’t boast about it.  Especially when you don’t even actually manage to deliver 8Mb!