How Much Is All Your Email Worth? Answer: $50

EmailThis past week a national cable and high-speed Internet provider by the name of Charter Communications accidentally deleted all the contents of 14,000 active email accounts. A spokeswoman for the company explained that there is no way for them to retrieve anything that was erased. The spokeswoman offered this explanation and apology:

“We really are sincerely sorry for having had this happen and do apologize to all those folks who were affected by the error… During this maintenance we erroneously deleted active accounts along with the others. It’s never happened before. They are taking steps to make sure it never happens again.”

As a result, the company has decided to give every affected customer a $50 credit on their bill. So there you have it: according to Charter, at least, your online email account and data is worth about $50. The company, which has around 2.6 million high-speed Internet subscribers, could have done worse than taking a $700,000 hit. But the irresponsibility of the situation shows that they could have done much, much better.

Indeed, how can a multi-million dollar company with millions of subscribers not have any sort of data backup? But then again, who’s really to blame here? Charter offers this “free” email account to any of its customers who pay for Internet service. And it’s likely to have the same terms of service as all the freebie email accounts available online: you know, the “we provide no guarantee and accept no liability, use at your risk” type of agreement no one actually reads.

The point is that, in many ways, $50 is quite generous even if obviously undervaluing most anyone’s personal value of all emails. But imagine if this was Google (Gmail), Yahoo, or Microsoft (Hotmail) making the mistake. Would they give you anything? Answer: No.

So the moral of the story is just how much we take for granted products or services we pay nothing for. Perhaps I’m alone here, but I would actually pay something reasonable for an online email account if the repercussions of a screw up valued my collective emails at a price well above $0 to $50. But that reality doesn’t exist and is part of the reason I still use a desktop email client (Thunderbird) to download and save all my emails locally.

  • Paul Ellis

    You really think that $50 is generous Bob? I don’t think that Charter’s “free” e-mail service is really comparable in this regard to Hotmail/Gmail/etc, because you actually pay for an account with Charter. It is included with your account, but is not free. I don’t think people can get e-mail accounts from Charter without paying for services from them. So I think they are more liable than you could expect from a legitimately free e-mail service like Hotmail or Gmail.

    Anyway, $50 would not satisfy me. I guess the value of different people’s e-mail is different, but I’d like to think mine is worth more than $50. That is why I pay for my own domain and hosting solution that has regular backups. I also download it to a local e-mail client in addition.

  • No, I don’t think $50 is generous (in general). Maybe I wasn’t clear enough, but one of the major points of the article is that $50 is well below what would satisfy me.

    But I still think $50 is generous within the context of the nothing I’d generally expect in such cases (it has little to do with customer value and everything to do with the company’s arbitrary decision).

    And I don’t see this as much different than Hotmail/Gmail in that customers would be charged (and are charged) exactly the same for the Internet service regardless of their usage of this “free” (by my standards) email.

    It’s also no different in terms of how and why each type of company would respond (Google/Microsoft or Charter). The reasoning for wanting to remedy the situation in any way is not really to compensate the consumer “fairly.” Rather, the purpose is (or would be for Google/Microsoft) to minimize the PR damage while also minimizing the out-of-pocket expense.

  • Paul Ellis

    I guess to me it is more of a complementary e-mail service than a free one. You do have to pay for something every month to have it. That is clearly different than Hotmail/Gmail.

    You are right though, it isn’t (directly) about compensating the customer really. It is about maximizing their return on the dollar for minimizing the bad PR. In that regard it is working. Notice this story is all about the $50, and not really that much about the fact that they deleted people’s e-mail. That is what all of the headlines have been: $50. Genius.

  • Geez, now you make me want to change the headline. I don’t want this whole fiasco to be confused for good news!

  • Paul Ellis

    Face it Bob, you have fallen prey to their cunning PR strategy. Check and mate.

  • I don’t know, Paul, now that I reread the headline I used… It’s not really screaming, “Wow, you get $50 only for having all your email deleted! What a deal!”

    Cunning PR can only go so far in handling a situation, of course, it’s often better than nothing.

  • Without even looking at the dollar amount being given to each user here….I just can’t believe that an internet company as large as that wouldn’t have some sort of backup for their email system. That just seems absurd to me, though maybe i’m just not familiar with the way ISP’s handle things.

    With that said, if thier contract truly does include a clause about the guarantee and liability of email falling on the end user, than I would say that really any compensation users receive is better than nothing. Sure it sucks that it’s only $50, but as you guys are saying, most free email sites wouldn’t even afford you that. These are the chances you take when signing up for something free. Still though, they should have a backup system…and maybe after this they’ll implement one.

  • Paul Ellis

    That is the truly stunning part of this. How is it possible that they don’t have a single backup of the e-mails? I could understand if they lost the last week, or even month of e-mails, but do they never ever backup their e-mail servers? You can pretty much guarantee that some people lost their jobs over this. Not because the e-mails were lost, but because they couldn’t be restored. This was entirely preventable.

    On a funny note, I don’t know if anyone has noticed the latest batch of ads for this post that Google is targeting. They are for “The Charter Bundle” and an independent “Business Class. Professional. Reliable. Secure.” e-mail company. Google’s making sure they cover all their bases.