This 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.