Friday, 8 February 2008

All your base are far you live ...

...or something.

Virgin Media (I know, I shouldn’t, I really shouldn’t) have a lovely thing at HateToWait to help you find out whether your street can get 20mb broadband over fibre, which I agree is a jolly good idea. When you put in your postcode and confirm your address, if you are a Lucky Winner then you get a nice page which says, inter alia:

It's reliable, unaffected by the weather and the quality of service is not base on far you live from the telephone exchange - unlike all other broadband providers.

I really can’t go on - it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Gah!

But yes, in case you are wondering, I have indeed written to them. I reckon it was 95% polite and pleasant but I’m slightly shamefaced about the other 5%. I’d have been in less of a grump if there were an obvious way to leave this kind of site feedback but, guess what, there isn’t: oh my, what a surprise. I’ve had their autoreply to say they got it, and if/when I get an actual response, you will be the first to hear. On their general performance recently I would say don’t hold your breath, but you never know – they may yet surprise and delight me.

Update (11th February): lovely boilerplate email from Virgin Media saying:

Thanks for your email to Virgin Media letting us know your comments on our website. We're always looking for ways to improve our services - including our website - to make sure they give you exactly what you need. We're really grateful for your feedback as it lets us know exactly what you think. We promise to do everything we can to use your feedback when we next make changes to our website.

Riiiiiight ... erm, good so far. Just a touch nauseating and twee, but hey. And do you think this is perhaps the exact equivalent of saying "ooh yes, silly of us, thanks, we'll fix it right now"? I mean, they haven't fixed it yet ... and you might think that a horrible, embarrassing blooper like that would be worth fixing immediately ... but what do I know? After all, the only problem is that this makes them look illiterate and careless in front of everyone to whom they want to sell this service - so where's the urgency? I'd take it easy myself. Suggested new slogan (free for first six months, thereafter union rates):

Only silly words not matter don't not much lol !

Yes, I should probably get a life. Sigh.

Update (14th February): very nice lady from VM rings my mobile. She is responding to a complaint I made, so can I please tell her my password, for identification? No, sorry, I can't, because that's what I am trained by my work to not do and although she is clearly a nice lady that is what she would do if she were a bad person trying to socially engineer me and gain unauthorized access to my account. I ask if I can ring her back: nope. I ask if she can ask me some letters from it, like the bank does: nope. I ask if we can discuss it by email: nope. Impasse. I am a bit embarrassed and flustered because at one level I feel I am behaving like a jerk and at the other level I feel that this rather sloppy security practice should be resisted. I am reminded of AOL's statement that "AOL staff will NEVER ask you for your password online or over the telephone" which seems a bit more like it to me and certainly offers commendable clarity.

Suddenly the lady on the phone has an attack of practicality and announces that as she does not need to do anything with my account in order to respond, she won't need the security check. (Correct, though really it would have been better to decide this earlier in the conversation.) She then, really very nicely, says All The Right Things about my initial complaint, which makes a very nice change. She is unable to say when they will fix it but she acknowledges the problem, has actioned it, thanks me for my trouble, apologizes for the previous stupid reply, and so on. Couldn't be better.

This is much more like it. I will look forward to finding that it has actually been fixed one day. I cannot, however, for the life of me see how it makes good security practice for them to ring and ask me my password. With no get-outs and no workarounds: I'm just supposed to tell them it on the phone. However unlikely the scenario you'd have to construct to make this a real threat, I do still feel that it is terribly bad practice when you look at the matter of principle involved. It's very nice that she had the sense to proceed with the call anyway but if my complaint had been something account-specific it's hard to see how we'd have made any progress. Ah well, the web page that annoyed me is to be sorted and that's good: onwards and upwards!

Update (21st February): no change. Dum de dum de dum. It's only a week. It must be very difficult for them.

Update (23rd February): I am glad to see that it is not just I who think that it is foolish for Virgin Media to ring customers up and demand their passwords. In a rather good Guardian Technology article, Scott Colvey asks, "Why is Virgin Media asking customers for their passwords?" and answers his own question: "Because either it is stupid, or thinks its customers are, or both." There's a little more to it than that, which is why you should read the linked article, but that's his essential point. He's right of course - it is an appalling practice, amateurish and sloppy. That a company of that size can do no better is an astonishing admission of failure. (No, they have not yet fixed the page I was moaning about. It's only fifteen days since I first attempted to report it, after all ...)

Update (28th February): dum de dum ... time passes ... [yawn] ... just twenty days since I told them and a mere fortnight since nice Mrs Apologetic (Stupid Password Request) Lady rang me and apologized and said they'd fix it. Naturally they haven't fixed it. What a very sad performance.

Update (15th March): tum te tum te tiddle-eye-o ... more time passes ... [big yawn] ... maybe they never actually will fix it. Was the lady who spoke to me actually a liar, or just incompetent, I wonder? Trying to be charitable, I look for a Third Way along the lines of "trying to help but actually unable to because of the way the company operates" but in a sense you perhaps end up back with lying (she can't help and she knew it) or incompetent (she can't help and she didn't know it) and none of it is that comforting. I probably ought to just let it go, I know, but it's precisely the sort of thing that makes me grind my teeth and want to kick someone.

Update (18th April): The lady who spoke to me has presumably been sacked for being nice and helpful on the phone without permission. The site is unchanged. It's seventy days since I first pointed out their error. Dum, de dum, de daaah daah dum. And a tiddle-eye-o!

Update (18th April part 2): It's time to move on. Although I am offended by their stupidity and rudeness I've got better things to do. In a last-ditch effort I have written them an actual letter, on actual paper and signed it with an actual pen: perhaps this will receive more attention than mere email. I'll let you know when I hear back from them, but, as I said before, please do not hold your breath.

Update (30th April): they've actually fixed it! Hurrah. Maybe writing an actual letter (etc) did some good where mere electronic protest could not. Who knows? Ah well, end of an era really - I hadn't checked the page for some time (even I have my limits of nerdy-sadness) so all we can say with certainty is that it took between seventy and eighty-two days for them to fix it from my first attempt to tell them.

It looks quite strange now, worded correctly: "... is not based on how far you live ...". In years to come perhaps I will miss its little unEnglish cousin, "... is not base on far you live ...". But not now.

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