|Suspect in Internet scams|
This morning, I became aware of this story about Marriott blocking customers' hotspots, forcing them to pay up to $1,000 to use Marriott's wifi. (The first story I saw was an AP story on the NY Times site; the story has now multiplied all over. The CNN story I have linked adds something that the AP did not have: Interfering with cellular service is a crime.)
But as Bishop Talleyrand said of the murder of the duc d'Enghien, it was worse than a crime, it was a mistake. Keep reading, because by the end of this post Marriott will be exposed -- by Marriott, mostly -- as a den of lying, stupid thieves.
When the FCC consent decree was released, Marriott issued a CYA statement:
My reaction was to note that Marriott extracted a douceur of $1000 for this service, which was not included in the "resort fee." On a Facebook post, I nominated this as the lamest attempt at damage control this year, which has been notable for lame excuses."Marriott has a strong interest in ensuring that when our guests use our Wi-Fi service, they will be protected from rogue wireless hot spots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft," the statement said. "Like many other institutions and companies in a wide variety of industries, including hospitals and universities, the Gaylord Opryland protected its Wi-Fi network by using FCC-authorized equipment provided by well-known, reputable manufacturers."We believe that the Opryland's actions were lawful. We will continue to encourage the FCC to pursue a rulemaking in order to eliminate the ongoing confusion resulting from today's action and to assess the merits of its underlying policy."
But wait . . . Could Marriott manage to shoot itself in the other foot with an elephant gun? It could!
Last week, the Courtyard by Marriott hotel in Midtown Manhattan was discovered to come with some hidden extras: The free Wi-Fi connection inserted lines of code for serving special ads into every Web page a guest visited.
The Times again, and apparently not aware of its earlier AP story.
Marriott offered another lame excuse:
Yeah, right, the company's "High-speed Internet policies" that were so good they charged $1000 for them. Marriott is claiming to be super knowledgable and concerned about the Internet, but it was unaware of a "common marketing practice" using the Internet to interfere with and hoodwink and overcharge customers.As soon as we learned of the situation, we launched an investigation into the matter. Preliminary findings revealed that, unbeknownst to the hotel, the Internet service provider (ISP) was utilizing functionality that allowed advertising to be pushed to the end user. The ISP has assured the hotel that this functionality has now been disabled.While this is a common marketing practice with many Internet service providers, Marriott does not condone this practice. At no time was data security ever at risk.We will continue to look into this matter and find opportunities to remind our hotels of Marriott’s high-speed Internet policies.
I cannot remember ever seeing a business caught out so definitively and so completely by its own incompetence as this. And so quickly. The whole deal unraveled in less than 4 hours (although RtO is, so far as Mr. Google reveals, the first to tie up all the threads.
UPDATE: The FCC, living up to its well-deserved reputation as lapdog of the rich and enemy of consumers, let Marriott off with a paltry fine, not even a slap on the wrist. More like a butterfly kiss. And no requirement to make refunds to the ripped-off customers.
Marriott admits it has a corporate high-speed Internet policy, so it is certain that the same scam ran at all its 3000 hotels. The take, at $250 and up per conventioneer, must have been in the billions.
If I were a tort lawyer, I'd be recruiting plaintiffs for a class action to seek recovery for theft of services, intentional interference with cellular service, and -- in areas with reasonable consumer protection regulations -- fraud. I'd be thinking of filing under RICO and I'd be naming the big bosses.
You know who is a director of Marriott International? Ol' Mr. 1% himself, Mitt Romney.