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Experian’s Unethical & Misleading Marketing

UPDATE 1/14/11: Probably since I tweeted to @ProtectMyID for a second time, someone stopped by and left a comment. I responded with my phone number via email and someone called…just to check to see if everything had been resolved.

Hmm…no apology. No explanation as to how this happened. Just a sort of collective shrug of the shoulders from these Experian folks. My post headline and post content stand.


When I had my wallet stolen on a family trip in 2004, I was pleased to have the big three credit companies be there for me to protect my credit. Experian was the one I used to put my account on a “hold” so that any company issuing credit to someone in my name would first have to call me. I’ve always thought Experian was trustworthy and a top notch company…until this week.

On Sunday December 26th I received an email from Experian’s “ProtectMyID” service. It started off with,

Thank you for ordering ProtectMyID.com.

For your security, additional information was required to confirm your personal information and activate your account. At this time, please call us so that we may provide you with immediate access to your membership. You will be asked to answer a few questions to confirm your identity before you are provided with access.

Being pretty savvy when it comes to phishing scams—and always double and triple checking to make certain anyone emailing me is legitimate—I checked them out thoroughly. ProtectMyID was, in fact, an Experian company and I decided I’d check up on them when I returned from our holiday trip.

Then today I received an official looking letter whihc made it clear that there was SOME sort of account activity. I launched a call to customer service and it turns out they were “fishing” (vs. “phishing”) for new customers since they were following up on my 2004 connection with them! The woman on customer service clearly positioned this as, “Well, you were a former customer” and that “you must’ve signed up at some point” both of which are complete bullshit.

This is the worst, most egregious unethical and misleading marketing I’ve EVER SEEN DONE BY A MAJOR COMPANY! Of course, it’s impossible to connect with someone by phone (like “Doug Sash, VP of Customer Care”) since they have no voicemail system that’s obvious. Experian ought to be embarrassed and this is precisely the sort of thing that a State Attorney General should take up and stop…immediately.

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We are Media

If you are not working on your skills in communication—or mentoring others like your kids, staff, spouse and colleagues so their skills improve—you should probably quit now and get a job with zero human interaction.

Why? Because right now being media literate is not just the skill to critically thinking about the media you’re consuming, but today (and going forward) media literacy will be primarily how good you are at discovering great content from others; aggregating it in a way for you to keep it handy; and curating that content so you’ll be able to deliver the essence of your pitch, argument, point of view, opinion, set of facts, or whatever needs to be communicated to one or more human beings.

I’ve always loved an audience, starting from the time I was a little kid. The photo above is of my older sister Nancy and I hamming it up for my Mom so that she could have a photo with us incredibly enthused by this magnificent gift (cool…but not magnificent). I remember charging other kids admission for shows, being the emcee, and loving it.

In fact, I began blogging in 2004 and podcasting in 2005 to scratch that itch. I had A LOT to learn about being an effective writer, all about microphone technique, and how to pull together a show others would find interesting and worth their time to give it a listen. Having done some on-camera work I was comfortable with that, though never felt compelled to do much of that other than inside the occasional screencast with me introducing the content with a brief talking head introduction.

Though I was teased good-naturedly by other executives when I ran strategic alliances at Lawson Software about my podcast specifically (and one exec played mine before a big meeting started and got lots of chuckles from others in attendance), I’ve since coached and mentored several of them on how to effectively leverage video, podcasting, blogging and social media in general.

What I find is those who cannot effectively communicate with media are already at a distinct disadvantage in the marketplace, especially if one is in a leadership position or aspires to become a leader. One woman I know was so nervous about “being seen” that she would dig her fingernails in to her palms so that the pain would keep her focused on the interview and not how she felt! Kudos to her for sticking with it as she’s incredibly comfortable now being interviewed on TV, via webcasts and on podcasts. These skills she honed in a year and is still surprised today how her communicating with new media has become such an imperative in her job in marketing and her focus on social media.

NOT becoming media literate with creating content will be (and maybe already is) as important a skill as knowing how to use a computer is for most jobs today. If you’re not literate, people will automatically assume that “you don’t get it” and are somehow a bit of a dolt, not savvy and clearly behind the times.

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SayMedia (Typepad) Unethical Billing Practice

In the same way that AOL screwed thousands of their customers by double-billing until they got caught, made it extraordinarily difficult to leave the service, and did this so often with practicesso egregious that almost every state in the union had its attorney general go after the company until they settled.

SayMedia, parent company of the blogging service Typepad (they acquired Six Apart this fall) among other things, has been billing for services not rendered.

After a few months of a painful migration from Typepad to WordPress—made all the more difficult by the Typepad practice of obscuring the image pathname as well as changing their permalink structure three times from 2004-2009 when I was with them—I posted about my joyful transition to a platform (WordPress) that had a pulse and some passion behind it. I cancelled my Typepad Pro service that month (June of 2009).

Now I discover today (from doing tax prep last night) that Typepad not only billed me LAST November (2009) for $149.50—probably because I was doing a blog for Scholastic Administrator running on Typepad and had logged in to Typepad in order to post to it and they must’ve matched the email and assumed I was logging in to the cancelled account—and now I found out that they billed me AGAIN for a yearly $149.50 for a year of pro service this November!

This is no accident. It is clearly intentional and, I’m guessing based on my past experiences in businesses going down the shitter like Six Apart is, that they’re sneakily and quietly billing everyone they can, hoping that some percentage will slip through the cracks.

Why do I say that? BECAUSE THEY ALSO HAVE BEEN BILLING MY WIFE WHOSE BLOG WAS *ALSO* SHUT DOWN IN JUNE OF LAST YEAR.

Typepad charges a year in advance. They just posted a credit for one charge and I’ve contacted them about additional credits for June-December of 2009 (a pro-rated amount) as well as this full year (since they charged me in November of 2009 for Dec ’09 to Dec ’10).

While using Typepad and seeing the acceleration in social media use, I was always stunned by how hidden from view Ben and Mena Trott were (the founders of Six Apart). They barely blogged, were reluctant to engage with customers or the press, and were clearly way over their head.

My interactions with former CEO Barak Berkowitz to the current one Chris Alden, as well as the former “evangelist” for them Anil Dash, my impression always one of them willing to initially engage but then they’d go strangely radio silent….in a very atypical way. I’ve worked with dozens of startups and with (and at) large software companies and the passive-aggressiveness, shyness, and what seemed like childlike timidity was one of the other reasons I abandoned Typepad. My gut told me they couldn’t possibly be successful with those attitudes, their business practices and what certainly came across as complete indifference to customers paying them money.

I’ll be one of the first ones to stand up and cheer when Six Apart goes out of business and/or shuts down Typepad (like they did Vox) because so many people have abandoned the service.