Verizon Wireless has been named in a class action lawsuit
alleging that the wireless giant wrongfully and unfairly deceived purchasers of
BlackBerry model 8830 smartphones. The suit alleges that Verizon intentionally
disabled the devices' free, built-in global positioning systems (GPS) then
offered a proprietary Verizon fee-for-service GPS. You can see a copy of the complaint here.
While there are many that argue that the free market should
decide this issue, the suit has merit. First, the facts do not indicate that
Verizon sufficiently advertised the distinction between the built-in GPS and
the pay-for-service GPS. In addition, the Verizon GPS service was not fully
implemented on the 8830 when the phones were initially available on the Verizon
network. Finally, there have been reports on Internet message boards that
Verizon customer service initially reported the GPS disabling as a “bug” when
the firm had intended to disable the freely provided GPS version all along.
The issue is not whether Verizon has the right to disable
hardware features; they unquestionably do have such rights. The problem is the
fashion in which the features were advertised. If a feature on an open market
piece of hardware is modified to a consumer’s detriment, the modifier must make
the announcement of the modification loud and clear to allow the consumer to
make an informed decision. Verizon did not make such announcements and
consumers received a phone less valuable than that which could have been purchased
on the open market.
The suit will likely resolve when Verizon offers minimal
concessions to its 8830 users, but Verizon could have avoided this type of
publicity by modifying its marketing practices.