Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fax Abuse and Other High-Tech Hijinks

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fax Abuse and Other High-Tech Hijinks

Article excerpt

THE owner of a 1990 Honda CRX was not amused: His car, he complained, didn't stop properly in the rain. When American Honda Motor Company checked his tires, the company found them "normal," dismissing his claim.

Frustrated and angry, the man threw a high-tech temper tantrum. In a single day, he allegedly called the company's toll-free customer hot line more than 100 times, clogging the phones. He also reportedly made harassing calls to another 800 number at the company. And in a final act of retaliation, he transmitted multipage letters to Honda's facsimile number, tying up the fax line for days.

When American Honda tried to contact the man, officials discovered that his number is unlisted. As a result, the company had to block all calls from his area code. It is now suing to prevent him from harassing the company.

Who could have predicted, even a few low-tech years ago, that the communications revolution would come to this, making it possible for one angry customer with an automatic redialer and a fax machine to tie the electronic hands of a big company? And a decade ago, who could have foreseen that in the waning days of 1991, Congress would need to pass a law protecting phone customers from automated telemarketing calls?

Yet these cases mark only the beginning of legal wrangles spawned by technology. Troubling signs exist that the newest form of air pollution is verbal, produced by loud callers brandishing cordless phones in restaurants, stores - even churches.

My own groan-and-bear-it list of high-tech intruders has grown in recent weeks. On a bus from the San Francisco Airport into the city, a man behind me chatted at length with someone in San Diego, reporting in boring detail on his flight, the weather, and his plans.

The next day, a woman making a purchase in a small shop was interrupted, mid-transaction, by a ringing phone in her briefcase. While she and her husband decided when and where to meet, other customers waited - and waited. …

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