Seattle’s utilities are still working to determine exactly what or who was responsible for the data flaw that allowed thousands of customers to view other customers’ bills Monday.
Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities are still working to determine exactly what or who was responsible for the data flaw that allowed thousands of customers to view other customers’ bills Monday.
The mistake came as the utilities were launching their new billing and back-office computer system, which is nearly a year late and $34 million over its initial budget.
Officials are close to pinpointing the source of the problem and expect to resume sending out bills later this week, City Light spokesman Scott Thomsen said Tuesday.
“We think we have a pretty good idea what took place,” the spokesman said.
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Thomsen said the glitch hasn’t yet resulted in any delays in bills being sent and isn’t costing the utilities any money on top of their existing budget for the launch.
The trouble began early Monday when the utilities sent out an initial batch of 30,000 bill notifications using the new system, which is costing the city at least $100 million.
More than 3,000 customers received six to 12 redundant emails, and although the information in the emails was correct, customers who clicked on a link to view their bill online were shown other customers’ bills as well.
That meant they were able to see other people’s names, addresses, energy use, billing amounts and utility discounts. They weren’t able to see Social Security numbers nor financial information such as bank-account and credit-card numbers.
“I was up early and checked my email and there were 12 emails from them,” Magnolia retiree Dianne DuSault said in an interview.
“There were six telling me I had a bill available to view online and another six telling me my online payment was scheduled. Those were what scared me.”
DuSault said she was concerned her credit card would be charged multiple times, so she called her credit-card company to check. Everything was OK, the company said.
Then she got back online and went to view her bill.
“There were a bunch of bills there,” she said. “There were five other people and one that was me. In my former life, I was a securities investigator, so it was shocking to me. I just thought about the whole privacy thing.”
DuSault tried to reach someone at the city but couldn’t on the Labor Day holiday, which made for a frustrating morning, she said. But she’s already forgiven the utilities, because it was the first problem she’s had with them in three decades, she said.
Some of what DuSault could see was actually already public, Thomsen said.
For residential customers, account numbers and addresses are exempted from public-records law, but not other information, he said. For commercial customers, account numbers are exempted.
The Monday batch included thousands of postal-mail bills that weren’t affected by the data flaw and thousands of emailed bills that worked properly.
Some bills were electricity bills and some were water, sewer and garbage bills.
The city has published answers to frequently asked questions about Monday’s mistake online at www.seattle.gov/util/NewBillingSystem/billErrors/.