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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Junk Mail Conspiracy

Conspiracy theories are hard to define, much less prove. You almost have to be a certified wacko or a CIA operative to come up with one. I am neither. But, you don’t have to be James Bond to recognize the web of intrigue that the junk mail industry carefully and thoroughly weaves around the place you live and work each day. I know. I worked there 35 years as a list broker selling your name and personal information.

And you don’t have to be a catalog junkie to have a junk mail dossier. You can buy a home, enter a sweepstakes, take a trip to the Caribbean, purchase insurance, get your film developed, or a number of other simple and seemingly innocent endeavors. That’s right. Each, in itself, is enough to start your personal data file, but the more, the better. Through the use of only your name and address, the data compilers attach unlimited entries of private information to this record of your life. Beyond that, just think of what your Social Security number can produce.

Why should you care, other than the invasion of your privacy? Try this: your moniker and private data is worth a fortune to junk mailers who sell it over and over and over. The take is more than $4 billion annually and climbing. Wouldn’t you like to feel secure in your privacy, while sharing in those proceeds? There are several ways this could happen, and that’s what The Dunning Letter is all about. But, I need your comments to let me know what you think about this concept.

Together, we can pass federal legislation that will give all of us 100% control over our names and personal data. The timing couldn’t be better. The ChoicePoint and LexisNexis incidents opened the door; over 450,000 data thefts, including Social Security numbers. Bank of America widened the gap, possibly even slamming the door against the wall, losing 1.2 million federal employee records, among them three prominent U.S. Senators. Ralph Lauren brings up the rear with 180,000 credit-card holders whose data was apparently stolen.

Accidents happen, but I draw the line when it’s my Social Security number being put conveniently in the hands of thieves. In October of 2000, Roger Moore was astonished to find out his bank, Credit Suisse, had accidentally posted his personal data on the internet. It consisted of an address, Swiss bank account numbers and detailed credit reports. Credit Suisse had to be alerted by a Swiss newspaper to correct the problem.

Where does it stop? The junk mailers and the data brokers, and even some members of Congress, are saying the individual should be responsible for watching over their personal data. So, if the monkey’s on our back, shouldn’t we have 100% control? The right to say when and if our name and private information is sold? And when it is, to reap at least some of the rewards?

Help me out here. Let’s start a grass-roots effort to make this right. Give me your thoughts and I will pass them along to members of Congress who are favorable to consumer causes. I’m not going to ask you to demonstrate at the White House—at least not yet—but to make a stand on this issue by posting your comments, will go a long way. Now, officially, the forum is open.


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Anonymous said...

Jack, It looks like you got some robot-posted comments.

I just ran across your blog today... in the midst of doing some reading about direct mail. I'm one of the millions of us who are sick and tired of the junk mail dump in my mailbox every day, and very concerned about privacy issues, as we all should be.

Wanted to share something... Senator Susan Collins from Maine addressed the National Association of Postal Supervisors on April 1 this year, and said, “Direct mail is in no way comparable to the unsolicited and invasive telephone calls that are curbed by the Do Not Call registry. Direct mail imposes no burden on the public, it causes no interruptions, and I, for one, look forward to the Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons I get in the mail. A Do Not Mail registry would attempt to solve a problem that does not exist.” The full text of her speech is on her website. I'm stunned at the lack of knowledge her words reflect. How can she not be aware of the burden that direct mail, and all its connections to personal privacy, impose on us all?

I totally agree with you that if I am supposed to be responsible for my own personal data, I want it in my control. I also love your idea of making them pay me for the use of it.