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Monday, May 23, 2005

Junk Mail 101: Junk Mailers Believe They Own Your Name

Ever thought of it? Most people haven’t. So, ask yourself: “Do I control my name?” Probably think it doesn’t matter. Wrong. And here’s why: the junk mail industry has been selling names (your name) over the years for millions of dollars annually. Yes, I do mean millions, year after year after year. How much goes in your pocket? ZERO. Now you’re starting to think about it.

As a consumer, you know how much you pay for the right to shop by mail or telephone or on the Internet. But, did you know that your good name is the glue that holds many junk mail companies together? In some cases, it is the only profit they make. If a royalty were paid to you for the use of your name—and it should be, since you must certainly be considered the primary guardian—the fair amount would be at least fifty cents on every dollar made by the junk mailers. The American consumer is currently being deprived of $2 billion a year, based on the selling of his or her name.

And then, as if absconding with your name was not enough, these appropriators decided that it was necessary to monitor and document your every move. In 1984, over thirty years after George Orwell’s death, most of us sat back, satisfied that his “Negative Utopia” was not to be. Well, it happened. Maybe not exactly in the year 1984, but very soon thereafter. The mid-1980’s produced a modicum of info-gathering activity that escalated into the 1990’s. It was at this point that the power was turned on. The junk mail companies began to excitedly grope into the private lives of every U.S. household they could get their hands on. I know…I was there.

And then came the Internet…the World_Wide_Web. Never before have we human beings and our privacy been so utterly assaulted by technology with the force of a major earthquake, as we have been with this new medium of communication. For years it was dirt cheap to send a piece of first class mail from Los Angeles to New York. Today, on the Internet, we send our message free. Or, do we? Internet hucksters cleverly accumulate your private data and then charge a premium for the name. If the hackers have their way with us, we could lose big bucks or maybe even our identity. It has become a feeding frenzy that continues and escalates daily.

60 Minutes II covered this very subject on April 30, 2003. The segment was entitled: “Your Private Life For Sale.” The episode’s title says it all. Then, in the June 2003 issue of Consumer Reports, page 6, the Consumers Union, parent of Consumer Reports, makes a dramatic statement: “To whom does your financial information belong? Consumers Union believes it belongs to you.” Even Proctor & Gamble agrees that the consumer owns his or her own data; a statement I confirmed direct with the company. Junk mailers are feeling the pressure. One industry writer described it as “…the privacy sky is falling.”

The problem is…we’re dealing with intangibles. It’s like the unemployed ventriloquist from northern California driving home one night. Based on home prices, Dennis Hope felt the one thing that could bring him riches was property. Then he looked out at the moon and realized the amount of unclaimed property there. He later learned the United Nations Space Treaty of 1967 prevented ‘governments’ from claiming ownership to extraterrestrial real estate--but not to individuals. He promptly staked claims to the moon, Mars, Venus and Jupiter’s moon Io. Over the next 20 years he sold 400 million acres on the moon, alone, for the sum of $6 million.

When the mailing list industry discovered the value of selling your name some forty to fifty years ago, it wasn’t exactly like selling property on the moon. But, similarities do exist. You know it doesn’t belong to you because you can’t touch it. If everything is shrouded in secrecy, most people won’t know what’s going on.

I am convinced that today’s junk mail shopper is so confused by this implied mystery that the consequences of losing control over their name and personal information has just become part of their bewilderment . One of my reasons for starting this blog was to educate the public on this very subject. Next time, we’ll explore what some junk mailers charge for selling your name, along with the list people who actually flood the market with your name and private data.

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