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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Junk Mail Ethics

Back in December of 2005, the Direct Marketing Assn. (DMA) published an article on its website that identifies current action against three companies for lack of cooperation in solving matters of ethics. Neither of the companies is a member of DMA, so therefore, they really don’t have to cooperate. They didn’t, and there’s really not much more the organization can do but refer the companies on to the appropriate law enforcement authority.

What the DMA did do in the article, “DMA Releases Latest Ethics Report; Refers Listing Service to FCC,” is compile a list of six issues of primary concern, based on 20 current cases. Based on my 35 years as a broker of mailing lists, I am impressed with the issues, but not moved in the least with what I know of junk mail compliance. Four are worth mentioning, however.

Number one: Customer information should not be readily available for access by other individuals; here they are primarily concerned with services that make this data available online. “Customers would not reasonably expect that information about what they purchased, or how they responded to a marketing survey, would result in their inclusion in an online look-up service.”

One of the most lucrative areas of selling your name and personal data comes from marketing surveys you complete to get free products. OK. We’re all frugal to a point, but if you knew how quick and widely distributed your private information was after filling out these detailed questionnaires, you’d think twice next time.

The giants of this gold mine are Equifax and Experian, both credit reporting firms. Their subsidiaries, Lifestyle Selector and Behaviorbank, maintain databases of your personal data and daily habits, numbering 56 million and 40 million households, respectively. Things like what you read, what you drink, what ailments you have and the medications you take, how you invest, if you smoke and what brand, whether you gamble…and much, much more.

And these aren’t the only companies who assemble and sell this data. Be assured that just about anytime you put your private information on paper, online, or give it up by telephone, it will be collected and sold to the highest bidder. There are billions of dollars to be made, and you won’t realize one penny in the deal. To add insult to injury, you might even suffer identity theft down the line.

Please tell me, what is worse? Making the survey data available to Web surfers online (as is the point of the article’s issue), or selling it to thousands of junk mailers that, as we have already experienced, can lose the data to potential ID thieves? The DMA’s focus is typical of an industry that covets the sale of your name and personal data, and is willing to protect this supposed right at any risk.

It’s already enough that Equifax and Experian turn over this data for the marketing strategies of those companies who provide you the free products. It’s equally troubling that they fail to make it clear to you that your private information will be sold over, and over, and over…ad infinitum.

If you, the consumer, had control over this personal data, there wouldn’t be a problem, and you would be enjoying the fruits of the sale of this data.

Next issue of concern, the “teaser” copy on junk mail envelopes that bribe you to open them.

1 comment:

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