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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Is the American Consumer Stupid?

I don’t think so, although government and business are steadfast in their efforts to convince us that we are not competent to manage our personal affairs. Like controlling our names and private information so that they don’t fall into the hands of ID thieves. Like government and business are better equipped to do this.

The latest major incident is the 26.5 million records lost by the Veterans Administration; some moron took it home with him where it was later stolen. The first occurrence was a theft from data broker, ChoicePoint, in February 2005, who revealed the loss only after being forced to by California law. There have been twelve more breaches since the VA abduction May 22, and you can see the whole sordid story at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse site, “A Chronology of Data Breaches Since ChoicePoint.”

Total personal records lost or stolen as of this date: 84,797,096. It will probably increase even before I can post this article.

So back to my original question: Is the American consumer stupid? Since I’ll bet you agree with me that most of us aren’t, why are we being treated as if we are too dumb to regulate the use of our names and personal data? And why haven’t we, as an intelligent group, risen up and demanded to take command over this most valued possession? Actually, the second question answers the first.

Just as George Orwell’s citizens of Oceania were completely apathetic about the Party and Big Brother controlling their lives, today’s population is at an indifference level regarding their privacy that is alarming. With just over 9 million victims of identity fraud confirmed, and a huge media circus built around the data breach hullabaloo in 2005, an Experian/Gallup survey at the end of that year recorded an ID theft concern rate of a dismal 35 percent.

I don’t have to point to, nor even provide any specific quotes, as to how the government has contempt for our intellect. From Bush on down, we are being told that: 1)either things are not as bad as they seem; 2)that someone is looking into and analyzing the situation; or 3)that Congress is drafting legislation to solve the problem. Unfortunately, we’re batting zero on one, and two and three are very questionable.

From the standpoint of business, particularly junk mail and non-junk mail companies maintaining dossiers on every U.S. household, and including data brokers, I can speak with some authority. There is a high level of concern over potential privacy laws, but this bunch still chooses to stick their heads in the sand. Outwardly, they are exclaiming concern that consumers will get control over their names and private information, but inwardly, still convinced they own your data.
Kinda like 1984’s Doublethink.

A recent case in point is an article, “Bad Law Rising,” in a junk mail publication, Direct, by Ray Schultz, Editorial Director. Schultz is a good journalist and from past articles, has a high respect for consumer privacy. He talks with Martin Abrams, executive director, Center for Information Policy Leadership at Hunton & Williams in Washington. Also well respected in the industry.

The interview focuses on financial data, which is certainly one of the most important areas we want to protect. Abrams first statement is, “Privacy law in the United States is unstable.” For the most part, his remark refers to the effect on business, not the consumer, and he rightfully states that much of the fault lies in the advance of technology. What is downright frightening is that he feels any real change has to come from the top (not sure if this is government or business) and is three to seven years away.

By then, the identity crisis will have arisen to humongous proportions, a situation that could very well stop commerce in its tracks. At that point, it won’t matter who we are for the chaos will probably shut down both government and business.

More on this issue next time. How individual control over names and personal data works in the United Kingdom.


Anonymous said...


It has come to my attention that the information I posted from a third party employee that all information posted was not correct. He was stranded in Chicago, misled and not paid, BUT the mistreatment or "roughness" was not by Kreg employees.
Therefore, any "libel" comments that may have been made was a misunderstanding and miscommunication. Therefore, I must post Kreg was NOT inhumane.

Thank You.

Anonymous said...

for the above comment if picking up equipment riddled with diseases and "wiping" the equipment down with disinfectant and delivering it back to another customer is not inhumane then i dont really know what the word means.