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Monday, July 23, 2007


In a recent copy of Reader’s Digest, they included a reader survey, which doubled as an entry form for their latest contest. No purchase necessary, but it’s not clear if you must complete the survey for entry into the contest. There are five questions, some with multiple parts. The one that bothers me most asks the reader what ailments they have. From bipolar disorder, to depression, to heart disease, to whether you have experienced a stroke. They also want to know what pharmacy you use, and whether or not you have health insurance. Finally, they want to contact you by e-mail, and ask for that address. Up to this point the survey is anonymous, and you don’t have to provide your e-mail, but how many do this either without thinking, or with the belief it will help them to win the contest? In this last question, and also in the contest rules, you can opt-out of having your subscription information (name, address, etc.) “shared” with other junk mailers. In order to do that, you must write to RD. Reader’s Digest has 64 lists of their subscribers on the market, and the term “shared” really means selling your name; over 1.2 million of them, for around 12 cents each. Either by other surveys, or through lifestyle enhancement of their list, they know all about your children, if you have pets, your ethnicity, age and income, whether you are an investor, your religious preference, and much more. RD is no different than other junk mailers who crave every scrap of private information they can collect on their customers. There have been problems in the past. In 2005, RD settled with the state of Connecticut for “deceptive marketing of its sweepstakes contests,” paying restitution of $171,000 and $25,000 to the state. And back in 2001, the company made a settlement with 32 states and D.C. to make changes in its sweepstakes mailing practices, and pay refunds of $6 million to customers, plus $2 million in attorneys’ fees. The march to know everything there is to know about every individual in this country takes weird turns and uses alluring bait such as surveys combined with contests, but the end result is still the same: The complete erosion of your privacy.

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