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Thursday, November 15, 2007


Junk mail trade publication, Direct Magazine, has an article by a blow-hard that is typical of some people in this industry. His name is Ken Magill, and although I don’t normally read much of his stuff, this one is a doozy. He calls the proposed Internet “Do-Not-Track” list (See Washington Post article) that would allow consumers to opt out of having their online habits monitored and stored in a database, the “Mother-of-all-Cockamamie ideas.” I covered this briefly not too long ago thinking I would pick it up again when the legislation was actually introduced. But I just couldn’t wait after reading Magill’s piece, “Do-Not-Track list: Dumbest Idea Ever,” while thinking how lucky I am to no longer be a part of the junk mail business. 35 years as a list/data broker convinced me that consumers should have control over their names and personal data. But preposterous commentaries like this, if representative, proves to me that junk mailers aren’t even close to giving up on their premise that they own your name and private information, along with the right to do with it as they please, including selling it all over the world. More of Magill’s absurdity: “When you visit a Web site, the information surrounding that foray is not your personal information. It’s the site owners’ information, too. You’re on their property; you’re using their resources. Telling them they can’t monitor you on property they own is akin to telling a retailer to shut the store cameras off.” What the hell does that mean? The American public does have the right to decide if they want someone looking over their shoulder when they are surfing the Internet. As a matter of fact, the more pragmatic junk mail publication, DM News, in an article by Dianna Dilworth, reports that AOL has actually designed technology that will allow their online customers to opt out of behavioral targeting. And Magill’s ridiculous raging over environmentalists wanting to get rid of all catalogs is also ludicrous. Environmentalists, and privacy advocates like myself, only want junk mailers to figure out a better way to get responses, based on the fact that they currently have to mail 100 catalogs to get no more than two orders, the rest ending up cluttering the environment. From my experience, most junk mail companies were either too cheap to do the predictive modeling that would have at least eliminated some of the 98 percent excess, or they just were too unsophisticated to understand the benefits. He says he’s “sick to death of so-called privacy advocates who don’t hold down real jobs making ludicrous demands on those who make the Internet economy work.” The “so-called privacy advocates Magill refers to that are supporting the Do-Not-Track bill are prestigious organizations like Consumer Federation of America, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and World Privacy Forum. He mentions behavioral targeting, a term used to define your daily habits based on what you search for on the Internet, and how the loss of this would doom e-mail advertising. Most people I know would welcome the loss of unsolicited (spam) e-mail advertising, but that’s not the point here. To track a person’s online habits on a regular basis and commit this data to memory that is eventually sold by data brokers is plain and simple an invasion of their privacy. It is laughable diatribes like Magill’s that keep junk mail from progressing into the advanced advertising medium it could become. It is time for this industry to start being up front with the consumer, and level with them re. how their names and personal data are manipulated and sold. It could start by releasing actual figures on just how much revenue is realized annually from the sale of our private information. I estimate it is over $4 billion, so here’s your chance to prove me wrong.

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