DUMBING DOWN ON PRIVACY
Junk mailers need more honesty in their editorializing. That’s my answer to an editorial in the junk mail industry publication, DM News, with the headline “Consumers need more data knowledge” by Eleanor Trickett, Ed. In Chief. In the first sentence she cites “government laptops stolen,” but fails to mention the breach by junk mail data broker ChoicePoint, which put this whole identity theft issue in motion. She proceeds to talk about how much information consumers are asked to give up for the sake of convenience or a discount, but completely skirts the fact that junk mailers are the ones to blame for this insane drive to find out everything there is to know about every individual in the US. Just once I would like to see these people come right out and say, “This identity crisis is all our fault, and it’s time we did something to stop it.” Yeah. That’ll be the day. Junk mailers are lobbying their way out of federal legislation they don’t want and the consumer is the loser. It’s so obvious by the fact there isn’t one piece of data breach legislation that is close to becoming a law. CNNMoney.com did a recent piece on ChoicePoint’s lobbying expenditures: $500,000 in just the first half of 2007. I figured if CP was doing this, other junk mail data brokers couldn’t be far behind. I was so right. OpenSecrets.org is a great site to find things that business and government would rather you didn’t know. I went to their Lobbying Database and this is what I found on the top data brokers and credit bureaus: Acxiom spent $160,000; Lexis Nexis $40,000, their parent, Reed Elsevier, $3,380,000; Experian $300,000; Equifax $100,000; and TransUnion $80,000. Experian, Equifax and TransUnion are credit bureaus, as well as maintaining huge consumer databases chock full of personal data as well. You have to wonder what all this money buys, but a quick guess would be favorable data breach legislation, or none at all. Phishing just got more sophisticated, and they’re taking on the GOV. The latest uses an IRS front to contact someone offering a tax refund, for which you have to give up private information, of course. According to ZDNet.com, the bad guys send thousands of e-mails that in many cases are hard to differentiate from the real thing. So much so, 8.2 percent of online households have taken the bait losing an estimated $630 million. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) puts the figure at $1 billion annually. Most people hate statistics but you’d better pay attention to these, because they have the potential for significant growth, considering the number of federal agencies that deal with the public. This is a trend, folks, and it isn’t going away. It will only get worse unless you join my grass-roots movement to grant consumers control over their names and personal data, with compensation to the name-holder when it is sold. Let me hear from you!