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Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Periodically I cover junk mail lists on the market with attention directed to those that contain the most private information about the individual. I point these lists out to you because you should know who is keeping tabs on your daily activities and lifestyle habits. There is one thing that I can guarantee about these lists, and that is…your name, address and sensitive data will probably outlive you. One such list is AmeriLINK from KnowledgeBase Marketing, which professes to have private information on 230 million individuals nationwide. That’s about 76 percent of the total population, and they aren’t even one of the big-five consumer database companies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, ChoicePoint and Acxiom). They are big enough to have collected and made available for sale a wealth of information on most of the American public. Facts like your household income, your date of birth, your net worth, your telephone number, all arranged conveniently with your name and address. It’s the kind of data ID thieves would kill for. But that’s not all. For 45 million of you, there is voting data indicating your party preference. They know what credit cards you carry, and when you opened these accounts. That info isn’t as significant as the fact that the credit card company gave it up specifying you as the holder. And one of my biggest concerns in this area is the selling of your medical ailments. This covers most all the cancers, high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, including heart attacks, Alzheimer’s disease, erectile dysfunction, depression, lung disease, and the list goes on and on. The release of this kind of data, which points right to the individual, raises all kinds of privacy flags when it comes to applying for health insurance or for a job. Yes, you must be honest with potential insurers or employers, but my concern is the amount of potential inaccurate data in these lists. In a study by non-profit, Privacy Activism, they found errors—Including name, address, Social Security number—in 67 percent of background reports from Acxiom, 73 percent from ChoicePoint. If you smoke, drink or gamble, someone can buy this information, along with the fact that you travel frequently. If you have taken an equity loan on your house, the original purchase amount, who owns the property, the lender’s name, interest rate and loan type, along with the mortgage term are recorded, ready for sale. If you move, what kind of house you moved from and to, the distance of the move, and the new and previous address. They have a list of “attitude” categories from “adventure seekers” to “youth chasers.” And then some quirky selects like “I am at capacity,” “I am down to earth,” and “I am devoted,” which are results of combining all your demographic and lifestyle data and through computer modeling, predict what your core values are. This last one gets creepy, and smacks of Big Brother. In the case with companies like AmeriLINK, you just have to hope they have data breach security in place, and that all employees are honest and aware of the potential of information loss. On the other hand, we could grant consumers control over their names and personal data which would insure this security. AmeriLINK and other junk mail list companies like them could still sell our private information, but with the consumer’s finger on the approval button, and aware of any transaction using their personal data. The real upside of this move is that identity theft could probably be eliminated.

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