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Thursday, April 17, 2008


On the day we made the discovery that names and personal data were worth more than the paper they were printed on—and back in those days the information was typed, sometimes even hand-written, on pieces of paper—a profit-center was created that will someday likely surpass the world’s largest industries. When I entered the junk mail business back in the late sixties, many smaller companies were still maintaining their customer lists on index cards. When it was time to do a mailing, the cards were distributed to home typists who would transcribe the information onto labels or direct to an envelope. Today, everything is computerized to the highest standards of technology, and every aware business spends much of its time figuring out how to capture your private information. The primary reason for that is to sell it; junk mailers alone realize over $4 billion every year in the list business. Now, there’s a new kid on the block with an approach that is unique, although questionable by at least one privacy advocate, Susan Pierce, exec. Director of non-profit PrivacyActivism, according to professes to have more than 8 million business contacts on file to be used by sales people, recruiters or marketers; this includes the contact’s full name, title, postal address, e-mail address and telephone number. Their privacy policy mandates the same stipulations as most, meaning they won’t share “personally identifiable information” with anyone but law enforcement, and necessary third parties such as service providers. Included would be the above, plus your credit card number (it’s a paid service), your Internet address and provider, and a profile of your online preferences using the Jigsaw system. There is no indication that they will ever sell this information, but nowhere do they say that they never plan to. In the company’s “Legal Disclaimer,” there seems to be concern that the anonymity set up to protect customers could be jeopardized by “illegal use” of the system. Further, under “Information Security” Jigsaw says it uses “accepted industry standards” to protect all information, but admits that they “cannot guarantee its absolute security.” Of course they can’t, and no business can if the bad guys want to get in and steal your sensitive data bad enough. Pierce says, “The seven-million business cards is causing disruptive change in the way corporate information is gathered because recruiters can buy and sell contact information on people -- who may not have given permission to be contacted.” Jim Fowler, founder and CEO, apparently justifies it all with the statement, “You would be amazed how many databases you live on, and you have no clue you're on there.” I am all for the free-enterprise system, but if something isn’t done soon to regulate how names and personal data are collected and used in the marketplace, the identity crisis could reach proportions that no American wants to experience. All you need to do is visit George Orwell’s 1984 novel again to see the possibilities. If you don’t have a copy, go to The Literature Network here. Just search “Big Brother” and read some of the passages. You can also go to the "Search" box at the top of this blog and enter "Big Brother" to read some of my past posts on the subject. And when you’re done, hopefully, you’ll agree that consumers should be granted control over their names and private information as the solution to this issue.

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