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Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Surprised? Probably not. Some of you don’t care, many don’t want to worry about it, a lot think it doesn’t make any difference. You’re all lumped into a category I call the “Apathetics.” Oblivious to what is happening to your private information until you’re hit with identity theft...and then it’s too late. Mailing lists are a big business, bringing in an annual gross figure of around $4 billion. That’s a number I worked on for several months, using my own formulas and sources of data because junk mailers won’t tell anyone how much this profit center is worth. My figures are based on 35 years as a junk mail list/data broker, so you can see they do have credibility.

Naturally, list owners—as they refer to themselves—are quick to protect this revenue stream that produces approximately 60 percent profit. Keep in mind, this is actually a by-product of the purchase you made of a product or service from some junk mailer. Somewhere in the order form, almost hidden at times, you will be told that your name—not mentioned, but including private information in some instances—will be “shared” or “exchanged” with other reputable mailers. Never, will they come right out and say that they sell your name up to 50 times in a year, based on each purchase you make. Some let you opt out of this, yet others, even some large junk mailers, do not.

The way they protect this gold mine is by forcing other junk mailers to sign a “list rental agreement” with terms that restrict the selling of your name and address. That’s good for the consumer since most contracts prevent sending you pornography, or fraudulent offers. But also included in each arrangement is the verbiage stating that your name, address, possibly personal data, being sold to the other junk mailer remains the exclusive property of the list owner. Although, perhaps, a technicality to define who originally collected the names and addresses, most junk mailers take this literally as a mandate of their sole proprietorship of our private information.

As an example I picked one of the largest list/data brokers to prove the point. Worldata, out of Boca Raton, Florida clearly states in their agreement that the List Renter “…agrees that this information is the exclusive property of the List Owner.” “Information,” of course, is your name, address, maybe personal data. In the beginning you can see that this is a current instrument used by the junk mail industry today because of the 2009 dateline.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the individual should own their name and private information either, due to the number of con artists out there that would take advantage of those who are vulnerable. My concept is that your name and personal data should remain as a free spirit, much akin to how the airwaves used to be in delivering broadcast media. Like the radio and TV stations that transmit the programming do, consumers should have control over their sensitive data. And, they should be compensated when it is sold to encourage taking on this new responsibility.

However, it will be impossible to sell this concept as a federal law until American consumers convince their congressional leaders they want control over their names and private information. Only then will we stem the tide of junk mail industry lobbyists that somehow have prevailed upon Congress that they are the rightful owners of America’s individual identity.

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