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Wednesday, February 18, 2009


It would seem Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg never learns. Once again he changed policy granting the social networking site the ability to control users’ information forever, even if you cancel your account. Zuckerberg apparently did not take heed after the 2007 debacle where he had to back off a tracking tool called “Beacon” that displayed customers’ shopping habits and activities all over cyberspace. In another article on MSNBC, he recanted again just a day after the latest boondoggle, when apparently tens of thousands of users complained. Zuckerberg said the move was temporary, until the company develops new terms defining its privacy policy. What that means to me is that Mr. Z hasn’t yet comprehended the right of the individual to maintain control over their names and personal data, and, believe me, this is not only a Facebook problem. This is the dilemma of the entire data collection business. On the other hand, Maine police credit Facebook in the solving of a crime by posting pictures of teenagers who vandalized a crime caught on surveillance cameras. President Obama reneges, somewhat, on “open government” policy. It seems Justice has decided to retain some Bush policies on keeping the data collection and secret surveillance of U.S. citizens. They want to determine whether it will conform to the rewrite by the new administration of the Freedom of Information Act guidelines. After former Attorney General John Ashcroft supported Bush’s warrantless domestic wiretapping, Obama pledged “an unprecedented level of openness in government.” Several requests are pending based on the FOIA re. the former administration’s tactics, and there is some doubt if these will ever be satisfied. I think most everyone agrees we should look to the future and not belabor the past, but when the American public has just experienced the worst case of Big Brother since Orwell’s 1984, many agree that we should at least know what really happened. The question today is who we can trust to define what information is too sensitive for release to the public? Opinion piece in junk mail industry publication, DM News, promotes respecting consumer privacy. David Henkel, President of Johnson & Quin, specializing in printing, mailing, and database management for junk mailers, says “Consumer privacy must be respected.” He talks about personalization in the business of reaching the right customer with the right offer, and how it must not be carried too far. Targeting is good if it does not get into individual household personal data that clearly invades the person’s privacy. Things like whether or not you gamble or drink, what specific ailments you suffer from, and what medications you are taking. Targeting can be accomplished at acceptable levels larger than the individual household. But Henkel really caught my eye when he started talking about how customers’ credit card numbers are stored by junk mailers, those you buy from, even if you haven’t made a purchase for years. As the director of marketing for a large catalog company, I can confirm that the credit card number was maintained as a normal part of the customer’s record. That was awhile ago, and it occurred to me that we need to know what junk mailers are doing about this today in a much more volatile marketplace. Report on this later.

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