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Friday, February 06, 2009


As a sign of the times, a recent headline on MSNBC said: “Even porn industry hit by slumping economy.” Currently residing in Arizona where golf courses are as plentiful as convenience food stores, I had heard from a friend that golfing has followed the trend. But I was more than amused when Worldata, a large junk mail list/data broker, published the results of its latest List Price Index, which is a survey documenting how much junk mailers pay for mailing lists with your name and private information. There was a significant decline across major categories of lists such as books, CDs, consumer magazines, and general merchandise buyers.

If you want to see the full report of to what degree your sensitive data is precariously peddled around the U.S., even around the world in some cases, go here. If you want me to paint the poignant story for you, read on. Almost four years ago when I launched The Dunning Letter, I contacted a number of sources from the Direct Marketing Assn. (DMA) to junk mail industry publications like DM News and Direct to learn the total revenue the list business raked in from your names and private information. Not only did they not know—or, at least, they weren’t telling—but they suspiciously wanted to know why I wanted to know.

In most cases it was made clear to those asked that the information was for a piece I was writing on the industry. Doors slammed shut and telephones went “click,” which basically ended my efforts to acquire this figure from those who could most accurately determine the annual results. After a couple of months assembling numbers from a conglomeration of reports provided to the public by the DMA, and doing research through the archives of DM News and Direct, I was able to create my own formula and arrive at the total. It was determined that every year the junk mail list business grosses around $4 billion from the sale of consumer names and personal data.

I am all for free enterprise, but why is this a one-way path to the pockets of junk mailers when they would have nothing to sell if not for the name-holder? That’s YOU, of course. Most of my regular readers have heard this over and over, but why not share the wealth with those without which no revenue would be possible? Another interesting formula I have come up with reveals that if half the $4 billion was placed in a simple interest-bearing account for the name-holders, at age 65 they could supplement their retirement with an additional $607 monthly.

Getting back to a sign of the times, with pension plans and Social Security in jeopardy as they are, has someone got a better idea? If so, please come forward. My contention is that with a new administration in Washington, it is time to get back to individual rights, and there is nothing more individual than our sensitive data.

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