Thursday, July 10, 2008

What is legitimate corporate policy regarding consumer data?

Last night, WETA (the PBS station in Washington DC) was carrying on a (radio) discussion about data privacy. One speaker said that consumers had a right to two simple expectations from companies that collect their data. One is that data collected be used only for the purpose stated to the consumer. The other is that the data be destroyed when it is no longer needed.

But, of course, sale of consumer data was big business long before the Internet. When I worked for Chilton Corporation in Dallas in the 1980s (which would be bought by TRW and be spun off as Experian, coming full circle), “promos” were the most often billed service code. Sales of customer data to marketers was bigger business even then than normal credit reports or “Alerts” (which would feed in to what is now FICO scores). None of this is new.

There was also discussion of transferring management of customer telecommunications accounts to third parties. The speaker called this practice “wiretapping.” Another speaker noted the irony that all of these problems are occurring, as an accident of history, post 9/11 and during the somewhat legitimate need for government surveillance.

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