DATA RAPE: The New Direct Marketing
And because this was all voluntarily “self-reported” information, this is a license for the sponsoring pharmaceutical company to hustle its drugs by mail to targeted patients. In addition, the non-sponsored responses were up for grabs by marketers and the results found their way into vast databases made up of individual behavioral and demographic dossiers that are rocketed around the country dozens of times a day and rented by marketers.
I was a bit uncomfortable with this client. But he was dealing in data that consumers had volunteered. If Mrs. Pscuniack of Sioux City was dumb enough share the details of her behavior, lifestyle, habits and plumbing with a bunch of strangers running a computer, who was I to pass moral judgment?
"If the individual has supplied the information about himself/herself,” wrote freelancer Herschell Gordon Lewis, “it can no longer be considered personal.”
The New Breed of Information Sewer Rats
As readers of this cranky little e-zine know, I spend an hour or so a day crawling the Internet and vacuuming stories up for my private archive, which currently numbers close to 60,000 entries in 159 major headings and hundreds of sub-categories.
This past year, I have been collecting exposés on how data rapists are plundering the private information of unsuspecting consumers from websites and turning it over to marketers. A sampling of the collected headlines, ledes, sources and links:
A Web Pioneer Profiles Users by Name
In the weeks before the New Hampshire primary last month, Linda Twombly of Nashua says she was peppered with online ads for Republican Senate hopeful Jim Bender. It was no accident. An online tracking company called RapLeaf Inc. had correctly identified her as a conservative who is interested in Republican politics, has an interest in the Bible and contributes to political and environmental causes. Mrs. Twombly's profile is part of RapLeaf's rich trove of data, garnered from a variety of sources and which both political parties have tapped. RapLeaf knows even more about Mrs. Twombly and millions of other Americans: their real names and email addresses.
—Emily Steel, The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 25, 2010