Monday, November 10, 2008

“I’m calling to offer you a green way to pay your bills. And also, this is a stickup."

Here's another collection of tales about why business “self regulation” is the rough equivalent of no regulation at all.

This one has to do with your own privacy, the dangers of identity theft, phony appeals by banks to reduce your carbon footprint, and an ominous blackmail attempt now under FBI investigation.

"We can regulate ourselves —
without no stinkin' government"

Let’s start with the “self-regulation” bit. Most companies, trade associations, and true believers in unfettered enterprise will tell you that government regulation is bad and that industry can better control abuses of your privacy by itself.

Such was the case championed by the Direct Marketing Association — a group that supports those wonderful folks who bring you junk mail, SPAM, and intrusive phone calls at dinnertime.

At issue was all the people who prefer not to be disturbed by telephone marketers peddling subprime mortgages and other wonders of modern civilization.

The law says that once you move and your telephone number changes, your old number can be taken off the “Do Not Call” list. Or at least it can be taken off until a new victim has his dinner ruined once too often by telemarketers trying to reach through the telephone and grab his wallet.

The Direct Marketing Association
complains—and gets it all wrong

According to a story put out by DIRECT Magazine, one of the leading publications of the direct marketing business

…the DMA [Direct Marketing Association] had argued that disconnected names should be removed more quickly from the Registry.

At the FTC’s behest, the DMA submitted a sample list of 20,000 Registry numbers that had been disconnected or reassigned based on whether their names had changed and found that “16% would have been scrubbed in error.”

Based on these results, the DMA’s contractor refined its scrubbing process and reanalyzed the 20,000 numbers. It determined that 8,374 should be treated as active registrations, the FTC continued.
For the arithmetically challenged, that means that more than 40% of those do-not-calls were still valid, not 16% as the DMA claimed.

But wait! There’s more!

And it isn’t good news.

The don’t-regulate-me crowd at the DMA also had urged that “only the line subscriber or person who is billed for the telephone line be allowed to register that number in the National Registry.” In other words, they didn't want you to be able to phone in and put your aged and disabled mother on the registry list. Screw her! Let her opt out on her own. If she needs help, tough luck. And furthermore...
“Critics [representing telephone marketers] were also worried that consumers could be registered without their consent. In response, the FTC now requires that consumers “call from the number they want to register or provide a verification e-mail address if registering online.”

“In addition, the FTC limited the number of registrations that can be made from a single e-mail address.”
See, what the annoying phone call folks are doing is protecting you against having your name "unfairly removed" from the Do Not Call list. Why? I guess they assume that if you haven’t gone out of your way to opt out, or haven't heard that you can, you really, really want those phone calls at dinnertime. So they've been "protecting" you so you'll keep getting called.

Go green and make
your banker richer

Then there’s the so called “PayItGreen Alliance,” a group of financial institutions that not only has trouble putting spaces between words but also, according to The Big Fat Marketing Blog “trumpet the money saving benefits of paperless transactions for bill paying and other purposes.”

The blog, which is written by Larry Riggs, a Direct Magazine staffer, comments:
Wait a second. Are we being treated to another massive con job from the financial industry? 

In fact, banks and others have been blowing this trumpet for at least 20 years.

 While it‘s fashionable able now to say you care for the environment, we must remember that it costs banks and credit card companies a hell of a lot less to send and receive bills electronically.

 So who’s really saving the big bucks?

 Of course, not using paper leaves consumers susceptible to privacy invasion and data breaches. Hardly a day goes by now without reports of data theft from banks, hospitals or retailers.
Company gets blackmailed
—with your information

As if to drive the point home, on the same day that Direct Magazine revealed a slight, umm, error in DMA thinking about Do Not Call Lists, the very same day it published Riggs’ comments above, the magazine also broke news of an investigation into a terrifying blackmail scheme involving identity theft.
A large manager of prescription benefits has charged that extortionists have threatened to disclose medical information on its customers if the company fails to meet payment demands, the Washington Post reported.

Express Scripts said it had received a letter in October that listed the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers on 75 of its customers. In some cases, prescription data was included, the Post continued.

The letter stated that millions of such records would be released if the company failed to pay, the article said.

Express Scripts processes prescription claims… handling 500 million prescriptions year for roughly 50 million Americans, the Post stated.
One of the problems with giving personal data such as your Security Number, health information and other personal data to private corporations is that the info seems somehow to "walk" out of the office more often than is comfortable. And sometimes it falls into the hands of very bad guys. Blackmailers, for example.

“We can handle it with self-regulation,” private industry and doctrinaire Ayn Randist free marketers insist.

Except, of course, when they can’t. Which occurs more and more often, putting you, your privacy and your identity at risk.

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