Monthly Archives: April 2007

Do privacy statements help and do they destroy the environment?

Privacy has being a very hot topic over the last several years. Every company has some sort of privacy policy which is supposed to protect us. But how well does it work and are they really protecting us? In addition, is the attempt to keep our information private helping to contribute to the destruction of the environment?

A lot of paper is used to print out all of the privacy statements that we’re signing. The doctor’s office, the bank and even the car dealer all have privacy statements. When the privacy statement changed on my credit card, the credit card company sent me a letter and included a new copy of the privacy statement. Energy is used to produce paper, to send it to me and to deal with it when I throw it in the recycle bin.I moved into a new apartment but even a year later I have still been receiving mail for the people who lived here before me. In an attempt to cut down on paper usage, I called up a company that has been sending mail to my address for the previous occupant of my apartment. In the name of privacy, they refused to discontinue sending me their mail.

The company was “American Airlines” and my call to them went something like this:

(This is not an exact transcription, however the spirit of the conversation has been maintained.)

Me: “Hi, I’m calling to let you know that you are mailing Mr. Smith a rather thick envelope each month, however they no longer live at this address. I haven’t opened the envelope, however since I too am a member of your frequent flyer program, I recognize the envelope and know that that the contents of Mr. Smith’s envelope is his frequent flyer balance and offers from your company.”

AA: “What is the name and address on the envelope?”

I give them this information.

AA: “And you’re saying that you are NOT Mr. Smith?”

Me: “No, however this is my address and I can assure you that Mr. Smith does not live here.”

AA: “Well, we can not discontinue mailing this information as you are not Mr. Smith and our privacy policy prohibits anybody other than Mr. Smith from discontinuing this mailout.”

Me: “But I can provide you with my electric bill, cable bill, whatever you want to provide that this is indeed my home address. Being that this is my address, it certainly can not be Mr. Smith’s address too.”

AA: “Sorry, but we can not do that.”

Me. “Look, this whole privacy thing is a complete joke. I know for a fact that the envelope contains his frequent flyer number. Although I never would because it is a federal offense to open mail not addressed to me, it would theoretically be possible for me to open up Mr. Smith’s envelope, go online and indicate that I forgot my password. You would then send a new password to my address where I would then open it up and gain total access to Mr. Smith’s account. Of course I would never do that because it is against the law to open his mail, however since it is coming to my home address, it is something that somebody not as honest as I could do. They would then have total access to Mr. Smith’s account and do with it what they want. How exactly is that protecting his privacy?”

AA: “I’m sorry, but I can’t really help you. It is our policy that we do not allow anybody other than Mr. Smith to change any aspect of his account.”

I didn’t get very far and in attempting to protect Mr. Smith, American Airlines actually put his privacy in jeopardy. My primary goal was to save some trees. Why should American Airlines mail out a thick envelope each month only to have it immediately tossed in the garbage. This however turned into a much bigger issue. The mailout would not be discintinued and in attempting to maintaining privacy, Mr. Smith’s private information could easily be compromised.

This exchange with American Airlines got me thinking about privacy made me question the following items:

  • Are privacy polices really designed to protect us, or are they actually policies that companies use simply to “cover their asses?”
  • When you move, how much of your mail is actually being delivered to the old address, therefore exposing your private information to others?
  • If you have a mailbox outside your house, rather than a door slot, are you exposing yourself to having your privacy compromised?

Sending your mail to somebody else could be considered similar to sending a crook keys to a bank along with a note stating, “if you use this key, you are breaking the law.” Considering that tons of mail must get sent to the wrong address each day, thousands of “keys” are being sent out each day. Statistically speaking, some of those people must be dishonest.

What really bothered me in my conversation with American Airlines was the following:

  • I was willing to take my time to call and correct their records, but this went unrecognized.
  • My information is verifiable. I have a phone bill, electric bill, cable bill and drivers license all using this address. In fact, they have my name and address in their records, as they have been sending me my own frequent flyer statement.
  • I tried to do my part to save the environment and cut paper use, but I did not succeed.
  • I explained how a dishonest person could gain access to another person’s account. If American Airlines was truly concerned about privacy, they should have taken interest in this issue.

While I would like to think that privacy statements are helpful, I think that until a company can listen to reason and logic, that our private information is still subject to public viewing.

Sprint’s unimpressive offer

The phone rang and I answered by saying, “Hello.” Then again, “Hello… hello??” Finally, the silence that greeted me was interrupted by a Sprint salesperson.

“Hi, I’m calling from Sprint. Don’t worry, this call is not using up any of your minutes and is completely free. We have reviewed your account and would like to let you know about special offers that you quality for.”

Like many of the cell phone companies, Sprint tries very hard to get you to sign a 2 year contract. When your 2 years are almost up, the offers start coming in. I know that my 2 years is almost up because I recently received an offer in the mail, and now this phone call.

The salesperson continued. “Do you know how much you pay per month for your service?”

“Yeah, about $40 per month.” I said.

“I’m looking at your account now and your last bill was $50. Well, we’d like to let you know that you quality for a free phone AND you can get 500 minutes per month for only $59.”

I responded. “I current use a Palm Treo 650, and that unless the free phone was a Treo 700p, then it’s not an upgrade to me. Is the free phone a Treo 700p?”

“Oh no sir, of course not.” she said.

“And another thing,” I continued. “If you have my bill in front of you, you’ll see that I only used about 200 minutes last month. My $35 per month bill is $50 after adding $10 unlimited Internet and taxes. You’re now offering me 500 minutes for $59, which will become $75 after the extras for minutes that I won’t even use. I don’t see now this is a good deal for me.”

Silence.

“Why would I even consider taking this offer. The phone you want to give me is inferior to the one I use now and you want to charge me more for minutes I won’t use. If Sprint makes me a real offer that is better than what I have, then I will listen, but until then, don’t try and make me an offer that is clearly inferior.”

With nothing to say in response, the salesperson hung up in me in a polite way. “Ok sir, if we have a better offer for you, we will let you know.” Long pause. <click>