Your Private Information Is Public

Monday, 22 August 2005 at 6:45 am Pacific USA Time.

There is a guy who called us last year and again this month wanting us to help him sell online. We were interested until he sent us a spiral-bound book of his testimonials. You’d think that a large book of testimonials would make us MORE interested because people love his product. Not exactly.

His testimonial book was made up of printouts of emails that came straight from his website. He has a form on his website that asks you for all of your contact information and then your comments. If you left a positive comment about his product, he printed out that email and put it in his book. Unedited.

In case you need that spelled out, that means that the email with your contact information was photocopied over and over and sent to people all over the country. He doesn’t just send your comment. He printed the whole email where you typed in your address and phone number. I got a spiral book with HUNDREDS of people’s names, home addresses, and phone numbers. I felt this was a horrible breach of privacy.

I went back to his website and found no privacy statement, no disclaimer, and no text that anything you email to him could be used in his marketing. So people who had an expectation of privacy probably don’t even know that their information is going around the country.

Last year, I brought this to his attention. He told me he can show all of these private emails to anybody he wants. I asked if he’d mind if I started calling the people in the book to let them know that their personal information is being shared around the country. He asked why I’d want to make trouble where there isn’t any, and he hung up.

Cut to this month. He calls again. Dave was going to take this one so I didn’t rip this guy a new one, but I decided to answer. I asked him if he remembered talking to me last year and hanging up on me. "Why would I do such a stupid thing?" I asked him if he was still sending out the spiral book of testimonials. "Of course." I asked him if he intended to continue sending it out. Then he remembered who I was.

He told me that his attorney told him that it’s perfectly OK to take your phone number and address, and send it to everybody. That’s right! His attorney advised him that once someone types their information into the web, it’s public information. Obviously, I’m not going to bother debating this with him, but if you are emailing a company or person, you clearly expect that to be private. Typing something into a web form doesn’t make that information public. Things on the web aren’t public domain. I’d love to know who his attorney is. The guy could probably get sanctioned for ridiculous advice… assuming he even asked an attorney.

If it’s OK for him to tell everybody your private information, it must be OK for us to tell you who he is. Here’s the contact form I told you about. And in case it wasn’t clear from this post, this is bad marketing. This guy will bury himself if he doesn’t care more about what sounded like loyal customers. He should be protecting them, not whoring them out for his marketing. It comes down to laziness. He can use what they say IF he lets them know on his website that he will, and if he edits out their personal information. But he’s too lazy.

Be very careful of what information you share with people on the web. Look for a privacy statement, disclaimer, terms of service, or legal notice. If there isn’t one, you can’t really be sure what will be done with what you email or fill out.

PS to the guy doing this to his customers: It’s not slander if it’s true. You ARE sending out spiral books with people’s personal information, and you seem quite proud about it. Surely you won’t mind the free publicity I’m giving you here. :)

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Categories: That's Bad Marketing

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