Saturday, May 23, 2015

Radio Shack shows no company values privacy

By Frank Moraes


Have you read the privacy policy at my blog Frankly Curious? I’m assuming not, because there isn’t one. But if there were one, I can promise you this: I would have really meant it when I wrote it. I’m like Google: I do my best not to be evil — as long as it doesn’t inconvenience me much. But if I had a bunch of your private information, and I could sell it and retire in Paris (or even Canada), I would have a policy change. You would probably think that I was a jerk, but I would be justified in thinking that you were an idiot for believing me. For one thing: you didn’t even know that I didn’t have a privacy policy! If I did, I would doubtless have put something in it to allow me to weasel out of it.

Okay, maybe not. I pride myself on standing for something. Just the same, I have my price. I wouldn’t murder someone just to spend my evenings in cafes drinking Burgundy, but giving your contact information so that some company could sell you things is not the same. If someone offered me a more reasonable (but still unrealistically large) amount of money, like $1,000, I wouldn’t do it. I already have a hard enough time living with myself; I don’t need that on my conscience. So you are safe. More or less.

But given that privacy policies are apparently not legally binding, one might wonder why companies have them. The reason, I think, is because they are evil. They don’t know what they are going to do with all the personal information they have, but they know that it might be helpful to have it. At some point, it might be worth a lot of money. And then it is Burgundy Time, my friends! (How ever they may define that.) And then they just change that policy and sell out. Go team!

The reason I bring this up is because Radio Shack just announced that because of its bankruptcy, it is selling all of our personal information for $26 million. If you are as old as I am, you may remember that you simply could not go into a Radio Shack and purchase a half foot of wire without providing them with your full name and address. Really, the next time an employer wants to know where I’ve lived the last ten years (and increasingly, they all do), I should just refer them to Radio Shack. Or rather, Standard General, the company that is buying Radio Shack’s rotten corpse.

As Michael Hiltzik noted, Radio Shack made a very big deal out of their commitment to the personal data that the company collected on upwards of 120 million of us:

“We will not sell or rent your personally identifiable information to anyone at any time,” the chain stated on its website. At the checkout registers in its stores, a placard read: “At RadioShack, we respect your privacy… We pride ourselves on not selling our private mailing list.”

They did pride themselves on that! And now that they did exist, they don’t need no stinking pride. They need money to pay their creditors. And these creditors aren’t little people like are in their data files; they are rich people; you know, people who matter. Hiltzik joked that Radio Shack is like Captain Corcoran inHMS Pinafore, for whom “never” means “hardly ever.” But I’m afraid that is too generous a description of the company. Radio Shack valued customer privacy exactly up to the point where it didn’t.

The government doesn’t care. “Privacy Ombudsman” Elise Frejka decided that it was okay for Radio Shack to sell the data because it “is not of a sensitive nature.” One has to wonder, however, if that’s the case, why did Radio Shack make such a big deal out of collecting it? Also, it seems to me that it provides enormous amounts of personal data about shopping patterns. Regardless, if it is such banal data, why is it worth $26 million?

My only advice is to not trust anyone. And that is impossible in this modern world. We are supposed to have a government to protect us from such things. But in America, the government just facilitates whatever the rich want. The only solution if for us to take control of the government. I’m not hopeful about that.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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