Weblogs Explode, Get More Press

See Wired News today. I’d quibble with the assertion that content is king on the Net, which has yet to be proved, but it’s a good piece otherwise.

More Bad News from the Privacy Front

I’ve been making it a point lately to test the privacy features of Web sites and other kinds of interactions I have with businesses. I do this both because I want to guard my own privacy, and to collect data for this journal.

The latest news is, I’m not surprised to say, the usual dismal stuff.

SkyMall’s Weasely Language

On a plane last week I saw an item in the SkyMall catalog that I wanted to buy. I ordered via the Web site, where the privacy statement says, in part:

If you have made a purchase at skymall.com, registered for one of our affiliated services or benefits programs, or signed up for another special offer or opportunity, we may occasionally update you via email of specific opportunities we feel may be of special interest to you, or we may supply your name to carefully screened companies who we feel may have products or services which will be of interest to you. If you would prefer not to receive notice of such opportunities, simply indicate this during the checkout process: simply make sure the box next to the statement “Please make my name available to carefully screened companies whose products and services may be of interest to me” is not checked.

No such box exists.

Now, there is a box at the beginning of the checkout process that says, “Yes! Please keep me up to date on skymall.com products and services which may be of interest to me.” A SkyMall spokeswoman, who seemed surprised to learn that the language in the “Privacy Statement” didn’t exist as a check-off option, told me that this other box was intended to cover all marketing situations — in other words, if I unchecked it I’d be removed from any third-party solicitations. Yet the actual box makes no mention whatever of third-party companies, a giant loophole that any lawyer could drive a truck through.

The spokeswoman said the site had just been upgraded — “It’s version 3.0,” she said proudly — and that there must have been a mistake somewhere. Uh, huh.

GTE Wireless and the Hoops Routine

I’m shopping for a new mobile phone service, and GTE Wireless seems to have the best deal for me. But when I called the company to inquire about the privacy of the information I was giving up, I got something between a stonewall and runaround.

First, in a GTE store, a salesperson said she could not give me any more information than was on the “standard” contract, which has the usual ambiguous and consumer-unfriendly language. Then I called the company, and was put on hold endlessly as customer-service folks called supervisors to try to get answers to my questions.

I asked how I could ensure that my personal information would not be used for any purpose other than internal record-keeping — that it would not be bartered, sold or otherwise find its way outside GTE. I was told that had to write a letter to a certain department, which would then mail me a form that I could fill out and fax back to be taken off marketing lists.

Okay, I said, just give me the fax number. I’ll fax a request for the form, and save the time of waiting for the Postal Service to deliver a letter that might get conveniently lost by the company. No way, said the “customer service” person — I had to write a letter, even though at some point I’d be faxing the form back to GTE.

It’s obvious that GTE’s system is designed to make people like me so weary of the hassle that we’ll just give up. Then GTE can go about its business of trading our personal information.

I’ll be calling GTE’s public-relations folks for a comment on this minor outrage, and will let you know what they say.


Susan Asher, a spokeswoman for GTE Wireless in Atlanta, says I apparently got misinformation from the customer service department. I didn’t need to fill out a form, and I should have been given the fax number to which I could have simply written an opt-out letter.

That letter would have applied only to what she called internal GTE marketing, according to Asher. “We don’t sell customer information for any purpose,” she said.

I asked if the company hired third-party telemarketers to pitch GTE products or services. Sometimes, she said, but they get specific instructions on what they can do — and must not do — with that information.

But third-party telemarketers have been known to go beyond such instructions. That’s why I always opt out of this kind of thing when possible.

Oh, By the Way, Remember Auto-by-Tel?

Several years ago, Autobytel.com, the online auto sales outfit, violated its privacy statement with an unspecified number of users. I was one. I’d opted out of its third-party marketing stuff, and nonetheless got a credit-card solicitation.

What terrible mistake! said Autobytel.com’s PR person. She said I and others who’d been pitched despite our specific instructions not to be pitched would be getting letters of apology from the company.

I guess that letter got lost in the mail, after the dog ate it.

Microsoft’s Latest Violation

Wired News reports that Microsoft continues to be surprised by the capabilities of the software it writes and sells.

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