Monday, May 23, 2005

Don't worry!

Your personal information is perfectly safe with us. We have privacy rules. Just read our customer agreement for the details. Your privacy is important to us!
AP, May 23 - More than 100,000 customers of Wachovia Corp. and Bank of America Corp. have been notified that their financial records may have been stolen by bank employees and sold to collection agencies.
About 60,000 Bank of America customers and 48,000 of Wachovia are affected so far; a Wachovia spokeswoman admitted they are still getting additional names from police so the number may well go higher.

The theft of the records came to light when police in Hackensack, NJ, arrested nine people in a plot to steal customer records that also involved Commerce Bank and PNC Bank.

And so four more corporate names get added to the growing list of outfits that have seen personal information they keep on us lost, stolen, or hacked, a list that also includes, among other recent entries, MCI, ChoicePoint, LexisNexis, DSW Shoe Warehouse, and California State University at Chico.

Remember, the best way to safeguard your personal information is not to give it out. Anytime anyone wants to know something about you, insist that they justify the need before you supply it. "That's the way we file it" is not an answer; their convenience is not a justification.

Footnote: One thing for which I will never forgive the Stop'n'Shop supermarket chain is that, as far as I personally was aware, they were the first to adopt those outrageous "favored customer" cards, or whatever a given outfit calls the suckers. Those are those cards you have to have nowadays in order to get sale or discount prices. They're supposed to make you feel special, like you're getting preferred treatment - unless, that is, you recall that those discounts used to be available to anyone. Which means that you have given away the personal information you supplied to get the card and gained precisely nothing in return. Yes, you have avoided losing something - access to sale prices - but that's hardly the same.

What gets me about the cards is that the stores will insist that they don't track individual purchases but only aggregates: There is, they will tell you, no file with your name on it. But if that's true, why do they need the personal information in the first place? Aggregate information can easily be gathered from the registers. "Personalized coupons" can be determined based on the particular order being checked out without need for any personal data and if they are based on more than that one order it belies the claim you are not be tracked as an individual. So far as I can see the only logical reason to want that information is to have marketable data on you and your purchasing habits to sell to information brokers with the result that what they know about you gets spread around.

You want proof of that last assertion? Apparently realizing how many people provide fake information in applying for the cards, supermarkets are increasingly demanding that you show ID - and in a few cases, a picture ID - in order to get the flippin' things. I ask again: If you are not being tracked individually, of what use is that information?

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