They’re Coming To Sell You: Marketers have the goods on you. What can you do about it?

Not long ago the government began requiring businesses to state what they do with information they gather from consumers. Our bank sent me its privacy policy in the mail. I read the microscopic print in the pamphlet and was not happy with what it said: Our personal information would be shared with third-party companies for marketing. If I didn’t want them to do this, I had to check the appropriate box on a form, tear it off and mail it in-at my own expense.

I believe this situation should be reversed. The presumption should be that I do not want the personal information I shared with the bank to be available to anyone other than the appropriate bank personnel. The bank should have those who don’t mind their privacy being violated check the box on their "postage-paid" card and mail it back in. Of course, the bank would never do this because it wants to sell our information and is hoping that most people won’t bother to read or mail back the form.

America Online (AOL) is another prime example of this same technique, although no postage stamp is required to stop them from sharing information. Again the presumption is that you want marketing materials sent to you unless you turn the spigot off. In order to do this on AOL, click on the "Settings" menu and choose "Marketing." (A note will appear telling you this is to "control how AOL notifies you about special offers.") Now you will see the following marketing options: U.S. Mail from Other Organizations, U.S.Mail from AOL, Telephone, E-Mail and Pop-Up. Click on each of these marketing areas. Choose the option not to receive marketing offers in each category. Nowwe hopeyou will receive less junk mail at home and spam in your e-mail.

All of us are bombarded by advertising via mail, telephone and e-mail. I have to throw away at least one pre-approved credit card offer almost every day. Where do they get our names? If you’ve ordered from a catalog, contributed to a charity (except ushint, hint) used a credit card or started a magazine subscription, your name probably appears on various marketing lists. Direct marketers rent these lists to businesses looking for prospects who fit your "purchasing profile."

To get off some mailing lists, you can register at the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Web site at dmaconsumers.org/cgi/offmailinglistdave. If you do so online, you’ll have to pay a $5 feebut by mail it’s free. This will allow you to "opt out" of national mailing lists. It takes about three months to see results and your name will stay on file for five years.

Telephone advertising has become automated and more annoying. Have you ever picked up the phone, said hello and received no response? So you say hello a couple of more times. Finally, you hang up. The reason nobody answered is that an automated system dialed your number, recognized that you were home, but had no human operator available to talk to you because the sales people were busy talking to others. However, some companies have taken this a step further. I have received an automated marketing voice message after the automated dialer recognized my human voice on the other end.

At a conference I attended recently, a businessman wondered how various advertisers got his email address. Now certainly you directly expose your e-mail address to marketers when you sign up for or buy, anything online. However, marketers have ways of getting your e-mail address indirectly. Web bots (or "bots") can be used to scour Web pages across the Internet, harvesting e-mail addresses as they go. Whenever an e-mail address appears either in the text of a Web page or in a "mail to" link, it can be harvested.

Look at Email Hunter being advertised at www.massmailsoftware.com/mailutilities for an example of cheap software being sold to do just that. So it’s no wonder that one-third of all e-mails are ads. Fortunately, you can at least "opt out" of some direct advertising also with the DMA. Go to dmaconsumers.org/optoutform_emps.shtml and submit up to three e-mail addresses for free. They will stay on file for two years. You should see results in a couple of months.

Credit bureaus can share your information or use it for promotional purposes. To find out how to "opt out" of this, go to the Federal Trade Commission’s "Sharing Your Personal Information: It’s Your Choice" Web page at ftc.gov/privacy/protect.htm. You’ll find a wealth of information on the privacy issue, including the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule, at ftc.gov/privacy.

It is very difficult to remain anonymous in today’s computer society. But I hope you can at least "opt out" of some of your private information being shared with others. I have recently been receiving an e-mail advertisement from an online dating service encouraging me to sign up to meet that "special other person." They are going to have some stiff competition: As a consecrated religious, I have already met that someone specialJesus Christ.

Monthly Web Picks

For this month’s Web picks, I’m going to try to spare you all those Christmas cards.

Now that I have your interest, why not check out All-Yours Greeting Cards at all-yours.net? Why give Hallmark all that money and spend all that postage when you can e-mail a very nice Christmas card? Select a card and then customize it, all onlineyou can even include music.

The Divine Word Fathers offer free Holy eCards at svd-ca.com/design/cards.html. I sent my niece one for her birthday with water java effects and Ave Maria background music. She was deeply touched. Besides the usual Christmas cards with background music, the Divine Word Fathers have taken it a step furtherreally impressive 3D cards with special light effects.

Liturgical Publications of St Louis offers Multimedia Holy Cards at catholic-forum.com (Click on the "Send a Holy Card" that appears near the top). I found the cards for different weeks of Advent particularly interesting. I never thought of sending out Advent cards. You can add Java effects such as a waving flag, reflections shimmering in a lake or a flashing neon marquee.

The Young Adult Planning and Advisory Council at members.aol.com/yapac/index.html offers free electronic postcards. You will find the standard options for choices there. And you just might want to learn what the group is all about, besides.

St. Anthony’s Messenger Press puts out Catholic Greetings at catholicgreetings.org. You will get a Christmas saying, but stripped downno fancy bells or whistles like you find at the sites mentioned above. Very Franciscan.

Brother John Raymond welcomes
e-mail at john@aplusconsultingnow.com.

He is author of Catholics on the Internet: 2000-2001,
Webmaster of www.monkofadoration.org