Last night, NextMark was featured in part 1 of a story on data privacy by Martin Kaste on National Public Radio‘s All Things Considered program. NextMark’s mailing list search tool was cited as the “Google for mailing lists” which is exactly what it is. It makes it easy to search virtually every mailing list available, with more than 60,000 mailing lists from 1,400 sources in the index.
Unfortunately, they used a search on “bladder” as their example. While I am sure there are certain pharmaceutical applications for this and the people with these problems would like to learn about solutions, it is an unusual example. I wish they picked a better example, but I can understand that it makes for a more interesting story (most mainstream examples would probably be considered boring by radio standards).
Mr. Kaste did a nice job in presenting a balanced story. He pointed out that:
“Reputable firms aren’t just selling this information to anyone [...] you can look at the [NextMark] Web site and see that it’s for sale, but they still want to know more about you before they sell it to you.”
Actually, in NextMark’s world, the technical term is “rent” not “sell” because the buyer does not take possession of the personal data and it can only be used once through a trusted third party service bureau that keeps the name and address data anonymous. Mr. Kaste also presented the positive effects of sharing information through a quote by an expert on best practices in marketing :
“I think when it’s done right, just as with a good friend, sharing personal information makes for a much relevant, meaningful relationship and without that, you’re really just a number.”
This is the crux of the issue.
The story continues with an interesting study by Italian economist Alessandro Acquisti that shows that people are more willing to share highly personal information on “cheesy” websites than on professional sites with well-stated privacy policies. Seems backwards, doesn’t it?
Part 1 concludes with an interview with Chris Hoofnagle of the UC Berkeley School of Law who says, “if consumers knew the extent to which this information was being collected and repackaged, there would be riots in the streets.” Hoofnagle is correct that there are cases where we should be concerned about the methods of gathering and trading of personal information. It’s also important to note that if people knew about the controls that NextMark’s clients employ to ensure privacy, then they would feel much better about sharing information and the relevance it brings to their mailbox (the opposite of “junk mail” and “spam”). Just like in any industry, there are good guys and bad guys. NextMark enables the good guys.
It will be interesting to hear if these controls are discussed in one of NPR’s remaining episodes. If they are not, then I will follow up with another blog post on the topic.
In the meantime, you can listen to part 1 of Online Data Presents a Privacy Minefield on NPR’s website or here:
Please add your reactions and comments below.