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Stupid Media Watch: To This Day, Privacy Zealots Have Bupkis

5/7/13

By Ken Magill

Privacy zealots would be so much more credible in their crusade against data-driven marketing if they could come up with a single case of actual harm.

But they can’t so they make it up.

They substitute rational arguments with what should be laughable what-if scenarios. That is, they would be laughable if people in positions of power would give them the dismissive treatment they deserve.

Our latest should-be-laughable privacy what-if scenario comes to us courtesy of New York Times alarmist Natasha Singer in a blog post headlined: “When Your Data Wanders to Places You’ve Never Been.”

The piece starts with one of Singer’s friends erroneously getting a flier promoting an event in Manhattan for people with multiple sclerosis.

“The thing is that my friend, who requested that I keep her name out of this column, does not have multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system,” wrote Singer.

“But last year, she did search online for information about various diseases, including M.S., on a number of consumer health sites. She also subscribed to an online recommendation engine where she looked up consumer reviews of local physicians.

“Now she wondered whether one of those companies had erroneously profiled her as an M.S. patient and shared that profile with drug-company marketers. She worried about the potential ramifications: Could she, for instance, someday be denied life insurance on the basis of that profile?”

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: The only reason this woman is remotely concerned about being denied life insurance because of an advertising profile she participated in creating is because she’s friends with a privacy zealot who writes for the Times.

Singer spoon fed her that fear.

Anyone else would have instantly connected the flier with the subscription information they supplied online and tossed it in the trash without another thought.

And let’s consider this life-insurance-denial concern. Insurance companies want to write policies—as many as possible. They make money on them.

But let’s concede for the sake of argument that some insurance firm may buy data that has been collected online to use as part of its screening process. Does Singer really think that company would deny someone coverage over one data point?

More likely, the company might use that information to screen out unlikely prospects in outbound marketing. As a result, Singer’s friend might be eliminated from some direct mail campaigns.

Oooh, the horror.

But let’s take this ridiculously unfounded fear one absurd step further.

Say there is a company that would use that one data point to deny coverage. Call it MDICH, Inc., or Most Dumbass Insurance Company in History.

If a company uses such ridiculous criteria to deny coverage, how does Singer think they’ll handle claims? A denial from such a company would be a blessing.

There are all kinds of insurance companies vying for Singer’s friend’s business. And they’re all a phone call, click—or better yet, a broker—away.

The real terrifying part of Singer’s blog post comes in the following sentence:

“I was ruminating on that problem in Washington on Wednesday, when I paid a visit to Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat, who has made consumer privacy one of his signature issues,” she wrote.

Singer’s an alarmist. She’s got an anti-data-driven-marketing agenda. The Times amplifies her voice beyond anything the rest of us has access to. She has access to our political leaders.

That should scare the living crap out of you.

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