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ZIP Codes? Are They Kidding? Unfortunately, No

03/08/11

By Ken Magill

And for the latest piece of evidence that intellect and common sense aren’t requirements for becoming a judge, look no further than a ruling a month ago in California that ZIP codes are personally identifiable pieces of information and, therefore, illegal to collect during retail credit card transactions.

Anyone who shops bricks-and-mortar retail knows cashiers routinely ask for customers’  ZIP codes. Now in California, the practice is illegal for no good reason.

Moreover, in an eye-searing act of white-hot judicial brilliance, the judges made their ruling retroactive, greasing the skids for a slew of predictable class action lawsuits—106 so far, according to the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

That’s 106 exercises in pointless, economic self mutilation—and 106 commerce-maiming attacks on tax-paying, people-employing retailers—over incidents of no discernable harm.

Take, for example, the following:

According to attorney M. Scott Koller, CIPP, of McKennon Schindler: “In 2008, Jessica Pineda visited a Williams-Sonoma store in California. While making her purchase, the cashier asked for her  ZIP code but did not tell her what the information would be used for. Thinking the information was necessary to complete the transaction, Pineda provided the information. Later, using specialized computer software, Williams-Sonoma conducted a ‘reverse lookup’ and was able to determine Pineda’s previously unknown mailing address by matching her name and ZIP code in a third-party database. This information was then stored in Williams-Sonoma’s own database for use in direct-mail marketing campaigns. Pineda learned of this and filed a class-action lawsuit, alleging that the store's conduct violated the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act (Credit Card Act) and Business and Professions Code section 17200 et seq.”

Prediction: Williams-Sonoma will settle. Pineda will get all of about $12 and her lawyers will get millions for performing the public service of tying up a court in an effort to protect people from retailers using ZIP codes to direct market more effectively.

And every dollar Williams-Sonoma forks over to these legal leeches will be a dollar not spent on growing its business.

I was about to write: “Unbelievable.” But this is completely believable. Nothing is too preposterous when it comes to so-called privacy advocates’ increasingly brazen and ridiculous attacks on marketing. They hate marketing and will stop at nothing to cripple its practitioners, economic consequences be damned.

And trust me when I tell you they know damn well they’re not protecting anyone from anything. They simply hate capitalism and use consumer protection as a ruse to hide their true intentions—intentions that defy common sense.

The Song-Beverly Credit Card Act of 1971 was originally passed to protect consumers from dumpster-diving thieves looking for carbon copies of credit-card slips that often contained credit card numbers.

Fair enough. But as a result of a California court’s recent ruling—a 7-0 decision demonstrating breathtakingly unanimous judicial idiocy—the law has been twisted into an anti-marketing, retroactive obscenity that allows unscrupulous vultures to prey on retailers who, previous to the decision, were acting within the law as they understood it.

Question for Californians: How fiscally bad do things have to get before your collective head comes out of your ass?

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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Bill
Date: 2011-03-18 19:35:18
Subject: Californian

We're happy with our head where it is, thank you.

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