What happened to not sharing my information?

One of the big questions I have after the Epsilon breach is "who the hell is Epsilon and why did they have my email address?"

The notifications are still trickling in from companies impacted by the data breach at Epsilon. I have received two. My wife has received four. I have heard some people have received notifications from as many as six different companies letting them know their personal data might have been exposed in the Epsilon breach. The inevitable question is: why did Epsilon have your data in the first place?

I never gave my email address, or any other information to Epsilon. I never even heard of Epsilon before last week. As far as I am concerned, I have no relationship with Epsilon, and Epsilon has no business storing my email address in the first place.

Randy Abrams, Director of Technical Education for ESET, says that all of these organizations could have avoided being involved in this Epsilon debacle had they just adhered to a privacy policy that demonstrates more respect for their customers. "If their privacy policy says that they will not share your email address with any third parties, then it should mean exactly that. I suspect that in at least some, if not most cases, the customers had privacy policies with wording to that effect, but shared the email addresses with the third party company Epsilon."

I'm a little jaded, though. I don't invest a lot of time studying privacy policies for two reasons. First, the privacy policy at Chase Bank is not going to be fundamentally different than the privacy policy at Bank of America, or Wells Fargo, or BBVA Compass, or any other financial institution. I am more or less hostage to whatever privacy policy the banks put forth. Second, the rules change too frequently to keep up with. It seems like not a month goes by that I don't get an "updated privacy policy" in the mail from some company I do business with.

As it happens Chase is actually very up front about the fact that it does not respect my privacy. In fact, Chase states that violating my privacy is a necessity of doing business. The Chase Privacy Policy states, "All financial companies need to share customers' personal information to run their everyday business," and even states up front that the information shared may include my Social Security number, account balance, transaction history, or credit history. Awesome!

Some of the sharing is opt out and can be limited by the customer -- just not most of it. The Chase Privacy Policy explains that for its everyday business purposes, for its marketing purposes, for the purpose of joint marketing with other financial companies, and even for its affiliates' everyday business purposes my personal information is fair game for sharing and I have no choice in the matter. Seriously?

Perhaps I should take solace in the statement from Chase that, "The security of your information is a critical priority to us and we strive to handle it carefully at all times."

Or, perhaps I should reject that statement as ludicrous since it came as a part of an email notifying me that because Chase didn't treat the security of my information as a critical priority, and did not handle that information carefully it is now compromised.

I am picking on Chase, but I am sure the same holds true for the other companies that do business with Epsilon. I don't really need Chase to send me marketing emails. So, I don't have much sympathy for Chase, or respect for its claims to value the security of my personal information, when the stark reality indicates a much more cavalier attitude.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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