Sadly, the few times that our industry (direct marketing, data, lists) makes the news is when something bad happens. See "Direct Magazine's" article: Two-Million-Plus Names Stolen Data from Fidelity National Information Services.
Apparently a disgruntled (or just greedy) database admin decided that he, too, could get into the data business. He took a copy of 2.2 million Fidelity customers and sold the file to a direct marketing company/list broker. He was caught, fired and the data was recovered.
The original story reported over the last couple of days was that sensitive financial info was taken (not simply name and address). Did this ever make the bloggers fume, lashing out at everyone from the government to big business to (of course) junk mailers. Now it turns out that the stolen data only consisted of basic name/address info (still not a good thing, of course).
But the message I saw all over the Internet was that no one should EVER give their name and address out, or something really bad would happen to you. Identity theft, fraud, spying, etc. etc. Of course, all of these things CAN happen in today's information-rich times.
But, it's much more likely, for example, that the waiter who takes your credit card for dinner will sell that info to his friend than it is that a mail order company will jeopardize your private information. The mail order company understands that they need customers to stay in business...
Regardless, I believe that in these times, the onus is on direct marketers to be extremely sensitive to customer privacy. We need to make sure that each time we collect and use a piece of data that there is a valid benefit to the consumer. We shouldn't collect and store data just because we CAN collect that data.
And, as consumers, we should guard our personal data. We all know not to carry around our Social Security Cards. We make sure that the website we're ordering from is a reputable one, before we ever give out payment. We're onto the phishing scams and would never send any money to a strange African country, regardless of the huge payout promised.
But, there are times when it's very much in our best interest for businesses to understand things about us. When an airline remembers that you prefer an aisle seat, that's a good thing, right? Or, if your favorite restaurant sends you a free birthday dinner coupon, you're happy, correct?
Again, it all comes down to the fact that the stored data absolutely must bring value to the consumer or it needs to be deleted from the database. Yes, it is that simple :)