K-Y-M-O

Other People’s Stuff

 

It’s pretty obvious to me that things just aren’t what they used to be. I know that as I get older I’m tending to be less tolerant of the endless examples of annoying behavior exhibited by people I encounter daily. Is it because I am mirroring the stereotypical curmudgeonly traits of advanced retirement, or is there just more annoying behavior to get under my skin?

One thing I know for sure is that there is an expanding wave of utter disrespect for the sanctity of Other People’s Stuff. As a child, I can’t count the number of times I was told “That’s not yours, don’t touch that!” or “Leave other people’s stuff alone.”

Apparently, today, that axiom has faded from our society. I see it in small ways, like yesterday at the Costco, when a flock of children shopping with their unconcerned elders chanced upon a sectional couch on display. Immediately, one of the younger kids ran up, climbed over the back of the couch and flipped herself lengthwise onto the cushions. Of course, two of the others followed suit. The first one, jumped up and ran along the curved cushions of the sectional chased by the other and climbed up on and jumped off the arm of the recliner at the far end. Of course, this was accompanied by peals of laughter and shrieking joy. What was not in evidence was even the slightest sign of disapproval from their parents.

Somehow, the boundaries between what is mine and what is public have not just become blurred, they have disappeared. Or perhaps more accurately, they still exist, it’s just that no one respects them anymore. Handbill distributors think it’s perfectly OK to trudge across my landscaping, so they can hang their detritus off my front door knob. One recently walked past, inches from a bedroom window, on his way from my front door to my neighbor’s instead of taking the long way, down the sidewalk to the street. Recently, two young bucks took the liberty of walking up my long driveway and carefully examining the windshields of my parked cars in the hopes that they could ring my doorbell and sell me a windshield repair. Alerted by my security cameras, I watched them lean over the fenders, walk around each car, and give it scrutiny. For all I know, they were looking for an unlocked door. When I confronted them, they were actually surprised that I was upset. When I found out that, additionally, they didn’t even have a proper solicitation permit, I had the sheriff escort them out of town. What ever happened to “private property?”

But on a larger scale, a recent event is what prompted this article and I hope that it spurs some of you to action. A recent real estate transaction has required the services of a Title Company. Some states do this differently, but here, they do the paperwork and ostensibly guarantee that everything is in order. They electronically sent me 24 pages of minutia to fill out, requiring the most intimate details of my identity, such as, of course, name, address, all my phone numbers, bank account and routing number, social security number, birth date, and signatures; many, many signatures. Not just from me, but from my spouse too.

One of the pages they sent was their “Privacy Policy,” which includes the following statement;

Use of Information

 

We request information from you for our own legitimate business purposes and not for the benefit of any nonaffiliated party.  Therefore, we will not release your information to nonaffiliated parties except: (1) as necessary for us to provide the product or service you have requested of us; or (2) as permitted by law.  We may, however, store such information indefinitely, including the period after which any customer relationship has ceased.  Such information may be used for any internal purpose, such as quality control efforts or customer analysis.  We may also provide all of the types of nonpublic personal information listed above to one or more of our affiliated companies.  Such affiliated companies include financial services providers, such as title insurers, property and casualty insurers, and trust and investment advisory companies, or companies involved in real estate services, such as appraisal companies, home warranty companies, and escrow companies.  Furthermore, we may also provide all information we collect, as described above, to companies that perform marketing services on our behalf, on behalf of our affiliated companies, or to other financial institutions with whom we or our affiliated companies have joint marketing agreements.  

Even if you are no longer our customer, our Privacy Policy will continue to apply.

The highlights are mine.

Now, in case you missed it because your eyes glazed over in the midst of the legalese, let me break it down a bit for you. It starts out telling me something I would logically expect: They need a bunch of very sensitive identifying information in order to do their job, (legitimate business purposes) and that they won’t use it or give it away except for the purpose of actually getting the specific job done. (Or, if the cops come with a warrant.)

To me, that should be the end of it, but as they say, ooooohhhh, noooooo!

Then, the start to water it down a bit: Once we have the information, we are going to hold on to it and store it FOR EVER! Yes, “including the period after which any customer relationship has ceased.” That’s because we might need it for such important purposes as “quality control,” or “customer analysis.” As a matter of fact, we can use your sensitive personally identifying information for “ANY internal purpose.” FOR EVER! ANY PURPOSE! They can print copies and use them to line the canary’s cage, or as place-mats at the Christmas party. Or, they can fold a copy to brace up the leg of a wobbly table in the cafeteria. ANY internal purpose.

OK, “internal purposes.” After all, they are a Title Company. They deal with tons of sensitive financial information, and one could logically expect that they know how to keep your stuff locked up inside their business. Maybe that’s OK. Maybe. (ask Home Depot or Equifax)

But then, they further piled on my doubts because they jump right into telling me that they are reserving the right to SHARE the whole detailed file they have compiled on me with “one or more of our affiliated companies.”  The list is broad too, including: “financial services providers, such as title insurers, property and casualty insurers, and trust and investment advisory companies, or companies involved in real estate services, such as appraisal companies, home warranty companies, and escrow companies. Who knows how big their list of “affiliates” really is? How broad is the range of “financial service providers”? Does that include pay-day lenders, for instance? And, isn’t “We Buy Ugly Houses” in the “real estate services” business? I already get 5 calls and 3 letters a week from companies that want to “buy my house for cash, no closing costs, you don’t have to do a thing to it” for just $40K under market. Thanks!

But wait! There’s more!

Actually, this is the coup-de-grace, the denouement, the coda:Furthermore, we may also provide all information we collect, as described above, to companies that perform marketing services on our behalf, on behalf of our affiliated companies, or to other financial institutions with whom we or our affiliated companies have joint marketing agreements.”

They reserve the right to give out my file to all their friends and to the friends of their friends FOR MARKETING PURPOSES. REALLY??? Read it again, because it’s hard to believe these words; all the information we collect,” freely given to companies that do marketing on “our behalf,” and “on behalf of our affiliated companies,” and anybody “with whom we or our affiliated companies have marketing agreements.” I suspect that their incestuous family is rather large and growing daily.

“Joint marketing agreements,” is corporate flannel mouth speak for permission to SELL your information to advertisers, marketers, robo-call phone solicitors, and email, direct mail, and text annoyers. Actually, it’s anyone who might pay them a few dollars per file of “qualified, targeted advertising” prospects. And a file this rich, replete with ALL your personal and financial information, social security number, property holdings, credit history, etc. is a tempting prize indeed. The really cool thing for them is that they didn’t really have to work for this treasure trove of information, I HAD to give it to them in order for them to process my paperwork. They only have to collect it from me once, and then they can sell it as many times and to as many companies as they want, making a few more dollars with each sale. It’s the joy of selling “intellectual property.” Unlike selling your old sneakers on Craigslist, once they’re gone, they’re gone. Intellectual property lives forever and selling a copy doesn’t diminish its value.

And as if isn’t way-over-the-top-enough already, they put the icing on this shit cake with the unbelievable statement; “Even if you are no longer our customer, our Privacy Policy will continue to apply.”  We can sell you out until long after we have collected our services fee, after the papers have yellowed with age, and long after you forgotten our name. We can sell you out FOR EVER!

So, naturally, I crossed of the most egregious parts of this “Privacy Policy,” initialed it and submitted my stack of papers accompanied by a letter of strong protest, refusing to grant them such broad permissions. Whether they honor my request or not remains to be seen. But you can be sure I’m going to ask them when I go to the closing.

The Governor of California just signed a broad consumer information protection law that will take effect by 2020. It grants users the right to see exactly what information a company has on file about them and require that they do not share the information with anyone or any company without expressly granted permission. They can request that any company delete their information completely.

It started as a ballot initiative that a computer user like all of us decided to add to the California ballot after reading just such a liberally broad privacy policy as the one above. Having made a few bucks in the California real estate market, he spent $3.5 million to get this initiative on the ballot. The Silicon Valley tech giants initially pledged $110 million to oppose it. Until they realized how badly this would play in the press, that is. Their pledged opposition faded like cheap curtains in a sunny window. They went to Sacramento to seek a compromise and settled for a policy very similar to what they already have to follow in the European Union. Two high points are that this policy doesn’t just apply to internet companies, but to all companies with which consumers interact and share their personal information, and that in the event of a data breach, consumers have the right to sue.

Like California vehicle emissions laws, I suspect that this law will spread nation-wide shortly, especially since it is de rigueur in Europe already.

Maybe this will be the start of a resurgence of respect for Other People’s Stuff. KYMO.  We can only hope.

 

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