Resisting Databases

Nowadays, supporting a database is cheap. Computer storage is cheap, too. This gives companies an opportunity to collect more and more information about us. If you think, as I do, that this is an invasion of your privacy, here are some ways to resist.

When you buy something over the Internet or through a catalog, they ask for both your email address and telephone number. They may need a way to contact you in case something happens with your order, but they do not need both. When you are ordering online and their default contact is by email, they do not need your phone number. If the website requires your phone number, you can put in a fake number. Of course, you are a nice person and do not want to provide some innocent soul’s phone number instead of yours. Here is the perfect solution. Put the number 555-5555 as your home number with any area code.

The phone numbers of the format 555-xxxx are reserved for the movie industry. That is, if Hugh Grant calls Julia Roberts in a movie, there would be hundreds of bored or not very smart people who would try to call the same number Hugh dialed hoping to talk to Julia Roberts. For these situations, the movie industry reserves all the numbers of the form 555-xxxx. This way they guarantee that all of these fans will not bother a real person. So you can use these numbers without any guilt.

If you are ordering by phone, they might see your number on the caller ID. In this case, you can always say that you do not have an email address. You can also use a one-time email address offered through Sneakmail or AddressGuard at Yahoo.

Store shopping cards also scare me very much. When you use your store shopping card, they know exactly what and when and in what amounts you are buying. If you do not want anyone to know that you are buying 100 Tylenol pills a month, do not use your store card, and consider paying cash.

My friend Sam Steingold suggested I try card swapping. You have a CVS card and your friend has a CVS card — you can swap them. CVS’s database will register that you quit buying Tylenol in Boston, but started buying cigarettes in Atlanta. If you continue swapping, CVS’s database will be totally confused. The good part of this idea is that if someone tries to hold your purchases against you, you have a way to prove that you are not responsible.

The disadvantage of card swapping, is that for the transition time you lose targeted coupons. Your friend in Atlanta will get all the Tylenol coupons he doesn’t need. But you still will be able to buy sale items with discounts.

Here’s what I did – I put another last name on my CVS card. They didn’t notice. If they were to notice, I would have told them that I am in process of changing my last name to my newly acquired husband’s last name and would ask for newlyweds’ coupons.

Sometimes when you buy things, they ask you for your phone number at the cash register. It is even worse than shopping cards. They have your information on file without giving you your discounts. Just remember: you can always refuse. Or if you’re not comfortable refusing, let us all agree to give the same number: (area code)-555-5555. Let their analysts wonder why the same person is buying morning-sickness pills in one store and condoms in another.


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