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The importance of paying attention to the legalese

Submitted by on Sunday, 8 March 2009 2 Comments

I am notorious for glossing over legal-looking documents that land in my mail box.

I’m not “oh, crap, I didn’t know the adjustable rate mortgage was going to adjust that high” negligent, but I’ve been known to miss a few “offer you can’t refuse” credit card interest rate adjustments.

Adjustments: Don’t you just love that term? As if anyone ever adjusts down. And as if card-holders can afford to pay off their accounts in time to opt out, particularly in this economy.

So even if I’d actually received Verizon’s “Customer Proprietary Network Information Notice” in the mail, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have noticed. The fact that both my Verizon bills are electronic means I didn’t even have the chance to shred and ignore, but more on that later.

According to a post on slashdot, those who did receive the notice have 45 days to opt out of Verizon’s plan to share personal data with “affiliates, agents and parent companies.”

What does that include? According to readwriteweb.com, it encompasses “services purchased (including specific calls you make and receive), billing info, technical info and location info”

I can’t quite hear you now, Verizon. Are you telling me that anyone who becomes an “affiliate” and any company that’s an agent or parent company of that affiliate will be able get a list of everyone I call? That’s certainly what it sounds like.

It gets even better.

According to Harvard Internet law expert David Weinberger, who appears to be the first to have posted the details about the Verizon notice, you practically need a computer forensics expert to find the notice if your bill is electronic.

Try signing onto your account and clicking on “messages.” You’ll find it listed, but with a dead link.

While he was on hold for eight minutes with Verizon customer service, Weinberger finally moused his way onto the secret hiding place. “Click on the My Profile tab in My Verizon, then click on Phone Controls, and there you will conveniently find the link. It’s just that simple!” he wrote on his blog.

It’s sort of that simple. The link still is hard to spot once you’re on your account. I finally was able to navigate there by signing onto my Verizon accounts, then going back and clicking on the link Weinberger provided.

One click later, there was one less person whose data Verizon was able to sell.

Really, this whole thing is getting tiresome. I don’t want grocery stores spitting out diaper coupons a year after my children all are potty-trained, and I don’t want the government forcing phone companies to keep my records for two years so officials can poke around in them.

Under the new Verizon plan, of course, the poking wouldn’t be limited to officials. It also would spread to “affiliates, agents and parent companies.”

At the risk of sounding like Gary Hart, go ahead, follow me. I have nothing to hide.

OK, let me rephrase that. I have nothing much to hide. I did sneak behind the guys’ back and devour a forbidden chocolate muffin tonight after they’d gone to bed. But I don’t think the feds or Verizon’s affiliates would find that very interesting.

But just because I have nothing to hide doesn’t mean private or public interests should be able to prod around in the corners of my life.

I’m thrilled that Weinberger helped me stop them this time, and I swear this is the last time I will have to learn my lesson about reading the fine print.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Lora said:

    Wow. Totally obscure Gary Hart reference. I love it!

  • Debra said:

    He he he. Glad someone appreciated it! I hesitated before I threw that one out there, Lora. But I figured I’d let the young’uns Google it.