Archive for March 28th, 2011
Meet Rapleaf. Here’s what Rapleaf says about itself
Rapleaf is a San Francisco-based startup with an ambitious vision: we want every person to have a meaningful, personalized experience – whether online or offline. We want you to see the right content at the right time, every time. We want you to get better, more personalized service. To achieve this, we help Fortune 2000 companies gain insight into their customers, engage them more meaningfully, and deliver the right message at the right time. We also allow consumers to easily view and manage their Rapleaf profiles.
Now before you go all gushy about such a noble purpose, WC wants you to understand what this means: Rapleaf, and companies like it, purchase from Fred Meyer, Safeway and companies like them, complete records of everything you buy there. Not just what you buy, but your home address, telephone number and everything else you put on the application when you obtained your “Rewards” card. For a very modest rebate to you, you’ve agreed those companies can collect information about each of your purchases, every single one. And sell that information to anyone they want.
In their public products, companies like Rapleaf ”anonymize” the data, file most of the serial numbers off, if you will. That lets them do clever stuff like compare the snack food buying habits of employees at Google and Microsoft. But there’s no requirement that outfits like Rapleaf “anonymize” the data before selling it to anyone.
In less public products, not so much. Need proof? Read about Linda Twombly of Nashua, N.H.
Then there are court proceedings. So you are in a child custody dispute with your former spouse? Why not subpoena from Safeway a record of all purchases in the last 12 months. My, my; look at all that gin.
Or employment applications. An applicant for school teacher has an unusual taste in magazines. Or buys a lot of condoms, for a single man.
Or health insurance: Hey Clyde, cut back on the Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, or we’ll cancel your health coverage.
Think WC is being paranoid? Ask Phillip Lyons of Tukwila, Washington. He was charged with arson based on supermarket purchases that he made with his Safeway Club Card. Police investigators discovered that his Club Card was used to buy fire starters of the same type used in the arson attempt. He was innocent, but he was placed on unpaid administrative leave for five months while the investigation was under way.
And the “savings” for selling your personal privacy can be largely illusory; to subsidize the customer loyalty programs, stores sometimes simply raise prices across the board and then discount back to the usual markup.
It’s unclear whether this is lawful under Alaska’s Constitution.
But as WC’s readers know, WC doesn’t advise his readers. WC’s goal is to inform. And WC certainly isn’t suggesting you lie on your loyalty card application. But make certain you get a good price for your privacy, okay?