We didn’t exactly say nice things about Lotus MarketPlace:Households the last time we wrote about it several weeks ago. It seems now that even more dirt has surfaced. Lotus won’t give you your information, so you can’t check to make sure it is correct, and even if you could, there is no way to fix them. We don’t know if they’ve pressed the CD-ROM yet, but if not, there’s no reason why they can’t correct the data. Based on this policy, some have wondered whether or not Lotus will remove you from the database if you ask, or if you will just be marked "Don’t Use" in the Comments field. Yes, that’s right, there’s a Comments field that Lotus could use to include arbitrary data. Doesn’t that make you feel warm and fuzzy? Of course, if you are marked "Don’t Use," that should prevent your name from showing up in any searches. My fear is that a good cracker could break the protection scheme – anything that is not physically protected can be cracked eventually – and in doing so, also gain access to the names that should have been omitted. My mailbox and I are worried.
There were some logical conclusions that we hadn’t drawn but which are relatively obvious. If you can search on age, gender, marital status, income, and dwelling type, what’s to prevent an enterprising swindler from targeting unmarried elderly women? The technologically-capable cat burglar (or more aptly "mouse burglar") could identify targets based on income, dwelling type, and age. Lotus says that they will check potential customers against a "fraud list," but it’s all too easy to be legitimate for a short period of time, or even to steal a complete CD-ROM setup from a legitimate business. This is scary stuff, considering that while such information has been available, it has never been available to so many at such a low price.
Almost as damaging as privacy issues are accuracy issues. If Lotus will neither correct information nor release it for individual checking, extremely damaging errors could occur. PC WEEK tested MarketPlace:Business and found a number of typos and other inaccuracies. (They also were unimpressed with the way MarketPlace ran on the Mac, requiring MultiFinder, but refusing to allow any other programs to run concurrently.) One way, albeit an expensive one, for Lotus to allay fears about the accuracy of the data (remember that businesses are purchasing this disc based on the accuracy of the data; otherwise it’s of no use) would be to send a letter to every person on the disc asking them to return any corrections or requests to be omitted. Lotus will never do it, of course, because of the expense (even at the bulk mail rate of 16.7[cts], it would cost them over $20 million to reach the 120 million people on the list) and because a large percentage of people would refuse to be listed, thus seriously diminishing the appeal of MarketPlace:Households.
What I don’t understand about the entire issue is, why Lotus? Lotus is a relatively respected software company known almost entirely for 1-2-3. Admittedly, they do own one of the better CD-ROM searching programs, Bluefish, but it only works on PC-clones, while MarketPlace runs on Macs under HyperCard. Selling mailing lists is a switch from selling 1-2-3, and I can’t imagine that Lotus is completely prepared to move from being a provider of information-creating tools to a provider of the information itself. It is a different business, and one Lotus has to learn from scratch. Why should Lotus wish to enter that business? It’s not something that people are fond of or want to support on an individual level, and Lotus can’t afford to become the Snidely Whiplash of the computer industry to an even greater extent. Winning the look-and-feel suit against Paperback Software (is Paperback thus guilty of being touchy-feely?) won Lotus no friends in the computer industry and catering to the bogeyman of direct marketing will do no better.
We’ve come across some more complete contact information for Lotus, so please, let them know if you don’t want to be included. Telling them of your feelings about having your name, address, gender, etc., available for sale is worthwhile as well. It makes me feel like I’ve been vaguely prostituted. So call the Pre-sales Department and ask to be removed. Alternately, write to the address below. Sending a copy or three of your letter to Jim Manzi (the head of Lotus) at the same Cambridge address might make clear to him how irritating it can be to receive mail that you didn’t ask for.
Lotus Pre-sales Dept. — 800/343-5414 — 617/577-8500
Lotus Development Corp.
Atten: Market Name Removal Service
55 Cambridge Parkway
Cambridge, MA. 02139
PC WEEK — 07-Jan-91, Vol. 8, #1, pg. 29
Wall Street Journal — 13-Nov-90, pg. B1