Journalism and the Debate over Privacy

By Craig L. Lamay | Go to book overview

6
What's in a Name? Privacy, Property
Rights, and Free Expression in the New
Communications Media*
Jane E. Kirtley
School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota

Reflecting either America's entrepreneurial spirit or perhaps its obsession with litigation as the solution to all society's problems, whether real or imagined, Ram Avrahami devised a plan to get a cut of the profits from the proliferation of massmarketing and address-swapping schemes in which many companies engage. 1 Beginning in 1991, Avrahami altered the spelling of his name in 19 different ways when ordering goods and services from various direct marketers. 2 For example, Avrahami purposefully misspelled his name on his subscription application to U. S. News and World Report by replacing the m in his name with an n.3

Avrahami's usual practice was to contact the mail-order companies he ordered from and to ask them not to include his name in mailing lists. 4 He also contacted the Mail Preference Service (MPS), a free service that helps individuals “opt out” of direct marketing. 5 However, Avrahami forgot to contact MPS again with his new personal information after he moved from Virginia to Kansas.

Like many companies, U. S. News offered its subscribers' mailing lists for sale, charging approximately $80 per 1,000 subscribers. 6 Before a sale, U. S. News would have MPS compare its “opt out” list against the magazine's list and suppress any subscribers'names and addresses who appeared on the MPS list. 7 Mail Preference Service's case-sensitive matching program did not suppress Avrahami's name because the names and addresses on each list were different. Avrahami subsequently received solicitations for “Ram Avrahani” from the Smithsonian Magazine, the American Heart Association, the Missions Group, and the Gospel Mission. 8

____________________
*
The author gratefully acknowledges the research assistance of Oliver Kim, J. D. 2000, University of Minnesota, and Kirsten Murphy, J. D. candidate 2003, University of Minnesota.

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