USPS’ selling of addresses a privacy concern?

Some days, after a short walk to the mailbox, it seems junk mail is the only thing keeping the United States Postal Service in business.

What do you get when you cross a mailbox with a slot machine?

What do you get when you cross a mailbox with a slot machine?

For years, the cash-strapped agency has provided the addresses of customers to direct-mail marketers, an apparent violation of the federal Privacy Act.

An excellent article in The Washington Times says the USPS privacy policy states: “If you have provided personal information to register or purchase a product or service, we will not use that information to contact you about another product or service unless you have provided express consent.”

Yet, anyone who has ever filled out an official change-of-address form with the post office receives an official-looking change-of-address confirmation letter with the words “verification required” on it, but the envelope is mostly stuffed with ads and coupons.

The Times says it is unclear how anyone who changes their address can opt out of receiving the junk mail, though the aforementioned USPS privacy policy clearly requires it.

Federal agencies aren’t allowed to sell or rent personal information such as names and addresses under the federal Privacy Act, but the USPS just signed a 10-year contract with a Massachusetts company, Imagitas, giving it exclusive rights to manage its change-of-address process. Imagitas sells ads to major retailers, then mails packets stuffed with ads to millions of homes along with the change-of-address letter.

The USPS and Imagitas call the arrangement perfectly legal, and would not reveal financial details of their contract.

Privacy experts blast the arrangement.

“The intent [of the Privacy Act] is to allow citizens control over how their information is used when collected by government agencies,” said John Verdi, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington in the Times article. “In this case, you have a federal agency collecting information for one purpose, forwarding mail, and using it for a wholly different purpose, direct marketing.”

The USPS program also seems to violate what sort of advertising material can be sent to residents. Ads are supposed to be related only to moving, and “social, political, religious” ads are prohibited.

Yet, the Times found a moving packet that included ads for address labels that included passages from the Bible and another stating “What the World Needs is Jesus.”

* Read more at The Washington Times.

10 comments Add your comment

Disinterested

October 13th, 2011
1:52 pm

Blah, Blah, Blah!

Huh?

October 13th, 2011
3:21 pm

Disinterested, for someone so disinterested, you sure did take alot of time reading and commenting. Sounds like someone without a life.

Direct Mail

October 13th, 2011
3:27 pm

I work in direct mail. I do believe that this is a conflict of interest between USPS collecting your info for one thing and using it for another, but believe me, there is no secret to anyone’s address. If an organization doesn’t get it from the USPS, they will get it from someone else (Experian, renting or exchanging with another’s mailer list, or even building their own databases of every household in the America).

The fact that we as mailers are required to bring in the National Change of Address list from the USPS to update our addresses every 90 days means that regardless of whether the USPS gives your address to us or not, the mailers will end up with it. If we don’t NCOA, we can’t mail at a discounted rate – every does it. All they are doing here is what is called a “hotline” list (i.e. moves within the last 30 days, for example) – which is an extremely common option that we can order on any list we get. The USPS is just getting the benefit of it vs a list owner.

There are 100MM households in the U.S. and most of these mailers have been around for years and mail millions & millions of pieces – far more that that 100MM for just ONE organization sometimes. At this point, everyone has access to or already has all the addresses (believe me). Like many things, data collection isn’t the problem, it’s what you do with it. Sorry to burst your bubble, but if they don’t get your address from the USPS, they’ll get it from somewhere else.

Unshashantrell

October 13th, 2011
4:24 pm

Whenever my junk mail includes those postage paid return envelopes I always seal em up and mail em back. That way the USPS gets some business in both directions.

Old Geezer

October 13th, 2011
9:50 pm

As if we needed another reason to hate the USPS.

Synthia Lykken

October 19th, 2011
8:36 pm

Hello there, I found your website by way of Google even as searching for a related topic, your website came up, it seems great. I’ve bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

J.Richardson

October 24th, 2011
7:37 pm

Their employees should be much more carefully screened as they have thieves working in the mail rooms. I’ve had valuable items stolen and the official response is uncaring and callous. With a government institution like this that has no oversight and is out of control we are ALL victims of these criminals.

[...] the post office and having it reported  to third party sites such as spokeo and people finder  (usps-selling-of-addresses-a-privacy-concern).  This bothers me because of the lack of control over my personal information and who was allowed [...]

Mister E

November 10th, 2011
1:22 pm

I have recently been suspecting that the USPS sells our information, and I stumbled upon this post in my research. My parents recently purchased a home and moved out of an address they have lived at for over 30 years. They filled out a change of address form at the post office as most people would. Despite having moved out of their house years ago I would still get junk mail addressed to me at their old address. My name wasn’t on the change of address form, however my junk mail is now being delivered to their new address with my name on it. And it doesn’t have the yellow sticker with the change of address that the post office adds, the actual spam mail is printed with my name and their new address! Not only that, but I just found out that an online retailer I buy from has my parent’s new address despite having never given it to them. I recently had to return an item and when they generated an RMA they accidentally put their address on it. There is no way whatsoever they could have and should have known that address. Wow! Now i’m trying to find out from them how they knew my parent’s new address. They’re still giving me the run around…

Dale

April 17th, 2012
6:17 pm

we erected a new mail box at a second home and informed the post office. We did not file any change of address. We are now getting junk mail at the new address – addressed to ‘New neighbor at…’ and the new address. There is no doubt that the US post office has supplied our address to marketers.