Thursday, April 28, 2005

Privacy Rights

I opened my mortgage statement this morning and found one of those ubiqutous two page single spaced documents printed in opthalmologically unfriendly eight-point type entitled "Your Privacy Rights."

"You talkin' to ME ?" I muttered with the impotent balefulness of severe undercaffeination.

As usual, the gist was that I had the right to have The Mortgage Company sell my demographics to certain "affiliates" (ie. any purveyor of "products and services" that forks over enough dough to buy their client list ) who have only my comfort and interests and needs in mind. The kindly folks that would like to sell me credit cards, mortgage insurance, subscriptions, time shares, exercise bicycles, home decorating accoutrements, fog horns, kitty litter, cubic zirconiums, whoopee cushions, and penile length and/or breadth enhancers. Stuff like that. Folks who send out unstanchably bubonic levels of junk mail.

DK, while writing his jazz cantata, The Death Of Simone Weil, decided to quote little snippets of WW II German marches in one of the sections. A little sardonic quodlibet, as it were. So he sent away, through the twin miracles of google and the internet, for a tape.

Ever since then there's been a particularly unsavory subtext to our junk mail. Military catalogues. Firearms. Historical army uniforms. Goods and services slanted uncomfortably toward the demographic "skinhead."

All for a sardonic quodlibet.

Of course, if I were to (perish the thought) ungraciously -- nay, unnaturally ! -- decline The Mortgage Company's generous offer, I could "opt-out" by dialing a certain number and "following the instructions provided." I shudder to think of the byzantine phone menu that lies at the end of that number. The mind-numbing on hold music (Kenny G), the densely-branched algorithm -- if X press 9, if Y press 6, if neither X nor Y press 32,to repeat this menu press 7 -- the intermittant soothing voice crooning "your call is important to us," interspersed with peppy little marketing blurbs and segueing, after 13 minutes, into sudden dead, electronic silence and dial tone.

There's probably a clause in there somewhere that discloses that opting out will result in the immediate notification of the Department of Homeland Security and the immediate and irrevocable placing of one's name on every known airline's "do-not-fly" list. As an unamurkan terrist.

Each day at work the secretary staggers into my office and deposits thirty pounds or so of medical junk mail on my desk. Mostly magazines and newspapers. Slick ones. Free ones. That come (and come and come) unbidden. Like "Medical Economics," "Physicians Money Digest," and "Diversion." And others with more pretense at being vaguely clinical. All arriving thanks to out friends at Big Pharma. All thinly veiled vehicles for pharmaceutical ads. Part of my daily exercise routine is heaving them en bloc into the trash.

By regulation, each of the magazines periodically sports a tear-off postage-paid card stating that, in order to keep receiving the wonderful, free publication, I need but check off the "yes" box and drop the card into the mail. And then the slickly packaged half-truths about the latest and greatest heart-mutilating COX 2 inhibitor or newest suicide-inducing SSRI on the block will keep coming my way. Forever.

Of course I never send any of them in. But the magazines keep coming. More and more of them. Bubonic. Pandemic. Same ones, different ones, new ones, old ones. They breed, mutate, intermarry -- "The Journal of Geriatric Neonatology," "Annals of Psychoanalytic Microbiology," "Finnish Journal of Cosmetic Cardiology" -- and there is no stopping them. Ever. Believe me. I have tried. I have the scars to prove it.

I wish someone would change the universal marketing default setting to "opt-in."

Absent that, I wish they'd stop calling their ceaseless, boorish, uninvited intrusions "My Privacy Rights."

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