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Even the Good Guys Want to Sell You Something

  |  November 6, 2002   |  Comments

As if the proliferation of commercial spam wasn’t enough, must we now waste our time sifting through pitches from the good guys?

A while back I subscribed to the EPIC Alert newsletter of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a group dedicated to keeping online users from being gouged, folded, spindled, spied on or otherwise abused by online pirates, whether they be corporate, private or governmental.

EPIC, based in Washington, D.C., calls itself a public interest research center. It was established in 1994 "to focus public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values," according to the Web site.

In my opinion, they do good work. I’m accustomed to getting their newsletters, many of which are informative on Internet issues. So I was a little surprised - and just mildly annoyed -- to get an emailing from EPIC, pitching book sales.

In fact, it contained this message: "Special EPIC Alert: Support EPIC -- Buy a book! (or 3)."

The email went on (and I mean on, quoting chapter headings and offering summaries) to tout EPIC’s new "Privacy Law Sourcebook" as well as books entitled "Privacy & Human Rights 2002" and "Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws (FOIA) 2002."

Then it pitched a "Package Deal: All 3 books for $100, including shipping!" The exclamation point was theirs, not mine. And lastly came a pitch for the EPIC bookstore.

At heart I’m all for EPIC and what they try to do to safeguard our privacy, but I sure hate to waste my time opening commercial pitches. And when you get something like this from an upstanding organization, you tend to read it for the content, until it begins to dawn on you that it’s completely a book sales pitch. As a regular reader I waded through all of this looking for the news part of the newsletter.

I found the inclusion of the entire table of contents of these books just a bit much. I know my annoyance won’t be shared by everyone (it’s often tough to criticize well-intentioned organizations), so I expect to get a flood of mail disagreeing. But I say it’s spinach.

I did ask EPIC about it.

"We advertise our publications in every single EPIC Alert that we send out," said EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg. "Our publications are central to our educational purpose. This special Alert came about because all of our major publications for 2002 -- Privacy and Human Rights, the Privacy Law Sourcebook, and the Open Government book -- are finally available, and a lot of our subscribers have been waiting to be notified. I don’t see how this could be spam."

EPIC’s own privacy policy reads thusly: "The EPIC Alert mailing list is used only to mail the EPIC Alert and to send notices about EPIC activities. We do not sell, rent or share our mailing list. We also intend to challenge any subpoena or other legal process seeking access to our mailing list. We do not enhance (link to other databases) our mailing list or require your actual name."

I guess by a strict definition the book pitch email falls under the definition of "notices about EPIC activities."

Rotenberg said that "our list is also opt-in and we don’t use cookies."

That’s all well and good, I guess, and I know that it’s not a perfect world and opinions are like noses, everybody has one. But it just rubbed me the wrong way, maybe because all the other commercial pitches I get waste so much of my time. I don’t appreciate it from the good guys.

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