How Much Is That Gift Voucher Worth?

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Here's a fairly typical website ( designed to give you "free" vouchers worth 250 GBP, in return for signing up to a number of offers. Typically, these offers could range from taking out a trial with EMusic to signing up to a bookclub for a year. So far, so good, nothing particularly sinister. Look, there's a smiling woman on it and everything:

Click to Enlarge

However, I must admit I was rather surprised when I checked out the Terms and Conditions after a friend mentioned the site to me. From the T&Cs, under the heading "Marketing Partners":

If you have indicated your consent to receive marketing messages, we may share, license or sell your information to third parties for various marketing purposes, including their online (e.g., e-mail marketing) and offline (e.g., telemarketing, cell phone text messaging, skip tracing (emphasis mine), and direct mail) marketing programs. If you would like to be removed from these programs at any time, click here and follow the opt-out instructions.

Note that they don't mention who these marketing partners would actually be, but enough about that. What is skip tracing? From Wikipedia:

Skiptracing (also skip tracing) is a colloquial term used to describe the process of locating a person's whereabouts for any number of purposes. A skiptracer is someone who performs this task, which may be the person's primary occupation. The term comes from the word "skip" being used to describe the person being searched for, and comes from the idiomatic expression "to skip town," meaning to depart, perhaps in a rush, and leaving minimal clues behind for someone to "trace" the "skip" to a new location.

Skip tracing tactics may be employed by debt collectors, bail bond enforcers (bounty hunting), private investigators, attorneys, police detectives, journalists or as a part of any investigation that entails locating a subject whose contact information is not immediately known.

Effectively, social engineering tactics in the real world used by people who hunt potential criminals down for a living. Here, people are giving permission for nameless third parties to leave that same option open, in return for some gift vouchers.

Records that "skiptracers" use may include phone number databases, credit reports (including information provided on a loan application, credit card application, and in other debt collector databases), job application information, criminal background checks, utility bills (electricity, gas, water, sewage, phone, internet, and cable), social security, disability, and public tax information. These methods don't break any law because the information is freely available due to the nature of the business, whether it be debt collectors, bounty hunters, or other "skiptracers".

Anyone else think this is hugely OTT? When did advertisers decide to start policing / tracking their customers in such a potentially heavy-handed manner?

Couldn't we just go back to the occasional mailshot instead?

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This page contains a single entry by Christopher Boyd published on December 4, 2008 3:34 PM.

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