Price of Privacy

Interesting stories from Thomson Reuters and PaidContent.org in the last 24 hours, both reporting that Barnes & Noble is seeking to back out of its $15.8 million offer for the customer information of the bankrupt bookseller Borders. The sale of this Borders asset is being overseen by the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. It appears the proceedings involve a report from an ombudsman, a private attorney who has been hired to make a recommendation on how privacy issues should be handled in the transition of the information from Borders to Barnes & Noble. Both Thomson Reuter and PaidContent.org say the report recommends that Barnes & Noble should be required to get customer permission to collect or use personal information, with regard to customers who predate a privacy policy Borders established in May 2008. PaidContent.org adds that another recommendation "bars Barnes & Noble from obtaining any information about customers who purchased video materials." I tried to use the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find a Borders privacy policy predating 2008, but each of my queries was (strangely) redirected to what appeared to be pages from Amazon's website. Here's an excerpt from the Borders Privacy Policy from May 2008 that may be relevant to the dispute: "You can visit the Websites, and can use the kiosks, without entering any personal information. However, in order to access certain information or to take advantage of special programs (such as Borders Rewards, Borders Rewards Perks, and Borders Rewards Perks Plus) or promotional offers, services or features that may be contained on the Websites or on the kiosks, or to purchase any products or services (including, but not limited to, gift cards, and placement of items into an online shopping cart), we may require you to provide certain personal information. For example, we will collect certain personal information if you choose to join our Borders Rewards and/or Borders Rewards Perks programs, if you subscribe to any of our email or mobile content delivery programs, if you participate in creating and sharing wish list information, or if you choose to write and/or rate reviews of various products. . . . "If you provide us with personal information, we may retain and use that information for several purposes. For example, we may use your personal information in order to provide transactional and/or commercial information and services via email, direct mail, or via other methods of delivery, such as via mobile content delivery programs. If you have given us permission and have not opted-out, we also may share your personal information with third parties who can offer you products and/or services that we believe may be of interest to you. In addition, we may use your personal information to ensure compliance with Borders policies and applicable law." Possibly the ombudsman is thinking: customers who did not have the benefit of the above disclosure should not have their personal information exposed for the purposes of that last quoted paragraph.

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