Growing up I spent a good amount of time at Radio Shack. I liked to “play” with electronics just to understand how things worked. It always bothered me that they asked for my zip code for every transaction, but they still got my money. That may be in part why I became a privacy professional.
I continued to visit the chain in recent years, mostly for batteries and replacement parts. How was I to know that, in spite of their privacy notice, Radio Shack would eventually try to sell my personal information during their bankruptcy.
Radio Shack’s online privacy notice
Within their on-line privacy notice, which only applies to RadioShack.com, there is a section discussing information sharing and disclosure.Almost all privacy notices have a similar section describing when and why personal information may be disclosed. (Note: I was too late to visit the local store to see the posted version.)
Radio Shack’s privacy notice states in the sharing and disclosure section:
- Information about you specifically will not be used for any purpose other than to carry out the services you requested from RadioShack and its affiliates. All of our affiliates have agreed to maintain the security and confidentiality of the information we provide to them.
- We will not sell or rent your personally identifiable information to anyone at any time.
- We will not use any personal information beyond what is necessary to assist us in delivering to you the services you have requested.
- We may send personally identifiable information about you to other organizations when:
- We have your consent to share the information (you will be provided the opportunity to opt-out if you desire). For example, if you opt-in for emails we will share this information with our marketing provider.
- We need to share your information in order to provide the product or service you have requested. For example, we need to share information with credit card providers and shippers to bill and ship the product you requested.
- We are required to do so by law, for example, in response to a court order or subpoena.
As a privacy professional I feel pretty good about doing business with a company with a notice and, hopefully, an associated internal policy that severely limits the sharing of my personal information. I leave to Attorneys General and regulators to decide if the selling of customer personal information in this case is actionable (but I would suggest it may be).
What is the privacy notice missing
We can never predict what will happen during the transition of a company during bankruptcy or acquisition. Customer lists and the associated personal information is an asset. There is a good chance that during a transition a company will want to derive some value from this data.
Adding a single bullet point to the privacy notice could easily address personal information sales during a transition. For example the following statement comes from the Staples.com privacy notice:
- We may disclose Personal Information to third parties in connection with a merger, acquisition or sale (including any transfers made as part of insolvency or bankruptcy proceedings) involving Staples or its affiliated companies or as part of a corporate reorganization, stock or asset sale, or other change in corporate control.
The privacy team at a company needs to think ahead and leave the company options for the processing of personal information that management running the day-to-day business operations may not consider. Addressing the transfer of personal information if, and when, a transition occurs is just one of these situations.