Retail companies allegedly not collecting personal information as aggressively


Several months ago, The Washington Post reported that retail companies were no longer collecting personal information as aggressively. The poster child for this sort of thing was RadioShack, which demanded your name and address even if you just stopped in to buy a pack of AA batteries. I didn't shop there often, and when I did, I merely refused to give them any information about myself. At the store near Microsoft main campus, after going through this exercise, the cashier eventually entered my name as "Cash" and out came the receipt:

James Cash
123 Main St
Redmond, WA 98052

Thank You, James Cash, for shopping at RadioShack

I enjoyed telling this story, and to my surprise, one day I got a piece of email from James Cash himself! (As it turns out, one of my friends actually knew James Cash.)

The story is even funnier: For years, my pet peeve was the way that RadioShack wanted my address - and I refused to give it. There was quite a scene a couple of times, with a salesclerk begging me to give it, and me refusing. Once or twice I had to walk out of the store rather than give the info. However, one time I had a roommate who also didn't want to give out his name and address. His solution? To give my name and address! So that is how my name wound up at that RadioShack...

Comments (45)
  1. mastmaker says:

    Quite a few stores ask for your ZIP code, and I don’t mind giving it to them, either for credit card security or for their own analysis purposes.

    Fry’s is the only place I frequent where they ask for your phone number. But to their credit, they don’t ask for it at the checkout counter. Only at the sales counters where you request/reserver some stuff like CPUs, memory etc. All your phone number does at this instance is, it acts as a code for your name. It is much faster than having to spell out your name everytime: Schlitzenmacher Ratmichiganoff , that is S-C-H…… But even for Fry’s, I would refuse to give my phone number at the checkout counter. My name is already on the credit card I gave them (if they need it at all, that is) and the counter staff shouldn’t feel too lazy to type it all in.

    Supermarket loyalty cards (the other thing mentioned in the linked article): I refuse to give out ANY information when getting the loyalty card and the clerk just makes note of my refusal on the form.

  2. Best Buy has been asking for my phone number here lately.  This is just when checking out with something normal like a DVD or something similarly mundane.  I generally give them my phone number correctly until the last digit.  I guess one time I hesitated before giving the last digit, and the clerk asked me:

    "Is that a fake phone number?"

    I looked him right in the eyes, and said:

    "Yes"

    He didn’t seem to have a problem with that.

  3. JamesCurran says:

    I remember one Radio SHack sale clerk who was in tune with the populous on this point.  He would ask for the customer’s name & address, and would write down whatever the responded.  Mr "I’m on enough damn mailing lists" bought a lot of stuff when he was working there….

  4. Kristoffer says:

    I remember reading an article on this a few months back. Apparently the retailer was surprised to discover a lot of shoppers lived in 90210.

    At least 90210 makes the clerk chuckle when they enter id, both of us knowing it’s a lie but neither one of us caring.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Why not just give a fake name and address?

    blogs.msdn.com/oldnewthing/ archive/2004/06/15/156023.aspx

  6. Tyler Reddun says:

    I don’t care to much about zipcode, I give it no problem. It they ask for my phone number I will ask them what the store’s phone number is. Most of the time they will get it, but every now and then I have to follow up with "There you go, you can use that one."

    As for Fry’s, I don’t even bother to stop and let them check my recite. That some times ticks off the clerk, but there isn’t anything they can do about it.

  7. Mike Dunn says:

    According to one clothing store employee I asked, some chain stores ask for your zip code to tell how far you traveled to get to that particular store. That gives the company data that they can use when deciding where to open the next location – if a lot of people are going to a store in 90404 and coming from 90210, the company might open a store in 90210.

  8. Mike says:

    Why not just give a fake name and address?

    Becuase I’m not lier.

  9. ::wendy:: says:

    many stores here ask you for your phone number (e.g. TJ-Maxxx).  I always ask – ‘is it necessary for me to make this purchase? ‘

    no = dont say the number out loud in public

    yes = don’t purchase item or return to store again

    People in the US normally seem to give stores this type of information. On my trainee-stalker days I follow pretty boys to the check-out to see if I can copy-down their phone-numbers and try to get a date.

  10. cooney says:

    I generally don’t give out my zip – I hand them one from the same city, but miles away. I assume this means they don’t use it for cc verification.

  11. Anonymous Coward says:

    If two companies persistently refuse to sell you batteries without your name, address and phone number, use each of those store’s contact details at the other one. It’s technically rude, but only being rude to people who deserve it.   ;)

    Besides, how often does anyone get a phone call asking if they can sell support accessories for the 2 batteries you brought?  If they never call, then you can give any number you like and noone will know.

  12. Adam says:

    From TFA: "In 2002, the company stopped collecting anything but Zip codes and instructed its employees to tread gently when requesting even that small bit of information. The Zip codes are volunteered, not mandatory, says Hodges …"

    Who the hell *volunteers* their ZIP code? "By the way, in case you were interested, I live at …"!

    Oh … he meant *voluntary*.

    Amusing slip though.

  13. Wendy

    Dont shop at TJ MAXX. they support a well known hate group against autistics call autism speaks. They are against autistic adults.

    In the video on their site their VP talks about how we was going to kill her and her autistic daughter only stopping because of her normal child at home.

  14. Jon Konrath says:

    I used to give them their own address and phone number.  It wasn’t lying, because that’s where I was when I was making the purchase, right?

  15. Campaigner person,

    from the autism speaks site:

    “We are dedicated to funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and cure for autism; to raising public awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families, and society; and to bringing hope to all who deal with the hardships of this disorder. We are committed to raising the funds necessary to support these goals.

    Autism Speaks aims to bring the autism community together as one strong voice to urge the government and private sector to listen to our concerns and take action to address this urgent global health crisis. It is our firm belief that, working together, we will find the missing pieces of the puzzle.”

    They don’t sound any more like they’re against autistic people than, say, the Muscular Dystrophy Association is against those with Muscular Dystrophy.

    [Okay, this is now off topic. If you want to argue whether “Autism Speaks” is a legitimate advocacy group, do it on your own web site. -Raymond]
  16. Anonymous Coward says:

    Hm! This is quite new to me, that retail shops would ask you for any kind of personal information. Thanks for the heads up, as presumeably, this will reach my little country in 2-5 years or so.

  17. John Goewert says:

    839-3939 is the number I use.

    For the uninformed, that will get you “Pizza Hut” delivery.

    Seriously, asking for a phone number is creepy, mostly because you have a bunch of people around you and now *THEY* know your phone number as well. I wonder how many child molestors and stalkers use that system to track someone. Or guys hearing a hot girls number is able to call her and say they met at so-and-so’s party.

    [I won’t give a fake number since it’s rude to the person whose number I gave. (E.g., it’s not nice to the Pizza Hut people who have to the answer calls. They did nothing to deserve it.) -Raymond]
  18. Hang on – do your roommate didn’t want to give his address out so he gave your’s instead. Isn’t that the same thing? Or was that your point? Or did you mean ex-roommate? God I’m tired…

  19. Alun Jones says:

    Ask the clerk to enter his own information.

  20. anonymous coward says:

    You may think you are giving it to the man by walking right out of Fry’s/Costco etc without having your receipt checked.  But despite what you may think, it isn’t to catch you cheating – it is to catch the cashiers cheating.

    One scam is for cashiers to not charge for stuff.  They can swing things near the scanner but not over it.  The shopper walks out with the item and then shares the profit.

    The people at the door make it harder for the cashiers to pull such a scam.

  21. sarathc says:

    hmmmm…. definitely he is the "best friend"

  22. WendyHome says:

    Call me pednatic but the clerk might be a female.

    Asking the Clerk to make something up (ie enter ‘their own’ information) does not register the clear distaste for the activity as simply refusing to either give the information.  I do not hand this information out on principle,  there are sufficient alternatives available to shop elsewhere.

  23. Gabe says:

    I’m glad Raymond doesn’t give out other people’s phone numbers as his own. I had one person who consistently gave out my number to creditors. Of course creditors are used to getting the "I’ve never heard of this person" bit, so they keep calling anyway.

    These creditors called so often that eventually I was able to extract enough information out of them to build up a dossier of this person. I looked her up in the phone book, and started giving out the address and phone number I found. Apparently it worked because I stopped getting calls for her.

    Now the hip thing to do is give out fake email addresses. There’s some Toyota repair shop in California that notifies me whenever somebody’s car is ready. I’m guessing that some guy who works there picked my email address (it’s easy to come up with) as the one he would enter whenever the client didn’t have one. It seems that Jose and Luky Rodriguez both have Toyotas that are due for scheduled maintenance by July 15.

  24. [ICR] says:

    I’ve never been asked for any such information here in London, UK. I don’t know if I’d give my information or not, depends how much time I had. I’ve always wanted to get buisness cards printed up, maybe I would do so I didn’t have to repeat information.

    On a slightly sideways note, it’s always puzzled me when optional survays on websites have required fields. I’m happy to give out my gender, age, county or occupation, but not necessarily my name, email or address. I end up not filling out forms where they could have got some degree of useful information simply because they really really want to know my telephone number that they’re never going to ring.

  25. Malcolm says:

    [ICR] – Tandy used to demand your name, address, phone number when you went there (Not a big surprise as it was the same company as RadioShack.) I think Maplin do too, but I’ve only been in a Maplin store once or twice.

  26. Mike Dunn says:

    mailinator.com is great when you’re stuck at a form that demands an email address. You can just make up something like adf3fgaa3tt@mailinator.com

    And it’s not fake or rude, because it is a real address – the inbox gets created as soon as mail is sent to it – it’s just not one that you’ll ever check again.

  27. Frank says:

    On http://www.911.com/ you are requested to enter your name, email, etc.  Followed by the question: "Is this your real Name,

    Email Address, Telephone Number and Location?"

    (email address is a required field)

  28. jas88 says:

    I’m reminded of the time a business (a Chinese takeaway) did the reverse: giving out an individual’s contact information as their own (by mistake), having had a big print run of menus with a misprint in the phone number. Rather bizarrely, they refused to do anything to correct the string of calls this caused – until the owner started "taking" orders, then not delivering…

  29. Stu says:

    I usually use test@example.com as a fake email address, because I know that does not belong to anybody.

    Also, the other day I signed up for a test hotmail account for testing a third party MSN Messnger client. The form required a valid zip code, thankfully, Microsoft’s address (including zip code) was further down the page…

  30. Arthur Davidson Ficke says:

    When asked for any personal information, even just the ZIP code, I simply say, "I don’t give that out."  I’ve never once had anyone say anything about it, although I’ve noticed a few times that the next person in line behind me does the same thing.  

    You look like a chump standing there giving out your personal information to a checkout person.

  31. Cody says:

    When a zip code is necessary, Young America, Minnesota 55555 to the rescue.  (You need to know at least the state because sometimes the form verifies it.)

  32. Mike says:

    I have a local dial-up internet phone number memorized.  When asked I just give that number so whoever decides to telemarket me gets that annoying screech sound when they try to call.

  33. Tim Lesher says:

    Mike: actually, no one would ever hear that "annoying screech sound".  

    Telemarketers use machine dialers, which only transfer control to a user when they detect a human voice answering.  The better ones even discern betweern a human answer and an answering machine, based on speech/silence patterns ("Hello? <pause>" vs "Hello, this is Tim Lesher.  I’m not…").

  34. Neal says:

    You’d do better to give a second thought to those mailinator type addresses.  I’m not familiar with them, but most of us has read of a business that gets lots of email sent to others… lots of email with personal details.  Just because all the info you give is fake doesn’t mean a business or website doesn’t know who you are through credit card, warranty, tracking cookie info, etc..  All one need do is set up a mailinator type site and sift through all the emails reaching it.  Sooner or later you’ll get useful personal information on someone.

  35. ::wendy:: says:

    ICR,  last time i checked the UK laws for storing data in an electronic format were  much more stringent and protective of individual rights than those in the US.  

  36. Gabe says:

    I just remembered that back before broadband, I had a phone number just for dial-up. It never had a real phone connected to it, and it was busy 24 hours a day (it would redial perpetually if it ever got disconnected). That was the phone number that I gave out when people I didn’t want to call me asked for it.

    The great thing was that it was actually my phone number (so I wasn’t lying), and it was always busy (so somebody calling it wouldn’t think I was ignoring them).

    Of course it cost extra money to get the phone number unlisted, so we frequently got mail addressed to "Mr. Line Computer" or "Computer, Line".

  37. Jim Bim says:

    That’s pretty pednatic, Wendy.  It must keep you pretty busy if you find it necessary to correct people’s use of gender pronouns. (Just like me in my desire to complain about it :-)

  38. [ICR] says:

    Mike Dunn – If I was going to do something like that I’d set up a random email account. At least then if you really did need to check something they sent you could.

  39. RussN says:

    I usually tell places who ask for my first name for whatever reason that it’s Gandalf.  The kids laugh, the older folks write down ‘Randolph.’

  40. Don’t even give the zip; you’ll still get spammed.  It’s pretty easy to cross reference your name off the credit card, look it up in a mailing databse, and start firing you junk mail.

    I just moved – this time I’m NOT leaving a forwarding address.  That’s 90% of your junk mail right there (the other 10% being the junk generated from the mortgage and sale records).

  41. Another random response says:

    I live in a country that doesn’t use zip codes.  It does however have address like "17 Turangawaewae Rd, Eketehuna".  Salesdroids usually just give up after hearing that.

  42. Mr.Picky says:

    > Why not just give a fake name and address?

    >

    >Becuase I’m not lier.

    Or speller, apparently :-).

  43. Vince P says:

    Mr. Picky:

    Actually, a typist would be more accurate than speller.  For example if I typed: Hte cat is black, would you seriously state I dont know how to spell ‘the’ ?

  44. Melvin says:

    <I>[I won’t give a fake number since it’s rude to the person whose number I gave. (E.g., it’s not nice to the Pizza Hut people who have to the answer calls. They did nothing to deserve it.) -Raymond]</I>

    I think it’s imperative to seed their databases with as much false information as possible.  It’s the only effective way to discourage these stores from asking. Refusing to give info just makes the the powerless clerk’s job miserable.

    I’ll give 90210 or H0H 0H0 (Santa’s postal code) depending on the country asking.  If they insist on address or phone number I give them the local better business bureau’s info.

  45. xrxca says:

    "I’ll give 90210 or H0H 0H0 (Santa’s postal code)"

    I know a few people that use X0A 0V0 in Canada (Resolute Bay, NWT) supposedly the northern most regular mail service in Canada. Not sure I belive that, but have to wonder how many pounds of junk mail gets flown in.

    If a retailed insists after I refuse, I flip the first half of my postal code which puts me in Saskatchewan instead of Alberta.

    As for phone number I usually give them the general voice mail access number for my phone company which a) I have memorized anyways, and b) if it’s going to inconvienience anyone it will be the phone company or the marketing firm behind the data collection which is no great loss.

Comments are closed.