January 11, 2006
Bill Me Later, And Don't
Tell Anyone I'm Here
Websurfer had a thought, somewhere between posting his resume on
Monster.com and signing up to receive e-mail updates from his favorite
thought he. “What if it isn’t safe to use credit cards on the
Internet? Someone could access my personal information!”
Not that. Come to think of it, the other day, someone on a message board
told me my date of birth and address just by linking to my personal web
site that I had posted in my public profile. Eerie! I am now officially
concerned about my Internet privacy.
Maryland-based I4 Commerce Inc., anticipating my paranoi – er, I mean
concern – is introducing a new way to make online purchases without
having to use those scary credit cards that might cause your personal
information to be seen, or known, or otherwise not kept private.
developed Bill Me Later, which allows online purchasers to seek approval
to buy things simply by providing their date of birth and the last four
digits of their social security numbers. Once Bill Me Later has this
information, it searches online databases, particularly those of leading
credit bureaus, and determines if you’re a good credit risk. Then it
decides whether to approve your purchase and shoot you off a bill.
Oh, did I
mention that this entire process takes less time than you’ve spent
reading this column? On average, four seconds.
mavens, rest easy. Aside from being able to find your entire credit
history in four seconds, no one knows anything about you. I wonder how
fast they could find your credit records if you gave them all nine
digits of your Social Security number. As it is, they’re searching with
five digits tied behind their backs.
and Continental Airlines have already begun using Bill Me Later on their
e-commerce site, and I4 expects to process as much as $1 billion worth
of transactions this year. Granted, that’s nothing compared to
e-Bay-owned PayPal, which will do $6 billion. But then, PayPal doesn’t
base half its relationship with you on your birthday, so what are the
chances you’ll get a card from them?
I4 CEO Gary
Marino observes that credit cards were not exactly invented with the
Internet in mind – as anyone who can remember rubbing one against
multiple layers of carbon paper can attest. "The truth is that credit
cards weren't designed to be used online," Marino told Business Week.
"The (credit-card) process is clunky and scary for a lot of people."
about it. Why, just last week, I got an e-mail from a company that
warned me my identity could be stolen if I didn’t buy their identity
theft protection product, Nacho Name. Of course, I want to check
out their credibility, so I’ll go to the site of an IT trade publication
where I took advantage of free registration. They just needed my
name, zip code and e-mail address and I’m in.
How did the people who make Nacho Name get my e-mail address?
Maybe someone will know on one of the two or three – or 39 – message
boards where I’m a registered user. They just needed my name, zip code .
. . Seriously, I wonder how these sites make money when they let people
register for free, and just ask for our e-mail addresses. Oh wait . . .
I just got an e-mail from someone selling Xantax cheap!
need any medication, but it’s so affordable, maybe I should start taking
some anyway. Especially if I seriously plan to invest emotional energy
in concern about my privacy in an age when people can search my entire
credit history in four seconds, and this is touted as a solution
to privacy concerns.
Court decided in 1973 that we have a constitutional right to privacy,
but no one told “Hoodlums V. Sulphurous,” who recently got in touch with
me to offer a killer deal on a new mortgage. Unless the Justices can
figure out a way to put the Internet genie back in the bottle (and not
on top of your Coke can, Justice Thomas!), I don’t think we’re in for a
very happy era for the intensely private.
The best I
can probably hope for is that, the more people find out about me, the
less interested they will be. Life at the Krause residence is pretty
boring. If, as I suspect, many other Americans share our propensity for
boring living, the big privacy crisis may just solve itself when – with
all barriers stripped away and everyone actively watching everyone else
– we all simply put each other to sleep.
I know I’m
getting bored just thinking about watching you.
© 2006 North Star
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