Click Here North Star Writers Group
Syndicated Content.
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Alan Hurwitz
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jessica Vozel
Feature Page
David J. Pollay - The Happiness Answer
Cindy Droog - The Working Mom
The Laughing Chef
Mike Ball - What I've Learned So Far
Bob Batz - Senior Moments
D.F. Krause - Business Ridiculous
D.F. Krause
  D.F.'s Column Archive
January 11, 2006
Bill Me Later, And Don't Tell Anyone I'm Here

Casimir J. Websurfer had a thought, somewhere between posting his resume on and signing up to receive e-mail updates from his favorite porn site.


“Oh no!” thought he. “What if it isn’t safe to use credit cards on the Internet? Someone could access my personal information!”


Oh dear. 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.


I4 has 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.


Privacy 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.


Wal-Mart 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."


Tell me 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.


And hey! 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!


I don’t 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.


The Supreme 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 Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is Column # DFK10. Request permission to publish here.