It sounds like something out of a horror movie. Mike Seay, whose daughter died last year in a car accident, received a piece of junk mail from Office Max addressed to "Mike Seay, Daughter Killed In Car Crash." How did OfficeMax have this information? The more he investigated, the more the story became science fiction.
As the Los Angeles Times' Matt Pearce reports:
Seay appears to be the victim of some marketing gone horribly wrong.
"I'm not a big OfficeMax customer. And I wouldn't have gone there and said anything to anybody there about it [the car crash]. That's not their business," Seay, 46, told the Los Angeles Times in a phone interview Sunday.
In a statement, OfficeMax said the mailing "is a result of a mailing list rented through a third-party provider" and offered its apologies to Seay. A spokeswoman told The Times on Sunday that the company was still gathering information about what had happened.
So apparently some kind of bug caused a machine to print the wrong information in the address box as the letter made its way through OfficeMax's junk mail assembly line. The question, which Seay raised many times in his dealings with OfficeMax, is why the company would have this information. Why, indeed, would anyone be aggregating this information? What kind of service sells address information to OfficeMax, packaged neatly with extremely personal details?
Last year, the World Privacy Forum's Pam Dixon testified to Congress about how data brokers compile lists of rape victims and people at risk for drug and alcohol abuse to sell to companies interested in targeting these groups. Perhaps OfficeMax bought a list like this, in the hope of targeting grieving people with ads for funeral-related paper supplies? Ultimately, however, Seay's experience doesn't reveal a nefarious plan on the part of OfficeMax. Instead, it gives us a glimpse of how much our personal information is now a commodity, bought and sold without our knowledge.