Business ethics and telemarketing

InfoUSA is a list broker, a company that aggregates personal data and sells it to telemarketers and catalog sales companies. The New York Times reports:

InfoUSA advertised lists of “Elderly Opportunity Seekers,” 3.3 million older people “looking for ways to make money,” and “Suffering Seniors,” 4.7 million people with cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. “Oldies but Goodies” contained 500,000 gamblers over 55 years old, for 8.5 cents apiece. One list said: “These people are gullible. They want to believe that their luck can change.”

So InfoUSA actually sells lists of suckers deliberately selected for their gullibility. You might be wondering who buys these lists. Well, the NYT investigated.

InfoUSA sold [one list] dozens of times, to companies including HMS Direct, which Canadian authorities had sued the previous year for deceptive mailings; Westport Enterprises, the subject of consumer complaints in Kansas, Connecticut and Missouri; and Arlimbow, a European company that Swiss authorities were prosecuting at the time for a lottery scam.

[...]

Records also indicate that infoUSA sold thousands of other elderly Americans’ names to Windfall Investments after the F.B.I. had accused the company in 2002 of stealing $600,000 from a California woman.

Between 2001 and 2004, infoUSA also sold lists to World Marketing Service, a company that a judge shut down in 2003 for running a lottery scam; to Atlas Marketing, which a court closed in 2006 for selling $86 million of bogus business opportunities; and to Emerald Marketing Enterprises, a Canadian firm that was investigated multiple times but never charged with wrongdoing.

The story goes on to reveal that according to internal e-mails, InfoUSA knew some of their customers were scammy, but continued to sell them lists of sick and/or gullible elderly people to exploit.

Update: InfoUSA have put out a press release giving us their side of the story. My summary: “We’re not selling lists of suckers any more, we sold that part of the business. Plus, the authorities didn’t find us criminally liable, and anyway it was a long time ago.”

Rollergirls on A&E

A&E is showing a reality TV series about one of the Austin roller derby teams, the Texas Rollergirls. Reviews from the New York based media seem to have missed something.

AP writes:

This new generation of roller derby queens skates that thin line between blue collar and white trash, balancing nights of tequila shots with days of their real-life careers as nurses, teachers and rubber-lingerie designers.

[...]

Despite their penchant for fishnet uniforms and rump-shaking celebrations, they bristle (in episode two) at the suggestion that roller girls are easy. Still, they smoke and drink and curse like sailors and extend their middle fingers liberally. When Miss Conduct is missing in action at a practice, a teammate offers this explanation: “Miss Conduct is drunk.”

The New York Times isn’t quite so diplomatic:

For a while, it seemed as if Roller Derby was a lost art, like illuminated manuscripts or clog dancing. Actually, it’s more like polio: many people assume it was eradicated in the 1970’s, but it’s still around and, in some areas, quite virulent.

[...]

Reality contests take ordinary, identifiable women and pose them in an absurd, artificial fantasy fishbowl. “Rollergirls” is a documentary that takes women who pursue an absurd, artificial fantasy sport and tries to pose them as ordinary, identifiable women.

[...]

These players are all based in Austin, Tex., which is supposed to be Texas’s classy town. One can only imagine Rollergirls’ Night Out in Fort Worth.

Ouch.

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You may know that the NSA are not supposed to carry out surveillance against American citizens, as per US Signals Intelligence Directive 18, unless given special permission by the Attorney General.

You may also know that the Supreme Court has ruled that the NSA cannot spy against US citizens. They used to get around this by working with GCHQ in the UK—GCHQ would spy on Americans, the NSA would spy on the English, and they’d exchange data.

Well, the New York Times reports that the Bush administration let the NSA off its leash in 2002. It can now spy on anyone, with no judicial oversight whatsoever.

Americans may wish to read up on the ECHELON network and its capabilities. In the interests of balance, I will point out that ECHELON caught at least one 9/11 terrorist. Whether that’s sufficient to justify the fact that your telephone calls and e-mails are almost certainly all being scanned, is for you to decide.

And cordial greetings to my readers in Fort Meade.

News you can use

To celebrate its redesign, The Guardian is offering free access to its online edition for the next two weeks. If you live in America and have always wondered what a real newspaper would be like, now’s your chance to find out.

(If you think the New York Times is a real newspaper…well, they ditched their entire technology section to make way for more articles on shopping, fitness and fashion. Says it all really.)

To my mind, there are three reasons why The Guardian is a great newspaper.

The first is accuracy—the paper has a policy of correcting every factual error, and the Corrections and Clarifications column can make for very entertaining reading. The paper even does a pretty good job of covering technology and science.

The second is that the paper does real investigative reporting into things that actually matter. For example, today:

MPs from all parties are planning to campaign against the CIA’s use of British airports and RAF bases when abducting terrorism suspects who are then flown to countries where they are allegedly tortured. An all-party group is to be established this autumn to coordinate the campaign and to inquire into the extent of Britain’s support for the operations, which are said to violate international law.

The development was announced as the UN began inquiring into the operations, known in US intelligence circles as “extraordinary renditions”, and as an investigation by the Guardian uncovered the extent of British logistical support. [...]

And elsewhere there’s the first full account of the May 13th massacre in Uzbekistan. If you have no idea what that’s about, it may be because the violence was carried out by paramilitaries sent in by one of the USA’s crucial allies in the war against (some) terrorists.

The third reason I like The Guardian is diversity of opinion. Although it’s popularly believed to be ‘left wing’ or ‘socialist’, The Guardian in fact gives space to all kinds of (often contradictory) viewpoints. Today, for example, the opinion section has an article arguing that the UK road haulers’ threatened strike and fuel blockade should be smashed the way Thatcher smashed the miner’s strike. That’s like FOX News suggesting that Michael Moore should be elected President.

I should mention that the digital edition is having a few teething troubles right now; normally all the stories are available indexed, but at the moment some pages are only readable as PDF. Still, stick with it, I think you’ll find it worthwhile.

Kerry’s popularity

Guardian today:

A new poll suggested yesterday that Ralph Nader’s independent presidential bid represented a serious threat to the Democratic candidate, Senator John Kerry.

The New York Times and CBS News poll revealed a tight two-man race for the White House between President George Bush and Mr Kerry. Mr Bush had a narrow lead of 46% over Mr Kerry’s 43% — within the poll’s margin of error.

But when Americans were asked about a three-man race including Mr Nader, the 70-year-old consumer activist attracted 7% support, mostly at the expense of the Democrat. In that contest, Mr Bush led Mr Kerry by 46% to 38%.

Mr Nader’s poll ratings are higher than at this point in the 2000 election. […]

Yesterday’s New York Times/CBS poll made bleak reading for the senator for Massachusetts for other reasons. […] Fifty-seven per cent said “most of the time he says what he thinks people want to hear”, while only a third thought he stayed true to his beliefs.

So there we have it. The fact that Kerry is a lying two-faced weasel is so painfully obvious that the voters have already worked it out, and he’s doing even worse than Al Gore. He’s so awful that people would rather vote for Ralph Nader’s pointless ego-trip than support Kerry. The Democrats have chosen self-destruction once again; get ready for four more years of Bush.