Montel Show Bashes Marketers On Privacy, Ignores Facts

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"The Montel Show" went on the offensive yesterday against Internet marketers saying dossiers and profiles were being used to invade the American people's privacy and that virtually nothing was being done to stop it.

"Whether you like it or not, you are being profiled because Big Brother is here," said Montel Williams host of the nationally syndicated Montel Show produced by the television entertainment unit of Paramount Pictures Corp., Los Angeles.

"We've come to point where we're allowing corporations to do whatever they want with our information and our lives," said Williams. "And most of these corporations know people are not going to check and see what their privacy policies are."

Although Williams said he personally did not use the Internet, his tone and perspective on the subject seemed more connected to racheting up Nielsen ratings that anything a legitimate marketer or even privacy advocate would associate with the facts of the privacy debate.

The show buttressed its claims with a line-up of questionably relevant guests each who said their privacy was violated in relation to the Internet including retired Navy servicemember Timothy McVeigh, whose sexual orientation was essentially divulged against his will by America Online, Vienna, VA, two years ago. The other guests' stories were focused largely on their experiences in relation to credit card fraud.

Unfortunately, for consumers and marketers alike, almost no information was given during the show about the facts of the privacy debate, including how consumers can have their names removed from mailing lists through the Direct Marketing Association's mail preference service.

Yet the Montel Show's own Web site posted promotional copy a week before announcing the show's focus while promising viewers they would learn about "user profiling, charging online, computer mix-ups and the Internet users lists of do's and don'ts when it comes to navigating the Web. "Tune in today so you too can protect yourself" the copy read.

However, only two protective measures were offered when the show hit the airwaves: a sound-bite plugging of the privacy monitoring and information Web site by founder Jason Catlett, and some remarks about writing your elected officials by Representative Bruce Vento, Democrat of Minnesota who is lobbying for privacy legislation in Congress.

Williams did not mention his show's own privacy policy, which does not offer an opt-out option for consumers, but does acknowledge using consumer information in the very same way Montel criticized marketers for. The policy read in part:

"Where specified, personal information submitted by visitors may be used for marketing and promotional purposes relating to the Web site or other entertainment properties. Paramount currently does not share any personally identifiable information provided by visitors with third parties, unless specified at time of collection.

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