MotherNature Move Could Dodge Privacy Objections

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In what appeared to be an attempt to circumvent the privacy controversy that plagued defunct e-tailer Toysmart.com, MotherNature.com made practical use of its house list by e-mailing customers a special offer along with a referral that they take their business to drugstore.com.


Although MotherNature.com could not be reached for comment, the e-mail said it was a response to consumer concern about their personal information. It assured customers that their data would be kept confidential even though MotherNature.com announced its demise in November.


Essentially, MotherNature.com customers who accept the drugstore.com offer would be transferring their list information to drugstore.com.


After the firestorm that drove Toysmart.com to accept $50,000 from Disney subsidiary Buena Vista Internet Group to destroy its customer file, it seems that MotherNature.com hopes to avoid similar scrutiny.


The Toysmart sale put to rest an ongoing battle over the database that included a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit joined by 43 states as well as an outcry from privacy advocates and consumers.


Toysmart shut down in May and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June. It had sought permission from the bankruptcy court to sell all of its assets, including its customer database, which includes names, addresses and credit card numbers. Privacy advocates argued that selling the database would violate the company's privacy policy, which said it would "never" sell customer information.


MotherNature.com's privacy policy states that it will not share consumer information with third parties without consent.


It is unclear whether the e-mail was sent only to customers who did not wish to have their data shared.


At least one privacy advocate said MotherNature's approach seemed to be a good one.


"Provided that they have permission to e-mail their customers solicitations, it's acceptable," said Jason Catlett, president of privacy group Junkbusters Corp., Green Brook, NJ. "From a privacy point of view, it's fine because the data only goes to the third-party company if the customer enters into a transaction with them."


The e-mail also said, "We have also had many customers ask us to recommend another trusted online source for healthy-living products. We are proud to announce that the drugstore.com Web site has been selected as our chosen online source for products that promote good health."


The e-mail offered free standard shipping on nonprescription orders of $20 or more as an enticement to try drugstore.com.
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