InfoUSA Denies Appending Involvement in Data Error

Though database giant infoUSA, Omaha, NE, said it accepts responsibility for quality control errors in data processing, it denied statements made by a spokesman for the nonprofit United Farm Workers regarding the accidental inclusion of religious data on mailing labels.

The issue was made public when some consumers received mailings with the religious affiliations Jewish, Catholic and Hindu printed on the labels along with their names and addresses. The New York Times wrote about the error Feb. 11.

UFW spokesman Marc Grossman told DM News last week that the mistake was made by Triplex, Novato, CA, an infoUSA-owned service bureau. He also said that infoUSA’s Donnelley Marketing Group had appended the religious selects to the file in October.

In a letter dated yesterday and e-mailed to DM News and to the Times, infoUSA demanded that UFW correct inaccurate statements or face possible legal repercussions. The letter, which was overnighted to UFW, said in part, “As you well know, it was your organization, the United Farm Workers (“UFW”) that supplied the religious designation of various individuals to Triplex. Neither Triplex nor Donnelley (or infoUSA) played any role in gathering or supplying that sensitive information. Further, not only did Donnelley not append ‘the religion selects to the file in October,’ as Mr. Grossman apparently advised DM News, Donnelley played no role whatsoever in this matter.”

The letter was signed by Fred Vakili, executive vice president at infoUSA.

Vakili told DM News yesterday that Donnelley could not have appended the religious data to the file because it uses only codes to represent sensitive data selects.

“Something we understand from all our years in business is that sensitive information like this is acceptable to use, but it has to be coded,” he said. “In our business, we deal with millions and millions of records every day. And although we have spot checks, we simply can’t print out every order and look at it.”

Though infoUSA did not supply the appended data, a Triplex employee acknowledged the processing mistake in a Dec. 10 e-mail to UFW.

According to Vakili, that e-mail said, “Triplex received an update for the United Farm Workers list Oct. 17, 2004. While processing the update file our format department mistakenly moved the religious field near the business field, which is outputted in the auxiliary address field. The fields included were Jewish, Catholic and Hindu. I have discussed this issue with my director and the VP of production and Triplex has taken steps necessary to prevent this from happening in the future.”

Vakili said 417 records were affected.

Calls to Grossman were not returned by deadline.

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