Thursday, October 13, 2011

US Postal Service’s ‘welcome kit’ raises privacy concerns -- are they selling your address?

It might have been the first piece of mail you got after your recent move. And if you’re still unpacking, look for it. You can’t miss it. It’s the “welcome kit” from the U.S. Postal Service — stuffed into the mailboxes of tens of millions of Americans who have filled out change-of-address forms.

The change-of-address confirmation letter comes in an official-looking USPS envelope with the words “verification required” and “do not discard,” but it contains mostly ads and coupons from companies selling cellphone service, insurance, home security systems, appliances, mattresses, bottled water, banking services, electronics and other move-related products and services.

“Double bonus! Free use of a dispenser,” one ad for bottled water declares.

While these welcome kits may provide a targeted marketing opportunity for advertisers and much-needed revenue for the USPS, federal agencies aren’t allowed to sell or rent personal information such as names and addresses under the federal Privacy Act.

For years, the USPS has given a Massachusetts company, Imagitas, exclusive rights to manage its change-of-address process, called MoverSource. As part of the deal, which was based on an unsolicited proposal sent to the USPS in the 1990s, the company sells advertising to major retailers. The ads then are sent to millions of homes along with the change-of-address letter. more