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John Soat
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IT Confidential: They're Just Asking For It--Aren't They?

I'm going to bite the hand that feeds me (No!) by complaining about things magazine-related. I decided to cancel a subscription to a national business magazine after I noticed it had renewed my subscription automatically by adding the cost to my credit card. I called the 800 number listed on the table of contents and was derailed several times before I managed to make the call-system recognize the "0" for operator. Still, the call system didn't want to deliver me to an operator until I had coughed up my subscriber number, which I didn't have because the copy of the magazine I was holding came with something wrapped around it, or in a plastic bag, or something like that, so the address label wasn't on the cover.

When I finally got to the operator, the first thing she asked me for was my subscriber number, so I explained why I didn't have it. Then she asked me for the credit-card number I used to subscribe to the magazine. This, I admit, floored me. I wasn't about to give out my credit-card number over the phone, though, in retrospect, I realize I've done just that many, many times before. When I said I didn't have it, the operator asked me for my ZIP code, then my last name, then my address, then phone number, all of which I verbally handed over. She cheerfully informed me I was now unsubscribed to that particular magazine, but how about 30% off another of their titles?

When I relayed this story to my wife--a person of breathtaking common sense--her only comment was, "They're asking for it." She didn't need to say any more, I knew exactly what she meant. By being so bold in their demands for my personal data, this company is taking on an awful lot of responsibility, whether they realize it or not (probably not) or recognize it or not (probably not). And by being so cavalier with the information, they are asking for a major consumer-data problem the likes of which we're seeing these days with alarming frequency, and of which consumers are getting pretty darn sick and tired. As the expression goes--be careful what you ask for.

My wife's comment got me thinking about things IT-industry related, so herewith a couple more examples of those who may be "asking for it."

Oracle. The Redmond, Calif., database giant is definitely asking for it--and getting it. Oracle's buying spree, in particular its acrimonious acquisition of PeopleSoft and quick grab of Siebel Systems, has brought it huge swaths of software users. But Oracle should take a lesson from Computer Associates, which also attempted to corner a segment of the software market--in CA's case, the systems-software space. While CA created its own problems with financial hanky-panky, the market-share-at-all-costs strategy backfired on the company, which has since had to downsize considerably.

Recording Industry Association of America. The RIAA may have been heavy-handed in its lawsuit-happy pursuit of music-copyright infringers, but it generated a lot of sympathy for the rights of artists and those who deal in intellectual capital. Still, the RIAA better be careful with its persecution of peer-to-peer technology vendors, many of whom have only noble intentions, this at a time when devastating natural disasters have shown just how badly the country needs better networking and communication technologies.

I'm asking for an industry or 516-562-5326. And for you to watch The News Show at noon ET every weekday, at or on

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