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HP has bought its own customer list!

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HP has bought its own customer list!

Interex, the Liquidated Independent HP User Group's Data is a Commerical Asset

This "stranger than life" story deals with the business assets of Interex, the independent HP user group. Interex, which went into liquidation earlier this year, has its list of members as a business asset. And the liquidators, quite reasonably, want to sell this asset to salvage what they can to pay off the £2.5m that it owes. HP has paid £40,000 for 100,000 of its own customers to prevent that data being circulated elsewhere

Prior to the acquisition by HP there were twin challenges:

  1. Interex members, quite reasonably, insisted that they did not want to be badgered by people trying to sell them things. After all they joined Interex to participate in a user group, to network, to acquire ideas, to get a heads up on developments at HP, not to be sold to.
  2. Under EEC Directives, was it and is it lawful for the database, if sold, be used for marketing purposes by the buyer?

Back to First principles

The purposes for which data may be used are those declared at the point of data collection. The UK Information Commissioner refers to this as a "Fair processing Statement". Since the Interex website is defunct the only place to find the old Interex Privacy Policy is from Google's cache. The relevant segment says:

" You have the right to limit the use of your email address by 3rd parties through the "opt-out" process available to all Interex members. In addition, all email correspondence sent to you by Interex will offer an "unsubscribe" option. If you do not choose to limit the use of your email address, Interex will occasionally share this information with carefully selected HP-centric partner companies whose products and services we feel may be of interest to you.

Personal information submitted at the time of registration, subscription and/or membership sign-up may be used by Interex for the marketing and promotion of Interex products that we feel may be of interest to you. In addition, your name and mailing address may be provided to a licensed and bonded third-party mail house for one-time use by carefully selected HP-centric partner companies whose products and services we feel may be of interest to you."

The term "carefully selected" is often used. It means precisely nothing in law. "Oh yes. Our selection criteria are that they will pay us enough money. Under those circumstances we select them, carefully."

The first paragraph explicitly states that you can unsubscribe from Interex use, and implies that you can limit the use of your data to Interex. But Interex no longer exists except under liquidator control. When Interex disposes of the list, what then?

"HP Centric" and "partner companies" are more interesting. It seems to us that this could be interpreted by a reasonable person as "A company whose business is built around HP, and who has entered into a formal agreement with HP to be a partner". We think there Is more hope, here, of restricting the use of the data. Or we would if this sale were happening in Europe .

This is a California bankruptcy and was a US Sale. The data is not in the European Economic Area, and it appears that nothing in the Privacy Policy reflects that export of data for European individuals. This means that the only thing Interex members could have relied on is the statement:

" To request removal from the database, simply email the Interex Membership Department at [impossible to reach link] and we will be happy to remove your information immediately."

A mass unsubscription by Interex members would have rendered the dataset valueless! Equally that simply was not going to happen.

So What is the End Game?

First of all the data is held in the USA . Point 2 at the start of this article asks about European laws and the relevant EEC Directives. The short answer is that no EEC Directives applied here. Whoever was successful in the purchase of the list could have used it for whatever they pleased

HP had to buy the list. £40,000 is a small price to pay compared with the legal costs that could run out of control trying to sort this mess out. They were forced to enter into a bidding war to get the list and to protect their own customers' privacy.

It's not clear yet what HP plans to do with the list. But it is unlikely to need the data on it, so it looks like it has spent £40,000 on maintaining its reputation.

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