data privacy at the home show

Ever wonder where all of those social aggregator sites get all of that personal information about you and your family and friends, and how all of those senders of unsolicited postal and electronic mail got your addresses?

Today we stopped in at the Raleigh Home Show for a few hours. The first person who greeted us just inside the building handed us each a ticket and told us to go over to the bank of waiting tablets to register to win a $250 gift card. The first 3 questions were simple enough – name, phone number, email address. OK, maybe; I have throwaway info I can use. The next page asked further questions that seemed to be completely unnecessary for administratively awarding a gift card: gender, age range, marital status, family income level, etc. Suspicious now, I played along with random responses on more pages of nosy questions to get to the end page. On the last page with the AGREE button, I clicked through to read the T&Cs. Guess what? By clicking AGREE, one would be consenting to letting them use all of this personal information as they like AND, if selected to ‘win’ the gift card, consenting to travel at one’s own expense to somewhere (in tiny print, there was a list of places which didn’t seem to be in the Raleigh area) and have to sit through a 90-120 minute timeshare presentation in order to receive the $250 gift card. How many people, I wonder, had clicked AGREE at this show without reading these T&Cs? We clicked DISAGREE and got out. I’ve seen better rewards at walk-in timeshare tour offers.

After finding the box office and buying our tickets (a very reasonable $10 per person), we entered at the admission gate, and were greeted by another person who handed each of us a different award ticket. He indicated that we should stop at a new set of kiosks inside the show, at the bottom of the escalator, to register to win a ‘free’ $15,000 remodel. Care to take a guess about how much personal information was requested to enter this second drawing? Yup, same things, and even more. As a test, one of us clicked on ‘married’ and was prompted with a new dialog asking for spouse’s name. Nope, sorry. And the requested household income brackets were even more specific and higher-ranging. We worked our way to the end of the questions on one of the kiosks, and got to a URL for the giveaway. Mobile browser in hand, I pulled up the rules.

Although the kiosk had not allowed proceeding in the giveaway signup without choosing an income range, the giveaway rules page claimed that income information was not necessary to enter. A tiny link at top for the privacy policy for “*** Marketing Services” (I refuse to give them free publicity by naming them or linking to their site) pointed to a PDF link on a site for the same timeshare promotion company. And the privacy policy URL was a dead link! A search on their site did pull up a privacy policy, but it explicitly stated that “THIS PRIVACY POLICY DOES NOT GOVERN PRIVACY PRACTICES ASSOCIATED WITH OFFLINE ACTIVITIES.” – so, not relevant to their giveaway at the show? (FWIW, the policy says that they DO sell and share nonpublic personal information to third parties.) Finally, the giveaway page indicates it sponsors a single $15,000 prize for the entire sweepstakes signup period of Jan. 1-Dec. 10, 2019. There is no mention of how many events will be eligible for this one prize, but logically, it would be many events like the home show, and thousands of people, making the odds of winning quite small.

Interestingly, the sweepstakes web page says anyone can enter manually by sending a postcard with full name, home address, email address and phone number. No marital status, no income range, no gender, etc. required. So why do they ask for it at the kiosks? The obvious answer is on the page: they will make money from using attendees’ data for “promoting various products and services”.

Bottom line? Beware of ‘free’ giveaways that ask for more personal information than needed to administer the giveaway, and aren’t up-front about who is sponsoring them. If you’re going to the Raleigh Home Show tomorrow, or a similar event later this year, consider skipping the kiosks if your personal data is worth more to you than a miniscule chance at winning a $15,000 home remodel or, worse yet, a $250 gift card that you need to travel at your own expense and endure a 2-hour timeshare tour to collect.