HIGHTOWER: Beware of Nosey Warranty Cards

Let's travel together to the Far, Far, Far-Out Frontiers of Free Enterprise.Today, Spaceship Hightower takes you deep into the world of consumerism, past the point where reason prevails, and into the dark sphere of privacy invasion. Edgar Rosen never meant to go this far, but before he knew it, there he was. As he told Consumer Reports magazine, all he wanted to do was to buy a barbecue grill. But when he got his Sunbeam Grillmaster home, he found that he was the one getting grilled.Enclosed was a warranty card for Rosen to fill out. Instead of a simple, name-address-and-date-of-purchase mailer, its card folded out to more than a foot long and demanded more information than an IRS form. Sunbeam asked him to reveal his income, marital status, and the number, ages, and occupations of others in his household. Then it wanted to know what credit cards the Rosen household uses, whether anyone there smokes cigars, wears contact lenses, or is a veteran. There also was a long list of products on the card, and Rosen was to check off those he owned.Category number 26 on Sunbeam's inquisitive card probed the Rosen family's health, asking if anyone in the household suffers from angina, back pain, migraines, thinning hair, or more than a dozen other health problems, plus it wanted a list of the drugs the Rosens take to treat any of these ills.In case the family was disinclined to provide such an in-depth, personal profile, Sunbeam warned in bold lettering: "FAILURE TO RETURN THIS CARD MAY AFFECT YOUR WARRANTY!" This is nonsense, of course. A simple store receipt qualifies you for a warranty, but the threat of losing the warranty induces many customers to surrender all their private data, which companies like Sunbeam can then sell to marketing firms.This is Jim Hightower saying ... The first step in protecting your privacy is just to say no to nosey corporations.

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