March 17, 2004

Your Contact Information: Ownership vs. Privacy

Many legitimate questions have been raised around the issue of ownership of contact information vs. the privacy rights of the individuals to whom the contact information pertains.
My name is Stacy Martin and I am the Privacy Officer here at Plaxo. I am responsible for Privacy, Security and Trust issues related to the usage of our service. I’d like to publicly state Plaxo’s position on this issue. I welcome others to comment and offer suggestions with the hope of providing a productive and useful open discussion on this subject.
OVERVIEW:
As part of downloading Plaxo Contacts and joining the Plaxo Network, you will likely provide us with your own personal contact information as well as the contact information for others stored within your address book. All of this information is collectively referred to as “Your Information”.
Our privacy policy, which is a binding contract between Plaxo and you, states that Your Information is treated as your property and we do not share this information with anyone else, unless required by law enforcement. As a member, the Privacy Policy protects your ownership rights to your information by allowing you the right to access and correct, update, and/or delete your information at any time.
WHO OWNS MY CONTACT INFORMATION?:
We have received many questions about the rights of individuals whose personal contact information is being kept within a member’s address book and is therefore managed by the Plaxo Service. Do these individuals have the right to have information about them removed from the address books of Plaxo members?
THE PLAXO POSITION:
According to US law, the information in a person�s address book is the property of the owner of the address book and not the property of the individuals about whom the information pertains. The Plaxo Privacy Policy explicitly prohibits us from removing an individual�s contact information from a member�s address book without the member�s consent.
We believe this is the proper and responsible manner in which to operate. On a simplistic level, the same principles hold true when you give someone your business card; you can not decide that you “own” the printed information on that card and be able to demand the card back at a later time.
Some people disagree with the US’s (and Plaxo’s) stance on this issue. They believe that a person should inherently have control over any information about themselves, regardless of who currently maintains it. Clearly it can’t be both ways, which is why this issue has remained so contentious.
However, and this is important, if any user — member or non-member — requests to have their information removed from the address book of a Plaxo member, as a courtesy we offer to contact that member and ask them to voluntarily remove the user’s data as well as discontinue further communications with the user through Plaxo. Most users have no incentive to share or otherwise compromise the information of their friends and colleagues. In every case that I’ve been involved with so far, the Plaxo member has been more than happy to comply with the user’s request.
However, Plaxo takes reports of abuse very seriously. If we find that a member’s actions violate our terms of service, we will investigate and possibly terminate the member�s account. If you suspect any abuse, please contact us at abuse@plaxo.com.
It�s worth pointing out that the issue of ownership is not unique to Plaxo. Even if you only looked at services that provide online address book functionality such as Yahoo, MSN, AOL, etc, you would still have tens, if not hundreds of active services dealing with the same ownership vs. privacy issues. And just as much as a user can not go to AOL and demand they remove all references to the user’s email address from AOL members’ address books, Plaxo is unable to do the same with Plaxo member’s address books.
THE PRIVACY POLICY:
Finally, I’d like to conclude with a few comments regarding the Plaxo Privacy Policy. The Plaxo Privacy Policy is a public statement of our fair information practices and it is designed to be self-regulating. In other words, it allows people to evaluate our actions against our words and determine for themselves if we are a trustworthy organization.
We’ve further enhanced the credibility of our privacy policy by certifying it with one of the most trusted 3rd party privacy seal organizations, TRUSTe. As a licensee of the TRUSTe Privacy Seal Program, we have agreed to adhere to specific privacy and security practices.
Moreover, the Plaxo Privacy Policy is a legal document that falls under the basic consumer protection statute enforced by Section 5 of the FTC Act. This statute provides that “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce are declared unlawful.” In other words, if we don’t do what we say we do, we may be subject to prosecution and fine.
I welcome you to continue the discussion by contacting me at privacy@plaxo.com or adding your comments to our Plaxo Community Forum.
Thank you,
Stacy Martin
Plaxo Privacy Officer

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Redgee Capili

General Manager, Plaxo.com

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