For one reason or another, much of the conversation about data mining and Internet surveillance in America seems to focus on the government. But government agencies are far from the only entities collecting information from users as they browse the web. There is an entire data collecting industry in the private sector whose goal is to collect as much information as possible about Internet users – things like a user’s location, interests, and habits – in order to sell this information to advertisers. Sometimes this information collecting manifests in strange ways.
Illinois man Mike Seay is finding this out firsthand.
Seay’s daughter, Ashley, was tragically killed in a car crash last year. At some point, someone close to Seay or his daughter must have posted something on the Internet about Ashley’s death, because retail supplier OfficeMax knew about it.
Seay was shocked on Thursday to find a letter at his home addressed to “Mike Seay, Daughter Killed in Car Crash, Or Current Business.”
"I’m not a big OfficeMax customer. And I wouldn’t have gone there and said anything to anybody there about it [the car crash]. That’s not their business," Seay told the LA Times.
Seay said the letter traumatized him and his wife. He’s not looking to sue anyone; he only wants an apology and explanation of what happened.
“Why would they have that type of information? Why would they need that?" Seay said. "What purpose does it serve anybody to know that? And how much other types of other information do they have if they have that on me, or anyone else? And how do they use that, what do they use that for?"
OfficeMax says the letter “is a result of a mailing list rented through a third-party provider.”
Though the company publicly offered an apology to Seay, they have yet to call him personally and speak with him about the letter. A spokesperson from OfficeMax said the company is still looking into the matter.
Here is a statement released by OfficeMax on the mistake:
“We are deeply sorry that Mr. Seay and his family received this mailing from us, and we are reaching out to Mr. Seay to convey our sincerest apologies on this unfortunate matter. This mailing is a result of a mailing list rented through a third-party provider. We have reached out to the third-party mailing list provider to research what happened. Based on a preliminary investigation today we believe this to be an inadvertent error; and we are continuing the investigation.”