Privacy advocates and readers may recognize the name, Jack Dunning who has written extensively on the subject of privacy and other topics through his blogs, websites and books. Grant Hall caught up with “Nasty Jack” and picked his brain on the subject of personal privacy, writing and more. Enjoy the interview.
James Clark King, LLC
Publisher, Privacy Crisis books
Grant Hall: Hello Jack. We have communicated and spoken over the years on the subject of privacy. I believe you worked in the field of marketing and mailing lists provided to entrepreneurs and businesses, and have written a great deal on privacy-related matters on your blogs and sites. Am I correct about the mail order lists? I’m doing this from memory. Please provide websites and blogs you are associated with for the benefit of our readers.
Jack Dunning: I did work as a data broker in the direct marketing industry, or junk mail as I eventually decided was its true interpretation. In addition to mass over mailing (1 return for 100 catalogs sent), a major reason for this definition was the loose security measures taken by mail order companies, including support organizations like data brokers and computer facilities, for customer names and personal data in the 70’s and 80’s. There has been some improvement but it is a wonder more data breaches don’t occur today.
I blogged on privacy in the early 2000’s in the Dunning Letter: http://thedunningletter.blogspot.com/ TDL has since been used for other purposes but all the privacy posts are there for search.
About five years ago I started my NastyJackBuzz political blog which is still active today posting on political satire as a Progressive here: https://nastyjackbuzz.blogspot.com/
Grant Hall: How did you become known as “Nasty jack?”
Jack Dunning: Back in the late 70’s, my wife, Barbara and I, created a drink recipe card library for mixed alcohol drinks similar to Betty Crocker’s food recipe library, called the Nasty Jack Drink Recipe Card Library-An Epicurean Prescription for Spirits. Barb came up with the Nasty Jack name she had seen somewhere, and it has stuck over the years, eventually ending up on my political blog. Based on some of the comments I get on the blog, the name is appropriate because I am a passionate Progressive.
Grant Hall: I read a piece I believe you wrote on a credit bureau and the refusal of that company to allow you to correct information contained In their records. Without naming that credit bureau, can you comment on credit bureaus’ authoritarian-like, Orwellian actions based on your knowledge and experience?
Jack Dunning: Yes, this is perhaps the most uncontrolled faction in the financial industry. Credit Bureaus could be considered the epitome of Orwell’s Big Brother because they know everything there is to know about an individual and you have absolutely no control over what they know. Congress, being the doo-willies they are let these companies run rampant over the consumer. Even if they wanted to do something, proven over and over they don’t, Congress doesn’t know enough about Credit Bureaus to know where to start. The blog post you refer to has had 83 comments to date, all complaints about this bureau’s lack of communication.
Grant Hall: In my opinion, the credit bureaus are pseudo government agencies. And they are certainly in bed with banks which depend on them exclusively for information regarding customers’ credibility as well as the credibility of potential customers. Credit scores are established by these companies and make or break consumers’ ability to borrow money and keep financial credibility. How did these private companies get so much power over the population?
Jack Dunning: The financial industry created a monster. I happened to be in on a meeting in Chicago in the late 60’s at Montgomery Ward where credit bureaus were being given serious consideration by direct marketers. MW had decided to develop their own algorithm for credit worthiness but eventually joined all the others using the FICO score. It was interesting to see the intricacies of what it took to create the credit score. But once the credit bureaus got rolling, their data proved to be something the financial industry could rely on but at the same time the CBs convinced everyone their data and formulas were so proprietary, they must be kept completely secret. Bingo! The credit bureaus of today. The Fair Credit Reporting Act is, in my estimation, the weakest privacy legislation ever passed.
Grant Hall: The masses apparently believe it to be okay to provide their utility companies with their most personal and confidential information. For instance, major cell telephone companies, and internet service providers want to run one’s credit history prior to selling them a basic telephone or internet service plan. I’ve inquired recently and the companies with the best service and largest market share may have relaxed their contract requirements, but still want a customer’s Social Security Number and credit history prior to considering them for telephone or internet service. In my view, telephone and internet service are highly confidential services and essential for nearly everyone. How do you feel about this? As you know, one can buy pay as you go service for telephone and internet service at a premium price while keeping telephone and internet use private.
Jack Dunning: Forget who said it, but it was the CEO of one of the largest data companies commenting something like: Get over it, your personal data is not private. He was right. In the 70s I can remember walking around data broker’s offices observing computer tapes laying on people’s desks, completely unsecured, with thousands of names including their personal data, even social security numbers, with no one at the desk. Never in our office however. If you can’t get it free on the Internet, including the Internet underground, you can buy it in dozens of locations, including the Internet underground.
Grant Hall: The addiction to credit by the American public is clearly learned behavior taught to them by mass advertising representatives, real property propagandists, bankers, and main stream media, not to mention irresponsible parents and certain teachers. Today, many people think in terms of monthly payments, not purchase prices. Look through any set of advertisements and you will find that items I consider to be low cost and medium priced products are advertised based on the cost to make payments, not own the car, furniture or whatever is being peddled. When one pushes the numbers, she will see how ridiculous it is to buy these goods on time. Why not save for the item? To answer that question myself, I know that would cut the middleman,-the bankers and “hard money lenders” out of the equation. And the typical customer, especially the uneducated and undisciplined one wants immediate gratification and cannot turn down that big carrot being waived in front of his face. Of course, once one sacrifices themselves as a debt slave and owes her soul to the customer store, business and personal privacy go by the wayside, too. What is your view on consumer debt and usury by banks and bankers, Jack?
Jack Dunning: In general you are right, but it is doubtful many businesses in this country could survive without credit and/or credit cards. Considering the spending habits of many consumers, they would have nothing without credit, in large part because of your point on “immediate gratification.” I have always used credit profusely, up to the last few years, when we were able to pay cash for everything. Still charge it on credit cards for the rewards but pay them off every month. Fact: Any personal data any individual has ever put out there is still out there and available for sale somewhere. You might be surprised just how easy a lot of people will give up their private information, including SS number. Many of the companies I worked for in direct marketing eventually decided to handle their own credit; in the beginning it was a gold mine. But later when credit reporting requirements became more complicated, they either farmed it out or sold their credit department. Unfortunately, this collection of personal data goes back into the 1800s, so you can see my resolve that nothing is private anymore. Sorry.
Grant Hall: Turning to the subject of money and property privacy, an interesting and unusual trend may be developing. About thirty percent of long term bonds yield negative interest rates worldwide. About the same percent of countries charge retail customers a fraction of a percent on their money in addition to fees to store money. Of course, with central bankers keeping interest rates at essentially zero for some years, banks have no choice but to do this. Along with this negative interest rate policy, banks have instituted the most privacy invasive stance in the history of the world toward their customers along with severe curbs on customers’ ability to take advantage of free market opportunities. For instance, Switzerland charges one half percent on savings account balances, disallows Americans to become customers, and changed their banking secrecy statute(s) within the last few years while revealing account holders names to U.S. agencies. What are your thoughts?
Jack Dunning: Afraid you are in an area of some unfamiliarity with me so I don’t really have an opinion.
Grant Hall: The Japanese central bank, another central bank with negative interest rate policy has stopped out their retail banking customers with this charge on money policy. And as you may know, historically, the Japanese have been the most disciplined savers. Money safes in Japan are sold out. Japanese families now have their own “in house banks” in the form of cash stored in their own safes. Likewise, the American savings class has been ruined. Retired workers can no longer earn money on their money. How do you feel about bypassing the banking system except for essential uses and following the trend set by the Japanese and others by storing their cash in safes to avoid fees and to preserve privacy?
Jack Dunning: Basically, I am not in favor of keeping cash in the home. We keep a minimum amount in a Money Market fund for emergencies, unfortunately drawing rock bottom interest. The rest we invest in annuities and have experienced very successful earnings in the past few years, enough to partially fund our semi-retirement.
Grant Hall: I know you have written two books. Please tell us about each book as well as what inspired you to write them.
Jack Dunning: The first was a novel, “Nymphomania Bloodlust,” about a nymphomaniac vampire that is killing Arizona politicians. The other is a humorous memoir “Without the Lampshade-How I Learned to Love my Brown Martini,” about my younger, wild drinking days.
Grant Hall: Provide the stores or websites where each book may be purchased.
Grant Hall: Do you have other books available? How about other articles, materials, or goods and services that you offer for sale or free of charge? Please provide the websites, blogs, stores where these may be found.
Jack Dunning: Only hundreds of posts on the two blogs.
Grant Hall: Do you feel writers reap a therapeutic value from writing? And once one determines the topic, does the research, makes the commitment, does writing the book tend to complete the Gestalt and make the writer whole?
Jack Dunning: Definitely! Especially political l blogging. I can also get wrapped up in my fiction because I am the kind of writer that uses no outline. I have a basic plot and storyline and then just let the tale flow. To me it is actually exciting to write in that way and I rarely have writer’s block. I finished my novel in three months. And yes, there is a satisfaction in completion that you finally realize is a creation of your very own.
Grant Hall: Do you have business or writing projects in the planning stage? Share whatever you want readers to know about products and services that may be available from Jack Dunning in the future.
Jack Dunning: I am finishing a novelette about a cross-eyed male rescue cat that was taken from a Washington, D.C. sewer to a shelter, then adopted by a family (Barb and me), later a female cat was adopted from the same shelter, both of which lived with this family in a high-rise on the outskirts of the nation’s capital. The story is told through the eyes and dialogue of the cats. The cats and family lived very happily until the male cat decided he had to return to the sewer and find his mother. Half of the story is the cat growing up in the sewer, the remainder living in the high-rise and return to the sewer, sprinkled with humor and near-tragedy in the sewer.
Grant Hall: I would like to tap into your knowledge base again about certain privacy topics and trends, Jack. Please share anything you want readers to know about your work or philosophy or anything else you deem valuable for this interview and provide any resources, websites, blogs or links that you want to provide.
Jack Dunning: I became interested in the privacy issue when I entered the direct marketing business, observed how much private information was available on consumers’ lives, and worked within the industry to encourage maximum security of people’s names and personal data. I found minimum interest in securing the names and data but maximum interest in selling it as often as possible. A data broker’s commission was 20%, unheard of in my day when most hucksters were getting 5 to 10 percent. It was a cutthroat business and the data broker was often referred to by some as a prostitute…anything for a buck. I made a lot of money but was always extremely careful about any data within my responsibility. Finally I had had enough, got out of the business and that’s when I started my privacy blog, “The Dunning Letter.”
And then I came across a quote from someone within direct marketing who was the CEO of Sun Micro Systems, a vital force in the industry. This is the quote I couldn’t remember earlier: “You already have zero privacy – get over it by Scott McNealy. It took me a while but I finally realized he was right. Up to that point my agenda was to keep my name and personal data secure within my grasp, even advocating for some time that it should legally be a person’s property. No one was interested, not even the biggest privacy advocates in the country, most of whom I knew personally. It was then that I turned to protection of my private information at the source. I make sure all mailings of a financial nature are shredded, check all bank balances daily, credit accounts weekly, and do credit reports quarterly. It isn’t proof-positive but, unfortunately, it is all that I have, since, like I said, unfortunately, my personal data is already all over the world.
Grant Hall: Thank you, Jack Dunning.
Thank you, Grant.