PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

May 2001

You are lucky indeed if you don't know what CRM stands for. It's fast becoming the source of the biggest damned nuisance in the developed world, and I want you to stamp it out wherever it breaks out. Inhumanely kill and burn the perpetrators if you must. 

CRM stands for "Customer Relationship Management". It now seems to encapsulate everything from screen pop-ups reminding call centre droids to say "Have a Nice Day" to ensuring that you only get spam that fits your carefully researched and honed profile. Some hope!

And in between is growing a deeply, deeply insidious trade in information about users habits and interests that ought to have been more intelligently covered by the various data protections acts – but given that the UK’s data protection legislation was conceived before the internet, and revised imperfectly, what we have now is the equivalent of the sort of legislation that covers a vehicle MOT. In others words, far too much tedious detail that means that any determined copper will be able to nail any motorist if they really, really want to.

However… this law takes no account of what Johnny Foreigner is up to when he driving around on our shores in his 10 year old Trabant, that creates its own personal hole in the Ozone layer and has brakes that would tax the skills of the Captain of the QE2.

You try and extract details of your personal files from an outfit like Experian ( In this age of electronic communication, they make it as difficult as imaginable to get your own record:-

By Post - You should apply enclosing the statutory £2 fee in the form of a cheque (payable to Experian Ltd.) or postal order and we will be happy to send it to you. Please ensure that you quote your full forename and surname as well as your date of birth and all addresses at which you have resided during the past six years.

Not exactly a secure method, is it..? So why not make this available via a web order form and credit card purchase, like every other retailer on the web. Moreover, the cunning buggers could then trap details of a CC account that they might not already have noted on your file. I for one would certainly be arsed to fill out the web form and get my own file this way, but who uses snail mail in this enlightened age..? Why does Experian put barriers in the ways of consumers checking their own records..? Is it because that many of them are wrong (even the Home Office admits that some 30% of criminal records are wrong) ..? If Experian is advised of an inaccuracy, is it then duty bound to send corrections to all users of its services to correct false information..? After all, it keeps a track of who has accessed which records. But I guess that would be embarrassing and costly. This topic is, strangely, not discussed in their FAQ.

Personal (electronic) privacy has been an issue mostly as the result of the evil of spam (serially propagated automated mailing) which quickly latched onto the fact that email was, essentially free. So the laws of nature applied, and the medium has become abused to an alarming degree – and given the territorial diversity of the internet, no legislation has been effective in nailing the menace.

Microsoft has regularly tested the boundaries of what their punters will wear when it comes to attempts to compromise personal data integrity. Quite apart from the famously flawed security features in the software that allow hackers into just about any Microsoft operating system to “help themselves”, Microsoft operates various technique to try and snag the data from passing surfers – as well as trap the data from product registrations.

In the effort to appear to be concerned about consumer privacy, most people like Microsoft pay lip service to the notion and offer the chance to “opt out” , but the general drift of their latest well-spin initiative – P3P (Platform for Privacy Preferences) - is that nothing much is changing. The headline feature of IE6 is apparently a variation on the theme of cookie warnings. But let’s be honest, lots of users find browser cookie-based authentication a real boon when the alternative is the inestimable fag of remembering a zillion personal logins and passwords.

The next wave of Microsoft software (XP series) is designed with a much more invasive registration process than ever before; some paranoid music rights owners are even asking for hard disk manufacturers to devise a data stamping technique to track users over the matter of MP3 file exchanges. The world is going barmy. Stop it!

But why does CRM exist..?

It exists firstly because it can, and secondly because someone is willing to pay someone else, just to learn about YOU. Now, call me old fashioned, but if anyone is to make money out of knowing about me and my preferences, than that someone should be ME. Not Microsoft; not consumer credit agencies like Experian; not Rupert Murdoch, not Alan Sugar, not Vodafone, Orange, Cellnet etc., and most definitely not Her Majesty’s Government or any one of a zillion other agencies that collect data ands then sell it to others for all manner of marketing purposes.

Thanks to the web, this is not entirely wishful thinking, so watch this space.