Though many would prefer not to receive an avalanche of junk mail, when privacy advocates decry direct mailing as an invasion of privacy, many find it much ado about nothing, content to simply throw away unwanted mail. When privacy advocates point out business practices that include compiling and analyzing our personal information, creating sophisticated market profiles to be sold to marketers at a profit, more of us find that invasive.

Just how much do we actually treasure our privacy in practice? The results of a survey of subscribers to various Conde Naste publications suggest that most of us are almost eager to divulge the most personal of information.

Conde Naste publishes The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and other magazines. In a survey sent with issues last May to readers who had subscribed two or more times, the company asked hundreds of personal questions. In introducing the survey, responded to by 400,000 people, Conde Naste, according to The Washington Post, explained that "your People are truly concerned about their privacy -- 90 percent, in a recent Harris poll. Yet, they give out personal information

all the time.

answers to the questions that follow will allow us to target the areas which interest you most and help us be more rewarding to you." It added, "Just answer the questions below to start the conversation and become part of this select group of subscribers to whom marketers listen first." New Yorker publisher Thomas Florio told his subscribers that those who responded to the survey would be those "to whom we can turn first for a valued opinion about the products you see on our pages or for a first look when there is something sensational looming on the horizon."

Asking for respondents' names, the survey requested information about smoking, drinking, hobbies and shopping. It asked about the kind of cars subscribers owned, their computers and their Internet habits. It wanted to know subscribers' attitudes toward marriage, having a baby or being a grandparent. For those about to get married, the survey asked the month and year of the wedding. Health-related questions dipped into everything from acne to vaginal infections. The survey also asked for information about prescription drugs.

According to the Post, the survey stayed away from financial information, but not out of respect for individual privacy. The Post pointed out that Conde Naste already had access to such information from other services. Stephen Jacoby, Conde Naste vice president for marketing and databases, told the newspaper, "We get it from other sources, so I don't have to ask."

A Convenient Release

When poll after poll indicates that people are concerned about their lack of privacy and appear resigned about having lost control over their personal data, why would they willingly part with such information? Edward Nash, a marketing consultant and author of "Database Marketing: The Ultimate Marketing Tool," told the Post, "It's amazing. It's impotence and incontinence and all kinds of things they don't tell anybody. People tell us all kinds of things they wouldn't tell their neighbors." He added: "It's a release. Sometimes they want to let something out."

Conde Naste has an in-house database of more than 15 million people, and it sells mailing lists of subscribers' names. However, it has pledged not to sell information it gleaned as a result of the recent survey. But it does intend to use the results to connect subscribers with businesses that offer products or services the respondents want.

The cavalier response to the Conde Naste survey is a graphic illustration of the privacy conundrum. On the one hand, people are truly concerned about their privacy -- 90 percent, in a recent Harris poll. Add to that the large percentage of people who say they have been victimized at some time by a business that has

Harry Hammitt  |  Contributing Writer