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Will Warranty Enforcement Be Amazon Marketplace's Achilles' Heel?

When it comes to competing against Amazon, eBay or even Japan's Rakuten, one of the more challenging aspects is their third-party marketplaces, which give each a seemingly endless inventory at minimal risk. But the odds may be getting more even, as shoppers are starting to notice that some manufacturers are strictly enforcing their authorized reseller rules.

The immediate impact on shoppers is they may find that the expensive flat-screen TV, surround-sound speakers or refrigerator that looked like such a bargain on Amazon voids the warranty. The arguably-unrealistic expectation from consumer goods manufacturers—which sharply strengthens the hands of traditional e-tailers trying to fight against these third-party marketplaces—is that shoppers would not only notice the actual name of the merchant shipping the item, but would take the time to run that name on the manufacturer's site to see if they are truly an authorized reseller. Or they could just make the purchase from Target.com or Bestbuy.com and know for certain.

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NSA Phone Data Grab Raises Frightening Retail Questions. Can Complying With A Lawful Warrant Still Violate A Chain’s Privacy Policy?

June 26th, 2013
The recent revelations that Verizon and most likely others shared the entire contents of their customer databases with the U.S. National Security Agency raises a question for retailers and payment processors. How much data should I share with the government, particularly when they have a subpoena, and how much effort should I expend fighting government demands for information?

Here’s the problem, pens Legal Columnist Mark Rasch. Most retailers have privacy policies that say they will turn over data (or even databases) in response to "lawful" government demands or requests. But if it turns out that the demand or request is overbroad, unreasonable, not supported by probable cause, done for an improper purpose, or simply that the government did not follow the proper procedure in obtaining the subpoena or warrant, or in otherwise requesting the information, the demand may not be lawful. And voila! The retailer will have violated its own privacy policies.Read more...


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Twitter Preparing Geofencing Retail Ads For The Holidays—And You’ll Be Giving A Lot More Than You’ll Receive

June 26th, 2013
Just in time for the holidays, Twitter will unveil a retail program where it will deliver geo-targeted messages to shoppers as they approach specific latitudes and longitudes, according to a report in Ad Age. Although the idea of letting Twitter blast anyone with 15 percent off coupons when they get within eyeshot of your store is pleasant enough, retailers might easily find themselves giving more than they receive—a lot more.

What is being given up is data, but this isn't referring to the limiters your team will give to Twitter ("we want 18-24 year old women who have Tweeted about clothing in the prior 96 hours and who are nearing our store between 9 AM and 10 PM"). The data at risk are the responses. Let's say you broadcast these discount messages to 4,000 proximity shoppers and 300 react, 250 download the coupon and 86 redeem the coupon. You won't be the only one saving those 86 names in the "nice" list, the one that you'll want to check a lot more than twice. So will Twitter.Read more...


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When Testing The Largest Retailers Against Google’s M-Commerce Standard, Amazon Is The Rare Flunkee

June 26th, 2013
With a looming threat that Google will punish sites that do not strictly comply with its specific mobile guidelines, one SEO firm decided to pull out the Fortune 100 list and test everybody on it, using Google's benchmark. Only a half-dozen companies passed (I'd argue it was only five as one of the six was Google itself). No surprise: None of them were retailers. This we didn't see coming, though. One of the worst performers was Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN).

Most of the retailers did OK, including Walmart, CVS, Costco, Home Depot, Target, Walgreen, Lowe's, Best Buy and Sears. The grocery chains (Kroger, Safeway and Supervalu) did poorly, but mobile commerce is generally a low grocery priority. Then we get back to Amazon, the retailer—let alone e-tailer—that has generally made all matters tech a huge priority. Amazon got beaten up on the ratings partially because the spreadsheet said it didn't have a true mobile site. But it seems to have a true mobile site—a very nice-looking one, too. They do, but it's apparently not done in the way that Google has in mind.Read more...


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Updated: No, Target Won’t Be Slashing Its IT Budget By Two-Thirds Next Year. But Could It?

June 24th, 2013
Is Target (NYSE:TGT) about to slash IT spending? No, it turns out, it's not. An investors' note from Citi analyst Deborah Weinswig on Friday (June 21) said Target has reached "peak spending" on IT and next year the IT budget will drop from the range of $130 million to $160 million down to between $30 million and $60 million. That would be $100 million, or about two-thirds of Target's IT spend, chopped from the budget.

But on Thursday (June 27), Citi reissued that investors' note at Target's prompting, because in reality Target's IT spending will actually rise next year. It seems there was a communication problem between Target's top executives and Citi. The new version of the note reads: "TGT is investing approx. $0.20-$0.25 per share more in technology this year than last year. Next year, the incremental spending on technology is expected to be worth $0.05-$0.10/share YOY." No slashed IT budget. No wild swing between investing in new systems and digesting the results. In short, a much more conventional IT budget story. But wait—what if Citi had gotten it right the first time? Could that even have worked? Read more...


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Where In The World Is ISIS Wallet?

June 24th, 2013
With all of the recent attention to Google Wallet, thought it might be interesting to do the same about some of the other digital wallets in the market – there are so many now! Since someone was asking me just the other day about ISIS, and its been a while since we’ve heard from them, I was inspired. So, just Where in the Wallet World is ISIS these days?, asks GuestView Columnist Karen Webster. Well, the short answer is: not in very many places.

It’s live in two cities, so they can officially use plural words when describing its deployment, but unless you live in Salt Lake City or Austin (and own particular handsets with NFC) you are SOL in being able to engage in the ISIS experience. According to Mike Abbott, ISIS CEO, at a presentation this past May, ISIS will expand past those cities when they are good and ready. And after all, what’s the rush, especially when you have Big Daddy Telebucks (AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon) bankrolling you? Let’s take a trip down memory lane now and refresh our collective memories on the ISIS Wallet evolution.Read more...


Retailers Win—And Lose—In Supreme Court Arbitration Ruling

June 24th, 2013
When the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday (June 20) ruled in favor of American Express and against a retailer in a dispute about interchange rates, it put retailers in an awkward bind. The ruling was really about whether the retailer could be forced to submit to arbitration, writes Legal Columnist Mark Rasch. That awkwardness is because retailers hate arbitration when they are the ones being forced to do it (by perhaps a card brand or a QSA or a manufacturer) but they are positively giddy and in love with it when they're forcing it on their shoppers.

As far as Amex is concerned, here's the deal. If you want to accept American Express corporate cards, then, according to the terms of the agreement with Amex, you have to also accept all other Amex cards as well. And you have to agree to all of Amex’s terms. It’s all or nothing—or as antitrust lawyers might argue, an unlawful tying arrangement in violation of the Clayton Antitrust Act. Antitrust lawyers talk like that.Read more...


Facebook’s 6-Million-User Breach A Frightening Reminder To Retailers About Data-Sharing Partner Risks

June 21st, 2013
Retailers who worry about data and PII security issues were reminded Friday (June 21) that they have to worry about not only about their own systems, but the security mechanisms of every data-sharing partner. And given the social media goals of most chains, the fact that it was Facebook fessing up to a 6-million-user data leak didn't help their nerves. It didn't help matters that Facebook said it discovered the problem the week of June 10, fixed it within 24 hours but didn't reveal the problem until late in the day on June 21. (Want to bury news? Release it at 4:50 PM on a Friday in late June.)

The details of the breach illustrate how innocuously these problems can crop up and how destructive they can be. And when your shoppers are hurt because the data they shared with you gets stolen, the blame falls on the retailer regardless of whether your team had anything to do with the breach. It's not pleasant, but there is something you can do about it.Read more...


Labs Strategy: Why Embracing “Failure” Is A Great Idea But A Horrible Word

June 20th, 2013
Oracle posted a very interesting short thought-piece Wednesday (June 19) about the different ways retail chains do—and should—handle lab strategy. Often labs are pure internal mechanisms, but they are more often the result of a tech acquisition. But the choice of strategies reveals an awful lot about attitudes of senior management. One key point is that management must be willing to accept—and learn from—failures. But if the CEO even thinks of the ultra-valuable data that comes from learning what shoppers will not accept as "a failure," the chain has even bigger problems than it thinks.

By looking at the different choices made by Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Nordstrom, Staples, Tesco, Wet Seal and Lowe's, Oracle categorizes three IT lab approaches. But how a lab is corporately structured will make little difference if senior management isn't willing to first learn (and to pay a lot for those lessons) and to be open to a future that they may not like. The job of a chain is to adapt to the reality in its market. The job of a dying chain is to cling to its current tactics if the future doesn't look like what it wants it to look like.Read more...


Swimwear Site Shifting Its Mobile Site Display Power From Browser To Server

June 19th, 2013
A swimwear and lingerie e-tailer called Bare Necessities is experimenting with a server-based (rather than browser-based) approach to re-sizing its site for various mobile devices. The benefit—if it works when fully deployed—will be faster initial page display and reduced overall load on the mobile browser. But the client-server rebalancing for mobile browsers is an interesting approach.

Jay Dunn, the site's chief marketing officer, told Internet Retailer that he thought the approach has strong potential, but he's skeptical until he sees how it does with the site's full launch later this summer. "I have not yet seen conventional responsive design handle a true retail site. I have 6,000 products and more than 24,000 product images, not counting color swatches, marketing, video and animation," Dunn said. "I haven’t yet seen the pure responsive design technology that handles that smoothly and efficiently across multiple devices." The historic problem with server-based approaches has been that it ultimately slows down the experience after the initial download, as the shopper needs to do a lot of back-and-forth interaction with the site.Read more...


Amazon’s Supply Chain Kicking The SKUs Out Of Walmart’s

June 19th, 2013
After some 19 years of struggling with E-Commerce, Walmart is once again learning that managing a merged channel retail strategy is almost never going to beat a well-run pure-play e-tailer like Amazon when it comes to online sales. Was reminded of this point courtesy of a wonderful stat in a Wall Street Journal story that ran Wednesday (June 19), which compared Amazon and Walmart's supply chain costs: "Wal-Mart's online shipping can cost $5 to $7 per parcel, while Amazon averages $3 to $4 per parcel, analysts say—a big difference considering some of Wal-Mart's popular purchases are low-cost items like $10 packs of underwear."

There are many factors behind those numbers, but it really comes down to the fact that Walmart's massive global supply chain needs to support more than 4,000 physical stores—a feat that Amazon need not worry about. Given that huge physical burden, Walmart's costs are quite impressive. But no one ever said that fighting against a pure play was particularly fair. Like all major chains, Walmart initially had two choices. Run the chain as one big happy merged channel family or separate and run online and offline as separate companies. Neither approach is perfect.Read more...


U.S. Supreme Court Opens New Retail Privacy Defense

June 19th, 2013
When the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday (June 17) ruled on a personal information privacy case involving driver's license information, it opened an entirely new defense strategy for retailers. In effect, it flipped privacy laws around to where chains can use privacy laws to prevent shoppers from accessing the chain's information about them.

The Supreme Court in this case used federal privacy laws to protect a car dealership from being sued in a class action lawsuit. But the facts could also serve to help, for example, Target trying to defend itself against a consumer lawsuit about a defective product, where the chain could say that privacy laws prevent its revealing key information to the plaintiffs, opines Legal Columnist Mark Rasch. The court indicated its intention to read exceptions to general privacy laws narrowly and, in an unusual way, used privacy laws not just to protect privacy, but to protect businesses themselves.Read more...


Cyberthieves Are Going Low-Tech, And The Only Way To Stop Them May Be To Go Even Lower

June 18th, 2013
At a time when retail IT is getting better at locking down just about every avenue cyberthieves have of breaking in—PINpads, wireless networks, connections with processors—it's nice to know the bad guys are still able to hit retail security where it isn't. (OK, it's not nice, but you know what we mean.) According to FICO (NYSE:FICO), scammers are now using a decidedly low-tech technique for stealing payment-card information from consumers—and there's no special reason the same trick won't work against store employees for the keys to a retail network.

It works like this: A cyberthief phones the target claiming to be from a bank and saying there's been suspicious activity on the target's card. If the target doesn't trust the caller, the thief encourages the target to phone the bank using a number the target trusts. The target hangs up—but the thief doesn't. When the target picks up the phone again to dial, the thief plays a recording of a dial tone. The target dials, but it's the thief who fields the call. From that point, it's all Social Engineering 101.Read more...


Social ROI: Isn’t A Loyal Shopper Already Going To Buy From You?

June 18th, 2013
The indirect nature of social media marketing for retail makes for a lot of frustration. IT execs are desperate for any concrete examples of ROI and pollsters (working for vendors) are only too happy to try and accommodate, even if those stats are meaningless. This unhappy thought bubbled up again this week when survey results were released that proclaimed in the headline: 31 percent of online Canadians are more likely to purchase after following a brand on Twitter.

Let's start with the basics on this one. Setting aside for the moment the counter-conclusion ("Why is it that 69 percent of online Canadians are not apparently more likely to purchase after following a brand on Twitter?"), the implication of this stat is to suggest a connection between the Twitter efforts and an increase in purchases/conversions. But isn't a shopper who chooses to follow a retail brand almost certainly already a fan of that brand and, as such, already someone who is quite likely to make purchases?Read more...


For Fraud And Trust, A Powerful Reminder That Retail Reality And Perception Are Light-Years Apart

June 17th, 2013
A new insurance company survey's shopper perception figures detail what, in the shopper's perception, constitutes a breach. Let's say a major chain has been breached. Standard bank procedure these days is to change the numbers for all payment cards that had been recently used at—or on file with—that retailer. Given the number of recent breaches—and the millions of customers who collectively received such a notice—that's a lot of shoppers who might think they had been personally breached. But they need to ask the question: Did the bank detect any purchases that seemed fraudulent? If the answer is no, then that shopper did not personally experience fraudulent use of their personal information to make purchases without consent. At best, they were mildly inconvenienced because someone else suffered such fraud, but they didn’t.

As a practical matter, though, very few consumers would bother (or even know) to ask such a question. They hear their bank say that their card is being re-issued due to something fraud-like. If a survey asks whether they have personally experienced fraud, they're almost certainly going to say yes. For retailers, this is a very key problem.Read more...


Best Buy’s Online CRM Move: Focus On Why Conversion Rate Is Low

June 14th, 2013
Best Buy is trying to push its substantial in-store CRM program to help its online conversions. Although a noble effort, it's a difficult challenge, trying to get shoppers to not merely change their behavior but also how they envision each channel. At more than 40 million accounts, Best Buy has one of the largest CRM programs in retail. But many of those accounts, of course, are dormant and date from long before the chain's current challenges. They come from a time when the site was seen as little more than a digital directory of the physical stores' SKUs, a place to do some research before heading out to the store.

These days, it's just as likely for shoppers to use the Best Buy site as a way to explore products before buying them at another physical store or a rival's Web site. In effect, the Best Buy site is becoming a showroom for other e-tailers.Read more...


A Clever Way To EAS Protect High Heels

June 13th, 2013

High heels present some interesting LP challenges. Not only are they easily slipped on and off without the need for a monitored dressing room, but they need to be tried on in the store, which can make typical security tags counterproductive. At the NRF Loss Prevention Conference show in San Diego on Wednesday (June 12), Tyco Retail rolled out a new EAS approach.

Tyco’s heel-friendly approach? The tag connects to the back of the heel, with an adjustable knob for different shoe styles. In theory, this shouldn’t damage the product. Tyco argues that although many shoes “have buckles, eyelets, etc, that allow retailers to easily attach” an EAS tag, a “wide variety of women’s pumps and men’s loafers don’t have a convenient place to hook an EAS tag.” As long as the thief doesn’t have a high magnetic detacher, Tyco suggests it should be difficult to remove the tag. Then again, this is a thief, after all. Hopefully she doesn’t simply steal the store’s—or some other store’s—detacher.


Jury Rules For Barnes & Noble In Gift Card Patent Case, But The Implications Are Mixed

June 12th, 2013
On Friday (June 7), a federal jury ruled in favor of (Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS)) in retail. The arguments focused on when is a giftcard transaction truly processed—is it when the card has money placed into it or is it when the products/services are delivered?—and whether a processor is acting as a bank? And if the retailer controls the full transactions, is it acting bank-like?

The reason the bank-like issue comes into play is that the patent in this case specified that a transaction would go through a bank connection and Barnes & Noble argued that they handle the transactions internally, as a stored payment. Therefore, the chain argued, it's a different process and does not violate the patent. The patent holder, Alexsam, said that the way that Barnes & Noble processed these payments was using their payment processor. Given that the payment processor network also handled traditional bank card payments, it's a bank network and it's therefore the same as the patent. The jury sided with the bookseller.Read more...


Still No Apple Mobile Wallet, But A Card-Number Keychain That May Be Just A Bit Too Clever

June 12th, 2013
Anyone who was expecting Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) to jump into in-store mobile payments this week is probably feeling...well, comfortably disappointed. The big keynote speech at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday (June 10) contained, as usual, no sign of the "iWallet" that some Apple fans insist will be coming any day now. But there was something just a little bit like a mobile wallet, and that's sure to keep the wishful thinking alive.

That something was the iCloud Keychain. Put simply, it's a cloud-based feature of both Apple's new iPhone operating system, iOS 7, that lets users store passwords, logins and payment-card numbers for use with mobile commerce sites. Yes, it does all the things password managers do these days, including automatically filling in the forms that make online retail so much more miserable for customers on a phone than on a PC. But it's adding card numbers that makes this interesting.Read more...


PCI’s New PIN Rules: A New Document Is Issued To Require You To Create A New Document

June 12th, 2013
When the PCI Security Council issued new rules for PIN transactions on Friday (June 7), beyond the usual small tweaks and updates, there was essentially only one new rule impacting retailers: Device manufacturers need to specify how retailers need to use the devices to stay PCI compliant.

Andrew Jamieson, security laboratories manager for Underwriters Laboratories Transaction Security in Australia and a noted follower of PCI PIN procedures, said the new rule is actually a wise move. "The purpose of this document is to define the scope of the approval of the device, such that it is very clear what scenarios and environments the device is approved for use in. Conversely, which situations the use of the device steps outside of its approval, therefore negating its PCI PTS compliance," Jamieson said.Read more...


Rakuten Breach: Live By The Web, Get Punished By The Web

June 12th, 2013
Please forgive the cliché, but when hundreds of online shoppers say that your site is sick, it should lay down. The Japanese E-Commerce powerhouse Rakuten, which is just months away from a planned major push against Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) in the U.S., is finding itself in the frustrating position of seeing literally hundreds of its customers posting about fraud problems traced to Rakuten. And yet the $4.7 billion global retailer—operating in 27 countries—can't seem to trace the problem.

An online publication of Consumer Reports magazine, the Consumerist, has taken the lead in this coverage, and Rakuten's shopper victims have created their own site, much to the presumed non-delite of Rakuten. The site's called simply Rakuten Fraud. What's worse than having a security hole on your site on the eve of a major rollout impacting lots of customers? How about being unable to figure out where the hole is? Bernard Luthi, the COO of Rakuten.com, has become the public face of this breach and is arguing that there's little his team can do until they can somehow replicate or trace the source of these breaches.Read more...


Google Wallet’s Osama Bedier Confirms That Google Lost Money With Every Transaction. (Good News: It Didn’t Get Many.)

June 11th, 2013

Osama Bedier, the former PalPal exec who took over Google Wallet (and is now about to become a former Google exec as well),

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has confirmed what most suspected: that the fees Google had to agree to pay to the card brands meant that it lost money on every transaction. (Good news for Google: It didn’t make very many transactions.) “The company has dedicated hundreds of developers to Wallet and spent about $300 million to acquire digital payment startups to help develop the app. But consumers aren’t sold,” reported BusinessWeek. “Wallet has been downloaded fewer than 10 million times in the two years since its launch, according to Play, Google’s app store.”

Google’s initial plans were not about making revenue directly from transactions, but to instead collect data and then sell targeted ads, a very familiar Google model. But what got short shrift was finding a way to get shoppers to use its app. Unlike the Web where it had a very robust search engine to draw in consumers, its mobile wallet was entirely dependent on retailers and payment players to promote it to shoppers, something that no one (other than Google) had much of an incentive to do. And with losses as extreme as the ones Google was facing, adding a lot of marketing dollars …


Congress Not Yet Done Changing—And Possibly Killing—State E-Commerce Taxes Law

June 10th, 2013
As the Marketplace Fairness Act—aka state taxes for e-tailers law—settles in for a House fight as it approaches becoming the law of the land (having easily passed the Senate and with a White House promising a fast Presidential signature), retailers are understandably uneasy. For e-tailers, there are the "how complicated will be? Will I lose shoppers? Will it force me to lower prices more to maintain competitiveness?" For physical store executives, "Will this be filled with loopholes? Will it make a difference? Critically, will the taxes appear too late in the purchase process to deliver the much-talked-about fairness?"

And repeated rumblings from House leaders about major—and unspecified—changes they may force into the bill is absolutely not helping retailers' comfort levels. To try and help a little, StorefrontBacktalk and FierceRetail have assembled some of the key players in this battle to help answer some of these questions with a webinar slated for Tuesday, July 9, 2 pm ET/ 11 am PT.Read more...


Does Rakuten’s Move Mean E-Tailers Should Re-Think Web Design?

June 10th, 2013
When global e-tailer Rakuten told IRCE attendees last week of its plans to more aggressively push into the U.S. market later this summer, it spoke of its differences with Amazon and specifically stressed its preference for much longer pages than is the U.S. online norm. Have times—and shopper's preferences—changed so much that a complete reversal is a wise move? Should e-tailers (including Amazon) be rethinking their fundamental Web design strategies? Has this $4.7 billion global retailer—operating in 27 countries—figured out something that others haven't?

The argument really comes to a simple choice: scrolling versus clicking. The argument for clicking is that it makes for a cleaner and shorter page and that all of the additional detail is there, but it's not cluttering up the page until the shopper wants to see it. There might be a link for technical specs, but those numbers will only appear when it's clicked on. No need to distract the reader who doesn't care about those specs. The argument for scrolling (or using a lot of the PageDown button) is user apathy or lack-of-awareness. If the shopper truly thinks the product is complicated, that shopper would have no interest in clicking the demo button. But if that really-simple demo just autoplays, it might persuade the exact shoppers who would have never been likely to click. The other key part of this debate is shopper desires/expectations.Read more...


GuestView: Credit Unions Argue That Retailers Are Not Penalized When Breached. May I Ask What Planet You Live On?

June 7th, 2013
A recent story in a popular security newsletter featured a headline that got the blood boiling of GuestView Columnist Steve Sommers. The essence of the piece involved the National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU) asking Congress to create laws to further punish victims of a breach. The upshot is that merchants do not have any skin in the game when they are victims of a data breach. Sommers vehemently begs to differ.

Something these banks seem to miss is that merchants pay them for risk management. Issuers want to just sit back and collect all the free-flowing money that magically appears, forgetting that some of it actually requires them to work. Also, what are the real costs to the issuer? Key word here, "real" costs, not "inflated for a profit." Let's see: $2 for the plastic, $1 mailer, $1 postage, a generous $4 for labor and overhead. That works out to $8 total and these numbers are grossly padded. So why do I see reports by issuers claiming $25-75 "cost" to replace a card? Can you say exaggerated?Read more...


Retail Privacy Policies Need To Focus On How The Data Is Used Rather Than Just What Is Collected

June 6th, 2013
Privacy policies, if written well, explain to customers exactly what data you are going to collect, and what you are going to do with it. Problem is, most retailers have no idea what data they are collecting, or what they are going to do with it. As a result, retailers end up writing privacy policies that are either false or misleading, and this can lead to big legal problems. In fact, it may be better to have a policy that says either "we have no idea what we are collecting and what we will do with it" or "we will collect everything we can and use it in any way we want." But that’s not good public relations, writes Legal Columnist Mark Rasch.

What does this mean for retailers? Retailers collect, store, collate, share and use a great deal of personal information and personally identifiable information. Whether through PCI terminals, CRM databases, loyalty programs, surveillance cameras, credit checks or credit reports, website and e-commerce operations or marketing activities, they have a lot of personal information. They also share it with people that they never consider in their privacy policies. For example, they may state that they share information with vendors and suppliers to deliver goods and services. But what about lawyers, accountants, auditors, regulators, consultants and others? And how will those parties use the information? How will they protect it?Read more...


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