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McDonald’s, Walgreens Learn Joys Of Third-Party E-Mail Breaches

December 15th, 2010

“We recently became aware of unauthorized access to an E-mail list of customers who receive special offers and newsletters from us. Customer passwords, account information, prescription and any other personally identifiable information were not at risk because such data is not contained in the E-mail system, and no access was gained to Walgreens consumer data systems,” the Walgreens statement said. “Although only E-mail addresses were obtained, we believe it is important to inform our customers that, as a result, they may have received spam E-mail messages asking them to go to another Web site and enter personal data. Online security experts have reported an increase in attacks on E-mail systems and, therefore, we have voluntarily contacted the appropriate authorities and are working with them regarding this incident.”

Such third-party marketing data breaches likely to become much more frequent in 2011, but consumers generally do not care about third-party vendors. If they give information to McDonald’s or Walgreens and the data gets stolen, they’re going to blame McDonald’s and Walgreens. And both chains have made matters worse by protecting the identity of that E-mail firm. If there was any chance of placing the blame on the company that was actually breached, that chance vanished when the chains agreed to protect that E-mail firm’s reputation instead of their own.

Maybe McDonald’s should bring back and modify a favored tagline from years back: “You Don’t Deserve A Break-In Today.” At which point, the protected E-mail firm might reply: “I’m Lovin’ It.”

One media report—it was from MSNBC—added a little confusion to the Walgreens breach by flagging that Walgreens retained the E-mail addresses of consumers who had opted out, as though that was an ethical violation. In fairness, that’s a common procedure by E-mail firms and it’s actually an anti-spam tactic. To try and minimize unauthorized mail to people, it prevents someone from resubscribing a consumer who has opted out of that E-mail program. (That’s a popular tactic among spammers.) The only way to prevent unsubscribed consumers from being added back onto the mailing list is to retain a copy of those unsubscribed consumers and treating those address files as a “do not allow any of these E-mail addresses to be entered into the mailing list” list.


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Why Did Gonzales Hackers Like European Cards So Much Better?

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