Every time I think USPS mail is mundane, something comes up. How can a thing so simple be so complex? It’s just mail. Paper stuffed in an envelope, right? But boy oh boy, it is a complicated web of rules, timelines, security, USPS work sharing, and politics. The pressures come from all sorts of angles that dampen the notion that mail is a well-defined, stable method of communicating. If it’s me sending you a single hand-written note, we don’t notice the intricacies and challenges of this offline channel. But those who send a high volume of mail can tell a different story.
As an experienced mass mailer, you know the unexpected twists that come into play when producing large volumes of mail. The Domestic Mail Manual gives us the comfort offered by rules, and while we rely on them to be fairly consistent and postage fees to go up over time, the new curveball is the wave of consumer privacy laws. People have been concerned about their privacy long before information technology came along, but today, more and more people are voicing concerns about their personal information getting into the wrong hands, and the internet is to blame.
Before the internet, personal data was collected from product registration cards, magazine subscription lists, telephone orders, public databases, and other forms of off-line procurement. I had more control over suppressing collection of my personal information back then and even the data in databases was isolated and harder for bad actors to get to. This data collection process was slow, manual, and geographically concentrated. The data collected about US individuals was not widely used in other countries. The danger was there for identity theft, but on a much smaller scale and less likely to happen.
With the internet, data collection happens at light speed and has global reach. Big data repositories exist with billions of people’s information from every corner of the earth. Let’s be real; our personal data is all over the place with varying levels of security, and we willingly give up the content on our mobile devices for so-called free apps. Everything we do in this digital world is tracked, stored, analyzed, and used to sell products and services to us. We are simultaneously the product, the consumer, and the prey.
This culture of exchanging personal information for free software is at the root of the matter that can dramatically affect the mailing industry. The issue is with these massive networks of people connected via Facebook, Twitter, and all the others. I don’t know about you, but I can’t quit Facebook. No, it’s not what you think. I opened an account about 12 years ago to see what the fuss was about and promptly got scared of it because it started contacting everyone I knew. I shut it down within a few months. I opened it up a couple years later and the little bit of stuff I posted was still there. I immediately shut it down again, but I bet if I opened it up after all these years it will look the same as it did back then. Who can I call at Facebook to ask them to permanently shut down my account and delete my posts, likes, and photos? There is no one to call. Facebook does not have a support number for that. My data is there forever and surely being used to profile me even to this day. That’s a problem for mailers. Here’s why.
Producing mail and production volumes has a high cost. Many corporations don’t want to invest in the hardware and software needed to prepare the data, create personalized documents, print them, insert them into envelopes, and take them to the post office, so they outsource to companies that specialize in doing that work. If you’re in the mailing industry, you are familiar with this model, but you might not be aware of the rising legal pressures coming from the flank that have to do with handling of the data used in manufacturing of all sorts of marketing and transaction mail. And it is not just USPS mail, it’s the personal data used for online and digital communications. One legal ruling in particular has third-party mail processors very concerned. It’s the recent case of Hunstein v. Preferred Collection and Management Services Inc. where the 11th Circuit Court concluded that “the mere transmission of a consumer’s personal information to a letter vendor constituted an alleged violation of the third-party disclosure.” If this case holds and the laws are unchanged, then it could have a domino effect on not only service companies that perform collections for their corporate customers, but any third party that handles data for mailing or digital delivery. The disruption would be so severe that I can’t imagine that it would actually happen, but who knows? The industry participants would in all certainty influence lawmakers to adjust and clarify the code to provide people the protections they want while maintaining the industry’s business models. If not, then wow — this would likely be the biggest shake up of the mailing industry that we’ll see in our lifetime.
Matt Mahoney is the Executive VP of Sales and Marketing at Racami, a fast-growing and innovative software, IT services, and staffing company that improves the performance of customer communications processes and advances omni-channel initiatives. He is responsible for cultivating Racami’s relationships with customers and partners involved in the production of highly regulated consumer communications, direct marketing, commercial printing, and book publishing.
This article originally appeared in the July/August, 2021 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.