RadioShack Data Sale

An Article By: David Tan, Chief Technology Officer, CHIPS Technology Group

I’m sure I’m not alone in this statement, but I have to say, my favorite TV sitcom of all time is probably Seinfeld. The show has so many iconic scenes, lines and moments, that it’s impossible to pick a favorite, or even a top 5. One line in particular that I always loved took place when Jerry, George, and Kramer are sitting around the table at the diner talking about Jerry getting bumped from career day at his middle school. Kramer suggests the school might have done it to mess with Jerry’s head. When Jerry asks why they would do that, Kramer’s reply is the classic “I don’t know, why does Radio Shack ask for your phone number when you buy batteries?” Well, we may at long last have an answer to the mystery!

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Radio Shack recently filed for bankruptcy. As part of the company liquidation, they are putting a list of assets for sale. A quick look over that list is extremely interesting. Anyone who has read anything we’ve ever written about data or security has probably noticed a very common theme. I think in today’s day and age, your data is your most valuable asset. Well Radio Shack is going to a whole new extreme to prove my point.

You see the list of “assets” that Radio Shack is selling includes 65 million customer names and addresses, and 13 million email addresses! That’s right, right there next to 73 patents, over 100 registered trademarks and a global franchise and dealer infrastructure is the list containing your phone number from the time you needed 4 AA batteries for the remote control!

This opens up a world of possibilities. I mean I just called data your most valuable asset, I never actually put a dollar amount on it. Does this mean I need to add an account to my balance sheet for the value of customer data? Do I have to itemize it on my various insurance policies? Can I use it to collateralize a business loan or line of credit? You may be able to tell I’m being a little tongue in cheek, but there is some truth to those far-fetched scenarios.

Now of course the bigger can of worms this opens up is a privacy issue. I have abandoned pretty much every expectation of privacy long ago, but the simple fact of the matter is I chose to give that information to Radio Shack. Maybe I’m a fan of their products and services, maybe I want to get sales advertisements in the mail or via email, or maybe I just didn’t mind being part of their customer database. Do I get a say in who they sell it to? Hell no, of course not. What if they sold my personal data to a company I don’t want to be contacted by? What did I sign or agree to that gives them that right? Now at the very least I have to go through the pain of getting removed from a brand new database.

Obviously this is going to be challenged to the extreme by privacy advocates in every court in the land. Ironically, one of the biggest challengers is AT&T who wants the data destroyed for competitive reasons. You see, Radio Shack sold extensive AT&T products, and if that data winds up in say Verizon’s hands… You get the idea. AT&T gets it – there is gold in them hills. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Your data is your most valuable asset!