Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Choicepoint's Orientation

As Choicepoint’s little error threatens to grow into a full-blown scandal, with Attorneys-General posturing, Congressional hearings, and daily press coverage in every state of the Union, it may be worth stepping back, and asking, “Why is this happening?” It’s not just the size of the exposure, both Bank of America and PayMaxx are larger. It may be the nature of the exposure, where a company whose victims have never heard of it is trafficking in gossip about them, rather than providing them services. It may be Choicepoint’s history, what with voting rolls problems in Florida, Mexico, and lord knows where else.

The largest reason that this is a problem is because Choicepoint can’t get their heads around the story. The story is about 145,000 Americans at risk. Yet Choicepoint’s press release is really about how inconvenient this is…for them.

ChoicePoint is actively engaged with local and federal law enforcement agencies in the continuing investigation of a fraud committed against us, through which a small number of very organized criminals posing as legitimate companies gained access to personal information about consumers. This incident was not a breach of ChoicePoint’s network or a “hacking” incident, and did not involve any of ChoicePoint’s customer information.

(From Choicepoint’s Response to Customer Fraud Litigation,” linked on their home page.)

Why is it that Choicepoint can’t say that they’re sorry? (Dan Gillmor pointed to David Lazurus asking this question.)

The answer lies in the orientation of the company, that is, their worldview, which is coloring their glasses as they respond. In Choicepoint-land, they are a trusted provider of information, helping businesses and governments make better decisions about the unwashed masses who want to attack, cheat, and commit fraud. In this world, those unwashed masses, who aren’t Choicepoint customers, aren’t touched by this fraud. “No Choicepoint customer information was involved.” In Choicepoint-land, the folks that matter are the business and government customers, not the “consumers” who are being discussed. And their press activity is centered on these folks. The cultural traditions of the company, the analysis they perform, and their prior experience have all combined to make them successful through focusing on these customers.

But American citizens — not consumers, thank you very much — are tired of being treated as lines in a database. We are individually and collectively outraged. Choicepoint has not only no experience in talking to us, they have actively sought to avoid it. And now, they are reaping what they have sown. A national dialog on data warehousing is happening, and they’re not a participant. Now they know how we feel.

One comment on "Choicepoint's Orientation"

  • Emergent Chaos on Choicepoint

    This is a Great post from Emergent Chaos explaining why ChoicePoint screwed up the crisis communications (aka “PR”) around their latest security failure so badly.
    The answer lies in the orientation of the company, that is, their worldview, which i…

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