RadioShack has been a part of the US landscape for over 90 years – it was a national leader for innovative technology products, from personal to home to business. RadioShack was the place to go…practically the only place to go…for that special connector to hook up your stereo or TV and amplifier. RadioShack was the place to go at Christmas for that remote control car, radio controlled boat, you know, all of the really neat stuff that wasn't sold anywhere else. It used to be fun just to go and look around, but the one thing that used to upset me was they always asked for your name, home address and phone number…and later on your email address…everytime you made a purchase. They would tell you it was for sending out catalogs and promotional sales, but deep down inside, there was still an uncomfortable feeling about giving away your personal information.
Now we know that while we were simply handing over our personal data at no cost, that RadioShack's purchasers are paying for that very information. Yes, all 4,100 RadioShack company stores across the US, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, and 274 stores in Mexico and others in Asia that have collected our information will now be selling it to the highest bidder at their bankruptcy auction. One of the items listed under "Assets For Sale" includes "Customer File" with "Over 13MM E-Mail Addresses" and "Over 65MM Customer Name and Physical Address Files." Bloomberg reports that the assets sale may also include phone numbers and shopping habits as well. That information is in their database and would only sweeten the pot for a high bid.
The auction is already over and Standard General – RadioShack's largest shareholder and the one's that provided $535 million of rescue-financing last year – appears to be the big winner. They plan on taking over about one-half of the 4,000 stores in a "co-branding arrangement with Sprint Corp." Spring Mobile, a division of GameStop Corp., will take over about 160 stores. The bankruptcy court still has to approve the Standard General deal and RadioShack will still face a couple legal hurdles before the customer data can be turned over, as Texas law does not allow companies to sell personal data in a way that would violate RadioShack's own privacy policies. RadioShack stores have always claimed, "We pride ourselves on not selling our private mailing lists."
There are precedents for allowing customer data to be auctioned off, especially if the buyer is in the same line of business and Standard General does plan to keep some stores open. One has to wonder if our personal data is ever really safe, and it looks like the answer is an emphatic no. It is a good policy to always assume that your personal data is out on the internet and available to everybody that is really looking.