Talbots Inc. has been hit with a class action lawsuit by consumers who claim that the company sells their personal information without consent. Plaintiffs Lois Piper and Brenda Ruark say that Talbots women clothing and apparel store sold their information to list brokers, who then sold the information to telemarketers and other “aggressive” advertisers. Piper claims that every time she made a purchase at Talbots, she was asked personal information, including her name and address. She says she was not notified by Talbots that this information was going to be sold to third parties and the company never obtained her permission to do so. Ring of Fire’s Farron Cousins discusses this with Scott Hardy, the President of Top Class Actions.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Farron Cousins:                  The only thing that corporations today love more than you walking into their stores or going to their website and buying one of their products is what they can do with your data after you do buy one of those products. Data selling is now a $26 billion a year industry, so your email address that you turn over when you buy a product or sign up on a website might in fact be more valuable to that company than whatever products you buy and as long as you’re okay with them selling this, there is no problem with it.

But unfortunately as is always the case, we see more and more companies selling your data without telling you about it. And joining me now to talk about the latest class action lawsuit over this same practice is Scott Hardy with Top Class Actions and Scott, what we got now is Talbots retailer out there allegedly selling customer’s data without their knowledge, without their consent and suddenly they get inundated with people who now have their data just nonstop.

Scott Hardy:                          Exactly, you know, all of these retailers are asking for more information and we would hope that they’re using this to better target what they’re selling you. Because it’s one thing to go into a retailer. You know, they ask your name, your address, phone number, email address, and if they’re trying to target you with better products that you’re interested in, most of us aren’t gonna have a problem with that. We want to be sold what we’re really looking for. But in this case this class action alleges that Talbots is taking this information and selling it to third party brokers, which according to the class action, is a violation of Virginia’s personal information privacy act and that’s what’s getting them hit. They sold this information to different data brokers including NextMark and NextMark is a data broker that claims to have information on more than 1.8 million Talbots customers.

In fact, they say that you can go and you can just say, hey, I want every Talbots customer that wears a size four and a spent more than a hundred dollars in the store. They’ll give you that data. So then you can start sending out, you know, flyers, mailers, whatever you wish to those folks and start clogging their mailboxes with junk mail. And that’s what this plaintiff says happened. She went into Talbots, bought things, they kept asking for more and more of a personal information. She gave it to them and all of a sudden she’s getting more of this junk mail that she shouldn’t have. And that’s all because Talbots sold her information.

Farron Cousins:                  You know, one thing we’re seeing happen with a lot of these retail stores more and more is after you, you know, you, you’re paying for your items, whatever. And then it says, well, how do you want your receipt? Do you want it print or do you want it emailed? And if you say email, you have to type in your email address on that little kiosk pad and people need to be aware of little things like that too because you may think, well this is a one off store. Right? I, I’m never coming back here. Sure, yeah, I’ll just do my email real quick. I don’t care. Send me a receipt. But now they have your email, now they have some of your data and from that email address they can discern all different types of information, but it’s theirs now and you may not know what they’re going to do with it.

Just a quick example, this past weekend, my wife and I and the kids were all out shopping, driving in the car and my daughter had a, a soda and went to open it and it just kind of blew up all over her pants. Well, we’re right next to a, you know, clothing store. So we was like, we’ll just run in, grab you another pair of pants so we don’t have to end the day. And they did, they’re like, well, we have to have your email address because you clicked on the, email me the receipt. I said, well, I’m not going to do that and that’s what really made me start thinking about all this. There’s little ways that we don’t even think about how they’re getting our data and we just have to be a little more conscious about all of that too.

Scott Hardy:                          We do. I mean, there, there are data brokers that are trying to access and pay for data. I mean, we get offered tens of thousands of dollars a month for our viewers data, but we don’t provide that. We don’t sell that to any data brokers. We don’t share our viewers information to you. If you subscribe to our newsletter, you know, we don’t sell your information to other people. But there are a lot of, you know, big retailers right now are struggling. Brick and mortar are getting killed by online retailers and they’re trying to sell that information to make that money. So like you said, you have to be careful, you know, giving away your email address.

You know, you might want to create just a junk email address that you just give to retailers. Don’t give them their email address that you actually use all the time. If you have, you know, give them a junk phone number because you know that phone number is going to get used and resold to marketers who are going to start calling you about different things. It’s, it’s really gone too far. Now, different States are enacting digital privacy measures to help hold some of these retailers accountable. But it’s frankly a long road. But, you know, it’s nice to see that we are seeing Virginia’s personal information privacy act, getting used to safeguard people’s data and to go after these companies that are selling it, causing a lot of waste.

Farron Cousins:                  And another thing too though, we have seen, we have, you and I have discussed lawsuits like this in the past, mostly settlements like this in the past. So based on just what we’ve seen happen in the last few years, kind of seems like this is probably going to be one of those where Talbots is eventually going to settle. Could be some rebates, you know, coupons, whatever, even just cash for some of the people affected here. So do you think based on what we’ve seen in the past that that’s going to be the likely outcome we see here?

Scott Hardy:                          Yeah, I think that Talbots should use this as a great opportunity to reach out to those effected consumers say, hey, we value you. We value your privacy. You know, here’s some, you know, here’s some discounts, here’s some gift certificates, come back to Talbots, we’ll take care of you. You know, that’s the thing is a class action is a major inconvenience, can be a major problem for some of these retailers and big companies, but they should really use the settlement as an opportunity to reach out to their customers and turn them around and show the care. And, you know, we, we’re always happy to work with these defendants when they’re trying to work these settlements to convey that positive message and show that they care. Yes, it’ll cost you a few million dollars to settle this, but you’re spending tens if not hundreds of millions dollars a year in advertising. So let’s use this, make it a positive for your customers and take care of them.

Farron Cousins:                  Absolutely. For more information, please follow the link in the description of this video. Head on over to Top Class Actions and if you haven’t already done so, as always, I encourage everyone to please sign up for their weekly newsletter and as Scott pointed out, they will not sell your information to anyone else. Scott Hardy with Top Class Actions, thank you very much for talking with us.

Scott Hardy:                          You’re welcome. Thanks for your time, Farron.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine and a contributing writer at DeSmogBlog.com. He is the co-host / guest host for Ring of Fire Radio. His writings have appeared on Alternet, Truthout, and The Huffington Post. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009. Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced