our relationships with our vendors – selling contact information from conferences

I spoke at a conference recently. I speak at a lot of conferences. Most conferences give me complimentary registration which I enjoy because then I can see other programs and hobnob with people. Only recently has this become a problem. A recent conference that shall remain nameless apparently gave my registration information [well, email address for certain, not sure about anything else] to their vendors. I know this because I have received ten emails from vendors saying “Good to see you at the conference!” Since I barely work in a public library, I am certain that I did not give these vendors my personal information. Getting extra email only ranks as a minor annoyance to me. I politely email companies back and asked to be taken off of their lists and they mostly comply. However, having to do this nearly a dozen times per conference should this sort of thing become the norm, does not scale.

I would like to make a somewhat open appeal to conference organizers to make the distribution of registrants’ personal information something that is only done if people specifically and affirmatively decide that this is okay. Every business best practice says that you can’t sell or give away people’s personal information without their consent. We are a profession that is big on privacy. I’d like to see us do this right as well. Here is the email that I sent to the conference organizers.

Hi — I spoke at the recent XXLA conference. XXLA is one of my favorite events and I’m always happy to support it and this year’s event was particularly enjoyable. I registered [and received free registration] as part of my agreement to speak. I stopped by the exhibits hall while I was there but did not give anyone my contact information. This is now the tenth email I have received from a XXLA vendor saying some variant of “Good to see you at XXLA” While I reply politely to these emails asking to be taken off of their mailing list I’m concerned that I never opted in to receive them in the first place and assume my registration information was given to vendors without my explicit permission.

I would like to politely request that registration for the conference is not seen as a blanket approval to receive marketing contacts from vendors. I understand that XXLA has to make ends meet, but not allowing people to opt in or opt out from these communications is a bad business practice. Additionally, and this is more my problem than yours, as someone who speaks at multiple conferences yearly, this small problem quickly becomes an out of control problem. I’d like XXLA to reconsider their practice of giving out registrants’ email addresses without giving people an option to opt out. Thanks for your time.

15 Responses to “our relationships with our vendors – selling contact information from conferences”

  1. emily Says:

    a-freakin’-men!

  2. Andrew Says:

    I got one of those last week and I hadn’t even registered for the event. I think they sold the previous years (perhaps all years) and it really annoyed me. I like what you sent the organizers…I don’t know if they’ll listen but I hate being opted in to ads.

  3. CelestiHel Says:

    This must be the work of the collective unconscious. Just this morning I asked that this be put on unnamed organizations board agenda for discussion. Just so you know.

  4. jessamyn Says:

    I got another email today after I wrote this post which involved clicking unsubscribe, checking a checkbox and then another “sad to see you go” email from them. Again, getting one random email is not a big deal but this level of effort times the maybe 15-20 places I speak at a year is not really possible or practical.

  5. Andromeda Says:

    I noticed I started getting an awful lot of postal mail from libraryland vendors after I joined ALA. I thought, gosh, that sure would be interesting were I in the context of an organization with a historical commitment to privacy. But it would be too snarky to call attention to that in public.

    Which is to say: I wholly agree with you.

  6. caleb tr Says:

    I don’t think it is snarky to call ALA out at all. I have tried to find out from them how to get off the lists they distribute and been given the brush-off. By simultaneously ignoring consumer privacy and promoting reader privacy, ALA devalues the meaning of the word “privacy”. This hurts our profession and our organization. This is no snark, this is tragedy.

  7. Kim Says:

    I completely agree with you, Jessamyn. An option to opt in would be my preference, but at the very least there should be an opt-out available somewhere in the application forms for attending the conference.

    At a library conference I attended a couple of years ago, the organizers actually put barcodes on the name tags that we were given to wear around the conference. Every time I went into an exhibitor’s booth, they whipped out their barcode scanner and attempted to scan the code on my name tag, (which I assume would have given them my contact information and library affiliation, but I’m not really sure). Aside from the fact that this made me feel like a piece of meat on my way through a grocery store checkout, at least it gave me the opportunity to “opt out” (i.e. refuse to let them scan me) right then and there ;-)

    I’d definitely prefer your suggestion, though. Not at all crazy about being barcoded.

  8. Iain Stuart Says:

    Surely there is some legislation to protect “privacy” – in Australia there is legislation and this would stop professional associations from distributing such lists without the permission of those on it. My experience with archaeological associations in America is a bit like your Jessamyn I got onto some odd email lists and I understand some of the members objected to the selling of this data and it was stopped.

  9. Jessica Says:

    I don’t attend that many conferences and I still get an inordinate amount of these. Recently it’s been a rash of individual movie makers trying to pimp their documentaries to me since I am “an academic librarian who occasionally purchases documentaries.” (That is a quote from an email I got back when I asked how the heck this person had gotten my email address.)

    If I don’t opt in, it’s spam. Also: grrr.

    Great post.

  10. Nancy Allen Says:

    This is a good example of ethics in library world. Often times we think of ethics only in terms of who we serve, but business ethics strongly applies to libraries. Our relationships with our vendors are prime territory for ethical lapses, and it goes both ways.

    Gifts (including meals) are considered gifts in healthcare. Acutally anything over $25 dollars in value cannot be accepted by most people who work in hospitals. If they are conflict of interest statements have to be attached all works produced.
    If I hear a speaker at XXLA conference will I know up front who may have paid for his/her trip to the meeting? How do I know the influences on the message?

  11. jessamyn Says:

    Incidentally, I was not talking about ALA. They’ve actually been fairly concerned when I’ve told them I’ve thought they were using my personal information to give to vendors without my consent.

  12. threegoodrats Says:

    I’m so glad you posted about this! I think I know the conference you mean, and I was horrified when I learned they had given out my email address. To make matters worse, this happened the year I was unemployed so it was my personal email address. This year I registered with my work email address, but I’m still getting the messages in my personal email. I think it’s horrid that a library association would do this. I know they have funding difficulties and really depend on the vendors, but that’s no reason to do something that is so frowned upon in our profession. A public library would not give out patron information, so why should a library association?

  13. brad thomas Says:

    You know, I serve on a board that plans a librarian conference every year, and we were just discussing this recently. When you join an organization, your contact info is usually put out there for all to see – namely by the vendors that help sponsor and promote the event. It’s one of those things that vendors ask for in return for their participation and promotion. For most organizations, it’s no big deal… it’s just the way “it has always been done.” However, with the ease of sending out emails these days, it really seems to be a topic that needs to be addressed. As a member of a number of professional organizations, I sometimes receive between 30 to 50 emails a day from companies wanting me to “check out their new thingy!”

    Jessamyn, if you don’t mind, I would love to use your post and the responses here as fuel for a discussion with my board soon…. I am in the early stages of planning our conference next year, and I believe this is a valid concern.

  14. brad thomas Says:

    as for ALA – after the conference, I came back to work with around 250 new emails from vendors. “Hi, Mr. Thomas, so nice to see you at ALA this year – have you seen our new “_____?” ugh.

  15. Kirsty Says:

    A UK librarianship conference spelt my then employers’ name wrong on the conference documentation. I then suddenly started getting a large amount of adverts through the post from the “European Database of Libraries” (or something similar) with exactly the same spelling mistake. Wonder if it is the conference organisers selling our details (which would be a clear breach of UK data protection legislation), or a supplier simply deciding to use the delegates list for advertising?