UPS program delivers unnerving surprise

In a seemingly egregious privacy violation, UPS' My Choice program taps into your past to cook up security questions.

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It's pretty much expected that everyone knows everything about you in today's privacy-free world. But it's still freaky to see how easily a business can crawl into your life.

Elaine Miller, 61, recently was expecting a package from UPS. She called the company and asked whether she could find out a rough time frame for the delivery in case her signature was required.

A rep said the package would arrive at Miller's Mar Vista home at some point between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. — not the most customer-friendly arrangement.

However, the UPS rep said that if Miller joined the company's My Choice program, she'd be able to set a narrower delivery window.

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So Miller went online and began the multi-step process to register a My Choice account. She was asked for her name, address, phone number and email address.

And then she came to a page asking her to verify her identity. Miller was instructed to select the city in which she'd never lived from a list of four cities.

She was asked to select the street on which she'd once lived from a list of four streets. Both questions revealed that UPS knew precisely where Miller had resided in the past.

Then came a question asking Miller to select the month in which her daughter was born. And it included her daughter's name.

"This completely creeped me out," Miller told me. "They obviously had access to both my daughter's name and her birth date. It was really unnerving."

Actually, there are a number of troubling things here.

First, UPS says it can give you a desired delivery window only if you hand over personal information to register an account with the company. Talk about demanding a pound of flesh for what should be a basic service.

Worse, even though the My Choice website says you can "get home delivery on your schedule," you aren't given the option of setting a desired delivery window unless you pay $40 a year for a premium membership.

And this isn't revealed until you're deep into the registration process — after you've parted with your personal info.

Then there's the seemingly egregious privacy violation that occurs as UPS rummages through your past to cook up its security questions.

"I'm not a paranoid person," Miller said. "But it's very disconcerting that they have this information at their fingertips."

I went to the My Choice site and tried it out for myself. I had an even more disconcerting experience than Miller did.

In my case, UPS wanted me to name the city I'd formerly lived in. San Francisco, where I resided before moving back to Los Angeles, was on the list.

The next one was a trick question. It asked me to name the street I'd once lived on or "none of the above." The answer was "none of the above."

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Wesley Case is a south Jersey native and a Delaware grad. Since October 2008, I've worked at b, reporting music stories that focus on Baltimore's burgeoning scene and the music outside the city that matters to you. More ...
Jordan Bartel is assistant editor at b and lives in Mount Vernon. More ...

Luke Broadwater covers Baltimore politics for The Sun. More...

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