The "Regional Award" within the German BigBrotherAwards of 2005 is jointly given to the Primary School of Ennigloh (in the city of Bünde, district of Herford), Volksbank Herford (a bank) and Sparkasse Herford (a municipal bank)1 for sharing and using address data of school beginners.
“What Little Hans doesn’t learn, Hans will never learn”, goes a German proverb. True to this motto, banks have long been trying to build customer relations with children as early as possible, offering “pupils’ accounts” or giving confirmation presents. Now even school beginners are becoming a target: as they enter school life, children are offered “starter” accounts. To make sure the kids know about the offer in time, the competing banks, Volksbank and Sparkasse of Herford, are sending the kids marketing material for starter accounts into their homes.
The interested reader and listener is immediately going to ask, “Hold on, how do these people know who is entering school?”
We have given the banks a call. Of course, Volksbank are certain that they did it all according to the book. At a parents’ information evening, the not too friendly man on the phone explains, a list was passed around on which parents declared that they explicitly welcome such advertising. Well, the parents who alerted us didn’t remember such a list, or giving their consent. Could the bank send us such a list by fax? Oh no, the man roared through the phone, after all, they could not rule out that through the Big Brother Awards these lists could find their way to competitors!
Ah. Yes, of course.
Anyway, the competitors don’t need our help at all. Because they, too, know how to get their hands on children’s names and addresses. At least they wouldn’t lie to us over the phone. “Through years of good relationships, Sparkasse have been able to obtain the children’s names from the schools”, said a friendly young woman on the phone. The bank would then see if they had the parents’ addresses, and hey presto, the file for the marketing mailer is finished.
Most schools don’t realise that data they hold about the kids they are entrusted with arouses desires from, as I’ll call them now, all kinds of scum. We have therefore decided — for educational reasons, so to say — to give this award primarily to the primary school in Bünde, not the banks. It is intended as a warning to all schools in Germany that head offices, secretariats, and teachers must not give data to businesses. We should maintain that schools will not become an instrument for economic interests.
Not only primary schools or school beginners are affected. There are several grammar schools, we have been told, where pupils are repeatedly promised books of the Duden series. (The Duden dictionaries are an authoritative source on the German language, having been the officially recognised standard for several decades.) Duden, Meyer, Brockhaus — renowned names indeed (the latter two being established encyclopaedias). Nobody will suspect any wrongdoing there. Who would be more respectable than the Duden publishing company?
However, these presented books, thin editions named “pupils’ helpers”, come with strings attached: The pupils must give their names and addresses, and the resulting list must be sent to the “noble presenters” by the school.
We have done some research. The company at the centre of these dirty tricks is called inmediaONE, Ltd. It is located in Gütersloh, part of the Bertelsmann group, of course. And that group is one of the major players in the address trade. inmediaONE contracts the whole operation out to WKV Ltd, near Trier. This is how WKV describe themselves:
“We engage in active acquisition of new customers, extending your customer base. We generate […] qualified addresses for large companies in the German-speaking region. Our annual net capacity is around 1 million addresses of interested persons. We achieve this by collecting data through prize draws, quiz games, and” — hear, hear — “giveaway campaigns.”
One teacher didn’t want to abuse her position of trust and become an assistant in customer acquisition, so she put the publishers to a test: She did not pass on her pupils’ addresses, but ordered a class set instead — the result was, of course, no books. That shows it clearly: these are no “presents” at all.
I expect the education authority of North Rhine-Westphalia, which just a short time ago could see “no violation of the data protection act” — contrary to the view of the state’s data protection commissioner — to inform all schools and put an end to these shenanigans.
In previous years we have repeatedly featured the address trade with its various facets in the Big Brother Awards. In most cases, the traders and their benefactors were awarded. This year, for educational reasons, we put the primary school of Ennigloh in Bünde in the first row for its thoughtlessness and unscrupulousness. Behind them in class are Herford’s Volksbank and Sparkasse. In the third row, we give the federal state’s education authority a written warning.
Congratulations to all!
1 Note to our international readers: Sparkasse and Volksbank are two different types of “non-private” banks, the closest English banking terms are probably “mutual” or “savings” banks. There is an “incarnation” of each in every district or large city, roughly. SparkassenVolksbankenare established and operated by law, and mostly owned by the city or district. are organised as cooperatives, with ownership restricted to small shares held by interested customers.