No go on zip codes

Lucia Buccico waits to pay for her purchases at the checkout counter of a Wal-Mart store in North Miami, Fla.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Remember back when buying something with a credit card didn't mean a game of 20 questions? Debit or credit? Cash back? Would you like a receipt? Do you have an email address? Can I please have your zip code?

If you live in California, that last one is officially off the list. The State Supreme Court here ruled yesterday that your zip code is nobody's business. Marketplace's Jennifer Collins reports.


Jennifer Collins: Your name and zip code are a valuable little combination.

Eli Portnoy: It's worth millions to the retail community, however they get it.

Eli Portnoy is a marketing consultant. Retailers can use customers' names and zip codes to track down their addresses; those address might show if there's a big market for a store in any particular neighborhood, and whether the merchant might want to build its next store in that neighborhood.

Portnoy: And then it's a tool to potentially sell to other people who want to know about that customer as well.

According to the ruling, stores in California can't collect zip codes or use them to track other information. It's still OK for online retailers to know your zip; after all, they need to know where to send those four-inch heels you just bought.

But Madison Riley of Kurt Salmon Associates says collecting zip codes at the check-out is almost becoming quaint.

Madison Riley: It's declining in value. We're moving into an era where the young generation of our country, they're providing their personal data on a regular basis.

But even if this ruling is a little behind the times, Eli Portnoy says it may have implications beyond California.

Portnoy: I think that this is an opening of the door to greater and greater privacy protection for consumers in transactions.

After all, these days companies can pinpoint your location through your cell phone. And where you are right now could be way more valuable than knowing where you live.

I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

About the author

Jennifer Collins is a reporter for the Marketplace portfolio of programs. She is based in Los Angeles, where she covers media, retail, the entertainment industry and the West Coast.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...