The ZIP code in which I live covers an area of 7.7 square miles; more than 20,000 people live here. The Shell station where I usually go requests the five-digit code as a security measure, presumably on the off-chance that I might be carrying a stolen credit card.
In one of their brochures, direct marketing services company Harte-Hanks describes the GeoCapture service they offer retail businesses as follows: “Users simply capture name from the credit card swipe and request a customer’s ZIP code during the transaction. GeoCapture matches the collected information to a comprehensive consumer database to return an address.” In a promotional brochure [pdf], they claim accuracy rates as high as 100%.
Harte-Hanks used to be in, um, other businesses: they owned several newspapers, the biggest of which was the San Antonio Express-News, which they eventually sold to Rupert Murdoch. (Hearst, which owned the rival Light, subsequently executed the same maneuver they did in San Francisco; they bought the bigger paper and disposed of the old one.) H-H also owned a handful of broadcast stations. No more: about two decades ago, they decided that marketing was the future, and sold off all that Old Media stuff.
There are at least half a dozen guys in town with the same name. How many of them live in this same ZIP code? Right. Maybe I should start buying my gas somewhere else. (Think of it as speaking truth to V-Power.)