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.

Or maybe there’s something else motivating them:

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.)


  1. Tatyana »

    21 June 2013 · 7:10 am

    When I buy Metrocard from a station’ machine and use a credit card, I am asked to enter my zipcode. City owns the machines and my who do they sell/forward it to and for what? Marketing brochures from local retailers seem harmless, compared to that.

  2. Marcel »

    21 June 2013 · 7:43 am

    “they claim accuracy rates as high as 100%”

    Can’t they do any better than that?

  3. ms7168 »

    21 June 2013 · 7:51 am

    Actually they want the billing zip code for the card and if you don’t give the same one that they send your bill to it will mean no sale.

  4. CGHill »

    21 June 2013 · 8:47 am

    That was what I thought. However, I grow increasingly suspicious.

  5. Charles Pergiel »

    21 June 2013 · 8:49 am

    I have been tempted many times to either: a) lie, or b) say no, but I am a coward and have failed in my feeble attempt at rebellion. Also, I am not really sure I care.

  6. Roger Green »

    21 June 2013 · 8:50 am

    Yeah, our Mobil station does that. And if I mistype – done it with mittens – I have to go inside the store, which rather defeats the purpose.

  7. McGehee »

    21 June 2013 · 9:45 am

    I have never seen evidence that Kroger or anybody else has made any effort to use “tracking” data from my use of their loyalty card. The only marketing they seem to do is point-of-sale coupon printing, which is based solely on that single order. Almost no one ever takes the coupons, either.

    I don’t know what harm I’m supposed to fear from being tracked by marketing types; I don’t answer calls from unfamiliar numbers and I trash spam — electronic or dead-tree — without reading it. I can suffer real harm from the government, but a private-sector huckster is barely an annoyance.

  8. Charles Pergiel »

    22 June 2013 · 1:09 pm

    Oh boy, numbers! So I go crunch them and I find some previous chicken scratches on the same topic. Dustbury has a population density of 4 people per acre (4.1 if you want to be persnickety). Last time I did this calculation I came up 83 people per acre. Unfortunately, I neglected to scratch down the location, but it wasn’t Dustbury. Likely Bangladesh, or Hong Kong, or maybe the Super Bowl.

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