Now and again, my credit card starts to feel like a plate of steel, for which the only remedy is a blind, uninhibited charge-fest. This past weekend, my son Vermel and I were tempted by a downright unrealistic purchase, a down payment on a roll-prone sport utility vehicle, and a more modest expenditure, an asthmatic iguana.
Although Vermel has a few years before he graduates into the credit card class, the kid can go ahead and get a card now thanks to an online service from Lexis-Nexis. Last June, the company said it yanked the ability to search for social security numbers in its P-TRAK database, which also contains maiden names, phone numbers, and other data necessary for getting a new credit card. But Lexis-Nexis was playing weasel words. True, the online service won't let you search for a social security number by a person's name. It will, however, let you enter random social security numbers to call up an individual's records.
The public outcry to P-TRAK (prompted initially by a CNET article) is apparently keeping Lexis-Nexis officials up at night. Company workers have been doing split-shifts of late just to keep up with phone calls from people demanding to be removed from the database. Pooped out from the explosion of requests, Lexis-Nexis is now telling people to write or fax their concerns, and doesn't promise to confirm your removal from P-TRAK. Have a nice day.
While I search for your social security number, Yahoo and InfoSeek are searching for their identities. Has anyone else noticed how strikingly similar these two Web sites are? The search engines must have been twins separated at birth; they're the spitting image of each other down to their interface and database categories. But like a former therapist of mine once said, what is special is on the inside. We'll see.
Abbie Hoffman once asked readers to Steal This Book, but one book even kleptomaniacs might ignore is the paperback edition of Bill Gate's magnum opus, The Road Ahead. The paperback edition will arrive on November 1, too early to stuff your stocking, but just in time to stuff your Thanksgiving turkey. Take pity on a compulsive shopper. Drop what you're reading and email me a rumor instead.