Five years ago, I had reason to sign up for cellular service. I was going to change jobs, and my company-provided cell phone would obviously not be going along with me.
I did a consumer-savvy survey of my future workplace and the city in which I live to determine the service with the best coverage in the areas I was likely to frequent, and chose Cingular as my provider.
Strolling into the Cingular store, I picked out a nice (cheap) feature-limited phone, walked up to the cash register, and was handed a service agreement form that included a field for “Social Security Number”. I politely informed the sales representative that I had no desire to provide my social security number either to the store or to the cellular service provider. The sales clerk (looking at me as if I had grown an extra head), told me that they required my social security number to run a credit check. I reiterated my desire to keep my SSN out of their corporate database, and asked if there was an alternative. “Sure,” he said, and continued doubtfully, “but you’ll have to give a $200 deposit to get service.” Not a problem, said I, provided I get the money back. The agreement said that the $200 would be held for 1 year, at which point the money (with standard at-that-time savings account interest) would be returned to me. Quite agreeable, I filled out the necessary paperwork, handed over my $200 deposit plus the amount for the phone, and walked out a happy man. 1 year later, as promised, I received a check for the $200 + interest, and I thought myself a satisfied customer.
Recently, my phone (the second one I’d had since becoming a Cingular customer) started dying on me, so I decided to get a new phone. Coincidentally, Cingular mailed me one of those “We’ll give you a free phone if you sign on for another year” mailers, so I went and got a new phone. I was giving up my pager at work to cut down on the bat-utility belt nature of my daily garb, and decided to log into the Cingular (now AT&T) website and find out what my SMS address was so that I could replace my pager number in the various notification systems with my cell… I just needed to know the domain.
Surprise! AT&T/Cingular’s web site requires you to enter your cell phone number and the last four digits of your social security number in order to log into their site. How confounding, I thought, since I have never provided my SSN to this institution, I’ll have to go to the trouble of navigating a phone tree to find a simple answer to my question. Knowing phone trees, I typed in my phone number and the last four digits of my SSN hoping it would give me a “Whoops, we don’t have your SSN, call [this number] for web site activation, bypassing my need to call the more general 800 number and navigate my way to a human.
It logged me in.
I have never provided Cingular my SSN, nor AT&T, so they didn’t magically acquire this data upon some seamless corporate merger. I don’t know when Cingular went out and got my SSN, nor where they acquired it from (I’m presuming some data broker like ChoicePoint), but needless to say I am most thoroughly and entirely vexed by this situation.
Apparently, even shelling out money (albeit temporarily) for the privilege of staying out of a corporate database is a fruitless affair.