Dear Columbia Alumni,

You probably recently received a card at home with a phone number and a code to call and update your personal information. The reason is that Columbia Alumni is compiling a 2014 Columbia Alumni directory. This operation is being performed by a legitimate 3rd party.

During the call, they will ask you to confirm all your information and provide any missing information. Most likely, you will proceed and give them the information because, like me, you want them to have your most up-to-date contact information so they can send you the Alumni magazine, contact you for events, etc. Until here, all perfectly legitimate and normal.

Now, here it comes the huge privacy violation. During the call there is never a clear statement clarifying that EVERYTHING they have in the data base will be included in this alumni directory. Considering that the directory is a compendium of the 300000 Columbia alumni around the world, publication of such information could result in almost 300000 strangers knowing your home address and personal phone number.

If you already called, call again. And if you didn’t, make sure that you tell them that you do NOT want your personal information published on that book.

I hope this will reach out to my fellow alumni and will spare them the loss of privacy. And if anyone from Columbia Alumni or Columbia University is reading this, please make sure to contact the 3rd party gathering the information so they make sure there is a VERY CLEAR STATEMENT during the call alerting that ALL the information will be published in the book.

I contacted Columbia Alumni via email and will update this post as I receive any response.

EDIT: The 3rd party company putting together this alumni book publishes in its website their Privacy Policy. This is what it says:

You have the ability to request omission of all or portions of your personal information from our directory projects, should you elect to do so. When updating information for an alumni or membership directory (whether print, CD-ROM, e-book or online versions), you will be notified that this information will be included in a directory with closed circulation (e.g., made available only to the client organization and to the alumni or members of the organization).

[3rd party name] will always abide by any request received by an individual to omit all or part of his/her personal information from appearing in any product produced by [3rd party name].

If you wish to opt out of inclusion in a product produced by [3rd party name], please notify us as follows, identifying the specific program (e.g., XYZ University Alumni Directory).

I guess that I just got unlucky and the person who spoke on the phone with me forgot to notify me that all this information would be included in the directory. However, I would not call 300000 people “closed circulation”. Also, I am personally not happy with the fact that you have to explicitly tell them what data NOT to make public. I think that it should be the opposite. Alumni should tell them what data they can publish.