Interex membership list for sale to highest bidder

Von Patrick Thibodeau

A California bankruptcy court will sell Interex"s membership database to the highest bidder to help satisfy creditor demands of the bankrupt user group, according to recently filed court papers.

The Hewlett-Packard Co. user group claimed about 100,000 members before filing in August for bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of California after incurring more than US$4 million in debt. The court filing is dated Oct. 5, but notices of the sale apparently reached some Interex members this week. A former Interex member, angry about the sale, told Computerworld about the filing Thursday.

That former member, who asked that his name not be used, said he is upset that personal information about him might be included in the database.

"I consider my e-mail address to be confidential and personal," the former member, who lives in New Mexico, wrote in an e-mail. "I personally believe that there was a moral and ethical obligation [for Interex officials] to live up to their stated policy on collecting information on members -- i.e., to not sell it or give it away. I understand the legal arguments that Interex no longer exists, and that the court is in charge. But I believe that the court should respect that obligation."

Chris Hoofnagle, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington, said that if the Interex privacy policy is silent on the issue of selling membership data, then there may be nothing to stop the list sale. But Hoofnagle said that sometimes a bankruptcy court will override that provision.

According to the court filing, the trustee has received an offer of $15,000 from Genisys Corp., a Redmond, Wash.-based seller of refurbished HP hardware. That offer has evidently triggered a bidding process, and interested parties must put in a good-faith deposit of $1,500 and be prepared to bid above $16,500. The bidding will be conducted Oct. 27.

"This is valuable data," said Donna Garverick, the secretary of OpenMPE, an HP e3000 user group that includes many former Interex members. Garverick said the database likely includes details about a company"s specific IT implementation.

She said that Interex members she had heard from were trying to determine whether the organization"s bylaws prohibited the sale. Renting the Interex mailing list was possible, she said, but there were controls about what data was released.

There are also concerns about what happens to the data once it"s sold -- such as whether it can be resold and used by others. "Lot"s of questions," she said.

HP officials were contacted but weren"t immediately available for comment. A request to speak with the trustee, Carol W. Wu, is pending through the attorney representing her.