Software Error Releases TWA Customers' Data

FRAMINGHAM (03/22/2000) - Trans World Airlines Inc. (TWA) has spent the past couple of days trying to appease angry subscribers to its e-mail newsletter after their e-mail addresses were inadvertently leaked to other subscribers Monday night.

Mark Abels, spokesman for the St. Louis-based airline, said a glitch involving new list-management software exposed the addresses of about 80 percent of the people who subscribe to TWA's e-mail service, Dot Com Deals. Dot Com Deals provides subscribers with information about last-minute fares.

Abels was quick to point out that no financial or other personal information about customers was ever released.

"It was actually a human error, but we've fixed it," he said. "The software should have gone through more quality control (before it was used)... We've been receiving telephone calls from subscribers and we've been doing a lot of apologizing."

Although no personal data was released, Dot Com Deals' subscribers could be deluged with spam or unsolicited bulk e-mail.

Even though TWA's mistake could have been worse, privacy advocates say companies still need to do more to protect an individual's information.

"Privacy really has to be of greater concern, and individuals have to have more system training," said Ari Schwartz, a policy analyst at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a privacy advocacy group in Washington. "We see a lot more instances where information is leaking out through one means or another...

(That) must be prevented. Even releasing an e-mail (address) can be harmful."