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Redefining Junk Mail: Porn and Peloton (Not Safe For Work or Our Kitchen)

Listen to the UnPodcast episode that walks through the saga: Ep 292: Parental Advisory

We all love getting mail. Maybe it’s the anticipation. Who knows what could be in there? Sure, they’re mostly bills, Real Estate flyers and grocery store coupons… but every once in a while you find a handwritten thank you note, a birthday wish or even a cheque. At our house, the mail is delivered to a community box down the street, and collecting it is the one errand no one ever complains about.

So when Alison arrived home to find the mail piled on the kitchen counter, she wasn’t surprised one of the kids had gone and grabbed it, leaving it to be sorted out. When they were little, the junk mail had been “kids mail” eagerly opened to oohs and aahs and promises to order the 2 for 1 pizza (with coupon) for dinner, one of her favourite ways to keep little ones busy for a few minutes of hands-free peace.

But today something caught her eye. A letter addressed to one of their close friends (who we shall call Beverly, to protect her identity) with our address below. Now usually, when similar letters arrive they’re addressed to “The Owner of…” or to some random name we ignore, but seeing a familiar one was, well, weird. So she put the letter aside for Scott and went about her day.

When Scott got home, he saw the letter piled on top of a stack of Amazon boxes (we may have a problem…). It wasn’t the first he’d seen with Beverly’s name and our address. So he opened the letter.


Now, a little background. Beverly, who we adore, had once sent Scott a present — a Peloton Bike. Peloton, which launched in 2014 and has an IPO this month, manufactures and sells a pretty high-end, connected spin bike with a monitor and options for joining live and on-demand classes. Beverly owned one herself and loved the product and company. So, when she learned Scott was interested in getting one, and with Peleton launching in Canada where we live, she went to their site, put in her name and payment information with our mailing address and sent us a bike, in the mail. Although we needed a little extra help with set up, they provided excellent customer service and the bike quickly became a favorite exercise for Scott. This purchase from the official Peloton site is the only time Beverly used our address. Ever.

So, now you see why the letter was so interesting. Check out the image below:

We knew it was junk mail, but didn't know it was this kind of junk.

 

A few interesting things about the envelope; to our eyes, it looked like it was about weed — with marijuana now legal in Canada and with that text, we figured the worst thing that could be in there was information about buying drugs online. We noticed the “sexually oriented ad” warning under the stamp thingie, which we found extremely under-stated, but assumed this would be something akin to an ad at the back of a Men’s Health Magazine or Cosmo. This is not the time for subtlety folks.

Scott decided to open it as he stood in our kitchen with me, two of our teenage sons, our daughter, who’s 13 and one of the boys’ girlfriends. Here are some of the images below (censored for a very, very good reason.)

Graphic Advertising

 

More porn!

 

As you can see from the amount of censorship, the images were graphic (those are 2 of 12 pages of hardcore porn). We were standing in our kitchen full of kids, with porn. Puns were made, mostly Junk Mail related. How could this have happened? How was it that after entering her name and our address once, on the Peleton site, we were now explaining penis enhancement to a crowd of teenagers…

The first thing Scott did was to get in touch with Beverley to let her know this had happened. We weren’t the only ones she’d gifted a bike to, and she didn’t want any other people (some who might not take the whole thing in stride), to receive porn with her name and their address. She reached out by phone to Peloton, who’s conversations went something like this:

Beverly: Explains the situation and earnestly asks for some help. Mentions that the porn in question was sent to a friend of hers…who sort of make a career out of outing bad business practices.

Peleton’s immediate response over the phone: “It can’t be us, we don’t sell our lists, this is someone else’s fault.”

Beverly: “I’d like to speak to someone else.” Explains the whole thing. Again.

2nd person, over the phone — slightly more concerned: “It can’t be us, we don’t sell our lists. But I will escalate the complaint.”

Beverley: “Ok then, I will wait while you escalate.”

3rd person (a supervisor) over email — They sent a pretty cut and paste looking reply about how Peleton can’t be responsible for third party sites selling their bikes and what those site’s do with the information.

Beverly over email: “The bike was purchased on your site. You’ve replied to the wrong problem.”

Peloton in reply: *crickets*

After speaking to Peloton and Beverley and doing some digging into the company sending the marketing material, we’ve come up with a few possibilities for what happened.

  1. Peloton is selling their lists and lying about it.
  2. A rogue employee is selling their lists and lying about it — it is entirely possible that someone at the company is committing the crime.
  3. The official Peloton partner for delivery and installation, who brought and set up our bike, is selling their list — since Peloton uses a third party for delivery, they also had Beverley’s name and our address, so it is entirely possible that they are to blame.
  4. Peloton has a breach in their system — a third party could have hacked into the Peloton system, stealing customer information.

Scott also dug into the company selling the enhancement “medication” and could find only a postal box address and a handful of complaints with the Better Business Bureau, for Negative Option Billing, which is illegal in Ontario where we live (and very popular in the penis pill industry).

This is where we are today. As the investigation continues, we’ll keep updating this post with more information. If you’ve experienced anything similar, please share your story with us.

And to all the parents over the years with whom Alison has shared the “kids mail” advice as a way to keep your toddlers and young kids busy for a bit while you make dinner, or talk on the phone…don’t. Just don’t. You never know what could be in there.