Some magazines tell their subscribers that if they do not want their names rented out to other companies hawking merchandise, the readers can check a box on the subscription form, or call a toll-free number to protect their names and privacy.
In the case of Poz magazine, a monthly title for H.I.V.-positive readers, privacy is an even more serious issue. The magazine gives out free subscriptions to people who will declare on a subscription form that they are H.I.V. positive. Issues are delivered to subscribers in a nondescript envelope.
So when several thousand subscribers to Poz who had specifically requested that their names not be rented out to other companies found a letter from Community Prescription Services, with information about a new H.I.V. treatment, in their mailboxes last month, they were alarmed. Had their wishes not been honored? And did Community Prescription Services know their H.I.V. status?
The mailing was a mistake, said Sean Strub, an owner and chairman of Poz Publishing L.L.C. In a letter of apology mailed to those subscribers two weeks ago, Mr. Strub wrote, "This was a terrible mistake that makes it appear that we do not respect readers' privacy or the option we so clearly gave readers not to have their names exchanged."
He added that the mistake "demonstrates that even with the best intentions, once a name is on a list it is never 100 percent private" and that the publishers of Poz "are extremely aware of the dangers of involuntary disclosure and believe strongly in our readers' rights to keep their names private." Community Prescription Services, he noted in the letter, is a sister company to Poz Publishing, but he wrote that the company's affiliation was no excuse.
Mr. Strub also owns Metamorphics Media, a direct-marketing company that controls several mailing lists. Critics have said that Mr. Strub, through Metamorphics, could take unfair advantage of his Poz subscriber list.
"And for that reason, we have to be doubly safe with this sort of thing," he said. "This time, we were not. To the recipient who checked the box saying 'I don't want to receive any other mailings,' and then they got something from another company, this was a violation. And we are sorry." ALEX KUCZYNSKI