About a month ago, I posted about the US Postal Service experimenting with electric vehicles. One reader commented essentially arguing that different drive trains is not what the postal service needed. Rather he claimed that they should just open people’s mail, scan it, and send it to an email address. This struck me as a little far-fetched. I couldn’t quite imagine people willingly let postal workers go through their mail or that the postal service would want the responsibility of safeguarding customers’ privacy.
It just turns out that our reader was ahead of the times by about a month. From PRI’s The World, we have “Finland mail goes digital.” The Finnish postal service Itella is proposing to do just what our reader suggested.
A spokesman for the postal service reportedly compared the new service to e-banking and he said the letters will be digitally copied in special secure premises. Workers doing the scanning says Itella will be bound by strict confidentiality agreements. … More than 100 households and 20 businesses in southern Finland are going to try it out starting later this month. The whole idea has, as you might expect, raised privacy concerns. But Itella notes that this is a voluntary program. Everyone who signs up for the new service knows that their mail will be opened and scanned.
Given that Itella was naive enough to announce this service on April Fool’s Day, I wonder how carefully the Finns have thought this through (the report insists that it is for real). There are a number of questions I have about how well this will work. For example, will they really scan all mail? What about magazines or catalogues? Do users of this service have to make do with web-based media? I can’t imagine that will play well with publishers.
What happens when someone sends you a check? I realize that worrying about checks is almost to the point of worrying about replacing a turntable stylus, but they still presumably have to worry about grandmothers sending birthday cards with a little something inside it.
Finally, I wonder about how they assure quality and what the fallback is if a scan is inadequate. If the service produces an illegible image, what is the customer’s recourse? Are they just out of luck or is the postal service holding on to the original for some period of time? I would think that they would have to at least until they establish some credibility in the service.