My name is Andrew Jackson
By Charles Miller
There has been quite a lot of news lately about individual privacy and government snooping into it. Civil libertarians and others are up in arms over warrantless wiretaps, monitoring of everyone’s internet usage, phone calls, and other Orwellian manifestations of our wired society. One perspective I have not heard from anyone else is to address the quality and accuracy of the data that is being gathered. Collecting and storing exabytes and zetabites of raw data is easy to do today, but I suspect that a lot of the information obtained is simply wrong for one reason or another.
Many years ago and for some time I kept up a running battle with Radio Shack, a company that at the time had an onerously aggressive policy of requiring customers to provide a lot of personal information in order to make any purchase at their stores. On one occasion when I was paying for a small purchase the cashier rather curtly demanded, “Last name?” I said I was paying cash.
“Last name!” he barked.
“Jackson” I answered.
“Andrew” I responded.
“The Hermitage” I replied.
“Hermitage? What number?”
“I don’t think there’s any street number, the address is just ‘The Hermitage’” I explained.
“What kind of address is that? A building?”
“It’s a private residence. Everyone in Nashville knows the place.” I told him.
“No telephone.” I said.
“You don’t have a phone?”
“Me? Sorry, I though this was a test about him.” I said while pointing to the portrait of the 7th President of the United States on the twenty-dollar bill held in my hand.
While the cashier grumbled I am pretty sure I overheard the next person behind me in line say their name was either Alexander Hamilton or Abraham Lincoln. Radio Shack mistakenly thought if it programmed its cash registers not to open until name, address and phone number were obtained that this practice would create a reliable client list. Companies need to learn that the more aggressively they demand personal information the more likely it is customers will push back and just make something up. One company’s database was found to have many duplicate entries for someone named Ulysses Grant listing a permanent address of 427 Riverside Drive, New York City (Google it and you will see the address is quite permanent).
There is actually a good place for this kind of misdirection and that is where it comes to personal information used for authenticating your identity. I refer to the times you phone your bank and they ask you to verify you know your mother’s maiden name or your place of birth. Such personal information is now completely valueless for identification purposes because criminals have such easy access to it. It is distressingly trivial for crooks to obtain your date of birth, family history, etc., and for you or your bank to continue relying on this information to verify your identity is simply ludicrous.
I discussed this with my banker and will now let you readers in on a secret known only to me and to my bank. My place and date of birth is “Honolulu, December 7, 1941” (sneaky), I graduated high school from “RMS Titanic” (it was a disaster) and my mother’s maiden name is “Lincoln-Continental” (where I could have had my beginnings). This little fiction insures no thieves will have the answers to the questions my bank has on file, and all I have to do is be really sure to remember the answers I made up. My banker applauded this and told me if more people would do as I did that this could help reduce bank fraud.
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044-415-101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.