Happy Not-Your-Birthday

So you’re reading this. That means you’re probably an IT person. So you don’t need any reminding that that you should give as little information about yourself as possible to strange organizations. The fewer databases there are that hold all your personal details, the fewer opportunities there are for the bad guys to hack in and steal those personal details.

And even aside from the security considerations, isn’t it just annoying when you register on a website and the website demands that you spend time typing in information about yourself that the website clearly does not need to know.

But of course there is an obvious defence against this: The just-put-something-in-so-the-field-isn’t-blank defence. Hence, for example, there are more than a few websites that hold date-of-birth information for me that is completely wrong. (Although usually wrong in a way that I  know how to predict).

Don’t get me wrong, the websites that genuinely need to know my date of birth, have it. The websites that don’t need my date of birth but do need to know roughly how old I am generally hold an incorrect date of birth that’s only wrong by a year or so. And the websites that have no conceivable interest in my age, beyond knowing that – yes, I am legally old enough to leave the house without my mummy’s permission, are probably holding basically random junk in their ‘TechieSimon-date of birth’ field.

Which is why I was so delighted last week to receive an unwanted email from a certain well-known online insurance broker wishing me a happy birthday.

Yeah, quite a few months out, mate, my birthday is nowhere near the beginning of February!

Somehow I don’t think that the guys at <name-withheld>.com really wish me a happy birthday. More likely, they are hoping that if they give the impression of being so thoughtful that they even remember my birthday, then I’ll immediately buy some car insurance or something from them. Instead, by wishing me a happy birthday on what is very much a not-my-birthday kind of day, they’ve just made themselves look silly.

Deep inside, I feel like it’s been a minor victory for privacy and against unwanted emails. Yes I know, in reality, I haven’t actually achieved anything. Nothing whatsoever is going to chance as a result of my rebellious suck-up-some-wrong-data-you-annoying-insurance-website streak. But it still feels so good!

Hmmm.

Maybe one day, if I ever set up a successful multimillion-$$ software company, I’ll find myself sending out ‘happy birthday’ emails to all my regular clients, and mentally congratulating myself on my efficient high-tech marketing. Then someone will remind me what I wrote in this post….

In the meantime, just remember: That data all neatly lined up in columns in carefully normalized tables in your state-of-the-art SQL Server 2014 database is probably not nearly as accurate as you think.

(And yes, before you ask, obviously if I was really going to buy insurance, then I would give the insurers my correct date of birth. In the wrong-birthday case, I registered on this particular company’s website just to compare some prices. I regarded them as being in the need-to-know-only-my-approximate-age category).

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