Universal Bad Data
My last post took a lot of energy out of me emotionally, from both writing it and the ensuing conversations that followed. To get back on the proverbial writing horse, I decided on a lighter and shorter topic to press onward.
I very frequently find myself thinking about how much data companies demand from us as consumers and how much they actually need it. I'm not talking about all the surveillance and hidden tracking, but the times we're actually filling out a form and providing data directly.
A store that we never want to call us doesn't need our phone number.
A website that's never going to wish us Happy Birthday doesn't need our date of birth.
An app that's never shipping us anything doesn't need our address.
To combat this, these are some of the examples I use to submit forms with unnecessary required fields. Compared to companies selling user data to third parties, I feel pretty okay when I go to bed.
For example, I sometimes shop at Lucky for my groceries. Like most grocery stores, they'll give you discount if you're an account holder with them. I'm not sure all the info they need to sign up, but you can just manually enter your phone number for them to look up your account.
So when I shop there, I'll enter my local area code followed by 867-5309. The cashier will side-eye me and say, “Jenny?” and I'll grin and say, “Yeah.”
I didn't create the account, but I appreciate the person that did fully committed to the bit. I do feel bad for whoever has this phone number, but using it as a rewards program is the least of their worries.
Also, this has worked at every store I've tried so far. I even talked with the cashier at a Petco up in Idaho about this after I did it. She said she was bored one shift and tried a bunch of random area codes from across the US and those also had accounts.
This is Universal Bad Data in action.
Date of Birth
One of my favorite dates is the Unix Epoch. Pretty much every computer uses this one moment as the beginning of time.
January 1st, 1970
If your timezone is west of the Prime Meridian, it'll be 1969 with whatever the UTC offset is for the zone. I generally just go with 1970.
Now I'll admit I haven't actually used this one, but I think I'll start using it going forward. This is the address for Amazon's HQ.
1200 12th Avenue South, Suite 1200 Seattle, WA 98144 USA
I typically don't mind using my real name, but as someone that's needed to do a lot of manual QA in my career, I've come up with a few aliases for form entry. A couple of my favorites are:
Travis Gervais Kevin Grover Frank Testf
I don't think any of these are particularly great candidates for the name for Universal Bad Data, but another one does come to mind. My friend Joe and I used to do a lot of manual QA and his alias is great.
This one's pretty straightforward. @example.com is already widely used for illustrative purposes, so as long as you don't need to verify your email, you can just put whatever you want as the username.
Some websites might actively block example.com, but those sites probably also have some sort of verification requirement. Most people have a spam email address for this sort of thing anyways.
Tying It All Together
Bob Dobalina 1200 12th Avenue South, Suite 1200 Seattle, WA 98144 USA firstname.lastname@example.org +1 (657) 867-5309 1/1/1970
At the time of this writing, the phone number is not currently valid. I did try calling it first to make sure I wasn't about to unleash an extra amount of hell on this person.
Next time you need to fill out some data on a form and you just know they're never going to need it, consider utilizing Universal Bad Data.