Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Non-conformist

As I am sure some of you know, I am a tad non-conformist. Not in the same way as all those other non-conformists, obviously.

Some times this can cause a slight nuisance.

For example, I have a short email address, only 6 characters in total. It is, of course, fully compliant with the specification for email addresses (the relevant RFCs) so not actually non-conformist at all. It is, of course, unique to me, as are all email addresses, so again not really non-conformist. There are many others who have such a short email address (everyone in my family for a start).

Sadly, lots of web sites make assumptions about what is a valid email address and will not accept one so short. This is just sloppy. There is a standard for email, and it is not that hard to validate against that standard. There are tools to do that. But instead, designers assume they know what an email address looks like and make up their own broken rules. Getting this fixed is hard work, people simply do not care. (In some ways I can understand - even I have a number of minor niggles in our systems still on the list to get corrected, but we do try).

Fortunately, with email, it is relatively easy to have an alternative email address. I have some in the domain stupidwebsitethatdoesnotunderstandshortdomains.e.gg and rfc2822.me.uk and temporaryemailaddress.co.uk that I use some times.

Many people have the same problem where web sites refuse to accept email addresses using punctuation which is specifically listed as valid in an email address in the RFC. Some sites will not even allow a simple plus character.

The other problem I have is my mobile phone number. It is a Bracknell 01344 number. I can make and receive calls on that number using my iPhone, as well as sending and receiving texts. It works in every way like a mobile. Whilst this is a tad non-conformist it is not new. When Orange launched over 20 years ago they offered London and Birmingham landline numbers as an option (for an incoming call charge). I very nearly got one of these at the time, and wish I had.

But, once again, people assume they know best and expect a UK mobile to start 07. One culprit is Barclays - I am unable to use their mobile banking app or pingit (and hence paym). This is annoying, and unlike the email example, I don't have an 07 number I can use instead, not any more.

But, for both of these issues, we have a cunning plan. I am pretty sure I am not the only one trying this at present as it was discussed on irc I think. The plan is simple. Sign up for a service using an email/number that they will accept (which is where temporaryemailaddress.co.uk comes in). Then require them to correct and update the information they hold on me on their computer systems in accordance with principle 4 of The Data Protection Act 1998:

 "Personal data shall be accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date."

The data controller has an obligation to adhere to the principles as per section 4(4). So, basically, it is the law that they correct the email/phone number that they hold!

I am just writing to the data controller at Barclays registered office, having got a Tesco mobile SIM (which comes with 10p credit on it) and using that to get mobile banking and pingit on my iPhone before throwing the SIM away. Now I am asking that they correct and update the mobile number to my 01344 number. We'll see what happens.

In the mean time, I can report one success. The DVLA have web pages (I think for tax discs and the like) and will email a confirmation to you. They did not accept the short email address used by my father. As this was only for the confirmation email and not data they had stored, the DPA trick would not work, but it seems my father is good at pestering, and apparently the DVLA do now accept his email address - well done Dad!

Also, I was impressed with Uber as I had no issue signing up and getting the confirmation text on my 01344 mobile number. So some people can do it right.

14 comments:

  1. I am wondering if they set the email field as they wanted is because of the limitation of their database to store the e-mail address? Still, should not be an excuse...

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  2. A huge amount of websites don't see my .info domain as a valid email address :(

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  3. So it runs in the family..... :-)

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  4. I do feel your pain. However, I work for a business automation company where we handle lots of data on behalf of household names and we tend to err on the side of caution for the sake of our reputation. In a lot of cases, we do get rather shoddy data and if a geographic number is given where were would expect a mobile, it is fairly reasonable to assume that this is a mistake. We therefore tend to screen such outgoing messages rather than risk sending SMS messages to landline phones, which is likely to upset and annoy. We generally don't handle initial registration though so our policy should not prevent you from signing up with these companies in the first place.

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  5. Never mind email addresses, some websites have problems with my name. We all know that hyphens aren't valid characters in a surname, and you're certainly not allowed to a capital letter anywhere other than the first character. I hate to think how such sites would cope with my nephews' quintuple-barrelled surname...

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  6. What is wrong with SMS to landline phones? Mine can handle them directly (after registering) and they appear as text, and I can send texts from my landline phone as well (although there is a fee for sending). This is a perfectly normal BT landline on 01223 Cambridge area code, nothing special about it.

    And if you haven't registered that your phone supports texts direct, then you get a voice synthesiser reading the SMS to you. I don't see what is wrong with that either.

    As for email addresses, mine is firstname.lastname@domain.net and I've had a couple of web sites refuse to accept that (with the real values in) because there is a dot before the @ sign. Pathetic, absolutely pathetic.

    I'd rather web sites do no validation of data at all than get it wrong and refuse entries which should be valid.

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  7. We firstly validate addresses against RFC2822 but then also check if they look like they might be wrong (for example spotting errors like gmial.com or gmail.co.uk) and nudge the user that they might want to double check that they've got it right before confirming. Finally we do a DNS lookup to confirm that the domain in question exists and that there's somewhere for mail to be sent to (i.e. an MX or root A record).

    This really did not feel like rocket science when we implemented it!

    Lack of support for + is common, and extremely annoying given how services like gmail make use of it.

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  8. Most of what has been noted is merely annoying and silly but corporate / systemic sloppiness can be a nightmare.

    Barclays accused me of having a "forged" driving licence whilst trying to open a bank account. Because my surname begins "mac" my driver number isn't written in the "normal way" ie first 5 letters of surname followed by numbers etc. The DVLA in its wisdom give us "Macs" the order "mc" followed by the next 3 letters after the "c". The assistant in Barclays called the duty manager & they both insisted that their corporate guidance notes told them my driver number wasn't possible so must (really) be fake. My wife showed them her licence but this seemed to prove not my innocence but "our" guilt.

    I had to call the police because they wouldn't return my licence. After some discussion (and checking me out) my licence was returned.

    Lord only knows how anybody opens an account in Scotland!

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    1. Wow, that is amazing, and a tad scary.

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    2. I also heard that they also have special cases for people with surnames like Penistone.

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    3. As a student some years ago, my mother ran into problems in Germany trying to cash the Bank of Scotland travellers' cheques she had taken with her: the German bank teller told her they were really bad forgeries, "everyone knows it's called the Royal Bank of Scotland!"

      I can understand the "mobile numbers must start 07" (particularly with Ofcom enforcing the other direction, that 07 is mobile-only) - but "my email address is blah@x.com and your site won't accept it" seems a reasonable and straightforward problem for them to deal with - and when you email them using it and they reply successfully, they can't really dispute that it really is a working email address, either.

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  9. I also have a 6-char email address and it's amazing how many websites won't let me use it. Even NASA got it wrong (although they have since fixed it)

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  10. I have a generic word .org which is quite widely used by random people who want to choose a fake (for them) e-mail address. When I signed up for PayPal many years ago, I couldn't figure out why I couldn't register. It turned out to be my e-mail address (which PayPal obviously thought was fake) - I could sign up fine up with another e-mail address and then I had to change back to my proper one.

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  11. When I tried to sign up for a business account with DHL, they wouldn't accept my phone number because it was a mobile number, and "we require a landline number for credit checking purposes"(?!). I explained that like many modern businesses, I do all my business over the Internet, and had no need for a landline, and I wasn't about to get one installed just to get a DHL account, but they would not budge.

    So, I signed up for an 033 VOIP number with A&A for £1.20/month, had it forward calls to my mobile, and signed up with that. They accepted it without a peep.

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