Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Short email address discrimination

This annoys me a lot, that web sites and organisations won't accept that my email address is valid. It is 6 characters long. It is like z@k.gg and we all have similarly small email addresses in the family.

The problem is that people make up their own arbitrary rules to validate an email address, and one of the common ones is to not accept ones that are too short. The designer will typically base this on "I have never seen an email shorter than 10 characters" or something stupid like that rather than "Is there an Internet standard for email addresses that I can check". It is sloppy, and lazy.

Data Protection Act

When someone holds my personal data, e.g. an organisation that I have an ongoing connection with like my bank or some such, then I can expect them to ensure the details they hold on me are correct. So, like the issue with phone numbers where the expect a mobile to start 07, not accepting a short email address gives them legal problems. Anyone collecting and holding personal data has a legal obligation to hold correct data and correct it if it is wrong under The Data Protection Act.

Sadly the enforcement is via the ICO, so even with letters demanding they fix things, it does not get far.

So I wondered if there are other angles to get people to fix stupid mistakes like this.

Discrimination?

This idea has come up because my daughter is dyslexic. I have a similarly short email address for her, and she can remember it and get it right. This is good. I actually want to try and get her an even simpler one but I am waiting for the domain to be available.

The issue came up today. In the past I have explained that we have an alternative email address, one under @kennard.me.uk for sites and systems that do not understand the short email address. The problem is that she gets that mixed up and has been giving people @kennard.gg email addresses which we don't have. It happened today and I noticed when she showed me. I am not that surprised she got mixed up.

So it occurred to me that forcing her to provide a different and more complex email address may be some sort of disability discrimination. I am not sure dyslexia is a disability people have to accommodate legally though. It may, however, be a better angle in angry letters to companies than the Data Protection one.

Apparently one culprit is her college, Berkshire College of Agriculture, that won't accept her shorter email address. So I am thinking a letter may be in order, perhaps under DPA and the discrimination angle.

We'll keep up the battle though. My dad has a similar battle with organisations all of the time.

Coincidentally - today's xkcd is on email

7 comments:

  1. Out of interest, do you go straight for the "compliance with the fourth data protection principle" point, or do you tend to go softly, emailing them from such a short address (so that they know it works), explaining that there seems to be a problem with their form and asking them to take a look?

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  2. The ICO have explicitly told me that they will not enforce the DPA: I made a subject access request to a company who were spamming me, which went unanswered; I complained to the ICO who chased the company, but the company ignored them. I complained to them again and they successfully chased the company and I got a response to the SAR. However, while all this was going on, the ICO stated that if the company continued to ignore them, they would not do anything and it would be up to me to bring a lawsuit against the company for breaching the DPA.

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  3. I actually have a downer on short email addresses. An email address should contain your real name, or a least a well know alias, such that people can easily associate it with a real person. Things like x@k.gg just look to me like addresses that people sending spam would use. Now something like helen@k.gg would make more sense, can your daughter not spell her own first name?

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  4. They don't like short stuff: your link to bca.ac.uk timed out but www.bca.ac.uk was OK. But they seem to like BCA.

    How about a letter to the local press about the dyslexia / email address problem.

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  5. Oh, no, you don't want to go and use standard forenames in email addresses -- that's leaving you way open to the phishers and dictionary spammers.

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  6. As somebody with a single-character surname, I get a similar state of affairs with many web forms and other computer systems. I've found that shouting about discrimination (and/or about "taking my business elsewhere", as appropriate) works very well at getting people to be accommodating, sometimes quite-obviously working around the limitations of their IT infrastructure, but I find people to be far-less willing to change around me if I expose an email address containing a plus sign or some other common but rarely-seen-in-an-email-address symbol. I guess that people feel like they're more-likely to cause offence or break the law if they don't accept your name than if they don't accept your email address, perhaps?

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  7. Or surnames with apostrophes in them... Even if a website accepts them, they often cause issues further down the line... I used to be able to crash O2's accounts system just by logging in after one update they did. And Royal Mail currently have me down in one of their systems as Rob Oand#039;Donnell ....

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