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Comments from Frankston, Reed, and Friends

Saturday, November 29, 2003

BobF at 3:14 PM [url]:

Favors I can't afford!

I need to interrupt my other writing to apologize to those people I unintentionally spammed. I have been using Accucard to try to keep some of my address book information up to date. I use the service because it's linked to Corex's Cardscan application and their card scanner which does a pretty good job of scanning in business cards. It seemed like an innocuous way to check the accuracy of recently entered business cards.

It's been a while since I've accepted their updates so I did a batch at once and then let it synchronize with my Outlook database. It seemed innocent enough but I didn't realize that it would be bi-directional and then send out a letter to just about everyone in my address book (or so it seemed -- I haven't yet researched exactly what it did). That in itself is bad enough but it claimed to be me and said

I'm updating my address book. Would you please take a moment to review your contact information?

This is part of the larger trend toward "personalization" -- a process which I find very offensive. It's the kind of fake politeness which seems to be all-to-common.

If I write a letter to a candidate I don't want to get a canned response from a staffer saying "John Doe appreciates your concern and �". Just tell me "we got your letter and some staffer read it". I'm very offended at the candidate or company that lies to me because I'm supposed to be too stupid or innumerate to know that the response has been delegated. Think of how confused people get when you give a real answer to "How are you"? In most cases they don't even wait for the answer and continue as if you'd said "fine". Do we want all communications to be impersonally personal?

What makes the Accucard escapade even more problematic is that I use multiple email addresses -- I got 85 requests back to myself! I my own personalization by giving people individual email address to use to reach me. Accucard defeats this by telling people to go to a generic address.

And it gets worse -- I have a lot of entries in my address book including entries for my family and some people I really don't want to bother unless I explicitly want to contact them. Now my wife's friends are going to wonder why I'm bothering them or, in some cases, who I am.

I presume that Accucard is not unique -- other services probably have the same problem and build on a naive and simplistic model of email and address books. I've dabbled with LinkedIn but at least I explicitly selected which people to contact and almost all of them were already listed with LinkedIn. The problem of taking a naive solution and scaling it is endemic to the field. PDA synchronization barely works yet the Bluetooth people built it in as a basic protocol. I'm still recovering from a service called "PlanetAll" which added information about people's birthdays and anniversaries to my address book. I keep deleting them but they will reappear from some place or another. But ranting about stupid software is a huge topic. For now I want to focus on besmirching my good name.

Accucard has done damage by claiming to be me. That's dishonest and, worse, costly. It brands me as a clueless and insensitive spammer. That's no favor.

This kind of personalization offends others in my name and I can't afford that. At very least, I demand control over my own faked personas.

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