What gives? Oh, right, internet security and common sense do.
This is where you ask, what on earth is she talking about? I’ll tell you.
I’ve written in this space before about how my most public facing email address, which uses my first and last name, gets some spam. The email address in question is listed on this very blog and because it’s at gmail, the spam really is at a minimum. The real problem comes in when people who have my name, which is remarkably common, don’t know their own email addresses and give my email address as their own.
The other problem, and this one is becoming more and more common, is when people submit their correct email address and someone inputs it into a database somewhere minus the small identifying details that make it distinct from mine. Like numbers or middle initials. Those are important details, people.
For those who don’t know, let me be clear here. Firstname.Lastname@gmail is the same email address as FirstnameLastname@gmail. Gmail makes no distinction. None. The number of people who don’t understand that is astonishing.
Now, if I was only dealing with this when people were setting up etsy accounts, iTunes accounts, sending Evites, or buying their timeshares, it wouldn’t be a big deal. They’d eventually figure out that they weren’t getting their email and, (as I don’t know their account passwords, I can’t do anything malicious to their accounts) eventually they’d solve the problem with etsy/iTunes/Scam Ridge Resorts/etc. (The above have all happened, btw.)
However, in the last year or two things have gotten a little out of hand. The CA Realtor who kept giving out my address? I eventually emailed enough of her people back who had emailed me escrow paperwork (yes, really) and told them of their error that they either called her and told her or just stopped working with her. The people in Nebraska, Colorado, and New Mexico who kept inviting me to BBQs and family parties for babies eventually stopped when I started RSVPing for me and 29 sisterwives. One of them even emailed me and told me the response was funny and she was sorry she’d gotten the email address wrong. This was her 4th year in a row getting it wrong.
Now, though, schools are getting it wrong. And here’s the thing. Some of the schools correct the problem immediately. They email me and tell me that Snookie’s class is having a PTA meeting or Parent Teacher conference, etc. I email them back and tell them that I am not Snookie’s mother and I request to be removed from their email list. Usually I get an email back right away with an apology and I don’t hear from them again. But there are a couple of school districts who are just not that on the ball about it.
Two in particular are REALLY bad about it. The funniest part about this is that these school districts both have HUGE statements on their web pages about how they are invested in internet and web security and how they are utilizing the internet, social media, and email as added benefits for communicating with parents and families, etc. Both of these school districts are convinced that I am the mother of a child there. One is a High School in Canada, the other a Middle School in California. There’s a recent Elementary School in Florida that may also turn out to be tenacious too, but the jury is still out on that one.
The Canadian School has been so bad about it that I was actually able to, via email, excuse “my daughter” from an absence. A daughter I don’t have and whose name I didn’t know till they told me. Again, because I’m a generally good and honest person I didn’t do anything bad with the information, but even after I had emailed them I actually had to go on Twitter and Twittershame them before they’d respond and it still took an entire email conversation before they’d believe that I wasn’t who they thought I was. And then I got an email from one of their teachers today. It was sent to me and the girl’s father, ostensibly my husband. Geoff will be shocked to discover that I’m married in Canada. Then again, I didn’t know I was married in Canada. I wonder if I can apply for citizenship?
The California school has been quiet for about a week now. Apparently someone there, and I suspect it was that Realtor, has a middle school aged son there. It, again, took Twitter and multiple emails before I could convince them that I was not the person they were looking for. Once it has been a month I’ll believe that they have actually removed me from their system.
The thing that gets me about all of this is the disbelief on the part of the school. You’re dealing with extraordinarily sensitive information when it comes to kids, schoolwork, grades, etc. If someone comes to you and says, “hey, you’ve got the wrong email address, I’m not Susie’s mom.” the first response should NOT be, “Gee, are you sure about that?” I can tell you with absolutely certainty that I know if I’ve had a child or not. You should believe me and you should be erring on the side of caution with any information you have concerning a child in your school system.
I can also tell you as a database and web administrator that your web and data security are only as good as the data you put into them. So you can have the best database and the most intelligent web security in the world, but if you put incorrect email addresses in it does not matter one bit. There is one tried and true axiom when it comes to database management that I will share with you here: you get out of it what you put into it, or more succinctly, Shit In = Shit Out.
I’ve been sharing the long process of trying to get these schools to release me from their email lists and databases with Geoff and the joke is now that if this takes longer than a year we’re going to start claiming these kids on our taxes. The scary part is that some of these school districts are so sure of themselves that once they have an email address on file in some cases there’s very little info you can’t get on “your child.” If someone wanted to do some damage I can’t imagine it would be difficult to do and the child would be the one to suffer. Not the parent, the database administrator, or whoever it was that missed the number 13 at the end of the name distinguishing one email address from another.
Get it together, schools. Identity theft is enough of a problem as it is. Don’t make it worse by allowing children to become targets as well. Clean your data and listen to people like me when we email you and tell you we’re not the people you’re looking for. I can’t be the only one.