Saturday, June 9, 2007

Auto Completion Malfunction

I know that this has happened to you. You are sending out an email and Outlook (or whatever mail program you use) decides to "help" you and after you type in a couple of letters it fills in the blank for you.

This is called auto-completion. Quite often this is a helpful feature. There are, however, times when auto-completion can have unintended results, results that, at best can amount to humorous faux pas between friends and at worst can cause sensitive information to be disclosed to the wrong party.

One of the problems with the feature is that in most cases, it appears to just do a pattern match on addresses in your address book or inbox. The computer cannot distinguish between the email address of you closest friend, the email address of some joker that spammed you last week or the email address that you mis-typed last month.

I had an auto-complete malfunction happen to me recently, that was pretty funny. I sent birthday wish, via email, and of course accidentally to the wrong person. Fortunately, the accidental recipient caught the mistake. We had a good laugh about it and added each others' birthdays to our calendars.

Quite often, however, an auto-complete malfunction could cause a major problem. Imagine the same situation only I am an attorney sending sensitive information to a client and it goes to the wrong person. This could cause harm to the client an the attorney could incur financial liabilities.

The bottom line is that while auto-completion can be a useful time saver, it can also increase your exposure to errors if you are not careful. If you use auto-completion, be careful. Look at the To, Cc and Bcc fields before you hit the send button. Once you hit the send button you cannot take it back.

If you use email to send sensitive information, every addressee should be in the To/Cc/Bcc fields as a result of a deliberate choice. You might want to consider turning auto completion off, and selecting your email recipients from an up-to-date address book. By doing this you can save time and avoid another common email problem -- mistyped addresses.


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