I first met Horace Smutty - known to his friends as Dirty Horace - when I was a Cobol programmer.
Horace used to help me compile test data, often from his home at Smutty Towers, Smutty Lane, Smutton.
When I switched to journalism, Horace started registering software for me. Now he lends me his name when I register at Websites - particularly if I know I shall never want to go back.
Of course, Smutty doesn't exist, although one or two of my programmer colleagues ought to have been nicknamed Dirty Horace. I invented him as a suitably unlikely name for control purposes.
Ken Goddard did the same when he added his dog to a database of business contacts, which he loaned to his accountant employers. After they sacked him - don't ask why, it's a long story - his dog continued to receive mailshots from the firm, so he (Goddard, that is, not the dog) is now suing the company for breach of copyright.
Personally, I wouldn't entrust my accounts to a firm that could keep sending letters to 'Rover, 42 Kennel Road, Barking'. But selling databases is a dog-eat-dog business, and you wonder how many other mailing lists have been padded with pooches and other dud data.
It's not a new idea. In the last century, a mass petition claimed to contain more than a million signatures, until somebody read it and discovered that many of them were 'Queen Victoria' and suchlike. Today, cartographers deliberately insert fictitious streets into their maps so they can catch out rival publishers who copy them without a licence - which is fine, until your in-car navigation system takes a sudden left and drives you into a launderette's window.
Nor is mailing software terribly good with unusual names. Vicars get used to being addressed as Dear Reverend, while a mention in the Birthday Honours condemns the hapless recipient to a new identity as Mr OBE.
Short of eyeballing every mailing list and registration system to spot rogue entries, what can a business do? Bray Enterprises has devised the answer. FakeOff 1.0 - say it carefully if ordering it from a heavily built man in a shop - scans databases for likely fakes. These include popular animal names such as Fido, Tiddles and Dolly; public figures such as Bill Gates, Slobodan Milosevic and Grant Mitchell; and just-bung-in-anything character strings such as 'qwerty' and 'asdf'. We did receive a complaint from a Mr Asdf claiming discrimination, but our system wouldn't let us send him a reply.
FakeOff also has an Alias Manager module, allowing users to log their personal aliases so they know who to sign on as when accessing Websites.
As for Horace, his status as a cyber-person has gone to his head and he's demanding his own avatar and Freeserve account. So I'm adding his name to FakeOff 2.
Paul Bray is a freelance IT journalist.
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