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24 May 2006

King of the Internet. How the Royal Family can help us with privacy.

King of the Internet, or Queen depending on which you prefer. You too can have a Royal birthday online.

The monarch has a tradition of having two birthdays. Queen Elizabeth (no number 2 as I'm posting from Scotland and there was no Queen Elizabeth I of Scotland) celebrated her 80th birthday on 21 April 2006 and will celebrate her official birthday on 17 June 2006.

What a great idea. Two lots of presents! A chance for people who forgot the first one to make it up on the second. Even better you can have a birthday when it's likely to be sunny. Or if your birthday is on a date like 25th December or 1st of January when people usually have other plans, you can have an official birthday at some other time of the year.

Anyway, a frivolous point but with with serious implications for the web, especially in light of today's announcement that there are Privacy worries over web's future. You don't say! I've been writing on this for at least 3 years and I mentioned it on a recent blog.

The "mandatory date of birth" field seems to be getting increasingly prevalent on the web and I have already had one small success against the government in fighting this worrying trend. In light of what was said at today's WWW2006 conference, I think the case for online privacy is only strengthened. We should stop the trend of having dates of birth on sites "to validate you" or "as a login security measure" since this will result in the date of birth becoming the equivalent of the US Social Security number. This is something that is supposed to be private but is in fact widely used as a citizen ID and you don't exist without one.

In other to address this, we should all be Kings or Queens of the Internet and draw some inspiration from the Royal Family (thanks, ma'am). To do this, you simply declare another day of the year to be your "official" or "Internet birthday". Furthermore the year doesn't have to be the same as the real year of birth either.

Obviously if you're applying for a passport online as I did recently, then clearly as this is an official site, you need to give your real date of birth. That's a legitimate site with a legitimate reason and importantly they capture your date of birth via a secure form. The more nefarious sites who capture date of birth for "marketing reasons" or "for their records" and other bogus reasons invite identity fraud by not capturing the date of birth on a secure form so who knows where it is cached en route to their server.

So the challenge is, what Internet date of birth should you invent that's memorable?

Can I suggest that you choose one of the following (but obviously don't tell the site which rule you use). It also makes sense to have an internet date of birth that isn't going to get you into trouble (e.g. lying to get access to a site that otherwise you would be too young to get into).

Some ideas:

  1. The date of your wedding minus 30 years

  2. Your spouse's or sibling's date of birth

  3. Your eldest child's birthday minus 30 years

  4. A well known historical anniversary, e.g. 4th July 1976, Pearl Harbor Day + 30 years, the first man on the moon etc


Alternatively, in much the same way as me@privacy.net has been adopted as a disposable email address for forms which require an email address to be filled, we could adopt a universal Internet Date of birth as a disposable date of birth field. I suggest the Universal Internet Date of Birth to be the 29th of October 1969. This is documented here and here as the day the Internet began, so it seems an appropriate date.

My privacy matters more than your right to define a field on a form as mandatory without good cause.

Sorry if this actually happens to be your real date of birth. However, on the bright side, it's going to be a very busy 40th birthday party in a few years time...
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