Making a Field Required Doesn’t Make It Truthful

Today’s lesson for people who make fields “required” on their web forms:

You can make it “required”, but you can’t force people to tell you the truth.

I recently filled out a form for a service that will eventually ship a book to me. I understand why they needed my street address, my credit card information, and so on… but my phone number? I’ve gotten quite accustomed to typing “you don’t need this” into phone number fields on web forms, because it’s the truth. The company I’m dealing with, 9 times out of 10, doesn’t need my phone number.

In this case, I suspect they wanted it in case they had to contact me regarding any shipping problems, so instead of my usual, I typed in “email me instead”. The nice thing is, the form actually accepted that. Sometimes, they demand to have actual numbers in them. Would you believe my phone number is 123-456-7890?

As long ago as the fall of 2005, I wrote that personal information was a hot commodity, and that users were becoming aware of it. If you run a site that has forms that require certain information, you might want to check through the data you’ve been receiving. I suspect that an astonishing number of your users have the same phone number as I do… and were born on New Year’s Day of some year or other.

Then again, I’m awfully nice about using such “obviously fake” data. I wouldn’t be surprised if some useres, when faced with a form that demands a phone number, just press lots of keys until they’ve got enough numbers.

Two questions, then, for those whose databases have numbers like 123-456-7890 in them:

  1. Obviously, you can’t trust any phone number in the 123 area code. How much of the rest of your information can you trust?
  2. Given that at least some of the data you’re getting is untrustworthy, what purpose is being served by requiring such data at all?

One Comment

  1. coyotegirlfriend
    Posted Saturday, April 25th, 2009 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    So does this mean I can lie about my email address in the required fields here in order to comment? 😉

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