In which I grump about online security

Remember the days when the online world was all shiny and bright and new, and it was revolutionary that you had all that power at your fingertips? Log in and lo, you became mistress of your bank account and utilities, able to set up a direct debit or pay the water bill at the click of a mouse.

Yeah, then identity theft came along and brought increased online security with it, and now I have so many online identities I need an assistant to manage them. If I can’t find the piece of paper on which I scribbled down the memorable word, memorable date (the only memorable date I know is the battle of Actium, 31BC and that never works), first teacher’s aunt’s dog’s name and my password, I’m buggered. The rules for creating passwords alone are so complicated that they could be the basis for a new game show: ‘Right, contestants, for your next task, create a password: must be between 27 and 58 characters, contain no consecutive strings of letters or numbers and must include two runes and a hieroglyph. Your time starts… now!’ The winner gets access to their own BT account.

First Direct wouldn’t even let me set up my security information while someone else was in the room who might be eavesdropping. While I sort of appreciate their efforts, they are sadly wasted when I write all the details down, because there is no way I’ll remember them otherwise, and then leave the piece of paper in the maximum security fortress of the kitchen for a couple of weeks. And I just don’t believe I’m the only person who does that.

So now that managing accounts online has become like some sort of Endurance Personal Admin event, I find myself thinking nostalgically of trips to the bank, and even of writing letters. All this self-service is touted as being for the benefit of me, the tremendously important customer; all it actually means is that I now do free customer service work in my own time. If a company really wanted to make me feel important, they’d be doing this stuff for me.

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