Autocomplete, we can all agree, is the work of the devil.
Its potential for disaster is huge. It’s so dangerous, in fact, that the Bank of England has been forced to permanently disable it in its emails.
The reason? You’re looking at it. Details of the top-secret Project Bookend – the bank’s contingency plan in the event of Britain leaving the EU, unknown even to most of its employees – were emailed to the Guardian by accident last month, all because someone at the bank became temporarily fat-fingered and didn’t notice the system was accidentally sending it to a newspaper. And now, to ensure that a catastrophe of this scale never happens again, everyone at the Bank of England has to laboriously hammer out every single character of every single email address they ever write.
There’s a chance this will dent productivity, but it’s likely to be for the best. This sort of thing happens all the time. Earlier this year, St Andrews University wrongly sent out congratulatory welcome emails to almost 800 prospective students, including many who would be rejected, leading to one of them tweeting “I MAY KILL SOMEONE”. Two months earlier, Johns Hopkins University in the US did the same thing. Two months later, so did Drexel University in Philadelphia.
These mistakes are always down to human error. My wife used to work as a web developer at a large charity, and quickly found herself inundated with the wills of total strangers, intended for the namesake lawyer who also worked there. And a friend of mine with a very similar name to his boss regularly receives all manner of sensitive emails dealing with the salaries or poor behaviour of his colleagues. It is to their eternal credit that both these people haven’t blackmailed their respective companies into oblivion. Yet.
What to do if this happens to you? Several years ago, an ethicist told the New York Times that the onus is on you to inform the sender if the contents of the email seem important or urgent. Or just email them to a newspaper. As the Bank of England now knows, that’s a pretty nifty way of making sure that it never happens again.
• This article was amended on 15 June 2015. The original referred to Britain “leaving the UK”. This has been corrected
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