Data Crime: Bob Smith

I call it a “data crime” when someone is abusing or misusing data. When we understand these stories and their implications, it can help us learn from mistakes and prevent future data crimes. The stories can also be helpful if you have to explain the importance of data management to someone. 

The Story 

I met Bob Smith! While that might not mean much to some people, “Bob Smith” is a name often used by data people to explain the importance of mastering data. If the business has a transaction with Bob Smith, they need to make sure they have the right Bob Smith because the business could be dealing with many people of the same name. 

Although this Bob Smith wasn’t a data person, he was experiencing data problems because of his name. He liked to travel internationally. Leaving the country wasn’t the problem — returning was the problem. Going through Customs and Immigration, his passport would get put into a special plastic baggie and he would be escorted into “the room.” If you’ve ever watched one of those border patrol programs on TV, that’s exactly where he was taken. 

Each return trip resulted in Bob Smith spending hours sitting in this room and getting investigated. If his wife was with him, they had to decide if it was better for her to stay with him as a witness to what happened, or to be on the outside working with the lawyer. He would eventually be let back in the country. 

After giving himself a break, he would try to work out whatever the issues were so that this didn’t happen on his next trip. All he could get from the government was a letter that they could “neither confirm nor deny” that there was a problem with him. 

After significant work — and lawyers — they came to an agreement. The government decided what his name should be on all official documentation that could be used at Immigration: It would be a combination of his birth name (Robert, not Bob), middle initial, last name, and professional designation (retired doctor). This name would be on his passport, driver’s license, airline cards, etc. 

What We Learned 

Apparently, there’s a Bob Smith in the U.S. who is likely on the watch list. As a result, other Bob Smiths are being pulled over for further investigation. 

Names are not unique throughout the world, so we need to figure out an approach to handle identical names. Some people have differences with Jr/Sr or I/II, though they don’t consistently use the suffix, which adds additional confusion. It’s not always easy. In this case, there were multiple trips before Bob Smith was able to reach an agreement with the government. If any of his documentation differs from the agreement, he will likely be pulled over again. 

Do you have a Bob Smith problem?  Maybe it’s a different name, but you need to resolve these issues before your customers have problems doing business with you. 

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Merrill Albert

Merrill Albert

Merrill Albert is a lifelong data person with a combination of industry and consulting experience. She works throughout the data management capabilities, helping companies better manage their data to drive value from it. She specializes in data governance, helping companies establish their own data governance organizations to effectively manage their data.

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