Sometimes I get emails that I have to wonder what the sender was thinking. For example, I got
something from someone who calls himself John. John says he is a
student at the University of Michigan and wants some help on a project
he is working on. What he wants from me is the following information:
- What is your full name?
- What is your email (I will
keep this private)?
- What is the name of your
- What is the URL of your blog?
- What is your date of birth?
- Are you Male or Female?
- Would you characterize
yourself politically as a Democrat
- (Liberal), Republican
(Conservative), Independent, or Other?
- If Other, would you please
- Are you the only author of
- If not, are you the primary
author? About what percent do you contribute? What is the
makeup of your blog’s
Now, maybe John is who he says
he is and maybe he isn’t. But if a stranger came up to me and started
asking me these questions I would walk away at question number one.
But, for a minute, let’s suspend reality and say he is who he says
How did he get my email address? If he were for real, he probably would have come to my site
and got it from the link I have on the right side of the page. If so,
he would know my full name because it across the banner at the top of
this page. Indeed, since he has already sent me an email, to ask me
question number two (what is my email address) seems curious. In fact,
if he has come to my site questions three and four are also strange. All of which leads me to
In today’s environment of epidemic identity theft, question five is none of his business. If he wants to
give ranges of ages (e.g., 20 to 29, 30 to 39, etc.), I might answer
that. But my actual birth date? Shirley you jest.
I won’t even discuss the other questions. The bottom line is, if this were a sanctioned study of the
University of Michigan I would think John would need to get what is
known as Informed Consent. In order to do that, you need to lay out, in
detail, why you need the information, how you will safeguard
it, and specifically what you will do with it in perpetuity. He would
also need my signature (digital or otherwise).
And finally, neither his email address nor his website is hosted by the University of Michigan.
As a former social sciences major, an interesting experiment would
be to send out different emails to randomly chosen email addresses.
The only difference in the emails would be the type of questions asked.
For example, one type would be completely innocuous such as what is
your favorite color or favorite type of desert. From there, the types
would get progressively more personal. It would be interesting to see
what type of questions would get the most responses (assuming here an
equal number of each type were sent). But I digress.
In order for me to give this type of information I have to trust and
believe John is who he says he is and will use the data for the purpose
he states. But since I don’t trust unsolicited emails, especially
ones that ask these types of question, I will not be answering
John. If you are out there John, sorry, but I decline to participate.