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By GCN Staff

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Beware of the autocomplete

This morning we got a surprise e-mail from an exec at some IT firm. It wasn't meant for us. We could tell that pretty quickly, judging by all those attached business documents.

We suspect the sender probably was hastily filling addresses using the handy auto-complete feature most major mail programs have these days (Lotus Notes in this case).

After typing J-O, the program helpfully offered a set of e-mail addresses of previous recipients of the said exec's dispatches. The person just hit return, probably on the first choice.

Trouble is, the e-mail address the program filled in was not for the intended recipient, whose name began with the letters J-O, but rather was the address of some nosy reporter, whose name also happened to start with those very two letters! D'oh!

How e-mail programs prioritize which e-mail addresses get on top of the autocomplete list is a bit of a mystery. Is it sorted by the person you most frequently e-mail? The last person you e-mailed? By who you should e-mail, according to some matronal artificial intelligence function buried deep in the program itself? Who knows?

In any case, you could delete all the cache'd e-mail addresses if you wanted to be puritanical about it.

Or you could just build a function in your own routine to check that list of recipients before clicking send, especially for sensitive, personal or (especially) vindicative missives. Word!

Posted by Joab Jackson on Jan 23, 2008 at 9:39 AM


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  • artificial intelligence (ktsdesign/Shutterstock.com)

    Machine learning with limited data

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