Ohio plumber Joe Wurzelbacher has found himself a national figure suddenly, and suddenly some figures in Ohio are starting to look into his computer records. Some inappropriately, perhaps, but some probably not so nefariously. After all, I suspect most of us in QA have been this guy:
Another access of Wurzelbacher’s information, by an outside contractor with access to an attorney general’s office test account, is being investigated by the State Highway Patrol.
Ever used a real person’s name in your testing? The State Highway Patrol might want to have a word with you. They might want to have a word with me, too, since I used it myself the other day testing a system that checks public listings of people to whom you’re not supposed to ship goods. I mean, Wurzelbacher is going to really test your soundex comparisons, ainna? Now, I’m not going to tell you what I found because that would be invading Wurzelbacher’s privacy big time, but whatever beef the French Foreign Legion has with him is between him and Beau Geste.
When you’re testing systems, sometimes you just use names of public figures. Me, I need to apologize to a number of people for fraudulent transactions on their behalf. For example, in the years 2000-2003, I fraudulently registered Roger Waters, Richard Wright, and David Gilmour as database administrators and users for large multi-national organizations. In 2003, I fraudulently registered Fab Morvan, Rob Pilatus, Zelma Davis, Freedom Williams, Morten Harket, Magne Furuholmen, Paul Waaktaar, and Lauren Savoy as chemists working for a large pharmaceutical concern. I hate to think of how many sports figures, actors, and musicians I might have registered for various contests, coupons, and other things since then.
Of course, most of this stuff is in test environments and should not (hrm, how long have I worked here?) leak out into production. Once you’re touching production, it’s another matter.
I don’t think it’s necessarily unethical behavior if the intent is only to test the software, not to glean information about the person from the application under test. Just the same, you probably ought not create records in a famous person’s name in a production environment and only search on them, and you should never, ever reveal any information you find. There’s such a thing as tester-user privilege, starting now.