Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t care how many people know how old I am – I am heading toward my half century with unseemly haste. Nor am I averse to friends and acquaintances being aware of the date of my birthday. After all there might be a free drink in it.
But there is all the world of difference between your mates knowing your birthday and everyone else having access to your date of birth.
It was the banks who made dates of birth important. When they began introducing telephone, and later on-line, banking the banks decided that your date of birth should be one of the security questions that they asked to ensure that you were who you said you were. Even today if I phone up may bank to check my balance or to see if any payments have been made the first thing that their automated system demands to know is my date of birth.
So it is disappointing how many organisations, bureaucracies and institutions feel that they want to know your date of birth as well. Most of the time, of course, they have absolutely no need to know your date of birth.
They might be interested to know your age, but that is a different thing entirely. Facebook does not want children under the age of 13 to have accounts. That is fair enough. But do they really need to know your date of birth. A simple check box declaring that you are over 13 would do. Still, at least they do not display your date of birth (unless you allow them to do so).
Even more bizarre are those organisations that demand your date of birth, but do not even want to know how old you are. Take the Football Association. A few weeks ago I was working on a project about St George and needed some photos of people waving the flag of St George. A football crowd, I thought, would be perfect.
I guessed the FA might have a photo collection I could tap into so I went to their website. There was no obvious photo library on offer, but I assumed that they would have photos to sell to journalists and so sought to contact them. There was no phone number and no email address. The only contact point was an enquiry form to fill in. But it was impossible to send that form without first having a Football Association Number – termed a FAN. So then I had to apply for a FAN. To get one I had to provide the FA with my date of birth. So effectively you can not contact the FA without first giving them your date of birth. Remember this is for any query at all.
The casual nature of the request for this information is breath taking. Why does the FA want it? What will they do with it?
Sadly the FA is not alone. These days all organisations are at it. I wanted to get on the mailing list for our local Fun Farm that my little daughter likes to visit. What was one of the questions? My date of birth. They might have reason to be interested in my daughter’s age, but why mine? I asked the girl on reception. She did not know. I did not fill in the information, but added a note asking why they wanted the information. I never got an answer.
Which brings us back to banks. One might have thought that with every organization under the sun wanting to know our date of birth the banks might have moved on to other security checks. Well, my bank has given me a number to use when phoning them up. For some reason this is a different number to the PIN I use with my bank card. Fine. But they still ask for my date of birth – and urge me not to disclose it.
Even worse, when they phoned me up they started by asking me for my date of birth. I’m not being caught by that, I thought, and refused. I told them that they urge me to keep that information private. I wasn’t going to hand it out to any Tom, Dick or Harriette. They said they could not continue the phone call until I had verified my identity with the security information. Fine, I said, I will phone you back. They agreed and told me who to ask for once I had phoned the central bank answering service. So I did.
And the first thing they asked me for was my date of birth.
Guest post by Rupert Matthews.