Your private data has been nabbed: Please update your life as soon as possible while we deflect responsibility

Because our golf-obsessed boss has wandered off fondling his balls


Something for the Weekend, Sir? "I am writing with regard to a data security incident relating to you."

Here we go again. Yet another bunch of jokers has allowed a third party to saunter onto its network and rummage around where it keeps sensitive customer information. It's enough to drive you to drink. (Mine's a boilermaker, thanks.)

This has been a busy week for unwelcome messages.

Depending upon where you live in the world, either Father's Day or Mother's Day is imminent – at least for the purposes of compiling lists of tech gifts for computer magazines – and I am being inundated with increasingly desperate marketing material for both. Not a single gift suggestion for this year's Father's Day would have interested my Dad: GPS-trackable golf balls, app-connected smart handkerchiefs and such crap. He wasn't so much a technophobe as someone who simply found tech toys fabulously uninteresting, designed to appeal to dullards. Every year, I understand him better.

As for Apple's multi-email onslaught insisting that I should fork out heaps of moolah on the latest Apple Watch for my Mum on Mother's Day, I am almost in awe of the chutzpah. Maybe they think she would enjoy using its Timer feature to track how long she's been dead.

An algorithm generated in the eighth circle of Hell, as they all are, has also determined that my social media channels be repeatedly interstitially sodomised by ludicrous promotional messages for a gadget called the Xtra-PC. For less than €30, it will rejuvenate my computer (it says here) with superpowered performance, in just a few seconds. "Why would I spend thousands of Euros on a new laptop when all I need to buy is the Xtra-PC?" declares one breezy testimonial.

It is, of course, just a USB stick with bootable Linux on it. As we all know, the best way for Joe Public to upgrade his computer is to throw away all the software he ever bought and spend the next three months trawling nerdy community sites trying to persuade short-tempered dweebs to tell him what command-line bollocks he needs to type in so that it will let him print.

You can't blame a marketing bod for coming up with the original idea. Imagine a boss storming in one day yelling "We have a warehouse full of cheap 16GB USB sticks that nobody wants! Get them shifted NOW!" before storming back out for a round of golf. The next day, he storms back in and starts yelling something about wanting to track his golf balls by satellite and wouldn't it be a terrific idea for a Father's Day gift. And so on.

The real problem, as I see it, is having unrealistic expectations being dumped on you from above. You can push back all you like, suggesting that the customer help inbox will be chocka within days, but you're told in no uncertain terms that it's your job to make it happen, not question the order. So you take another swig of calming energy drink (did I mention I'll have a boilermaker? Cheers, pal) and start sending out the promo messages. And, of course, it's your face that's writing cheques your employer's arse can't cash.

It is while I am rummaging through all such invitations to purchase free software on low-capacity USB storage and boxes of chocolates for dead women that I receive the aforementioned notification of a data security incident. As usual, an organisation that absolutely insisted I supply it with my personal data while assuring me it would preserve the sanctity of that data for evermore with its life has allowed it to be rogered and borne away by the first dark web oaf to pass by.

As far as I'm concerned, it's just more of the same. "Tell 'em their data's safe!" instructs the boss.

But it won't be, you reply, at least not unless we... "Just tell 'em!" he insists, heading back to the golf course while playing with his balls.

The unconvincingly apologetic "data security incident" message is accompanied by the usual platitudes and assurances that everything is being done too late to be of any use. "We immediately commissioned external IT security specialists to investigate," it says, putting my mind at rest that this stable door, like all the others, has been very securely shut long after the data horse had already bolted.

Whoever it was in charge of this organisation – a solicitor's office, would you believe – needs to spend fewer half-days on the green and more time monitoring network access to its systems. I'm a big fan of in-house job-swaps so that everyone gets a chance to see the shit everyone else has to put up with – in some cases quite literally. I don't mean a couple of hours having fun with Job Simulator. Every manager should be annually re-assigned to clean the office toilets for a fortnight.

Twice in my career I have enjoyed the dubious honour of being an office manager. During both stints, I recall countless occasions in which I was elbow-deep in other people's excreta.

On one occasion, it was a steaming pile of turds that materialised early one morning in front of the publisher's door, perhaps not-so-mysteriously following the announcement of a number of redundancies.

It was a tall pile indeed; it stank; it made our eyes water; I swear that wavy lines and skull emojis were drifting from the top. The office cleaners refused on principle to remove it, carefully vacuuming around the heap and snootily advising me on my arrival that I'd have to deal with the (fecal) matter myself unless I paid them danger money, in cash.

So I cleaned it up. It's just shit, after all. You wipe your own arse, don't you? And this pile was isolated on a carpet tile, not still attached to its originator. Clearing up the mess then gave me the moral right to lecture the head cleaner on her professional responsibilities. She obliged and even agreed to my strong recommendation that she stop bringing her pet Great Dane into work with her every morning.

Anyway, back to the "data security incident" message. As usual, the email goes on to blame me for any fraud that may result from its own failure to give a toss. I should change my passwords for everything, it says; I should cancel outdated direct debits and – get this – be wary of phishing emails that will be heading my way. My fault, see?

Not that any of this will make a jot of difference. My personal data that may or may not have been nabbed – nobody knows yet, or at least nobody will say – is not logins and passwords. No, it's the stuff the organisation demanded from me in order to comply with money laundering legislation: bank statements, mortgage documents, photos of my passport, that sort of thing.

So I suppose I'd better switch bank, move house and change nationality. If I don't, well, it'll be my fault, won't it?

Thanks, guys. Mine's a boilermaker.

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. Wherever he goes, he is frequently baffled by colleagues' aversion to clearing up their own daily mess – at their desks, in the kitchens and in the washrooms. One can only imagine what their homes are like. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

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