Is spoofing a registration form to gain access to a website ethical? How about using a service like BugMeNot?
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Well, if registration forms are asking too much of the user than he is willing to provide then the people administering the site (a) probably know this already or (b) are blissfully oblivious to this fact and don't know any better.
In any case, providing false information in the net to maintain some privacy is entirely common and I think nothing that's exactly unethical. It's just how people tend to react when asked for more than they are willing to provide.
Steve Krug, in his book Don't make me think1, has a template mail (a usability researcher can send to his boss) that details the problems (p. 182f.):
So, based on that I'd really say you don't need to feel wrong or unethical if you're providing false or rubbish data, it's more a case of a clueless site designer or manager somewhere ignoring some general thruths about how people work and behave on the Web.
I certainly won't feel bad giving companies an @spamgourmet.com email address, a name like "nklsdr" and a birth date somewhen in 1782. They asked for it, after all.
1 Steve Krug: Don't make me think: A common-sense approach to Web usability. Second edition, New Riders, Berkeley 2006.
Meh! My dog (now deceased) is registered at an astonishing number of web sites. My cats (one soon to be deceased, alas) are also registered. I figured it was unethical to continue using a deceased dogs name, so I switched over to live cats.
On the internet, no one can tell if you are a dog (or cat!)!
Though when he gets doggy spam, it is way too funny!
As a funny anecodote, there was a free email service, Myrealbox, based on NetMail and as soon as they added calendaring, my dog booked me into a recurring appointment twice a day, morning and evening, feed me.
So that is just plain strange. The amusing part is that this discovered a bug in the recurrance code, and at a conference years later, I met some of the developers and this story came up, and they were all very amused to find the guy, whose dog, found a tricky bug case for them. They asked for a picture of him for the office.
The word "ethical" is based on "ethos", which can be defined as "the distinctive spirit of a culture or an era".
In other words, you're asking whether or not the culture you're in would find such activities to go against the generally accepted status quo.
Different sub-cultures (sub-ethos) would answer this question differently. For example, the owners of commercial websites would probably find the activity very unethical, whereas a group of tech-savvy privacy advocates would find it completely acceptable.
No, if you have to spoof it pretty much by definition it can't be ethical.
People have the right to create web sites and put whatever constraints on them they wish.
You have the right to use the website with the constraints, or if you don't like the constraints you can not use the website. You don't have the right to ignore the constraints.
Don't get me wrong, I have no issue with people questioning what the websites do, believing it to be wrong, immoral or bad for business, however I believe the correct response is to walk away rather than to engage dishonestly.
The reason for this is primarily that (a) I think it sends the clearest message - the people who run these sites will measure registered users which they use to drive ad revenue and so on so just not engaging with them is far clearer than spoofing, and (b) because of this I believe it serves the greater good best - if the businesses get the message then everyone benefits when they change their practices, not just a small number of people who circumvent the process.
People raised the question of user names seeming to imply that they're inherently dishonest. This may or may not be true (I actually think it's not - there is no suggestion that Tyrannosaurs is my real name and it's clearly distinct from the real name I've entered which is visible to the admins) but I'm not really interested one way or the other.
But my point doesn't concern absolute standards, merely the honesty of a "transaction" between two parties. That said I'd suggest that even if you do believe in an absolute standard - that certain things are correct and should be adhered to - surely you've got to ask how you reach the widest possible implementation of that? I'd suggest dishonesty isn't the best route and either constructive engagement or disengagement will be more productive.
For all the talk of what websites do being wrong (which suggests a concern for the greater good), or being bad for business (which suggests concern for the company), I'd suggest that the primary beneficiary of spoofing is the person who spoofs, and in any situation where I see that I'd suggest that the motivation is largely, if not entirely selfish which strongly suggests to me that it's not ethical behaviour.
In terms of the idea that business expect it, I see that as no defense. I expect spam because I have a mail account but it's still not right.
(All - I've deleted almost all my comments and incorporated them into the answer).
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Well, when presented with a form asking too much details, I will likely provide obviously bogus info - it is fair enough, since if they really care they will terminate my account. (and I clearly admit the information is bogus)
Let's elaborate on that - I am registering for some service, talking face to face with a clerk. He asks me some very personal and unreasonable detail. I am telling him something obviously bogus. (for instance that Flying Spaghetti Monster is my deity)
If it is not critical to his business he will carry on, otherwise I just walk away.
If someone asks you a question and you lie, then yes that is unethical.
But you might question their ethics when they ask for your telephone number and will likely add you to a spam-calling list, to a make a couple of dollars.
Do two wrongs make a right? Not really.
Probably the right thing to do would be to not use those sites you are not willing to provide real information to.
I seem to recall awhile back, there being some legal activity in the US proposing to make false registration for online services specifically against the law. Not sure if that got buried, or if they managed to hide it and slip it in...
Of course it is!
It's the web you know, people lie here all the time. Why should I have to provide accurate information?
(Of course this doesn't count for "serious" accounts like bank accounts, paypal, ebay, ... and even on those I only provide what they really need: if they don't have to send me anything, they don't get my home address and I almost NEVER supply a phone number. Before you know it they'll start spamming you with text messages.)