"THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY DEGREE FEEDBACK!" the PFY gasps "SOUNDS FANTASTIC!!!"
"Really?" the Boss says doubtfully... "Somehow I thought that you wouldn't be all that keen."
"Au contraire," the PFY responds. "We here and Systems and Networks are only too keen to know the thoughts and feelings of our clientele. We hope to match every negative with an equally sized positive."
The PFY neglects to mention at this point that the negative and positive experiences he's talking about are those generally associated with an Alternating Current, and more specifically the high frequency & voltage output of a cattle prod – but I'm sure the Boss doesn't need to know all of our customer interaction secrets.
"Good," the Boss says. "We're hoping to gauge feedback on everyone in the company – FROM everyone in the company. Then we'll supply you with the outcome of the survey so that you can see yourself as the rest of the company sees you."
"Yes, but it should be noted that these things are fraught with inaccuracies" I say, motioning to a helldesk geek passing by. "Take this person for instance."
"David," David says quietly
"Sure, David," I say. "Now David, what are your general thoughts and feelings about the service you get from IT support? Just off the top of your head. Pretend that this is a completely anonymous survey and that your Boss – the person who pays your salary and approves your pay rises – isn't listening. What do you think of the IT middle management?"
"They're... OK." David mumbles.
"And what could he do better?" the PFY asks.
"I... don't know. I can't think of anything offhand."
"Which is where the system falls down," I say to the Boss. "The Heisenberg theory of surveys – the act of surveying is bound to be affected by the fear of survey observation and payback."
"The survey will be anonymous," the Boss counters.
"Of course it will. Hands up who believes that?"
No one moves.
"I rest my case. In these days of cookies, digital signatures and digital presence no one believes that anything's truly anonymous! You'll fill out a feedback form saying the head of security is an alcoholic time waster with a penchant for hanging around in the Men's toilets and the next thing you know your access card doesn't work, your car's been broken into and there's a steaming turd in your glove box."
"It's anonymous – there'll be no way anyone can find out who said what!"
"Yuh-huh. Like no one could possibly know who charged an advance copy of Duke Nukem to my company credit card," I say, looking at the PFY, "or who voted in favour of charging contracting staff 500 quid a year for car parks," I add, looking at the Boss, "or who mumbled about psychopathic systems administrators on the phone to his mother at lunchtime." David blushes.
"It's going through a third-party site and it's over an ssl encrypted tunnel," the Boss says, repeating the complicated words he's heard like magic charms. "They're not going to pass on any identifying information. There's no way anyone will be targeted as a result of this survey."
"Yes, but with URL authentication, IP Address recording, presence information, and time-stamping they'll know..."
"I'm sure we'll get the survey to be truly anonymous with no tracking information at all," the Boss says
"So what do you think, David – would you trust that system?"
"I suppose so." David says thoughtfully.
"Which is where the system falls down," I say.
"I thought you said the system falls down through lack of anonymity."
"It falls down several times. It's not too unlike a young person leaving the warmth of a late night entertainment establishment after several hours of unaccustomed drinking. It stumbles, it falls, it gets up, pukes in a dustbin, falls again, hails a cab, pukes one more time, the cab drives off, another puke, a fall, a retch, a couple more retches, a crawl to a late night convenience store for a drink of water, the ringing of Mum for a ride home, the tractor beam-like pull of the kebab shop, another fall, the arrival of mum, the kebab laden puke in the car, a few tears mixed with recrimination, the arrival home, the fall down the stairs and finally the rest of a warm bed. And another puke." I say. "I've seen it dozens of times. This latest fall though, is because the users are too stupid to be allowed to have opinions."
"Hey!" David says.
"No offence," the PFY chips in, "but please! The moment you click 'submit' the POST operation is logged in our proxy and we have a timestamp on when you posted your submission. By simply looking at the aggregated feedback results we'll be able to work out by simple mathematics what your post entailed. And of course your free format comments would be immediately noticeable."
"We could flash an image of you on the desktop of the person you commented about" I say, just spitballing, "with a little speech balloon saying how crap you thought they were."
"But what if I didn't say they were crap?"
"This is an anonymous survey so of course you'll say they're crap. And besides, it's going through our proxy, so you'll be saying they're crap one way or another."
"But it's SSL encoded!"
"Yeah, we recompiled your browsers ages ago. They don't use ssl like they should. The PROXY uses ssl instead."
"I know what you're thinking," the PFY says "You're thinking that maybe the survey won't be that anonymous after all. You're thinking you should be careful what you type in future. You're wondering if we kept that stuff you typed into that 'anonymous' chat site. We did. I have no idea what stuff or what chat site, but we'll have it."
"We could post it on people's desktops – with an image of you and a speech balloon..." I add
"I... so this is blackmail?"
"No, no, of course not. Your anonymous feedback about how good we are is up to you – after all it's anonymous. We like things to be anonymous, and positive."
"Although positive and negatives are good too," the PFY chips in.
"Anyway, if you just keep your comments positive I'm pretty sure there'll be no negatives. Tell your friends."
And the rest is history – and we all know by whom history is written.
The Proxy... ®