Thursday, 3 April 2014

Pin heads

It sort of has been rumbling on twitter and on PLN over the last few days. But its wound me up enough to write something now. A couple of jobs ago I used to support self service kiosks in leisure centres as part of my job on a support desk. Despite the process being simple, the users hated them, the staff hated them and I hated them. But the need to drive down staff costs meant a lot of leisure centres were investing in them. Self service has also come to supermarkets in the last few years, again "illegal item in bagging area" as a phrase has entered the lexicon as to how annoying these things are.

Councils, with their giant pot of money that has to be spent every year on IT have also embraced self service. The system in Oxfordshire has a lot simplier interface to the supermarket and leisure centre systems I've seen and they have very simple transactions:

  • Borrow books
  • Extend books
  • Pay fines on account using cash

The only information you see on screen is the books you have out and any outstanding fines on your account. You don't have to put in your pin number you just have to scan you card. If the self service kiosk allowed access to personal information like address, I could see a argument for having to use a pin number but even then, people junk mail in the bin with their address on it, my address is on the electoral register available online if you want to find it.

Somerset County Council have recently installed some self service machines (the story here) but for some bizzare reason they've decided to force users to input their pin number to get onto the machines and use them rather than just use their cards like I do. I thought to myself they must have a system that lets you see users address etc but having done a google I found their equalities impact assessment when implementing these things and according to their document this isn't the case. Its exactly as the system in Oxfordshire: "Personal data which can be viewed on a self service unit is currently limited to user name, membership number, items on loan, items which have been requested and money owed" 

The full document is available here

So why have they done it? From a data protection point of view, someone stealing a card to look at what books someone has out or to pay their fines off for them is a nonsense. They could take books out with someone else card but really, its easier to rip the tags out of the books and stick them in your bag than to pickpocket someone for their library card.

The only reason I can think of them forcing the use of a pin code is being the council is a bit thick. I've stood and watched the elderly struggle to use those stupid parking meters that insist on the car license plate and I'm sure it puts people off going to those car parks. I once put my old cars plate in and had to pay twice once, but I am a bit thick myself.

There is no evidence that this will put users off, but really its putting a extra step in the process for no reason and the people with crap memories will probably write their pin on their card or have it on a piece of paper next to the card, or even worse, change it to their bank card pin number so making their bank card less secure.

Somerset are really silly for doing this, self service is stupid enough as a concept in libraries without putting even more barriers in the way of users.

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