I have this friend…

I have this friend. They are obsessed with the British author, Charles Dickens, and have used a Dickens character as their web identity for quite awhile – handles, domain names, email usernames, etc.

Well, I just heard from this friend that they recently received an email addressed to a person with a foreign sounding name, with an attached excel spreadsheet, supposedly containing information the recipient needed for a conference at which they were speaking.

They were about to delete it as potential viral spam. Not about to open the spreadsheet. When they realized there weren’t any spelling errors in the email. So they did a google search on the intended recipient’s name and realized this was a real person, who was obviously also a fan of Dickens, as their email address was online in multiple places, and they used the exact same username as this friend of mine. Different email provider, but my friend uses a common email provider that a secretary could easily accidentally tack on to a username.

So now this friend of mine had an ethical issue to pursue. The first task was easy. They sent an email to the secretary and told this secretary they had emailed the wrong person, and even provided the secretary with the correct email address, and the website they had found the email address on. The secretary couldn’t possibly have asked for anything more. My friend could have forwarded the email to the intended recipient, but decided that would just embarrass the organization that had misdirected the email, and it was an easy mistake to make.

But the ethical issue: to open the spreadsheet or delete unread. The intended recipient seemed to be a cool guy from all the information gleaned from various websites. Politically active on the ‘correct’ side of issues from my friend’s perspective. This friend of mine has only one complaint. They wish the contents were more interesting than they turned out to be. They want to be privy to information they aren’t supposed to be privy to. I told my friend they shouldn’t have opened the excel spreadsheet. That it was wrong. They asked me what I would have done. I guess I don’t know the answer to that question.