The practice of storefronts asking for one’s zip code when one buys something (especially clothing retailers) has been around for some time, but it seems a more and more common practice now. The thing about this is that it serves me, as the customer/consumer, virtually no purpose whatsoever. One could argue that it eventually may have some benefit, as the company can use this geographic information for any number of things such as adding a new store in a more local area, though most of those potential uses have little to do with my benefit as a customer compared to all the other analytic information that can be gained from this practice. But what’s worse is that the zip code one provides is often used to correlate that to a credit card that was ran in a close time frame, to get one’s full address with only implied permission instead of direct permission.

In short, asking me for my zip code pisses me off when I am buying things. Its a waste of my time, and will probably get me catalogs sent to my address that I don’t want. And due to that, I’ve been pondering various ways to mess with these people, all in the hopes that some analytics geek will be going through this data and notice odd spikes, and then dig into them just to meet my little trap. Then this little analytics dweeb will meet with shock and terror, as the data is bad, woe to the earth! Then they’ll have to take a sabbatical where they go back home and don’t leave their mother’s basement for six months and urinate into jars. Or so I secretly hope.

However, even without the mental issues this may or may not cause those needing to use this data, it blocks the primary purpose of retailers gathering this information: being able to associate it to my identity, credit cards, or transactions and then use that in ways I did not approve (since providing this information is implying consent).

Regardless of how it plays out, the potential for such a life-shattering event for these aforementioned dweebs or the undermining of a system built on implied consent and trickery, all of it becomes much more likely if more of us play the game. So here we are…

Originally I though of replying to this annoying question with zip codes in England, or Sri Lanka, or some such foreign locale. In my original plan, the frontrunner was to give the zip code for Prypiat, which is the relatively infamous abandoned city near Chernobyl in the “Zone of Alienation” (and it was an awesome level in Call Of Duty 4, “All Ghillied Up”). Just the fact that Prypiat is in a place called the Zone of Alienation made it a good contender for my intended and nefarious use.

Alas, those kooky Russians have themselves a strange postal code system (the postal code for St. Petersburg is 190000), and for ease of the trap I needed a US zip code as many of these POS systems are pretty dumbed down terminals, and even those not so dumbed down systems are often configured specifically for US needs. By replying with non-U.S. zip or postal codes it could cause this annoying interaction to become even more annoying by taking even longer, or worse, defaulting to one’s real zip code. And that defeats the entire purpose.

So I needed to find some strange U.S. postal codes to use, and after brainstorming with a friend of mine who has gone on many infamous adventures with me and is of like-mind in this regard, we’ve stumbled onto the following:

  • 56912 – Returned government parcels from the District of Columbia are sent to ZIP codes beginning with “569”, so that returned parcels are security checked at a remote facility (this was put into place after the 2001 anthrax attacks). This could be good, though those Nazis at the Department of Homeland Security may get pissy about it…which is both a good and bad thing about using this zip code.
  • 94974 – This is the zip code for mail sent to inmates at San Quentin State Prison.
  • 94133 – The zip code for Alcatraz.
  • 41042 – Sugartit, Kentucky. I think that one speaks for itself, don’t you?
  • 17534 – Intercourse, Pennsylvania. Again, fairly self explanatory.
  • 89044 – The zip code for Area 51.
  • H0HOH0 – The zip code for Santa Claus (say it out loud, you’ll understand). What? I can be jolly.
  • 92328 – Death Valley, California.

I think I’m either going with San Quentin (since I’m in California as well, though not a resident of San Quentin) or Sugartit, Kentucky for now. Though if a purchase process at a particular store is notably more annoying, the anthrax zip code may get pulled out (though, then again, if it is that annoying…why give them money?).

However, all the undermining aside, keep this closely in mind: just because somebody asks you something, does not mean you have to answer it. Salespeople are asking for zip codes and now email addresses, without disclosing their privacy policies or how this information is going to be used (more often than not in ways you would not approve of). So stop giving this information up without even asking simple questions as to why they need it and what they are going to do with it. Don’t be a sheep. Especially when privacy is going to be the single biggest issue of this social network, technology, and consumerism dominated 21st century.