Whenever I am working on a document, I more or less need to ensure that it is typo-free, easily readable and understandable by anyone with a reasonably good mastering of English — or whatever you would call the weird language in which this blog entry is written. This is not only a matter of allowing information to flow freely but also of politeness and respect for the final reader of a document who may legitimately expect me to produce something clean and understandable.
Yet, I have found that typos can be of a great interest, especially in the field of software development where confidentiality is paramount. How? They allow me to distinguish between documents and can make it a lot easier to pinpoint the source of leaks and confidentiality breaches.
Let’s say that I hand out a beta testing contract to five different people. In this contract, I have placed a paragraph of absolute poop, that could be scratched without altering the meaning of the contract. Of course, the aforementioned “poop” shouldn’t raise legal issues either by introducing discrepancies or irregularities in the text — and writing that is no small feat, trust me.
This paragraph is a carefully conceived trap, in which I discretely introduce a minor typo, such as a missing period or comma, a space around a quotation mark, something easily overlooked but nevertheless present. Every recipient of the document has the exact same text, except for the typo: every one is lovingly hand crafted to be different.
For special documents, I introduce a couple test typos, typos that are the same everywhere and that, if corrected in an attempt to remove the revealing typo, will prove that the document was, in fact, tempered with.
The result? Should one of these documents leak, and provided that the paragraph in question is included in the leak, it is easy for me to go back to the source and respectfully ask the original author whether he doesn’t want to make honorable amends.
That is definitely not a fail-proof system but it has proven, in my experience, surprisingly reliable whenever I recommended it to friends and partners.
So, what are your little tricks?