The Dangers of Address Suggesters

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At first glance, address suggestion services seem like a great idea. After all, wouldn’t your customers appreciate being able to quickly fill in their addresses when filling out forms on your website? As helpful as an address suggester may appear to be, proceed with caution because real dangers exist with this type of service.

What is an Address Suggester?

You’re likely familiar with address suggestion technologies. For example, if you go to Google Maps and begin typing your address into the search bar, you’ll see a list of address suggestions. The more you type, the more relevant the suggestions become. Soon, your address will likely appear, allowing you to simply click on it without any further typing.

Address suggesters are helpful in some applications, but not others. For example, if you need to quickly test a data source or evaluate data quality, using an address suggester may save you a few keystrokes — and any errors wouldn’t necessarily cause major problems.

The Dangers of Using Address Suggesters at Check Out

However, address suggesters are not all that useful in a data collection application such as with online forms and shopping carts. In fact, most online vendors will not use an address suggester as part of the check out process.

Why, especially if it makes your customers’ data entry tasks easier? Address suggesters are dangerous for two main reasons:

  1. They could be used for malicious purposes — Address suggesters could allow malicious users to attempt to mine the data of our USPS address information, which strictly goes against our terms of use.
  2. Users may inadvertently pick the wrong address — Address suggesters could lead users to accidentally select an incorrect address simply because an address looked close enough and popped up as the first possible option. When this happens, the suggested address will most likely pass validation. The user may not notice having selected an incorrect, but valid, address. Meanwhile, your helpful address suggestion just resulted in an incorrect, albeit valid, address. Until this error is discovered and corrected, all shipments, correspondence, and deliveries to this customer will be sent to the wrong address. Unfortunately, the error is not likely to be discovered until after the customer becomes upset about a shipment that never hasn’t arrived as expected.

Forcing a user to enter a complete address will most likely lead to more accurate data input than relying on address suggesters. The largest online vendors do not use address suggesters on their order forms, but they do validate the addresses that users ultimately enter. They get it; they know what’s at stake should someone blindly click on suggested addresses.

Plus, people are accustomed to entering their own addresses into forms. It’s not a big burden to enter an address, nor does anyone expect vendors to help in this regard. In addition, many people use the autocomplete function available in web browsers to store and automatically fill in their address data. Others use text expander software, which allows users to assign and use short codes for longer text such as addresses.

As a developer, it may be tempting to use an address suggester both for its appeal as eye candy and as an aid for busy users. Resist this temptation because the dangers outweigh the benefits. Instead, force users to enter their own addresses and use address validation to correct any errors or typos and verify that the address is accurate, complete, and genuine.