AutoComplete banned

The Bank of England has now banned Outlook’s Autocomplete feature after an embarrassing email misaddressed incident.  We’ll look at Autocomplete and its various traps for the unwary.

The Bank (the equivalent of the US Federal Reserve) have a secret contingency plan for the UK leaving the European Union.  Well, it was a secret until the whole plan was emailed to a newspaper accidently.

An employee typed in the first few letters of the intended recipient and accidently selected the first option that Outlook offered.  For example, all these choices if you start typing ‘Peter’ …

Autocomplete is so useful and quick, it’s easy to forget the downside.

This isn’t the first time Autocomplete has released confidential data.   Last year, the Australian government accidently sent the passport details of the G20 leaders to an outside agency.

There’s many other examples of this feature misdirecting emails.  It’s common for people with similar names in the same company to get each other’s messages.

Check Addresses

Without Autocomplete it’s not that hard to enter email addresses for messages.  Some media reports talk about having to type out entire email addresses – nonsense.

Outlook has the ‘Check Names’ feature with the Alt + K shortcut.  Type in the name or even part name then press Alt + K … Outlook will try to match what you’ve typed to your contacts or the global address list.

Tip: typing a surname then Alt + K might be faster than using a first name.

The other Autocomplete trap

Outlook Autocomplete can easily get ‘out of date’ and send messages to an old email address, despite the contact details in Outlook having the new address.

We’ve seen many complaints about a change of address not ‘sticking’ in Outlook.  The fault lies in AutoComplete.

Autocomplete is NOT connected to your contacts list directly – in other words a change in your Contacts doesn’t change the Autocomplete list at all. The Autocomplete list is simply a list of previous used addresses in that field – much in the same way that many browsers will show a list of past web links as you start typing.

The original email address might well have been copied from an Outlook Contact but once it’s on the Autocomplete list there’s no linkage. That means you update a Contact but when you type their name in a message field and select from the list that appears, you’re selecting the old email address as used in the past.

Editing AutoComplete

The easiest way to edit the Autocomplete list is to click on the  X  on the right of an entry.

Or clear the list entirely from Options | Mail | Empty Auto-Complete List.

To edit the details of the Autocomplete list use NK2Edit.

Turning off AutoComplete

You can turn off AutoComplete from Options | Mail | Use Auto-Complete List to suggest names when typing in the To, Cc and Bcc lines.

There’s also an option to empty the Auto-Complete List.

Network administrators can control Autocomplete remotely using a Group Policy.

Wish List

Ideally the Autocomplete list would be linked to Contacts to prevent old addresses being used.  That’s unlikely to happen because it would slow down the Autocomplete display too much.

There could be a fix for the problem of accidently sending messages outside an organization.  Some type of filter or domain limitation on Autocomplete so that the only suggestions are from nominated domains.  For example the Bank of England could then limit Autocomplete to  *.gov.uk addresses and/or bankofengland.co.uk .

This is just an idea; there’s no indication that Microsoft is interested in changing Autocomplete despite the well-publicized troubles it’s causing.

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