Addrescrow -- privacy for physical address and much more

This is an idea from several years go I've never written up fully, but it's one of my favourites.

We've seen lots of pushes for online identity management -- Microsoft Passport, Liberty Alliance and more. But what I want is for the online world to help me manage my physical identity. That's much more valuable.

I propose a service I call "addrescrow" which holds and protects your physical address. It will give that address to any delivery company you specify when they have something to deliver, but has limits on how else it will give away info from you. It can also play a role in billing and online identity.

You would get one or more special ID names you could use in place of your address (and perhaps your name and everything else) when ordering stuff or otherwise giving an address. If my ID was "Brad Ideas" then somebody would be able to send a letter, fedex or UPS to me addressed simply to "Brad Ideas" and it would get to me, wherever I was.

(Read on...)

Key to such a system is adoption by the USPS, UPS and Fedex. Adoption by any one of them, however, would push adoption by others. Then, you would demand of merchants that you won't buy from them unless they take your Addrescrow token instead of having you create an account and enter your data.

First let's talk about the great things this would do. The USPS actually likes the idea, by the way. They spend a lot on change of address handling and with such aliases they would not have that problem. It's an implementation of the Fundamental Theorem of Computer Science. (All problems can be solved by adding another level of indirection.)

You would have online access to change your current address, and you could have different addresses based on various paramters. Ie. "Regular mail goes to my house, Fedexes go to my office, or to my hotel when I am on the road." Rules could also be based on delivery date, "If it's going to arrive by May 14 in New York, send it to this NY hotel. Otherwise to my house."

Senders could be required to tag items with "purposes" and you could direct delivery accordingly. Shipments of ordered products would be different from invoices and follow-on marketing materials. Bulk mail different from regular. People who lie about the purpose would get reputations for lying about it, and you could put rules on people with such bad reputatations.

Alias names would be designed to be error-resistent. In the test for uniqueness, letters and digits that sound or look the same would be considered the same. "1" and "l" would be treated the same as would "v" and "b". Combined with a check digit/character, you would know right away if you OCRd or transcribed an alias incorrectly. Clever software would offer interesting check digit forms which sound nice in human language. If "Brad" would need to be "Brad 93" to get a valid check digit, it might figure that "Brad the Explorer" also matches the check digit rule for you.


Merchants would of course resist this at first. Aside from changing their software, they would worry they were losing information and security. To deal with these fears

  • Real identities would be unmaked after a basic finding of probable fraud in court. Not perfect (which would be waiting for a verdict) but much better than today where we must give our physical location to get stuff.
  • Vendors could get or buy aggregate information in just about any form about their customers who used an alias, as long as they don't try for sets so small they can use the tricks to identify individuals.
  • Vendors would be able to query basic info about aliases, such as what shipping zone they are in for this delivery, so they can do all they do now.
  • Identities will also allow E-mail to them (with purpose code attached) and phone calls through a privacy bridge that does not give them the target phone number. Users could turn this off or set reputations.

In order to deal with merchants who won't deal with Addrescrow, users will be able to insert "fake" street addresses with magic zipcodes. The delivery companies would see the magic destinations and instead treat it like an Addrescrow alias. Such hidden addresses would be placed around the country or world, so that accurate shipping charges and travel times could be calculated, at a slight loss of privacy.

However, once customers start demanding to use this form of address, or they do it without telling the merchants using the magic addresses, some smart merchants will realize it is what customers want and they can solicit business by offering it.


An alias could be in the form, allowing multiple competing escrow companies. However, any shipper must be sure that the company used will work with the delivery company used. This would allow good competition, over price and over how private they keep your data.

As noted, these aliases can replace everything -- name, address, phone number, e-mail. They they could also be combined to replace only some of them.


Most interestingly, the escrow companies could also get into the billing business, which would be how they make their real money. After all, a credit card account that can only be used to buy things online shipped to your approved addresses is a lot more fraud proof than a general billing system. It can also have confirmation.

In that case you could buy things, shipped to your current home, without entering a credit card number or address. The vendor would query the escrow company for your credit card info, or ideally, the escrow company would do the billing and be like the credit card company. That way they can also escrow the money -- no payment provided until the item truly ships. Or in fact, until it's signed for at the door. Isn't that when you would like to pay, when you actually get the package?

You could have multiple IDs in the system, to stop people from correlating your shopping habits. Again, if a court found you had been doing fraud, they could join these together.

And to top it off, moving, mail holds and even updating your address to your friends becomes trivial. I can't see a good reason not to do this. I would even put money in if somebody started to build a venture to do it.


Has any progress been made on your suggestions for addrescrow implementation?
Does UPS offer something like this?
Sincerely, Mack

This blog is mostly ideas I don't have the time to do, not ones I am building, so no progress from me. I hope someday the shippers move to this approach.

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