Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Excel spreadsheet that prevents using data

  1. Jan 7, 2016 #1
    Hey all, pretty easy question. Received a request that we are obligated to uphold regarding our purchasing information. We must provide the information in a concise format (pff). Here's the issue. They are going to use it to sell marketing information and we don't like the idea of them making money off of our work without compensation. Unfortunately we are legally obligated to provide said information.

    Here's my question. I want to make this very difficult for them to unravel. Something that looks undaunting and complies to clear and concise, but something that takes forever to utilize. I'm thinking csv format saved as a PDF, or something to that effect. I just want to bust balls. Suggestions?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 7, 2016 #2
    I would tell this straight to the sale department head about my sensitive data information and ask for compensation before sending them mine. I think it is fair. (BTW, your post makes me love this forums more, seriously. I love information and debates like this.)
  4. Jan 7, 2016 #3


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    If it simply has to be human readable, send them either paper copies or, if it's too expensive, jpeg files containing the data.

    Edit: I mean of course jpeg files containing pictures of the data.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2016
  5. Jan 7, 2016 #4


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    First, I like DrClaude's approach. I believe there are also ways of making any documents (or jpgs of documents) more difficult for OCR, but I have no experience of that.

    Second, I don't know what jurisdiction you are in, but here I would question your obligation. We have protections for commercially sensitive information. If your company has reasonably spent significant resources on compiling this information, and competitors would pay money for that information, then I would say it is commercially sensitive. Anything which would reduce your competitiveness by aiding your competitors is likely to be commercially sensitive.

    If these people have found a different market where this information is useful and you will not suffer by its disclosure, then they may be honest, enterprising chaps. If they also have to put in significant work processing the data, collating it with that from other companies for eg, then maybe you should not begrudge them? You can make a reasonable charge to cover your costs in providing data and their profit comes from their bright idea and the value they add by processing the data.

    Otherwise it's back to DrClaude. Maybe your alternative would be to try to sell the data yourself? Or even make it freely available to their potential customers? If you can't do that, then they probably are creating value. And if you can make it difficult for them to profit from your work, why not offer to make it easy for a reasonable fee?
  6. Jan 7, 2016 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    For whatever reason one of our suppliers regularly sends us pages of lists that clearly come from Excel (or another similar program), but they don't want us to be able to easily import the data in our system.
    What they apparently do is print the lists, fax them, scan the fax to pdf, and then send the pdf file by email. Whatever I tried, no OCR worked on that.
  7. Jan 7, 2016 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    You need to protect it legally as much as you can within the contract. If they paid for it, you may have no options. Otherwise, you should use legal copyright protections and clearly label the data. PDF is a standard way of giving data to someone.
  8. Jan 10, 2016 #7
    Good ideas, and I like the conversation being. To answer of the previous questions, what these people are doing is abusing the freedom of information act. They hide behind foia to find out who and what our municipality buys products from and are selling it for market research. I have no problem obliging to foia, but when you're taking our municipalitys tax payers dollars and making money off of their investments, that's just wrong. It's not fair to the people I serve. We'll try the above suggestions and see where it gets us.
  9. Jan 30, 2016 #8


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Seeing that you are obligated to release the data any attempt to make it "hard to use" seems a bit childish. Kind of like putting your finger extremely close to someones face and yelling "I'M NOT TOUCHING YOU!!! I'M NOT TOUCHING YOU!!! I'M NOT TOUCHING YOU!!! I'M NOT TOUCHING YOU!!! I'M NOT TOUCHING YOU!!!"

    The law deems it "right" and "fair" for this data to be given to anyone who asks and the law is what produced this data.

  10. Jan 31, 2016 #9


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I agree. If they have the right to the data, just make it available. If there is a problem with their use of it, that should be a legal restriction. It's not up to you to make it difficult with tricks.
  11. Jan 31, 2016 #10


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Now that you made that post public, you gave the other party's lawyer the evidence needed to sue you for trying to thwart the purpose of the contract. In today's world, it is foolish indeed to assume that your true identity can't be tracked.

    Stop the games and live with the spirit and the letter of the obligation.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Similar Discussions: Excel spreadsheet that prevents using data