Censor Barcodes When Sharing Pictures Of Your Mail

In the rare event that you need to take a picture of a piece of mail, it's common practice to censor your address. Be sure to block out the barcode as well.

Picture: Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar

Printed envelopes with your address on them will often include a barcode similar to the one in the photo above. These codes typically include your address in its entirety. In some cases, they can be read easily. mailScan is an app for Android that reads these IMB (Intelligent Mail Barcode) codes and returns the information stored. It doesn't work on all codes, but it works on enough for it to be a concern.

Of course, if you want to censor information in a photograph, remember that blurring it may not be the best idea. In some cases, particularly when it comes to barcodes and other printed information, it can be possible to reverse a blur effect. Blocking it out with a solid colour is much more effective. Alternatively, avoid taking pictures of your mail altogether.

LPT: Do not post anonymous images of your mail online with only the street address redacted. [Reddit]


    "These codes typically include your address in its entirety"

    No, they don't. They contain a lot of information that is used for sorting. The part with your address is an ID code, and it doesn't say your exact address (eg. 123 Smith St NSW 2001), it's only a number.

    In the US (since the content of this article is US-specific), the mailing ID is a unique number that only identifies a piece of mail, it is not tied to a specific address. It's only a small part of the code, the rest is used for sorting and charging.

    Australia Post has a database of delivery addresses and gives each a code. To get any meaningful information, you have to have access to Australia Post's PAF (Postal Address File). Australia Post and bulk mailers have access to the file. So really, you would have to be an employee of either of those to have access to essentially useless information.

    All this to get someone's postal address. Information freely available on the White Pages website, or on Google Maps. What value does the information contain? No proof of identity test relies on postal address and name alone (since they are usually publicly known), so if anyone was trying to obtain information about you, they would have plenty of other sources that are of greater concern.

    This would only really apply where a more advanced barcode symbology such as the German Postal Code (Deutsche Post Leitcode) system is used where the full physical address is encoded. In any case it would of course be wise to err on the side of caution!

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