An African-American woman says a utility provider in Washington state emailed her a racial slur to use as the temporary password to her online account.
Erica Conway believes the insult was deliberate and wants Puget Sound Energy to get to the bottom of it.
“I clicked 'forgot password' and got a temporary password from PSE, and it was capital [N-word] and I was quite shocked," she said.
She added: “It was like an emotional roller coaster. Shock, disbelief, disgusted, angry. ... I just can't believe it.”
Conway is a longtime volunteer of the Seattle chapter of the NAACP.
She showed KIRO-TV past temporary passcodes that were just random letters and numbers, so she believes that this one was created deliberately.
“I was truly in disbelief because this is not normal, and this is not what a temporary password is supposed to say," she said.
Conway said she complained to a customer service agent at PSE's Bothell call center, but that the agent didn't take the slur seriously.
“I had said, 'Do you guys screen out certain words?' and [the agent] was, like, “Yes, we do.” And I said, 'Well, you guys didn't screen out this word.'' And she said, 'Why would we?” and I said, 'What do you mean why would we? This is an offensive word.' And she stated to me, 'No one uses that word anymore.' And I was, like, 'Where are you living? What planet are you living on?'
PSE spokeswoman Janet Kim responded: “This was offensive, there was no question about that. We apologize to this customer, the community, for what has happened, and we are trying to do what we can to make it right.”
PSE said the slur was a computer-generated mistake.
“These passwords are generated automatically, so they go straight from the system straight to the customers, so it's not able to be accessed by an employee," the utility said.
Conway and the Seattle NAACP want a meeting with PSE to discuss the incident and what the company will do to keep it from happening in the future.
PSE said it has taken immediate steps to make sure temporary passwords are a scrambled mix of letters and numbers. Next month, it will begin using a new system that gets rid of temporary passwords all together.
“This is 2018; we're still dealing with issues like this," Conway said. "It's pretty sad. As a society, it's pretty sad.”
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