Perhaps you’ve heard of a little site called, a web site designed to implement part of the Affordable Care Act (commonly called “Obamacare”), and maybe you’ve heard that there have been one or two issues with the site. (I understand that this has been mentioned on a few of the lesser-known media outlets.) And no doubt you’ve heard the explanations of heavy traffic and glitches, so I’d like to offer my advice:

Don’t believe it, and stay away, at least for now.

Some of you know that I am politically opposed to the ACA, but I write this from the point of view of a developer and someone (I hope) you trust on technical matters, and I can say that the explanations (out here in the real world, these are called “excuses”) of the site’s troubles have ranged from strange to laughable, and should give you pause.

Some of the reported problems have been fundamental in nature, such as an inability to create an account, gather information, or complete an application. Others are on the backend where the finally collected information is sent to insurance companies in an incomplete and unusable form. These collectively have been called “glitches”.

If this had occurred at a private company, they would be called “failures”.

A “glitch” is something that happens occasionally and can’t easily be reproduced. They are the results of bugs, to be sure, but not ones that can be simply traced, and not ones that generally interfere with the natural operation of the software. A “glitch” is when Safari suddenly slows down or your mouse stops working for no apparent reason. Reboot the software or the computer and you’re back in business.

But imagine if your computer required you to set a password, then refused to accept that password after a restart, and then erased your drive. And imagine that it wasn’t just you, but everyone who bought that model. Would you call that a “glitch”?

Let me emphasize that no software is without bugs, from your favorite word processor down the OS running your phone, and developers can not make “bug-free” a goal if they ever want to get a version to market. Development is often about managing the bugs by squashing the serious ones and letting the lesser ones lie until there is time or need to fix them. We make sure the flashy, obvious, most-used stuff works, and deal with the rest later, especially for a first release.

With this mindset, developers who are under the pressure of an approaching deadline, as the ACA site developers were reported to be, would concentrate on the code and design that is obvious to the public, taking shortcuts with the backend stuff until there was time to “fix” it later. And herein lies the meat of my concern.

You see, the forward-facing, public, obvious stuff, the stuff that the developers should have concentrated on, is failing. And it’s failing spectacularly, so it begs the question: If the part the public sees is this bad, how bad is the code that they don’t see? We know that the data sent to the insurance companies, critical to the operation of the entire enterprise, is flawed, so what about the security of that data, i.e., your personal information? Even large, experienced companies can get this wrong, so can we believe that the programmers who couldn’t make it possible to login would have gotten it right?

I can only speculate about the answer to this, but experience tells me that development was not handled properly from the start, and nothing about it should be trusted now. Remember, while this might be a complicated and unprecedented endeavor, it’s not the complicated parts that we’ve seen fail. At the end of the day, we are talking about a web site, not a computer-controlled, flying car. The parts that are not working are some of the easy parts, so what of the rest?

With this in mind, I recommend that you stay away from the ACA site until they can inspire some confidence that your data will be safe. If you must sign up, create a username and password that you do not use anywhere else, and approach it with the same trepidation that you would a telemarketer.

And good luck to you. By all accounts, you’re going to need it.

[Written by Kem Tekinay]