My Google Mail account goes back a long way – to the Spring of 2004, to be exact. Even though I got in early, Michael@ wasn’t available anymore and I settled for MichaelW@. [I prefer not to use my last name as the account name since English speakers almost always invert the “a” and the “h.”] Just as well.
There are lots of people with a name like Michael W….. out there, and over the past two years there has been an onslaught of mail in my in-box addressed to Michael.W@GMail.com or simply MichaelW@GMail.com – but not intended for me. Every day, I receive messages from clients of a L.A. lawyer with the most sensitive information; a son on tour in Europe writing to his parents; all, and I mean all discussions of a Rotary Club in the Malaysian state of Sarawak; responses to people who signed up for Netflix, subscribed to investment newsletters, and asked for debt consolidation. And then, of course, dozens of e-mails when someone tries to change the password for my address by claiming they have lost the password. I am sure that in some cases people just enter any old e-mail address, but many of the ones I receive are consistent, used by family members and business associates, and are used persistently.
The first question that comes to my mind is, don’t those users get suspicious when information and replies from some of their contacts never arrive? The next question is, how can anyone even assume that they own MichaelW@ when it is clearly mine (i.e. I am the one who has access to all account features)?
In the Google Mail forum, Google always trots out the old “a dot is not a dot” explanation. That is, indeed, a feature particular to Google: Once you have created an account, you can use any dotted form of that account name, e.g. MichaelW@ is for Google identical to Michael.W@ or M.ichael.W@. (This feature makes it possible, by the way, to send to and receive from different groups with just one account.) It still does not explain why all those users think they own my Google account. Had they tried to register with Michael.W, for example, GMail would have told them “This account is unavailable.”
The only explanation left is that many e-mail users are just totally clueless and think they own an e-mail address because they use it, not because they registered for it. Google has no suggestions. I find it incredibly annoying and even though I know better, each incident of somebody using my e-mail account name makes me a bit more paranoid. Many of the worst offenders I have now filtered out by my e-mail client, but the wave continues unabated.