"Oops", Formerly, ‘Found in My Inbox. An odd GMail "feature"’

Wow. Somewhere this post took a very, very wrong turn – behold the power of “digg”. I’m really wishing I could fast forward to April 1 and just drop an “April Fools” on everyone.

I’ll admit I was wrong in this case. The other user’s account was very, very similar to the account but not exact. It didn’t drop the e but there’s a repeated character that very easily gets ignored by your brain when you read the email address (for the sake of Ryan #2 I won’t out the exact address). I made the same mistake many of his contacts did when I went back and re-read our prior conversation about this mix-up and still didn’t catch the subtle difference.

After reading through the comments and then going back and looking very very closely I realized my mistake. I still think Gmail not recognizing the “.” is a silly feature – but they don’t have the issue that I mis-interpreted to be there. Sorry to Google.

I guess I “dug” myself a deep hole now. From what I can gather the only way to fill it in is to report the link as bad/lame – if visiting dig’s could also do that it would be great – no point in pushing this any further than it has already gone.

Original post below – I’ll admit I’m wrong, not hide it. I’ll leave the comments open for a bit.

– Ryan

Original (Incorrect) Post:

I use “feature” in the loosest sense of the word.

In the big (ridiculous) GMail rush of ’04 I lucked into an invite through Blogger.com pretty early on and thought “What the heck?” and registered ryan.coleman@. I never really used it as I’m very much a “Push to Me” kind of guy when it comes to info – out of sight, out of mind.

So, a few months went by where I didn’t check the account. I logged in and to my surprise found 100 or so emails in my inbox. Odd, since I hadn’t really given the email out except to a couple of people. Odder still, it wasn’t Spam – my inbox was full of someone else’s email.


Having been a former “Media Arts” student I can’t say there wasn’t a certain enjoyment to seeing the other Ryan’s life playing out as he worked his way into the film industry – I did feel bad because there was some fairly sensitive stuff coming through the pipe (scripts etc.). I fired him off an email at his correct address (ryancoleman@) to let him know, and replied to some of the more important looking emails to let them know they got the wrong Ryan and to try his correct address.

I just wrote it off as someone accidentally giving out the wrong address and tried to help get it sorted out. Finished. Right?

I wish.

I logged in today after several months and again I’ve got an inbox full of his email again. Needless to say I figured something else was up other than simply giving someone the wrong email address (especially since you’d have to add the “.” to mine so it’s not like people were omitting it from his or something). I looked a little closer at who people were actually trying to email and sure enough they were sending messages to ryancoleman@, not ryan.coleman@ – so clearly there’s a bug of some sort.

Determined to now get to the bottom of this (and thus spending far too much time dealing with a free email account I don’t use) I dug into the Google Help knowledge base where I found this gem:

Why am I receiving someone else’s email?
You aren’t really. If you receive a message that is addressed to a variation of your email address, it might seem like you are getting someone else’s mail, but we promise you aren’t.

Gmail doesn’t recognize dots (.) as characters within usernames, so you can add and remove them, creating many email address variations.

For example, messages sent to GoogleAmy@gmail.com and Google.Amy@gmail.com are delivered to the same inbox.

For your protection, you can’t log in to your account using a variation of your address – you’ll need to enter the exact username you used to create your account. If you entered dots as part of your username when you signed up for Gmail, please enter them each time you log in to your account.

If you believe that a message was accidentally sent to you, you may want to contact the sender to inform him or her of an incorrect address.

Source: GMail “Help”

Sorry, come again? This is a “feature”???

I find it amusing that the system is picky about what email address you use to log in but it doesn’t care where the mail ends up (I tried ryancoleman@ with my password and it thankfully didn’t work) but doesn’t care about where it sends the email to.

What boggles the mind even more is why Google even let two of us register variants of the same email address when they knew full well that mail sent to either account would go to both.

PIA factor aside this was actually a major security issue – had people realised this early on they could have easily gone and deliberately registered mirror accounts and been privy to all their email. Thankfully that loophole seems to be closed as I tried creating variants of my account with “.” in a different spot, and also new uniquely named accounts with a “.” and trying to create a mirror with no “.” – all with no luck.

I’m going to email their support department and see what I hear back – thankfully I’ve never made major use of my gmail account so if I have to give it up it’s not the end of the world – I was there first but he’s actually making use of it. But really, at this stage post-gmail frenzy, I’d be lucky to get ryancolemanYYZ9283984292@gmail.com.

So if you’ve got an original gmail account, be aware – someone else could be getting your mail too.

ETA: Woah – that blew up a little bigger than expected. I’m still waiting to hear back from Google to see what, if anything is going on here. I’ll post if I get a response.

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