Tuesday, March 13

It's not easy being me

Especially when my name is "Alan Jones". It's not enough that I cop all the comparisons to my 'evil twin' the radio broadcaster of the same name. It's not enough that my name elicits at least a chuckle when I get pulled over for speeding. And it's not enough that the other three Alan Joneses in the same postcode and I must re-deliver each other's mis-delivered mail.

For a while now, another gmail user have been receiving email addressed to each other. My gmail address has a period between the first and surnames, and his is periodless. It's no longer possible to register two usernames so alike, but for a time during gmail's exclusive invitation-only introduction, it was possible for the two of us, at least.

We both have separate accounts and logins (I can't see his Google Docs, for instance) but he's definitely a different user. I see all his emails from friends, confirmations of services he's signed up for, and even order confirmations that include address and demographic information. He's much less cautious than I am about what he uses his gmail account for. One of these days, some half-baked ecommerce site or a friend of his is going to email him his own credit card details, and I'd theoretically be able to go on a brief buying spree.

Google Help describes the way gmail ignores special chars in usernames as a feature, but in this case, it's definitely a bug.

We're not the only two people affected, in fact, Google's known about it since gmail came out of beta:

Once the problem came to light, Google made a change that would prevent the problem occuring for future signups, but its only suggestion for those of us already suffering from the problem is to either register a new gmail address, or change your reply-to address and wait for your email buddies to update their contact details.

Neither I nor the other Alan Jones wants to give up our email address, and just changing the reply-to address isn't sufficiently secure as it only affects emails created when someone hits the 'reply to' button in their email client. Besides, I have another 600-odd business cards that advertise alan.jones@ as my email address that I'd like to use, thanks!

Perhaps there aren't enough litigous US gmail users who realise they have the problem to reach the critical mass necessary for a class action suit of some kind. It's not like Google to be pressured by anyone (except foreign governments) so I'm not even sure they'd care if a class action suit was raised.

Meanwhile, this problem ensures that I'll never use gmail the way Google always hoped I would: as my primary email account.

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