Recently, I started getting invoices from UPC Czech Republic in my GMail account. UPC Digital + high speed internet, 767 CZK per month. Not a bad deal except… Except that I have never had anything to do with UPC Czech Republic, I have lived in the Netherlands for the last seven years, and the invoices are addressed to certain Vojtěch Toman with an address in Pilsen. I have been in Pilsen only two or three times in my life, and each time only passing through.
Since this January, I started getting not only invoices, but also collection letters from UPC. Apparently this other Vojtěch Toman’s payment morale has been rather low lately. Or… perhaps he just hasn’t been getting any invoices?
So what happened? A closer inspection of the e-mail messages showed that they were addressed to
firstname.lastname@example.org – but that is not my address, as mine contains a dot between the first name and the last name. So somehow Google must have screwed up; those messages surely were not meant for me.
That was more or less how I thought about it – at least initially – and I ignored the e-mails. But after I started getting the collection letters, I thought that since I have been receiving the UPC e-mails, perhaps that poor hasn’t. Maybe he wasn’t even aware that something went wrong with his payments.
So I took a second look. A simple Google search quickly pointed me to a GMail help page titled Receiving someone else’s mail – so apparently I am not the only one with the same problem. What I have found there, however, took me by complete surprise:
Sometimes you may receive a message sent to an address that looks like yours but has a different number or arrangement of periods. While we know it might be unnerving if you think someone else’s mail is being routed to your account, don’t worry: both of these addresses are yours.
Gmail doesn’t recognize dots as characters within usernames, you can add or remove the dots from a Gmail address without changing the actual destination address; they’ll all go to your inbox, and only yours. In short:
email@example.com = firstname.lastname@example.org
email@example.com = HOMERJSIMPSON@gmail.com
firstname.lastname@example.org = Homer.J.Simpson@gmail.com
All these addresses belong to the same person. You can see this if you try to sign in with your username, but adding or removing a dot from it. You’ll still go to your account.
Maybe I was the only one who didn’t know about this already, but quite a shocker for me nonetheless. In retrospect, I can understand Google’s motivation to make their services more user friendly, but at the same time… Yes, it saves you from the occasional typo in the recipient e-mail address, but doesn’t it introduce new problems as well? It works in the cases when you omit a dot or use extra dots, but what if you, for instance, misplace a character or forget one? How often can this, combined with Google’s leniency in checking of the usernames, lead to wrong people receiving your e-mail?
This and similar thoughts I had when I looked at the other Vojtěch Toman’s e-mail address:
- Was his actual Google username something like
vojtechtoman2 and they have made a mistake and lost the ‘
2‘ at UPC somehow?
- Has he filled in a made up fake address in a required registration form field?
- What if his username really is
vojtechtoman? (Potentially the worst scenario of all.)
Scenario 1 is always a possibility. Human error occurs.
Scenario 2 is also likely, especially given the fact that apart from UPC, I didn’t get any mails addressed to
As for scenarion 3, I don’t know if Google’s relaxed policy on usernames has always been the same, or if it is something that they introduced along the way. I assume the former, because I can’t imagine how would they enforce the new policy on what would likely be thousands and thousands of potentially conflicting usernames. So I assume that scenario 3 is out of question, but that vague, uneasy feeling doesn’t go away…
I called UPC today and told them about the situation, and especially that I am concerned that this other Vojtěch Toman may not have received the invoices and collection letters from them and is therefore unaware that something has gone wrong. Luckily for me, it turned out that the other Vojtěch Toman gave them two e-mail addresses and that they send e-mails to both; so they removed the address
email@example.com from the system.
Let’s see if I get any more invoices after today. I just hope this other Vojtěch Toman is not browsing through my mailbox on Saturday evenings.