Gmail – a Christmas Round Robin

Fortunately, no one I know sends those ghastly round-robin emails or letters at Christmas, full of the details of their ghastly children, Jocasta and Tristran, and how they’re doing so well at competitive lute-wielding, and such nonsense.

Yet, through the magic of Gmail, I get to experience much the same effect, with the odd bonus that everyone involved appears to have the same surname as I do, and the same first initial. The Ns Whitfield, as it were.

So, this year, I know that someone has stopped by Norman’s profile on Classmates, while Nicole spent two nights at the Ramada Airport Miami North; I don’t know if she enjoyed her stay, but I’ve been invited to review it on a site called Hotwire. I wonder if this is the same Nicole who lives in Ohio, or maybe there are two of them.

I also know that Nicole has a new Samsung device, which came with 48GB of free Dropbox space. And Dropbox are sending her emails with sad faces, because she hasn’t used it yet. Don’t worry Dropbox – it’s nothing personal. She just never got your email, so I hope she’s not spending money on memory cards or anything silly like that.

Poor Nicholas didn’t get his email, either. Back in November he submitted his resume online for the job of Forklift operator in a town in Indiana; I do hope he got the job, but he probably didn’t even find out if he got an interview.

Meanwhile, Natasha, a Home Mortgage Consultant called Brian Kalwicki is still keen to help you understand all about owning a home, and doubtless the various exciting finance products he can help you with. While you’re thinking about a new home, Natasha, I hope you’re enjoying the T Mobile 4G Mobile HotSpot (Refurbished) that was shipped to your Colorado address back in August. How’s that working out for you? Is the coverage any good?

Nakia, who appears to work for a 3rd Avenue law firm in New York: I do hope the sandwiches turned up. The Chicken Milanese Platter sounded the most tempting, though I see you opted for only a dozen of them, and only the ‘basic’ presentation. Presumably the clients or staff didn’t warrant a better arrangement on the plate.

I mustn’t forget Nita, of course; Craig forwarded you a joke back in February, but why you tried to send it to what you thought was your own Gmail account is a mystery. As is why you found the ‘joke’ funny, frankly.

Who are all these people?

I have no idea who these people are, but Gmail has given me a glimpse of their lives over the past year – and in some cases, information that, in the UK, it would almost certainly be a breach of Data Protection regulations to give out about someone. I’ve been invited to log in to web sites, including the Texas Teacher Retirement System (NC? Are you out there?) and people’s health plans. Norman’s Classmates profile didn’t even ask for a password to have “his story” altered. As a result it now includes the text

Norman also doesn’t know what his own email address is, and a random person in London with the same first initial and last name keeps receiving junk from Classmates

which may at least prompt someone to ask him to check his details. Some companies simply ignore any attempt to correct matters, or send emails from an address that isn’t monitored, and offer no un-subscribe link.

I’ve wished Nicole a merry christmas, because the email from Hotwire included her phone number; I’ve left messages on Brian Kalwicki’s voicemail, but still he sends me the messages for Natasha. There’s a chance Nicholas may get a job, now that I’ve told the website they really should try to contact him another way. But T Mobile can’t change the email address on an account unless I know the account number, which wasn’t in the email they sent me. And, frankly, it’s tedious phoning up companies in the US and trying to sort out this mess, on my own phone bill.

Why don’t these people know their own email address?

Honestly, I have no idea. I’ve had my nwhitfield address at Gmail for a very long time – since you used to have introductions to get on to the service, and Guy Kewney kindly sent me one. So no one else should have been able to sign up and get one like it. Some of them clearly use nwhitfield at other domains, and perhaps just got it wrong. But have they never realised they don’t get the confirmations they expect to?

And what of the companies? People are sending out information that, in many cases, is private. And they do so without, clearly, first verifying that the address works. There’s no “Welcome to Wells Fargo, Natasha. Please click this link to confirm this is your email account,” just the information about mortgages.

Surely, for any web site, let alone ones dealing with things as sensitive as mortgages, tax arrears, job applications and retirement plans, verifying the emails are going to the right person is sensible. Sure, it may add an extra step to the sign up process, but isn’t that worth the wait, before you spray the confidential details of someone else around the internet?

If you are one of the Ns Whitfield mentioned here, I do hope you have a pleasant 2014. But, with the best will in the world, I also hope to hear rather less about you. Check your email addresses, and type them more carefully in future.

Happy New Year.

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