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Why Stupid People Shouldn’t Be Allowed Online

Tuesday, April 10, 2012, 23:32 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

EmailI’m not the most tech-savvy person in the world, but I hold my own. It’s much more likely that someone will ask me for help with a computer application or online service than that I will ask someone else for help. Not including my college years when we all had what was then known as “computer mail” (and we thought we were hot shit, believe me), I’ve been online since around 1994, when I subscribed to CompuServe and had one of those awful numeric user IDs that were impossible to remember. Indeed, all I remember about mine is that it was nine digits broken up by a period (12345.6789) and started with 7. So when Yahoo! mail was the up and coming thing, I got myself an account. At various times, I also had email accounts on Hotmail, Lycos, and a few others. I eventually dumped them all in favor of a subscription service that allowed me to get a customized address (mary@smith.net, except using my own name, which is not Mary Smith) which is now my primary personal email address. But I still wanted a free web-based email option as back-up.

When Gmail was on its way up, I jumped. The early bird catches the worm, as the saying goes, and I was to secure an address using my first initial and last name (msmith@gmail.com). Anyone who subsequently tried to get that particular user name would have had to pick an alternative, such as adding a middle initial (masmith@gmail.com) or perhaps numbers on the end (msmith123@gmail.com). The trouble is that some of the people who did that appear to have forgotten their user names and are now giving out my email address as theirs.

Now, my first and last names aren’t as common as Mary and Smith, but they aren’t all that rare, either. According to this web site, which claims to use information provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, my last name is approximately the 600th most common in the United States, shared with more than 51,000 other people. My first name, shared with more than 400,000 others, is approximately the 65th most common female name. So it stands to reason that I am not the only “Mary Smith” in the country. In fact, a search of Anywho.com turned up phone listings for 33 people who share my first and last name. Add to that number those who have the same last name but a different first name with the same initial as mine. Then add the people with my first initial and last name who don’t have phone listings. Then add all such people in other countries. That is the pool of potential Gmail users who might want my particular Gmail address. Even if only a tiny percentage of them actually try to get the user name that belongs me, then later forget that their addresses aren’t the simple ones they wanted, I end up with a lot of email intended for someone else.

These are the most recent messages I’ve received that were intended for someone else:

  • A skills survey for a job application, sent by Axelon Services Corporation
  • Link to a petition to reinstate a teacher suspended for having her students raise money for Trayvon Martin’s family, sent by Change.org
  • Message to a registered team member, sent by Relay for Life of Columbia, Florida
  • Something I can’t figure out, sent by Prove It! Test Notification
  • New dating site matches, sent by Plenty of Fish
  • A thank-you message for a recent car purchase, sent by Nissan of Middletown, New York
  • Reservation confirmation, sent by Hilton Hotels & Resorts
  • Request to call the governor about funding for breast cancer screening, sent by American Cancer Society, Florida Division
  • Notice of online bill, sent by Progressive Insurance
  • More new dating site matches, sent by Plenty of Fish

I’ve also received minutes from a condominium association, information about an elementary school student’s grades, property suggestions from a real estate agent in Georgia, a report of a medical test, pictures of a young woman in her underwear, and multiple Facebook password reset links.

Usually, I don’t bother replying to these emails. When I got the student’s grades and the medical report, I replied to let the senders know that they were given the wrong address. For emails that contain an “unsubscribe” link, I sometimes click it. But sometimes I’m tempted to do more. For example, I’m thisclose to deleting the Facebook and Plenty of Fish accounts, logging onto the Hilton Hotels account and changing all the pending reservations, and cancelling the Progressive customer’s car insurance.

I suppose it should bother me that people aren’t getting emails they would consider important. I used to worry about it, but that was a few years and hundreds of emails ago. Now, I couldn’t possibly care less. I’m just annoyed. Granted, all I have to do is click DELETE every time I get one. But the sheer numbers are grating on my nerves. I don’t think it’s too much to ask these web sites to implement an email verification process that prevents stupid people from using other people’s addresses. If someone signs up and then goes a period of time—say, 24 hours—without clicking the verification link in the confirmation email, then THEY. ARE. OUTTA. THERE.

Until that happens, I think I’ll start publishing interesting emails that come my way but shouldn’t have. If someone doesn’t care enough about his or her privacy to use their own email, then far be it from me to care on his or her behalf. It won’t solve the problem, but it will allow me to have some fun at a stupid person’s expense.

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