Why I was forced to abandon my Gmail account

An extra period in an email address apparently doesn’t matter to Google.

A number of years ago I randomly started getting emails from a Republican Women’s Group in Virginia. I unsubscribed, but the emails kept coming. I unsubscribed again. Nothing changed. I finally responded with a nasty email explaining that I had repeatedly tried to unsubscribe, unsuccessfully.

 
 All of the images in this post are from emails I have ACCIDENTALLY RECEIVED. I don't think I'll be headed to Boone, Iowa for the Farm Progress Show.

All of the images in this post are from emails I have ACCIDENTALLY RECEIVED. I don't think I'll be headed to Boone, Iowa for the Farm Progress Show.

 

An employee with a political consulting group reached out to explain that they could not find my email address — bobwertz@gmail.com — in their records and they had no idea why I was getting their email. They finally figured out that the address in their database was actually bob.wertz@gmail.com. Somehow the mailing system was dropping out the period and sending the email to the wrong person. They removed bob.wertz@gmail.com from the mailing list and the emails stopped.

But new ones appeared. 

Over the years, I received emails from a number of mostly conservative organizations. I would unsubscribe and move on. Then, my dot-pleganger — as I began to call him — became a member of the NRA and I was inundated with email. Lots of it, all addressed to bob.wertz@gmail.com, but delivered to my address. At one point, I started getting emails from Match.com. I got sick of unsubscribing to the emails and pretty much abandoned my Gmail account.

 
 I'm sure that National Hog Farmer is a lovely publicatioN, but I didn't sign up for your email.

I'm sure that National Hog Farmer is a lovely publicatioN, but I didn't sign up for your email.

 

But I still needed my Google account for other reasons so I checked in occasionally. I had a few new subscriptions — Corn & Soybean Digest, Penton Agriculture, Sam’s Club, Farm Progress Show and National Hog Farmer. I had an email from Indiana Representative Todd Rokita from Indiana’s 4th District inviting me to his Women’s Summit on Safety. All addressed to my dot-pleganger.

I’ve avoided writing about this for a couple reasons:

  1. I didn’t really want to put my email out there. I can’t even imagine the spam I’m going to get now.
  2. It was annoying, but harmless. Basically, a bunch of annoying subscriptions and I could easily move on to a different, non-Gmail email account.

This week, I noticed that I missed an email from a friend to my Gmail account. I decided it was finally time to figure out what was going on and post about it in case others were experiencing the same issue.

 
 I don't live in your district, Todd. I don't even Live in your state.

I don't live in your district, Todd. I don't even Live in your state.

 

I started by trying to figure out if they were all using the same mailing service. They weren’t. 

As I continued to research, I stumbled across a Gmail help document that explained that Google ignores periods in the first section of the email. So bobwertz@gmail.com and bob.wertz@gmail.com are delivered to the same email account… on purpose.

Wait. What?

GOOGLE DISREGARDS THE PERIODS IN THE ACCOUNT NAME FOR GMAIL ACCOUNTS!

So now, I’m really confused. This means that there is no way that there can even be a bob.wertz@gmail.com account. My dot-pleganger doesn't exist. But even though the email address doesn’t exist, emails addressed to my dot-pleganger are still sent to my address because it’s… close? What kind of twisted logic is this? Why it the world would anyone set up an email system this way?

As for why I am repeatedly getting email that I don’t want, this leaves only two scenarios:

  1. Someone out there is mistyping their own email address repeatedly over a period of years.
  2. Someone mistyped my address once and then it was sold to a variety of entities that now spam me.

Either way, I’m irritated. I’m betting on the "my name is on a master list that keeps getting sold and recycled" scenario. (The fact that my dot-pleganger's address seems to circulate among mostly conservative causes seems to reinforce this theory.) I can unsubscribe from the emails I get, but I can never get that address off the master list.

 
 "NAvigate the complexities" of unsubscribing from email.

"NAvigate the complexities" of unsubscribing from email.

 

I’m also completely perplexed. Why would Google set up an email system that delivers emails to the wrong address on purpose? And who is the random person that apparently doesn’t know their own email address?

I had hoped that I would be able to reclaim my Gmail account. Alas, it doesn’t seem possible.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he tries to unsubscribe from emails. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.