Spam emails and the problems with having a common name

I have a fairly common name – Stephen Bell.

If you take into account that some people use Steven Bell and both they and I often use Steve Bell, Wolfram Alpha’s best guess is that there are around 2,500 – 3,000 Steve Bells scattered around the globe.

So far so good, but then add the complications that out of all those Stephen, Steven and Steve Bells, I got the Gmail email address stevebell[at]gmail.com!  Yes, I was quick wasn’t I?!

The ‘complications’ arise in two or three different ways:

'Wow! I've got one from someone I know!'Firstly, everyone who knows someone called Steve Bell and also knows he has a Gmail address, thinks his address must therefore be stevebell[at]gmail.com!  Loads of people guess at email addresses or just assume they know best. (Yes this may turn into a bit of a rant – sorry about that! :-) So they happily send off emails inviting me to parties, quoting me for insurance, and even discussing my re-mortgaging complete with all the private figures regarding my recent divorce settlement – yes really!

There is also a priest who shares my name. A few years back, he wanted a Gmail address and finding I already had SteveBell… he settled on; guess what; SteveBel… yep, one “l”.  What do you think happened?  He sent out parish newsletters and distributed cards with his new email address and everyone thought he had mistakenly left off a letter “l” – and emailed me!  I received prayer requests, Wedding and Christening arrangements and all sorts of private communications of the sort that should stay private between parishioners and their priest. Despite me forwarding on email after email, and telling him what was happening, it took him over a year to fix the problem. Crazy.

Secondly, even other Steve Bells think they are me!  They try to sign up stevebell[at]gmail.com and then, finding I already have it (since June 2004 in fact) they settle on something different. The trouble is, they forget they did not get “my” address and start signing me up for things!  I have lost count of the mailing lists I have been placed on by other people who believe they own my email address.  I even had to call one man in New York and explain to him in simple words that my email address does not belong to him and please stop signing me up for things!

Thirdly, another part of the problem is that Gmail ignores dots.

You will have gathered by now, my actual email address is stevebell[at]gmail.com. This may not exactly match the email address many people use to send emails to their favourite Steve Bell. Because Gmail ignores dots, a message sent to steve.bell[at]gmail.com (note the extra dot) still arrives at my address! Also, @gmail.com is the same as @googlemail.com, so if an email is sent to stevebell[at]googlemail that’s still me.  And of course, these work collectively, so if an email is sent to, (for example)  s.teve.be.ll[at]googlemail.com it still arrives in my inbox!

Double Opt-in

Finally, come the idiot, unhelpful and non-caring companies and organisations who do not properly obey the USA “Can Spam Act” or the United Kingdom “Law on Marketing and Advertising“.

Both of these important pieces of legislation say much the same thing. In effect:

  1. You’re only allowed to send marketing emails to individual customers if they have given you permission.
  2. Every marketing email you send must give the person the ability to opt out of (or ‘unsubscribe from’) further emails.

Now then – listen up commercial organisations – especially American ones.  Putting a link at the bottom of your email saying “Manage your email preferences” does not work if you did not sign up the account and have no idea what user name and password were used to create it!  Worse still, is when there is no other means of contacting you. Some organisations think this is OK – IT IS NOT!

I live in England, and I am not about to pay transatlantic call charges to call your “toll free” number in the States to spend 20 minutes trying to make your support person understand that Steve.Bell is the same thing as stevebell to Gmail!

Here is the bottom line, all commercial organisations should be using double opt-in when collecting email addresses.  If they do this, and some other Steve Bell thinks he is me and signs me up for something, I receive an email asking me to click a link if I wish to sign up for that particular email list.  I ignore it and no harm is done.  Here’s a brilliant example – Twitter even has a “Report that someone else is trying to use your address” link in their double opt-in emails; Brilliant!  WTG Twitter!

I recently had an email conversation with Ashford University in the USA. The end result is yes, “Terol Pursell / Admissions Counselor / Forbes™ School of Business” certainly did swiftly and cheerfully remove my email address, but added the comment:

“I appreciate you letting me know this is the wrong email for the student.  To each their own on the bulk email preferences.  Also given the nature of the request a double opt in is not efficient.”

Hang on a minute. I don’t care if it’s “efficient”!

It is not ‘efficient‘ for me to have to jump through hoops to get my email address removed!

I should not have to; you should not be emailing  incorrect addresses!

Check the email address is correct before emailing it!  Now THAT is “efficient“!  How difficult can it be?  Neither is it a case of “To each their own” it’s one of the Can Spam Act’s requirements.  You cannot “guess” at email addresses.  Come on; get your act together Ashford University; your attitude is, sadly, typical of many, but it won’t do!

Also, given the problem of what I shall term the the “serial-Steve-Bell-signer-upper” I have often asked organisations who should have a phone number or postal address for these other Steve Bells to please call them, or write to them, and explain they are signing ME up for things.  As far as I am aware, not once has this simple request been enacted.  Please do so, it’s the very least you can do for not using double opt-in!

Those, briefly are the problems of having a fairly common name and a good, appropriate email address; how many problems afflict the owner of JohnSmith[at]gmail.com I have no idea – but I hate to imagine!

If I have pointed you to this Blog page because you also have sent me emails, please help me – just make certain you delete my address (by which don’t mean stop sending me stuff – I mean DELETE it) and move along please . . . there’s nothing to see here.

The Black List

There follows a list of the “unhelpful” – to which I shall add as new examples emerge of companies and organisations who do not use double opt-in and who make it difficult or impossible to unsubscribe if one is in my position.  The list below was started at the beginning of January 2015.

Who will be next to join the list? Don’t make it you!

Steve Bell (as if you hadn’t gathered that by now :-)

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Obduction

Anyone who’s been watching my G+ or Twitter will know I’ve been getting all excited that Myst developer Cyan pitched a return to its roots last month with Obduction, an oldschool surreal adventure in the vein of its best-selling classic, and now it’s achieved its $1.1 million Kickstarter goal. In fact, the final total reached $1,321,306, meaning that the first stretch goal – Oculus Rift support and localization in French, Italian, German and Spanish – will be implemented.

Obduction

Obduction

Billed as a “spiritual successor” to Myst and Riven, Obduction will be a first-person real-time affair built using Unreal Engine 4. Like Myst, Obduction will place the player in the role of a silent protagonist who’s whisked away to an unknown land for no apparent rhyme or reason. As always, it’s your task to find out why you’re there and what to do.

I’ve backed it to the tune of opting for the boxed version of the game. Now, all I and more than 22,000 backers who contributed to help make the campaign successful have to do, is watch Cyan’s updates on progress until the planned release date of October 2015 when we can all be Obducted.

Play Thru – a totally brilliant idea

Play ThruCaptchas

We’ve all fallen foul of those ghastly “type-the-jumbled-and-distorted-words-to-prove-you’re-a-human”  things.  Finally, someone has come up with a better alternative.

A startup called Are You a Human has developed PlayThru, an alternative to text-based authentication.

Instead of requiring you to type some blurry, nonsensical word, PlayThru has you play a mini-game, such as dragging and dropping a car into an open parking spot.

The company says this method is more secure than word captchas — since automated bots have a harder time solving these image-based puzzles — and more fun, because users generally have a better time when their ability to identify letters isn’t called into question.

PlayThru has been in beta for several months and is currently available as a free download. On May 21st, the solution will officially launch on both PCs and smartphones.

Brilliant!

Super Hi-Vision 8k TV ‘over the phone’

BT-Infinity logoLast week BT announced Infinity customers can double the speed of their connection from 37.5 mbps to 76 mbps at no extra cost. There’s nothing wrong with that offer, so off we went to the BT website to look for the magic button. We found it, clicked it, and signed up a new 2 year contract.

Nothing happened immediately, but last night, I realised the speed had increased when I actually noticed it!  I didn’t think it would make that much difference, but I was downloading an App to my new phone (via our home WiFi) and hit the download button and the phone said “Installed”. It never even got as far as showing the downloading bar, it was that fast.  At that point, I went and checked on the PC and it was showing 59.9 mbps.

Later in the evening it had risen to 69.9 mbps so I guess BT were still tweaking things. As we’ve been getting precisely the advertised 37.5 mbps for the past year (It hasn’t degraded at all) I confidently expect it will be showing the newly-promised 76 mbps by this evening.

What I have noticed is that the speed of download or upload now depends not on our connection, but the speed of the responding website or service.  Some sites, like Google, are amazing fast. Fotothing.com, which Sheila uses a lot is fast too. Twitter, on the other hand is incredibly slow.  I think they need to work on their technology a bit.  I suspect their popularity has outgrown their capability.

One also notices things such as the way YouTube handles the sending of data to you.  Things have changed!  When we got Infinity a year ago, calling up a full HD video would fill the download bar in about an eighth of the time the move runs for.  I.e. if you were watching an 8 minute full 1080p HD video, the grey ‘loading progress’ bar would be full after about a minute.

They have however changed the way they do things.  Now, the progress bar flicks to about a minute or so ahead of where you are watching then stops.  When playback gets close to the amount loaded, the bar flicks again and loads the next minute or two and so on.  There’s no difference in the viewing experience, but I can understand why they have changed things.  Given the fact that many people probably don’t actually watch to the end of something they’ve clicked on, I guess it saves YouTube a lot of bandwidth if they don’t load the whole thing all at once – loading data that in fact may never be watched.  Clever!

This would not have been noticeable before having that sort of speed though.  I wonder if they recognise a fast connection and adjust this ‘on the fly’?  “Oh, this one’s fast – we’ll send the data in chunks!”

It’s interesting to watch how things develop.  When we got Infinity, I said to Sheila, there’s a lot more capability in that box on the corner of the street than BT are letting on.  I bet in a year or so they offer to double the speed for an extra fee.  Well, they’ve done that, but no extra fee!  You just have to sign up for a further 2 years.  No problem!  :-)  I suspect there is still more capability on that box as well.

I remember Guy Kewney saying that 90% of the fibre under the streets was “dark” – not even turned on yet.  With BT’s £3bn programme to move the entire British phone structure to IP, they must have put in more capacity than they need by a huge factor.  I would lay money that the “box on the corner” is capable of giving us all 500 mbps!

As we’re discovering, the bottle neck now moves away from the local connection to the service providers and beyond them, to the international lines that link countries – and that is where international cooperation and investment becomes key to the future.

Oh any by the way, after FTTC comes FTTK reducing the distance the signal has to travel over copper from maybe 300 yards or so to 30 ft.  THEN we’ll see something.  Super Hi-Vision 8k TV ‘over the phone’?  It’ll happen!  :-)

Arrogant NASA

The UARS SatelliteI just sent this email to NASA:

I wish comment on your UARS news releases.  For example:

Update #10 Fri, 23 Sep 2011 03:45:08 PM GMT

” . . . The satellite’s orientation or configuration apparently has changed, and that is now slowing its descent. There is a low probability any debris that survives re-entry will land in the United States, but the possibility . . . etc etc . . .”

May I just point out how arrogant this is?  Do you think ONLY people in the USA are interested in where it falls?  I realise the chance of it hitting me personally are 1 in several trillion, but the attitude of your news feeds is incredibly insensitive!

You may have put UARS up there, but everyone is watching to see where it comes down.  However – as long as “There is a low probability any debris that survives re-entry will land in the United States”  Ahhh… fine … so that’s alright then.

Grrrr!   :-)