Are gmail addresses private?
November 20, 2009 2:57 PM   Subscribe

gmail alerts...Through gmail alerts I try and watch which sites my son goes to. He has had some trouble. Is it possible anyone else could have the same gmail address, in another country or with a different password?
posted by sandyfrd to Technology (30 answers total)
 
Gmail addresses are unique.

It's possible someone has figured out his password.

What do you mean by "he has had some trouble"?

Do you mean he has had trouble accessing gmail?
posted by dfriedman at 3:01 PM on November 20, 2009


Not sure I understand the question, but every Gmail address is unique. No two people have the same one (unless they willingly share a single account and password together).
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 3:03 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I understand your question. Are you looking for confirmation that your gmail alerts of "troublesome" websites may not be actually be visited by your son? Gmail--the internet, even--operates on the principle that no one has the same email address. Perhaps someone knows your son's password and is logging in to the web somewhere with your son's account and surfing troublesome websites. But, of course, this seems like pure fantasy.

You know who would know, though? Your son.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:03 PM on November 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


In addition to what the others said, if you're tracking websites visited based on his Gmail sign in, is it possible that he signed in on a computer somewhere (friends house, school, library) and he's still signed in on that computer?

I think we need some more info before we can narrow down the possibilities.
posted by MultiFaceted at 3:09 PM on November 20, 2009


Easy enough to check. When the problem sites show up, he can easily prove his innocence by showing you his browser history. If he has nothing to hide and his claims of someone else's involvement are true, his history will show that he was not on those sites at that time. If, however, the browser history has been cleared for the times in question or he is not comfortable with you seeing the history, then you would need to investigate further.
posted by raisingsand at 3:09 PM on November 20, 2009


E-mail addresses (including those hosted at GMail) are unique, internet-wide.
posted by rokusan at 3:16 PM on November 20, 2009


gmail address... thank you his address comes up in alerts for porn sites. He is 11 years old. I know, I have a problem but I wanted to make sure the addresses are unique before I question him.
posted by sandyfrd at 3:21 PM on November 20, 2009


What do you mean when you say that his address "comes up in alerts for porn sites"?
posted by onshi at 3:22 PM on November 20, 2009


It shows his gmail address.....abc@gmail.com and then shows for example a porn site.
posted by sandyfrd at 3:25 PM on November 20, 2009


Let me rephrase: why would his email address appearing *on* porn site indicate positively that he had visited that site? What I mean is that although his email address is unique, that would not stop anyone from (for what reason, I do not know) using abc@gmail.com to fill in -- for example -- a comment form.

I point this out only because my email address is in the form firstnamelastname@gmail.com and this kind of think happens to me all of the time. Presumably people enter it as dummy text instead of their own address, and I end up getting the ensuing junk mail.

As a side note, if you have firstnamelastname@gmail.com, anything sent to firstname.lastname@gmail.com will also be sent to you. And vice versa. So there are some quirks.
posted by onshi at 3:31 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, but what are these alerts? What are you using to monitor your son, and how does it associate your son's visits with his gmail address? Knowing this would also help us narrow it down for you. Based on what you've said so far, it sounds like you may not spend a lot of time with computers, and I'd hate for there to be some misunderstanding that gets your son in trouble.
posted by katillathehun at 3:33 PM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I keep getting emails (not spam) from people I don't know, every 2 or 3 months ... including for overdue library books in the US while I live in Canada, or invitations to join meetings... So, it is possible that it might be a mistake. Or it could be curiosity from your son's part... or someone using his email address to identify himself. Some sites ask for an email before letting you in - they assume you give them a valid one and harvest the email addresses to sell them later on.
posted by aroberge at 3:36 PM on November 20, 2009


Google Alerts simply performs a search for a given text string (in this case an email address) and sents a report with all of the new hits. The OP is getting reports where some of the hits are porn sites. The question seems to be -- both from the OP and from those of us trying to answer -- what can be concluded from the mere appearance of the son's email address on a porn site?
posted by onshi at 3:37 PM on November 20, 2009


Porn sites are, in general, very conscious about not revealing their users' information. This is because they want to spare their users the embarassment of exactly what you're describing: someone googling their name or email address and finding out that they've been frequenting porn websites.

What's more likely is that your son's email address has been scraped by spammers of some sort who are using it in an attempt to appear legitimate. This sort of thing is done with email spam all the time and is known as a Joe job. It's not necessarily the case that your son is visiting porn sites. You should keep this in mind when deciding the course of action you're going to take next.

Also keep in mind that it's fairly easy for scammers to trick people, especially young people, into giving up their email address and password. This is known as phishing and affects many people every year.
posted by kdar at 3:37 PM on November 20, 2009 [13 favorites]


It shows his gmail address.....abc@gmail.com and then shows for example a porn site.

What is "it"?
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:41 PM on November 20, 2009


This whole question is making little sense to me. Look at the kid's browser history. If he cleans it regularly then tell him not to. If he doesn't then you'll be able to see what he's been up to.

Or you could also use your internet connection's log if you have a wireless router to see what sites have been accessed.

Using his email account seems like a very, very bad way to check on him. There are easy ways to create throwaway accounts. Also, the porn sites these days don't require registration or anything, just click and wank away.

If he is accessing these sites from your home then you can control it but there's still nothing you can do when he's at friends houses. Better to deal with the kid and not try to lock down his access.
posted by fenriq at 3:41 PM on November 20, 2009


I took "gmail alerts" to mean Google Alerts.
posted by brundlefly at 3:44 PM on November 20, 2009


I'm wondering if maybe the computer in question has been infected with malware? Some variations do weird things that would make porn sites come up in random situations.
posted by jenkinsEar at 3:45 PM on November 20, 2009


>: What's more likely is that your son's email address has been scraped by spammers of some sort who are using it in an attempt to appear legitimate. This sort of thing is done with email spam all the time and is known as a Joe job. It's not necessarily the case that your son is visiting porn sites. You should keep this in mind when deciding the course of action you're going to take next.

This. This is what's going on.

You should stop snooping on your son, especially if you have so little Internet know-how that you would be asking us this question in the first place.

>: Why don't you leave your kid alone about his porn sites?

And this. Why don't you start looking for problems when you have reason to believe that there's a real one?
posted by dunkadunc at 3:47 PM on November 20, 2009 [9 favorites]


Yeah, so far, it sounds like there just isn't any evidence that your son's up to no good. He could be! But Google Alerts isn't going to tell you that. Check browser history, install an actual monitoring program, or use nanny software to keep him away from sites you don't want him visiting. What you're doing right now seems like ambushing, and nothing will start his bad habits faster than wrongly accusing him of already having them.
posted by katillathehun at 3:54 PM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Before we go all JudgmentalFilter, consider that OP may in fact have reason to believe that there is a real problem. The question asked here was technical in nature. Still, the points about technical know-how stand.

Simply put: if you do want to monitor your child's internet use, Google Alerts is not an ideal way to do so.
posted by onshi at 3:55 PM on November 20, 2009


Is it possible anyone else could have the same gmail address, in another country or with a different password?

I have first.last@gmail.com and regularly get email intended for a guy in Australia with the same name, whose address is different only in the .com becoming .co.au -- though that probably isn't same same as what's happening with your son.
posted by anadem at 3:56 PM on November 20, 2009


To weigh in, I think it is absolutely legitimate and within a parent's normal and acceptable rights to be concerned about their eleven year old son accessing porn sites.

I don't know if I consider it a problem: I think it's pretty normal for a kid to be curious about this type of stuff. I remember being 12 or so and very interested in my friend's copy of Hustler and his parent's book on the Art of Making Love. But it is unfair to say that a parent should entirely respect the privacy of a child that young. Parents are there to provide guidance, and monitoring, for their children's behavior. I think the respect-of-autonomy argument would be more defensible if the kid was 18, or hell, even 15 or 16. But we're talking about an eleven year old here.


That being said, I think setting up a "Google Alerts" for your sons e-mail address is not going to provide you with accurate information about his computer use. A better solution would be to regularly check his internet history. If he's sophisticated enough to delete this history, I am SURE there must be some kind of separate logging program you can install: several posters have given examples.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 4:05 PM on November 20, 2009


Look at the kid's browser history. If he cleans it regularly then tell him not to.

Realize that one can delete individual items one by one from a browser history. It's not just "clean it out" or nothing.
posted by rokusan at 4:06 PM on November 20, 2009


OP, this question is definitely not resolved. The "best answers" you have chosen don't really answer the question completely (no offense to the posters, but I think they would agree). I recommend that you look toward kdar's answer. Google Alerts is definitely not the best way to investigate your child's internet use. It's simply not suited to do so.
posted by azarbayejani at 4:07 PM on November 20, 2009 [9 favorites]


Let me just add the following data point for you. It turns out that my parents were entirely aware of the porn I stashed under my bed as a teenager. Guess what? Looking back, I'm happy about that. Yeah, it may have been an invasion of my privacy, but I guess that is outweighed by the fact that they showed real concern for my development into a happy human being.

In conversation, years later, my dad basically said that yes, my mom had known about the porn under my bed, and he reviewed it (heh), and thought that the occasional use of such materials was quite normal for a kid of my age, and so didn't press the issue any further. I thanked him. I'm glad to know my parents had my back.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 4:14 PM on November 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


OK. Could the OP be referring to the Google Web History function associated to the relevant gmail account??

I have several gmail accounts, one of which I share with a business partner. As far as I know, we're both "logged in" on that account the majority of our online time - from different locations. Neither one of us has the web history toolbar installed... but I bet our web history would look a mess if we did!

If I logged into gmail from a computer anywhere, and forgot to log out of gmail ... I assume the subsequent browsing history from that other computer (and other folks) would be added to the web history for the account, right?

The short answer is YES - other computers can be logged into the same gmail simulataneously. Do all the logged in users count towards the web history log? I don't know, but I don't see why not.

If you are looking to keep track of your son's browsing habits, I concur that gmail and google is not the way to accomplish this.
posted by jbenben at 4:19 PM on November 20, 2009


Okay, here's the thing.

#1: as several people above have pointed out, the tracking you're doing is not telling you that your son is visiting porn sites. It's telling you that his email address is coming up in porn site spam listings via Google Alerts. It proves absolutely nothing, happens to a lot of people, and is a complete red herring. It is as successful at proving your son visits porn sites as having his name come up in google result spam for Camaros that he's stealing cars.

#2: the easiest way for you to "track" your son's habits is to pay attention to him. Here's the plan I've hatched for when my kids get older, and I'd love to see you try it and report back success/failure:

- Have the only computer in the house smack-dab in the living room, kitchen or other highly-visible area, screen facing the room. Essentially, put the computer where there is no privacy whatsoever.

- Set up your wireless router or what-have-you (get a computer friend to help you with this!) so that internet access is completely cut off to the house for time periods that he's home when you're typically busy, or late at night when he can sneak out of his room. This should not be software -- it should be in the router itself, with a GOOD password to keep him out, one you haven't written down (perhaps trust the computer friend with it, and forget it yourself?)

- Sit him down and talk about what's right and not right to do when surfing the web. Let him know you understand there's lots of stuff out there he's curious about, and that you are there to answer his questions. Also let him know that if he tells you right away if he's accidentally reached a site he shouldn't be on, you can explain what he's looking at and shut it down for him so he doesn't have to panic about you misunderstanding.

Then, live your life. Without privacy he'll have to be careful, without access when you're not around he won't be tempted, without access to the hardware block he won't be able to hack around it, and every time he goes somewhere he should not (be it to a porn site, a violent online videogame, forums where people are racist, what-have-you) you'll be there to answer his questions and help him navigate the waters. All of this will be in a way that exists as an explicit understanding between you two about what is and is not proper behavior, with him left to self-police his own behavior, and you to police it casually without having to sneak around. This will build trust between the two of you, rather than the distrust that being all sneaky will lead to.

Plus, as you explain things to him that confuse him, he'll have an easier time coping with things when he's at a friend's house, where the parents don't monitor things and internet access is available with complete privacy. AND THIS WILL HAPPEN, SOONER OR LATER, EVEN IF HE'S THE MOST PERFECT, NOBLE AND ETHICAL BOY IN THE LAND.

Good luck.
posted by davejay at 4:56 PM on November 20, 2009 [21 favorites]


Let me just add the following data point for you. It turns out that my parents were entirely aware of the porn I stashed under my bed as a teenager. Guess what? Looking back, I'm happy about that. Yeah, it may have been an invasion of my privacy, but I guess that is outweighed by the fact that they showed real concern for my development into a happy human being.

In conversation, years later, my dad basically said that yes, my mom had known about the porn under my bed, and he reviewed it (heh), and thought that the occasional use of such materials was quite normal for a kid of my age, and so didn't press the issue any further. I thanked him. I'm glad to know my parents had my back.


A note on this: pornography available in print form and on cable/satellite is a lot easier for parents to review with/without their kids' knowledge (my dad gave me my first porn mag, so YMMV) than online stuff -- and the online stuff tends to be significantly more hardcore and potentially confusing/disturbing/hard to explain. If you make it difficult for him to get pornography via the computer, he will likely turn to other sources, and hopefully they'll be much easier for you to review for appropriateness and much less likely to confuse him (assuming you don't have a zero-pornography policy in your home, of course.)
posted by davejay at 5:00 PM on November 20, 2009


To put this in bold relief, I have received spam FROM ME hawking free generic Viagra. The punchline? I work for Pfizer!

Hmmmm, maybe I could turn myself in for some kind of reward...

Also, log out of everything that might vaguely reference you e-mail address. Now go to Google and put in any term that vaguely references porn. Did you get porn? Your son could probably look at porn from now until he needs that Viagra I'm hawking and NEVER have to give anyone his e-mail address.

Seriously, if you're concerned look into parental controls software. You can even get a router that is so equipped if you want to go that far. As it is, you have a hammer and so everything looks like a nail to you.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:55 AM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


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