I do not want to be neutered, why is gmail inviting me to a neutering?
October 28, 2010 1:16 PM   Subscribe

Why is gmail sending me calendar invites to strangers' pet grooming appointments?

[asking for my sister, I'm able to follow up if needed. I did all my gmail research and wasn't sure what was going on.]

A few weeks ago, I started getting invitations to calendar events in my inbox of my gmail account. What was odd was that they all appeared to be for appointments for pets, and they were all from different people around the country, all strangers to me. I couldn't figure out what was going on, so I emailed back and forth with a few of the senders. It seems that all of the folks have a pet with the same name as my gmail account (it is a common pet name, think scamper@gmail) and all they had done was put an appointment in their own calendar with their pet's name and the appointment details. As near as I can tell - somehow, automagically, gmail was recognizing that there was a gmail user with the same name, and was generating an appointment invitation?

My calendar is set to private and not visible to other people. I am not sharing it with anybody. But still for the last two weeks I have been getting deluged with invitations to get my nails trimmed, my coat shampooed, a reminder to take my heartworm pills, and one neutering appointment.

Has this happened to anybody else? Any suggestions on how to make it stop? It never used to happen, and I am not finding it to be a great feature. I have seen this and this and this and they all seem similar but not identical and related to a problem that has been around for a while and my problem just started. Thanks!
posted by jessamyn to Technology (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
An invitation is just a specially formatted email. They're probably putting their pets name in attendee and gmail is helpfully appending @gmail.com for them.

Are the owners all gmail users by chance?
posted by pwnguin at 1:34 PM on October 28, 2010

Response by poster: I think so? Or Google calendar users. The big deal is that these people don't feel that they're sending invitations [though they may be clueless] they're just adding "Get sparky's nails trimmed" to their calendar and the gmail seems to invite sparky@gmail.com to the event. I would have assumed there were a TON of people with common words for email addresses with this similar problem and since there aren't I sort of figure maybe there's a setting I'm missing or something?
posted by jessamyn at 1:37 PM on October 28, 2010

Ok, so I tried the gcal web interface and it straightup refuses guests with no username. Perhaps this is a misfeature of outlook/thunderbird?
posted by pwnguin at 1:41 PM on October 28, 2010

Err guests with no domain.
posted by pwnguin at 1:42 PM on October 28, 2010

Another possibility is that a pet store webapp was recently published and offered for free to initial clients across the country, that has a bug in it. Or a single national franchise, but I think you'd have figured that one out.

I know people with common names get a lot of misdirected email. Especially if your alter ego is famous, like Larry Page or something. Doesn't explain the immediacy, unless google recently changed their spam filters to let more invitation formatted mail through.
posted by pwnguin at 1:52 PM on October 28, 2010

The guests field is only for email addresses, so I'm thinking they're putting in the pet's name as guest and gmail is adding a domain to it, perhaps?
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:54 PM on October 28, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah that's what I'm guessing too, but I never knew gmail to do auto-complete before.
posted by jessamyn at 1:58 PM on October 28, 2010

Similar to one of the problems in your first link, if you input items on your calendar on some versions of gCal on the Android, it makes it an event with the name of the calendar as a guest. It's very possible to invite "people" (really it's inviting your calendar) this way without being clueless, since it does it automatically and there's no way to stop it from doing so. It doesn't even require the @gmail.com part appended. (i.e. I input "Meeting at 3" to my "Work" calendar, and "Work" gets an invite, even though it's obviously not an email address or a keyword.)

Someone could have created a calendar with the same name as your Gmail account's default name and now whenever they add events using their phone, it invites all calendars with the "sparky" name. It would only happen, presumably, to people who had created a calendar with the exact same name as someone else's default calendar/user name, and then used the buggy phone app to update it.
posted by wending my way at 2:18 PM on October 28, 2010

Just to be clear, I put NOTHING into my guest list - there are NO attendees - and it will still try to invite "Work," based on the name of the calendar I am inputting into.
posted by wending my way at 2:19 PM on October 28, 2010

And because I somehow failed to grasp the original question - reply to one of the invitations with a request that the user changes their calendar name slightly, so they don't keep sending out invites to strangers.
posted by wending my way at 2:37 PM on October 28, 2010

I don't think the gmail web UI would do this, but there are a million client apps that interface with gmail that could do this.

Try marking them all as spam, might reduce the issue over time.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:39 PM on October 28, 2010

Would your sister mind polling everyone who's emailed her, and asking them specifics on how they created the appointment? I bet they have a program or platform in common.

If she can get some hard data, she can take it to whoever made that app. And probably report it to Google's development team as well. This is Bad Behavior on the part of the app, and someone will catch hell for it.

It's annoying and burdensome for your sister, true. But think of all the other people she's helping. Because I can guarantee you, millions of other people are getting random calendar invites, too.

(Once she has the data, the obvious short-term fix is to create a filter that whisks calendar invites away somewhere. Either deleting them outright, or marking them read and tagging them, so that she can browse them later if she chooses.)
posted by ErikaB at 3:12 PM on October 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

She could show up - after all, she was invited :)
posted by spinifex23 at 3:51 PM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Why not ask someone who doesn't have you as a gmail contact try creating an appointment with Jessamyn as an invitee, and see if you get an email? At least then you could reproduce the effect when you mention this to the google development team.
posted by jeather at 5:38 PM on October 28, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah we've tried to recreate the effect with no success which is leading me to the "hey it's a rogue app" line of inquiry. We can't reproduce the issue with desktop machines and iphones.
posted by jessamyn at 5:40 PM on October 28, 2010

Well, at least you're not getting RedBox invoices, invitations to meet with the principal at their kid's private school, and, my favorite, notifications of job leads from Monster. (Not hiring that person!)

I have a common name, but geesh!
posted by rw at 6:28 PM on October 28, 2010

I have two calendar apps on the android, if you do not have another android user who can test.
posted by jeather at 7:23 PM on October 28, 2010

You totally need to take advantage of this excellent opportunity to write surreal reply emails to the senders.

"No, I do NOT want my nails clipped on Thursday! And while I'm expressing myself this way, I want you to know that I want you to NEVER run the vacuum cleaner again. Are we clear? Don't make me take a crap in the middle of your bed."
posted by Jacqueline at 9:35 PM on October 28, 2010 [11 favorites]

omg, she so needs to do that.
posted by empath at 7:09 AM on October 29, 2010

So I was gonna post the suggestion that this could be some kind of bizarre spam ... but Jacqueline's suggestion is a MUST DO.
posted by dwbrant at 1:02 PM on October 29, 2010

I get a lot of similar misdirected mail, and the funny responses never succeeded in fixing the problem. I recommend figuring out a way to filter and delete the emails.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:25 AM on October 30, 2010

Response by poster: FYI everyone, this question somehow got the attention of one of the engineers at Google who spent a little time going back and forth with my sister about it. Turns out it was actually a bug and they updated me today "we spoke to the phone vendor and they are pushing out an update in January."

Woo! I really appreciate everyone's help and ideas.
posted by jessamyn at 2:58 PM on November 19, 2010

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