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Emilee Rader

Associate Professor @ the University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Wait, Do I Know This Person? Understanding Misdirected Email

by: Emilee Rader and Anjali Munasinghe


Email is an essential tool for communication and social interaction. It also functions as a broadcast medium connecting businesses with their customers, as an authentication mechanism, and as a vector for scams and security threats. These uses are enabled by the fact that the only barrier to reaching someone by email is knowing his or her email address. This feature has given rise to the spam email industry but also has another side-effect that is becoming increasingly common: misdirected email, or legitimate emails that are intended for somebody else but are sent to the wrong recipient. In this paper we present findings from an interview study and survey focusing on characteristics of misdirected email messages, possible reasons why they happen, and how people manage these messages when they receive them. Misdirected email arises as a result of signifiers (usernames) which were selected by people for social and self-representation purposes, that are also used by machines for addressing. Because there is no mechanism for dealing with misdirected emails in a systematic way, individual recipients must choose whether to take action and how much effort to put forth to prevent potential negative consequences for themselves and others.


Emilee Rader and Anjali Munasinghe. “Wait, Do I Know This Person? Understanding Misdirected EmailCHI 2019. Glasgow, UK. May 2019.

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