(Un)Mistaken Identity 

As the computer dork in the house, I was given the case of “I just bought this book on Amazon, but it’s not showing up in my Kindle app” by Katie. I grabbed her computer and poked around in her account. Even though she had purchased previous books, those weren’t showing up in her order history. Her new book was in her account, but would not show up on her Kindle.

So, I did what any self-respecting dork would do. I logged out and logged back in.

Lo! and behold, the new book happily downloaded to the Kindle.

But the old books were now gone.

If you’re smarter than me, you might have figured out what’s going on by now [1]. But I was still stumped. So I chatted Amazon support. After a couple of minutes with two helpful chat agents, we figured out what it was.

Somehow, Katie had two Amazon accounts with the same email address, that differed only by password.

Well, hell. With some help from the Amazon folks, we got the books all onto one account and got that setup and everything was normal.

But, dear god, in what world would you let the same email address have multiple accounts. How much bad stuff can happen because of that? For one, the one we just talked about, getting content split across multiple accounts.

What happens if I want to change my password, which account does it change? Accounts on Amazon seem to be unique by email plus password, which is such a weird thing. Turns out, this is a pretty common problem.

From a technical/product perspective, this becomes one of those interesting questions: “at what point is the small number of users taking advantage of this feature offset by the customer confusion it causes”. My guess is that there cannot be enough people who intentionally rely on this feature to be worth the negative impact it causes.

Same email, different accounts, poor use of email as identity.

  1. If you guessed “they’re on two separate accounts”, you win. Bonus points if you realized it was two accounts with the same email address.