Earlier this year, we blogged about address book scraping and some of the issues associated with the practice, specifically transparency and the use of unsolicited, deceptive e-mails. In a suit against reunion.com, a recipient alleged that she received a “deceptive” e-mail from the site because it was purported to be from her friend when in fact it was from reunion.com and sent without her friend’s consent.
Now another site has come under scrutiny for similar address book scraping tactics. This July, New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he intends to sue Tagged.com (“Tagged”) for deceptive e-mail marketing practices and invasion of privacy.
According to the Attorney General, Tagged engaged in “unethical and illegal behavior” when it sent misleading invitational e-mails to the personal contacts of its members. Once a person became a member, Tagged would gain access to his or her personal e-mail contacts. Unbeknownst to many members, Tagged would then send personalized e-mails to his or her contacts. The company would personalize these e-mails by making them appear to come directly from the member’s personal e-mail account and, if the member added a picture of him or herself to the site, by including that picture in the e-mail. Tagged further personalized the e-mails by stating that the member had posted pictures online for the recipient to view when no such pictures existed. When a recipient would try to access the pictures, Tagged would require him or her to become a member, and the cycle would start anew.
The Attorney General equated Tagged’s practices to “breaking into a home, stealing address books, and sending phony mail to all of an individual’s personal contacts.” He wants Tagged to stop its practices and is also seeking fines. Tagged sent millions of e-mails between April and June of this year, but stopped its e-mail marketing program after consumers complained of its tactics.
This new development reinforces the importance of transparency and highlights the negative impact of the misuse of e-mails in marketing campaigns. A user should be conspicuously informed if messages may be sent to his or her address book contacts, and the user should provide informed consent before these messages are sent out. Additionally, any e-mail messages that are sent should not be fraudulent or deceptive and comply with the Federal CAN-SPAM Act.