This morning I got an email from a friend of mine. It was an invitation for a social network called Tagged.com. A straightforward designed email with a witty question: “Is she your friend?” The button “Yes” just craved for click. So I clickety clicked on it. Curiosity killed the cat.
Upon selecting “Yes” option a web page opened with a short form containing very friendly copy in inline help. I filled out the form as this looked like something different and I always like to research new stuff. As I was about to join the 126th social network on planet Earth, I got the screen that offered me an option of finding all of my friends that were already on the network. All I had to do is enter my username and password from Gmail or some other (Yahoo, Hotmail…) account and it would do it all automatically for me. Very useful, I thought. So I entered my Gmail user and pass:
Well the next screen was a big surprise. It listed all the emails from my Gmail account, even from people I wrote to once in a lifetime. Each of them had a checkbox checked by default. The big, red button that was saying “Next” was just a click away.
In the moment I realised that clicking on that button will cause all of them to receive tagged.com invitation emails with my name as a sender. What a witty way to harvest millions of users worldwide, don’t you think?
I unchecked all of the emails and went into the network. Classic mySpace layout. No big deal. But then I started to think about that emails screen. Ok, I am from the web business and I knew it was a setup. But how many people all over the planet just clicked the Next button? Suddenly I saw the Matrix. This is the fastest way to involve “innocent” people into social networking business, people that haven’t yet heard of mySpace or Facebook!
Later during the day I heard a lot of my friends were receiving emails from tagged.com these days, and I did a bit of investigation.
It turned out that the company tagged.com has raised 7 million dollars in venture capital, so this is definitely not another Joe-from-the-hood-viagra-pimp-adsense-spamming-mission but something much bigger. Then I searched for people’s opinions on blogs and realised that these emails started circulating in October 2006. It seems that this Gmail account searching option was introduced in tagged.com system at that time.
The next logical step was to visit Alexa.com and see their traffic graph:
This enormous viral spreading has started at the same time they introduced this subtle spamming method. “The tipping point” is clearly visible, so my question is where does this lead? Here is the comparing graph of mySpace.com and tagged.com:
This quiet spamming trick got them approx. 1/6 of mySpace traffic in very short time. The service has been active for a few years but it was not massive until a few months ago.
I think much of these 7 million raised in ventures are spent on lawyers, to ensure all privacy policies are bullet-proof and to blame the users and their ignorance for this spamming “side effect”.
I imagine what will happen very soon. Hardcore spammers from all the basements and underworlds will create sites that will ask users for Gmail password and soon our Inboxes will be overflowed with invitations for “Chicken soup lovers network no. 386”. Maybe Google and others will have to modify their systems in order to prevent this.
It seems that these service integration trends on the Internet are a true heaven for creative spammers. Are we looking at the beginning of the Web 2 bubble boom? I hope not yet.