by C.G. Lynch

Invite Your Friends (But If You Don’t, We Will Anyway)

Sep 13, 20073 mins
Enterprise Applications

If you decide to get involved with online communities, good for you. But if you do, please heed this hackneyed advice that’s long existed before the web: read the fine print.

Unfortunately, some people didn’t, and a new social networking site, called Quechup (pronounced like ketchup), got the best of them. According to various news reports and blogs, anyone who signed up for the service – and, in addition, agreed to serve up their personal e-mail address and password – found that Quechup automatically sent an e-mail to everyone in their address book, asking them to sign up for the service as well.

This viral marketing campaign differs from other social networking sites. Typically, these sites ask new users for their personal e-mail and password to help them build a base of contacts by trolling their e-mail accounts. After this occurs, the social networking site usually tells the users which of their contacts are already members and also informs them of those that aren’t. For the latter group, the user then decides whether or not to invite them.

But Quechup, in a very slippery move, apparently made that decision for them. As this CNET post shows, the company did offer somewhat of vague warning: “Choose the address book with the most contacts and we’ll search for matches so you can add them to your friends network and invite non Quechup members to join you…”

While this has no doubt been a pain (perhaps even an embarrassment, depending on who is in their address books) to people who signed up for the service and spammed friends, family and colleagues, it should serve as a good lesson that the practice of offering up your e-mail and password to any site seems a bit shady.

With all the talk about identity theft and corporate information security breaches, people forget their personal e-mail accounts can be one of their most important assets. It’s what we use to identify ourselves at sites all over the web. It’s agnostic towards where we’re employed and follows us everywhere. It’s where we store personal correspondences, receipts (think: travel bookings, Amazon invoices, etc.), as well as user name and account information for the various sites we join. If you click on “forgot your password” on a site where you have account, that precious information you desire gets sent to your personal e-mail.

More social networking sites should make it easier for us to add and search for contacts manually without having to offer up our e-mail passwords. Then again, in this constant thirst for integration and user-friendliness, that might not always be possible. Social networks, in their purest form, work well. They encourage collaboration and connect people who have similar interests. The fact people want to be open within them is good, too (because that’s the only way they work effectively).

But offering a company the keys to all your personal data (beyond the e-mail carriers themselves, like Yahoo, Google or Microsoft) – that’s a pretty dicey proposition.