Data collection has been big business since the Internet became a widely adoptable means of communication. But there are still a slew of privacy concerns that arise from the use and misuse of data collected, especially when it contains personally identifiable information and can be used for targeted advertising and other marketing efforts.
A class action lawsuit has been filed against Tagged, naming Miriam Slater and Sarah Golden as the individuals representing those bringing the case against the social network. The lawsuit states that Tagged misappropriated user information by using their email address books to reach out to those contacts for the purpose of obtaining new users, without the knowledge of the initial Tagged user.
This isn’t the first time Tagged has been threatened with legal action regarding its email marketing. The New York State Attorney General has let Tagged know of its intent to sue for reasons similar to the Slater v. Tagged case.
It’s a fairly common tactic that’s been employed for years now, by several social networks, but it does go against privacy standards to do so without letting a user know what the information will be used for. We’ve all seen it. During a registration process for a new social network, we’re encouraged to find other users that we already know by importing the address books of our most heavily used email clients. The social network will match those email addresses with those that have been used by other users to register for the site, and will subsequently connect us with those users, helping to establish the usability and help us get settled into that network.
But what many users often did not know is that some social networks were using the unregistered email addresses to send emails to those contacts, encouraging them to register for the site. Often times, and in the case of Tagged, the marketing emails appear to come directly from the friend, who has already registered for the site.
Many services that used this tactic were quickly shut down or were faced with the pressure of legal action by privacy advocates. Without explicitly telling users what their data would be used for, or giving them the option to invite unregistered users via email, the privacy of these users is greatly compromised.
What’s particularly disturbing about Tagged’s lawsuit is the indication that Tagged recently participated in such questionable behavior, as late as June, 2009. It appears that we’re still not passed such indirect advertising or data collection for the use of consumer analytics, feeding into the general fear web users have of giving up personal information.
Is Tagged’s behavior indicative of the times, where many social networks such as hi5 and Facebook are turning to virtual goods and application platforms for alternative streams of revenue, relying less and less on income generated by advertising?
According to Compete, Tagged has seen a drop in activity in the past month, with nearly plateaued site activity over the past year. As one of the second tier social networks, Tagged has operated in the shadows of behemoths like MySpace, Facebook for some time now.
But as we’ve seen with other sites that were shut down for similar behavior, and even Facebook’s necessity to modify its data collection policies and other tweaks made for user’s privacy sake, spamming and misusing user data is not the answer for Tagged. See below for the class action lawsuit.