There’s a yucky yucky trend going on in social media right now: Asking for Address Books. This is evil. Do you hear me? EVIL!
BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD!
KNOCK IT OFF! PLEASE! JUST QUIT IT!
Okay — step back. What am I talking about. I’m talking about when you go to LinkedIn or Facebook or MySpace (or pretty much ANY of them now), and the website smiles all cutesy at you and says, “Oh, hey, I’m really glad you like our website. You know, there are probably people on here that you’ve never thought to search for, and it’s a real shame that they’re not in your network yet. But if you just give us the username and password to your Gmail account, we can check all of your friends’ email addresses against our database and find all of them for you. It’s quick, it’s easy, and your friends will thank you!“
Sounds harmless enough, right?
Don’t give it to them!
I don’t care how much you like them, or how safe they tell you they’ll keep it for you, or how much convenience they’re offering you. Your address book is your address book and it does NOT belong in the hands of a social networking website.
Why? Here’s why:
- Spam. We know it, we hate it, we’re sick of it. When you give out your address book, you give out a list of email addresses that are connected to legitimate people who use the Internet regularly, and this is very valuable to email marketers. Your social networking site will promise you that your email addresses are “safe,” but sometimes “safe” means, “We promise we’ll ONLY share it with our partner companies — you know, our hundred closest friends. And by the way, when a larger company buys us out, those rules will probably change.“
- Impersonal Invites. I’ve received invitations to social networking websites from people I’ve barely ever spoken to — people I would need to reintroduce myself to if I ran into them at a party. Why did this happen? Because those people gave up their address book to a website, and that website went ahead and invited every email address that wasn’t already in the system. If you let this happen, it can make people feel uncomfortable, and it can make you look disrespectful. The worst part is that you might not even be aware that it’s happening.
- Trust. You don’t give your friends’ phone numbers out to strangers. Please don’t give their email addresses out to a centralized database. That information is theirs to share; not yours.
- Identity Fraud. They’re asking you to give out full access to your email account when they ask for your address book. Your email account is a critical link to your internet identity. Access to it is supposed to be a SECRET!
This plays into another yucky technique (which is as old as dirt, but far more powerful with the emergence of social media): Data Mining of Personal Information.
There’s a service called Rapleaf. It allows you to plug in your email address and find out what your reputation looks like on the web. The same people run a service called UpScoop, which lets you plug in all your address book data and social networking site information to scan the profiles of everyone you know — public and private — so you can “keep up with your friends.” The same people run a service called TrustFuse, which lets email marketing campaigns check boatloads of email addresses against the Rapleaf and Upscoop database to find out lots and lots of information about the people they’re trying to get money out of. (Edit: Here’s a good analysis of the RapLeaf/UpScoop/TrustFuse drama if you want more. )
Evil, I tell you. Evil.
Social networking is a good thing — it’s doing phenomenal things for communities at an international level, and it’s important that we represent and express ourselves on the web. But please pay attention to what people are asking you for out there.
And don’t underestimate the value of your friends’ information.