Social networking puzzle

September 10, 2007 at 10:46 pm 3 comments

I don’t know too much about social networking so perhaps I’ve got the wrong end of the stick. But it’s a real puzzle: how can something that is so privacy invasive be so successful?

I’m talking about UpScoop which is owned by RapLeaf. RapLeaf also owns TrustFuse. They make an unholy trinity.

UpScoop works with the big four webmail services- AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail. People select their provider and then enter their email address and password. Coincidence or not, the link to the Privacy Policy from here results in the message “The page you were looking for doesn’t exist.” However, the link from the home page does work, only it goes to RapLeaf’s privacy policy. Hmmm…

UpScoop works by matching everyone in your contact list against most popular social networking sites (such as Facebook and LinkedIn) to produce a report of which social network each of your contacts belong. I suppose people find this of value, given that they claim to have searched over 400 million profiles, but why people give away their webmail account for this is incomprehensible.

What UpScoop gets in return is more interesting. As the Privacy Policy makes clear, the social networking information collected (each of your contacts is linked to their social networking profile) is used by parent RapLeaf.

RapLeaf is an “online reputation lookup” service “which takes privacy very seriously. It is our number one priority.” At the same time, they have a wonderful notion about what consent is: “a person can be included in the system as a nonmember if searched by another user. Rapleaf may leave an appropriate rating to the nonmember as dictated by our reputation algorithm.” Thanks, that’s truly nice of you.

In addition to ratings from RapLeaf’s members, it collects a mass of personal and non-personal information (PII and non-PII). The Privacy Policy lists the following: email address, first and last name, physical address, phone number, demographic, psychographic/interests, friend map/network, websites used, and other social web data. “Most non-PII information or data is collected from publicly available sources.” Wonder what they conveniently exclude by using the qualification “most”.

What does RapLeaf do with all this information? Make it available to their clients via TrustFuse. Clients include marketing companies and presidential candidates who provide email address lists to get richer and deeper information about people they want to target (spam?). RapLeaf states that, “Client may also use PII data to further append their database for marketing, fraud, and authentication purposes… Typically non-PII data is used for targeted advertising, improved offerings, and better services.”

Wonder if “fraud” is a Freudian slip, i.e. perpetuate fraud rather than prevent fraud?

This post has become long and convoluted. Unfortunately, that’s the only way to unravel the long and convoluted tale of this unholy trinity: three standalone services that work together based on a highly privacy invasive business model.

I imagine all of this is legit. At the very least, everything is explicitly laid out in the Privacy Policy (when you can find it). I also expect that they do live up to their promise that “Rapleaf does not sell, rent, or lease email addresses to clients or third-party marketers.” They don’t have to, they have a much better business model than that.

For me, it’s thanks but no thanks. I think I’ll let my disinterest in social networking continue for some more time.

Entry filed under: authentication, fraud, identity, network, personal_info, privacy, strategy, trust, Web_2.0.

Malware off the shelf, malware as a service Cyber attacks on NZ

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Nicholas Whyte  |  September 10, 2007 at 11:06 pm

    It’s slightly worse than that. I (and others) used the Upscoop service when the privacy policy was rather different; in the old days it included reassuring statements such as “We will not email or contact any email address obtained from address books”, “Upscoop does not email, contact, or spam any friends from an email address book” and “Upscoop does not sell, rent, or lease email addresses to partners, clients, third-party marketers, or other third parties.” That’s all been changed now, and the new policy which is much less restrictive has been made to apply retrospectively. I don’t know if that’s legal, but it’s certainly unethical.

  • 2. Jason Ryan  |  September 11, 2007 at 8:57 am

    Great post Vikram, and no it’s not convoluted, just sufficiently complex to appeal to the more paranoid among us…
    Ever get the feeling that we are being farmed?

  • 3. Praise Plaxo privacy? « c o d e technology  |  September 13, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    […] (I suppose that makes it a social networking site of some genre or another.)  Having read this intriguing post on privacy, I scouted out Plaxo’s FAQ and was pleasantly surprised as to the reassuring […]


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