Chapell & Associates

Friday, May 27, 2005

Friendster is no Friend of Privacy Q Daily News - May 20, 2005
Wow, Friendster just violated their own Privacy Policy and gave my email address out to a third party for use in administering a survey. How do I know it was them? Here's the story. At 4PM today, I received an email asking me to participate in an online survey about online social networks. Since it was about a topic other than penis pills, breast enlargement, poker, and child porn, the email immediately seemed different than the normal spam that slips through my filters, so I opened it to see what it was all about. It was sent to the unique email address I used ages ago to sign up for Friendster, so by that measure, it was clear that this wasn't just a blanket spam that happened to land in the inbox of someone who actually has used a social network site. Interested in how the third party (Q&A Research) had obtained the email address, I went to the survey website to see if I could find a way to call and ask; not finding any such contact information, I checked the company's WHOIS record, and called the listed number.

The Chapell View
I usually don't post other blog postings unless I know and trust the poster. In this case, I don't know Jason from Q Daily News, so I can't make any representations about the accuracy of his posting. Having said that, I thought it was an interesting read nonetheless.

User Generated Content (UGC) continues to proliferate. Some of it is insightful - some of it is crap. Business will increasingly need to deal with UGC, although many companies are choosing to ignore UCG for the most part. I think that's a mistake, because there is a good deal of information that can be mined from UGC. The key is figuring out a way to sort through all the clutter in order to find information that is useful. And that can be like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Case in point - I spend a certain amount of time each day sorting through various anti-spyware blogs. Some of them are right on the money, while others are confused, convoluted rants from people who could barely operate a cash register let alone run a business. But if I want to get to the good stuff, I need to wade through the bad. I wonder if someone couldn't figure out a way to automate this process?

This posting also gets me to revisit a previous rant regarding the privacy policy of an online travel website. Back when I first blogged on this subject, I was reluctant to mention the websites' name. I figured that with a little bit of patience, that I'd be able to convince the company to do the right thing. Well, it's been well over a month, and I haven't gotten anywhere with these people. In case you were wondering the site is, a wholly-owned subsidiary of IAC/InterActiveCorp.

Anyway, here's the story...

As a result of a purchase I made on this, I was somehow enrolled in a "Travel Rewards" program from one of their affiliates. Now I have ZERO recollection of signing up for this program, and but for the $10 charges to my credit card, I would not have even known that I was enrolled. When I confirmed that I'd been enrolled as a result of a purchase I'd made on the, I decided to end my relationship with Here's where the fun started.

I sent an email to's Customer Service group - asking them to remove all my personal information from their records. One would figure that this wouldn't be big deal as their web site privacy policy states states,

If a visitor's personally identifiable information (for example, their zip code, phone, email or postal address) changes or if a user no longer desires our service, we provide a way to correct, update or delete/deactivate visitor's personally identifiable information. (I paraphrased this to protect the company).

Well, I'm on my TENTH email requesting that they remove all my info, and here are the responses I've been getting from their CS group:

  • "Thank you for your reply. We can remove your e-mail address from our system so that you will not receive anymore offers. However, we are unable to remove your account from our site. Once you have registered with our services the account always remain active."

  • "Please be advised your email address has been deleted from our newsletter."

  • "Due to security reasons, we do not hold your personal & confidential information."

  • "Please be advised if you have made a reservation or submitted information to us, this information will remain. This is not to be deleted, nor is your confidental information given out."

I've also called a number of times, and was assured that they would have my information removed.

Finally, I asked them repeatedly to have their general counsel contact me. The CS person finally agreed, indicated that someone from their legal team would contact me. That was at least two weeks ago.

If you are a reporter and are looking for a good story, here it is. I am happy to provide any information you'd like. And needless to say, I will never patronize again!

posted by Isaac on Friday, May 27, 2005

© 2005 by Alan Chapell & Associates LLC