The e-mail came across my screen innocently enough. A former boss, Dinda, whom
I hadn’t heard from in some time, was sending me pictures through some
social-networking outlet called “Tagged.” Interesting. Did Dinda and I snap
a photo together back in the day? I didn’t think so, but I often forget if
I’ve washed my hair two minutes after rinsing the shampoo. How could I
be sure she wasn’t sending me a poignant shot from four years ago?
Plus, who doesn’t like looking at their younger, better-looking selves?
Or maybe Dinda wanted to update me on her family. Who knows In any case, I
was intrigued. The message said that “Dinda sent you photos on Tagged.”
Below that message was a link. Under the link it said, “Click Yes if you want
to see Dinda’s photos, otherwise click No. But you have to click!” Funny,
there were no “Yes” or “No” tabs in the e-mail. Below that message it said,
“Please respond or Dinda may think you said no :” went out to every single address on my list. Again, I never put
photos on Tagged. And I don’t have a “smiley-face”-style relationship with
most of my old professors.
Meanwhile, in my quest to see Dinda’s pictures, the site asked me to upload
a headshot. Sure, no biggie. Then it started asking for my cell-phone
number and making all these ridiculous offers for sweepstakes and other
stuff no one should want. I’d skip an offer; another would come up. It was
all junk. That’s when I realized this was shady. I finally got to Dinda’s
page no pictures at all.
I shut it down, but it was too late. The calls, text messages and e-mails
came pouring in. “Did you send pictures” “What is this Tagged stuff”
“Thanks for the headshot, jackass.” I had to send out a bunch of apologies
and explain what the heck was going on. I didn’t want to disturb anyone
else’s afternoon, but I probably did. I was had, 100%.
I’m not alone. Over the next few days, I heard a dozen or so complaints from
people that Tagged had spammed their entire contact list. One quick sweep of
the blogosphere reveals a multitude of Tagged victims, dating back to 2007.
But the scam is red-hot now. “Don’t Get Tagged!” one blogger warned on June
6. “Spread the word: Tagged stinks!” shouted a Facebook friend the same day.
The Better Business Bureau’s grade for Tagged: a big fat F. Yes, I blame
myself for being gullible. But the site was confusing and dishonest. And
it’s nice to know I’m not the only sucker out there.
So what is Tagged The company calls itself a “premier social-networking
destination focused on ‘Social Discovery,’ ” whatever that means. It claims
to have 70 million registered users worldwide, though I’d imagine some of
them are accidental like me. Believe it or not, Tagged is the third largest
social network in the U.S., with over 70 million monthly visits, according
to comScore. Impressive but again, I’d like to know how many of those
visits were intentional, not the result of spam.
Two Harvard math majors, Greg Tseng and Johann Schleier-Smith, co-founded
Tagged in 2004. I called them up, wanting to know why they’re using Harvard
math degrees to annoy the piss out of people. Tseng, the CEO, was
unavailable, but Schleier-Smith, the chief technology officer, agreed to
talk, but only over e-mail. “We did not intend to cause people to invite
contacts by accident,” Schleier-Smith wrote. “The recent backlash hurts,
and we want to ensure our continued growth helps people rather than creating
problems for them.”
So what exactly happened “Recently, we integrated the ‘Tags’ photo-sharing
feature with the registration path,” Schleier-Smith wrote. “Advertising
photo-sharing may be causing some users to rush through the path, and in
some cases inviting all of their contacts inadvertently. The pop-up warning
that prevented accidental invitations in the past is not sufficient
Techie language aside, that explanation is problematic. The pop-up window I
saw asked, “Are you sure you want to invite all your contacts” That warning
was perfectly understandable to me, and likely to 95% of the people who got
tricked. The answer is no. The “fix” is that the new window asks, “Do you
really want to send e-mail invites with these photos to all ___ of your
contacts,” with the blank representing the number of addresses on your list.
Sure, it’s clearer, but it wasn’t the warning that caused confusion. What’s
irritating is that despite the warning, the message still went out to all those people.
Schleier-Smith insists Tagged is trying to control the damage. “At the
moment, all invitation e-mails are stopped while we change the product to
prevent confusion,” he says. If the mix-up was really a mistake, give Tagged
credit for apologizing. But I’ve been burned, so here’s my advice: If you
get any kind of message from Tagged, delete it. Avoid the site altogether.
If you want “social discovery,” sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace work
And whatever you do, stay away from the headshots.
See TIME’s Pictures of the Week.
See 10 Ways Twitter Will Change American Business.