Social Network Site Accused Of 'Harvesting' Email Addresses

Tagged.com

Two California residents have sued social networking site Tagged.com for allegedly duping them into sharing their email contacts and then sending those contacts misleading ads.

"Tagged harvested millions of email addresses from the email address books of consumers," states the complaint, which was filed Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco. "Then, using these consumers' email account credentials, Tagged sent unsolicited advertisements to the harvested email addresses, making the messages appear as if they were invitations to join Tagged sent by persons known to the recipients."

The lawsuit comes several weeks after New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said he intended to sue Tagged for false advertising, invasion of privacy and engaging in a deceptive business practice.

The California case was brought by Miriam Slater of Santa Barbara and Sara Golden of Los Angeles. Slater, an artist, alleges that she received a Tagged email on June 6 that purported to be from an acquaintance who wanted to share photos.

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Slater says in the complaint that she visited the site and provided the company with information, but only because she wanted to view the pictures. She alleges that Tagged never disclosed that she was actually registering to join the site or that it would harvest her email addresses and then solicit those contacts.

Golden alleges that she joined Tagged after receiving an invitation that appeared to have been sent by Slater. Slater and Golden are seeking class-action status. They allege that Tagged's actions violate various laws including the federal Stored Communications Act and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Tagged did not respond to Online Media Daily's request for comment about the new lawsuit. But last month, CEO Greg Tseng acknowledged that the site had recently started using a new registration process that resulted in complaints. "From this feedback we learned that, simply put, it was too easy for people to quickly go through the registration process and unintentionally invite their friends to join them on Tagged," Tseng wrote on the company blog.

Even though people might have inadvertently provided Tagged with access to their email contacts, it's not clear that Tagged will face liability, says Internet law expert Venkat Balasubramani. "It's a gray area," he says.

Balasubramani says that Web users might not be able to sue for computer fraud in this case because it doesn't appear that Tagged accessed their computers. Instead, it seems that Tagged accessed information held by email providers like Gmail. In addition, he says, the plaintiffs do not appear to have incurred any expenses as a result of the emails. "When you add all that up, it's a tough one," he says.

Tagged isn't the only social networking site to ask users to provide email log-ins and then send messages to contacts. Other social sites have increasingly turned to that strategy in the last several years, and at least one -- Reunion.com -- has been sued for the practice.

In the Reunion case, four recipients of messages alleged that the company violated California's anti-spam law by sending emails that appeared to have come from their friends, but actually came from the site. In January, U.S. District Court Judge Maxine Chesney in California dismissed the case because the recipients didn't claim they lost money as a result of the emails. (The recipients in that case later re-filed the lawsuit and that case is still pending.)

Tseng has previously faced legal action concerning email ads. In 2006, he served as CEO of JumpStart, which agreed to pay $900,000 to settle a spam complaint by the Federal Trade Commission.

The same law firms that brought the new case against Tagged --KamberEdelson and the Law Office of Joseph H. Malley -- have also brought separate privacy related lawsuits against Facebook and ad companies NebuAd and Adzilla.

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