How I became an unwitting spammer

Published on .

This is a very personal tale of e-mail, social networking and technology misused.

Last month, hundreds and hundreds of my contacts—perhaps some of you reading this column—received an unusual, unexpected invitation from "Ellis Booker" to join a little-known social networking site called Quechup.

I'd joined the site a day earlier, on what I thought was the invitation of BtoB's own social media columnist, Paul Gillin. Because I trust Paul and figured he'd vetted the site, I immediately signed up. I dashed through the many sign-up screens, clicking a number of innocuous-looking "Accept" buttons without paying much attention to the fine print (who pays attention to the fine print?). Then I logged out and went back to work.

Little did I know at the time that Paul, happily honeymooning in France, had himself been the victim of this dastardly site, which automatically e-mails everyone in your address book a personal invitation from you to join the service.

When I returned to the office the next day, my e-mail was filling with messages from industry contacts, co-workers and friends asking what the site was about. I was flabbergasted and quickly e-mailed the site operators, threatening vague legal action and demanding they kill my account on their service immediately.

But I knew the damage was done.

Shortly, the e-mails from my tech-savvy friends began arriving, letting me know that in the preceding weeks this site had become a lightning rod for criticism of its ludicrous policy of mass-mailing everyone in your Google Gmail address book when you select "check for friends" in its sign-up form and enter your Gmail user name and password. It's the site's helpful way to look for more victims (I mean, "connections"). A Google search about Quechup yields this as the top result: "Are You Getting Quechup Spammed?"

The positive outcome of this nasty incident has been twofold.

First, I've received e-mails from a number of people I haven't heard from in years. (But I wince to think about a few others with whom I've had falling-outs; these people, I suppose, were surprised and annoyed to see my name in their e-mail in-boxes again.)

A second, tangible outcome is that many of the recipients of Quechup's e-mail blast on my behalf, while wisely declining the offer, wrote me back to suggest we connect instead via LinkedIn, the business-oriented networking site that I've been using for years. Others simply found me on LinkedIn and sent me an invitation to connect to them from there. The upshot? In the past month my hand-picked LinkedIn network has grown nicely.

Unfortunately, even a month later, I'm still handling e-mails about the original, abhorrent invitation. So if you received one, I'm sorry. You can write to me via my e-mail address or suggest we connect on LinkedIn.

Ellis Booker is editor of BtoB and BtoB's Media Business, and can be reached at [email protected].

Most Popular
In this article: