Jul 092009
 July 9, 2009  Posted by  Breaches, Business, Court, Featured News, Govt, Online, U.S.

Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that he has served the social networking site Tagged.com (“Tagged”) with formal notice that his office intends to sue the company for deceptive email marketing practices and invasion of privacy. According to Cuomo’s notice of intent, Tagged devised an illegal plan to lure new members and artificially inflate traffic on its site. Consumers who visited Tagged were tricked into providing the company with access to their personal email contacts, which the company then used to send millions of promotional emails. Tagged disguised these solicitations to make them appear as if they were coming from a personal contact, when they were actually spam.

Between April and June this year, Tagged sent tens of millions of misleading emails to unsuspecting recipients stating that Tagged members had posted private photos online for their friends to view. In reality, no such photos existed and the email was not from their friends. When recipients of these fraudulent emails tried to access the photos, they were forced to become a new member of Tagged. The company would then illegally gain access to their personal email contacts to send more fraudulent invitations.

“This company stole the address books and identities of millions of people,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “Consumers had their privacy invaded and were forced into the embarrassing position of having to apologize to all their email contacts for Tagged’s unethical – and illegal – behavior. This very virulent form of spam is the online equivalent of breaking into a home, stealing address books, and sending phony mail to all of an individual’s personal contacts. We would never accept this behavior in the real world, and we cannot accept it online.”

Tagged made their invitational emails appear to have been sent directly from members’ personal email accounts, instead of from Tagged.com. The emails falsely stated that “[name] sent you photos on Tagged.” If a member had added a personal image to the website, Tagged also included that picture in these fraudulent email solicitations. Many consumers were unaware that Tagged accessed their email contact lists.

The Attorney General’s lawsuit would seek to stop Tagged from engaging in these fraudulent practices and would seek fines from the company. Tagged temporarily suspended its email marketing campaign in June, in response to user complaints and criticism, but had already sent over 60 million of the deceptive emails to consumers worldwide.

The case is being handled by Chief of the Internet Bureau Justin Brookman, Assistant Attorney General Clark Russell, and Investigator Vanessa Ip, under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Michael Berlin

The AG’s letter to Tagged.com’s lawyers is here. (pdf)

Source: Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo

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