From the very beginning, the social networking site Tagged.com rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, reading users' email address books and sending out promotional email to their lists of contact.
It not only angered consumers but drew the attention of New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who says his office has stopped the company from misappropriating the contacts lists and identities of its members and from sending out millions of deceptive and unsolicited promotional emails.
Through an agreement with Cuomo's office, the company must pay $500,000 in penalties and costs to the state and adopt industry-leading measures regarding the access and use of its members' personal information.
"Unsuspecting users had no idea that Tagged had hijacked the email addresses of their colleagues, families and friends for the purpose of blasting them with spam," Cuomo said. "This agreement holds the company accountable for its invasion of privacy and puts the proper safeguards in place to keep it from happening again."
In June, Cuomo announced his notice of intent to sue the company for deceptive acts after his office became aware that Tagged had sent more than 60 million 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 told that they had to sign up for Tagged.com. The company would then deceptively gain access to the new members' personal email contacts to send out more fraudulent invitations.
The invitations were constructed to appear as if they had 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 had no idea that Tagged had accessed their email contact lists or used their photos until they were told by family, friends and business contacts that the company had sent out invitations in the consumers' names.
As a result of the settlement with the company, Tagged must adopt a series of stringent reforms designed to set an industry standard for how social networking sites send out invitation emails. Tagged must provide clear and conspicuous disclosures when asking for access to a new user's email contacts and will no longer access those contacts or send messages on behalf of a Tagged member without that member's informed permission. Before sending out email invitations, the company must also verify the emails with new members to make sure they do not inadvertently invite everyone on their contact lists.