Monday, November 5, 2007

XYZ is your Yaar!

I am sure you would have received a lot of emails with subject line similar to the title of this post. I have. And I have received a lot of them. So many social networking sites have come up in the last one year. Practically uncountable number of them. Most of these emails come from social networking web-sites. Usually the junk email filter learns that this is most likely spam. But in this case, these emails come from your friends. And the junk email filter wouldn't bother to put these emails in junk. This is even more annoying. Have all of your friends gone crazy or something?

As a temporary solution, I created an email rule for such subject and asked for marking all of these emails as spam. I run that rule once in a while and I am happy (well.. not so much. But it gives me some relief at least).

After having had so much pain with it, I had to investigate what's wrong with all of my friends. And it turns out that something is wrong with all of us (that includes me as well).

Here is what I did -

I went to one of the social networking sites and registered there. In one of the registration steps, it asked me for my gmail username and password. This drove me curious. I went back and read the "Terms of Service". I am not going to replicate everything here. But in a nutshell, it said "you give us all right to send invitations to everyone on your address book just by registering".

This is really alarming. And it is alarming in two different senses. For one, we do not read any of the licence agreements or terms of service (if we did, we probably wouldn't even care to sign-up. I wouldn't). And secondly, online companies exploiting this weakness of web users and spamming our email inboxes.

From a legal standpoint, none of these online companies can be blamed or held accountable for these viral marketing tactics that they are using. It's something to do with our ignorance. We ignore the EULA, we pay the price. We hear the scolding from our friends. Like it or not, the mistake is ours.

I don't know to what extent it is ethically correct though. Is it ethical on the companies' side to exploit on this weakness? Maybe not. Hopefully someone someday will recognize this and file a PIL :)