Citing identity theft violations, NY Attorney General sues social network

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    In this file photo from 2008, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo speaks to reporters. On Thursday, Cuomo announced his office would sue the social-networking site Tagged.com for allegedly using deceptive e-mails in order to attract a larger user base.
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This week, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced he planned to sue Tagged.com, a popular social networking site. The alleged violation: A sweeping plan to artificially inflate the site's traffic by luring millions of new members onto the site.

According to Cuomo, Tagged sent 60 million e-mails to people saying they'd been tagged on the site in a photo. In many cases, no such photos existed, but users were apparently tricked into providing the company with access to their personal email contacts. Cuomo says Tagged then reached out to those contacts, asking if they'd like to join the site.

“This company stole the address books and identities of millions of people,” Cuomo said in a statement. “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.”

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Among other violations of state law, Cuomo plans to sue Tagged for identity theft and invasion of privacy.

Tagged fires back

In a post on Tagged.com's blog, co-founder Greg Tseng said he was "dismayed that Cuomo’s office, which has shown itself to be fairly well-versed in the Internet, would issue an inaccurate and inflammatory accusation. We can only believe that they have not carefully reviewed the facts."

Tagged, Tseng continued, "has not 'raided' email address books, 'stolen identities' or 'spammed' millions of people. The descriptive analogy to 'breaking into a home, stealing address books, and sending phony mail' to a person’s contacts is evocative, but it is not accurate."

Tseng said that all the major social networks, from Facebook to MySpace, allow users the choice to upload email contacts from services such as Gmail or Yahoo mail. Tagged did nothing different, he claimed – users could choose whether or not to upload contacts.

"The fact is that Tagged users are given clear notice at every step of the registration process," Tseng said, "if they choose to import and invite their contacts they must affirmatively enter their email password and are able to choose which contacts they do not wish to invite before any email invitations are sent from Tagged on their behalf."

As to Cuomo's primary complaint – that Tagged essentially spammed millions of Americans – Tseng says, the site's directors eventually realized that "it was too easy for people to quickly go through the registration process and unintentionally invite their friends to join them on Tagged. Upon receiving complaints, we stopped using this new registration process."

'The world's most annoying website'

Last month, after clicking on an email from Tagged, Time magazine's Sean Gregory wrote an article about the social network. In the article, titled "Tagged: The World's Most Annoying Website," Gregory vents his spleen:

[I've] heard a dozen or so complaints from people that Tagged had spammed their entire contact list. One quick sweep of the blogosphere reveals a multitude of Tagged victims, dating back to 2007. But the scam is red-hot now. "Don't Get Tagged!" one blogger warned on June 6. "Spread the word: Tagged stinks!" shouted a Facebook friend the same day. The Better Business Bureau's grade for Tagged: a big fat F. Yes, I blame myself for being gullible. But the site was confusing and dishonest. And it's nice to know I'm not the only sucker out there.

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We're not on Tagged, but we are on Twitter. And we'll never steal your identity, or invade your privacy. Follow us @csmhorizonsblog for more tech and science news.

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