Over the years, social networking services built up a form of trust with their users. Many would not think twice at joining the latest and greatest networks when the email invites showed up in their inbox. As of Aug 31, 2007, those carefree networking days, where users had no problem forking over their email address and password to invite their friends, may be over. If not over, at the least users will be much more wary than before. For this new era of skepticism, we can thank Quechup.
What Quechup did, in a nutshell, is get the unsuspecting users to give their email and password to invite their contact list to join the network. This is not anything new to social networking, so many did not see a problem.
The thing is, this time, instead of getting a list of contacts to invite, Quechup mined the contact information in the user’s email contact list and started a viral spam campaign to snare more users, and thus more private contact information. At this point, when many realized something was not right, it was too late. Quechup was emailing the contacts from the users contact list, making it look like the users themselves were sending the invites.
The response on the web was quick and warnings to not open email invites from Quechup were posted all over the net. Still, many were being snared.
Since this service was using the entire contact list, not only friends and acquaintances were getting spammed, but also business contacts and such, thus creating a credibility and professional problem for some.
There is even a name for this new phenomenon, it is called TrustVirus. I first saw the name at Christopher Penn’s blog. The name is apt as this one company, Quechup, has played upon the trust users have built up in the social networking scene. This is definitely a Web 2.0 misstep.
So, what can you do? Well, hopefully you were not one of the people to initially join and have nothing to do with Quechup. If you are one of the unfortunate people caught in Quechup’s web, change your email password and cancel your Quechup account. Unfortunately, the damage is already done.
Put Quechup in your spam catcher for your email account. This may not catch all Quechup emails, but it may help.
From now on, be proactive when receiving invites to new networks. Ask the person that sent you the invite if the invite is for real and Google the network to see if it is legit.
Another thing you can do is limit the number of social networks you join to the known trustworthy like Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, and the like. Do a little research and protect your info!
This could have far reaching consequences. In this case, so far, it seems to just be a viral spam campaign. But what if the next time your email gets mined by unscrupulous types, your info and the info on your contacts were sold to people using the information for identity theft? It is a very real possibility.
Be on the lookout, be vigilant, but most of all, enjoy the social networking experience. Don’t let one bad apple ruin the social networking scene for you.
The TrustVirus has now dented the facade of social networking, and trust is hard to get back once broken. Hopefully, this does not happen again.