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Falling on swords

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Rapleaf is contrite.

We made lots of mistakes. And this is a long post that, in great detail, goes over our mistakes and what we plan to do about them.

They explain what they do, why it’s scary and how to make it less scary, in their opinion:

There is a lot of information about people living on pockets all over the web. Everyone has an online/web footprint. And it is accessible if someone really wants to research someone – the information is publicly available – but it takes a lot of time to find.

Rapleaf automates this search process. We search billions of pages on blogs, social networks, forums, etc. for information on people. And a little over a month ago, we started making this information public on

Some people did not understand how we found their info and were worried that this info was going to be public, even though the info was already public. Others were concerned that their info was just plain wrong. The common denominator was not understanding where this info was coming from.

Yesterday we cooked up an idea to solve this – we are going to tell you where we obtained the info. Essentially all info will be attributed to a source and that way you can correct it at the source. We haven’t started coding this yet, but look for this change in the next few weeks.

And here is the falling on sword bit:

Last week we also made a decision to send the “you’ve been searched” emails to people that were searched for in Upscoop, a service we run that allows you to upload all your friends and find out what social networks they are on. In retrospect, this was really stupid and very wrong for doing this without any controls. Very very wrong. But at the time, it seemed like a really good idea for some reason. The problem is many people who use Upscoop were unaware that their contacts would receive a courtesy email.

Again, we were wrong. Now we iterate. And we ask for forgiveness.

So, admission of being wrong, check, apology, check, but what it is that they sell and make money out of? This is the bit that got me foaming at the mouth last week:

Rapleaf sweeps up all the publicly available but sometimes hard-to-get information it can find about you on the Web, via social networks, other sites and, soon to be added, blogs. At the other end of the business, TrustFuse packages information culled from sites in a profile and sells the profile to marketers. All three companies appear to operate within the scope of their stated privacy policies, which say they do “not sell, rent or lease e-mail addresses to third parties.”

And that’s right. Marketers bring TrustFuse their own list of e-mail addresses to buy access to demographic, behavioral and Internet usage data on those people, according to the company’s privacy policy and sales documents.

So are Rapleaf, Upscoop and TrustFuse doing evil or not? From their blog post:

People that are doing lots of searches on a monthly basis pay a little bit of money per lookup. This is how we generate revenue.

And we’ll even give heavy users the ability to do batch lookups and provide aggregate reports of the information. And yes, these heavy users and companies may use this information for marketing purposes to give their users and better offers when they visit their sites.

In the post Auren demonstrates he understands the importance of context. My problem is that I am not seeing the context of Rapleaf, their products and services. Who are they aimed at? If at companies and their marketers for the purposes of matching their email lists with online profiles than the whole mea culpa exercise doesn’t address my original objection.

But to be fair to Rapleaf and the likes of them, they are merely tapping into the demand they see from companies to ‘regain control over the consumer’. It is about collecting data and information on the elusive demographics. At arms-length and without any intention to treat their customers as individuals. And that is my gripe.

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4 Responses to “Falling on swords”

  1. bellatrys
    on Sep 8th, 2007
    @ 12:52 pm

    From what I can see, Auren has read books like “How To Win Friends & Influence People” and is using their model of fulsome grovelling to trick people into thinking he’s just a helpless little Nice Guy. (I once worked with a guy who lived by this book as gospel, he was the worst most dishonest abusive-to-underlings bullshitter I’ve ever worked with in my life, and much of his nastiness didn’t come out until after he was fired, but the bosses LOOVED him for his groveling until he finally went too far with too many people.) Unless he was literally born yesterday – and all his backers too – there is NO WAY Rapleaf/Upscoop/Trustfuse could not have known that this would be Over The Line, and if they really couldn’t forsee how people would react to this, then they’re too incompetent to be allowed to sign for a UPS package.

    I mean, I was running a small site with a board 5 years ago, and making sure that my visitors could be sure of their privacy was one of my number one concerns in setting it up – and I was a self-trained n00b with no advisors, just fiddling around. I just knew what a) worried me, b) worried other people, from having been alive online reading since ‘96.

    The really sneaky thing is him posting all the criticisms in the footer of his “apology” – that creates trackbacks, so now anyone who reads any of those posts will automatically see his smarmy groveling as the first link under it, if it’s a blogger/blogspot page…

  2. bellatrys
    on Sep 8th, 2007
    @ 12:53 pm

    I also have worked in direct marketing and maillist maintenance, back in the days of DOS, so I know *precisely* how much bullshit was in their claims of requiring a snail-mail letter to be taken off, and also I know just how badly unwanted mass mailing can backfire, and how important it is to keep your customers happy…if Auren had ever answered the phones at a small mail order outfit, he would have known a LOT better than this.

  3. Trine-Maria
    on Sep 10th, 2007
    @ 21:23 pm

    Unfortunately I think we will not be able to win this end of the war. There will always be people out there looking solely for profit. They will learn to smother their blogposts with words like ‘conversation’ and ‘relation’ and ‘care’ – and in the end it will mean nothing!

    But what we can do is enlighten the organizations that are target-groups for the “services” these people provide.

    The way I see it smart, nice, clever organizations looking to improve their relations with customers wouldn’t buy or use these services! And I tell my customers – and everybody else who cares to listen – that this is my take on this.

    What organizations need to understand is that paying bloggers to write nice things about your products, and buying information about customers that they haven’t agreed to share with you, is not part of a healthy relationship.

    Think about it – It is like spying on your spouse and then using the information to start a conversation to solve some problems you have had in the past? Sorry – but we all know it is not going to work – if you want to improve the relationship you have to go all the way – you have to be there, you have to listen and care, and maybe you even have to change – there are no quick solutions and the sooner organizations understand this the better!

  4. » Blog Archive » Why corporations should not pay bloggers to write nice thing about them
    on Sep 20th, 2007
    @ 20:22 pm

    [...] is a comment I wrote on Adrianas Media Influencer blog when we discussed the matter a couple of weeks ago: Unfortunately I think we will not be able to [...]

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