Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rapleaf Spam

Rapleaf has been getting a certain amount of attention in the press, in CNN, WSJ, Fast Company, and CNET, but always with the tone that consumers should be nervous. Very very nervous. After all, they are basically doing what people warned us about when social networks started: scraping the web for every possible bit of information about you and compiling it into a database. Similar companies claim not to be infringing privacy because they don't keep track of certain information like your name, but according to some reports, Rapleaf takes whatever it can get. At best, they are making money by walking the fine line between legal and illegal when it comes to privacy. At worst, they are breaking the law (for example, they were caught violating the terms of use of social networking sites to get their information).

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that in the last few weeks I've received a number of unsolicited emails from Rapleaf soliciting me to use their service. The definition of spam email is usually "unsolicited, commercial, bulk email." Their emails don't look bulk because they are short and use my name and my company name, but they are. They know enough about me to make it look like they personalized things by hand. Legally, there are some nuances to spamming: some have argued that you are allowed to send spam, as long as you follow the rules and even if you don't follow the rules, you probably won't get caught. And that seems to be what Rapleaf is doing: as with privacy, it seems they are walking the fine line of legality in their email marketing campaigns as well.

A business plan should not be based on pushing the boundaries of ethical and legal behavior to the very limit. If you are making people uncomfortable isn't that a sign that maybe something is wrong with what you are doing? If you have to ignore ethics a little bit to make money, at what point are you going to ignore ethics a lot to make money. What about ignoring the law? One can only hope that at some point they will get cocky and step over the line -- and get caught. That sort of thing is often how people like Madoff, Enron, and embezzlers usually get caught. In the meantime, I am left wondering why my spam filter isn't learning to block them.

No comments:

Post a Comment