The Spin Cycle

Key to Social Networks - Ask for your Email Password

Information Technology | March 5, 2009

Pretty much every social network site I've ever signed up with has asked me for the password to my email account so the site can spam all my friends and invite them to the social network. At least... that's what I think they're trying to do.

I'm not sure if they access the account through some sort of API or have a home-built scraping mechanism that dives straight into your email account. Either way - it's dodgy and bad practice at best.

I know I'm not the only one who is alarmed about this. Giving out access to your email account gives the recipient more power than most people realise. If the recipient (read - social network site) is just going to spam your friends one time and that's it - I would consider that a lucky break. It's very tempting to anyone with that much power to perhaps delve a little deeper and do a little extra data mining.

For instance I picture that there wouldn't be much extra effort to sift through someones email to see if they just happen to using a competing site. This is just one thing they could be interested in. They could essentially search on any topic and gain a host of marketing information that shouldn't be available to them.

I'm a big believe in buyer beware and people just shouldn't be entering their email account passwords! But, of course, they do. Is it just the power of suggestion or do they think it is mandatory?

The whole premise behind the way this is being used on social networkers really does boarder on phishing.

I'm not sure how much this technique plays in the growth of social networks but it seems to be the case that as soon as one site started it (I'm not sure who) others would be handicapping themselves if they didn't do it.

As a web developer I just think it's poor form and I hope somehow it comes back to bite these sites in the arse.


1. Mike Martin on March 9, 2009

This is dodgy indeed. There are many people of various ages that are learning to use computers and its wonders. It wouldn't be amazed that to someone who's new to this technology would fall for "legitimate" or even illegitimate phising.

Gmail phishes as well in a way; they scan your email and they advertise products "related" to your email content and stuff.

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