‘Viral inviters’ want your e-mail contact list

Becky waring By Becky Waring

Several firms have recently sprung up that provide tools to copy e-mail and social-network contact lists from Outlook, Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, MySpace, Friendster, and other sites.

Web site operators who lure unsuspecting users into sharing their address lists can then send invitations to all the contacts in order to swipe even more private info.

The names of some of the contact-scraping tools— Viralinviter.com, TrafficXplode.com, and TheTsunamiEffect.com — hide their true purpose. They present themselves as list-builders for site owners and e-mail marketers, and are indeed used by many legitimate companies. But these tools are attractive to all kinds of sites, not just trustworthy ones. Sites that use contact-scraping tools can build e-mail lists in a way that puts your privacy and security at risk.

You may have used an address-scraping tool already. Major social-networking sites such as Facebook, ShareThis, LinkedIn, and Plaxo offer a convenient way to build your initial “friends” list by importing your contacts from Outlook or other e-mail programs or by signing in to your webmail or social-networking service. The process is as easy as uploading a file or entering your user ID and password. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Legitimate social-networking services — in this illustration, ShareThis.com — can create an initial friends list by importing contacts from an e-mail program or from Web services such as Gmail, Yahoo, MSN, AOL, AIM, and MySpace.

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Becky Waring

About Becky Waring

Becky Waring has worked as a writer and editor for CNET, ZDNET, Technology Review, Upside Magazine, and many other news sources. She alternates the Best Software column with Windows Secrets contributing editor Scott Spanbauer.