I signed up for Spacelocker last October because I’m naturally curious and because I’ve been involved in social media and social networking for years now. The site didn’t make a lot of sense to me and I think I logged on to it once after joining. Had I remembered my password, I would have closed my account, because its juvenile graphics and navigational difficulties combined with no immediately clear explanation of its value add made it just another site, and one that didn’t seem intended for – or useful to – me.
I’d had the occasional email from them and ignored it. But I was extremely startled the first week in June to suddenly start getting replies to emails I hadn’t sent, from people I’ve never formally added as contacts to my Gmail account (and people I certainly never added to my Spacelocker account as contacts; I don’t think I added anyone there), asking me where they’d met me or politely declining my invitation to join me on Spacelocker. Ahem. An invitation I hadn’t sent.
My first response was to conclude that my Gmail account had been hacked, but that seemed unlikely. I had an appointment, so I quickly dashed off an email via the contact form (the only way you can contact Spacelocker other than by snail mail in London, England), saying I wanted to close my account but that I was quite sure it had been hacked, because everybody and his uncle and their cat and dog had received an ‘invitation’ from me.
Here’s the response I got:
First let me assure you that your Spacelocker account has not been “hacked”. We have a high degree of security equivalent to any of the currently popular social networks out there.
Spacelocker is a social networking website. We encourage users to interact with their friends and to make new friends. Therefore we have developed our website settings to make it as easy as possible for this interaction to happen.
Invitations were sent to your friends in your Spacelocker address book so that you will hopefully be able to interact with them in the newly added Meet Me At My Locker function in your Locker. It has been an overwhelming success and users are enjoying interacting with friends; as well the ease which their friends list can grow in Spacelocker.
We encourage you to stay and enjoy Spacelocker. However if still want to leave Spacelocker we will delete your membership.
This explanation is totally specious. Here’s the real story: if you signed up for Spacelocker and stupidly used the same password for it as you did for your Gmail account (which I must have done), Spacelocker automatically grabbed every blessed email address with which you’ve ever corresponded and sent them invites that look like they come from your Gmail account. This is unprecedented in my experience of social networking. It certainly doesn’t happen on flickr. It doesn’t happen on Facebook. Or on Twitter. Or Xing. Or LinkedIn. In fact, one of the reasons those sites have built and retained loyal followings is because they provide various options for their members relating to privacy. While you have the option of importing contacts from various email addresses, this doesn’t happen automatically. And even if you’ve allowed a reputable social networking site to pull your contacts list, you’re usually given an opportunity to review it and select who to invite or not to invite to ‘join’ you.
So far Spacelocker’s sent invites, purportedly from me, to ex-clients, former lovers, people with whom I no longer wish to have contact (and ditto, I know, I know!) and to suppliers (like my printer, who must be just mystified). Regardless of whether you’re an ‘open’ or a ‘closed’ networker, any social networking site that defiantly claims you agreed to let them email everyone who’s ever emailed you is doomed to failure. With a grand total of eight fans on its Facebook page, we probably don’t need to worry about the company being around too much longer. In this case, I’m looking forward to it. For another take on the spam mess, see the Outsmarts blog post. As for the press release in the first paragraph – live and learn, huh? If I’d read that piece of nonsense before joining, I wouldn’t have.
Worse, a couple of people who trust me and have signed up for Spacelocker after receiving the invite from ‘me’ are now going through the same thing.
And then there’s the ‘about us’ section – which names no names and only a couple of countries. ‘Spacelocker.com is operated by Spacelocker Ltd, a European-based company headquartered on the Smart Island country of Malta, with a communications office in London, United Kingdom. Messages for Spacelocker Ltd may be sent through the Spacelocker website contact form or by snail mail to Spacelocker Ltd, 26 York Street, London W1U 6PZ, UK.’ I’ve already used their contact form. I think I may have to snail mail them a copy of this post as well.
Lesson learned: being an early adopter isn’t always the way to go. Next time I’ll indulge my curious nature by reading the ‘about us’ section and researching a site a little more thoroughly before signing up for it. That way I’ll be on a different train, on a different track, and in no danger of being derailed.
June 9 Update: Since writing this post I was given yet another compelling reason why Spacelocker’s arbitrary policy of commandeering contacts to build its customer base is self-defeating: one of my cousins emailed me to let me know she’d received four different invites to join Spacelocker – one at work, one at home, and two at her Hotmail accounts. The automation of the invite process is something only a computer would do – the human touch would have selected one email to which the invite would have been sent. Most of us have more than one email address – but almost no one would email any kind of contact at each one of their addresses.
Spacelocker’s policy of allowing only members to comment on its blog is further proof that this is a social networking site doomed to failure. As far as I’m concerned, it can’t come soon enough.
June 21, 2009 update: Very interesting article on the rise of these ‘phishing’ scams – and two companies’ very-different-from-Spacelocker’s-response in this New York Times article.