'Tagged' site accused of inflating traffic counts

Steve Johnson and John Boudreau
San Jose Mercury News (MCT)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — New York authorities accused the San Francisco-based social networking Web site with inflating its traffic by illegally sending misleading promotional e-mail to the friends of its members without its members' knowledge.

Beginning in April, Tagged sent tens of millions of e-mails to people listed on the contact lists of its members telling the e-mail recipients that the members had posted photos for the recipients to view, according to a press release by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo,

"When recipients of these fraudulent e-mails tried to access the photos," which didn't actually exist, the release said, "they were forced to become a new member of Tagged."

Tagged's CEO, Greg Tseng, denied the allegations.

"In no instance did Tagged access a person's personal address book without their consent and no emails were sent without the person giving us permission," he said in a statement to the Mercury News.

But Cuomo's office said that as a result of Tagged's deception, "consumers had their privacy invaded and were forced into the embarrassing position of having to apologize to all their e-mail contacts."

Cuomo's office said it has been looking into Tagged's member-recruiting methods for about a month and as part of its probe "enlisted undercover investigators to pose as Tagged users."

By the time Tagged temporarily suspended its e-mail marketing campaign in June, in response to criticism, it had sent more than 60 million of the bogus e-mails to consumers worldwide, according to Cuomo, who said he plans to file a lawsuit seeking fines and other penalties.

"Tagged, through its actions, has persistently violated a host of New York laws designed to protect consumers from deceptive business practices, false advertising and the misappropriation of their identities," Cuomo's office said in a separate document stating its intention to sue Tagged.

The e-mails Tagged sent were "created to falsely appear as if they were sent from a member's personal e-mail account and sometimes included the member's picture, if one had been filed with Tagged, the document said. "Once the misled recipients responded and were directed to the Tagged site, they were prompted to sign up as Tagged members (to see the non-existent photos) and induced to give Tagged access to their contact lists."

The document also accused CEO Tseng of approving the misleading e-mails and said "Tagged has since admitted that many of its members did not actually intend to send the invitations" to those on their contact lists.

Tseng disputed Cuomo's account.

"When our company tested a new registration process, we discovered that our 'invite your friends' language was confusing," Tseng said in his statement. "The registration drive generated some complaints and as a business that succeeds or fails based on word of mouth, we took every complaint very seriously. We immediately stopped using this registration process, before being contacted by the Attorney General's office."

Tseng added: "We realize that some were confused and accidentally agreed to invite their friends. We are truly sorry for any inconvenience or frustration that these people experienced."

Tagged's Web site claims it is the third largest social network in the United States in terms of total monthly visits and it boasts at least 80 million registered users.

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