Thursday, January 15, 2004

Software worries

Today I as asked by someone from our company could install the Plaxo software (no link given, as I don't want Google to give this site a higher PageRank, but you can make up the URL yourself, in case you want to check). I've heard a bit about it lately, and also found a couple of the Plaxo contact detail information emails blocked by our spamfilter. The idea is that you install the software, upload your Outlook Contact List to Plaxo, after which all your contacts will receive a customized message requesting them to check the validity of the information you have about them. They can change their information online, and your address book will be updated automagically. This seems like a good idea, at least it saves you some hassle with contact information (and nobody likes to spend time updating this, isn't it?). But some things give me second thoughts:

  • the emails have a VCard as attachment, containing the contacts' information (if I remember correctly there was some VCard exploit.. lemme check... Yes, here it is). Our spamfilter blocks plaxo requests by default anyway. As will be the case in other companies, which my college's would be emailing the requests

  • Plaxo is acquiring a wealth of information (e-mail addresses, but also the contact details itself of course). The privacy policy on theirs website states that they "... Will not share your information with anyone without your permission. Period". But: does it prove they won't do that in the future?? Think about it: why wouldn't they one day change their EULA, with or without notifying you. Even if they notified you, would you check their website to see what has changed. Companies are famous for creating multi-page EULA's which no sane person would even consider start reading.

  • it integrates with Outlook. Why wouldn't the program be used to acquire a little bit more information about you, and phone it home? Well, I guess they won't be doing that now, lest someone would have found out. But in the future??

  • related to the former: would you, as an IT Administrator, like to have some free software installed around your email client, without knowing what it does. I for sure wouldn't!

Well, seems Plaxo even made it to Wired last November. I especially like what Doc Searls says in that Wired article:
"If they won't explain how they intend to make money, one can only assume they intend to spend it," Searls said. "The product looks like a new way to hire a company to annoy your friends. It feels like spam. It's annoying, and I don't think there's a viable plan here."