New Facebook Feature Encourages Spamming



AllFacebook.com
reported last night – and Trendline Interactive has confirmed – that Facebook has added a tool called “Contact Importer for Pages” that gives the ability for Facebook page admins to upload a file in “Outlook, Constant Contact, .CSV, etc..” format to send invitations to their “Fans” (isn’t that a Facebook term?) to “Like” them on Facebook.

What that really means, is that any Facebook Pages admin can upload any list of email addresses, 5000 at a time, and Facebook will do 1 of 2 things:

  • If Facebook has the email address attached to a profile, they user will receive suggestions for the Facebook Page on Facebook.com
  • If Facebook doesn’t have the address in it’s 500+ million user database, Facebook will send…you guessed it…an email invitation.

Yikes.

Watch it unfold as we tested it:

This Looks Like Trouble with a Capital T-R-O-U-B-L and E

Facebook didn’t just give the keys to new and budding page admins with a slick new tool, it just handed the keys over to every opportunist and spammer in the world. In our testing, keep in mind, Trendline has 18 total fans. There are no apparent limitations on who can use this functionality. Somewhere, a Nigerian prince is thankful that his job just got easier.

  1. Create a new free email account so you can never be tracked
  2. Create your Facebook account with the newly minted email address
  3. Set up a new Facebook Fan Page
  4. Upload any email list (they even encourage purchased lists!)
  5. Let Facebook do your spamming dirty work

In the past, spammers have had to get a lot more creative, but they have just been handed a gateway through which they can send unsolicited email under the protective umbrella of a reputable sender.

Of course, Facebook have their guidelines that Facebook Pages admins need to agree to before any emails are sent. Let’s take a look:

“Comply with all applicable laws.”

Apparently, the minds behind this new feature are too young to have learned from Sylvester who always promised to take real good care of Tweety.

“Satisfy yourself that your invites are welcome. For example, in some parts of the world, you must obtain opt-in consent before you can send emails promoting a product, service, commercial web page, or business.”

Clearly. If your invites aren’t welcome, there will be no satisfying yourself.

“Respect opt-out requests; take people off your lists if they don’t want to receive invites or other communications from you.”

We have a serious question on this one. How exactly do we know if they don’t want to receive our invites? Assuming I run a reputable business, I will send these invites to people I believe may be interested in “Liking” my Page. There is an opt-out included on the invitation email, but it says “If you no longer wish to receive messages through Facebook…” However, the message also says that “You are receiving this message from Trendline Interactive.” Is there a feedback loop in place so that I can take these off my normal mailing list?

“Don’t: Buy Mailing lists without verifying whether the list provider has obtained valid, affirmative consent where legally required.”

Wow. Speechless. It’s okay to buy lists and send them through Facebook so long as they are “opt-in lists.” I guess they could argue that BulkEmailBlast.com is not legitimate. Of course they would argue “All our Lists are 100% Opt-in, Targeted, and of the Highest Possible Quality.”

Why Facebook? Why?

The AllFacebook.com post announcing this new feature welcomes the addition. On the surface, this seems like a cool idea. Marketers continue to devise ways to get more of their email subscribers to become fans (and how to get our fans to become email subscribers). Communication with our consumers through both channels makes perfect sense.

But anyone who has been in the email space for more than a couple months should be able to see the writing on the wall. Our first reaction wasn’t “oh, cool” and then after thinking about it we started to wonder if their might be a potential hole. No, our first reaction was, “Are they nuts?”

1) People have multiple email addresses. Just because I sign up with my gmail account on one email subscription does not mean that is the same address I use for Facebook. Assuming the average consumer has about 4 email addresses, the chances the emails I upload as a marketer will be the same one my consumers use for Facebook is about 25% — possibly less. That means that 75% or more of my email subscribers will get an invitation to join Facebook at another email address. The spam implications on this basis alone are huge.

2) Marketers can already send an email to their customers asking them to become Fans—they have been doing so for a couple years already. Is this a win for the marketer, or a win for Facebook? Seems like an attempt to accelerate Facebook’s growth more than anything else.

3) Why would Facebook do something so risky when news outlets are already up in arms about privacy? Mashable tried to warn them about the security implications of Facebook Messages just 17 days ago — asking if they were opening doors for phishing scams and other malicious activity. According to Mashable, they are already the 4th most common target for these activities, this should propel Facebook to number 1 on that list overnight.

Advice to Marketers

Even for reputable marketers with a strong permission list and an active Facebook page, this is not the way to build your Fan base. There may be some advantages to having your invitation delivered through Facebook directly, but the risks are too high:

1) What are the implications of one of your subscribers opting out via the Facebook invitation? Are you supposed to honor that on your email list also?

2) What is the feedback mechanism from Facebook for people who don’t want to get your invitations? We can’t find one.

3) The relationships consumers maintain with brands through email and Facebook are different. Their motivations for engaging brands through email and Facebook are different. Just because they are a subscriber don’t assume they want to become a Fan. There is already a way to invite people on your email list to become a Fan. Send them an email and ask them. Overstepping their boundaries may result in little more than upsetting some loyal customers.

4) We’ll see how long this whole experiment lasts; it may get shut off quickly. Facebook may be facing it’s own deliverability problems as people start marking these invitations as spam. Let the dust settle and don’t get caught in the cross-hairs.

What are your thoughts on this?

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Andrew Kordek