Jun 25, 2007

Vonage Abuses Refer-a-Friend Program

Wow. I learned about this from Mark Brownlow’s blog.

Apparently, Vonage asked customers to refer friends to their service. You’ve probably done it before. You fill out some tell-a-friend form, and if your friends sign up, you get a little something in return. But you assume that any legit company would never abuse that information, right? If they did, it would be like shooting themselves in the foot, right?

Well, looks like Vonage just shot themselves in the foot.

Check out this story from Andy Sernovitz’ Blog. 

And this one from Cnet’s Daniel Terdiman. He got an email from Vonage that tried to make it look like it was recently sent from his friend—but his friend has been in the hospital, unconscious, for the last 2 weeks. Ouch.

Sadly, this is not the first time we’ve seen this sort of thing. We’ve posted something from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) not too long ago.

If you’ve got one of those tell-a-friend or refer-a-friend systems in place at your company, now might be a good time to review your privacy policy.

At MailChimp, we occasionally get phone calls from newbie email marketers who want to offer some kind of "tell-a-friend" or "forward-to-friend" tool in their email campaigns. And they ask us if we "track the emails of those friends, so we can add them to our list too."

Um, no—that would be evil. And now, thanks to Vonage, we know what can happen when you do this kind of stuff.

We do offer a forward-to-friend tool, but the only thing it tracks is "total number of times your email was forwarded."

Related: Refer-a-friend best practices