September 7th, 2007


What appears to have happened with RapLeaf

A few weeks ago I heard about this website called "UpScoop" (Won't give the link, but you can find it easily enough) which offered to check your address book and see what social networking sites your contacts are using. I hesitated about trying it for several reasons: the sites I use most (LinkedIn and Facebook) have pretty decent lookup services of their own, and I was not especially interested in extending this sort of drain on my time.

But I was convinced to give it a try, mainly because their assurances on the privacy of my data appeared pretty watertight. At that time, the following statements, dated 10 April, still appeared on their website privacy statement (scraped from a Google cache as the original page has disappeared):
We will not email or contact any email address obtained from address books.

Upscoop does not email, contact, or spam any friends from an email address book.

Upscoop does not sell, rent, or lease email addresses to partners, clients, third-party marketers, or other third parties.
That all seemed to me pretty watertight, though I did a bit more due diligence by checking around its reputation in the blogosphere and it seemed to be OK. So I let it run through my address book, which found actually very little that I didn't already know (I think two people who are on Livejournal, and that's it; also it introduced me to the rather useless social networking site).

NB however that for a lot of you, my address book includes your real name along with your normal address. There was nothing in UpScoop to suggest that they were scraping real names as well as email addresses, let along that they were retaining that data to set up their own new service.

Boy, was I wrong.

Given the fact that almost everyone I know seems to have received an email from UpScoop's parent company RapLeaf this week, and that the UpScoop privacy policy has now been scrapped along with all of the above crucial reassuring sentences, I can only assume that a) they retained all my address book details, certainly including personal names, for their own use and b) they then themselves ran it through their system as part of setting up the new RapLeaf service earlier this week (since I haven't been near it for weeks).

This is extraordinarily scummy behavior.

Having got hold of my address book on false pretences, they have then used it to market their own business, in the course of which they have intimidated and harassed my friends.

I am sorry to all of you for having believed their lies, and thus being indirectly responsible for them spamming you earlier this week.

I would be very interested to hear from American lawyer types as to whether I have any case against them.

I am posting a reference to this entry to every recent blog entry on RapLeaf I can find.

Edited to add: I see that RapLeaf have now posted a public apology, which includes hat-tips to rfmcdpei and sevenorora. Good for them. I'm still hopping mad, though; it doesn't explain their apparent retention of data from my address book for their own commercial purposes.

September Books 2) Eminent Churchillians

2) Eminent Churchillians, by Andrew Roberts

Picked this up remaindered in Belfast last month; Roberts is of course a famous rightwing historian so I wanted to sample him without spending too much!

It's a book of essays blaming "Britain's postwar decline" [sic] on foolish decisions made by Conservatives themselves. Except it isn't really; most of the essays are attacks on sacred cows. The first piece looks at the character flaws and foolish political views, including thorough-going anti-semitism, of King George VI, and while the evidence is marshalled very skilfully it feels like a bit of a sledgehammer to crack a nut; it's not like the king ever actually did very much.

The second piece was on the King's cousin, Lord Mountbatten, a lengthy and total attack on his reputation. While it's difficult to prove that George VI was ever directly responsible for people dying, the death toll in Mountbatten's biography just mounts: from the thousands who died in the Dieppe raid and other comprehensively botched operations in the second world war, for which he bore sole command responsibility, to the hundreds of thousands killed at the partition of India and Pakistan, with the evidence being pretty clear that Mountbatten ignored every chance he had to prevent or alleviate the looming catastrophe, and indeed made a some key decisions which made things worse. This habit of recklessness and irresponsibility with other people's safety goes right to the end of his life, when he wilfully ignored security warnings from the Gardaí and duly got blown up by the IRA along with several members of his family and friends. As well as looking at the actual facts, Roberts is good at explaining why and how the myth of Mountbatten as a great man was constructed. The book was worth the £2.99 I paid for it for this essay alone.

The other rather good essay is on the difficulties Churchill had in consolidating support inside the Conservative Party in the months after he became Prime Minister in 1940, a reminder that the myth of the country uniting behind him is indeed a myth.

There's a rather schizophrenic piece proving a) that Churchill was himself a racist and b) that he and the Conservative government did not know what they were doing when they started letting emigrants in from the Commonwealth. I was convinced on the first point but rather less so on the second.

And finally two shorter pieces on minor figures; Sir Walter Monckton, apparently, was single-handedly responsible for ensuring the strangle-hold of the unions on the post-war, pre-Thatcher British economy, and noted historian Sir Arthur Bryant was a fascist and a plagiarist. Convinced on the second point, not that it really matters, but less so on the first.

So, generally an interesting read, but as a non-reader of either the Daily Mail or the Daily Telegraph I am not the intended audience.