Sometimes looking into spam for a blog entry has unexpected benefits
Today, I was all set to write an entry about how I especially hate slimy companies that gain access to people's address books. In fact I had a particular company in mind, because it's clear that they did this to one of our users recently. As part of starting to write that entry, I decided to do some due diligence research on the company involved. What I found turned out to be rather more alarming than I expected.
There are two usual run of the mill ways to steal people's address books. The 'not even sort of theft' way is to just ask people to give you their address books so you can connect them to any of their friends on your service, and then perhaps send some invitation mails yourself. The underhanded way is to persuade people to give you access to their GMail or Yahoo or whatever email account for some innocent-sounding purpose, then take a copy of their address book while you're there.
These people went the extra mile; they made a browser extension. Of course it does a lot more than just take copies of your address book and none of what it does seems particularly pleasant (at least to me). Getting a browser extension into people's browsers is probably harder than getting their address books in the usual way, but I imagine it's much more lucrative (and much more damaging).
What this means is that our user didn't just give a company access to their address book; instead they've wound up infected by something that is more or less malware (and of course this means that their machine may also have other problems). And I wouldn't have found any of this if I hadn't decided to turn over this particular rock as part of writing a blog entry.
(It turns out this company has a Wikipedia entry. It's rather eyebrow raising in a 'this seems so whitewashed it's blinding' kind of way. Since it was so obviously white, I dipped into the edit history and the talk page and found both rather interesting, ie there was and may still be a roiling controversy that is not reflected in the page contents. I'm kind of sad to see Wikipedia (ab)used this way, but I'm not wading into that particular swamp for any reason.)