The Plaxo Virus
by Mike on January 3, 2006

I’ve never liked Plaxo very much. The idea is good – keep your contact information in one place online and allow others to subscribe to it. If you change your information, everyone is updated at the same time. I used the service years ago. but found that the constant, daily stream of emails telling me who’s updated, requesting that I update, etc., to be very spammish. I stopped using it, but the emails kept coming. There is even a very old essay on Plaxo’s email abuse that a lot of people point to.

Plaxo has a reputation for releasing the attack dogs whenever they are slammed online. I made the mistake of voicing my opinion on an old Scoble post. By the end of the exchange I wished I had never started. Plaxo employees really feel like they are providing a much needed public service and earnestly say “all you have to do to get rid of the spam is start using the service”.

Well, a month or two ago the cost of dealing with the spam finally outweighed the cost of battling the Plaxo admin system, and I went through their handy 12 step process for removing my email from their system. Yes, they email people over and over again until they either sign up or request to be taken out of the system.

So today when I got a Plaxo email I was pissed. It turns out that it was some weird promotion by Charles O’Donnell at Union Square Ventures. I think he was trying to be creative and get more contacts, but given my history with plaxo it left a very bad taste in my mouth. Charles blogs on doing this as well (and so I am comfortable using his real name here), here. Personally, I don’t think this was a super great idea.

Plaxo, can you please find a way to run your business but never, ever email me again?

Hello,

Some people think Plaxo is spam. Just like one of those Greenpeace kids, it usually comes at an inopportune time and its mildly annoying.

However, that doesn’t mean Greenpeace isn’t a good cause. In the same way, joining a network that solves your contact info and address book problems once and for all isn’t such a bad thing either, even if its methods are slightly annoying.

So, once a year, I’ll use Plaxo to ask for updates. Its selfish. I want you to type it in because I don’t want to do it myself. Can you blame me?

If you are already on Plaxo, this won’t affect you, because I’ll always have your latest info and you won’t need to do anything. If you’re not, you’ll have to do the following decide whether or not I’m the kind of guy you want to have your info.

Then, you’ll have to manually type out your info when you have a free moment, which is probably never, or politely ignore this e-mail at the risk that it hi ts your inbox limit. Isn’t it easier just to join?

Thanks,
Charles E. O’Donnell

P.S. I’ve attached my current information in a vcard. If you get Plaxo too, we’ll stay in touch automatically.

If you do not wish to receive update request emails from Charles E. O’Donnell, click here to opt-out.

Comments rss icon

  • I can’t even believe he compared Plaxo to Greenpeace “kids”

  • Hehe…just read the original “exchange” on Scoble’s blog. You’re brave to mention Plaxo again. I look forward to read the comments on this post. lol

  • I didn’t know you *could* opt out and have been using a mailbox filter for months. Off to get my e-mail out of the system…

  • Hear, hear! I got this too. v. lame.

  • The opt out link is http://www.plaxo.com/privacy/q_and_a#q6

    And my advice is to try to avoid pissing off Stacy Martin at Plaxo if you can – http://www.plaxo.com/privacy.

  • Plaxo is a great system, as far as the technology goes.However, the ONLY DECENT way of using it is to let the auto-updates work their magic between existing Plaxo members (Mike, you can turn those notifications off).Plaxo does not explicitely takes this site, they make it way to easy to generate those mass emails.

  • All of this auto-notification stuff is being built into outlook anyway, right? That solves the auto-update problem for outlook-using PC people.

  • Mike, I don’t think so … you get your Outlook records auto-updated via the Plaxo plugin, but not by native Outlook itself. I find that part invaluable … but hate the emails, and despite statements Plaxo as a company does not take a stance in the right direction. OMG, I have to write a post about it, I’ve got too many accumulated notes on Plaxo…and this will spark quite some debate.

  • Btw, I think now Plaxo supporst Thunderbird, and with the AOL-deal they now have some level of integration with AIM – I’m not familiar with that.
    The potential user base is growing with all those platforms, and if they could KILL the update request spam generator, and leave it to ONLY the auto-update mechanism between users on all these platforms, it would be a perfectly useful service (except for some glitches, but that’s another post … )

  • Hi Michael – You may also recall that I contacted you offline back in August, but I believe you stated were traveling and attending a conference at the time, and I didn’t wish to distrub you further.

    It is with some reluctance that I add my comments here. I certainly hope you don’t interpret my comments as any type attack. In fact, I appreciate when people such as yourself voice their comments on Plaxo, good or bad. The feedback helps us to understand the issues people are facing and explore ways for us to improve the Plaxo service. It’s part of our company culture to encourage employees to participate and speak with their own voice. Since Robert Scooble is well-read and an known to some around here, his posting acted as a lightning rod. But I would agree that some of the previous comments posted to his blog were overzealous, which I apologize for.

    I’m also sorry you were left with the impression that the best manner in which to avoid receiving update requests is to join the service. This simply isn’t the case. People should only join Plaxo is they are interested in connecting with people and staying updated automatically.

    As may have been mentioned on Robert Scooble’s blog, Update Requests are initiated, approved and sent by Plaxo members to selected contacts within their own address book. Update requests are not sent by Plaxo. Plaxo acts as the service provider for processing update request messages and any responses the member may receive.

    Though Plaxo is not the sender of the message, even as the service provider, we try to recognize the privacy rights of the recipient. If someone does not wish to receive an update request, we provide a blocking feature where the recipient can instruct us, as the service provide, to block further messages sent to their email address through the Plaxo service. For lack of a better term, we refer to this as our “opt-out” list. Each update request processed by Plaxo includes an “opt-out” link to block further update requests from the specific Plaxo member or all Plaxo members, as desired. It is a quick and simply process that can be accomplished with two clicks.

    I’ve investigated the activity by Charles E. O’Donnell, and according to my records, the email address he sent the update request to is currently not on our opt-out list. If you would like me to, I can take the action to add it to our opt-out list, which will block any further update requests sent to your address. Also as described in our privacy practices, I can request on your behalf that Charles remove you from his address book.

    Please let me know if you would like me to take either of these actions.

    Stacy Martin
    Plaxo Privacy Officer

  • Stacy, Thanks for the note. I just hate the fact that I have to go to your site and go through a multi-step process to ask you not to email me anymore. And then I have to do that for each and every email address I have. And when I get a new email address I have to go through the process for that as well. Imagine if I had to do this for every site on the internet. Your model doesn’t scale. We don’t need to engage in a dialog here – I know what you are going to say and you know what I am going to say. I just hope, someday, you guys kill off this spammy feature.

  • Oh, no, Stacy, the party-line again…:-)
    “Update requests are not sent by Plaxo.” Of course not. Plaxo just regularly pops up with that annoying window recommending a long list of addresses to send the update request to. It’s way to easy to click yes on it semi-consciously, and it’s not that obvious for some users that they can turn this thingie off in Preferences.

    Opt out “is a quick and simply process that can be accomplished with two clicks.” Yeah, right. Here’s a response ( I believe from you) to my issue with a Plaxo user who sends this monthly junk after my repeated requests to stop it:

    “PlaxoPrivacyGuyAdministrator
    Plaxo Employee
    *****

    Reged: Mar 17 2004
    Posts: 302

    Re: Suggestion: Permanent Contact Exclusion [Re: Zoli]
    #6907 – Wed Nov 02 2005 11:17 AM
    Reply to this post Reply Reply to this post Quote

    For such a simple question, it unfortunately can have a complex answer. Basically, it all depends on how the other Plaxo member is “communicating” with you through Plaxo.

    If the person is simply updating their Plaxo cards on a frequent basis, and you are connected to her (ie: she is in your address book), they you will receive an alert each time your address book is updated. You can stop this by simply removing her from yoru address book, or instructing Plaxo to longer sync her entry in your address book.

    But if the she is actually taking the action to SEND you her updated Plaxo card information through an Update Request, then you are correct – that it doesn’t matter if she is in your address book or not. The only thing to do in this case is to ask the member to stop sending her cards to you (which you’ve tried), or block her ability to send you her cards through Plaxo.

    For non-members, this is very simple to block future update request messages by using the opt-out link included within the Update Request message. But for member to member communications, because the request is delivered as a Plaxo Alert, there is no opt-out link. Our support group can do it for you though, so I would suggest contacting my team at privacy @t plaxo.com. They will investigate the activity of the Plaxo member to make sure they are not violating our Terms of Service, and take the necessary steps to block further communicatins through our service to you. ”

    Like you said, Stacy, it’s not Plaxo, it’s your users – you’re just providing easy tools to spam, and not making it easy to stop it.

    That said, it’s a great service – that auto-update part, that is.

  • I just want to go through the steps necessary to “opt out” of the Plaxo system. Remember, this is not for people who’ve registered, this is for people who have never done any business with Plaxo, have never gone to the site perhaps, and just want the spam madness to end:

    1. Go to https://www.plaxo.com/opt_out, scroll to the bottom, select a reason for wanting to leave Plaxo, fill in your email address, and click the “Please For The Love of God Stop Spamming Me!” button.

    2. Click on the popup to confirm that you want to do this. Warning: “You will no longer receive Plaxo emails from friends and business associates who use Plaxo to update their address books. Are you sure you want to opt-out from all Plaxo emails?” YES I AM SURE

    3. Read a page telling you “NOTE: To finish opting-out, you must reply to the confirmation e-mail Plaxo just sent to xxx@xxxx.xxx“. Great, another plaxo email just hit my inbox.

    4. Read an email and click a button to confirm an end to the madness (for this email address only though).

    5. Success! Open a beer, repeat steps 1-5 for each email address you control.

  • The process described above is when choosing to opt-out “out of context” by going directly to the URL: https://www.plaxo.com/opt_out. This process includes extra steps as we must verify a person’s ownership of the email they are registering before we can take any action.

    On the other hand, the opt-out method I described earlier, by clicking on the opt-out link included within each update request, can indeed be accomplished with a few simple clicks. Since the link is specific to the recipient, the email address they wish to opt-out has already been verified. This mechanism also provides additional flexibility in that it allows the recipient to opt-out from just the single user, or all Plaxo members, and desired. There’s even the ability to request additional details from the Plaxo member without providing any of your own additional details.

    > I just hope, someday, you guys kill off this
    > spammy feature.

    I agree. Update Requests emails are efficient and effective for getting in touch with contacts outside the service. As the service continues to grow in membership size, members are automatically connected with other members who are part of their address book in greater percentages. Already, most new members can expect to be connected with over 20% of the contacts within their address book. As this percentage continues to grow, update requests become less of a need. In fact, we have already taken steps to reduce the visibility of update requests in our newer clients. For example, our integration within AIM does not utilize the Update Contact Wizard. We intend to phase these types of changes across all of the clients Plaxo supports over time. Update requests may always exist in some capacity, but their usage should be greatly reduced.

    (Zoli – Based on user feedback, those annoying pop-up reminders have also been removed from the Plaxo client. If this is still occuring for you, you may have an older client version. You may want to install the most current version of the Plaxo Toolbar).

  • Note to self: Never ever send an update request to Mike. :)

    I apoligize… I hope you get your issues with the service resolved. For me personally, I got a large portion of my address book updated, including a lot of people who moved that I didn’t know about. I even got a couple of compliments at my attempts to be creative in going about this. I certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone. Again, sorry for inconveniencing you.

  • Mike (and Charlie),

    I got the Plaxo email from Charlie too, and I agree with Mike that it’s spammy. I can’t believe I had to go through an opt-out process when I hadn’t even opted in! And throughout the opt-out, they keep asking you if you’re *sure* you want to opt out. Really, really annoying – Plaxo gets a thumbs down.

  • I so utterly concur. Plaxo is spam and Stacey clearly doesn’t ‘get it’ because her job is not to get it. I personally suggest engaging in a little Plaxo subterfuge. For every plaxo email you receive, fill in the contact info (name) as “XXXX: Plaxo keeps spamming me, please stop using a spammy service”. Your contacts will get the message.

  • After reading and looking at Plaxo and the historical fight and what Mike posted for an opt-opt if you never opted-in WOW… Posted as Anon so no Plaxo user can add me as a contact :)

  • Pete – Because Charlie maintains your email address, our course he could have sent you a similar message directly, rather than through Plaxo. There are many services that allow their members to send communications to others outside the service (AOL, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, etc…). These messages may be welcomed or unwelcomed by the recipient, but in most cases the recipient has no choice in receiving these messages. In the cases of Plaxo, while we can not stop someone from attempting to send you a message, the “opt-out” mechanism allows you to instruct us as the service provider, to block these messages from being processed through our service. It’s really a block list, but we use the term “opt-out” because it’s more familiar to people.

  • For everyone following along, I got a little subtle reminder about the TOS from Stacy on my own blog…

    “But I would caution you about sending messages through Plaxo to people you do not know, or whom are unlikely to recognize you as a known contact. This would be a violation of our Terms of Services and may result in your possible removal from the Plaxo service. I point you to our Plaxo Etiquette guide (http://www.plaxo.com/privacy/manners) for further recommendations.”

    I love how even she’s turning on me now. Its everyone’s fault but theirs. Over and above the fact that he has already stated that he wants out, Plaxo should have made it really hard for me to add him to my update list because we’ve literally only e-mailed back and forth once.

    It reminds me of what a business ethics teacher once said about cigarettes:

    “Cigarettes are an interesting liability issue because they’re the only legal product on the market that, if you use them as intended by the manufacturer, will kill you.”

    So I used the service in the most creative way I could think of, and now that service is insinuating that I did something wrong.

    I love how Stacy makes me out to be the bad guy:

    “I’ve investigated the activity by Charles E. O’Donnell”… the activity?? Normal and basically prescribed use of the service. She goes on here to say “Also as described in our privacy practices, I can request on your behalf that Charles remove you from his address book.

    Please let me know if you would like me to take either of these actions.”

    How about just making sure Mike never receives a Plaxo e-mail again no matter how hard any user tries to send one to him?

    I don’t think Stacy understands the fundamental principal here that their interest in adding and keeping users fully conflicts with users interest in not pissing people off. I would have sacrificed at least 50 of my updated contacts, at least, not to annoy Mike. The hurdles shouldn’t be on the opt-out, they should be on me. There should have been something that popped up for me that said, “PS, Mike hates Plaxo, don’t bother.” In addition there should be something that auto un-checks all the people that I’ve ever e-mailed back and forth only once… or whatever the right threashold is. I wasn’t going to sit there for hours and make an individual decision on whether to send a request to each person… but I definitely would have set it to only update only people that I’ve had 2 back and forths with or something like that. On top of that, I should be able to maintain my own “do not update list”. Right now, I have a 1/2/07 reminder in my cal to uncheck Mike, but that should be in the system.

    Again, sorry Mike and Pete and whoever else… I was given a hammer by Plaxo and they told me you guys were all nails.

  • I told everyone in an early comment to avoid pissing Stacy Martin off, although I didn’t expect her to turn on you, Charlie, since you are a big fan of their business.

  • I’m not attempting to make anyone out to be a bad guy. Anytime someone files an abuse report or complaint, I feel it’s prudent for us to investigate. That doesn’t make you a bad guy, but we take abuse reports very serious, and follow up on all reports.

    This situation is unfortunate. Mike’s preference was not known to you, nor to Plaxo. Had we known, we would have blocked your Update Request to him (it is known now). As for maintaining your own “do not update list”, you can do this by logging into your Plaxo Online account and going to URL: https://www.plaxo.com/manage_emailblock.

  • **whoosh**

    That’s the sound of everything that anyone has said about Plaxo on the myriad threads I’ve just caught myself up on – the sound of all of it flying straight past Stacy. I knew nothing of this service and was eager to hear other folks’ opinions on it aside from Mike’s, but as I’ve been to other older threads to finally come back to this latest one, I have a very real sense of Mike’s frustration.

    Stacy and, moreover, Plaxo, is like that senior citizen in the middle lane of the highway going 40 or the teenager that waltzes right past you to the front of the line at the coffee shop – they’ll never understand what it is they’re doing that’s so damn annoying because they. just. can’t.

  • I don’t think you guys are paying attention to the details – this is just a blog mob. Be good geeks and work towards improving the service – help Stacy out. I use the Plaxo plug-in to keep multiple installations of Outlook up-to-date and I think it’s a great service – it’s FREE for goodness sake and it does an excellent job of keeping everything synchronized. I never spam the people in my address book – and it sounds like Plaxo took steps to make it more difficult for their users to do it without thinking about it for a while 1st. – Cale Bruckner palmit.com

  • I don’t think so Cale.

  • First, I’d like to thank you Mike for some place to air our thoughts. Second, I’d like to say that I’ve seen Stacy’s posts for some time now in many places, and I must say Stacy, you tote the company line quite well. You really do a wonderful job of promoting your company and I really mean that sincerely. You must be a real believer (or paid really well – LOL).

    I’ve heard in several places, the assumption that Stacy “just doesn’t get it”. I don’t believe that’s true, but just in case . . .

    Stacy, I have 6 unique email addresses. If I don’t want Plaxo “spams” to my email addresses, I need to go to your web site and 6 times go through the process of saying leave me alone. If ten other companies decide to come online with Plaxo’s philosophy of “we’ll allow it unless you say no”, it would take me 60 times of “just saying no”! Hence, Mike’s comment that Plaxo’s scheme just doesn’t scale. BTW, I do find it irritating that I must opt-out of a service that I never signed up for, or asked for in any form or fashion. I admit I can’t think of a way you could do it, but an opt-in would be much better.

    But, back to the real world. I believe Stacy (and everyone else at Plaxo) DOES get it. In fact, I contend they’re counting on it. They’re making it easier to stop the spam by joining their service. Do a search for Stacy’s posts. You’ll see that in almost every one, she makes a point of saying that this doesn’t happen to members! Because . . . the more people that join, the more value in their service.

    I know, Stacy, that anyone can send emails. These same people can send me an email directly and ask for my information update. But the reality is, that if someone has to go out of their way to even decide to do it, let alone pick individual emails out of their address book, they’re not going to do it. This, in essence, is your double edge sword. This makes your service have value, and makes it SO EASY to send to everyone, that your users aren’t required to use common sense.

    As an IT manager, if my users are “too dumb” to control themselves, I must do it for them. If your company provides dumb users with a simple way to “spam” others, then your company needs to step up to the plate to make abuse harder, not find it after the fact. Look at the real world, the senders of spam are the real problem, but we all know they will never go away. We address spam by trying to interfere with the tools of the spammers.

    I had one of my users join Plaxo and send an update to EVERYONE in our contact list. Our whole organization got blasted. I know my user was stupid, but who made it so easy? I know I will always have a stupid user out there somewhere. I could never educate them all. So I did the next best thing; Plaxo is blacklisted in my mail servers and firewall as a result. If I knew it couldn’t happen again, I wouldn’t need to do it. I can see a value in Plaxo’s service, but as long as I have to worry about another blast, the blacklist won’t change.

    Sorry to rant for so long. Thanks for the space Mike!

    John

  • Wow, With is dialogue, I could have hit the delete key enough to kill all the precieved spam which plaxo sends and then some.

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