Do you Want Someone to Impersonate You to Your LinkedIn Contacts and Leave You Humiliated? Try FounderDating.

[Edit: FounderDating’s CEO, Jessica Alter, politely asked me to remove the word “spam” from the title of this post because that word implies I didn’t know a message would be sent out. I have changed the post’s title at her request.]

A week ago, a friend of mine asked me to write a recommendation for him on FounderDating.com. I happily complied, and when I was done writing the recommendation I was shown pictures of a bunch of my LinkedIn contacts. FounderDating asked me to identify ten that I would vouch for. I didn’t have to do it but I thought oh well, I guess I’ll do it and see what happens. So all I did was click their photos. Nothing more. [Edit: after clicking their photos I clicked a button to submit my selections.]

Bad idea.

As far as I could tell, nothing happened. I figured behind the scenes maybe they would send notes to these people, telling them their contact Brian Morearty had used FounderDating, and suggesting that they try it too. I understand social networking and I understand that when you give an app permission to access a social networking account, your contacts will see that you used it. That would have been ok with me. But what they did was more insidious than that.

FounderDating used the LinkedIn API to send the following note to these ten contacts. I don’t remember being asked to approve the wording–because if I had been asked, I most certainly would not have approved the wording. [Edit: there actually was a link to “see/edit this message” at the bottom left of the form. I apparently didn’t see it because it was in the smallest font size on the form and wasn’t underlined, the way links often are. If I had clicked it I would have had a chance to change the text of the outgoing message.] I was humiliated this morning when one of my contacts sent me a heartfelt thank-you. I had to write back that while I most definitely do believe in him, I did not write this note.

Here’s what FounderDating wrote to the ten LinkedIn contacts I identified:

Hey [Name],

I was asked to vouch for a few people to join FounderDating – an invite-only network of entrepreneurs (50% engineers) all ready to start their next side-project or company. You’re on my short list. I highly recommend applying.

Apply here > [url]

(Note: copy and paste this link if it’s not clickable).

You can thank me later,
Brian

It seems factually correct, right? Let’s break it down:

  • “Hey [Name]:” personal greeting. Implies that I wrote it myself, not that it was written by someone else to my contacts.
  • “I was asked to vouch for a few people to join FounderDating:” this is accurate. However, again, it implies I wrote this note myself.
  • “You’re on my short list:” well, yes, they did ask me for ten of my contacts. But this gets embarrassingly personal at this point. I highly respect all ten of the people whose photos I clicked. But several of them are people I would not say to their face, “you’re on my short list.”
  • “I highly recommend applying:” EXCUSE ME? When did I recommend applying, much less HIGHLY recommend it?
  • “You can thank me later.” OH MY GOD. What kind of ass says that when he recommends signing up for some online service?

For fuck’s sake, at this point I most certainly DO NOT recommend people use FounderDating. Quite the contrary. I have shut them off from sending more messages on LinkedIn.

Sorry for the rant. I fell for a scam and I’m embarrassed. I hope you will learn from my mistake.

I have written to LinkedIn’s support team notifying them of this abuse of their API Terms of Service. See Section D: “Don’t Harm or Trick Members.”

Your Application must not:

  • Impersonate a LinkedIn user or misrepresent any user or other third party when requesting or publishing information.

Follow-up

On May 8, 2013, this post made the front page of Hacker News and got a lot of attention. FounderDating’s CEO, Jessica Alter, contacted me and we exchanged several emails. She was polite. She requested that I make some corrections to this post, which I have done. Specifically:

  • I added a comment saying that after selecting the pictures of my LinkedIn contacts, I clicked a button to submit the form.
  • I removed the word “spam” from the post’s title because that word “implies we don’t let you know a message goes out.” They did let me know a message would go out. (See screenshot below.) And even if they hadn’t let me know that, I mentioned in the post that I did expect a message to go out.
  • I clarified that there actually was a “see/edit this message” link in the bottom left hand side of the form. I didn’t notice this link because it was in small type and it looked exactly like the text above it, which was not a link.

Here is a screen shot of the form (I blurred the names):

FD form blurred

If you click “See/edit this message” in the bottom left corner, this is what you see:

FD wording

To reiterate, all FounderDating did was send a message I didn’t like to a few people I chose. In addition to requesting that I make clarifications to this post, Ms. Alter asked me what changes I would like to see made to the UI on FounderDating. I requested that they show me the flip-side of the lightbox before the messages get sent, without requiring me to choose to “see/edit” the message. Something like a 2-step wizard would be fine. Step 1: select contacts. Step 2: I am presented with the second screenshot.

I would also like the default message to be less annoying.