LOS ANGELES (CN) - Internet dating site WooMe.com loots email address books and uses them to solicit new members with viral email that makes it appear the messages come from friends, according to a federal class action. The class claims that Irvine-based WooMe promises it will not use their personal email information, but uses licensed software to copy their "entire email address book ... to send its solicitation emails to all the users' contacts who are not WooMe subscribers."
In an interview Thursday, a WooMe executive said the class's allegations "are based on falsehoods."
The executive, who asked not to be named for legal reasons, said, "A lot of the claims are technically impossible, which anyone who understands technology would know."
But the class says it is possible, and that WooMe uses what the social networking industry calls a "contact importer" to raid email accounts.
"Using software it licenses from Octazen Solutions, WooMe accesses users' email address books but does much more than check for contracts who are already WooMe subscribers," the complaint states. "Rather, WooMe copies the subscriber's entire email address book and uses it to send its solicitation emails to all the users' contacts who are not WooMe subscribers.
"Further, WooMe impersonates the unsuspecting user, automatically customizing its solicitation messages to be sent in the name and from an email address associated with the owner of the address book from which recipients' contact information has been harvested."
Lead plaintiff Gordon Campbell says that WooMe got into his Gmail address book to solicit contacts for WooMe membership, though he explicitly refused to provide it with his email password.
Campbell claims that "within four minutes" of initiating a video chat with a relative on his Gmail account, "his relative received a WooMe solicitation message that appeared to have been sent by plaintiff and which stated that a message from plaintiff was waiting on WooMe's Web site for the family members to retrieve. ...
"However, plaintiff had not requested that a message be sent to his relative, had not authorized WooMe to send such a message, had not provided his relative's email address to WooMe, and had not posted a message for his relative to retrieve from the WooMe Web site.".
The WooMe official acknowledged that the company licenses the Octazen Solutions system, which he described as "an industry standard."
"Everyone does it," the WooMe official said. "You go to Facebook and you'll see it. You basically put in your email address and it tells you what friends are on the social network."
The WooMe official said Facebook purchased Octazen a few weeks ago. He said "that the objective is also to invite friends," but added that the use of Octazen does not mean WooMe scoured people's email address books without their knowledge or consent.
But Campbell says he had to spend "substantial time responding to inquiries from his contacts who had received WooMe solicitation messages that appeared to have been sent by [Campbell], investigating the source of these messages, and contacting WooMe to request that WooMe purge his address book information list and desist from sending solicitation messages in his name."
The complaint estimates that each class member has lost at least $5,000 during a year of fruitless efforts to get WooMe to stop sending emails in their names.
The named defendants are Woo Media and Stephen Stokols.
The class seeks an injunction requiring WooMe to delete all misappropriated contact information, stop accessing their email accounts and stop sending solicitation emails. It demands compensatory, statutory and punitive damages for violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and Computer Crime Law, privacy violations, unfair competition and unjust enrichment.
The putative class is represented by David Parisi with Parisi and Havens of Sherman Oaks.
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