Tuesday, February 19, 2008

An email mole

The other day, I got an email from User:Wikigender:
Dear User of Wikipedia,

You have created or modified an article related to gender. We would like to inform you that the OECD Development Centre (www.oecd.org/dev) has recently introduced a new wiki-based Internet platform exclusively focused on gender equality, called Wikigender (www.wikigender.org).

If you are interested in joining this initiative and sharing your knowledge with other experts of gender equality, please contact us at [email removed].

Please be advised that you will need a password to enter the site prior to its official launch on March 8 (International Women's Day), which we are happy to provide upon request.

We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely, The OECD Wikigender Team
Perhaps I'm being naive, but I don't think I've run across any similar use of Special:Emailuser previously. Register an account without any/much editing, confirm an email, and wait silently for anyone to edit a relevant article... once they do, send them your email pitch. So long as there's no significant on-wiki activity or complaint, you can probably continue this behavior indefinitely. For lack of a better term, I guess I'll call it an "email mole."

I appreciate that this is at least significantly better targeted and tailored than everyday spam, but I can't help being a bit uncomfortable with what seems a possible misuse of account priviledges and resources. They won't have direct access to my email address unless I reply, but they can continue to make use of Special:Emailuser unless their access to it is revoked.

One more example of how marketers and politicians are gradually moving into narrowcasting, I suppose.

What do others think? Is this an acceptable thing to do? What happens if this sort of thing occurs on a large scale? Or has it, already, and I just haven't run into it, yet?


Jon Harald Søby said...

I think this shows a need in Wikimedia projects to create a spam restriction to Special:Emailuser. I mean, I can't see any logical reason not to restrict it to five emails per day or so. This sort of advertisement is not good, in my opinion. As you say, it may lead to people using Wikipedia for political purposes, advertising various causes – and to use a Godwinian example, imagine the scenario of nazi groups recruiting people through which Wikipedia articles they have edited.

cormaggio said...

There was a proposal for a policy on Wikiversity about taking action against people who use Special:Emailuser to solicit people for marketing research based on their self-identified "demographics" (a collaborative research project on Wikiversity). I don't think the above case is so bad, but as Jon points out, it could be used for more sinister purposes other than marketing. We'd probably need to be careful about wording such a policy - obviously, not all solicitations are sinister.

Denis said...

Dear Luna Santin:
First of all, apologies if you felt spammed by our email. We contacted you as you had contributed to an article related to gender equality. We therefore thought that our Wikigender project may be of interest to you.
In no way did we try to abuse the Wikipedia system for sinister purposes. In fact, some of the people we contacted reacted quite positively and wanted to learn more about the Wikigender initiative. This is precisely what we tried to achieve with our email: inform, in a very informal way, about a new website, targeted at a very selected group of people: i.e. Internet users with an interest in gender equality and experiences in using a wiki.
We are sorry to hear that this well-intentioned measure was apparently misunderstood by some people.

Luna Santin said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I also appreciate somebody from the OECD owning up to things -- I'm sure it was well-intentioned, even if it wasn't received that way. Best of luck to you on the wiki, all the same.