Spitzer Sues FreeiPods.com, Spinners of Spam Dreams

You already knew all those WinAFreeIpod.coms were scams. Now the People’s Champion, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, knows and he’s suing one of the companies behind it, Gratis Internet.

The company operated sites like FreeiPods.com; FreeCDs.com; FreeDVDs.com and FreeVideoGames.com. Users typed in their contact info in hopes of getting something for nothing.

According to readers Mary O. and Adrian, Gratis actually DID give people iPods and Mac Minis and such. They also gave them chum buckets of spam.

Billions of dollars, after the jump…

Gratis has a privacy policy which claims, in several places, in several different ways that it “We will never give out, sell or lend your name or information to anyone.” However, Gratis did exactly that, selling the data to three different “email marketers” who sent millions of pieces of spam to the addresses. No doubt, these companies also then sold the lists to other marketers, who also emailed to the lists and sold them, and so on and so on.

According to the notice of verified petition, the prosecution is recommending a penalty of $500 (or such other amount the court deems appropriate) per user unlawfully sold.

Based on the amount of data they are conservatively projected to have sold to Datran, just one of the three companies they provided data to, if the court fined Gratis Internet the full $500 that would equal over 73 billion dollars.

The total amount Gratis is estimated to have earned selling the records is $413,117.

The press release believes the Gratis case “to be the largest deliberate breach of privacy in internet history.” Perhaps only in recorded history. There’s hundreds of companies like Gratis, Datran, JDR and Jumpstart, in various shades of off-black. Hopefully this lawsuit will send them a message.

Suit Accuses Website Operator of Massive Privacy Breach [OAG.NY via Digg]

Comments

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  1. GenXCub says:

    If they cut the fine to $199 to give a free 1gb ipod nano to each person, at least that would cut them down a few billion!

  2. Ben Popken says:

    We initially posted that the entire thing was a scam. Some people wrote in to say that they had indeed received free iPods and stuff. Their Twilight Zone stories follow.

    Mary writes:

    “Hi there -

    Your posting about NY’s attny general suing the free ipods sites includes the line:

    “Greedy suckers typed in their contact info in hopes of getting something for nothing”

    Greedy? Yes. Suckers? No. I can’t speak for some of the other sites mentioned (which may indeed be scams), but the Gratis-operated freeipods.com was definitely not a scam. I will definitely give you that Gratis was more than a little…unfair? in how they enforced various “rules” regarding the freeipods deals…but as long as you were fully aware of the rules, and were very careful in how you went about fulfilling your requirements to get the ipod, it worked.

    How do I know? Well – there’s a ipod sitting on my desk right now. And I certainly didn’t pay for it. The mac mini I’m using to write this email? Also free, courtesy of Gratis. Between myself and my boyfriend, we greedy suckers ended up with 4 free items, which would have cost us somewhere in the neighborhood of $900 had we gone to a store to purchase them. Via the Gratis offers, we MAYBE spent something like $30 to get them.

    And the spam? We both made up new email addresses strictly for the purpose of completing these offers. I initially received TONS of spam email on the new account, but it tapered off after a few months, and now I get little to no junk. I used my cell phone number when I signed up, and never recieved any spam calls. Our junk regular mail definitely increased, though, but we’ve since moved and it didn’t follow.

    Again, I know nothing about the other sites mentioned – especially if they’re the “click here and get a free ipod!” sites, I’m sure they’re scams. I just wanted to let you know that Gratis, while shady, wasn’t a scam company. They definitely had some questionable business tactics, but they got me my free crap! Damn, maybe I am a sucker…

    - Mary”

  3. Ben Popken says:

    Adrian writes:

    “Have to make the point that plenty of people did actually receive items from Gratis, myself included. I signed up for probably 4 of their sites, and the one only one for which I was able to sucker enough others to sign up after me was the ipodshuffle one. But I did get a shuffle sent to me. Actually, I got two as there was some sort of shipping error that caused items to be sent twice. I ended up choosing the good karma route instead of selling on ebay, and gave one to my brother and the other to a friend.

    Now in the course of investigating the legitimacy of these sites before signing up, I ran across any number of guides and walk-throughs…and every single one of them advocated creating a new email address specifically for these types or sites, or at least using an address that you didn’t care about. Everyone already figured they would be selling your email address. I’d hope that no one is actually surprised by this development, and no one actually used their good or preferred email address when signing up with these sites.

    That said, I have no problem with Spitzer going after them for breaking their Privacy Policy. But I don’t think you should call it was a scam either; lots of people did receive their items.

    Adrian”