The newest spam-blasting social app shares a name with Dave Eggers' fictional villain-company, and all of its charm. Why do startups—and their big-time backers—think they can get away with molesting your contact list?
The premise is simple, almost too stupid to be devious: while people are rushing to sign up for an app, you get them to tap a button that invites virtually everyone they know. This is particularly effective, and maddening, when the blasting is done via Facebook, as is the case with Circle. It's obnoxious, but people do it because it works—no one likes Path, but that company's spam campaign netted a brief popularity surge.
Ditto Circle. You've probably never heard of it, but it's bouncing around the tippy top of the App Store charts:
How many of these Circle downloaders are downloading Circle because they really want to, versus being part of a spam-invite dragnet? There are a hell of a lot of pissed off invitees on Twitter:
WTF is this circle thing everyone keeps sending me an invite to?!?
— Nader Razmdjoo (@NaderRaz) December 10, 2013
If I get one more invite to "try circle" Ima punch someone in the throat...STOP THE MADNESS
— Huntaaa♕ (@HunterSisneroz) December 10, 2013
I'm gonna drop kick the next person to invite me to join circle on Facebook!!!
— Jesse Carey (@jesse_carey1) December 10, 2013
OH MY GOD ANOTHER FUCKING CIRCLE INVITE I AM SO FUCKING DONE WITH FACEBOOK HOLY FUCK pic.twitter.com/noyMRHUlOt
— Samuel (@Saamdawes) December 10, 2013
And on, and on and on. Interestingly, a lot of this griping comes from Europe and Australia, which jibes with an anonymous tip about Circle we received today. Apparently, the app is trying to sidestep a publicity disaster by showing users (and tech press) outside of startup hotspots (San Francisco, possibly New York) a different interface than the rest of the world.
Quoth the tipster:
You cannot sign up without location, and they hide this "spam hack" in Bay Area, maybe even entire California. Smart, since they don't want people like you, Facebook/apple employees to find out what they are doing.
In the signup flow, they have a last step where you "add contacts". If you click "add", which is placed in upper right corner and looks like a "continue" (many users will click without thinking), they will simply spam ALL your Facebook friends and ALL your contacts on your phone, without asking for confirmation!
They are buying 5-star review in the App Store. Almost all reviews are extremely positive, and the reviewers have only reviewed one app — Circle.
Unfortunately for Circle, the rest of the world hates spam too.
We're working on confirming this, but so far Circle's CEO Evan Reas has not replied to my questions about invite practices. I guess I wouldn't reply, either.