Too much contact at this Reunion

"I wasn't searching for her," Eck told me.

Just an hour or so before Schmidt received her e-mail, Eck, 46, said she received a message from what appeared to be the father of one of the kids in her son's Cub Scout pack. Curious to know why he was searching for her, she registered at Reunion.com to see if her acquaintance had left a message.

Eck provided access to her Gmail address book as part of the registration process. And so it goes.

Not only does Reunion.com's automatic message mislead e-mail recipients by saying that someone known to them is searching for them, it misrepresents the intentions of new members by giving the impression that they're actively seeking to communicate with the people in their address books.

Neither Schmidt nor Eck searched for a single person on Reunion.com.

Tinsley, the company's CEO, said that providing access to e-mail accounts is optional during the registration process. But many people may overlook the small link in the top right-hand corner of the page that says this.

Tinsley described the sending of e-mails to everyone in a person's address book as a "bulk search" for other Reunion.com members. But when pressed, he acknowledged that users aren't in fact searching for anyone when they agree to invite others to join.

"We could probably be a bit more clear there," Tinsley said.

After we spoke, he tweaked the language on the site to say that Reunion.com will "also let anyone who isn't a member know that you looked for them, and invite them to join."

I pointed out that this still indicates a search is being performed when that's not really the case.

Tinsley replied that new members are performing "a multiname search using their address book."

Reunion.com may be a great resource for finding long-lost friends and relations -- I have no idea. To run a search, you have to register. To register, you have to hand over personal info and, if you're not careful, access to your entire address book.

If you want to use the feature that the company pitches in its e-mails -- the ability to see who's been searching for you -- you have to pay $36 for three months or $60 for a year of full access.

Tinsley said about 80% of Reunion.com's revenue comes from paid subscriptions. The company thus has a clear incentive to lure as many people to the site as possible.

"There's a business benefit," Tinsley said. "We want more people connected, just as MySpace and Facebook do. But we're not trying to mislead anyone."

All appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.

Consumer Confidential runs Wednesdays and Sundays. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.



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