"Someone has a crush on you"
Have you or your teens ever received an email that begins like that? Hugely popular with teens, these emails are from websites that are known as "Crush sites".
Presenting themselves as websites about dating, Crush sites are basically services that collect email addresses which can then be used as commercially valuable mailing lists. The way they work is very simple. They send out an email to a target group which announces that "Someone has a crush on you", but they don't tell you who it is. The recipient is then invited to visit the Crush site and guess the email address of the person who has the crush on them, by typing the email addresses of their friends. The website tells them that the idea of the game is that if they guess correctly, the secret crush will be revealed to them.
Of course when your teen types in 10 email addresses as guesses as to who might have a crush on them, they are basically giving the website 10 new emails to add to its rapidly growing list. Now the website sends an email to all 10 of the new emails telling them that "Someone has a crush on you!" After all, they argue, your teen just revealed 10 people that he or she has a crush on, so they are telling the truth!
Can you see how fast this method works for collecting email addresses for commercial purposes? Instead of the website owners having to do anything, teens all over the world are feeding thousands of other people's email addresses into the system, building a huge database of email addresses free of charge for them. And you can be sure that anyone whose email address is given out to one of these sites will shortly be receiving large quantities of unsolicited commercial email (UCE), also known as Spam.
So what advice can you give your teen about Crush sites? Firstly, before they get all excited thinking that someone at their school has a secret crush on them, and that romance is in the air if they can only guess the right email address, let them know that the whole thing is a self-perpetuating hoax, designed to fool them into sharing all their private friends' email addresses.
Secondly, advise them that not only should they think twice before giving their own email address to a website that asks them for it, when they have no idea what is going to be done with their information, but that it is basically not OK to give out other people's emails without those people's permission.
There is nothing wrong with some light-hearted fun about crushes. But be sure that your teens understand the reality of crush sites before they play on them.
Englishman Colin Gabriel Hatcher, a Silicon Valley California
attorney and lifelong volunteer youth worker, is the innovative mastermind behind SafetyEd International With 21 years experience in education, 12 years experience as a Martial Arts Instructor (he holds 5 black belts), 11 years of computer experience, and over 7 years working in internet related safety, child protection and child advocacy, Colin is an
accomplished expert researcher and writer in the internet field, as well as being an expert in internet and cyberspace law.