Have you heard? Someone's suing Classmates.com over those e-mails it's been blasting the world with for the past decade. My reaction? It's about damned time.
Here's the scoop: A man from San Diego says he received e-mails from Classmates.com claiming his former classmates were "trying to contact him" through the site. (Surely you've received one or 100 of those, too -- I know I have.) Our guy joined the service, paying for a premium membership ($15 for 3 months) to gain access. Then, he said, he discovered that no old friends had attempted to get in touch or even looked up his name.
"Of those www.classmates.com users who were characterized ... as members who viewed Plaintiff's profile, none were former classmates of Plaintiff or persons familiar with or known to Plaintiff for that matter," the lawsuit says.
The suit claims Classmates.com has pulled similar tricks on countless other unsuspecting users. It demands the company refund subscriptions fees and pay an additional fine for deceptive advertising.
I, for one, hope the suit is a massive success. Why, you might ask? Allow me to explain.
1. Classmates.com has been filling our inboxes long enough.
How happy are people who get Classmates.com e-mails? A quick glance at the Consumer Affairs complaints page for the company will give you an idea. I found dozens of complaints from the past month alone. The BBB gives Classmates a C+ rating. The reason for the rating is "number of complaints filed."
"I have called them several times to stop sending me junk e-mail, and they keep telling me to unsubscribe, which I have done 10 times," writes Jeff from Michigan.
"I have tried many times to have them remove my name from their mailing list and they do not acknowledge my request," notes Skip from Arizona.
2. The company racks up plenty of billing and service complaints.
Look through the consumer complaints on ConsumerAffairs.com and see just how many people say they're being billed without authorization. Many users say they gave a credit card number for a trial and kept getting charged long after the trial's end, despite numerous cancellations. Many users also say they can't even login to the site, and no one will answer their requests for help.
3. Required registration? Get real.
When I tried Classmates.com I couldn’t even look at my high school class list (or any other class) without first giving my personal information, including e-mail address. See a connection here?
4. The service itself strikes me as antiquated and useless.
I can see how Classmates.com might have been appealing back in 1995, when it first launched. But nowadays, you can find better and easier ways to connect with old classmates -- ones that are both cost- and spam-free. (Facebook, anyone? MySpace?) The company's audacity in continuing to lure curious people into paying money to find out what "mysterious person" is interested in them just floors me.
5. What kind of pay-to-play company doesn't make their phone number readily available?
Many consumers complain that they can't find a phone number for Classmates.com or get any kind of real answer to their questions. (The BBB, by the way, lists their number as 425-917-5000.) A place like Google can get away with that sort of thing -- we may not like it, but we're also using its services for free, so we deal with it. Once a company has your credit card number and starts billing you, though, it's time for them to cut the hide-and-seek "Web help forum" game and make it clear how customers can get in touch by phone.
Ultimately, this lawsuit has the potential to pave new ground for consumer protection in the world of e-commerce. There are too many services taking advantage of people online, and a harsh ruling could be just what the Web ordered.
That's my rant. Agree? Classmates.com might not listen, but you're welcome to leave your comments here.