Gawker Password Hack: A Branding Opportunity For Other Sites


That’s how a Friday email from began. I know this because I received the email. It seems, brands are turning the Gawker into a consumer engagement opportunity. An hour later, I got another email. [more]

“As you may have heard, Gawker recently experienced some security problems that enabled their full subscriber list to be made public. The list contained the email addresses and passwords of all of their subscribers. How do we know about this? We read Gawker, too.”

That’s the beginning of an email I received from “Josh” at Groupon customer service. It went on to caution, “We are contacting you specifically because the email address you use at is the same one that appeared on the list of Gawker’s subscribers.” The email went on to caution:

“By now you’ve probably had enough of the whole Gawker account hackery ordeal, and we hate to pile more anxiety on. But we found your email address in Gawker’s list of compromised user info, and it looks like you used the same email address for your Woot account.”

Of course, Groupon mentions reading Gawker, but one doesn’t have to be a Gawker reader to know about the site’s recent security disaster. The hack that took down what was reported as horribly lax security measures at Gawker has been chronicled and analyzed elsewhere. The Village Voice has good running coverage and Forbes has a great angle on the technical ins and outs.

Denton and Co’s bewildering relative silence on the matter has some Gawker Media watchers perplexed and others taking pot shots, such as “You think that the password notice was credited to [Gawker management] because Denton didn’t want to pay a traffic bonus?”

Other brands aren’t laughing… or sitting by the wayside. Some of the biggest names in online retail, services and social networking have cross-checked the leaked account information and reached out to their members. Many users of sites including LinkedIn and Amazon, Skype, World of Warcraft, Yahoo, and Twitter were cautioned to change passwords if their email address was exposed by the hackers.

My Yahoo! mail account forced me to change my password, noting that “suspicious activity” had occurred. Whether that activity was simple Yahoo! running the hacked emails against their own user database, which seems likely, is unknown.

But a few online companies are leveraging the hack to do more than raise security concerns. At least one brand is using the Gawker pooch-screw as a business development opportunity.

Woot’s password email went on to state, “And because we know you’ve probably had a crappy week, please let us ease your pain. Just enter the coupon code CHANGEYOURPASSWORD during checkout at any Woot site and enjoy $5 off of your purchase. It expires March 31, 2011, by which time we assume you’ll have recovered from your Gawker-hack trauma.”

Meanwhile, with the latest hack of marketer Silverpop’s database, including accounts for McDonald’s and maybe USA Financial, managing hacked customers and helping them feel more secure online might just be the next big branding opportunity.

(Want to know if your email was part of the Gawker hack, put together an easy and fast widget.)