It’s none of my business if you opened my email

By Daniel Lemky / May 7, 2021

It’s none of my business if you opened my email. And it’s none of your business if I opened yours.

Email tracking software may enable us to snoop on each other, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay. Just because I may find the information useful, that doesn’t mean it’s my business.

It’s interesting how easy we can compromise on basic ideas when it all of a sudden becomes convenient or beneficial to us. Or when it becomes the normal way of doing business.

Technology has made it far too normal to track our colleagues, prospects, and customers.

If I send you an email from an email app that tracks opens and clicks, I can see if you’re really interested in what I have to say. The app will tell me how many times you open the email and it will tell me how many times you clicked on links that I included in my email. If you’re really interested in what I had to say and happen to open it and then return to it 4 or 5 times as you go throughout your day – I can be privy to all of this. I can even enable notifications when you read my email so that I can turn my stalking up to level 9 and email you while you’re reading my email.

I can also tell if you read my email and you’re just ignoring me.

How is that acceptable? What makes us think that because we sent the email that we’re somehow entitled to know what someone does with it?

Imagine saying to someone, “I bought you a new shirt for Christmas and I also included a tracking bug that tells me how many times you wear it so that I know if you actually liked it because it’s really important to me that you like it. I was the one who gave it to you so it’s my right to know if you liked it.”

Yeah, that’s insane.

So why is it okay to snoop on how many times someone opens my email just because I sent it to them?

Well, it’s not. But it’s normal. So businesses just do it.

You send an email to a client or a prospect and you see that they read it five times – would you want them to know that they read it five times? Not really. They would feel awkward if they knew their behaviour is being watched. And, unless you’ve already gotten used it yourself, there’s even a certain level of awkwardness being on the end of watching someone’s behaviour without them knowing it – particularly if they do something outside the norm. Those are the biggest giveaways that there is some sort of invisible line that is being crossed.

Can this type of tracking information be useful? Yeah sure, to a point. But are you really going to be that person that emails them again saying, “I know you read my email – why didn’t you respond?”

I mean, if it’s in you to do that, then maybe it’s good that your prospects and customers get to see that side of you so they can run for the hills.

Sure, tracking allows you to see whether subscribers to your mailing list are opening your emails and you can tweak your email subjects to try to improve open rates. But is Open Rate really the metric that matters? There are ways to track email effectiveness without personally identifying who did and who didn’t open our emails. Isn’t the goal for signups or conversions anyway?

Just because it’s the way something is done, does not mean it’s the way it ought to be done.

That’s why our team stopped using email trackers a while ago. If a service we use (like Help Scout or Mailchimp) provides tracking, we turn it off.

We weren’t always tracker-free. Nowadays most business email tools come with tracking built-in and enabled by default and it’s easy to just get used to it. But we realized that it just isn’t any of our business what our customers do with the emails we send them. We don’t want to be tracked, so why should we be tracking others?

And honestly, it hasn’t hurt our business. More than that, we’re respecting people’s privacy the way we want our privacy respected, and that’s more important to me than knowing if they opened my email.

iOS 14.5 is more than just a software update

By Daniel Lemky / May 5, 2021

As you may have heard, Apple just released a new update for iPhone and iPad, iOS 14.5. What makes this release more notable than most is that it includes a new feature called App Tracking Transparency.

App Tracking Transparency requires an app to request permission from you in order to track your activity on your device. This results in two significant changes: 1) It gives power back to the individual to actually have a choice about their privacy. 2) It exposes how much tracking is taking place.

This deals a direct blow to companies like Facebook and Google whose entire businesses are built around targeted advertising. For these companies, the more data they can collect on you, the more accurate their ad targeting becomes. And they really don’t want you knowing how much data they collect.

Facebook has unsurprisingly been opposed to this feature, stating that it’s bad for small businesses. But let’s be honest here – do we really believe that Facebook all of sudden cares about small businesses and the individuals who run them? We’re talking about the company that pioneered the technological mass manipulation of billions of humans and the company that engineers their products with no regard for how it affects individuals or society as long as it improves the bottom line. The company that knowingly inflated video analytics data, causing small businesses to think their ads were doing better than they actually were.

Yeah, I don’t buy it and I’m sure neither do you.

They don’t like this new privacy-protecting feature because they’re in the business of infringing on your privacy. They don’t like it because it’s bad for Facebook.

It’s evident that Facebook knows that, if given the choice, people will always choose not to be tracked. They know that people simply don’t want big tech (or anyone for that matter) spying on them. But they don’t care.

Facebook relies on being able to track people without having a choice. Some may say, “Well, Facebook users make their choice when they use the app.” True – and many people are leaving Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram because of that. But the deeper reality is that most people are not aware of what really is going on behind the scenes and in the code. They’re not aware of the extent of the tracking, nor are they aware of how it can be used against them. At the very minimum, all this data sitting in the hands of one company is an online security nightmare. It’s easy to forget about the times Facebook’s security was breached – like when the personal information of 50 million users was accessed by attackers.

More than all that – what about just simple principle? I know that may not sound extraordinarily compelling or what pleases the VCs, but surely at some level, there’s something in each of us that has got to care about the principle of the matter. The fact that it is not okay for practices like this to operate in the shadows. For me, that’s enough to gladly not do business with them. These companies are not trustworthy and the reality is that Facebook (among others) used the Trojan horse of their social network apps to sneak their way into our lives in order to wrestle our personal privacy from us.

Apple is far from perfect. But it’s great to see at least one of these giants-in-tech taking a stand on the side of personal privacy. I’ll gladly get behind that.