Didtheyreadit’s Response To Privacy Issues Part I

By | May 19, 2004

Further to my posting about Didtheyreadit, a service which allows the sender to know whether/when/where the recipient opened their email (and even how long they read it), here’s a response from the company’s owner and founder, Alastair Rampell, addressing my concerns about the serious privacy issues it raises.

Alastair acknowledges “you are right in that the service raises some privacy issues” but says there are legitimate uses for it, not least ensuring that your emails have not been trapped in some spam filter: ”I can say that I use didtheyreadit for all the e-mail that I send, but I really don’t use it for any sort of nefarious purpose, but rather just to tell that my e-mail went through. Spam has become such a big problem that quite often legitimate (non-commercial) mail gets blocked, too—but the sender never knows. Didtheyreadit addresses this problem.”

I wondered why didtheyreadit did not include some clear message (unlike its competitor, MSGTAG) alerting the recipient to the fact the sender is using the service. Alastair’s reply: “You can just add a line to your signature, saying “this message was sent with didtheyreadit.com.” We don’t try to force people to disclose that they are using the service.” Fair point, but I think a message should be the default setting, with users able to remove it or change the wording if they want. Firstly, the company providing the service bears some responsibility about how the service is used, so they should be influencing users about good practices (such as not concealing from recipients that the opening of their emails is being monitored). Secondly, the more standard any such message informing users their emails are being monitored, the more consumer awareness of the service. The more aware consumers are, the more a reasoned decision can be made about whether they consider it acceptable behaviour.)

This is perhaps the most important issue about email tagging, and will, I think, determine whether it’s deemed acceptable by the market. MSGTAG have it more or less right in that they inform the recipient, and, in theory, give them the change to opt out. However, this is after the event (i.e. after the first email they receive) so it’s not prior consent, and nor is it particularly prominent (the message is stuck at the bottom of an email). Correcting this might be tricky, but would be the fairest resolution, in my view. A recipient should be offered a choice of rejecting or accepting the tag and subsequent tags first.

More on Alastair’s response in the next posting.