Email startup Superhuman ruffled some feathers this week thanks to a viral blog post by forms Twitter vice president of design Mike Davidson detailing how one of the $ 30 a month service's core features was actually a run-of-the-mill privacy-violating tracking pixel that transmits information about recipients, including geolocation, back to the sender every time an email containing it was opened
Now that is a considerable backlash against the firm, Superhuman says it is one of those effective immediately, as well as changing others. Per the Verge, CEO Rahul Vohra says that the company will stop sending geolocation data of recipients to transmitters, delete its database of existing location data, and will stop setting its read receipts functionality to activated by default. But it can be removing tracking pixels entirely.
Tracking pixels are tiny images that can be embedded in emails or websites. When loaded, they are hosted on the image server required to download them — such as the IP address of the device they were loaded on (which can be easily tied to geolocation) and the time of download. This is the basis for read receipts, which can notify the sender of an email when and where the recipient loaded the tracking pixel.
Vohra wrote a blog post that Superhuman users will no longer be able to access that geolocation data, writing That was the feature's high potential for abuse like stalking was the most severe criticism raised in Davidson's post.
"I have come to understand that there are indeed nightmare scenarios involving location tracking," Vohra wrote. He added that while the service only provided state or country-level data, he was "so sorry for this … We did not consider potential bad actors. I wholeheartedly apologize for not thinking through this more fully. ”
Vohra also said that while“ made sense for read statuses at default when our user base was early adopters, ”they were changing the feature after having heard However, Vohra responded to complaints regarding the inability of recipients to opt out of email tracking by advising those bothered to "remove remote image loading in your email client." Or download an anti-tracking pixel plugin. Tracking pixels are incredibly widespread in the email industry and "demand for read statuses is so high that it has now become table-stakes," Vohra wrote:
We are still keeping the feature, as Superhuman is business software for email power users . In the prosumer email market, read statuses have been "must have" for many years. See MixMax, Yesware, Streak, Hubspot, and Mailtrack. These products alone have 3M + users, and each one provides read statuses by default.
"I think that we, as an industry, should agree to the level of information that we track and show in our products," Vohra concluded. “If one of us makes something new, and that innovation becomes popular, then market dynamics will pull us all in that direction.”
Vohra also on his thoughts in a series of tweets:
This child of response to criticism points to the exception rather than the norm in the tech startup world, and it's always good to see complaints taken seriously and responded to instead of evaded, rationalized away, or ignored. In the meantime, though, users who want to opt out of Superhuman's (and any of the number of other platforms) tracking have few options. One is following the instructions in this post to automatically flag Superhuman users and put them in a folder, though that will not be in itself of other services or block the tracking pixels themselves.
The other is disabling image loading by default in your email client – which does add a few steps in the case that someone actually sends something useful in the body of an email, but will block pixel trackers from working.