Newsletter Crew September 30, 2020

I don't Click on Newsletter Links Because I Know they Track me

Aquiles Carattino @aqui_c

I was self-reflecting on some of my online habits, and I realized that I do feel a huge barrier when it comes to clicking on newsletter links if I know they will be tracked. My e-mail is connected to my intimacy, and the feeling of beeing spied upon is harsh.

I wonder whether I am the only one with this feeling, and whether there are other newsletter creators that respect their readers privacy.

  1. 2

    What a nonsense - you are worried about clicking on newsletter but at the same time you are using forums (like IH), Twitter, LinkedIn and probably other social media platforms. Maybe its the best to stop using internet :D

  2. 2

    I stopped submitting myself to newsletters that use Convertkit, Mailchimp, and similar because of fear that they will track me.

    I know that some of these services have options to turn the tracking off, but I still know newsletters still track readers, so I just stopped to be sure I am not tracked.

    I would also love to know if it exists any newsletters or newsletter services that respect privacy.

    1. 1

      because of fear that they will track me.

      Why fear? What exactly is it you're scared of?

    2. 1

      I'm glad I found at least one person also concerned!

      Do you check before submitting the form or you just wait for the confirmation to see who sends? Also, don't ConvertKit or Mailchimp allow for custom domains? (Just asking to see how you actually make the decision). You should also add Substack to your black list.

      So far, the only alternative I found is to self-host. That is the only way I can have peace of mind regarding my own newsletter subscribers. But I know this is not an option for everybody. Perhaps (and this is a big perhaps) EmailOctopus has a better track record?

      1. 1

        I usually can see when submitting to a newsletter if it is Mailchimp or similar right there, by checking the URL the form will post to if it is a simple form. If it is a checkbox while signing up, it is harder to know. I mostly don't sign up for those newsletters to be sure.

        In that case, self-hosts will get punished for what hosted services are doing.

        Mostly I try to avoid clicking any redirector links in emails.

  3. 1

    This is something that bothers me too, so when building Iteretta, I made sure that the subscribers can decide whether or not they are tracked.

    1. 1

      This is a very interesting approach! So, the subscriber decides and not the newsletter owner?

      1. 1

        Yes.

        The newsletter owner will be only be able to see if the subscriber has decided to turn tracking off.

  4. 1

    I recently unsubscribed to a list that sent me an email asking why I hadn't opened their last few emails. I'm sure they sent it to a large group of subscribers, but that was crossing a boundary for me.

    1. 1

      That's a whole another level! And probably they even did some A/B testing to see whether different wordings had different effects on people. I agree with you, that would have felt as well as a boundary-crossing.

  5. 1

    I don't care about newsletters tracking which links I click. If it helps them give me more value, I encourage it.

    1. 1

      Many do just because of force of habit, or because they didn't think about it. And in between they are facilitating data to larger organizations, such as MailChimp or ConvertKit

      1. 2

        But... what's the big deal? The "data" you're referring to is simply that you clicked on a link, that they sent you, because you signed up..... I don't get it.

        1. 1

          User data is always "innocent": where you are, what browser you use, how often you click on a link, the text of the link you followed. What has no limits is the predictive power of seemingless innocent information.

          I have been reflecting about privacy and data for a while, so feel free to chime in if you want.

        2. 1

          The data they will have about you includes:

          • Browser
          • Operative system
          • Country
          • City
          • and raw IP-addresses.
          • Connect an IP-address to a specific email

          Historically that has been misused, sold, or used for advertisement, which I won't support. Sure, you can do ads, but don't use my data for it.

          Most of the time, I trust the person behind the newsletter. But I feel I can not trust the hosted services most of these newsletters use.

          Especially if it's hosted in the USA with all their privacy-breaking laws.

          EDIT: I want to make it clear that I, myself, also try to avoid subscribing to newsletter because of the above. But if I still would like to read the text in the newsletter, I avoid clicking on the links as the hosted services the newsletter might use are not trustworthy.

          1. 1

            Thanks for that deep explanation. I wasn’t fully aware that they collect all of that info. However, for me anyway, I still don’t care.

            It would be a different story if they were collecting PII or accessing the content of my emails or messages but I could care less if someone knows what browser and OS I’m using. Even what city I’m in. Who cares? If I get ads that are relevant to me instead of some advert for like a Microsoft product then all the better.

            I’m not being facetious - I guess what I’m asking is:

            Someone has your city, browser, OS... even IP address. So what? What is it you fear that could happen with that data?

            1. 1

              Just with a few of those data points, it's easy to fingerprint your browser and track you across the web.

              https://panopticlick.eff.org/

            2. 1

              That they can use it to predict, for example, your political affiliation and it prevents you from getting a job, or your tax score drops, which will impact on your lifestyle, your chances of success and even the chances of your children: look for example, the best indicators to predict admission to Ivy league universities in the US are normally economic success of the parents. And predictors for economic success can be related to access (i.e. better neighborhoods have more access to health, education, infrastructure etc.). Therefore, your drop in credit score pushes you to a somewhat predetermined life path. Sounds extreme, but not unrealistic, right? Not, at least, in statistical terms.

              And, more importantly, the data can be used in ways we haven't even envision yet, in contexts that can be radically different from what they are today. Today society may welcome people with other sexual orientations, there's no guarantee tomorrow it will be the same. Data collectors and aggregators do not forget, ever.

              1. 1

                That they can use it to predict, for example, your political affiliation and it prevents you from getting a job, or your tax score drops, which will impact on your lifestyle, your chances of success and even the chances of your children:

                Sorry but that sounds like conspiracy theory lunacy. I'm out lol

                1. 2

                  It has been seen that data collected have been used for political ads/messages with Cambridge Analytics and Trump. They used Facebook data, it has been all over the news when it was leaked.

                  Many airlines track users to predict purchase and change prices when it is a bigger chance to buy at a higher price, increasing the profit. This as an example been tested by Linus tech tips on youtube. with changes as big as ~1000 USD. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Utsnt6GFrKo)

                  I hope you don't think it is a conspiracy that the companies use the data against you, tracking data for ads are not just to show relevant ads - one example is above but also used to push data to different users based on the data they have collected on you - I wish you would put some time to read about privacy on the internet.

                  Ads and newsletter links are part of collecting data - both for good and bad reasons.

                  Articles for Ads discriminations based on your data:

                  Here is a Ted talk about privacy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcSlowAhvUk

                  1. 1

                    Very well articulated! Kudos!

  6. 1

    They should try using https://btfy.io for link shortening, then disable link tracking from their newsletter provider. That should still give them an idea of how their newsletter performs but still respects the privacy of the person that clicks it.

    1. 1

      Indeed, there are many things that could be different, but still, people with knowledge and power to decide default to the data collection path

  7. 1

    Use brave browser that doesn't support cookies like that

  8. 1

    @confact, @aqui_c
    I'm using hey.com email address that blocks all tracking pixels, but I don't care about them anyway.

    It is impossible to be anonymous in this world. Everybody is tracking us somehow, even if companies tell you that they do not track you. I'm sure there are exceptions. However, privacy has been abused over the many years that I don't pay attention anymore. Credit cards, underground, congestion zones, neighbours, parking ticket people and CCTV is constantly watching us.

    1. 1

      The question is whether we, when we have a choice, we also track our users just out of fun, without measuring the consequences. The fact that others do it, is not a justification of any sort

      1. 1

        we also track our users just out of fun

        I don't think anyone in the world tracks users for fun. It has a valid, valuable purpose both for the end user and the company.

        1. 1

          Perhaps not out of "fun" per se, but out of lack of reflection on what they are doing:

          https://m.signalvnoise.com/the-last-tracker-was-just-removed-from-basecamp-com/

  9. 1

    Out of interest – how do you check whether there is click tracking enabled on a newsletter?

    1. 2

      If you hover your cursor over a link you can see the destination URL (at least in Brave/Chrome). Usually, tracked links will show a unique URL that their newsletter software gets redirected through, rather than the actual destination URL.

      Took a screenshot to show you an example using the Morning Brew newsletter - the link actually goes to TechCrunch, but you get sent there via a tracking link: https://imgur.com/a/Nh1BqTi

    2. 1

      The idea is that each link is unique to each recipient of the newsletter, and the link brings you to a page that stores who clicked what and when, and then redirects you. If you would use a link-shortener like @ajvillalobos suggested on a different comment, at least there would be a small degree of privacy respect (still you get cookies, ip-logging, etc. etc.).

  10. 1

    I've seen a growing attention to this issue among newsletter publishers. My platform, Revue, is working on features for turning off or limiting tracking and I plan to use them. A few other email platforms already let you turn off tracking.

    1. 2

      Substack gives very limited data on what specific users actually do.

      I can see open rate and % rate of links clicked, but I can't see who has clicked what.

      1. 1

        Substack privacy policy is, to be honest, shameful (I'm just extracting parts):

        Whenever you interact with our Services, we automatically receive and record information on our server logs from your browser or device, which may include your IP address, geolocation data, device identification, “cookie” information, the type of browser and/or device you’re using to access our Services, and the page or feature you requested

        Our Services do not support Do Not Track requests at this time, which means that we collect information about your online activity both while you are using the Services and after you leave our Services.

        Business Transfers: We may choose to buy or sell assets, and may share and/or transfer customer information in connection with the evaluation of and entry into such transactions.

        I was really sorry when I saw that, the Twittergate. I really thought there was hope for new businesses with a different, more people-centered approach

        (I contacted Substack on two independent occasions and I had no answers whatsoever).

      2. 1

        True, although Substack still have information on who clicks their customers' newsletter links. And they will have it aggregated across all their customers so they can say [email protected] clicked these 18 links across 10 newsletters.

        My solution has been to use a catch all email address which adds one more step between my real identity and email address(es).

        1. 1

          It looks like a good idea, but when you click, your IP/Cookie/Browser information will reveal your identity. But, I agree, better than nothing for sure!

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