Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Amazon Order Emails No Longer Include Item Details

Michael Tsai quotes two tweets; first, from Paul Rosania:

Amazon order confirmations and shipment notifications no longer include any item details. I could not for the life of me figure out why they would do this. They’re not scored on MAUs, they don’t need me to click through. Then I realized: is it so Google can’t see my order data?

Next, Andrew Chen of Andreessen Horowitz and formerly leading the “Rider Growth” team at Uber:

My guess – it’s not for google, but bc there’s email analytics cos that estimate sales of individual products based on parsing emails

At Uber, we used parsed competitor receipt data to estimate for instance, airport mkt share %, short trips mkt share etc

Chen is referring to email apps like Edison and inbox tidying services like Unroll.me, which scrape your messages for receipts and invoices used to create market trend reports. It wasn’t too long ago that many people found it outrageous that Google was using the contents of their Gmail inboxes to serve ads; now, people are willingly passing their entire email setup through marketing data companies. I think this is partly because people have become somewhat complacent with the erosion of their privacy, but I also think there is validity in a theory articulated by Cabel Sasser in response to Edison’s syncing bug last month:

What an interesting butterfly effect

Apple wants to preserve your battery life > email clients can’t check in the background > email clients set up servers to store credentials and check email to push notify you of new email > everyone’s email now exposed to huge security vector.

Apple obviously did not create this market, but its actions and priorities have likely encouraged its growth. Same, too, could be said of the App Store’s longstanding race-to-the-bottom prices that have only recently begun to turn around with widespread use of subscriptions.

To be clear: I am not claiming that, had the App Store encouraged similar app prices as on desktop computers and had background daemons been allowed, that this market would not exist. So long as personal data has value and meaningful privacy rules are absent, it seems inevitable that products will be invented to strip mine information through inventive sources. But the tradeoff of better battery life and less expensive apps does not come without a price.

It turns out that Amazon’s detail deficient email notifications are privacy-friendly, in a sense, but it’s Amazon’s sales data that is being protected.