Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Popular Free Email Apps Such as Edison and Cleanfox Skim Users’ Inboxes for Marketing Data

Joseph Cox, Vice:

The popular Edison email app, which is in the top 100 productivity apps on the Apple app store, scrapes users’ email inboxes and sells products based off that information to clients in the finance, travel, and e-Commerce sectors. The contents of Edison users’ inboxes are of particular interest to companies who can buy the data to make better investment decisions, according to a J.P. Morgan document obtained by Motherboard.

On its website Edison says that it does “process” users’ emails, but some users did not know that when using the Edison app the company scrapes their inbox for profit. Motherboard has also obtained documentation that provides more specifics about how two other popular apps — Cleanfox and Slice — sell products based on users’ emails to corporate clients.

Slice is owned by Rakuten, a Japanese e-commerce conglomerate that also owns Unroll.me. A few years ago, the latter company was at the centre of a similar controversy over the appropriateness of scraping users’ inboxes for marketing data that can be sold.

At the time, Karissa Bell wrote a particularly good piece for Mashable about Unroll.me’s shady policies:

Even if you took the time to read their privacy policy — and, let’s be real, no one does — it doesn’t explicitly spell this out. “We may collect and use your commercial transactional messages and associated data to build anonymous market research products and services with trusted business partners,” it says. But in no way does it make clear that Unroll.me is literally in the business of selling data.

While Unroll.me’s website was updated to include information about the company’s invasive practices so users can make a more informed choice, Slice’s website is not as forthcoming, but the app was described in a 2012 story as “creepy”.

Edison and Cleanfox are not owned by Rakuten and do not appear to have any relationship with that company. The website for the former was updated some time between September last year and today to include a disclosure; the website for Cleanfox contains no clear explanation.

People used to be worried about Google’s since discontinued policy of scraping Gmail inboxes for targeted ads. How times have changed.