Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Unroll.me’s CEO Responds to Backlash

One more tasty nugget from Mike Isaac’s excellent profile of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has been making the rounds:

They spent much of their energy one-upping rivals like Lyft. Uber devoted teams to so-called competitive intelligence, purchasing data from an analytics service called Slice Intelligence. Using an email digest service it owns named Unroll.me, Slice collected its customers’ emailed Lyft receipts from their inboxes and sold the anonymized data to Uber. Uber used the data as a proxy for the health of Lyft’s business. (Lyft, too, operates a competitive intelligence team.)

Slice confirmed that it sells anonymized data (meaning that customers’ names are not attached) based on ride receipts from Uber and Lyft, but declined to disclose who buys the information.

Unroll.me bills itself as a way to “clean up your inbox” by bundling together bulk emails and newsletters into daily digests, which sounds just great. In order to do that, they need to be able to monitor your emails. And they’re a free service, so you can do the math on how they make their money.

Anyway, Unroll.me’s CEO Jojo Hedaya is shocked — shocked — that anyone would find this objectionable:

Our users are the heart of our company and service. So it was heartbreaking to see that some of our users were upset to learn about how we monetize our free service.

And while we try our best to be open about our business model, recent customer feedback tells me we weren’t explicit enough.

No shit. I suppose our parent company spies on your online purchases for marketing purposes is a less-agreeable tagline.

Sure we have a Terms of Service Agreement and a plain-English Privacy Policy that our users agree they have read and understand before they even sign up, but the reality is most of us – myself included – don’t take the time to thoroughly review them.

Hedaya certainly hasn’t read either of these agreements, as the Terms of Service specifically prohibits the links in his post — and, incidentally, in mine:

The Website must not be framed on any other site, nor may you create a link to any part of the Website other than the homepage.

Oops.

Hedaya again:

I can’t stress enough the importance of your privacy. We never, ever release personal data about you. All data is completely anonymous and related to purchases only.

If a company owned by one of the largest retailers in the world recorded every receipt you’d received via email, do you think that you’d be completely anonymous? That’s a false promise; much like most other “anonymous” big data sets, the combination of attributes can easily reveal individual users even without explicitly knowing their names.