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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Privacy and Marketing

There has been an interesting discussion going on within one of the communities I'm part of, about privacy and email marketing. It started when someone asked how they could give their newsletter subscribers the option to only receive text emails from them, and someone else pointed out that some of the HTML email services provide tracking "bugs" to spy on readers. This opened a debate about what rights marketers have to know what their customers are doing.

The service is question, Constant Contact, is the one I've been using for the last couple years, along with (I assume) thousands of other small businesses. I chose it because it makes it so incredibly easy to compose and send emails to a subscriber base, and allow people to sign up for the newsletter. I use it to send out the summary of blog postings to the people who have subscribed to Increase Your Reach.

I always assumed that anyone who subscribed either a) read the privacy policies if they were concerned and b) knew that opening my newsletter and clicking a link was an activity I could actually "see" happen. It never occurred to me that this might NOT be known, and would even considered "unethical" or offensive by some people.

In the case of my subscribers, I make it known up front that I will never sell or give my subscribers information to anyone for any reason. If I do (occasionally) look at the reports, it is to see what my overall click thru rate is, and I can tell at a glance whether a topic bombed or if a type of posting was really popular.

There are probably more nefarious marketers out there who will use this knowledge to go further - perhaps they see that someone clicked on a particular product and then follow up to make a sales call. That is the danger of subscribing to a list that uses HTML email and tracks click thrus, certainly.Personally, it doesn't matter to me that Subscriber Anne looked at a logo design article and Subscriber Bob found a software review of interest. I would only contact someone in response to them visiting a blog posting IF they left me a comment that required a response.

And, that is why if you are concerned with this privacy, you should only subscribe to only text emails (if this is an option). Or, not subscribe to email newsletters at all!

Meanwhile, I am thinking about editing my welcome letter for new subscribers to alert them to this feature of Constant Contact and nearly all over email newsletter services. Now that I realize just how many internet denizens had NO clue this was possible, I think it's the right thing to do.