Circling the wagons
If someone emails you, should they be able to see details of every time you opened the email, your vague location each time, and whether you were on a mobile or desktop OS when you did? And should they be able to do this without you ever knowing it happened?
Your answer is probably no. It doesn’t feel right for a one-to-one email to behave like this, and it may well violate GDPR, too.
Flip it around, and let’s try again. Is it useful when sending an email to be able to see when the recipient opened it, roughly where they were, and whether they were on the go or sitting at a desk? Sometimes, yes.
Imagine sending an important email to a client in London and getting no response for two days. You start to worry, and consider chasing them up. But then you see they did open the email, but in Greece rather than London, indicating they’re probably on vacation and it might be worth waiting a few days to chase up. A little knowledge helped you become a better communicator. You might even say the feature made you feel ‘superhuman.’
These two viewpoints are at the core of a debate set off by an excellent post
looking at the tracking built into trendy, pricey email app Superhuman
Superhuman is an excellent product if you’re serious about email, but there’s no denying that tracking recipients in detail without any opt-in is ethically questionable in some parts of the world, and probably illegal in others.
Superhuman shouldn’t be too harshly vilified for this, as long as they respond to the criticism thoughtfully and responsibly — let’s give them a chance. But the debate is fascinating because it shows how privilege affects people’s viewpoints.
There’s a 'circling of the wagons’ that increasingly occurs when criticism is raised about Silicon Valley companies. VCs, entrepreneurs and others band together to decry the press for stirring up 'nontrovercies’ to 'drive clicks,’ and they complain that people don’t understand that privacy is dead and that it’s now normal to be tracked everywhere — that’s just how the internet works now.
I couldn’t sleep last night so ended up reading lots
about this issue on Twitter (some of the most extreme of which, interestingly, has been deleted now). It truly is maddening to see genuine, sensible concerns brushed off as if they were just a front in a culture war.
The dismissive response supports a narrative that Silicon Valley knows best and is always just waiting for the world to catch up. That may be true sometimes with technology, but when it comes to human empathy, the opposite is often the case.
Superhuman has a pretty small userbase, so its own tracking shouldn’t need to become a big story on its own, but Silicon Valley’s instinctive urge to protect its own at all costs needs to stop. These folk need to step back and take a look at whether the other person has a viewpoint that doesn’t chime with the view inside their own bubble.
As Uber and Theranos showed us, sometimes the rest of the world has a point.