A few years ago, I took out a subscription to The New Yorker for a few months. They continued sending me newsletter e-mails long after I cancelled my subscription. I reprioritized my time and started ignoring these emails too. Not too long ago, they sent me an e-mail, writing:
We noticed that you haven’t opened a newsletter from The New Yorker in a while. Do you still want e-mails from us?
What I find most interesting about these two sentences is that tracking has become pervasive that trackers feel like they can speak openly about it. Content producers and corporations have been embedding web beacons in their e-mails for well over a decade, but it always felt like a dirty secret. What changed? Have recipients, the tracked, become so indifferent to tracking that it is now socially acceptable?
It has become quasi-impossible to escape tracking. Even if you use a text-based e-mail client and don’t fetch images for HTML e-mails, links are still wrapped in click trackers. Consider, for example, the the link in the following excerpt of an e-mail:
Points are calculated depending on the number of competitors registered in the contest, as well as a competitors' placing. Ties were broken as per the rules set out in the PPBSO Rule Book (https://ppbso-ottawa.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=f077ba9f1ad3c56a2205a2abc&id=d52ce62477&e=0f905d2e70)
Let’s make a few educated guesses about the query string embedded in this URL. Some parts are consistent across all e-mails I receive from the PPBSO. Presumably
uniquely identifies me as a recipient. If I had to venture a guess, some data is collected about me when I click the above link. The component "e=0f905d2e70" presumably refers to the e-mailer. The only part that varies is the string "id=d52ce62477", which presumably captures that the above URL should redirect to the PPBSO Rule Book.
I understand that Mailchimp probably provides a low-effort mailing list solution. But do senders believe that their recipients want to be tracked? (I suspect the answer is that most recipients do not care.) More generally, do senders even think about the implications of tracking their recipients? It isn’t just the PPBSO that uses click tracking in its emails: I would guess that at least 3/4 of the mass emails I receive use some kind of tracking.
What can we do, short of retreating from the wider Internet, to avoid being tracked?