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Email App Superhuman’s Superficial Privacy Fixes Do Not Prevent It From Spying on You

Mike Davidson: It took an article I almost didn’t publish and tens of thousands of people saying they were creeped out, but Superhuman admitted they were wrong and reduced the danger that their surveillance pixels introduce. Good on Rahul Vohra and team for that. I will say, however, that I’m a little surprised how quickly some people are rolling over and giving Superhuman credit for fixing a problem that they didn’t actually fix. […] Let’s take a look at how Superhuman [an email app that charges users $30 a month] explains their changes.

Rahul correctly lays out four of the criticisms leveled at Superhuman’s read receipts: Location data could be used in nefarious ways. Read statuses are on by default. Recipients of emails cannot opt out. Superhuman users cannot disable remote image loading. However, he also omits the core criticism: Recipients of Superhuman emails do not know their actions are being tracked or sent back to senders.

Superhuman said it was keeping the read status feature, but turning it off by default. Users who want it will have to explicitly turn it on. Mike adds: This addresses the concern about teaching customers to surveil by default but also establishes that Superhuman is keeping the feature working almost exactly as-is, with the exception of not collecting or displaying actual locations. I’ve spoken with several people about how they interpreted Rahul’s post on this particular detail. Some believed the whole log of timestamped read events was going away and were happy about that. Others read it as: you can still see exactly when and how many times someone has opened your email, complete with multiple timestamps — you just can’t see the location anymore. That, to me, is not sufficient. “A little less creepy” is still creepy. Also worth noting, “turning receipts off by default” does nothing to educate customers about the undisclosed surveillance they are enabling if they flip that switch.


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