I spend a lot of time working with monitoring solutions, and like to measure and track things. The information we collect from our apps tells us a lot about what’s going on. Who’s using it. How frequently they access it. Where they are from. How much time they spend accessing the app etc. And then there’s a lot we can do as app owners with this data. We can measure it, trend it, slice and dice and produce nice reports. We can also action on this info. Offer people stuff based on their behaviour. Use those ‘lifecycle’ emails to improve conversion. Increase our sales. Bring people back to using our products.
I’m getting used to those supposedly-personal email from Matt, the founder of Widgets inc. who’s “just checking if I need any help using the product”, or Stuart from Rackspace who has “only one question”. I know it’s automated, but it’s fine. As long as I can hit reply and actually reach a person, that’s ok with me. I pretend to not notice.
However, I’m feeling recently that some of those emails get a little creepy. A couple of random examples:
I’m not using Twitter much. My last tweet was probably a couple of years ago. So I did get a few of those “see what you’re missing” emails. But today, the email said “See what you’re missing in Germany“. I moved to Germany two and a half years ago. Now, of course I’m aware that Twitter knows where I log in from (even if it’s rather rare), and possibly other location-based info. But it just feels creepy to email me about it this way.
Another example felt even worse – I installed an app on my android phone called MightyText — it was recommended by Linuxjournal so I felt I should trust it. I realised it would need access to my phonebook and be allowed to send and receive SMS when I installed it. It might need access to my email so I can send SMS from there too. I understand. But when I got an email a couple of days after installing the app (and not using it), it kinda hit the creepy nerve: “You have SMS waiting from Dad, Jonathan and Florian”. The mightytext guys thought it would be more engaging to take a look into my recent SMS messages, pick up recent or popular contacts and use it to get me to use the product.
(UPDATE: to clarify, after installing MightyText I did not receive any SMS messages for a few days. The email was therefore not simply notifying me of some unread messages that I missed. It basically went over my old SMS messages I received before even installing it, and generated this reminder / engagement email to me.)
To me this is crossing some invisible but very clear line. I haven’t used the product yet, and it’s already trawling through my personal stuff?
It’s hard to describe what’s the tipping point, the point where things turn from useful/entertaining to creepy. To me those two examples did cross the line. And I wish I could put my finger on exactly what makes it creepy, but it’s hard.
Perhaps it’s when the application or service makes it blatantly clear that they can read your messages, that they actually have unlimited access to all the names and numbers in your address book. That they do track where you access the site from regularly. And not only do they have this information and access, they feel that it’s ok for them to use it rather openly. And they do make it personal. It’s not some trending data aggregated over millions of customers. It’s my data, extracted and pinpointed to be used on (or as it feels, against) me.
I’m trusting you with my data. I realise there are risks involved, but please treat my data with respect. Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should. And don’t be a creep.