Oct 16, 2006

Your Privacy Policy and Email Open Trackers

All this HP "Pattymail" news is really making the rounds in the email marketing world. People are discussing whether companies should disclose the fact that they’re using "web beacons" to track email opens (web beacons are tiny graphics embedded in HTML email, that when downloaded, tell the marketer if the email was opened). ZDNet has a pretty thorough article covering this issue here.

So for all you small businesses who have been too busy working to keep up with this stuff, here’s a quick summary of what all the experts are saying.

  • At the very least, if you track email opens, you should disclose your use of web beacons in your privacy policy. Yahoo defines web beacons this way and here’s how they refer to them in their privacy policy (look under "cookies"). It doesn’t have to be fancy. Check out section E-8 in the MailChimp Privacy Policy for our example. If you don’t have a privacy policy for your website, you can start here at the DMA’s Privacy Policy Generator.
  • If you track who opens your emails, AND you actually provide that information to any 3rd parties or something weird like that, then you should probably give your users the option to "opt-out" of your web beacons. Remember your bank sending you opt-out forms by snail-mail?
  • You might even want to disclose your use of web beacons in the footer of your emails. We think this is a good idea for big companies who need to look "official" but it’s overkill if you’re a little company sending a simple email newsletter every month. Yahoo’s been doing this in their emails since at least 2005. Here’s a screenshot of one of their emails: