I honestly don’t know what fascinated me more; the fact that people didn’t know about this practice I’m about to share or the statements made about personal violations or the accusatory tones involved.
But if the people present didn’t know perhaps others don’t, so here goes…
You Knew This, Didn’t You?
Just so you all know, lots of companies, lots of government agencies (federal, state, local), lots of groups (NGOs, non-profits, private), lots of lots, place tracers in their emails so they’ll know who’s opening them, reading them and where (they want to know if confidential information isn’t being kept confidential, if who they think is the decision maker isn’t the real decision maker, how many people to expect around the table during meetings, …), so forwarding an email without getting permission, BCCing a response without alerting the person you’re responding to that you’re BCCing your response to someone else, etc., can be a real red flag.
The red flag raised involves questions of trustworthiness, mutual respect, confidentiality, business acumen and propriety, … and the results vary from business not being done to negotiations crippled before they begin to reputations ruined to going into meetings and being blindsided when the corporate attorney walks in and more.
Does this tracer practice disturb you? Do you feel violated?
Well, you have only yourself to blame. What I recognize first is that if you’re feeling violated or some such you’re not paying attention. Invariably there’s something in the email (usually at the bottom and in small print) along the lines of
This email message and any attachments are confidential and may be privileged. If you are not the intended recipient, please notify … by replying to this message or by sending an email to … and destroy all copies of this message and any attachments. Thank you.
So if you received an email with some such phrasing in it and you weren’t the intended recipient and you read the email, you don’t get to complain or be upset, disturbed or feel violated.
I’ve come to conclude most people don’t know what “violated” means.
Have you ever received an email with images in it? Organizations routinely add their logo or a banner to their emails.
Have you ever received an email with an electronic business card?
Have you ever received an email with a link in it?
Let me make this real simple; have you ever received an email?
Images, electronic business cards, etc., are all examples of tracers. They’re all stored on a server somewhere and when you open your email, that email requests those images, electronic business cards, etc., from that server somewhere.
And that server keeps a record of what was requested, by what email, by whom it was sent to, by what device it was opened on, where, and more information than you are probably comfortable with.
This type of information is all over the web — you did know that your emails travel through the same space as everything else on the web, right? That your emails are often coded in HTML or another web formatting language, right? That your emails are basically highly individualized web pages…or so you hope — and is a lot of what cookies are about. Although not exactly the same, similar principles apply.
Open an email and these servers quickly learn more about you, your computer, your email client, …, than you probably want to know.
But you should at least be aware of it.
Would you rather be known as Ignorant or Incompetent?
Let’s get back to being upset that an email is traceable. Let’s suggest you respond to the sender of an email that wasn’t intended for you. Okay, you’re incompetent because you’ve just set off an “any concept of trust between sender and the intended recipient is now gone because I’m not the intended recipient and I responded” flare.
Was there some text in the email about “don’t read this if you’re not the intended recipient”? Were you the intended recipient? Did you still read or act upon the contents of that email? Okay, then you’re ignorant.
Please don’t be upset when the Federal Marshals come a’knockin’ on your door with search warrants and confiscate any electronics and media you have.
This is part of the balance of life; Ignorant and incompetent people don’t get to play with electronic devices because they could hurt themselves or others.
Remember When People Were Upset Because Companies Were Reading “Personal” Emails Sent on Company Email Accounts?
Some readers may remember when the above was big news. Now not so much so. People are becoming aware that not everything follows the dogs’ rules of life; what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine.
Especially when it comes to corporate emails.
Anything going through a company email account is assumed to be authorized by that company, whether the sender is a recognized company spokesperson or not. So when I send an email to my cousin that they shouldn’t apply for a job where I work because the management is a bunch of idiots and I use my company email account to do so, should I be surprised when I get called into the office?
And how many of you are nodding, thinking, “Well, of course. That kind of thing is stupid.”
Now the other side of that. About five years ago an employee confided in me that he was having some financial difficulties and would need to pick up a second job. I asked for more information, talked it over with the rest of NextStage management and we made him some offers; we had a good guess what his end of year bonus would be, if we gave him 75% now would that help? Or if he’d rather do the second job thing, he could use his NextStage account, let people know he was doing so with our blessing and anyone interested should contact us for a referral, reference or explanation.
That fellow had a second job for nine months — he worked from home on his evenings and weekends and took the occasional day off — and is still with us. Such open behavior is now called…
Another part of the discussion that amazed me was the amount of time spent coming up with solutions to “How do I send an email on to someone else, then?”
It went like this:
- You get an email.
- You want to send that email on to someone else who wasn’t part of the original distribution to get their thoughts on the content.
- How should you go about doing it when you don’t know if that original email has a tracer in it?
About ten minutes of conversation was devoted to this.
I finally raised me hand and said, “How about you just ask the original sender if you can forward the email to so-and-so, explain that you think so-and-so could add value to the discussion and list the reasons you think so?”
My god, that’s brilliant, Joseph!
I think I was more shocked that people didn’t already recognize simply asking permission was common courtesy. Common courtesy, evidently, wasn’t part of their natural way and it goes back to that violation thing. You can’t feel violated that emails have tracers and you get caught when you didn’t ask permission to forward an email in the first place. Common courtesy, if it is to be common, must work both ways.
And Still, I’m Shocked
I wrote a series of posts on email newsletters back in 2008, was interviewed on the subject about the same time and since, and NextStage has been helping companies create actionable email newsletter formats for their audiences for years.
Do you receive an email newsletter, NextStage or otherwise? Then congratulations, you’re being traced. NextStage has a metric called Viral Capacity that we measure in our newsletters and that we strongly suggest all of our email newslettering clients measure. Viral Capacity determines if the person the newsletter was sent to passed it on to someone else, ala social networking. The Viral Capacity metric works because of the tracer. It’s a very important metric because it indicates which subscribers are influencers and which aren’t.
And if you don’t know the value of influencers in your social network, you need to hire us to help you figure things out.
It Can Be Funny
Just so I’m clear on such things, there are things I send on without notifying the originator I’m doing so. Jokes, for example. This is due to an implied social contract (something I discuss further down in this post). I also recently got a laugh when someone twittered one of my signature quotes and it viraled itself a bit.
The person who did so apologized profusely. I wasn’t upset and laughed about it. I didn’t mind the quote in my signature going viral. “I pull my signatures from what I find in life and they are free to travel,” I explained. “On the other hand, if I discovered you were sending emails I’m writing to you off and anon, we’d have to talk.”
Likewise, I CCed an email to someone that I shouldn’t have (too many people with the same first name and last initial in my email list. I’ve solved the problem by using nicknames to call up their email addresses). That person responded within an hour with a subject line of “Did you mean to send this to me?”
No, I didn’t. Thanks for letting me know. I appreciate it.
Can I Opt Out?
Did you read it? Did you read any of it?
Congrats, you were traced.
And even if not by that method, that free email service still learned a lot about you when you opened that email sent by that trusted friend who was using that free email service.
And the Definition of “Violate” Is?
- Fail to agree with; be in violation of; as of rules or patterns
- Act in disregard of laws, rules, contracts, or promises
I’m told the concept of social contracts — something NextStage first explained to web oriented audiences back in 2003 during presentations, although neither concept nor term was invented by us — is starting to make itself known.
There exists an implied social contract between the sender and recipient of an email. Essentially that social contract takes the form of “I’m sending this to you, not to anybody else. You don’t get to send it on to anybody else unless a) I’m notified, b) all personally identifiable information is stripped out of it, c) …”.
So who’s being violated?
And why are you upset when you learn that an email you received but weren’t an intended recipient of had a tracer and that you were caught?
Don’t like having your hands slapped? Would you rather they be broken (you’re fired) or cut off (you’re jailed)?
Please contact NextStage for information regarding presentations and trainings on this and other topics.
Links for this post:
- Email Newsletter KPIs Part 1 – Delivery Rate, Open Rate, Growth Rate, Cost of Acquisition
- Email Newsletter KPIs Part 2 – ReOpen Rate
- Email Newsletter KPIs Part 3 – Platform Variance, Environmental Variance
- Five Rules Re: Online Visibility Versus Privacy
- The Importance of Viral Marketing Podcast
How to Design an E-Mail Newsletter to Maximize Your ROI: Part 1 Podcast
How to Design an E-Mail Newsletter to Maximize Your ROI: Part 2 Podcast
- 8 June 2010 – Creating a Social Media Campaign That Works in Concord, NH
- 21 Sept 2010 – Social Media Messaging with Meaning in Concord, NH
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Have you read my latest book, Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History? It’s a whoppin’ good read.