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People are freaking out because email decluttering service Unroll.me sold their data to Uber

Sorry not sorry.

That’s the tone of the apology posted by Unroll.me, an email decluttering service which takes a look at the subscriptions clogging up your inbox and rolls them neatly into one digest email.

It turns out that Unroll.me also takes a peek at your other emails — like email receipts — anonymises that information, and then sells it on to third parties.

That’s because Unroll.me is owned by Slice Intelligence, which makes money by selling data on customer loyalty. Your email receipts are a pretty good indicator of which services you use, and so Slice profits by selling that data on.

According to The New York Times, Slice analysed Lyft receipt data in Unroll.me users’ inboxes, then sold that onto Uber. Slice confirmed that it collects both Uber and Lyft receipt data, but didn’t say who it sells that information to.

Jojo Hedaya, CEO of Unroll.me, posted an apology to the Unroll.me blog on Sunday night which lots of people are describing as a non-apology.

He wrote that it was “heartbreaking” to see customers upset, but qualified this with: “Sure we have a Terms of Service Agreement and a plain-English Privacy Policy that our users agree they have read and understand before they even sign up, but the reality is most of us — myself included — don’t take the time to thoroughly review them.”

He promised “clearer messaging on our website, in our app, and in our FAQs. We will also be more clear about our data usage in our on-boarding process.”

Sure, it seems like there’s contrition in there, but angry customers see Hedaya’s flagging of the “plain-English privacy policy” as a back-handed apology.

One wrote: “You have to be kidding right? You took my data and sold it to Uber and God knows who else … you can take your ‘apology’ and shove it. It’s people like you Jojo who make humanity look worse and worse every day.”

Another wrote: “Oh Jojo. What a load of hand-in-the-cookie-jar bullshit this is. Your entire service — your entire reason for existence, as far as your cherished customers see it — exists solely, wholly for the purposes of reclaiming privacy and inbox peace and quiet. Yes, I bet it is heartbreaking that this information got out this way. Though I do have trouble believing your heart aches for us.”

In Hedaya’s defence, Unroll.me is pretty clear about selling on information in its privacy policy, but it’s probable that a tiny fraction of users will have read it on signing up.

The policy says: “We may collect and use your commercial transactional messages and associated data to build anonymous market research products and services with trusted business partners.”

Most people understand that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But Unroll.me could have made this much clearer. As one user put it: “Pretty simple solution. Just put “We read your email and sell the data we gather” in your signup form, then put the remainder of the explanation in your privacy policy.

“Anyone who reads the full privacy policy, understands what you’re doing with their data and is cool with that, will be fine sticking with the service. Which in theory is everyone you want to sign up anyway.”

Here’s Unroll.me’s full apology:

Our users are the heart of our company and service. So it was heartbreaking to see that some of our users were upset to learn about how we monetise our free service.

And while we try our best to be open about our business model, recent customer feedback tells me we weren’t explicit enough.

Sure we have a Terms of Service Agreement and a plain-English Privacy Policy that our users agree they have read and understand before they even sign up, but the reality is most of us –

myself included – don’t take the time to thoroughly review them.

So we need to do better for our users, and will from this point forward, with clearer messaging on our website, in our app, and in our FAQs. We will also be more clear about our data usage in our on-boarding process. The rest will remain the same: providing a killer service that gives you hours back in your day while protecting your privacy and security above all else.

I can’t stress enough the importance of your privacy. We never, ever release personal data about you. All data is completely anonymous and related to purchases only. To get a sense of what this data looks like and how it is used, check out the Slice Intelligence blog.

Thank you for being such an important part of our company. If there’s more we can be doing better, please let me know.

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