Don’t be creepy. Repeat: don’t be creepy.

I subscribe to a lot of email lists (if you don’t know this yet, you soon will: I am obsessed with email), and earlier today I was dismayed to see this snippet included in the latest newsletter from one of my favourite sources:

We’ve noticed that you’re reading this content, but not sharing it. Have any thoughts or feedback? Hit reply to send us a note.

This is creepy, and this is manipulative. And my immediate reflex was not to share, or to give feedback, but to unsubscribe. I didn’t, because a) it’s a good list and b) I understand where this urge is coming from. But it doesn’t make it any less creepy or manipulative – and therefore antithetical to creating a delightful experience for the person at the other end.

First, what this does is make explicit the underbelly of our interactions online, the reality that everything we do on the internet is being tracked and may be used against you in a court of law may be used to sell you things later.

We often talk about the importance of open-rates and click-throughs, but we almost never think about the fact that tracking those metrics – no matter how noble our purposes – requires collecting significant amounts of user data. And just as politicians and pundits alike talk about “the consumer” as if s/he does not belong to that category, we often forget that we are equally having our data collected. If you’ve ever run a Mailchimp list you know that you can see exactly who clicked what link, and when, and how many times. There’s an implicit social contract that you will not use that knowledge against me, personally, even as you use the data for some higher-order purpose or optimization.

Second, this is more egregious than the by-now passĂ© “social-media grovel” (“Like this because you think we’re awesome!” “Please retweet!”). It’s one thing to ask our audiences for their feedback; it’s quite another to passive-aggressively indicate they’re not living up to your expectations for them.


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