Stealth-Tracking and the Worst Sales Call of the Year
The salesperson on the phone introduced herself and continued
by saying "my technology tells me that you opened my email
. . ."
I cut her off, proclaiming perhaps too loudly that we are not interested
in doing business with any company that checks up on whether we've
opened our email.
(It's possible to send regular email that requests a return receipt
from the reader. That's not what this is about.)
I'm not a novice. I know that the stealth technology
exists to perform this kind of tracking.
I was taken back at how
was the effort to interest me, and by extension my clients, in
what I feel is basic eaves-dropping. Maybe it's marginally legal,
I was always taught that it isn't polite!
When we give our email address out online
most of us know by now that we will likely receive email from
it was surrendered. We may rightly be concerned that our email
address could be shared beyond that organization and that it
food for more spam. Look at what happened to the folks who
donated to assist the Schindler family with legal fees. The
New York Times reports
that their email addresses are for sale through a direct marketing
firm. Whatever side of that issue you might be on, it gives
email marketing a bad name.
like to both send and receive HTML formatted email. It's
easier to read. Many of us have not realized that when we open an HTML
formatted email we may be communicating with a database.
Any graphic and/or any link
embedded in an HTML email can have an extended name that
can be used for
stealth tracking. To find it you have to look at
the raw source code for the
email. In a link you may find a '?' character followed by a series
of characters. The formula was first used extensively by affiliate
programs in order to give credit for a purchase to the website
that referred the buyer. The larger the number of characters after
'?', the more complex the information that may be passed to the
Another, more up front way of using this tracking technology
is to add visible parameters to the link such as /clickthru/redir/5458/10780/rms.
I'm pretty sure this tells the database that reader number 10780
(me) clicked on and was redirected to the actual link behind entry
number 5456 on the database. The sender of the email now knows
I had at least a passing interest in "a free weblog hosting
service for civil society organizations working in the humanitarian,
development, and human rights sectors."
There is no doubt that many
nonprofits and the companies that serve them use stealth
technology in their donor
relations management. Most still do it in subtle ways to which most of us would not
object. I have an affiliate account with Amazon.com that
applies some of
these principles. I've used a less sophisticated version of basic
affiliate tracking for a couple of clients. And I've set up simple
counters on HTML email graphics so a client would know how many
of their appeal emails were actually opened. I believe that given
volume of Internet data, these techniques are essential. You
can't manage what you can't count.
My fear is that by brazenly
eaves-dropping some companies will cause limitations to
be legislated that will make
it harder for
to work the Internet legitimately. That's the threat.
Which company called me? If I publish their name, or the
names of the nonprofit clients they tout, it might just
and I'll tell you. And I won't stealth-track anything about
you. I don't even have caller id.
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