Friday, January 28, 2011

The Opt-Out

This is a rant. Maybe an unfair one, who knows.

So, I made a purchase from Etsy for Christmas gifts. I kinda like the place, and I have friends that do quite a bit of business through them. Today, I get an email from Etsy.

"We recently launched a new feature, Circles, that lets you connect with other people on Etsy. When you add someone to your Etsy circle, you can follow along with their favorites in your activity feed. It's illuminating!

Right now it's hard to find people you know on Etsy, and that's sad. Well, we're changing that. We're making it easy to connect your email address book to Etsy, so we can find people you know who are also members.

(If you don't want people you know to be able to find you, you will be able easily to opt out through your account privacy settings.)"

Wow, that is not at all something I'm even vaguely interested in. Okay, lost of good sites have features I don't care about. But read carefully: this is not a feature I don't care about. Turns out, I care deeply!

Let's review the severe problems in this message.

The only obvious issue is that they have decided to make my email address a public part of my account. This only becomes a real issue because they also automatically opt you into sharing your purchase history. Well, brilliant.

I can see how many people would find this a good new feature. For example, my friends that do a lot of sales through Etsy. But me? I find this an extreme breach of privacy. To the point where I am now significantly less likely to use Etsy.

I logged in and opted out of all that shit. Turns out there's no "delete account" option, by the way.

"Easy to opt out" is an oxymoron. "Opt out" is a poison term, it already means you raised a barrier specifically to make it more likely people will participate. Nothing can be "easy to opt out", because that's called "opt in". "Opt in" is the only responsible, ethical way to reveal client information.

The only points Etsy gets here is that they sent this email before enabling the new feature - it doesn't go live until next month. I don't think Etsy was trying to be sleazy... But linking personal email addresses to their purchase history in public? Yeah, that's not shady!

I'd stop using Amazon in a heartbeat if they did that, and I practically live through them.

Of course, I'm pretty touchy on privacy. I'm the guy who refuses to get a Facebook account. And I'm not really Etsy's target audience, or even a good customer. Still, it's a shame they took a sleazy route. I guess most people don't mind an utter and almost criminal lack of privacy. At least, I hope so, or Etsy's in trouble.

It's possible this is not sleazy, and they've just been really horrible about explaining it. However, that seems vanishingly unlikely given the reckless disregard for privacy shown by nearly every company these days.


1 comment:

Isaac said...

In general, there isn't a demand for privacy until it's too late. This could explain why these things happen even with companies that should really know better: the forum thing was another example. The empathic people who would otherwise be guarding the gate think "It's just like putting them on a mailing list!" or "Won't this be helpful and social!" Empathy doesn't work, because the consequences of losing privacy is outside of their conception until after it happens to them.

I'm pretty sure Facebook leaks privacy deliberately, though.