Superhuman says it will disable read receipts after complaints

Email client
Image credit: Shutterstock (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Following controversy over its use of tracking pixels that enabled users to see when and where recipients opened their emails, email startup Superhuman is making changes to its service to better protect user privacy and safety.

According to the company's CEO Rahul Vohra, the service will stop tracking the location of its users and will turn off read receipts by default. It will also delete any existing location information still in its possession.

In a blog post, Vohra explained that he had a change of heart in regard to location tracking, saying:

“I have come to understand that there are indeed nightmare scenarios involving location tracking. I should note that we deliberately do not show cities — we only show states or countries — but a determined attacker could still misuse this information.”

Tracking pixels

Superhuman's use of tracking pixels was first exposed in a blog post by former Twitter vice president of design Mike Davidson. He explained how the startup's read receipt feature is less of a feature and more of an invasion of privacy, saying:

“It is disappointing then that one of the most hyped new email clients, Superhuman, has decided to embed hidden tracking pixels inside of the emails its customers send out. Superhuman calls this feature “Read Receipts” and turns it on by default for its customers, without the consent of its recipients. You’ve heard the term “Read Receipts” before, so you have most likely been conditioned to believe it’s a simple “Read/Unread” status that people can opt out of. With Superhuman, it is not.”

Tracking pixels are tiny images that are embedded in emails or websites. When loaded, they ping the image server they're hosted on and send all of the information required to download them such as a device's IP address and time of download back to the server.

Superhuman is not the only company using tracking pixels as they are actually widespread in the email industry. While Vohra is making changes to the way his service uses them, they aren't going away as they have become a must have in the prosumer email market. Instead he is calling on the industry as a whole to reach a consensus on how much user information will be tracked:

“I therefore think that we, as an industry, should agree to the level of information that we track and show in our products. If one of us creates something new, and that innovation becomes popular, then market dynamics will pull us all in that direction. This is how we ended up with location tracking inside of Superhuman, MixMax, Yesware, Streak, and many others — not to mention nearly every CRM and marketing automation platform.”

Via The Verge

Anthony Spadafora

After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.