Verizon unveiled a new e-mail advertising feature yesterday, which it ominously names “View Time Optimization.” This is just a fancy way of saying that the company is installing a tracking mechanism that notifies advertisers at the exact moment you open your inbox. Why? To be able to send you an advertisement, naturally. It’s part of Verizon’s portfolio of e-mail and online advertising properties, which also includes AOL and Yahoo; today, famous programmer David Heinemeier Hansson (creator of the Ruby on Rails programming language) called out Verizon on Twitter for what Hansson calls an “Orwellian” advert placement device. (It should be noted that Hansson, as co-founder and chief expertise officer of Basecamp along with chief executive Jason Fried, helps create a privacy-focused email client called Hey.)
Ship Time Optimization is a popular e-mail marketing tool, and View Time Optimization is a pun on that name. Not only does Verizon make use of this tool, but so do MailChimp and many other e-mail marketing firms. An ad in the shape of a brand new e-mail that seems proper on high of your inbox makes use of information collected about you from monitoring pixels and another intrusive yet nearly universally used advert tech to determine when it is most likely ideal to contact you. Marketers may better schedule their advertisements with when you are most likely to check your email thanks to Ship Time Optimization.
Verizon’s version of this, however, takes things a step further by following users around their AOL or Yahoo e-mail client to deliver the ad “when clients are actively engaging with their inbox.” It appears that the data shows someone is more likely to open the message if it appears at the optimal time.
According to Verizon’s product director Marcel Becker, “it assures emails appear towards the top of the inbox and therefore it is bettering the sender’s open rates, click-through rates, and total ROI of their e-mail advertising marketing campaign.” Email marketers who implemented VTO saw a 400% uptick in opens and a 2000% boost in clicks.
Exactly at this point, Verizon’s language becomes positively Orwellian.
If Becker didn’t portray this product as beneficial to Verizon ads and customers, he wouldn’t be a marketer or a model Verizon employee. Hansson’s Orwellian analogy works well there. The two companies “really feel that our mutual prospects deserve a unique experience which connects them to their hobbies,” Becker says in the statement. We want to provide them the opportunity to identify the problems that truly concern them.
We want them to be able to make the most of their email inbox. He continues, “we consider that monitoring our prospects is fallacious,” before adding, “but we additionally think in the notion they need to be capable of uncovering what’s most relevant to them.”It’s startling since Becker is basically saying that Verizon doesn’t care about privacy if the value it provides to the advertising that pays it to utilize these tools outweighs the potential privacy issues.
Gmail and other popular e-mail providers actively monitor user activity, gather and store user data, and then sell advertiser access to users’ inboxes and the contents of their communications. This is due to the fact that these products are typically offered free of charge, and their manufacturers generate revenue through the acquisition of vast, indifferent user bases that they can then use for advertising purposes. For those concerned with privacy, premium services like ProtonMail and the brand new OnMail are available. Companies like Verizon, on the other hand, correctly calculate that most people don’t care enough to reject the free product in exchange for the intrusive advertising they receive.
However, View Time Optimization seems like a whole new level of surveillance, and there are a few crucial issues on how this advertising software works that have yet to be answered, like whether or not Verizon e-mail clients may opt-out. Other important considerations include whether or not the tool provides instantaneous information to business owners about when a person is at their computer and whether or not location information is included, the extent to which the tool is automated or the extent to which a human can intervene, and the nature of the database of information collected and stored regarding the activities of e-mail users.