Buttondown: Newsletter Service That Allows Opting Out of Tracking

It’s hard to find newsletter services that even allow you — the purveyor of the newsletter — not to track your subscribers. Buttondown — from Justin Duke — is one option, and it looks pretty sweet. (Markdown editing, for example.) From Buttondown’s privacy feature page:

Many busineses thrive the concept of collecting data about individuals based on their email addresses and inbox usage. (You can read about that here.) Buttondown is different. As a bootstrapped business, I don’t need to engage with data on level. Your information is yours, and yours alone.

Buttondown collects the standard bevy of email analytics: IP addresses, open and click events, client information. Buttondown sends that to absolutely nobody besides, well, you, the beloved customer. And if you want to completely opt out, you can.

By default, Buttondown seems just as privacy-intrusive as all the other newsletter providers:

Track Opens and Clicks — Per-email analytics mean you get an easy funnel of how many folks are engaging with your emails and what content they’re interested in.

Translated to plain English: “Spy tracking allows you to know when each of your subscribers opens and reads your newsletter, including the ability to creep on them individually.” Buttondown’s privacy “win” is that it at least allows you to turn tracking off with a simple checkbox. Most services don’t. I can’t find any hosted service that doesn’t offer tracking period, or even defaults to no tracking.

[Update: Justin Duke, on Twitter: “thanks for the buttondown mention! agreed that defaulting to opt out of tracking automatically is better: the current default wasn’t a deliberate choice so much as an artifact of the initial behavior’s implementation.” He’s changing the default to not use analytics, as of tonight. Nice!]

One message I’ve heard from folks who would know is that two of the reasons for the ubiquitous use of tracking pixels in newsletters are anti-spam tools (anti-anti-spam tools, really) and the expense of sending emails to people who never read them. Newsletters being flagged as spam — especially by major players like Gmail and Hotmail — is a never-ending game of whack-a-mole, and spy pixels help alert newsletter providers that their messages are being flagged. Expense-wise, those who send free newsletters want to cull from their lists people who never open them or click any of the links. Sending newsletters to thousands (let alone tens of thousands or more) of subscribers is, relatively speaking, expensive.

I’m sympathetic, but that’s a YP, not an MP, so fuck you and your tracking pixels. I’m blocking them and you should too.

But that’s why the world needs a company like Apple to take action. If Apple were to kneecap email tracking in Mail for Mac and iOS, the industry would have to adapt.

Friday, 26 February 2021