How HEY Protects Your People

How HEY Protects Your People

I recently signed up for HEY (from the makers of Basecamp). The benefits of this service for you as an end-user are clear. And with how they’ve implemented this anti-tracking, HEY protects your people too. Your family members, your colleagues, your business partners. Read how.

I received an order confirmation and wanted to forward it to a family member, who isn’t using HEY (yet). HEY flagged that the email had tracking enabled…

If HEY blocks the tracking for you, but you then forward the email… What happens?

Good stuff, that’s what.

HEY on Spy Trackers

First, let’s check out HEY’s overall stance on Spy Trackers. Here’s the relevant section:

HEY manages this protection through several layers of defenses. First, we’ve identified all the major spy-pixel patterns, so we can strip those out directly. When we find one of those pesky pixels, we’ll tell you exactly who put it in there, and from what email application it came. Second, we bulk strip everything that even smells like a spy pixel. That includes 1x1 images, trackers hidden in code, and everything else we can do to protect you. Between those two practices, we’re confident we’ll catch 98% of all the tracking that’s happening out there.

But even if a spy pixel sneaks through our defenses (and we vow to keep them updated all the time!), you’ll have an effective last line of defense: HEY routes all images through our own servers first, so your IP address never leaks. This prevents anyone from discovering your physical location just by opening an email. Like VPN, but for email.

I first thought this might work like NoScript, Privacy Badger, or uBlock Origin. Where the tracking is prevented from loading, but is still there. Basically, keeping a lid on it. So I decided to email their customer support.

Yep. There’s an email service provider with real humans providing customer support in 2020.

How it Works

Spoiler alert: I was wrong! When they say strip, they literally mean strip. Here’s what the friendly (and prompt) response from their team explained:

Look at those time stamps! Now that’s service.

They don’t pass along the trackers, they strip them out. Link tracking gets more complicated because of UTM parameters and probably other things that I’m not aware of. But this is undeniable progress.

Sidebar: How it Used to “Work”

Quick note on how I used to handle this. I would disable image loading on all emails by default. This meant email HTML/CSS styling regularly broke and looked bad. But I did know that the tracking wouldn’t be passed through. It worked “well enough” but not really well at all.

Some unethical senders would try to get around this by sending all-image emails, requiring you to load the images. Then try to Unsubscribe but it’s a hassle, etc. (That’s where The Screener comes in with HEY.)

Your Choice

This falls somewhere between a virtuous cycle and a positive externality. Basically, when you choose an ethical service like HEY it creates a protective bubble that extends to the people around you. In other words, it partially breaks the tracking chain.

I’m not sure the technical term for this. If you know, please tell me!

Conversely, the same applies. Companies taking a different approach allow tracking to proliferate. They harvest and share information. This is especially concerning when you consider the intimacy of your email.

When you choose technology, you don’t just choose it for yourself. You choose it for the people around you, too.


More on HEY

Check out the blog post below that I wrote about testing and sending HEY-friendly emails using MailChimp (one of the leading email marketing platforms).

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