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).

Apple’s New Privacy Features Are Good For Bootstrapped Founders and Small Business Owners

Apple’s New Privacy Features Are Good For Bootstrapped Founders and Small Business Owners

This week, Apple announced a slew of new privacy features for iOS and Safari. There’s a lot of hand-wringing online about how these are good for consumers but bad for business. The Internet is built on surveillance after all, they claim. I disagree and think the opposite is true.

I believe Apple’s privacy-conscious approach is good for small business because it will: focus on what matters, increase trust in technology, and accelerate the web. It’s an equalizer.

If you’re trying to “build an ATM” as many investor-backed companies are, this makes things harder because it makes it harder to calculate all the conversion rates and different user behaviors to scale up exponentially. But if you’re a small business, these things matter less.

Curious about the intersection of small business marketing and privacy? Read my write-up about how Basecamp’s new HEY email service and MailChimp can co-exist.

Focus on What Matters

Corporations don’t know you. Not in any meaningful sense of the word. But they use surveillance to track customers, remember our birthdays, and collect literally as much information as possible at all times—”just in case.” They may be able to harness this tracking data and afford teams of data scientists to nudge you into buying things you might not need.

Small business owners sign up for free tiers of web analytics, email marketing, and CRM software. Or maybe they have a consultant come in and set things up. Free works because they’re strapped for cash. But they don’t have the time in the day to use all this data. They barely have time to use any of it. And if they don’t solve other more pressing problems (more on that in a second), they’ll never “grow into” these platforms.

Disabling tracking will force small business owners to consider other platforms that collect less data. Instead, data that they can actually use to inform decision-making. Early on, data rarely tells you how to build your business. It’s a combination of customer understanding, intuition, and luck. You need to focus on who your customers are, what they’re buying, and what you’re selling them. Business is not a statistics project.

Less is More (A Case Study)

How do I know small businesses don’t use these tools? Because I run a sales consulting business doing exactly this. I’ve helped customers get setup using these tools (Hubspot, MailChimp, Copper, Google Analytics, etc.) Let’s talk through a case study based on two projects I’m working on right now.

OSHdata is a market research project studying Open Source Hardware. My co-founder Steven Abadie built a clean and simple website using Gatsby and analytics using Fathom (here’s an affiliate link to save $10). The most likely way we’ll monetize this project is through either paid research or consulting projects.

Here’s a peek at OSHdata’s Fathom instance. See OSHdata’s marketing analytics yourself here.

Hello Blink Show is a podcast for technical people who want to start their own business. We opted for Google Analytics as it’s more full-featured and figured the increased data would help should sponsors be interested in supporting the show as it grows. (Downloads are growing with every episode, too!)

Between these projects, client work, and getting something new off the ground (a CRM for small business owners), I don’t have a lot of time. Working alongside early stage companies over the last 10 years, I can tell you that they don’t have time either.

In practice, I’ve checked Fathom once/week to understand what’s working for OSHdata. Meanwhile I’ve checked Google Analytics for Hello Blink show once every two months. Instead, I’ve used the built in reporting that comes with Fireside.

Trust in Technology

Trust is essential for any new business trying to build a relationship with its customers. But you can’t just go directly to your customer. There’s an entire infrastructure to support those connections, from the Internet itself, to devices, and everything along the way.

By orienting towards privacy, Apple customers feel more comfortable sharing and being themselves. They’re a big enough player that they’re going to force changes downstream in the industry. The illusion of privacy is quickly fading and despite privacy advocates making the case, sometimes a blunt instrument like this is needed to make change happen more quickly.

This creates a safe space where customers are going to be more comfortable and confident, that when they do share information with you, that they’re doing it knowingly. This is good for small businesses who can take advantage of the familiarity that comes with knowing your customers.

Email services like HEY actively protect users, making it feel more safe to sign up for email newsletters and increasing user engagement with things like email.

Accelerate the Web

Tracking and surveillance has weighted down the web. Websites are bloated, dragged down by JavaScript, ad loading, and trackers. Plus the assumption that hardware performance will continue to improve exponentially so that it’s reasonable to assume you need 32 GB of RAM of run a messaging/chat client or open a web browser.

A more privacy-conscious web is a snappier web. Faster loading sites will accelerate communication and it will be a subtle advantage for the small businesses that run this way. The big companies who rely on all the tracking and heavy code will have slower sites.

With a faster web, build a faster business. Do less. Pick a handful of important metrics that you want to follow, then go out and talk to your customers. Understand what they need, price accordingly, and have a clear value proposition. Doing these things will help you get enough traction, so that you can worry about conversion rates later.