Jojo Hedaya, the CEO of email summarizer Unroll.me, has apologized to his users for not telling them clearly enough that they are the product, not his website.
Unroll.me is owned by analytics outfit Slice Intelligence, and the site began life in 2011 with a fairly useful function. Its software crawls through your email inbox, noting which services and alerts you have signed up for. You can unsubscribe from the stuff you don't want, and shift all those regular emails you do want into a digest, sent once a day.
It's a way of tidying up and organizing all those notifications from your bank, newsletters, and so on. It's also free to use, and it accesses your email account, and so obviously it sells anonymized summaries of your messages to anyone with a checkbook.
Over the weekend, it emerged Uber had, at times, played fast and loose with people's privacy. At one point, it was buying anonymized summaries of people's emails from Unroll.me, allowing the ride-hailing app maker to, for instance, figure out how many folks were using rival Lyft based on their emailed receipts.
Not a great look. So in a blog post Sunday, Hedaya apologized – not for actually selling off the contents of users' inboxes, but for upsetting people when they found out.
"Our users are the heart of our company and service. So it was heartbreaking to see that some of our users were upset to learn about how we monetize our free service," he said. "And while we try our best to be open about our business model, recent customer feedback tells me we weren't explicit enough."
However, not everyone reads the small print, Hedaya lamented, saying he was very bad at it himself. So the company is going to be clearer about how it sells its users' information, he promised. Based on the comments so far, those users aren't impressed.
"What a load of hand-in-the-cookie-jar bullshit this is," remarked one comment poster on Hedaya's blog, echoing the tone of many others furious that they've been screwed over by a tool they trusted. Unroll.me once billed itself as a privacy application.
"Your entire service – your entire reason for existence, as far as your cherished customers see it – exists solely, wholly for the purposes of reclaiming privacy and inbox peace and quiet. Yes, I bet it is heartbreaking that this information got out this way."
Do yourself a favor and immediately stop using it. Don't give third parties access to your inboxes. ®