Email unsubscription service Unroll.me sells user data; CEO is ‘heartbroken’ that people found out

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Overwhelmed by the number of emails hitting our inboxes these days, it’s little wonder that a “unsubscription service” like Unroll.me came into being. Designed to make it easier to clean up your inbox, it turned out that Unroll.me was selling user data to other companies — including Uber, which is caught up in other controversies of its own.

After this came to light, CEO Jojo Hedaya has written a sorry-not-sorry-style apology. In it, he says that it was “heartbreaking” to find that users were upset to discover “how we monetize our free service.” But while recognizing that people are unhappy, there are no plans to change the practice. If you’re concerned, however, a data scientist has written a guide to deleting your account.

The selling of user data came about after Unroll.me was bought by Slice Intelligence back in 2014. Hedaya insists that “we try our best to be open about our business model” but admits that his company could do more to be explicit with customers.

The blog post does a stunning job of acknowledging the problem, while simultaneously blaming customers for failing to properly read through terms before using the service:

Sure we have a Terms of Service Agreement and a plain-English Privacy Policy that our users agree they have read and understand before they even sign up, but the reality is most of us — myself included — don’t take the time to thoroughly review them.

The post goes on to say that more will be done to convey to customers what will be done with their data, although it is not made clear exactly how this will be conveyed:

So we need to do better for our users, and will from this point forward, with clearer messaging on our website, in our app, and in our FAQs. We will also be more clear about our data usage in our on-boarding process. The rest will remain the same: providing a killer service that gives you hours back in your day while protecting your privacy and security above all else.

I can’t stress enough the importance of your privacy. We never, ever release personal data about you. All data is completely anonymous and related to purchases only.

The general tone of the post is rather interesting. That Hedaya expresses displeasure that customers found out about the selling of their data rather than at the fact that customers were upset speaks volumes, and comments on the post reflect this:

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epsilon26 says:

This is a one-strike-I-leave-your-service kind of thing. Being sneaky with customer data breaks trust. It’s a big deal for me to give your co rights to my Gmail. If you’ve shown that you don’t respect me by hiding the fact that you’re data mining my entire Gmail account… that’s not something I can forgive.

David is equally unimpressed:

You have to be kidding right? You took my data and sold it to Uber and God knows who else… you can take your “apology” and shove it. It’s people like you Jojo who make humanity look worse and worse every day.

Alan Aurmont said what was implied by other commenters:

TL;DR version

“We are so sorry that we got busted. We will do better next time, we promise.” ~Jojo

Others, like Charles, want to know what can be done to limit the fallout:

Hey Jojo, I need to help make sure that anyone I might’ve recommended Unroll.Me to is protected. What are the instructions for not just cancelling one’s account, but making sure that any collected data is destroyed?

While there is little that can be down to put the genie back in the bottle, data scientist Owen Scott has written a helpful guide to deleting your Unroll.me account.

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