While this should not come as much of a surprise, it is interesting none the less.
The Edison email app, one of the top 100 productivity apps on the Apple app store, scrapes user’s email inboxes and sells the data.
This information came from a confidential J.P. Morgan presentation to investors who use the data to either make stock picks or business decisions.
Edison says that it “processes” user’s inboxes. It is not clear to users that processing means scraping their data.
Their website says ‘No ads’ and ‘Privacy First’ and that ‘Edison Trends practices privacy by design’. These terms have no legal meaning at all, but they sound good. Trends is one of the Edison entities that sells user’s data.
Edison has created features that users like. Features like package tracking and price tracking. That, of course, provides them more data to sell.
Edison says that they sell consumer purchase metrics including brand loyalty, wallet share, purchase preferences, etc.
Another company, Foxintelligence, cleans up users’ inboxes. In the process, they reap reams of user data that they sell.
Foxintelligence’s COO said that creates value for both sides without compromising privacy.
Of course, if this was true, they would have been more upfront about what they are doing.
Some of Foxintelligence’s clients include Paypal, Bain & Company and McKinsey.
Rakuten also does this; last month they created an opt-out page on their web site. They said that was to comply with California’s new privacy law.
Motherboard says that they have a document that the price of one category of Rakuten data is over $100,000.
The Wall Street Journal says that Edison employees read people’s emails in order to improve their software.
While none of this is illegal (at least I don’t think so), none of the companies are excited about telling users what they are doing and that they are selling their data. Even if the data is pseudo-anonymized, deanonymizing such data is almost trivial.
With laws like California’s CCPA which allows people to opt out of their data being sold – reducing the value of the dataset and the HUGE revenue streams the data generates, companies who’s business depends on being opaque about your data are definitely scared. Also, companies who buy the data want more data to suck into their business models.
Last year 10 other states had CCPA-like bills introduced. While none passed, it is likely more will be introduced in the next session.