Whether it’s setting up popup shops or offering free giveaways, companies are consistently looking for new ways to connect with their customers.
Email marketing seems to be the method of choice for most brands, with nearly 9 out of every 10 marketers using email to distribute content.
However, some organizations are crossing ethical lines to ramp up their existing channels.
Today, we’re going to discuss what happens when these companies go too far.
Case in point: SafeOpt.
What is SafeOpt?
Imagine you’re looking to buy a gift for a loved one and prefer to give them something you can customize. You’ve poked around various sites and finally stumble across one that has a good mixture of customizable items—jewelry, clothing, bags, etc.
You’re in your element—checking out various product pages, bookmarking everything you’d like to revisit later, and suddenly, you receive a phone call that takes you away from your computer.
Fast-forward a few hours and you notice a new email in your inbox. It’s from that very website that you had just visited!
At first glance, this essentially looks like your run-of-the-mill cart abandonment email. Despite never actually adding anything to your cart, this email basically shows you your entire browser history.
Here’s the problem—you never opted in to their email program, so how do they have your email address?
The truth is it’s not from that website you were looking at. It’s actually from another company called SafeOpt.
SafeOpt is a free service that allows you to browse online anonymously while unlocking a series of verified offers from thousands of brands.
How Does SafeOpt Work?
Instead of collecting email addresses via newsletter signups, these websites will contract with SafeOpt to send relevant, targeted emails to visitors, even if they didn’t enter any information on their website.
According to SafeOpt’s website, “When you enter your email and join SafeOpt®, our technology makes note of the device you’re using and generates a secure anonymous ID. When one of our brand partners that also has our technology installed on their website sees your device, they know to show your ID promotions and offers not generally available to the broader public. No more (expired!) coupon hunting and things to install — just a seamless shopping experience with delightful surprises for you!”
SafeOpt also notes that they do not share email addresses or any other personally identifiable information (PII) to any third-party sites.
Their system only permits brands to contact you via email, and only after you have engaged on their website. They also claim to never expose your contact information to the brand unless you explicitly choose to opt-in directly on the brand’s website.
Despite these assertions, SafeOpt has garnered a reputation as being spammy and intrusive, which begs the question—is what they’re doing ethical? Check out my SafeOpt review below.
Is SafeOpt Ethical?
In short, SafeOpt is teetering on being an unethical practice. Here’s why:
It comes across as creepy.
One of the worst data experiences a user can have is seeing companies using information that they never gave them.
This is particularly egregious in instances where the visitor clicked on the “No Thanks” button on the popup that appeared just a few seconds after the homepage loaded asking for their email address.
When you say “no” from the get-go, and your request goes ignored, it shows that the company is deciding how the brand-consumer relationship should work instead of you.
It’s legal, but there’s still a grey area.
Technically, under CAN-SPAM, a law that establishes the rules for commercial email, SafeOpt’s actions are legal. But due to an array of privacy issues, that may all be changing soon.
Not to mention, third-party vendors that provide this type of service typically see very high opt-out rates and spam complaint rates.
While it can generate a decent return if executed correctly, it’s better to focus on building your opted-in email list and building out a full suite of behaviorally-triggered automations within your own ESP. These will trigger your own opted-in list of subscribers, resulting in higher engagement, and ultimately, better conversion rates.
It disrupts an otherwise positive shopping experience.
You never want to engage with a brand only to realize their goal was to spam you later on.
Who knows—you might have been ready to spend some serious money with them.
But, after receiving an unsolicited email, it’s only natural to want to avoid giving this company your business. After all, you don’t know their ethics, their data practices, or why they bothered contracting with SafeOpt.
Grey Hat Email Practices
Grey hat marketing is a blend of commonly accepted SEO techniques, falling somewhere between black and white practices.
And while there’s no technical guidelines regarding what is and isn’t considered a grey email practice, this is typically where spam falls. According to Wikipedia, email spam refers to unsolicited messages sent in bulk by email.
Undoubtedly, spam is annoying. But is it illegal?
Technically, no. In the U.S., it is legal to send unsolicited emails.
But is it a good practice for businesses? Absolutely not. If email marketers are doing their jobs correctly, there shouldn’t be a need for junk mail.
Again, I highly recommend focusing on building an opted-in, engaged email list.
Black Hat Email Practices and the CAN-SPAM Act
There’s plenty of talk around the web about black hat SEO practices. But what about black hat email marketing?
That’s not so clearly defined, and your best bet to avoid any possible legal issues to ensure that you’re following the guidelines set by the CAN-SPAM Act.
The main requirements include:
- Don’t use false or misleading header information – this includes your “from”, “to”; make sure it accurately reflects who is sending the email
- Don’t use deceptive email subject lines
- Identify the message as an ad
- Let recipients know where you’re located
- Tell recipients how they can opt-out from future messages – this is a big one. Make sure you have clear directions and direct link for users to opt-out of your email communication.
- Honor opt-out requests promptly
- Monitor what others are doing on your behalf – this is where monitoring a company like SafeOpt, or any company you hire to do your email marketing, is crucial. While SafeOpt’s practices aren’t technically illegal, if they were to cross the line, your company would also be liable.
After reading through this SafeOpt review, it may be a good idea to take a closer look at your own marketing email practices.
Are you crossing any ethical lines? Are you assuming permission that has never officially been given?
Whatever strategy you decide to deploy, make sure you’re not giving email marketing a bad name.