Let's start by getting caught up. Mike Davidson, a entrepreneur, former Twitter employee, and new superhero in the fight for privacy, tweeted about Superhuman's surveillance tactics:
Superhuman is the hot new email client that you still have to get an invite to use. It's the go-to client for Silicon Valley tech investors and entrepreneurs. Remember, it's an email client. Not an email marketing platform. There's a significant difference, and that difference wipes out 98% of the arguments in favor of Superhuman's tactics.
Anyway, Mike had some Twitter conversations about the privacy issues, and then over the weekend wrote an article outlining Superhuman's surveillance practices, how it teaches end-users to practice surveillance, and how it's flat-out a poor ethical choice by the company. It's a great read, and you should check it out. For those that don't want to read that article but are oddly interested in reading this one, here's the tl;dr:
Superhuman, by default and without consent, inserts a tracking pixel in every email a Superhuman user sends. This is common of email marketing software, and most people who receive mass emails have a general sense that they are being monitored when they open those emails. This is different, though. This could be an email from your boyfriend. It could be an email from your boss. It could be an email from a serial-killer. Hell, it could be from anyone. And Superhuman gives all of those people unfettered access to your private email activity.
It's not cool, and anyone defending it is seriosuly misguided, intentionally disingenuous, or a bad person. No reason to sugar coat it.
The Broader Problem
The decision by Superhuman to add tracking pixels is bad enough, but what may be more concerning is the public's reaction. We want to believe that after Facebook's scandals, after Google's privacy violations, after it all we as a society have grown an appetite for more privacy. But the reaction to Superhuman's tracking methods seems to run counter to that belief.
By reading the responses on Hacker News (not usually the best place to gauge an actual response to something), you'll see that there's a significant number of people who shrug and say this should be expected. But it's not just Hacker News.
The replies to Mike's tweet are similar. In fact, the public's reaction to dark patterns, in general, are almost planned out before the reaction ever happens. This is how we've been conditioned. We accept it because "that's just how it is." Or "you want free, you have to deal with this." (Hard side note here: Superhuman is very far from free).
This feels like the first real test of the public's response to privacy issues since Cambridge Analytica made everyone a privacy expert. And thus far, I think the public might be failing.
That said, Graphite will continue to fight the fight for privacy. Graphite will continue to embrace ethical design. Graphite will, simply put, be good.