Marking the end of pixel trackers in Basecamp emails

When Mike Davidson blew the lid off the invasive and appealing read receipts in a new personal email client called Superhuman, it brought about a full discussion of email tracking in general. At Basecamp, this lead to the conclusion that we wanted nothing to do with such tracking.

It wasn’t like we were doing anything as nefarious as those nasty Superhuman trackers, but still, we used the default settings in our mailing list software, which aggregates open rates, and had our own diagnostics tracker, to provide debugging insight for support.

But neither of those two use cases felt compelling enough to justify tracking everyone’s emails all the time. Reading an email shouldn’t leave a long data trail, regardless of whether that trail is used in fairly innocuous ways, like an aggregate open-rate calculation, or in its most devious, like spying on whether a personal email has been seen and from where.

So we killed the diagnostics tracking and turned off the mailing list tracking too. Now the only “tracking” that emails from Basecamp will do is to mark the message you’re seeing in your email as read within the application (and only if you’re a registered user). A feature in service of the recipient, not the sender, not us.

The tech industry has been so used to capturing whatever data it could for so long that it has almost forgotten to ask whether it should. But that question is finally being asked. And the answer is obvious: This gluttonous collection of data must stop.

So we keep taking the steps at Basecamp to examine our use of data, stop collecting it unless its strictly necessary in service of customers, and cut down all the ways we may be sharing it with others (dumping Google Analytics from our marketing pages is next!).

Privacy isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also better business. Discerning customers are already demanding it, and everyone else will too soon enough.

11 thoughts on “Marking the end of pixel trackers in Basecamp emails

  1. Brilliant! I was just asking this question yesterday. Now I have an answer. Succinct, clear, and undeniable.

  2. I love that Basecamp is pioneering this! I do wonder from a Marketing perspective, how do you use data to make decisions while cutting a large majority of your data sources (i.e Google Analytics, Pixels, etc.)?

    PS: I love your company and have been following it for years but I am sad that you decided to rebrand. I miss the color in the old logo and I felt that it stood out more than this new direction.

  3. Cool. But, it seems this change removed something unique from the footer of Basecamp emails because as of yesterday, Gmail is truncating the “you can reply to this email or respond in Basecamp” bit at the bottom of each Basecamp email. Related?

    1. Hi Chris! It shouldn’t be related to that (confirmed that the footer is not being truncated by Gmail in some email notifications I received today). Could it be a coincidence for some particularly long emails you’ve got?

    2. Ah, I was wrong! You were totally right, this happens for threaded replies and not for all of them (it depends on whether you’ve read a notification for that thread before). I hadn’t run into one of those until today. We’ll be making a change soon so that Gmail stops collapsing/truncating the footer.

      Great catch! 🙌🏻

  4. Small tweaks like this are why I admire Basecamp. Your guys are role models. Other tracking methods Id like for companies to stop using are those session replay scripts like FullStory; they have site heatmaps, track keystrokes, and so many other things. Those interested search for “No boundaries: Exfiltration of personal data by session-replay scripts”, it’s eye-opening.

  5. So why after 20 years later since the company was founded in 1999, these ‘awakenings’ are all happening close to each other.. now? Not requiring emails. No more pixel trackers.. etc. Better anytime than never. Cheers.

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  7. My experience with Outlook (in Microsoft Office) and other email clients is that…

    When the sender asks for a read receipt, the client software asks me, the receiver/reader if I want it to send the read receipt. I can and often do say “No.” I’m sure it can be configured to “always Yes” and/or “always No” (without asking).

    And most email clients these days don’t download images without your permission. Loading images can be used to track reading, through URLs or cookies.

    So it is nice to know that you are intentionally not tracking email reading by tracking image fetching.

  8. I love reading your blog and “no tracking” caught my eye as I work in marketing. We collect waaay too much data for sure. But now I’d be very curious to learn how your marketing can work without Google Analytics as you plan to bin that, too. Will you write about that, too?

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