By Jim Haigh, Keep Me Posted

The data privacy and cybersecurity risks of email correspondence are finally getting the attention they deserve. There’s a growing awareness that “phishing” – the digital exploit of sending emails that look and feel like real communications from known senders, but instead contain or link to a variety of harms – is the menace behind an estimated 90% of cybersecurity compromises.

Now, consumers are learning that 70% of emails they receive are tracking them in some way, thanks to groundbreaking analysis from Princeton computer scientist Steven Englehardt, PhD, and his research team. This is a very big deal for the millions of consumers who want the option to receive paper notices from their service providers. And it should ring alarm bells at companies that are removing paper choice, charging fees or switching customers to electronic delivery without express consent.

The mere act of opening an email often unknowingly shares the recipient’s email address, triggering unwanted interactions with numerous third parties, which in turn enables additional tracking across the web that can potentially link the email to online activities without consent. Third party data brokers are sophisticated in creating extensive behavioral profiles across devices and even offline channels, all linked to consumers’ email addresses. And to make matters worse, popular free email services such as Google’s Gmail scan messages to collect data on things like purchases, travel details, even what bills are coming due.

As consumers’ email addresses are becoming their universal identity –  bought, sold and uploaded for targeting by third parties and leaked in data breaches at an alarming rate – many companies are forcing their customers to switch from paper to email communications to save a few quarters.

Many major service providers across industries are no longer inviting their customers to opt in to electronic delivery of important notices, and are instead switching from paper to electronic delivery of important correspondence without consent. This practice is not limited to potentially sensitive bills and statements. This questionable practice is now happening with retirement savings accounts, and even healthcare records detailed in Explanation of Benefits (EOBs) are being emailed by major insurers to consumers who never proactively opted in to receive them electronically.

Email poses more risks to privacy, identity, credit scores and overall cybersecurity with each day that passes. To protect all consumers, Keep Me Posted urges service providers, legislators and regulators to assure default access to critical notices and correspondence free of charge, using the most easily accessible and universally available option: paper delivered through the mail. Electronic delivery must be a voluntary option, and any first and third party tracking clearly disclosed. The costs to consumers for not doing so are far greater than the cost of a postage stamp.

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