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Superhuman email client turns off location tracking after 'spying' controversy

Its CEO said 'we did not imagine the potential for misuse.'
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jossnatu via Getty Images

The email app Superhuman was profiled by the New York Times just a week ago as a buzzworthy startup with big names from Silicon Valley lining up to pay $30 per month for its service. Since then, a blog post by Mike Davidson dived into what that money gets users has caused a war of words among many in the tech industry over privacy and communications.

Other than just providing a 'premium' email client that comes with tons of keyboard shortcuts and AI assistant to make reaching Inbox Zero easier, it turned on by default a feature that puts a tracking pixel in each outgoing email. If you opened an email sent by a Superhuman user and viewed the images, then they got a report of when you opened it, how many times you opened it, and even where you were when you read the email.

This revelation has creeped some people out for very good reasons explained by Davidson, so now Superhuman founder and CEO Rahul Vohra explains in a blog post that it's changing the policy.

Rahul Vohra, Superhuman:

  • We have stopped logging location information for new email, effective immediately.
  • We are releasing new app versions today that no longer show location information.
  • We are deleting all historical location data from our apps.
  • We are keeping the read status feature, but turning it off by default. Users who want it will have to explicitly turn it on.
  • We are prioritizing building an option to disable remote image loading.

According to Vohra, "I am so very sorry for how our read status feature made folks feel. We did not imagine the potential for misuse. Now we are learning and changing."

Many supporters of the app/feature pointed out tracking pixels online and in email aren't new, and that many businesses -- like our own The Morning After newsletter -- collect information on their readers. Still, the original configuration of Superhuman seems quite a bit different in the granularity of the information collected, and how unexpected the behavior is. Read receipts are usually visible to the receiver, and don't include location flags without some sort of opt-in. The new Superhuman setup seems to respect this, but we'll see how it's received by the public.

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