There are four types of email policies. You’re familiar with the first three: corporate email user policies, ISP and Web-based email provider use policies, and email broadcast software and services use policies. The fourth is likely unfamiliar. Let’s focus on that last, little-known policy: a separate document that compliments online privacy policies.
In the late ’90s, rather than having our friends in Washington legislate what we do, we spent a lot of time proving the self-regulatory value of privacy policies. Dozens of studies indicate posted privacy policies increase user confidence on sites that collect of personally identifiable information.
I commend Web sites that post privacy policies. Practices of notice, choice, access, and security are nearly standardized. E-mail address collection and use fit into each of these practices, as does all other personal and nonpersonal information. Most of the time, email opt-out information is near the bottom of the privacy policies, beyond the point where most users will read.
A recent University of Pennsylvania study found 53 percent of respondents don’t understand online privacy policies. Sixty-six percent of those who think they do understand them were incorrect in their belief their data would not be shared with third parties. We shouldn’t expect users to be diligent or savvy enough to extrapolate from each policy section how their email addresses will be used.
I’ve found wording like this buried in a number of online privacy policies:
COMPANY may share Member PII with its partners, sponsors, advertisers, service providers, and marketers lookup and reference services and any other entities that COMPANY believes are able to provide USERS with special offers and opportunities.
Honesty is always the best policy. People can decipher from the above their information will be shared. What they don’t know is their email addresses are what are shared and they’ll soon hit their inbox quota with offers from those partners, sponsors, and others.
Go Above and Beyond
An email policy should go beyond the typical notice, choice, access, and security in privacy policies. E-mail policies should provide users with the entire set of email collection, maintenance, and suppression processes.
These processes could include sender field information, sender domain name, mailing frequency, behavioral tracking information, on- and offline suppression options, types of cobranded offers, and the specific partners from which they might expect to receive email.
Certainly, many users don’t need or want to know every link and image is unique and trackable. However, offering more information about email practices shows them you care about their experience.
Request for Leadership
I searched for email policies. The good news is I found an example. The bad news is I found only one.
Do you agree that email policies should be separate from privacy policies? Send me your thoughts!
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