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  1. #1
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    Profile This

    Dear Windows Secrets,

    I've been a loyal reader -- and most of the time, a paid subscriber -- ever since the early days of the Langalist.

    I have understood, and been patient with, the inevitable compromises as the List grew and changed. I understand something of what it takes to maintain a successful newsletter of this kind. Growth leads to costs, and so on. Doing more and better of the Good Stuff you do, and doing it for more and more people, and sustaining the whole affair, requires means and methods that are sometimes in conflict with idealism.

    You face the classic problems of journalism. It can surely be hard to keep your readers' interests strictly at heart when the product or service of a benefactor is at issue; or to maintain high journalistic standards when it involves your people, their associates, or an advertiser.

    You face the more modern problems of the ad-driven Web economy. Visitors to your site find themselves (if they know at all) running scripts from Facebook, Twitter, and Digg. You can't control the content of those scripts nor the data their servers amass.

    And I can understand that you need to make use of at least some of the tools at your disposal to maximize the quality of your service, analyze the results of your work, and, yes, serve those of your own interests that are expressed, ultimately, in dollars and cents.

    I can see that you make efforts to control, and hopefully limit, the exposure of your readers and visitors to the potentially onerous tracking and profiling of your advertisers. This is good.

    Although your privacy policy suggests you may reserve the right to do otherwise, you seem to have kept some promises Fred Langa once made, such as "We will never send you any other unrequested e-mail, besides newsletter updates". This too is good.

    Nonetheless, I was annoyed from the first with your email tracking practices. Online content makes you instantly aware of the activity of every permissive reader who views your emails. Every link (EVERY! link!) in your emails, regardless of importance or frivolity, leads through your servers.

    Your privacy policy says quite explicitly that you may share the data you gather about your readers with your "affiliates, independent contractors and business partners." Though somewhat understandably (as they doubtless change continuously), it doesn't say who they are.

    You don't offer any form of opt-out from this "sharing" as far as I can see.

    I know you haven't substantially changed your methods and practices since at least 2006, when you first joined forces with Fred Langa. I would agree that you've never failed to disclose the general facts of your practices, and that I've always had the option to unsubscribe. I block online content by default in my email application, and it's entirely my choice whether I follow links.

    But with time -- and apparently contrary to the trends of the general public -- I have grown less tolerant, not more so, and more sensitive, not less so, to the proddings and intrusions of the evolving Net.

    Just days ago, my Windows Secrets paid subscription expired. Though well warned, I was busy, and neglected to renew. Today, I got my first free-content-only edition of the Newsletter in my email.

    Coincidentally, I reminded myself today rather rudely of your emails' tracking behaviors. I clicked the link in the "Wacky Web Week" section, which promised an amusing video in which "Purchasing the morning brew turns ugly." For whatever reason (perhaps because I use a script blocker), I was rewarded with an error page from the windowssecrets.com Web server.

    I found myself vividly aware that you at WindowsSecrets.com, and perhaps whomever you share data with, now know that I read your newsletter today, and that I clicked on that particular, obscurely-encoded link.

    I found myself wondering, really in detail, who those affiliates and partners and contractors may be and what they, in turn, may do with the data you and they gather.

    I had that familiar feeling of resentment that my personal information, my actions and interests and preferences, are more and more become someone else's commodity, to be cynically bought and sold unknowable numbers of times by unknowable entities, to unknowable buyers, for unknowable purposes. (Some may interpret this as paranoia, but it has more to do with principle and with potential than with any sort of personal anxiety.)

    I found myself wondering why the damned link couldn't just have gone to YouTube, or wherever the video is hosted.

    I found myself wondering whether, as I had fully intended, I should renew my paid subscription to Windows Secrets.

    I'm not altogether sure what I should ask of you, nor whether it matters to you in the least, nor whether it could ever make a difference. I know I would like some reassurance from you that your treatment of my information will fall within bounds I can tolerate.

    I would like to know that your "trusted" partners and contractors are not merely trusted but contractually obligated to treat my data as sensitively as YOU would do. If this is not the case; no, even if it is; I'd like to know what you think of offering your subscribers a means to opt-out of some or all of your "sharing" with these other entities.

    I would at minimum like to know that you saw this message, and cared enough to consider its meanings, and to make a sincere and truthful reply. I hope you do reply and that it inspires my now-flagging confidence.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by pchelp View Post
    Dear Windows Secrets,
    Your privacy policy says quite explicitly that you may share the data you gather about your readers with your "affiliates, independent contractors and business partners." Though somewhat understandably (as they doubtless change continuously), it doesn't say who they are.
    I don't know where you read this, but the current privacy policy is here: http://windowssecrets.com/privacy/

    I cannot see anything remotely resembling that quote of yours. Quite the contrary, it is explicitly stated:

    Your personal information will never be used except to make the Newsletter available to you if you are a subscriber, or to contact you if there is a question about your Newsletter subscription, or to respond to a query about the Newsletter or the Web Site. We will never sell, rent, or give away your personal information to any outside party, ever. We will share your address and other personal information only with persons or companies who help us prepare and distribute the Newsletter and maintain the Web Site but we will not give them the right to contact you on their own behalf or on behalf of anyone else. In addition we may disclose your personal information to a person or company that subsequently owns or maintains the Newsletter or the Web Site, but only if that person or company agrees to comply with the provisions of this Privacy Policy with respect to the use of your information.

    This being the case, I think your questions are answered by the simple wording of the current privacy policy.

  3. #3
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    Ah. I see what happened. I opened the windowssecrets.com home page, went to the bottom of the page, and clicked on a clearly visible link called "Privacy Policy." It led to this: http://www.inetinteractive.com/privacy/ I failed to make the distinction between WindowsSecrets and InetInteractive. I still don't fully understand the relationship.

    Though indeed what I read may not be the policy of WindowsSecrets per se, it seems to be one of the policies under which my data are handled.

    As for the WindowsSecrets policy, I question this sentence: "We will share your address and other personal information only with persons or companies who help us prepare and distribute the Newsletter and maintain the Web Site but we will not give them the right to contact you on their own behalf or on behalf of anyone else." It does not explicitly state that these persons or companies cannot do OTHER things with the data; only that they cannot use it to contact me. I trust those limitations go much further? As unequivocal as many of the statements are in the Policy, this doesn't provide 100% clarity.

    It is very nice to see this sentence in the WindowsSecrets policy: "In addition we may disclose your personal information to a person or company that subsequently owns or maintains the Newsletter or the Web Site, but only if that person or company agrees to comply with the provisions of this Privacy Policy with respect to the use of your information." But it refers to the eventuality of future involvement or ownership by those entities, not to the present.

    I don't think my questions are 100% answered quite yet. And, implicit in my questions were some suggestions. Might you consider dispensing with some, at least SOME of the tracking-links in your emails? Might it yet be helpful to offer opt-out choices to your subscribers, even if only to exempt them from your OWN data-mining practices?

    Again, it's principle, not paranoia, that is the basis of my approach. I trust you folks. You're good people.

    You're in an excellent position to set the highest of standards with respect to privacy practices, and I hope you are continuing to look for ways to set the bar higher, rather than lower. As the march of time and technology continues to erode privacy, we all need more and better seawalls of integrity.

  4. #4
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    I guess someone else will have to reply to you, now. I am just a WSL moderator and my previous reply was based on my own reading of the WS Newsletter privacy policy. I suppose the iNet privacy policy will apply to the forum registration data, but I can't be sure.

  5. #5
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    I appreciate your help. I was thinking the same, that iNet may be involved in the forum, but also that they may be involved in newsletter distribution. But I don't see any direct connection between iNet and actionmessage.com, from which domain my WS newsletter email last originated.

    This is part of the problem, of course. Cross-currents of involvement by various entities. It sometimes engenders confusion, and it may dilute or negate the effects of the most carefully formulated privacy policy.
    Last edited by pchelp; 2011-11-03 at 14:52.

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    The link Ruirib provided details in entirety how any information collected by WS may or may not be used.

    In plain language, what information is collected from the newsletter? How many times its opened, what links are clicked on, that sort of thing. This information is internally watched by WS in the form of reports to determine what people are most interested in. This is on a newsletter basis, not an individual basis - for example, for the October Newsletter I would be interested in what the results were for the newsletter, not for any individual receiving it. How many links were clicked this month? How's it compare to last month, or last year? Which topics were most popular this month? Last month, or last year? All of these serve to answer the question if we're improving, and help us ensure we satisfy what you want.

    In plain language, what information is distributed to any third party? Only limited information is provided in reasonably appropriate situations. For example, on occasion an advertiser in the newsletter may want to know how many clicks they received on their advertisement - we would tell them how many clicks were tracked on their ads.

    Your email address, which pages you viewed, or which links you clicked on are not monitored. We don't package, provide, or sell the information to anyone - the information belongs to WS. The only people with access to it are WindowsSecrets and the third party service we use to send the newsletter, the third party has a confidentiality policy recognizing its our data, not for their use except for the purpose of delivering the service. We may provide demographic information to prospective advertisers - how many visitors, by percentage what countries they represent, that sort of thing. For any data collected, our interest is wide scale and not individual.

    I don't know how many people the newsletter goes to. Sometime, I think I read 400,000 somewhere? Dunno. But a lot of people get the newsletter, and while we hope to make each individual satisfied with what they receive, that is where our individual interest ends - any data collected is of interest to us only in the sense of the group at large. Were 75% of readers interested, or were 85%? That sort of thing.

    Please don't take me to court over any of this. I'm just speaking plainly as I dislike privacy statements and any other sort of necessary evil packed full of legal mumbo-jumbo.

    If you were to take away one thing from this post, I would hope it is this: Your information of a personal nature is not shared with anyone, and its not of particular interest to anyone. Any data collected is only of interest to determine how things are received by the audience at large. Every site tracks activity either in server logs or with analytics tools that create reports, but of all the sites on the internet, WindowsSecrets is one of the most conscious and respectful of protecting user information and serving their audience.

    Let me know if you have any specific questions.
    Matt Bidinger
    Online Community Engagement

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    4 Star Lounger I.M.O.G.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pchelp View Post
    I appreciate your help. I was thinking the same, that iNet may be involved in the forum, but also that they may be involved in newsletter distribution. But I don't see any direct connection between iNet and actionmessage.com, from which domain my WS newsletter email last originated.

    This is part of the problem, of course. Cross-currents of involvement by various entities. It sometimes engenders confusion, and it may dilute or negate the effects of the most carefully formulated privacy policy.
    iNet owns WindowsSecrets.com, employing its workers. The privacy policy for WindowsSecrets is the governing policy for WindowsSecrets, not the more generic iNet privacy policy that exists in the footer at the bottom left of each iNet site.

    The only other parties that retain any information related to the WindowsSecrets audience that I am aware of are Google (we use Google Analytics to report on how people use our site, which pages they visit, how many visits, etc) and the company that we send the newsletter through (they have a confidentiality policy, recognizing the email addresses, tracking, and reports are our confidential information so while it resides within their service, it is not theirs to use in any way other than providing the service).
    Matt Bidinger
    Online Community Engagement

  8. #8
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    Thank you, Matt.

    Both of your replies are entirely satisfactory to me.

    If I had a few more minutes I would elaborate, and perhaps pester you further! But time's short.

    Please be aware that you've restored my confidence. Which I now know was always well-placed.

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