Verizon quietly introduced a new email marketing feature yesterday that it calls “View Time Optimization,” which the company says automatically times emails from companies to arrive the moment you’re looking at your email inbox, so it sits at the very top as a new message.
The service is part of Verizon’s suite of email and web advertising properties, which includes AOL and Yahoo, and well-known programmer David Heinemeier Hansson (the inventor of the Ruby on Rails web application framework) called out Verizon on Twitter on Friday for what he calls an “Orwellian” ad placement tool.
(It should be noted Hansson is helping develop a privacy-focused email client called Hey through his company Basecamp, of which he is the co-founder and chief technology officer alongside chief exec Jason Fried.)
View Time Optimization is a play on the popular email marketing tool Send Time Optimization. That tool is not exclusively used by Verizon but by Mailchimp and countless other email marketing firms as well. It uses existing data gathered about an email user to know the best time to target you with a new message. Send Time Optimization basically knows when you’re most likely to check your email, and it helps marketers time their messages appropriately.
Verizon’s version of this, however, logs when people open their AOL or Yahoo email client, so the the ad can then go out “when users are actively engaging with their inbox” to take “the guesswork out of Send Time Optimization.”
If it shows up right then, apparently, the data shows someone is more likely to open the message. According to Verizon, the company isn’t allowing advertisers to track you directly; instead, when a user logs into their email account, it notifies Verizon servers and the View Time Optimization tool automatically sends out the ad the client has already set up ahead of time. Of course, this isn’t just for companies that want to send you promotions or to try and get you to buy stuff (aka ads). This tool it seems is also useful for any company sending out an email, like newsletter providers, political campaigns, and media organizations. Verizon also says tracking pixels and other invasive ad tech are now against its terms of service, so you presumably wouldn’t be able to employ invasive ad tech and also get access to something like View Time Optimization.
“It ensures emails appear close to the top of the inbox and thus it’s improving the sender’s open rates, click-through rates, and overall ROI of their email marketing campaign,” writes Verizon product director Marcel Becker. “Email senders who have used VTO with their email campaigns saw increases in opens by 4x and clicks by 2x.” Still, it’s somewhat unsettling to know that new emails can now pop up in real time just by nature of you logging into your account.
When reached for comment, a Becker told The Verge that there is no way to opt out of View Time Optimization as a user of Verizon email products, but he suggests users unsubscribe from any marketing emails they no longer wish to receive to avoid having the tool push these messages to the top of their inbox while they’re actively logged in. Becker also clarified that Verizon does not collect location info on email users through the tool, and it does not share any of the data it uses, like what time of day and for how long a user is logging into the email account, with advertisers.
Update April 11th, 1:58PM ET: Added comment from Verizon and clarified how View Time Optimization functions with relation to data sharing and user privacy. The headline has been updated to reflect this new information
Update April 12th, 10:28PM ET: Clarified that View Time Optimization is a marketing tool that is distinct from ad placement tools and is restricted to the automated sending of emails that a user has opted to receive outside of Verizon’s control.