Verizon introduced an advanced and innovative email marketing feature which the company calls “View Time Optimization.” This is a fancy euphemism for a mail tracking tool. The tool alerts advertisers when the customer checks their email inbox. Why? So that the advertiser at that moment precisely can send you an ad! Of course!
The tracking service is part of Verizon’s suite of email and web advertising properties, which includes giants like AOL and Yahoo. Famous programmer David Heinemeier Hansson called out Verizon on Twitter for what Hansson calls the tracking feature tool as an “Orwellian” ad placement tool. Verizon now sells placements across AOL and Yahoo email accounts under the truly Orwellian term “View Time Optimization”.
The View Time Optimization tool is a play on the popular email marketing tool, Send Time Optimization. The Send Time Optimization is not exclusively used by Verizon, but more by Mailchimp and countless other email marketing firms for email marketing and tracking. The tool uses existing data about an email user through their communication interactions with tracking pixels and other invasive yet near-universally used ad tech. This allows the companies to know the best time to target customers with advertisements, which comes in the email form and shows right up at the top of the inbox. The Send Time Optimization tool basically knows the time when the customer is most likely to check their email, and it helps in marketing and timing their ads appropriately.
Verizon’s version of this tool, however, is one step ahead and tracks people in their AOL or Yahoo email client to forward advertisements, “when users are actively engaging with their inbox.” If it pops up in the inbox right, then the data shows the customer is more likely to open the message mail.
“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,” states 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. We genuinely believe that our mutual customers deserve a unique experience that connects them to their passions,” Becker writes in the announcement. “We want to enable them to discover the things which matter to them. We want to enable them to get the most out of their inbox.” He goes to say that “we believe that tracking our customers is wrong,” and then follows that sentence up with, “But we also believe in the idea that they should be able to discover what is the most relevant to them.”
This statement by the director is dual-sided and shocking. When on the one hand, the director is admitting that tracking is wrong, while at the same time, he is accepting that Verizon does not care because of the optimum value the tool provides to the advertisers that pay it to use.
In the present world of email marketing, almost every email client on the market, including Gmail, tracks their users, collects and stores customer’s data, and then sells access to the inbox and the contents of people’s messages to advertisers. It is because these products are free of cost, and the companies that make these tools earn money by amassing large user bases of largely apathetic consumers and then monetizing that user base via ads.
The View Time Optimization tool is like a tool of the all-new level of tracking, with many unanswered questions about the working mechanism of the tool and, most importantly, whether Verizon email users can opt-out of it or not. We also would like to know whether the View Time Optimization tool provides marketers with direct knowledge of when the customer sits at their computer and whether location data is included. Or how much automatic is this tool, or how much manual intervention a human being can take through this tool, we want to know? The Company wasn’t available for comment!