You might have heard about the Did They Read It? service, which promises to let you know if your email correspondents have opened, read or forwarded your messages (check "Tracking the e-mail you sent" for more details). If you live in France, I strongly urge you not to use this service. In this privacy alert (in French), the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) says that the service is illegal and breaches French privacy legislation. A French user of this service faces now up to five years in jail and a fine of 300,000 euros (about US$ 360,000). I would never have used this tracking service, but five years in jail seem ridiculous and excessive. What do you think?
The European Digital Rights group, which has 14 members organisations from 11 different countries in Europe, commented this French decision in its last EDRi-gram bulletin. This is the item #6 of this bulletin.
Here is the short EDRI-gram warning.
The French data protection authority CNIL has declared the new U.S. mail-service 'Did they read it?' illegal. Through this service, launched in May 2004 by Rampell Software, subscribers get a report about the exact time their e-mail was opened, for how long, on what kind of operating system and if the mail was forwarded to other people. To use this service, subscribers simply forward their mail to Rampell, after which a one-pixel gif is added that allows for this kind of tracking. Rampell carefully avoids explaining the technology, and just promises that e-mails are being kept confidential.
The CNIL finds the service unacceptable under the French privacy legislation of 1978. The recipients do not have a choice to accept or refuse sending this information to the sender and aren't even informed. Because the service provides detailed information on the reading behaviour, the data are considered sensitive, and the collection illegal.
Any French subscriber to this service risks a prison sentence of 5 years and a fine of 300.000 euro.
You'll find additional comments in this article from InternetWeek.com.
"Did They Read It?" is certainly a questionable service -- and it doesn't even work for users who don't read their emails in HTML format -- but five years in jail for using it is outrageous and even ridiculous. Please let me know what you think.
Sources: Mark Glassman, The New York Times, via International Tribune, June 5, 2004; CNIL, June 22, 2004; EDRI-gram, Number 2.13, June 30, 2004; InternetWeek.com, July 2, 2004