FTC Settles With Unroll.Me Over Privacy, Rejects EPIC's Request For Tougher Terms

The Federal Trade Commission has finalized a settlement with email management company Unroll.Me over allegations that it duped people about privacy.

The deal requires Unroll.Me, owned by Slice Technologies, to delete data about some consumers, and to refrain from misrepresenting its data practices in the future.

Unroll.Me, which promises to automatically unsubscribe from from email lists, also allegedly sells "anonymized" information about consumers' emails -- including receipts for online purchases -- for market research purposes. 

The FTC alleged in a complaint unveiled in August that Unroll.Me falsely told some consumers it wouldn't “touch” their emails.

The agency's complaint focused on Unroll.Me's alleged statements to consumers who started to sign up for the service, but then refused to grant the company access to their email accounts.

Between January of 2015 and October of 2016, Unroll.Me told many of those people, “we won’t touch your personal stuff,” according to the FTC complaint.

During that time, more than 20,000 consumers who initially declined to grant email access to Unroll.Me changed their minds and completed signing up for the service.

From late October 2016 through at least September 2018, Unroll.Me's message to consumers who hesitated to complete the sign-up process included the sentence: “Unroll.Me requires access to your inbox so we can scan for subscriptions and allow you to begin clearing out your inbox,” the FTC alleged.

More 35,000 consumers completed signing up after viewing that message, according to the agency.

The settlement requires Unroll.Me to tell active consumers who signed up after receiving an allegedly misleading statement that it uses email purchase receipts for market research products sold to third parties. Unroll.Me must also delete stored e-receipts collected from consumers who were presented with misleading information, unless it obtains their express consent to retain the material. 

The advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center urged the FTC to impose tougher terms -- including mandates that Unroll.Me inform all users about its alleged deceptive practices, and that it require all active users to reauthorize access to their accounts.

“This will ensure that Unrollme and Slice are collecting information only from users who were not subject to the company’s false and deceptive statements,” EPIC wrote in comments filed in September.

The FTC rejected those requests.

“The complaint does not allege that Unrollme deceived its entire userbase,” April Tabor, acting secretary of the agency, wrote to EPIC on Monday. “Rather... the complaint alleges that Unrollme deceived a clear subset of users who had initially declined to grant Unrollme access to their emails.”

Christine Bannan, consumer protection counsel at EPIC, says the FTC's order could leave many consumers unaware of how Unroll.Me uses email data.

“We thought all users should be aware that the company is doing this,” Bannan says.

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