Email marketers may be facing a new privacy uproar, and not one of their own making.
Motherboard from Vice has published a report on ZoomInfo’s alleged “harvesting of data from peoples’ email inboxes,” and asserts that the so-called data broker sees the privacy issue as a core risk to its business.
With laws like GDPR and CCPA, privacy is indeed a concern for any business that uses or collects data, however innocently.
For the record, ZoomInfo does not refer itself as a "data broker."
Rather, it says its mission is to “unlock actionable business information and insights” and to “give sales and marketing professionals highly accurate and comprehensive information and insights on the organizations and professionals they target,” according to its registration filing with the SEC.
It's not a bad business: the firm formerly known as Discover.Org reported revenue of $293.3 million for 2019.
But let’s get to the privacy issue.
ZoomInfo has a service that allows clients to “look up the email addresses and phone numbers of specific people,” Motherboard says.
All the users have to do is use ZoomInfo’s Contact Contributor software. The software “scrapes” the data, including a person’s “business contacts, email headers, and email signature blocks,” the article says.
When acquiring Komiko, a CRM startup, ZoomInfo candidly said: "Now as a function of ZoomInfo InboxAI, the technology can capture contact and activity data buried deep in the email inboxes and calendars of sales representatives.”
But let’s remember: This is a B2B function. Is it really a threat to peoples’ privacy?
ZoomInfo told Motherboard that it has “strict policies in place to comply with privacy and data protection laws. We only collect business contact information, i.e., the information that is customarily found on a business card, and our privacy practices go well above and beyond those of our peers and what is required by law.”
Granted, GDPR is niggling about having permission to use any data. And you can end up being sued in the EU if personal data is exposed in a breach.
There was a justifiable outcry when it came out that Google was scraping the data in Gmail inboxes for use by marketers. Google has since halted that particular practice, although rival service Yahoo has continued.
We wonder whether ZoomInfo’s activities, as reported here, rise to that level of controversy.
Moreover, there is no big news in the headline “This Billion Dollar Company Considers Privacy Laws a Threat to Its Business.”
As we’ve said, privacy is a threat to businesses. But public companies are required to report such things to potential investors, along with litigation they are in, danger from hurricanes, and other problems, even if the risk is remote.
Let’s just hope that the deck, saying that ZoomInfo "scrapes users’ emails and fees that data back into its product," doesn’t get much traction with the privacy lobby. Scrape is a loaded word.