May First Surveillance

May First Surveillance

In regards to the email sent on September 21, 2021 with the subject: “We thought it was fiction: anti-surveillance from an abolitionist perspective,” I’m wondering whether or not MayFirst considers the CiviCRM links to be surveillance? In that email, the following links were included:

  • https://outreach.mayfirst.org/civicrm/mailing/url?u=1052&qid=1133199
  • https://outreach.mayfirst.org/civicrm/mailing/url?u=1053&qid=1133199
  • https://outreach.mayfirst.org/civicrm/mailing/url?u=1054&qid=1133199
  • https://outreach.mayfirst.org/civicrm/mailing/url?u=1055&qid=1133199

Here is the text that is used for each link:

  • Radical Ecological Democracy
  • told reporters from the Forbidden Stories project
  • some say
  • this website

As one can see, it’s impossible to determine the destination from this information. The only way to find out what sites the links are for is to click on the link and be tracked by outreach.mayfirst.org.

I realize this issue is thorny and very complicated. Enacting one safety measure often leaves others open. Unfortunately, it’s far easier to be an attacker than it is to be a defender. I get that.

Is it appropriate to ask that the people who send out emails like this, in May First and other movement organizations, include non-tracking (direct) links to sites for those of us who don’t want the links we click on to be stored and tracked by the organization?

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oh yeah… I think those civicrm links are annoying as well. We don’t need to do that and its not intentional. Somehow civicrm’s default behaviour when composing html mails in our outreach site is to convert all direct links to those civicrm links. There are a few extra steps necessary to turn it that off each time and I think we just forgot. I will check if there is a way to turn that off by default.

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YES! This has been driving me crazy. I always forget to turn that off. I finally went down the rabbit hole. I found a promising thread pointing to an extension that promises to do exactly what we want.

Too bad it doesn’t work :(. Specifically, it doesn’t work with Mosaico, the new email system in CiviCRM.

Fortunatley, a late comment on the original thread has a dead simple option that I directly implemented in our existing custom extension.

Now it is finally off by default on new mailings. Hooray!

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Wonderful, Jamie! I often see links like those and assume people don’t even recognize that they are surveillance. It’s one reason I have tended to use old-school list managers for mailing lists—this kind of trickery wasn’t a norm yet.

Speaking of which, maybe we could do a proposal to CiviCRM arguing that these things should be off by default? So many dark patterns have become normalized not because people actually want them but because they’re defaults.

+1 This thread is new learning for me, for one.

Woops! How embarrasing. I started drafting an issue request on the CiviCRM tracker when I paused to consider where the settings should be. I checked and… lo and behold there they were (Administer -> CiviMail -> CiviMail Component Settings for anyone who is curious). I’m not sure when this option was added to CiviCRM but we no longer need any custom code. Any CiviCRM admin can simply uncheck the option to have tracking disabled by default.

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Excellent. Thanks jamie.

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