Tell The Truth Fairfax!

Sitting down to lunch this afternoon, I found an email from the “Fairfax Digital Membership Team”, advising me of “an important message about [my] newsletters”. I have signed up for a few newsletters of interest to be delivered, and generally find something interesting to read.

However, it was the nature of this “important message” that I found particularly galling:

And I quote:

We have been updating our records and we noticed that your settings show you as wanting to receive all email from us in text-only format. This means all the email you receive from websites like,, Cuisine, and others, appears just like this one. In other words there is no formatting, colour or images.

Yes, that’s right. I know. Further, after a link to an example of what the email would look like had I not made this “crazy” decision, and suggesting that I might like to change my mind:

“However, you may wish to continue to receive email from us in text-only format. If you do then please click on the link below before 22nd October 2010 and we’ll make sure we don’t change your settings. But if would like to receive your email in HTML then you don’t need to do a thing. We’ll just update your account and you’ll soon start to receive email in HTML.”

Oh really?

Fairfax Digital Membership Team, I chose to receive text only emails from you because in the first instance, HTML emails are a security issue. Cross site scripting for the embedding of malicious code – (not necessarily by yourselves, but others) – is the main online attack vector for fraud related activities. I find it irresponsible that you will arbitrarily change the settings of people in your database, when the majority of these people will not understand.

Of course, I’m not saying you are intending to do anything bad yourselves, but as a popular group of websites Fairfax Digital might well become the target of a coordinated attack sometime in the future, initiated by the “bad guys”. HTML emails are inherently more dangerous than text-only versions of the same content.

To infer that readers might have a better experience with the embedded links and images is probably a fair statement, but the real reason you want me to change is so that you can serve up your advertising and tracking mechanisms to me in your emails.

Firstly, let me assure you that I won’t be clicking on them, text or HTML notwithstanding.

Secondly, I don’t want your embedded tracking images – (or “web beacons”) – to be fired off when I open an email from you.

Fortunately, you give people an option not to join your data warehouse of tracking statistics and advertising revenue, but so many people don’t understand these issues, and you choose not to explain your real reasons. I believe that is dishonest. If you truly want to act responsibly online, explain the technical ramifications of what you are asking people to opt-in to.

And while I have your attention – please give your signed-up members the option to stop the auto-roll of video and audio – (in stories and advertising, inside and outside of the actual content of the page) – on your sites. Many people use wireless dongles with limited bandwidth caps, and find it nothing more than frustrating to have video and audio rammed down their throats to use up their caps.

Sharpen your pencils guys!

  • A flash blocker does wonders for the Fairfax videos. Google Chrome is wonderful :-).

    • Absolutely and absolutely.

      I’m more worried for all the non-techy people who don’t understand such things.