SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – UnrollMe, a supposedly free service that promises to rid users’ email inboxes of junk and unsubscribe them from spam lists, is actually mining user emails for valuable data that it then sells to the highest bidder, according to a federal class action filed Wednesday.
Users claim UnrollMe’s marketing materials and terms of service do not adequately disclose that it collects and sells information in its users’ emails to third parties through its parent company Slice Technologies.
The class action comes on the heels of a Sunday New York Times profile of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, in which he acknowledged that to keep tabs on competitor Lyft, Uber purchased emailed Lyft receipts from Slice, which acquired that data from UnrollMe.
UnrollMe was purchased in 2014 by Slice, a San Mateo-based data-mining company. Slice is also named as a defendant in the class action.
On April 23, the day after the profile was published, UnrollMe CEO Jojo Hedaya posted an apology to the company blog, saying, “[I]t was heartbreaking to see that some of our users were upset to learn about how we monetize our free service.”
Lead plaintiff Jason Cooper said he signed up for UnrollMe in 2015, knowing he was giving the company access to his inbox to scour it for subscription emails. What he didn’t know, he says in his complaint, was that UnrollMe was secretly reading his emails and selling its findings to third parties.
“Unfortunately, claiming to be a friendly and useful email service is just a disguise to get access to the valuable information contained in your emails,” Cooper says in the complaint.
“Ultimately, the millions of consumers who registered for UnrollMe’s email ‘management service’ had their privacy and trust violated,” Cooper adds. “Consumers placed considerable trust in UnrollMe to access their private and sensitive communications and UnrollMe, operating as a disguise for its parent, Slice, betrayed that trust by secretly combing through emails en masse and selling collected emails to anyone willing to pay.”
“I can’t stress enough the importance of your privacy,” Hedaya said. “We never, ever release personal data about you.”
The class seeks damages amounting to all profits Slice and UnrollMe obtained by violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act or statutory damages under the Stored Communications Act, whichever is greater, along with punitive damages. They are represented by Nina Eisenberg with Edelson PC in San Francisco.
Attempts to contact the parties for comment after hours were unsuccessful.