Organizing Email (and related privacy issues)

I’ve been using OtherInbox Organizer to keep my Gmail inbox clean since 2011. it’s a service that scans your Gmail inbox and moves commercial email into various folders under a main “OIB” folder, for example “OIB/Shopping” or “OIB/Finance”. It’s a good service and it’s free. I’ve had some concerns with it over the years, partly because of it being free. Obviously, they’re doing something with the data from their users to make money. I don’t necessarily mind that, if they’re just using aggregate data and not telling people which brand of underwear I’m buying or which books I’m reading or anything like that.

I hadn’t given them much thought recently, but, yesterday, some stuff changed, so I did some digging. Part of their service is a daily review email that summarizes all the emails they’ve organized in the past 24 hours. That email has looked the same since I first signed up for an account, but the design on it changed yesterday, along with a couple of other minor things. And, previously, they’ve always applied two labels to each email: the main “OIB” label and the more specific folder label, like “OIB/Shopping”. Now, they’re only applying the specific label and not the general “OIB” one. (Gmail, of course, doesn’t really have folders, just labels, which can be nested to look like folders.) So I was wondering if they’d been acquired recently or if the service had been sold from one company to another.

Surprisingly, I didn’t find much information via Google. I did discover that they’d been acquired by Return Path, but that happened back in 2012. I might have read about that previously, but I don’t remember it. Up until yesterday, Return Path wasn’t mentioned in the summary email, but that changed with the redesign; the copyright notice at the bottom of the email now says Return Path instead of OtherInbox. Nothing about the changes has shown up on either the OtherInbox or Return Path Twitter feeds. And I couldn’t find any recent reviews or news about the service, other than seeing it included in some typical clickbait “top five ways to organize your email” articles, but none of those were that recent either.

Reviewing Return Path’s privacy policy, it sounds like they’re only sharing aggregate and/or anonymized data with their (business) customers, not personally identifiable data, so that’s good. If I was worried about that, I’d probably switch to SaneBox. Their service costs money, so their users are actually their customers; they’re not selling the data at all. But they charge $7 per month for their service, for their low-end accounts. (It goes up to $36 per month for their high-end accounts.)

Or, I could just use Gmail tabs. They were introduced in 2013, after I started using OtherInbox, so I’ve never really tried them. I think I did notice at one point that they only work with the regular Gmail client and don’t affect the view of the inbox through a third-party client like the mail client on iOS. (And I really want to have a clean inbox on iOS, so that could be an issue for me.)

Of course, if I’m worried about privacy, and being the product rather than the customer, I could probably switch from Gmail to a paid email provider also. I’ve considered switching to FastMail in the past. Their standard account is $5 per month, which is pretty reasonable. Combining FastMail and SaneBox would give me an email account with great organizing tools and no obvious privacy issues. (I’m pretty sure SaneBox would work with FastMail.)

For now, though, I’m going to stick with Gmail and OtherInbox Organizer, and just keep an eye on the Organizer product and see if anything weird is going on with it. The recent changes may just be the result of some long overdue maintenance work. Or they could be related to some further changes that could compromise privacy and/or make the service less useful.

3 thoughts on “Organizing Email (and related privacy issues)”

  1. I also noticed this change recently. Especially the removal of the OIB label was annoying, because I mostly scanned the top level, OIB, and only digged into subfolders afterwards. Hm, not good. Especially that there’s no mention of anything about the changes. Otherwise, I’m happy for your post, I’m exactly in the same situation, using OtherInbox for years, want to have a clean Inbox also in my other e-mail clients (so skipped trying Google Tabs), and am concerned what they do with my data at OtherInbox. I will have a look at SaneBox. I won’t migrate from Gmail probably, mainly due to the antispam filter, which works well. Also, changing my e-mail address at zillion places and e-mail lists would be quite a hassle.

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