GDPR and Why I Decided to Kill Off My Newsletters

You’ve probably received a lot of emails in the last month related to privacy policy updates. This was all in response to the GDPR privacy laws.

I had zero interest in figuring out if my sites might be in violation of a privacy law because someone in Europe decided that I wasn’t fully compliant. I do, however, run several websites, and many of the visitors come from Europe. So I spent a few hours reading what I should be concerned with and I was still confused.

My big take away was there were 3 things I could do to greatly reduce my risk of being in violation of GDPR.

  1. Post a Privacy Policy, which I did for all my main websites. There are now tools built into WordPress that assist with this process as well as data collection tools for readers.
  2. Anonymize Google Analytics tracking. You can either anonymize or annoy. Annoy means putting up overlays saying you are collecting cookies. As a user, I hate those, so I choose the anonymize route. The WP Disable plugin has a checkbox option to anonymize Google Analytics data.
  3. Make sure all your newsletter subscribers agree to receive any marketing related material from that newsletter that they already signed up for. I wasn’t sure what my users agreed to or if my content could be defined as marketing. MailChimp had custom forms to get consent, but I could not tell from their dashboard which users agreed to the consent form. Did they need to agree? It was not clear.

So, I decided to kill off the newsletters for the 3 websites I have that use MailChimp. It is not worth the risk or effort. Plus, I dislike making them. I’d rather work on a new post than craft some clever email that inspires the reader to first open the email and then to follow a link from that email.

I know that Tim Ferriss and some of his guests swear by the newsletter. Maybe it makes more sense when your traffic is at a super high level? Perhaps if I had a personal assistant, I would task them with this tedious task. But I don’t.

My site gets between 4,000 – 7,000 visitors a day. The newsletter had around 800 subscribers. That is low, but I refuse to use pop-ups to harvest emails. My personal code is to never implement something on my website that I would hate as a user. Of those 800 subscribers, only 15-20% even open the newsletters and only 4% click on a link. 4% of 800 is 32 people. Totally not worth it. Not worth my time or any future legal risk because I didn’t follow European laws to the letter.

My plan is to sit this out for a year and reassess. The GDPR lawsuits have already started. They are going after the big players such as Facebook and Google first. How far will it go? Beats me. Some American newspapers, who we can assume have qualified legal counsel, have started blocking access to their websites from Europe. It isn’t worth the risk to them.

If you want updates to this site, use RSS or the Google Feedburner service which emails updates from that Feed. A tweet with a link will also go out on the @CriticalMAS Twitter account for new posts.

I also concede that I might be overreacting, but I’m all about reducing unnecessary risk. I’ll watch from the sidelines for a year. My sites aren’t going anywhere.

Photo by Dennis Skley

How to Send Email Newsletters to Your RSS Reader

In my previous post How to Save RSS, I asked the RSS developers to create a newsletter reader. My wish was to redirect my content newsletters out of my email Inbox and over to my RSS Reader. One of the suggestions I got in the comments was to use InoReader. If you pay for the Plus version, which is $30 a year, you get the Mail2Tag feature. I’m a big fan of free and don’t like paying for features that I can’t test out. I prefer trial periods.

Anyway, I kept thinking about how to solve this problem and with enough searching I came up with a solution that is FREE and doesn’t require changing your RSS Reader.

  1. Get a Google Account if you don’t already have one.
  2. Go to Emails to RSS Feed and log in.
  3. Register an Email Bridge address. This will be the email address you use to sign up for newsletters. They allow you to create multiple addresses. Each one generates a unique RSS Feed. Since I don’t want anyone guessing that email address, I put some junk characters in mine.
  4. Take the generated RSS Feed and subscribe to it to your Reader. Rename it something friendly.
  5. Go forth and subscribe to newsletters with your Email Bridge address. Instead of cluttering up your Email Inbox, they will be waiting for you inside a folder of your choosing in your RSS Reader.


The FluentU newsletter is now inside my RSS Reader Feedly

How to Save RSS

I love RSS. It is the best technology for reading content on the web. For those that do not know what RSS is, check out this 1 minute video. According to this page RSS popularity started to decline in 2006. Today many people use Facebook, Twitter and newsletters to connect them with their reading content.

I’ve used all those methods for reading content and RSS is superior. Let me rattle off a few reasons.

  • Facebook hides posts. You may have LIKED a page, but that is no guarantee you are going to see all new content posts. Facebook charges content providers to display posts to their members. The more you pay, the more they will show your content. I cover this in the post Shutting Down the CriticalMAS Facebook Page. With RSS 100% of posts are displayed to 100% of subscribers at no cost.
  • Twitter is mostly a blast of short messages, but buried in the stream are links to articles you would like to read. But the stream over time becomes a tidal wave. There is no easy way to save and revisit content links. With RSS, they are saved and waiting for you. Try going back a week or even a few days in Twitter looking for something. Awful.
  • And because the stream of tweets on Twitter is so intense, content publishers will post many links to the same article. This is fine if you missed it before, but noise if you’ve already seen it. With RSS, you have a single reference. No duplicates.
  • Because Facebook is hiding posts and Twitter has become overwhelming, we are seeing the rise of newsletters. This is a problem because now your Inbox has become your reader. The Inbox becomes the dumping ground. I’m subscribed to 337 RSS Feeds. The thought of all those articles pouring into my Inbox frightens me. Having a dedicated RSS reader manage that content so that I can read at my own leisure is wonderful.
  • Newsletters are the rage now, but you need to give the content provider at least your email address. Hopefully they won’t SPAM you too much. With RSS, the content provider doesn’t know your email address.

I could go on and on listing reasons why RSS is superior, but I think you get the idea. Here are my ideas on how to make RSS better and more competitive.

Add a Newsletter Reader Feature

We are getting bombarded with requests to sign up for newsletters. There are some that I would sign up for, but either I don’t trust the site or just the thought of my Inbox getting slammed turns me off.

But what if Feedly (my RSS Reader) provided me with a unique email address that I could use for newsletters? And they managed the subscribe and unsubscribe process from the reader itself. All those newsletters could be directed into folders on my RSS Reader for me to read at my leisure. My Inbox doesn’t get assaulted. And the content providers don’t have my direct email account.

You know those annoying newsletter pop-up windows windows? What if a browser extension provided by the RSS Reader that detected it and offered to either complete the sign up or block the window forever? That would be awesome.

RSS Robot

RSS Robot by Rob McDonald

Add a Customized Twitter Feed Subscribe

There are any different types of Tweets. Quick messages, responses, retweets, quoted retweets, links to one’s own content or links to outside content. The content can be new or old. If you only care about specific types of tweets, it can be difficult to find the signal in the noise. Now start following 300 or 3,000 people and it becomes impossible.

If the RSS Reader managed the different types of Tweets and allowed the user to customize which ones they wanted to see and then handled all the duplicates, that would be valuable.

This feature might even be as simple as using the Twitter address to look up the site URL and locate the RSS feed. A much easier sign up. Maybe the same could be done with Facebook, Pinterest and Google+?


Many years ago Yahoo! created something called Pipes. It was a drag and drop way to customize RSS feeds. It no longer exists, but the idea is still solid. I have some feeds that publish way too much, so I end up not reading those feeds. But I still want to read the important posts.

Having a set of filters I can use such as author, category or keyword would be helpful. Imagine being able to subscribe to this site, but only wanting to see Fitness posts and not crazy talk about a future RSS Reader. 🙂

Do It!

RSS needs to mount a counter attack against the big entities that stepped in between content providers and readers. A single reader for content. No likes, no follows, no email address needed. If you are an RSS developer, we need your help.