How Square sucks up your email
Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

How Square sucks up your email

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Good morning! Square’s parent company, Block, sells access to customers’ inboxes. A new Protocol investigation looks into how it does that, and why it probably isn’t violating any laws in the process.

Square’s data loophole

Have you ever received a promo email from your local coffee shop, bakery, or boutique and wondered, “How the hell did they get my info?” Square, the ubiquitous point-of-sale company, likely has something to do with it, as Protocol’s Ben Brody discovered in an investigation published today.

Square’s parent company, Block, sells access to customers’ inboxes, Ben reports, even if the only permission the customer gives is to get a receipt from a single transaction.

  • After getting countless promotional emails to his work address, Ben discovered that a single transaction in which he used his work email was all it took for it to be “sucked into the machine inside Square that sells email marketing services to smaller businesses.”
  • Through Square, sellers can pay for access to a mailing list that lets them reach out to customers whose info they never collected themselves, as long as those customers have made a purchase from that merchant in the past.

Square card readers are just about everywhere: The company handled more than 3 billion card payments in 2021 and kept 261 million consumer profiles. In other words, it’s pretty hard to avoid its marketing reach.

Legally, Square seems to be free and clear to do this. Because it acts as a service provider to buyers, it doesn’t have many privacy obligations.

  • Its main limitation is that service providers aren’t supposed to reuse data for their own purposes.
  • But Square has found a loophole around that: In a separate privacy statement just for merchants, the company says that, when it’s selling marketing services, it actually stops being a service provider.

Though the company probably isn’t violating any laws — Ben was, after much effort, able to figure out how to wipe his info from Square’s marketing system — the high-friction, unintuitive process is nothing to be proud of. At the very least, it violates consumer expectations.

  • “It is often surprising to people,” Hayley Tsukayama, senior legislative activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Ben. “and surprising is never good when it comes to privacy.”

Read more:Square sells access to your inbox. No one seems to know if the law cares.

Online banks’ high-yield bet

While interest rates for borrowing have shot up considerably this year, savings accounts offered by online banks are seeing their own rate hikes, Protocol’s Ryan Deffenbaugh writes.

The typical annual percentage yield on high-yield online savings accounts broke 2% this month for the first time since 2019. That’s a stark contrast from the average rate on all savings accounts, which has barely budged at 0.16%, with some of the larger banks only offering 0.01%.

Online accounts often offer better interest rates, Ken Tumin, founder of and a senior analyst at LendingTree, told Ryan.

  • Along with using high-yield rates as a way to attract new customers away from traditional banks, online banks that offer high-yield accounts typically don’t have expensive branch networks to maintain.
  • Online-only banks are also moving faster than traditional players in response to increasing interest rates. Goldman's Marcus savings account is at 2.35%, and LendingClub is listing 3.12%. At least nine online banks offer accounts with rates higher than 3%, according to DepositAccounts. Apple is getting in the high-yield game, too.
  • “It starts becoming easier to justify moving your money to an online bank versus brick-and-mortar,” Tumin said.

But getting customers to abandon their old bank for an online one can be difficult. A survey by Bankrate found the average American has kept the same savings account for almost 17 years, often due to convenience.

  • Because of this, big banks are keeping their rates low simply because they can, Ron Shevlin, chief research officer for Cornerstone Advisors, told Ryan.
  • While a small number of customers are willing to move funds around to maximize their returns, the vast majority aren’t.

The small group seeking maximum returns may make all the difference to online banks, Shevlin said. Only time will tell if high rates are enough to make that group bigger. And because online bank rates often closely trail Fed rate increases, rates may still have room to grow.

Read more:High-yield online savings accounts are making a comeback.

Reaching net zero equitably

Carbon dioxide removal is vital to reaching net zero. But doing so in an equitable way is crucial. That’s why Carbon Direct, a company that helps others manage their emissions, hired Christian Braneon as its first head of climate justice, Protocol’s Michelle Ma writes.

Deploying carbon removal at scale has the potential to negatively impact local communities and ecosystems. The best way to mitigate this is by involving communities early in the process, Braneon told Michelle.

  • Low-income countries are already being impacted by the climate crisis they had little role in causing. Carbon removal could balance the scales.
  • “Carbon dioxide removal presents an opportunity for wealthy nations to remove legacy emissions they’ve already put in the atmosphere and help society avert these climate change impacts that will disproportionately affect low-income countries.”

Braneon’s biggest concern is that, if carbon removal is done too hastily, there could be “unintended consequences.” That points to the need for a new model of community engagement.

  • “We don’t get to decide what community benefits are,” Braneon told Michelle. “The community tells us what they perceive as benefits. And then we work with them to come up with solutions that help achieve those benefits and create equitable outcomes.”

Braneon wants clients to understand that making a positive impact is about more than just pulling carbon from the air. By taking this role at Carbon Direct, he hopes other carbon capture removal understand that, too.

Read more:Carbon Direct just hired its first head of climate justice. Here’s why that matters.


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People are talking

Brad Gerstner, CEO of long-term Meta shareholder Altimeter Capital Management, said the company needs to rein in spending on its metaverse investments:

  • “Meta has drifted into the land of excess — too many people, too many ideas, too little urgency. Meta needs to get its mojo back.”

Michael Gronager, CEO at Chainalysis, sees the crypto industry’s challenges as an opportunity for the company to better work with regulators:

  • “The hard part is to create the regulatory technology that enables these technologies to work with low risk or less risk. That's kind of the foundation of Chainalysis.”

FBI director Christopher Wray said charges against Chinese intelligence officers are an example of China's efforts to gain an advantage over U.S. tech companies:

  • "We also see a coordinated effort across the Chinese government to lie, cheat, and steal their way into unfairly dominating entire technology sectors, putting competing U.S. companies out of business.”

And Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger isn’t too surprised by the U.S. chip restrictions against China:

  • “I viewed this geopolitically as inevitable.”

Making moves

Green Dot fired Dan Henry as its CEO, replacing him with chief financial and operating officer George Gresham.

EK Chung joined reddit as its VP of user experience. Chung has 12 years of UX experience at Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo.

Bill Harris, founding CEO of Paypal and former CEO of Intuit, is launching Nirvana Money, a credit card and money management product for “middle-income Americans.”

Paul Foley is the new head of brand protection at ecommerce company StockX. Foley held similar roles at Nike and Converse.

Ritwik Tewar is joining Aledade as its chief technology officer. Tewar is the former senior director of engineering at Meta.

In other news

FTX will pay about $6 million to its account holders impacted by a phishing incident from a third-party website. But CEO Sam Bankman-Fried said in a tweet that the compensation is a “one-time thing.”

Telehealth startup Cerebral is cutting 20% of its staff as it restructures operations to match customer demand.

The FTC has ordered alcohol-delivery service Drizly, and its CEO James Cory Rellas, to boost the company's security after a breach exposed the data of roughly 2.5 million customers.

Here’s a close look at TSMC from the FT, exploring how the Taiwanese chipmaker got caught in the middle of the U.S.-China chip war.

Apple is raising the prices of several of its subscription services, including Apple Music, Apple TV+, and the Apple One subscription bundle.

Funding given to Black startup founders has declined. They raised $187 million in Q3, down from the $1.1 billion they received in the same period of 2021.

Marqeta is rolling out a suite of new tools meant to help businesses offer more banking services. The company already helps businesses issue cards to their customers.

WhatsApp suffered a big outage overnight, its first major failure since last fall.

NASA’s asteroid problem

NASA has proven that it knows how to successfully smack an asteroid off course, should one come hurtling toward earth. The problem is, the agency doesn’t always see them coming. NASA estimates that it tracks only around 40% of asteroids large enough to do real damage if they were to hit Earth. And in order for it to deploy an asteroid-whacking satellite, the agency would need to know years, not months or weeks, in advance when another rock is speeding our way.


The flexibility of the cloud helps companies like Capital One unlock access to their data with performance that can scale instantly. But this flexibility and scale can also create a unique challenge for organizations and users who are not proficient in cloud optimization.

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