The 69,000-member, $1.6 billion Technology Credit Union is using tracking technology in emails it sent to members about its proposed conversion to a bank at the request of two members opposed to the proposed change.
The San Jose, Calif., credit union informed members in October 2011 that is was considering a conversion. A member vote is expected in September.
NCUA regulations require a credit union considering such a change to facilitate communications from members opposed to the change to the rest of the membership.
Rodriguez and Marinace said they were shocked to discover their email arrived in members’ mailboxes with tracking technology, called servlets, that allows the credit union to identify and track members who click on links for further information contained in the email.
Thus, Marinace and Rodriguez said, a member who clicked on a link to a Facebook page belonging to a charter change opposition group could have both the fact they have done so as well as their identity collected by Technology Credit Union.
Servlets allow the credit union to collect both the numbers of members that click through to targeted links as well as their email addresses, but it is not clear how much information Technology is actually collecting. The credit union has not yet commented on the servlets.
Servlets have been used as an email marketing tool for years, Rodriguez acknowledged, but added that using them violates credit union culture which, he contended, generally strives to be more considerate of member privacy. He also argued that the context of these particular emails would have argued against their use.
“Using a tool like this might be somewhat understandable and appropriate for marking auto loans,” Rodriguez said. “But these communications are not about auto loans. If members who reveal an interest in preventing their credit union from becoming a bank later receive additional materials in favor of the conversion, it puts them at a serious disadvantage.”
Rodriguez also pointed out that NCUA regulations would appear not to allow servlets to be included in these emails. The relevant part of NCUA regulations allows a credit union to include a one-paragraph message with their member materials, but nothing else, he said.
In addition, Rodriguez noted that including the servlets in the email made them more likely to have been blocked by members’ mail programs which incorrectly identify them as spam because of the number of servlets the emails included.
The NCUA has not yet commented on whether its regulations would allow the use of servlets and Technology Credit Union has not yet said whether it consulted the agency prior to including the tracking software.