Tuesday, August 20, 2019

In Case of Emergency

The other day, I received a message, purporting to be from my sister "via Nextdoor." The subject line read: "I'm still waiting for you to agree to be my emergency contact." Embedded in the e-mail is a hidden tag, so that the e-mail displays: "I invited you to be my emergency contact. Nextdoor is a private social network that helps neighbors connect with each other." But this text is not in the actual e-mail. The actual body of the e-mail is simply a request to accept an invitation to join Nextdoor.

Of course, the message wasn't actually from my sister. She had submitted my e-mail address to the site as a possible emergency contact, but she hadn't been aware that this would require me to also be a member of the site. So we talked about it, and decided to drop it. Nextdoor, however, wasn't going to let go so easily, and they've been sending reminders with my sister's name on them.

I don't mind the outreach, in and of itself. Social media networks need new users in order to grow, and sometimes that means actively recruiting them. When they'd first set up a "neighborhood" for the area in which I live, they'd sent postcards in the mail. I'd ignored it, and, aside from a few assorted media pieces on how the site's "crime and safety" sections were "hyperactive" in affluent White neighborhoods in various cities, including Seattle, raising concerns that fearful residents were engaging in open racial profiling. And since out of sight became out of mind, I'd completely forgotten them by the time the initial invitation showed up. So I suspect that Nextdoor's marketing department immediately saw the potential in the "emergency contact" functionality to grow the user base.

But as someone who isn't a Nextdoor user, their co-opting of my sister in this feels disingenuous. It's fairly clear that Nextdoor doesn't need me to sign up in order to pass me messages. If something were going on at my sister's place, and her neighbors wanted to alert her emergency contacts, Nextdoor could easily send me a high-importance e-mail. They've been sending me reminder after reminder, after all.

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