Huuuge privacy violation. (It's just images of the envelopes, but that still tells you a lot.)
I unsubscribed and then went to file feedback, and got an immediate reply explaining this was by design:
> Thank you for participating in Informed Delivery®. You recently reported that you are receiving images for other units in your apartment complex. This is due to the fact that your unit/complex is not coded down to a unique delivery point barcode, which is a requirement for this service.
> In order for the feature to provide mail images to the appropriate recipient(s), each multi-unit building on each carrier route must be individually identified and coded to the unit level. While most addresses are coded at this level, this coding process, especially in high density areas, is a work in progress. If you live in multi-unit building and you have successfully registered on usps.com ®, but the sign up process indicates that you do not have an eligible address, we are unable to offer you the feature until the coding is complete. Please check back at a later date.
It seems insane that if my building isn't "coded" I see everyone's mail instead of nobody's.
And it's not like I'm in the middle of nowhere -- I'm in Brooklyn, half a block away from an express train stop. And the post office knows about our different addresses -- I mean, they deliver mail directly into our individual locked mailboxes.
At least that is how I read the line about "unable to offer[...]until the coding is complete".
Yeah, IIRC they don't support this feature for PO boxes, but I managed to accidentally get it for mine when I filed a change of address form.
I regularly see notifications for mail really indented for a few other PO boxes. It's pretty clear that their automated sorting equipment is not perfect, and that they're relying on the postman to do a final quality-control check.
This is actually an improvement from several years ago, when I'd actually sometimes get the mis-sorted mail in my box. Now that hardly ever happens.
I use this with my PO box just fine. The problem is that the pictures are taken at the sorting center not at your local post office. So when things get really busy you'll get the picture a day or two before the letter ends up in your box.
For example, the full ZIP+4 of "PO BOX 391234, CAMBRIDGE MA 02139" is "02139-1234".
We get our mail in one mailbox.
When I signed up for Informed Delivery I was told that I couldn't get it because I was an improperly coded housing
I asked my postmistress about it and she told me that that was because we get the mail in one box and that we could have it coded correctly if we got three boxes.
The system worked in my case.
Well... your mail carrier knows about the different addresses. This doesn't mean that the USPS has this information in their system.
This was despite my having filed a change of address.
I suggested that this was a privacy problem and was told that it was my responsibility to stop the emails if I didn’t want to continue receiving them. After two or three more back-and-forth emails I still had absolutely no acknowledgement from them that this is a problem.
The outer envelope isn’t private by design and law. It’s metadata that is open to whomever sees it.
I also don't know what problem this really solves. Grasping at straws for the USPS to remain relevant I think. Big waste of money in my opinion.
When I’m on vacation and have a mail hold, I still know what mail cane each day. If I see a bill I know to log in and pay the bill.
I know if I have an important letter and whether it’s worth rushing to empty the box for the day.
A few times I knew to go ask the neighbors if they had my mail because I saw a letter was supposed to come but didn’t.
Also it tells you about packages that are coming that day so you can make sure you get them and that they weren’t stolen by a porch pirate.
Mail is scanned and archived anyway, and has been for years. This service merely let's you see the images they already have on hand. It costs not very much extra to add a customer side to an already existing system.
It's useful for people whose mailbox is down the street and it's useful to know if your mail is getting misdirected.
By seeing the mail I should be receiving, I know to talk to m neighbors if it doesn't show up in my box within the next day or two. We continue to have delivery issues about every couple of months.
Even if that was true, which it isn't as far as I can tell, that would be counter to the USPS's goals. They make a lot of their money delivering junk mail.
I have this and get an email every day showing me a bunch of mail I don’t want or need.
The prior owners of my place still get on average 9-10 pieces of mail a week here, and I just have to throw it all out. If one sender is especially egregious, I will contact them and demand they stop mailing to my address, but this is a slow process. (The prior owners refused to submit change of address forms, and when I contacted them they specifically said "we get too much junk mail and we want less of it!")
I don't submit change of address forms, as the USPS sells the data from those to spammers.
I do, however, systematically call and cancel any sources of spam, as well as redirecting any mail I actually want.
It may no longer be valid, but at one time there was a hack
for this - permanent COAs were sold, on 9-track tape, IIRC,
but temporary COAs were not sold, but just kept on file at the local post office, so one could just submit a temp. COA every
six months (the maximum duration of a temp. COA).
Speaking of misfiles, I've got a PO box in Poulsbo, WA, 98370. I received a letter that was address to that box number...but in Cleveland, TN, 37320.
How the heck could a letter end up that far off? The label was printed, not handwritten, and the printer wasn't running out of ink or skipping or anything like that. There is nothing whatsoever unclear about it, so no way was it a reading error.
Return to Sender Not at This Address Self Inking Rubber Stamp (Red Ink) - Large https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0745432KW/
Guess it's just what you're used to.
The FTC regulates the privacy of sharing personal data including health info by entities not covered by HIPAA, such as personal health apps. So if a govt agency wanted to investigate this, it would probably be the FTC using basic privacy laws. HIPAA wouldn’t apply.
(IANAL, just have a fair amount of experience with HIPAA & HITECH)
Edit: Added more details.
But the situation isn't hard to understand. The entire building has a single code, and the delivery guy is responsible for inserting mail into the individual lock boxes, and he reads the addresses off the envelopes to decide where it goes so he doesn't need a code.
I do agree with your sentiment, though. They know it won't work as expected, so why did they allow you to sign up?
In reality, when you send a letter, you are placing it into the care of the postal service. Your letter is only handled by postal employees, and mailbox privacy is codified in federal law. There's clearly an expectation that the postal service is not releasing your information to third parties without your consent. The information on the outside of the envelope is not meant for, nor is it needed by, anyone other than the postal service
Nowhere does it say that post office employees are the only ones who can handle your mail, and in reality the postal service has a ton of contractors that also handle the mail. They do stuff like bulk delivery and OCRing hand written addresses.
A friend of mine contracted with one of the companies that does the hand writing recognition, and if the computers can't recognize an address then a picture of the envelopes get sent off to a team of data entry people who see the address on a screen and type it in by hand.
It's also fairly common for delivery people to screw up and deliver mail to the wrong address, especially in large apartment complexes.
There's also nothing special about postal employees. Why would you trust them more than anybody else? They're bound by the same federal mail tampering laws as everybody else, but nothing above and beyond that.
"When did you last receive a piece of mail from your Cancer / HIV Doctor?"
-> leverage knowledge to extort patient
"When do payroll checks arrive?"
-> break into building on that afternoon and steal checks
I had my mail forwarded to my colleague while I was traveling for business for 2 months. Signed up for informed delivery with his address but my name (that's how I was forwarding mail).
Not only did I not have to verify that I live at that address and hence started receiving emails with images of my incoming mail, but I also received images for his and his wife's mail.
Trying to set up informed delivery for my address required some sort of in person address verification which I didn't feel like completing, but the emails with scans of incoming mail still are sent to me daily (which is all I needed anyway). Very concerning how anyone could easily observe my mail this way.
By the way, it seems that address verification is only required to access some sort of dashboard, but this doesn't prevent the emails with images of incoming mail to be sent.
Outbox's shutdown note:
There is something about either forwarding/address changing or this informed delivery that allows USPS to sell your new address to junk mailers. I signed up for both at the same time and was flooded with new junk mail the day I moved in. It gives me a serious distaste for the postal service as an organization.
Mostly not a problem, except when a site does the "ask questions about your credit report to verify identity" thin, and asks about prior addresses I need to watch for that address.
 Briefly, me and the neighbors have the same last name. I'm at address 537 Our Street, and they are at 567 Our Street. They submitted a change of address form for 567 Our Street. It turns out the house they live in belonged to the wife before they got married, and in the post office records it is still listed under her maiden name.
So when they filed the change of address, someone at the PO noticed that the name did not match the records for 567, but did match for 537, assumed that it was from me and I had botched entering the address, "fixed" it, and processed it.
The permanent change of address triggers advertising that targets new residents. Restaurants want to try to snag your regular business before you find other options on your own. Hardware stores expect that you might be doing some post-move remodeling. Insurers might try to sell you on a new homeowner or renter policy. Cable and phone companies offer you limited-time deals for new customers.
It's a one-time deluge that tails off pretty quickly. The USPS makes a lot of their revenue from periodicals (2nd class) and marketing (3rd class) mail.
It's time to share the Three Secrets of the regular 20% off one item and $5 off a $15 purchase coupons that BeBo (that's what we call them here) mails out:
0. Ignore what it says on the coupon!
1. The coupons do not expire. No one looks at the expiration date, they just scan the barcode and it always works.
2. You can use any number of coupons in a single purchase as long as they are on different items.
3. If you don't have a coupon with you, you have 30 days to come back with a coupon and your receipt and get the discount refunded.
This is a real dick move. Someone will have that address after you and you leaving your junk behind for them to deal with on an ongoing basis is straight up douche baggery.
The remedy for the next guy is to use a "return to sender: moved, left no address" notation or ink-stamp (or just "refused"), and to leave the articles in the mailbox. If they keep coming, a form 3575z (reason: MLNA) is a little more work, and the postal employee has to submit it, but is like a permanent change of address to /dev/null .
Again, you're leaving your problems for someone who has no connection to you. It should be you who files those forms to stop the mail you don't want to receive, not the poor person who happens to move in after you.
Once again, it's the junk mail originator, and a postal system that readily accepts and delivers said junk mail that is truly at fault here. Everyone else is a victim, and everyone basically gets the same set of junk because practically every address is on several lists at this point.
Again, stop blaming the victims, and start assigning responsibility accurately: to the postal service and to the senders.
The USPS makes too much money from unwanted mailings to make it easy for the recipients to block it.
Besides that, the new resident can always just toss the mail addressed to you in the trash, and the postal service would probably never notice. You only have to jump through the bureaucratic hoops if you are afraid someone might come after you for mishandling mail that isn't yours.
This assumes the spam through mail is yours... it is the company's.
With email spam, costs are so negligible that there's no way it's worth the trouble of removing an address. Every piece of physical mail costs money for printing and postage, so while it's not a big incentive, a cost saving incentive actually does exist.
Seems like a pretty flimsy side information gathering service. If an attacker has enough information to add an account for you, they probably have enough to determine where you bank at.
Good that the USPS can fix it easily enough, but maybe I’m missing how scammer would otherwise use this info.
Things like this are why I moved all my financial stuff over to a PO box.
Maybe there are niche credit card thieves that like to target just the area they live in. Seems like a lot of additional risk as now you aren’t just committing CC fraud but also mail fraud.
There are exemptions which allow for single mailboxes but going forward all new builds should have cluster boxes.
So now there's no way when you move into a new residence of knowing whether someone else is snooping on your email.
I guess if you don’t file change of address then they won’t know.
Perhaps they have changed their position in the last year.
I don't know if this is the common case, but with big negative impacts, it seems like a possibility worth accounting for.
Unfortunately, I still have it even though I've moved away so now I get to preview someone else's mail.
The last few times I tried to unsubscribe, the USPS web site was not working properly, so I just roundfile the incoming messages.
I'm aware you have to register; I've been registered for 6 months. My comment is based off of 6 months of these daily emails.
Edit: I see below; that theft awareness and not having to go check the mailbox are the features... ok, I guess. I have trouble believing that this applies to so many people they need to support a public facing service for it.
Having the ability to see what mail is coming will allow them to see if there are 'important' things coming, so they can either go get the mail that day, or know if its missing.
Also many people have P.O. boxes at a separate mail center location where going to check your mail means actually getting in a car and driving across town.
The problem with commercial mail processors is that you can't forward mail out from them like you can with a PO box or other traditional address. So if you get an address from one of them, and then either change providers or they go out of business, you're SOL. That address is now a blackhole for your mail. Hence, why I want the USPS to sanction and operate the service.
But IIRC first class mail travels rather quickly. Now you need a warrant for the apartment/house because it was delivered before a warrant could be written. Much harder to get.
It only takes one lost paper bill or notice to make life painful for a bit.
> Oops, then there's jury summons...
Some senders will still only send paper. That is part of what this type of service addresses. I have received grand jury summons via my commercial mail provider turning it into a PDF. Working as intended! No different than a fax to email gateway for senders who can only fax you something (speaking of which, I also get a fax number with the service for inbound faxes dropped in the same interface as scanned mail).
> According to previous HN discussions on cards/invitations, the younger generation doesn't even want those. Those should come from a FB Event notice or similar.
I don't use Facebook, Instagram, Meetup, or other online invite or social services. I still get wedding invites and other personal cards in the mail, from people in their 20s. I receive postcards from friends traveling the world. I receive hand written letters from my grandmother. A friend sends me a favorite candy bar in the mail for my birthday. My commercial mail provider scans the envelope, and then I hit "Forward" (which queues the mail pieces for forwarding), and receive them at my physical location for actioning and sentimental safekeeping.
> Once you sign up to go paperless with the place you legitimately need information from, the only thing left is unsolicited mail along with the occasional card/invitation/etc.
My insurance company still sends policy docs by mail, which I can't opt out of. All of my rental properties still require paper receipt of government correspondence. My health insurance provider. My kid's day care provider. Many, many orgs still send paper mail and won't send an electronic doc instead.
You're waving away valid use cases that will still exist for decades. Not everyone is a tech professional who only needs an email address and a number for SMS.
USPS really dropped the ball on this one.
That is, if you're concern about your gov monitoring your mail, that genie is out of the bottle and ain't never going back.
Am I missing something?
USPS has also figured out how to many some money off of this. You'll start to see relevant ads in between the mail images based on the kind of mail you're receiving. I've had the preview for about a year now and the ads are slowly increasing.
This is great for a lot of reasons: (1) Americans move an average of 12 times in their lives, and changing addresses is a huge PITA. This gives you a forever-mailing-address (well, as long as you keep paying). (2) Practically never deal with physical letter mail again, just PDFs (3) If you get that once in a blue moon letter you actually want, they'll just mail it to you.
Not free, but IMO worth every penny.
I live in a building in NYC with a shared mailbox for both apartments. I can see every piece of mail my neighbor gets.
Granted, I see this when I open the mailbox, but having a digital record of it in inherently insecure email is a bit concerning.
Now, if I could have selected things to trash immediately to reduce the waste, or if the entire message could have been digitized... well, that would be helpful. Companies have come and gone offering services like this, but no one has gotten it quite right for now.
And yes, I've found some letters that never showed up. I clicked the button saying it was missing and it showed up a few days later.
Anyway, as I'm currently out of the country I can view the mail sent to my family's address which now serves as my US mail address, though I definitely understand how this would be a privacy concern if you have multiple "households" at the same address.
I find myself having to move a lot, and trying to keep track of all the addresses I need to update is challenging for myself. I'd love to have a service where I can send my mail and only make an address change on that service when I need to update my mailing address.
Anyone interested in working on this? LMK
it just comes down to convenience. they already scan everything so why not take advantage of it. would I pay for the service, probably not unless the cost per month as trivial
This is interesting. We have this service for my address, but don't get magazines so I haven't seen it. I wonder if this has to do with the size/format of the scanner being designed for envelopes only, or if it's something crazy like fear of copyright infringement?
It's so spotty it's useless.
I’m not sure you have an expectation of privacy sending mail through anyone like USPS, FedEx, and UPS. They can open whatever they want at any time. Tracking packages should be trivial.
One of these things is not like the others.
By law, first class mail cannot be opened without a warrant, absent exigent circumstances (eg: it's ticking), it's crossing an international border, or subject to a FISA warrant.
Those protections do not apply to UPS or Fedex.
I once did data entry for the postal service; I would type in the addresses from the images of scanned mail pieces where the systems couldn't OCR the address/route by some other means. The actual mail and I were almost always in different states.
That was the mid 90s. Which means they were imaging pretty much everything way back then. While the OCR and facilitating the manual entry processes are a couple of uses, I am quite sure those images had many uses with the right kind of imagination... perhaps even today...
What I don't recall/remember ever knowning is if there was a retention policy....
Letters and packages are already electronically scanned to do OCR and address identification for routing purposes.
But NO, they don’t get it and only scan the outside.
Is there a service that will actually print the stuff I email and mail it?