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Digitally preview incoming USPS mail and packages (usps.com)
158 points by omilu 18 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 195 comments

I tried signing up for this 3 months ago, and was shocked to receive images for the mail of literally everyone in my building (I'm one of seven apartments).

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.

It sounds like they are saying it is not by design, but a mistake that they allowed you to sign up when your location isn't yet meeting the requirements.

At least that is how I read the line about "unable to offer[...]until the coding is complete".

> It sounds like they are saying it is not by design, but a mistake that they allowed you to sign up when your location isn't yet meeting the requirements.

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.

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 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.

They may have changed it. When I initially signed up, I tried to add the PO Box explicitly, but they rejected it as unsupported.

That's strange, especially since every PO box* is in fact a unique ZIP+4, so more than meets the "unique delivery point" requirement.

For example, the full ZIP+4 of "PO BOX 391234, CAMBRIDGE MA 02139" is "02139-1234".

It’s not the postman, it’s that physical addresses get aligned with the stop on a mail route and other types of delivery do not.

I live in a rural area on a plot of land that has two houses and a total of three housing units on it.

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 complex.

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.

Drill a few more slots into the same bin and label each one “separately”.

I was gonna suggest throwing some slabs of balsa wood in the box depending on how big it is and call that a 'separation'. I like your method better, involves power drill. Tim Taylor noise

> And the post office knows about our different addresses -- I mean, they deliver mail directly into our individual locked mailboxes.

Well... your mail carrier knows about the different addresses. This doesn't mean that the USPS has this information in their system.

I had a similar experience after moving a year ago. I kept receiving the emails for mail going to my previous address.

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.

It isn’t a problem.

The outer envelope isn’t private by design and law. It’s metadata that is open to whomever sees it.

I frequently get actual mail addressed to my neighbors, so IMO that's a worse problem than seeing the images of the envelopes or packages.

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.

I’ve had it for a long time now. Things it helps me with:

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.

>Big waste of money in my opinion.

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.

They already have the mail images from their sorting machines, so it doesn't cost them much to email the images to you.

I signed up for it after my letter carrier misdelivered two pieces of my mail in less than two weeks after having maybe one mistake in the previous decade. I think my post office stopped using the same carrier on the same route everyday and instead tried some sort of "load-balancing" scheme where a carrier's route can change based on mail volumes.

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.

I think this is intended to improve reliability. Having an image taken at some point in the process can identify issues pre and post sort. Maybe even provide evidence that mail was postmarked at a specific time.

It solves the problem of wasted energy delivering mail people don't want, like junk mail/spam. I'd be very interested to see how much wasted paper and gas goes into producing and delivering junk mail. Mail processing centers already use computer vision to see where a parcel's going instead of manually sorting, so this is a logical step forward.

>It solves the problem of wasted energy delivering mail people don't want, like junk mail/spam.

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.

How does this stop junk mail ?

I have this and get an email every day showing me a bunch of mail I don’t want or need.

My mistake. I thought the point was to let you choose to discard mail before receiving it.

That would be awesome, but it’s just a dark foreshadowing of the junk to come.

I think it's helpful for PO boxes or when the mailbox is far from the house.

I also received images from my previous apartment for the new tenants long after moving (yes I did file a move notice with USPS). But then I also keep receiving the physical mail for the previous tenant at my new apartment even 6 months after moving, despite crossing out their addresses and dropping it in the mailbox, and even talking to the postman (didn't help, it's always a different person). That seems like a bigger problem.

There is no feedback loop for most mail you don't want. Anything "standard" (or "STD") in the postage area will just be thrown away if you put it back in the mail stream. You'll also have to deal with every catalog being sent to "OR CURRENT RESIDENT".

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!")

> (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.

> I don't submit change of address forms, as the USPS sells the data from those to spammers.

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).

It’s sort of a futile gesture, as DMV sells a real-time feed to multiple parties.

Do you have a source for them selling that information?

When I lived in Seattle's Central District, my local Post Office branch had a drop box in the lobby for any mail you received that was addressed to previous residents. I used to collect anything that seemed important and I would drop it off periodically. This is not something I've seen at many other Post Offices, curiously.

Interesting. We've got one labeled for misfiled mail. I'm not sure what happens if you drop mail in there that was for a previous owner of your PO box.

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.

Get one of these, stamp everything that isn’t addressed to you and throw it back in the box:

Return to Sender Not at This Address Self Inking Rubber Stamp (Red Ink) - Large https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0745432KW/

I mean... Seems pretty normal to me... in the older brownstones in the neighborhood where I grew up (and a lot of my friends still live) all mail for the entire building is pushed through the mail slot into the hallway. Everyone roots through the pile and takes their own and leaves everyone else's in the hallway.

Guess it's just what you're used to.

At my apartment building, I only get the email for my unit's mail, not everyone's. Sounds like a bug like other people said.

Crazy. They should just tell you upfront that you don’t qualify, yet

HIPAA violation?

No. HIPAA only covers (applies to) certain entities like hospitals and insurers, not the USPS. And there’s an explicit “conduit exception” that allows covered entities to distribute protected health information via non-covered entities such as the postal service.

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.

Rule of thumb: if it's not an insurance company or medical facility, HIPAA doesn't apply.

True, I live in an apartment with a roommate. I also see his incoming mails

Don't you also see his incoming mail (or he yours) every time one of you checks your mailbox?

I don't see the privacy violation. The outside of envelopes are publicly viewable by design so that they can be delivered. If you don't want others to know who's mailing you, ask the sender not to place their name and address on the envelope.

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?

That's like saying if I send an email via Gmail, Google should feel free to do whatever it wants with the headers, because it's supposed to be publicly viewable so the mail server knows where it should go. (See also the NSA phone call metadata scandal.)

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

That's an interesting idea, but it's not true.

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.

That's not true. Both your USPS envelopes and ISP/webservice headers are not protected by any law. The info can and is often shared with law enforcement based on simple request (without a warrant), if the 3rd party chooses to share -- which they often do. Sometimes Google and others have an official policy of resistance, but that's their choice, not your choice.

So, I'm a USPS informed digest customer, and while I get only my own mail, I'm surprised by how deeply the camera penetrates the envelopes (possibly due to flash?). It's not uncommon for me to be able to make out the topic of a letter simply from the shadow of the letters on the paper beneath. It's not an everyday occurrence, but happens enough that I'd be very uncomfortable if someone else had access to my informed digest.

How about these impacts:

"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

This issue is a privacy / security nightmare.

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.

I had to make the decision just a few days ago and as enticing it seemed that previewing at my mail before it was in my hand wouldn't add any value for me. The other factor was that I did not trust USPS (or any 'non-technical-at-core' company for that matter) with the security and privacy of my data. Looks like it was the right choice not to opt in.

Worth remembering five years ago there was a startup (Outbox) trying to work with the USPS on this with some disruptive features (spam mail removal). USPS killed it: https://www.insidesources.com/outbox-vs-usps-how-the-post-of...


Outbox's shutdown note: http://web.archive.org/web/20140712084627/http://blog.outbox...


I think spam mail removal is an entirely different beast since USPS makes a lot (maybe even most) of their money off of mail that most people consider spam. It's in USPS's financial interest to deliver as much junk mail to you as possible.

As much as I rely on USPS for a lot of things and love them for it, I'm still sore at them for very obviously sharing my postal address with a bunch of spam mailers. I foolishly filed an official change-of-address with them when I moved cities a few years ago -- and immediately started getting junk mail from all manner of companies, addressed to me personally, at my new residence.

When I tried USPS' informed delivery about a year back, I only emailed me images of spam mail. If it wasn't spam, it went through and showed up in my physical mailbox without me getting a digital image of it first.

This has been great for deciding if I want to walk out to the mailbox in the winter or not. But I believe signing up for this caused me to get a ton of junk mail.

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.

It's the forwarding/address changing. They sell that DB widely, so that companies can update their records within the forwarding window. Junk mailers buy it too.

Credit reporting agencies also get it. I had a change of address for a neighbor mistakenly applied to me [1], and now my credit report claims I briefly lived at their new address.

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.

[1] 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 workaround is to do a temporary change of address, and contact each company that sends you mail forwarded from your old address individually, to update your address record. When the mail stops forwarding, you stop getting mail from anyone that you didn't explicitly inform of your new address.

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 also one of the best ways to get the vaunted Bed Bath and Beyond 20% off your entire purchase coupon. Depending on how much stuff you're buying after you move, that can be worth a little junk mail

Agreed, that's how I have gotten that coupon too.

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.

They’ve already started piloting an annual subscription that gives you a permanent 20% off every purchase, every time, with a barcode pre-loaded on your phone. It cost me $29 for the whole year. I buy a ton of stuff at BBB for my company and it paid for itself in the first hour. And no paper coupon needed!

i have never found anything at bbb that wasn't already 20% cheaper on amazon/other site

>The workaround is to do a temporary change of address, and contact each company that sends you mail forwarded from your old address individually, to update your address record. When the mail stops forwarding, you stop getting mail from anyone that you didn't explicitly inform of your new address.

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 dicks are the ones sending out the junk. Don't blame the victims.

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 .

> The remedy for the next guy...

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.

Realistically, the junk mail is based on a list that likely already contains that address. Most mail advertisers have switched to using "Current Occupant" or "X or Current Occupant" to get around the "Does not live here" workaround (as the current occupant always lives there).

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.

The 3575z has to have a reason listed, and the only valid reasons all reduce to "that person isn't here". The postal employee won't take the form if you are the addressee.

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.

> leaving your junk behind for them to deal with

This assumes the spam through mail is yours... it is the company's.

You can opt out of the vast majority of junk mail here if you wish: https://dmachoice.thedma.org/

Who/what is this? Official USPS service, third party...? It looks either really cool or really sketchy, and I can't tell which.

It is an industry trade group for organizations that use direct mail marketing. It gets mixed reviews, and it's not perfect, but it seems to be basically legitimate.

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.

The other half of the "every piece of mail costs money" coin is to send back every prepaid envelope. What you put in it is up to you, but the thicker and heavier it is the better.

When I moved several years ago my new home got lots of catalogs for places I'd never shop at. I was shocked at how significantly it dropped the volume. Did nothing for things local ads, but the thick glossy catalogs all stopped.

Its not informed delivery that did it. I signed up for this a while back with no change. It was the forwarding address thing. When I last did it there was a bunch of boxes you had to uncheck to not 'sign up' for all the other stuff.

Maybe I just didn’t see the attack vector clearly, but it appears Krebs and security issue is that a scammer can target you, sign you up for this, see that you are a CapitalOne account holder - THEN use that information to further attack you say by opening a new account at the same bank.

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.

I think the attack is that they can see a credit card is on it's way to your mailbox, then snatch it out of the mailbox while you're at work.

Things like this are why I moved all my financial stuff over to a PO box.

How many attackers are local to you? This requires proximity obviously, I just have to think that’s even more rare.

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.

I work in the Credit card industry. Account origination fraud using the real address is a thing. The bad guys hire mules to check mailboxes daily until the card arrives. This would greatly simplify that task.

Ah, mules. That makes more sense because people are really stupid. Takes the locality requirement off the “brains” of the operation.

Luckily usps requires all new development to use cluster boxes so that should put an end to it for any new house.

[Citation needed]


There are exemptions which allow for single mailboxes but going forward all new builds should have cluster boxes.

Thanks for responding, instead of downvoting and moving along like many others before you.

They've "fixed" the loophole by sending you a physical letter with a pin number that you have to input onto their website to activate the service. However, someone that's targetting you could still steal your mail with the pin.

Negative, I just activated it and all I had to do was answer some questions related to my credit.

Is the address you activated it for on your credit report? They likely verified your identity through those questions, and would also have your current and past addresses as part of that.

Unless they changed it very recently you can still sign up completely online or have them mail you a PIN. They do still mail you a PIN no matter what so you can at least deactivate it if you didn't set it up.

If you sell your house, USPS has no way to know and they keep sending you the emails for your old residence.

So now there's no way when you move into a new residence of knowing whether someone else is snooping on your email.

I don’t think that’s necessarily true. When I filed my change of address/mail forwarding, they sent me an email saying that Informed Delivery was suspended on my old address and then they also sent a letter to the old address which was forwarded to the new address which basically said the same thing.

I guess if you don’t file change of address then they won’t know.

I did file a change address a year ago and yet continued to receive the emails from my previous address. As mentioned in my reply to another comment, I tried unsuccessfully to convince them that this was a problem, and they told me it was my responsibility to also discontinue the emails.

Perhaps they have changed their position in the last year.

You aren't going to change USPS policy by telling a low-level customer support agent that the policy is wrong. They aren't paid for that.

It sounds like they changed it then since I moved only 6 months ago.

I moved two years ago and even then it unsubscribed me from my previous Informed Delivery subscription. I really don't know what the user above is talking about.

I've rarely had poor experiences with USPS, but not too long ago I filed a change of address after a move and... AFAICT, it did nothing. Some crucial pieces of mail got lost (thanks hostile former housemate!) and it resulted in things like health insurance coverage being interrupted.

I don't know if this is the common case, but with big negative impacts, it seems like a possibility worth accounting for.

Same here, moved and now only get informed delivery for my new/current apartment. Considering my mailbox is like a quarter mile away, it's super convenient!

I still keep getting mail for the former owners of our house from 10 years ago. The first few years I forwarded it but I've since given up.

I had this back when I lived in Chicago a number of years ago.

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.

You mean to tell me I can get a daily spam message showing me previews of all the spam coming to my physical inbox?

The funny part is that they don’t scan the kind of spam that is blanketed to your area like grocery store inserts and local gym offers (the stuff that isn’t actually addressed to you). They do still scan the targeted spam like credit card offers and such. They don’t scan magazines either. Just individually addressed envelopes and postcards.

You can opt out of (most of) the prescreened credit card offers: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0148-prescreened-credi...

Except every exception you've outlined has been delivered to me in my daily previews since signing up 6 months ago

They scan the stuff sent to "YOU OR CURRENT RESIDENT". I think they don't scan the stuff that is dropped off in a giant stack with orders to deliver to every box in a zip code.

You have to register to get the daily digest of the physical mail. That is not a spam.

^ Didn't get the joke.

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.

It was not a joke, you registered which means you gave them permission to send you emails. You opted-in.

They actually don’t scan most of the spam. Only ones that end up getting scanned are credit card offers and those Comcast ones that try to look like official business letters. Seems more often than not they straight up don’t bother to email me though.

Yeah that doesn't align with my experience. All of my spam is scanned and shown in my daily preview

This feature is great. See a grayscale scale image of the envelopes and packages being delivered to your house everyday.

What decision or choices do you make based on that new data stream? What is the advantage, because I really don’t get the idea.

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.

My parents live in a small subdivision in the country. they don't always walk to the end of their long driveway to check their mail. they do every few days. (or when they take the trash down, etc) They have had a rash of people going through mailboxes, looking for money, checks, and CC applications. twice now, the ONLY reason my parents found out their mail was stolen was a neighbor found a bunch of ripped open envelopes in a ditch down the road, with my parents (and many of their neighbors) mail in it. It may have happened more often, but they can't report stolen mail to the postmaster general if they don't know it was stolen.

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.

It matters more when you don't have a personal mailbox at your residence and instead have to go to a shared mailbox center for your street / apartment complex.

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.

Where I live there is no home delivery of mail, so all my mail goes to a PO box, so this is a huge boon to me. The only problem is international mail doesn't show up in the system, so when I'm getting a package from Japan, New Zealand, or elsewhere, I get no notification, and have to revert to the tracking number.

Whether I check or ignore the mail on that day. If I could pay the postal service to have a virtual address for me where all mail was opened and scanned, they'd have my business for life (I have to settle with a commercial provider for this service). I'm hopeful this product is a step in that direction.

You want the government to open and log your mail? You and I are surely very different people :)

The government can already open your non-first class mail without a warrant, and if its first class mail, I'm not convinced it'll be hard to get a warrant.

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.

>The government can already open your non-first class mail without a warrant, and if its first class mail, I'm not convinced it'll be hard to get a warrant.

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.

We could argue this all day. Let's not! I'm okay parting with some privacy and security for convenience to avoid losing paper mail, have it returned undeliverable, ease my management of receiving it, etc. It's not for everyone, but for my use cases, I desire it. Provide the service, and I'll be a customer for life.

It only takes one lost paper bill or notice to make life painful for a bit.

It's paperless for you, and you only. The paper was still printed, mailed, etc and is therefore still used. This is not a paperless transaction. You want to go paperless, then by all means do that with the actual people sending you things. 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. 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. So, in that vein, you never need to be concerned about anything coming through the mail. It would all be unsolicited at that point. Oops, then there's jury summons...

> It's paperless for you, and you only. The paper was still printed, mailed, etc and is therefore still used. This is not a paperless transaction. You want to go paperless, then by all means do that with the actual people sending you things.

> 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.

As long as the service is opt in, I don't have an issue. My problem is eroding constitutional protections for people who don't want to trade liberty for convenience.

I would never propose it not be opt in.

Something like Earth Class Mail might be what you want?

I use a competitor of theirs, but am still holding out for USPS to provide the service natively.

If it’s anything like the FISA court that’s not true at all...

I have to imagine that at some level this is just a step on a long path of modernization, and we are reaping the benefits with a little bit of convenience. As their technology improves, they will probably start offering some kind of virtualization like virtualpostmail. I've long wondered why the USPS hasn't yet leveraged their unique position in the mail system to do something like this. Certified electronic mail, etc.

Also, if your spouse/partner picks up the mail and then forgets to let you know something arrived for you, you'll have a reminder to ask

Yeah I did this the other day when I was looking for a letter I thought I had given my SO, but apparently didn't. It was pretty helpful to go thru which day certain letters arrived so I could look thru all the potential places I put it.

The glaring issue with informed delivery is it's fairly easy for someone to sign up on someone else's address. There are even reports of people supposedly using it on the home office addresses of lawyers involved in M&A.


USPS really dropped the ball on this one.

They've changed the auth method. When I signed up they mailed me one of the secure letter (rip open seams with random pattern on the inside) things used for CC pins and sensitive info with a validation number I had to enter.

If only you could run a spam filter on the images and have the junk mail rerouted direct to recycling.

USPS RecycleDirect™

I would love if this would let me flag something and automatically return to sender. I've lived in a rental for a year now and I still get more mail for other people than I do for myself.

Been using this for a few months, it's pretty cool. Especially helpful as a contractor when it's helpful to know if that late check is going to be arriving later in the day or if you should hound the client again.

Outside of the (valid) privacy concerns, I use this and considered it an awesome tool. Then I ran into the good old efficiency and effort of the USPS we all know and love... I was expecting a rather important document from the government, so when the image of it showed up in my Informed Delivery email, I knew to go to the mailbox that day, but the letter never arrived. Instructions on the USPS site tell you that even though you see an image of the mail piece, it might not arrive for up to +7 days later and they ask you to wait the full 7 days before declaring your mail missing - there is a feature where you click on a link to report a specific piece of mail as not delivered. So I wait exactly 7 days and what do you know, the link to report that letter is expired. They expire the damn link 7 days after the email is sent, which means if you follow directions you are sent into a literal black hole because apparently no one on the team tested for obvious logical conflicts. The letter never arrived and my report on this glaring flaw was never responded to.

Wasn't there a similar thread on HN a couple months ago about this? I remember commenting about the privacy issues, etc. and was told that USPS is really taking digital images of all the mail, and this is simply offering that as a service. There was a link to support that comment as well.

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.

The biggest privacy issue I can imagine here is if you see someone else's mail through the portal. A few anecdotes about this happening in the comments are concerning, but I was already under the impression USPS was doing some sort of digital imaging and OCR to efficiently sort the mail so my impression is this just gives you the ability to see those images.

Am I missing something?

They’ve been doing that for years though. I remember a NYT article from over a decade ago about the women who sit at computers and look at images of USPS mail all day, every day, trying to interpret hand-written names and addresses.

The USPS started scanning everything right around the time the anthrax letters were going out.

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.

I signed up for it when living at my old apartment. When I moved out of the apartment, I somehow got locked out of my USPS account so I could not update the settings to indicate that I had moved out. So now everyday I get an e-mail showing the incoming USPS mail of the person currently living at my old apartment.

I highly recommend a service like virtualpostmail (there's a few, but this is the one I use). They're a commercial mail receiving service. You get a new address (like a PO, but deliverable by everyone -- though this gets tricky with credit card billing addresses). Once mail gets delivered, you get a scan of the front side. Then you can choose to have it shredded, scanned to PDF or delivered to you.

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.

Their pricing seems awfully steep. I could see this service being worth maybe $5/mo, but $30? I can't imagine paying $30/mo just so I don't have to change addresses when I move.

This is still a security concern.

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.

Email aspect aside, if you have a shared mailbox it’s actually not inherently any less secure... you could be taking a picture of every piece of mail every day anyway. Their privacy isn’t really being violated any more or less than it already was.

I mentioned that; but it's effectively me making a decision for someone else to have images of their mail disseminated electronically via an insecure route.

My only complaint is you need a separate account for each address. (So if you have a PO box and a residence, you need to sign up for 2 separate USPS.com accounts to get informed delivery for both)

I redirected these to my spam box after at least 60% of the e-mails I received had no image and the text "A piece of mail that we do not have for is included in today's mail".

I recently moved and found out about this when I signed up for the change of address and mail forwarding. It works well for me. I get daily emails with photos of what's coming. The image sizes are small but still clear - which is good because that keeps the email size to a very small level, even on days with a lot of mail. There's some things that don't have images for some unknown reason, but overall it works well for me and I'm impressed with the service.

The recommendation I've seen about how to deal with the potential privacy/security implications is to sign up for it even if you don't use it. This lets you "park" your address, so you're notified of any changes or if anyone tries to sign up for your address maliciously.


Seems like it should be more useful than it is. I unsubbed after 3 months. Seeing an envelope didn't really give me much info as a consumer. Perhaps on a long trip or something, it would be more useful.

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.

I use it to make sure I'm getting all my mail.

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.

I love this service, though it has a sometimes disappointingly high number of pieces of mail for which no picture is available.

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.

off topic: Is there some service by USPS where I can have a P.O. Box, but have my mail forwarded to any 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.

I love this service for the parcel data, for pretty much the same reasons as the UPS and FedEx equivalents. It means I actually know what parcels are headed my way, regardless of whether or not someone explicitly gave me a tracking number. Makes it much easier to know when I'm getting something.

One annoying limitation (at least when I signed up) is that a given USPS.com account can only manage it for one mailbox. If you have more than one mailbox, such as the mailbox in front of your house and a separate PO box, you need to have two separate USPS.com accounts.

I've used the beta for a year, it's pretty good but there's a few bugs. And it adds anxiety because now I'm aware of letters that didn't arrive then show up later. Before i wouldn't have thought about it. I save the email until i get it.

That’s great, can they now stop selling my mailbox space to advertisers. Incredibly annoying - many government services make it basically mandatory to have a mailing address, and there is now way to stop pounds of junk that land into it on daily basis.

I have been using it for past 8 months. It is very useful service and worked most of the time. I did get couple of times the scans of other people mails but mostly its great. I did find some missing packages once because of local mail delivery mishap.

I signed up for this after moving out of my apartment and temporarily set up forwarding to my a freind’s address. It’s a great service, though I realized no confirmation was needed for me to start getting this info.

Nice - I signed up for it and I'm seeing images of mail being sent to my previous address (that's actually addressed to the current occupants, not my mail being mis-delivered).

Product idea: Image classification for incoming mail to set alerts when you are sent certain mail... Some things that come to mind: bills, jury duty, speed camera tickets... etc.

Anyone interested in working on this? LMK

Of course, if you don't sign up, make sure you DO opt out of Informed Delivery. Otherwise someone else may sign up and get copies of all your mail sent to them without your knowledge.

Kramer had the right idea. I want out of this mail thing, entirely.

Been looking for a way to get USPS physical mail notifications. Worst case scenario everybody will see that I get utility bills just like everyone else.

Have been using this service for over a year. Seems to be pretty insecure from stories I have read but I appreciate the convenience.

I had to disable this because of the sheer volume of email I started getting from USPS.

They send one message a day. Did you get more than that?

Yeah, it was too much. I hate noise in my inbox.

Ahh... the feel when you convert your warrantless mass surveillance program ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mail_Isolation_Control_and_Tra... ) into a consumer value add.

Why though?

I'll add to this. It's useful in the case where you don't own a house and your mailbox is on another floor, or on the opposite side of the building. If there's nothing useful, you can avoid taking a trip there.

I like knowing what’s coming so that if it’s missing I know a theft has occurred, and given how infrequent I receive useful mail I know when to check.

I set it up for my PO box so I don't make unnecessary trips to the post office.

I use it to know when something important is to arrive. they also will list packages to. I don't care for much of what shows. Magazines never have a picture but get a blank stating no picture for the piece is available.

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

>Magazines never have a picture but get a blank stating no picture for the piece is available.

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 handy if you are living in a large apartment complex where the mailbox is far away from your unit.

Monetization of the surveillance program they long had in place? Not bad.

Can I just have all of my mail emailed to me? That'd be great.

Can multiple people at the same address sign up for this?

I have being using this for a while. It's quite nice.

Been using this for over a year.

It's so spotty it's useless.

I have been using virtualpostmail.com to scan my mail. Much better.

Sounds like USPS is joining the panopticon-purveying surveillance capitalism game. "It's only metadata..."

It’s well known the FBI monitors mail going through USPS. They are able to flag addresses or people for inspection and backtrack all mail.[1][2] People used to send a lot more bombs through the mail and recently anthrax. I’m supprised it’s not so well known.

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.



>I’m not sure you have an expectation of privacy sending mail through anyone like USPS, FedEx, and UPS

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.[1]

Those protections do not apply to UPS or Fedex.

[1] https://www.rstreet.org/2014/11/19/yes-the-government-can-op...

Yes, there are legal protections for the contents of your (USPS) mail, but I don't think there is much of an expectation of privacy when it comes to information on the outside of your mail (the "metadata").

Joining? This is the result of it. Every parcel and package is photographed and available to LE.

I'm pretty sure it's all photographed and stored wether u sign up or not.

Not sure of the down votes, but I have the same assumption. Actually, my guess is that they were doing this first, and then someone said, "Hey, we could charge people for this as a service, and then that would offset some of the costs." Of course that person would not have received a raise or bonus for the idea though.

They do not, however, charge for the service.

The postal service has been doing this for decades.

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....

> Sounds like USPS is joining the panopticon-purveying surveillance capitalism game. "It's only metadata..."

Letters and packages are already electronically scanned to do OCR and address identification for routing purposes.

Hey at least the government will have copies of ll your mail now too.

they've been doing this for years (and providing copies to law enforcement) they're just letting you see it now!


I wanted to use this to finally PROVE that I mailed xyz content and not simply that receipt was signed for a box.

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?

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