Off Brand

Why Every CEO Needs to Think Like a Hacker, Stalker, or White Nationalist

It’s 2019. Every product should be built with bad actors in mind.

Rob Walker
Published in
5 min readSep 9, 2019


An illustration of mysterious characters surrounding several electronic devices.
Illustration: Tom Guilmard

FFans of the buzzy young startup Superhuman, a $30 a month premium email product, rave about its speed and clever, feature-rich design. But recently one of those features proved controversial: a supercharged “read receipt” ability showing users when recipients of their missives had opened them, how many times, and from what state or country.

Recipients likely had no idea this was happening, and no easy way of opting out if they did. You can probably also imagine why one might not want any given emailer to know whether you’ve opened any given message, and where you were when you did. Late this past June, software veteran Mike Davidson wrote a sharp critique detailing this use of “hidden tracking pixels,” pointing out ways in which the data could be misused by, say, a hostile ex or other stalker-y type, and charged: “Superhuman Is Spying on You.”

Soon Rahul Vohra, Superhuman’s founder and chief executive officer, who had sold his previous company to LinkedIn, announced some changes. Conceding that location data could be used for “nefarious purposes,” he wrote that it would no longer be tracked or revealed to users…