How to know which emails are silently following you
Everyone sends emails now: political parties, your book club, independent journalists, the social networks you subscribe to, your parents, that online store where you only bought one item ten years ago, and many more.
What do many of these email senders have in common? They want to know if the messages they’re sending you are open, and there are a variety of tools available to help them do just that – tools that aren’t that hard to use.
A tracking pixel, embedded somewhere in the email, allows most people to control the opening of an email. Once the tiny hidden single pixel image is loaded, it reports back to the base. Their use in emails is now reaching “endemic” levels according to some experts.
Tracking pixels can report the opening times and dates of the associated email, as well as the location of the device in use and the email client involved. That’s a lot of data to send back to a third party that you may not know much about.
Marketers and newsletter writers would say this kind of tracking is key to understanding their audience and what interests them most, as well as the kind of return they’re getting on their ad dollars, but on the other side , it can feel like an invasion of privacy to essentially have one eye over your shoulder to take a note every time you open and read a specific email, especially if you don’t know it’s happening.
You might not be able to do much about using these tracking pixels, but there are steps you can take to prevent them from working and see which messages include them, so you know which people and which companies are. ‘are of particular interest to you. , and you can choose who to allow and who not to.
Stop email tracking
Emails are usually tracked using the pixel method we mentioned, so the easiest way to stop this is to stop loading images by default in the email app of your choice. . Your posts may end up looking less visually appealing, but it’s a compromise worth making if you want that level of control.
In Gmail on the web, click the gear icon (top right), then See all settings and General: beside Pictures, select Ask before viewing external images. In Mail on macOS, choose Mail, Preferences, Visualization and uncheck Load remote content into messages. In the Outlook Mail program that came with Windows 10, tap the cog icon at the bottom of the navigation pane, and then select Reading pane and make sure that both Automatically download external images the options are disabled.
You can find similar settings on your phone. In Gmail for Android or iOS, tap the menu button (top left), then Settings, then your email account and Pictures. For Mail on iOS, open the main Settings app, then choose Mail and turn off the Load remote images option. In Outlook for Android and iOS, tap your profile picture (top left), then the cog icon, then your email account. You can then activate the Block external images option.
Other messaging apps than the ones we’ve mentioned will usually have similar options that you can use. It is still possible to display images inside emails in these apps, you just need one more tap or one click to do so. If the images are not loaded, the built-in tracking pixels will not be accessible and will not report that they have been opened.
Tracking follow-up emails
Blocking images from loading by default is a pretty blunt tool for your inbox, and more precise options are available if you want even more control. Free and open-source Ugly email has been around for several years and is one of the best countermeasures to pixel tracking: it’s an extension for Chrome and Firefox that works with Gmail in your browser.