If you hate email trackers, block them now

I think it’s totally up to me whether I decide to open an email or not. But apparently, others are not of the same opinion. That’s why they use mail tracking applications, a breed of software that will let the sender of an email know when you read their message.

I find it invasive, even more offending than link trackers (most mail trackers track links as well). And as it happens, most—but not all—of the tracked emails I receive are of little value. That’s why I block mail trackers and let their users think their emails were never opened.

So if you find email tracking creepy, here’s what you need to know about how it works and how you can stop it.

How does email tracking work?

Typically, email tracking works by embedding a transparent, single-pixel image in the message body (obviously designed to not be seen by the receiver), which is hosted on the tracking software’s server. When the recipient opens the email, the client application requests the image from the server in order to display it, and the server marks the email as read.

What’s bad about email tracking is that most users won’t know the email they receive is being tracked. And email trackers are not only able to track the time you opened the email, but other things as well, such as your IP address and your location. They can also set or read cookies in your browser.

Now tell me that’s not invasive.

Some mail trackers might work through embedded scripts, but since virtually all email clients block scripts by default (and rightfully so), they’re not as effective as their image-based counterparts.

How do you prevent email tracking?

Fortunately, blocking email tracking is as easy as disabling images. When you disable images in your email, the request is never sent to the server, and consequently, the tracker never finds out that you opened the email and can’t perform any of the other spying tricks it uses.

The procedure is basically the same in all email services. I will show how it’s done in Gmail.

  1. Click on the gear button in the top right section of the page and choose the settings command
  2. In the General tab, set image setting to Ask before displaying external images
  3. Click on Save changes at the bottom of the screen

After disabling images, whenever you receive an email that contains an image tracker tag or any other external image, the following message will appear at the top of the email:

Clicking on either of the two options will load the email’s images, including any email tracker they contain. The second option will permanently enable images for that particular sender. At least you have a choice now.

So enjoy your privacy, and respect that of others.

And STOP SENDING ME TRACKED EMAILS for Christ’s sake. Instead focus on descriptive subjects and well-tailored messages. I will surely get back to you if I’m interested in your story.

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