Not many know that apart from online tracking, emails can also be tracked. Depending on the email client that you are using, any information like the time you opened the email, what links you have clicked or on which location you have opened the said mail can be detected. In days when our online privacy is in question, these email trackers can give out a lot of information, which you might not share on a normal basis.
Traditionally email trackers or read receipts are used by marketing companies. The aim of these emails are simple — to get to know your choices so that the future emails are perfectly tailored for you. In a way, a guarantee that the products the company is pitching will sell out soon.
Email trackers come in various forms. In Outlook, you’ll see it in the form of the formal read receipts, however, not everyone uses the humble read receipts.
The gimmick is to use an invisible pixel embedded in the email or to use HTML links to relay the information back to the sender. Another technique used is to insert images inside emails.
When an email with any of the above is opened, the embedded object pings the server from where it originated with added information like time, IP address, the name of the device, etc. In a nutshell, you get a runner on steroids going back to tell the owner all about you.
These trackers do raise privacy concerns, especially since not everyone is aware of this widely practiced method. Thankfully there are a couple of methods you can adopt to keep these from tracking you.
1. Change Gmail Settings
Gmail comes with a built-in setting which stops external images from downloading. Also, Gmail scans the pictures and images in emails to find malware and other vulnerabilities. Plus, if a sender or a message seems suspicious, Gmail asks for user’s permission before downloading it.
On our part, we can enable the feature which will stop images from automatically downloading. All you have to do is head over to Settings > General and turn off the images option.
There are quite a few extensions in Google Chrome which helps in identifying email trackers. One such extension is called the Ugly Email. Developed by web engineer, Sonny Tulyaganov, Ugly Email contains a script to identify the invisible 1×1 images or pixels.
The setup is simple, all you have to do is install the Chrome extension. Each mail which has a tracker embedded on it will display a small eyeball icon next to the subject line.
The best thing about Ugly Email is that it doesn’t read your emails, neither store or transmit your data anywhere.
Once a tracker is detected, this nifty extension blocks the trackers and you can open your emails without the risk of letting out information. This app works seamlessly with Gmail and you’ll be able to see the source of the tracker if you hover above the eyeball.
Most of the popular trackers like Yesware, MailChimp, SendGrid, Streak, MixMax, Tinyletter are compatible. And Ugly Mail is working towards implementing the other trackers as well.
Is Email Tracking Illegal?
While email tracking may be annoying for a lot of us, however, it’s not illegal. Email tracking is basically helpful for studying the market before launching any new product, or by the marketing students to study people behavior. As a popular tracking site has pointed out, trackers help them to ascertain when to send out follow up emails. And in turn, they know whether they are at the top of their client’s mind or not.
In conclusion, it’s essentially a personal choice as to whether you should have one or not. But then, in this age where privacy is almost next to nothing, having an app that helps you to maintain some of it, seems to be the most appropriate solution.