Email Tracking and Why You Should Disable It

Companies are not only tracking you on the web but also in your own inbox...

email tracking

Did you know that the simple act of reading an email could give advertisers a lot more information than you’d like.

We have email tracking to blame for this, which allows the sender (advertiser) to see when an email was opened, how many times it was opened, how long the recipient spent reading it, and even which links were clicked on. Such tracking is typically found in marketing emails and it’s meant to help brands know how popular certain products, headlines, and keywords perform with customers.

According to a 2018 study conducted by Princeton University, up to 70% of mailing lists use email tracking tools.

This may not be the issue if you trust the sender, but what if you don’t? What if you unknowingly signed-up for some newsletter? Then, the email tracking would tell the sender that you are opening their emails and they will be encouraged to keep sending you their emails.

How does email tracking work?

Generally speaking, there are two ways email tracking occurs: through a read receipt or through an email with tracking pixels. These days, it’s the latter that is most used.

These tracking pixels are included in the HTML code of an email as well as on a website. They come in the form of 1×1 pixel images that make them practically invisible. This pixel is also often embedded in the header or footer of an email, so users almost never notice it.

In addition, every link in the email is especially coded to track clicks, providing information about how a user interacted with that piece of content.

Add JavaScript on the landing page (where the user ends up upon clicking) to the mix and you get a powerful combo that lets advertisers collect information about a user’s IP address, the browser they’re using along with plugins, and even their screen resolution — without the user knowing anything about it.

Is this a problematic technology?

It all depends how one uses it. You know the saying, there are nuclear power plants and also nuclear weapons. While the former provides energy, the latter kills people.

Data protection advocates on their end dislike tracking pixels because of all the data they could collect about users without their knowledge. Embedding trackers into emails is easy, with a range of third-party email tracking software available on the market.

In the worst case scenario it is possible for companies to match the user’s IP address with the rest of their digital footprint and come up with identifiable information for each and every user.

Perhaps more alarming is that spammers who obtain large databases of emails can track if an email address is valid when a user opens and interacts with elements within emails.

How can you prevent email tracking?

There are a few things all of us could do to fight back, including:

1. Disable image loading in the email

When you disable images from automatically loading in the email, you’re preventing tracking pixels from loading as well. In most email services, you should be able to find a setting that lets you prevent images from automatically loading, like “Ask before displaying external images” in Gmail, “Load Remote Images” on iOS devices or “Block external images” on Outlook for mobile.

2. Check for email trackers with a browser extension

The other way is to use browser extensions such as Ugly Email and Trocker that will notify you when they detect if an email you’ve opened has tracking pixels, and block them. On the downside, these extensions require access to your inbox so they could actually do their work. It’s a bit creepy but I guess, it’s justified.

3. Stop your IP from being tracked with a VPN

Last but definitely not the least, with a VPN – you get to temporarily change your IP address so that email trackers can’t accurately know your location. A VPN will also bring this capability to the world wide web so that other websites — as well as Google and Facebook — can’t easily track your online whereabouts.

As we are usually saying, everyone should be using a VPN these days. It’s just the world we live in. If you still don’t have one – hop over to our page with the Best of the Best VPNs and take it from there. We’re sure you’ll find one for your needs.