Did you know that a majority of the emails you open are invading your privacy? It’s called email tracking. Email tracking software allows you to see if your sent emails have been read. It also tells the tracker a lot of other personal information about you. Email tracking programs can tell how many times the recipient opened the email when they opened it, as well as what the recipient’s geolocation is, what device they’re using, what links they’ve clicked on in the email, and other private information. About 30 percent of mailing lists will also sell information about you to third-parties, according to digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Those who want to track your email embed some code in the body the email they send to you. It will usually appear in a pixel image that’s so tiny that you can’t see it. It can also be hidden in hyperlinks or custom fonts. That pixel gets download as soon as you open the email. This allows the tracker to access your data. We consent and allow sites like Facebook to track our personal information all the time. But with email tracking, there is no consent. You might not even know your email is being tracked.
How much of your email is being tracked
“I’m personally okay with read receipts on a messaging platform because there is that expectation, but with email there often isn’t,” said staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation Sydney Li told Huffington Post. “Betraying people’s expectations and potentially leaking their info to really leaky or insecure third-party tracker concerns me a lot.” According to Wired, a recent study tells us that more than 40 percent of the 269 billion emails that were sent each day in 2017 were tracked. Email tracking software like Accelo or Mixmax is available to anyone. Some tracking software is even free. It’s mostly used by newsletter services, marketers, and advertisers. It was almost shocking when a 2006 lawsuit revealed that HP had used a service called ReadNotify to find out how a scandalous email was leaked to the press. Now the use of email tracking is widespread.
Everyone’s doing it
“I do not know of a single established sales team in [the online sales industry] that does not use some form of email open tracking,” says content marketing professional John-Henry Scherck told Wired. “I think it will be a matter of time before either everyone uses them or major email providers block them entirely.” While corporations were the ones initially using email tracking, that’s not the case anymore. Now you’ll find freelance writers, friends, and acquaintances are using the software to see if their pitch was read or to find out if you’re avoiding that birthday party invitation.
One More Company, an email intelligence company, reports that about 19 percent of “conversational” email is now being tracked. That translates to one in five emails you get from friends and family. The number of tracked conversational emails doubled between 2015 and 2017. That figure is believed to be attributed to the number of free tracking services now available. “We have been in touch with users that were tracked by their spouses, business partners, competitors,” One More Company found Florian Seroussi told Wired. “It’s the wild, wild west out there.”
Stop your email from being tracked
Curious as to who is tracking you? Download an app called Ugly Email. It shows you what emails are being tracked by displaying an eyeball symbol. The Gmail plug-in then prevents that email from tracking you. The company also promises that it does not “store, transfer, transmit or save any of your data.” There are other ways to block businesses and people from tracking your email if you’re not cool with it. Try disabling the automatic loading of images in emails. This will prevent those tracking pixels from being downloaded. This can block about 90 percent of tracking attempts.
You can do this on your iPhone by going to “Settings, then “Mail, and swiping left on the “Load Remote Images” which will turn it off. You can also select “Ask before showing” when you tap images on your Android device. Another way to stop email tracking is to disable the use of HTML in your inboxes. Learn how to do this here.