The woes of data privacy and online service providers tracking user’s activities stealthily have made headlines numerous times. From internet search giant Google to social networking behemoth Facebook has come under the scanner for snooping into online activities and habits of their users.
Those have led to such online content providers revising their privacy policies as well. However, not many internet users are aware of email tracking. It may seem awkward that some of your email messages are actually being tracked- without you being aware of it.
What is actually email tracking and how it was discovered?
Emails are used by millions of web users despite the growing popularity of online chat apps and social media platforms. Businesses still rely on email for communications across the world. However, few email users are aware that the act of opening and reading an email may send a significant amount of data to the sender. This can happen even if the recipient does not send a reply back!
The fact that has sent a wave across the web has been discovered owing to an email startup named Superhuman. The invite-only email software costing $30/month is loved much by the Silicon Valley VCs. The NY Times reported over 180,000 people are on the wait list. The email app enabled users to find out who is opening emails. Superhuman uses ‘read receipts’ a feature which reveals details like the timing of message opening, a device used by recipients and their location, etc.
Of course, the discovery has made the online communities and tech experts stunned. The former Twitter VP of design Davidson lambasted the company citing its stealth spying on the users. The company responded saying the software would be updated.
However, the reality is Superhuman is not the only entity snooping on email usage habits of internet users. There are many other email service providers who might have been doing the same for years! It is not too tough to embed tracking software within the email and most users simply do not have time to look for such things.
What is pixel tracking?
The majority of email-tracking apps use a method called pixel tracking. In this, a small one-pixel image is added to end of emails and this issued to track if the emails are opened by the recipients. So, the person who sent the email can track recipient activities-eventually. Now, email Marketers may love using such tools but the same is not true of general web users who access email for personal communication needs.
So, what is the remedy to tackle this menace?
The good thing is you can thwart such email-based privacy invasion attempts without facing too many hardships.
In Gmail, or any other email software, there is an option for blocking the images and you can utilize that to prevent snooping on your online habits. After that you will need to make one more click to load images in emails and images will not load by default. The settings may be a tad different from one email provider to another, though.
If you use a third-party email client app such as MS Outlook or Apple’s Mail to manage email, this setting has to be tweaked in that app as well.
You may also resort to using browser extensions for this purpose. PixelBlock is such an extension aimed at the Chrome users and it thwarts images from loading. It also has a visual indicator for spotting the trackers. There is another such extension available both for Firefox and Chrome, named Trocker.