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Old 05-26-2014, 10:22 AM
Join Date: Sep 2012
Location: Seattle, WA
Posts: 386
Anybody can disable "invisible" email tracking software?

Sites such as this provide "invisible" automatic email tracking. A sender who wants to know what you did with his email, sends the email to the tracking provider company, who then send it on to you, presumably with a spy payload attached. From that point on, the email apparently sends out a stream of information clandestinely, regarding if you opened it, how long you kept it open, did you forward it, and so on.

I guess it could help nail a small minority of users who might claim they never received an important email in time, but other than that, this is a violation of online privacy (or whatever is left of it). What I do with my email is strictly my business. Besides I hate the idea of clandestine transmission of data from my computer, even for an innocuous purpose.

How can I disable such feedback? Do I need special software?
Old 05-26-2014, 12:22 PM
Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: In the Woods
Posts: 323
I am not an expert on this. I believe most of this tracking is done with hidden embedded images. In your email program, go into the Settings and make sure you disable "Automatically Display External Images"or something similar.

Here is what Gmail says:

How Gmail makes images safe

Some senders try to use externally linked images in harmful ways, but Gmail takes action to ensure that images are loaded safely. Gmail serves all images through Googleís image proxy servers and transcodes them before delivery to protect you in the following ways:
  • Senders canít use image loading to get information like your IP address or location.
  • Senders canít set or read cookies in your browser.
  • Gmail checks your images for known viruses or malware.
In some cases, senders may be able to know whether an individual has opened a message with unique image links. As always, Gmail scans every message for suspicious content and if Gmail considers a sender or message potentially suspicious, images wonít be displayed and youíll be asked whether you want to see the images.
Old 05-26-2014, 05:47 PM
Join Date: Apr 2011
Posts: 219
I know of two techniques.

With one, the recipient gets an email that just says "You have received a message. Click here to view it on our web site." If they user does, the web site then makes a note that the recipient read it (or more likely, didn't). The web site can even record how long the message was visible using Javascript (assuming the user hasn't disabled it in their browser).

The other is the hidden-image technique discussed. (Or the web site could track visible images, if the message includes any.) That's why many email programs and providers don't display images from unknown senders. For instance, Thunderbird displays images from people in your address book, but you have to press a button to see images in emails from someone who isn't.

Gmail used to do that too, but a policy change earlier this year changed that. Now they mostly display images by default. They won't display images in a message they think is "potentially suspicious", but from the above-posted explanation, it sounds like if it merely uses hidden images to track whether you've opened it, Gmail now permits that.

If you don't want to be tracked by spammers who send messages Google finds unsuspicious, you'd have to turn off showing images by default in your Gmail settings, making Google behave the way it used to, and the way most providers still do.
Old 05-26-2014, 05:55 PM
Join Date: Apr 2011
Posts: 219
Oh, and there's a third technique. A header field in the email can request that the recipient's email software automatically send back an email saying you've read the first email. But this relies on the recipient's email software being set up to do so, and that's not common, except perhaps in a business environment where workers may be required to use an email program with this setting permanently set on.

There's more info on these techniques in Wikipeida.

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