All of those obnoxious marketing emails that crowd your inbox aren’t just pushing a product. They’re also tracking whether you’ve opened the email, when you opened it, and where you were at the time by using software like MailChimp to embed tracking software into the message.
How does it work? A single tracking pixel is embedded into the email, usually (but not always) hidden within an image or a link. When the email is opened, code within the pixel sends the info back to the company’s server.
There have been some attempts to restrict the amount of information that can be transmitted this way. For example, since 2014, Google has served all images through its own proxy servers, which could hide your location from at least some tracking applications. And extensions such as Ugly Email and PixelHow to stop your emails from being trackedBlock have been developed to block trackers on Chrome and Firefox.
There is also a simple basic step you can take to avoid trackers: stop your email from automatically loading images since images are where the majority of these pixels hide. You won’t be able to avoid all of the trackers that can hide in your email this way, but you will stop many of them.
Here’s how to do it in the major desktop and mobile email apps:
Note that this will also turn off Gmail’s dynamic email feature, which makes emails more interactive.
Note that for those wishing to do this on Gmail’s mobile client, it appears it will only work for personal accounts and not enterprise ones managed through G Suite, for now.
Another option is to use an email client such as Thunderbird, which blocks remote images by default; the application allows you to download embedded content on an individual basis or allow pictures from contacts that you trust not to send hidden code in their images.
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