Email Privacy – Block Trackers!

2015 November 23

Read a really good article in the NY Times on email privacy today concerning an insidious way for people to know more about you then you realize. The problem is Trackers in your email. These are small code snippets embedded in your email that can send back information to the sender about when and if you open an email, where you were, what you looked at, if you clicked on a link etc.

These things are creepy!

Trackers are invisible to the mail recipient, and are inconvenient to block. Marketers send email to you to entice you to visit their site or click on the link / deal they are offering. This is done by sending email as HTML – essentially a web page delivered to your inbox. Since the text of the email is actually code, it’s easy to embed tracking instructions in the email so that when you open or simply view the mail, the code is executed and information about you is transmitted back to the sender. Most of the time this is benign stuff – time, date, location etc, but the problem is this is yet another leak of your information that you unknowingly allow, and there is no way for you to opt-out.

What can you do? Well there are some commercial tools that will help (pixelblock, UglyMail), but none are that great. See the NY Times article for the ups and downs on them.

For me, the easiest and fastest thing to do is to not allow automatic downloads of pictures, and to view email as text wherever possible. This isn’t as easy as it should be, and I hope it gets better.

On the Mac Mail app, make sure that the “Load Remote Content in Messages” check box is UN-checked. This will prevent loading of images and most trackers until you explicitly allow it in the message.

remote content


In your iOS device, go to Settings, then Mail, Contacts and Calendars, and turn the “ Load Remote Images” slider to off.


Neither of these steps will stop everything, but will put bumps in the road until something better comes along.

I know this is a little Don Quixote-ish, but the more steps you take to prevent your information from getting out there, the hard it will be for the information hoarders to get to you. They will find you, but don’t make it easy for them!

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