There are a lot of pixels that track you. Here are some options for dealing with them. It’s 3 p.m. on a Friday, and you get an email with a discount code for a pair of headphones. You open it, excited since it’s payday, and scan the offers for the pair you want, then click over to the headphone company’s website. What you may not realize is that marketing emails like this track your behavior. The headphone company has accumulated a lot of information about you during this brief interaction. This could include both the time you opened the email and your IP address, which can be used to pinpoint your location.
The majority of email tracking occurs behind your back, using hidden pixels contained in images or links that you might not see — all in order for marketers to better target you. There is so much tracking that it has been dubbed “endemic.” How can this unseen email tracking be stopped? It’s intrusive, undesired, and annoying.
Apple is making significant changes to help consumers avoid being tracked through email. At its WWDC conference in June, Apple revealed Mail Privacy Protection capabilities in iOS 15 and MacOS Monterey. Whether you interact with the email or not, Apple’s software will allow you to disguise your IP address and download external content discreetly in the background by default when it comes this Autumn.
It will be routed through numerous proxy providers, with Apple assigning you a random IP address. This will respond to the region you are in, not your exact location. The debut, however, is still a few months away. Until then, or if you don’t want to use Apple’s system, here’s what you can do.
Read More: How to stop your emails from tracking you
How you’re being monitored
Tracking pixels are usually a single 1×1 image put into the header, footer, or body of an email. The pixels load when you open the message and relay information back to the sender, allowing them to monitor you even if you don’t see them. Marketing organizations can take advantage of the fact that many email providers allow remote images to be loaded by default by employing these tracking pixels.
The pixels have the ability to collect a lot of information about you. Laurie Graham, director of cyber intelligence at tech firm 6point6, said, “It might reveal your device kind and possibly your IP address.” Other data collected may include whether you read the message, the version of your web browser, and your time zone. Graham explains, “These can be combined to generate a unique fingerprint.”
According to Andy Yen, founder and CEO of encrypted email provider Proton Mail, “among the massive amounts of information that can be acquired by tracking pixels, probably the most alarming is your position.” “Using the information acquired, you can analyze your daily behavior’s and determine where you live and work.” But the most intrusive aspect is that it occurs without your awareness or agreement.”
According to Jon Callas, director of technology projects at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “the capacity to follow people via email allows just about any corporation to get a thorough profile of its clients,” especially when the organizations collecting your information “conspire together.”
“If a clothing and book store partner, the clothing business can learn about your reading habits and use that information to market garments to you based on what your books say about you.” This combination of data collection is what makes advertisements look eerie at times.”
All links within messages can also be rewritten by tracking businesses. This implies that if you click on a link to verify an account or finish a website registration, you may be forwarded to a marketing server URL before being redirected to the correct location.
There is legislation in place to prevent email monitoring without your consent. The Privacy Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (Pecr) and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation both apply to pixels in Europe (GDPR).According to Emily Overton, managing director of records management company RMGirl, consent is necessary unless pixels are essential for service delivery.
However, because the regulations haven’t been strictly enforced in this area, firms may claim that customers gave their agreement to get the email by signing up for the service, or that the use of pixels is permissible because it’s stated in their privacy notice.
What can be done about it?
Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection will not be enabled by default when it is released in the autumn of this year. To enable it, go to Settings, Mail, Privacy Protection, and click Protect Mail Activity on. Go to Mail, Mail Preferences, Privacy, and turn on Protect Mail Activity in macOS Monterey.
Because images are where tracking pixels are generally found, you can tell your email client to not load pictures by default until the iOS and MacOS upgrades are released. On an iPhone, go to Settings, Mail, and Load Remote Images to find the option.
If you use Gmail, look under Settings, Images, Ask Before Displaying External Images to see the option. It’s also worth noting that Google has been serving photos in Gmail through its own proxy servers since 2013, which hides your IP address in many circumstances.
Meanwhile, the browser version of Outlook.com uses a proxy to load external images, but you can’t prevent them from loading entirely, so some information may still be collected. Microsoft Outlook for Windows 10 (through File, Options, Trust Center, Trust Center Settings) and Mac provide more granular options (in File, Preferences, Reading).
Blocking remote image loading improves your privacy, but it may compromise your experience — you won’t be able to see graphics in any emails, including newsletters, unless you manually download them. “Not everyone uses alt text,” Overton advises, “so photographs may include information you won’t be able to see unless you accept the pixels.”
Read More: What is Email Marketing and Its Advantages?
Switching off remote image loading, however, does not prevent marketers from collecting data when you do load images in an email, according to Callas. True fixes must be implemented by the email provider or client. “Gmail could do that,” Callas continues, “but Google is also the world’s largest ad corporation.”
There are alternative solutions available instead. Graham suggests using a free service like Cloudflare’s WARP app, which is akin to a VPN. “This way, your true IP address isn’t revealed every time you click on a website.” Another alternative for Chrome and Firefox users is to use an add-on like Ugly Email, which works with Gmail in your browser by scanning your inbox for emails with tracking pixels and blocking them.
Proton Mail, for example, is a privacy-focused email provider that includes remote image blocking by default. Later this year, DuckDuckGo will provide an email privacy solution that will block tracking. Another option is to pay for Basecamp’s consent-based email service Hey, which blocks tracking pixels and notifies you if the message contains them.
Alternatively, Mozilla’s Thunderbird email client does not immediately load remote material, instead displaying a notification bar to notify that it has been banned. AirMail is also a premium iOS app with several privacy features, according to Overton. “AirMail has more stringent privacy procedures, and it tells you about the impact of turning off a protection.”