How you’re being tracked via email!

How you’re being tracked via email!

Did you know that you can be tracked via email?

You may have thought, “It’s just an email. How could someone track me? It’s not even a website”.

In case this a foreign concept to you, I’ll tell you right now that most major websites out there track your activity while you’re on their site. It extends beyond that, but that’s a separate subject. The other part is that these same companies are likely to track you via email as well! Here’s how…

Email rendering

When you get an email from a company, you’re probably viewing it from your favorite email client, whether that’s Mac Mail, Gmail on the web, Gmail on your phone, Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, etc. Usually by default, when you click to open and read an email, your email client does a couple of things. First, it renders the email onto your screen, meaning that it places the images and text in the correct order and position that it was told to. Now, sometimes there will be external images chosen by the sender to include in that email. In that case, the email client has to fetch those external images from the internet and display them as well. This is where tracking comes into play.

Most of the time, it’s just fetching the image. But email senders can include a fake “image” and tell the email client to not display it. This fake “image” is actually a “ping” to a server somewhere, telling the sender that you looked at their email. There’s usually some information attached to this “ping”, like a unique identifier that tells them which email you opened. Another thing that’s sent along is your IP address. This can tell the sender your approximate location, based on the IP. Scary right? Well, it’s only approximate and it can be completely wrong.

Prevention

So you might be thinking, how can I prevent this?? Well, here are a couple different things you can do.

Most of the time, you don’t actually need to render these external images and they’re just there for sprucing up the look of the email. On most email clients, you can turn off the automatic loading of external images. That way, when you open an email, it may not look normal, but it’s not loading all that external stuff and thus tracking you.

VPN

Another option is to use a VPN! What’s a VPN? VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and it’s basically a way for you to browse the internet from a different location. A VPN encrypts all of your traffic and sends it to an external server, where they send the requests for you. It basically makes you look like you’re somewhere else when you’re not. Some other advantages to using a VPN are hiding your network traffic from your ISP or even your modem! This can be useful if you’re on a shared or public network. A VPN won’t necessarily stop the sender from seeing that you opened the email, but they won’t get your correct location.

Thanks for reading! Leave a question or comment below.

Interested in More?

Feel free to check out an article I’ve written on how you can encrypt your Facebook email notifications.

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