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We receive emails from online stores, media publications, social network administrators, government services, etc. Nowadays, everyone uses email: whether it is to advertise their products or simply notify users.

Many companies want to know for sure whether you have read the emails they send you. There are dozens of tools on the market that can help them do this. They are easy to use and perform verification in a few minutes.

Companies can use a tracking pixel to see if you've read their emails. During this tracking, a tiny, hidden, single-pixel image is added to the email. Once it is downloaded by the user, information about it is returned to the sender of the message. According to opinion of experts in security, the use of tracker pixels in emails has now become widespread.

Tracking pixels can tell the sender the time and date a particular email was read, as well as the location of the device being used. In addition, the one who sent the letter knows from which email his message was read. Third parties can easily obtain a huge amount of personal data about the user.

Marketers and email creators argue that this type of tracking is necessary to understand the interests of their audience, as well as to understand the effectiveness of the advertising itself. However, if you look at this situation from another angle, this may seem like an invasion of the client's privacy. Every time you open a certain email, the sender knows about it, and the very fact of this is terrifying.

You can't stop companies from using these tracking pixels, but you can take steps to protect yourself from them and learn to recognize which messages contain trackers. When you understand which companies are showing increased interest in you, then you can filter the list of companies and prohibit some of them from invading your privacy.

How to protect yourself from emails with trackers​

Emails typically track your activity using the special pixel we mentioned earlier. Therefore, the easiest way to stop this type of surveillance is to disable the downloading of images by default in your chosen email service. Your messages will, of course, be less visually appealing, but that's a trade-off worth making to be on the safe side.

After opening their Gmail, the user needs to click on the gear icon (top right), open the “All Settings” menu and go to the “General” section. For the “Images” subsection, set the “Ask if images should be shown” option. In the Mail app on macOS, go to Settings and uncheck the "Automatically download images in messages" option. In Outlook available on Windows 10, click on the gear icon at the bottom of the navigation bar, go to settings and turn off the option to automatically download received images.

You can set similar settings on your phone. In Gmail for Android or iOS, click on the menu button (top left), go to settings and select your account. There you will find the “Pictures” section, where you need to select the “Ask if you want to show images...” option. In Mail on iOS, go to the app's settings and turn off the "Download received images" option. In Outlook for Android and iOS, click your profile picture (top left) and then click the gear icon. Select your account and turn on the "Prevent downloading of received images" option.

Any similar applications with the same functionality have special settings to disable automatic downloading of received images. If the pictures are not loaded, then the tracker pixels will not be able to track and transmit data to the sender of the letter.

How to recognize emails with trackers​

You can, of course, prevent images from loading from emails by default. However, there are better measures to prevent your activities from being tracked. For example, the free and open source plugin Ugly Email has been on the market for several years and is one of the best countermeasures for pixel trackers. This extension is available for Chrome and Firefox and can protect your Gmail from this type of snooping.

Once you add it to your browser, you'll see a special "eye" icon next to emails that contain tracking pixels before you even open them. If you do do this, Ugly Email will take all measures to block the functionality of the tracking tracker.

Trocker is another free extension for Chrome and Firefox. Apart from Gmail, it is also compatible with Yahoo and Outlook email services. Like Ugly Email, the plugin can block tracking pixels. Letters containing them will be marked with a small special icon. The user also has the opportunity to identify links in advance to track his actions inside messages and, if necessary, send them directly to spam.

Other tools like Mailtrack (another Gmail-compatible plugin) can both add trackers to emails and detect them. They are suitable for both companies and private clients. Keep in mind that if you don't want to open the email with the check you received (which contains the tracker), the sender will also know this. Therefore, think twice before deleting or sending a certain message to spam.