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How to Stop Your Email From Being Tracked

Your email account is your inline nerve center: it acts as a communications hub, and it generally leads to many of your other accounts. So you may want to practice better habits and behaviors when it comes to email privacy.

How marketing emails ruin your privacy

You likely get a ton of marketing emails from any number of retail stores, brands, gyms, social media platforms, newsletters, and more. Marketing automation and analytic companies not only facilitate that influx of email, but they also track what you do with them.

Using techniques such as link, pixel, and social media tracking, these companies can tell whether or not you’ve opened the email, what specific time you opened the email, and where you were when you opened the email. They pass that data onto the brands responsible for the email so brands can optimize their email marketing. What else they do with that data is a wildcard. Are they storing the data safely? Are they selling the data to third-parties or data aggregators? It’s in this unknown gray area where your privacy is at risk.

Your data is most often collected from email via a single tracking pixel embedded in an email that collects the data and sends it back to the sender (and the automation companies). Other trackers, such as URL trackers and social media trackers, may also be lurking in the email.

To put it even more simple terms, your email loads a tiny little image that you aren’t even supposed to see. That image solely exists to collect your data around your email behavior. When you click on a link (or social media button), those links often have tracking built within them, so they know exactly who clicked on them, when, and where, allowing them to further refine profiles they may have on you.

So if you don’t want your data freely collected, what are your options?

1. Clean up your email

When it comes to blocking email trackers, the options you have available significantly alter your email experience which you may not find worth it. After all, the privacy risk here lies in whether or not your info is leaked, stolen, or sold, which may or may not happen. So if you don’t feel like making a significant change in your email experience is worth a trade off, considering receiving fewer emails.

Go through the list of emails you receive on a weekly or daily basis and see if there are any worth unsubscribing to. If you clean up your inbox every three to four months, then you’re already reducing your privacy risk because fewer companies will have your data, which is arguably more effective than using blockers.

And you get the side-benefit of having an inbox that isn’t so cluttered.

2. Disable image loading

Many email clients load images as default, which is why tracking pixels—which are essentially the smallest addressable images—are so effective. If you disable image autoloading, you can then choose to load images manually, whenever you want to. Mobile devices also have settings that prevent external images from automatically being downloaded.

By activating this setting, you can stop tracking pixels from loading and collecting your data. However, keep in mind that this will stop images from loading altogether so your email experience will be affected. If you’re someone who checks email on a regular basis multiple times a day, this may completely dull your enjoyment, so consider using an extension as an initial step.

3. Use email extensions

For Gmail, we like two extensions designed to block email tracking. There’s Ugly Email and Pixel Block, which flag emails that have any kind of tracking embedded in them. They also block most kinds of tracking without interrupting your normal email process. Ugly Email also keeps a list of trackers and the associated companies it blocks, including many of the most common ones like MailChimp and Constant Contact.

4. Disable html loading

This is the most extreme option, but it’s also the most effective. By disabling html, you’re essentially switching to plain-text, removing the ability for those emails to send the information back to you via html-powered links and images. This will block tracking pixels as well as URL trackers.

However, this will significantly alter your email experience as well. If you enjoy the images, fun fonts, and brand experience of your emails, then this may not be the option for you.

Why this is important

Consider this as part of your privacy routine and maintenance. If you value your privacy and consider it important, then you should know that your emails are being tracked. Whether or not you want to take any action, block images, or install a tracker blocker is up to you.

Our take on it? We like the ‘unsubscribe’ option best. It makes life easier for most people (a smaller inbox is a less stressful inbox and it doesn’t significantly change how you experience your email.

If you’d prefer keeping your emails but staying on the private side, extensions might be a good balance for you.

Of course, for those on the hardcore privacy spectrum, disabling images and/or html may be the way to go, but know that when it comes to data leaks and exposures, there are more effective actions you can take that wouldn’t interrupt your online life as much.

On the other hand, you may not be bothered by the fact that these companies are collecting your information, which is a fair stance to take, especially if you’re judicious with the companies you share your email with. Either way, it’s important that you’re making a decision with awareness and knowledge rather than freely giving away your information without ever knowing it’s happening.

Photo by Tommaso Pecchioli on Unsplash

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