Tracking pixels will still know when you’ve read an email, but they generally can’t sniff out your location or get your advertising profile because they can’t see your IP or cookies. (They see Google’s IP instead.
The company’s called Superhuman, and tracking when, where, and whether people have opened your email definitely seems like a superpower.
Wired wrote a great piece about email tracking in 2017, specifically highlighting an app called Streak that’s been openly offering tracking for nearly six years now, and a quick web search for “email tracking” shows even Streak is just the tip of the iceberg.
And while it’s one thing to know that an email has been opened, other tracking features — including the number of times an email was opened, and the locations in which it was opened — are much less defensible.
You probably haven’t seen a tracking pixel, at least not with your naked eyes, because they can literally be a single 1 x 1 pixel image buried somewhere in an email or webpage.
On the email side of things, it’s estimated that the lion’s share of newsletter services (example: MailChimp) have basic tracking by default.
But with Superhuman and the like, we’re talking about letting a perfect stranger have the power to send you an email out of the blue, and force you to give up your location every time you read that email, all without you knowing. Seems bad, probably!
It’s remarkably simple: when you open the email, you automatically download that image, and that image request immediately lets the server know that you’ve opened it.
Journalists could probably make a case for them as a reporting tool. (When the high-ranking government official reads your request for information and ignores it, that’s worth knowing. ) And publishers depend on tracking pixels to determine the open rate of their newsletters, which are becoming an increasingly important distribution mechanism for journalism.
Years ago, some genius figured out that your computer’s image requests can let those same servers track your activity across the web — and when it comes to email, they can let the sender see when you’ve opened a given message just by sneaking in an image.
What is a tracking pixel and can strangers really spy on me through email?
Apparently they’re on by default, tracking anyone you send email to, whether that was your intention or not.
With email, sometimes the overall concept’s known as “open tracking. ” “Read receipts” are a related idea.
What’s the best way to annoy someone into turning email tracking off?
Maybe use an extension like Ugly Email to see when you’re being tracked, and don’t open those emails — instead, set an email filter to automatically reply to each and every one, letting them know you’re onto them.
Unclear, but GDPR privacy laws now require consent before you can collect personal data from an EU citizen, and early GDPR working groups (we’re talking 2006) figured that secret tracking pixels would automatically be thrown out on their ass as a result.
Because you wouldn’t want to just admit you’re spying on whether someone’s opened your email, right?
There’s barely been a peep out of the company as of July 3rd — except this reply from founder Rahul Vohra about how Superhuman users can turn off tracking if they want.
Is it true that an app called Superhuman lets me spy on people using email?
There are also browser extensions like Ugly Email and PixelBlock that try to sniff out pixel trackers before you open an email, and remove them entirely.