How to see - and block - who's tracking your emails

From marketers to nosy friends, you can be sure that some portion of your emails - or, at least, the actions you take in regards to emails sent you - are being tracked. Using a method called pixel tracking, the people and companies clogging up your inbox can see not only whether or not you're opening their emails, but also how many times you open them, where you're located when you do, and the device you use. Creepy? We agree.

So what is pixel tracking, anyway? Pixel tracking inserts a tiny, invisible to the human eye, one pixel image in an email. When the email is opened, the recipient's browser sends a request back to the email tracking company's server in order to view the image. When that happens, the email tracking company knows when and how often an image is opened.

If you're not comfortable with the idea of people tracking what you do with their emails, there are two moves you can make: Figure out who's doing it - and block them. Here's how to do both.

How to figure out who's tracking your emails

If you're curious about who's actually tracking what you do with their email - and maybe also want to thwart them - then there's an app for that! Well, more accurately, there are multiple browser extensions for that! Look for pixel blocking browser extensions that block images from loading and alert you if a tracker is detected as well as any embedded links that are being tracked.

How to stop email trackers

The easiest way to stop email trackers is by making it so your emails don't automatically load images. Most email services are set up to load emails automatically, but pretty much every single one offers users the option to not do that.

If you use Gmail, click on the settings gear icon in the upper right hand corner of your mailbox. Under General you'll find Ask before displaying external images. Then, at the bottom of that page, click Save changes. If you use a product other than Gmail, you may have to root around a little bit, but there should be a similar option somewhere in the email settings.

From here on out, you'll have to click on images to see them, an extra step that may be annoying sometimes but does protect you from pixel tracking.

Look, it's not hard to understand why email trackers exist, especially when you consider how popular they are with marketers. But you, as the end user, haven't consented to being tracked. If you don't care, that's totally fine! But if you do care - and you want to do something about it - just follow these simple steps to protect your privacy.

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