All those obnoxious marketing emails crowding your inbox aren’t just pushing a product. They also keep track of whether you opened the email, when you opened it, and where you were at the time by using software like MailChimp to embed tracking software in the message.
How does it work? A single tracking pixel is embedded in the email, usually (but not always) hidden in an image or link. When the email is opened, the code in the pixel sends the information back to the company’s server.
Some attempts have been made to limit the amount of information that can be sent in this way. For example, since 201
There is also a simple basic step you can take to avoid trackers: prevent your email from automatically loading images, as most of these pixels are hiding in images. You can’t avoid all the trackers that can hide in your email this way, but you’ll stop a lot of them.
In the main desktop and mobile email apps, do the following:
Disable automatic image loading in Gmail:
- Click on the gear icon in the top right corner to access your settings and click on ‘View all settings’.
- On the ‘General’ tab, scroll down (the first) to ‘Pictures’.
- Select ‘Ask before showing external images’.
- Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click ‘Save Changes’.
Keep in mind that this also disables Gmail’s dynamic email feature, making emails more interactive.
Disable automatic loading of images in Microsoft Outlook (Office 365):
- Click on “File”> “Options”.
- In the “Outlook Options” window, select “Trust Center”.
- Click on the “Trust Center Settings” button.
- Check the boxes labeled “Do not automatically download images in standard HTML messages or RSS entries” and “Do not download images in encrypted or signed HTML e-mail messages.” You can make some exceptions to the first item by checking the boxes below it.
Disable automatic loading of images in Apple Mail:
- Select ‘Email’> ‘Preferences’.
- Click on the “View” tab.
- Remove the checkmark from ‘Load external content in messages’.
Disable automatic image loading in Android Gmail:
- Tap the three lines in the top left corner.
- Scroll down and select ‘Settings’.
- Tap the email account you want to work with.
- Scroll down and select ‘Pictures’.
- Tap ‘Ask Before Showing External Pictures’.
Disable automatic image loading in iOS Gmail:
- Open Gmail for iOS, tap the hamburger menu in the top left corner and scroll down to settings.
- Tap the account you want to personalize, then tap Pictures.
- Switch from “Always show external images” to “Ask before showing external images”.
Keep in mind that for those who want to do this on Gmail’s mobile client, it only seems to work for personal accounts for now and not for corporate accounts managed through G Suite.
Disable automatic loading of images on iOS Mail:
- Tap “Settings”> “Email”.
- Find the ‘Messages’ section and uncheck ‘Load external images’.
Another option is to use an email client such as Thunderbird, which by default blocks images remotely; The application allows you to download embedded content on an individual basis or allow images from trusted contacts not to send hidden code in their images.
Update July 3, 2019, 3:47 PM ET: This article has been updated with additional information about email clients.
Update September 3, 2019, 7:35 PM ET: This article has been updated with instructions on how to turn off automatic image loading in Gmail for iOS.
Update Feb. 17, 2021, 5:30 p.m. ET: Instructions for Microsoft Mail have been removed and some instructions have been updated.