Your emails are constantly monitored. Here's how to protect yourself

Your emails are constantly monitored. Here's how to protect yourself
Your emails are constantly monitored. Here's how to protect yourself

Last updated: July 3, 2022

Here's something you might want to think about next time when checking your emails: chances are that some of your messages are spied.

While websites are required to inform you of the cookies they place on your device and the data collected when you visit them, email still remains Ali Baba's Cave of covert surveillance.

Simply reading an email can send a surprising amount of data back to the sender, even if you don't reply. For this, the sender uses a simple and effective technique: the beacon.

What is a web beacon?

Also called Tracking pixel or invisible pixel, the tracking pixel is an image measuring 1x1px which is added to the end of the email. It is usually transparent and comes as a .gif or .png file. It is therefore completely invisible to the eye.

When the recipient opens the email, it will trigger the image to load. It can thus provide information on the time of the opening of the email, the time spent reading it and other important information.

What information can companies collect with the tracking pixel?

If the general regulation on the data protection (GDPR) is generally well respected on the Web, it is still relatively little applied to emails.

Here is the information collected by email tracking:

  • IP address of your computer or phone (and therefore the location).
  • Type of operating system your device uses (Windows, iOS, Android, Mac OS, etc.)
  • Model of your phone.
  • Internet service provider
  • Mail opening dates and times.
  • E-mail reading time.
  • Link click tracking.
  • Screen resolution.

So much information that makes it possible to refine targeting and improve marketing campaigns without informing the end customer.

Track and block pixels

A true intrusion into privacy since they work in hiding, pixel tags are not inevitable. There are several ways to guard against and unmask them.

Block the loading of images from your email

One of the easiest ways to block email tracking is to prevent images from showing by default. This is a setting you can enable in just about any email service, but you should note that it means loading images into your email will take an extra click.

On Gmail

  • At the top right, click Parameters and See all settings.
  • Scroll down to the "Pictures" section.
  • Click on Ask for confirmation before displaying external images.

  • Finally, click Save Changes at the end of the page.

On Yahoo

  • At the top right, click Parameters and Other settings.

  • In the left panel, select Viewing an email.
  • Under the Display images in messages section, select Ask with to display external images.
  • Once selected, Yahoo! The settings will be saved automatically.

On Outlook

  • At the top right, click Parameters and View all Outlook settings.
  • Scroll down to the "Sender Images".
  • Select Do not display sender images.

On Apple Mail for iPhone

In Apple's Mail app for iOS, you can turn off pictures by going to Settings, by selecting "Email" and scrolling to "Protection of policy.

Finally, check the option Protect your activity in Mail.

Identify trackers with a browser extension

If you check your emails with a web browser, you can equip your browser with a free extension like Ugly Email ou PixelBlock.

They make it possible to warn of the presence of a beacon in messages before they are opened by displaying an icon in the shape of an eye near the name of the sender.

It is then up to you to choose whether or not you want to read the email, knowing that a tracker is hiding there.