Cybercriminals favor email as a vehicle for introducing phishing schemes and malware to your system. It makes sense; unlike visiting websites, some people don’t give a second thought of potential danger when they open an email.
That’s not you. You aren’t someone who opens emails at random. While you’re confident you can pick out a hoax or fake email, another threat, so inconspicuous, may be looming among the emails in your inbox — and you have no idea how to spot it. Tap here to learn how to spot email scams.
What is this discreet, unassuming threat? You’re being tracked.
Say hello to pixel tracking
Okay, so you really do make it a point to look for telltale signs an email is a scam:
- Requests you to enter personal information.
- Unknown sender (“From” address).
- Requires immediate attention.
- Poor spelling or grammar.
- Requests you click on a link.
But even when you’re super careful, some details can go unnoticed. It all starts with a single-pixel, which is 0.0104 inches. This minute “invisible” image is embedded code contained within the body of an email that can track a large amount of information including:
- The number of times you open an email.
- The operating system you use.
- The time you opened the email.
- Your IP address.
- What type of device you used to open the email.
All of this detailed data is sent back to the sender, without you having to click on any links or even respond. Of course, this was performed without your consent. That’s right. Pixel tracking allows marketers, advertisers and other companies, including Facebook and Twitter, to collect a variety of data on you without your permission.
If collecting your info for marketing purposes without your consent isn’t bad enough, cybercriminals use pixel tracking as a surveillance tool, as well.
It’s your privacy
Though it’s been used for years, this technique had very little commotion concerning its existence; however, pixel tracking was thrust back into the limelight after a 2006 lawsuit revealed HP employed a commercial email tracking service to trace an email sent to a reporter in an attempt to uncover her source.
As the use of pixel tracking grows in popularity, consumers, data protection advocates and industry leaders have raised user privacy questions and supported regulations that call for placing limits on technologies like pixel tracking.
Thankfully, until greater protections are in place for consumers like you, there are a few steps you can take that help you avoid this marketing trap. Take it from Kim, tap here to see how email scams have more info on you than ever before.
One of the most effective methods to prevent pixel tracking is to block images from displaying in your emails.
To block images in Gmail, click on the gear icon and select Settings. Scroll down and click on Ask before displaying external images under the Images option. Click Save changes (at the bottom of the page).
Those who use Outlook or another third-party email client on a desktop or mobile device can enable this setting as well, typically located within the app’s settings.
Return the favor
Why not turn the tables and track those tracking you? Using a browser extension, like PixelBlock, you can block tracking pixels and receive an alert indicating which emails contain the tracking code. A comparable extension, Ugly Mail, is available for Chrome and Firefox.
Other steps you can take
Do not click on any links within an email from a sender you don’t know, because the link may be hiding embedded pixel tracking code.
Never enter your email address in promotional emails, including those from well-known sites like Facebook or Amazon. Chances are, the email is tracking your response. Did you know Twitter used your phone number and email to sell targeted ads? Tap or click to learn all about it.
Although there is no guarantee you’ll eliminate these threats entirely, your best chance for reducing your inbox of these tracking emails is through awareness and taking the above precautions.