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Spy Pixels Tracking You Via Emails: BBC Report Confirms

Spy Pixels email

User tracking on websites has been a big topic for years and has already led to extensive reactions. In most cases, however, the fact that e-mails hardly look any different remains completely under the radar.

On behalf of the BBC, an e-mail service provider analyzed how often so-called spy pixels can be found in e-mails. The results are surprising in some respects – both in terms of the distribution of the trackers and the knowledge of who does not use them. Those who read their messages not on a web interface in the browser but in the local e-mail client are hardly protected by the more recent legal regulations.

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The embedded pixels allow the sender to draw conclusions about:

  • whether and when an e-mail was opened
  • how often the user has looked at them
  • which device was used when reading the message
  • The IP address from which access was made – which in many cases allows conclusions to be drawn about the location of the user

This data acquisition is viewed by the users of such tracking mechanisms as a completely normal means of marketing. They usually defend themselves by saying that the methods are written down somewhere in the terms of use or data protection agreements. However, there are no explicit warnings that web users now have to be given when using cookies.

Call in case of non-compliance

The analysis showed that corresponding tracking pixels can be found in around two-thirds of all emails. This proportion is pretty much independent of whether you count the classic spam or sort it out beforehand. And while practically all big brands freely resort to this method of collecting user data, the big tech companies are most likely not to use it. This is probably due to the fact that they have been intensively involved in the disputes over data protection for years and are accordingly cautious.

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There are also cases that go far beyond tracking general information and are likely to cause understandable discomfort among users. Users were also asked very explicitly: “I saw that you read my e-mail yesterday, but have not yet replied. May I call you?”

There is hardly any protection against the small data collectors with e-mails. Most e-mail clients cannot simply be equipped with extensions that filter out such tracking means. And even most die-hard users have long since given up the fight to ensure that e-mails can be received and read as plain text in the very classic sense.