Email trackers are spying on you—Simplify v2 blocks them

What is an email tracker? Why should I care?

Did you know a lot of the email you get has trackers embedded in it? Tiny hidden images that when loaded, tell the sender you opened their email. And sometimes more information, like your location, device, number of times you opened the email, etc.

You might assume trackers are only in emails you get from businesses and maybe newsletters too. But what about emails from sales people? Or an email from an ex-boyfriend, or worse, a stalker?

Email trackers are creepy at best and dangerous at worst. Because they are…

  1. Not expected: As the recipient, you do not expect the sender to know if, when, from where, on what, and how many times you opened their email. Especially with personal email. It’s invisible and not part of the social contract. It’s never been part of the mainstream email apps. People expect total privacy about what email they open.

  2. Unregulated: No one is policing email trackers. Europe is trying to, but I’m not sure how much success they are having. Superhuman stopped recording your general location each time you opened an email from their customers, but that doesn’t mean others don’t still do this. There’s no way to know what is recorded when you open an email or what is done with that information.

  3. Not beneficial: There’s no benefit to the recipient to have trackers embedded in their email. Some may argue it helps businesses know what works, but all it tells them is what clickbait subject got you to open that email. That doesn’t produce better content.

  4. Not optional: There’s no reasonable way to opt out of email trackers. Some will say, “If you don’t want to be tracked, turn off automatic image load in your email client.” This is total crap. First off, it’s not intuitive that disabling images will disable email trackers. Secondly, I want to see images in my email! I just don’t want the tracker images to load.

Trackers are everywhere

Some of the most popular extensions for Gmail enable people to add these trackers to personal email. Apps like Superhuman got called out for embedding these trackers in all outgoing email by default. My favorite article on the subject was by Mike Davidson, about Superhuman’s practices and why trackers are generally bad. In response, Superhuman made some changes, but they did not scrap the feature.

Pretty much all newsletter platforms embed trackers, often forcing the sender to use them. Even this email you are reading right now has a tracker—because I can’t get rid of it!

Here’s what I see:

But don’t worry, I never actually look at these screens… I didn’t even know they existed until I wrote this update. And, once you have Simplify Gmail v2, I won’t be forced to spy on you.

Simplify Gmail v2 blocks email trackers

Simplify v2 blocks over 100 different email spy trackers – more than twice as many as other tracker-blocking services like PixelBlock, Ugly Email, and Hey.com. When a tracker was blocked, you see a crossed-out eye on the message near the star:

Happy to share with others!

While I’m proud that Simplify Gmail v2 blocks so many trackers, I hope to join forces with other teams fighting the good fight. I’m already in touch with Hey.com and plan to reach out to other teams, hoping they will use my work to block more trackers for their customers too.

And as with all things in Simplify, I hope the Gmail team eventually makes this a feature, so trackers will be blocked on mobile as well. Maybe they can even get the entire industry to rethink this practice.