Email tracking

There was a time when, as a system, we used an email system whose claim to fame (or at least one of them) was that you could track every email that hit your inbox.  You could see if someone read your email, forwarded it to someone else, and replied to it.   It was the complete package!


Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Now, many of us have moved on to other email systems.  In my case, I have Gmail and Outlook accounts that I use regularly plus a couple of others for specific purposes.  For me, by default, it’s email in – usually/sometimes read, usually/sometimes replied, and sometimes not even opened when I feel this desire for a massive purge.  Or, more likely, the title of the email isn’t all that interesting.  This is an art, you know.

This morning, the memories of the good old days when you could track if someone opened a message resurfaced in the form of a Google Chrome/ Mozilla Firefox extension called Ugly Email.

The concept is simple – install the extension and see what incoming emails to your Gmail account are tracking to see if you actually open them.  So, I gave it a shot to see what happens.  It installed nicely and opened a new instance of Gmail with itself ready to go.  A quick check of my Primary tab revealed nothing.  But, a look at my Promotions tab told a different story.

A partial grab of the tab shows …


See that little eye icon?  According to the extension, that message is being tracked by sender to see if you open it.  Now, that’s interesting.  My first instinct was just to be spiteful and delete it.  Is that fair though for my curious side?

I understand the desire to do this on their end; they want to look at the analytics to see if their efforts are being appreciated by me opening their message.  It’s a reminder that our connected world is driven by advertising and numbers.  After all, cookies and trackers are used on websites all over the place.  Unless we go looking for them, they just do their thing.

What about Outlook?  This is an interesting read.

From a personal perspective, I’m not terribly worried.  Any of the tracking messages came from information services that I’ve subscribed to.  I’m sure there was probably information about being tracked in the legal document that I read before I clicked agree.  (If you believe that, I have some swamp land…)

How about the paranoid in you?  Are you concerned that someone/something might be tracking your emails?

4 thoughts on “Email tracking

  1. I never really thought about it like this, Doug! I remember our old board email service, where I could see if people within the board read my email. It even let me unsend messages. I liked it. Then if I didn’t hear back, I knew if the person opened my message or was still waiting to read it. Curious to know what others think.



  2. Over the years I have done a 180 on this one. I use to love it, then a couple key events happened that caused me to reflect on my actions. When “staff memos” first came out I would go through the history of an email along with many others on staff to see who read it, deleted it without opening it, or more specifically open the attachment. It became a joke when some one would say “Oh, I didn’t know that” and some would say “you read it yesterday at 2:41pm”.

    The tipping point for me to stop looking at that is when I sent an important and highly confidential email to an administrator and I went directly to the history tab and watched it get opened, then forwarded. I walked right down to her office and went in and the first words out of my mouth were “who did you forward my email to?” and we both learned a lot that day. Looking back I think that was the day I introduced her to email tracking.

    I don’t track emails. I’ve decided it’s not worth it and I’ve changed the way I think. I now presume positive intentions from others, I understand people will read what is important to them at that time, people do well if they can, and sometimes we all make mistakes.

    Now I go with the flow and follow up on something someone may have forgotten. Life with email is better for me now. I also park many emails in drafts and sometimes I don’t even bother sending them a day later after re-reading them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t track emails. I don’t much care if people are tracking emails sent to me. Some would (and have) argued that I am not paranoid enough. I’m not sure if that is the case or if I am just lazy though.


  4. The desire of wanting to know about our emails: opened? deleted? forwarded? made me think of “This Evening”, an Egyptian movie (with English, among other, subtitles) on Netflix. Besides the views of life in Cairo and Alexandria, the story explores the way tech can capture and store the intimate, personal lives of others…initially without their knowledge. The camera lens becomes an omniscient God-eye whose punishment is Old Testament wrath. Characters don’t know about it, but are made to suffer from it and lives become topsy-turvy. Much worse than what the administrator experienced when confronted by Bill. It’s as though the omniscient point of view that an author can present in a novel, a short story, can burst forth from any device with a camera. But, that’s just a screen script…right….


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