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> Gmail's fix was to cache the emails' images on their own server, so it's only hit once.

That doesn't solve the problem; email trackers could just use a unique URL per email.




It does solve the problem because Google download the image no mater what so you can't know if someone opened the image or not.


Google's service delays downloading the image until the moment it is requested by the client.


Correct. This is how Mailchimp and other similar services can tell if you opened an email.


But is that when they "open" the email, or simply them opening Gmail?


Mailchimp analytics would outright not work if it was the latter, so it's probably the former.


Couldn't google just hit the URL randomly themselves to throw off tracking, even if the email was never opened?


This would actually be detrimental to users. Responsible email publishers use lack of opens as a signal to reduce volume of emails sent and, eventually, unsubscribing you automatically. Gmail causing a lot of bogus engagement would make it look like people can’t get enough of your content


> Responsible email publishers

I'd love to meet these people. I've yet to have a good email publisher experience. whether it's a fortune 500 co or the newest startup they all terribly abuse email.

> unsubscribing you automatically

What is this magic? I've never once been automatically unsubscribed from anything.


> I've never once been automatically unsubscribed from anything.

To be fair, this is the kind of thing where, if it had happened, it’s possible you wouldn’t have ever noticed.


Hi, pleased to meet you. Even though everyone on our newsletter list specifically signed up to get newsletters, we’ll still warn you and then unsubscribe you if you do not engage for a long time.

Google, in particular, will send all a sender’s mail to everyone’s spam folder if it sees low engagement across all gmail users... so it is in publisher’s own self interest to remove disengaged users.


I believe mailchimp has something that automatically unsubscribes users if they haven't opened your emails for x time, but the amount of publishers that use this is probably pretty low.


> Responsible email publishers use lack of opens as a signal to reduce volume of emails sent and, eventually, unsubscribing you automatically.

That does not remotely sound like the behaviour of responsible "email publishers". Responsible behaviour is to only email people who asked for it, and to stop when they tell you to stop. Clever trickery to spy on people is not the behaviour of responsible people.

If their intention was as you say, it would be really stupid and unreliable trickery, not just because some systems might load the images without the user reading the email, but also because the user might read the email without loading the images. And even if they were to only and reliably load on reading, reading the email does not in any way imply that the user wants to receive it. Lots of people open email before throwing it away. Some mail readers show a preview which may be enough to read the message. Does that count as reading or not?

No responsible organisation would rely on this kind of trickery, and no organisation that relies on this can be considered responsible in their handling of email.


Agreed, it's a terrible idea. I've been subscribed to the NY Times' "morning briefing" email for a long time. I'm using an IMAP client, and I never bother to load the images for this, because all I want is a text summary of the day's news.

They recently sent me an email saying something like "we noticed that you're not reading our email, so we're unsubscribing you." Apparently I hadn't been loading their tracking pixel/script/CSS, so they thought I wasn't "engaging" enough. This was despite the fact that I clicked on links to full articles, which had all sorts of tracking info embedded in a redirect.

A responsible email publisher offers a clearly-visible "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of the email, which will unsubscribe you with a single click. No nags, no checklists of email categories, maybe an "are you sure?" page at most, with equal-sized "yes" and "no" buttons. One or two clicks, and I don't hear from you again.

A dodgy email provider is more likely to "use lack of opens to reduce volume." If I don't trust some company to actually unsubscribe me when I ask, I'll just filter their domain directly to the trash. Clicking on spammers' "unsubscribe" links is usually a bad idea.


I don't know why this is being downvoted. I work for an ESP, and this is an accurate statement. Whatever you think about marketing emails, you probably don't want gmail to simulate click traffic. Trust me.


> Responsible email publishers use lack of opens as a signal to reduce volume of emails sent and, eventually, unsubscribing you automatically.

No, they don't.

> Gmail causing a lot of bogus engagement would make it look like people can’t get enough of your content

For a few days, perhaps. Gmail accounts for a significant proportion of all email. 'Publishers' would quickly realise they are no longer able to track emails sent to Gmail. To fail to do so would be their loss; if that weren't the case, they wouldn't bother with tracking at all.


That would require Google to care about user privacy.


Cartels still like to take out their competition.


And they do that exactly. The fix is to disable images by default but every user has to manually do this.


Or use an email client that disables images by default.


I thought images were off by default


But it does not matter, if google download all the images when for all your emails then showing them to you is just a fetch from their own servers. Similarly to the ad-blocking extension that clicked all ads on the page (in isolation) so that tracking would be useless.


Not in the Web client I'm afraid


... and then do what?


and then send many emails? is that an availability attack?




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