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Chrome Extension Notifies You of Tracked Emails Collecting Your Data

March 23, 2015 - Written By Christopher Dal Porto

You may think that not much happens from opening an email unless you click a link or download an attachment, but this is actually a common misconception. Companies running mail servers whose prime purpose is to send out mass emails to a subscriber base have many tools at their disposal to keep track of your actions. One of the methods of tracking emails is by inserting invisible images into the body of the message. Email senders who wish to track who opens their email can insert small 1 x 1 pixel, transparent images which are undetectable by the average user. Once the email loads and the image is pulled from their server, this “pings’ the server providing private user data. This data can include your location, time, and what device you specifically used to load the email. All of this is accomplished without your knowledge or consent.

Thankfully a partial solution has been developed for this phenomenon by a man named Sonny Tulyaganov. Sonny Created a Google Chrome extension called Ugly Mail which is able to successfully identity emails containing the 1 x 1 pixel image tracking technique. While it is not able to thwart the tracked pixel from loading, it at least notifies users of which emails conduct this practice. In an interview, Sonny stated his inspiration to create the extension came to him after a friend introduced him to a service called Streak. Streak is another Google Chrome extension that explicitly allows users to insert tracking images of their own into emails, and has close to 300,000 users. Disturbed by how Streak made this tracking technique so easily available to regular users, he set out to create Ugly Mail.

After installing Ugly Mail into your Google Chrome browser as an extension, the rest is quite easy. While Ugly Mail is currently only compatible with Gmail, it is at least very effective. Emails recognized by Ugly Mail with tracking will have an icon of an eye next to the subject heading. The extension is currently able to identify emails sent through companies such as Yesware, Bananatag, and Streak. While Ugly Mail is very effective at identifying emails with these three services, Sonny indicated he is working on adding even more in the near future.