Your email is being tracked – learn the secret advertisers don’t want you to know

It’s impossible not to be tracked online. Still, you can take steps that make a difference.

If you don’t like the idea of advertisers knowing everything about you, shut them out. Tap or click here for simple, actionable steps you can take now.

Unlike your browser history, you probably don’t give much thought to handing out your phone number. It’s time to change that. Tap or click for methods to protect your number and stop inviting spam.

When it comes to your email, you may not realize there’s an easy way advertisers, marketers, companies, and even scammers track you — with just one tiny pixel.

What is pixel tracking?

You can’t see them, but pixel trackers are hidden in many of the emails you receive. Technically, this microscopic pixel is computer code embedded within the body of an email, generally hidden within an image.

Typically, pixel-tracking allows marketers, advertisers, and companies to collect data about you, such as:

  • The number of times you open an email
  • The operating system you use
  • The time you opened the email
  • Your IP address can give an idea of your location
  • What type of device you use to open the email

Detailed data is sent back to the sender automatically, without you having to click on any links or even respond. That may feel like an invasion of privacy, but it is legal and different from when hackers and scammers employ this tactic.

In that case, it becomes all about monitoring your activity.

A man uses his iPhone and laptop computer at his desk.

A man uses his iPhone and laptop computer at his desk.

Speaking of monitoring, spyware is dangerous software that tracks everything from the sites you visit to the passwords you type in. Tap or click here for six signs your phone has been infected with so-called stalkerware.

How to spot an email scam

Pesky marketing emails are one thing, and we will get into how to stop that. But first, let’s review the red flags you should send an email straight to the trash:

  • There’s a request for personal information.
  • The “From” address and the display name don’t match.
  • The “From” address is very similar to a known business or contact, with one or two characters changed.
  • It requires immediate attention.
  • It is full of poor spelling or grammar. (Often, this feels like something is “off.”)
  • There’s a request to click on a link or download a document or file you did not request.

Most of these clues are easy to spot, but you won’t see a microscopic pixel hidden in an email.

Spot the fake: How to tell if an image you saw on social media is fake

Good news if you have an iPhone, iPad, or Mac

Apple automatically stops senders from retrieving your IP address starting with iOS 15, macOS Monterey and iPadOS 15.

Additionally, email content is downloaded privately when you receive the email, not when you view it. That means only generic data is sent back to marketers, companies, and anyone else tracking you via email.

The Mail Privacy Protection features are not enabled by default. Here’s how to turn them on:

  • On an iPhone or iPad: Go to Settings > Mail > Privacy Protection. Turn on Protect Mail Activity.
  • On a Mac: In the Mail app, choose Mail > Preferences, then click Privacy. Select Protect Mail Activity.

Apple security 101: 7 important iPhone security settings to change right now

A woman expresses surprise while using a laptop computer. 

A woman expresses surprise while using a laptop computer.  (iStock)

What about Gmail, Windows, and Android users?

The simplest way to prevent pixel-tracking is to block images from displaying in your emails. If the pixel isn’t displayed, the code probably won’t work.

  • In Gmail on a computer: Click on the gear icon and select See All Settings. Under General, scroll down and click on Ask before displaying external images under the Images option. Click Save Changes at the bottom of the page.
  • In the Gmail app: Tap the three-line menu in the upper corner > Settings > Choose your account. Scroll down to Images under Data usage. Click it, then choose to Ask before displaying external images.
  • In Yahoo Mail: Click Settings > More Settings > Viewing Email. Scroll to the bottom. Under Show images in messages, choose to Ask before showing external images. The page will refresh and automatically save.
  • In Outlook, click on File > Options > Trusted Center. Choose Trust Center Settings > Automatic Download from the left-hand pane. Select Don’t download pictures automatically in HTML e-mail messages or RSS items. Click OK to save.

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Bonus Tip: How to boost your tax refund this year

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