MailTrack for Chrome tracks if Gmail emails are read: here is how it works

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MailTrack is a free browser extension for the Chrome web browser that tracks if recipients have read email messages that you sent using Google's email service Gmail.

The Chrome extension is available on the official Web Store and can be installed right from there. Once you have added it to Chrome, you are asked to link it to your Gmail account in the next step. If you are not signed in, you need to do so to complete the set up process.

The extension works in the background from that moment on. If you open the Gmail web interface, you will notice that it adds read indicators to some emails that resemble WhatsApp's indicators that are displayed when you sent messages using the mobile app.

Two green checkmarks indicate that a message has been read, and while checkmarks are displayed for messages that have been sent, they won't benefit from the feature because of how it works.

You do not need to do anything on your part to track whether your emails are read by recipients or not. Note that this only works if you compose them on Gmail directly, and not if you use third-party software or services to do so.

The interesting part here is how the tracking works. MailTrack uses remote content, a 1x1 pixel to be precise that it embeds into each email that you sent using Gmail.

mailtrack tracking

When the recipient reads the email, the pixel gets requested and MailTrack notifies you about that. There are two issues with this approach:

  1. Remote contents are blocked by default in some programs and on some email service websites. Thunderbird for instance blocks it which means that MailTrack cannot track if the email was read or not unless the remote contents are loaded explicitly by the user.
  2. The message uses HTML code. If the recipient reads all messages as plain text, the tracking won't work either.

If the remote contents are loaded automatically or on user request, the hit to the image is recorded and you will see that it was read on Gmail.

email read

It is interesting to note that MailTrack tracks every time an email gets opened. When you hover over the confirmation icon on Gmail, you will receive a date and time list when that email has been opened by the recipient.

According to the company, it is never accessing email contents or keeping copy of emails on company servers.

While MailTrack may look like a great idea to get read confirmations on Gmail, it is a problematic extension for several reasons.

Privacy comes to mind first and foremost. Tracking read emails is not that different from being tracked by companies on the Internet. If you dislike that, it seems almost hypocritical to use such an extension.

It is also possible that recipients notice that they are tracked by you which may impact your personal or business relationship.

Note: Mailtrack adds a signature to all emails by default. You can disable it on the dashboard on the developer website. The signature displays "sent with MailTrack" on emails which is another hint for the recipient that the email may be tracked.

You can uninstall MailTrack at any time in the browser. Since you have given it permissions, you may want to remove those as well when you remove it. This is done on the account security page of your Google account.

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Responses to MailTrack for Chrome tracks if Gmail emails are read: here is how it works

  1. A.S.R. May 25, 2014 at 12:48 am #

    Similar add-ons for Firefox users?

  2. Antonio May 25, 2014 at 7:32 am #

    The paradox of a Chrome extension for Gmail that does not work for Gmail users, since Gmail diplays remote content by default.

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