Find out if someone reads your email

Martin Brinkmann
Jan 25, 2008
Updated • Mar 23, 2014

I think we all have faced a situation before where we wanted to know if an email was read by a recipient. Did he / she receive the mail, was the email read? You can't know for sure even if you have added read notifications to the email because most email programs ask the user about those or simply ignore them right away. There is no sure way to receive notification at all if the recipient is cautious, most are not on the other hand and the following tricks will work most of the time.

This only works with HTML emails and not with basic plain TXT emails. The recipient has to be able to receive and display HTML emails. HTML emails can contain elements besides text, graphics for example. Graphics can be hosted on websites where access to them can be tracked easily.

So, the trick is to add a graphic to the HTML email and check the stats to see if the image has been accessed on the server. If it was accessed the email was read. If it was not it either means that the email was not read or that the recipient read only the text and that HTML was disabled, or that the display of media was blocked by default.

If you do not have a website you can use a service like Spypig or Statcounter and add those elements to your emails. Spypig is free which is great but it adds that silly pig image to the email and recipients with just a little common sense will be able to check on that and find out what you have been doing. Would not recommend this.

Statcounter is better because an invisible 1x1pixel image is added to the email, still if someone knows what to do they can see why the image was added.

The last method needs a website and access to a statistics script. Google Analytics is fine for example. What you do is you add a harmless image to the email, make it part of your signature for instance. Make sure no one else accesses that image and that it is unique for every email that you send and want to track.

This makes it less obvious that you want to track if the email was read or not and should be the preferred way. Still, if you do not have a website you might want to try one of the other two possibilities.

Update: Another option would be to use an url shortener but that is only useful if the link is clicked on by the user. Many url shorteners provide you with statistics nowadays, Bitly does so for instance.

Note that many programs ask whether you want to load images from remote servers when you are reading emails.

Update 2: Spypig is no longer available. We have removed the link as a consequence.


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  1. Spock said on February 18, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    I’ve blocked these services in my hosts file. I’d rather not have people know if or when I’ve read my email.

  2. Tailmail said on June 23, 2012 at 5:30 pm

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  3. Edward said on May 10, 2012 at 9:46 am

    I’m using since 3 years ago.

  4. Rock Tuchek said on February 23, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    how can I tell if my email was read by someone other than the intended recipient?

  5. amna salih said on November 10, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    i whant to read my e-mail

  6. Email Tracking said on May 6, 2009 at 6:59 am

    You can also use Its more than just an email tracking service.

  7. Gail said on March 1, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    AOL allows the sender to see if the e-mail was read… why do I have to downoad a separate software to see if someone with YAHOO has received and read my mail?

  8. chris said on February 5, 2008 at 3:24 am

    SpyPig actually allows you to use a blank white image that makes the tracking invisible or at lease less obvious to email recipients.

    Users are not required to use one of the “silly” pig images as your review incorrectly mentions.



  9. anders said on January 26, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    I would suggest to actually call the person with a good old fashioned phone call or skype even.

  10. jojo said on January 26, 2008 at 3:00 am

    IMO, this is a stupid idea and I don’t like it. I lose respect for people who use these services or try this trick.

    btw: Outlook also blocks this unless I trust the user.

  11. Finvana said on January 25, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    AFAIK Mozilla Thunderbird also blocks automatic image loading.

  12. Grey said on January 25, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    Unless embedded images are disabled that is.

    Gmail will, by default disable any images within an email unless the reader specifically allows them. I’m pretty sure that this is a feature of most mail providers and email clients.

    It’s how spammers are able to tell that you’re a real person behind your email address. So it’s a security feature to block as much “tracking” as possible.

    If you get a confirmation, then you know it’s opened, but I’ve read that with these sorts of methods, you only see about a 10% accuracy (most being opened, and never actually reported).

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