How to block Gmail from displaying images in emails by default

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 12, 2013
Updated • Dec 16, 2013
Email, Gmail

images are not displayed

Most email providers and programs nowadays do not display images and other data linked to third party servers by default when you open emails on their websites or in email clients.

If you are using Thunderbird for example, you will receive a "show remote content" notification if an email attempts to load contents from an external server.

The core reason why it is handled this way is privacy, as remote connections, for instance to load an image from a third party server, may reveal information about you.

So called header information are included in each transfer, and each header may reveal information about your operating system or language. In addition,  since a connection is made, your IP is usually also logged by the remote server.

That is not a problem if the email was sent by a friend or someone you trust, but spammers use the same method to retrieve information about you.

Block images on Gmail

Gmail up until now displayed an "Images are not displayed" notification for emails that contained images. The system provided you with options to display the images below, and to whitelist the sender of the email so that images would be displayed automatically in future emails.

Google announced a change to the way images are handled on Gmail.  Starting with today, images are automatically displayed in emails thanks to a new proxy technology that it has implemented on the site.

Images that are included in emails are transferred through a proxy automatically by Gmail, and virus checked among other things, so that they are not loaded directly from a remote server when you open the email, but from a Google server instead.

This effectively removes the need to connect to a remote server when images are included in emails that you read on Gmail.

While it is certainly improving the privacy, some users may be inclined to turn the new feature off for two main reasons:

  1. The images run through Google servers before they are displayed to Gmail users in emails. It is not clear if they are cached by the process as well.
  2. Since images get loaded automatically, it may take longer to display emails on the Gmail website.

Gmail users who did enable the "Ask before displaying external content" option explicitly on Gmail, will have the "ask before displaying external images" option enabled by default.

Everyone else needs to enable it under Settings > General before it becomes the active preference.

Doing so will block images from being displayed inline automatically when you view emails that contain images.

For now, it appears that Google is loading the image when you access the email, which in turn provides the sender with that information. It does however strip the user-agent headers, the user's IP address and cache-control headers from the response.

Closing Words

A proxy  is definitely a solution against spammers and marketers that try to collect information about users by loading contents from third party servers. It has the side-effect that many "check if the email was read" services that use images to do so won't work anymore if the recipient is a Gmail user and using the Gmail interface.

It is not clear if the new image proxying technology is also working when Gmail users are using third party clients to retrieve emails, or if those services and clients are exempt from this.

The feature is currently being rolled out for all desktop users of Gmail. Mobile users will receive the update in the beginning of 2014.


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  1. JMGG said on January 19, 2012 at 8:25 am

    You said that Outlook isn’t your main email client, so which is your main one?

    1. BalaC said on January 19, 2012 at 9:42 am

      I think its thunderbird

    2. Martin Brinkmann said on January 19, 2012 at 10:15 am

      It is Mozilla Thunderbird.

  2. Salaam said on September 24, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Awesome! This actually solved my problem… what a stupid bug.

  3. Claud said on December 19, 2012 at 2:08 am

    If this is the same bug that I’ve encountered, there may be another fix: (1) hover over open Outlook item in Taskbar, cursor up to hover over Outlook window item, and right-click; (2) this should give you Restore / Move / Size / Minimize / Maximize — choose Move or Size; (3) use your cursor keys, going arbitrarily N/S/E/W, to try to move or size the Outlook window back into view. Basically, the app behaves as though it were open in a 0x0 window, or at a location that’s offscreen, and this will frequently work to resize and/or move the window. Don’t forget to close while resized/moved, so that Outlook remembers the size/position for next time.

    1. Lynda said on February 12, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      THANK YOU Claude!!! I could get the main window to launch but could not get any other message window to show on the desktop. You are my hero!!!!

    2. Chad said on November 20, 2018 at 4:24 pm

      Solved my issue! 6 years later and this is still problem…

    3. Ivan X said on January 21, 2021 at 4:50 pm

      Fantastic. Thank you. Size did the trick.

  4. Andrew said on October 26, 2013 at 7:06 am

    This solved my Outlook problem, too. Thank you. :)

  5. Charles said on December 7, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    Thank you so much, this started happening to me today and was causing big problems. You are a life saver, I hope I can help you in some way some day.

  6. garth said on November 7, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    You are a god – thank you!

  7. Faisal said on February 9, 2015 at 10:09 am

    thanks a lot…. work like charm.. :-)

  8. Simon said on March 24, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    Yah…thanks Claude. I’ve been having the same problem and tried all the suggestions…your solution was the answer. It had resized itself to a 0/0 box. Cheers

  9. Olu said on April 14, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Excellent post. This had me baffled even trying to accurately describe the problem. This fixed it for me.
    Thank you

  10. Coenig said on July 23, 2015 at 7:36 am

    Thanks a lot for the article. Don’t know why it happenend, don’t know how it got fixed, but it was really annoying and now it works :-)

  11. Fali said on January 20, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Thanks a lot. I was facing this issue from past 3 week. I tried everything but no resolution. The issue was happening intermittently and mainly when I was changing the display of screen ( as i use 2 monitors). The only option i had was to do system restore. But thanks to you.

    1. MIki said on January 10, 2019 at 11:54 am

      I’ve been tried to sole this problem for 12hours. Your comment about changing the display of screen helped me a lot!! Thanks!!

  12. Christina said on January 20, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    Thank you…don’t know why this happened but your instructions helped me fix it. Running Windows 10 and office pro 2007

  13. Oz said on July 22, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    Great tip! Thanks!

  14. Tracy said on September 1, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Worked for me, too – thank you!!!

  15. shawn said on September 9, 2016 at 10:25 am

    It’s Worked for me, too
    thank you very much!

  16. Jari said on October 31, 2016 at 11:53 am

    I had a similar issue with Outlook 2013 on Windows 10 and this helped me to fix it. Thank you very much!

  17. Michel H said on November 30, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    Thank you so much. Solved!
    Considering you published this in 2012, incredible not been debugged by Microsoft.
    Thank you again. M

  18. Ziad Bitar said on January 9, 2017 at 2:00 am

    This problem was faced by only one user logging to TS 2008 r2 using outlook 2010.The issue was resolved.


  19. Anonymous said on February 15, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    Great tip. Thank you!!!! If it helps, I had to use the Control Key and the arrow keys at the same time to bring my window back into view. Worked like a charm.

  20. Rochelle said on March 6, 2017 at 11:59 am

    Thank you, this worked !!!!

  21. anom1234 said on May 20, 2018 at 11:20 pm

    Man, you are a fucking god. Thanks a lot, what an annoying bug!!

  22. JC said on October 12, 2020 at 2:14 pm

    Awesome, this post solved the issue. Many thanks!

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