Ugly Email highlights trackers on Gmail but do you really need it?

Many companies track emails, usually by adding small pixels or images to those emails which inform them when emails has been opened by recipients.

This is done for a number of reasons from tracking responses to getting detailed information about clients (IP, location..).

Ugly Email is a new extension for Chrome, a Firefox add-on is in the making according to the project homepage, that highlights emails that use tracking when you open your Gmail inbox.

Support is limited currently to several high-profile mailing list companies including MailChimp, Streak and Yesware.

When you open the Gmail website after installation all emails with supported tracking codes are highlighted with an eye-icon in the interface.

email trackers

While that may be an eye-opener depending on the emails you receive, it is not a universal solution which is without doubt the biggest issue I have with the service.

The author of the extension promised to add more supported services in the future which will certainly help catch the most popular mail list services and email tracking services but there is an even simpler solution available for all Gmail users that does not require an extension to work and will block all trackers on the site.



If you turn off images in emails tracking pixels won't work. It is as simple as that. Load the Gmail settings and make sure "ask before displaying external images" is enabled on the site. This displays information on top of emails that (external) images are not displayed.

This may be inconvenient at times but it takes only a click to enable images for individual emails or permanently for select senders.

Read also:  PaleMoon team looking for a new FossaMail maintainer

display images

Gmail on top of this protects users from these types of tracking images according to Google by processing images internally before making them available.

It is interesting to note that senders may still be able to track emails by using unique image links as they can monitor access to those images on their side.

Google blocks only emails from some senders automatically on the site and only if it considers a message or sender suspicious. For others, images are displayed automatically even if you have selected to be asked before images are shown.

If you are using a client that supports the display of plain text emails for all mails received, you can enable that and get better protection from trackers.

In Thunderbird for example, you would select View > Message Body As > Plain Text to do so.

Ugly Email can be an eye opener, especially if you have never looked into the tracking matter before. It is not a catch-all solution on the other hand and if you are concerned about trackers, you may want to consider moving to another client that gives you full control over that.

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Responses to Ugly Email highlights trackers on Gmail but do you really need it?

  1. LogicDaemon March 20, 2015 at 11:57 am #

    you don't need to turn down html in Thunderbird.
    Even more, by default it does not load remove images.
    What you need instead, is to go into Options, on Privacy tab, and ensure "Allow remote content in messages" is not checked (also, you may check Exceptions list, it's button on the right).

    http://imgur.com/doKQV8m

    This way, attacked in-line images (which can't be used for tracking) will still get displayed.

    • Maelish March 20, 2015 at 2:39 pm #

      Oh this is a good idea that I'd somehow missed in Thunderbird. My first thought when seeing this article was to wonder why Ghostery still wasn't available for Thunderbird but this is still a good idea.

      As a related topic, I'd love to see an article on the differences between Original & Simple Html in Thunderbird. Or even a topic on building basic html emails. Just a thought guys. :-)

      Edit:

      Doh! Martin covered Simple Html in Thunderbird in 2010. https://www.ghacks.net/2010/08/16/switch-between-html-and-plain-text-emails-in-thunderbird/ However he really didn't explain what html tags were covered in Simple html.

      My second request on making basic html emails still stands though. :-)

  2. Pd March 20, 2015 at 1:59 pm #

    Neither this extension nor your suggestion is adequate.

    They are both piecemeal.

    Enabling images on a per-sender basis may simply display images 9 of 10 legit images but that last one is still likely to be a tracking 'bug' img.

    What is needed is more sophisticated than simply blanket trust or mistrust on a per sender basis.

    A better solution might be to encourage decent support for CSS in email clients and sites. This way reasonably beautiful email cam be delivered with zero images.

    Many people may be surprised to know the level of CSS supported by email clients is roughly equivalent to 1999. Developers are encouraged to reuse templates stuffed with spacer images and tabular layout because even the newer clients like Outlook 2013 offer absolutely atrocious support for CSS. In fact, the HTML email has been butchered (rendered) in Outlook by the engine that Microsoft Word uses to do HTML!! Has done since 2007!

    With the recent sophistication of CSS3 features such as border-radius, box-shadow and transitional background colors, amongst much more, isn't it time that for the bonus of spam reduction, privacy protection and speed, we enable rich email through CSS and simply block email clients from sending any automatic requests to the Internet?

    If that means mailing list stats are only counted when a user clicks through to a link from within an email, so be it!

    If that means graphic designers foist unnecessary Web fonts on us, so be it!

    If the CSS had to be inline within the email instead of a remote file, so be it!

    Email does not have to be glossy. That's what the Web is for. Keep email simple.

  3. Ray March 20, 2015 at 5:24 pm #

    What we really need is a dedicated extension in Thunderbird to block only email trackers. Using Adblock Plus or Ghostery or something like that is overkill.

    I've installed Silent Block on Thunderbird and have manually been compiling a list of email trackers.

    It would be great if the Ugly Block author would just put up the list of trackers, along with blocking rules.

  4. Admonisher March 21, 2015 at 4:02 am #

    ROFLMAO Martin:

    =====================================================================
    This email is not formatted for viewing in a
    text email client. Please read it with an HTML friendly
    email client like Outlook, Yahoo Mail, Gmail, etc.
    =====================================================================
    You are receiving this message because you subscribed to receive
    the newsletter: Ghacks Daily News - 3.20.15

    Copyright (c) 2014 NetLine Corporation. All rights reserved.
    750 University Avenue, Suite 200, Los Gatos, CA 95032
    =====================================================================

  5. mihnea March 23, 2015 at 8:52 am #

    for pale moon , no ?

  6. samwait December 9, 2015 at 7:02 am #

    Is everyone who tracks emails a spammer?

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