If you thought e-mails were the last resort where cookies or tracking hasn’t been introduced yet, think again. E-mail tracking has been around for many years and marketeers use these tools to collect ever more data about your behaviour to present you more tailor-made advertisements. I will sum up some popular tools that often come in the form of browser add-ons and extensions. I will also point out that many of these techniques are in a grey area as far as legislation about cookies is concerned and how you can protect yourself form spying eyes.
Why track e-mails?
If you are a marketeer looking for new prospects and potential customers, the first step to get in contact with them is often the most difficult. Suppose you have obtained a huge list of e-mails. The next step would be to contact each and everyone of them, but how? You cold ‘cold-call’ them one by one, only to find out that most of them will turn you down. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to send them an e-mail with some of your most exciting projects so they can get a taste of what you have to offer and can make an assessment if your services meet their needs? From your side it could save a huge amount of time if you could see which recipients have received, opened and read your mail so you can drill down your initial list to those people who have showed interest. This increases your chances considerably because when you call the recipient, you can be sure he or she has already read your mail so your brand name will certainly ring a bell. The prospect won’t consider you as a complete stranger anymore and will be more receptive to your sales pitch.
There are even more arguments why you should use some form of e-mail tracking or planning. Suppose you maintain a portfolio of customers and you contact them once in a while, knowing your customers get loads of e-mails every day. It would ease your work if you wrote your e-mail in the afternoon, only to be sent at 7 am the next morning. You would certainly make an impression on your customer when he sees you are in the office so early in the morning. You can also be sure your e-mail will be somewhere at the top in his mailbox.
If you have ever sent out newsletters with a popular service like MailChimp, you will already be familiar with these techniques. Often these services provide tracking tools that tell you which recipients received, opened, forwarded your newsletter or unsubscribed form your list. But the following tools are a bit different since they are about e-mail in the most strict sence of the word.
Streak is a simple CRM system you can install as an add-on in your gmail. There are several formulas, going from free use for individuals to complete enterprise solutions.
Among many possibilities, MailButler also offers to track e-mails and schedule them to be sent. MailButler is designed specifically for Apple Mail. As is the case with Streak, you can pick the pricing formula that suits your needs, going from free use to paid business solutions.
Bananatag is compatible with Gmail, Outlook, iOS Mail and Android Mail. You can again sign up for a free subscription or a paid formula. You can also choose a 14-day free trial.
Yesware is a more professional tool in the sense it is not for free. The cheapest version starts from 12 $ per month but you can get a 28-day free trial. It can be installed for Gmail (on Chrome or Firefox) and for Outlook (requiring Outlook 2010, 2013, or 2016, and Windows 7, 8, or 10).
If you take a look to the tools above, you notice you can certainly use them to your benefit. But if you made it this far in reading this blogpost, you might want to continue even further, since it’s from here things become really interesting.
The flipside to the coin and the legal catch
As always, the story is too good to be true. By now, you’ve probably guessed that if you make use of these services, there is a pretty fair chance others are doing so too. And I’m not even talking about companies trying to sell you stuff. Nothing withholds your clients, colleagues or your supervisors from using e-mail tracking as well. This can have annoying consequences if he or she is nagging you all day when you want to postpone the issue to a later moment. And there’s more: what these tools do is keeping track of people’s behaviour without their consent or without them knowing you can follow their tracks. Some of the tools mentioned above even promote this in their product description. So, errrr, is this even legal?
So what could I do if I find out someone follows me without my permission?
In theory, you could sue them. Think about the lawsuits Facebook is facing. However, it would be difficult to prove in what way you suffered any dammage. So far, there is no record of such cases but don’t be fooled. With big data becoming ever more present and with e-mail tracking becoming ever more widespread, it could only be a matter of time. And if an individual doesn’t stand much of a chance, it could be a whole other story if several people unite and go for a collective charge. Think about environmentalists sueing their governments for not taking enough action against climate change. Moreover, the new European privacy law will go into effect in 2018, giving courts more power to take action.
The antidotes: some tools that prevent you form being tracked
This post wouldn’t be complete without offering you some tools to outsmart the tracking tools, would it? Here are some tricks that help you to stay out of sight.
1. Prevent your mailbox from downloading images automatically
E-mail tracking tools often keep track of your behaviour with a tracking pixel. This pixel is downloaded form the sender’s web server the moment you open a tracked e-mail, thus registering and ‘opened’ or ‘read’ mail. Such pixels are tiny (1px width and height) and are transparant, making them invisible. Preventing images from downloading automatically is something you can easily adjust in your e-mail settings.
UglyEmail is a Gmail extension to check if e-mail is being tracked. If it is the case, UglyEmail will display an icon next to the mail in particular.
3. Privacy Badger
Privacy Badger is another tool to block spying ads and invisibele trackers on websites. It can easily be installed as a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox or Opera. It is worth noticing that trackers on website also place cookies on your computer, allowing advertisers to serve you specific ads.
Similar to Privacy Badger is Ghostery. This extension also shows you the trackers on any website you visit.
4. Adblock PLus
Perhaps the best known adblocker out there is Adblock Plus.
This extensions allows you to block trackers, malware domains, banners, pop-ups and video ads.