Apple's App Tracking Transparency feature is designed to allow users to opt out of the surreptitious tracking that third-party apps have traditionally relied on for ad targeting purposes. But tracking can go on in your email inbox, too.

mail ios app icon
Unsolicited marketing emails will sometimes know whether you've opened their email, and if so, when you did so. They can even know where you were at the time, thanks to tracking methods employed by marketing platforms like MailChimp.

The way they track is very discreet and kind of creepy. Embedded in the email will be a tracking pixel, often hidden within a signature image or a link. When the message is opened in your email client, code within the pixel silently sends this information back to the company.

Some email account providers attempt to limit this sort of tracking by routing images through proxy servers, for example, which hides your location. But there's actually a simple way of preventing tracking pixels altogether, and that's by disabling the automatic loading of images in your email client.

The following steps show you how to disable automatic image loading in Apple Mail for macOS, and below them, you'll find instructions to do the same in iOS.

  1. Launch Apple Mail.
  2. Select Mail -> Preferences from the menu bar.
    mail

  3. Click the Viewing tab.
  4. Uncheck the box next to Load remote content in messages.
    mail

If you're using Mail for iPhone or iPad, you can find the same setting in the Settings app. Tap Mail, look under "Messages," and turn off the toggle next to Load Remote Images.

Top Rated Comments

CarlJ Avatar
17 months ago

The way they track is very discreet and kind of creepy. Embedded in the email will be a tracking pixel, often hidden within a signature image or a link. When the message is opened in your email client, code within the pixel silently sends this information back to the company.
WTF? Tracking images are creepy, but let's not pretend they're magical, because they're not. You get an email. It's full of HTML, because nobody does plain text email any more (sigh). Because it's HTML, it can specify images to load. One of them is an image on the sender's server (eh, probably all of them are images on the sender's server - that's how the web works). The act of requesting that image from the remote server leaves a log entry in the remote server (which is how the web has always worked). If they gave the pixel image a name that's unique to you (not your name, just a random number they've associated with you), then they can infer, because that image was requested from the server, that you requested it (by opening the email), and they know when, because the server logs when it fulfills requests, and by looking the requesting IP address up in a geolocation database, they can get an approximate location. But you make it sound like the pixel image itself is actively transmitting information - it's not - there's no "code within the pixel", it's just an image.
Score: 48 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jonblatho Avatar
17 months ago
There’s an even better way ('https://github.com/apparition47/MailTrackerBlocker') for macOS that blocks trackers while still allowing you to view images.
Score: 29 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Blkant Avatar
17 months ago
I’ll take articles like this over Memoji news or wristband showcases any day. It would be nice if we could filter a lot of the later articles out for a more Mac|iPhone|privacy (or just less fluff) focused experience.
Score: 27 Votes (Like | Disagree)
trigf Avatar
17 months ago
I enabled this last year when an Audi dealership insisted that they replied to me but really hadn't. The sales rep sent a screenshot of every interaction I had with their messages and it creeped me out.

This is also how marketing firms track their reach, so even more reason to enable this.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Mick-Mac Avatar
17 months ago

I used a unique email address for each service I sign up for that way if I start getting spam I can block that email address.
The vast majority of users out there tearing their hair out over the 10:1 spam vs real emails they get would have no idea how to do this. There needs to be a vastly better and easier way to do this (including jail sentences, huge fines, public floggings, sterilization, or any/all of the usual Medieval tortures for spammers). I would gladly live in a world where each email or text I sent cost me a small fee if it meant spammers couldn't afford to do what they do.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Chinch07 Avatar
17 months ago

I enabled this last year when an Audi dealership insisted that they replied to me but really hadn't. The sales rep sent a screenshot of every interaction I had with their messages and it creeped me out.

This is also how marketing firms track their reach, so even more reason to enable this.
I’ve worked at a marketing firm for 6 years now and could not be more of an advocate for less tracking. It’s creepy what we do
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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