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Tracking read e-mails

Posted By : of Data Doctors on December 30, 2005

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Is there a way to determine whether an email that you have sent has been opened by the recipient?


This question was answered on December 30, 2005. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

The ability to determine if a message has been opened, once sent, relies heavily on many unreliable processes in standard e-mail systems.

For instance, many e-mail programs have the ability to ‘request’ a read receipt for a message, but the recipient must allow their e-mail program to respond (Check the Help menu of your e-mail program by searching for ‘read receipt’ to learn more.)

Most folks, for privacy reasons, turn off the return receipt response in their e-mail programs, which means they will ignore your request for a read receipt If you are trying to track e-mail for legal purposes, it is even more likely that the receiving party will not allow their e-mail program to acknowledge receipt or will have the default answer in their system to not respond.

If you wanted to track such activity from within a companies e-mail system, you would have a much better chance as the mail server administrator can often see which messages in a specific account have been opened, but my assumption is that you are asking about a third party recipient.

There are fairly technical tricks, such as sending an HTML message with a hidden image included that can be tracked via a remote web server The web server’s traffic logs allow you to see if that image had been requested by anyone, which would notify you that the message had been opened This technique of using clear pixels, web bugs, or clear GIFs was discovered to be used by spammers as far back as 2002 to see which of their messages was most likely to be opened.

This, of course, would not work for any of the newer security settings in e-mail programs that as a security precaution, do not automatically pull images in an e-mail message (hackers also figured out how to attack you via images in an HTML message a while ago!).

These exploits have all been patched, so unless you have not been keeping your system up to date with all of the latest Microsoft Windows updates, you are not in any danger by having images appear in your e-mail messages.

Many novice senders of e-mails, however, get caught up in putting a bunch of cutesy things in their messages, such as a colorful background, dancing images, smiley faces or the like, but what you must understand is that the more non-essential items you include, the more likely your message will be caught in a spam filter or deemed dangerous by an antivirus program.

If you are a power e-mail user and have the need to track when many recipients have opened your messages, there is a program available called MSGTAG ( It comes in three versions; Free, Plus ($19.95) and Status ($49.95).

Most of the reviews on the Internet seemed to be very favorable, but there is some concern about it infringing upon the recipients privacy because the acknowledgements can be made to be silent.

This is one area of communication where the old school traditional registered snail-mail delivery may be the most reliable if you want to make sure a message gets in the hands of the recipient.

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Posted by of Data Doctors on December 30, 2005

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