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The Life and Death of Email Read Tracking


This week we sunsetted be taught receipts from Missive. This may perchance presumably price us plenty, so here is why we did it.

Learn monitoring is magical. You know straight when your recipients begin your sent emails. This brings inconceivable energy and may presumably well well furthermore be purposeful in a lot of sufficient industry scenarios. It’s no doubt current.

Within the aid of the scenes nonetheless, there may be an uglier untold tale. For us, the technologists who built and offered pork up around it, it saved getting extra controversial over time. Within the most crude cases, we seen first hand how it used to be misused and weaponized to abuse other folks. And on the extra innocuous and perchance purposeful scenarios, how unreliable it may presumably well well be, which may presumably well well within the fracture give a false sense of maintain watch over to our customers. A skills that works 70% of the time is a wrong one.

The origin

Missive is a crew communication app. From day one, we believed that so that you just may perchance prevail we had to present an unparalleled email trip. Email is the pleasurable channel in most industry communication stacks.

As an instance, gross sales other folks are living and die of their email purchasers. One no doubt purposeful characteristic for them is be taught monitoring. You send an email to a prospect, that person lickety-split follows up asserting they’re no longer , however 3 months later, they reopen that identical email, you salvage a are living be taught notification, you straight grab your phone and note up. You resolve.

After we launched Missive in 2015, requests for a be taught monitoring characteristic lickety-split began to pile up.

We built it.


When you advertise be taught monitoring capability, the majority of customers don’t take into tale the intrinsic component of it, how it no doubt works and how unreliable it may presumably well well furthermore be. They demand it to work your complete time.

Within the aid of the scenes, be taught monitoring works by checking if an image within the sent email has been requested on a server. Each recipient receives a unfamiliar model of the email with a unfamiliar transparent image. Every time a form of photos is requested, the server suits it to a recipient and notifies the sender.

But… false positives and false negatives are very fundamental:

  • The recipient may presumably well well be taught an email without triggering a be taught receipt if the photos were blocked/no longer downloaded. Many email purchasers possess built counter-measures to block them by default, rendering them much less and much less horny.

  • The recipient may presumably well well no longer be taught the email and aloof position off a be taught receipt if the email server downloaded and cached the image upfront. A amount of web-essentially based email purchasers will originate this.

When a user expects be taught monitoring to be a supply of truth, those false positives/negatives can position off queer eventualities.

There may be never any manner to develop this extra professional. All apps providing be taught monitoring capability without explicitly bringing up to their customers that it sucks, are doing false advertisement.

Now, a form of trained customers know the pitfalls of the skills, and exercise it with a grain of salt. From our pork up trip nonetheless, those are the minority.

The abuses

With a minimal amount of creativity, it’s easy to scheme aid up with scenarios where other folks can misuse be taught monitoring.

Let’s remark you bought a love letter (email) from a colleague, you are pretty moved and touched by it, however feel it’s corrupt and grab to no longer reply. However the phrases hang-out you and you return and be taught them repeatedly all over again.

Now, if the love letter creator inserted a pixel tracker, they’ll know each single time you did return to that email, and be taught it repeatedly all over again. No longer chilly.

This advise is delusion, I appropriate came up with it. But for us, no need to be to ingenious, other folks would write us messages admire:

User concerned about read tracking privacy

Argh… no! Please, don’t originate that with our product, please.

The ultimate panorama

We’re no appropriate consultants, however for us, it looks definite providing be taught monitoring capability made us scamper on the grey aspect of privateness criminal tricks admire GDPR.

[… referring to email tracking … ] The info processing is secretly performed, i.e. no data relating to the details processing is equipped to the email recipients from whom the details is retrieved. Moreover, email recipients are no longer given the likelihood to just glean or refuse the retrieval of the working out described above. In sum, in a totally different device from classical acknowledgement email programs, with these contemporary products, the recipient of emails has no probability to just glean or refuse the acknowledgment data processing in the direction of the application user.

The Working Birthday celebration 29 expresses the strongest opposition to this processing on tale of deepest data about addressees’ behaviour are recorded and transmitted without an unambiguous consent of a related addressee. This processing, performed secretly, is contradictory to the details protection principles requiring loyalty and transparency within the series of personal data, supplied by Article 10 of the Data Protection Directive.

European data protection authorities conception on email monitoring.

It’s most likely you’ll presumably well originate mental gymnastics, however be taught monitoring is a predatory characteristic, privateness smart. Is it appropriate for a provider admire Missive to present email monitoring capability? Is the burden of the utilization of it all on our customers’ shoulders?

Right here’s all controversial, and a form of our customers, when preemptively announced we would retire be taught monitoring, argued that many various apps (CRM, email purchasers, etc) aloof offered it.

As an instance, Superhuman when confronted with controversy for providing be taught monitoring made it decide-in as an different of decide-out, perchance for that right motive.

The most predominant inequity between us and them is dimension. Being legally challenged in court or fined would most no doubt be a death blow for a puny bootstrapped company. No longer a probability we are willing to grab.

Our competitor funded with hundreds of millions of dollars from Silicon Valley can no doubt foot the appropriate payments, no longer us.


To summarize, be taught monitoring doesn’t no doubt work, may presumably well well furthermore be weaponized, is most no doubt unlawful in a lot of places and is perchance lethal to our industry. Pulling the run looked evident to the four of us.

This may perchance presumably well possess an influence on our final analysis, a few of our customers will leave for competitors*. But at the present time, we took a stance and it feels horny.

And to fracture this put up on a excessive gift. We want to formally remark that we’re actively working on a full-fledged calendar in Missive! It’s miles doable for you to to just glean invitations, add occasions and indicators, share calendars, and further! We estimate that it goes to be ready in below two months.

* While you are a form of customers who homicide their Missive tale, we provide to refund your closing price. Correct contact us by email by October 15th, 2020.

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