How Do I Know If They Got My E-Mail? (The Bad News)

Henry writes:

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

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 company’s 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 were 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 anti-virus 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 recipient’s privacy because the acknowledgements can be made 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.

[tags]hacker,data doctors,ken colburn,read receipt,email exploit,html message,msgtag[/tags]

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  • Anonymous

    No question answered here. Just speculation. Move on. Really poor grammar, too. He needs an editor.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Allan-Thompson/1382772868 Allan Thompson

    Juvenile theorising… how does he think that the pyramids were built or modern roads set out?
    Has he even heard of land surveying and triangulation?

  • Jacob Burrell

    +1

  • Anonymous

    The question proposed has merit, regardless of what the “poor grammar” and “didn’t answer the question” people say. Often times mathematics is viewed as something we discovered, but in some respects it only serves as an organized way of interpreting the manifestations of the universe. It is like an extremely well built bridge between objective and subjective reality. The question is: Did we build this bridge or just stumble upon it? Maybe it’s one of those naturally occurring land bridge-rock formation things. Whoa, my grammar was terrible in that last sentence. I digress. :-)