Email tracker

I just read my CodeProject newsletter and found an article in it about tracking your email. What is does, is include an image in the email that loads an .aspx page. This page is on your own server and when Outlook requests the image, the .aspx page is loaded, you know the email is openend en thus probably being read and you redirect the request to a transparent image, so the reader will not even know what happened.

Thing is, as the author notes, spammers might also use this. I’m using Outlook 2003. This version of Outlook has a standard setup to not download images on the fly, but requires an action by you, the user, to download these images. Most of the time I found this annoying, so I turned automatic downloading on. After reading this article, I turned it back off!

I get lots and LOTS of spam email at work. More then 50 a day! You might imagine how hard it is to find real emails between this spam! If anyone has any idea how to solve this problem within Outlook 2003 connected to Exchange, please reply. I’ve tried some solutions, but or they didn’t work, or they kept on crashing Outlook.

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8 Responses

  1. Carlo Poli says:

    This one pixel transparent image approach exists for years now and is THE main reason why images are turned off in Outlook. Many newsletters I know (including some I have developed) use this technique to track usage.

    I don’t really understand the fuzz and I’m amazed that so many people weren’t aware of this.

  2. Okay, thanks Carlo, I’m an idiot… Now it’s official! 😉

    I don’t know if "many people" weren’t aware of this, I just didn’t know. Or realize. Fact is, I turned the feature off, but it’s on again! 😉

  3. Carlo Poli says:

    I think the best approach to fight spam on corporate mail accounts is a centralized approach with spam filters installed on the mailserver. You don’t want to have all kind of freeware/shareware solutions running on all PC’s in your network.

    I know of some spamfilters for Exchange. My former employer had such a filter that used a combination of techniques to decide whether sent mail was spam. I’m no expert in this field, but if I remember correctly this included a word pattern recognition engine and a emailaddress blacklist. Spam was not removed, but put in a seperate folder.

  4. At (both) our company, we use this as well, but it turned out it was to tight. Mail sent by clients didn’t arrive anymore. So they turned it off again.

    Fact is, that your former company didn’t have as much mail as we do. When 1% of all normal, non-spam is lost, we have a problem. This problem consists of several thousand mails a day and job openings for a dozen of people to get these mails to our collegues again. That’s not doable.

  5. Ramon Smits says:

    Damn.. even I know this 🙂 The same for scripting in e-mails.

    And what about the famous option to send a reply to let the sender know that you opened the e-mail. A much better approach then this but also turned of on my client :). Too bad this cannot be turned of in a closed exchange environment 🙂 only works for pop/smtp.

    I think this all has to do with communication. I always let people know that I have read an e-mail even though they are not asking something from me.

  6. Carlo Poli says:

    Well, I’ve seen this message show up on several sites, including webwereld and it looks like this is new stuff to quite a lot of reactors. Don’t take it personal, Dennis ;-).

  7. Ramon Smits says:


    I am still waiting for the first spamassassin exchange plugin 🙂

    SpamAssassin rulz!

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