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Beware: the simple act of opening an email could expose your location and let companies track you.

Hey, a messaging service from Basecamp claiming they “reinvented” email, discovered that big-shot companies in the United Kingdom (UK) use spy trackers or spy pixels in their emails. Hey found this out after the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) requested for the messaging service to analyse its traffic.

Top UK brands such as British Airways, Tesco, HSBC, Marks and Spencer, and even Unilever are using these spy trackers. BBC openly admitted they were using these spy trackers too, although Hey was unable to detect any from the media company’s emails. BBC also reported that the use of spy trackers is an alleged common marketing tactic among companies.

Hey co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson
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Hey defined spy trackers as “tiny, often invisible images that are hidden in an email.” They further explained that once you open an email from a company that uses them, the image is downloaded from their server. Afterwards, the company will be able to know if, when, and on which device you opened their email. Companies could also use these spy trackers to know where your location is through your IP address.

The information the company gains from the use of these spy trackers can be used to monitor an email campaign’s effectivity and to make more detailed customer profiles. Hey’s co-founder, David Heinemeier Hansson, mentioned to BBC that these all amount to a “grotesque invasion of privacy.”

Hey is equipped with software that can detect and block these spy trackers for a subscription fee. Hansson also suggested that users can also install free plug-ins or extensions into email programs like PixelBlock and Trocker to remove or track these spy trackers.


Written by John Paul Joaquin