How Hidden Tracking Pixels Are Used In Emails

An email tracking pixel is typically a 1-pixel by 1-pixel image inserted into an email.

Those images are usually transparent, come in the form of a .gif or .png file and they are hidden from you.

And why they are hidden? Well, those pixel images are hidden because they are used to collect personal information about you and send it to the email sender.

The information that can be collected is:

– The type of device used by you, the email recipient. (desktop or mobile)

– The type of operating system used by you, including mobile OS

– Activities performed during the session

– Screen resolution

– The client used by you, the email recipient (browser, mail program, etc.)

– Your IP address

– What time did you open the email or visit the website

If you are not comfortable giving away that amount of information, you need to learn how to detect and avoid those hidden images.

Pixel Tracking Image

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Hidden Tracking Pixels in Marketing Emails

Email marketers use tracking pixels to monitor the effectiveness of their promotional campaigns. 

For example, by tracking whether an email was opened or not, a service provider can measure the engagement rate of their campaigns.

As an example, take a look at the screenshot below from a marketing email we have received.

In one of the next sections we will show you how to find out if there are hidden tracker pixels in your email, but for now, note the following:

width=3D”1″ height=3D”1″ refers to the hidden 1-pixel by 1-pixel tracking image inserted in the email

https://mbyoastbv.acemlnb.com is the address of the server used for tracking activities. When you open the email, the hidden image is loaded and your information is reported to the designated server/database.

<img src=3D”https://mbyoastbv.acemlnb.com/lt.php?nl=3D6&amp;c=3D1412&amp;m= =3D1550&amp;s=3D42bda2dc045112142a9b8e09ea0481d9&amp;l=3Dopen” border=3D”0″= width=3D”1″ height=3D”1” style=3D”display:block;width:1px!important;min-wi= dth:1px!important;max-width:1px!important;height:1px!important;border:0;ove= rflow:hidden;”><br clear=3D”all”></body>=0A=

In general, many companies do not mean any harm. Because the hidden tracking pixels are inserted to get data on the success of a campaign.

Still, you may be careful because the data can be just used for internal and fair purposes or, instead, is used for grey activities like selling your data to third parties.

Hidden Tracking Pixels in Scam Emails

In contrast, scammers do use hidden tracking pixels solely for the purpose of finding valuable targets:

– Scammers may want to get proof that your email account is active, so they can sell it in the black market for a good price.

– Or the scammers may have bought your email address in the black market, and they may be sending the email to get additional information from you. Like your IP, the OS that you use,…

Phishing email crypto wallet verification

As an example, one of our colleagues at Crypto Safety First has received an email stating stating a wallet would be suspended unless it is verified.

We know very well that this is just a phishing email but let’s have a look at the source code for hidden tracking pixels.

Phishing email hidden tracking image

There are several tracking pixels in the email source code. As well as a link to ‘activepipe.everestengagement.com’

If you want to know how a tracking pixel can be set up through Everest, have a look at this Everest Advance Setup Guide.

Hidden tracking pixel html code

But, basically, the scammer is already collection information that will be used against you. 

The jackpot for a scammer is that you click on the link for wallet verification. 

The link will redirect you to a phishing website where you seed phrase will be requested. 

Once you enter the seed phrase, the scammer will proceed to transfer any crypto assets from your wallet to their wallet.

But, as a consolation prize, in case you are not naive enough to click on the link, if you open the email the scammer will collect information from you. 

That can be used to send you more precise phishing emails.

How to Find Hiding Tracking Pixels in Emails

First of all, you should assume that all emails coming from spammers contain tracking pixels. So do not open them to avoid sending information to the spammers.

If you want to find out if the emails in your inbox contain hidden tracking files, you need to ‘view message source’.

It may vary from email provider to email provider, but in general, you can find ‘view message source’ by”

 – Open the email options menu (triple dot in the top right corner), and highlight ‘View’ by hovering over the menu with the mouse.

– Expand the ‘view’ menu by hoovering with your mouse.

– Click over ‘view message source’.

Source code tracking pixel in email

Then, the message source code will appear in a pop-up window and you just need to search for the hidden tracking pixels.

Emails html source code

Rather than screening the whole source code for those pixels, you can try the following shortcut:

– On your keyboard, press Ctrl+f to make the search menu appear.

– Type “1” in the search box,

– And all the results will be highlighted in the code. Make it very straightforward to identify the hidden tracking pixels.

How to find hidden tracking pixels in emails be viewing the source code.

The Legality of Tracking Pixels

Yes, tracking pixels are legal as long as they are used in compliance with applicable laws and regulations. Such as obtaining proper consent from users and respecting their privacy.

Tracking Pixels Used Legally

Now, there are companies and individuals that will request your consent and make available information about what information they collect and how they use it.

For example, Amazon declares in their Security and Privacy Interest-Based ads that they use Pixels: 

“We use cookies, pixels, IP addresses and other technologies (collectively, “advertising technologies”), which enable us to understand the effectiveness of the interest-based ads we show you by measuring what ads are clicked or viewed, and to provide you with more useful and relevant ads. For example, we use cookies or other information such as IP address to limit the number of times you are shown the same ad.”

In their Privacy Notice Amazon describes the information that is being collected, such as: 

– The Internet protocol (IP) address used to connect your computer to the Internet;

– Computer, device, and connection information such as device application or browser type and version, browser plug-in types and versions, operating system, or time zone setting;

– The location of your device or computer;

Tracking Pixels Used Illegally

But, on other occasions, tracking pixels is used illegally with the sole purpose of getting information from you for illegal actions.

None of the companies or individuals that are sending you phishing emails have requested from you any permission nor they disclose anywhere the information they are collecting through the tracking pixels.

Phishing email tracking pixel scam

How to Protect Your Privacy from Hidden Tracking Pixels

Only digital safety knowledge and good practices will keep you safe from bad actors using tricks on you.

Now you know what tracking pixels are and how to find out if your emails contain tracking pixels.

But the more you know, the better you will be prepared to avoid such tricks.

And the good practices you apply will prevent from you falling for new or unknown hacks or scams.

Learning about crypto and digital safety and security does not need to be a laborious or long process.

5 minutes a day can take you a long way.

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Have a look to our '5-minute power ups' blog posts.

Hidden Tracking Pixels FAQ

Hidden tracking pixels, also known as web beacons or pixel tags, are small, often transparent, images or pieces of code embedded in web content, emails, or documents. They are used to track user behavior, gather information, and monitor interactions with online content. These pixels are typically invisible to the user and serve as a means for organizations to collect data on things like email open rates, website visits, and user engagement.

Hidden tracking pixels work by loading a tiny image or code snippet when the content is accessed or viewed. This image or code is hosted on a server controlled by the tracking entity (e.g., a marketing company). When the pixel loads, it sends a request to that server, which records data about the user, such as their IP address, location, device, and more. This data is then used for various purposes, including analytics, marketing, and user profiling.

  1. Email tracking: Marketers use tracking pixels to determine whether recipients have opened their emails and clicked on links, helping them measure the effectiveness of email campaigns.

  2. Website analytics: Website owners use tracking pixels to collect data on user behavior, such as which pages are visited, how long users stay on a page, and the source of web traffic.

  3. Ad retargeting: Advertisers use tracking pixels to monitor user interactions with their ads and deliver retargeted ads to individuals who have shown interest in their products or services.

  4. User profiling: Some organizations use tracking pixels to build detailed profiles of users, including their interests and online behaviors, which can be used for targeted advertising and content recommendations.

Yes, tracking pixels can be used for legitimate purposes, such as email open tracking, website analytics, and improving user experiences. When used responsibly and with user consent, they can provide valuable insights for organizations to optimize their services and content. Legitimate use typically involves transparency, data anonymization, and compliance with privacy regulations.

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