Ministry of Propaganda

Ministry of Propaganda - 20/May/2004: "E-mail Tracking?"

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E-mail Tracking?

I just stumbled over a report claiming a company had developed a service to track e-mails, including when they were opened, how long the e-mail was read and where the reader was when reading the e-mail. The company is DidTheyReadIt.

The website doesn't really give any details how this is supposed to work, even though there is a How It Works page. If someone sends me a mail, how can DidTheyReadIt know when I read it, where I am when I read it and how long I looked at the mail?

The only possibility I can think of is some kind of web bug (i.e. a tiny image embedded in an HTML mail). But that raises a few questions:

  1. My e-mail client doesn't load anything from the web. Never. Ever. It can't. And even if I have to use Outlook (e.g. at work), at least the latest version allows me to stop it downloading anything from the web. So how would they know that I opened the mail?
  2. What if I download my e-mails and then read them offline (something a lot of people in Europe do, especially those on dialup)? How would their web bug be downloaded?
  3. Location services, usually based on IP addresses, are very unreliable. So how do they determine where I am when reading the e-mail?

Let's assume it uses some other technology (e.g. some communication with the mailserver), I still don't see how they would get around points 2 and 3 raised above.

Is this all just a big hoax, marketing blurb for people who don't have a clue about how things work? Or am I missing something and this can really work? What do you think?

Update: Techdirt has this as well and a few more links/comments. Looks like it uses a web bug as I suspected. Meaning it's fairly useless.

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