A recent post by John Gruber, Apple enthusiast and product commentator, on his blog Daring Fireball discusses Apple Mail’s blatant lack of protection and countermeasures against email tracking via hidden images, which he calls “spy pixels” or “spy trackers”.
Usually, spy pixels are 1 x 1 pixel invisible GIFs that many newsletter and email marketing services embed in their electronic missives.
The purpose of these hidden images is to track whether or not the emails are opened, and if they are, record when they are opened and the IP address (and therefore geographic location) they are opened from.
The only form of “protection” Apple’s stock email client offers from this breach of privacy is an option to not load any remote resources like images at all in emails.
This option has to be manually enabled by users, and if you do manually instruct Mail to load the images and other resources within an email, it will load all of them, including any “spy pixels”. While this feature may help you save some bandwidth, calling it protection against email tracking would be an overstatement.
Google also offers a similar feature in Gmail, but on top of that, Google has been loading remote resources like images through anonymous proxies since 2013.
To see Apple, perhaps the biggest advocate of privacy in the tech space at this time, ignore a glaring privacy gap in its email client is disheartening. Mail also needs a feature shakeup when you compare it to other third-party email clients such as Readdle’s Spark.
Apple’s stock browser, Safari, offers layers upon layers of protection against tracking elements on the web through content blocking extensions — extensions which Mail could definitely benefit from.