While instant messaging is the preferred form of communication online, e-mails still play a huge role in digital correspondence. Many educational institutions rely on e-mail for submission of class requirements, class consultations, and information dissemination.
While security and privacy are a few of the features many e-mail platforms boast of, there are still ways to undermine these and access user information without their knowledge and consent, such as information on whether or not the recipient of an e-mail has opened the message, among other activities.
One of such ways is through what is known as a tracking pixel. Tracking pixels come in the form of images (usually PNGs or GIFs). Some e-mails contain images in the body, and a tracking pixel--say, a photo sized 1x1 pixels--can disguise itself to blend in seamlessly with the rest of the e-mail content. Once a recipient opens the e-mail, the contents of it will naturally load, including the tracking pixel. Once the tracking pixel has been loaded, the server that hosts it will naturally know that you've accessed it.
While it's basically similar to a potentially harmless read receipt available on other instant messaging platforms, various issues have been raised regarding tracking pixels sent via e-mails. For one, tracking pixels and other similar mechanisms will gather details including the time you opened the e-mail, how many times you've opened it, the e-mail client you use, the location you've opened it from, the device you were using when you opened it, even your IP address. It can also see if you've forwarded the e-mail to someone else, and they will be able to access that user's information, too.
Another concern raised against tracking pixels is the fact that recipients are not aware of their existence or presence in the e-mails they read, unlike in messaging apps where both parties know that read receipts exist.
If you're not particularly keen on having someone see whether or not you've opened their e-mails, Wired suggested a couple of ways to disable it, one of which is to basically head to your e-mail settings and disable the automatic loading of images in e-mails sent to you. This option is doable on several e-mail clients including Gmail and Outlook, together with their mobile counterparts.