“Did They Read It” Service Tells Senders Whether, When, and WHERE You Read Their Email

We’re big on manners here at the Internet Patrol. Manners are very important. Perhaps even more so in the online world, where the people with whom you are interacting can’t see your facial expressions and body language, so that the online impression you make is the only impression you make.

Examples of good online manners are not sending spam, not including dozens of names in a visible cc: list so that you are revealing people’s private email addresses to others, and not quoting endless lines of text in an email response to which you add only one word (we’ll leave the question of the mannerliness of top-posting versus bottom-posting for another day).

An example of very poor online manners is spying on the people to whom you send email.

But that is exactly what a new service, “Did They Read It.com” helps you to do – wants you to do!

Users of the Did They Read It (“DTRI”) service run their email to you through the DTRI server, where a web bug is embedded in the email. When you open the email to read it, the web bug reports back to DTRI that you have opened the email, and where, geographically, the IP address you are using is located. The DTRI server then reports this information back to the person who sent you the email. Now that person knows that you opened their email, and knows the location of the IP address you were using when you opened it.

But wait, that’s not all!

If you forward that email on to someone, the DTRI server will tell the sender about that, too, reporting to where you sent the bugged email, when it was opened, and their location as well. Not only is the sender invading your privacy, but they are setting you up to unwittingly cause someone else’s privacy to be invaded as well!

Naughty, naughty, naughty! Didn’t their mothers teach them any manners? We don’t spy on each other in polite company.

Now, granted, email marketers have known about and used web bugs for years, but they use them to track things like open rates to judge the effectiveness of their marketing message, not to detect whether Joe User in Peoria has actually read the email they sent. Similarly, there are services out there which will provide geo-location for an IP address. But never has this all been bundled into one package created specifically for a sender to spy on a recipient.

Of course, it’s not entirely suprising, given that Did They Read It is brought to you by Rampell Software, the nice people who market such other anti-privacy products as Spector for Mac, which, and we quote, “will record EVERYTHING your spouse, kids and employees do on the Internet. Spector AUTOMATICALLY takes hundreds of screen snapshots every hour, very much like a surveillance camera. With Spector, you will be able to see every chat conversation, every instant message, every e-mail, every web site visited and every keystroke typed.”

Nice.

Now, we know that the question which is burning in your mind is “How can I keep this from happening to me?!”

The first thing which we recommend you do is to make clear to those with whom you correspond that you will not tolerate anyone using any such privacy-invading service with any email which they send to you.

Second, if we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times (but not by email, of course): turn off html rendering in your email client! Intrusions like DTRI rely on – in fact require – your email reader to actually parse the html! Turn off the html, and you have effectively stopped this, and a host of other evils, from ever tapping into your resources and privacy. There is simply no reason to have your email client render html other than the “ooh, look at all the pretty colours” effect, and if your primary reason for reading email is its visual appeal, then perhaps we’ve underestimated you.

And, oh yes, be sure you let your own correspondents know about this, and that you for one will not ever invade their privacy in such a way (will you?!)

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16 Replies to ““Did They Read It” Service Tells Senders Whether, When, and WHERE You Read Their Email”

  1. As a freelance writer, there have been times when clients stop communication after the work has been delivered to them, or say that they never got it to get out of paying for it. I think using this email in such cases is a valid on my own part to protect my rights. Ofcourse I intend to include a warning in the email.

  2. I will say that this type of service can be very helpful. When you’re trying to reach “government official” who is, btw, paid to read your complaints, and you do not receive any kind of response, you begin to wonder.
    Now, i have a proof that a certain official is “deleting my email without reading it”
    Spying? No, not really. Just making lazy people do what they’re paid for.

  3. Oops, sorry to whom I replied to, shoulda been the reply above it. I’m sure they’ll understand though. =)

  4. Yeah right, and we’re all going to believe that!

    haha, spammer will try all the tricks in the world to get us to turn on HTMLK rendering. I mean, c’mon why would a kidnapper be communicating by email anyway? And wouldn’t they use Hotmail like any self-respecting criminal?

  5. See http://www.mozilla.org/ for Thunderbird and full Mozilla. Both allow you to leave HTML rendering turned on whilst not loading remote images (i.e. web bugs).

    There’s a whole host of other reasons to switch too: its junk mail filtering is ace and of course it’s not vulnerable to all of the e-mail-bourne malware and virii, unlike a certain Microsoft mail client we could name…

  6. Thunderbird also has an option to not download remote images as well as show HTML as plain text and disable scripting.

  7. Can this email-viewer get through the firewall?; if so, can the firewall be re-set to disallow it?

    OR is this somehow attaching itself to the e-mail before and/or after it is in the particular machine.

  8. Try using an email client called “the Bat”; it renders the text, but not the remote images. Also, it doesn’t run Active-X scripts, and it’s an all-round good email client – very flexible.

  9. Rusty: On the OUTLOOK main window, click on TOOLS/OPTIONS/Mail Format TAB and where it reads ” Compose in this message format: “, select Rich Text, click on Apply or OK and your done…Hope this helps

  10. I’ve heard that even turning off the loading of hotlinked images is enough to stop DidTheyReadIt in its tracks.

    Absolutely pathetic, since some mail clients– including the upcoming version of Outlook Express!– have image loading disabled by default…

  11. This is nothing new at all. Look for example at MSTAG (very useful) or readnotify.com, amongst others. I don’t think it’s spying to know if a recipient has received and read my mail. It just gives me peace of mind, and if I don’t get a reply I know that what I wanted to say hasn’t found any interest.
    Readnotify.com is EXTREMELY useful, it helped me to trace my kidnapped son a year ago. And I got him back home.
    So please hold back, you critics, think first. We don’t all have the same opinions :)

  12. You say to turn of html rendering. Does that mean I will compose and read my email in plain text only? I use Lotus nOtes and want to turn of the html rendering.

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