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This email analytics company offers an 'engagement metric' that shows how much time someone spends looking at an email, whether the email is printed or deleted.

They also claim it works in pretty much all email clients, be it web, desktop or mobile.

Looking at an example for the tracking code (first link), I can see how they track prints, but how do they track how long you have been reading the email and whether or not you delete it?

Email tracking code

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    Can you replace the image with the code, after changing the urls? – TankorSmash Mar 13 '15 at 17:37
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    eye tracking css?, cool :) – Felipe Pereira Mar 13 '15 at 19:06
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    If you watch the video at the end of the article you can see that there actually quite a bit of styles that are generated. Bottom line is that you do not have the entire picture here. You can very simply signup for the free trial and reverse engineer the code yourself but personally, I'm too lazy to stop eating my taco and grab my credit card... – Matthew Peters Mar 14 '15 at 0:21
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    They're quite creative in terms of violating user privacy... if only they used that creativity to do something users would actually enjoy. – user42178 Mar 14 '15 at 5:38
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    @TankorSmash The site didn't offer code to copy, unless you sign up, only that image. Do you want me to retype it here after hiding the real URLs? Any particular reason for that? – Cleber Goncalves Mar 14 '15 at 8:46
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The email includes references to an externally-hosted images, like http://example.com/[tracking_id].png, where the tracking company controls the server hosting the image. The company records how and when each unique image URL is loaded by a mail client.

As you've noted, print operations can be logged by a tracking image in the @media print CSS directive. This assumes that the tracking image will not be loaded until the user actually prints the email.

Length of viewing time could theoretically be tracked by a slowly-loading image. The server would keep the HTTP response permanently unfinished, and it is only terminated when the user navigates away from the email. The server can log how long it took for the client to terminate the connection. However, I haven't observed this slow-load behavior in HTTP. It might be possible to do something similar with TCP sockets, which might be kept open even after the HTTP request completes (since the image is served with Connection: keep-alive), but my initial research suggests that the TCP connections may be kept alive after navigating away from a page that requested that keep-alive resource.

Excluding this possibility, it appears that the code you've included doesn't track time spent looking the email. Possibly time-tracking is a premium feature not enabled for this tracker.

The only other (mildly ridiculous) possibility I could consider is that the /F resource is somehow loaded when a navigation action is performed (i.e., the navigation action causes a manipulation to the document structure that causes the CSS rule to apply). If this (quite out-there) theory is the case, time-tracking will only work on Web-based mail, though.

Finally, they don't have ability to detect deletions. That article simply assumes that a user who has spent less that 2 seconds looking at an email has deleted it.

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    It also relies on HTML email being enabled and the images being loaded. I know in my client, I don't do either by default. – Mike Mar 13 '15 at 19:12
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    I knew all the other answers, but the slowly-loading image one is new to me. Fiendishly clever. – Bobson Mar 13 '15 at 20:25
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    The "slow-loading image" is a clever idea, but it doesn't appear to be what's actually going on here. If you try downloading the image at the URL listed in the question (https://eoapxl.com/Dpdr2Dw110/), the analytics company doesn't seem to be doing what you described. That URL doesn't lead to a slowly-loading image: instead, it loads a 43-byte 1x1 GIF that downloads immediately and contains nothing special. Am I missing something? Do you have some evidence for the "slow-loading image" hypothesis? – D.W. Mar 13 '15 at 20:25
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    @KyleHale Could you clarify what kind of session you're talking about (e.g., TCP)? In particular, I don't see how the server knows when to close the session based on a navigation action in the client. – apsillers Mar 14 '15 at 3:49
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    @KyleHale sure, but an HTTP session does not (necessarily) have a defined end. Doing so would require the client to send the server a request which explicitly prompts it to discard the session, which is not something one can expect from an email client. So the server receives nothing that would tell it how long the client keeps that email open. – David Z Mar 14 '15 at 5:48
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I get these questions from clients on a regular basis. The fundamental problem is that any email tracking technology requires cooperation from the client. The other answer dissected the image tracking so I won't repeat it here, other than to point out that the client must load the image from their server (said server is now on my block list).

Web-based email clients will fight you tooth-and-nail on css issues, so they probably have an inline option or just tailor delivery based on the recipient's MX record. Desktop clients usually have a "download images" option, very easy to turn off.

So, it's possible to know (or guess) what the reader did with your message IF they cooperate with you. If 40% of your messages come back as "unread" it doesn't mean they weren't read, it just means the client didn't tell you if they were read. Similarly I can see a virus scanner grabbing everything to process it being interpreted as "read and deleted".

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