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Gmail for IOS adds image blocking to prevent email tracking

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Internet giant Google has updated its Gmail app for iOS devices by adding a new image blocking feature to prevent email tracking from automatically loaded images that come as attachments.

Numerous email tracking clients use small, invisible images as a means of tracking when an email has been opened and viewed, allowing for invasive features like read-receipts. 

Users can choose to be asked each time whether or not to display external images in an email thanks to the new update. The new setting is meant to counteract the tracking services that embed small invisible images into emails.

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The update is now available on the Apple App Store.

“You can now choose to be asked before external images are displayed automatically. To enable this for new incoming messages, go to Settings > specific account > Images and select Ask before displaying external images.”

Apple App Store changelog.

Previously, the image loading setting was restricted to Gmail’s Web version, but most probably this went unnoticed by heavy mobile email users of the iOS app. But as from now, one can get access to this setting on iPhone and iPad devices.

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Back in July former Twitter executive Mike Davidson drew attention to how a subscription email service was allowing users to track the location and time of when an email was opened, and this rollout of the feature is almost certainly a response to that controversy.

Gmail’s update will mean the service is able to block unwanted surveillance, which often goes unnoticed by the victim. For instance, tracking pixels, which are tiny images that are embedded in emails or websites.

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When loaded, they ping the image server they’re hosted on and send all of the information required to download them such as a device’s IP address and time of download back to the server.

Currently, the update is only live for personal Gmail accounts, however, Google has yet to confirm whether it will roll out to enterprise accounts accessed through its G Suite platform.

According to Google, as reported by The Verge, this is because G Suite admins need to set up their company accounts on the Rapid Release track, which will grant access to newer features faster than standard accounts.

“For this Gmail iOS feature, G Suite administrators who have set up the Rapid Release track on their G Suite domain will already have access to this,” a Google spokesperson said, “while G Suite domains on the Scheduled Release track will see this feature available shortly for their G Suite users.”

The internet giant also says that it runs all messages sent via Gmail through its own proxy servers. This means any location tracking services should be blocked early. The company recently added the ability to stop a sender from being able to precisely locate a recipient via an IP address but says this new move is another step along the improved privacy journey.

Moreover, Google has also rolled out a new feature this month for its G Suite users; a notification will be shown to your contacts in Gmail and Hangouts chats that you are away on vacation. 

At the moment it is only available to G Suite (Google’s enterprise customers) but not the ordinary Gmail users, the feature will be fully rolled out globally from September 16. 

Gmail can be downloaded from the App Store for free.

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Feritter Owich
Feritter Owich
I am the mobile editor here. I cover apps, smartphones and anything else related to consumer electronics. Reach me at [email protected]

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