Software has some seeing red

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by wdlove, Jul 5, 2004.

  1. wdlove macrumors P6

    wdlove

    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2002
    #1
    Harvard grad gains overnight notoriety with e-mail tracking


    By Scott Kirsner *|* July 5, 2004


    Depending on your perspective, Alastair Rampell is either a software prodigy -- a Gates-in-the-making -- or the Internet's version of Aldrich Ames, a devious double agent.

    At 23, the Harvard graduate achieved overnight notoriety in May with the release of his latest product, an e-mail monitoring service called DidTheyReadIt. After an initial story on the front of USA Today's business section, coverage followed on CNN, National Public Radio, and NBC's "Today Show."

    DidTheyReadIt allows users to track the e-mails they send, alerting them when a message is opened by its recipient -- and even reporting on how long the recipient looked at it, and offering a rough geographical guess about where he is located. The service is either subtle or surreptitious, depending on your point of view. It's nearly impossible to tell that an e-mail you've received is being tracked by DidTheyReadIt.

    Rampell says that in the service's first month, about 25,000 people have signed up to try it. (Fewer than 10 percent of those people eventually convert to paid users, shelling out $49.99 for a year's worth of e-mailing.)

    http://www.boston.com/business/technology/articles/2004/07/05/software_has_some_seeing_red/
     
  2. rainman::|:| macrumors 603

    rainman::|:|

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    #2
    this only works on email clients that load images in the text... which many don't. and even web-based email services have a policy of not loading images in suspicious emails... this is the same technology spammers have been using for a couple of years, and it's not hard to protect yourself.

    paul
     
  3. Oirectine macrumors regular

    Oirectine

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    Tokyo, Japan
    #3
    It was on slashdot. It works by adding a 1x1 clear pixel image to the email, which is taken from some unique HTTP address. For example, in the email they might add <img src="http://www.emailtracker.com/images/352398.gif"> or something. So when that particular file is downloaded to be displayed, they know someone opened the email. However, as a previous poster mentioned, graphical email clients, or just ones set up not to automatically open images in emails, will not call for this image.

    It knows how long you're reading the email because it doesn't actually send the image file. That way, as long as the file is being requested, they know the window is open. However, this is very unreliable, because eventually the connection will time out or whatever.
     
  4. wdlove thread starter macrumors P6

    wdlove

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    Oct 20, 2002
    #4
    By referring to loading images, do you mean HTML. All mine use that. So should I be protecting myself? How?
     
  5. jsw Moderator emeritus

    jsw

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    Andover, MA
    #5
    In Mail:

    Preferences->Viewing->"Display images and embedded objects in HTML messages" [uncheck this]

    With this setting, each HTML email will show up with a "Load Images" button, which is very easy to press for those messages you want to see the images in, and also serves as a warning that an apparently text-only message actually contains images.
     
  6. jsw Moderator emeritus

    jsw

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    #6
    In Entourage (Office X, don't have Office 2004):

    Mail & News Preferences->Read->HTML: Uncheck "Allow network access when displaying complec HTML", but keep "Display complex HTML in messages" checked if you'd like.

    Unfortunately, although this will stop malicious images from loading, I don't see any way to load the images in a given email should you wish to do so.
     
  7. rainman::|:| macrumors 603

    rainman::|:|

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    #7
    jsw got it first. as for web-based emails, just go into the preferences or settings, increasingly there's an option for "load external images". Eventually email programs will be good enough to screen for blank images, and do a better job of determining. but spammers will just get more improved.

    i noticed this about three years ago; i noticed i would get a spam email from a certain company, the moment after i opened any other spams from them. Usually subject related to the spam i opened. Checked around in the code, and sure enough there was the blank .gif reference. It's a dirty trick, but not surprising...

    incidentally, this is why people advise you not to even view spam-- these image links provide confirmation that your email address is active. Mail.app does a good job of keeping images from loading in junk mail anyway, but it's still good general advice.

    paul
     
  8. panphage macrumors 6502

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    #8
    Once again my sheer mule-headedness protects me: I use mutt. Always have, always will. :D
     
  9. virividox macrumors 601

    virividox

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    #9
    i dont really care if someone knows if i read their email and how long i spent on it. as long as i reply then i should be okay.
     
  10. MacDawg macrumors P6

    MacDawg

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    #10
    If it is from somebody that you don't mind them knowing that you read or didn't read... then this is OK. There are occasions that I'd prefer someone not knowing when or if I read an email, but those are not too common.

    The real problem though is what Paul talks about, spamming. If you read it and they know it, then they know your email address is active, and that is when you get overloaded. It is a dirty trick... but not surprising.

    Don't know why this fellow should be considered a "prodigy" for this, especially since it has been around. Just making a buck off of it from the consumer side instead of the spammer side. Hmmmmmmm, then again, does sound like he might be a Bill Gates! :p
     
  11. Stelliform macrumors 68000

    Stelliform

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    Oct 21, 2002
    #11
    Microsoft Exchange clients already do this. (If you are e-mailing from a M$ Exchange server to an M$ Exchange server.) Some of my clients, (well one real annoying one) uses it to see if I read her e-mail. (Like I have 10 minutes to take care of her problem once I read the message.) I used to have a 3rd party app that removed her read receipt requests from the e-mails that she sent, but now I read most of my mail on my blackberry, and she can't see when I read those... (For kicks now sometimes I will go and mass read all of her messages in my in box without removing the read receipts. ;) She gets flustered when she gets 60 read receipts in a minute or less. ;) :D)

    What amazes me so much is that he has made 25000x10%X$49.95=$124875 from an idea that has been around for quite a while. I would definitely pin him as a "Gates in the making" (Since he is making a ton of money off of repackaging technology other people have been using for years. (referring to spammer tracking and not the Exchange stuff I pointed out earlier.)
     
  12. rainman::|:| macrumors 603

    rainman::|:|

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    iowa
    #12
    Yeah, all this guy did was take an existing technology (a bad one) and give it a friendlier interface for the masses. Hardly worth the nobel peace prize...

    He's probably already almost forgotten. Give it a week, no one will remember.

    paul
     

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