Apple and DuckDuckGo's new email privacy tools have one huge blind spot

www.fastcompany.com
4 min read
fairly easy
Want total email privacy? Don't click on any weird-looking links.
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Earlier this week, DuckDuckGo branched out from its private browser and search engine with a new service called Email Protection.

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The service, which is currently invite-only, gives users a unique duck.com email address that forwards messages to their real inbox. Along the way, DuckDuckGo strips out invasive trackers from the email, preventing senders from knowing whether you opened their messages. It also shows a note at the top of the email, letting you know it identified trackers and removed them. DuckDuckGo is one of several companies that's turning to email as a new privacy frontier. With the upcoming iOS 15 and MacOS Monterey, Apple's Mail app will offer tracking protection, while the email service Hey uses aggressive labeling to call out the "spy trackers" it blocks from your inbox. But all of these tools share one major flaw: They can't stop senders from tracking the links you click on. Even with DuckDuckGo's Email Protection enabled, senders can see exactly which links you've clicked, how many times you've clicked them, and your location while clicking. The same is true with anti-tracking tools from Apple, Hey, and most others.

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DuckDuckGo says it plans to improve link-tracking protection in the future. But without disclosing the limits of their current tools, these companies may be instilling a false sense of security by promising a more private inbox. How email tracking works To see whether readers have opened an email, senders typically embed a small, invisible image—sometimes called a tracking pixel or spy pixel—hosted on a remote server. Opening the email loads the image, which in turn signals to the email provider that the…
Jared Newman
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