Ever wish you could find out whether someone actually opened that email you sent instead of deleting it? A service called Bananatag can tell you -- and we have the lowdown on how to protect yourself from being tracked.
How Bananatag Works
Think of Bananatag like iMessage or BBM for your email: when you send someone a message, you can track it to see if and when the recipient read it, and if the links in the email were clicked or not. Email marketers have actually been using the same tracking techniques for a long time.
So how does it work? Bananatag embeds a small transparent image in each email, which is hosted on Bananatag's servers. When you open the email, Bananatag knows that unique image has been accessed, and it can then tell the sender the email has been opened. Similarly, it turns links into short links that head back to its server so they know when they are accessed, all without modifying the original text of the link.
Bananatag is available as a Chrome or Firefox extension for Gmail or a plugin for Outlook. You can also use it with any other web client via a simple tweak to your contact's addresses. It's free for five messages a day, but $US5 a month gives you unlimited tracking.
How to Avoid Being Tracked
Using a service like Bananatag could be useful for a number of reasons, but it's also creepy to think that your friends could be tracking the emails they send you this very same way. There's an easy way around it: if you get an email that asks you to display images, just reject your mail client's request to display them. Obviously, you can't do this for every email (since some will have pictures you want to open), but if you get an email that makes no mention of images and yet asks you to display them, that is a hint that the sender may be using a service like Bananatag.
More importantly, don't ever click a link in an email if you don't know where it goes. Hover over the link and check its destination in the bottom left corner of your window first. If the link text doesn't match the link that shows up in the bottom corner, that link is going somewhere else. Bananatag isn't out to get you; it just wants to track your clicks. But other evildoers can use this same trick to get into your bank account, so it's a good rule to follow. If the link text goes somewhere you trust, copy and paste it into your browser's address bar instead of clicking on it.
Bananatag is an interesting service with some worthwhile uses, but we could understand why one might find it creepy too. You can't fully protect yourself (unless you never open images in emails), but it's good to be on the lookout should a service like this become more popular with, say, nosy friends. Hit the link to see more about the service.