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When an email has an embedded image in Gmail, can the sender trace IP of the send to user?

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3 Answers

These kind of tracking images are often called web bugs.

Some mail server software (such as MailScanner) can quite accurately tell web bugs from normal images, and then disarm the web bugs by removing or replacing them. But Gmail does not claim to try that, though a few say Gmail in fact does.

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Gmail loads images from the source site directly, and does not proxy the connection.

So yes, if the image was hosted on a site controlled by the sender, it is possible for them to see which IPs have connected to load the image. This does not link your IP to your email address unless you're the only person receiving this email. Pretty unlikely.

For web privacy, use a proxy.

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It should be noted that a proxy does not really protect you all the time from this sort of method. More often than not, the reason for attaching a externally linked picture is not to track a ip but just to confirm that the email was received in the first place. The other use is usually just for time-critical content so proxy doesn't really make a difference –  William Hilsum Aug 26 '09 at 19:26
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but they could prepend my email address in the url to track when I view the image! –  user3183 Aug 26 '09 at 19:30
    
@homestead good call. @Wil very true. I was only concerned about the IP –  jweede Aug 26 '09 at 19:37
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Yes, the image is loaded on to your machine as if you were visiting a web page, so your ip will show up in their server logs or script that is monitoring the email e.t.c.

It is the same as with Hotmail, Outlook or anywhere else which is why you usually get a warning when the picture is going to load (and usually blocked by default)

The only pictures that are safe from this sort of thing are the ones that are actually included / attached to the email.

It should be noted that a proxy does not really protect you all the time from this sort of method. More often than not, the reason for attaching a externally linked picture is not to track a ip but just to confirm that the email was received in the first place. The other use is usually just for time-critical content so proxy doesn't really make a difference

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As homestead noted in a comment to another answer, an email address, UUID or other code could be used to correlate successful loading of the image with the intended recipient. –  Dennis Williamson Aug 27 '09 at 0:28
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