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Google have made another small but significant tweak to GMail -- Images embedded within an email will now be shown automatically.

But is this good or bad? There are winners and losers!

 

Everyone will be familiar with the 'display images' option when opening emails; the email text loads but any images require a click to be displayed.

Manually loading images in a Google Mail message

Manually loading images in a Google Mail message

Starting today in the GMail web interface, and rolling out to the mobile app soon, the images will load without intervention from you.

Let's rewind a little to consider why we needed to approve images in the first place. Some years ago it was discovered that malicious code could be inserted into a file masquerading as an image. When the image loaded as part of the email message it had the potential to cause harm to the computer. The simplest way to avert disaster was to make you think about email images you wished to see from others, and hence the 'display images' option appeared. It has been the de facto for years.

Now Google have shaken things up and decided they can help. Basically when you open an email all the images will be loaded on Google's servers, checked for issues and if all is well the image will be delivered to you within the email -- no need to load them manually.

This is a great move by Google however it has marketing people up in arms. There is another side to embedded images in an email.

Those sneaky marketing boys and girls track these images. When you receive an email from a business it most likely has hidden tracking. The image attached to the email contains a unique reference to you and it confirms that you have read the email. Each time you open the email message they know; in addition they gain other useful information such as the browser you are using, your language, your rough location, and a few others non-personal yet useful pieces of information.

The new Google solutions stops almost all of this. The only thing the marketing bods will be told is that you opened the email once (loaded the image). Any other information passed onto them is almost irrelevant as it will be all about Google servers rather than you!

Personally, I'm still not keen on telling someone I have read the email; as a by-product of this tracking it is confirming my email address. So if someone has sent out thousands of emails to random email addresses, and I load their image as part of the email, they will know my email address is valid AND active.

Google fortunately allow you to continue with the 'display images' option -- more details on the official Gmail Blog.

What are your thoughts? Will you allow Google to auto-load images now?

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