There's a lot of attention focused on data brokers who track what you browse on the Internet, but did you know your e-mail can be tracked, too? There are programs out there that allow someone to send you an e-mail and find out not only that you opened it, but where you were when you did. Some people call it creepy, while others say it's a valuable tool.
Bob Johnson is looking for a job using his photography, videography, editing and marketing skills. When Johnson e-mails a resume he uses tracking software called Sidekick to see if the person he sent it to actually opened it.
"I know that my resume has gone where I sent it. I know how many times it's been opened. If an e-mail has been opened six times, I know there may be some interest and maybe I'll get a call," said Johnson.
Johnson admits it all sounds a little creepy, but the service he uses gives him peace of mind.
"I don't think people realize that this technology is out there and available to just about anybody," said Johnson.
A simple online search reveals many companies offer e-mail tracking for free, or for a very low cost.
"A couple of years ago, only big business had access to this, but anyone can use e-mail tracking today. E-mail tracking is the next big thing in tracking," said cyber security expert Gary Miliefsky.
Some programs have users put a code next to the recipient's e-mail address, which they can't see. Other companies have users click a box that says "email tracking on."
Miliefsky says the tracking software puts a code or image in the e-mail. When a recipient opens it, the sender can get some valuable information.
"When someone is tracking e-mails on you, they can find out a lot of information about when you read the e-mail, how long you were reading it, where you were geolocated, what kind of computer you're using, what kind of web browser or e-mail client and if you clicked any hyperlinks, downloaded any attachment or even sent that e-mail onto others," explained Miliefsky.
Experts say this tracking is legal in most cases. Senders aren't even required to disclose the tracking.
So who could be tracking your e-mail?
"Besides marketers, anyone can see if you've opened an e-mail. This can be a collection agency, an attorney, your dentist, your doctor, it could be anyone," said Miliefsky.
Johnson says he doesn't notify anyone about e-mails he tracks.
"I don't call somebody and say, 'Hey! I saw that you opened my e-mail! Let's talk!' That's it, don't creep anybody out. The best thing for anybody to keep in mind is that anybody can track your e-mails," said Johnson.
You can avoid having your e-mail tracked. Experts say read your e-mail in text only mode so it doesn't automatically download tracker images and attachments.