Inbox Integrity: Does Email Tracking Compromise Ethics?

Gmail inbox

E-mail is one of the world's most important means of communication. In fact, over 300 billion e-mails are sent worldwide every day. The success of e-mail communication is due to a number of factors: instant and organized communication, low cost of use, and the ability to share attachments between users. On the other hand, there are also disadvantages to communicating by email. Because of the asynchronous nature of this communication channel, it's difficult to keep track of certain information, such as whether an e-mail has reached its recipient or been read. Tools called "email trackers” (generally in the form of browser extensions) offer a solution to this problem. Email trackers let you know whether the receiver has opened and read the email, without he or she being specifically aware of it.

So, what strategies can be implemented to ensure the ethical use of email trackers in digital marketing?

What is email tracking?

Email tracking is a practice that enables e-mail senders to monitor and gather information on how their e-mails are being processed by recipients. The practice is usually based on the use of tracking tags embedded in the e-mail content or on specific links.

Tags, also known as tracking pixels, are pixel graphics integrated into the header and footer of an email. Invisible to the naked eye, these trackers transmit data to the tool's server once the email has been opened. This tag then records information such as the time of opening, the approximate geographical location of the receiver, the type of device used, and other data relating to the interaction.

In addition to being invisible, the tracker also works in the background, making the use of such a tool totally imperceptible to the recipient.

Why does email tracking raise moral concerns?

The fact that trackers are undetectable to the receiver raises ethical and moral concerns about the privacy of these individuals. Indeed, email tracking enables senders to collect detailed data on recipients' behavior, such as: the precise moment the email was opened, approximate location via IP address, or the type of device on which the email was read, without necessarily obtaining their specific consent. Unlike ad tracking (which does not necessarily require the use of personal data), email tracking is directly associated with personal data - namely the receiver’s email address. Generally speaking, the recipient has no way of knowing in advance that the e-mail received is equipped with tracking tools. Consequently, the use of e-mail tracking without his or her explicit consent can be considered an invasion of privacy.