How to turn off remote image loading in many email clients in 2019.

July 9, 2019

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I have had remote image loading disabled in my email clients for a long time, even before I learned about email tracking. (The loading of remote images in email is the mechanism that allows email tracking to happen via often invisible 1-pixel images.) Semi-recently, I have learned about email tracking, via articles like this one in WIRED, and I think the practice is gross.

This past week, more folks have become aware of email tracking through some public objections concerning the email client/app Superhuman; the issues and possible-very-bad-scenarios are very well outlined by Mike Davidson first here and then here. I heard about this from Twitter.

Given Mike Davidson’s writing (Twitter handle @mikeindustries), I got to thinking that besides checking all of my own devices, clients, and accounts, I need to disable image loading for some not tech-savvy family members, for reasons that I am not going to go into in this blog post. Some of the instructions online turned up circa 2013 instructions, so I’ll document how to do this for all the versions I’ll encounter, and I expect this document to change over time.

Also, this is not my area of expertise. I know that there is a lot of debate about how Gmail, for instance, handles tracking pixels. Since I am not involved with developing Gmail, I default to turning image loading off. Other suggestions? Let me know on Twitter @amy_tabb.

Roadmap

Verification

Gmail web instruction screen 3

Once you change the settings, you will want to test that they work. Go to an email sent from a vendor – clothing companies, credit card company, etc. You should see a message like the one above, that “Images are not displayed.” If you have non-tech-savvy relatives you are doing this for, remind them not click the load the images areas, which undoes all of the settings detailed in this document!

Web

Gmail web, new

So the web Gmail interface went through a big change in summer 2018. It is slow, and I don’t like it, and I have disabled a bunch of things. Image loading is enabled by default.

Gmail web instruction screen 0

First, access the settings via the gear icon on the upper right corner of the screen (circled, above).

Gmail web instruction screen 1

Then, there are a lot of settings to sift through, you want to go to the “Images” section, and change the button to “Ask before loading external images.”

Gmail web instruction screen 2

You are not done on this page! Keep on scrolling down, and hit the “Save changes” button.

The verification section shows the “Images not displayed” messages for web-based Gmail.

Gmail web, new, classic mode

There does not seem to be a way to disable remote loading of images with the classic HTML mode of the new web-based Gmail. You can set it using the “Standard mode” – in Gmail web, new section, and then those changes propagate when you switch to the classic HTML mode.

Mobile

Gmail app, Android

Gmail android instruction screen 0

First, access the menu via Google’s three parallel lines, here on the left-upper side of the screen.

Gmail android instruction screen 1

Then scroll ALL the way down to get to the “Settings” option, denoted with the gear. I have marked out all of the folder names in this image – and I have a lot of folders. So it took a while.

Gmail android instruction screen 2

Select the email account for which you would like to adjust the settings in the next screen.

Gmail android instruction screen 3

Go all the way to the bottom of the screen, and select the “Images” setting. . .

Gmail android instruction screen 4

And select the radio button such that “Ask before displaying external images” is marked. Done!

Outlook app, Android

Outlook android instruction screen 0

Access the settings via the three parallel lines – upper left corner of the main screen in the Outlook app, here, circled in yellow.

Outlook android instruction screen 1

Then, you’ll need to jump through another hoop – scroll down to the bottom of the next screen. You’re looking for a gear icon, indicated here with a blue circle. If you have a lot of folders, you might have to scroll a lot to get to the bottom – as I did in the Gmail app, Android example. Here, I also edited out the folder names.

Outlook android instruction screen 2

Then select the account that you want to adjust or check the remote image loading options for. I only have one account, a Google account.

Outlook android instruction screen 3

Move the slider to the right such that the indicator is blue for on. You’re all set – remote image loading is now disabled.

BlueMail app, Android

BlueMail android instruction screen 2

First, you need to access the settings menu. This is at the bottom right corner of the screen – the three empty dots in a horizontal line. Google has their three parallel lines, BlueMail has their three dots. Don’t ask me.

BlueMail android instruction screen 1

Next up, go to “Various Account Settings”, the first item on the list.

BlueMail android instruction screen 2

You will go to the “Always Show Images” section, the 6th item in the list. I have already adjusted mine, but if yours says “yes” underneath the “Always Show Images” text, you’ll want to click on it and ….

BlueMail android instruction screen 3

You indicate “no” for “Always show images.” Done!

Desktop

Windows

Outlook

Great news! Outlook disables remote image loading by default. To whitelist certain senders (I do not recommend this), or to get more information on Outlook’s settings, please see here.

Outlook screen showing remote images are not loading

This is the text at the top of a message that indicates that a message has external images in Outlook – “Click here to download pictures, etc.”

Linux

Thunderbird

These instructions worked for Thunderbird 60.7.2, on Ubuntu 16.04.

Thunderbird instruction screen 0

First, you need to click the three parallel lines on the right-hand corner of screen. In the figure above, this region is circled.

Then, my print screen functions did not allow me to capture the next steps visually, but you need to go to the Preferences section, in the second menu to the right, and then that will lead to another menu. Go to preferences again. Preferences-squared. Then, you will see the menu below.

Thunderbird instruction screen 0

Then, you need to go to the “Privacy” tab, indicated by the mask. Once there, unclick the box under “Mail Content” (here, circled) for “Allow remote content in messages.”

Advanced

Then, I have tried to keep this as a basic guide you can send to the non-tech savvy, but I have a feeling that we’ll get some cool tools for blocking pixel trackers that are considered more advanced.

Counter

This is a counter of how many clients or I have checked, or disabled the remote imaging for so far.

Client Tally
Gmail web, new 5
Gmail app, Android 2
Outlook app, Android 1
Thunderbird 2
BlueMail 1

© Amy Tabb 2019-2020. All rights reserved. The contents of this site reflect my personal perspectives and not those of any other entity.