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There are several plugins for email services like Gmail that can track emails you send and notify you when it has been opened/viewed by a recipient.

I am tempted to use it with my employer/HR in order to know if delays in response are due to them ignoring me, or simply not having opened the mail yet (and might need a reminder).

The problem is that these trackers themselves can be detected and I'm not sure what employers think of this.

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    Some other reaons why it might be a bad idea: a) I always take a glance at new mails, even if I have literally no time to answer, to know if it is urgent enough to drop everything I'm doing right know. Don't think they are deliberatly ignoring you because the read the mail but didn't answer yet. b) There are quite a few people blocking scripts and external images (or even using text-only mail clients) because the don't want to be tracked. c) It might even be illegal in your country (only allowed under certain conditions which you need to know). – deviantfan May 31 '16 at 5:18
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    To clarify: are you asking about read receipts where users are always prompted to confirm or is this something that's more hidden like tracking pixels? – Lilienthal May 31 '16 at 7:46
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    Be aware that many companies/recpipients block read-receipts / delivery-notification requests because they are commonly used by mass email spammers to detect when they have hit on a real email address. Thus, whether it's right/wrong/advisable to try using them, often-times they won't work. – TripeHound May 31 '16 at 11:04
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    Trackers can only tell you that they have opened the email, not that they have actually read it/viewed at it for more than a glance. They may even have opened it by error (e.g. wanted to click on the email above) and now the email is marked as read and they forget about it for 1 month... To check that they actually read it you'd have to ask for webcam access and do some complex eye tracking to see whether the eyes of the user is actually following the text of the email. Good luck with doing that without being noticed. – Bakuriu May 31 '16 at 20:25
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    I'd be hesitant to trust the Outlook Receipt functionality to accurately tell you what you're really seeking to know. I had a supervisor complain: reports showed I never read her E-Mails. She knew that I did, since I was clearly familiar with their content. Turns out, Outlook only considered the message to be "read" if I "opened" the message (by double-clicking on it), or if I had the message selected/highlighted for a long-enough time (in Pane Preview mode). I was a faster reader than many of my co-workers (and used Pane Preview). So Microsoft kept considering the message to be "unread". – TOOGAM Jun 1 '16 at 6:40
93

Whatever your problem is, it is not solved by knowing whether HR opened your email.

Really, there is no difference between HR ignoring your email by not opening it, or opening it and then doing nothing. Knowing which of these scenarios is occuring doesn't better equip you for a response. If someone hasn't responded in a reasonable amount of time, a reminder is appropriate, whether the email has been opened or not.

Furthermore, trying to track/monitor others' actions rather than trusting co-workers to do their jobs will be seen as adversarial and suspicious behavior. If discovered, this would look bad.

In short, don't do it.

Note: I assume you refer to something like hidden pixel email tracking. Email receipt functionality such as that found in Outlook is fairly innocuous and probably not going to cause concern if you use it...but I still don't really find it useful, for the reasons given here.

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    That is the right answer. What you are trying is a form or micro-management. Don't go down this route. – sleske May 31 '16 at 7:39
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    @Lilienthal, I consider the record that I sent the email to be sufficient proof--at least within the same organization. It isn't really plausible for them to claim that the email wasn't received if I forward my sent email to show that it was sent to the correct address. OK, maybe if they start disputing that, I would turn on email receipts. But then they are the ones starting the adversarial behavior, not me. – user45590 May 31 '16 at 7:52
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    It's not so much about proof but more about knowing whether something is at least happening. If they send the read receipts, that usually means that they're also actually doing something. If not, then that's usually a sign that you're being ignored and need to escalate. It's dysfunctional but for some organisations and departments it's the only way to prevent having to physically pester people for every little thing. – Lilienthal May 31 '16 at 7:58
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    Keep in mind that read receipt in Outlook can be horribly manipulated, too. I had a rule that alerted me whenever I got an email with read receipt requested (so I'd never mark them as read). Since I always used the preview pane, messages only got marked as read when I chose them to be and viewing them there didn't trigger the automated email. Oh and sometimes I copy/delete them a few times when I knew the sender well just to send the "deleted without being read" message multiple times, which copying and deleting does actually do. I easily could have done this on actual important emails too. – enderland May 31 '16 at 11:56
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    @enderland I had a colleague who would send receipt requests with every last email she sent. To make matters worse, if you didn't respond quickly enough for her, she'd escalate. Evading her emails and pulling outlook tricks became a game for almost everyone who had to deal with her.. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica May 31 '16 at 14:07
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Ethical questions aside, I think such tracking is of very little use. If the person you're trying to contact has configured their email client to automatically retrieve remote content, you'll get a notification as soon as they have opened the client, without reading your e-mail. On the other side, if they have checked an option to always ignore remote content, you'll never get a notification.

Personally, I wouldn't get angry at you if you send me a message with tracking pixels, but since I block remote content in e-mails, you wouldn't get your notification.

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    Furthermore, "very little use" easily translates into "counter-productive". If the questioner thinks that "no notification" means the email hasn't been read, failing to take into account the many other reasons there could be no notification, then they're likely to be operating on faulty conclusions often enough to matter. Unless they really understand the failure modes of their tracking system, of course. Perils of giving people approximate data. – Steve Jessop May 31 '16 at 11:21
  • @SteveJessop Exactly, thanks for pointing that out. – Dmitry Grigoryev May 31 '16 at 11:53
  • On the email client I use most often, if I delete an email or move it to a save folder, the program automatically opens the next email. I may or may not actually read it. So you could get spurious read receipts that way. – Jay May 31 '16 at 17:35
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Email tracking is largely useless.

Besides the risk that someone could see that you're doing it and see it as a red flag against you (or merely that you're impatient), several email access systems also don't work well with it. Some people even mark all emails as read and then have their own priority system using folders. Some people might open a mail but don't get to read it because they're getting called away for a meeting or anything.

Its not very useful information, and you shouldn't waste your time doing it.

This is all without going into if you're even allowed to have that information legally, which is off topic here but certainly not clear cut for all over the world.

2

Is email tracking illegal

No, it is not. But, I would consider it a bit unethical(having said that, I use it anyway) if used without the recipient's permission.

If you think that having the tracker would make them uncomfortable, then maybe you shouldn't use it. When it comes to professionalism, then: If you are unsure about something, then the answer is always a NO.

You can always walk up to their table or send a reminder email when you didn't get a prompt answer or have a feeling that they are ignoring you.

Some people sort emails according to priority and answer them accordingly, so maybe they are not really ignoring you.

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    Illegal ... No, it is not. How can you say that without knowing the country? (And where does the quote even come from?) – deviantfan May 31 '16 at 5:40
  • @deviantfan Reference link – Dawny33 May 31 '16 at 5:42
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    It is probably not illegal, especially where the sender can argue that you gave prior consent to be tracked in some fashion, e.g., by agreeing to certain terms of service (even though, as we know, very few read or understand such terms). Here we have no consent, and I can counter the "probably" of a commercial product site with eg. German and Austrian law.: it is not applicable world-wide. Depending on the situation, there are constraints like max. storage times of the received informations, or it is not allowed at all. – deviantfan May 31 '16 at 5:47
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Just use standard e-mail receipt mechanisms. If those don't work, it's because people have decided they don't want them to work; respect that decision.

  • I initially read this as "it's because people have decided they don't want to work; respect that decision." – user45590 Jun 1 '16 at 7:50

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