Opening e-mails

If someone sends me an e-mail, do they have any way of knowing whether (or when) I’ve opened it?

AOL members can tell if other AOL members have opened their e-mails, but how about non-AOL members?

It’s definitely possible, but not in all cases. I believe it depends on the capabilities of the mail servers in question. Microsoft Outlook has a feature that tells the sender when their email has been read, though that feature may not always be supported.

Someone will probably be along shortly with more detailed info. I have 2 questions I’m curious about myself:

  1. For this feature to work, do both sending/receiving mail servers have to support it?
  2. How does this work with webmail? (i.e. mail sent from a server that supports “read notification” to a Hotmail address)

It depends. Most email clients let the sender request a read receipt, which will thell them if and when you’ve read the email, but you have to either have your client set to always send read receipts, or click YES if it asks you to send one. If you have HTML-enabled email, they could also embed a 1-pixel graphic, which downloads from a website they have access to. By embedding your email address in the URL for the graphic, the website owner can tell when you’ve opened it. This is called a “webbug”, and is a common ploy that spammers use to validate email addresses.

Well, you can request a “Delivery receipt” and\or a “Read Receipt” for your emails. I believe that these are part of the POP (or email) standard, as I’ve never seen an email app that didn’t include these options. Having said that, the recipient has to click “OK” to send the receipt back to you, so it’s hardly foolproof (this is using Outlook with POP mail, I think the receipts are sent automatically with Exchange mail). Also, there’s an option in Outlook to “Never send receipts”, so if the person has chosen that, you’ll never get the receipts.

Another thing that can happen is that the person can read the email in the Preview Pane and delete it before the message is marked as “read”, so you’ll get an email saying they didn’t read it, even though they in fact did.

The reason it works so well on AOL is that the email never leaves the AOL servers. With everyone else’s mail, your email goes from your desktop to your outbound (SMTP) server and then to the recipient’s email server, where it can sit forever if the user doesn’t check his or her mail. Once her or she downloads your email, the email server doesn’t know anything about it anymore, which is why the option to send the receipts is a “local” one.

  1. I believe that it’s part of the RFC for POP mail (or email in general, as I’ve seen the same in IMAP mail) and thus is included in just about every email server package sold. Of course, if you write your own email server app you don’t have to include it. Also, I’m 82% sure that it’s possible (though I’ve never seen it) for an administrator to disable the sending of receipts.

  2. I’ve never seen it work with webmail. Lemme try it right now.

Most email programs have a feature allowing you to send an email with “return receipt requested”, so that you get a message when the reader opens your email.

But in most email programs, the reader has to allow that return-receipt to be sent. I get asked every time, and can say yes, no, later, or never. So if the originator never gets a return receipt, it can mean either that the message didn’t get there, or that the recipient chose not to allow the return receipt to be sent.
Personally, I consider requesting a return receipt a bit rude.

Some people seem to have this set automatically for evey email they send! It may be reasonable on a critical message, but on an email (sent to me and dozens of others) passing along the latest jokes or obvious urban legend? And you’re demanding that I tell you that I recieved your junk email, and jamming up the internet with meaningless email return receipts?

Doesn’t work with Gmail.