Privacy Risk Assessment on Email Tracking

Haitao Xu, Shuai Hao, Alparslan Sari, Haining Wang

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

6 Scopus citations


Today's online marketing industry has widely employed email tracking techniques, such as embedding a tiny tracking pixel, to track email opens of potential customers and measure marketing effectiveness. However, email tracking could allow miscreants to collect metadata information associated with email reading without user awareness and then leverage the information for stealthy surveillance, which has raised serious privacy concerns. In this paper, we present an in-depth and comprehensive study on the privacy implications of email tracking. First, we develop an email tracking system and perform realworld tracking on hundreds of solicited crowdsourcing participants. We estimate the amount of privacy-sensitive information available from email reading, assess privacy risks of information leakage, and demonstrate how easy it is to launch a long-term targeted surveillance attack in real scenarios by simply sending an email with tracking capability. Second, we investigate the prevalence of email tracking through a large-scale measurement, which includes more than 44,000 email samples obtained over a period of seven years. Third, we conduct a user study to understand users' perception of privacy infringement caused by email tracking. Finally, we evaluate existing countermeasures against email tracking and propose guidelines for developing more comprehensive and fine-grained prevention solutions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationINFOCOM 2018 - IEEE Conference on Computer Communications
PublisherInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781538641286
StatePublished - Oct 8 2018
Externally publishedYes
Event2018 IEEE Conference on Computer Communications, INFOCOM 2018 - Honolulu, United States
Duration: Apr 15 2018Apr 19 2018

Publication series

NameProceedings - IEEE INFOCOM
ISSN (Print)0743-166X


Other2018 IEEE Conference on Computer Communications, INFOCOM 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Computer Science
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Privacy Risk Assessment on Email Tracking'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this