An email icon with a magnifying glass on it. The 'Your Password Sucks' column logo for the web_crawlr column is in the top right corner.

Toey Andante/Shutterstock (Licensed)

Y0ur P@ssw0rd S*cks: How do I stay safe from malicious pixels?

Tracking pixels have a wide range of users.


Mikael Thalen


Posted on Aug 29, 2023   Updated on Aug 30, 2023, 8:08 am CDT

Y0ur P@ssw0rd S*cks is a bi-weekly column that answers the most pressing internet security questions web_crawlr readers have to make sure they can navigate the ‘net safely. If you want to get this column a day before we publish it, subscribe to web_crawlr, where you’ll get the daily scoop of internet culture delivered straight to your inbox.

There are countless ways we are tracked online. One of the lesser-known methods is the use of tracking pixels, also referred to as marketing pixels.

A tracking pixel is nothing more than a small graphic used to gather information. The size of one of the small dots or squares on your computer screen, tracking pixels are essentially invisible.

Tracking pixels can be placed on websites but are best known for being embedded in emails. Once an email containing one of these trackers is opened, the sender can not only confirm that the email was accessed but can obtain information such as your IP address.

Tracking pixels have a wide range of users, including businesses looking to gather information on customers to hackers looking to learn more about a target. But is there a way to block tracking pixels?

How do I stay safe from malicious pixels?

The good news is that tracking pixels have been around for a long time and are increasingly blocked by default by numerous web browsers and email clients.

Since 2014, Google’s Gmail has run all images through a special server that helps to stop a large portion of pixels from tracking users. Email providers such as ProtonMail go one step further by not only blocking tracking pixels but alerting you to how many it blocks in each email.

If you are accessing Gmail through a web browser you can take extra precautions by blocking all images automatically. To do so, simply click the gear icon in the upper-right-hand corner to access the settings, click “See all settings” and scroll down to the “Images” section. There, select “Ask before displaying external images” and save.

You can also download browser extensions like “Ugly Email” or “PixelBlock” to stop trackers when accessing your email account from your web browser. Many ad blockers including my favorite, Ublock Origin, can also stop tracking pixels used on websites. You can disable ad blockers on the websites you wish to support, such as the Daily Dot 😉. 

Last but not least is a VPN, which we have previously covered in this column. A VPN will stop trackers from knowing your true IP address and location, thus providing further protection against online tracking.

These are just a few ways to make your online activity a bit more private and secure. Happy web surfing.

Like what you are reading?
Sign up to receive web_crawlr, a daily newsletter
from the Daily Dot, in your inbox each morning.

Share this article
*First Published: Aug 29, 2023, 6:00 am CDT