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Gmail on iPhone will now allow image blocking

Gmail
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Google has launched a significant security update to its Gmail app for iOS which should help prevent users from having their online habits tracked without their knowledge.

The app will now stop Gmail from automatically loading any images attached to emails, hopefully spelling an end to the increasingly widespread tactic of invisible email trackers hiding in message body text. 

Previously, this setting was only available in the web version of Gmail, but Google has rolled it out to the iOS edition of the app for download now across iPhone and iPad devices.

Tracking pixels

The move follows the widespread condemnation of subscription email service Superhuman back in July for running a similar location-tracking scheme.

The practice was uncovered by former Twitter vice president Mike Davidson, who revealed how the platform let users track the location of email recipients and even the exact time they opened a message through so-called "tracking pixels" in Superhuman's read receipt feature.

Tracking pixels are tiny images that are embedded in emails or websites. When loaded, they ping the image server they're hosted on and send all of the information required to download them such as a device's IP address and time of download back to the server.

Today's Gmail update will mean the service is able to block such unwanted surveillance, which often goes unnoticed by the victim. The update is currently only live for personal Gmail accounts, but Google has yet to confirm whether it will roll out to enterprise accounts accessed through its G Suite platform.

Google says that it runs all messages sent via Gmail through its own proxy servers, meaning any location tracking services should be blocked early. The company recently added the ability to stop a sender from being able to precisely locate a recipient via an IP address, but says today's move is another step along the improved privacy journey.

Via The Verge