I read about the new service called didtheyreadit.com that lets you know not only whether the receiver read your e-mail, but how long they looked at it and whether they forwarded it. Count me among the people “freaked out” by this and I only hope that technology exists that can block this kind of activity.

I've got to say that when someone sends me an e-mail with a read receipt, I click on the “no” button just on principal alone. I'm not going to say that it suggests the sender is paranoid that you will delete the mail without reading it, but at the very least it says they don't necessarily trust you to read it or read it in a timely manner. If you don't know me well enough to trust me to read your mail, is it spam?

 Look, if you sent me a mail and it shows up in your sent items, then I got it. No need to check, no need to find out when I looked at it. I really feel like my mail viewing habits are my personal business. The article goes on to say that job seekers could use it to find out if their resume was reviewed (frankly the amount of time spent viewing your resume in an e-mail says little to nothing about your chances of being considered for a position). Do you think we just delete all the resumes we get? Is this company just marketing paranoia?

Comments (27)

  1. denny says:


    as if we did not already have read-recipt in email…. junk!

  2. Jevon says:

    This has been going on for a looong time. I was building similar services for everyone from Doctors and Lawyers to Universities as early as 1997. I never liked it. The new Outlook 2003 should thwart the most simple methods by having image downloading and scripting off by default.

  3. Agreeing with Jevon here. I used to build them as well for tracking, around images, JavaScript, tyins, whatever. At one point we even experimented with ActiveX controls. Not fun.

    But, it’s valuable information to email marketers. Personally I agree, I always click "bloody well no" to the "want to send a receipt?" questions as well.

  4. i remember hearing about this on NPR the other day, and quite frankly i am amazed none of the internet watchdogs/privacy advocates are pitching a fit. i believe good email manners should reign king, i.e. i usually try to respond with at least a "thanks" to most business related emails i get.

  5. Steve says:

    I signed up for a free account to check on the mechanism. Looks like it attempts to download a 1 by 1 image from didtheyreadit.com. Similar to web bugs.

    Guess what domain I added to my hosts and redirected to ?

  6. This is great. They’re using a small HTML download to accomplish all this. But guess what? Outlook 2003, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail all now block HTML downloads by default and require user intervention to work. I love that their FAQ has no data about this at all. Seems like a big deal if your service will have significantly less effectiveness on three huge email clients.

    So Heather, you’re safe for now (since I know you’re using Outlook 2003 🙂 Just be careful about clicking that button to download content.

  7. Jevon says:

    Microsoft’s announcement in ~early 2001 effectively killed a few startups who were going to make consumer services of this, I don’t know who would have been thoughtless enough to sink their money in to building this site,. now.

  8. Dev Null says:

    > Do you think we just delete all the resumes we get?

    Yes. At least that’s my working theory. :-/

    From the candidate point of view, Microsoft is an arrogant and opaque organization. Yet, I want to work there because, borrowing a line from Willie Sutton, "that’s where all the cool technology is." I can understand the frustration with your lack of follow-through and how candidates might resort to a web-bug to determine if their resume was even seen.

    Have you ever tried applying to your own organization? You know, take a resume, submit it from a hotmail address with a pseudonym and measure what happens to it?

    And while I’ve got your ear, what’s the deal with the heavy use of contractors on product/program manager positions? In every other company I’ve worked, these jobs are mini-CEOs, owning the product from cradle to grave. I can troll Monster or Hotjobs on any given day and I see a hundred of these relegated to three-plus month contracts.

    > Is this company just marketing paranoia?

    Perhaps. Perhaps not.

    The web bug thing has been used in commercial email sending for quite a while. It’s a minimal effort to make it available to consumers – just slice the report on another database column.

    As far as the receipts go, you can configure outlook (or whatever you use) to ignore them on a global basis. Similarly, you can make outlook render everything in plain text. It’s not foolproof, but it helps.

  9. Heather says:

    Dev-you seem very…anonymous. Just want to clarify (again) that we receive thousands of resumes a month. So it’s not possible for us to respond to every e-mail we receive. I do respond to everyone that sends me mail personally, but there’s a difference between responding and having someone spy on my mail habits. Sometimes I respond to mails the same day, sometimes it takes longer, especially if I am traveling. What’s the diff?

    I have indeed applied to my own organization. The crazy thing is that all of us that work here were indeed candidates at one time ; ) I found my recruiter to be quite responsive, but I also know that this is not always the case with all recruiters. Not sure how these e-mail tools will solve that though. But I think the best thing a recruiter can do is set expectations for follow up, even if it’s going to be a while; and then contact the candidate when they say they will, even if they don’t have any new information.

    Now sure what to say about the use of contractors. I only hire full time folks and unfortunately don’t get involved in the decisions around when to utilize a contractor. However, I don’t think I would chracterize these positions as "mini-CEO" roles.

  10. Dominik says:

    If you have a firewall on your machine: just block outgoing traffic from your e-mail program to port 80. This already prevents this service from working, and most other crap like this. Works independent from the e-mail program you are using.

    Sure some harmless things might also not work, but this will almost always be in spam or other commercial mails.

    Off course this does not work for web-based accounts. There you can only resort to an option to prevent images from downloading if that option is available.

  11. John Dowdell says:

    Hi Heather, can you see colored fonts in your email? If so, then your emailer renders HTML instead of just the regular ASCII, and it has been really, really easy for years for anyone to track when you read the email, the machine you were on, whether you forwarded it to other people, and much more (including swiping any later comments on a forward!).

    If you search on "web bug faq" you’ll be able to find Richard M. Smith’s definitive FAQ and survey of this technique. It doesn’t have to be a GIF… any include request could have your personal data appended. Lots of us argued against inclusion of HTML rendering in emailers years ago, but we didn’t make the case strongly enough, because such surveillance has been standard in office software since the late 90s.

  12. Lisa A (UK) says:

    2 questions you might have some input on:

    They claim to be able to see if it’s been forwarded. I’m assuming they can’t tell who you are forwarding it to. So, do they just look for different request information (IP address, browser-type etc..) when the 1 pixel image gets requested again?

    Also, they claim to track how long they think people read the e-mail for? They can’t do this – can they?

  13. R W says:

    Check out this site it will help keep didtheyreadit.com from working:


  14. Paul Allen says:

    If you really want to confuse the DidTheyReadIt service, change

    the hash on the URL and connect to the resulting URL.

  15. Lamp says:

    As someone said it has been a long time since marketers used this trick to chase u heather 🙂

  16. Heather says:

    John–OK, that kind of freaks me out. I guess one always hopes that nobody would go to that much trouble.

    Lamp-not sure I understand…first they are spying and now they are chasing me? Oh great ; )

  17. Matt says:

    I don’t know why you guys hate read receipts so much. I regularly send read receipts to good friends; I want to know for sure if and when they read it. It isn’t an issue of trust, it’s an issue of, "did they read it?" because that question is important when dealing with important information.

  18. Peter says:


    I just want to now how it’s possible that when i forward an e-mail to someone in africa. My didthereadit account tells me that the e-mail i sent was read in a different location from where the recipient is located.

    Would this be the location where the Main Server is located or is there a possibility of someone intercepting my e-mails?

    I am very much concern, because my friend has claimed never to have travelled to the locations specified.

  19. WaffaDrunker says:

    1. Its SO OLD trick

    2. There is better services

    3. Its SO easy to fool this system

    4. It’s spam’s big networks

    I was starting to use similar technique couple years ago, whit much more detailed information then DidTheyReadIt.com does, you need a little bit easy programming, and ya have much better control panel & results then they have. Clever idea to make money whit something so easy 😀

    … i can’t believe there is so many ignorant people who thinks that this is something new, only thing what is new, is big advertisement trick, CNN, forums, etc lie it would be something extraordinary, camo0on, all this talk about this supper technique is total crap 🙂


  20. Kat says:

    Heather … would you refuse to accept a letter that was sent certifed with a return receipt that requires your signature.  Do you accept express letter, packages etc from UPS, Fed Ex and you know you did not order something, because the tracking on it tells the sender that you got it and sometimes you are required to sign also?  What’s the difference … at least when someone requests a read receipt in email they are being up front and not sneaky about it as opposed to "Did they read it?"   I can’t believe that in this day and age of emailing that you make the statement "Look, if you sent me a mail and it shows up in your sent items, then I got it."  You can send an email and it won’t bounce back to you but it did not get received either … Every body knows that.   From a makerters point of view "Did they read it?", is a great tool to evaluate if your list is a waste of time or if it is of value.  Just because I use it wouldn’t mean I am spamming either.   There are lots of autoresponders that tell you how many emails got opened and who opened them and even if they clicked on your URL.   That’s very valuable information .. it tells you how effective your ad copy is.  yadda yadda ….  

  21. HeatherLeigh says:

    I’m not responsible for helping companies track their ad effectiveness.

  22. David K says:

    Wow, I have read so many people leave comments that are negative to this service.  Let me tell you how http://www.didtheyreadit.com, saved my “you know what” and how they have my business for “life”.  Read on…

    I own an accounting firm.  When a former client of mine sued me over negligence, we settled out of court.  One of the conditions to settling was that he demanded I come back and represent him in an Estate Tax issue he was having problems with.  Although it sounded nuts, there were no parameters established regarding this condition and accordingly I really needed closure from this nut so I agreed to take it on and honor the agreement, and then I would not have to deal with this guy again right after this estate issue was resolved.

    Anyway to make a long story short, when I sent him an email right after settling, I got a “read-notification” that he sent my email to a 3rd party that was extremely detrimental to me.  I had proof of it in my hands.  Thus when we (my attorneys’ and I) confronted his attorney with this, and the fact that through the service called NetAcuity (if I spelled that correct) has 94% accuracy on the information included with the email notification that you receive, we were able to prevail, in having the settlement requirement set aside.  

    So when I hear or learn of people who have issues with this service and the fact that people are reading them or tagging them for “read” notifications, well my response is “it’s all fair-game”.  When you sign up for an email account and begin to correspond with people over the “net” there is an inherit risk.  It’s no different than the government being able to review your web surfing histories via the Patriot Act that was passed post 9/11.  

    My advice and it’s very elementary:  If you want to correspond with people and not be fearful of what you say or when you read something or whatever other statistics or information that the service reveals, then just cancel your email account…

  23. Jeff says:

    “Friday, May 28, 2004 7:59 PM by Matt

    I don’t know why you guys hate read receipts so much. I regularly send read receipts to good friends; I want to know for sure if and when they read it. It isn’t an issue of trust, it’s an issue of, “did they read it?” because that question is important when dealing with important information. “


    If it’s “important” enough to do something like that, its important enough to call the person, or speak to them in person along w/ the email.


  24. sabrina says:

    So here is another perspective.  Most people request a confirmation and/or a read receipt, not to "spy" or to be disrespectful, but; because they want to make sure "it got there."

    That way, they are sure everyone is on the same page.

    With respect to resumes or apps for jobs, the other perspective is it would be nice to know that it was received when recruiters are so busy.  Then, at least, and depending on time, you can follow-up or realize that your resume or app just didn’t make the cut and one can go on.

    But not everyone is as respectful as you to say thank you.  They receive it, handle it and voila.  If the next step is not ther job, the next is up to the next and so on.

    It does also help the sender know not to keep pestering the recipient.


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