Google finally adds image blocking to Gmail on the iPhone
Google today added a new setting to the iOS version of its Gmail app that will let you more easily block unwanted email tracking. The setting in question, the ability to prevent Gmail from automatically loading attached images, used to be found only on the web version of Gmail. Toggling that setting on allows Gmail to block incoming images, including invisible email trackers hiding in the body of email messages that, in most cases, will tell senders when and sometimes even where you opened the message.
This is a pretty clear response to the Superhuman controversy that erupted back in July, when former Twitter executive and designer Mike Davidson penned a blog post about the popular subscription email service that let its users track the location of a recipient and the time of day he or she opened a message. After Davidson’s blog post when viral, shedding light on an age-old and sadly pervasiveness form of privacy violation, Superhuman decided to turn its read receipt feature off by default and removed the location tracking aspect of its service entirely. (Davidson still found the response lacking.)
Google has built protections against non-consensual tracking into Gmail, by disabling an email sender’s ability to precisely locate a recipient via an IP address. (Google first routes incoming email messages through its own proxy servers, rendering any location tracking useless.) It has also for quite some time allowed you to disable automatic image loading to prevent any of these trackers from gathering data about you unless you deliberately decide to load an image.
But the image loading setting was previously restricted to the web version of Gmail, and that means it may have gone unnoticed by heavy mobile email users of the iOS app. Now, at the very least, you’ll be able to access this setting on your iPhone or iPad if you so choose.
As of Tuesday evening, the setting appears to be live for personal Gmail accounts, but not for enterprise ones managed through G Suite. It’s unclear if that’s because a system administrator has to enable it, or if Google is simply not supporting image blocking right now for users of G Suite. We’ve reached out to Google for further clarification.