PC Doctor November 14, 2014

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Dear PC Doctor:
Lately, I’ve noticed that my e-mail messages don’t show the pictures.  Instead, there are a lot of blocky red boxes and warning messages.  It does say ‘images have been blocked to protect my privacy.’ What does that mean?  What do pictures people send me have to do with my privacy?  Is it bad to click “Show Images?”
Signed, Ian
Dear Ian:
There are a couple of ways to send images via e-mail.  Sometimes, they are sent as attachments, and you click to download them to your computer.  Another way is to embed a link to a picture in the e-mail. When you open the messages, the e-mail program ‘fetches’ the image from the server where it is stored. 
An e-mail with the message attached tends to be bigger and slower to load.  An image sent as an embedded link provides information to the sender.  If you click to display the image, the sender receives information regarding how many different recipients clicked to show the image.  That can be very useful for the sender.  This does not tell the sender anything specific about you.
Some images, however, have web beacons written into them.  When you click to view one of these, the sender can gather information that you might rather they not have: the IP address of the computer you used to view the image, how long it was viewed, and what type of web browser you used.  Some code written into images can tell the sender your e-mail address.  This can be valuable to businesses and also spammers.  It tells them whether your e-mail address is active, and whether you, personally, were interested in seeing what they sent you.
So, if your mom sent you some photos from a family wedding or bar mitzvah, it’s more than likely that there’s no web beacon embedded in them. (And, anyway, it doesn’t hurt for mom to know you read her e-mails.) If you receive commercial or unsolicited e-mails, you have to decide for yourself if you want to see the images and if you want those senders to know that your e-mail account is actively used by a real person.  The red boxes letting you know that images have been blocked may slow down your e-mail viewing a bit, but they do afford you freedom of choice.
Until next time…Happy Computing!
     PC Doctor