Google finally adds image blocking to Gmail on the iPhone

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

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. According to Google, this is because G Suite admins need to set up their company accounts on the Rapid Release track, which will grant access to newer features faster than standard accounts. “For this Gmail iOS feature, G Suite administrators who have setup the Rapid Release track on their G Suite domain will already have access to this,” a Google spokesperson tells The Verge, “while G Suite domains on the Scheduled Release track will see this feature available shortly for their G Suite users.”

Update September 3rd, 6:51PM ET: Clarified that the setting is available only for personal Gmail accounts.

Update September 4th, 1:28PM ET: Added statement from Google clarifying when G Suite users will see this new setting show up.

Comments

Seems ridiculous they didn’t include this feature in the app. We really need to lean on companies that try and hide or shunt basic features out of their apps. The native-app should at a minimum reflect the functions of the web-app.

While I agree for this feature have you seen the settings section of the Gmail web app? No way you could shoehorn all that into a mobile app

It’s a two-column list… It’s really not a difficult UI to migrate. Mobile apps aren’t going to crash if you show more than ten list items.

No but they are going to get cumbersome to use. Which is why no mobile app exposes as many settings as it’s corresponding desktop version (whether that is native or web)

It’s no more cumbersome that the web version already is. Plus forcing someone to open the settings on a different device or app is a far worse user experience than even the most cumbersome list.

It is because more cumbersome because when you are looking at the desktop (web)app it will be on a much larger screen than your phone

But requiring you to go use an entirely different device is a shitty user-experience.

The native-app should at a minimum reflect the functions of the web-app.

More of this, from pretty much every fucking company. Can’t stand this.

Do the Outlook apps have similar protections, perhaps when used with Exchange Online or Outlook.com?

It does.

Every E-Mail service I know of has these protections. I am quite surprised Gmail for iOS did not until now.

It’s relatively simple and provides good protection against tracking

This is long overdue. And I actually noticed this feature activated for me even before yesterday’s update.

Anyway now with this combined with images loading via proxy, it seems to me gmail is now pretty good for folks wary of third-party email tracking.

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