It's Google's Web: Latest Gmail Changes Confound Marketers
Earlier this year Google began filtering email newsletters into a separate folder in user's inboxes. The move was explained as a way to help users organize their mail but in reality it was aimed at hampering Google's competitors: other marketers and promoters.
New Gmail Filters Out The Competition: Other Marketers -SVW
Now it has taken further steps to hobble the marketing efforts of newsletter publishers by cacheing images found in emails.
Again, Google says it's for the user's benefit because it can protect them from images that, "compromise the security of your computer or mobile device." It also speeds up the display of the image since it doesn't have to be fetched from servers outside of Google.
However, those images are a vital component of tracking and metric systems used by the newsletter publishers to see who opened the email, and glean additional information.
Ron Amadeo at Ars Technica:
Marketers get a rough idea of your location via your IP address. They can see the HTTP referrer, meaning the URL of the page that requested the image. With the referral data, marketers can see not only what client you are using (desktop app, Web, mobile, etc.) but also what folder you were viewing the e-mail in.
Google claims viewing images on external severs is a potential security risk. Taking that logic further, the browsing of web pages that aren't on Google sites compromises your computer in the same way. Before long it'll be Google's web -- anywhere else will be considered very risky.
"Welcome to the G-Web! All your marketing budgets are belong to us!"
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Official Gmail Blog: Images Now Showing