How do you feel about read notifications?

Is message tracking an invasion of privacy or a valuable service?

Today, most texting, chat and other messaging apps subtly inform you when a recipient has read your message. Although that little “Read”, “r” or check indicator really only tells you the recipient looked at the message, it’s still nice to know, right?

To keep everyone in the loop, read receipt mechanisms are often turned on by default. Some people may feel like this is an invasion of their privacy, and make the necessary clicks to turn these notifications off. At the same time, some of these same people like to know when the messages they send are read.

Read notifications can also lead to trouble. For example, if you never receive a read notification, you may simply assume that the recipient will get back to you in the future. However, when you see they read the message—but they don’t respond immediately (or at least within the timeframe you wanted a response)—it might upset you. You may think, “They’re ghosting me,” or “They’re ignoring me.” At times, this can create an argument about the lack of a response, even if your recipient was busy and fully intended on responding at their convenience.

Outdated read receipts in Outlook

Although they’re available on various platforms, read notifications are less common in email. Outlook read receipts are notoriously annoying, but fortunately, very few people still use them—except a handful of tactless (or aggressively annoying) sales people who have not discovered better, more transparent techniques.

Here’s the trouble with Outlook read receipts: They give the reader an additional pop-up message to read and respond to. Fortunately, there is an optional mail setting to never send a read receipt, eliminating the pop-ups.

A transparent read receipt option for email

Today, nearly all email marketing and internal communications software provide a method of transparent read receipt, often referred to as open tracking, which is enabled through the use of a beacon image. When downloaded, the recipient is informed that you viewed their email.

This occurs when you “click to download pictures” at the top of the message, or “Always download images from this sender.” The image download might be on or off by default in your email program, and likely behaves differently for internal versus external email. Microsoft’s recent MyAnalytics Insights service in Office 365 will also inform you after one or three days, if a recipient has opened your email message or not.

Why is employee email use tracked at work?

In the workplace, employees might feel like they’re being monitored by read notifications, especially if they didn’t opt in to them. However, they may also not realize that companies are already monitoring their internet use—something usually explained in a company’s internet use policies. Such monitoring potentially blocks access to certain sites and tracks general web activity. Using tools like Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics, employers can also track internal website use and SharePoint activity.

It’s important to understand that most employers are not using these tools to spy on employees. Security managers at companies, and managers responsible for communications programs, have a legitimate interest in the security of the organization; They need to know what messaging is being consumed, particularly if the messaging relates to compliance.

The benefit of read receipts

When analyzed from an organizational perspective, the benefits of read notifications are easy to understand. It’s similar to why UPS and FedEx invest so much in package tracking—making it simple for buyers and sellers to track when an item is shipped and delivered. Communications are no less valuable than goods sent in the mail. Although email messages don’t arrive in a box, employers need to know when they are sent, to whom, and if they are received.

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