How To Avoid MessageTag

By | February 1, 2004
I’ve noticed some readers of this blog are looking for ways to avoid MessageTag (or MSGTAG) a service which adds a glob of code to emails to alert the sender as to when the recipient opens it. I asked the folks at MessageTag to talk us through this, so here’s what they sent (all this is from MSGTAG, not me, although I’ve added the questions, and I’d point out that I’m still a MSGTAG user, and have so far had only one request for me not to use it in emails to that person):
How does MSGTAG work?
MSGTAG’s modus operandi is based on an HTML image reference. Image references are often included in things like HTML newsletters.

When you use MSGTAG the email goes through the MSGTAG desktop application on its way to your usual SMTP server (typically provided by your ISP). The MSGTAG desktop application acts as an SMTP proxy, passing the email on unchanged except for the addition of an HTML image reference. The image reference includes a unique ID. When the email is received, the recipient’s email client sees the image reference and requests the image from the MSGTAG web server so that it can be displayed in the email. Usually the image is invisible because it is only 1 x 1 pixel in size.

The MSGTAG web server sends back a standard image and makes a note of the unique ID and the time that it was requested. The server then associates that ID with a specific user and email. It then sends the user a receipt notification email.

MSGTAG tells the sender only the time a message was first opened. It doesn’t provide the sender with the IP address or geographical location of their recipients, nor does it embed tags into attachments to track forwarding or printing behavior. We don’t plan to implement any of these features because we think they promote privacy invasion.

I don’t like it. How do I make sure no one MSGTAGs me?


We’re aware that not all Internet users wish to receive MSGTAG tagged emails. That’s why we implemented the contact settings in MSGTAG Status which allow the user to automatically disable tagging for certain recipients who have asked not to be tagged.


Furthermore, we respect the decision of people who use technology to prevent MSGTAG tags from being triggered.
The following methods all allow you to read a message without triggering the MSGTAG tag:
  • a text-only mail client (hardly anybody uses these)
  • a mail client that enables the user to block external HTML images (these are becoming more popular as a countermeasure to spammers using 1×1 images to verify email addresses)
  • a firewall that stops the email client from requesting the MSGTAG image from the MSGTAG web server
  • a spam filter like Mailwasher that enables the recipient to preview the message on their mail server without downloading it into their HTML mail client. N.B.  Mailwasher is a product of Firetrust, a client of eCOSM, who developed MSGTAG for Fisher Young Group. In case you’re wondering, Mailwasher came first and this shouldn’t be construed as ’selling both the disease and the cure’. 
The simplest way for a recipient to block MSGTAG tags is to set their mail client to block external HTML images when they read their emails. This means they will be missing out on a lot of images in email newsletters, but it’s probably a small price to pay.

2 thoughts on “How To Avoid MessageTag

  1. Pingback: Outlook Web Access No Images Displayed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.