Abstract

E-Mail tracking mechanisms gather information on individual recipients’ reading behavior. Previous studies show that e-mail newsletters commonly include tracking elements. However, prior work does not examine the degree to which e-mail senders actually employ gathered user information. The paper closes this research gap by means of an experimental study to clarify the use of tracking-based information. To that end, twelve mail accounts are created, each of which subscribes to a pre-defined set of newsletters from companies based in Germany, the UK, and the USA. Systematically varying e-mail reading patterns across accounts, each account simulates a different type of user with individual reading behavior. Assuming senders to track e-mail reading habits, we expect changes in mailer behavior. The analysis confirms the prominence of tracking in that over 92% of the newsletter e-mails contain tracking images. For 13 out of 44 senders an adjustment of communication policy in response to user reading behavior is observed. Observed effects include sending newsletters at different times, adapting advertised products to match the users’ IT environment, increased or decreased mailing frequency, and mobile-specific adjustments. Regarding legal issues, not all companies that adapt the mail-sending behavior state the usage of such mechanisms in their privacy policy.

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