Gmail Kills "Display Images Below", Enables All Images by Default

Last week, Gmail started caching images in emails which left the email industry scrambling to adjust. Today, Google revealed why they made the change – images will soon be shown automatically in the webmail user interface, as well as their iOS and Android apps.

The industry wondered what the exact reason for this change was. Surely, caching images would serve images in an email more quickly, but many asked if that’s even a real problem in today’s world of high speed internet and mobile phones that rival mid-2000s desktop processor speeds. The main reason Gmail is doing this is security, and improving the end-user experience.

How can an image be unsafe anyway, you ask? Not only can malware be spread through images and HTML, every time you opened an email, the sender could verify that your email address was in fact real and working, and also see your current IP address. Knowing your IP address could reveal your physical location and even give the sender of the email a way to maliciously attack your home or work network. Also, senders could easily set or read cookies in your browser.

With that context, Google’s explanation of the change makes perfect sense why they are sending less information over HTTP GET. Today, marketers will get a more accurate count of unique opens at Gmail while still being as secure as before, but it appears marketers will sacrifice user agent data, geolocation and total email opens because of this change. The loss of user agent information has implications that could be huge in a world of multiple devices. Gmail's announcement indicates the loss of user agent information occurs only on web browser and iOS and Android Gmail apps, but not native apps like iOS Mail.

Despite the loss of certain information, the ability to accurately track unique opens will be of benefit to marketers. Previously, Gmail users were able to read messages without images enabled. Since opens were determined by downloading a tracking pixel, messages read with images disabled weren’t counted as an open. Now that the tracking pixel is enabled in every email at Gmail, anytime a subscriber opens an email, it can be recorded. Marketers should be aware that this will mean a jump in opens at Gmail in the short term. Over time, open rates should level off and proper benchmarks can be set.

What do you think? Is the trade off for more accurate tracking of unique opens worth the loss of total opens and user agent information? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.