The reason a lot of email distribution platforms end up with images having to be downloaded separately than the text in the email is that they are using the images and in particular Spy pixels to track readership (as revealed by the BBC). Once the images are downloaded tracking software can determine that the email has been read. In many ways, all common platforms use this method of accessing email behaviours.
With this in mind, we at ProFundCom don’t use tracking pixels at all. All images are embedded in our emails so they are NOT downloaded like other systems – so it is a non-issue for us. We do not use pixels. Other systems, use images so the end recipient gets that “Download Image” alert. When the image is downloaded that signifies that the email has been opened. The BBC article makes a valid point about permission to receive emails and if it should be a hard opt-in. When GDPR was rolled out a whole set of previsions were made so that opt-out and opt-in options were available – clients all came to the same conclusion.
One way to neutralize such email tracking is to disconnect from the Internet after downloading email but before reading the downloaded messages. (Note that this assumes one is using an email reader that resides on one’s own computer and downloads the emails from the email server to one’s own computer.) In that case, messages containing beacons will not be able to trigger requests to the beacons’ host servers, and the tracking will be prevented. But one would then have to delete any messages suspected of containing beacons, or risk having the beacons activate again once the computer is reconnected to the Internet.
The only way to completely avoid email tracking by beacons is to use a text-based email reader (such as Pine or Mutt), or a graphical email reader with purely text-based HTML capabilities (such as Mulberry). These email readers do not interpret HTML or display images, so their users are not subject to tracking by email web beacons. Plain-text email messages cannot contain web beacons because their contents are interpreted as display characters instead of embedded HTML code, so opening such messages does not initiate any communication.