iMessage read receipts: A little bit of heaven... or a lot of hell?

Today's Talk Mobile is all about social etiquette and how technology can affect the way we treat our fellow human beings. Case in point, when Apple introduced iMessage in iOS 5 they took a page from BlackBerry Messenger and offered "read receipts", a way for you to know not only if your instant message was delivered, but if the person it was delivered it to had actually opened the Messages app and seen it. That's a great way to create confidence in a messaging system, but it's also a great way to create expectational debt between the people sending the messages, and surface some anger, frustration, and jealousy.

"I hate that stupid #$^%@ read receipt", a friend of mine told me years ago, "my boss calls me 5 minutes after sending a BBM to ask why I haven't responded yet. 'I know you saw my message! I can see you saw it!', he says to me. 'Why haven't you answered?!'" My friend shook his head. "Because I'm busy #$^%@ working! That's why!"

Personal relationships can be even trickier. What does it mean if someone new you're seeing has read your iMessage but not responded? What do you do when that read receipt just sits there, staring at you, mocking you...? Or when you really need an answer to a question from your parter, and the read receipt tells you've they've seen it, but you get no reply and the seconds, minutes, or even hours tick by?

What happens when a mutual friend, or person of mutual interests, iMessages someone else back while not replying to you? Argh.

Our friends over at don't seem any more at ease with their "dirty R", and they've suffered it longer than anyone.

Luckily, Apple makes the use of read receipts optional - you can turn them on or off in Settings - but that they exist also creates the expectation that we'll use them.

So, what do you think about read receipts? Are yours on? Do you expect other people to have theirs on? And what do you do when you know your message has been read, but no reply has been sent?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • I have had mine off since iMessage launch for this exact reason
  • My read receipts are off. I also pay little to no attention to whether others have them on. I figure they will answer when they can. I expect the same courtesy. If it's important I'll text again or call. If not, it can wait. Sent from the iMore App
  • Always had mines off. That was one of the features I hated about BBM. Sometimes I just don't feel like writing a response at that exact moment.
  • First thing I do when I set up iMessage is make sure the read receipts are off. (I also never send read receipts in email.) My thought is that there is a "delivered" status so they know the message was sent successful, and they'll know when I've read it when I respond as time/motivation allows. No need to send additional information, in my opinion.
  • Almost no one I know actually uses read receipts. I do--I think its helpful. If I'm not ready to give a response, I can always say I'm in a meeting or I'll get back to them on it. Even better, if I see a push notification/lock screen notification and I don't want to read it, I can avoid it and it doesn't show as read. Since I use Read Receipts it makes it look even better like I haven't had the chance to read it yet.
  • I keep my read receipts on. Once people learn your habits, it's irrelevant if you read the message or not. They know I'll respond when convenient. Sometimes I wait to get back to my laptop if the response needs to be detailed. People's expectations shouldn't necessitate an immediate response. If it's an emergency a phone call would be more appropriate.
  • I keep read receipts off on all my devices for many of the same reasons of those of you above. Read receipts treat everyone who contacts you via iMessage at the same priority level. They all receive the same level of response despite the major gaps in importance and relation (wife, boss, friend, etc.). Accountability in communication is important, but it's not always warranted to every group or person. Essentially, a read receipt is a confirmation of transferred responsibility. Once that person has seen it and you know, then you know that it's "technically" no longer your responsibility to ensure that person received what you sent (EDIT) and the responsibility to communicate back is in their court so to speak. I think it's appropriate in some settings in not others. Also, features such as Messages opening you to the latest message (if there's only pending notification badges or enough badges tie into a specific conversation) makes it hard to be fair to people who are waiting for your response when you are not ready or capable of responding appropriately. A way I think read receipts could expand is to take the route of Do Not Disturb – specificity. Certain groups and individuals can have the right to know but not others. This re-establishes priority and allows you limit the feature to who you denote as applicable. (For jailbreakers out there, I am currently working on a project that will allow this – (EDIT) approached differently then an already-released option in Cydia called SelectiveReading)
  • I keep mine on because I like the comfort of knowing my messages are getting through. With text messaging, if someone's in a no service area and don't get my message, or do get my message, I have no way of knowing. With iMessage though at least I can tell when they get through.
    So it's more for my piece of mind and I really don't care when they respond...I just hope they feel the same way, that may be the one drawback.
  • One of the 1st things I go to when I get a new device is "settings" to turn off read receipts.....don't even notice if people I message have it on/off either.
  • Looks like many are not interested whether their messages have been delivered and it beg the question why send it in the first place. I care that my messages are delivered but I don't give a damn whether they be interested to reply to them.
  • I use read receipts and love them. I wish everyone used them, but I don't think the majority of people even know about them since they are off by default. It's just nice to know when someone read your message, and I don't take it personally if they don't respond right away. I'm sure some will find this shocking but not all texts messages are meant to be responded to!! The one scenario I wouldn't like to use them is for work, whether it be a boss or coworker. But I don't have a work iPhone so it's not a big deal to me, but I could definitely see how it would be to others.
  • In all honestly I couldn't care less. Everyone I know and love leads incredibly busy lives, and the read receipt does nothing more than verify whether or not they got the message. They'll answer when they can, and I do the same. I've worked hard to create a drama free zone though. I know people that would bother. In which case, take yourself less seriously, or turn it off for the peace of mind.
  • I have mine on and certain people like my sons babysitters I make sure they have theirs on. In my opinion it's not that big of a deal with a few exceptions. With that said though people in my experience in general are not good communicators anymore especially younger generations, and it does annoy me when I message say some friends to confirm they'll be coming over for dinner and there is no response for hours, and they don't have the recite on where as I rather know they got the message even if they don't respond in a timely matter. Sent from the iMore App
  • The problem I had with ios and read receipts is that ios MAKES you view an available message. Example, whenever I noticed an incoming message on my lock screen and unlocked to view it, ios opened the message directly, without giving me an option to look at the message but not read the contents. This was a constant frustration especially since I had come from blackberry where this did not happen. Turned off read receipts on day 3 (when I was irritated enough and found out how).
  • To avoid this, press the sleep button when your message comes through, then press it again to wake the screen. After that you should have slide to unlock back. Then read your message in notification center.
  • I always keep mine on and I try to encourage others to have theirs on but I know which of my friends are going to answer right away anyway. I do like knowing that others have read the message. Even if they don't respond, I, at least, know they got the message.
  • I'm afraid I have a bit of a double standard when it comes to read receipts. I prefer not to use them but I appreciate when other people do. Sometimes I don't need a response from someone but it's nice to know the message was read.
  • First of all, whoever came up with 'read receipts' should be shot right about now, secondly, what's worse is the messaging app showing you online to your whole phone book when you're in the app as is the case in whatsapp or bbm is unbelievably stupid!!! WTF???? and whats even worse worse it does not give you an option to turn it off!!!! WTF!!!! Thats why I had to delete whatsapp! Someone please make a petition to get rid of read receipts and online status in messaging apps!!!
  • on iPhone WhatsApp you can actually disable the app to show your last connection or when you are online
  • no you cant!!! u can only disable "last seen on.."
  • I'd love if they made read receipts mandatory.
    What's the big deal anyway. If your speaking to someone (on any level) that is harassing you to return a message after seeing you've read it, then that person should of just made a phone call to you.
  • My read recipts are on, basically people need to understand that you have a choice to read or not to reat the message. My wife has the same problem, but also with phone calls, shoud I answer it? is normally her question. My response is always the same. Thats your personal phone, you are not in the obligation to anser if you don't want to. If you get an assigned phone from your employer, thats a bit more trick. What I usually do is leave the phone on a drawer when I don't intend to answer any work related calls, messages or emails. But if I'm on call, the phone is with me at all times. Remember it's your choice and your desición to answer, so send the read receipts iMessage.
  • I turn off iMessage receipts for the same reason I've been turning off email read receipts for decades (once the novelty wore off in a few weeks) - just because the device /thinks/ I've read something, doesn't mean I have. I may open an email or see a message arrive and note the gist enough to make an assessment of its urgency, or I may open it in error etc. the system gets it wrong much too often to be reliable for those who may get the receipt and think they've something to give them confidence that I have picked something up, so it is a discourtesy to them to allow the system to mislead them that way. When the tech is smart enough to know I've actually read and digested a message content, then I'll trust it to tell the sender on my behalf, otherwise it can butt out.
  • I love it. I always turn it on.
  • I keep mine on. If I read at least you know I'm not ignoring you, if I don't reply I hope you know me well enough to know I forgot and you can reach me again. I hate it when people don't keep them on. I feel ignored. At least let me know you've read it. You don't have to reply, ill just nudge you again if it's that important.
  • Mine were never turned on, and I never pay attention to it. If I NEED an answer right now Ill call.
  • I personally like having it turned on, as well as turned on for those I send messages to. I have, over the past 8 years of using cell phones and text messages, found many people who assume that my phone is tied to my hip and I will always look at their messages or take their calls. With them knowing that, at least on iOS, that if it says "Read", then I did in fact read it. My cell phone is not so they can reach me whenever they want, but so I can reach out to the rest of the world where-ever I happen to be. If I dont want to reach out to the world at a particular time, I mute my phone, leave it in another room, or simply turn it off.
  • Mine is off. Always has been and always will be... Unless someone else starts paying my phone bill!!! If I were to turn them on I'd just never read messages until I knew I had time to reply to them! Sent from the iMore App
  • I have mine off as well. Set it and forget it so to speak.
  • I think they're very helpful ! And not answering after you've read a message is a way of responding! Sent from the iMore App
  • Mine is on by default, but nobody in my circle really cares. The understanding is that we don't owe anyone anything outside of working hours. If I can email you a certain file at 11 pm, it's a bonus, not an obligation. For me, read receipts is more of a way of knowing that my message has gone through and acknowledged by the other party, not as a surveillance tool.
  • Mine are on. If people give me crap about not responding quickly enough it gives me a really good indication of who I should and shouldn't be friends with. If you've got something that's SO important that you're going to freak out if I don't reply immediately, call me instead.
  • Mine has been off since day one. Also turned off the whole families. There is only one of my acquaintances that has Read turned on, but that is only because it was automatically on and I don't think he knows. I've never been a slave to my phone and find the Read status an invasion. Sent from the iMore App
  • There was a great Woody Allen movie (1970's) where one character called his service from everyplace he went so they would know which phone number to use to reach him. As if someone were really that important that they needed to be reached 24 hours per day. To me, read-reciepts are guilding the lily. POTS providers spent many years and many millions $ to get a connection reliability of 99.99999%. Then we drop that reliability for cell calls, which on ATT are missing most of those 9's. Then we all move to msg'ing which is pretty much half-duplex communication, or ALEAP....As Little Effort As Possible. I believe we have finally reached the nirvana of self importance....I have something to say, I don't care if you respond or really if you even receive my message....I just want to state my likes and dislikes with unrelenting incontinence. I thoroughly expect Twitter to be replaced with semaphore at some point, then later with simple grunts and groans and the digital equivalent of peeing on a fire hydrant.
  • Mine are on, but if I don't want someone to know I've read a message, I'll just swipe down the message center. This allows me to view at least the gist, but doesn't count as "read."
  • Definitely have mine on. Sure, only half of my friends do, but at least they know when I have seen a message being sent, and when they see that gray ellipsis they know I'm typing (glad to see Apple do that). But seriously, of all my friends that see them, only one person in the past has sent a "Seen but no reply. Hmmm?" message, and why? Because if I'm busy (or, more likely, asleep), I don't just fail to respond, I just don't check. Period. Ever since the Flipside years...
  • So my gf phone said i have (seen) her text messages, when i never did. I was.asleep the whole time now she hates me and wont believe me. Please give me proof this is possible
  • The most tricky thing is I hate the message receipt and i just can't take it off!!!!!! I hate to know but i do want to!!!!!!!!!!! one of the most annoying tech changes ever! literally! from every aspect!