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How to keep Mac email from giving away info to spammers

A setting in Apple's Mail app for OS X that makes it more convenient to view your emails may also be telling scammers that you're reading your emails. To make your Mac more secure from potential threats, you can disable the remote content loading function. Follow along and we'll walk you through how!

Back in the good old days, emails used to contain text, and that was it. Now they're chock-full of complex graphics and HTML-based layouts. Most of the content you see isn't actually in the email: It's stored on a remote server and loaded when you view the message. Most of the time that process is pretty fast and doesn't cause any problems. But it also gives email spammers and scammers a good insight about whether or not your email address is active, because they're seeing traffic from it.

If you'd like to avoid giving out that kind of information about yourself, you can turn off the Mail app preference that enables remote content loading.

Just remember that this is going to make any email you get that relies on remote content to not load completely until you click a "Load remote content" button, so you're going to notice pretty fast that emails start looking "incomplete," because you're going to see blank boxes or placeholders where HTML and graphics might have been.

Email might suddenly look "broken" to some of us, but there's a practical benefit there too: Mail will load faster (and will use less bandwidth) since it's no longer dependent on loading that remote content each and every time. This gives you control over what email loads on your Mac and what doesn't.

To turn off remote content loading in Mail

  1. Open Mail.
  2. Click on the Mail menu and select Preferences... (alternately, type command and ,)
  3. Click on the Viewing tab.
  4. Make sure Load remote content in messages is unchecked.
  5. Close the preferences window to save changes.

That's all there is to it! When you get e-mails that include content from remote servers, you'll see a "Load remote content" button appear in the e-mail. Click it to populate the email.

(Hat tip: Chris Phin)

14 Comments
  • Good Information !
  • iOS 8 also offers this setting on iPhone and iPad. Settings>Mail, Contacts, etc.>Mail> Load Remote Images. Thanks Peter!
  • One thing this needs desperately is a white list option. That if it's directly from a contact or a domain you've specifically white listed you can still autoload the content. Outlook does this.. it's very nice..
  • This is not really a spammer tool anymore. The scale spammers and scammers operate on doesn't allow for it. They auto-gen addresses for a domain and send out (tens/hundreds) of thousands of emails. The way they know if your address is "active" in the way they care about is if you click a link or make a phone call. The groups that are using remote content for analytics however are advertisers and marketers. Remote content is how they can tell if you opened a targeted email, even if you immediately deleted it.
  • Pardon my ignorance, but can someone please tell me why you would use Mac Mail at all? Compared to....let's say.....Gmail.
  • It´s about the native app to manage email in Mac , including of course, Gmail. For most users , it´s the most convenient way to centralize emails. You can manage many accounts, even for that people, that doesn't like Gmail, because.. let's say.. privacy.
  • because Gmail doesn't cover everyone's needs, and Google is creepy as hell.
  • People still use Gmail? You may as well have a password which is 1234.
  • Actually, since most of the people I communicate with use Gmail, our correspondence doesn't leave the Google network. That way, we avoid a lot of hops our email would have taken if we did use other mail servers. By using Mac Mail, you are letting multiple ISPs read your email.
  • as opposed to one ISP reading your email and analyzing the contents so they can serve you ads. You realize that fewer people violating your privacy is not the same as no one doing it, right?
  • I have non-Google email accounts and I don't want Google to lay their prying eyes on those.
  • Well, email is neither private or secure....wherever you may store it. And Gmail supports many/all your accounts as well. But I guess you have a point if you want to store all your email locally.
  • I wonder why they got rid of the "bounce email" function... I really used that a lot!
  • because it was never actually useful as an antispam measure?