Remote Content in Messages

Email messages can contain remote content such as images or stylesheets. To protect your privacy, Thunderbird does not load remote content automatically, but instead shows a notification bar that it blocked remote content.

What is remote content and why is it blocked?

Remote content are parts of a message (such as images, stylesheets, or videos) which are not included in the message itself, but are downloaded from the Internet when you view the message.

Remote content is a privacy concern because it allows the message sender to know:

  • each time you view the message
  • rough details about what application and what platform you are using
  • your current geographic location (a rough approximation by IP address)
  • that your email address is actually used ("alive")

This is almost the same information web sites commonly collect about you during normal web surfing. While browsing has the same privacy implications, what makes remote content in messages different is that it is targeted at you initially, so you can assume your access is directly linkable to your email address. This is also why spam often contains remote images (also known as "web bugs") which allow the spammer to mark your address as valid if the image is ever loaded.

How does Thunderbird protect my privacy?

By default, Thunderbird doesn't download remote content but displays the notification bar, To protect your privacy, Thunderbird has blocked remote content in this message.

Remote content blocked

This is the default, and what most people should be using. If remote content is blocked, the sender won't get any information about you described above.

Display remote content for a particular message, sender or website

If you trust the sender, you can allow remote content to be downloaded. Emails look much better with images and stylesheets turned on. To load remote content, click OptionsPreferences in the notification bar and select one of the following options:

Remote content blocking options Win Remote content blocking options

  • Show remote content in this message to show remote content just for this particular message;
  • Edit remote content optionspreferences to display remote content by default (see next section);
  • Allow remote content for <e-mail address> to show the remote content for all messages from this sender;
  • Allow remote content for <website> to show the remote content stored on this site.
Allow remote content for… adds the sender email address or sites (currently blocked in the message) to the remote content exceptions list.

Note however, that email addresses are easily spoofable in contrast to web sites that serve remote content. As long as the network is not compromised, it is much more difficult to spoof content than email addresses.

Display remote content by default

If you are willing to accept the privacy implications of displaying remote content for all messages, Thunderbird allows you to display remote content by default. To set it so:

  1. At the top of the Thunderbird window, click the Tools menu (ALT+T) and select Options...Options In the menu bar, click the Thunderbird menu and select Preferences...At the top of the Thunderbird window, click the Edit menu and select Preferences or click the Application menu button New Fx Menu and choose Options...OptionsPreferences .
  2. Select the Privacy panel.
  3. Check the Allow remote content in messages checkbox to have all remote content loaded by default.
    • You can exclude specific sites from the rule. Click the Exceptions… button, type the website or email address and click Block or Allow.

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