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What are Return or Read Receipts (RR) in E-mail?

Email Etiquette and Privacy

I’ve been asked this question recently so I thought I would offer an overview of what RRs are and how and when they should be engaged.

Return or Read Receipts (RRs) are a way of determining if an email has been opened on the recipient’s computer. It does not however, mean they have read it.

Do you have someone in your life who has this feature on for every single personal email? Those are the folks that seem to want to know when you receive their email even if the content is not critical or important – sort of a control thing.

Or, it could be your friend does not even know they have this option selected. Maybe nicely emailing them with a “Did you know…..” can let them know this is not a feature to be used for every single casual email.

RRs Are to be Used Sparingly

There is no point in engaging a Return or Read Receipt (RR) request for each and every personal email you send. Don’t be that person that has to know when someone opens the email you sent to them. Not only can this be a pain for the recipient, (they have to take the step to accept or decline) this feature can be viewed as intrusive.

I’ve had folks email me noting they understand that RRs may be perceived as annoying but they are going to continue to use RRs anyway. Wow. Think about that. You know that you are being annoying and you will continue to do so. What kind of attitude is that!? Especially considering one can decline RR requests — which is what most folks do. Or have them set to be automatically declined like I do. That makes your request basically moot!

Managing Return Receipts

My opinion on RRs? It is none of anyone’s bee’s wax when I open any particular email. On those extremely rare occasions when it is an important matter and I can understand why there is an RR requested, I go ahead and give my approval. These situations would include receiving a legal document or an important update. The sender wants a simple confirmation to know I received their information. No problem there.

Do you use a service or plugin that offers “Blind” RRs, meaning that the recipient is not aware of the RR? That’s sort of smoke and mirrors. What these services and plugins do are include a little pixel graphic with each email. When the email is opened, the graphic is called to the sender’s software to display and wallah! they know the email was opened. Apparently you are supposed to assume that the email was opened — and then read. There is no way to prove they read your message.

But guess what? I have my email program set to not automatically download graphics of any kind. That is a security feature and includes that little pixel graphic. This means there is no way to know I opened the mail, let alone making the gigantic leap that I actually read it. (If you don’t want to be tracked, be sure to engage this feature in your email software too!)

So why continue using this feature especially considering you have no confirmation that a) the intended recipient is the opener and b) that they actually read your email? The answer is there is no reason except for those rare circumstances I previously noted when both sides understand why the request is being made.

It is the Recipient’s Choice

How would you feel if every time you heard a voice mail, answering machine message, opened a postal letter from a friend it was immediately reported back to sender that you had heard/opened their communication? I bet you would find that intrusive and look for a way to prevent that from happening without your approval.

I’ve never found a reason to use RRs with personal emails to friends or family. Now that I think about it — I don’t even remember the last time I initiated a RR request!

What is your experience with RRs both from the sending and receiving end? Let me know in the comments below!

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