Power User

Silencing Email Read Receipts: Why You Don’t Always Get What You Want

By | Feb.07.13 | Daily Dispatch, Law Practice Management, Legal Technology, Power User

Back in the day when I was a young and naive pup, I didn’t pay much attention to how my email was set up. I’d sometimes be surprised by a little pop-up that accompanied an email I’d just opened in Microsoft Outlook, asking me to please confirm receiving and reading that email: aka a “read receipt.”

I may have been naive in those days, but I was also (and still am) private and paranoid. My reflexive privacy twitch always caused my finger to click “no” every time that box appeared. (“No, you can’t know that I received and read your email — that’s my business, not yours.”) Eventually, I began poking around for a way to turn off those occasional, annoying pop-ups. It wasn’t long before I found it and silenced them permanently — telling Outlook never to send a receipt, no matter how nicely the sender asked.

No annoying pop-up — no receipt — happy me.

Why tell you this? Because it seems that a number of emailers still send read receipt requests (though, really, I wouldn’t know …). Apparently, they don’t realize that getting the acknowledgement they’re looking for requires actual cooperation on the part of the recipient. Well, just because you’ve asked doesn’t mean you’ll receive. Like me, your email recipient may have turned off the ability to respond to read requests, or they may just choose “no” on a one-off basis (if they don’t mind annoying pop-ups). Or they may be using email software so old and decrepit that it’s incapable of sending a read receipt.

You can’t force a response if they are determined not to respond, unless you employ third-party software add-ons.

If you’re an Outlook user and find, like me, that you don’t want to be bothered by read receipt requests, here’s how to control them.

Controlling Outlook Read Receipts

The steps below are for Outlook 2010. If you have a different version, just get to your Outlook “Options” however you can and follow from there. If you use a different email package, poke around in your options menus until you find something resembling the instructions below.

To set your read receipts preference in Outlook:

  1. Click the File tab.
  2. Click Options.
  3. Click Mail.
  4. Scroll down to the Tracking section and click one of the following options under “for any message received that includes a read receipt request,” then click OK to set your choice.
    • Always send a read receipt. (This means if the sender asks, you won’t see the pop-up, but senders will receive a confirmation that you received and read their email, if they asked for it.)
    • Never send a read receipt. (My choice.)
    • Ask each time whether to send a read receipt. (This is the default setting, meaning you see the pop-up if the sender requests a read receipt, but you also retain control over your response.)

Now you know, when it comes to email, absence of acknowledgement is not evidence that the email was undelivered or unread.

When You Really, Really Need Confirmation

If you really need to know that an email was received and read, you must, in the absence of a reply, find an alternative way to confirm it. You could pick up the phone and ask, or request confirmation right within the email itself. Or, you might try a registered email service such a ReadNotify or RPost (which comes with the added benefit of encryption).

Do you have a favorite method of confirmation? Please drop any recommendations in the comments box below. 

“Power User” columnist Vivian Manning is the IT Manager at Barriston Law LLP in Barrie, Bracebridge and Cookstown, Ontario. Prior to moving into IT, Vivian practiced law at Barriston (formerly Burgar Rowe PC) primarily in the area of Municipal Land Development, with 17 years in private practice before switching to the IT side of the law office. She currently indulges her love of teaching tech through her blog Small City Law Firm Tech, where she provides “tips of the day.”

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3 Responses to “Silencing Email Read Receipts: Why You Don’t Always Get What You Want”

  1. Cynthia
    28 April 2014 at 10:44 am #

    A great enhancement to this feature would be the ability to set Outlook to prompt the sender to request a read receipt when Send is clicked . I don’t want to request a read receipt for every email, but find I will forget to do so when I really need to. The only current solution is to set read receipt on everything, which I know is annoying to lots of people. I don’t think it would be rocket science to program. Maybe it’s already there, but MS has a way of making things difficult to figure out!

  2. Richard
    3 September 2014 at 6:25 am #

    I prefer delivery receipts. They can’t be declined, don’t notify the recipient, and will tell you “This person got your e-mail” which basically tells me then that if they say “I never got it” then they’re lying. It doesn’t tell me if they actually read it, but since you can just click no on read receipts, that doesn’t help. The thing is though, when outlook is used on a company-wide scale (as is the case a lot of the time), you’re usually getting e-mails that are actually important and they need to know that you’ve read this vital information. Updates to a system, notifications for changes in the workplace, etc. but I do agree that everything does not need one and it should specifically ask when you hit send or have an easy toggle option at the top when writing the e-mail. As for a lawyer/attorney, I’d want to know you read my message, as I’d likely not be e-mailing you if it wasn’t important, and I prefer e-mail over phone because phones have terrible audio quality and I can barely make out half the conversations I have over them. So while this is titled “You don’t always get what you want”, realize that this applies not just to the deliverer, but the recipient too. If a pop up asking if you’ve read an e-mail is that much of a hassle for you, you probably shouldn’t be working on computers in the first place, or better yet, just click the option to automatically send a “Yes” instead of a “No”, and stop being a liar. It’s not your privacy, it’s you trying to make a very flimsy excuse, since everyone that has “read receipt” checked always have “delivery receipt” checked as well.

  3. Disgruntled
    28 May 2016 at 8:48 pm #

    Leave it to a lawyer to figure out how to dodge email read receipts. I have a lawyer who is a client of mine, he is the WORST web design client ever, only communicates (and pays) when he needs something. Thankfully I can use services like Contact Monkey to know when he reads my emails about past due invoices (but he chooses to completely ignore them). He has only been a client for 2 months, and wont continue to be if he doesn’t get it together.
    Be responsible – face your responsibilities and dodging read receipts wont be an article you need to read about.