Is it possible to decipher the tracking links in emails?

This isn’t Linux-specific but since a lot of folks here have privacy concerns I thought this might be a good discussion topic.

I recently received an email from our fearless leader informing me of the upcoming webinar on “Removing Your Personal Data from the Internet”. I almost clicked on the sign-up link, but out of curiosity I floated over the link text to see what was actually embedded under it.
Well I was pretty surprised to find that there was about 100 characters in the embed. I expected maybe 20 to do a response evaluation so this is extreme. Now I’m sure Jeff is absolutely trustworthy and I should feel guilty about being suspicious (/sarc) but did anyone ever wonder about whats in these kind of links?
Or… how is it that if I start a clean eBay session, within about 3 or 4 search-and-view efforts any link I might decide to send to a friend turns into about 300 characters? I know enough to strip anything after the question mark, but for the people who don’t know that, they just gave away some valuable info to the spyware companies on who they know and what they’re sharing, which is intensely valuable and detailed info if you start thinking about how many layers deep that can go.

So what’s in those alpha-numeric strings? Is there any way to break them down into recognizable info for us?

1 Like

It’s always good to remain vigilant. That’s what helps you to catch phishing emails and such.

In this case, (I received the same email), Jeff is using ConvertKit which is an autoresponder / email marketing tool. The URL that you see when you hover over the registration link is the campaign URL from ConvertKit. Clicking the URL gathers some statistics such as who clicked the link, the number of responses and such, and thereafter it redirects you to the registration page on JoinNow which in turn is the SaaS product that Jeff uses for his webinars (or at least for this particular webinar). If you were to copy and paste the visible URL in the email (at the domain) you will also be redirected to the JoinNow registration page, however, you will have bypassed the ConvertKit data gathering effort.

In short, there is nothing nefarious occurring here. :slight_smile:

The stuff about links with question marks and data after that, has to do with UTM codes which, very briefly, are parameter / value pairs that are used to analyze various things such as where the link was displayed (facebook, twitter, etc) and other information that the link creator wants to capture. Marketers use UTM codes and these are fed into their web site analytics for further analysis. Search YouTube for UTM codes in URLs and you will find several videos explaining what they are and how they are created.

The above are rather innocuous but browsers leak a lot of information including your email address and many personal data points. Cookies are another source of information leak and tracking. So, once again, being vigilant is a good thing.

1 Like

Yes, you have to be quite investigative and intuitive (as you and I are) to even think about those ramifications. I always copy the link and then edit it before posting in a browser window.

Yes, I always look at the ‘header’ info when it looks suspicious. Some of them are quite sneaky, but the source email address almost always gives it away.

Unfortunately, some of those marketing tools are almost as bad as the Microsoft etc spying stuff (i.e. SurveyMonkey, MailChimp). Too bad Jeff has to use those, but it’s a clear indication how pervasive those have become.

Thanks for asking about this. The question and all the responses are very informative and I appreciate it. I was unaware of this before, so now I’ll be on the lookout for stuff I can remove from links.

You will also see these on “affiliate marketing” links to Amazon etc, the question mark followed by lots of gibberish. Also on Telegram links to websites. In some cases you might want to give your Affiliate Marketer ‘credit’, but if not, just remove the part of the link from the question mark to the end. These occur in email links as well. Just copy the link, paste in a word processor, then edit before copy/paste in a browser.

I wish we could educate all the people who don’t know how to just copy-paste a link.

I regularly get sent links from friends that start with “Thought you might be interested in this”, and I know they didn’t write those words - they click a link on the site that says “share this” and put my personal info (phone or email) in there. Now some site has my info and links that with the stuff that was shared.

I usually just copy it to the URL bar and edit it there, but I paste it into TextEdit when I really want to see the guts of a tracking URL. Some of the links are 600 characters long, which is why I’d really like to be able to decipher whats in there.

Yes, I hate that. Unfortunately many people don’t care about the privacy implications, or aren’t considerate enough to think that other people might.

I do the same. I’ll use whichever method fits the situation.