Sidekick: the app that tells you when your email has been read

Email Simon Stratford

I’m a big fan of validation.

I’m one of those people who likes to know people have read my texts. When I found Sidekick – a plugin that allows you to track the precise moment people open your emails, I couldn’t resist.

For a month now, I’ve been getting a little notification in the right hand corner of my screen every time someone opens one of my emails.

It works by planting an invisible picture into each correspondence. When the image is loaded, I know the email has been opened. It lives in my browser and works continuously in the background, constantly updating me on my contacts’ activities in real time. At last, some validation to quantify my efforts.

Plus it tells me a fair bit about my contacts. For instance, some people, not mentioning any names, re-read my emails up to 20 times. Are they that hard to understand? Some read them at midnight (Dad). Some read them and reply immediately (boyf, good boyf, well done).

No one is safe from my email eyes.

If someone clicks on a link in the email – say my Twitter handle, my Guardian profile or my blog – I’m notified about that, too. I wasn’t surprised to learn my mother clicks around a fair bit, but I wasn’t expecting to discover a male acquaintance visits my Guardian profile up to five times a day.

But hang on – these people are innocent bystanders in a sick clandestine game I’ve got myself embroiled in. Who’s stalking who here?

Take one example, where I didn’t get a reply to an email I thought was pretty important. After nine days of stoic silence and, thanks to Sidekick, absolutely no doubt about whether my email had been read (it had – six times), I called the offender to see what she had to say.

Instead of asking if she’d received my email, I asked – in a brasher tone than usual – why she hadn’t responded.

Stunned, she said: “Oh, er, sorry, but I … I didn’t receive anything!”

LIIIIIIIIIIAR, I thought. But, actually, what could I say? “Yes, you did, I know because I’ve installed an email-tracking device on my computer”? Not really. What’s the use of these “email superpowers” if I’m too ashamed to admit I use them?

Instead, I began to feel like some kind of email lurker in the shadows of the internet. What if people were doing this very same thing to me?

Sidekick isn’t stupid – there’s an option to block people from using it back on you – which I’ve done. British Gas do not need to know I’ve seen my bill and have no intention of paying it. I’m a hypocrite: I enjoy the privacy of replying when I feel like it and lying about why I haven’t just as much as the next person.

It’s all a bit too reminiscent of those “thinking” dots in WhatsApp, Google Chat and iMessage – great when you’re the sender, less so when you’re the responder and you start to reply, then stop.

I’m keeping Sidekick for now – but if you get an email from me, just know – I’m watching you.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Katie Burnetts, for The Guardian on Sunday 8th February 2015 18.30 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010