What is a web beacon or tracking pixel?

Anyone who runs a website or sends promotional e-mails probably wants to keep an eye on how well the content offered is received by the target group. Data must therefore be collected in order to evaluate the page or e-mail views. This was and is realized with a so-called counting pixel or tracking pixel or another inconspicuous graphic, which is requested by a server when the digital content is loaded.

By recording the number, time and other values ​​of the requests and downloads, it can then be determined how often, when, from where and which devices the offers were used. In this article you will find further information on the subject of tracking pixels.

What is a tracking pixel and how does it work? What data can the web beacon reveal on websites and in emails? What privacy settings are there? You can find answers to these and other questions here!
What is a tracking pixel and how does it work? What data can the web beacon reveal on websites and in emails? What privacy settings are there? You can find answers to these and other questions here!

What exactly is a counting pixel?

The technology and the term "tracking pixel" come from the days of simple HTML websites and the use of HTML code to design e-mails. By integrating a single pixel (1 x 1 pixel dimensions) whose color does not differ from the background, and by evaluating the download request for this pixel, it was and can be determined when and how often a digital offer is used.

This technology made it possible to analyze usage at an early stage, for example for the integration of call counters on websites to show their popularity.

More information about the technology and its use

There are other names for the tracking pixel and the techniques developed from it over time: tracking pixel, web beacon, pixel tag, web bug, web bug, clear GIF and so on. Today it is still used in the original form of pixels that have to be requested by a server.

However, there are now also supplementary or replacement measures, such as the integration of certain JavaScript elements, which take over the determination of call data. Even if this data is usually only to be used to determine the popularity of the offer and thus its potential for improvement, data protection concerns arise at the same time.

Different information can be disclosed

When a website or an email with a tracking pixel is opened, this pixel usually sends a request to the server of the provider that provided the tracking pixel. This allows the provider to collect different types of information, such as:

  • opening emails: Web beacons may be used in email marketing campaigns to determine if, when and how many times an email has been opened.
  • user behavior on websites: Web beacons placed on websites can provide information about which pages were visited, how long one stayed on a page and what actions were taken.
  • Tracking of advertising campaigns: Advertisers may use web beacons to measure the effectiveness of their online advertising campaigns. Thanks to the technology, you can determine how often ads were clicked on or whether certain other actions were carried out.
  • User behavior for analysis purposes: Businesses may use web beacons to capture general trends in user behavior. It can e.g. For example, it can be determined which general content or which advertised landing pages were clicked on more frequently than others.
  • target group advertising: The server requests can be used to determine which one Browser and, if applicable, which operating system is used. The IP address can also be seen. In this way, advertisements and other content can be personalized.

Apple measures against tracking: data protection in Safari and Mail

With regard to Apple's data protection, the fact that users have to actively agree to the tracking in iPhone and iPad apps made big headlines. This makes it difficult for app companies to integrate personalized advertising.

However, Apple's own apps for calling up Internet content are also increasingly relying on data protection. In the web browser "Safari" and in the e-mail client "Mail" there are certain privacy settings on both mobile devices and Mac, which are intended to make it more difficult to track activities.

Privacy in Apple's Safari app

  • Safari on Mac: Open Safari, click Safari in the menu bar, then click Preferences. Opens the "Privacy" tab in Safari Preferences. Ticks the functions that should be activated.
  • Safari on iPhone/iPad: Open the settings and select "Safari". Then scroll to the "Privacy & Security" section and set which protections should be used.

Privacy in Apple's Mail app

  • Mail on Mac: Open Mail, click Mail in the menu bar, then click Preferences. Now select the "Privacy" tab in the settings window and tick the measures you want to use.
  • Mail on iPhone / iPad: Opens the settings and selects "Mail". In the "Messages" section, tap on "Privacy". Activate the settings to be used there.


Here you will find some more questions (and answers!) that are frequently asked on this topic.

How does a tracking pixel work?

A tracking pixel is a 1x1 pixel graphic that loads when you visit a website and tracks your user data. Because of this goal, it is also called a tracking pixel.

Are web beacons cookies?

No, web beacons or tracking pixels are not cookies, but an alternative to them. They perform similar functions, but some browsers can restrict the full collection of data through cookies.

How does a tracking pixel work?

A tracking pixel works by executing a landing page's HTML code in your browser, which then pulls up an (invisible) graphic. This call is recorded in the server log files.

Is the Facebook pixel GDPR compliant?

The Facebook pixel is not GDPR compliant. Therefore, before you start tracking on your website, you need to obtain consent from your users.

Which cookies are allowed?

Only technically necessary cookies may be used without your consent. All other cookies always require your consent, regardless of their purpose.

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