Control sending read receipts in Outlook for Mac 14.3.9

Microsoft quietly added the ability for Outlook for Mac users to control whether they send read receipts in its recent 14.3.9 update. However, this new feature is not a full implementation of the read receipts standard described in RFC 2298 and later documents.

Read receiptWhat is a read receipt?

A read receipt is a request by an email sender to be notified when the recipient receives his message. It’s akin to sending a certified letter through the post office and returning the signed receipt as proof the message was delivered.

When the sender wants to request a read receipt, he selects the option in his new message just before sending. His email application appends a Disposition-Notification-To field to the headers of the message. The headers are like the envelope of an email message and include a time stamp, a unique message ID, message format and potentially numerous other pieces of information. The Disposition-Notification-To field instructs the recipient’s email client to automatically send a short email message back to the sender when the message is viewed.

Business users frequently request read receipts as proof their message was delivered and opened.

The fallacy of read receipts

The process of read receipts, however, is notoriously unreliable for a few reasons.

  1. Not all email clients support responding to the Disposition-Notification-To header. Those that don’t, silently ignore the request and the sender is never notified. Few mail clients actually support read receipts.
  2. Despite the name, read receipts don’t guarantee the recipient has actually read the message. At best they indicate a message was opened but not necessarily by a human.
  3. For security reasons most corporate email server administrators prevent receipts from leaving their domain.
  4. The recipient has full control over whether he sends a receipt and can choose not to send one. Without this check in place, the recipient loses control over his privacy.

Addressing an Exchange security issue

The Office for Mac 14.3.9 Update actually addresses a security issue in which Outlook for Mac recipients could not control whether they sent a read receipt to someone who requested it. That’s not to say Outlook for Mac was compromising security.

Exchange servers are designed to respond to requests for information including read receipts. Administrators often disable the feature to respond to delivery receipts (messages returned to the sender to notify his message arrived at the server) but this doesn’t disable read receipts (messages returned to the sender to notify his message was opened). Although versions of Outlook for Mac before the 14.3.9 update were never sending receipts their Exchange servers could be  doing so when the read status of a message was synchronized with the server.

Now what happens?

Outlook for Mac users who have applied the Office for Mac 14.3.9 Update will begin seeing a dialog appear when they view a message with a read receipt request attached.

Outlook for Mac read receipt request

The dialog is similar to that seen in Outlook for Windows.

Outlook for Windows read receipt request

Along with the buttons Don’t Send or Send (in Outlook for Mac), a user can enable the option Don’t Ask Me About Sending Receipts Again. This is effectively Never Send and Always Send.

This new dialog only appears for Exchange accounts configured in Outlook for Mac and will not appear for read receipt requests sent to IMAP and POP accounts. Senders requesting read receipts when sending through IMAP or POP accounts can receive receipts only if their recipient is using an Exchange account.

To later change the Never Send and Always Send behavior, a user can select Outlook menu > Preferences > Notifications & Sounds and click the Reset Alerts button. This will clear the Don’t Ask Me About Sending Receipts Again selection.

Notifications & Sounds

Request read receipts

Again, this is not a full implementation of the read receipts standard. Although Outlook for Mac users can choose how to respond to read receipt requests, this new feature does not enable the ability to actually request read receipts.

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5 comments to Control sending read receipts in Outlook for Mac 14.3.9

  • MTopchik

    I found this article helpful but the information disappointing, since the inability to use a delivery receipt is even more important to me than using a read receipt, and apparently neither are available to the sender in Microsoft Outlook for Mac, at least at this time. So, although I recognize you are merely a helpful messenger of information, please allow me to vent…… My office Exchange server is not a Mac, so when I use Outlook on Citrix I get the full array of options. But not for anything I generate from my Mac using Outlook outside of Citrix. Apple of course says it’s not them, and Microsoft doesn’t appear to have a reasonable explanation for why they can/t/won’t incorporate these features into their product for Macs. Once again, the consumer is in the middle and is the one who suffers.

  • Stu

    Requesting a read receipt is what we need badly. We are using Microsoft Office 365 for our exchange server and I am frustrated at my recipients saying they are not getting my emails arbitrarily so when I send an important email I have no idea whether they read it or not. So I am left repeat sending with “did you get this? messages attached.

  • Ed

    I agree with Stu…very disappointing that it is not included…

  • tanya

    I find it disappointing that I can’t request for a read receipt however I can send a request when I log into the portal. It helps but it is an inconvenient work around…..