Apple Mail Privacy Protection Update

What's changing for email marketing?

Apple makes changes to email privacy settings

In the official announcement of 7 June 2021, Apple declared that the new Mail Privacy Protection feature in the Mail app will prevent senders from using tracking pixels to collect information about the users. The new feature helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email and masks their IP address so it cannot be linked to other online activities or used to determine their location. The Mail Privacy Protection launch was announced for autumn with the availability of Apple iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey and watchOS 8.

Since 20 September 2021, an update is now available for all compatible Apple devices, which includes this important change to email privacy options and will have a lasting effect on email marketing.

How is Apple Mail Privacy Protection implemented?

Users of the Mail app can choose to activate the function by opting in. By doing so, Apple prevents the use of tracking pixels to collect information about them as users.

To prevent the tracking of openings, Apple downloads images and/or tracking pixels in the background. The external content is downloaded by default and recipients see the email in its entirety, including all images. However, marketers will no longer know whether their email has been opened by the recipients or not, as the external content is systematically downloaded and not once the email is opened. Marketers will also not be able to distinguish between automatic and manual openings by the recipient and the email client identifier is also disguised.

In addition, to make the IP address of subscribers unrecognisable, all content loaded by the Mail app is routed through different proxy servers so that marketers no longer know the IP address of the individual subscriber. Apple's proxy network randomly assigns an IP address that can only be used to determine the region in which the end device is located.

Important to know: Clicks on links in emails are still recognised as such. In this respect, there is no anonymisation.

What impact does Mail Privacy Protection have on email marketing?

For marketers, this can have a considerable impact on their email marketing, especially when it comes to controlling and evaluating the success of campaigns. If the target group includes an above-average number Apple device users, then the open rate should no longer be used as a key success factor. The engagement of the recipients must then be measured and evaluated differently.

Since it seems likely that other large companies will also jump on the bandwagon in the future, it is worth investing in redesigning concepts and defining new success indicators in email marketing.

What impact does Mail Privacy Protection have on email marketing KPIs?

The feature will in particular affect all mail open, location and device reporting from recipients using Apple Mail. Marketers will see a less accurate open rate from subscribers. As a result, there will be further implications for seamless targeting and actions related to the opening of mailings. This in turn affects subject line tests, reactivation campaigns or dynamic content (for example, information on the weather depending on the location of the device).

The following email campaigns and actions are no longer reasonably usable by Mail Privacy Protection:

  • Campaigns with targeting based on the last open date.
  • A/B tests in which the opening rate is used to determine the winning variant
  • Optimisation of sending time
  • Countdown timers: here the graphics may show outdated times because the saved version of the graphic represents the time of sending instead of the time of real opening
  • Inaccurate clean-up in distribution lists of recipients without response if based on openings

Inevitably, the open rate will become less important as a key metric. Marketers will look to other metrics (such as clicks or conversion) to evaluate the success of newsletters and campaigns.

Independently of Apple’s innovation, the open rate has been struggling with certain impairments for some time. For example, if recipients have set images to always be reloaded, this no longer allows any conclusions to be drawn about the actual opening and reading time. Some email clients do not load all the content of a mailing as such, but only a certain upper area. If the tracking pixel is placed further down in the mailing, then the opening is only counted if the mailing has also been completely loaded. The precise measurement of the opening rate is therefore not only made problematic by Apple’s innovation.

What is Inxmail’s response to Mail Privacy Protection?

We are keeping a very close eye on Apple and the development of Mail Privacy Protection. Based on our current information and observations, we are preparing appropriate solutions in our email marketing software. As soon as there is need for concrete action, our customers will be informed proactively.

Our first step will be to separate the data on "normal" manual openings from the automatic openings by Apple in our email marketing solution.

How can marketers best react to Mail Privacy Protection?

All campaigns, reports, and evaluations where openings play a role should be identified. These should then be closely examined, and possible alternatives identified. Ultimately, it is a matter of evaluating which key figures are most important and whether they can be measured precisely. Which figures are needed to evaluate in a target-oriented way? Is it the opening rate or the conversion rate?

Apple's innovation can also be seen as an opportunity for marketers to refocus and gain valuable insights for their email marketing. On the one hand, this could be in the design itself, for example by placing the call-to-actions more prominently for more conversion. Or, in the future, you can focus more on the evaluation of other connected systems that provide data on customer reactions and interests. The possibilities are numerous and are often waiting to be fully exploited.

As a conclusion, it is important to respect Apple users who have decided to protect their email privacy and actively given their opt-in. Anyone who does not respect this and still tries to obtain data in a roundabout way is acting like a cybercriminal and damaging his company’s reputation and subsequently also the deliverability of the mailings.

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